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Friday, February 17, 2012

Reclassification of X House -- February 19, 2012

Since the beginning of the week, numerous prisoners at Stateville have been moved to different cell houses. Already about 20 men just from C House have left the unit. Throughout the penitentiary, I suspect close to 200 prisoners have new housing assignments, and I expect there will be more in the following days or possibly weeks. Because nearly every bunk at Stateville is occupied, a game of "musical chairs" or cells has been playing out. All prisoners who leave are soon replaced by others, oftentimes in the same day, and some are being sent out of the prison altogether. Unfortunately, I have not been invited to participate in the musical cell game and remain in the same disruptive cell I was assigned when I first arrived at C House.

The purpose of the major shakeup is the reclassification of X House. Protective Custody inmates in X House are being moved out and replaced with low aggressive and low security inmates with less than 20 years to serve. Prisoners who have been approved P.C. status have been transferred to Pontiac. Pontiac C.C. is primarily a segregation prison, but it has one cell house which holds prisoners deemed to require special protection. Inmates who were waiting to be approved were moved to the Roundhouse, and those denied are being sent to the quarter units in General Population. Empty bunks in G.P. not filled by P.C. inmates are occupied by those from F House and other cell houses based upon certain criteria. C House is being filled back up mostly with older men from other cell houses who have been incarcerated a long time and have relatively good disciplinary records. A number of prisoners denied P.C. are also being sent to C House.

The past several days, I have noticed a few men who were trying to be approved for P.C. While standing in line waiting to go to chow I was surprised by one of these prisoners I have known from the past. He goes by the name Chase, and he is a middle aged white man who I do not believe has any need for special protection or isolation from general population. I simply believe he was seeking a less hostile environment with more privileges, movement, and job opportunities. While I was talking to Chase, a weird old man leaned forward and began to listen to our conversation. I asked Chase if that was his "rappie," which is prison slang for co-defendant. Chase gave me a weird look and shook his head. I then asked if the person was a friend, buddy, or prior cellmate, and again he answered no. Finally, I addressed the old geezer and asked why the fuck he was leaned up against Chase eavesdropping. The man backed off and I told Chase he cannot be bringing that riffraff with him from P.C.

At the chow table, I asked Chase what cell he was assigned in C House. Chase was fortunate to be given a decent cellmate and I told him so. He already seemed to realize this. There are so many terrible convicts at Stateville who I knew neither Chase nor I could get along with. Chase told me he had already settled in and was planning to do some painting later in the evening. I was envious of the man who had so much peace and comfort that he was able to paint only a couple of days after moving in with a complete stranger. Since moving to C House, I have remained uncomfortable.

Prisoners were talking about the men who came from other cell houses and were new to C House. Gossip is very common in prison and inmates are always interested in learning about people even if the information provided is incredible. I care little for gossip because I care little for the people around me who I have little or no interaction with. Despite this, I do listen to the rumors and there is often little I can do to avoid it. For example, a couple of the new men sent to C House have been readily identified as snitches, pedophiles, or "bugs." They may not last long in G.P., although others some have been able to survive without much trouble.

The vast majority of men being sent to X House are eligible to be transferred to a medium security prison. The reason they have not been sent out varies from person to person. Some men have medical holds which prevent them from going to another prison. These prisoners are kept at Stateville because they are receiving medical treatment at the University of Illinois in Chicago or another nearby hospital. A few inmates have out-of-state or federal warrants for their arrest as soon as they complete their sentence in Illinois. For example, Jimmy Files, the man who claims to have killed President John F. Kennedy, purportedly has a federal warrant pending. Other men simply are not transferred because they do not want to leave. They may be close to family, have good jobs, or have become comfortable here. Finally, there are prisoners who have been denied a transfer due to a lack of space. These men will soon be transferred, however.

The Illinois Department of Corrections is almost at full capacity, and ways to deal with the overcrowding are being sought. The Segregation Unit at Stateville is now limited to the lower floor of the Roundhouse. Prisoners who are disciplined with long periods of Seg time are sent to Pontiac which has been doubling up men in their cells. The court writs which were once kept in the Roundhouse have completely been moved to the Northern Receiving Center (NRC) which is located just outside Stateville's prison walls. NRC has the capacity of holding twice the number of prisoners as Stateville, although it was designed to only classify incoming convicts before transferring them out to appropriate penitentiaries across the state.

The Roundhouse, which once was almost entirely Segregation several years ago, is now primarily General Population. The upper three floors, except for a few cells designated as unapproved P.C., have similar movement and operations as the quarter units. This basically consists of walking to and from the chow hall, showers three times a week, access to religious services, and visitation. Inmates in the Roundhouse still only continue to have yard once a week, but the yard period is twice as long as it is in G.P. and never includes the two small yard areas. Those prisoners on the upper three floors of F House are those recently released from Seg, recently sentenced to the IDOC, and transfers, including men coming from Tamms Supermax.

