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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Prisoner Exchange -- September 21, 2011

Yesterday morning, there was a heavy fog that delayed movement and caused recreation lines to be cancelled. However, it did not prevent the transfer of close to 40 inmates to Menard C.C. The men were exchanged for 40 other inmates from the maximum-security prison down state, and they arrived at Stateville late in the afternoon. The swap was a surprise to many at the institution. None of the prisoners were told they were leaving until the night before. They had to hurry and pack up all their property and were given no explanation. Since then, however, various rumors have been circulating.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a gang fight on the way to the gymnasium. During the walk, a man severely beat another inmate in revenge for killing a relative of his on the streets of Chicago. When fellow gang members saw one of their own being brutally beaten, they attacked the aggressor. However, this only caused his mob to defend him. The result was a melee of about twenty prisoners fighting. Escorting guards were unable to break up the brawl and called on their radios for assistance. There was no gun tower capable of taking a shot, but eventually hostilities between the gangs were stopped and the entire line of men were placed in handcuffs to be taken to Segregation or their cell house. The prison was also placed on a Level 1 lockdown until last Wednesday.

While Stateville was on lockdown, a number of inmates on the gallery in E House that was headed to the gym were transferred to Tamms, Pontiac Seg, and Menard. A few weeks later, some people assumed the prisoner swap was an extension of the transfers which occurred earlier. Internal Affairs was assumed to target other people in the two gangs even if they were not involved in the fight or were even in different cell houses. Administrators may believe the gangs may continue to have animosity towards each other, so some were sent away as a precautionary measure. The Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples, however, are large gangs and shuffling the deck between two prisons may not have much of an effect if there are still strong grudges. The two gangs were enemies before the fight anyway, and regularly shoot at each other in the city.

During my time at Stateville, I have seen mass prisoner exchanges between the state's two maximum-security prisons before. Usually these involved the expulsion of the Latin Kings. The Mexican gang is probably considered the most dangerous gang in Illinois' penitentiaries now. Over the years, there has been an enormous increase of Mexicans incarcerated. These growing numbers along with a strong group identity, loyalty, and prevalence for using weapons has caused Internal Affairs to be diligent in trying to prevent their activity. The problem with swapping them for prisoners in Menard is that Menard officials do not want them either. Just like the Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples, shuffling the deck does not always change the hand a person is dealt.

As I reported in an earlier post entitled "Black Stones Raided," black gangs can often be the focus of large transfers also. The largest racial group in Illinois' prisons by far still are African-Americans, despite the fast growing population of Mexicans. However, the black gangs are not as organized or cohesive. There are many divisions among them, even within the same gang. Black prison gang members are also less likely to wield knives.

Caucasian inmates are a small minority in the IDOC, especially at Stateville. The only white gangs that have existed in the Illinois Department of Corrections are biker gangs and the Northsiders. The Northsiders is the largest of them, however, they have essentially disappeared in this decade. That is because the gang, unlike all the others, was formed in prison as a protective force against exploitation by the colored races. The Northsiders never existed outside these walls as a criminal organization, and once the enormous danger white inmates faced receded when guards took control of the prisons, the purpose of the gang faded. Despite the small minority of Caucasian inmates in prison, in the past they also have been the focus of Internal Affairs.

For a years in the late 1990s, I was incarcerated at Joliet CC. However, in 2000, I was transferred out with a group of other white men. The transfer was due to a prison snitch telling Internal Affairs that there was growing unity among the Caucasian inmates. A number of the men transferred out were Northsiders, but I and a few others were not even in gangs and were considered "Neutrons." Some men were sent to Menard, others to Pontiac, but unfortunately, I was sent to Stateville. I filed a grievance on the matter asking in part to be returned to Joliet. However, by the time the state supervising agency reviewed it, the old penitentiary in Joliet was closed down. It was emptied by 2001, and filming of the TV show "Prison Break" had began at the facility. Many men will be sent without warning to different prisons due to suspicions of conspiracy, and not for actually committing any infraction. Some will even stay at Tamms Supermax or Pontiac Seg for years.

Today, I was able to learn more about the men transferred to Menard. Earlier I went on a visit and afterwards I was made to wait in a crowded holding cage for a few hours before being returned to my cell house. The holding cage was filled to capacity with men standing shoulder to shoulder. They were loud, and some had sour body odors. While I was trapped in there, I overheard a number of conversations including talk about the inmate swap.

It has been a long day, and I look forward to sleeping after I write this post. Not only did I spend hours waiting in holding cages, but I was also given the 3rd degree by a lieutenant who wanted to know why I did not have a jacket. The IDOC is required to give inmates blankets and jackets for the winter. Increasingly, however, staff is reluctant to do so. It is even difficult getting socks, underwear, and T shirts now, and prisoners are expected to buy these items from commissary.

From what I have heard, only a handful of the men transferred yesterday morning were members of the gangs that fought on the way to gym a few weeks ago. Most of the men had been at Stateville for a very long time, even over a decade or two. Some had jobs, and this usually meant they had good disciplinary records. An inmate cannot have an assignment unless he has not been given a ticket in over a year. I have learned prisoners who had jobs in the kitchen, barber shop, print shop, and elsewhere were transferred. This information led people to speculate the inmates were not selected due to gang affiliation but for having too much influence with staff, or simply being just too comfortable. There was even speculation that one prisoner may have been transferred to discourage his appeal, although I am skeptical of this.

