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.