You are reading a rare, detailed account of everyday life in Stateville Prison.

Click to read Paul's blog quoted on:
To contact Paul, please email:
or write him at the address shown in the right column. He will get your message personally.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Hoodlum from the Past -- November 9, 2010

The prison is still on a level one lockdown. Since last Thursday, I have been able to verify that a counselor was attacked in general population. An inmate apparently beat him severely and smashed his head into a metal railing on one of the upper floors of E House. He was semiconscious and bleeding heavily when the med techs put him on a stretcher to be sent to an outside hospital. I was not absolutely certain the ambulance siren I heard from my window was connected to the lockdown, however, now I have no doubt. I am told the counselor will live, but he has a number of facial and skull fractures that will require a long recovery.

I do not know why the counselor was attacked. Counselors are supposed to help prisoners with various issues, but as I mentioned in my last entry, many counselors will not do their jobs and have bad attitudes. The counselor who was attacked, I have seen around but have never spoken to. I know, however, many people did not like him, or thought he was a poor counselor. If I was not in Seg, possibly, I could learn of a motive, but I am rather isolated here. On the day of the lockdown, I looked outside my cell for a little while to see if any new prisoners were brought in. A very old man was brought to Seg, however, I doubt he attacked the counselor. I did not look out my cell too long because it bothers me to do so, and I went back to my own preoccupations. I do not like prison, especially the Round House, and the more it is out of my sight and mind, the better.

Today, I was assimilating new data from numerous companies to evaluate their stocks. I have a complicated formula I rely on and because my calculator was apparently broken by Internal Affairs, I had to make these calculations myself. It is a very time consuming process even with a calculator, and possibly I have become too concerned with these numbers over my own insights of a company's growth or profit potential. I was in the back of the cell with my headphones on when eventually I heard banging on my door. I turned around to see an inmate worker there. The warden had apparently allowed guards to let out a few workers to help them, despite the level one lockdown. I came to the door to learn that a man I do not like, but have known for a long time, wanted me to give him some coffee. "No, I do not have any coffee for him, and quit bothering me," I told the worker to relay back to him. The worker just turned around and yelled to him over the cell house noise. He called out his last name (which everyone calls him by), and then told him he was "burnt the fuck up!"

Before the lockdown, this man has sent workers to my cell several times to ask me for things. The last time he wanted the Sudoku and crossword puzzles out of my newspaper. I said, "What the hell does that dimwit want those for? Is he trying to stimulate his brain?" Lately, I have heard in the news about various theories to exercise your mind and make yourself smarter, or prevent mental atrophy. There are even a few businesses that have opened up that offer brain stimulating activities including video games. I told the worker to give him the message that no amount of Sudoku or crossword puzzles will prevent the further decay of his twisted noodle of a brain.

The first name of the person who has been having workers bother me is Don. He is a Caucasian of average height with brown hair. He is a physically weak person of low intelligence, although part of his dim-wittedness is due to having severe diabetes, and all too often allowing his blood sugar levels to go low. He can often act spacey and foolishly, but despite this, he can also be arrogant, rebellious, and disrespectful. Don also has little strength of character or integrity. I met him over ten years ago, not long after he was sent to IDOC. Although he was convicted of serious crimes, he was a punk then, and I still think of him that way.

In 1997, when Pontiac Correctional Center was closed down to general population and made into a segregation prison, I was transferred to Joliet C.C. Joliet was the oldest prison in Illinois, and was originally built during the Civil War as a fort for the Union. It was undergoing a slow and costly renovation process when I was sent there. Part of it was new, but most of it was still over a century old. Initially, I was assigned to a gallery in the remodeled area. In the 90's, prisoners could choose their cell mates. However, the man I moved in with said he already made plans to have a fellow gang member assigned as his cellmate. He was a Royal, which once was a small white gang in Chicago and Rockford, Illinois. I was a "neutron" or non gang member. He told me I could just swap cells with the Royal, moving into his cell. His cellmate was a white neutron as well.

