You are reading a rare, detailed account of everyday life in Stateville Prison.

Click to read Paul's blog quoted on:
To contact Paul, please email: paulmodrowski@gmail.com
or write him at the address shown in the right column. He will get your message personally.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Laundry Night -- August 20, 2009

Every Thursday morning in my cell house, dirty clothes are picked up. Prisoners in maximum security do not have access to washers and dryers. Instead, we are given mesh bags to put our laundry in, and all of the bags are collected and washed together in large, industrial sized machines. The bags are collected at about 2 a.m., and are usually returned the following day. Bed sheets are also collected, washed, dried and returned. Men write their cell numbers on their bags and sheets, so prison workers know where to return them.

Picking up and distributing all the laundry of a cell house is a big job, and I reckon that is why it is collected by the midnight shift workers. The only other work done by that shift is passing out breakfast, and collecting trash. There are almost 300 prisoners in this cell house, and while not everyone has their laundry picked up, some put out more than one bag. I always put two bags on my bars to be collected. Rather than collect the bags on the upper galleries, and drag it all down, the workers just throw it off the balcony onto the first floor. If you are awake, and living on the lower gallery, you will hear all the bags hitting the floor with thumps. When all the bags are lying on the first floor, they are collected into enormous mattress bags. The mattress bags are then put on a cart or two, and wheeled to the prison laundry building.

Distributing the laundry is more difficult than picking it up. Workers cannot toss laundry down from the upper galleries, but must bring it up manually. First, however, inmate workers must sort the hundreds of bags and sheets. They do this by tossing the bags into five piles, one for each floor. Then the piles are collected into the large mattress bags, and laboriously brought up to the upper levels. The gallery worker on the first floor has an easier job than the others, who are usually sweating by the time they are done passing out each bag.

Our laundry service used to be very bad before changes were made about a year ago. On level 1 lockdowns, guards refused to do the work, and our laundry was not picked up. Our laundry also returned sometimes dingier than when we put it in because they did not use bleach, or apparently enough soap. Laundry often came back burnt from being in the dryer too long, or wet from not being in long enough. Finally, many bags and sheets went missing or were ripped open by thieves. Sometimes, laundry is returned damp, but the service is a big improvement from what it used to be.

Many inmates refuse to set out their laundry because they do not like the idea of their clothes being washed with the rest of Stateville's inmates. Some also are concerned that their clothes will be stolen, or do not like having to wait until Thursday to have their clothes washed. Now that bleach is used, I am not concerned about my laundry mingling with others. I don't worry about my clothes being stolen, because I would not care much if they were. I only send out state supplied socks, tee shirts, and boxers, plus my old sweatpants or sweatshirts, on occasion, both of which have my name boldly printed on the inside with black magic marker. If someone wants to steal my boxers or socks, he is truly a man in need, and he can have them. There are, however, certain clothes I will not send out, and I wash them in my cell.

Once, or sometimes twice, a week, I will wash a small batch of clothes by hand. I never send out my state blues because they come back quite wrinkled, and I only have one button-up shirt, and one pair of blue trousers. I could have more, but in order to save space in my box, I only keep one set. Thus, I wash and dry these myself. I also will hand wash my store-bought tightie whities. These boxer briefs are 100% cotton, and I don't want them to shrink in the dryer and become any tighter. Finally, I wash my shorts because I use these to exercise in, and I only have one pair. I will usually wash these twice a week.

It is not an easy task to wash any sizable amount of laundry in your cell. We are permitted to purchase laundry detergent, however, we have limited ways to soak, rinse, or dry our clothes. Our sinks also dribble out water, having very low water pressure. Most inmates will take their property out of their correspondence boxes, and slowly fill it up with mugs of water. After washing their clothes, they will tediously rinse them in the dribble of water. I have had cellmates that spend many hours washing and rinsing their clothes. This process takes too long for me, and although some may find it disgusting, I have a much quicker system.

I begin by scrubbing out the toilet with soap and disinfectant. Removing all the water, I place a garbage bag in it. I pour some detergent in the bag and slowly fill it up with hot water from the sink. I begin washing my clothes as I fill the toilet. When it is filled, I pull out the bag and place it in the sink. I take the first article of clothing and rinse it out in the toilet, adding new water by flushing. This is a much more efficient system than using the sink, and I can clean my laundry in less than a fifth of the time. Other prisoners also use this time saving system.

Years ago, the prison administration told us we could not put up lines to dry our clothing on. Thus, we now must come up with unique ways to dry our clothes. Some men will take the lids off their boxes and drape clothes over them, and turn on a fan. Others will disregard the rules, and set up temporary lines, risking a disciplinary ticket. The quickest way I have figured out to dry clothes, and not break the rules, is by attaching the clothes to the fan and having the air blow through them. My paints, shorts, and boxer briefs all have waist bands that fit around my fan. This method of drying is even quicker than a line because the fan forces air through the fabric. The only setback is that you can only dry one item at a time. Between my cellie and I, we have three fans. I can usually dry my clothes very quickly, unless it is humid or cold in the cell house.

