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Friday, May 7, 2010

Prison Jobs/ Meeting Juan Luna -- March 10, 2010

Several days ago, I was at the prison health care unit. While waiting in one of the holding cages to see a doctor, I listened to a conversation between a guard and a few inmates. The guard told them how the week before all the prison hospital workers were fired. One of the inmates told him to put in good word for him, as he needed a job. The guard told him he does not want to work in the hospital. One of the two workers they had already hired was the Brown's Chicken killer, and he made a scary face, along with a goofy ghoulish imitation noise. The guard went on to tell them that they know what happened to his last co-workers. The inmates were surprised, and a bit jealous that the convicted mass murderer had a job. One asked how he got a job so quickly. He was just found guilty last year. No, that was his co-defendant, he was told. Another inmate said he had been waiting 5 years for a job. He asked if you had to be a serial killer to get a job around here. The guard said he did not know, but he knows the hospital staff is afraid, and does not like working around him.

Prison jobs are highly prized by most of the inmate population at Stateville. Most of the jobs pay very little. The majority of Americans earn in a couple hours what Stateville inmates earn in a month. The jobs are highly sought after because most men want out of their cages. Prisoners are in their cells all day basically, with the exception of two chow lines and two recreation periods during the week. Many people hate being locked in their cells, and will gladly accept the lowliest detail at the lowest wage. Some jobs come with perks, or benefits, but by and large, prisoners just want to be able to socialize and move about.

In order to receive a job, an inmate must request to be put on the waiting list. Rules prohibit any inmate who has a staff assault or a disciplinary ticket within the last two years from being on the list. The list has hundreds of names on it, and it could take someone four or five years to get a job if it was followed. Unlike most other prisons which follow the order on the list, Stateville jobs are determined more by who you know rather than how long you have been on the waiting list. An inmate who doesn't know anyone, can be on the list five years or longer--his name being repeatedly passed by other inmates. Contrarily, if you are well liked by supervisors, you could be on the list only a few months. Some inmates will just get out of Segregation, and be quickly hired, despite the rule of not being able to be on the waiting list for two years after having left Seg, or being found guilty of a disciplinary ticket. Prisoners also cannot test dirty on a drug test for five years before being placed on the list, but again, if you are well liked by someone with authority, the list does not matter.

Although most prisoners want a job at Stateville, I do not care for one. I spend much of my time figuring out how to get away from the people here. I do not want to ever have to spend more time interacting with the undesirables here. Many of the jobs are not a reward in my view, but a punishment. Why would I want to slave for my captors 8 hours a day, sometimes 7 days a week, for a monthly wage of $30? And from this $30, $3 will be deducted for room and board! Workers also do not receive the $10 monthly stipend from the state. Hence, they are actually only receiving $17 a month, or about 10 cents an hour. For that dime, I must not only labor at the demand of the guards, or a work supervisor, but I must work with people I do not like, and be exposed to greater unwanted social interaction, noise, and discomfort.

During my 15 years in prison, I have only had one job, and that only lasted a few weeks. Two years after I had been sentenced and sent to prison, I was offered a job as a clerk at Pontiac Correctional Center. I worked in the guards' office mainly just doing simple paperwork. I had this job briefly because Pontiac went on lockdown, and then converted into a segregation prison. A gang member had been, possibly unjustifiably, shot in the head by a guard. The gang swore revenge, and prison officials were too scared to let the prison off lockdown. Springfield authorities expressed a desire for a prison totally for the purpose of segregation, and Pontiac lobbied hard for it. After a half year on lockdown, I was transferred to Joliet Correctional.

While at Joliet, I took college classes until I graduated. I did not like having to be exposed to numerous movement lines, but the classes were typically small, and composed of no more than 30 inmates. After graduating, I was offered various jobs by the detail officer. I was offered data entry, mattress factory, grounds crew, and even shoveling rocks. I turned down all these jobs, and the detail sergeant seemed mad at me for doing so. He told me that a lot of prisoners were looking for jobs, and he was trying to look out for me. I asked him if I did not want the data entry job where I could be in air conditioning, typing on a computer for $200 to $400 a month, what made him think I would want a job shoveling rocks from one side of the yard to the other for a mere $20? He said he knew it was a B.S. job created to keep more prisoners busy, but I did not have to shovel rocks all day--I could work out with the weights. I told him that I appreciated the job offer, but I would rather be in my cell, away from everyone. I also have plenty of time to work out, and because of being on the power lifting team at that time, I had access to gym equipment and not the scrap iron on the yard. Despite what I told him, he still seemed to believe I was an ingrate.

