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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Prison I.D. -- August 10, 2010

Early this morning while I was eating breakfast, a guard announced over the loudspeaker that photo IDs were going to be updated today. If you heard your name, get ready to leave to the B of I (Bureau of Identification). I was watching the morning news, and I took my headphones off so I could hear if my name was called. The guard went on and on calling names. It seemed as if a fourth of the inmates in my cell house were being called. Eventually, I heard my name and cell number. I was not surprised. Photos are updated approximately every year, and it has been 11 months since my last photo was taken.

I finished my breakfast and casually started to get ready to leave. I did not think we would be let out until after head count cleared, and that is usually between 8:30 and 9 a.m. However, over the loudspeaker came a voice telling inmates going to the B of I to be on their doors. Apparently, the guards were going to try to have the B of I line sent out and returned before count cleared so it would not disrupt details or other movement. I had already dressed and put my property away. As my door was keyed open, I looked at one of my plastic mirrors and ran my hands down through my hair.

Other than your yearly mugshot, prisoners in maximum-security prisons in Illinois never have their photos taken. The last time photographs were permitted was in the 1990s. In the 1990s, prisoners could have photos taken during visits with a Polaroid camera. These were of poor quality, but inmates and their families now treasure them. I wish I would have had more taken because other than my yearly mugshot, my family has no photos of me and I have none of us together since the turn of the century.

Early in my incarceration, Polaroid photos could also be taken in the gym. All photos were taken by inmate L.T.S. (Leisure Time Services) workers. The charge for a Polaroid was $2, and prisoners paid it in coupons that used to be sold on commissary. Visitors could also buy these coupons and use them to buy photos or foods offered by the L.T.S. department. On visits, frozen pizzas and other snacks could be ordered that would be brought back to you like you were at a restaurant. This is no longer allowed, and now all food must be purchased from vending machines with a debit card. Microwave ovens are provided, and visitors must serve themselves and carry the food to the person they are visiting. Prisoners are not permitted to leave their seat except when greeting visitors and again when saying goodbye.

When I was at Pontiac CC in the mid-90s, ID cards were rarely used. Most of the time I kept my ID in a folder. I only recall bringing it with me when I went to the commissary. At the store, a prisoner had to prove who they were, so the purchases made were deducted off the correct account. At times, I heard of prisoners stealing another man's ID to buy merchandise off his account. This was rare, however, and most prisoners were just robbed after they shopped. Others were intimidated or extorted to give up their store. Other than at commissary, prisoners only had to show ID when they were being released. I was never going home, and never had to think about that.

While I was at Joliet CC in the late 90's, guards attempted to make prisoners carry their IDs with them wherever they went. Not many people listened to them, and we continued to keep our IDs in our cells, unless we were going to store. Once a guard wanted to write me a disciplinary ticket and demanded I give him my ID because he did not know who I was. When I told him I did not have my ID, he handcuffed me and brought me back to the cell house. At the cell house, the sergeant saw me and asked what was the problem. The guard said he wanted to write me up for some petty rule infraction, but I did not have my ID and he would not take my word for who I was. The sergeant told him to uncuff me and basically get a life. Despite this, administrators slowly forced inmates to keep their IDs on them, and IDs were required to eat, go on visits, and other things.

I did not like having to always keep my ID on me. It was an inconvenience. I recall times at the chow hall that I had forgotten it and I had to sneak around the machine that scanned the cards. A guard usually stood at that point to make sure you swiped your card, but he was often distracted and there were a lot of prisoners in line. At Joliet, the kitchen was run by a private catering company and they wanted to make sure no inmates were eating twice. They also wanted a tally of how many meals were served to be more efficient with the food they ordered. Prisoners continued to break their sensitive scanning machine, and eventually we did not need an ID to eat.

There was a time I left my ID in my jeans that were sent out to the laundry. The laundry would be returned in a day, but I was expecting a visit. I had to go to the B of I and prove who I was to get another ID card. It was not a big process and I doubt anyone questioned me. Who would want to say they were Paul Modrowski and had a natural life sentence? My picture was pulled up on the prison computer though to compare with my face, but I do not think the man scrutinized it much. The next day, I was given my laundry bag and still in my back pocket was my ID. However, now it was warped and shrunk. It reminded me of one of those Shrinky Dinks that kids made and their parents put in the oven. At Joliet CC, you never had to worry about your clothes coming back still wet or damp.

