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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Segregation -- September 15, 2010

Sunday morning I slept a little later than usual, but in time to catch some of the political news programs. I did not eat a big breakfast because lunch is typically run early, and I knew pizza was on the menu. Pizza has not been served at Stateville in a few years and I did not want to spoil my appetite. For the last week, prisoners have been talking about how pizza was going to be served on Sunday. At first it started as rumors, but kitchen workers confirmed it. All the inmate population was looking forward to it, even myself. I knew the pizza would be rather small and not the best tasting, but in prison, you must be thankful for the little things. Plus, today was the first weekend of regular season pro-football. The day seemed like it was going to be better than usual until someone unexpectedly came to my door.

Chow had been announced on the loudspeaker, and I was already dressed in my state blues waiting to go when a Hispanic woman from Internal Affairs approached my cell. She said, "Paul?" I answered "yes," but she did not say anything. Finally, I asked her if she was here to conduct a cell search. Whenever I.A. is in the building, they are there to do searches. After a moment, she opened the cell door, and my cellmate and I went down to the cell house holding cage. A guard asked me if I was going on a visit, but I told her, "No, I.A. is searching our cell." Apparently the guards did not know I.A. was in the building, or assumed I was going on a visit because when I am in the holding cage, I usually am.

Cell searches have become more regular recently, and my cellmate and I did not think much of it, even though it was being conducted by I.A. My cellmate began talking nonstop with a man who was going on a visit. His speech often reminds me of "Cousin It" on "The Addams Family." I mostly stood there silently, pondering how wrecked up our property boxes would be, and how long it would take me to put everything back in order. It bothers me immensely when the cell and my boxes are not in proper shape.

My cellmate and I were in the holding cage while chow lines were sent out. So much for our pizza, I thought. I asked a cell house worker what they were doing in there. He told me there were two people from I.A. in our cell, and one had asked for a garbage bag. If they wanted a bag, this meant they were going to confiscate some of our property. I did not have any contraband, nor did my cellmate, to my knowledge. All I could think of was all the toilet paper or "white gold"" as my cellmate calls it, along with the commissary he had stashed behind his bunk that he could not fit into his box. Before chow was run, he had sloppily put some commissary back there so it appeared as if we were in compliance before chow.

About 10 minutes later, a man from Internal Affairs came over to the holding cage area and grabbed a cart. If he was taking a cart they were taking more than a bag, and I began to have a sense of deja vu. It was just last January that I.A. had seized all my property and left me in the cell with nothing but my electronics. The man returned and I thought that possibly he had changed his mind, but on the contrary, he just wanted a bigger cart. My cellmate and I looked at each other, and I said to him, "Looks like they are taking all your stuff this time." However, not long afterward, the cart came by with just my property boxes on it. All they took of my cellmate's was the property he had left out of his box. It was in a bag and his toilet paper was on top. I saw my cellmate's unhappy face. I envisioned a Leprechaun who had just had his pot of gold taken, or at least part of it. I know my cellmate had about 20 rolls of toilet paper, but they did not take all of them. My cellmate did not say anything about all the rice, noodles and other goods they took from him.

After Internal Affairs left, a guard opened the holding cage and told my cellmate he could return to his cell. However, I was informed that I was going to Segregation. The reason he did not say, nor do I think he knew. I.A. is secretive about what they do. Before I.A. left, they did not say a word to me. Later, as I was dreading being walked to F House, a different guard approached me and mentioned something about I.A. watching the cameras. He said that after a guard was stabbed all the cameras were repaired, and I.A. has nothing better to do with their time than to watch them all day. I was in my cell all morning, and I was not certain what cameras had to do with me going to Seg. There are no cameras directed into inmates' cells, however, I soon heard another man was also being taken to Seg. He was a cellhouse worker.

I was pretty glum about going to Seg. I had heard terrible things about F House and I had become very accustomed to living in unit Bravo with my cellmate, Jonathan. A couple of cell house guards expressed sympathy. They did not want me sent to Seg, but Internal Affairs had made the call. Although I am quiet, I get along well with the staff in my cellhouse. I was not a trouble maker and did my time without incident. A lieutenant told me he would make sure I got a tray before I left, and a guard quickly returned from the kitchen with a Styrofoam box tray with a piping hot pizza in it. It seemed like he got it straight from the oven. Although the pizza was not as good as it was hyped up to be, and I am sure people outside of Stateville would not be impressed, I sat down on the floor and savored every morsel. This meal was like the last supper before I was sent off to be tortured and crucified.