It is lowly to wash one's clothing in a toilet bowl. Once a tour came through while I was rinsing and ringing out some clothing from the toilet. I assumed they thought it was disgusting. However, life in prison is not pretty. I dislike washing clothes, and the sooner I can get it done and over with, the better. I do not have the luxury of convenience that those outside these walls have. My life is oppressive, crude, and typically void of pleasantries or joy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Trip to the Hospital -- August 19, 2009

Many years ago, I injured my lower back exercising with heavy weights. I was on the prison power lifting team (at another prison), and in competition could clean and bench over 350 lbs, and squat, as well as deadlift, 600 lbs. Between competitions, I lifted weights almost daily. It was during this time period, I first blew out a disk in my lumbar spine. Before allowing myself to completely recover, I was again lifting heavy weights. I have been lifting weights since age 12. Sports, exercising, and weight training have been a part of my life since childhood. Thus, even after repeated lower back injuries, I continued to work out. Only in the last several years did I give up lifting heavy weights.

I now suffer from chronic lower back pain, sciatica, and have variable degrees of numbness in my left leg. On occasion, I can lose mobility, and be in excruciating pain. For the most part, however, I am able to move about without a problem, and can even exercise with the help of strong anti-inflammatories and cortisone injections. The medical treatment at Stateville is very poor, inconsistent, incompetent, or even nonexistent, and getting medication or cortisone shots has been difficult. Indeed, one of the first doctors I saw here denied that I had a medical problem, and told me in a choppy Asian accent: "You not have herniated disk. If you had herniated disk, you could not tie shoes." When I saw him, I could barely walk, and was perspiring due to intense pain. It took an MRI to prove that not only did I have a herniated disk, but a crushed one above it.

Yesterday, I was awakened at 3 a.m., and asked for my jumpsuit size. At maximum security prisons, you are never told when you will be going on a trip to the outside hospital, and it was not until that time that I knew I would be going. A couple hours later, I was brought a worn out bright yellow jumpsuit, which I call the "banana peel." All writs leaving Stateville must put on the banana peel to make us stand out among civilians. I put on the jumpsuit, and my cell door was unlocked. At the front door of the cell house I waited for an escort, thinking what a long, miserable day it would be.

I was taken to the front of the prison where I was put in a holding cage with a few others who were going on court writs. Typically, these cages are jammed with prisoners, but fortunately, that was not the case yesterday. After a few hours, one of my writ officers came to the cage and asked me for my shoe size. Prisoners are given very thin, cheap, flat white shoes to wear, but the guard later told me the closest size available was a size 16. The guard cannot make me go out in Bozo shoes, so I was able to keep my own gym shoes.

In the strip search room, I was thoroughly searched. After getting dressed, the guard began to put on all my various restraints. Handcuffs were put around my wrists with my hands facing opposite directions. A handcuff box was put around these cuffs, and a chain was threaded through it around my waist, and then locked behind my back with a padlock. The boxed handcuffs are used to keep your forearms and wrists in an awkward horizontal position. The box also covers the cuff's key holes, just in case you are Harry Houdini. The chain bound around my waist prevented me from moving my wrists away from my body. A lead chain, which is just another word for a leash, was attached to the chain around my waist in the back. The guard held the end of it to make sure I would not get too far from him. This is another redundant precaution when shackles were then put around my ankles, forcing me to take small steps. With my numerous restraints and banana suit on, I was ready to go, and was then led to Gate 2. A lieutenant who had my mug shot asked me my institutional number and date of birth, just to make sure I was who I said I was. My restraints were then double checked.

Whenever I leave the prison, I notice how clean and classy the entrance is to the main building. There is a large glass chandelier hanging over a double staircase. The floor is polished marble, and the woodwork for the winding stair rails is polished. The pristine decor is a sharp contrast to the dirty, and ugly, cell houses. Outside, I noticed the parking lot and all the expensive vehicles the guards have. Guards make a good salary at Stateville, and some make over $100,000 a year with overtime. Top ranking personnel have marked parking spaces close to the building. I looked to see what type of car the warden drives, just to get an idea of his personality, but his parking spot was empty.

In contrast to the nice vehicles of the guards are a few writ vans. As we approached one of them, I asked the guard if IDOC has heard of the "cash for clunkers" deal. He said apparently not, but commented that it is a great deal. I must agree it is a sweet deal for the person trading in their old car, but not so great for the taxpayers footing the bill.

