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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

General Population -- July 14, 2011

Last week, I was told to pack up my property because I was being moved to general population. I had been in the Roundhouse for almost a year and had become accustomed to living there. Despite the roaches, noise, and turbulent conditions, I did not want to leave. I could be placed in one of the most austere and deplorable conditions, but as long as I was alone or with a cellmate I was on friendly terms with, I could endure. Men in maximum-security prisons in Illinois spend the vast majority of their time in their cells, and a good cellmate was my largest concern. After I packed up my property, I wished Josh farewell, and regretfully left the wretched cell I knew and thought of as home. I dreaded the unknown more than what I had.

The guard had been rushing me to leave, but after finally having my boxes and other property brought downstairs, I was put in a holding cage to wait two hours. In a cage next to mine was a man who had been transferred from Robinson C.C. Robinson is a minimum-security prison, and he claimed not to know why he was here. He said he had less than a year to do. All I could think of was that he had been given a serious disciplinary ticket, or was sent to Stateville to go to court in Cook County. I did not care too much to figure out his deception or bewilderment. I was being moved to a new cell house in a new cell with a new cellmate, and it preoccupied my thoughts.

The man in the cage asked me what it was like to live in the Roundhouse. I told him it was continually loud, disruptive, and miserable. I went on to say that he will most likely be put in a cell in a poor state of repair, with cockroaches, and a hostile, annoying and possibly mentally ill cellmate. He did not like the picture I painted, but he had to realize anywhere at Stateville was going to be an abrupt change for the worse, coming from a minimum-security unit. While he paced his cage in apprehension, I stood staring out the bars contemplating what awaited me.

I had been told I was being sent to C House. C House was known to have the oldest prisoners, and the least amount of violence. The huge rectangular general population building was split in quarters, and are many times referred to as the "quarter units." Two cell houses house inmates who are classified with high to moderate aggression levels. The other two were for medium or low aggression inmates. C House held mostly the former. Despite this, I knew there could be hostilities anywhere, and even a categorized non aggressive inmate could be loud, obnoxious, inconsiderate, and very difficult to live with. Those inmates classified with low aggression also were not incapable of violence. The inmates at Stateville were, in general, people I wished to avoid, let alone share a 6' x 11' cage with for 24 hours a day.

Finally around 3:00, a guard was willing to escort me to C House. An F House worker was told to come with to help push the cart with all my property on it. He did not want to go, and said it was not his job. Movement workers, according to him, were supposed to do these tasks. Angrily, he pushed the cart quickly through the tunnels and down the concrete walk. I held my television so it did not fall off and break. We eventually walked along the side of the enormous concrete general population cell house. They did not call it the big house for nothing. At the C House entrance, I brought my boxes and other property in until I was told what cell I was assigned. The guard in F House mentioned the cell number, but I was too busy packing to pay attention. I was assigned cell 242, which was close to the door on the first floor.

Upon entering the cell house, I was greeted by a man who I knew and who had formerly worked in the law library. It was nice to see a familiar face, however, later I learned he was the only person on the gallery with whom I have ever had a conversation. He asked me what cell I was moving into, and I told him. He responded that I was two cells down from him, just like I was when in general population before. I asked him about my cellmate who was asleep on the top bunk. I could only see the top of his bald black head. He told me I was fortunate and had "Doc" for a cellmate. Doc was a tall, old white man who was very easy to get along with, he began to say. He stopped while he was talking when he looked into the cell. He said "Where is Doc?" I told him I do not know. I just moved here.

The guard opened up the door to my cell, and the man on the top bunk rolled over. Doc, I learned later, had been moved to another cell on the gallery because he was classified an extreme escape risk, despite being a 70-year-old man on dialysis. My new cellmate told me he went by the name "Cork," and added it was spelled with a "c." Apparently, he did not want me to mistake it with the meat. I did not care to ask him the distinction or why he went by that name. Men had many strange names in prison.

Cork was a black man about 40 years old, I estimated. He claimed to have just been moved to this cell a month ago from the 4th floor of F House, where I had just been. I did not recognize him, but I do not pay attention to many people. While I began to put some of my property away, Cork told me he transferred from Menard C.C. after having spent about 10 years there. This was his first time at Stateville, although he seemed to know a lot of people here.

