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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Library -- June 23, 2009

When the prison is not on lockdown, each cell house has a library line run twice a week. Only 30 prisoners are permitted to go, and only once a week. A prisoner must submit a request to be approved for library use a week in advance. People representing themselves and with court deadlines are given priority, but you may make the list if you have legal research to do, copies to be made, or need access to your legal box stored in the library. Those who simply want to check out a recreational book to read almost never make the list.

I am fortunate to be on the library list usually every other week. I have excess legal materials that I cannot fit in my cell correspondence box that I need to review on occasion. I also tend to need to make copies of legal materials, letters, or notes that I have written. Mostly, however, I go to do legal research on a successive post conviction appeal. All my regular appeals have been denied or thrown out, but I continue to look for an avenue to get my case back into court. The State of Illinois and the court system do not want prisoners continuously trying to get their cases reheard, and have set very stringent laws preventing re-litigation. Even innocent prisoners have an extremely difficult time getting heard in court after they have exhausted their regular set of appeals. I agree with the state's desire for finality of conviction, but I also believe that justice should be sought at trial more vigorously, and especially on appeal where life and liberty have already been stripped away.

The library is several blocks from where prisoners line up outside of the cell house. We are escorted by a few guards who stop us every so often because the lines break up, or are not as orderly as the leading guard desires. Years ago, we did not line up to go to chow, yard, library, or other places. It was just a herd of inmates going here or there. Due to the administration's desire for more control, order, and security, we must now always walk in lines. The lines are a much more time consuming process, and it probably took us 20 to 30 minutes under today's hot sun to enter the library. The procession was particularly slow and loud once we got to the path next to the South yard where many people wanted to yell out to their friends or gang affiliates.

It was nice to leave the summer heat for the air conditioned library. It is not often that prisoners at Stateville feel air conditioning. The library is an "L" shaped area with tables and chairs on one side, and bookshelves on the other. A guard sits at a desk in the middle to see both sides. I sat down with an older white man, and began to go through my legal folders to determine my plan for the day. Inmates only get about an hour and a half at the library. I am usually hurried for time and like to get all "my ducks in a row" before starting.

Over a month ago, I put in Shepardization requests for several cases including Waldrop, Erickson, and Lucas v. O'Dea. The Waldrop case is about a granted successive post conviction due to the petitioner's former post conviction counsel's failure to attach, or try to get, necessary affidavits. Erickson is a case that permits defendants to raise ineffective assistance of direct appellate counsel on successive post conviction appeals, but only if you had the same lawyer on direct and collateral appeal, as I did. The federal Lucas v. O'Dea case is about due notice of charges. All of these cases are of interest to me, and I wanted to see if there were similar cases that I could read. However I was told my Shepardization request was still incomplete. I may end up waiting another month.

I went to the copy room to make some copies of case law and discovered that no copies were being made. The principal of the elementary and GED classes is in charge of the library. She made a rule that only so many copies could be made per month, despite the fact that we pay for them. Apparently, we went over our quota and no more copies will be made for the month of June. After hearing this, I took an inmate grievance form to fill out. The principal does not have the authority to set a quota system that infringes on prisoners' rights to prepare and research laws for appeal.

After completing my grievance, I went over my checklist of cases to read that may be helpful in filing a successive post conviction appeal. I found one, and went to the counter to be waited on. At Stateville, you cannot get a legal book for yourself. A prison worker must retrieve it in exchange for your ID card. This, unfortunately, is necessary here because prisoners often steal books and care less about others who may want to read them.

Back at my table, reading the case and taking notes, I was interrupted by the older man who wanted me to help him find a case in a book, and also to explain how to use the key system at the beginning of court rulings. I was not eager to help him. My time is limited, and I knew he was looking at cases already filed by his lawyer. "What good is it to do research after your case has been filed?" I asked. This is something he should have done before. I quickly found his case and managed to read the rest of my case before the guard was yelling, "Library is over."

As I stepped out into the heat, I was disappointed to get so little done. For years, I have been looking for a way to petition the court for a retrial. Apparently, I will be waiting longer.

