Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Episode Where I Try, And Fail, To Pee

From the Desk of: Joel*

With Summer winding down, I figured that it was about time for me to clear my slate (is that a mixed metaphor?) and prepare for the return of routine in the Fall. I'm going to start volunteering as a writing tutor at the Danville Correctional Center in September, and on Friday I went down there with the other new volunteers for drug testing.

While I was waiting for my turn, I reflected that I have spent a lot of my time in one of three great institutions of our society: public schools, hospitals, and prisons. Therefore, I have had to pee in a cup in front of strangers many times. I wasn't nervous or anxious at all, and so when it came my turn, I jumped up, and followed "Tom," the hulking drug counselor, down the hall and into the tiny, un-air conditioned prison bathroom, plastic cup in hand.

But then the worst thing happened. Nothing. Tom and I stood there for what must have been ten minutes - it's a cliche, but it felt like hours - while I tried, and failed, to pee. I honestly was not nervous at first; I think that I couldn't pee because I had slept in and not had time for coffee or breakfast before we left. But as the seconds ticked by, and the tiny room became hotter and I started my unfortunate habit of sweating like a starving mule from Idaho, I became increasingly anxious. Finally, Tom suggested that we go back to the conference room, so that the other volunteers could have a turn, and I could drink a cup of water. (I was allowed 8 oz. every 30 minutes.)

So I sat and sipped my styrofoam cup full of water while two other guys went to the bathroom and returned, triumphant with test tubes filled with yellowish-clear liquid in hand. After a few minutes, I told Tom that I thought I was ready now, thank you very much, and he escorted me back to the prison bathroom.** And the same thing happened. I couldn't pee. I tried all sorts of tricks; swaying from side to side, sitting down, working the abs and then the butt muscles, etc. But nothing happened. Another ten minutes passed. Finally, Tom again suggested that we go back to the waiting room, where maybe I could drink another cup of water, or something.

I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this, except to say that everyone at Danville was really nice about the fact that I couldn't pee, and that they told me that it happens to people all the time, and that I was glad how patient everyone was while we sat in the conference room, everyone having by this time gone except for me, and we all sat and watched me sip water from a styrofoam cup and chatted about Brett Favre. After about another twenty minutes, I told Tom that I was ready to try again, and that, indeed, the third time was the charm, and I was able to fill the cup up just barely above the little 30 cc line that denoted the minimum necessary sample of urine. Then we went to the next room, where all of the volunteers were fingerprinted and photographed, and we had official ID's made for the next time we visited.***

I'll be going back to Danville once or twice a week this fall, helping inmates who are working towards their B.A.'s with their writing, and tutoring them when they need additional help, etc. Now that dreaded piss test is out of the way, and I'm one step closer to getting back into the structure and routine of the school year.

* Sometimes readers on Facebook get confused about who's writing. I don't want you to think that this happened to Robyn.

**The bathroom that we were using was in the sick ward wing of the prison, and was available both to staff and to inmates visiting the ward for one reason or another.

*** We were told to bring proof of a TB test with us, but no one asked us for those papers. But just in case you were wondering, I don't have TB, and I have a card in my wallet that proves it.

No comments: