A seriously unpleasant communal shower for the imprisoned Randy Blythe in an extract from the Lamb of God front man's memoir DARK DAYS.
Screw Musik, and screw this shit hole of a prison. This place cannot break me, this place cannot break me, this place cannot break me . . .
Over my first cup of instant black coffee, I remembered that it was shower day. This thought completely banished my dark mood of the night before, since my twice weekly shower had become one of the highlights of my existence in prison. Not that I was in a hurry to get into a steamy room with a bunch of naked men, but I was always pretty ripe after a few days in that ancient dump with no shower. Since the Playmate of the Year hadn’t shown up to scrub my back yet, and since Bradley and the Sellecks simply refused to have the jacuzzi installed that I had repeatedly requested since my arrival in Pankrác, I was more than grateful for the opportunity to scrub my body, with or without nude convicts. When you live in a 123-year-old, moldy basement that has zero means of air circulation in July for days on end, even in the relatively cool Czech Republic, things can get . . . tart. We all just wanted to get clean.
Disease and infection flourish in dirty, unsanitary places, and make no mistake about it, Pankrác was (and I’m sure still is) a filthy, filthy place. Whenever there is a natural disaster with long-term effects, public utilities are cut off. People always die during the aftermath of these emergencies due to lack of proper sanitation. Pankrác was an unnatural disaster, and it was hazardous to let us shower as little as we were allowed. I had gone for up to two weeks without a shower back in my freight hopping days, but that was only because one was not available. The prison shower wasn’t as good as most dressing room showers in the crappiest of rock clubs (and I have washed the show grime off of my body in some SKETCHY backstage showers), but it meant hot water. Hot water meant I could shave, and there would be a few minutes of feeling like a human being again before the sweat and dust covered my increasingly skinny form.
When Bradley or the Sellecks had a day off, there were a few fill-in guards who only seemed to be on the cell block for a single day at a time. One of these was a short fat man I called Archie Bunker due to his age, rotundness, and temperament. On this morning, Archie Bunker showed up shortly after breakfast, yanking open our door and yelling “Sprcha!” (shower) in his normal charming fashion. I didn’t much care for Archie; so far he had been nothing but grumpy around me, throwing me a wrinkled stink eye whenever he had to let me out of my cell for walk or a visit from my lawyer—as if it was my fault that he was at work in this depressing relic instead of reclining in his la-z-boy, shoving KNEDLIKY (Czech dumplings) into his pie hole and tipping back a few pilsners. My personal opinion of Archie wasn’t on my mind, though, as I grabbed the three gallon ziplock bag my wife had so smartly packed my Marlboros in (it served as a great shower bag) and held it behind my back with both hands, per prison regulations. I followed his lumpy squat form the short distance to the shower cell, and I could hear voices echoing from inside the cell as Archie unlocked the heavy steel door.
You never knew who or how many men you would be showering with—the number varied at the seemingly random whim of whichever guard was running the block that day. Sometimes it would be just you and your cellies, a rare, luxurious, occasion where you could take your time and really scrub yourself clean. Most of the time there was a lot more man ass to deal with, though. On one particularly bad day there were nine of us in that two shower head cell, everyone taking turns getting wet, jumping from underneath the shower heads, soaping up, lathering, and jumping back under to rinse off. On this day, it didn’t sound too loud from behind the closed shower door though. GOOD—WE CAN ACTUALLY SHOWER IN RELATIVE PEACE TODAY, I thought.
The first thing I noticed when the door opened was an amazingly foul smell carried out on the blast of steam that always billowed forth into the cooler hallway air when we went to shower. I cannot really do the malodorousness of this scent justice by analogy, as I have nothing else sufficiently mephitic to compare it to. Incredibly, even the dreaded olomoucké tvarůžky paled in comparison; I suppose my best attempt at a description would have to include bacon wrapped scallops gone rotten in a New Orleans alleyway dumpster in August, a urine soaked mattress in a skid row flophouse, the feces-filled oldest toilet in the world (it’s a squat-style hole in the floor of the public bathroom at the Great Wall of China, and I remain scarred by that experience to this day), and the unwashed feet of an extremely lazy fry cook in a greasy spoon truck stop diner in southeastern Georgia. It was overwhelming and immediately made me gag.
