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Day in the Life

Labor and Productivity in a Women's Prison

April 12, 2024

Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, the clock inside my prison cell dings at 2:10 a.m. and awakens me from a peaceful sleep. At this hour, the normally noisy prison is at its most peaceful, and I kneel on my prayer rug without distraction.

After a silent prayer, it is time to get dressed for work. I throw on an old t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants and travel downstairs to the hotpot to get water for my coffee and then to the fountain for cold water to wash down my vitamins—all in one trip so as not to disturb my slumbering roommate.

I work as a laundry technician here at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, a job I have maintained for approximately three years now. Though it is not the position I have most favored during my imprisonment, it does allow me the freedom to work on my terms without constant supervision from the authorities. That alone is important enough in a place where you feel as if you’re under constant surveillance.

Morning ritual complete, I travel down the eighteen stairs out into the semidark dayroom. Each night at 11:30 p.m., minus weekends and holidays, certain lights are turned out to signal lockdown time. Peace and quiet time.

I head to the back table to begin my workday. I wipe off the granite table before placing my books, my homemade “Chanel” workbag, and a bottle of blue liquid laundry detergent on its cool surface. That feels much better because sometimes the women leave such a mess out in the dayroom as if there were a maid service on hand.

Instead of an actual laundry room, we have two washers and two dryers placed symmetrically in the back of each wing beside a broom closet. If I’m lucky, there are no dirty, stinky mopheads adorning the floor next to the washer for me to inhale.

Thankfully, I am able to work alone because, although there are two other laundry technicians, the position allows us the flexibility of setting our own schedules and it works out pretty well. I love my job because it is easy and the schedule I chose is suitable for my needs.

When I am out in the dayroom to begin work at approximately 2:40 a.m., I am left to my own devices to work, as well as to complete my schoolwork as I sit at the table in between loads of laundry from the other inmates. I am also a student at three different correspondence schools, so my days are busy—but productive.

As people arise to use the restroom, they may bring a bag of laundry for me to wash, and I greet them with what is probably a much too cheerful “Good morning!” for the early hour. However, I love this part of my day because it is the most peaceful, usually, as everyone is asleep. Though sometimes I do get annoyed if people are out and about making too much noise as others are resting. This also distracts me from my studies. But on I trudge….

…And although this is truly just slave labor done for a meager wage of thirty-five cents an hour, I still do it humbly. Humbly, though at times I do feel degraded when I really stop to consider exactly what it is I am doing. I am washing a bunch of women’s dirty clothing and undergarments for pennies on the dollar, accepting bag after bag and sometimes even after I have made the announcement for final call to bring laundry down.


Then when someone is rude or unappreciative, I am hurt. I’m hurt because I go above and beyond the call of duty for these women. I even sometimes deliver the laundry to their cells. That makes me question my own sanity.

Most assuredly, it is quite different from the chore of doing the laundry for my family at home. At least in laundering clothing for my children, there is a sense of pride in knowing I ensure that they always have clean clothes and are neat in appearance. Washing clothing for women who may or may not even be appreciative takes a lot of patience at all times.

Patience and caution because here, they do not provide gloves for us to handle the laundry. Being that this is a medical facility, we may run across many different situations, including soiled linen. At least at home I am aware of my children’s health issues and it is fine. They are my children. But here, I must handle the clothing of others with my bare hands. Hands that eventually become terribly dry from incessant washing. But I do it humbly. We do what we must.

Further, since I am the dependable “Mother Hen” of the wing, I am asked by several women to wake them for pill call or breakfast, or if they just need to arise at a certain time, it is me they ask.

We do what we must.

As the hours tick by and the laundry bags pile up rapidly, I still attempt service with a smile even though my energy is waning and the demands on me continue to be made. I just flitter to and fro, tending to the needs of others and barely taking time for myself. This is time that I could devote to studying or simply getting the rest that I desperately lack.

My mother thinks I’m insane for catering to the needs of others, yet forgetting that she raised me to be kind. The way she nurtured our family has become forever ingrained in my psyche, so I know of no other way to be. This is also the way I am with my own children, and it tends to carry over into my interactions with others. And so I say “Yes,” when I truly want to scream, “Leave me alone! I’m tired too!”

Then, when someone is rude or unappreciative, I am hurt. I’m hurt because I go above and beyond the call of duty for these women. I even sometimes deliver the laundry to their cells. That makes me question my own sanity. Why cater to people who do not even appreciate me? At times, I think of myself as too kind-hearted. Unfortunately, it is my nature to nurture.

My personal time begins when my workday ends. I shower and then retreat to my cell for a quiet evening of rest and relaxation. I may either watch television, read, or listen to some music. I just enjoy the company of myself like only I can. I enjoy the fact that even though I am sitting in a prison cell, I still have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.




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