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Monday, January 31, 2011

Kickout -- December 17, 2010

Last Friday, I was surprised when a guard pounded on my door and told me to pack up. I was being released from Segregation. I did not anticipate leaving Seg until Monday, the first weekday after my three month Seg time was completed. None of my property was ready to be moved, and I began to scramble putting it together, mostly in garbage bags. I would have taken my time bundling my property together, however, I was told that if I did not hurry, I would miss the personal property line, and it would be closed over the weekend. I did not want to be without the property that has been kept from me for the last three months, although I knew Internal Affairs had stolen many of my foodstuffs, among other things.

I was given a yellow jumpsuit to wear to the personal property warehouse. It is the same jumpsuit that court and hospital writs are made to wear. I do not like the bright yellow jumpsuit that I call the "banana peel," and I do not understand why I was given it when I will only be discarding it later in the day when given my property boxes and state-issued blue clothing. I could have stayed in my brown Seg jumpsuit, but procedures are what they are, even if they make little or no sense. In my banana suit, I began to walk my property to the front door of F House. It was nice to be out of my cage without any handcuffs, chains, or a leash, although the blaring noises of the cellhouse and the numerous people attempting to talk to me as I moved my property were annoying.

I was told I was moving to cell #440, a cell on the 4th floor of the Roundhouse. Men almost never go directly from Segregation back to general population. Prisoners must wait in what is called "kickout" until an available and appropriate cell is found for them in the quarter units building. Some men wait four months or longer on the upper two floors of F House until they are given permanent placement. Stateville and the entire Illinois Department of Corrections is overcrowded. There is no space for many of the prisoners coming from county jails and being released from Seg. Illinois continues to incarcerate more and more people with longer and longer sentences. Some 50,000 people are incarcerated in Illinois' prisons, and there are not enough cells or money to open or build more prisons.

Although I was only being moved upstairs, I had to take all my property with me to the personal property building, excluding mattress, sheets, blanket, TV and radio. It was a laborious and redundant task moving the heavy trash bags of property to the personal property building, only to bring it all right back. However, this is done to make sure prisoners can fit all of their property into their boxes. If you cannot secure all your possessions in the two boxes assigned, you must discard things. Prisoners are given the option of mailing excess property out of the institution, however, rarely does a prisoner want to pay the postage to do this.

Before I made the trip to the personal property building, I went upstairs to drop off my TV, radio, fan, and bedding at my new cell. As I went up the flights of stairs, I dreaded learning who my cellmate would be. In Seg, a prisoner can sometimes go without a cellmate, but I know in "kickout" there would be no single-man cells. Before I even left my cell, I looked up and across the Roundhouse to see if I could gain a look at who I would be moving in with. I saw a dark figure at the door looking out. I could tell the man was black and tall, but other than his silhouette and race, I did not know what to expect. I tried to tell myself that whomever was my cellmate would only be temporary, and hopefully, if we did not get along, he or I would be moved to general population soon. I was not optimistic, however.

Many of the men getting out of Seg were mildly insane, unruly, and difficult to live with. They were in Seg for a reason, and the inmates of Stateville, in general, were of the lowliest kind. For three months, I had been tortured with their yelling and banging, and now I was going to be in a cell with one of these annoying thugs. Much to my relief, I discovered the man I was moving in with seemed to be a considerate, friendly, and normal person. We introduced ourselves, and he volunteered to take my property into the cell as I went back downstairs to collect more of it. His name was Jamie, but he went by the name Iowa.

Many fights, assaults, and murders occur because of the administration's control of cell assignments, and their refusal to move cellmates who do not get along, or have nothing in common. Prisoners in maximum-security often are violent and have such long sentences that they can never live to see freedom. There is no more parole board and good time credit has been removed since 2000 for those with murders. It is very difficult to live in a 5' x 10' cell with someone, let alone someone you do not like. In the past few months, I have been aware of numerous fights in the Roundhouse. Some of these people have been severely injured and hospitalized. One of these men almost was killed and remains in the prison infirmary with serious injuries. Years ago, prisoners could choose their cellmates, and this greatly limited the amount of cell violence. The administration, however, wanted complete control over the IDOC and took away this practice. Fortunately, a new placement officer has been hired, and she seems to try to assign prisoners compatible cellmates. The task is very difficult, however, even with the best of intentions, and I believe prisoners should have much greater control over who will be their cellmates.