The van typically has four bench seats that prisoners are squeezed into, except for the last row which is reserved for the guards. I was fortunate to be the only passenger, and the front bench was removed, which provided me with some leg room. A blessing, because usually I am shoulder to shoulder with prisoners who are often obnoxious, have foul body odor, and/or bad breath. Before I could be too content, the guard turned on the radio to some rap station.

The writ officer's partner had to get a handgun before she joined us in the van. This guard was a white female, approximately 40 years of age. She was friendly and talkative. When we drove up to the front gate and her partner got out, she turned off the music, and asked me where I was from. She made some small talk until the driver returned, and turned the radio on again. We drove to Stateville's receiving unit where I guessed that I would gain an unwanted passenger or two, but the guard returned only with an unwanted brown bag lunch for me.

We headed to the hospital at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Depending on traffic, it is about an hour drive from Joliet. On the road, I noticed how much the area in the southwest suburbs has been built up. No longer are there cornfields after cornfields. I also noticed how vehicles have that plastic bubble look. I wondered, if I were to be released as an old man, if there will be "George Jetson" flying bubble cars. In the city, I was amazed by how almost everyone was talking into cellphones as they walked. When I was free, pagers had just become popular, and I knew no one with a cell phone. So much has changed in 16 plus years. It is almost a bit frightening, and just to be in a moving vehicle was odd.

All prisoners in north or north central Illinois go to the U of I in Chicago for medical needs. In the basement of one of the hospital buildings is the prisoner waiting room. It was empty when we arrived, but throughout the day we were joined by guards and inmates from other institutions. A white female juvenile with dyed black hair and purple lipstick was second to arrive. The guards put her in a tiny open room on the other side of the waiting room, away from me. She protested, cussed, and demanded to know why she must sit in a closet. Later, several other adult male prisoners came and went, including a child rapist from Pontiac's Protective Custody Unit. Restrained as I was, I did not see the need to keep the 17 year old in the closet, but it is procedure.

The MRI machine is in another building, so we took the van there. A few people on the street noticed the man in the banana suit with many restraints. I wondered what they must think of me, but they continued on their way without staring. Their casualness was not shared by the male guard who was with me.

The MRI room does not permit anything metal in it, and my restraints had to be removed. Before doing this, the guard put on some plastic ties very tightly. Already my wrists were causing me pain, and now I had this hard plastic digging into my flesh. During my half hour scan, my hands turned purple, and I almost pushed the emergency button, but I dealt with the pain. Afterwards, the guard cut off my plastic ties and put the metal restraints back on. He put the handcuffs on so tight that they pinched my wrists, and I asked, "Don't you know how painful these boxed handcuffs are?" He opened the cuffs a couple of clicks.

Back in the waiting room, I used the washroom, and was shocked that this guard came in while I was pissing to check on my chains. Never has a guard done that to me before, and I have never seen it done to anyone else. Where did this man think I was going in a sealed room? How did this man think I would be able to get out of those restraints? Due to the restraints, it was enormously difficult for me just to urinate into a toilet let alone attempt some type of magician's trick. The next time I used the washroom, I locked the stall's door behind me to prevent this paranoid, rude guard from bothering me.

Although my MRI was at 9 a.m., my escorting guards wanted to make a day of this, and we stayed until about 2 p.m. I was probably fortunate they did not want to milk the State of Illinois for overtime like many writ officers do. Although I was highly uncomfortable, the guards were passing their time reading the newspaper, talking with other guards that came in, and even looking at porn websites with a smartphone someone brought with them. One guard amused himself by pretending to be an Eastern Indian on the telephone to anyone who called in. The guards also ate well, buying pizza and Chinese food for themselves. I sat there in silence with my lunch bag of a bologna sandwich and juice box. In my hunger and boredom, I attempted to open the bag wearing my box handcuffs. After about ten minutes, I was able to pull out a piece of bread and ate it with difficulty.

The female guard drove on the way back to Stateville. Unlike the black guard, she turned the radio on to some country music station. I was very tired, and fell asleep on the ride back, not to awaken until we were at the prison gate. On the way into the building, the black guard mockingly sang the chorus line to one of the country music songs: "If you are going to play in Texas, you have to have a fiddle in the band." The guard was glad to be over with his shift, but not nearly as glad as I was to be rid of the box handcuffs. My hands are still numb from yesterday, and I doubt I will get full sensation back for a month.

At the front door of the cellhouse, I was greeted by a guard who asked me if I came back from court. My counselor saw me arrive, and asked me the same thing. I got the impression they thought I might have good news about my case. However, I didn't. I wonder if I ever will.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The End to Romance -- August 4, 2009

I have been incarcerated for over 16 years, and I have found it is a very rare occasion to learn of a man who has a loyal wife or girlfriend for any length of time. Wives will typically leave a prisoner within a couple of years, and girlfriends are even shorter lived. Some women will stay in contact to various degrees, but they are not faithful. For this reason, and others, I have pushed away any attempt at a long term or permanent relationship.