The first day I was in the cell with him, he must have spoken with over 20 people. I discovered quickly that our cell was positioned in the midst of most of the movement in the cell house and noise. The cell house door was 30 feet away, and was where everyone entered and exited the building. Directly across from the cell is the cell house holding cage is where everyone waiting to go on passes or returning from them are kept until a guard is available to escort them or lock them in their cells. Between the holding cage and the door is a cage where guards sit. The cages press traffic towards my cell and there are numerous people continually walking by. C House is the quietest and laid back cell house in general population, but because of where my cell is located, I am in the most distracting and noisy area. To say the least, I am not happy.

The cell I moved in was different from those in F House I had been accustomed to. The floor area is greater, but the ceiling is lower. The bunk beds are towards the back instead of the front, and while this is safer so that people are not as able to strike or stab you from the bars while you sleep, it is an uncomfortable distance from the toilet and sink. A steel table with an attached metal stool are in front between the bars and double bunk bed. I am at the table writing this journal entry. It is difficult writing here because I am continually distracted, despite having my headphones on attempting to not think about all the movement and noise around me. There is also a counter running lengthwise on the wall opposite the bunks. Bars, instead of glass rectangular windows or perforated metal and Plexiglas, make the front perimeter of the cell. Although C House is not as loud as F House, having open bars makes it seem so, much to my aggravation.

I was not able to quickly move into my new cell because I had to figure out where and how to place my property. My large box was not able to fit under the bunk horizontally due to my cellmate's box being there, along with two triangular wedges connected to the lower bunk and vertical beam. In most other cell houses, prisoners have removed them to make shanks, or maintenance has taken them out to prevent their use as weapons. I reordered my box and took off the sliding lid so I could place it lengthwise underneath the bunk and not be greatly inconvenienced. Reordering my box took a long time, and I still do not like how things are placed inside it.

My cellmate has his radio and fan on the counter top, and has half the lower shelf filled with various things. He also has a huge bag of clothes behind his box almost certainly because he does not have room to fit them inside. I despise the clutter, and wish he did not have so many things outside his box. I often feel claustrophobic in these cells, and it bothers me immensely to see things out of order. I have never seen the TV show "Monk," but people say I am similar to the lead character. In F House, I had heard guards were regularly doing cell compliance checks to make sure all of your property fit inside your box. Apparently that is not so, or the checks are no longer done. Also, guards do not care much if you leave your cell with property outside.

When I moved into the cell, an extension cord went over the toilet to the counter where my cellmate's fan and radio were. I could not live with a wire over the commode and blocking the sink. Thus, I used one of my extension cords to connect to it so it could be pushed underneath the sink and along the wall. Cork told me that when we wash up the cord could get wet. Apparently, having it crossing the corner of the cell was better. I told him I will eventually secure it above the sink and along the wall.

In my F house cell, I had made numerous things to make my life easier and more comfortable. This cell lacked those accommodations. I spent most of the evening of arrival recreating them. I wedged my TV between a horizontal bunk beam and the overhang of the top bunk. I also tied my TV to the bunk just as a precautionary measure in case it came loose. I tied my Walkman to a bunk post, wrapped my watch around another beam, made a hook to hang my cap on, and made myself a new remote control stick to press the buttons on my TV. I also cleaned the floors, walls, table, counter top, and the mattress. The mattress in this cell was like my previous one, wrapped in vinyl, and I simply wiped it off with the same soapy rag I used to clean everything else. When finished, I was very tired and irritable. I put my headphones on and watched a movie on the prison's DVD system before falling asleep.

The following day, I worked on the cell a little more, and wrote some letters. The noise and movement outside my cell was very distracting. To bother me even more, my new cellmate began playing a hip-hop cassette tape on his radio. This is why the administration is no longer selling radios or televisions with speakers. Men in prison have no consideration for others who must listen to their music. I told my cellmate I did not appreciate his music, and he replied that is to be expected. I asked him if he would use his headphones, whereupon he told me the headphone jack did not work. He continued to play his music until I could not bear it any longer. I told him if he continued to blare his radio, I was going to put it over his head. He said some words of hostility towards me and then turned his radio down. I cannot stay in this cell, I thought, and with my letters to my attorney, parents, and a friend, I wrote a pleading letter to the placement officer to move me.