Through watering eyes, the next thing I noticed were the two men already in the cell. Chimpo Weaselman was standing beneath one shower head and scrubbing away on his spindly form. Great. He flashed his freakishly gigantic simian grin at me from underneath his minuscule brow and mangy crooked mohawk. AH, IT'S THE FAMOUS AMERICAN ROCKSTAR, his eyes said, WELCOME TO THE SHOWER—DO YOU HAVE ANY CIGARETTES/COFEE/SUGAR/HAPPINESS I CAN LEACH FROM YOU? Chimpo was even uglier naked; I couldn’t stand the sight of his pleading apish visage atop his badly tattooed scrawny body, so I looked to the other man preparing to occupy the remaining shower head.
Apparently Chimpo was no longer Rene’s cellmate, and had been placed with a slow-moving, quiet Roma with a pleasant face and disheveled Buddy Holly hairdo. He had landed on the block the day before, and at walk had seemed to be a nice enough, if very shy, fellow. Chimpo’s new celly stood beside the steel table we put our clothes on with his back turned to me, unwrapping what looked to be approximately fifteen feet of ace bandage from around his midsection. JESUS, HE MUST BE RECOVERING FROM BEING STABBED AT LEAST TWENTY TIMES WITH THAT MUCH BANDAGE, I thought. The wrap itself was filthy, with yellow-brownish splotches of what I took to be dried pus all over it. I noticed that his skin was scaly and an angry-looking dark purple beneath the bandage as it left his narrow back. His epidermis looked like it had been trapped beneath the mottled cloth for months, perhaps years. What had happened to this man? As the last of the bandage fell away from him onto the floor, I saw him fiddling with what appeared to be plastic aquarium tubing. Where did that come from? Was it some sort of drug smuggling apparatus? And what in God’s name was THAT SMELL? What in the hell was going on here?
Then I saw it.
The colostomy bag.
Up to this point, I had only had one other close encounter of the colostomy kind, but it had definitely been memorable, and being in my band had brought that experience about as well. Lamb of god was playing down South somewhere, when I looked to my left across the dimly lit stage and saw what looked like a fan attacking my guitarist Mark. This person was jumping around with his arms around Mark’s neck in a sort of headlock, as Mark inexplicably continued to play guitar. Mark does not particularly like to be touched by strangers, especially when he is playing guitar. Baffled, I took off full tilt across the stage to deal with this lunatic before Mark brained him with his guitar, fully intending on tackling and subduing him until security could remove him from our stage and hopefully the venue. (We may argue constantly amongst each other, and there has been a blow or two thrown in our less than finest moments, but if you are not one of us, you do NOT touch my band mates.) I had reached terminal velocity about three feet away from this latest fiasco, and was preparing for impact (and whatever happened to come after), when our lighting guy suddenly threw on some par cans that brightly illuminated the whole stage. As my eyes adjusted, I quickly noticed two things. The first was that the man had one leg. The second was a colostomy bag, full of waste and still attached to the man’s innards by plastic tubing, flopping around the stage like a muddy channel cat on a dry riverbank. The fan had his arm around Mark’s neck, a huge grin plastered across his face as he hopped up and down on his one leg. The look on Mark’s normally composed face can only be described as priceless. It was beyond hilarious.
But I had no time for belly laughs, as I was hauling ass and about to send this man flying off his single leg with the might of all 165 pounds of my lanky frame. I tried to put on the brakes, but my inertia was too great, so I performed an extremely awkward leap up and to the side of them, narrowly missing wrecking into the pair. It wasn’t so much of a leap as it was a flying vertical stumble, but I managed not to smash into Mark and his new monopodular friend. As I began my short descent, I saw the colostomy bag laying directly beneath me and getting closer very rapidly.
It’s strange how time always slows down for me in extremely stressful situations, and I remember like yesterday my feeling of helpless horror as I saw my right foot bearing down on a direct collision course with the bag of waste; a size 11 Vans covered comet about to make its disgusting impact on the surface of planet poop. The bag glistened darkly, lurking on the stage below me, far worse than any cow pie I had ever squished between my toes as a boy running barefoot through the fields of Southampton County, VA. My mind raced as I braced myself for the worst—would it explode underfoot, a truly terrifying weapon of ass destruction? Would the tube disconnect and blast our unsuspecting audience with a foul spray of pee-pee ca-ca, the way that bastard Governor George Wallace had his police thugs fire hose Civil Rights protestors in 1960s Birmingham? Would the tube remain connected, shooting the waste back up into this fan, poisoning his insides and eventually killing him? WHY DOES THIS KIND OF STUFF ALWAYS HAVE TO HAPPEN TO ME, NOT NORMAL PEOPLE? OH GOD, I'M GOING TOO FAST, GOING WAY TOO FAST, CAN'T MOVE IN TIME, OH NO HERE IT COMES . . .