Cellmates -- May 29, 2009

Earlier this week, my cellie spoke to me about how he had put in for a medium-security transfer. Although the chances of his transfer being approved are low, I was concerned about getting a new cellie. For the most part, prisoners are assigned cellies at random. While here, I have had the misfortune of having to share a cell with the worst of people. I have been celled with the most obnoxious, loud, discourteous, stupid, hostile, mildly insane men, or simply with those I have absolutely nothing in common with. Due to this, I have served the most miserable time at Stateville, and the prospect of getting a new cellie is always unsettling.

Having a compatible cellie in a maximum-security prison is important, and I consider that to be the most important matter. At Stateville, you are locked down for long periods of time, and even when not on lockdown, you are largely confined to your cell. Cells in maximum-security are typically 5 by 10 feet, a little smaller or larger depending on where you are. My current cell is approximately 6 by 11 feet. Cellies must share this small space to do all of life's activities including using the toilet, washing up in the sink, exercising, eating, sleeping, listening to the radio, etc. As I write this journal entry, my cellie is jogging in place at the other end of the cell. In order to do almost anything you need to coordinate with your cellie. Otherwise you are regularly bumping into each other, arguing, or playing a game of Twister, which I refuse to play.

Many years ago when I first came to prison, prisoners were allowed to chose their own cellies. However, as the guards have tightened their grip, this has changed. It went from getting the approval of a guard to that of a sergeant, and then a lieutenant. Now, all moves at Stateville are done by a placement officer who only knows an inmate by his file. An inmate can write the placement officer to request a nonspecific move, or on occasion, he can talk to a lieutenant or job supervisor to speak to the assignment officer on one's behalf.

The placement officer assigns people based on aggression level and gang membership. However, sometimes people are just arbitrarily put wherever there is room. Cell houses are generally assigned to either high or low aggressive inmates, with moderates put anywhere. Security is a major concern for the administration, and the placement officer is told never to assign two people of the same gang in the same cell. Furthermore, gang groups are divided so there is never too many on one gallery or cell house. There once was a policy at Stateville of never allowing two white inmates to share a cell. However, apparently there has been a change in this policy, and probably for a good reason.

On April 2, 2008, a black prisoner brutally killed his white cellie. The victim was beaten and finally strangled with a shoelace. Sadly, the victim was to be released from prison within three weeks. Also this spring, I read a Chicago Tribune article describing a murder at another maximum-security prison, Menard. According to the article, a man with a natural life sentence who was recently released from Tamms Supermax, killed his cellie who was only placed in maximum-security as a punishment for smoking marijuana while at a minimum-security facility. The victim yelled at the guards to move him for hours, according to reports, but was ignored and later he was found dead.

Fights and assaults happen regularly between cellies at Stateville, and murders are not rare occurrences. The administration is concerned more with security and keeping a tight control over the prison than the safety, or compatibility, of cellies. Illinois has only single man cells at Tamms Supermax, and at Pontiac's segregation unit. This is done solely to isolate and punish prisoners, and not for their safety or to give them adequate living space. Although many other states have single man cells in their maximum-security prisons, I doubt that this will ever be done in Illinois, particularly with this state's overcrowded prisons. I feel very fortunate to have a cellie I can get along with, and I hope he is not moved or transferred any time soon.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Director Visits Stateville -- June 16, 2009

For the last several days, Stateville has been preparing for a visit from the director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). Over the weekend, prisoners were not allowed out of their cells until late in the day because a large crew of maintenance workers were in the cell house cleaning the exterior walls and other places that prison workers can not reach. During my entire time at Stateville, I have never seen so many maintenance workers, and the fact they were here on a weekend is even more surprising. Last winter the toilet in my cell went out on a Friday, and my cellie and I had to urinate in our sink and defecate on styrofoam food trays until Monday because no maintenance workers were available. However, here they were in mass with all types of equipment getting ready for the director's visit.

The maintenance men brought with them a number of ladders and scaffolds. Some of these ladders were hydraulic, and it took some time to be built up high enough to reach sections of the cell house walls which go up about 50 feet. The bird nests which could not be reached by prison workers with their makeshift sticks were taken down. Bird droppings, dust, and dirt were removed from pipes and other fixtures. A hot air blower near my cell was finally cleaned. It had so much dirt caked on it that it did not function this past winter. Unfortunately, the blower's air filter was not bothered with; only the outside was cleaned. I was hoping the opaque windows would be cleaned so we could look out and more light would come in, but apparently, this would have taken too much time. At least the garbage from inside the window sills was removed.

