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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Punxatawny Phil, the Gubernatorial Elections, and "Lost" -- Feb. 2, 2010

I woke up this morning to turn on my TV and watch Punxatawny Phil make his traditional extended weather forecast. Punxatawny Phil is the groundhog who is ceremoniously pulled out from his home every year on February 2nd in a small Pennsylvanian town to see if he sees his shadow. The groundhog did not look happy to be awakened from his sleep and cheered by a hundred townsfolk and media this year. Not surprisingly, the host of the event announced there would be 6 more weeks of winter. It was a cloudy day, and I don't know how the groundhog could have seen a shadow of any sort. The tradition is goofy, and there is only a semblance of logic when waking a groundhog from hibernation to see if he stays awake, or crawls back into his hole to sleep as a predictor of winter. However, I have begun to follow the tradition after watching the movie "Groundhog Day."

"Groundhog Day" is more than just an amusing movie for me--it often reminds me of my own life. For those who have not seen the movie, comedian Bill Murray plays a character who must relive Groundhog Day time after time, indefinite. Everything remains the same in the life of Bill Murray regardless of how the night before ended. He awakes in the same hotel bed, to the same radio alarm clock, in the same small town he hates, on February 2nd. Likewise, I live practically the same life over and over, yet my environment is not nearly as pleasant as the town of Punxatawny, despite how Bill Murray may loathe it.

There is a progression in Bill Murray's attitude in the movie. At first, he is bewildered or shocked. How the hell does he continue to live the same day, over and over again? How can this be? Then there is a period of amusement in knowing what will happen before it occurs, but this quickly changes to frustration, and an intense hatred of his life. Murray tried everything he can to alter February 2nd from being repeated. He never liked this town or the people in it from the beginning, but now he despises it, them, and his life. In a desperate attempt to escape from what has become a hell-like existence, he even commits suicide, only to reawaken to the same alarm clock, in the same hotel bed. He kills himself in all sorts of ways, even finally kidnapping Punxatawny Phil, stealing a pickup truck, and followed by all the town's police, he drives straight off a cliff. After a bout of depression, Murray accepts his predicament and attempts to make the best of his life. He reads books, learns to play the piano, befriends the people of Punxatawny, and learns everything about the town and its inhabitants. He also learns, by repeated trial and error, to seduce every good looking woman in the town within 24 hours, every woman except one, at least until the end of the movie.

Since my arrest, I have gone through a similar progression. Initially, I was stunned, and could not believe I was under suspicion in numerous murders. How could I be in jail facing the death penalty for a crime, or crimes, that I did not have anything to do with? I never believed the justice system in the U.S. worked well, but still I was shocked. I watched some of the enormous and incredulous media coverage which seemed intent on demonizing me, and making me public enemy #1. Sometimes I was a little amused by such media attention, and also when inmates at the Cook County Jail would shout and point at me, and ask me for an autograph. Some tried to attack me, but that was not so entertaining, especially when a mob of black inmates attempted to beat me to death in a bull pen. The media coverage and notoriety quickly lost its novelty, and I grew to intensely despise the news media and its tireless negative and slanderous coverage.

Life at the county jail gave me an idea of what the rest of my life would be like after my lawyer failed to contest the prosecutor's theory of accountability at my trial. Like Bill Murray, I tried killing myself in various novel ways. I threw myself into a rival gang war where people were being stabbed and bludgeoned. I fought with both gangs, but unfortunately, only suffered minor scrapes and bruises. I attempted making cyanide from thousands of apple seeds which contain trace amounts of the poison. People probably thought I was odd collecting hundreds of apple cores over a few days time. In my cell, I boiled the seeds and removed the water. I put the concentrate in a mug of hot tea. I drank it that night, thinking I would die a painful but quick death. However, the tea tasted good, and I fell asleep only to awaken to another day in captivity. I hate my life--it is a never-ending series of oppression, mental anguish, and untold misery. It reminds me of Dante's Inferno, and in prison I am tormented with everything I dislike and hate. Despite my misery, I have attempted to adapt and make the best of my circumstances.

I lifted weights almost every day for hours until I was 220 pounds of lean muscle, and could have competed nationally in body building competitions. I made the power lifting team and out-lifted competitors who abused anabolic steroids. I read hundreds of books, and educated myself like Benjamin Franklin. At Joliet CC, I was in the last college class to graduate in a maximum security prison. I graduated with a perfect 4.0 grade point average, and was class valedictorian. Similar to Bill Murray, I tried romancing every good looking woman I became acquainted with through writing letters. Initially, I was not very successful finding women who were interested in a prisoner with a natural life sentence. However, after trial and error, I was writing many women from all over the world. I found a very special woman, and like Bill Murray, I spent a great deal of time getting to know her and bonding, despite the difficulties of having a relationship from prison. I gave this woman a ring, and hoped my fortunes would change. However, happy endings only exist in the movies, and despite all my struggles to succeed in life, I am ultimately left with the same miserable, meaningless existence I began with, except now I am older, and more bitter.

After watching Punxatawny Phil, I changed stations to find the local news. Today was not only Groundhog Day, but Election Day for the people of Illinois. Numerous local referendums and elections were being held, including a few statewide primaries such as the open senate seat left by President Barack Obama. The most important of these elections, however, was the gubernatorial primary. The incumbent, Pat Quinn, was running against Dan Hynes, Illinois' current comptroller, in the Democratic primary. The Republican primary had a wide field of candidates, including Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, current state congressmen, Jim Ryan, a former prosecutor and Attorney General, and my most preferred candidate for governor, Andy McKenna.

I am usually very knowledgeable about politics, politicians, and candidates running for office. However, for these primaries, I did not have the thorough understanding I typically do. Since having my property confiscated and receiving a disciplinary ticket, I have been absorbed in defending myself, and procuring my property back. I have the tendency of going through intense obsessions where much of my life and other interests fade into the background if not into oblivion. Furthermore, I have had a number of distractions in my life, such as the Orange Crush raid, that have broken my regular routines. Finally, even when I found some time, I have found it difficult to get news about the candidates.

Before today's election, I watched several gubernatorial debates. I would have watched all of them, but I found they were not all televised. Incredible how the most important office in the state was not televising all the candidates' debates. I turned on my TV at 7 p.m. sharp to watch a debate, only to find out that it was not going to be aired until midnight because they did not want to interrupt prime time television programs. Absurd. How does a show like "The Simpsons" have priority over a governor debate? I thought I could find information on local news stations about the candidates. However, they were not reporting on the subject until the week of the election, and then only reported on the politicians' controversial TV advertisements. I would have turned to a local newspaper, but I do not have a subscription to one of these, and the few Chicago Tribunes I did get my hands on were short of information. Possibly in this millennium, concerned voters must turn to the Internet. The lack of information available to voters makes me question the system of democracy all the more, particularly a universal democracy where even the most stupid, uneducated, and unpatriotic person can vote.

A few years ago, many prisoners were paying attention to the presidential race. Barack Obama was strongly supported by prisoners, particularly the black inmates. Regularly in the chow lines and in the cell house, the talk was about Obama this and Obama that. When Obama was proclaimed the winner, the prison went berserk. Black inmates were screaming out of their cell bars, banging things on their cell bars, and throwing all types of garbage onto the galleries, like confetti. After the election, I heard black guards and one lieutenant yelling "Obama!" and giving the black power fist salute to the jubilance of the black inmates. I could understand how blacks could feel a victory when this country once enslaved Africans, and they had no rights. The U.S. has radically been altered from its roots. What I could not understand, however, was how many black inmates had a perception that when Obama was in office, they would be freed, or that massive changes would occur in the Department of Corrections in Illinois. These inmates were disillusioned, and nothing would change for them immediately after the election, or four, or eight years into Obama's presidency. They failed to understand that the President has no influence over the states' prison systems. If Obama had run for governor of Illinois, then I could understand a belief in great changes to come. It is the Governor, the Chief Executive Officer of the state, who has the absolute authority over IDOC. Despite this fact, there was not a peep from anyone about the gubernatorial primary elections.

I follow all important elections, and not just the ones that may affect me. However, in the governor's race, I am particularly interested in a candidate's policies in regard to the criminal justice system, sentencing laws, and the Department of Corrections. In the Democratic primary, I could not fail to notice Dan Hynes' numerous attack ads criticizing Pat Quinn for an early release program. A couple of months ago, the mass media was sensationalizing a few crimes committed by people who were released early, and Dan Hynes was attempting to capitalize on this reporting which heavily blamed the governor. This made my preference in the Democratic primary easier.

Although the early release program was far from ideal, it certainly was not deserving of criticism. Furthermore, any candidate whose vast preponderance of time was spent attacking the governor for this reason was not only playing politics, but most likely represented his own policy, or would be boxed in by it. Illinois has an enormous budgetary crisis. It also has an excessive prison population, with a wasteful and over-bloated Department of Corrections, which is siphoning off funds from other far more important state spending and programs. Even if I were not a prisoner, I would strongly support funding cuts to the Illinois prison system and release of prisoners. Apparently, Hynes and I do not see eye to eye on this issue.

