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, 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.