In IDOC, it is extremely difficult to keep a relationship. Visitation at Stateville is of the poorest quality, and conjugal visits are not permitted in Illinois. Even kissing your girlfriend or wife for longer than a few seconds is prohibited. A French kiss or any degree of touching could get you sent to segregation. Unlike prisons in other countries, there are no furloughs for good behavior. Inmates can write, and they can talk on the phone, or talk across a table in a crowded visit room.

Like a number of prisoners, I have placed personal ads on the Internet, and wrote a woman I met through a listing. I have placed three personal ads in the last seven years. From these ads, I have met many women from various countries. Typically, I only write for a limited time, and even when there is a strong connection, or a relationship is formed, I end it after it has grown to its potential. There is no point trying to get a girl to be faithful to you indefinitely. Eventually, I know they will become dissatisfied. It is better to leave a relationship on a high note than to watch it wither and die.

At the time of my arrest, I was not dating. However, a few former girlfriends who saw me on the television news, came to see me. I was surprised that my first visitor at the county jail was not my parents or other family, but a girl I dated a few years before. After my conviction and sentence to life in prison, these girls disappeared. One came to see me in prison a few times. During her last visit, I explained to her that "life" literally meant for the rest of my life. I did not see her again.

For many years, I accepted my plight, and figured that no woman would want to be my girlfriend. Even if they were, I thought it would be meaningless. Eventually, though, my loneliness got the best of me, and I placed my first personal ad. I did not receive too many responses from that ad, and initially I was not surprised. Who would want to write a prisoner? However, I have since learned the website had poor service, and had a low outreach. Despite the few responses I received, I nevertheless met a young, pretty woman from a small village in England. I wrote to her for almost a year, but when my first clemency petition was denied, I grew uncaring. I realized our relationship was doomed to failure, and after writing a few unfriendly letters, I quit writing. I still remember her, and am unhappy about how our relationship ended.

Most prisoners seek out women to hustle them out of money, or to have them take care of them. Prisoners are usually poor, and have no funds coming in. Men will even romance unattractive females if they will send money orders. This behavior is particularly loathsome to me. I have a strong set of traditional values, and believe a man is supposed to care for his woman, and not vice versa. I would be ashamed to have a woman provide for me. Thus, it has been difficult to accept the limitations of my life in prison, and to be unable to offer any future, potential, or much of anything to a woman but my companionship.

I was given a list of women seeking correspondence, friendship, love, etc., by another prisoner. He did not want it because they were all women in prison, and in fact, he was angry that he had been ripped off buying the list. Women in prison were in the same predicament as we were, and would not be able to send any money. Well, one man's garbage is another man's gold, and I quickly secured the list before he threw it out. I thought the list was perfect. Here were women who were unable to date men, and were lonely for male companionship. I could pretend to be a free man, instead of a lowly prisoner with no future.

I chose five women from the long list, and after scribbling out their names and addresses, I gave it to my cellmate. For the fun of it, he wrote 10 women. Only one woman responded to the five letters I wrote, and it was not the person I wrote, but a friend of hers. Apparently, she was sharing as well.

The name of the woman I wrote was Krista, and she was at a minimum security prison in Indiana. Although she was not the girl I chose from the list, I was not disappointed. Krista was an attractive female who I enjoyed writing. The problem with pretending to be free, however, was that she often hinted about sharing my phone number, or coming to visit her. It bothered me very much. I could not do this, or be more than just her penpal. As her out-date approached, I became disheartened. I would not be able to pick her up from prison, and our relationship would have to die. In my last letter to her, I told her the truth, and even sent her copies of newspaper articles covering my arrest. The news media frequently accused me of the notorious Browns' Chicken murders in Palatine, Illinois, and wrote about my conviction and sentence to natural life for murder/accountability. I was surprised when she wrote me back, and told me that she still wanted to be a couple. However, I knew, sadly, it was doomed. There was no way the woman I wrote could be faithful to me for long. I never wrote her again.

Since Krista, I have placed two personal ads on better websites, and have received numerous responses. I wrote the women that I connected with for usually a half year before severing our relationships. I would rather put an end to these relationships than have them betray me or write me a "Dear John" letter. Some men in prison could care less if their wife or girlfriend sleeps with other men as long as they send them money, or have intentions to be with them if they are ever freed. I could never accept what these other men do, and would rather keep relationships brief than take a chance on betrayal. I have made a few exceptions though.

