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.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Editor Alert: Paul Being Harassed in Prison at this Time

This is to let Paul's readers and fans know that he is being harassed in prison right now. A few posts ago, Paul wrote about the doings of the people running the prison Commissary, how they were routinely violating the law by overcharging, etc. In an unfair, closed, and brutal place such as Stateville, revenge can come fast and hard. The guards came into Paul's cell and took all his belongings.

It is a well-known fact that Paul writes his blog. To do so, he needs a pencil or pen. Last time the Commissary workers came around, they failed to fill his order for two little pens. At that time, he also had only a tiny pencil stub left. They know that if he has no writing utensil, he cannot write his blog posts, his letters, or do his legal work or his work on the stock market. In a place like Stateville, freedom of speech can hinge upon something so simple as not having a pencil with which to write.

At Stateville, the prisoners are allowed only two boxes of belongings -- this includes clothing, toiletries, dishes, books, papers -- everything has to fit into the two boxes. Any time they leave their cell, all items must be placed within the boxes, or it is confiscated by the guards. Paul is very good about keeping his belongings in the boxes.

Today, the guards came in and took all his belongings and gave him a disciplinary ticket on a bogus charge of having too much stuff. Harassment! Paul has had false charges leveled against him before. He endures the harassment, since he has no choice but to do so -- the guards have guns and will kill a prisoner who does not comply. Later he does what he does so well-- writes up a legal document complaining about the maltreatment.

We will try to keep you posted on what is happening to Paul as he endures this harassment. If he is placed into segregation on some sort of trumped-up charges, we will keep you posted. We will do everything to keep you informed on what is happening.

Thanks for your good thoughts and prayers at this time.




Christmas - December 25, 2009

Christmas began much like Thanksgiving Day. Around 6 a.m., I was awakened by my cellmate on the toilet. As soon as he heard me stir, he began to flush the toilet repeatedly so I would not hear anything, or smell the stench. My cellmate does not have normal bowel movements, and is on the toilet usually an hour daily. He awakens very early in order to have time to use the toilet before his day, or mine, begins. He also does this because he is afraid the guards on the first or second shift could write him a disciplinary ticket for having a privacy sheet up, or will be suspicious of him being behind the sheet so long. Being awakened by someone taking a crap is appropriate. Christmas or not, my day will be crappy, just like most other days.

The evening before, an older white man with gray hair, who I occasionally talk to and have nicknamed "Chickenhawk," sent my cellmate and I chocolate Santas as Christmas gifts. My cellmate, who does not have much good to say about this man, was touched by the gesture. He immediately felt obligated, so he dug out a Snickers bar from his box to send his way. I thought to myself, my cellmate nullified Chickenhawk's intent, and was being petty. On closer inspection, I wondered if the gift giving fit the old man's MO. Possibly, at some earlier time, he used candy to lure or seduce children. Regardless, I am keeping his chocolate Santa, and I will not feel the least bit indebted or charmed. Although I thought it was a nice gesture, he will not seduce me with a 63 cent piece of candy.

Earlier in the week, I was thinking of giving my cellmate some candy as a Christmas gift. I have these chocolates that I was going to put in a couple of his socks, and hang them on the hooks on the back wall. It was to be more of a spoof on the holiday than an actual present. I was to be entertained by him waking up to seeing the socks and finding candy inside. However, as every kid knows, Santa will not come if you do not go to sleep.

On Christmas Eve, I made a large meal for my neighbor, cellmate, and I. Despite eating all his share, my cellmate stuffed his face with enormous amounts of junk food. He ate an entire tub of soft batch butter Christmas cookies, a box of chocolate Whoppers, at least five fruit pies, a few candy bars, and, of course, the Chocolate Santa given to him. He ate all of this with several large cups of sweetened, creamed coffee. My cellmate who is already a hyper person, was then wired for the rest of the night. I do not think he slept at all, and in the morning he was still bouncing off the cell walls. After using the toilet, he was incredibly obnoxious, doing this and that to my annoyance. In retrospect, if I put anything in his socks, it should be lumps of coal, or Stateville rocks.

While my cellmate was in super hyperactive mode, I attempted to focus on some typing, and then reading. I read the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, and many articles about holiday retail sales. America's economy is over 70% domestic consumerism. Bad retail sales on Black Friday, and during the month of December, would spell bad news for Wall Street. Most investors are hoping people will spend, but I was not.