It was not until several years ago that Stateville guards began to vigorously enforce that ID cards had to be on inmates at all times. Guards would say you cannot drive without your drivers license and would sometimes not let you out the door of your cell without showing it. Usually, however, they stood at the exit of the building and you had to show your ID to leave. There have been a few times that I misplaced my I.D. Once I asked my neighbor for his ID to get out of the cell house. He was black, but the guards do not really look at the photo. I put my thumb over the face, just in case.

Inmates designated extreme escape risks are given a green colored ID. Many times, guards only looked at the color of your ID. Those inmates with green IDs must be kept track of and when they leave the cell house, guards call in their number. There are four different colored ID's: white, blue, red, and green. White is the lowest escape risk, blue is moderate, and red is high. When I first came to prison, I had a red ID, but after a few years, it was reduced to blue and then white. About ten years ago, an administrative policy mandated that all prisoners with more than 30 years must have a blue ID, and thus I now have a blue one and am classified a moderate escape risk.

Now the inmates considered to be extreme escape risks must also wear green striped pants and a blue shirt with green patches at the shoulders. When these inmates order a jacket, they must be given one with green stripes down the sleeves. The stripes are slightly fluorescent so even in the dark they can be spotted easily. If these inmates fail to wear their special identifying clothing, they can be put in Segregation. Many of the men that are classified extreme escape risks are really not. The more men a prison classifies this way, the more money they are allotted from the Illinois Dept. of Corrections. Fortunately, a few years ago, Springfield administrators realized the poor and sometimes fraudulent system, and forced Stateville and other maximum-security institutions to reduce the number. Now it is not as bad, but the number probably still could be cut in half.

Those men with green IDs have their photos more carefully scrutinized. If they change their appearance, they are given a new photo. While most only get an update once a year, extreme escape risks can get updates several times a year. A man on my gallery with a blue ID shaved the sides of his head and gave himself a Mohawk, but no one said a word to him about getting a new ID. However, if a man with a green ID grows a mustache, he will be told to update his photo.

Last year, inmate IDs were fitted with clips so they could be attached to our clothing. At first, inmates were under the illusion it was voluntary. However, after a month or two, it became mandatory. All inmates when out of their cells must attach their ID cards to the left collar of their blue shirts. When going to yard, IDs must be attached to our T-shirts or sweaters so they are clearly visible. Once out on the yard, however, we can put them away, and I always do. The IDs have become a nuisance and I dislike the lack of anonymity.

Illegal immigration has been a subject in the news, and various ideas have come forward to combat the invasion of the U.S. borders. Along with securing the borders, I think a national ID card would be a good idea. Although I do not much like the use in prison, if the United States developed an ID card with encoded biometric information that could not be fraudulently used or replicated, it would be well worth any decrease in privacy. This ID could prevent illegal aliens from gaining many social services, jobs, or housing. It would also aid police and ICE in determining the legal residence or citizenship of detainees. Having a national ID card, unlike in prison, could become a source of pride if citizenship was not just granted on anyone born within our borders, and if the status of citizenship was elevated to having unique rights, powers, and freedoms.

Last week an immature and unintelligent man repeatedly spoke to various lieutenants about getting him a new ID clip. To each lieutenant he would claim his clip had broken. This man eventually tricked about 5 of them to go out of their way to get him a new clip. Typically, an inmate would not bother a lieutenant about such a matter and would approach a cell house guard or sergeant, but these lieutenants happened to be on the walk or chow hall and are easily accessible. If they see an inmate holding his ID rather than having it clipped to his shirt, they will possibly inquire and then get you a new clip if it has broken. However, this man played the trick once too often, and a lieutenant who had just given him a new clip saw him holding his ID a few days later. The lieutenant asked him about the one he had just given him, and the man said he accidentally stepped on it and needed another one. Later that evening, the lieutenant came to the cell house to give him yet another clip when he ran into the cell house lieutenant who also had given him one. Both lieutenants then came to his cell and searched it. They found a number of ID clips, and were very mad. I could only hear some of their words, even though they were yelling, because of the drone of the B-17 bomber fan being not far away. However, I did hear them threaten him with Seg. Afterwards, I asked the cell house lieutenant, whom I occasionally talk to about politics, if there was any trouble. He seemed to be annoyed, but he said everything was fine and the incident on the gallery was not worthy of speaking about.

