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: paulmodrowski@gmail.com
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.

Cell Extractions -- April 9, 2011

Last Saturday there was a fist fight between a guard and a prisoner in F House. Although I saw most of the fight from my cell, I do not know what caused it. Some inmates say the newly hired guard has a cocky attitude, however, I have not noticed. Anyways, the two men scraped for a little while until it was broken up. No one was seriously injured, but the guard in the gun tower, for some reason, shot a round into the ceiling, and the Roundhouse has been on a level one lockdown ever since. The reason for the strict lockdown may be due, however, to all the disturbances in Segregation and cell extractions.

Cell extractions are performed when an inmate refuses to come out of his cell, or be cuffed behind his back. The extractions can be dangerous and Stateville's special tactical squad usually performs them. The special tactical squad, also known as the Orange Crush, are regular guards at Stateville who have some special training. When needed, the guards change from their correctional officer uniforms into bright orange jumpsuits and wear black body armor. They also wear combat boots and helmets, and carry a baton, shield and containers of mace.

On Wednesday, prisoners arrive from other penitentiaries. Some of them are Seg to Seg transfers. Many prisons across the state do not have the space to keep a large contingent of people in segregation. These medium and minimum security prisons also want to punish a prisoner with not only Seg time, but a transfer to a higher security prison. I believe there is a policy that anyone who receives more than 3 months Seg is sent to Stateville or Menard. Stateville also has a policy of sending out prisoners with more than 6 months Seg time to Pontiac or Tamms Supermax.

One man who arrived from a medium security prison was not well received by his newly assigned cellmate. The man refused to be handcuffed so his door could be opened and the medium security transfer could move in. It is policy that all Segregation inmates be handcuffed behind the back before their door is opened. Without his cooperation, guards put the new transfer in the shower cell and called the Orange Crush team.

Years ago the Orange Crush unit would announce their presence with the stomping of boots and military chants. I suppose this was to intimidate inmates, but I do not think it was ever very effective. Inmates often made fun of their grunts and it only increased the tension in the cell house. When the special tactical guards finally arrived in the Roundhouse, I did not even know they were here until my cellmate called my attention to them on the first floor. I was watching a Civil War documentary on PBS and eating a snack. All week long PBS was presenting an in-depth coverage of the war, and I was hesitant to miss any of it.

Many times when the Orange Crush is assembled in front of a cell, an inmate gives up and allows himself to be handcuffed. It is not easy to fight against six or more heavily armored men with weapons. However, on this occasion, the man was unwilling to acquiesce, and the guards rushed into the cell after ordering the control tower officer to open the door. Although the guards used mace, they did not easily subdue the inmate. I could not see into the cell, but the struggle continued for about five minutes. I then saw the inmate being manhandled out. He was cuffed behind the back, and his head was kept down as he was led to the other shower cell on the first floor.

In the shower cell, again I could not see what occurred, but the Orange Crush team was in there for a while with the inmate. My cellmate speculated that he was being battered, but there was a guard filming this event and I doubt this was the case. The prisoner was probably being forcibly stripped, and then searched. This was no doubt done with severe force, and possibly excessive, however, I do not believe the guards were beating him unrestrained with their batons and fists.

The mace used in the cell reached up to the upper galleries of the Roundhouse. My cellmate mentioned how his breathing was aggravated, and he went to the window. I noticed a raspiness in my throat, but it was not bad. While my cellmate was at the window, I heard a pounding on my wall and then my neighbor, Tattoo, yelled out. He asked me if the mace was bothering me and I said not really. He told me how he was breathing through his shirt but it was not helping. I responded that it would be better if he took deep breaths so his body would get used to it. Tattoo is not very bright, and it seemed like he contemplated the idea for a minute. Possibly he even did as I advised before telling me a person cannot get used to mace.