And my foot slammed into solid wood, missing the bag by a centimeter. Someone hustled the fan off, and that was the end of it. I’ve often wondered how a one-legged man with such an obvious disregard for the safety of his colostomy bag (it’s not like he was inconspicuous) managed to get past security and onto the stage in the first place, and when asked about our strangest fan interactions, Mark or I would invariably bring up that night.
“My God,” I would laugh, “Can you imagine how bad it would have looked if I had smashed that guy? I can see the headlines now: ‘D. Randall Blythe, singer of metal act lamb of god, tackles crippled fan, exploding colostomy bag in process. Dismayed audience members sprayed with infectious human waste. Lamb of god forced to cancel current tour as former fans nationwide boycott band, calling Blythe “a heartless monster,” a risk to the public health, and demand his arrest.’” It was all very funny in retrospect.
The current matter at hand was not amusing at all. Very real headlines had made me out to be a monster, I was in prison and charged with killing a fan of my band, and amazingly, yet another colostomy bag had appeared in my life, this time in the worst possible place—a disgusting shower cell that was my only meager hope for getting my already disgusting body somewhat clean. I watched in horrified fascination as the Roma unhooked the tubing from his stomach, carried the bag with him under the running shower head, and dropped it carelessly on the floor. As the water ran over his head, instantly tamping down his curly pompadour, the man turned around to face us, smiling. There was an open vertical incision on his belly, perhaps two inches wide by four inches tall. Something pinkish and grey protruded from the hole in his gut. It looked like someone had unzipped him and part of his intestines were bulging out. Directly below the incision was a rather sizable uncircumcised penis. It was covered with large, very noticeable warts. I felt my testicles trying to crawl up inside of me to safety. I stood frozen by the changing table, petrified and slack jawed as my brain tried to process this awful visual collage.
The man squirted green prison canteen shower gel into his hand and began to carefully clean his abdomen, then lathered up the rest of his body. He saw me looking at him, smiled, and held up the bottle of shower gel, offering it to me in a friendly way. This kindly gesture unfroze me, and I shook my head no with a weak smile, holding up my ziplock containing my own shower gel. I turned around and saw Dorj and Ganbold standing behind me, staring at the man in mute horror. We milled about in the entry way to the shower, repulsed and unsure of what to do. Finally Dorj sighed and resolutely strode into the shower. It was the singular bravest act I ever saw him commit in the thirty-four days we spent together.
Ganbold and I looked at each other, gulped, and after a few seconds of hesitation followed Dorj into the shower. The next five minutes were a grim, nervous, all-male nude dance of avoidance. Chimpo Weaselman would stand under one shower head, lathering and rinsing, laughing and oblivious to the exposed innards of his warty new companion standing a mere four feet away. Dorj, Ganbold, or myself would be underneath the other head, soaping, scrubbing furiously, and rinsing as fast as we could. Then the quiet Roma would take Chimpo’s place, and who ever was under our shower head would leap out from beneath it, joining the other two in hugging the shower wall, as far away as possible from the water bouncing off his terrible smelling wound and knobby unit. There was no joking, no laughing, no talking at all from the men of cell #512. No lollygagging or relaxing for that precious extra minute beneath the only hot water we would see for the next three or four days. I don’t believe the three of us even washed our hair. We did not want to be in that shower with that man, and I could see by the crestfallen look on his normally cheerful face that he knew it. The room smelled absolutely atrocious, a sauna reeking of excrement, disease, and the sweat of panicked, repulsed men. Dorj, Ganbold, and I washed as quickly as we could, stepped over to the steel changing table bolted into the dirty tile wall, dried ourselves hastily with our threadbare towels, and put our clothes back on. Ganbold began slamming his fist into the steel door, yelling in Czech for the guard to let us out.
I looked back and saw the Roma staring at us with sad, dark eyes as the water fell on his head. I was immediately filled with shame at reacting to his presence the way I had. I had made him feel bad. The colostomy bag was not his fault, the fact that I was in this prison shower with him was not his fault, and his sexual health was none of my concern. My shame was shortly replaced with a rising fury directed at whoever had decided to put us all in the shower together. This was a man with a specialized medical condition that needed a sanitary environment. MY GOD, I COULD SEE HIS INSIDES. He had a severe case of genital warts and his bodily fluids were splashing about as he cleaned himself. I didn’t know how contagious any other diseases he may have had could be in that steamy environment, and I grew more indignant towards the apathetic wardens of this crumbling edifice with each passing second I spent locked in that mildew stained cell with the quiet man.