Early Monday morning, prison workers were let out to clean, wax, and buff the lower floors. They worked hard all night to make this cracked floor shine, and fans were still drying the floors when I awoke. The upper gallery floors were ignored. I suppose that no one thought the director would bother going up the stairs. Those gallery floors are cracked, pitted, and look like gravel paths however, and they could not have been waxed and buffed.

For days before the director's visit, the administrators were acting particularly strict and petty. Often, they were seen going from cell house to cell house, making sure everything was in order, and that prisoners' cells were in "compliance." An assistant warden was seen popping in at the health care unit and library unexpectedly. On the day the director came, chow lines were run a bit tighter and there were more guards watching. The lieutenants were all out there, and even the major was supervising. Prisoners were shaken down going to and from the chow hall. Even I was pulled out of line to be frisked. A guard asked me what was in my pocket. I responded, "some ketchup." Then he let me go back in line.

This preparation reminds me of the time when ex-governor Blagojevich was considering closing the 100-year-old Stateville, and sending all the prisoners to the newly built prison in Thomson. (Thomson was built 4 or 5 years ago, and still stands mostly empty.) A group from Springfield, the capital of Illinois, were known to be coming to visit and inspect the prison. For a couple of weeks, maintenance and prison workers cleaned, painted, buffed floors, hosed windows, fixed noticeable plumbing leaks, etc. Even our visitors were treated nicely that week, and asked to contact their state representatives to keep Stateville open. I remember hoping that when the tour came through, it would be raining so they would see the roof leaking and the buckets that would have to be placed across the gallery. However, it did not rain, and the guards' union, as well as local congressmen, were successful in preventing the closure of Stateville.

The director and a large entourage came through my cell house about 2 p.m. All of the wardens of Stateville followed him, along with a major and some lieutenants. The director came only with a few staff from what I could see. He walked quickly past my cell twice, and I only got a brief look at the man who was the center of all this attention. He was a middle aged black man, wearing a suit, and had a short haircut. From word of mouth, I know he is from the Ohio prison system. He is supposedly in favor of inmate programs, but considering Illinois' abysmal financial state, I doubt anything will change around here. The director is also rumored to be in favor of taking out the guns from the prisons, and using that manpower for other duties. In Ohio, no weapons are permitted in prisons, and guards deal with unruliness and fights with pepper spray, physical force, and when necessary, batons.

I do not have an opinion of Illinois' new director yet. Change in the IDOC has mostly been for the worst during the more than 16 years that I've been incarcerated. And when you are at the bottom, you tend to think matters can only get better. How much worse can it be to live in a cage and be treated like an animal?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Visit With My Father -- June 11, 2009

Once a week, I will get to visit with my mother, father, sister, or a combination of them. Occasionally, a relative will come to see me, and on rare occasion, a friend. When I was at the Cook County Jail awaiting trial, and possibly a little while thereafter, I had a much more diverse and greater number of visitors. However, as the years go by, you see less and less of people, until only your family visits you. I appreciate them, and am touched by their support over all these years, even when at times I tried to push them away because I wanted them to get on with their lives without me. I thought my life was over.

It is for that reason, I am not at all happy when they are forced to wait for hours to see me when visiting. At Stateville, it is common for visitors to wait two hours or longer to see their loved ones or friends. This is due to a number of factors including the incompetence, laziness or unconcern of the staff, as well as the excessive rules and procedures put in place by administrators. To be fair, I must add that not all staff are as described, and Stateville does receive more visitors than any other penitentiary in Illinois due to its proximity to Chicago. Having wrote this though, there is no reason why Stateville cannot timely process visitors and bring inmates to the visiting room.

