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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Orange Crush Invades the Roundhouse -- February 21, 2011

Last Tuesday, I woke up and went to the sink to make myself some hot water. I often do this first if I plan to boil water for oatmeal, or on occasion, tea or coffee. It takes between five to ten minutes to boil water with my improvised device, and my cellmate often wants some as well. Sometimes, I am just making hot water for him. While I wait for the water to boil, I make my bed and do other things. This particular morning, no water came out of my sink when I hit the hot water button. I tried the cold water button, and then the toilet. Nothing worked. This was odd, and as my mind was connecting the dots, about 100 guards dressed in Orange Crush tactical gear stormed into the building.

The special tactical unit usually turns off the water just before they rush into a building. This is done to prevent inmates from flushing contraband, and also so they do not drink an enormous amount of water in an attempt to dilute their urine, thus being able to pass a drug test. Cutting off the water is usually redundant because inmates who want to get rid of contraband will often just throw it out of their cells. In F House, cells have windows, and many have holes in the outer metal screens. As for preventing the consumption of water, inmates who have been smoking marijuana or using another illicit drug, sometimes keep bottles of water handy just in case they are ordered to submit to a drug test. A desperate inmate may even piss into his sink and drink the water from his toilet bowl, if given adequate time.

Although I knew there was a staff assault the day before on Valentine's Day, the Orange Crush squad caught me off guard. It is usually the administration's response after a guard is attacked to order the cell houses to be ransacked and inmates harassed. The Orange Crush Unit is used as a way to collectively punish the prison population. The overwhelming show of force is meant to show prisoners who is in control, and also as an act of retaliation. Guards stand united, and will pressure directly or indirectly the warden for a response to an attack on any one of them. Despite understanding how Orange Crush raids oftentimes follow a staff assault, I did not believe such a force could be assembled and executed so quickly.

Recently, I spoke with a guard who commented that the tactical unit's use was preplanned long before the guard and lieutenant were beat up by an inmate. I tend to be skeptical, and thought he was trying to spread misinformation. The Orange Crush Unit is almost always used in response to an inmate rebellion. Stateville now has a lot more staff, thanks to Governor Quinn hiring 500 new guards. There are so many guards now, they oftentimes do not know what to do with themselves. Possibly, this was the Governor's way of saying "thank you" to the guards' union, which heavily supported his election. Possibly, it is a new welfare program. Instead of just giving money away, correctional officers are hired. In any event, Stateville no longer needs staff from other penitentiaries to conduct an Orange Crush raid. As for preparation, those on the special tactical unit are trained in advance, and could have easily been given the heads up the day before. Although there was some order to the raid on F House, I noticed the average rank and file guard was not always on key, and superiors regularly had to give instruction.

Seeing the rush of orange and black into the building quickly depressed my spirits. I knew it was going to be a long miserable day of high anxiety. I had images of being handcuffed behind the back in the dining room or chapel for hours upon hours, with no food, water or use of bathroom facilities. I thought about a time F House was put on the yard, handcuffed to fencing for over 10 hours. I thought about guards yelling orders and threats, demanding total submission, and using batons and dogs to intimidate. There was also the abrupt break of routine, and having my living quarters put in complete disarray. The last was to be true, but surprisingly, the other images, for the most part, did not happen this time.

The Orange Crush team, after storming into the Roundhouse, did not go to the upper floors as I anticipated. They secured the lower floor and then some stood next to the doors of the men on one gallery. There was a contingent of guards in the center near the gun tower, and then two guards per cell. The warden and other administrators stood by the entrance of F House watching. A few tactical squad leaders moved around giving instructions at times, but mainly stayed in the center.

Inmates were stripped and their clothes were searched before they were let out in handcuffs behind their backs. The doors to the first floor were opened up electronically at the same time. The prisoners in those cells were escorted around the gallery to sit on the center floor perimeter. They were dressed in pajamas, sweats, shorts, and various attire. The guards apparently did not give them any orders as to what they could wear. The last time the Orange Crush came through, they told us we could only wear state blues and boxers; no T-shirts, socks, or gym shoes, only sandals. I remember I was very cold that winter morning being thinly dressed.

As the inmates came around to sit down against the perimeter, I noticed only half the first floor was being searched. I speculate this was done to keep more control and to increase thoroughness. With fewer inmates out, there was less to guard, although I doubt there would have been any trouble. Numerous guards stood with their batons in the center watching. One guard even had what looked like a flame thrower or submachine gun, but I knew it to be a high powered mace spray.

The guards spent a long time searching in each cell. Initially, it seemed there were two guards assigned to a cell, but other guards came and went. Sometimes, there were five people in a cell going through property and looking about. A supervisor of the special tactical unit went in and out of cells assisting and giving instructions. Certainly some of the squad were new hires, and had little experience. What they lacked in experience was certainly made up for in manpower and thoroughness, however.

