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: paulmodrowski@gmail.com
or write him at the address shown in the right column. He will get your message personally.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Penny Pinching -- July 9, 2010

The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) has been cutting corners to slightly reduce their enormous and grossly obese budget. While at Stateville Correctional Center, I have noticed some of this penny pinching that borders on the absurd. It reminds me of the broader state budget fiscal fiasco where the legislature and governor are unwilling to make the necessary spending cuts and nitpick about tiny, insignificant deductions. Illinois has over a 13 billion dollar deficit, not to mention massive pension obligations. The legislature gave the governor power to put the state's finances in order, but of course, he declined to do so. Instead, the state will penny pinch a little here and a little there, while borrowing huge sums of money. The incurring interest will ultimately cost the taxpayers much more than the tiny cuts being made. Illinois now has the worst financial outlook in the U.S., other than California, and it does not appear to be changing any time soon unless there is a major shift in elected representatives this November.

For the last couple of months, I have been eating all my meals with a plastic spoon. Earlier in the week, I asked a kitchen worker why they no longer pass out forks. I was told that Stateville has ceased to order forks to save money. From now on, all we will be given to eat with are spoons. Have you ever tried to eat all your meals with a spoon? Believe me, it is not easy. Today, we were given lettuce and spaghetti. The spaghetti had to be cut up into bite sizes instead of spinning it around a fork to eat. I did not even attempt to eat the lettuce with a spoon and just used my hands.

I have made it a mission to locate a fork. Somewhere in this prison there must be a fork. I asked a few people I knew on the gallery if they had saved any. Most of them told me no, they had not bothered to save any plastic utensils because they did not know forks would cease to be given out at meals. A few people had forks, but they only had one and were unwilling to part with them. I then asked a kitchen worker to bring me a fork after his shift. Surely the kitchen still had a few stashed away, I thought. The kitchen worker told me they were all gone. I did not believe him and said, in a serious tone, "Listen here. You will find me a fork and put it in my hand later today when you come back from work." I was about to grab him from my bars, when he continued to plead that there were no forks, or he would have no problem bringing me one. He had already looked for himself and his cellmate, but came up empty. After a number of inquiries, I finally was able to locate a fork at an unusual place. I happened to mention to a gym worker my quest for a fork, and he surprisingly told me there was a half full box of them in one of the gym storage rooms. Next week, when I go there, he said he will get me a few.

IDOC ceased paying their suppliers of Styrofoam trays and cups several months ago. After demanding payment, the distributor simply stopped shipping to Stateville. At lunch and dinner, prisoners were given Styofoam cups, and at the end of the serving line they could fill them up with water. Not any more. With no Styrofoam cups, the large cooler of water was removed. Prisoners have their own plastic cups and bottles, but the administration would not allow us to bring them to chow. Many prisoners have hepatitis C, tuberculosis, or HIV, not to mention colds or other illnesses. Although considerate people would never touch their cup to the cooler's nozzle, many are not that thoughtful or caring. Allowing prisoners to bring their own cups and bottles would be unsanitary.

After a couple of weeks, Stateville began giving out juice cartons. One would think that juice would be more expensive than an empty Styrofoam cup, however, all the juice and milk cartons come from inside IDOC. Instead of paying vendors, Stateville just told the prison industries to send them more juice and milk. Of course, this will ultimately cost the state more money. The inmates who work at the milk and juice plants are paid very little, but the cardboard, milk and juice is not free, nor is the electricity to run these plants and maintain them.

The lack of Styrofoam trays was a bigger problem for Stateville. How does staff feed inmates in Seg, the infirmary, or court writs without Styrofoam trays? These inmates can not be brought to the chow hall, and the plastic trays cannot be used because they do not have lids. Plus, there were all the Styrofoam trays needed to give inmates in general population who had missed chow due to being at the health care unit, chapel, visits, barbershop, or library. There were also numerous job assignments that had their food brought to them in these Styrofoam trays. Finally, all of Stateville's prison population is given Styrofoam trays at breakfast. No one is allowed to go to the chow hall at 3 a.m.