The early release program only released prisoners a month early. It is absurd to believe that had these inmates served an extra month that they would have had any less propensity to commit crimes or violate their parole. In fact, I looked at the numbers, and only a few people, out of over 500, committed new crimes. The rest had violated their rules of parole. Both these numbers were consistent, or better than average, recidivism rates. However, one of the few crimes which occurred happened to be the brutal and senseless beating of a couple who became fodder for a news media seeking higher ratings. The governor, fearful of losing his office, quickly ended the early release program.

The best solution to Illinois' budgetary problems and enormous prison industrial complex, is comprehensive sentencing reform, and large cuts to IDOC. It is not only shown in study after study, but by my own observations--prisoners who have been incarcerated long periods of time are less likely to commit more crimes than those who are only in prison a few years. The cause of this is multifold. People released after a decade or two are older, more mature, less willing to risk returning to prison, have a greater appreciation of freedom, and have possibly educated themselves. Furthermore, those who have served 15 or 20 years are most likely in prison for a murder, and although murder is considered the most serious offense, murderers are most likely never to kill another person, unlike a drug user, pedophile, or career criminal. Unfortunately, comprehensive sentencing reform requires the state legislature to create and pass bills that may meet the resistance of constituents who are uneducated and emotional. Contrarily, a governor can act unilaterally to grant good time credits to prisoners who are able to earn them.

For the Republican nominee, I supported Andy McKenna, even though I was disappointed that he did not attend debates. Andy McKenna, who was leading in the polls, apparently thought he was too good to spar with the other candidates. His campaign manager probably made this decision, but nevertheless, I thought it was smug of him to rely almost entirely on his TV ads, and not reach out to the people in a more informative fashion. Because he did not come to the debates, I had to judge him by the discussions of political commentators and indirect news, but mostly by the groups who supported him. The Tea Party activists endorsed McKenna, and this made a large impact on me. My political views are very closely aligned with this movement, and although I do not like to rely on endorsements, lacking other information, I did as well.

My decision came not only from the Tea Party activists, but for several other reasons as well. From news reports, McKenna was absolutely opposed to new taxes or borrowing, and promised to slash state spending by close to 20 billion dollars. Most of his Republican challengers were against higher taxes and borrowing, however, none were so strongly committed to slashing state spending. Even Bill Brady's plan to have a 10% across the board cut on every department did not match McKenna's goals. The federal, state, and local governments have, for far too long, overspent, overtaxed, and increased big brother government, at the expense of the self-made man. I also liked the fact that McKenna was a successful businessman, and was using his own money to run his campaign. Once in power, he would not be obligated to special interests, and could act independently. McKenna also was not a party insider, and although this lack of experience may be detrimental in a state whose behind the scenes politicking was what made the wheels turn, I thought it was more important that Illinois' government had refreshing new leaders.

One person I knew I did not want to win was Jim Ryan. Jim Ryan was formerly the States Attorney of DuPage County. He repeatedly retried an innocent man during his time in office, despite the shoddy and contradictory evidence of his guilt, which eventually exonerated him in the Appellate Courts. I have met other people who have been prosecuted by Ryan, and although they were guilty, the prosecutor acted illegally, and grossly improper. I know, if not these men, other innocent people have been convicted. The States Attorney's office of Jim Ryan often acted above the law, and with great malfeasance. During a debate, I was impressed by how he answered the question of whether he supported the death penalty. Most of the Republican candidates quickly said "yes," but Jim Ryan responded: only after more improvements were made to the justice system and the scope of death eligibility was drastically narrowed. I wholeheartedly agree, but I doubt Ryan was sincere, and I must judge a man by his deeds, and not his words.

After watching an hour's worth of local news by jumping from channel to channel to get all the latest election coverage, I began my day. Unfortunately, I did not make the law library list again. It has been over two months since I have been permitted to go, and I have been delayed in my legal research. As well as filing a new clemency petition, I am working on filing a successive post conviction petition. I need access to the books in the law library in order to cite relevant case law to the district court in support of my issues. It is a time consuming practice of reading numerous cases and finding case law that is applicable. Although I have a lawyer now, she seems to be sitting on my case. In any event, I will no longer trust a lawyer to do all my legal work. I also need copies made for the grievance I typed pertaining to the confiscation of my property, disciplinary report, and the improper hearing I received. Prisoners can only make copies at the law library, and because Internal Affairs confiscated my carbon paper along with the vast majority of my property, I had no way to duplicate my grievance except by retyping it several times. I have been doing this for a number of other papers I have written recently, not only consuming numerous days of my life, but even to my mental and physical exhaustion. The documents I have been retyping are many pages long, and I cannot type fast. I refuse to do any more retyping now that we are off lockdown, and I gave my 6-page grievance to a person who was on the law library list to copy for me. I told him I would give him payment in the form of commissary for the cost of the copies, but he refused. I was glad later in the the day when he returned with four copies of my grievance. This saved me an incredible amount of time. Keeping a copy for myself, I will send out these grievances to the Grievance Officer, my lawyer, and my parents. Finally, I will finish this phase of my life and I can go on to other matters.

I finished my objectives for the day in time to watch the two hour season premier of "Lost." For those who are not familiar with the ABC program, "Lost" is about a group of people who survived a plane crash in the South Pacific. They have been living on a paranormal island with many secrets. Initially, I thought the survivors were actually dead because of the strange and unexplained phenomena, but this turned out to not be true. "Lost" has been running for 5 seasons, and I have rarely missed an episode. The show is an enjoyable distraction from my often miserable prison life.

My favorite character on the program is Sawyer, because his personality is such that I can most readily identify with him. However, there was another character, John, who has always been distinguished from the rest of the cast, and for that reason, I can also identify with him. John, unlike the other survivors of the crash, never wanted to leave the island or be rescued. He has been more than content to be "lost," and has, in fact, sabotaged attempts for rescue. John was a paraplegic before he crashed on the island. The island miraculously allowed him to walk, and restored purpose and meaning to his life. What I would not give to have purpose and meaning to my life. What I would not give to be away from this hell-like place and be lost on an island in the middle of nowhere.

Hundreds of years ago, Britain gave many of its prisoners a choice of rotting in the confines of an oppressive prison, or beng sent abroad to one of the Empire's many uncivilized global outposts to fend for themselves. The purpose was to remove criminals from British society, expand the borders of the Empire, and make these people do all the hard work of creating a settlement which could later be expanded. Australia was, in fact, first settled by British convicts. If I had been in one of those prisons, I would be the first to volunteer. Given a choice between Stateville and the farthest, most formidable wilderness, I would choose the latter without hesitation. I would even volunteer to live on Mars rather than in a prison.

In the season premier of "Lost," two alternate realities are depicted. One follows the cast as if nothing were changed and the airplane crashed, stranding them on the island. The other script follows the cast as if the plane never went down and the passengers arrived safely on their trans-Pacific flight to Los Angeles. The alternative scripts are intriguing, and I have often wondered what would have happened to myself had I never moved in with the Faracis. Or what if I had been arrested, but upon my interrogating detectives ignoring my demands to see a lawyer I attacked them, or began screaming so that later they could not fabricate a story? Or what if I had gone to trial but refused to go along with my lawyer's strategy not to put on a defense? What if my lawyer contested the testimony of one of the interrogating officers, and did not simply argue that his testimony was true but did not make me accountable for my co-defendant? Or what if I had refused to allow my parents to fire my Public Defenders and replace them with the inexperienced criminal lawyers from Jenner & Block? These alternative scenarios have been a source of many daydreams for me. I wonder if right now there is a Paul Modrowski in an alternative universe who has not had the last 17 years of his life torn from him.

Throughout the show "Lost," ABC was giving updates to the elections. At commercials, I was also switching channels to FOX or WGN news to catch the latest tally of votes. I was rooting strongly for McKenna and Quinn. It was a tight race in both primaries. Quinn, who was leading by 5% initially, slowly lost his lead as the evening progressed and the downstate votes were tallied. McKenna, Dillard, and surprisingly, Brady, were in a 3-way race for the Republican ticket. I knew even less about Brady than I know about McKenna. For the most part, all I knew was that he was a conservative Republican in the state congress from Bloomington who was rather assertive in debates and always wore a fake smile whenever he was televised. Dillard was also a state legislator, and was considered one of the most moderate of the Republican field. He was endorsed by former Illinois' Governor Jim Edgar, who signed into legislation cruel and absurdly harsh sentencing laws during the 1990s. A number of prisons were also built during Jim Edgar's reign. This did not mean Dillard also supported such legislation, but I knew his election would mean basically the status quo, and not the change Illinois needs, especially in regard to fiscal discipline.