After gate 5 is a hallway that has holding cages for prisoners going on visits, court writs, or being paroled. There are also several offices. The one at the end was the office for the B of I. So many inmates had been brought over from B House that this hallway was filled. It was crowded and noisy, but eventually I got into line to get my photo taken. I was somewhat concerned about taking a decent photo because it will be the only picture friends or family have of you. However, I have given up trying to take a good mugshot. No matter how I try, these photos never look flattering.

Last year I had time to shave and comb my hair. I even put some gel in my hair, but we were on lockdown at the time and placed in handcuffs behind our backs. While waiting outside for the line to catch up, large gusts of wind tossed my hair about. There was nothing I could do about it, though, being restrained behind the back. Not only was my hair spiked to one side, but I was caught looking down when my mugshot was taken. I knew that photo would not be going in my family's photo album.

This year I knew better than to attempt to take a nice picture, and I was correct. About five minutes after the shot was taken, a guard handed me my new ID card. The color of my complexion was the same as Bart Simpson's. A few inmates around me joked that I looked like I had jaundice. A few speculated that the camera man may have changed the hue to bring out the features of dark complexions, and when a pale, white person was photographed, it made his skin color look yellow.

All Illinois prisoners' mugshots can be seen on the Internet. The site not only shows inmate's photos, but also lists the crime(s) they were convicted of, previous convictions, and sentence information. Also, listed are general physical descriptions like height, weight, hair and eye color. Date of birth and even all of an inmate's tattoos are listed. Only photographs and release dates are updated into the system and the information can often be old or incorrect. On my page, I am described as having strawberry-blond hair, green eyes, and 6'1" in height. Although my hair color was dark blond some 17 years ago, it was never strawberry blond. My eyes are blue, and I am 6'2". My weight fluctuates depending on how much food I am given, or can purchase. I have lost between 20 to 40 pounds when in Seg., depending on how long I am in there, but I believe the IDOC website is about accurate in regards to my current weight.

It is somewhat depressing to look at your prison mugshot year after year. There are no good memories being preserved, just time. I imagine that if I put all my prison photos together and flipped through them quickly, it would show a man quickly aging. It would be a time elapsed video or flipbook of a person from the prime of their life going toward the end of it. In my photos I can notice the lines in my face growing deeper, and my hair receding and thinning. I notice that my nose has become longer and my face has become more gaunt. The intensity of my eyes has faded along with other various attributes of youth. It is no wonder why some say I have the demeanor of Lurch, the butler from the Addams Family. Every year, I resemble him more and more. I wonder what my final prison photo will be. Will it be a lifeless skeleton face, or an old man's face with no future that a sympathetic governor has finally decided to release? Either way, it will not be a happy picture. Some argue that natural life sentences are more humane than the death penalty. However, they have not lived it. Natural life without the possibility of parole is just a protracted death sentence.

Black Stones Raided -- August 2, 2010

Yesterday at 4 or 5 a.m. I was awakened by prisoners yelling, "I.A. in the cell house." I.A. is the prison's Internal Affairs Unit, and they are often causing trouble for inmates. Their appearance usually means they are about to search a person's cell, grab them for interrogation, or send an inmate to Segregation. Unlike the guards that work in the cell houses and often have things to do other than harass prisoners, I.A. typically does nothing but this. Internal Affairs' job is to investigate inmates and guards alike, but mostly the former. They can be a force to root out serious threats to the safety and security of the institution. However, they are usually preoccupied with petty matters.

Although I heard the warning that I.A. was in the building, I did not concern myself with it and fell back asleep. If I.A. was coming to harass me, they would have to wake me up. I was not going to stay up and worry about it. There was nothing I could do, nor was there any contraband in my cell. I was not involved in any mischief and although a snitch could fabricate a story about anyone, I cannot prevent it and must deal with it when confronted. I did not care to concern myself with any drama in the prison. Prison is something I want to think less about, particularly when dreams away from this miserable place await me.

About 7:30 a.m., I woke up and took a look in my breakfast tray. Inside was a scoop of scalloped potatoes and, to my surprise, a good-sized blueberry muffin. These potatoes I planned to put in my toilet, but I was looking forward to eating this muffin. However, it would not be enough to satisfy my hunger. This morning my gallery was scheduled to go to the gym, and I wanted to have a good meal before working out. I decided to make some instant oatmeal to go with it along with some peanut butter and mixed nuts. In order to make the oatmeal, I had to heat up some water in an improvised fashion and I would have to wait until my cellmate was done using the sink.