Before I was given the clerk job in Pontiac, I was offered a job in the officers' kitchen. Only select prisoners were considered to work in the officers' kitchen in Pontiac. The guards did not want anyone who may spit on, tamper with, or poison their food; thus, they were selective in who they offered the jobs to. Furthermore, prisoners could assault any staff member they chose, and did not have to worry about being shot. I gave this job some thought. The officers' kitchen had a crew of inmates that I got along with well. The officers' kitchen was air conditioned, and I could eat any of the food I wanted. Their food was much better than what was given to inmates. Furthermore, they had a full salad bar. I tend to be very meticulous and health conscious in what I eat. There were many perks to working in the officers' kitchen, and bringing back any food I wanted was just one of them. However, I finally had to refuse because it was a policy that all workers must live downstairs. I liked my cellmate and had become comfortable living with him after a year's time. I was able to choose my cellmate from those downstairs, but those I knew and got along with already had cellmates. The supervisor told me when a spot opened up, I could just move. I did not like being uncomfortable for even a little while. Little did I know that times in maximum security would greatly change and I would have no, or little choice who would be my cellmate in the future.

Most inmates at Stateville are first given cell house worker jobs. There are about 15 cell house workers per cell house who work 7 days a week, one or two shifts. They have various work duties, but mainly it includes keeping the cell house clean, and picking up garbage. Midnight shift cell house works pass out breakfast trays and collect the garbage afterwards. They also pick up laundry on two days of the week. Day shift workers have the most work to do. They not only pick up garbage but sweep and mop their assigned galleries. They pass out returned laundry, state supplies such as bars of soap and toilet paper, state clothes when orders are filled, and food trays when the prison is on a level 4 lockdown. They also must clean the showers, supply rooms, and office rooms. Cell house workers paint walls, and wax and buff the lower floor. They pick up carts of commissary and pass the bags out. Today they are wiping off the pipes on the cell house wall that are covered in bird droppings. Cell house workers do anything in the cell house that the guards want them to do. Refusal to help is considered disobeying a direct order, and can cause the inmate to be walked to Segregation.

Cell house help has a few perks. First and foremost, prisoners like cell house jobs because they can spend a lot of time outside their cell. The workers who work two shifts do so voluntarily. When cell house workers have finished their duties, they can run around the cell house talking, or doing whatever they want. Lately, however, guards have been locking the gallery gates, confining cell house help to a gallery. Repeatedly, I have heard cell house workers complain about the gates. It is basically left up to the guards' discretion to lock gates, but the administration likes them locked to prevent movement and further control the prisoners. Another perk of cell house help is creating a hustle for yourself. Some inmates trade and barter for a profit. This is especially profitable in Segregation, where inmates cannot buy foodstuffs. So much trading and trafficking was going on there that now workers must live in the Seg building. Cell house help often will be selling cigarettes, coffee, nice pens or highlighters, gambling tickets, sweets, and, in Seg, any type of food. If there is a big enough demand for a commodity, cell house works are usually peddling it. Cell house workers have access to state supplies and are often selling new bed sheets, soap, disinfectant, or for customers like my cell mate, toilet paper, although he now buys extra rolls from the commissary.

Inmates can work at the prison clothing room. Their job is basically to stock clothing, and fill the orders of inmates. Every 3 months, inmates can put in a request for another pair of pants, a blue state shirt, or a couple of socks, boxers, or T-shirts. Inmates can also order a baseball cap, a thin towel and washcloth, or a jacket. These orders are months behind, so if you turn in a slip today, you will not get your clothes until fall. A man next door to me who has liver cancer has gone the entire winter shivering without a jacket to wear outside. He turned in a clothing slip in December, and has complained to several people, including the warden. Today, a number of bags which were filled by the clothing room workers were sitting on the lower level floor when I returned from chow. I jokingly said to my neighbor that they finally brought his jacket now that winter is over. Indeed, he was given a bag with a jacket inside. He was so mad that he threw the jacket into the garbage.