After I ate my pizza, the guards let me go back to my cell to make myself a Seg bag. Prisoners being sent to Segregation are sometimes permitted to take a few things with them. The problem was that Internal Affairs had taken all my property except my electronics, a book, my towel, a washcloth, some newspapers, and my dirty laundry bag. Inmates are only permitted to bring with them a couple of undergarments, a bar of soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, towel and a washcloth. My cellmate had already put my towel and washcloth in a bag. He gave me a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste to put in there as well. I grabbed a pair of socks, underwear and a T-shirt out of my dirty laundry bag. After putting this together, a sergeant, who I did not know and did not work in my cellhouse, rushed me to go, and I failed to ask my cellmate for a bar of soap. The sergeant did tell me to bring my bed sheet, and a blanket if I had one. These items are normally not permitted to be put in your Seg bag, but he said Seg had run out of bed linens.

Outside of F House were two small holding cages. I and the other man from my unit were put in there. I asked the cellhouse worker what I.A. had said to him, if anything, and if he knew why we were sent to Seg. He told me a man from I.A. asked him why he kept going to that cell. I asked, "My cell?" He said, "Apparently so." The cellhouse worker often stops by my cell to talk with my cellmate and give him toilet paper or other supplies. The man from I.A. then patted him down and then locked him in his cell. Later he was told he was going to Seg under investigative status. He opined that I was also under investigation.

Guards can send you to Seg if you commit a rule infraction, or even if they just merely suspect you of violating an institutional rule. In the former instance, they will write you a disciplinary ticket, and in the latter they will write you an investigative ticket. A disciplinary ticket will be heard by the Adjustment Committee within 14 days. The Adjustment Committee then finds you guilty or innocent, but almost always guilty -- despite the facts of the matter. The inmate is then punished with a set amount of time in Segregation, along with a loss of privileges. Prisoners written investigative tickets can be held in Seg up to 30 days, during which time a disciplinary ticket can be written if a rule infraction has been substantiated.

Entering F House (the Roundhouse) is a disturbing experience. It is a huge domed building with four floors of cells and a gun tower in the center. Each floor has approximately 60 cells, and the building rises some 100 feet in the center. The cell houses in general population are large, but because of their shapes, you cannot see all of it at one time. F House is circular and you can see every cell upon entering. There are almost 500 prisoners in the Roundhouse and when the steel door is opened, a roar of noise hits you. There is banging, shouting, and even screams. It was like entering hell, and I was very concerned about who would be in the cell assigned to me.

After being strip-searched in a cell that had been converted into a shower, I was led to another cell on the first floor. The doors are not keyed open in the Roundhouse, but opened electronically, and the guard escorting me spoke into his radio, "Open 116." My cellmate was a black man who was about 30 years old with average height and build. We introduced ourselves and made limited conversation. I asked why he was in Seg, and he said he was there for refusing housing. I was skeptical, but did not question him about the matter. I told him how I.A. had sent me to Seg and, as of yet, I did not know why. We exchanged information about how much time we had and how long we had been at Stateville. He told me that a few years ago, he was sentenced to 28 years at 100%, which told me he was convicted of murder. Only people convicted of murder must do all of their time. He told me he had been at Stateville since his sentencing, but I did not recognize him. However, this meant little because,a although I have now been here 5 years, I stay to myself.

The first thing I noticed about my cell was that it was recently painted. The entire cell, including not just the walls, but bunks, ceiling, window bars, and outer perforated steel door was coated in white paint. It was nice to be in a cell that did not have various shades of peeling paint or bare concrete, but it had an insane asylum padded cell look. I also noticed the cell was barren. My cellmate did not have any property except for a towel, wash cloth, soap, and a couple of word puzzles and a Bible. I asked him if he had received his property yet. Prisoners in Seg are only able to take a few items with them, but after several days are given all their papers, books, letters, and a number of hygienic commissary items. He told me he already had been given his Seg property. There was something weird about this man. Although I have autism, I tend to be very observant and have a keen sense of intuition.

My cellmate was oddly quiet. Most people want to talk, especially when they have nothing to occupy themselves with. However, he said little to nothing. He sat on his lower bunk staring off into space, and occasionally he worked on his word search puzzles. I am not a talkative person either, and I thought possibly he could be an ideal cellmate. I hate obnoxious, loud, and disruptive people. I was uncomfortable being trapped in a cage with a man I did not know and have nothing in common with. However, he seemed not only quiet and introverted like myself, but neat and clean as well. Later that evening, medications were passed out. The nurse did not have anything for me, but had a large dose of Thorazine for my cellmate. Thorazine is a strong psychotropic, mostly used for schizophrenia, and he was to get another dose in the morning.