My cellmate not only spends an hour on the toilet, but about two hours getting ready to leave the cell. I have never seen someone take so much time to start the day, not even a girl. My cellmate has no hair, and does not wear make-up, but he will wash his face and bald head twice. He will brush his teeth two or three times in succession, flossing in between rounds. He will also stare in the mirror for a long period of time looking at his image. Fortunately I have a plastic mirror that will not break. Then he will spend a considerable amount of time cleaning the area he just slopped up in the back of the cell. During this time, he will also piss a few times due to the enormous amount of water and coffee he drank. This, of course, mandates that he vigorously scrub his hands each time. I think he is obsessive-compulsive. I attempted not to get angry waiting for him to go through his rituals and made my bed and did other things while waiting. I would not be so bothered by the delay, but I do not have a microwave or stove to bring water to a boil. It takes some time and even instant oatmeal takes ten minutes to cook. Gym line is always first to leave, and I did not want to miss it.

Eventually, my cellmate finished and I set about making my oatmeal. For a brief moment I thought about how I.A. would not approve of my contraption for heating water. However, they will never have me eating raw, uncooked oats or other meals. My cellmate had moved to the other side of the cell and was sitting at the desk by the bars. It is often difficult living in a closet-like space with another person. Regularly, a prisoner must be trading places and adjusting to accommodate a cellmate, or not feel encroached upon or claustrophobic. I have had the same cellie for a year and we are usually in sync. Today he was delayed.

While in the back of the cell, I asked him if he had heard or seen anything pertaining to Internal Affairs. He said he heard the shouts of inmates and then the opening of doors. He was on the toilet at the time, and said he was worried they would pass by or come to our cell and disrupt him. Sometimes I think most of my cellmate's concerns revolve around his bowel movements. Early in the morning is the most quiet time in this cell house, and my cellmate mentioned he thought he heard property boxes being moved about and concluded they were searching some cells and/ or testing people for drugs.

About 8 a.m., the recreation lines were announced over the loudspeaker. The bottom two galleries were going to gym and we were told to get ready to go, with our cells in compliance. A cell "in compliance" is one where all your property, minus a few items like a bar of soap or towel, is in your property boxes. When an inmate leaves his cell he is to have his property put away and we are often reminded to do so in the morning before details, chow, or recreation lines are run. Cell compliance was yet another reason I had to wait on my cellmate. It always takes him some time to stuff all his belongings in his box.

Not long after the recreation announcement, I heard an inmate yell out, "Orange Crush on 6 gallery," and then a moment later, "Orange Crush on 8 gallery." This was odd because when the Orange Crush team comes through, the entire cell house knows it. They come in great mass, yelling, and making a great commotion. I have not recalled a time when the tactical squad came in the cell house quietly, or with any stealth. Kind of difficult to be unnoticed or unheard in a bright orange jump suit, helmet, shield, baton, cumbersome body armor and combat boots. My cellmate looked out the cell bars with a mirror and he did not see anything. Minutes later, the cellhouse loudspeaker announced, "Two and four gallery--on your doors for gym."

When I walked out of my cell, I looked up at the upper galleries. There was indeed orange crush in the cell house. However, there was only a handful of them. I saw two walking casually on six gallery, and three on eight. I thought possibly they were conducting an extraction. An extraction is when someone refuses to come out of their cell, or refuses to let guards handcuff them from the cell bars. However, even an extraction would typically be done with more men, and they would not be walking casually. Furthermore, we would never have been let out of our cells for gym if an extraction was taking place. It was very odd, but I did not dwell on it. The gym line was going out the door.

At the gym, no one knew precisely what was happening in the cell house. I went to a man who I typically go to for information. He is a very social person and pays attention to all the prison gossip and news. All he knew was that I.A. had rounded up some people and their cells were being searched. He did not know the purpose of the Orange Crush. An hour into our time in the gym, a gym worker came to work out with me. I mentioned the Orange Crush being in my cell house. He informed me I.A. and a few men in tactical gear were in his cell house as well. He said they were targeting the Black Stones.

The Black Stones is a large gang in Chicago and in the Illinois' prison system. The Stones have been around since the 1960s and are a semi-racist, militant black gang. They have an Islamic charter although sometimes the religion is used as a front, and many look up to black leaders such as Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X. During their early formation on the south side of Chicago, it is said the Black Panthers were an influence. You can recognize Black Stones from their crescent moon and five-pointed star tattoos. I have been in battle against the Stones at the county jail and the early years of my imprisonment. In Stateville Segregation many years ago, a Stone attempted to stab me with a crudely made knife. However, despite these incidents, I do not see them as my enemy and I have been able to get along with some of their gang members. Furthermore, although I am white, I can respect their racial pride and some of their other values.

