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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.