I wrote a beautiful woman from Canada for a long time. Her husband had abandoned her because she had become disabled due to multiple sclerosis. I knew this woman would not betray me, and I did not have to worry about her going to single clubs. I also wrote a girl for an extended period of time who was saving herself for marriage. She was cute, intelligent, and wrote the most creative and romantic letters I have ever received. I wrote her quite often and we became close. However, after my third clemency petition was rejected, I again sought the end of the relationship. I still think about Megan from time to time.

Although I quit writing Megan, and a couple of others, I could not bring myself to cease writing one girl from Finland named Susanna. Despite her difficulty with English, and her quiet nature, we connected on a deep level. Susanna was very special to me, and I did not want to let her go. Against my better judgment, I decided to attempt a permanent relationship. I bought her a ring, and she promised to be mine until I was freed. We wrote 10 page letters to each other, and I called her on the phone often. During her school breaks, she would travel to America for a few months to visit me. However, alas, the pretty butterfly I had captured had to be set free. I was compelled to let her go after my fourth clemency petition was ignored, and a successive post conviction appeal filing continued to be delayed.

This week, I received a letter from Susanna. She had made travel plans for the weekend to be with another man. It is a sad development, but one that was inevitable. We were living a dream, a dream that we were to wake up from sooner or later. Despite how I may entertain flights of fantasy, it is my fate to walk this road alone.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The New Warden -- July 28, 2009

Stateville has a new warden, and like most new wardens, they come with their own new rules and ideas about how the prison should be run. This one seems to have a far greater intent on increasing control, and enforcing many new oppressive and petty rules than the others before him. In fact, the new policies are designed more for an Army boot camp than a maximum security prison where most people have decades of time to do, or perhaps the rest of their lives. Most wardens will at least observe operations before deciding if institutional changes are needed. However, this warden has been here less than a week, and is already set upon radical changes.

Today, I, along with every other prisoner at Stateville, was given a copy of some of his rules. The bulletin lists about 20 new rules encompassing everything you can imagine: from prohibiting yelling, to using mirrors to look outside your cell. The punishments are harsh, and involve mostly confiscation of property and/or segregation time for even the most petty rule infractions. Typically, guards would be slow to respond to such petty enforcement, or ignore them, but the new warden has been standing hard on majors and lieutenants to see that his rules are followed. I will summarize some of the new institutional changes.

"Earphones must be used with all audio/visual items." Whenever we watch TV or use the radio, prisoners must plug in, and if the speakers are heard on the gallery, a disciplinary report for "202 --damage or misuse of property" will be issued, and that property will be immediately confiscated. Personally, I kind of like this rule because I hate all the blaring noise from hundreds of TVs and radios. However, this rule is unreasonable, and inmates should be able to listen to their TVs and radios at a reasonable level, which was the former policy. Inmates regularly broke that rule, and I often hear a radio blasting. Some prisoners just cannot be considerate, and this is probably why radios and televisions with speakers have not been sold here for several years.

"Whenever you leave your cell, your bed must be made and all property placed in the corresponding property boxes. Failure to adhere to this policy will result in an Inmate Disciplinary Report for 403 -- disobeying a direct order, and having the property confiscated." An ordinance to have prisoners make their beds is silly. I always fold up my sheet and blanket, or wrap my blanket around my mattress because I happen to be a neat and orderly person, but to force adult men, many of whom will die in prison, to make their beds is folly. The rule that everything must be in your property boxes with only a few exceptions, is also nonsense. The property boxes are not divided into sections for easy access like a military chest may be. Prisoners have procured much miscellaneous property over many years, and these cells are like our homes. Imagine if every time you left your house, all your property had to be fit into a couple of boxes, and if not, you would be sent to jail. I have learned to throw out or send home my excess property, and my boxes are well organized, but even I will forget to put away a pen, a magazine, or brush on occasion. Now, if I forget, I could be given a ticket and sent to segregation for a few months. I do not know how failing to be in cell compliance is deemed to be disobeying a direct order. That IDOC rule is meant to apply to prisoners who are told verbally, and at that moment to do something, and then outright refuse. I have had a few sloppy, and pack rat like cellies. I can appreciate the rule, but it should not be strictly enforced without any common sense. Hopefully, guards will overlook slight violations.

When leaving the cell you must have your ID card facing front and on your shirt, pants are to be worn at the waist, shirts are to be tucked in and properly buttoned, religious medallions are to be worn underneath shirts, no dew rags, and at no time should clothing be altered in any way, and this includes cuffing or hemming your pants. This has been the policy in Stateville already except for the final ordinance. Pants do not always fit, and prisoners have always been allowed to roll up their pants if needed. However, this warden has a zero tolerance policy towards pants cuffing, and has already sent a number of inmates directly to segregation for this. A few years ago, inmates did not have to dress in state blues, and could wear sweat pants and T-shirts if they wanted. However, that was changed by another warden, and we can only be dressed in this attire for gym or yard. Chains and medallions have not been allowed to be worn as "bling" for a long time. The ID card has been required to be on your person for a long time as well, but if you forgot it, you were just sent back to your cell. No disciplinary report was written. A couple of years ago, a warden came up with the rule that IDs must be clipped to your shirt, but again, if you forgot, you were not disciplined. Now inmates are being written up and sent to segregation.