According to rumor, many prisoners at Tamms won a class action lawsuit which prohibits them from being kept there indefinitely or because they are suspected gang leaders who have not disobeyed any specific rule. Formerly, Internal Affairs was transferring any inmate they speculated was or may promote gang activity. These prisoners, once sent to Tamms, could also be isolated there for their entire sentences. However, a new rule requires men at Tamms to be evaluated yearly and by a semi-independent panel. This change of policy is bringing a number of Tamms' inmates to Menard and Stateville. When I was at the Health Care Unit on Saturday, I met two of these men who had served over five years in solitary confinement. Although they spoke to each other about their struggle to leave and how happy they were now to be out, I do not think they yet realize how good they had it. I was very envious of the two men who had single man cells, peace, and quiet all the time.

The men leaving C House or arriving from other parts of the prison this week were held in the holding cage across from my cell, sometimes for hours. The cage was tightly packed with them and other men returning or going out on passes. It was incredibly noisy during the day listening to these men talk and yell to others. They yelled about where they were going, coming from or just about anything. I tried to ignore them by wearing my headphones and when this was not adequate to block them out, I tried ear plugs and headphones. On occasion, my cellmate would talk with those in the holding cage. Fortunately, however, he is not as socially obnoxious and loud as my former cellmate, Ely.

This Sunday, Thad and I watched the Superbowl together in part. He missed the third quarter by talking to Ely who was in the holding cage because his cell was being searched. He also missed the first quarter because he was making two large trays of nachos for us to eat. My new cellmate takes his nachos very seriously, but I was not impressed by his meticulous attention to detail. He spent over two hours preparing a meal that could have been made in less than a half hour. At kickoff, I was hungry and ready to eat, but my cellmate continued to dilly dally. I told him that if I did not have some food in my hand soon I was going to be very upset. Thad offered me a slice of onion he was cutting up, but I was not amused. I also was not happy that I could not focus all my attention on the game because I had to pay attention to ensure my cellmate practiced good hygiene while making the food. Finally, when I was given the finished product after much patience, it was as disappointing as the play of the New England Patriots who I was hoping to win.

I have been getting along better with Thad, despite the bad nachos, than I was with the previous three cellmates I have been assigned while in C House. However, Thad fails to understand that I do not want to be his friend, and I do my time alone. I am not interested in playing chess, dominoes, cards, or any other games with him. I also care less to engage him in any long conversations. Thad is more educated than most men at Stateville, and at times I will discuss a topic with him. However, he still is a black ghetto gang member that I have little in common with. I usually have much better ways to occupy myself than conversing or interacting with him. I sense this bothers him, and he continues to try to get himself moved to another cell.

On Tuesday morning, the prison was mysteriously on lockdown. I was dressed for a cold day on the South yard, but recreation lines were never announced. Nothing, in fact, was announced over the loudspeaker, and it was not until later that I discovered the Roundhouse was being searched by cadets, and no movement was allowed. The cadets are in training to be hired as guards, and they are out to prove something to their supervisors. From what I was told by other prisoners today, cells were ransacked and men's property was confiscated, often for no reason. I heard the cadets, for example, were going by an outdated list of how much of a certain commissary product a prisoner was permitted to have. Those prisoners who had more than the limit, such as two bars of soap, had their property taken. The cadets were accompanied by the Orange Crush Tactical Unit, but to my knowledge they only played a supporting role.

I am not certain what caused the administration to order the search of the Roundhouse. The building was on a lockdown for a fight not long ago, but I did not think it was serious. It did not cause the entire institution to be placed on lockdown and men outside of the building did not even speak of it. I only learned about it after seeing men sent to the Health Care Unit from F House in handcuffs. The search could have been conducted because of information learned through an investigation by Internal Affairs. However, I tend to believe it was due to the transformation of the Roundhouse to accommodate more prisoners not in Seg or on court writs. The cadets may have been given the experience of searching cells while at the same time making the unit ostensibly more secure for a population of more dangerous prisoners.

Tuesday was the first day I spent on lockdown with my new cellmate. He spent most of the day on his bunk, and I was glad he was not interrupting my thoughts. Later in the evening, however, he was especially talkative. Thad wanted to discuss politics, religion, education, and more. Three states were in contention for the Republican primary and Rick Santorum pulled off a surprising upset. Part of his succession of victories seemed due to President Barack Obama mandating the Catholic Church to provide contraception, but also because the other two front runners had ruined their reputations by attacking one another. Obama has quickly backed off his mandate, but now is requiring health care providers to provide contraception for free. I do not know why contraception is considered health care or covered by any insurance company. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a free lunch, however, and the cost of health care will go up for everyone. Lastly, the Church will not be able to wash its hands like Pontius Pilate for Obama's shell game. My cellmate agreed it was a shell game, and seemed amused by politicians' attempts to be clever and manipulative.

For a long time I listened to Thad talk about his mixed race daughter being assigned to a dorm which was entirely black. Apparently, the university has segregated dorms, although I believe the living quarters are voluntary and not a policy of the school. My cellmate condemns Martin Luther King and the government enforcement of integration, but he seems to want the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana to do so. He tells me his daughter was not liked by either the black nor white students and was eventually permitted to live off campus her freshman year. I told him this seemed like an appropriate accommodation, and I wish the prison also had a similar policy. Fortunately, the season premier of the TV show "The River" same on before I had to tell Thad his daughter was a freak. Living with prisoners of different races is always difficult due to a litany of conflicting opinions, culture, and other values.

