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.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Iowa Transfers -- April 16, 2011

My cellmate, Iowa, only has six more years of prison time to do. He should be in a medium-security prison, but due to a disciplinary transfer, he was sent to Stateville. Inmates that have been out of Seg for 6 months may submit a request to be moved to another penitentiary. In February, my cellmate made such a request, and has been anxiously waiting for its approval. Finally, earlier this month, he was told by the counselor that his transfer was approved. My cellmate was jubilant, but I was not all that happy.

The people incarcerated here at Stateville are of the most loathsome sort, and they have committed some of the worst crimes. There are a number of convicts here that I believe deserve corporal punishment, and at times I think I should administer it. However, the sheer volume of people with crimes I find so vile would cause me to be infinitely incarcerated in Seg. The people here not only often have crimes I find revolting, but also personalities and characters. I have little to nothing in common with most of them, and to demonstrate this point I can hear some deaf psychotic black man from the ghetto screaming like a crazy retard over the music of my headphones as I write. Iowa was a pretty good cellmate considering where I am at. I was not looking forward to him leaving, and playing Russian roulette with a new cellmate.

In F House, we live in 5' x 10' cages. The cages slightly widen toward the back due to the circular configuration of the building. There is very little movement in the Roundhouse and because of recurrent lockdowns, prisoners often spend all their time with their cellmates. Our 6' x 2-1/2' bunks take up almost half the space in our cells, and another quarter of the space is occupied by a counter, stool, toilet, and sink. It is difficult living in a confined area even with a person you like and get along with, let alone someone you do not like.

To be fair, I am not the easiest person to live with. I am a nonsocial person, and can feel claustrophobic in a small confined area with other people. I do not like my space being infringed upon. Many inmates like to talk, play games, and share time together. I am introverted, and have a number of pastimes that are not interactive. I despise clutter, and things not being in their proper places. I know it bothers some people when I move their possessions, or especially when I throw out what I consider to be junk. I also have a number of routines and systems of order that are difficult for me to alter, and those can bother others on occasion. My cellmate in general population sometimes called me the "cell dictator," and although this was an exaggeration, I do like the cell to be ordered in a specific way.

There have been a series of fights and assaults among cellmates lately in F House. F House probably houses the prison's most aggressive, unruly, and hostile men. This is mainly because most people here are in Segregation for some disciplinary action, and those in Kickout are mostly prisoners that have just been released from Seg. Fights are very common in the general population quarter units, but I tend to believe there are more in here. This week, there were a couple of cell fights that were broken up eventually by guards. Last week there were even more incidents. Hostilities between cellmates are a regular occurrence ever since Seg cells have been doubled and inmates can no longer choose their cellmates. The increased confinement in cells and decreased movement probably also has contributed to the violence in cells.

Although Iowa was told on the 2nd that he had been approved for transfer, he did not know where he was going, nor when. He could be waiting months or just a few days. I had overheard many people had been denied transfers to medium-security prisons recently due to a lack of bed space. The IDOC is far past its maximum capacity, and to transfer one inmate to a prison usually requires an inmate from that facility to be transferred out. Despite the uncertainty of when his transfer would occur, Iowa was preparing for the trip and being particularly anxious and difficult to live with.

Guards have been telling inmates to take down any blankets covering the cell windows. I always place a blanket up to block out the light coming in to provide privacy in the cell. When the cells are dark, it is difficult for the hundreds of prisoners in the Roundhouse to see into your cell. Many F House prisoners just sit or stand by the front of their cells watching others in their cells, or the movement in the cell house. Apparently they have nothing to do with their lives except watch others that do. Sometimes they just stare at each other. Regardless, I despise not having any privacy, and when I exercise, bathe in the sink, or use the toilet, I place a blanket up. Sometimes, I do this if I take a nap during the day to keep the light out.

After learning he was approved to transfer, Iowa was ever more afraid of catching a disciplinary ticket. He refused to leave the cell, and any tiny rule infraction I would engage in would upset him. I would tell him, "You may be going home in 6 years, but I will spend the rest of my life here. I am not going to eat uncooked oatmeal or other cold commissary meals. I am also not going to let all the homosexuals and perverts in this building see my silhouette through my bed sheet while I wash up in the back of the cell." When I continued to place a blanket up to cover the light from the window, he would become mad and tell me to take it down. Initially, I told him that no petty ticket was going to prevent his transfer, and in any event, I would take the blame for it. After this, I just ignored him. I tended to ignore Iowa for the most part. He was going to be gone soon, and I did not care to even waste my breath talking to him. His talk of medium-security prison, a life beyond prison, and fear of getting in trouble annoyed me.