Immediately, Styrofoam trays were stopped for all general population inmates. At breakfast, we were given brown paper bags. Those with prison assignments before going to work were sent to the chow hall to eat lunch at 8:30 or 9 a.m. Those returning from the HCU or other places that had missed their cell house feed lines, were sent into one of the chow halls to eat. The Styrofoam trays left in storage were only used to feed those in Seg or the infirmary.

Last month, the prison was placed on lockdown four times. However, for only brief periods of time, and twice the administration only locked down a single cell house instead of the entire prison. Possibly this was done because of the incidents were isolated and not a threat to the security of the institution. Possibly this administration is more reasonable than prior ones, and sees no point in long periods of lockdown for certain matters. However, it is quite possible the short, isolated lockdowns were due to the prison not having any Styrofoam trays to feed inmates in their cells.

It seems Stateville officials have resolved their problem of not having any Styrofoam cups and trays. This week inmates have been given plastic cups to fill with water at meals. These plastic cups are collected after meals and washed along with the trays. I have been told that Seg inmates are now given special plastic trays that have lids. Those are also collected after meals and reused. Furthermore, I have noticed Stateville has ordered or received additional plastic trays to supplement their limited supply. Three times this week, when I have been to chow, the kitchen workers have run out of plastic trays and the line has had to wait a half hour for the dishwasher to finish cleaning trays. Obviously the greater use of plastic cups and trays has caused a problem.

Every three months inmates used to be able to place an order for new clothes. However, the clothing room is now only filling those orders every 6 months, and inmates are only permitted to get two T-shirts, boxers, and socks, and one pair of blue state pants and button-up shirts. The clothing room has run out of towels and wash cloths, and if you want one of these, you must buy it from commissary. The commissary towel is $4, but much better than the rags the clothing room gives inmates. Inmates can also buy T-shirts, boxers, and socks from commissary as well. These prices have all increased 30% so Stateville can make a profit.

Stateville has begun selling clothing they used to give out for free. Gym shorts and skull caps are sold for $5. Recently, I noticed on the commissary list that IDOC towels are also being sold for a dollar less than the other towels. An inmate would have to be a fool to buy an IDOC towel. For a dollar more you can get a much better product. Stateville is also selling sweatpants and shirts that are given to prisoners being released during winter. The cost varies from $11 to $14, and is about the same price as the ones made outside of IDOC. I do not like IDOC to make a profit off me. I know all these clothes are made at Dwight C.C., and the female prisoners there are making a dime an hour. While I believe industry jobs for prisoners are a good way for them to repay society and learn new skills, I believe this contributes to the prison industrial complex and wasteful spending. Despite this, I did buy some IDOC sweatpants earlier this year because the other product had no elastic at the waist or ankles. I was tired of having to pull up my pants all the time. The IDOC sweatpants are also much thicker, which was another plus. There is a rumor that Stateville will cease giving out any clothing, and inmates will have to purchase everything. However, I doubt this is true. As a ward of the state, the prisons must adequately clothe and feed you.

Commissary once was ordered four times a month here, so long as the prison was not on lockdown. However, this year, a new policy of only two shops per month has been made. This was done because the unionized commissary workers intentionally slowed down their work to demand overtime. The administration refused to pay them double for that overtime that was due to their own laziness. Instead, they reduced their workload, so now they do half the work for the same pay. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles to firing union members.

Every year, prisons are repainted. Oftentimes it is unnecessary and just done to give prisoners jobs. Keeping prisoners busy is often a goal of administrators, even if they are busy accomplishing nothing. This year, however, Stateville cell houses were not painted. Earlier this year, I asked a lieutenant if I could paint my cell. My cell walls are a patchwork of different shades of peeling gray paint. In parts there is no paint at all, just bare concrete. Most inmates do not seem to care about how their cages look, but the look of my cell bothers me. The lieutenant said he had no problem letting me paint my own cell, but he said, "Good luck finding some paint." Prisons always have large quantities of paint stored away, but from what I was told, no paint was ordered this year.

