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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

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.


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  2. Inmates usually ask for a cellmate as they claim single-cells are for punishment and are mental-torture, etc. You can't please anyone as those wanting single-bunks are in minority. As for chosing your own won't work...what if "tough" inmates ask for "weak" inmates as their cellmates and the weak inmate better not granting requests is for protetion of weaker inmates. Then again, the only protection someone really has is a single-bunk cell. I remember this guy who spent the last 2 years of incarcerations in segregation...hell, they released him straight rom segregation :). I was talking to him and he was sharp like a cat so I asked him how in the hell he alwas gets tickets serous enough to keep him in seg but not that serious to have him tranfered to Pontiac. He told me...segregation is safer :)...guards patrol much more often, movement really controled to the last detail and his cellmates can't act stupid in segregation...too many eyes. I asked im about pc and he said he tried that...and it sucks hahahahhha. He went on segregation gallery on purpose and stayed there til last day :) And we had the North Segregation House which was, at the time, housing inmates alone in their cells and there was this guy who stayed there for years, they released him into West Cellhouse and guess what? He couldn't take it hahahahh, attacked staff and got his ass back to North Seg the same hour where he stayed until I left. Safety is in the eye of beholder as is the way of doing time: some want company, some want solitude and everyone changs with the seasons. You can't acomodate anyone even if you try...but potential for fireworks is always there as like you said, mental states of some is too damaged and personalities will crash...6 by 11, remember? You should see the looks we give each other is subway hahahahha and we ony spend 20 minutes there...of course in prison you adapt or you suffer. Or you go to seg and hope the guards there are motivated enough to hate paperwork which, for every problem, is pages long :) Stay safe dude and don't hope the state wil solve the occupancy rate anytime soon, or ever. You as the warden...what is your suggestion? How would you handdle cell assignments? I personally would quit 2 days after they give me that job :)

    1. For decades prisoners were allowed to choose their own cellmates in the IDOC. In 1995 when I was sent to the penitentiary, I was told to find myself a cell. The man I chose to live with was a bit wild but otherwise was a good cellmate. When I was transferred to Joliet, I also picked my own cellmates, but I had to ask the guard or sergeant to approve it.

      At Stateville, I am usually just assigned cellmates at random, and while here I have done the most hard time. Yes, there was violence in the 90's and before, and the weak were abused. However, there still is violence and abuse but the hostility and discomfort has become more pervasive.

  3. Why the heck don't you get a transfer to a medium security?

  4. Who have been your favorite cellies?

    1. My favorite cellmate is no cellmate. However, the men I have gotten along with best were those who shared similar values and backgrounds. It is also important that they try to give you space, both personal and otherwise. Confined in a small cage can be unpleasant even with a good friend.

  5. "is told never to assign two people of the same gang in the same cell"

    Why? I think the danger would be in assigning two people of DIFFERENT gangs to the same cell!


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