A prisoner is typically notified that he has a visitor by an announcement over a loud speaker. Once a visitor checks in, the name of the person they are coming to see is sent by computer along with a pass to the control center. Staff are then supposed to call the cell house you live in, and then your name is announced. After hearing one's name, a prisoner must wait for a guard to let him out of his cell. This can take a few minutes or a few hours. It is common to hear prisoners yelling repeatedly throughout the day to be let out. When a guard does open your cell door, you just do not walk to the visiting room. You must go first into a holding cage at the front of your cell house, and wait until an escort is found or one who is willing to take you to what is called "gate 5." At gate 5, an inmate will typically be put in another holding cage until he is sent to the strip search room. You can be waiting in this holding cage for up to an hour.

A strip search involves an inmate undressing completely while a guard goes through his clothing, and then does a thorough examination of his body. You must raise your arms, open your mouth, lift your tongue, go through your hair, and move your head from side to side so the guard can check your ears. You are also told to move your genitalia, turn around, bend over and spread your ass cheeks. What the purpose of such an extensive search is, particularly before you go on your visit, makes no sense to me. It seems like just another unnecessary indignity.

Today, I thought I would speed up the process by leaving my cell before my name was called. My thought was that my family would not have to wait as long. Surprisingly, I did not have trouble getting an escort and was strip searched without much delay. However, I was then told that my visitor had not been processed yet, and I had to wait back at gate 5. I waited for about an hour until a guard came looking for me. My father had already been processed and had been waiting nearly 30 minutes just in the visiting room. So much for my plan...

I did not visit in the "zoo" with everyone else today, but in a side room. The main visiting room is extremely loud and my father cannot hear well, even with hearing aids. For this disability, he has been given permission to use one of these rooms. It is much better visiting with family there. The noise in the main room is almost maddening to deal with. It can be so loud that you have to lean over the table and yell at each other to be heard. Visitors often complain of getting headaches or earaches from the loud yelling among over a hundred people in the basement visiting room. My father would never be able to hear me under such circumstances.

Upon seeing my father, I gave him a big bear hug. It was good to see him, and although I like to see my mother and sister as well, I was glad he was alone today. My father tends to be a thoughtful, quiet person in contrast to my mother, who is very social and talkative. When they come together, she will dominate conversation.

During my teen years, my father and I did not get along well, and our relationship was distant. Since my arrest though, this has changed. He is no longer the authoritarian, stern parent, and I am no longer the youth wanting to break free and be independent. We are on equal footing now, as adults, and I have noticed even from prison, that we share a lot in common. We have many similar interests, opinions, and values. Our personalities are also alike in many ways. I get along well with my father now, and it was good to talk to him, one on one. I wish we could have had a better relationship before my arrest, and I am saddened by all the years that have went by that we could not share time together. My father is now 64, and on the way back to my cell I was troubled with the thought that I will probably never have a real friendship with him. If you happen to read this post Dad, Happy Fathers Day.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fried Chicken -- June 3, 2009

Today we were given fried chicken for lunch. It is not served often, and is a favorite among the

prisoners in Stateville. I am not particularly fond of fried chicken, especially dark meat, but it is

better than the processed turkey-soy meal, turkey-soy patties, or sausage we are regularly given.

Processed turkey-soy consists of turkey scraps ground together with soy meal into a kibble that

resembles dry dog food. It comes in huge bags and is dumped into large kettles to be boiled and made

into many of our meals. It is used to make spaghetti, stew, Sloppy Joes, breakfast gravy, tacos, and

almost anything you can think of. Sausage is served to us three or more times a week along with the

premade turkey-soy blend patties. Considering that I despise sausage and am not fond of processed

turkey scraps-soy meal, chicken is a good alternative.

At Stateville, prisoners are served the cheapest, low quality foods that can be purchased in bulk. Thus, along with ground turkey-soy and sausage, we are also given lots of beans, bread, and instant or scalloped potatoes. We are not given any pork or beef. There are a number of Muslims here, and rather then serve an alternative meal to them, no pork is served at all. Beef is more expensive and also is prone to be stolen by inmates and guards. Our vegetable is usually plain lettuce, but we also get carrots, peas, corn and collard greens. Dessert is usually a couple of prepackaged cookies, or a little cake. Applesauce is also very common. The quality and quantity of food served has progressively become worse since I've been in prison. The administration has been cutting costs, mostly at our expense. With the massive debt Illinois has incurred due to the wasteful and reckless spending of taxpayer dollars, and the loss of revenue from the recession, we could soon be living on bread and water if it were not for federal law mandates.