The following day, I moved to the other side of the West House of Joliet C.C. This side had yet to be renovated and as I made my first trip over there, I knew it was not an equal trade in living quarters. When I met Don, my new cellmate, I also knew I was not making an equal trade in company, although he was a young, white suburban man with no gang affiliation, like myself. The galleries were dark and dirty, and I had seen no white inmates other than my new cellmate. Upon entering my new cell, cockroaches were scattering everywhere as Don made room for some of my property. I had never seen so many roaches before in my life. My new cellmate must be an unclean slob or the cells here must all be infested, I thought. Later, I learned it was both. In the renovated part of Joliet, there were no roaches, and the cells had shelves and a table to put property on. This side had nothing to place property on, or a place to sit and write. Don was living out of cardboard boxes infested with roaches, and his seat was the toilet.

One of my first projects, after thoroughly cleaning the cell, was to make furniture to put our property in. I made these out of cardboard glue, paint and polyurethane. My furniture looked like any store-bought furniture, and was as solid as wood. The painted and sealed cardboard furniture cut down on the roaches, but did not eliminate them. I still remember, to this day, chewing on a roach which had crawled unnoticed into my bowl of instant oatmeal, just before I added the boiling water and put the lid on. I also remember at night roaches crawling all over my TV screen, and having to bag my TV while it was not in use to prevent roaches from laying eggs or defecating inside it. The roaches were about as bad as the former cell I was in.

I immediately was not happy with my new living quarters or cellmate. I could choose another cellmate if I wanted, however, there were no other white people on my floor and everyone was in one gang or another. I learned this part of the prison was the most violent, but I minded my own business and did not have many problems. The gangs, like in the county jail, were often in conflict with one another and left the neutrons alone, unless they could be easy prey. I may have been alone, but I was not a cowardly victim. I tend to believe Don could have been victimized or taken advantage of if he was not my cellmate. I noticed he sometimes drew the fury of our neighbors because of his carefree punk-like behavior, and he relied on my protection.

The benefit of being in what I called "the ghetto" was that the guards left you alone. In fact, they did not even like coming on the dark galleries. Also, the unrenovated section had old plumbing like I had never seen in a penitentiary before. They did not have the common stainless steel toilets and connected sinks with buttons. We had ceramic toilets with levers to flush, and turning valves for hot and cold water. How I miss the ability to have rushing water and not some sink faucet that dribbles out water for a few seconds before you must hit the button again. In the old part of the prison, prisoners could also paint and decorate their cells in any way they pleased. Most prisoners painted their cells in gang colors. I chose a beige color to paint our cell, and I suppose its neutral color symbolized to others our neutron status, but that was not my intention. Don did not really care about my improvements to the cell, although he did express a desire to paint the cell entirely black. I made the cabinets, cleaned the cell, and painted without much help from Don. He seemed quite content to live like a hobo.

Don did not have much money, and what little he had was spent on tobacco or coffee. Sometimes he would pilfer my coffee. I did not drink coffee, but someone had given me a bag as barter, and I had emptied it into a jar because I thought roaches may chew through it. The contents diminished, and I confronted my cellmate about it. I was not terribly upset about it, and would have given him some if he had asked. I just did not like the fact that he took it. Possibly this is why he earlier asked for coffee, although things have changed between us. Don was regularly rolling cigarettes and smoking. He would toss his butts out onto the gallery and once onto the back of a gallery worker. The worker came to the cell and told him if it was not for his cellmate, he would have had his head busted long ago. Don just laughed at him and spit on the floor.

I built a tall dresser to place my TV on just so that Don could also watch it from his top bunk after I went to sleep, and so he would not sit on the toilet in my line of site. I never let him sit on my bunk, as this has a connotation of homosexuality in prison. Don stayed up late watching TV, and I let him use my headphones so he did not disturb me. I did not watch much TV then or now, and it was a good babysitter for him. I also let him use my radio as long as he did not listen to any "stoner" or hippie rock, which he seemed to enjoy. This music was verboten.

Don was often doing stupid and foolish things. Once, when the heat did not work in the middle of winter, he took plastic garbage bags and taped them together and then to the front of the cell to block out the bitterly cold air coming in. Later, while I was not paying attention to him, he built a fire in the back of the cell. The cell, of course, filled up with black smoke. As soon as I saw the fire, I said to him, "What the hell are you doing?" and I told him to put it out. By then though, the cell had a lot of smoke trapped inside.