After "lost," I turned my full attention to the elections. Governor Quinn was leading by only several thousand votes. Bill Brady was leading Kirk Dillard by only five hundred and Andy McKenna was in third, about five thousand votes behind. The Republican primary winner for Barack Obama's former senate seat was unfortunately Mark Steven Kirk. I was hoping his more conservative opponent would pull an upset, but I knew it was a long shot. It is close to midnight as I write this journal entry, and before I began writing, I realized the gubernatorial winners will not be known tonight. Some reporters speculated a recount in the Republican race. I hope Brady or McKenna come out on top. People with autism are known to dislike change. However, when it comes to my miserable repetitive existence and the state of affairs in Illinois, change is something I greatly look forward to, and not the change offered by the socialist, big government supporter, Barack Obama. Hopefully, soon, Groundhog Day will be just a bad memory.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Prison's Justice System -- January 28, 2010

Similar to the criminal justice system, there is a rudimentary justice system for adjudicating rule infractions in prison. Guards act like police and prosecutors, an adjustment committee acts as a judge or jury, and the grievance officer and administrative review board acts similar to a state and federal appellate court. Prisoners have very few rights, and are not permitted a lawyer or anything resembling counsel. Most anything a guard accuses an inmate of, he or she is found guilty. Charges brought against an inmate in a disciplinary report need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and it is left to an inmate to prove their innocence.

There are a number of rule violations a prisoner can be charged with. Many of these are ambiguous and broad in scope, giving guards wide latitude. Some are extremely petty, and many guards do not bother even writing up a ticket. The more serious offenses an inmate can face are: assault, dangerous contraband, escape, security threat group activity, bribery/extortion, arson, electronic contraband, impeding an investigation, or dangerous disturbance. Dangerous disturbance is defined as "Causing, directing, or participating in any action or group activity that may seriously disrupt activities, or endanger the facility, persons, or property, including the taking or holding of hostages by force, or threat of force, and engaging in prohibited group activities such as work stoppages, or hunger strikes." I have seen many inmates be charged with "dangerous disturbance" for trying to unify inmates to go on strike, refuse food trays, or other passive resistance ideas.

Security threat group/unauthorized organizational activity is probably the most charged serious offense, due to how broad in scope it is, and how fearful the administration is of gangs. It is defined as "Engaging, pressuring, or authorizing others to engage in security threat groups or unauthorized activities, meetings, or criminal acts, displaying, wearing, possessing, or using security threat group or unauthorized organizational insignia or materials, or giving security threat group or unauthorized organizational signs. Unauthorized organizational activity shall include engaging in the above activities by or on behalf of an organization that has not been approved pursuant to 20 IL Adm. Code 445 or 450." Many prisoners are sent to Segregation for the mere suspicion of this rule violation. Suspected gang leaders can be sent to Supermax Tamms indefinitely.

Some of the less serious rule violations are: fighting, gambling, unauthorized movement, failure to report, trading and trafficking, and filing a frivolous lawsuit. I never understood how filing a frivolous lawsuit could be punishable, but according to the rules, a person can lose 6 months of good time credit for doing so. Unauthorized movement is defined as "Being anywhere without authorization or being absent from where required to be, or returning late, or not traveling directly to or from any authorized destination without prior staff approval." I have seen inmates get written up for this when not being at their cell door when a guard is locking up, or if an inmate is found on a gallery he does not live on. I had a cellmate a year ago who merely opened the door of the waiting room at the Internal Affairs office, and he was sent directly to Seg for unauthorized movement. Trading and trafficking is done by every inmate at Stateville. Everyone trades property, or trafficks property. If this rule was enforced, the entire prison population would be guilty. Only the most petty guards will write a disciplinary report for trading and trafficking, but I have seen inmates immediately be handcuffed and taken to Seg for doing so.

There are two types of disciplinary reports: major and minor. The distinction between the two is that minor tickets are heard by the program unit, and not the adjustment committee. Furthermore, an inmate cannot be punished with Segregation for a minor ticket. It is completely up to the discretion of the reporting guard whether to make the ticket a minor or major ticket, and there are no rules or guidelines. Minor tickets are rarely ever written at Stateville, however, I was informed that the Orange Crush unit wrote a number of minor disciplinary tickets for such things as having outdated prescription medication, or medication not in its original packaging, having kitchen seasoning powders, or having magic markers.

All rule violations have a minimum and maximum penalty. All rule violations can be punishable by the discretion of the adjustment committee, with a loss of privileges, B or C grade, good time revocation, or Segregation, except for minor tickets and tickets for a frivolous lawsuit. A loss of privileges could prohibit an inmate from going to yard, having visitors, or in a medium security prison, participation in a particular recreation event. B grade means an inmate at a minimum security prison cannot participate in a work release program. C grade means an inmate's commissary privileges are limited. A prisoner in C grade can only purchase hygiene and paper supplies. The most serious offenses carry a possibility of a year's loss of privileges, B or C grade, good time revocation, or Segregation. Two offenses carry indefinite Segregation time, and those two are violent assault and sexual assault. The least serious offenses, like fighting, carry only one month of punishment.

Last week, I was served with a disciplinary report written by the man from Internal Affairs who interviewed me a few weeks earlier. He was to write me up for "202: damage or misuse of state property, 308: unauthorized property or contraband, 406: trading and trafficking, and 302: gambling. These charges are not applicable, duplicate, or were not substantiated. It was obvious the guard was throwing the book at me in order to possibly persuade the adjustment committee to find me guilty of something, or to justify the confiscation of my property. Indeed, I was told by a source that a disciplinary report would not have even been written if I did not file a grievance about the confiscation of my property. However, even had I known this, I could not have accepted three quarters of my property being taken from me. This was sheer gangsterism and I am furious to have been robbed.

To summarize the disciplinary report I received, I was in possession of a lot of property that I could not prove I had purchased in the last 6 months, and I had what he deemed gambling paraphernalia. The reporting officer deemed an NFL schedule and a college bowl game schedule with dates, times, TV stations, and spreads to be gambling paraphernalia. From these facts, he concluded that I was gambling and procured the vast majority of my property from it. I was guilty of "202: damage or misuse of state property" by using my state-issued property boxes to hold gambling proceeds. I was guilty of "contraband/unauthorized property" because the commissary I had was contraband because I received it from gambling. Finally, I was guilty of "trading/trafficking" because I must have trafficked property in order to gamble.

This disciplinary report is preposterous. Damage/misuse of property is if you throw a rock through a window, or make a jacket out of a state-issued wool blanket. Property boxes are given to inmates to store property in, regardless of what that property is. I could put a Rolex watch in my box and that would not be a misuse of property. What a Rolex watch would be, however, is contraband/unauthorized property. However, commissary sold at the prison where you reside can never be considered contraband or unauthorized property. I have never heard of anyone being charged with trading and trafficking, unless they were actually caught in the act of trading or trafficking, and as mentioned before, only the most petty guards will write an inmate up for this rule violation.

The fact that I own a lot of property, and cannot prove I purchased it in the last 6 months, means nothing. I have been in prison over 15 years, not 6 months. I have photos and books that I have had since before the change of the millennium. I have letters and clothes that I have saved for many years. Until just this last year, I owned a jean jacket that I purchased on my first shop in the IL Department of Corrections. I also had many hygiene supplies, and well preserved foodstuffs for years. You would be surprised how long a package of tuna will stay good. I would not be surprised to learn that it has a shelf life of 20 years. If the police barged into a person's home, and confiscated all the owner's property, and then a few weeks later returned merely that which could be proven to be purchased in the last 6 months, this would be considered a crime. However, in prison, I am the one alleged to have committed a crime.

The guard who wrote me the ticket infers that because I had a couple of football schedules, this is proof that I had been gambling. If football schedules are proof of gambling, half of Stateville, including the guards who work here, are guilty. Ironically, more than half of Stateville's prisoners and staff are guilty of gambling. Gambling is an American pastime; from lottery players to bingo, from poker players to slot machines, and from the racetracks to wagers on sporting events. A major source of revenue for the State of Illinois is the lottery, and riverboat casinos. It is hypocritical for a state to prosecute people who gamble, and its almost universal participation should make the legislature repeal gambling prohibitions. Although prisons can make a different set of circumstances and each prison can create its own rules, only a petty guard would write an inmate a disciplinary report for gambling and take away his peanuts and toothpaste; only a guard attempting to justify the confiscation of an inmate's property would try to substantiate a disciplinary report with a couple of football schedules. In a violent, maximum-security prison, guards should have more to concern themselves with than inmates betting on football games.

A correctional officer who writes an inmate a disciplinary ticket has the option of immediately handcuffing him and taking him to Seg. The time period between an inmate's placement in Seg and his hearing on the matter is called "temporary confinement." Every prison is supposed to have what is called a "reviewing officer." A reviewing officer's job is to review the reasons all inmates are placed in temporary confinement, and determine if the reported facts justify his placement in Seg, or if a disciplinary hearing should even be convened. Sometimes, a guard will put an inmate in Seg and fail to write the ticket. A reviewing officer has the authority to remove an inmate from Seg, or have an unsubstantiated ticket dismissed. However, at Stateville, there is no reviewing officer. Stateville oftentimes does not follow proper laws and rules of procedure.

