You are reading a rare, detailed account of everyday life in Stateville Prison.

Click to read Paul's blog quoted on:
To contact Paul, please email:
or write him at the address shown in the right column. He will get your message personally.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Prison I.D. -- August 10, 2010

Early this morning while I was eating breakfast, a guard announced over the loudspeaker that photo IDs were going to be updated today. If you heard your name, get ready to leave to the B of I (Bureau of Identification). I was watching the morning news, and I took my headphones off so I could hear if my name was called. The guard went on and on calling names. It seemed as if a fourth of the inmates in my cell house were being called. Eventually, I heard my name and cell number. I was not surprised. Photos are updated approximately every year, and it has been 11 months since my last photo was taken.

I finished my breakfast and casually started to get ready to leave. I did not think we would be let out until after head count cleared, and that is usually between 8:30 and 9 a.m. However, over the loudspeaker came a voice telling inmates going to the B of I to be on their doors. Apparently, the guards were going to try to have the B of I line sent out and returned before count cleared so it would not disrupt details or other movement. I had already dressed and put my property away. As my door was keyed open, I looked at one of my plastic mirrors and ran my hands down through my hair.

Other than your yearly mugshot, prisoners in maximum-security prisons in Illinois never have their photos taken. The last time photographs were permitted was in the 1990s. In the 1990s, prisoners could have photos taken during visits with a Polaroid camera. These were of poor quality, but inmates and their families now treasure them. I wish I would have had more taken because other than my yearly mugshot, my family has no photos of me and I have none of us together since the turn of the century.

Early in my incarceration, Polaroid photos could also be taken in the gym. All photos were taken by inmate L.T.S. (Leisure Time Services) workers. The charge for a Polaroid was $2, and prisoners paid it in coupons that used to be sold on commissary. Visitors could also buy these coupons and use them to buy photos or foods offered by the L.T.S. department. On visits, frozen pizzas and other snacks could be ordered that would be brought back to you like you were at a restaurant. This is no longer allowed, and now all food must be purchased from vending machines with a debit card. Microwave ovens are provided, and visitors must serve themselves and carry the food to the person they are visiting. Prisoners are not permitted to leave their seat except when greeting visitors and again when saying goodbye.

When I was at Pontiac CC in the mid-90s, ID cards were rarely used. Most of the time I kept my ID in a folder. I only recall bringing it with me when I went to the commissary. At the store, a prisoner had to prove who they were, so the purchases made were deducted off the correct account. At times, I heard of prisoners stealing another man's ID to buy merchandise off his account. This was rare, however, and most prisoners were just robbed after they shopped. Others were intimidated or extorted to give up their store. Other than at commissary, prisoners only had to show ID when they were being released. I was never going home, and never had to think about that.

While I was at Joliet CC in the late 90's, guards attempted to make prisoners carry their IDs with them wherever they went. Not many people listened to them, and we continued to keep our IDs in our cells, unless we were going to store. Once a guard wanted to write me a disciplinary ticket and demanded I give him my ID because he did not know who I was. When I told him I did not have my ID, he handcuffed me and brought me back to the cell house. At the cell house, the sergeant saw me and asked what was the problem. The guard said he wanted to write me up for some petty rule infraction, but I did not have my ID and he would not take my word for who I was. The sergeant told him to uncuff me and basically get a life. Despite this, administrators slowly forced inmates to keep their IDs on them, and IDs were required to eat, go on visits, and other things.

I did not like having to always keep my ID on me. It was an inconvenience. I recall times at the chow hall that I had forgotten it and I had to sneak around the machine that scanned the cards. A guard usually stood at that point to make sure you swiped your card, but he was often distracted and there were a lot of prisoners in line. At Joliet, the kitchen was run by a private catering company and they wanted to make sure no inmates were eating twice. They also wanted a tally of how many meals were served to be more efficient with the food they ordered. Prisoners continued to break their sensitive scanning machine, and eventually we did not need an ID to eat.