Don's insulin levels were often low, and he would act almost like he was intoxicated. Once, on the walk to the chow hall, Don was walking tipsy and to the left and then the right. A lieutenant just happened to be walking by, and took him out of line. Don did not explain that he was diabetic, but instead gave the man nothing but attitude. The lieutenant asked him who his cellmate was, and Don pointed me out. The lieutenant then brought us both to the Health Care Unit to take a breathalyzer test. I explained to the officer that Don's blood sugar was just low, but he did not believe me until the nurses confirmed it at the hospital.

Don could be easygoing and amusing, but he was also annoying, and could be disrespectful. In the 90's, breakfast lines were run and they were run in the middle of night. I rarely ever went, but Don got up to go and then to get his insulin. Normally he was courteous in being careful not to wake me, but a few times he flopped down on my bunk. I kicked his butt off, and asked him what the hell he was doing. He merely told me, "Can't a man sit down to tie his shoes?" Don at times made Polish wise cracks such as when he broke our light bulb, and I had to remove and replace it. He said, "Don't you need some help?" I told him, "No," and he replied, "But I thought it took three Polacks to screw in a light bulb?" Ironic, this coming from a klutz who possibly would cut or electrocute himself removing the light bulb.

After I shared a cell with Don for several months, I became suspicious of his background and case. I knew he was from the western suburbs of Warrenville and Wheaton. I grew up in the western suburbs before moving to the southwestern suburbs, so I knew that area, the schools and a couple people Don mentioned to me. I also knew he had an 80-year sentence. However, I did not know how one could receive 80 years for a murder when the maximum was 60, unless you were given death or natural life as I was. When I questioned Don about his life before his arrest, and about his case, his answers did not add up. When he was not in the cell, I went through his legal papers to learn the truth. This is a serious violation of prison etiquette and privacy. However, ever since I once had a cellmate who contacted the Palatine Task Force in an attempt to secure the $200,000 reward money or other deals for solving the Brown's Chicken murders, I never trusted any of my cellmates again. I now always look into the background and case of any cellmate I have for an extended period of time. It is always wise anyway to know who you are living with. These days so much information is available on the Internet, I don't really need to do any snooping now. (Editor note: Paul does not have access to the internet. He is referring to having someone outside the prison look things up for him on the internet.)

I learned my cellmate had a cousin who was his co-defendant, and they committed burglaries and home invasions. They would sometimes target old and defenseless women who were alone at home. A couple of these women were killed for no reason. They also robbed and killed a man on the roadside for a few measely dollars. While I was reading his papers, one of the victim's names caused me to pause. I knew that name from somewhere. Eventually, it came to me: Oberweis was the name of a wealthy man who owned a dairy business and had run for various political offices. I had seen some of his ice cream and political ads on TV. Later, he ran for governor, but lost in the Republican primary. A name like Oberweis was not so popular, and considering they lived in the same area, there had to be some relationship.

Also in my reading, I learned that at least one of the home invasion-murders was originally blamed on some innocent men, who were tried and convicted. Later, stolen merchandise was discovered in my cellmate's possession, so Don eventually confessed to police, but placed the blame mostly on his cousin. He later testified against his cousin for an 80-year plea agreement, and his cousin was given the death penalty. I knew Don was a low-life, but now I thought much worse of him. He killed people for no reason, allowed innocent men to be condemned for his actions, and then he testified against a family member to avoid the death penalty. I kept this information to myself until he made some wise crack about my alleged involvement in the murder of seven people at the Palatine Brown's Chicken restaurant.

I caught Don off-guard with my knowledge of his case, and he clumsily tried to defend himself. He told me that his older cousin had put him up to it. I asked him why he had to kill the 60-year-old home-bound woman, and he said his cousin threatened him to do it. This reminded me somewhat of the ridiculous stories made up by my co-defendant, and after I continued to stare at him with skepticism, he told me the autopsy concluded his shots did not cause the victims' deaths. Apparently they were shot with two different weapons, and only one supposedly was fatal. This was one of the worst defenses I had ever heard, but I moved on to his testifying against his cousin to avoid the death penalty. He had little to say, except that he had to look out for himself. Don sent his cousin to death row in exchange for 80 years, and even though 80 years at that time would be translated into 40, an unhealthy diabetic like himself has little chance of living to his 60th birthday.