All disciplinary reports must be made and served on an inmate within 8 days of when a guard learns of an inmate violating a rule. This statute of limitations can be expanded for a month if the reporting guard writes an investigative ticket. Sometimes, the warden will allow an investigation to be continued another month or two, but this is rare. Many inmates are given investigative reports at Stateville. Most often, they are placed in temporary confinement during this period of time. The cellmate of the man who stabbed and beat the guard in my cell house a few weeks ago was placed in Seg, and was served with an investigative report. He had nothing to do with the incident, but Internal Affairs will conduct an investigation nevertheless. He will be released from Seg within 30 days. The guard who wrote my disciplinary ticket failed to write it within the statutory 8 day time limit. He did not write a ticket until January 18th, and I was not served with it until the 20th, 11 days after the statute of limitations. According to the rules, the ticket should be dismissed just on this reason alone, and if Stateville had a reporting officer, the disciplinary report would have been thrown out. However, at Stateville, rules are rarely followed.

It is obvious to me the reporting correctional officer only wrote a disciplinary report after I had filed a grievance on my property being confiscated. The guard had to justify Internal Affairs' taking both of my property boxes, and then returning only a small fraction of my belongings. I was left without basic hygiene and writing supplies, clothes, and legal papers for almost two weeks. Prisoners do not have many rights, but some of the few we do have were violated by the investigative unit of Stateville CC. Had Internal Affairs suspected me of gambling, and followed proper procedure, an investigative report should have been written and served upon me within 8 days. Never would certain basic supplies and papers been taken, and within 30 days all of my property would have been returned. A disciplinary ticket would have been written because I had property above the institution's limits. However, this ticket could not stand because prisoners at Stateville were never informed of the rule.

After an inmate has been served with a disciplinary report, the ticket must be heard within 2 weeks. I was hoping this rule would be violated as well so I would have another issue to appeal. However, this morning I was told to dress in my state blues to hear my ticket. Usually, inmates go to the Adjustment Committee office to hear their tickets. However, the prison is on a level 4 lockdown and my ticket was heard in the sergeant's office in the cell house. Had the prison still been on a level 1 lockdown, the Adjustment Committee would have had to come to my cell to have the hearing.

I was placed in the cell house holding cage while I waited the arrival of the Adjustment Committee. Two other prisoners were in the cage waiting as well. One of them told me he was written up for having a privacy sheet up while he bathed in the sink of his cell. It is unusual for a prisoner to be written up for this rule violation. Most guards do not want to see inmates naked while bathing or using the toilet. Many female guards or staff are insulted or made uncomfortable by naked men. However, the lieutenant who wrote this man the ticket is thought of by Stateville's inmates and staff alike as being a very unpleasant, obnoxious, "bitch". The man written a disciplinary report told me he was not only written up for "210: Impairment of Surveillance" and "403: Disobeying a Direct Order", but "501: Violating State and Federal Laws." When I expressed surprise, the man handed me a copy of the ticket. Sure enough, up at the top the ticket "Violation of State and Federal Laws" was written. I do not know what state or federal law could remotely have been violated by having a privacy sheet up. Oftentimes, guards write down rule violations which are not applicable, and it reminded me of my own disciplinary ticket. I continued to read the description of the report to see if the lieutenant even tried to substantiate how a state or federal law was broken. However, all the ticket said was that on a specific date and time, she saw said offender with a privacy sheet up while she was walking the gallery. Reporting lieutenant told offender to take the sheet down, but was told "I will take it down after I am done washing up." I gave the report back to the man, and he told me he hopes the adjustment committee only gives him a few months of C Grade. I tend to believe this is what his punishment will be, and told him so. There have been times inmates were being sent to Seg for privacy sheets, but not currently.

I waited for almost an hour when the adjustment committee arrived, or rather ONE lieutenant, acting on behalf of the committee. At other prisons, there are usually three people who are part of the committee. One person is supposed to investigate the report, including examining any evidence or interviewing any witnesses. Another person is supposed to be a neutral observer, and the last person is supposed to be an inmate advocate. By law, an adjustment committee must be composed of at least two people, and one person must be a member of the counseling staff at the prison. However, once again, these rules are not followed at Stateville.

I entered the sergeant's office whereupon the lieutenant hearing the tickets asked me for my identification card. I did not have my ID on me, and I was asked for my name and institutional number. Digging through some papers, the lieutenant found my disciplinary report. Sitting back in a chair, the lieutenant read my ticket aloud, in a rambling monotone voice. The lieutenant had never looked at my ticket before, and this was done not only as a formality, but for his own information. After he was finished, I held out a written statement that I had prepared in rebuttal. It was a six-page, typed statement that picked apart the disciplinary report, point by point. The lieutenant did not want to take the document although by law he had to. I told him that I knew he was not going to read it, but I wanted it attached for the record. With that, he accepted the statement and stuck it in with the rest of his papers. He then asked me where I got all the stuff. I explained to him the reporting guard had only gone back 6 months in my commissary receipts, and I have owned my property much longer than that. The lieutenant, in an angry tone, then asked, "You're not fucking going to make me go through all the shit of matching up your commissary purchases to the inventory list? Don't make me have to do all that work to find they do not match up! Now, tell me, where you got all that shit!" I began to tell him to do just that, and he would find that I had purchased the vast majority of the property in my boxes at one time or another. However, this apparently was not what the lieutenant wanted to hear, so in mid-sentence, I stopped myself, and told him that at least one quarter of the property attributed to me was not mine, but my cellmate's. I went on to inform him that the two bags of commissary found outside my boxes did not even belong to me. This dramatically changed the lieutenant's mood, and he asked, "Why is that not on the report?" And, "Did you list your cellie as a witness?" I told him I did not know why I.A. did not write this in the report, as they were certainly aware of the fact. I had told the reporting officer when I was interviewed that the bags did not belong to me, and my cellmate immediately filed a grievance on the matter. The lieutenant looked at my disciplinary report, and saw that I had indeed written my cellmate's name down as a witness when served with the paper. I had written down several names of witnesses who should have been interviewed, but had not. The lieutenant jotted down some notes on his notepad, and with his mood considerably lightened, he then said, "Alright, what about this gambling paraphernalia?" I informed him the papers found were not gambling paraphernalia, but merely football schedules from newspapers. He wrote this on his notepad as well, and then leaned back in his chair. He did not say anything, and did not look at me. I asked him if there was anything I could add, and he said "no" and mumbled something like I have all I need, or I have heard enough. I left the office and returned to the holding cage.

About ten minutes passed when the cell house sergeant unlocked the holding cage and told us we could go back to our cells. This does not mean the lieutenant found me "not guilty," or that I am not going to be sent to Seg. There is no time limit within which an adjustment committee has to make a decision, and weeks from now I could be told to pack myself a Seg bag. On my way back to the cell, I was escorted by the sergeant who sat on my hearing. I asked him what he thought the lieutenant would do. The sergeant said he spoke up on my behalf and told the lieutenant I was not a trouble maker, and was quiet. He also told the lieutenant he believed me, and thought the ticket was suspect because it was written so late. I thanked him as he closed my cell door behind me.

I have spoken to a few other guards about my disciplinary report, as well as some inmates. The consensus of opinion is that if I was going to Seg, I would have been sent there immediately on New Year's Day when my cell was searched and property taken. Internal Affairs, they all say, does not play any games, and wide discretion is given to guards to place an inmate in Seg, or not. If a guard, especially one from Stateville's investigative unit, does not put you in Seg immediately, usually the adjustment committee will just "adjust" you with a C Grade. I have little experience with such matters, but I made a Seg bag just in case. I also have begun typing another grievance. This one not only grieves my property being confiscated, but the disciplinary report and hearing, which was heard by only one man and without the interview of my defense witnesses. I have found it is best to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Orange Crush -- January 23, 2010


Note: This is a training video showing the Orange Crush at a medium security prison and does not show any real prisoners. This video is taken from youtube. The situation in Paul's part of Stateville is different; there are bars on the cells and not doors. But this gives an idea of how the Orange Crush look and operate.

Yesterday, I was awakened at 6 a.m. by shouts, clanging of bars, and the sounds of heavy boots stomping the concrete. It was the Special Tactical Squad, better known as the Orange Crush, storming into my cell house. It sounded like B House was being invaded by a small army of soldiers, all dressed in bright orange jumpsuits and black body armor. These guards were from several prisons in northern Illinois, and numbered over 200. Many of them had shields, and wielded wood batons tied to their wrists to prevent them being used against themselves. These guards lined up against the cell house wall, while another group came to our cell bars. Upstairs, the Special Tactical unit was rushing into positions on the two galleries above mine.

The Orange Crush invasion was not altogether a surprise. After a guard was stabbed last week, most prisoners knew the administration would order a response. Although the perpetrator acted alone, there would be some kind of collective punishment, or retaliation. A month, two, or several months of lockdown was not going to be considered as adequate compensation. The Special Tactical Unit is a display of force meant to intimidate and humble a prison population, as well as collectively punish them. It is the common, atypical response of the warden, and those of us who have been here for years knew to expect it. Even if our new warden did not believe it was appropriate, or justified, he would be compelled to make the order by the guards who work here. Despite how us old timers knew the Orange Crush was coming, we were like the 3rd Reich in WWII, not knowing where or when the Allied invasion would occur, but unlike them, being powerless and having done nothing to provoke the attack.