Yesterday morning, I was called for a visit. As I waited for an escort I noticed, like the days prior, the group of inmates being moved in and out of the cell house. One of the prisoners was standing alone near the front door. He told me he did not want to leave F House, and I assumed the Caucasian man was formerly in Protective Custody. A lieutenant yelled at him saying if he wants, he will take him back, but he will be in handcuffs. The lieutenant was insinuating he would be placed in Seg. A counselor came over to talk to him and convince him to stay. She said C House was rather quiet and peaceful. I interrupted her and said, "Unless you live in my cell where it is extremely loud, or you get assigned a cellmate you do not get along with." The counselor seemingly being playful told me to shut up, and said I knew it was not that way. I continued to say how I had been stuck in the same miserable cell for half a year and have yet to have a good cellmate. I also mentioned how just this morning cellmates were taken to Seg for trying to kill each other. The counselor did not appreciate my remarks, but I do not know if the prisoner stayed or not. I went on my visit.

The lieutenant of the cell house escorted me and another man to the visiting room. On the way, the other prisoner brought up the fight. One of the men apparently was seriously beaten and he did not think it was too cool that a younger, stronger man beat up an old man. The lieutenant responded that he doubted the bigger man will get much prison credit or respect. He went on to say that it was like getting kudos for beating up a tall, skinny, white guy like Modrowski. The prisoner said I was probably in better shape than anyone in C House, and if anyone was going to be the victim, he doubted it would be me. I ignored what he said, and addressed the lieutenant saying, "That is why he needs to help me get moved before I am pummeled and taken off to Seg. The skinny, white guy needs a cellmate he can get along with." The lieutenant told me he thinks I will be transferred to a medium security prison soon, but I am highly skeptical this will ever happen, despite how the prison system is quickly running out of space.

Later in the shower waiting area I was talking to Steve, a prisoner who lives a couple of cells down from me. He told me at Catholic services he spoke to Bob, and that Bob was moved to X House. Bob was convicted of statutory rape and given a 40-year sentence, but he is now almost eligible to go to a medium security prison. Bob has never had a disciplinary ticket and has a low aggression level as well as a low security classification. I do not even think he should be in prison, let alone the newly classified X House. Through Steve, I learned that Bob was moved into the center wing of the cell house which has enormous 10 x 20 foot cells and no bars. I told Steve I was envious, but apparently Bob does not like it because the large cells have nothing inside them but a double bunk. There is no table, stool, shelf, or even a cable connection. Furthermore, the regular day lieutenant is Shivers, and she is appropriately named. Any man who looks at her too long is likely to get the shivers, if not turn to stone. She has a very bad attitude and is similar in respects to Lt. "Broom-Hilda." Possibly, they have a witches coven to conspire how to make prisoners' lives more miserable.

Interestingly, Bob was assigned Jimmy Files as a cellmate. Already from what I am told, Files has given Bob an earful of conspiracy theories, including how he killed the President. I do not like the semi-crazy man who goes about bragging that he assassinated John F. Kennedy, even if the President liked to play with rubber duckies in the bathtub, I told Steve. Steve replied that even so, his stories were very entertaining to him. They were almost as good as reading a professional novel. The old man who has spent over 20 years at Stateville has apparently had time to spin an elaborate and intriguing tale. However, I have no time or interest in his fiction.

Originally, the administration sought to reclassify X House as Tamms Stepdown. However, I believe they wisely reconsidered after a guard was taken hostage in the building. It is far better to have X House holding low security inmates than the high security inmates being released from the state's only supermax facility. As the great changes in Stateville were occurring this week, I felt a desire to be a part of it. For almost two decades, I have languished in captivity for a crime I did not commit. I long for freedom and a break from a long life of oppression. On the return from the dinner meal yesterday, I noticed a full moon hanging low, just above the tall prison wall. The moon seemed to represent the natural, free, and wild world that I long for. Some people may wonder why a wolf howls at the moon, but I know.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

3 Cellmates in 3 Months -- February 2, 2012

A cellmate has the most significant impact on a prisoner's life in Illinois' maximum security penitentiaries. Men who are cellmates spend almost every hour of every day together, confined within less than a 60 square foot space. They eat, sleep, use the toilet, read, watch TV, exercise, bathe, talk on the phone and almost everything else a person can imagine within feet of one another. Unless a prisoner has a job, he is trapped in a cell with someone else except for chow lines or an occasional visit or religious service. Prisoners can request to be moved through the Placement Officer, but at Stateville these requests are typically ignored. Throughout my posts, my cellmates are often mentioned because despite how I may not like them or try to ignore them, I cannot escape their imposing presence. This week, I was assigned yet another cellmate, and he, like the others, has radically altered my life.

On Sunday, my cellmate requested protective custody. I was not surprised because he told me from the day he moved in that he was not going to stay long. DD was scheduled to be transferred to Menard in a few months due to being classified a Level E. According to him, the guards at the maximum security prison in southern Illinois harassed and assaulted him, and he did not want to return. He debated going on a hunger strike or resubmitting himself into Protective Custody to avoid the penitentiary. Last week, as news that X House was being emptied, my cellmate made up his mind. If he requested P.C. when the unit was being moved to Pontiac, there was a possibility that he may also go.

