To begin with, I slept badly at night and never in the day. But gradually my nights became better, and I managed to doze off in the daytime as well. In fact, during the last months, I must have slept sixteen or eighteen hours out of the twenty-four. (Albert Camus, The Stranger)
In both jails where I was kept — downtown and El Cajon — night didn’t look a lot different from day. Windows were narrow and opaque. Lightbulbs always burning. They fed us dinner early, 4:30 in the afternoon, so after playing spades or a dice game called Ten Thousand, bartering and then slurping chili-flavored Top Ramen, the TV cranked up louder and louder to cover the rest of the cacophony, a prisoner named Frenchy (he was a Parisian disc jockey who had beat up his local wife) did an inmate count, and most everyone went to bed. Tri-level metal bunks, one sheet, one thin wool blanket, no pillow.
The hours between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. were the only quiet. The TV was off. The catcalling to the transsexuals in the adjacent tank was over. The only thing to wake you was the damp cold seeping in where the blanket didn’t cover. The black guys running my tank downtown — I think they were Crips — were my buddies when they found out why I was in jail, and they gave me an extra blanket. In El Cajon there were no open windows, no dampness, but the thin metal plate holding up the mattress in my bunk was warped, so that every time I rolled over a little, it would bounce me — Thwong-g-g — and stir me out of sleep. That was the top rack, and because it was only two feet or so from the ceiling, I had to lie down and eat my meals like an ancient Roman banqueteer.
Around three-thirty or four in the morning came the click, the fuzz, then the bowel-loosening deputy’s voice over the loudspeaker: “Rodriguez, C-one-zero-three-four-one-eight-six-three-D. Harrison, H-four-three-five-one-zero-four-six-two-P. O’Reilly, Z-nine-four-six-eight-seven-nine-three-five-T. Prepare to roll out to court.” You heard the bus engines running outside, pulled in the driveway off C Street, ready to take someone to Vista, El Cajon, Chula Vista. Defendants won’t keep the court waiting, no sir.
Then the squeal of metal doors opening. Mail call. Then breakfast carts rolling down the hall. Quick, line up, grab the Styrofoam box, head back to bunk, eat, and back to sleep. I was always good for a couple more hours of sleep, but a lot of guys in my tank stayed in bed until lunch.
The guy in the middle rack next to mine was hard-timing it, sleeping 15 to 18 hours a day. Someone told me this was standard among tweakers (methamphetamine users) who had gotten busted after a five- or six-day binge of no sleep. But another guy said it was just something you got used to if you had nothing else to do.