The United States needs to change from a consumer economy to an industrial exporter. The way the winter solstice holiday has become commercialized makes me disgusted. The darkest days of the year are supposed to be marked by the gathering of family, friends, and community, not maxing out your credit cards or unwise spending. I feel a bit like Charlie Brown on the Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon. There is no need for people to be buying all these expensive gifts. The best gifts are ones that are intangible or have meaning, and not a big price tag.

When I was a child, of course, I liked to get toys. However, when looking back, I think about the quality time I spent with my parents and family. I think about the customs and traditions unique to North Europeans that we enjoyed. In my early teen years, my mother, unfortunately, ceased celebrating Christmas because of its pagan roots. In my later teen years, I was unfortunately estranged from my father and regrettably missed the festivities with my relatives. Both of these weigh heavily on my mind now. With a natural life sentence, I may never be able to enjoy the holiday with family. Even if I was to one day be released, so much has been lost, and many have or will have passed away. I am haunted by the ghosts of Christmas' past, present, and future.

Once a week, I will not take any pain medication for my smashed and bulging disks in my spine. I do this because taking these pills for such a long time is probably having a bad effect on my body. I only take these medications to enable me to exercise. If I do not work out, I do not take any pills. Today, I decided to take the day off, and all I did was some stretching. However, despite being mostly inactive, I was in a lot of pain. The pain made my day even more miserable, and I was in an even less pleasant mood.

When I came out for chow, I walked with a limp. A man I sometimes speak with, Jim, asked me why I always come out of my cell with an angry look on my face. I told him that he would be bitter too if he had spent the last 17 years in shit holes like this because of a lying cop. Perhaps, you could understand my bitterness, old man, if the best of your years had been stolen, and you were not recently locked up here for blowing away your estranged wife and her boyfriend with a shotgun. I had never before cast judgment on him, and he seemed to take what I said quite hard. He then told me that regardless, I did not have to be a f*&#ing Scrooge.

Our Christmas Day meal was the exact same meal we were given for Thanksgiving Day. I suppose Stateville got a good deal on the turkey-soy loaf. The local news showed the homeless receiving real turkey and ham dinners provided by various charities. I wished that I could have been a homeless man, not only so I could have eaten better, but I would rather be free and living out of a box or a car than living in this cage. When I went through the serving line, I was not given a slice of pumpkin pie. I mistakenly thought it was inside my cold tray. The styrofoam trays they give us have lids that can be folded down. Although the pumpkin pie triangles are tiny, we only get them twice a year, and they are one of my favorite desserts. My cellmate, out of politeness, asked me if I wanted half of his. Of course, I would not want him to cut his dessert in half. Then we would both only have two bites. I asked a kitchen worker if he could get me one when he went to work. Kitchen workers have the benefit of being able to eat all the food they want, and sometimes bringing food back to the cell house. He told me he would see what he could do, but he heard the kitchen had already ran out of pies.

As I do every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I separate my holiday meal into two meals: one for lunch, and one for supper. They were serving sausage for dinner, and this way I did not need to come out of my cell again. I ate lunch while reading some corporate reports, and I was planning to eat my supper while watching a DVD movie. However, the machine was not working properly, and all that came on were some deleted scenes. Interesting how in the 21st century, edited cuts of a movie are included with the rental of the movie. I did some channel surfing, and did not find much to watch. At 9 p.m., I caught the local news, however.

Earlier today, inmates were shouting at one another to check out channel this and that, where Chicago news was being reported. An older black man who had served over 20 years and was released from Stateville earlier this year, had been arrested for another murder. On the news, I learned that Lee Cration had shot and killed a 79-year-old from Hyde Park, who was leaving a Popeye's Fried Chicken. The motive of the murder was theft, and police found several wallets on him from various people he had robbed. Lee Cration lived in my cell house, and I remember him as a "bug" (prison slang for someone mildly crazy). I recall him coming out for chow and making the symbol of the "all seeing eye" above his head, and bowing down in different directions while reciting praises to his god. Hopefully, the public and politicians will not believe his actions are atypical of convicts released after serving long sentences.

The kitchen worker returned with a number of pie wedges. They were not pumpkin pies, however. They were bean pies. The serving line was supposed to give these out to the vegetarians and other special diet trays, but had given them the pumpkin pies like everyone else. He gave me one of the bean pies, and I thanked him even though I had little intention of eating it. My cellmate's eyes lit up, and he told me how good they were. Since he seems to think so highly of these pies, I am going to give it to him. After he falls asleep, I will put the small piece of pie on top of one of our rolls of toilet paper, and place a note on it. The note will be neatly written in decorative cursive with green pencil, and it will say: "Jonathan: I thought you could use the extra fiber. Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas, Santa Claus".