Initially when my cellmate requested P.C., he was told he must wait until the following day. DD assumed the X House lieutenant wanted to move inmates around in the unit before he arrived. Apparently, other prisoners had listed my cellmate as an enemy, and it is policy to keep declared enemies separated, especially in P.C. However, the guard returned later to tell him he could be moved today and to pack up his property. While DD got ready to leave, I did not say a word to him. I did not like the man and had rarely spoken to him in the past. There was now even less reason to waste words. The guard did not return for him for a few hours and DD sat in silence until he became restless and reconnected his TV.

As soon as DD was gone, I felt like throwing a party. I had the cell to myself and it was "wunderbar". People outside of prison possibly cannot understand my joy and feeling of freedom. Afterall, I was still locked in a cage in the worst prison in Illinois, possibly for the rest of my life. However, at least momentarily, I was no longer cramped, excessively uncomfortable, and greatly inconvenienced living in a tiny space with a stranger who I did not like. With my cellmate gone, I was able to go about my day unimpeded. I also did not have to listen to the man yell, talk, listen to his television, belch, or fart. I no longer had to think about interacting, conversing, or dealing with this dumb, volatile man I had nothing in common with. The prison was still on lockdown from the hostage incident, and although I was in "the big house" with over 500 convicts, I was happily in my cage alone.

Despite having the cell to myself Sunday evening, I did nothing uniquely special. I exercised a little longer and used the entire cell rather than confining myself to the outer corner. I listened to my radio while I did so, and for the first time in months, I did not use my headphones. Afterwards, I washed clothes by hand in my toilet and then bathed out of my sink. It was nice to have the freedom to move around the cell without needing to coordinate activities with another person. It was also nice to have a little more privacy as well and not have to talk to anyone, although I did converse a short time with a guard, and before going to bed I called my parents.

In some of my more recent posts, I have written about a growing hostility between guards and inmates, but commonly the groups get along. Some prisoners have a hatred for all security staff, and I am certain some guards have animosity towards all the men incarcerated here. Despite this, there is a significant middle ground as well as a facade of amicability. I am not a deceptive person and I act towards people with the same sentiments I have for them. I also do not judge security staff merely as my captors, but on an individual and personal basis. The guard I spoke with Sunday has a friendly demeanor and spoke to me a little about my cellmate requesting P.C. I told him I was glad he was gone, but now I had to worry about the next cellmate I was assigned. I was thinking of asking him in jest if he needed a place to stay. I would certainly prefer him as a cellie than the vast majority of prisoners here.

On Monday, I knew my happy hours of isolation would come to an end. Empty bunks are filled within a day in general population due to the severe overcrowding. Possibly, having autism makes me all the more apprehensive of new cellmates. I am an introverted person who develops meticulous routines and order in my life. A new cellmate can cause enormous disruption. Being highly nonsocial also makes it very difficult for me to get along with new people. I tend to be very selective about the few people I speak with and there are extremely few prisoners at Stateville who share the same background, interests, values, and disposition as me. Someone in my family said I reminded them of the character Sheldon in the TV sitcom "The Big Bang Theory." We may share a few similarities, but our overall demeanor and appearance are greatly different.

I waited until noon for my new cellmate to arrive and then fell asleep. I was very tired and there was nothing I could do about who was assigned to my cell. My nap was interrupted when my cell door was slammed open and an intruder began to set property onto the counter top. The intruder was a dark complected black man almost my height, but much heavier in weight. I estimated him to be several years older than me, and he had a bald head and short beard. There was something slightly odd about his appearance and it went beyond the nerdish thick black IDOC eye glasses that contrasted with a mildly thugish look. His neck stretched forward bringing his head even with his shoulders, and there was an almost imperceptible disfigurement to his face. He gave me the impression of a black man mixed with a trace of DNA from Steven Spielberg's "E.T."

My new cellmate apologized for waking me up, and after bringing in all his property he introduced himself as "Thad," which was short for Thadeusz. I was pleasantly surprised by his polite gesture and that he used his real name rather than a prison or gang alias. Thad has served 18 years of an 85-year sentence for murder, all of them at Stateville. Almost half of this time he has spent in E House, and I was told once his aggression level was reduced, he requested to be moved to C House. My new cellmate went on to say he was tired of being in the same unit with the same younger prisoners who were immature and violent. He also added that his previous cellmate was incredibly stupid and took psychotropic medications, yet another reason he asked to be moved. Normally when assigned a new cellmate I would be prepared for battle, yet I sat on my bunk cross legged with my dark grey blanket over myself as he spoke. I tended to believe although the man was once a violent Gangster Disciple, I did not have any reason to believe I was in danger.