The medium-security transfer was taken out of the shower and sent into the cell that had just been maced. He carried with him a small laundry bag that had a few hygienic supplies. In the cell, I could see him pacing about after the door was closed. I think he knew his troubles were not yet over, and the man who did not want to be his cellmate was going to be put in the cell with him again. My cellmate briefly mentioned his rude awakening when transferred to Stateville's Roundhouse and he said, "Welcome to Stateville," seemingly directed at the man just locked in.

The Orange Crush eventually let the man in the other shower cell out. I could not tell if the man was injured, but all his underclothes and shoes were missing. He was merely dressed in a jumpsuit, and walked barefooted. My cellmate said it was bogus for the tactical squad to take away all his clothes and make him walk on the gallery without socks or shoes. Orange Crush guards kept a tight hold on him as they escorted him back to his cell.

I told my cellmate it was stupid to put the men back into the same cell. You cannot force two men to live together. Many of the men at Stateville were never going to be released from prison. A Stateville inmate who is in Seg already has lost all his privileges has nothing to lose. All of Segregation in maximum security should be single man cells, or at the minimum, only doubled up with the consent of the inmates. Of course, the administration does not want prisoners to have any control, or be accommodated in any way. They would rather have violence, and this is exactly what occurred after the Orange Crush unit left the building.

I went back to watching my TV program, but it was not long before I heard a commotion in the cell house. Guards rushed to the cell and had the door opened. The lieutenant went in first, followed by a number of other officers. After several minutes of struggle, the guards came out with the two fighting prisoners. Once again, they were put in separate shower cells on the first floor.

My cellmate said he respected the lieutenant for going in first and not leaving the job to his subordinates. Possibly the lieutenant was not a coward and had leadership, but I was not impressed by his decision. These two men should never have been put back into the same cell again. All of the problems could have been avoided had the transferee been given a different cellmate or his own cell. Many inmates in Seg may decline a cellmate if given the choice, but so be it. Too many people are put in segregation due to minor rule infractions, and those that need to be placed in disciplinary confinement should not be forced to live with one another in maximum security institutions. There are some very violent, criminally insane, and sharply hostile anti-social prisoners at Stateville's Roundhouse.

On Friday, I was sent out on another medical writ, however, on my return, I was told about another extraction. There is a filthy, deranged, and unruly prisoner who lives in segregation on the first floor. The man is continually smearing himself and his cell walls with excrement. He also continually floods his cell and shoots urine and fecal matter at the guards. Numerous times I have seen this man taken out of his cell by force so it can be cleaned, and so welders can attempt to seal off his cell entirely. Welders have added strips of metal to the outside of his cell, and guards have stuck paper in the cracks of his door and in other various places. Despite their best efforts, the prisoner is still able to squirt out vile substances, and nothing can prevent him from living in filth or flooding.

If it was my decision, I would place the bug behind an entirely steel wall and door like those at Pontiac Segregation. Then I would put all his plumbing on a 5-hour timer. If he smears himself with shit or harbors garbage, so be it. Let him live in his filth. With a toilet that only flushes every 5 hours, it will be exceedingly difficult for him to flood the gallery. However, I suppose there are laws that forbid such restrictions and indifference, and so guards have to continually deal with him.

From what I was told, yesterday the deranged prisoner flooded his cell yet again. Instead of bothering the Orange Crush Unit again, staff in the Roundhouse took him out of his cell. Apparently the guards were rather brutal, and the cell house did not like how he was being treated. Prisoners banged on their doors and shouted threats. There is some unity among prisoners, and even my cellmate voiced anger over the matter, however, I have no sympathy for the nut case. I do not think just because I am an inmate, I must identify with all inmates. Often I do not.

Later yesterday, I was in my cell completing a letter when I heard a commotion. I was very tired from my trip to and from the hospital and was trying to relax. I intentionally wanted to remove myself from the distractions and noise in the cell house. However, the prisoners erupted in a roar, and I looked out to see what was happening. There was another cellmate fight that guards had to rush in to break up. Initially, I thought it was the same man who was fighting earlier in the week, but it was two different people. Once again the incident happened in Segregation, and I thought how segregation cells should not be forcibly doubled up. I also thought how fortunate I was to go most of my time in Seg alone, and the cellmates I did have I got along with. My current cellmate, however, is soon to be transferred and I hoped I did not have to deal with a hostile situation.