The Orange Crush guards in front of our cells demanded we get up and turn on the bright fluorescent overhead light. We were then strip searched, and allowed to reclothe only in boxers, and our thin state-issued blue pants and shirts. No shoes, only sandals, I was told, and after I put them on, I was ordered to put my hands behind my back and then through a horizontal opening in the bars to be handcuffed. I heard other guards yelling at prisoners to face the wall, and not touch anything, so I did not have to be told what to do. I stood there with my cellmate handcuffed in front of me, waiting for further orders. Upstairs, I could hear doors being opened, and inmates filing out. It was not long until my cell door was opened.

On the gallery, I followed the inmates in the cells before me out the front door of the cell house. There was a large contingent of guards in the tactical squad escorting us out. I also saw members of the Internal Affairs Unit as well as some administrators. As I walked through the cell house door into the corridor leading to the chow hall, I was hit with a gust of cold winter air. Temperatures were frigid outside, and the hallway began with two large doors partially open allowing the cold outside air in. After the assault of wind, I walked up a small set of stairs to see Orange Crush lined up on both sides of the corridor with helmets down, shields and batons in their hands, ready to pummel anyone who stepped out of line, or showed any resistance. I peered through the visors of some of the guards in my forward vision. I did not see any familiar faces, which would have made the tactical team appear less impersonal, less threatening, and more human. Behind their shields, body armor, and visors were a variety of people, including a few women, to my surprise.

From the hallway, we were taken into the first chow hall. I chose a table as close to the kitchen and farthest away from the door, hoping it would be warmer. Guards told us to sit facing away from the tables, and forbade us to talk. I sat facing the inner circle where the guntower and feed counters were located. To my left was my cellmate, and to my right, one of my neighbors. The table had six stools and there was a person sitting on each of them. Although I had been able to choose a table, the Orange Crush squad made sure we were grouped together. I suppose it was easier to control a less dispersed herd. Often, I believe, prisoners are treated like animals, and today was no different.

Typically, the Special Tactical Unit is in the cell house for an entire shift. Therefore, I expected to be seated on this stool for the next seven hours. I attempted to make myself comfortable, but this was difficult being handcuffed behind my back, cold, and with my lower back pain. For three weeks, I have been without any pain medication or anti-inflammatories for the ruptured disk in my spine. I leaned forward to take pressure off my sciatic nerve, but it was not much help and as I waited, my pain grew worse and my left leg went numb.

I was very surprised to see that the Orange Crush made accommodations for people who had injuries, were old, or had health problems. Typically, no consideration is made for these people, and when complaints are made, those speaking are told to shut up. Yesterday was different, and those with crutches were not handcuffed, and those with shoulder injuries were cuffed in front, or in back with two handcuffs. Even fat people were given two handcuffs. Furthermore, people were allowed to use the washroom. After a couple of hours, anyone who needed to relieve themselves were grouped at a few tables near the door, and escorted to a bathroom. Consideration was also made for diabetics and those on dialysis. Diabetics were given their insulin in the chow hall, and dialysis patients were taken to the health care unit to have their blood filtered.

Two guards with German Shepherds went into the inner circle of the chow hall. Apparently, they had just returned from the cell house where I assumed the dogs were run through cells searching for drugs. The dogs were unruly and undisciplined. They seemed to have as much control as someone's personal pet. The dogs' handlers continuously had to pull on their leashes, and their orders were often ignored, or only heeded for a limited time. A female guard came into the circle, and one of the dogs lunged to attack her. If not for the handler's quick tug on the leash, she would have been given a viscious bite. The dogs were restless and ordered to sit on numerous occasions. They would sit for a moment before getting back up to aimlessly move about, testing the limits of their leash. A person in the kitchen staff noticed the dogs behavior and brought some water out in a styrofoam soup bowl. The dogs just sniffed it, and went back to their unruliness. Typically, many dogs are brought with the Orange Crush to intimidate the inmates. They are allowed to bark and lunge at prisoners, and their use for drug searching is only a second, or minor, function. That there were only two canine units and they were kept away from inmates today, seemed to show a different approach by this administration.

While waiting in the first chow hall, some inmates from the other chow halls were made to line up at the exit. Internal Affairs was present, and I reasoned that these prisoners would be subject to drug testing. Later, my cellmate told me he thought I.A. was going to question these people, or these people were found to be in possession of contraband. My cellmate was worried that he would be questioned by a certain member of the I.A. unit because he had last year put him in segregation for refusing to talk about his tattoos and denying any gang affiliation. I knew this was not going to occur. I.A. had already questioned people about the incident the previous week, and too many people were lined up to all have been found in possession of contraband. Not long after the line was formed, I.A. called out about 10 names from our gallery to join the line. Afterwards, I watched how a few of them were taken out of line to have a urine drug test, and then returned to the chow hall.

My wait in the chow hall was an uncomfortable one. Not only was I cold and in pain, but I was tired. The last couple of nights I had stayed up past midnight typing and retyping a statement in defense of a disciplinary report written up by the same guard whom my cellmate was concerned about. The report was served upon me well after the statutory time limit of 8 days, and was apparently written to justify I.A. taking most of my property on New Year's Day. There was no justification, however, and I immediately began constructing a 6-page response, and a grievance. I also sent out letters to my lawyer and parents.

After we had been in the chow hall a little over three hours, I was surprised to overhear the order over the radio of a lieutenant--the tactical team was done searching galleries 6 and 4. I had expected them to take most of the day. The lieutenant got on his radio and told whomever was on the other end to notify him when they were ready to bring 6 gallery back to their unit. My mood brightened after hearing this. I would not be handcuffed behind my back, shivering in the cold, and suffering from the increasing back pain for much longer.

I could see through some cyclone fencing that 6 gallery had been waiting in one of the other chow halls. They were lined up, and sent down a corridor made by more cyclone fencing in our chow hall to the exit and into the hallway leading to the cell house. About 20 minutes later, 4 gallery followed suit. I was thinking we would be next, but my hopes were dashed when I overheard a radio announcement that 8 gallery was in route, and a 10-4 by the lieutenant. Neither 8 nor 10 gallery had left their cells yet. They were filed into the building and took up the space in the chow halls vacated by 6 and 4. A man gave a greeting to my cellmate as he passed by, but my cellmate was too cowardly to respond. It was not until these galleries of men were secured that 2 gallery was sent back.

A guard yelled out to the prisoners on my gallery to stand and line up when they heard their cell number called. The cell numbers were shouted out in reverse order so the line would correspond with our cells when we filed into the cellhouse. Again, we walked through the gauntlet of Orange Crush with shields and batons positioned in unison. This time, I did not bother to inspect the faces behind the visors, and was just looking forward to having the cuffs that were digging into my wrists taken off. As I passed the staircase and offices, I saw the havoc left behind. On my left, against the cell house wall, were piles of pillows, mattresses, blankets, property, and garbage. On my right were the prisoners' cells with their property thrown about. I came to my cell, and it was no different.

After having my handcuffs removed, I searched through the mess of property looking for some clothes to wear. I found a pair of sweatpants and a sweater, and put them on along with some socks. My cellmate did the same, and then looked at our shakedown receipts. They both said "no contraband found." The mess in our cell was so great--I was in no hurry to begin the clean-up. I knew it was going to be a long process for me to reorganize my boxes. I decided to clean out my boxes before putting my property away. A I located the floor rag and began to scrub soapy water into it, my cellmate began filling his small property box. My cellmate would rather quickly stuff his boxes with his property. However, my method would be much more deliberate and organized.

I began by sorting all my property into piles such as clothes, hygiene products, foodstuffs, papers, etc. From those piles, I meticulously put my property away, beginning with my small box. All my papers, books, magazines, pens, pencils and mail went into my small box. I had all my papers organized into 9 x 12 inch envelopes. Like a file cabinet, you can easily find what you are looking for. Fortunately, the Orange Crush team did not scatter my papers about, and I was able to put my small box together in a short time. My large property box was a different matter, however, and I was not finished with it until after shift change at 3:00.

My cellmate had finished packing his proeprty well before I had. He commented that I should look on the bright side--if I.A. had not taken most of my belongings, I would have been putting things away into the evening hours. He also commented that the Orange Crush would have thrown out all my containers, just as I.A. had done 3 weeks earlier. Before I.A. had taken my property, I had a large number of empty oatmeal boxes, clean plastic jars, and other containers that I used to store things in. For example, I had 8 peanut butter jars filled with various foodstuffs such as rice, peanuts, refried beans, and trail mix.

Although we were left a shakedown receipt stating that no contraband was found, this did not mean that nothing was taken from us. Our extra state-issued blankets were taken, as well as a commissary blanket. The extra bed sheets my cellmate had were taken, as well as both of our water bottles. A lid off one of my bowls was gone, and some cardboard I had been using to divide my large box into groupings. A stack of newspapers I had wedged between the bunk and the wall was gone. The hooks I had melted onto the walls to hang our towels and washcloths were broken off, as were the hooks I made to hold our jackets and attach the end of a privacy sheet. Early today, I had to create new ones and go through the process of melting them into place. I saw my commissary blanket on top of a pile of state issued blankets. When a guard who was not on the tactical team passed by, I asked him to give it to me before they were taken away. He obliged. Orange Crush was not supposed to take commissary property, although they often do.