My new cellmate seemed very considerate and accommodating. As we spoke, he told me if there was anything which greatly bothered me, to just let him know. He did not want to have a cellmate with pent up anger over a matter which could be easily resolved. I was asked if I had any "pet peeves" and instead of giving him a litany, I just told him I am greatly annoyed by cellmates who regularly yell, listen to their radio without headphones, or continuously disrupt me. He told me he was not a person who yelled onto the gallery and he did not even have a radio. However, he did sometimes listen to his TV without headphones, but if it bothers me he said just tell him. Thad watches a lot of CNN news which I do not mind hearing, and I even watched an interview of Ron Paul with him. Before my cellmate began to place his property in the cell, he was also considerate enough to ask me if there was any way I liked to keep it. I told him how I dislike clutter and wanted to keep the counter and table cleared. Thad did not have a problem with this.

Thad seemed like a decent cellmate, but I quickly learned he was a very social person who wanted to interact on a regular basis. In fact, on the very first day he wanted to show me his photo album and introduce his entire family. I never let anyone look at my photos until I have known them a long time and have begun to like them. It was odd to look at Thad's photos. I felt as if I was invading his personal life. I also did not care to see the people who were important to him. However, my new cellmate was eager to share and tell me all about them.

Looking through the stranger's photo album, I was struck by how all his pictures were of people. In my collection of photos, the majority were of scenic landscapes, buildings, sculptures, paintings, and etc. For example, I have photos of my family home, my dog, Northern Lights, and my Ford Mustang which I purportedly lent to my co-defendant on the day he supposedly killed Fawcett. I have well over 100 pictures, but less than a quarter of them are of people. Also strange to me was that he had a few pictures of Caucasians. One was of a boy, and I said to him, "I know he cannot possibly be yours." Surprisingly, he said, "Yes and no." He had gone out with a white woman who had a son whose father wanted nothing to do with him. Thad said in a way he became like a son to him, however, I noticed the pictures of him were very old, unlike that of his real daughters.

My cellmate was very proud of his three daughters and claimed two had basketball scholarships. I am not sure if Thad appreciated this, but I told him I thought subsidies for female sports should be eliminated. I also added that public schools which are forced to have equal athletic programs for women as men deprived colleges of money which would be better spent otherwise. Thad was also proud of his mother who has went back to school to graduate in multiple subjects. From what he told me, I was impressed by her accomplishments but I was skeptical that he was telling the truth and not exaggerating. I noticed in the photos Thad and his family grew up in the ghettos of Chicago before moving to Ottawa where the single mother had a shack for a home. His brothers, however, displayed a lot of "bling" and had on hundred dollar gym shoes.

While Thad was organizing his box, he put a large stack of medications onto the shelf. Before I said anything, he began to tell me a long story about how one day he awakened terrified that his eye and surrounding tissue had swelled up to the size of a softball. Immediately he yelled for guards to let him go to the Health Care Unit. Doctors there thought it was an allergic reaction, but had enough sense to send him to an outside hospital. At the hospital, he was diagnosed with Wengener's Disease. Thad explained the disease initially causes disfigurement, but if left untreated begins to destroy internal organs and ultimately kills a person. Thad told me the extremely deformed looking man on our gallery also has Wengener's. He was just fortunate to receive treatment before it progressed so far. As I looked at his face, I thought this was the reason he looked like E.T. Thad thought my scrutiny was of worry or revulsion, and quickly told me it was not contagious.

Since Thad has been my cellmate, he has repeatedly asked or hinted if I wanted to play cards, dominoes, or especially chess. One day I even turned around to discover he was playing a game of chess by himself. I had not even noticed him until a prisoner in the holding cage yelled out to him, "Your cellie must be a grandmaster to be playing you without even looking at the board and while reading a book." After the man stopped making fun of my cellmate, I told him if I have time later I will play him a game, but I never did. I have, however, played him in a couple of games of Jeopardy. My cellmate had bragged how he was easily able to defeat his former cellmate at all games, especially Jeopardy. However, this was before I found out how much an imbecile his prior cellmate was. I do not think Thad will dominate the games anymore as my cellmate, if I do choose to engage him. At Jeopardy, I was able to answer about four questions to every one he answered. I am glad, however, my new cellmate is not as stupid as my last one, and I can actually talk to him about certain subjects. It is unfortunate though he does not know about germs.

Thad has tried to be clean, wiping off the floor every time he returns to the cell. However, I noticed he will dunk the rag straight into the toilet and then add some disinfectant, thinking the germs will just magically disappear. He also wipes out the sink every time he uses it with the same cloth. Thad fails to realize although the sink may look cleaner, he is spreading germs all over the fixture. I was going to tell him to scrub the rags with soap, or do not put them inside the toilet or sink, but so far I have not bothered. However, I am not going to trust him to make a special Superbowl meal with his concept of hygiene, despite how he brags he makes the best nachos in Stateville.

The prison has been off lockdown since Monday and many people have recognized Thad. Fortunately, Thad unlike Ely, does not have a need to say hello to everyone and engage them in conversation. He has talked with a number of prisoners, but he does so usually in a normal tone, and not excessively. This may change, however, as he realizes I will not be engaging him regularly and there will be hours I do not say a word and keep my headphones on. Already, Thad has begun to talk about trying to move upstairs where his buddies are. He says he wants to move because of the proximity of the cell to the guard's front desk and holding cage, but I believe my nonsocial nature is the reason.