There were five inmates being released from Seg the same day I was, and they were waiting for me in a holding cage just outside of F House. One of the men recognized me and asked if I remembered him. Despite his unique tattoos, including a crown above his right eyebrow, I did not know who he was. He was a short Mexican, and told me he lived in the same cell house as I a couple of years ago before he was transferred to a high medium-maximum security prison. I did not have to inquire, and he went on to say he was in a gang fight which caused him to be transferred back to Stateville to serve out several months of Segregation time. He must now wait at least 6 months before he can request a transfer back to a medium-security prison. He tended to believe he would be kept at Stateville for at least a year, but he did not care. His family and friends live in Chicago and he was closer to home now. His Latin King brothers also were here at Stateville.

Eventually, a guard let us out of the cage and we stacked our property on a cart with the help of a cell house worker. The cart was heavy and the cell house worker complained, but no one helped him push it. I lent him a hand for awhile, but I was not experienced in moving these long heavy carts and the cart at times swayed from side to side down the corridor. The cell house worker asked me if I was in prison for a DUI and I told him if he did not like my assistance, he could push the cart by himself.

At the personal property warehouse, several guards were waiting for our arrival, and had our property boxes stacked. We took our boxes and began the process of packing our other property into them. The boxes were trashed, and nothing was in order. This was terribly upsetting to me, and I quickly went to work trying to fit everything inside in a meticulous order. I knew the guards would not give me the time to clean and organize my boxes to my satisfaction. Thus, I quickly smashed property as effectively as possible. I noted Internal Affairs took some of my packaged food and hygienic items. I also noticed they took my jars and oatmeal boxes that I used to organized my property. It would now be more difficult to order my box. The Mexican who spoke to me earlier must have noticed my frustration and annoyance, and he said, "At least your box was not invaded by mice." His box had numerous food packages broken open with food and rodent droppings everywhere. I looked into my small box and found it was totally empty. I.A. had, as I suspected, stole my blog writings, letters, and envelopes. I was hoping to be surprised with their presence. However, I knew with certainty now that I.A. had taken and probably destroyed these things. There will be no Wiki leaks at Stateville if I.A. has any control over the matter.

When I finally fit all my property into the two boxes, the supervisor of the personal property office gave me a form to sign that stated I had received all of my property. I did not receive all of my property and began to write on this form the items that were missing. The guard quickly stopped me and asked, "What the hell are you doing?!" I said, "I am not signing this form without listing the property that's missing." This made him very upset, and he told me he had not taken any of my possessions. Everything was in my boxes except what he had sent me in Seg while I was under investigative status. I told him I knew he did not take my property. Internal Affairs had done so before he received my boxes. I informed him my boxes did not arrive at the personal property building directly from the cell house, but only after I.A. had searched and pilfered through them. This seemed to diminish his anger, and he asked me what was missing. Briefly, I described the type of property stolen. He threw out the form I had written on, and rewrote a new form mentioning the missing property, and then handed it to me to sign. He said, "You realize you will never win a grievance on this matter, don't you?" I told him I knew that, but I still was not going to sign a false statement, and I wanted it on the record for the principle of the matter.

We stacked our boxes on the cart, along with TVs, fans and radios, and began our trip to the clothing warehouse. It was very cold outside, and the wind went through my thin banana peel jumpsuit. As I walked outside, I began to regret not immediately putting on my sweater and sweatpants while packing my box. At the clothing warehouse, I hoped to get an insulated jacket.

The clothing warehouse is a large building with stockpiles of clothing, but the way the supervisor acted, you would imagine it was a tiny place with limited supplies. The clothing supervisor was very stingy and only gave us two pairs of socks, underwear, and T-shirts. He dictated what sizes we were to be given and I complained when he told a worker to only give me a size XL T-shirt. I told him I needed an XXL, possibly an XXXL. The supervisor, who knows me somewhat from my years at Stateville, said, "I don't know if you have realized this, but you have lost a lot of weight, Modrowski." I told him this was not lost on me, but I was still tall and an XL T-shirt will be short, especially after I wash it. Furthermore, I don't plan to stay an emaciated skeleton. The supervisor replied that when I gain weight, I can put in a request for a larger shirt.

