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Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media VII

The Northampton County Prison’s bullpen is oddly shaped. The gate opens onto the cell’s most expansive area, a rectangle roughly 10′ deep × 20′ wide.

Across the cell’s threshold to the immediate left is a 2′ recess abutting the left wall. Set into this recess is a 2′ deep × 2′ tall slab of concrete that runs the length of the left wall and follows a right angle to the wall opposite the gate. This slab serves as a bench/cot.

The 20′ wall opposite the gate is halved by a 4′ high cinder block partition that extends about 5′ into the interior of the cell. On the other side of this partition, set into the wall that forms the end of the main rectangle and just out of sight of the gate, is a metal commode/sink fixture that probably hasn’t been clean since it was installed.

Continuing to look in from the gate, a second 4′ high cinder block partition originates about 4′ right of and perpendicular to the terminus of the first. This second partition runs along the right side of the commode. The gap between the partitions serves as the opening to a kind of stall that offers negligible privacy.

For no reason evident to me, to the right of this “cat box” structure is a 10′ deep × 5′ wide alcove. Set into the alcove’s end is another 2′ tall × 2′ deep slab. The right wall of the alcove runs back past the cat box to the gate, which is built into the same wall. The topmost third of this wall is all fortified window panes that allow C.O.s to look in on inmates as they pass.

Essentially, we inmates sat in a kind of showcase equipped with a bench designed to promote hemorrhoids and/or lower back pain, a commode that would turn the stomach of the most seasoned plumber and an oddly designed alcove that would puzzle the architects behind the pyramids of Giza. Still, we had each other.

Over time, the Coffee Man dropped bits of information regarding his arrest and the charges he thought he might face. Without publicly declaring his revelations, I figured he should find different friends. Not necessarily better friends — this is not a class struggle — but friends with fewer, less violent enemies. Regardless, the Coffee Man seemed to be a decent guy, even if it was plain that he might prove a tad difficult if provoked. Considering that none of us in the bullpen that day was his enemy, he was quite jovial. He seemed to save his best improv for chow time. God knows he had lots of material to work with.

Most of us had been sitting in that cell for hours, hungry and swallowing our own spit to avoid drinking from that abominable commode/sink fixture and the metallic, sulphuric water it spat out. No one thought to complain about this as the C.O.s made it clear that, once secured in the bullpen, we were as amoeba: Simple, single-celled organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye and of even less importance. Still, we mustn’t count out the Coffee Man! It was he who dared to be counted…even with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

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Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media VI

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