Fortunately, the warden's new rule prohibiting privacy sheets is not being enforced. I tended to believe guards did not want to see naked men bathing and using the toilet. Years ago, a former warden tried to stand on the issue, threatening staff and initially a number of prisoners were written tickets. However, gradually guards ceased writing them and things went back to usual. I am glad no one has said anything to my cellmate and me about the matter because I do not want to be disrespectful to him or staff walking outside the cell. I also care not to be on display in front of the holding cage or the masses of prisoners regularly passing by. Many of the prisoners at Stateville are perverts or homosexuals.

The homosexual, Franky, asked me how I was getting along with my new cellmate. He knew that I have been unhappy with the previous ones I have had in C House. Before I could answer, he told me his cellmate had gone on a court writ and may not return. He inferred he could have me moved down into his cell. Most prisoners are unable to have cell moves done at their request, but because Franky is a snitch, he is sometimes granted special favors. Franky is a quiet and polite person, and his cell is away from a lot of commotion. He also is at the law library all day working as a clerk. However, there was no way I was going to be the cellmate of a homosexual I despise, even if he was gone half the time and was a mime.

I spoke to Thad about Franky the queer, and he has the same thoughts as I about homosexuality. My cellmate stated that homosexuality was an abomination to nature and Allah, which reminded me of Thad's unique religion. Thad is a Black Hebrew Israelite which basically believe the Jews are a mix of different races and ethnicities, including Eurasian Khazars, Caucasians, Mediterraneans, and Semites. The land of Israel does not have any historic connection to them, despite how the British and Americans ceded this territory after WWII. This is not controversial, in my opinion, and many educated people including Jews will admit this. What I do think is absurd is Thad's belief the Jews are not only impostors but that Africans are the true Israelites. The Torah, including all the prophesies and covenants in it from God, are directed toward them. Black Hebrew Israelites also believe in many other conspiracies and farfetched beliefs. However, despite how I think his religion is off the wall in many respects, it means that once a week my cellmate will be gone for a few hours to attend religious services and I will have the cell happily to myself.

Today is Groundhog Day and as usual I will watch the movie with Bill Murray after I finish writing this journal entry. I always watch the comedy which in ways reminds me of my own monotonous and miserable trapped existence. Just like the character Phil in the movie, I look down with disdain at most of the people around me and just want to get away. This is my third cellmate in three months, and I am hoping he will be the best of these. Regardless, though, I tend to believe my natural life sentence without a possibility of parole will continue to indefinitely torment me.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hostage Crisis -- January 27, 2012

On Monday evening, a demand for all inmate workers to report immediately to their cells was sent over the cell house loudspeaker. At the time, I was carefully reading through a 100+ page corporate report of Enterprise Products Partners. As with all company statements, the devil is in the details, and an investor is wise to review all of these. The announcement, however, and the following commotion easily distracted me. Guards were soon thereafter seen outside my cell bars briskly walking about shouting at prisoners to go to their doors. They were acting urgently as if there was some great threat or impending danger. While guards ran about to secure the cell house, I heard prisoners say a Code 2 came over the radio. Inmates, including myself, did not know what this meant, and a guard was asked what happened. The guard just said, "A whole lot of shit." I assumed this meant there was an assault on staff, but it was odd that whatever occurred was in X House.

X House is currently the prison's Protective Custody Unit. It is not usually known for violence. Many of the men there have special security needs due to a variety of reasons. Some of the inmates there simply have high profile cases and seek to avoid harassment. For example, Juan Luna, convicted of the Palatine Brown's Chicken Massacre was there until media attention dissipated. There are state witnesses, men who have snitched on their gang, and a few former police officers. Some men are seeking sanctuary from drug or gambling debts. There are also men who think they are women, sexual predators seeking these sissies out, and pedophiles that have been victimized in General Population, or threatened. A number of prisoners just do not want to be at Stateville and approved inmates are eventually sent to Pontiac C.C. My current cellmate claims he sought P.C. status to avoid being transferred to Menard where he has had problems with guards. He also knows P.C. inmates at Pontiac have better living conditions and privileges.

Upon hearing there was an incident in X House, my cellmate was trying to figure out what occurred and who was involved. DD had spent several months in the unit before he became my cellmate. He knows many of the prisoners and guards there, and sometimes mentions checking back into P.C. although he was denied. Prisoners cannot be denied P.C., and those rejected can repeatedly try again. However, those inmates not approved remain in a type of limbo status. They do not have contact with approved prisoners nor with those in general population. Basically they are treated like segregation prisoners except they have the same privileges except for movement. They are confined to their cells, except for visitation, yard, and showers.

Although initially guards rushed to lock everyone in their cells, they later allowed some kitchen workers to take a shower. A few cell house inmate workers were also let out. My cellmate asked me if it was typical for kitchen workers to be given a shower although the prison was on lockdown or if I believed the lockdown was called off. It was difficult to determine, but my guess was that the urgency of whatever happened had ended and guards were just letting some men who slaved in the kitchen to take a shower. DD stopped a cell house worker to ask if the prison was still on lockdown. He said no, and we were led to believe there was once again normal operations. This was not incredibly surprising because X House is an isolated building.