When I returned from the gym I looked up at the upper galleries of the cell house. Even with my back against the outer wall, I can not see all levels. However, on the first three, there were no guards dressed in orange jumpsuits and tactical gear. I noticed a couple of cells were empty and I assumed those occupants were taken to Seg. Operations in the cell house appeared normal.

It was a muggy 91-degree day and inside the gym the conditions were worse. There are no fans and although there are windows high up on one wall, they are always kept closed. My clothes were wet with sweat and I was eager to undress and wash up. As I was filling my sink with hot water, I noticed a brown smear on the wall next to the toilet. I took a floor rag and attempted to wipe it off. It was dry, but some of it came off on my rag. As I suspected, it was shit. My cellmate must have been so rattled by I.A. in the cell house that he somehow shit on the wall. I do not know how that is possible, but he did not do this intentionally. I have heard of people being so scared they shit on themselves, but I have not heard of anyone missing the toilet. Initially, I felt like leaving the excrement on the wall so I could put my cellmate's face to it when he returned, and scold him like you would a dog. However, I know my cellmate has bowel problems, so I just scrubbed it off the wall and continued about my day. I told my cell mate about the matter when he came back from the barbershop. He was embarrassed and apologized repeatedly. I was tempted to demean him, but I did not need him to be even more preoccupied and anxious about using the toilet.

I was going to go out for dinner to try to learn more about what happened today. It seems at times I must be an investigative journalist to have subject matter for my blog. However, chow was not run till late and I did not want to miss the season finale to the TV program "The Bachelorette." Today, the girl chose between the two remaining men. I had been watching the program since the beginning and did not want to miss the conclusion. At times I have mentioned to a few prisoners that I watch reality dating programs. They are astonished, and initially do not believe me. Last week, when I told Hawkeye that I was going to watch the Bachelorette show, he thought I was pulling his leg. I suppose I do not come across as a man who would be interested in such programming. Although I may have a stoic demeanor, I greatly miss the romance that has been absent in my life for a long time.

I ended up only watching part of the finale. After she dumped the man I was hoping she would chose, I changed the station. I was disgusted by her choice and thought they were the least compatible. For the last several programs, I would have been content if she chose any of the remaining men, other than that one. Personally, I was hoping the bachelor from the last program who broke up with the girl he picked in the final rose ceremony would make a surprising proposal in this show. After all, this bachelorette was chosen from the final four women in last season's show, but left because ostensibly she was going to lose her job. Personally, I think she was scared and wanted the bachelor to make a decision before the final rose was given out. These dating shows almost always disappoint me, and I am not surprised their relationships usually fail quickly.

Today I went to the law library and had some movement to discern what occurred in the prison yesterday. From a few sources, I was told I.A. received information on the Black Stones gang that concerned them, including meetings at these Islamic religious services. A number of them were interrogated and/or transferred out of the institution to Tamms or Pontiac. A few were put in Stateville's Seg unit. As a precaution, some guards were suited up in orange crush jumpsuits and tactical gear just in case the Stones gave any resistance. None to my knowledge did, and Internal Affairs probably acted early in the morning to catch them in their sleep and give them the advantage of surprise. I am not aware of what type of disciplinary tickets were written, or if any were written at all. They could merely be transferred on a suspicion and be placed on investigative status.

All gangs are considered by Internal Affairs as "security threat groups" or STGs. I.A. is often collecting intelligence on gangs and attempting to suppress their activities. In the late 1990s, the prisons were taken control of largely by breaking up and disrupting gang organizations. Many gang leaders were sent to the newly opened Tamms Supermax and Pontiac, which was converted into a segregation prison. A tight grip of oppressive control is now maintained by not only strict rules, but an extreme gang vigilance. I.A. will often act in overwhelming force or precipitously toward gang organizations.
Editor's Note:

Internal Affairs arrested Paul, confiscated all his personal belongings, and took him to the Segregation Unit in the Round House. After more than 30 days, only a few things have been returned to him.

Conspicuously missing are many of his journal entries which were either taken from the mailroom, or were in his property box ready to be mailed. Obviously, Internal Affairs is concerned about what Paul reports to the public and decided to confiscate his mail.

Paul's complaints sent to IDOC in Springfield go unanswered. Perhaps they were confiscated by Internal Affairs, who seems to answer to no one.