My cellmate works at the barbershop, and for a little while they were having to be very frugal with the use of disinfectant used to clean their clippers, shears, and other equipment. Earlier this year, the barbershop supervisor was going to close it down. However, he made a call to Sheridan C.C., and their barbershop lent Stateville some germaquad. From what I am told, Stateville was not paying its bills for not only cleaning liquids, but all sorts of supplies.

From what I was told by workers who unload the trucks, Stateville is often stealing supplies and food stuffs that are headed to other prisons. Trucks often come from Chicago and stop at Stateville first before going to southern Illinois penitentiaries. Last month, I was told a specific story about how some real smoked turkey that was headed to a downstate prison was hijacked by kitchen cold storage workers with the thumbs up of supervisors. Stateville prisoners never get real turkey. We are always fed soy-turkey meal, even on Thanksgiving. Stateville never has the money to buy quality foods. This is the most inefficient, lazy, corrupt, and costly prison in the IDOC. Despite this, I was glad to have real turkey lunch meat for once in many years. The kitchen supervisor working the line was even kind enough to give me a double portion, and I had enough to make three turkey sandwiches.

As I mentioned in my prior entry, IDOC has consolidated the psychiatric work between NRC and Stateville. Now, there is only one psychiatrist for both institutions. Further staff cuts are going to take place at the health care unit. When the medical director retires, rumor has it his job will be replaced by a woman who currently sees people with minor health issues. She has some medical education, but is not a doctor. I am not sure how Stateville can have a medical director who does not have at least a Ph.D. However, the woman taking his place is much more competent and caring, in my opinion, than the current medical director. The director should have been fired a long time ago for malpractice and negligence.

I saw Dr. Ghosh, the current medical director, today. I have been writing him letters for years about medical treatments only he can authorize. I have written and filed several grievances against him for deliberate indifference to my medical needs. He finally saw me today, after complaints my parents and I made to the assistant warden. Although the medical department has been scaled back, the new wardens at Stateville seem much more responsive and competent. Dr. Ghosh finally agreed to authorize the cortisone injections that have been recommended by specialists for years. He was also agreeable to surgery if these were not effective. However, after telling me this, I was told that Waxford had to approve the treatments and because of their increasing cost-cutting efforts, I could be waiting a long time or even be denied treatment.

After leaving the doctor's office, I met a man with prostate cancer and heart disease. He told me that he had filed lawsuits against Waxford, Dr. Ghosh, and the former administration for failing to give him proper and timely medical treatments. He also told me that Waxford now had a policy of only approving 15 people per month to have procedures and/or see specialists at an outside hospital. I am skeptical of this man's claims. I do not know how a health care insurance company could legally set a quota system like this in order to save money.

Almost every Saturday, guards pass out razors for inmates to shave. These are very cheap, single blade, disposable razors. I have an electric razor, but I sometimes like to use the disposables, especially on hot humid days. The last week has been very hot and muggy, and I was looking forward to razors on Saturday. However, for the third week in a row, none were passed out. I asked the lieutenant about the matter and was told that razors are no longer being ordered, and the prison is out of them. While I and a number of others have money to buy an electric razor, many at Stateville do not. I suppose I will be seeing many more men with beards in the future.

This week I confirmed the rumor that only one person is working in the mailroom. The incoming mail for inmates is over a month behind, but it appears there is no discussion of hiring more staff to sort and search mail. While there is only one person in the mailroom, Stateville recently received 50 more guards to add to the already overwhelming force of correctional officers and lieutenants. I have never in my 17 years of incarceration seen such a high ratio of guards to inmates, even when maximum-security prisons were incredibly more violent. Every time I go to chow, I see 10 or more lieutenants, and sometimes a major or two. Fifteen years ago, I only saw a lieutenant on rare occasion. While IDOC penny pinches with prisoners' health care, mail, food, and medical care, it does not seem to be making any cuts where truly necessary. In fact, I have noticed acts of "penny wise, dollar foolish" quite often, including the recent plans to re-open I House.

