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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.