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Friday, January 1, 2010

The Drop -- December 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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