There are a lot of men that I must live with in maximum-security prisons who have committed serious crimes and murders. There are those among them, however, I have come to like and respect. I will go so far as to say that those men in prison for murder often have more integrity, valor, and redeeming value than those who have been convicted of lesser offenses. Most of the people I have associated with these past 18 years have killed someone, and admit to doing so. However, Don's personality and case bothered me immensely, and he did not make me feel any better when he brought up the Palatine Massacre again to rub in my face. Unlike him, I was innocent, and it was people like him who helped cause my conviction and natural life sentence. I told Don to find a new cellmate.

In the morning when I left for yard, I told the guard who keyed me out that when I return, that cretin in my cell had better be gone. He said he was surprised I was able to put up with him for as long as I did, and told me to talk to the captain on the way out. The captain was not surprised either that I wanted Don out of the cell. He asked me who I wanted as a replacement, and I told him a white man that was just recently moved on the gallery. He then asked me what should be done with the lowlife I had for a cellmate. I told him I did not care, but I did not want to see his face again.

In the afternoon when I returned from yard and chow, Don was gone and I had the new cellmate I requested. My new cellmate was much of an improvement, however, not long afterward, I was moved to EGP, or East General Population. It was considered a privilege to live in EGP and there were only a small population of inmates chosen to live there. The East House was all receiving (prisoners just convicted and waiting to be bused to penitentiaries across the state) except for two short galleries, and the upper floor was mostly for orientation. EGP was much quieter, cleaner, peaceful, and had more freedoms and privileges. I found myself a good cellmate, and was happy with the move, although I had never requested it.

What happened to Don? Well, eventually, I heard he was living on the renovated side of the West House, at least until he sat on some female guard's lap in the lieutenant's office and was sent to Seg. After that, I heard rumors that he had turned homosexual and was living with a sexual predator. When he was my cellmate, he never gave any hint of homosexuality and even spoke in opposition to it. I doubt the rumors are true, but many years later, I heard that he was raped in Joliet. Someone also said it was consensual, and the other man bought him all types of commissary. When Don's blood sugar was low, I could see him being taken advantage of. Possibly the rumors are true.

After Joliet was completely remodeled in 2001, it was closed down, and Don was transferred to Stateville. In 2005, I was transferred here as well, to eventually be reacquainted with him. He has lived in the same cell house as I at times, and I have had the occasion to see and talk to him. However, Don has been regularly going to Seg for minor rule violations. In the 1990s, an inmate would not be sent to Segregation for such things, but now the rules are much stricter. Plus, many of the guards do not like him, and he is often a target. I do not know what he is in Seg for currently, but one of the more humorous and talked about incidents involved him punching a man at the chow table for taking his cookies. The man being struck recovered quickly, and beat up the very weak and undexterous Donald. However, his willingness to go toe-to-toe with someone surprised many. Gossipers said it was ironic he would not protect his "booty," but will not let anyone take his cookies.

I have heard that Don keeps himself busy filing many grievances and lawsuits against medical staff and guards. Most of these are frivolous and without merit, however, he may be successful in his lawsuit regarding his poor treatment of diabetes. The medical care at Stateville is very poor, and medical staff are often negligent or guilty of malpractice. Don has always had troubles related to diabetes. At Joliet, medical care was better, but at Stateville, I am not surprised he has went unconscious multiple times and has suffered from related problems. He told me the state has already offered to settle, but he was holding out for more money. He also expressed concern the victim's families would be able to seize any lawsuit money awarded him.

I do not talk to Don much, and only a few times since he was my cellmate. However, I do not detest him as much as I once did. There are so many people at Stateville that have even worse characters and crimes. To single him out among the slime would be foolish. It may be just my perception, but it seems the convicts these days are more unscrupulous, and lacking of morals or values. Believe it or not, even convicts once had codes of conduct and principles. Possibly all of Western culture is degrading, and along with it, the men behind bars.

I heard that Don's cousin won a new trial through one of his appeals. I was surprised when Don spoke to me about testifying against him again, and seemed to seek my advice. Don spoke about trying to get the prosecutor to make another deal with him, such as a transfer to some nice medium-security prison. I scolded Don, and told him he was eligible for a medium transfer anyway in a few years. He asked me what he should do. I told him, "For once in your life, quit thinking about yourself and do the right thing." Don is still at Stateville, so maybe he did not testify against his cousin, or testify to the prosecutor's liking. I doubt it is possible for a worm to grow a backbone, but it would be nice to believe so.