"When going on a visit...you are only to wear one tee shirt, one blue state shirt, one pair of blue state trousers, one pair of socks, and one pair of shoes. If you show up wearing any additional clothing, your visit will be terminated...and you will receive an inmate disciplinary report for 310 -- Abuse of Privileges...as well as lose your visiting privileges." I have never heard of someone wearing two sets of shoes, and I do not even know how this would be possible. However, in the winter when it is cold, people will wear extra clothing for warmth. I have on many occasions worn a sweater or thermal clothing underneath my state blues. This warden served as an administrator in Menard, and must not know how cold it can get up north, especially when the furnace here is not working, or perhaps, he simply does not care.

"Mirrors are not to be used as lookout devices. Failure to adhere to this policy will result in an Inmate Disciplinary Report for 202 -- Damage or Misuse of Property." It is incredible how broad in scope this rule has become. It has been taken far beyond its original intent. Inmates are isolated in their cages, and they often like to see what is going on outside their cells so they will angle their mirror outside of the bars. Some paranoid guards or administrator may think we are acting as look outs for criminal or rule breaking activity. This may be the case, but for the vast majority of times that is not the case.

"You must be paired up directly abreast another inmate and directly behind an inmate during line movement...Failure to adhere to this policy will result in a disciplinary report for Disobeying a Direct Order and possibly (immediate) segregation placement." Stateville inmates have been moving in two lines for about five years, but never has any warden insisted we walk in military fashion. I doubt this is even possible to achieve, and although I have noticed line movement tightening up and people sent to segregation for being out of line, I do not believe the warden will ever see inmates walking in lock step with each other.

"At no time is there to be anything blocking the view into the cell. Inmates who are using the toilet are allowed to cover their genital area, thighs, and legs with a towel. Failure to adhere to this policy will result in an Inmate Disciplinary Report 201 -- Impairment of Surveillance, and be sent to segregation." Inmates typically put up a sheet in the back of the cell when they wash up or use the toilet. It is not only for privacy but consideration for your cellie and all the people who walk by your cell, including female nurses, counselors and guards. A couple of wardens ago, a warden tried to enforce this rule. It was disbanded after disgruntled staff complained to the union, and guards failed to enforce the policy. My cellie intends on waking up on the midnight shift to use the washroom so he can put up a sheet without being noticed. I will just take my chances, and I am not going to wake up at 4 a.m. to use the toilet or wash up. My cellie volunteered to use a mirror to be a look out which is now another rule violation, but one a guard is not easily able to identify in a long row of cells. I told my cellie how the Romans had public toilets and baths. Romans had long kilts that covered their privates, as did the Celts. Being Irish, I told my cellie that he could practice his ancient forefathers' ways, but he did not want to hear anything of it. He is a shy person about such matters.

"Nothing is to be affixed to any wall, ceiling, or bed. Extension cords must be run on the floor to outlets. Failure to adhere to this policy will result in an Inmate Disciplinary Report 202 -- Misuse of Property, and the item will be confiscated." Most cells in Stateville have no shelves or desks, and only have a toilet, sink and bunk. Thus, prisoners tie their televisions, radios, or fans to the walls or bunks. My cell has a shelf, but we have our TVs tied up at the end of our bunks for convenience, and so we will not have to run extension cords across the cell and under the toilet and sink. This is also why many inmates tape their cords to the wall over the sink and toilet. This warden comes from Menard where every bunk has a TV shelf. Almost all prisons in Illinois have shelves for televisions, radios and fans. Stateville is an exception, and because of this, past administrators have not made a rule such as this. My cellie has untied his TV, and I now have mine wedged in between a bar and the top bunk without the precautionary shoelace ties, but I have filed a grievance on this matter asking for an accommodation to the rule for TVs, or in the alternative, to be given a shelf unit.

"You should converse in normal talking voice at all times. There will be no yelling, and failure to adhere to this policy will result in a ticket for Disobeying a Direct Order." This is a rule I like very much, and would have made myself. The cell house is so incredibly loud with numerous prisoners yelling and screaming to each other into the wee hours of the night. However, there is no way to enforce this policy. The warden caught a few people yelling, and was able to identify them. He had them immediately sent to Seg. But for the most part, you could not tell who, in a cell house of 300 prisoners, was yelling. I highly doubt any guard, sergeant, or lieutenant will be enforcing this rule, and even as I write this entry, there are people yelling. I have my headphones on to block them out.