The cells in F House are smaller than those in general population. They also are configured differently. Because of the round shape of this building, the cells are narrow in the front and wider toward the back. Instead of bars, there is a steel door and wall that is perforated with numerous holes so the guards can see in. The front of the cell also has Plexiglas up against most of it. This is to prevent prisoners from throwing or shooting urine, excrement, or other vile or toxic substances at the guards. I appreciated the Plexiglas immensely because it blocks some of the blaring noise of the cellhouse. The bunks are on the wall as they are in other buildings, but are toward the front of the cells. There is no table, but all cells have a steel shelf along the back wall next to the sink and toilet.

The best part about these cells are the windows. There are no cells in general population with windows in the cells. For a few hours, I simply gazed out the window and felt the breeze across my body. The windows have two sets of bars: a set across the front, and a set a few feet behind them. There is also a steel mesh screen, but despite these obstructions I could see outside. My window faced the west, and I was able to watch the sun set through some razor wire and over a prison building. There was some grass outside my cell, and I was able to watch the birds peck in the lawn and hear them chirp to each other. At night, I was able to see the moon for the first time in many years. It was a crescent moon and it became orange as it reached the horizon. I noticed a bright star near it, and knew it was Venus. Although I was in a very disturbing maximum-security segregation unit, I was almost able to feel free and at peace while looking out this window.

Despite your punishment, bedding is required to be given to every inmate. During the evening of my first night in Seg, a guard came to my door with a mattress that was torn, had urine stains on it, and more filth. I told him that I was fine and didn't want one. In Seg, mattresses are reused by hundreds of prisoners without being washed. The vinyl covers get torn off and the bedding materials often smell or have bugs. The guard asked me if I was sure I did not want it, and I told him yes, but asked if he could get me a blanket. The blankets are used, but at least they are washed. It is very uncomfortable sleeping on a steel bunk covered by merely a blanket. However, I would rather be stiff and in pain than sleep on an infested, piss-stained mattress.

The nurse who passed out medications did not have my sleeping pills, and I knew it was going to be a long night. My cellmate had a Bible on the back counter, and I asked if I could read it. He did not mind, and I began to read the New Testament. I read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John the first two days I was here, and on the third day when I became bored, I began with Exodus to read about Moses. I thought this may be interesting, having seen "The Ten Commandments" with Charlton Heston a dozen times. The Bible I read was a Gideon Bible, and I did not like its translation. It was worded differently from those I read as a child, both in style and substance.

The cellhouse noise was maddening, and I needed earplugs. I tossed and turned on my blanket, not being able to relax or become comfortable. The first night, I slept only a few hours, but on the second, I was able to get six hours. Not only is the cellhouse very loud, but it was incredibly difficult for me to adjust to my new surroundings. I have set routines and ways of doing things. Although my cellmate was quiet and did not bother me, I greatly missed my old cellmate, Jon.

On Tuesday, a guard told me to pack up my things. I was being moved to a different cell. I did not want to move; I was just beginning to get accustomed to this cell and I did not think there could be a better cellmate in here. I asked the guard why I was being moved, but all he would say was that another prisoner was coming down here. I put together my meager possessions and said farewell to my blessedly quiet cellmate. I also thanked him for letting me read his Bible. I was brought to a cell in the middle of the Roundhouse on floor two. It was in front of a staircase, and I knew the noise level and commotion would be much greater there. However, what most weighed on my mind was who my next cellmate would be. I dreaded the prospect of having a bad cellmate. Even in population, a cellmate is a large part of my life. In Seg, it was all important.

I noticed on the top of the door of the cell I was moving into a green magnet which read "LEVEL E." This magnet explained why I was being moved. Level E's, or extreme escape risk inmates, had to be moved every few months. Still, I was anxious to see who my new cellmate would be. As the man who was moving out moved out of my way, I saw a tall thin, black man with long dreadlocks. It was "RC," a man I had known for a few years. RC was a social person and would not give me the peace and quiet as my last cellmate, but he was very easy going, friendly, and polite. I was relieved to see him as I stepped inside his cell.