My cellmate and I did not suffer much loss by the search. Other inmates were missing foodstuffs, hygiene items, clothes, and all sorts of miscellaneous property. Some of them yelled to the lieutenant, voicing complaints. The lieutenant yelled back that there was nothing he could do. He was not digging through the trash left on the lower floor to look for their property. Other inmates, accepting their losses, just complained to one another. All that day and until I went to sleep, I heard prisoners hollering to one another about what the Orange Crush took from them. I also heard complaints of damaged property. In the last Orange Crush search, my radio was tossed on the floor and damaged. I grieved the matter, and was awarded $10. I did not receive the money for over a year.

A number of prisoners were written disciplinary reports for having contraband. A few of them were immediately taken to Segregation. A man who works in the hospital was found to be in possession of rubbing alcohol. He was sent to Seg. My neighbor received a disciplinary report for having prescription medication. From what he told me, it was prescribed for him, but he had taken it out of its packaging. Another man on my gallery was written up for having Wiccan drawings that the guard searching his cell deemed to be gang-related; I also heard of people being given tickets for having magic markers and disinfectant. To my knowledge, no dangerous contraband was found. I did not expect any to be found--any prisoner with a shank or other weapon would have discarded it before the Orange Crush arrived. Possibly, that serves the purpose of the search just as much as if it is found.

Correctional Officer Williams was stabbed with a pen last week. However, the Orange Crush failed to take the pens from inmates on 2, 4 and 6 galleries, and only took them on 8 and 10, as if an afterthought. At Stateville, prisoners are only allowed to buy clear, thin plastic pens or short, clear rubber pens, neither of which I can use because of the pressure I use when writing. The plastic pens crack, and I have even had one snap in half while writing. The rubber pens bend way too much when I write. Thus, like the vast majority of inmates at Stateville, I acquire pens from inmates who have transferred in from other institutions, or pens from guards or other staff. I reuse these pens by exchanging their ink cartridges. It is probably foolish for the tactical team to take pens when they will just be replaced by others, even though the official purpose of the massive search was in response to the staff assault, and to make the institution safer. This only demonstrates, however, the true reason the Orange Crush was assembled--not based on reason or security, but emotion and retaliation.

Whether in a maximum-security prison, or in the United States' response to terrorism, decision makers must act with a cool intelligence, and not irrationality, or the heated passion of the masses. We can make our world only so safe before security outweighs not only our freedom, but function and practicality. In response to the attempted airplane bombing on Christmas, there was a huge overreaction. The overreaction was based on a knee jerk impulse, and had no cerebral thought behind it. The same impulsive irrationality guided the Orange Crush. People must accept a certain degree of danger. Danger is all around us, and we can never become perfectly safe. Every now and then "shit happens," and there is nothing we can do about it, nor should we try. As Americans, I should think we especially should not cower at every potential threat, but live free and brave. It is a shame these virtues have been lost and have been replaced by fear, and the police state, both inside and outside these prison walls.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Guard Stabbing -- January 18, 2010

Last Monday, Internal Affairs finally gave back my two property boxes. The boxes were so light that I had an easy time picking them up, and put them on a cart to bring to my cell. I told a polite man from Internal Affairs that I did not really need a cart, now that they had pilfered all my property. I had spoken with him in the past, and he was aware that I have a back injury. I was told, more or less, that it was better to be safe than sorry, so I took his advice, although I believe his overt kindness was due to how his colleagues had robbed me.

In my cell, I looked at my near empty box. I was unhappy, bitter, and felt powerless against a system that has repeatedly treated me poorly and unfairly. My prosecution, trial, sentence, and nearly 17 years of incarceration never had any semblance of justice. I have never had the illusion that life was fair, or had an expectation that it should be, but despite this, it has not prevented me from a developing a deep animosity. Having hundreds of dollars in commissary taken from me in comparison to an unjust conviction and a protracted death sentence is minuscule, but it is like the frosting on top of the cake. With resentment, I organized the little bit of property I had remaining in my boxes.

Early in the evening, commissary was passed out in my cell house. I finally received the gym shoes I have been ordering for months. I was pleased to get them at last, although not with the price. The plastic and leather running shoes cost $53.43 and I knew they were made in some Asian country for a few dollars. Not only was Nike making an exorbitant profit, but the Illinois Department of Corrections was getting their mark-up as well.

The gym shoes I bought will not be used until the summer, or possibly not until next year. The shoes I have now will serve my needs for many months to come. I bought the shoes now because this design of shoe may not be offered in the future. Furthermore, I like to plan and prepare far ahead of time. I am a frugal person, and possibly I tend to hoard property as well. As I wrapped and sealed my new shoes for storage in my box, I thought about those at I.A. who say I must prove my purchases. I will have to save the receipt for a long time.

To get my mind away from the property confiscated from me, and prison in general, I turned on my television and put on my headphones. A new series of "The Bachelor" was on ABC. This one was subtitled "On the Wings of Love" because the bachelor in this program was an airplane pilot. I did not appreciate how scripted the show began, and in the first episode I definitely saw images from the movie "Top Gun." However, the bachelor seems like someone I can relate to, to some degree at least, and they gave him a better set of females to chose from than previous shows.

I was completely absorbed in that program when I noticed numerous guards and a line of inmates being escorted to the cell house holding cage. I put my headphones down to find out what was going on. From inmates yelling on the galleries, I learned that a guard was assaulted by a prisoner, and apparently he was beat up quite severely. I could not understand why half of the gallery above me was sent into the holding cage. I could not see all those people being involved, or even fitting in the cage. I got my mirror and tapped it on my neighbor's bars to get his attention. I asked him what happened. He said, "Where have you been? Will just got his ass beat on 4 gallery." (4 gallery is the second level, and although I am on the first floor, my gallery is called 2 gallery.) I asked him what else he knew, and he said, "Well, I know he was body-slammed, as some inmate who witnessed the incident upstairs said so."

There were a lot of guards and lieutenants moving back and forth on my gallery. However, I never saw who attacked the guard, or the guard himself. I assumed they must have come off the front stairs rather than the back. Not long thereafter, I saw the back half of four gallery being led back to their cells in handcuffs. A week later, it is unclear to me why these inmates were moved. Possibly, a quick search of their cells was conducted to locate a weapon.

Since the attack occurred, I have learned that the guard was not just beaten, but stabbed. A few guards who worked that night have informed me that the victim was stabbed multiple times, including in the face. One guard told me he had over 20 stab wounds, but that must be a lie. The victim was able to walk to the hospital on his own. Although he was seen leaving the bathroom shaken up and clearly injured, he was not noticeably bleeding. A very crude and small makeshift shank must have been used. Had any well-made knife been used, that guard would have been dead, or at a minimum, bleeding profusely. In the shower yesterday, someone joked that the weapon must have been a dull pencil. The guard who was attacked stayed in the hospital overnight. He was treated mostly for scrapes and bruises, but also did get some stitches.

I am not surprised by the exaggeration of the guard's injuries. Not only do stories become more melodramatic the more they are told, but it is a tactic by correctional officers to make their lives or injuries more dangerous or worse than they actually are. I have seen inmates who bump into guards get written up for a violent assault, and then sent to Pontiac segregation. This is done as a cowardly and petty way for guards to retaliate or seek workmen's compensation, but also to support the union's demand for more staff, money or benefits. At a time when state budgets are being reviewed to reduce spending, the union is fighting even harder for their workers and to maintain the status quo. That fight is done with manipulated data, propaganda, and heavy lobbying in Springfield. The truth is that this is a maximum security prison where violence and staff assaults will occur. Truth is also that Stateville is well overstaffed, and could be run just as safely with far fewer guards, lieutenants, and administrators.

A member of my family came to see me on Thursday, four days after the incident. I was told that some news agency had reported the guard was stabbed at the prison's commissary. Anyone who has family here knows, however, that inmates do not go to the store, but have their orders brought to them. The incident occurred while commissary was being passed out, not at the commissary. In order to give us our bags, inmates' doors are opened. This is when the guard was attacked. I am not certain about the attacker's reasons, but most likely it had something to do with his store. Something was wrong with the attacker's order, and he was refusing his store. Inmates at Stateville have been angry about how infrequently they are allowed to shop. Lockdowns and commissary workers' intentional delays to pressure the administration to give overtime has caused cell houses to only shop once or twice a month. If an inmate's order was incorrectly filled, or missing a number of items, it is understandable that he would become upset. However, it is not understandable for that inmate to take out his anger on someone who had nothing to do with the mistake, especially Will.

When I heard which guard was attacked, I was upset and saddened. Officer Williams, whom those who know him call "Will," was one of the better correctional officers at Stateville. I have known Will for a few years, and he has always been friendly, polite, and respectful toward me. It is nice to have, on occasion, a guard who will treat you like a person, and not just another stereotypical "offender" (as we are now officially identified as), or worse yet, an animal. Once Will spoke on my behalf when a cell house lieutenant was thinking of walking me to segregation for taking his hat. The scull cap was just laying seemingly abandoned or dropped by someone on the walk. I picked it up, not knowing it was his, and later was patted down with it in my pocket. Officer Williams performed his duties as a correctional officer while simultaneously being reasonable, fair, and personable with the inmates he held power over. It is a shame that he was assaulted, and I hope he is well and will return to B House.