Today the Roundhouse was filled with ever more drama. It started early in the morning while I was eating breakfast and the first shift had not long been in the building. The deranged man in the now extra secured cell was forcibly taken out of his cell. He may have been flooding the gallery again, or smearing excrement on his walls or himself. In any event, guards stormed into his cell when he would not be handcuffed and led out. The guards were aggravated and used a little extra force than necessary. On the way out of the cell, one of the guards smacked the nut in the back of his head almost in disgust rather than anger. I could not tell from the fourth floor, but the prisoner had smeared shit all over his body. Guards involved in the extraction took off their button-up collared shirts later, and were merely wearing black T-shirts for the rest of the day.

The prisoner was put in one of the shower stalls while guards cleaned out his cell. F House was still on a level one lockdown, and correctional officers had to do all the work from passing out food trays, picking up trash, and cleaning deranged inmates' cells. Taken out of his cell was a bunch of miscellaneous garbage and a mattress that had been torn into bundles of stuffing. I had seen other torn up mattresses taken from his cell in the past, and apparently it is a rule that an inmate must be provided with one.

After the litter had been taken out and the cell mopped, the inmate was let out of the shower to return to his cell. Apparently, however, he got away from the guards and ran wildly across the cell house. I saw the crazed look in his eyes as he ran. He had the look of an animal that was set upon freedom. It was sad and comical. Where did he think he was going? The cellhouse is round and there was no escape. Slowly, guards surrounded him before the lieutenant maced and punched him in the face. This brought a "boo" from the cellhouse, but I do not think this was improper, and I do not know what else the lieutenant could do. If I were staff, I would have probably acted even more aggressively.

Not long after the man was secured back into his cell, I was notified by the guard in the gun tower that I had a visit. I was not expecting a visitor today and had already begun my workout, testing how much the cortisone injection I received the day before was working. I wondered how guards' attitudes would be just after the odd spectacle. The man who let me out of the cell was friendly and not overly security conscious. He joked that he was not going to chase the man down so he could then smell like shit all day. At the cell house door, the guard needed his handcuffs back and staff seemed momentarily hesitant to take them off me. I said to them they need not worry. I was not going to take off on them, which gained a few laughs.

In the holding cage waiting to go on my visit, I saw the lieutenant. He was in a hurry to go somewhere, but I had to remark about the start of his day. I could tell he was aggravated, and he cussed about the animals in the Roundhouse. I told him I hope his day improves, and he thanked me as he continued walking. The lieutenant is not a bad man, despite the "boos" from the inmates in the cell house.

My visit was brief because it was a weekend. Weekend visits are cut abruptly at one hour, even if the visiting room is almost completely empty, as it was. Although normally the visiting room is crowded and extremely noisy, it is not so early in the morning. My visitor told me she had come the day before only to be told that I was not there. I appreciated her return, but was disappointed by the brevity of our visit.

Back in the cell house, the excitement of my day was not over. The warden happened to be touring the building. He stopped at the crazy man's cell that had extra sheets of metal welded to it and pieces of paper wedged in other spots, seemingly to figure out what to do with the man. For his curiosity, he was squirted with some urine and fecal matter. The cell house inmates were greatly amused, and laughter broke out. I even saw some guards laughing. The warden took it with good spirits though, and simply removed his sweater before moving on. I give him a lot of credit. Other wardens would probably have not been so cool and collected.

It is evening now, and I was planning to close my journal entry here. However, while I was writing, the loony prisoner again flooded his cell. The guards who work in the cell house were not going to deal with the matter like those on the first shift, and the Orange Crush is currently here to remove him yet again from his cell. It seems cell extractions will be a never ending story in the Roundhouse.