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Drop -- December 15, 2009

Yesterday morning while I was exercising in my cell, my name along with several others, was called over the cellhouse loudspeaker. We were not told we had visits, were being sent to renew our identification photos, or anything. The person over the intercom just said to get our blues on. Quickly, I reasoned that we were being sent to the Internal Affairs office for questioning or a "drop." A "drop" is where you give a urine sample to be tested for drugs. Since I could not think of any mischief I had been involved in, particularly with the other names called, who I did not know, nor did I witness any event that would be of interest to security, I assumed the latter. I quickly drank a bottle of water before getting dressed in my prison issued blue clothing.

When a guard arrived to open my door, he was casual and said he assumed I was going for a random drop. Prisoners are usually only tested when guards have a suspicion you have been using drugs, you have been caught using drugs before, or as a routine check. Sometimes guards will smell marijuana, and if after searching cells and finding nothing, they will have the inmates who live in the vicinity dropped. The prison can do random drops at their discretion, as well as at the request of Springfield. The IDOC will, on occasion, send lists of names to prisons to be tested for drugs. This is done to prevent discrimination complaints. If a list comes from Springfield, they have no reason to single anyone out. Prisoners are also given drug tests before they are approved for a job. I am not certain the reason for this, but I speculate that the administration just wants to make sure that no one who is given more opportunity for causing trouble is using drugs.

In the holding cage near the front door, I waited with the group about 10 minutes for a guard to escort us to the I.A. office. No inmates at maximum security prisons are allowed to walk the prison grounds without an escort. The holding cage had one person going on a visit, another going to work, and the five of us going to the I.A. office. While waiting, an inmate complained that he had just urinated and wanted some water to drink. A guard ignored him, but finally said he will be given some water at the I.A. Another inmate said that he bets he is being dropped because he formerly tested positive for drugs. He asked us if we had ever tested positive. I nod my head no.

I have been tested for drugs between 15 and 20 times over the years. The test results have never been positive. Although I have had ample opportunity to use various types of drugs in prison and at the county jail, I have not done so. Drugs were very prevalent when I first came to prison. At Pontiac CC, during the early 1990s, marijuana was at times smoked openly, and guards would typically turn a blind eye to it. My first cellmate sold marijuana, and smoked it regularly. He usually sold "caps," which were the amount of cannabis you could stuff into a pen cap. My cellmate offered me to smoke with him any time, but I never took him up on his offer. Sometimes he would hold small pot parties in the cell where there were 5 invited guests all locked in our cell smoking cannabis with my cellmate. Sometimes they would blow smoke at the party pooper and giggle. I looked down on these men, and I always have.

I come from a family with conservative values, and although during my early teens, I sought independence, and rebelled against my authoritarian father and judgmental mother, I quickly developed my own set of strong conservative values. Before my family moved to the far southwestern suburbs, I attended Westmont High School. During this time I came into conflict with a clique of students known as the "stoners." These students were those who dressed in ragged, or tie dyed clothing. They often wore Grateful Dead or Black Sabbath tee shirts, but some wore heavy metal tee shirts. They often wore earrings and many rings. Stoners were not in athletic programs, and their grades were poor. They were underachievers and called "burn-outs." And, of course, they smoked marijuana on a regular basis. I was a burn-out in ways, but it was due to my sensory overload and autism. It was very difficult for me to cope in large social environments, and I often had to take days off from school. Regardless, I despised the stoners, and their values or lack of them. They were weak, unproductive students who had no ambition, and would rather party and space out in an alternative reality. I always thought of Nancy Reagan's commercials not to do drugs as lame. However, I saw how drugs were correlated with people who were low-lifes. A drug user, especially an addict, only cares about getting high and not much about anything else. This is not me, and this goes against my values. Even when my life is miserable and void of meaning, I would rather be executed than spend my days in prison using dope.