Clothing room workers not only fill inmates' clothing slip requests, but give clothes to prisoners coming in on the new, and from Seg. In Segregation, you are not permitted to have any state blues or commissary-bought shorts, sweatpants or shirts. Only underwear and a beige jumpsuit with the letters "IDOC" printed on the back, inferring that you belong to the Illinois Department of Corrections, are permitted.

Prisoners at the clothing room can try on clothes to see if they fit. When I was transferred here from Pontiac, I was taken to the clothing room. It is a huge storehouse, but has a section devoted to distributing clothing. It is not at all organized, nor are there any systematic processes like you see in movies. A few workers stand behind a table and ask you for your sizes. Prisoners are often yelling their sizes as the workers find the clothes on shelves and throw them to men standing there in their boxers. Initially, I was not going to undress to try on pants, but I knew IDOC sizes are not the same as sizes outside of prison. Prison clothes are labeled with sizes that are much larger than they actually are--this is because prisoners often want over sized clothing. Although I have a 34 inch waist, I will request a size 40 when ordering prison clothes. I had lost a lot of weight in Pontiac Seg, however, and found that a size 40 fell off my waist. I ended up getting a size 36 which would probably be a 30 on the outside.

There are not many benefits to being a clothing room worker except being able to get any state-issued clothing you want. I have heard of those workers selling boots or thermal underwear to inmates. Only workers are allowed to order boots at Stateville, and only once a year. Those people who do not have jobs are sometimes willing to buy state boots. Thermal underwear is only given to yard crew workers, and those are also sold by clothing room workers for a small profit.

Prisoners can get jobs working in the laundry room, although this is a job many try to avoid. The work supervisor there is supposedly not a nice woman to work for. She is known to write disciplinary tickets without justification. She is also known to be disrespectful and unfriendly. Despite this, I must say that since she has been there, our laundry has been done in a timely fashion. Years ago, we often waited several days or even a week to get our clothing back, and they were often returned dingier than before. Now, laundry is usually returned the following day. Laundry workers must get up very early, and finish two cell houses of laundry in one shift. My only complaint now is that the laundry often comes back damp. I hear from those workers that they intentionally do not fully dry the clothes because the dryers get super hot and the clothing will burn their hands.

There are about 15 inmates who work at the law library. The law library workers, except for one or two, know very little about law. Part of the reason may be due to most jobs having a rotation schedule to follow. The administration wants a number of details rotated every six months. Those at the law library do not work there long enough to become very knowledgeable. I believe last year, however, a compromise was made for library workers where some are allowed to remain while others go to other jobs.

Law library workers' main task is retrieving law books for inmates. Inmates at Stateville are not trusted to have unrestricted access to law books because there has been too much theft. Library workers take your ID card when they give you a book. When you return the book, they return your ID. A big benefit to working in the law library is being able to work on your appeal. It is very difficult making the law library list, and it is only run twice a week. Inmates can only make the list once a week, and if the prison is on lockdown, not at all. Prisoners who work at the law library also are able to make copies whenever they want, or procure writing supplies. Paper, pens, pencils, envelopes, and all the latest case law is at their disposal. There is also a small section of non-law books that the workers can take whenever they choose.

Many workers are hired to work in the kitchen. Unlike Pontiac, which has an inmates' kitchen and an officers' kitchen, Stateville has them consolidated. From what I am told, officers get fed the same meals that we do, but with full condiments and a salad bar. If inmates get a turkey-soy burger, for example, officers will get a turkey-soy cheeseburger with pickles, onion, tomato, or any toppings they choose from the salad bar. Kitchen workers work on the serving line passing out food, cleaning the various pots, pans, trays, or as cooks. Most kitchen workers only make $30 a month, but the cooks make up to $100. The cooks' jobs are also not rotated like the majority of jobs in Stateville. I knew a few of the cooks, and they tell me it is a difficult job. You are cooking for a few thousand people, and must use huge pots that look like witches' cauldrons. Stirring is done with a huge stick that resembles the paddle of a boat. In the summer, the kitchen can become unbearably hot. Huge fans will be brought in, but this only blows around the hot, humid air.