And truth be told, I hated him for a few seconds. Hated him for his venereal disease, hated him for his open wound and exposed intestines, hated him for his smell, hated him for arousing the sense of panicked disgust that more and more threatened to consume me the longer I remained in his immediate vicinity. Most of all I hated him for his eyes; his dark, mournful, eyes that made me hate myself. I knew he knew I was revolted and angered by his presence, and in that moment, to my shame, most of me simply did not care.
This is what prison does to you—it dehumanizes you, and quickly strips away the polite pretense of societal norms and niceties. It forces open your eyes with a cruel and brutal speculum of despair and self-preservation, showing you the ugliness in others, and the ugliness in yourself. It will swiftly turn you into an animal if you let it.
After what seemed like hours Archie Bunker reappeared to let me and the Mongols out of the shower room. We poured out too quickly for his liking, and he looked frightened at first, then annoyed, fingering his nightstick and barking at us in Czech to slow down. Tom Selleck #1 must have just arrived for his shift, as he poked his head out of the office to see what the commotion was all about as all three of us began jabbering simultaneously at Archie in Czech, Mongolian, and English. I have no idea of what exactly Dorj and Gambold said, but I’m sure it was along the same line as my epithet filled tirade.
“WHAT. THE. FUCK. WAS. THAT? Archie Bunker, have you lost your FUCKING MIND? There’s a dude in there with his goddamned GUTS poking out of him! My God, man, that is SO GROSS. He’s got warts all over his johnson and it smells like hot death in there! Warts, Archie, BIG ASS WARTS ON HIS DICK and a hole in his gut—the motherfucker looks like a human piñata about to pop. We could be catching all sorts of weird shit in there! You cannot put us in there with that guy again, no way, there is no way, NO FUCKING WAY, ARCHIE that we are ever doing that again! Negative, you bald dumb-ass! You have to fix this situation, like NOW.”
Since we weren’t speaking Czech, Archie ignored me and Dorj’s hysterics and barked replies at Ganbold, interrupting him curtly all the way during the fifty-foot journey from the shower back to #512. Archie was beginning to look really peeved with Ganbold, and every time my Mongol cellmate would start to say something else Archie would snap “Neh,” then something else in Czech, over and over. We reached our cell, he opened the door, impatiently motioned us inside, and slammed it shut with a scowl. We all looked at each other.
“Ganbold, what did the bachar say? We cannot shower with that guy—it’s not safe for us! Did he say it won’t happen again?” I asked.
“No. This man, all he says many times is ‘No! No, this is normal.’ This other man has disease. This is NOT a normal! This is a mots špatny!” Ganbold said.
“Normal? NORMAL? Fuck him! We are not showering with that guy again, no way! Maybe it’s normal where he comes from to shower in a disease factory, but it’s not normal for me. I’ll stay dirty before I ever get in that shower with that dude again. I need to talk to the health department in here or whoever, but we are not doing that again!”
So far my only experience with the Pankrác “health department” had included tuberculosis, bleeding junkies, and an ancient chain-smoking doctor. As I thought about this, I began to envision days without showering. We sat down on our cots, silently shaking our heads. Dorj wasn’t even whispering or whistling. This was bad. This was unacceptable. I had to think of something.
The solution to our dilemma came shortly, but from an entirely unexpected source: the British. A half hour or so after our very distressing shower, I was sitting in my boxers, stewing and already sweaty again when Tom Selleck #1 came and flung open the door. As he told me to get dressed quickly, he looked completely out of sorts, almost frantic. I threw on some pants and a t-shirt, and he made motions for me to tuck it into my waist band. Then he noticed and pointed at the large holes in my shirt, shook his head, and told me to change it. Much to my initial dismay, so far no one in Pankrác had paid the slightest bit of attention to the terrible condition of the clothes inmates were issued. All of my t-shirts had had holes or been threadbare, and I had not been given a single pair of pants that fit. WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE? I wondered, DID HE SCHEDULE ME FOR A PHOTO SHOOT? ARE WE GOING TO CHURCH OR SOMETHING?
Right as I finished tucking in my other t-shirt, a group of about seven or eight well dressed men and women, accompanied by Archie Bunker and another very large and muscular guard, appeared outside our cell door. All the men had on nice suits, and the women wore sharp business attire as well. They looked completely incongruous in the basement cell block, and for a second I just stared at them; their sudden and well groomed appearance seemed so out of place to my eyes that they might as well have been space aliens popping down to earth for a surprise visit.
“Hello, are you David Blythe?” a tall, gray haired man asked in a crisp British accent.