On my way out of the visiting room Thursday, a guard told me a story of a lieutenant who was indiscriminately stabbed to death in the 1990s on his last day on the job. From what I was told, this lieutenant was well liked by both inmates and staff. However, when a gang put out a hit on another lieutenant who did not show up for work that day, the orders changed to stab any white shirt available. The innocent lieutenant, who had never wronged the gang, tragically happened to be in the new target. I do not know the circumstances of why the guard was attacked last week, but I tend to believe that Will had not instigated the incident.

There is a tendency for guards and prisoners alike to have an "us versus them" mentality. Often prisoners are the subject of abuse, mistreatment, and oppression by guards. Petty and unreasonable rules made by the administrators who have no practical experience, are regularly enforced by automatons at Stateville, and elsewhere. Prisoners' lives at maximum-security prisons are already miserable, but can be made worse by mean and unjust correctional officers. Possibly, many guards can justify such acts and bad attitudes. Some of the worst scum are incarcerated at Stateville. No doubt, some of the prisoners here deserve the worst treatment, and should dwell in a hell-like place, or perhaps be executed to save the state money. However, not every prisoner is a worthless, unrehabilitatable, or irredeemable convict. Not all convicts are even guilty of the crimes that have brought them here. Likewise, not every guard is an asshole bent on making prisoners' lives miserable. Many wrongs have been heaped upon me in the last 17 years, and I cannot deny my anger. Despite my feelings, I can see those whose employment is my captivity, on an individual basis. There are good, and there are bad guards. Will was one of the better ones. Get well soon, Will.

February 4, 2010 -- On Monday, the prison was taken off lockdown status for the incident involving the assault of Officer Williams. Since then, I have been able to speak to and hear conversations of others. At the chow table, I learned the guard was initially stabbed with a pen, but his attacker let go of it and began to just beat the guard with his fists. A man at my table said that much of the incident happened in front of his cell, and he did not see the inmate with a pen at all. He saw the guard body-slammed to the ground, and pummelled with punches. From what he said, Officer Williams gave little defense or fight. Since we have been off lockdown, I have also learned the guard attacked was not well liked. From sources of inmates on the upper galleries, Officer Williams could be disrespectful and a "bitch," to quote some. A few prisoners mentioned a time last year when an inmate had been subdued on the ground, and Officer Williams continued to stomp on him. I have been surprised by what I have heard others say about the guard who has always been polite, fair, and friendly towards me. Possibly I was one of the few inmates who had a good relationship with him. Regardless, I hope Will recovers quickly.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Interview -- January 11, 2010

Earlier today, I was finally called over to the Office of Internal Affairs to learn why my property boxes were confiscated. I was invited into a small office which had a desk, a couple of chairs, some file cabinets, and an unmistakable one-way mirror (I knew that from the other side someone could watch and possibly hear what was being said). The man conducting the interview was a man I knew from many years ago when he worked as a guard at Joliet Correctional Center. As all people who knew me back then, he asked if I had, or am suffering from, some illness. I have lost about 35 pounds of muscle, and people assume that I contracted cancer or some other debilitating disease. I responded, "No, that is what 15 years in prison will do to you. I am not sick, but I injured my lower back and cannot lift heavy weights anymore." Since my 30's, I have focussed mostly on my cardio-vascular health and to be cut up rather than big. If I intend to live many more years in prison, longevity and good health will be more important than looking like a professional wrestler.

I cut through the small talk, and asked him if I was going to get my property back. After some hesitation, he said I was going to get some of it back, but it was to be very little. He went on to tell me they had decided to return my clothes, papers, books, electronics, and some miscellaneous, but all my food and hygiene commissary plus pre-stamped envelopes would not, other than what I can prove I purchased in the last six months. This was grossly unjust. The vast preponderance of my large box was stacked with food. I had dozens of packages of tuna fish, roast beef and pink salmon, 20 bags of Trail Mix and mixed nuts, 10 packs of beef stew, 5 bags of granola cereal, several boxes of oatmeal, and 5 packs of chicken breast. I also had about 10 bars of soap, deodorants, and Colgate toothpaste, along with several bottles of shampoo. Plus I had several hundred pre-stamped envelopes. Considering that I rarely shop, and have accumulated my property over the years, I was going to be robbed of almost $500.

I told my interviewer this was outrageous. I have been in prison 15 years, and he was expecting me to only have property that was purchased in the last 6 months. I told him that, at a minimum, he should go back a few years to view my commissary purchases. I asked him if he had the authority to do this. He avoided the question, and told me they could go back further in my records, but it would be redundant because they know that my property was procured from gambling. According to his confidential informant (snitch), I was the "kingpin" bookmaker of Stateville.

I was asked if I cared to explain how I got so much property. I told him that about a quarter of the property they took was not mine, but my cellmate's, whose boxes were so cluttered that he kept commissary outside of his box. He was not aware of this, and told me that he did not conduct the search of my cell, nor the inventory of the property taken. His duty was limited only to this interview. I also told him that Stateville goes on lockdown so often, and during those times we are not allowed to shop. Even when not on lockdown, lately we have only been shopping once or twice a month. I have intentionally stocked up on food and other things so I will never go without certain things. I tend to also hoard what I have, and much of my property, even packaged foods, is over a year old. I was asked if I knew how many pre-stamped envelopes I had. I answered that I did not know the exact amount, but it was alot. He said, "352. How did you get 352 envelopes with the new rate of 44 cents on them when you have not bought a single write-out since the rate was changed?" I responded, "If you like, you can ask my counselor, and she will tell you that I asked her to exchange some 200 envelopes last spring." He told me they do not believe my counselor. That is all fine with me, I thought, but my trust fund records will show that I purchased extra postage for those envelopes.

I was then asked if I cared to explain what I was doing with a NFL schedule, and carbon paper. "Carbon paper?" I asked. "I use carbon paper to make copies of all my legal correspondence, and my legal work product. It is difficult getting on the library list to have copies made over there, and it is much quicker and easier if I just use carbon paper. As for an NFL schedule, I watch football. In fact, over the weekend, I watched all four NFL playoff games." I asked him if he caught the final game between the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals, which was the best of them all, and went into overtime. He said he did, and we spoke a little about the game including the ending where Arizona's defense got away with two penalties which could have changed the outcome. He told me this is why he doesn't gamble. "By the way," he asked me, "the Packers were still good with the spread, yes?" I looked at him and said, "No comment." But, no, a wager on the Packers was still a loser. The game ended with the Packers losing by six points. Some odds makers gave the team a field goal, but others had the game a pick with no spread. Either way, if you wagered on Green Bay, you lost.

Repeatedly, my interviewer asked me if I was in any danger or being threatened by inmates or staff. I was also asked if I wanted to be placed in protective custody. The reason for this questioning was that if I was taking bets and was not able to pay winners, they would take their money in blood, or lumps to the head. "No," I told him time and time again, "I am not under any imminent danger." Finally, I said to him, "Mr. Tejada, I am beginning to think you actually care about me, despite gangstering all my property. Is this line of questioning from your own concern, or is it merely a ploy to get me to confess, or just your job?" He said, "Maybe all of the above, but you can see how it is my responsibility, and that I could be held accountable if something happened to you."

My interview by Internal Affairs was rather relaxed, and clearly, I.A. has more important investigations to pursue in a maximum-security prison filled with violent, and the most unruly, convicts. After the incident that occurred tonight, I am sure that I.A. will have their hands full if they were not already. I will wait to address what occurred this evening for my next journal entry, but in the last couple of weeks, I.A. has been very busy investigating all types of matters, including gang disputes, fights, drugs, and more. I have learned since my property was taken that, initially, I.A. was not even investigating me, but a fight on a yard between gangs and a card game that went awry. While questioning people about that, someone dropped my name.

In the next few days, I will be filing a grievance about how my statutory rights were violated when I was left in my cell for 11 days with nothing but my TV, radio, dirty laundry, and the clothes on my body. I will also grieve how my Constitutional rights were violated when my property was confiscated without due process. Internal Affairs is only an investigative body. They have police powers, but are not permitted to set rules or make adjudications. My property was taken without any proof of illicit conduct or illegitimate property being in my possession. A prison snitch and a lot of property does not make one guilty of being a bookmaker! However, the justice system in prison is far worse than the one in our courts. I will almost certainly be forced to file a lawsuit in order to be compensated for my losses. The time and work I will have to spend will be time and work I would much rather put into fighting for my freedom. Nevertheless, I will do so, if I must.

The New Year's Day Heist -- January 5, 2010

I was awakened on New Year's Day to a female guard at my bars yelling "shakedown." As she keyed open the cell door, I flattened my hair down, and put on my sandals. Outside the cell, the guard gave me a quick, but more than thorough, pat down. If it was a man, I may have punched him. I walked to the cell house holding cage with my cellmate, and was locked inside with eight other inmates. A couple of them were cell house workers, but the others were having their cells searched. I noticed the guards conducting these searches were all members of Stateville's Internal Affairs Unit. This was not going to be your typical, or routine, cell search.