Inmates often want oversized clothing, and I often see pants that sag to the knees, or T-shirts and jackets several sizes too large on prisoners. For some reason, this has become the style and is thought of as "hip," especially among black and Mexican prisoners. The little Mexican who had the tattoo above his eyebrow was furious to be given a size large jacket, although he could probably fit in a small or medium and the sleeves went below his hands several inches before he rolled them up. He went on and on complaining and cussing at the clothing room supervisor, but he would not budge. I thought it was more insulting that we were given used pants and button-up shirts to wear. The worker told us we could pick from any of the boxes of state blues two shirts and two pair of pants, but they were in poor condition. One pair of pants I thought was in decent shape I discovered was missing a zipper when I tried them on. Other pairs were ripped or missing buttons. It took me a few minutes to find a decent pair of pants in my size. I cannot believe how petty Stateville and possibly the entire IDOC has become in trying to save a few pennies, when they squander millions. Truly, they are penny wise and dollar foolish.

Finally, I made it back to the cellhouse, and up to my new cell on the 4th floor. Iowa, my new cellie, was sitting on the stool in the back of the cell. I noticed he had his gym shoes on and this is a precaution most people take when getting a new cellmate. It is easier to fight in gym shoes than slippers or socks. When you fight, you want to have a good grip on the floor. A man who is slipping around does not have balance and cannot use his weight or body motion, leaving him at a severe disadvantage. Cell fights can be especially brutal because you are surrounded by metal and concrete. There is also no escaping your attacker or being saved by a guard in the gun tower. The cells in F House are made mostly of perforated steel, and even those that are not, do not have bars, but glass rectangular fronts. Despite my new cellmate's precaution, we seemed to hit it off well.

Iowa is a 40-year-old white man from none other than the State of Iowa. He is of average height and build. His hair is cut almost bald, but I can see it is of a rusty blond color, as is his slight facial hair. The black man I had seen earlier standing at the cell door was moved to general population. Iowa was glad to be rid of him and told me he was an obnoxious, loud, and very immature person. Iowa told me the man used to stand at the bars yelling to people all day long, making Iowa's life quite miserable. I could readily empathize with that and I was glad not to have him for a cellmate. Iowa seemed like he valued peace and quiet as much as I do, and I was glad for my good fortune.

I was very discombobulated upon my move and, in fact, all this week I have had a terrible time adjusting to this new cell. I do not like to think of myself as having autism, but throughout this time period, I could not help but recall the movie Rainman, and the troubles of the character played by Dustin Hoffman. I seemed obsessed with reorganizing and renovating this cell so I could continue to keep my routines and the order I formerly had. It was very difficult adjusting not only to the new cell, but also to my new cellmate. Fortunately, he seems to be most obliging and considerate. He told me I could move his property around or do anything I liked to the cell to make it more comfortable to live in. Hopefully, he has not regretted those words because I have been continually working on the cell since I moved in.

The first line of business for me was to clean and organize my boxes. I did not have time to do this at the personal property building. I dumped out all of my property and then washed the insides. I organized my property into groups on my bunk, and meticulously put my belongings in order. This project took a few hours, and then I went to where to place my TV, radio, and fan. As before, I wedged my TV in between the top bunk and horizontal beam. However, I quickly realized I could not tie my TV in place as before and had to figure out another system to secure it in place. My radio I had formerly kept on the back counter and my fan underneath, but I did not want to infringe on my cellmate's space. I know how greatly I can be claustrophobic in these cells, and thus I put my fan and radio on a lower horizontal bar of the bunk. They are somewhat wedged between my bunk and the front barrier of the cell.

This cell has caused me major discomfort because it is not configured like the last one, and does not have Plexiglas or perforated steel covering the front of the cell. This cell and about two thirds of the 4th floor have not been altered. They still have the original glass rectangles. If a number of them had not been knocked out or broken over the years, the cell house noise would be buffered. The noise is much greater in this cell than the one I had in Seg, and it has much less privacy, both of which bother me immensely.