Not included in the bulletin, but being carried out, are rules forbidding inmates from taking anything with them to chow, or bringing anything back. Today for lunch, almost every inmate was patted down on the way to and from the dining hall. Inmates with just a packet of salt, ketchup, or a napkin were being sent to Seg. I had a packet of ketchup on me, and I quickly jocked it. On the way out, I will often bring back a milk, snack, or bread to eat later, but not today, or in the foreseeable future. If possible, I do not want to be caught up in any of this warden's petty rule violations.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Big House -- July 22, 2009


They do not call this prison the "Big House" for no reason. The cell house I live in is five stories high, has 150 cells, and is almost as long as a football field. The building itself has approximately 600 cells, and is longer than a Chicago city block. Decades ago, the building was split down the center, and in the 1990s, the building was again divided. Thus, there are now four general population cell houses, which house about 1,200 prisoners.

The first penitentiary I was sent to was Pontiac Correctional Center. Pontiac has one building that is designed exactly like the general population cell houses in Stateville. Upon entering the building, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the structure. Level upon level of cells went upward some 50 feet. Horizontally, cells continued farther than I could see. The blaring noise from hundreds of radios, televisions, and shouting voices was horrendous. I was initially glad to get into my own cage, which although barren, I felt as if I could hide away from the madness. However, the sound did not dissipate, and I came to realize this hellish place would be my home.

I was only in that cell for about a week. All prisons have an orientation process, and after completing it, I was moved to another area of the building. My new cell had curtains, cardboard furniture, a stereo system with multiple speakers, a hammock, a floor carpet, a wood framed glass mirror, and neatly painted beige walls. These belongings were all my cell mate's because I had nothing but the shirt on my back, and the natural life sentence that the judge had recently smitten me with. The curtains made out of thick woven blankets helped block out the blaring noises of the cell house. I soon bought some high tech stereo headphones with large insulating donut pads to keep the noise further at bay. In your cell, with the curtains closed, you could shut out the zoo that existed beyond, to some extent, and I was surprised to learn that life in prison was more comfortable than at the Cook County Jail.

I came to this prison approximately 15 years ago, and all those comforts have been stripped from us over the years. Curtains are no longer permitted, and there is a rumor that the new warden has plans to not permit us to put up a sheet when using the toilet or washing up. Painting your cell is no longer permitted, and stereo systems have been taken away. All you can buy now is a Walkman. Furniture is not allowed. Carpets and glass mirrors are no longer sold. Now you look at your reflection in a warped blurry piece of clear plastic with a reflective back. If you are lucky, there will be a steel desk or shelf in your cell. At least I still have my Koss stereo headphones, which have a lifetime warranty. Without them and my earplugs, I would have no escape from the cell house noise, and may have gone mad.

The cell house I live in now is painted white and gray. Everything is white or gray except the fire hose box which is fire engine red. These drab colors are appropriate for a prison which is so oppressive, and I would expect nothing else from a dungeon. The big house has large windows on its outer wall, but they are cloudy because they are never cleaned. The outer wall is separated from the cell walls by about 20 feet, and at about 40 feet high is a "cat walk." The cat walk is a thin balcony the guards with rifles walk upon. There are many plumbing and electrical pipes exposed on the outer wall. The lower floor is sometimes waxed, but it is cracked and usually littered with garbage particularly during lockdowns. Cell house galleries were built with handrails, but after many guards and inmates were thrown off, bars were put up. I am surprised the designers of these buildings did not anticipate that.

There are other buildings within Stateville's sprawling grounds that house prisoners. The Round House is famous for being the only one of its kind in the United States, and because it was designed based on a psychological theory. The building has four levels of 60 cells that circle a round gun tower in the center (see photo above). From any cell, you can look into almost every other cell in the building, and the gun tower has a line of sight into all cells. The elimination of privacy was thought to deter crime, and was initially thought to be the prison prototype of the future. However, the Round House became the most violent cell house in Stateville, and was closed to general population in the 90s. It now only cells those in segregation, and those with court writs.

The only remaining building still being used to house prisoners, other than the infirmary, is X House. This smaller building holds inmates who are crippled, and cannot walk to chow, orientation inmates, and inmates in protective custody. The seriously ill, and those recovering from surgery, or in need of continual medical attention are kept in a part of the prison's health care unit. Protective custody inmates live on two short wings that have cells double stacked. There are about 50 inmates in protective custody, and they are kept separate from everyone else. Orientation inmates live in the former death row cells. For a few weeks, when I first arrived at Stateville, I was kept there. The former death row cells have no bars, and a solid steel door is used to lock you in. The cells are larger than any I have ever been in, and are 10 feet wide, 20 feet deep, and 15 feet in height. I wish all cells were so spacious.