Chow is served early for the first cell house to be fed. Just after 9 a.m. today, guards begin to open cell doors upstairs. The doors are opened individually, and each gallery is run separately. Years ago, all doors were simultaneously unlocked and a few galleries were let out, but due to increased security concerns, this has been stopped. After being let out of your cell, you walk outside and line up in two lines. Guards will often bark at you to deuce it up. The chow lines this morning were particularly long and loud. Everyone had come out for fried chicken. Due to the volume of people who come out for this meal, our new warden recently ordered it never to be served for dinner. This is so everyone can be fed and locked back in their cages in time for the 8 p.m. head count.

From outside the cell house, we walk a couple of blocks to the dining room. We are closely monitored by guards and lieutenants. In fact, usually eight to ten lieutenants are standing just inside or outside the chow hall talking or staring you down. What is the purpose of having so many lieutenants here doing nothing, I wonder, and it only reminds me of how overstaffed Stateville is. The chow hall and kitchen are in a large circular building with a gun tower in the center. Three pie shaped wedges of dining rooms lead off one side of the circle, so the guards in the gun tower have unhindered sight and line of fire. This year, two of the dining rooms were divided in half to create five--one for each gallery of a cell house.

I waited in the crowded herd for a long time until reaching the food counter. It is very loud, and people are not only speaking amongst themselves, but yelling to people they know in the dining rooms. At the counter, I take a tray and slide it down the line as prison workers drop food onto it. First, I was given a plop of black eyed beans, and then collard greens, which usually taste like I would imagine lawn mower clippings would. However, I always eat them for their nutritional value. Then two pieces of bread grabbed by hand are thrown on my tray. Finally, the much anticipated chicken is given to me at the end of the line. It is very overcooked, and almost fried beyond recognition. I take it without a gripe. I have lived an unjust and miserable life for many years. What is an overcooked piece of chicken compared to that?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Birds of Stateville -- May 20, 2009

In the general population cell houses of Stateville live over a hundred birds. These birds are sparrows; they are small, light gray birds except for the males who have some darker brown and black markings. Birds have lived inside the prison for years, and I assume long before I ever came here. The birds used to be able to travel freely in and out of the prison through large barred windows that are kept open half the year. However, last year the prison administration ordered screens to be put up to get rid of them. Fortunately, this did not work and they are still here in great numbers.

I like the birds of Stateville. Life is very dreary and depressing in prison. Oftentimes, I feel like a zombie, but the birds are amusing, interesting and cheerful. I watch them hop around looking for food or nesting materials. I hear them chirp and sing to each other. They sit and sing from window sills, the gun tower balcony, plumbing or electric pipes.

The courtship rituals of the birds are such I have not seen before, and involve the male bird conducting an elaborate dance around the female while chirping to impress her. If the female is unreceptive, she will peck at the male to go away, but he does not give up easily. Quite surprising is their passionate mating rituals that last a half hour or longer. The female will fly fast and recklessly, being closely followed by the male until landing on the ground where the male will pin the female down and they will peck at each other. Initially you might think they are fighting, but they are not, and occasionally their beaks will lock as if they were French kissing. The birds will flap around on the ground and in different positions until getting up to fly again. Then they repeat this ritual.

Sparrows are resourceful and smarter than one would expect. When thirsty, they will go to a leaking faucet. They turn upside down or hover like a Hummingbird to get a drink. They also will fly through a couple of doors at night to get into the prison shower. Their nests are elaborately made from garbage they find laying about: string, wires, pieces of cloth, broom straws. A scavenging bird finding no food will sometimes beg at the cell bars. I have turned to see a bird on my bars, chirping at me as if he were demanding food. I will always oblige such a courageous bird with a treat. Even when the birds do not beg, I will occasionally throw small pieces of bread, cookie crumbs, or their favorite, doughnuts, on the gallery, to the annoyance of the workers who must clean it up, or end up cleaning the bird droppings.