There was a time I left my ID in my jeans that were sent out to the laundry. The laundry would be returned in a day, but I was expecting a visit. I had to go to the B of I and prove who I was to get another ID card. It was not a big process and I doubt anyone questioned me. Who would want to say they were Paul Modrowski and had a natural life sentence? My picture was pulled up on the prison computer though to compare with my face, but I do not think the man scrutinized it much. The next day, I was given my laundry bag and still in my back pocket was my ID. However, now it was warped and shrunk. It reminded me of one of those Shrinky Dinks that kids made and their parents put in the oven. At Joliet CC, you never had to worry about your clothes coming back still wet or damp.

It was not until several years ago that Stateville guards began to vigorously enforce that ID cards had to be on inmates at all times. Guards would say you cannot drive without your drivers license and would sometimes not let you out the door of your cell without showing it. Usually, however, they stood at the exit of the building and you had to show your ID to leave. There have been a few times that I misplaced my I.D. Once I asked my neighbor for his ID to get out of the cell house. He was black, but the guards do not really look at the photo. I put my thumb over the face, just in case.

Inmates designated extreme escape risks are given a green colored ID. Many times, guards only looked at the color of your ID. Those inmates with green IDs must be kept track of and when they leave the cell house, guards call in their number. There are four different colored ID's: white, blue, red, and green. White is the lowest escape risk, blue is moderate, and red is high. When I first came to prison, I had a red ID, but after a few years, it was reduced to blue and then white. About ten years ago, an administrative policy mandated that all prisoners with more than 30 years must have a blue ID, and thus I now have a blue one and am classified a moderate escape risk.

Now the inmates considered to be extreme escape risks must also wear green striped pants and a blue shirt with green patches at the shoulders. When these inmates order a jacket, they must be given one with green stripes down the sleeves. The stripes are slightly fluorescent so even in the dark they can be spotted easily. If these inmates fail to wear their special identifying clothing, they can be put in Segregation. Many of the men that are classified extreme escape risks are really not. The more men a prison classifies this way, the more money they are allotted from the Illinois Dept. of Corrections. Fortunately, a few years ago, Springfield administrators realized the poor and sometimes fraudulent system, and forced Stateville and other maximum-security institutions to reduce the number. Now it is not as bad, but the number probably still could be cut in half.

Those men with green IDs have their photos more carefully scrutinized. If they change their appearance, they are given a new photo. While most only get an update once a year, extreme escape risks can get updates several times a year. A man on my gallery with a blue ID shaved the sides of his head and gave himself a Mohawk, but no one said a word to him about getting a new ID. However, if a man with a green ID grows a mustache, he will be told to update his photo.

Last year, inmate IDs were fitted with clips so they could be attached to our clothing. At first, inmates were under the illusion it was voluntary. However, after a month or two, it became mandatory. All inmates when out of their cells must attach their ID cards to the left collar of their blue shirts. When going to yard, IDs must be attached to our T-shirts or sweaters so they are clearly visible. Once out on the yard, however, we can put them away, and I always do. The IDs have become a nuisance and I dislike the lack of anonymity.

Illegal immigration has been a subject in the news, and various ideas have come forward to combat the invasion of the U.S. borders. Along with securing the borders, I think a national ID card would be a good idea. Although I do not much like the use in prison, if the United States developed an ID card with encoded biometric information that could not be fraudulently used or replicated, it would be well worth any decrease in privacy. This ID could prevent illegal aliens from gaining many social services, jobs, or housing. It would also aid police and ICE in determining the legal residence or citizenship of detainees. Having a national ID card, unlike in prison, could become a source of pride if citizenship was not just granted on anyone born within our borders, and if the status of citizenship was elevated to having unique rights, powers, and freedoms.