After cleaning and organizing my property boxes, cleaning the cell, and setting up my electronics with their accompanying cords, it was close to 8 p.m. I was tired from the move, and the change of environment. I was looking forward to relaxing and watching a couple hours of TV with my new cable hook up. The cable coupling in my cell did not work at all, and I had connected it to a splitter on the gallery. Three cells were all gaining their cable through a cell a couple doors down. Although a number of TVs were all connected on the same line, I was glad to see my reception was better than downstairs. I now could get in all the stations, including the prison's DVD station which, on Friday night, was playing the new Robin Hood with Russell Crowe. I thought Russell Crowe was a good actor and was looking forward to seeing this movie, although I never appreciated the socialist "take from the rich and give to the poor" theme of Robin Hood, I was pleasantly surprised this was not the focus of the move but rather freedom, patriotism, and overtaxation by the king. The movie not only had a resonating message, but quality acting and a creative original story with a historical backdrop. Robin Hood was one of the best new releases I saw this year and I was glad to see it before my TV cable was taken from me.

The following day, a cell house worker came to my cell with a cable connector or bullet and wanted to remove the splitter serving my cell. Apparently, the man whose cell my cable was coming from did not want me on his line. I yelled down to the man in anger about the matter, but he did not respond. A neighbor, however, said they were connecting another cell to the line, and the signal would be too diminished with me on it too. My cellmate then explained to me the obvious. I was not black, and I was not friends with the man who had the working cable. He was willing to share with my cellmate's former cellie, but not with me. I allowed the cellhouse worker to disconnect my cable, and thought I could later reason with the man, however, he would not be convinced otherwise. I only watch a few hours of TV, if that, on some days, so I did not press the issue.

Being on the 4th floor, I can see over the prison wall out my window. It is nice to see things outside the prison grounds, however, I no longer have the pleasure of seeing the sun and moon set. In fact, I never see the sun or moon from this cell. I noticed that my cellmate had tied the two window doors shut because they lacked a locking mechanism. I could not go without fresh air on occasion or a means to keep my food cold, and consequently set upon devising a way to easily open and close one of the windows while at the same time preventing it from blowing open with cold winter air. I took off all of the windows' haphazard ties, and after cleaning the window sill and glass, I securely bound one of the windows shut with new ties and a makeshift sealant to prevent any drafts. With two thick rubber bands, I pulled the second window shut. The rubber bands can easily be taken off the window, but provide tension to keep it tightly closed.

Throughout the week I have been busy with various projects to help myself settle into this cell. Along with the window, I have made hooks for my cellmate and I to hang our jackets and electrical cords on. I melted hooks on the wall for my cellmate's towel, washcloths and baseball caps, as well. I also removed his taped pen on the wall, and replaced it with another hook. I made lines to hang my towel, washclothes and other laundry on, as well as one for the floor rag. I made a new larger floor rag that soaks up more water when we wash up in the sink. I tied my Walkman onto a beam on my bunk where I often sit and write, as I am now. The radio reception is much better on the top floor, and as I write this journal entry, I have about 30 stations I can listen to. I have made a wide grip and close grip chin up bar out of a ripped up bed sheet given to me by a cell house worker. The chin up ropes are tied securely to a metal mesh area on the front barrier of the cell close to the ceiling. It took me hours threading cloth through the mesh and knotting it to a larger cloth, which is also knotted at the threads and where you can grab the sheet. Now I can do a full body workout in the front of the cell without disturbing my cellmate when he sits at the counter in the back of the cell.

My cellmate has not made any improvements to the cell while I have been here. He has an attitude that this cell, and even prison, are temporary for him. Often, I think his mind is on some medium-security prison, or even in the world. I cannot think like this. I have a natural life sentence, and I will not be going to a medium-security prison. I also may only be in "kickout" temporarily until space is found for me in general population, but I must always and quickly accommodate my living quarters to make my life easier, better, more ordered, and less cluttered. While I labor away improving the cell, my cellmate is rather indifferent, although he does on occasion express gratitude.

The cell I moved into is infested with cockroaches. Since I have moved in, I have killed over 50 of them, but I tend to believe even if I killed 500 of them each day, there would still be more. The cockroaches are moslty coming from the plumbing area, and I spent numerous hours trying to seal the cracks in the door. I used wet toilet paper with soap that when dried hardens to seal areas the roaches like to hide in. I asked the lieutenant when the exterminator was going to come through. He told me on Thursday morning, and to be sure to take my property off the cell floor before going to yard. True to his word, the cells were sprayed yesterday. I was out on the yard, but my cellmate stayed in and told me he watched him spray the floor along the walls. My cellmate asked him to spray the back wall, particularly near the toilet and sink with extra roach killer, and he complied. Today I noticed the roaches were moving about slower and were easier to kill. The poison seems to be working, but I am fully aware that spraying can only kill off one or two generations of them. When eggs continue to hatch, they will not be affected. Spraying must be done regularly, and this is certain not to be done at Stateville.

