The Washington State Penitentiary was a dangerous place during the 1970s, and that danger affected the relationship between inmates. In the following story, an inmate who was president of the Black Prisoners Forum Unlimited (the B.P.F.U.) during the 1970s describes what it was like.
Cover image for a B.P.F.U. pamphlet
Black prisoners began trying to organize in 1969 but their efforts landed their leaders in the hole with orders to never meet again. It wasn’t until Superintendent B. J. Rhay started a program he called “Pride in Culture” in the fall of 1970 that black inmates could officially meet. Six months later, after the start of the RGC and Lifers’ Club in the spring of 1971, Rhay sanctioned creation of the Black United Front, which later became the B.P.F.U.
A protest and sit down strike by black prisoners in the summer of 1972 led to a lockdown and negotiated settlement which gave the B.P.F.U. their own club area (see site plan). They called it Walter Carter Hall after a popular black inmate who had died in the mental health program on the third floor of the hospital.
Inside Walter Carter Hall
Site of B.P.F.U. banquets. Walter Carter Hall is on the left, the old gym is on the right, and the back of education is between the two.
The site of numerous assaults, robberies, stabbings, and murders, Blood Alley earned its name. No part of this covered breezeway was visible from the wall or any tower. Inside was little better. A hump in the middle limited visibility from either end. Furthermore, a group of inmates could easily block observation of nefarious activity.
In the picture below, the hospital and pill line are on the right; Central Control, the BPFU, and Four/Five Wing are on the left. The auditorium, also a dangerous place in the 1970s, is in the distance.
Inside Blood Alley