On my second day in general population, the prison went on lockdown. There was a fight in the inner chow hall where men are served their food. During the guards' attempts to break it up, two warning shots were fired. A female kitchen supervisor was hit in the leg with some deflected buckshot, but was not seriously wounded. A kitchen worker lives next door to me, and I overheard him talking about the incident when all of the workers of the prison were brought in for lockdown.

Initially, I was not happy to learn the prison was going to be placed on lockdown. I did not want to spend any more time with my cellmate than I had to. However, as the days passed, I discovered it was much better on lockdown than off. There was no longer the constant traffic and shouting outside my cell. Furthermore, there was no one standing inside the holding cage or cell house workers loitering nearby. While on lockdown, I did not have the aggravation of going to the chow hall for lunch and dinner. Although most inmates like getting out of their cells and being able to socialize, I hate it. I much prefer the "room service" of the Roundhouse and was pleased to see guards bringing the food to us, although it was especially meager and distasteful. My cellmate and I did not have any more hostilities, and I was glad he stopped yelling and talking to numerous people. I was happier still that he stopped playing his music, which on top of everything else, was maddening. I would rather hear nails on a chalkboard all day.

This Tuesday, the prison was taken off lockdown and operations were run as normal. That meant once again that I had all of the cell house movement, noise, and distractions. Yard in C House was in the morning, and I stayed in to work out. The yard the men on my gallery were going to is a small concrete yard that is basically two basketball courts surrounded by fencing and razor wire. While I exercised, I had men watching me from the holding cage. It was very annoying not to have any privacy. Later, when I washed up in my sink, I wish I was able to put up a curtain that would block their entire view. However, my sheet only went up to about my chest. I will eventually make a higher hanging hook. I thought there was no privacy in F House with most of the men around the building able to look in, but this was just as bad.

Commissary was passed out on Tuesday, and I was glad to receive everything I had ordered. I had not had my entire commissary order filled in months. One benefit of being in C House was that many commissary workers lived here. In fact, there are more people here with assignments than probably any other cell house. Having workers in the commissary made it more likely you would shop timely and get all of your store. Furthermore, this quarter unit shops before anyone else, so the prison commissary is usually well stocked. F House was the last cell house to get their orders, and often the inmates there only received half their store, or had many substitutions. It was nice to have a box full of food again. Stateville is feeding us more poor quality foods. Plus, now I did not have to go out to eat if I did not want to.

Yesterday was a very busy day in general population. I went on a visit to the Health Care Unit, to the chow hall, and afterwards to the evening yard. About 10 a.m. I was informed I had a visitor. Usually a guard says your name and cell number over the loudspeaker, but because I am only feet away, he just told me from his desk. While the visiting room was not terrible at first, it quickly filled up and was loud and aggravating. A number of times I had to lean forward to hear my visitor speak. Directly after my visit, I went to the Health Care Unit and waited for hours in a cramped and noisy holding cage. A man who had shot his wife, and the man in bed with her, spoke to me almost nonstop about his post conviction appeal and his case in general. He told me I should request to be moved to his cell house, and take his cellmate's place.

Eventually, I was able to speak with the prison's medical director and was glad to get away from the holding cage, as well as the man talking to me. The medical director is new to Stateville, and this was obvious. He did not know how to do things, and asked a nurse and even myself at times. He did know, however, he could not continue my NSAID prescription because it was not covered by the prisoners' health insurance. Instead, he prescribed me 800 mg. ibuprofen. He also knew he could not prescribe me the other pain medication recommended by the specialists at the U of I Hospital in Chicago. At least I was able to convince him to take me off the medical hold so I could transfer to another prison, hopefully some medium security prison.

After seeing the medical director, I saw my prison psychologist. She was concerned how I was adjusting to my new living quarters. I told her I was doing very poorly and wished I was back in my former cell. All of the new people, places, and environment in general, had been a difficult and disturbing transition. She seemed to believe just being out of the Roundhouse would be an improvement. I told her that little in my life was improved. I had ever more distractions and noise due to where my cell was located. Worse, I had a cellmate I did not get along with. She called the placement officer to see if I could be moved elsewhere, but as I suspected, the person in charge of all cell and job assignments did not care. I would have to deal with it. I have been dealing with it for over 18 years, and wish someday I did not have to anymore.