Monday night, I watched the reality TV show "The Bachelor," believing only X House was on lockdown. It is difficult to ascertain whether there are normal operations at night in the cell house because there are no movement lines. Only a small contingent of cell house workers were out, but this could be because guards did not see a need to let the others out when there was only limited work to be done. I did not care much, one way or the other. I was more interested in the unfolding melodramatic romance show and thinking why there was so much competition and outflowing of emotions for a man I believed was an undesirable nerd. At times, I turned the station to the season premier of "House," whose main character I could more readily identify with.

It was not until 3 a.m. that I knew with certainty the entire prison was on lockdown. It was then a guard woke me up yelling "Trays." Half asleep, I got up to get my tray and that of my cellmate, along with some units of generic Cheerios. I glanced into my tray to see three small pancakes with no syrup or any other toppings. Syrup has long been discontinued at Stateville, but on occasion prisoners will get a package of peanut butter. As I went back to sleep, I wondered why the guard did not just put the food on the bars or on the table as the prison workers do.

Tuesday, the prison was on a full lockdown and no one was let out of their cells. I did not mind being locked in my cage and continued my reading of the corporate report that I was reading the night before. Enterprise Products is a pipeline limited partnership. With the increased production of oil and especially natural gas domestically, I know there will be a much greater demand for the transfer of these fuels. Pipelines pay an excellent yield or distribution and they also have the potential for enormous growth over the next decade. Although I listened to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, I knew his rhetoric was largely deceptive, especially in regards to energy production. The halt of the Keystone Pipeline and many other projects demonstrates his true administrative policy. However I am willing to wager he will be a one term president. This will be a victory for not only Republicans, but energy investors too.

My new cellmate, while emotionally unstable and possibly mildly psychotic, is much less disruptive than the former man assigned to my cell. While I read and did other things, he mostly watched TV the entire day. He watched a number of true crime or prison shows such as "I Almost Got Away With It," "Gangland," and "Jail." He also watched "The Family Feud," "Cheaters," some black comedies, and even cartoons with much enjoyment. Many prisoners in the state's maximum-security penitentiaries spend vast amounts of time watching television. Although I find most television greatly unproductive, I sometimes question if I should join them. I study stocks, economics, history, astronomy, and other subjects. I pay attention to politics and significant news stories. I also regularly write, including this blog, but I wonder if my occupations are much more meaningful than those who live around me. At times when I read over the extensive corporate report of Enterprise Products, I paused to stare at the dreary cracked and peeling gray painted sides of my tomb and the bars which cage me. I share the same hopeless slow death as thousands of other prisoners, despite my innocence or what may be my aptitude or education.

A guard who I know and was working at the front desk came over to my cell. He leaned on my bars and asked how I was doing. What type of response was he expecting? I thought of saying "I live in a cage for the rest of my existence and my life is meaningless and torturesome." However, I simply said I was folding clothes. The guard has been employed at Stateville many years, and although he is free, I sometimes get the impression he is also burned out as well. He worked as a kitchen supervisor for a short time and also tried to change his job to a counselor. As I folded socks and engaged in trivial small talk, I thought of asking him if he had a spare bullet to put in my head. A truly empathetic counselor would do this, but prison policy would be to place me in an empty room, naked, under suicide watch.

As word traveled in the penitentiary, my cellmate and I learned more details of what occurred in X House. Apparently, a Level E inmate took a guard hostage with an improvised shank. The incident occurred after he let the inmate out to take a shower. X House does not have large shower rooms like in general population, but single shower stalls that can be locked. One of the showers is like a small dark closet and has a thick steel door. I do not know if the guard was taken to this shower or another, but he was locked in one of them. He was also forced to give up his set of keys and walkie-talkie. The prisoner smashed the radio, and this may have triggered an automatic alarm. Regardless, a sergeant working in X House confronted the inmate and got him to surrender. With the threat of Stateville's tactical unit busting into the wing and beating him senseless, the hostage taker went to his cell, leaving the keys on the gallery. The guard was let out of the shower soon thereafter without any serious injury.

My cellmate was greatly interested in who was involved, but initial sources did not know. For a half hour or longer he speculated with me and others. Eventually word came to my cellmate that the Level E inmate was Jeremy. According to DD, Jeremy was a strange short black man who often spoke in whispers but at other times would rant violently. He was also known to have strange behaviors while in his cell. From the description I was given, I wondered if the prisoner was mentally ill to some extent. Odd that my cellmate spoke of his volatility because he is also unstable.

I was informed of the guard's name, but I am not publishing it. I am not sure if I ever saw, met, or talked to the guard taken hostage and cannot even give a description of him. My cellmate theorizes, however, the guard may have provoked the inmate to "snap." Apparently, when men are let out for showers in X House, a guard will watch men to make sure they go directly to the shower without loitering on the wing. Many prisoners, though, want to stop at cells to talk or exchange books, magazines, etc. DD speculates the guard yelled disrespectfully at the prisoner or put his hands on him.