Today, when I came back from my visit, I noticed gallery workers had devised long poles by tying together broomsticks. They were using them to knock down the bird nests above. A guard was also using the butt of his rifle to knock down nests that were built underneath the balcony on the cell house outer wall. There were nest materials and tiny dead chicks all along the gallery wall. I was sad, and angered by this sight. A gallery worker seemed full of pride as he was pointing out to people the little dead birds. I said to him, "Do you take pleasure in killing baby birds?" He responded that it was not his doing and just his job to clean it up. It was a cruel sight to behold, but then again, the world is a cruel place.

My cellie will occasionally joke that I am the "bird whisperer" because of my fondness of the birds and my low voice. I have contemplated capturing a bird to make my pet. However, the guards would never allow this, and I would have to hide it. Years ago, I could have made a Tweetie bird cage out of Popsicle sticks and placed it in the back corner of my cell. But, I would not have done this. I live in a cage, and although I am fed, I am not happy. I am away from my family and friends, and have had all freedom stripped from me. I would be condemning the bird to a lonely, miserable life--trapped in a cage and unable to fly.

Big Yard -- March 2009

When we are not on lockdown, the prisoners usually get two "recreation" periods a week. Rec is about 2 hours long, and consists of groups of prisoners being herded into one of three yards or the gym. "Big Yard" is Stateville's south yard, and favored by most prisoners. The Big Yard is literally big with plenty of grass, a quarter mile running track, basketball and handball courts, tables, telephones, and weights. The other yards are small, and consist of just two basketball courts surrounded by fence and razor wire. It is very cramped and there is nothing much to do but play basketball. I rarely ever go to the small yards.

It was nice to be on the south yard after being confined to my cell for a month. The last time we had "big yard" or any "recreation" was in February. The best thing about south yard is the space. I look upon the grass in such a way that I can avoid seeing the fencing, razor wire, gun tower, prison buildings, or any of the prisoners I must live with. For a few moments, I will pretend that I am alone and free.

The weights and benches on the yard are in very poor condition. There are also not many of them so prisoners must share by taking turns, or at times, arguing about them. Four benches made of welded steel and bolted wood, a steel incline bench with no seat, an unstable preacher bench made for a midget, and parallel bars make up all the south yard's equipment. Along with this are about 30 bars with weights welded onto them. These bars are not weights you would find at a health club, but scrap iron exposed to the elements. They are rusted, some are bent, uneven, or broken. There are no free weights or dumbbells to prohibit, or at least discourage, prisoners from using them as weapons.

Like the weights, the telephones are in the same shape. There are eight telephones, but only two of them work. We are allowed to use a phone brought to our cells, and I almost never use the yard phones so it is not much of a loss for me or possibly for any one else.

After walking the track for awhile by myself, I went to the weight pile. I avoided any crowd of people and used weights or equipment not being used or by only a few. I was careful not to aggravate a herniated disk in my lower back. My back pain can be severe, but I pushed myself through it. Before working out, I had chewed a few strong anti-inflammatories, but even so, I paid the price later for exercising. I don't regret it, and today was a relatively good day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Off Lockdown -- May 7, 2008

Today, my cell house finally came off "lockdown". Lockdown means that prisoners are in their cells 24/7 except for emergency sick calls. We are not allowed to use telephones or get commissary. After 48 hours, visitations are usually allowed, and after one week, we are allowed a shower. All lockdowns begin on a "level 1", but they can be brought down to a "level 4". A level 4 means we get full phone and commissary privileges. It also means that workers are allowed to go to their details, and health care passes are permitted.

During level 1 lockdowns, guards must pass out our meals, but on level 4, cell house workers must do this as well as clean up the galleries, which are often very dirty after being neglected for the most part. Guards seem to be happy when we come off a level 1 lockdown because they don't have to do the work that they think is lowly or beneath their status.

The prison was put on lockdown on April 14th when an inmate attempted to attack a sergeant. Although the incident took place on my gallery, I did not witness it. All I saw was the aftermath: a mob of guards on top of a prisoner, beating and kicking him. Even a guard who is friendly and you would not expect to act in such a way, was kicking the subdued inmate. After being beaten for several minutes, the handcuffed prisoner was quickly escorted to segregation and passed by my cell. He was moved so forcefully and so fast that his feet, for the most part, did not touch the floor. Possibly, he was not able to walk. He did not look in good shape and probably looked in worse shape before he finally got to his segregation cell.