Underneath the orientation cells in the basement of X House is the lethal injection chamber, and the electric chair nicknamed "Old Sparky." One of the last people to be executed at Stateville was serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Executions have not been conducted at Stateville since they were moved to Tamms in downstate Illinois. For mostly political reasons, the site of executions was changed so that anti-death penalty advocates, who reside predominately in Chicago, would be deterred from protesting outside the prison. However, the move became irrelevant after former Governor George Ryan commuted all death sentences to natural life, and put a moratorium on executions due to the number of people on death row who were found to be innocent. Successive governors have refused to lift the moratorium.

In my opinion, the governor should have put an end to natural life sentences, rather than focusing exclusively on the death penalty. Natural life without parole is a much more cruel punishment than death. It is a lifetime of empty existence and torment. A protracted death sentence. Yes, alive, but dead, the undead. Those with life are also more likely to be wrongfully convicted. Death penalty cases are scrutinized more at trial, and on appeal, unlike those whose cases gain no attention, and must languish in prison, year after year.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cell Stabbing -- July 16, 2009

Today, I came back from morning chow, and noticed that all the cell house workers were locked in their cells, which was unusual. I began to read a newspaper while I waited for my name to be called for a visit. I was expecting my mother and sister to come on this day. Almost all my visitors come on Thursday, and I typically get a visit every week. Not long after I settled in, I heard prisoners yelling, "Warden in the cell house," and then, "Police on their way to 6 gallery."

While I was at chow, B House was put on lockdown. Internal affairs staff, along with a couple of assistant wardens, went upstairs to view the carnage which was soon deemed to be a crime scene. Outside police investigators were brought in, and they took photos of the cell. Fights and assaults rarely are the focus of outside police. This assault must have been a particularly brutal one. The Assistant States Attorney of Will County will probably bring aggravated battery charges against the offender, but it depends largely on the circumstances of the incident.

From what I have been told, the two cellies had not been getting along for a few weeks. They had notified the cell house sergeant and lieutenant, but they were continued to be celled together. One of the men was a small, older person, and he was being bullied by his much larger cellie. Supposedly, after the smaller man awoke to discover his cellmate had eaten his breakfast, they began to argue. When the argument got physical, a shank was pulled out. The alleged bully was then stabbed repeatedly. As he tried to fend off the stabbing, I am told by a nurse, his arms were slashed. Ultimately, however, he was stabbed in the mid section a number of times. The man being stabbed never called out for help, but guards eventually came to the scene. Upon seeing the inmate bleeding from numerous wounds, and blood all over the cell, guards quickly called for nurses over the radio. Nurses ran up the stairs to the third floor, and he was quickly taken to the hospital. I am told by staff that the man will live, but he was badly injured and taken to an outside hospital to be treated.

While I was waiting for my visit, I heard the lieutenant yell at someone to cuff up. I then heard another shout, warning an inmate this was his last chance to be handcuffed. The man who stabbed his cellie was refusing to leave his cell to be taken to the segregation unit. When an inmate continues to refuse to put his hands behind his back and be handcuffed, he is usually maced, and then ambushed by guards. The prison has a special cell extraction unit composed of guards who are trained to remove an inmate. However, I have not seen this unit called in quite some time.

Initially, I thought the police going up to 6 gallery was to extract the assaulter from his cell. However, I later heard them shaking down cells. Apparently, a prisoner had stolen something from the dentist's office. The dentist did not realize it until later, and the guards went to look for it. I have yet to learn what was stolen, but whatever it was, was found. Guards took this inmate to segregation. From what I am told, this is his second trip to segregation for stealing from the dentist office.

At 12:15 p.m, my visit was called. The lockdown status of the cell house was in question, and a guard let me out of my cell. The officer escorting me said he would try to get me out for my visit. The cell fight was an isolated incident, and no other cell houses were on lockdown. Furthermore, prisoners from B House were not being ordered back to their cells as would occur in an official lockdown. The guard opened the front door to discover a number of "white shirts" outside. (White shirts are any correctional officer with a rank of lieutenant or higher. These officers wear white shirts, unlike guards or sergeants, thus their prison name.) The guard escorting me was unwilling to take the risk of taking me out of the cell house with so many supervisors observing. A phone call was made to find out if I could go on my visit, and the guard was told that there was absolutely no movement out of B House. I was then taken back to my cell and locked up again. I was very disappointed that I was not able to see my family, and that they drove here and waited all that time for nothing.

Back in my cell, I took off my shoes and began to read my newspapers again. About an hour later, a guard came to my cell and asked me for my name, and whether I was ready to go on my visit. Apparently, the cell house lieutenant had given the stop all movement order, and not the major or warden. By the time I reached the visiting room, there was only about a half hour remaining for visits. Visitation ends at 2:15 p.m. at Stateville. For various reasons, I have yet to get a full two-hour visit for a few months.