I suspect that for as long as there have been prisons, there has been low-grade toilet paper. Some committee probably sat down and decided that even our toilet habits should not be allowed to be overly comfortable. The metric of punishment extends to every corner of prisoners’ lives.
And so for as long as we can remember, our toilet paper was
single-ply, having the properties of tracing paper. Without being too specific, I can only say that it was more useful to smear than to absorb.
It did have its uses, even if unintended ones. The shiny surface was very good for writing upon, and countless hidden messages flowed around the prison - and out of the gate - on this free paper. For the desperate it could also be used as a makeshift cigarette paper. Never underestimate the ingenuity of a man gasping for a smoke.
Staff toilet paper, on the other hand, was a very soft two-ply. Real toilet paper as the world knew it. Now and then some of this would fall into our hands, a roll here or there, and provided a welcome touch of comfort.
So ingrained was this lavatorial apartheid that when soft loo roll appeared in our communal toilets we instinctively stole it, squirreling it back to our cells before the next man did. New, still soft, rolls appeared to replace those stolen. We kept assuming some error in the stores for our unexpected bounty, and kept stealing them.
Only when the Wing Manager put up a notice did we recognise the dawn of a New Age: "Please stop stealing the toilet rolls, they are yours! Soft toilet paper is now being issued to prisoners."