Last week an immature and unintelligent man repeatedly spoke to various lieutenants about getting him a new ID clip. To each lieutenant he would claim his clip had broken. This man eventually tricked about 5 of them to go out of their way to get him a new clip. Typically, an inmate would not bother a lieutenant about such a matter and would approach a cell house guard or sergeant, but these lieutenants happened to be on the walk or chow hall and are easily accessible. If they see an inmate holding his ID rather than having it clipped to his shirt, they will possibly inquire and then get you a new clip if it has broken. However, this man played the trick once too often, and a lieutenant who had just given him a new clip saw him holding his ID a few days later. The lieutenant asked him about the one he had just given him, and the man said he accidentally stepped on it and needed another one. Later that evening, the lieutenant came to the cell house to give him yet another clip when he ran into the cell house lieutenant who also had given him one. Both lieutenants then came to his cell and searched it. They found a number of ID clips, and were very mad. I could only hear some of their words, even though they were yelling, because of the drone of the B-17 bomber fan being not far away. However, I did hear them threaten him with Seg. Afterwards, I asked the cell house lieutenant, whom I occasionally talk to about politics, if there was any trouble. He seemed to be annoyed, but he said everything was fine and the incident on the gallery was not worthy of speaking about.

After gate 5 is a hallway that has holding cages for prisoners going on visits, court writs, or being paroled. There are also several offices. The one at the end was the office for the B of I. So many inmates had been brought over from B House that this hallway was filled. It was crowded and noisy, but eventually I got into line to get my photo taken. I was somewhat concerned about taking a decent photo because it will be the only picture friends or family have of you. However, I have given up trying to take a good mugshot. No matter how I try, these photos never look flattering.

Last year I had time to shave and comb my hair. I even put some gel in my hair, but we were on lockdown at the time and placed in handcuffs behind our backs. While waiting outside for the line to catch up, large gusts of wind tossed my hair about. There was nothing I could do about it, though, being restrained behind the back. Not only was my hair spiked to one side, but I was caught looking down when my mugshot was taken. I knew that photo would not be going in my family's photo album.

This year I knew better than to attempt to take a nice picture, and I was correct. About five minutes after the shot was taken, a guard handed me my new ID card. The color of my complexion was the same as Bart Simpson's. A few inmates around me joked that I looked like I had jaundice. A few speculated that the camera man may have changed the hue to bring out the features of dark complexions, and when a pale, white person was photographed, it made his skin color look yellow.

All Illinois prisoners' mugshots can be seen on the Internet. The site not only shows inmate's photos, but also lists the crime(s) they were convicted of, previous convictions, and sentence information. Also, listed are general physical descriptions like height, weight, hair and eye color. Date of birth and even all of an inmate's tattoos are listed. Only photographs and release dates are updated into the system and the information can often be old or incorrect. On my page, I am described as having strawberry-blond hair, green eyes, and 6'1" in height. Although my hair color was dark blond some 17 years ago, it was never strawberry blond. My eyes are blue, and I am 6'2". My weight fluctuates depending on how much food I am given, or can purchase. I have lost between 20 to 40 pounds when in Seg., depending on how long I am in there, but I believe the IDOC website is about accurate in regards to my current weight.

It is somewhat depressing to look at your prison mugshot year after year. There are no good memories being preserved, just time. I imagine that if I put all my prison photos together and flipped through them quickly, it would show a man quickly aging. It would be a time elapsed video or flipbook of a person from the prime of their life going toward the end of it. In my photos I can notice the lines in my face growing deeper, and my hair receding and thinning. I notice that my nose has become longer and my face has become more gaunt. The intensity of my eyes has faded along with other various attributes of youth. It is no wonder why some say I have the demeanor of Lurch, the butler from the Addams Family. Every year, I resemble him more and more. I wonder what my final prison photo will be. Will it be a lifeless skeleton face, or an old man's face with no future that a sympathetic governor has finally decided to release? Either way, it will not be a happy picture. Some argue that natural life sentences are more humane than the death penalty. However, they have not lived it. Natural life without the possibility of parole is just a protracted death sentence.



  2. Please have someone post as many of your old mugshots as possible?


If you choose Name / URL, you can write any name and you don't need a URL. Or you can choose Anonymous. Paul loves getting your Comments. They are all mailed to him.