Showers and Toilets in Prison
While an unusual area to discuss, showering and restroom facilities are an important area of life within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. While somewhat taboo, many new to the federal prison experience have significant anxiety when it comes to private concerns such as the showers and toilets in prison.
While facilities will differ depending on the prison location in question, all prisoners have 24-hour access to restroom facilities, and mostly adequate access to bathing facilities. By policy, all federal prisoners are supposed to have access to restroom facilities 24 hours a day. Showers depend more so on the local prison facility. The general rule of thumb is that showers are accessible during non-lockdown hours. The major differences seen are amongst cell- and dorm-based housing.
Toilets in Prison
In terms of toilets, every prison cell has one. If you’re housed in a cell, it is best to use the restroom when your cellmate is not present. In emergencies it is ok to hang a sheet up for privacy if you need to use the bathroom and the door is locked. In terms of less involved bathroom usage, it is fine to use the bathroom with a cellmate present.
Sometimes the toilets are of the porcelain variety and sometimes they are the stainless steel sink/toilet variety. More and more federal prisons are now installing push-button flush systems where prisoners can only flush the toilet once every five minutes. If the button is pushed twice within a five minute period, the system will flush a second time, but the toilet will lock out for an hour.
For the most part, when a prisoner requires privacy when using the toilet, they will wait until their cellmate is out and put a blocker up in the window for complete privacy. These blockers are typically made of cardboard or pieces of paper placed in the small window of the door or a towel hung over the door (and window). While you’re not technically allowed to block the cell door window when using the restroom, most prison guards are fine with you covering up half of the window with a piece of folded-over paper or a piece of cardboard.
Toilet use in dorm settings are a bit less private. Usually restrooms consist of a row of toilets and urinals along a wall. Most of the time there are barriers on either side of the toilets, and there are also usually swinging doors in front of each toilet for additional privacy. These toilets should be accessible 24 hours a day and not be of the time-lock variety.
Showering facilities tend the be the same amongst both dorm- and cell-based housing. Usually, showers are of the single-head variety, where the prisoner can close a shower curtain or close a swinging door for privacy.
In some cases shower rooms are present, which consist of a room with four or so shower heads for multiple prisoners to use at one time. In such instances prisoners usually still try to shower alone, or with a friend or two. While prison movies and television shows tend to portray shower rooms as hotbeds of violence and sexual assault, this is often not the case.
If your prison has shower stalls, assuming no one has left a shirt or towel on the door to the shower stall (meaning they are about to take a shower), you can simply walk up, place your clothing and towel on the swinging door, and take a shower.
If there is clothing on the door, then it is best to wait until the clothing’s owner is done with their shower or ask who’s items they are to see if they are even in the housing unit, as sometimes prisoners reserve showers and then leave for quite some time out of ignorance.
Most prisoners will try to use the showers alone, but if it is close to lockdown or in the evening (when showers are busier), then it is normal for you to shower in tandem with a friend, whereas, much like in a gym shower room, you shower with others following a workout. In prison people are very territorial, so it is more usual when forced to shower with others that you shower with someone that you know (e.g., a bunkmate or someone else you are friends with).
While you may have seen movies containing prison rape scenes that occur in the shower rooms, this isn’t generally accurate, especially considering most shower rooms are at the lower security levels. At the higher security levels there tends to be individual stalls. But sometimes people like to fight in showers. If you are in the shower when this occurs, just stay out of the way, finish up, and leave.
Like many areas of prison life (e.g., searches and the monitoring of communications), using the restroom and showering is just one of those areas where you will eventually become used to. While it will feel weird at first, eventually such use will no longer even register in your mind as being unusual.