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Monday, May 10, 2010

Shots Fired -- March 15, 2010

Yesterday, I woke up an hour later than usual--I had forgotten to forward my watch an hour the night before. Instead of being 7:30, it was 8:30. I was annoyed by the disruption in my routine. Moving the clocks forward, and then back in the fall, is a stupid policy that most likely causes much aggravation to everyone. I did not have much time to dwell on the matter, because soon after I woke up, guards were keying open doors on my gallery. Count for the day had not cleared yet, and I knew the guards must be searching cells. Quickly, I began thinking whether or not my cellmate or I had any contraband laying about. There are some very petty rules now--a vast number of things could be considered a rule violation. Last night, I had failed to take my medication. I quickly grabbed the pill from the corner of my bunk, and ate it. Then I grabbed a couple of pens not sold at commissary, and dropped them into my small box so they fell to the bottom and were covered by many file envelopes. I noticed my cellmate had a large amount of fruit in his shelf along with several juices. A shakedown team could interpret that as prison wine, or "hooch" materials, however, I was not going to slam all that juice, and there was nothing I could do about all the fruit. I simply dispersed it so it did not look like such a great quantity. As I moved some of the apples and bananas, the door next to mine was opened.

I was expecting my cell door to be opened next, but the guards stopped opening doors. I took my mirror to look down the gallery to see what was happening. My neighbors were shuffling toward the holding cage, half awake. They stay up to 3 a.m. on a regular basis, and I was not surprised the shakedown crew had caught them while sleeping. I noticed the guards searching cells were not our cell house guards, but the movement team. This was odd, I thought--the movement team is usually outside directing lines of inmates. I could only speculate why they were doing inside cell searches. Possibly they had been told to make themselves busy before count cleared, and possibly this sergeant had chosen B House because he did not like the inmates living here. A year ago, this sergeant had worked in B House, but after threats and many inmates' complaints of unprofessional conduct, he was given a new assignment. I had not had a problem with him in the past, but I did not put it past him to be indiscriminately unfriendly and quick to send anyone to segregation for the most minor contraband.

I was not certain if, after searching the first five cells, the movement team would move on to the next five. However, after being confident there was no contraband for them to find, or at least not easily, I made my bed and began to eat breakfast. As I opened a couple of little self-contained plastic bowls of corn flakes, my cellmate asked me if I knew they were shaking down cells. My cellmate is usually up well before me, however, the night before he had stayed up late to watch a movie played on the prison DVD system. While still underneath the covers, my cellmate voiced concern about his collection of fruit. I told him that I had already taken care of it. Not satisfied with my answer, he asked where I put his fruit. I told him that I had just used his bananas for my cereal and peanut butter banana sandwiches.

I turned on my TV to watch FOX Sunday morning news while I ate my breakfast, but became distracted by all the noise coming from next door. The guards were turning that cell inside out. I looked out my cell bars to see miscellaneous property being thrown on the gallery. There were some good Tupperware bowls with lids, styrofoam cups, empty bottles, cardboard, some magic markers, and various other things strewn about. These guards were being very petty in their choices of the property they were throwing out. They were also conducting a more thorough search than typical. After being in that cell for almost a half hour, they came out with a radio and television. I knew my neighbor was not going to be happy about that, and I wondered if both of them would be walked to Segregation. However, not long after that, they were returned to their cell.

I was curious to know why their TV and radio were taken, but I was in a hurry to begin my day. Over the loudspeaker prisoners were told to be on standby for chapel services and chow. Last week, I had been informed that I was found guilty on all four rule infractions that I was written up for in January. My punishment was 3 months of C grade, and no shop. Because I will not be able to purchase any commissary food until summer, I cannot miss too many chow lines. I dislike going out for chow particularly early in the morning. Chow lines are very noisy with numerous prisoners yelling and talking. They are also very crowded and we are forced into two lines outside, and then herded into the chow hall like animals. Considering that I just ate, I was not hungry, but if I did not go, I may have to wait until 7:30 p.m. for the dinner feed line. Grumpy, I got a few ziplock bags from my box and stuffed them into my coat. I will be taking this meal to go and felt like a hobo for planning to stuff food into my pockets. I then began to get ready to exercise. With movement lines starting to be run, I did not have to be concerned that I would be disrupted by a cell search. Those guards would be needed outside.