I was glad to see that only half a gallery at a time was being searched. This meant a lot less inconvenience and misery for me and the rest of us in F House. We did not have to be handcuffed all day without access to food or the toilet, although the toilets were not working. Around noon, the guards passed out trays to the inmates in their cells. They did not give us any water, but fortunately, I had bottled water in my cell. No, I was not preparing for a drug test, but recently began buying bottled water from the commissary due to the amount of rust I often see in the tap water.

Warden Hardy seems like he is a more reasonable warden than many of the prior ones that have been assigned to Stateville. While he has been in charge, Orange Crush raids have not been as abusive, mean-spirited, or retaliatory. Last year, a guard told me that I should do a journal entry about Mr. Hardy and what a terrible, pompous warden he is. This was not long after he began as warden here. I told the guard I did not know enough about the new warden to write about him. He began to ramble off a number of things he disliked about him. I will not judge a person by what I hear, but only by what I see, and I saw no reason to write critically of him.

Warden Hardy was not the only person overseeing the operations of the Orange Crush. There were a few other people that stood with him at various times. I did not recognize them, and possibly one was a new assistant warden. I tend to believe the others were representatives from Springfield. One black woman could have been IDOC's new director. Authorities from the state capital, on occasion, visit Stateville. It may not only be the warden's supervision, but that of others, that caused the Orange Crush squad to act with more restraint.

It was many hours before the special tactical unit made it to my cell. My cellmate said to me, "Maybe they will only search Segregation." This, I knew, was a foolish statement. You do not bring in a team of 100 guards to only search half a cell house. During the wait, I read a magazine and on occasion looked to see what was going on. My cellmate and I also prepared for our own shakedown.

The guards were throwing out of cells the extra blankets, sheets, state clothes, mattresses and other state property that prisoners had, along with numerous lines, containers, and other property. I was amazed how many prisoners had two mattresses. I had slept on a blanket for my first few weeks in F House. By the end of the search, there were at least 50 mattresses piled up, and a hundred sheets and blankets thrown about. I was glad my laundry had not returned and my two extra sheets would not be taken. Inmates are only allowed two sheets, but I had two more so that when I send out the ones I used for the week, I had spares remaining. Although I was glad no sheets would be taken from me, I was concerned about all my containers, the food I had in them, and the numerous boxes of breakfast cereal I had collected.

I keep a number of jars and boxes, as well as pieces of cardboard, that I use to organize my property box. My jars are filled with instant rice, cereal, coffee, nuts, and various other foodstuffs. It is easier and more practical to pour packages of products in sealable jars. It also prevents roaches from getting into my food. Guards do not care if inmates use these containers to store food or other things, but the Orange Crush throws them out. There was nothing I could do to avoid having my food and containers confiscated, but I did think of an idea for my cereal.

Much of my cereal was not bought off commissary, but was received from workers on the breakfast shift. The Orange Crush takes not only all extra state issued blankets, sheets, and mattresses, but food as well. Thus, I opened up box after box of the state cereal I had and poured it into two empty commissary cereal bags. I still had a number of state cereals left, and all I could do was stack them in the back of my box. I hoped the guards who would shake down my cell would miss it.

While I was concerned about losing my bran flakes and generic Cheerios, my cellmate was worried about all the lines we had up. An inmate can be written a disciplinary ticket for having lines, and Iowa did not want to jeopardize his transfer back to a medium-security prison. Since I have been his cellmate, his thoughts have been consumed with getting out of Stateville. It is annoying having a cellmate who never gives me any time to myself because he is afraid to leave the cell and chance getting into some trouble, and who is continually talking about medium-security prisons, prisons I will never see. My life is here at Stateville, but he is regularly somewhere else.

I told my cellmate, "You see all those lines the guards are taking out of almost every cell? There is no way they are going to write some 200 or 300 tickets." Despite how I told him the guards were just going to rip them down, he was insistent on cutting down our lines. He even cut down my chin-up ropes, although I told him that if by some minute chance we are written a ticket for them, I would tell the Adjustment Committee they were mine. But, no, he had to cut them all down, and I let him because he was pacing the cell and then sitting in the back fretting about the matter.

Iowa was at the door to our cell watching all the movement in the cell house. He had only been through one other Orange Crush experience and he seemed anxiously captivated by it. He told me, "Look, there is a little blond haired woman on the Orange Crush team." I looked down and saw who he was talking about. She did look oddly out of place amongst all the much bigger men. Her bulky, heavy jumpsuit and gear also contrasted her petite frame. My cellmate told me she is a cutie, and asked me if I knew who she was. I did, but I didn't tell him. I have known her since she first began working at Stateville, and I have always wished she would find new employment. An attractive white female should not work at this place.

Although I recognized the blond, I did not know many in the special tactical squad. My cellmate and I speculated that many of the guards were from other prisons. However, since the search, I have learned that all members of the team were from Stateville. A lot of the guards were just recently hired, or from the NRC unit. I have also learned this week that F House was not the only cell house to be raided.

