Coffee Under the Door

A judge ordered them closed because they were deemed to be cruel and unusual punishment. I speak of the Blue Rooms that once existed in 10 Block segregation unit in Walpole.

The cell measured 8 feet by 6 feet, and it had no sink or toilet bowl. The toilet was a small hole in the middle of the cement floor, and it could be flushed only when the guard passed by and you hollered through the thick solid steel door to have it done. Sometimes they would flush; sometimes (depending on which guard) not. Once a day you would be given a quart pitcher full of water to drink, and every three days or so, a shower.

There was no light in the cell except for a sliver that seeped in under the solid door. That is where I used to lie and read. I had good vision back then. Other prisoners would tear pages out of books and pass them under the door.

Each tier had a "runner" who swept up and generally kept the place somewhat clean of trash. One day I yelled through the door for the runner to make me a cup of coffee (not knowing that a guard was just outside the door). I heard the guard ask, "How do you plan on getting the coffee in unless I open the door?" I replied that there was a way. He then told me that if I could get the coffee in without opening the door, he would leave the solid door open so I could have more light shine in through the bars.

The runner made me a cup of coffee and brought it to the cell. I took an empty bread bag and squashed it flat so that I could slide the open end of the bag under the door. The runner then lifted the open end of the bag and slowly poured the coffee in to run under the door into the closed end. Carefully, then, I lifted the bag and poured the contents into a small Styrofoam cup.

The guard opened the door, and, true to his word, he left it open.

These Blue Rooms were ordered closed sometime in the early 70s. They were fitted with toilets and sinks and then reopened for use.

Joe Labriola
December 5, 2006

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