Working in the kitchen does have some benefits. You are not free to make whatever food you want, like in Pontiac's officers' kitchen, but you can eat as much food that has been prepared for meals that day as you want. Many of the kitchen workers, particularly the cooks, are fat. Earlier this week, a kitchen worker was at my bars complaining of how much weight he has gained. My cellmate commented that he used to be thin before taking this job. He now has a good sized belly. On occasion, kitchen workers will be allowed to bring back food to their cells. Often they will sell desirable trays of fried chicken, french fries, burritos, etc. They will also sell vegetables and seasonings to compliment their paltry salaries.

There are a number of hallways, or tunnels that need to be swept, mopped, waxed, and buffed. To conduct all this work, a tunnel crew has been created. Monday through Friday, and even on the weekends if someone important is expected to visit, tunnel crew workers labor. They do not begin their work until after 5 p.m. when there is little movement in the prison. The only lines run in maximum security prisons in Illinois after 3 p.m. are feed lines and those do not go through the tunnels. The tunnel crew's work is not too difficult, and they do not have to put up with much interaction with other prisoners. They work in small groups. There is not any benefits to this job that I am aware of. Every now and then their supervisor may get them some extra food from the kitchen. Not too long ago, a worker returned with a large bag of muffins. This bag was taken by a guard in the cell house, however. But then, the inmate was "Johnny the Queer" who is a known pedophile and is not well liked or respected.

Commissary used to be a prized job. The prison store was often raided by workers. Commissary workers always seemed to figure out ways to steal. However, in recent years, theft has become very difficult. Many workers have turned to stashing goods for "preferred customers." People who are willing to pay extra will be sure to get all their commissary. It is almost like extortion, and I have never paid extra to get what I ordered. If I don't get what I ordered, I will just wait until next store and do without. Recently, the commissary supervisor ordered new candies, sodas, and trail mixes. These were wanted by a lot of people, but there was not enough to go around. Those cell houses that had their orders filled last were definitely not going to get any unless they were a "preferred customer" of some commissary worker. I had ordered some blueberry trail mix, but none was forthcoming to me.

Commissary workers used to make a hustle giving people more than the maximum order limits. There are limits on most products, and this is to make sure the item can be purchased by everyone. It also is to prevent inmates from going over property limits to some degree. However, property limits are never enforced here. As long as it fits in your box, you are permitted to have it. This year, prisoner shops have been scaled back to twice a month. Although the maximum orders on products have increased, people still want to be able to buy more. Formerly, commissary workers would fill orders over the limits for preferred customers, and supervisors would overlook the rule violation when tallying the merchandise. However, the commissary workers have been told that if they do this now, they may lose their jobs.

The grounds crew is a well sought-after job. Many enjoy being outside during the spring and summer, cutting the lawn. Grounds crew workers are given lawn mowers, weed wackers, and even riding lawn mowers. A man on my gallery works the grounds crew, and at times I see him riding the tractor. One can tell he highly likes his job, not just by his posture when riding the John Deere tractor around, but by his model behavior in prison. He will not do anything close to violating a prison rule to jeopardize losing his job. I tend to think it is rather odd to love cutting grass so much as to change your entire behavior, and tiptoe around all the numerous and absurdly petty rules in this prison. When I was a kid, mowing the lawn was more like a punishment than a reward. Fortunately, I had a father who was so meticulous about his lawn that he did not like anyone else mowing it.

The drawback to being on the grounds crew, despite how one may love mowing grass, is that during the winter you are on call to shovel the snow. Unlike the lawn, there are no mechanical devices to help inmates remove snow. There is no snowblower, and all snow is removed by shovel from the walks. Sometimes, grounds crew will be awakened in the middle of the night to shovel snow, and salt the pavement. I wonder how smug the worker who lives on my gallery is when shoveling snow in a blizard at 4 a.m. with an outdoor temperature of 10 degrees.

By far, the most coveted jobs at Stateville are the industry jobs. There are two industry jobs: the soap factory and the furniture shop. Stateville produces practically all the soap that is used in IDOC. Whether you are in the Supermax Tamms at the southern part of the state or the minimum security prison in East Moline on the Mississippi, the state-issued bar soap, shampoo, and various detergents are made here at Stateville. The same applies to the furniture shop. Almost all desks, cabinets, and chairs are made for the 40 some prisons in Illinois. It may be a little known fact, but the IDOC is self-sufficient in a number of ways.