I like to exercise before chow is run to get myself moving in the morning. Some people drink coffee, but I work out. I also like to get my workout done for the day early, and finish while my cell mate is gone. On Sunday, however, my cellmate does not go to his work assignment--he does not go anywhere on Sundays. I was not planning to do an extensive workout, just a core muscle routine and some cardio work. I did not plan to get in my cellmate's way; I would work out in the outer corner of the cell by the bars. As I expected, my cellmate got off his bed and began to stuff his face with fruit and other foods. I was trying not to watch him, but it was difficult not to while facing the inside of the cell with my back against the cell bars as I did leg raises. I had taken a bed sheet and thread it through the bars, and then tied it around my body. The sheet kept me a few inches off the floor as I did the lower abdominal exercise.

I was attempting to get my workout done before the gallery was let out for chow. At Stateville, you are never certain exactly how long a wait will be when standby is announced. Standby could be a few minutes or a couple of hours. I was hoping for the latter, so not only could I work out, but wash up before leaving for chow. Unfortunately, from the loudspeaker a guard announced "10 gallery on your doors for chow", not long after I started to exercise. I was in pain as I exercised, and more so than usual because the Motrin-like pill I took before eating had not had enough time to work. I also was in a poor mood having my routine disrupted, and having to rush to go out for chow early. It was only 9 a.m. Who eats lunch at 9 a.m.? This is when breakfast trays should be passed out, but instead, breakfast is passed out at 3 a.m. while prisoners are sleeping, and lunch lines are begun when we have just awakened. Listening to my cellmate chomp on his apples, belch, and then blow his nose like a fog horn on the Mississippi, I was annoyed by all of the unpleasantness of prison at once. I began to shadow box and throw kicks at my bars, not caring if I threw out my back as well. In anger, I began to rush through my workout, and the result was a lot of pain.

The guards were now unlocking doors on the upper gallery; there was no way I could complete my workout, and it would have to wait until after chow. Angrily, I changed clothes and sat at the desk brooding about my life. As I sat there with my arms crossed, I sensed a feeling of hostility and a foreboding that something was happening or about to happen. A moment later, I heard a loud rifle blast that echoed through the cell house, followed by many guards and inmates scrambling around. A second boom thundered, and I saw the shell of the shotgun fall to the floor. Two shots are meant as warning shots. A third shot would mean someone would be hit and most likely killed. Shotgun slugs leave tremendous damage in their wake: I waited patiently for that third round while more guards ran down the gallery and up the stairs. I heard the voice of some guard shout: "Shoot him, shoot him!" but no shot was forthcoming.

My cellmate says to me every time he is startled by the boom of the gun, that he feels like he loses a year of life. I ignore him, but I look out my cell bars with a mirror. Whatever occurred, the situation was now under control, and I no longer saw any quick movements. There were a few inmates kneeling along the wall, and a few lieutenants talking to one another, or into their radios. One of the men along the wall was put in handcuffs, and walked down the cell house toward the front door. I could not imagine what he did unless he was able to do something and then get all the way down the 5 flights of stairs. Later, I saw another man led in handcuffs. He was taken out the back door. As guards began to disperse, and inmates were locked back in their cells, I sat back on the desk stool, still agitated about my existence.

My cellmate asked me if I knew what happened. He thought I may have seen or heard something that he had not. I told him I did not know, however, I speculated another guard was beat up. I did not imagine guards yelling to shoot if it was to save an inmate. Shooting a prisoner is only supposed to be done as a last resort, and to prevent a serious or fatal attack. However, the guards on the catwalk, bored from hours of doing nothing, often get overly excited and shoot the gun more often than necessary. They regularly make unwarranted warning shots into the ceiling, or warning blocks. I saw a few mean and corrupt staff walk by and thought it was unfortunate they were not the ones assaulted.

After the incident, Stateville was placed on a level one lockdown. I was thinking we would be on lockdown for a few weeks, possibly longer, depending on what occurred. In any event, I need not go out for chow now--we would be given room service. I changed clothes back into my shorts, and started to work out again. By this time, my cellmate had eaten, washed his face, and brushed his teeth twice, and was now on his bunk. I was glad he was off the floor. The cell is small, and I felt cramped sharing the space, particularly when I exercised. My cellmate does not share the same concept of personal space as I do, and is regularly breaking that circle. Does he not know that I do not like to be near him? He does. He is just very hyper.