Iowa put in for a transfer to a level 3 medium-security prison called Illinois River. There are approximately 40 prisons in Illinois, and they are numbered according to security from one to seven. A level one prison was maximum-security, and these include Stateville, Menard and Pontiac, although most of Pontiac is Segregation. Level two's were high medium-security prisons of which there are four. At the bottom, were the level 6 and 7's which were low minimum-security prisons that have very little restrictions or security. At these prisons, an inmate could literally walk away from, but to do so would be stupid. An inmate that did this would eventually be arrested again, given possibly 7 years for escape, and be made to do this time in a higher security prison. There once were stories that East Moline and Vienna guards were more concerned with people entering the prison from the town to get free meals than people trying to leave. With the food we are served now, however, I doubt anyone wants to come to prison to eat, not even the homeless.

It is normal policy for inmates to have to transfer to the next lower security prison. Despite how little time a prisoner may have, he or she had to gradually go down the tier system of penitentiaries and could not skip numbers. Only special exceptions to this rule were permitted. Iowa knew this but still wanted to try to skip the four level two penitentiaries. There is a large distinction in freedom, programs, and living conditions between a one and a three, but not so much between a one and a two. I have heard some inmates at Stateville say they would rather remain at Stateville than go to a level two. One man who was sent to a level two requested to return, but this is rare. Transfer requests can only be made one year after arriving, and Iowa did not want to spend a year in a level two if he did not have to.

On Monday the prison was brought down to a level 4 lockdown, and all cell house workers were let out. The Roundhouse has been on lockdown since the beginning of the month when a guard and an inmate fought each other on one of the galleries circling the cell house. A couple of inmate workers were let out briefly last Saturday and Sunday, but Monday was the first day all F House workers were on the job. One of these workers stopped at our cell to talk, and Iowa told him how anxious he was to get out of Stateville. The worker who has a lot of time, apparently to dampen his spirits, told him just because he was approved to transfer did not mean he was going anywhere fast. He may be in Stateville for months, or even a year. After he left, Iowa asked me if that could be true. I also wanted to suppress his hopes because his anxiety was annoying me, but I told him he should be on the bus some time this month, if not this week.

Monday night another cell house worker stopped by our cell and handed my cellmate a property transfer list. Iowa was to complete a form listing all his property for transfer on Wednesday. Iowa was very happy but he did not know where he was going. He asked me, "What prison is H one L?" I told him to give me the paperwork. The moron in his excitement could not figure out the "1" was an "i". He was going to Hill C.C. in Galesburg. Galesburg was not where he preferred going, and was a level two. However, that prison was closest to his family in Iowa, and he believed it had a diesel mechanic school and a repair shop. My cellmate said if he could get in that program, or gain a job in their industries, he may stay at that prison. Galesburg processes all the milk in the IDOC, and jobs there pay over $100 a month.

The following day, Iowa called his mother and notified her that he will be transferring to Hill C.C. I was not trying to overhear his conversation, but I could tell he was excited to tell his mother the news. Now he will be able to receive visitation from her and his daughter. Possibly, the woman who had his child would come as well. While at Stateville, Iowa had no visits not only due to the distance but because he was aware that Stateville has the worst visitation in all of the Illinois Department of Corrections. He did not want his family to have to deal with these conditions, shortness of visits, or the long waiting times. At the end of his call, I heard him say a prayer, and thank God for his transfer. I could not help wonder how much religion will be a part of his life when he is released. Possibly, he will return to a life of drugs and crime.

My cellmate packed up his two property boxes after his phone call. He did not have a problem fitting everything in them due to F House not being able to shop in about a month. He expressed how he wished he could have made store before he left so he would have more supplies at Galesburg. The money in an inmate's trust fund takes a long time to be transferred to a new prison when an inmate arrives. Not surprisingly, Stateville is very slow at transferring funds. I told him he could have money quickly sent to him through Western Union. However, he said he did not want to bother his mother to do that. I could readily understand this, and I rarely ever ask family to send me money. I would rather earn money in the prison and live frugally off the $10 stipend given to me by the state.

The day before Iowa left, he told me if I ever get out to look him up. He will be living in the same small town in southeastern Iowa. He said he could probably find me employment working with heavy machinery, or at the corn mill. Considering I had hardly spoken to him the last few weeks, and at times he called me "Satan" due to my questioning of his dogmatic Catholic theology, I wondered if he was sincere. I also wondered if that was just a person's way of being polite and saying goodbye. No, I did not care to see Iowa again if I ever was released. Furthermore, if I had freedom, I would not squander it in a shanty town, working in a corn mill. I did not mention my thoughts to Iowa, but I did say to him that he fails to realize that I am going to die in prison. I have told Iowa about my case, and he replied that he believes I will be freed someday. Many people have told me this over the years, but yet, I am still here. Again, I just think this is a way for people to be nice, or it shows their ignorance of the criminal justice system.