In kickout, inmates are permitted all the privileges and movement that is given those in general population, except for chow. All three meals are brought to you in your cell, just like in Seg or during a lockdown. Many prisoners do not like missing feed lines because it gives them yet another opportunity to talk and get out of their cells. However, I like "room service," and it is one of the benefits of being in F House. Inmates in kickout are given 3 showers a week. They can go on visits in the general population visiting room without restraints. They are also allowed to attend pre-GED classes and chapel services, although my cellmate complains he cannot attend Catholic mass on Thursdays. The phone is available on the gallery for inmates to use and they can chose their time and stay on for as long as they wish, so long as no one else wants to use it. I tried calling home and found out that I was finally placed in restriction. During my Seg time, I stayed in A grade, but now that I am out and can use the phone, I have been placed in C grade. I have no idea when I will be able to call my family, lawyer, or anyone, for that matter. If the C grade just began upon my release from Seg, I will not be able to use the phone until spring. I also will only be able to shop for $30.

Although I was not able to call my family over the weekend, my mother came to see me on Wednesday. It was the first time in three months that I had a visit without being handcuffed, chained around the waist, and chained to the floor. I was glad not to be so restrained and have a two hour visit, however, the noise in the general population visiting room was tremendous. I figure my future visits in December will be just as loud and crowded, if not more, due to the holidays. No other prison in Illinois has such poor visitation facilities.

During my visit, my mother continued to bring me food from the vending machines, until I told her to stop. I have lost a lot of weight in Seg, and apparently it shows. Since being out of Seg, I have been eating much more, and sometimes even gorging. My cellmate was generous enough to give me some of his food. On one of the days this week, I made a huge pork dinner for my cellmate and I. He also provided the food for an enormous serving of nacho chips. On both these nights, I went to sleep stuffed. I met my former dreadlocks cellmate from Seg, and he was nice enough to send me some instant rice, tuna fish, and peanut butter. The cellhouse worker I gave gambling picks also brought me some food, as did "Michael Myers," or as he is known in prison, "Spider." Spider lives about ten cells down, and he says he did not reply to my Halloween letter because he did not know what cell I was in. It is good to be able to eat again, and not ration my food or space meals 7 hours apart.

Yesterday, I went to yard for the first time in 3 months. Kickout has only one yard a week, and it is 5 hours long, just like in Seg. However, kickout inmates go to a very large yard that has telephones, basketball courts, monkey bars, and a few weights and benches. It was cold when I went out to yard, and snow covered the ground. I waited in line to use the weights for a few hours. I also did chin ups and dips on the monkey bars. Spider was the only other white person to go out to yard, and the only person I spoke with. Toward the end of the yard period, I ran in the snow around the perimeter. It was difficult running in the snow, especially with the uneven ground with an occasional groundhog hole. I was also concerned about slipping, for in certain spots the packed snow had turned into ice. While running, I thought of Rocky Balboa in the movie Rocky IV, where he trains in Siberia to fight the boxing hero of the former Soviet Union. It was nice to be out of the cage with space to enjoy and run in without being hindered, although the two tall concrete walls, razor wire, and gun tower prevented me from forgetting I was in prison.

This morning, I saw my psychologist, and she wanted to know how I was adjusting. I told her it has been a very difficult and stressful week for me. The new cellmate, the new cell, the new gallery, all the people I have had to communicate with, the noise, and extra movement have all been overwhelming for me. Most prisoners would be tremendously happy to be out of solitary confinement, however, after this week, I have wished I was back in Seg with my single-man cell. As I finish this journal entry, I look out into the huge domed building of the Roundhouse. From upstairs, I have a bird's eye view of virtually every cell and movement within its perimeter. I even look down on the guard tower. I can see my old cell, and I think how comfortable I was in there, alone and isolated. In kickout, I will be unable to escape the miserable realities of being in prison. Possibly, Segregation was more of a blessing than a punishment.