Many men in maximum security prisons have been incarcerated for numerous years, and have during this time built friendships with staff. A few men even have sexual relationships with female guards or nurses. If Internal Affairs ever suspects a sexual relationship, that prisoner will immediately be transferred. They also may spend a long time in Seg, depending on the level of proof. Men that simply have just formed a number of friendships also will be bussed out. I.A. will suspect those prisoners to have gained excessive influence, and this is taken as a threat. I have witnessed kitchen workers who I.A. would send to Seg for ambiguous charges, and who were then let out and given their jobs back. When I.A. noticed this, they were sent to Menard.

While in the shower area, I spoke to a couple of people about James who had been at Stateville since Joliet was closed. He had been working in the print shop since I arrived here in 2006, and probably long before, despite how wardens had decreed prisoners must be moved to different positions every six months and be laid off for a year after working a year. The print shop is not a job that can quickly be trained for, like someone who sweeps a floor or slops food on a tray. Despite this, the warden wanted the two print shop workers to be fired. Even Jimmy Files, who I now call "Operation Deep Throat" after learning of his claim to have killed President John F. Kennedy in a CIA-mafia conspiracy, and rumors he has French kissed men on visits, was fired. A person may think "Operation Deep Throat" would be reviled in prison, however, he has been at Stateville over two decades and has made friends with staff. The warden had to actually remove Jimmy Files from the print shop himself or he may still be working there. However, James continued to keep his detail and the supervisors refused to let him go. Even after Internal Affairs searched the print shop and discovered James had apparently made himself a second residence there, he was kept on. Apparently, I.A. thought this man was a little too comfortable and had a little too much influence, although there may be another reason for his transfer.

James has been stalled for years in a post conviction appeal. The prosecutor, time after time, has asked and been granted continuances. It seems that the State's Attorney's Office does not want the case to move forward. According to James, he is assured an evidentiary hearing and a new trial. His appeal accuses the prosecutor of withholding exonerating evidence of another man who confessed to the crime. It also encloses documents that the fire was originally determined to be an accident, and a retraction from a jail house snitch. The State's Attorney's Office never admits fault, and fights vehemently to prevent a murder conviction from ever being overturned, let alone an arson triple murder case. Although unlikely, it is possibly James was transferred to make it more difficult for him to meet with his lawyers and attend evidentiary hearing proceedings. Tomorrow, the prosecutor was supposed to give reasons why an evidentiary hearing should not be granted.

The prisoners from Menard are currently housed in the Roundhouse. I am informed most of them are gang members and were transferred due to a number of staff assaults that have occurred in the penitentiary recently. Inmates say the guards at Menard are regularly disrespectful, petty, and mean. They are thought to regularly try to instigate a fight, confrontation, or some type of trouble. They do not care if they are beaten up either because they know they will be paid well by the union and other guards will get revenge on their behalf. The men who have arrived at Stateville are perceived by Menard's Internal Affairs Unit as being influential gang members or possible leaders. I know little about various gangs' inner hierarchies and have not met any of the transfers myself.

My cellmate and others are trying to send supplies over to the men who just arrived. Apparently, the prisoners from Menard were sent without their property. In the middle of the night they were awakened and told to leave. They were bussed in only their boxers, jumpsuits, and open toed shower shoes on their bare feet. Eventually, I assume their property in Menard will be bussed to Stateville and they will be given it. In the meantime, people want to make sure they have some clothes, food, hygienic items, or other things.

As I write this journal entry, I have heard a rumor that many more inmates are planned to be exchanged with those in Menard. A lot of Stateville's population will not want to go to the downstate prison. Many Stateville prisoners are close to family who live in Chicago. A drive to Menard from the inner city takes about 8 hours. People also will not want to move because of stricter rules and the perception that many of the white guards are racist.

Being white, I am not concerned about guards who are in the Klu Klux Klan. Before the turn of the century, Stateville was often nicknamed the white man's graveyard, and to this day it is not a friendly place to be if you are Caucasian. I will not miss being one of a small handful of white men in a cell house. Menard has a higher proportion of Caucasian inmates and they are often not integrated. I have not seen the recent film "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" but I have seen the old movies. It is not fun playing Charlton Heston's character all the time.

Stateville is located in Cresthill, not far from many prisoners' families and friends. Stateville also is not run as strict as the southern Illinois maximum security prison. However, otherwise, Menard is a better institution to be at. The mail is processed timely, visitation is longer and more comfortable, and the health care is not as incompetent or negligent. There are also weights and exercise equipment on all their yards, including dumbbells, and they are always in good condition. Menard is, furthermore, quieter! Inmates are sent to Seg for yelling in line or in the cell houses. They also must use headphones when using their TVs or radios. There are no roaches, and the cells and cell houses are kept clean and in working order. No where in maximum security or prison in general is nice, but I will not mind if I am in a future prison swap.

October 5, 2011

There were no further prisoner swaps between Stateville and Menard. Unfortunately, it appears I am stuck here.