This cell was not nearly as nice as my last. The paint was peeling everywhere, and the window was broken. Only half of the window opened and closed. The other half was fitted with Plexiglas and the old window pane was left inside the sill by some lazy union maintenance worker. Instead of a westward view where I could see birds, grass, and a setting sun and moon, I had a view of the condemned I House, which was an ugly block of concrete. Worst about this new cell, however, was the cockroaches. The cell was infested with roaches and they crawled onto the counter, walls, ceiling and floor, even during the daylight. When I went to eat my lunch tray, I set it on the back counter and roaches began swarming onto it. I was disgusted and smashed them with my fist. No food was safe in this cell, and neither were you while sleeping.

RC was not only a friendly man, but a generous one. Unlike my prior cellmate, RC had property. He had a number of hygienic items, clothes, books, magazines, pens, pencils, paper, and a stack of legal documents. He even had some food that he had been given from men upstairs who had been released from Seg and were waiting to be placed back into general population. They were allowed to buy food from commissary while they waited, and had all their property. RC shared everything he had with me, and I was most appreciative. I began writing request slips, grievances, my attorney, and my parents. Unfortunately, RC did not have any prestamped envelopes that I could use to send out these letters. However, he told me when he gets his commissary he will give me a few. Although he had just been notified that he was found guilty for stealing bleach from the laundry building, commissary restriction would not begin immediately and he could purchase everything except food and electronics. Although I had told some people to contact my parents if possible, I was impatient to contact them and tell them all that had happened to me.

On the evening I was moved, I received an investigative ticket. The ticket was made out by the woman from Internal Affairs who came to my cell the day I was taken to Segregation. The ticket did not explain why I was placed under investigation, just that I was on 9/12/10 at 11:30a.m. After reading the ticket, I filed a request to have all my property returned to me. Prisoners under investigation are put in Seg, but are entitled to all their property. I also filed a grievance about the matter, however I doubt I.A. will comply. I tend to believe they will keep my property for a couple of weeks. I went to bed soon after sending out my mail and watched the roaches crawl on the walls in the dark.

Today is my fourth day in Seg. My back pain was quite intense from having no medications and sleeping on my steel bunk with only a blanket. I.A. took not only virtually all my property, but my pills for my lower back injury. My cellmate says I move around like an old man. Despite my pain and stiffness, I was determined to exercise. While my cellmate was at the back counter, I did a limited exercise routine in the front. It took me a while to become limber, but I did manage to gain a sweat. Unfortunately for my cellmate, I have no deodorant. After working out, I washed my clothes while naked, behind a privacy sheet. I only had two sets of clothes and since I wore my boxer briefs and boxers to work out in, I needed to wash them both. As I washed up, I dried my clothes on a fan, so by the time I was done bathing and cleaning up, I had something to wear.

Commissary was passed out today and my cellmate gave me some envelopes so I could send out my letters. He also gave me some laundry detergent and a deodorant. I received a letter from my family the previous day and spent a couple of hours writing them another letter. Even without a TV or radio, I could easily occupy my time writing and reading. I hope I.A. will eventually release my books, magazines, and papers, but I am not optimistic.

This evening I was surprised that razors were passed out. Segregation has a high population of mildly insane people, and many of them are violent. Earlier, I had watched the nurse go around and around the cellhouse, passing out psychotropic medications. She is a pretty nurse and probably the prettiest woman who works at Stateville. She looks similar to the actress that is in the Bourne Identity movies, Julia Stiles. Such an attractive woman should not work here, I thought, but I do enjoy seeing her. I noticed as she passed out medications, she stopped on average at every third cell. That is a lot of men with mental problems and who now have razor blades.

Not much to my surprise, my cellmate pointed out to me guards running to a cell and pulling two inmates out. What was surprising was which cell this was. It was the cell that I was formerly in. After watching events unfold and listening to cellhouse workers, we learned my former cellmate here used a razor to slice across the face and arms of the man I switched places with. From workers, we heard blood was everywhere in my former cell, and the man cut was quickly taken to the prison health care unit for stitches. We saw him returned to a different cell on our gallery. He had to come up the stairs in front of our cell, and we got a good look at him. He had a large bandage over one side of his face, and over one of his arms. RC told me the injured man was his former cellmate, and was very obnoxious and difficult to get along with. RC also said he used to smoke wicket sticks (marijuana laced with PCP) and was not only hyper, but schizophrenic, taking three types of psychotropic medications. My cellmate speculated that the obnoxious man caused my former cellmate to snap. I thought this was probably what occurred, but then I wondered if that could just as easily have been me that had gotten slashed.

RC will only be in Seg another couple of weeks before he is sent to kickout. As I close this journal entry, I am concerned again about who I will get for a cellmate when he leaves.

Editor Note: Paul taken to Round House

About a week ago, guards came to Paul's cell and told him he was being taken to "seg." One guard packed up Paul's belongings and took those, too.