In the morning, Iowa was gone, and it was good to have the cell entirely to myself. I have not been alone for months, and I enjoyed my solitude while I ate my breakfast. The cell house was also surprisingly quiet, I discovered after turning off my fan. Iowa told me he could not sleep without the drone of a fan, and I lent him my fan the night before which he apparently left on for my benefit. Cell house workers had taken all his property, and all he had left behind was a toothbrush, a roll of toilet paper, and some bed sheets.

A cell house worker told me there were currently a number of cells with only one occupant in Kickout, and possibly I would go a number of days or even a week without a cellmate. This initially sounded very appealing. My time is so much easier and comfortable in a cage by myself. I recalled how nice it was to do time in Seg alone, but then I thought that during the week I would be mostly dreading who my next cellmate would be. As I did my exercise routine, I practiced a number of strikes, moves, and take downs, which hopefully would quickly take out any violent convict I was forced to live with. I considered weapons as well, but was confident enough in my fighting skills not to need them. Earlier in the week, I wrote my family and told them not to be surprised if they do not hear from me in awhile, because I was in Segregation.

Fortunately, I did not have much time to dwell on the unknown. In the early afternoon the day Iowa left, my cell door opened and a tall, thin, white man with a buzz cut rushed into my cell with his mattress. I thought the door was opening because I had a visit, and I was caught off guard by the man in my cell. He did not introduce himself, but I seemed to recognize him. Sometime in the past I thought I knew him. He quickly left to get the rest of his property, which was in a cell on two gallery. He apparently was just released from Segregation.

My new cellmate's name is Josh. He had lived in the same cell house I did before being sent to the Roundhouse. I had spoken to him a few times in the law library about post conviction appeals. Josh was in his 30's, and like myself, had a natural life sentence. He has done 10 years on this conviction, but has been in and out of penitentiaries since a juvenile. In fact, he had been in a juvenile facility with my former cellmate, Cracker, in the early 1990's. Although a gang member in the past, he was no longer.

It is always difficult adjusting to a new cellmate, but since we have been in the cell together we have gotten along well. Josh is more laid back than my former cellmate who was always full of nervous energy, and popping his knuckles, even his toes. Although Josh has a tone of speech almost like the cartoon character Bullwinkle, that gives the impression that he is stupid, he is not. He reads regularly and has taken a liking to the Wall Street Journal that I have a subscription to. Josh has his own TV, and fortunately, he has a digital TV because this cell has no cable. My new cellmate is more considerate of my space, and does not crowd me. He also does not think or call me the devil, like Iowa did, although I have yet to have much conversation about religion or other subjects with him. I am not a big talker, and have been busy with first quarter corporate and government reports, letter writing, two yard periods, and yesterday, a visit. Tonight, I will watch the movie Dr. Zhivago, and try to relax from a busy and difficult week. I feel fortunate to seemingly have a better cellmate than I did before.


  1. Do you keep in touch with Iowa ?

  2. Good luck to Iowa if he got out. Hawkeye would have been a cooler name.

  3. I love your entries but you gotta have a little hope in something I mean Iowa seemed like an ok gut/celle and you just down him completely and have no faith in him or anything really i mean lighten up a little I mean you know your situation and have to deal with it so why be so down and out about everything in there.

  4. "The people incarcerated here at Stateville are of the most loathsome sort, and they have committed some of the worst crimes"

    while I'm sure those at Stateville have committed far worse crimes simply because its a max joint. Trust me when I say the convicts at Centralia CC are just as loathsome Paul. Some of the worst scum I have ever had to sorry pleasure of speaking to were incarcerated there.I rarely left my cell because of this. I did not want to give IDOC my hard earned money on over priced food and electronics but I did so just so that I had a TV and radio to occupy my time and food in my box to fill my stomach. I did not go to chow except on thanksgiving and Christmas. I only left my cell for 4 reasons 1: Library call passes to return and replace books so I always had a fresh supply of reading material 2: When it was my turn for the laundry machines ( I paid the laundry worker 4 noodles a week to hold me a good spot twice a week ) 3: visits 4: Showers. With these 4 exceptions I spent my entire year at Centralia within the confines of my cell/room so I did not have to deal with the riff raff ( many MANY young inmates are housed at Centralia, 18-25 ) I am in my 40's and had nothing in common with these cretins. At Centralia each inmate had a key to his cell and could unlock and enter and leave it at will except between the hours of 10pm-5am when CO's locked us in from the outside.

    I thought you might like a view from the low/medium spectrum of IDOC, Thank you for sharing with us Paul.

  5. Iowa is at Centralia. Hope he is having a better experience.

  6. I'm rooting for Iowa.


If you choose Name / URL, you can write any name and you don't need a URL. Or you can choose Anonymous. Paul loves getting your Comments. They are all mailed to him.