In the holding cage, I listened to the other inmates talk. Most of them seemed at ease, but I did notice a few seemed worried. Neither me nor my cellmate had any contraband in our cell, and were not concerned, although the search by I.A. certainly had our attention and curiosity. One man mentioned having a device he used to heat water with, and he was worried that he could be sent to Segregation. Another spoke of having makeshift poker chips and debt sheets. Some, including my cellmate, just talked about anything and everything. I am not a man who enjoys chit-chat, and just remained quiet. Since I.A. was conducting the searches, I imagined they would be extraordinarily thorough, and I would be stuck in this cage for a long time. I also thought about the mess they'd leave behind, and the hours of time required to put my boxes back in the meticulous order they were in before the invasion.

During my wait, an I.A. officer came down the stairs with a plastic bag of property apparently taken from a cell upstairs. In his other hand, he held a pillow which had been torn open and turned inside out. I heard laughter from a few of the men in the cage with me. Apparently, someone had made a joke speculating what the pillow had been used for. I was not amused and only thought about what an enormous task it was going to be to put my cell back into order if I.A. was being so thorough as to rip open pillows.

Not long after, another guard went by the holding cage. This was the polite I.A. officer who a few weeks ago had me give a urine sample for a drug test. My cellmate and him spoke briefly. He informed him that he was surprised to see him in the cage--his name was not on their list. If his name was not on the list, I thought, mine must be. As I pondered why, I heard someone mention property boxes had been loaded onto a cart on my gallery. From the far end of the cage I could see the cart and boxes. It was in front of my cell. The only time inmates' property boxes are loaded up is if you are going to be sent to Seg. Upon seeing this, I thought of my misery if I were uprooted, and forced to live in F House Segregation, where it is incredibly noisy. I would also probably be given a nutcase or hostile cellmate. My life would definitely be turned upside down.

Moments later, a guard opened the holding cage and told several of us, including my cellmate and I, that we could go back to our cells. I was baffled not to have been put in handcuffs and escorted to Seg. Inside my cell, sure enough, I saw that both of my boxes were gone. Looking around, I noticed two shakedown record receipts. One was for my cellmate, and it said "No contraband found." The other had my name on it and said "garlic powder" and "property boxes taken for excessive property." Excessive property? What the hell is that, I thought to myself. I had never heard of such a thing. No one from I.A. came to explain, or say anything to me. I was left to figure this out myself.

When prisoners at Stateville leave their cells, they are required to put all their property, except for certain select items like a bar of soap, dirty laundry, toothbrush, and audio/visual property (TV, radio, Walkman, and headphones) in their two boxes. Any property left out can be confiscated. There is another rule that allows the confiscation of property if you are not able to pass a cell compliance check. During a cell compliance check, an inmate must fit all his property into his two boxes, minus his TV, radio, fan, and all state-issued property such as clothing or a blanket. All property that cannot fit in your boxes is taken, and you are given the option of sending it home, or having it destroyed. Cell compliance checks are rarely done at Stateville, and are an inconvenience for both inmates and the guards given the assignment. Their purpose is just to make sure an inmate does not have an excessive amount of property, and is made largely redundant by the prior rule that you cannot leave your cell without putting away your property, including state-issued property. Although two bags of commissary belonging to my cellmate were taken along with my property boxes, neither of us was guilty of leaving the cell without putting away our property or failing a cell compliance check.

As I pondered what rule infraction I was guilty of and my cellmate semi-ordered his property boxes which were moved about by I.A., chow was announced on the cell house loudspeaker. I then realized that I did not have any state-issued blue clothing to wear in order to leave my cell. Prisoners must have on their state blues whenever they leave their cell, except for recreation. Internal Affairs had not only taken my state blues, but practically everything I own. In my correspondence box was all my letters, photos, pens, paper, magazines, books, journal writings, stock charts, stock and mutual fund reports, my legal papers, and more! My larger box contained all my foodstuffs, hygiene items such as toothpaste, shampoo, nail clippers, and hair brush, clean clothing, and other miscellaneous property. I.A. had taken my toothbrush and did not even leave me with a bar of soap! All I had left was my TV, radio, some corporate reports, dirty laundry that was in a laundry bag outside my box, the clothes on my body, and my shoes. Fortunately, my cellmate wears the same size of clothes as I do, and he gave me a set of state blues so I could go out for chow, which was now mandatory since I no longer had any commissary food.

When I went out for chow, I spoke to a few people who speculated on what "excessive property" meant, and what rule I had broken. One of them told me that Stateville had a list of maximum amounts of property you could own, but no one ever adhered to the rule. I had never heard of any set limits, and always thought that as long as things fit in your boxes, it was OK. I came to the penitentiary back in 1995 when there were no property boxes, or cell compliance rules. During the 1990s, prisoners had furniture, shelves, or cardboard boxes they kept their property in, or on. I use to make furniture for people out of pressed and laminated cardboard that was as solid and as nice as any furniture you could buy at a store. Many prisoners had enormous amounts of property before the state-issued boxes were passed out, and previous storage items we had were stripped from our cells. There were people who had furniture or boxes stacked to the ceiling filled with property. Old timers had collected large amounts of property and made their cells as home-like as possible.

Back in the cell house, I sent out a couple workers to find a recent rule book. Soon, I had in my hands an October 2005 Stateville Correctional Center Offender Handbook, which is only given to people recently convicted and sent to Stateville. Sure enough, in the back of this book I found a property list with maximum limits you were permitted to have. The list however, was absurd, and I knew immediately why it was not enforced. For example, it says you are only allowed to have one bar of soap. Who only owns one bar of soap? I had about 10, and I know the majority of prisoners here have at least five or six. The list also says the maximum number of deodorants is two. I had about 10 of these as well. Two rolls of toilet paper--my cellmate was definitely breaking this rule with his four packs of four, though none of what he calls his "white gold" was taken. One toothpaste?! I had over 10 of them, and never thought anything of it. Some of these maximums are also absurd because you can buy over that amount on a single commissary order. For example, many prisoners buy a case (24) of Ramen noodles, but the limit on noodles and rice combined is 12. Hence, you are immediately in violation of these rules and guilty of excess property.

After reading the rules on maximum property, I knew I was being singled out. The guards never go by these rules. I had never heard of an inmate receiving a disciplinary ticket or having his property taken because of excess property unless he failed a compliance check; then they were allowed to keep all the property which fit in their boxes. In my case, my boxes were taken! To have both of my boxes taken was unheard of. The guards I spoke with after this were also dumbfounded. and thought I.A. was messing with me. In the last several days, a couple of guards in my cell house and the sergeant called I.A. about the matter and tried to find out if I could get some of my property back. My counselor also called I.A. and asked if I could at least be given some clean underwear and a bar of soap. But, I.A. refused to give me anything, and also refused to discuss the matter. Internal Affairs is a unit all to itself, and are not a part of the prison's chain of command. No one can tell I.A. what to do except the warden himself.

In the days after my property was taken, stories have come to me about other inmates that Internal Affairs had seized property from. However, there was always some reason or the inmates were caught in some illicit activity. One story involved a man who was the "commissioner" of a fantasy football league. Internal Affairs had found fantasy football stats, players' names, scores, and lists of trade money and entry fees in his property. The trade and entry fee merchandise was taken from the man's cell, and he was written a disciplinary ticket for gambling. The Adjustment Committee heard the ticket and sent him to Seg for a few months. Another story was about a man who was suspected of selling commissary to prisoners in Seg. Inmates in Seg cannot buy tobacco, coffee, or foodstuffs, and therefore are willing to pay someone extra for them. This person was written a disciplinary report for "trading and trafficking," found guilty, and given restriction of certain privileges for a few months. Some of his property was taken by I.A., but not both of his boxes. Finally, I heard a story of a man patted down by I.A. On his person, I.A. found a wad of parlay tickets. I.A. went to his cell and discovered five bags of miscellaneous commissary outside of his boxes. I.A. confiscated the bags, but did not write him a ticket.

Almost a week has passed as I write this journal entry. I have yet to get any information as to why my boxes were taken, nor have I received any bit of my property back. I have had to make do on the generosity of my cellmate and a few others. A neighbor of mine gave me a toothbrush, a pen and some paper. He also gave me a few pre-stamped envelopes so I could send some mail out including this journal entry. Another person gave me some laundry detergent so I could wash the clothes the I.A. left behind. My cellmate has been generous enough not only to give me a set of state blues, but to share some food with me. I have been taking advantage of his generosity in this regard because if I am sent to Seg, at least I will have eaten well before I go.

This week, I had wanted to work on my petition for executive clemency. The next due date is in a few weeks. I am not going to be able to make it, however, I need my last petition to use as a guide to write this one. This petition will closely resemble the last one, but I will change certain parts and add certain information, exhibits, and photographs. I also wanted to make new stock charts now that 4th quarter earnings are coming in. However, this will be impossible without my paperwork. I wanted to call my lawyer but discovered this was also impossible as well because my phone/address book was taken and I have not memorized her number. Fortunately, I did know my home phone number, and was able to call my parents. They have had the same number since I was living at home. My life has been disrupted greatly by the loss of my property. Hopefully, it will not be made worse by a trip to Seg.