B House was also searched, however, they were searched by cadets. Cadets often have something to prove, and I was glad to not have been back in my old cell house. I would have certainly lost my collection of containers, food, and then some. Interestingly, unit Bravo was the only other cell house to be searched. Possibly, the administration wanted to make a statement by sending in the Orange Crush Squad only to the cell house where the man who fought the lieutenant and guard resided and F House, mainly a disciplinary Seg cell house. Almost always, the entire prison is raided.

Close to 2 p.m., the Orange Crush finally made it up to four gallery. I was glad to be last because I knew by now the guards would be tired and looking forward to the end of their shift. The administration definitely was not going to pay all those guards overtime to stay longer. Years ago, when money was not a concern, the Orange Crush may stay all day. Even now, the waste by the IDOC astounds me. The use of the special tactical unit, even on just two cell houses, was not a wise use of money or resources.

The guard who came to our cell did not ask us to strip, and just handcuffed us behind our backs. While waiting for the doors to be opened, my cellmate said he was glad not to have to go through the humiliation of a strip search. I asked him if he was afraid the blond guard may see his teeny weenie, and before he could respond, the doors were opened. Although the guard did not strip search us, he gave us an invasive pat down that the TSA would be proud of. He even checked our shoes and because of our handcuffs, we were unable to tie them back up. This was not a problem for me because my laces are short, and I intentionally made them that way so they would not be a problem. My cellmate on the other hand, had a difficult time putting his shoes back on, and his laces trailed behind him. I considered stepping on them on the way down, but he could have been seriously injured on the steel stairway.

Like the inmates before us, we were led to the ground floor and told to sit at the perimeter. A prisoner in Segregation on the first gallery began yelling to a neighbor of mine. When he began to yell back, a guard snapped at him to shut up. However, inmates sitting were allowed to talk to each other. I mostly sat in silence, looking up at the 4th floor and seeing what things were being taken from the cells. I could not see my cell because my view was obstructed by the gun tower. I asked my cellmate if he could see our cell from his vantage point, and he said his view was obstructed as well.

One of the guards found something he was proud of, and began showing it to a number of others. I could not identify what he had in his hand, but it was shiny like chrome. Possibly, it was a shank. Not long after, the guards came and got a man sitting on the floor. I assume it was in his cell that they found the shiny object, and they were going to give him a new home in Seg. Another weapon was found in one of the cells that held protective custody inmates. However, I did not see the guards take him away. The men waiting for space in the protective custody unit of X House were not amongst us. Later, my cellmate remarked that the protective custody inmate must have thought he needed extra protection. I thought this odd coming from the man who is afraid to leave his cell.

While waiting on the ground floor, a black female guard grabbed another guard and led him to my neighbor, Tattoo. She wanted him to see the circus attraction who lived next to me. Tattoo has tattoos over his entire body. Even his entire face is a collection of tattoos, and his front teeth are gold. I did not hear much of their conversation, but I did hear the woman say, "Even his eyes are tattooed!"

Upon returning to my cell, I was dismayed to see our property dumped out everywhere. It was going to take hours to put everything back the way I had it. After being uncuffed, the first thing I did was check to see if my jars, other containers, and state cereal was taken. Surprisingly, they were still there. As my cellmate went through his property, he noticed very little was taken. He said, in a serious tone, "God was looking out for us." I did not know how the Orange Crush not taking our property was divine intervention, but I said nothing. Instead, I gave him the shake down record receipt that said no contraband was found, and told him he may want to keep it just in case he was still worried about getting a ticket.

It was not until late Tuesday evening that I had ordered all my property back into the two boxes. My cellmate had thrown our line materials out of the cell, and I had to make new ones. I would have had to do this anyway. Although the guards did not take much of our property, they would have definitely torn down the lines. I noticed the melted hooks I had put on the wall were still there. I wonder if the guards could even remove them without a chisel and hammer.

This week, I learned the information I had overheard on Valentine's Day was incorrect. The incident did not occur in the visiting room, but in the chow hall. A prisoner was inside the center circle yelling at others that he knew in one of the divided eating areas. Inmates are commonly on the fence talking or screaming to people they know, however, the lieutenant ordered him and others to get off the fence. The man did not listen and when the lieutenant took out his handcuffs to take him to Seg, he resisted. A guard in one of the chow halls ran to the lieutenant's assistance, but he was repelled and beat up as well. During the fight, the lieutenant tried to mace the inmate, but it got away from him. A lot of mace was sprayed, from what I was told, however, it was uncertain from my source if the man who refused to be handcuffed was able to use it effectively. The struggle was ended when a rush of guards tackled and subdued the prisoner. I am told that members of the man's gang came close to coming to his rescue, but the shots from the gun tower persuaded them otherwise.

I saw the inmate on Valentine's Day being brought into the Roundhouse. He had some cuts and bruises. He was not kept in Stateville Segregation long, and he was transferred out to either Pontiac or Tamms Supermax. For fighting a lieutenant, he will be given at least a year in solitary confinement, but more than likely, longer. A year or several years in a single man cell away from the zoo of maximum-security general population, ironically seems more like a reward, in my opinion, than a harsh punishment.