Paul had no idea what was going on or why he was being taken. He was not taken to seg, but to the Round House. Paul later learned that an "investigation" is going on and that he is to be held in the Round House for several weeks or until the investigation is over. The video above shows the Round House, although the video is somewhat dated.

Keep in mind that at Stateville, the rules are petty, so being investigated and severely punished does not mean a prisoner has done anything actually "wrong" in the real world. Prisoners are thrown into seg for having a packet of ketchup. It is that absurd a situation.

Paul's mother heard from Paul and passes along this information:

He was sent to the Roundhouse, 1st floor, which is for those being held while investigations are being conducted. (IDOC has been challenged in court, and it was upheld that they can do that.) In the same building are the Seg cells, but they differ in that those cells have solid walls and solid steel doors. The investigation cells actually have windows that open, and bars that face the center of the Roundhouse.
Another difference is that Seg prisoners are kept alone in cells. Due to overcrowding, IDOC now puts 2 men in the investigation cells.  Paul was put in a cell with a thin, young, black man who only spoke in whispers. Paul felt safe. He was given a filthy mattress, which he refused, so he is trying to sleep on a steel bed. Internal Affairs took everything he owns! He was NOT allowed to pack a "seg bag" so he didn't even have soap or toilet paper! This black man gave him some of his, so Paul felt less anxious about him.

In the morning, he enjoyed looking out a window and seeing the sunrise. When a guard came to give them breakfast, Paul recognized the guard and the guard was very surprised to see Paul in there. The guard tried to find out why and what was going on, but all he could learn was that I.A. suspected Paul of something, along with a Mexican worker. I.A. took both of Paul's boxes and even some of cellmate's stuff. No one knows what's going on--I.A. also investigates guards for wrongdoing so there's no friendliness between them.

The roaches are so bad that Paul said one wall looks like its moving! The bugs run over your arms and onto your food! The cell is filthy too, along with peeling paint, etc.

A few hours later, Paul was cuffed and taken up to the 2nd level of cells without explanation. He was very anxious as to who he'd be placed with, and was relieved to see it was a black man with dreadlocks who he knows and gets along with. (Thank you, Lord.) That man was soon going to Seg because he was just given an official disciplinary ticket for having chow hall food. He too was first sent there "under investigation". He told Paul they can hold you for 30 days. If I.A. doesn't find anything to write you a ticket about, you are sent back to general population. This man gave Paul a pencil, paper and even a stamped envelope to write to us. He also gave Paul soap and a towel.  Just then there was screaming and much commotion. Nurses were running. Guards were running. The first man Paul had shared a cell with on the 1st floor had a razor and sliced up the man who replaced Paul. Blood was everywhere. His face was sliced badly, and his arms were slashed too. Apparently, the quiet black man was schizophrenic and just snapped. Paul realizes it could have been him.
The missing blog post was in Paul's property box--and he didn't get a chance to mail it. (That's the one about his trip to the hospital.)

Back to the nice guard who's trying to find out more for Paul, he says to Paul, "I hope you didn't write something stupid on your blog." Paul was surprised, and asked, "Oh, do you read my blog?" and the guard says, "Lots of us read it. It's interesting to us. You write about our place of employment! And you tell it like it is. I hope I.A. isn't reading it."  Paul was really surprised to hear this! (I am too!) 

Paul is OK for now. He has no idea what I.A. is looking for, but his boxes are full of legal stuff, his clemency petition, a blog post, copies of posts that I sent him to edit, etc.

He feels he's stuck for the 30 days. We cannot visit him until October 12. By then, I.A. has to either let him go back to general population, or charge him with something 

Thanks for keeping Paul in prayer--God is protecting him.


UPDATE: Word is that Paul was given 3 prison tickets - one for gambling, one for misuse of government property, and some other one. Gambling? Paul reads the Wall Street Journal and makes detailed stock report charts. We think that might be what they are talking about, although that is an educational activity that has nothing to do with gambling.

Basically, there is someone (or a few people) in the prison who like to harass Paul for writing his blog. They use these tickets as an excuse to take away his pencils, paper, and stamped mailing envelopes -- the tools he needs for his blog-writing.

The same thing was done to Paul less than a year ago. They took away his things and never gave them back. Then, Paul was given a bunch of tickets, and a bogus "hearing" was held with one prison official finding Paul guilty on all charges. The charges then were that he had more items that allowed, such as extra food or envelopes. Keep in mind, he is required to keep all his belongings in one box, so how much extra could he have?