From what I was told afterward, the inmate threw a punch at the sergeant and missing him, went to hit the lieutenant. The motivation for this attack is a mystery for he had just been moved to this cell house and never had contact with the 2nd shift sergeant nor the lieutenant before. I know the sergeant to be a fair and easy going man, but also a fan of mixed martial arts fighting. The inmate could have "bugged up". To "bug up" means to go crazy from the prison environment. I asked a guard who was involved why he thought the prisoner went after the sergeant, and he said, only half jokingly, that he probably did not get his meds. Normally, I would be suspicious of an inmate who attacked a guard for no reason, but in this case, I tend to believe it.

Stateville is often on lockdown, and some years I think we spent more time on lockdown status than not. So far this year we have been on lockdown 8 weeks out of 18. However, summer is approaching and for the last 3 years we have spent most, if not all, of our days in our cells. We were surprised to get off lockdown this morning. We were given no notice--it was just announced in the morning as: "regular operations." I was a little unsettled to try to adjust to being outside my cell, and the different routines. I don't like all the changes.

My Arrest - April 28, 2009

Sixteen years ago on this date, I was arrested. Every April 28th I remember back to that day when my life was turned upside down, and for most practical purposes, ended. I remember my arrest vividly, despite the time that has gone by. It is a day I will never forget.
The morning of April 28, 1993, I was helping my older cousin, Michael, with the rehab of a house he had been hired to do. About mid-day we decided to break for lunch and return to our grandparents' home. On the way, we happened to see a friend of Michael's who lived down the block. He asked me if I would give him a ride; I agreed and told him to get in. As I passed my grandparents' home, I noticed a suspicious white van that began following us. From my rear view mirror, I watched as the van turned right, left, then left again. It was following us.

The van concerned me as I drove. Could it be one of my former friend's criminal associates? Could it be the police? Considering the type of vehicle, I ascertained it was the police. I was not under the impression they were going to arrest me, but were merely keeping an eye on me.

On April 19, 1993, federal agents attacked a compound in Waco, Texas. There was a fire fight between the Branch Davidians and numerous government forces which reminded me of a small army. An assault vehicle resembling a tank rammed the building finally, firing incendiary grenades that set off an enormous blaze engulfing the compound and killing almost everyone within. It was this news I was following and the aftermath when I saw that my former friend, Robert Faraci, had been arrested for murder, and was also a suspect or at least had information on the notorious Brown's Chicken restaurant murders in Palatine, Illinois, where seven people were brutally murdered and stacked in a freezer. The news coverage of Waco quickly went to the Palatine massacre and allegedly new developments in that case.

At the time of the Palatine massacre, I was living with Bob Faraci and his wife. It did not take me long from watching the in depth and continuous news coverage to think that police would be interested in talking to me. However, little did I realize that Bob Faraci and his wife had fingered me in the mass murder as well as a murder dismemberment case in Barrington.
When I stopped at a red light at the intersection of Archer and Cicero (two busy streets in southwest Chicago), my car was surrounded by numerous gun-wielding task force police and FBI agents. They shouted at us to get our "fucking hands up in the air." We complied. As police moved in closer, there was another shout to get out of the car. At that point, I realized my car was in drive, and I had to reach down to shift into park. Noticing red laser dots from every angle over my body and Michael's, I made the decision to leave the car in drive.
Slowly, with my left hand, I opened the door. A cop quickly grabbed me as I was exiting, and all I said was "I want a lawyer"! He ignored me and forced me to the ground. He kneeled on me, or stepped on me, as I was handcuffed behind my back. On the ground, I noticed my car rolling into the intersection. Someone ran for it, but I believe it struck one of the police cars and stopped before causing an accident on Cicero Avenue.

I was pulled up off the ground and roughly handled. I was shoved into the back seat of an unmarked squad car. I did not see my cousin or his friend. An FBI agent came to the car door and told me that I was lucky to be alive. I believe he spoke the truth, and the heavily armed police were looking for an excuse to shoot me. At the time I thought I made the correct decision not to put my car into the parking gear, but years later I often question my decision.