During the 70s, in cockroach heaven 10 Block, we were locked in our individual segregation cells for 24/7. There was no law then that said we were to be given one hour a day out of cell for exercise.

We found ways to spend the long hours each day and to have communication with fellow prisoners, even if they were in cells at the other end of the tier from ours. We passed newspapers or magazines by rolling them up and tying them closed with string made from bed sheets. After many tries, one could even get proficient at throwing something and having it land just outside the cell bars of a particular cell, where (if it fell short and out of arm's reach) it could be fished in with a sneaker and long laces. Even cups of coffee could be passed by making a "shuttle craft" out of a small box with string tied to the other end. The prisoner would slowly pull the box down the tier, retrieve the cup of coffee with minimal spillage, and pull the box back into the sending cell for future use. The only problem with passing things was that guards would lie in wait to pounce on whatever was being passed and confiscate it. One had to be quick to avoid this.

In a cardboard box under my metal bed lived a mouse family. They were good company and helped distract me for many hours each day. The light bulb in the cell was only 40 watts, and it was behind a thick, dirty, yellow pane of glass, making it even dimmer — ideal semi-dark conditions for mouse breeding. In the mouse family was one particular rodent that grew faster than the rest. This was the one I adopted and nurtured. I named him Clarence, although he could have been a she. I swear, I never peeked. Clarence loved peanut butter. It got to where he wouldn't eat anything but. At night he would roam from cell to cell, and other prisoners would feed him as well.

On the inside part of the cell was a small opening that led from cell to cell all the way down the tier of fifteen. I made a long strip of string from a sheet and had it passed down the mouse hole to the last cell, so it could be marked with an ink pen to show which cell the string stopped in. I got the bright idea to avoid the guards pouncing on things by using Clarence as a drug mule; or, in this case, a drug mouse. I could tape a couple of joints on his back and send him down the hole, and I would know by the ink markings which cell he stopped in. The guy on the other end would carefully pull the tape off and retrieve the weed. Clarence was always rewarded with food.

About a year later, Clarence was so fat he waddled. I asked all the guys to stop feeding him so much. I found out that some were lighting up and blowing smoke in Clarence's face. I don't know if mice get high, but he did seem to have the constant munchies.

Someone drew a caricature of Clarence that I have kept all these years. He is holding a joint in his little paw and looking real mouse-perous (see picture). When I left 10 Block for another segregation unit, I turned over the care of Clarence to my pal, Ray Champagne. Sadly, Clarence died a few months after that. It just so happened that he died on the day reporters from the Boston Globe were in the prison checking on conditions of confinement in segregation. When they came to the tier to see all the filth, Ray held Clarence through the cell bars by his tail and Clarence made the news (see picture).

Clarence had a good life, and now, finally, thirty years later, this is his tribute and obituary.

Joe Labriola
December 5, 2006

  Return to top of page