Despite my cellmate's speculation, I have heard contradicting rumors. The first of these is that the Level E inmate was simply trying to escape. He thought he could lock the guard in the shower and use his keys to leave the building undetected. The other rumor is that Jeremy was trying to lure a female guard onto the gallery to force her into a cell and rape her. According to this story, the prisoner used the walkie-talkie to ask her to report to the wing, but she was suspicious and told the sergeant. It is difficult to verify what was the true motive behind the hostage crisis unless I speak to a guard or an inmate who actually witnessed the events.

Interestingly, the P.C. unit at X House is being closed down to make room for inmates from Tamms Supermax. According to plans, P.C. inmates will no longer be kept at Stateville but quickly be transferred to Pontiac. Inmates waiting approval will be kept in the Roundhouse. X House will soon be called "Tamms Stepdown," which is a transition period before these inmates are allowed back into general population. The inmates at Tamms are supposed to be gang leaders, and the most dangerous or violent prisoners in the IDOC. If a guard is able to be taken hostage by a P.C. inmate, I wonder how staff will deal with exiting Tamms' inmates. I tend to believe additional superfluous security, manpower, and rules will be imposed. Already a new rule has been announced in general population, although it does not prevent or deter hostage taking and probably will make the prison less secure, if anything.

This morning, inmates in C House were told they could no longer use a privacy sheet in the back of the cell when bathing or using the toilet. Shouts of complaints immediately erupted from the cell house. I did not join in the protests, but I also greatly disliked the rule. It will, in fact, make me the most uncomfortable and inconvenienced. Throughout the day, numerous guards and prisoners are standing in front of my bars or walking by. Without being able to prop up a privacy sheet, it will be similar to me showering or sitting on the toilet in the middle of an airport.

Even if there was not a great amount of traffic in front of my cell, I do not live alone. I am trapped inside this 6' x 10' cage with another man. In maximum-security prisons of Illinois men spend the vast amount of their time in uncomfortable close proximity. Lockdowns can keep cellmates trapped with each other for weeks or months. The Placement Officer does not care if cellmates get along or even try to kill each other. This often tense and hostile atmosphere can be aggravated if men cannot give each other the common courtesy of using a privacy sheet while they bathe naked or defecate. The cells in maximum-security were never designed to accommodate two men. It was only because of overcrowding that they were. However, at least years ago, prisoners were able to chose their own cellmates and this greatly reduced hostilities.

Not having privacy is not only disrespectful towards your cellmate, but staff who work in the prison. I am certain the change in policy did not come from guards but the administration. In fact, I tend to believe staff opposed the new rule. There are many female correctional officers and nurses who work in the cell houses. Nurses must do regular rounds on the galleries, and guards can spend every day and hour of their shifts where convicts are celled. I doubt they want to be exposed to hundreds of men using the commode, bathing, or changing their clothes. The male guards also would prefer if convicts had some privacy and manners. Inmates already live demeaning lives in cages like animals and the administration wants to take away what little human dignity they may have left. The administration also seems ambivalent to increased tension and animosity between prisoners and staff. I do not see how men being prohibited from having the slightest bit of privacy will prevent hostage taking.

Before the President's speech before Congress on Tuesday, he said "job well done" to Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense. No one at the time knew what he was talking about, but later information was released to the press. Twenty members of Navy Seal Team 6, the same unit which killed Osama Bin Laden, parachuted into Somalia and rescued two Danish hostages who were kidnapped. The mission was an impressive operation by the Special Forces, although I wonder if it was not used as a political tool to highlight the President's effective leadership as Commander-in-Chief, despite questions about major strategic policies. It reminded me, in a small way, to events at Stateville, although definitely the hostage crisis at Stateville was dramatic. What I thought was similar was how the President used it to increase his prestige and the warden used it to make a change that seemed done only for appearances. A maximum-security prison is always going to be dangerous and violent things are going to occur, but the administration seemingly sought to act authoritatively. Not being able to see a man take a crap, however, will do nothing for security.

Earlier today, my cellmate left the cell on a visit, and I soon heard him arguing with a guard who is known to follow regulations like an automaton. All prisoners must be handcuffed behind the back during lockdowns, but this guard wanted DD handcuffed in a specific way where his hands faced outward. I believe the guard was following a new policy, but my cellmate has an injured elbow and shoulder making such handcuffing extremely painful. The argument intensified with them shouting at each other. The guard threatened to write him a ticket for calling him a "bitch coward", and a "house nigger". My cellmate did not care, however, and yelled to me to pack his property for Seg. I could see the incident unfold from my cell and thought it would turn into a physical confrontation until the sergeant came by and diffused the situation.

The administration seems bent on taking more and more away from prisoners until they are stripped of everything. Possibly, people will argue that convicts should suffer, but the increased oppression and tighter controls do not increase security. Contrarily, I believe at a certain point it diminishes it with a group of men who have nothing to lose. Recently, an inmate sold me a few tapes. One of them is "Nine Inch Nails--the Downward Spiral." A song I listen to now as I write is called "Piggy." I am not certain the pigs refer to cops, but the song ends repeating the same lyrics time and again: "Nothing can stop me now because I don't care anymore." The staff assaults, hostages, and other violence seems to embrace this sentiment of prisoners. Prisoners simply do not care anymore.