After I worked out, I tapped my mirror on my neighbor's bars. I did not get a response so I peeked into his cell. It is not polite to peek into another man's cell, despite the fact that anyone walking by can look in now that we are not allowed to have curtains. However, I did "knock," so to speak. Usually, if someone does not answer his "door," he does not want to be bothered, or is sleeping. However, I was interested to know the circumstances of the shots. One of my neighbors is a cell house worker, and he may have witnessed what happened. If not, he often speaks with guards who may have told him about the matter. When I looked over, his cellmate was on the floor, and he was on the bunk. Most courteous cellmates try to give each other space, and while one is on the floor, the other will be on his bunk, or at the table. Seeing my mirror, he asked me what I wanted. I asked him, when he gets down, to talk to me. A few minutes later, he was tapping on the side of my cell. I asked him if he knew why the shots were fired.

My neighbor did not witness the event, however, he knew what happened. He said, "A shortie stole on cock-strong mother-fucker on 10 gallery." He went on to tell me that after the small sized man surprise-punched the large individual, the latter began to pummel his attacker. He beat the little man furiously, and continued to do so even after he curled up in a ball on the floor; that's when the warning shots were fired. He asked me if I heard the police yell to shoot him, and I told him that I did. He expressed astonishment, and said how unjust it would be if a man lost his life for beating his attacker. I asked him why the man by the wall was walked to Seg. He said he had refused to sit down when the shots were fired. Apparently, there is a rule that you must go to the floor when the gun is fired. I thought that was just a wise thing to do so you are not hit by an excited, poor-aiming guard on the catwalk or in the gun tower. I also have heard of the many times that slugs or pellets have bounced off objects, hitting innocent bystanders.

This morning, inmates in my cell house discovered we were the only ones on lockdown. Upstairs, inmates can see out the windows to the walkways outside. Chow lines and all regular movement were being permitted. This knowledge made many people upset in this cell house. They thought they were being treated unfairly, and there should be no lockdown for an isolated incident involving a one-on-one fight. Inmates in my cell house began yelling, and beating their cell bars. It is common procedure to lockdown a prison whenever shots are fired. Even for isolated incidents, if a guard fires a warning shot, the institution is put on lockdown for two days so a routine investigation can be performed. My cellmate and I commented to each other that they should look at it from the perspective of prisoners in the other cell houses. They were not on lockdown with us. If a shot had been fired in C, D, or E House, we would not want to be on lockdown. Despite our thinking, the noise continued and eventually people began calling for a hunger strike.

A hunger strike is a means prisoners use to protest unfair treatment, or having been wronged in some way. After so many days, a person on a hunger strike will get the attention of prison authorities. A mass hunger strike will also get the attention of the administration quicker. After a week, if the matter has not been resolved, a report must be made and sent to Springfield (Illinois' state capital where IDOC officials reside and oversee operations). A hunger strike is an effective way a prisoner can get prison authorities' attention, and if their mistreatment or injustice is serious, and legitimate, some attempt to resolve the matter will usually be done. No prison official wants to be held responsible for a slow suicide due to fault under their authority. However, hunger strikes have been overused for stupid or minor reasons. This being a case in point.

When chow was being brought into our building, inmates were shouting "send that shit back!"Others were yelling for people to stay united and not accept any food trays. Commissary noodles were offered to anyone who was diabetic and needed to eat. A mass hunger strike did not have much effect on administrators if it was not done by everyone. The administration was more worried about prisoner unity than anything else. At times, Internal Affairs will investigate mass hunger strikes to see who was instigating them. If they learn of anyone, they send that person to Pontiac Seg, or Tamms Supermax. There was not going to be complete unity today.

Many people accepted their trays, including me and my cellmate. I do not shirk from sacrifice or unity when there is a good purpose, but going on a hunger strike because our cell house was on lockdown for one day while the other cell houses were not, was trivial and did not make much sense. A number of other people apparently felt the same way, or did not want to pass on a chicken tray with black-eyed peas and collard greens. The hunger strike would have had more unification if it was something other than chicken in those boxes. Despite this, the strike had a good amount of success. A cart with over 100 trays was sent back to the kitchen. On its way, I could not help asking the sergeant pushing it for a few extra trays for my cellmate and me. I would not want all that food to go to waste.

This evening, B House was placed on a level 4 lockdown. The hunger strike promoters claimed it was due to their actions. However, I am not certain. The administration may have put us on a level 4 anyway. There is little difference for those who are not cell house workers between a level 1 and a 4. Visits are permitted, but those would be anyway after two days. Health care passes are honored, but this is hardly a victory, in my opinion. Most likely, the cell house will be taken off lockdown after the customary policy of two days. I will not feel bad having taken my chicken tray and a few extras. In fact, I will enjoy eating the chicken that I saved while I watch the Star Wars movie "Revenge of the Sith" later tonight.

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