Historically, toilet paper has served two main functions in my world: 1) as a hygienic and cleansing agent in the restroom and 2) as a pranking agent when rolled across someone’s lawn and through their trees (this is particularly effective and offensive when rain falls overnight).
Last night, I realized toilet paper serves a third, and very important, role in my life now. Within the walls of the female detention center, toilet paper communicates, comforts, and breeds courage.
Part of serving time in jail means living without every day comforts you and I tend to take for granted. I get it. Incarceration is intended to punish and/or rehabilitate. It’s not supposed to feel like a stay at the Four Seasons. For the windows of time I get to spend inside the jail, I am smacked in the face with all of the little luxuries I forget to be grateful for throughout the day. If I need something to eat or drink, I get in my car (which has gas in it…most days) and drive somewhere to obtain this item with money I have earned legally.
If I run out of toothpaste or shampoo, I restock it immediately by visiting a store. If my clothes are dirty, I wash them whenever I want to wash them. I have far more than one outfit to choose from every morning. When the zipper on my pants breaks, I have the tools and resources to either repair it or replace the pants.
When I am sad or sick or have allergies, I reach over and grab a very soft Kleenex. When I am out of Kleenex, I go buy more Kleenex.
Luxuries. These are all such great luxuries.
Last night, many tears were flowing in our circle inside the female detention center. Christmas is a miserable season for my friends there, and the women are also being brave enough to open up about their personal stories and experiences, which usually brings tears to all of us in the room.
When someone cries in jail (and that happens quite frequently), there is not an abundance, or even a presence, of Kleenex. If I start crying in jail (and I do this a lot), one of the inmates notices my tears, reaches for the roll of toilet paper sitting at the front of the room, tears off a few sections, and hands it to me with great kindness and compassion.
In the jail, toilet paper is not just a bathroom accessory. It’s an empathy tool. For one of the women to hand someone toilet paper, it means she has recognized that the person near her is in pain and needs comfort. It also means she has connected to something in herself, and she knows what it is like to cry, It then moves her to take action and offer the only agent of compassion and comfort she has to give – toilet paper.
It is worth noting that jail toilet paper is not exactly Charmin Extra Soft. It’s more like Discount Sand Paper Special. It’s thin and course and it usually causes some raw redness to appear under my nose after I use it.
Jail toilet paper, however, has become one of the most meaningful luxuries in my life. Last night, I witnessed several gestures of love through the giving of toilet paper, and each one filled my heart with gratitude.
I must admit I prefer my bathroom stocked with Kirkland brand cushy toilet paper, but my world has been forever changed by the thin sheets of jail toilet tissue that get passed around the room when things get hard.
I think I am going to start carrying a roll with me just in case.