Federal courts condemned I House many years ago, and in 2005 it was finally closed down. However, last month, approximately 30 inmates were given full body suits with breathing apparatus and face masks to clean out the building. The vacant building is infested with cockroaches and rodents. It also has a number of toxic materials decaying or laying about. The empty cell house has been torn apart by plumbers, electricians, and others seeking parts to use in other cell houses. Years ago, when the state's fiscal status was much better, administrators decided it was too expensive to repair in order to meet federal standards. However, for some reason, millions of dollars have now been appropriated to rehab the building.

The plans to rehab I House remind me of the millions spent to rehab Joliet C.C. That facility was the oldest prison in Illinois. In fact, it had been built during the Civil War. I was incarcerated there between 1997 and 2000, during which time hundreds of millions of dollars were spent renovating the various buildings. After spending all this money and making union constituents very happy, the state closed the prison down in 2001. Apparently there was not enough money to keep it in operation. Although Joliet CC was centuries old, it was better maintained than I House here, and I will be willing to wager that after spending millions on this building, the legislature and executive branches will find it will not have the money to operate Stateville anyway. Stateville will become a relic, just like Joliet CC.

The solution to Illinois' fiscal woes and its Dept. of Corrections is not pinching pennies or cutting corners. The budget crisis is far beyond not ordering plastic forks. Massive across-the-board cuts need to be made to IDOC's bureacracy, administration, staff, and prison population. IDOC has over 40 prisons, and over 40,000 prisoners with many more waiting to come into the system from the county jails.

The bloated prison industrial complex is an enormous abyss of taxpayers' dollars, resources, productivity, and rotting human flesh. IDOC does not create anything: not a better economy, nor better people. The service of justice and protecting society is greatly oversold to the general public. There is little common sense to systematically throwing everyone in prison and warehousing a significant percentage of the population in cages. There are far better ways to punish people for crimes and make them repay society. There are far better ways to use taxpayer dollars and improve the economy without prison jobs. And there are far better ways to use the state's resources, both human and capital, to increase productivity and improve the lives of society.

Sunday was Independence Day, and as always, I find it ironic--and not just because of my imprisonment--that the land of the free and home of the brave has become a socialist, police state. America has more people in prison per capita, more laws, more police, more guards, and more cameras or satellites spying on their citizens from above, or monitoring phone or Internet communications than any other country on this planet. More people than ever before are financially dependent on government, and if the current White House administration has its way, this will greatly increase along with Americans' tax burden. This is not the vision of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, or John Adams. This is the vision of George Orwell in "1984". Hopefully this election cycle, those that still love liberty will send a message to foolish penny pinching representatives who have no clue how far government has gone out of control.

July 31, 2010

This evening prisoners were told over the loudspeaker to put their IDs on the bars if they wanted a razor. This announcement surprised me because razors have not been passed out for nearly two months. "I thought IDOC had cut spending for razors," I said to the guard passing them out. He said, "I don't know. I just work here."

With my plastic mirror taped to the wall, I lathered soap on my face, and with my cheap orange colored disposable razor, I gave myself a close shave. My shave was possibly a bit too close. My neck and jaw were covered with numerous cuts, and the water in my plastic cup that I used to rinse my razor was red from my blood. Maybe I will use my electric razor next time, I thought, if IDOC continues to pass out these quality razors.

This week Styrofoam trays began to be used again at breakfast. Apparently, the brown bags just could not be used all the time. It is somewhat difficult to put oatmeal or grits in a bag.

Also this week I heard that administrators changed their minds about opening up I House. No inmate or union workers went out to clean or repair the condemned building. Possibly there is some common sense in Springfield afterall.