The Internal Affairs Unit at the prison has a waiting room. This room is painted solid white and is empty except for several hardwood benches to sit on. Oddly, there was a radio on the floor, which was confiscated from some inmate. A talk radio station was on. An inmate mentioned the radio and speculated this was there to put prisoners at ease before they are questioned. After a few minutes, those in the waiting room realized the talk radio show was Rush Limbaugh. Personally, I like Rush Limbaugh and listen to his show on WLS every now and then. However, Limbaugh is hated by most of Stateville's prisoners, particularly those who are black. A black inmate got up, walked over to the radio, and began searching for a rap or R&B station. Before he could find anything, a member of I.A. came out and said, "What the hell are you doing? Go sit your ass down and don't touch that radio again." The prisoner complied, but not before they shared a few words. The I.A. man left, and the black inmates talked about how the Rush Limbaugh show was a message to those in the waiting room. It was peculiar to see the radio, and it was apparent the waiting room was not meant to be comfortable. However, I thought to myself, I wish they would all shut up so I could listen to the show.

Then minutes later, a different IA member came out and told us that we were all there to have a random drug test. He said we have two hours to give a urine sample, and he looked at his watch to tell us our deadline would be ten minutes to noon. The inmate who earlier complained about just urinating said he wanted some water. The man answered that one cup of water will be provided every half hour to those who want it. The inmate wanted his water now, but was told he had to wait a half hour. He then asked if anyone had to go right now, and one person stood up and said he wanted to get this over with.

Urine testing cups are very sensitive to drugs, but are not infallible. People have learned how to defeat them. One way is to urinate and then drink an enormous amount of water. If you take a test soon thereafter without allowing your kidneys time to eliminate toxins, your urine will be clear, and consist of almost 100% water. Prisoners who use drugs will sometimes use this method if given the opportunity. Guards have caught on to this, and thus established the one cup of water every half hour rule. If they really are determined, they will wake prisoners up in the middle of the night, and prohibit them from using the toilet or drinking any water until they are in holding a half hour. I have had cellmates that drank a lot of water throughout the day and even before going to bed to prepare for cheating a drop, however, not my first cellmate. In the 1990s, they did not test for drugs.

There was a saying back then that there were more drugs in Stateville than on the street. Prisoners would joke that the drug dealers had to come to the prison to get their dope. I was not at Stateville during those times, but at Pontiac and then Joliet CC. Marijuana, heroin, and cocaine were easily available at Pontiac, but not as easily as in Stateville. At Stateville, many guards were gang members themselves, and brought in huge amounts of drugs to the gang chiefs. The control by gangs and availability of drugs began to be curtailed with the turn of the millennium.

The new millennium brought great changes to the Illinois prison system. Pontiac became a segregation prison in the late 1990s, and Tamms Supermax was opened. The Richard Speck videotape was made public in the late 90s. Pontiac was closed to general population after a ranking gang member was shot dead and the Latin Kings swore revenge on Pontiac staff for a killing they believed was a murder. I was at Pontiac at that time, and despite what the investigation determined, prisoners thought it was an unjustified and deliberate murder. All inmates were transferred out, and Pontiac became the state's first segregation prison. Along with Tamms, the administration could now lock up all people they believed were gang leaders or troublemakers. At Tamms and Pontiac, gang leaders were isolated and could not keep the reins at the state's other prisons. The serial killer of several Chicago nurses, Richard Speck, made a videotape of himself at Stateville, snorting lines of coke and having sex with a homosexual. The film, where he says he never had life so good, was released to the media, and infuriated the public. The public's rage allowed guards and administrators draconian power to radically change the prison system. Drug tests are just one very minor change that occurred.

I did not rush to take my drug test. Having someone hover nearby watching you piss in a cup is not something I look forward to, and it can be difficult sometimes to relax. Groups of other prisoners from different cellhouses began to join us in the waiting room. After I became tired of hearing their chatter over the Rush Limbaugh show, I knocked on the door and was escorted to a bathroom. I was impressed seeing the I.A.'s office. It was a large office with numerous desks, file cabinets, and flat screen computers. It seemed like it was an office in the FBI, and not a run-down maximum security prison. The person conducting the test was once a regular guard, and I knew him. He was polite and we made small talk. In the bathroom, he told me to pick a testing cup. Inmates have accused staff of setting them up. Selecting your own testing cup that is now kept sealed, prevents allegations of tampering. After giving a urine sample, the cup did not take long to show results. The various drugs listed gave single lines which meant I was clean. The former guard brought me back to the cellhouse after getting me a styrofoam lunch tray at the kitchen. I was in my cell for a few hours when a lockdown commenced. A prisoner at Pinkneyville CC had taken a librarian hostage and was shot dead. We are still on lockdown as I write this journal entry.