Prisoners desire industry jobs the most because they pay much more than any other job. Inmates working at the soap factory or furniture shop can earn up to $400 a month, or about $2 an hour. Two dollars an hour may seem like peanuts to outsiders, however, many prisoners consider industry workers as rich. In my perspective, industry jobs are still slave labor, and there is no pride having such a job. Furthermore, money is of little value in prison. How many packages of trail mix, sardines, or rice can I buy? No amount of money can make my life in prison satisfying, or even comfortable. Regardless of how full my box is, I live a meaningless and miserable life.

At the chow table today, several people were talking about Juan Luna having a job at the hospital. They were all envious of his job at the prison's Health Care Unit. I do not like the man whose crime I was blamed for, and probably caused my conviction as well as my natural life sentence. However, if Juan Luna enjoys mopping floors, taking out the garbage, and cleaning up after geriatrics, the severely ill and the mentally insane in the infirmary for ten cents an hour, all the power to him.


Update -- March 17, 2010

Today I met Juan Luna for the first time. I was in line, on my way back from a visit with family. The line stopped at the Health Care Unit to pick up any inmates on their way to the cell houses. One of those who joined the line was Juan Luna. It was difficult to recognize the man from the TV news coverage that I had seen. Luna has shaven his head bald, and he now wears nerdy state-issued thick, dark plastic glasses.

Juan Luna was toward the back of the line, but I was not going to let this opportunity to speak with him pass me by. When the line went outside, I stepped off to the side to wait for him to come by. When he saw me he seemed apprehensive as I stared him down. I joined him as the line continued to move, and asked if he recognized me. He said he knew who I was, and I felt as if he had known who I was for some 17 years since my face was plastered all over the TV for the crime he had committed. I told him that I had been meaning to speak with the person who I have been serving all this time for. Behind him a man interrupted and said, "Yeah, this guy has a natural life sentence because of you!" Luna defended himself by saying, "Well, you were convicted of something else." I said, "You know that 'something else' is a load of bullshit." I went on to say, "I did not expect you to turn yourself in, but what I want from you, and what I think is the least you can do, is give me your discovery records." I told him that I did not want any information about him or Degorski. All I wanted was records pertaining to me, and the police. I am looking for leads, and information, on a dirty cop. He seemed relieved that this is all I wanted, and he told me that I can definitely have the records. He has no problem with it, however, he does not have them--his lawyer does. He said he would contact her, and then gave me her name just before the line broke towards different cell houses.

I tend to believe that Luna thought I was going to punch him when I cut out of line to wait for him, and possibly, I should have. He certainly deserves a beating. However, I have been fighting to gain the Palatine Task Force discovery for many years. My trial judge refused my request for it before my trial began, saying I was not being tried for the Brown's Chicken murders so I did not need it. However, that is not necessarily true. There could be valuable information in those files that I have never seen. The police investigations into the Barrington and Palatine murders were the same. Certain information contained within those files could lead to evidence proving my innocence in the Fawcett murder, or proving police impropriety. Another reason for not blasting Juan Luna is that I want the cooperation of his trial and appellate lawyers in providing me with any information their defense upturned showing police abuse and violations of suspects' rights during interrogations. At my trial, my judge refused to give me the Internal Affairs files on my interrogating officer, John Robertson. Robertson is the cop who made up the story that I admitted to being told by Bob Faraci that he was going to kill Fawcett, and that I lent him my car. I will be giving Juan Luna's attorneys name to my lawyer. Hopefully, I will be able to find some dirt on Robertson.


Update -- March 25, 2010

I had another visit today, and on the way back to the cell house I was hoping to see Juan Luna again. The last line from the visiting room to the cell houses always picks up inmates leaving the hospital. Luna's shift ends at this time, and therefore I was expecting him. However, he did not exit the hospital this time.

I stepped out of line again as I did last week when we went outside. I waited for a man I know who cuts hair at the barbership, and also goes to the hospital to cut hair on occasion. I asked, "Did you see Luna?" He told me Luna had already been fired. He said the nurses were afraid with him working among them, and many complained. The prison administration took Luna's job under the pretext of security reasons. I do not believe Luna posed a unique danger. There are many men at Stateville who have committed horrendous murders, and still have jobs. They are not mass murderers like Luna, but Luna is not known to be a serial killer, and his crime happened 17 years ago. In any event, it seems that I will no longer have an opportunity to speak with Juan Luna again.