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.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sergeant Bludgeoned -- November 11, 2011

On Saturday afternoon, the prison was placed on a Level 1 lockdown. Initially, all I heard from prisoners returning from their assignments was that a couple of shots were fired in D House. I noticed the phone was not being used so I quickly made a call to my parents. I wanted to notify them that visitation may not be allowed in the following weeks and to inquire first before making the drive here. I was only able to speak to my father for a few minutes before a guard demanded I hang up. Phone privileges are taken away on the onset of a lockdown. Later this week, I learned more details of what occurred, and I was glad to have been able to make contact even if it was only for a brief time. It may be a long time before prisoners can use the phones or have normal visiting hours.

Upon hearing the prison was being placed on lockdown I was initially pleased. No longer will I have all the inmates outside my cell staring into my cell or talking and yelling. I also will not have to go out for meals, and will once again have the luxury of room service. Going to chow is a major aggravation for me, and something I liked to avoid. However, after thinking of these benefits, I realized I will now be trapped in my cell with my extremely hyper and obnoxious cellmate. He may be unable to talk and yell with all the prisoners outside of our cell, but he will be bothering me for conversation. My assumption was correct, and Ely has been regularly distracting me throughout the week. Fortunately, he was able to find himself some other way to occupy his time.

This week, Ely has been making jewelry boxes out of folded paper. It is a very time consuming process and has kept him from aggravating me continuously. The boxes require him to make hundreds of strips of paper. These strips are then meticulously folded and then woven with plastic cookie wrappers to make square designs. The bottom square and lid are solid woven squares, although the others are open to make the body of the boxes. Once these pieces are made, he sews them all together. Later, mirrors will be added to the inside of the lids.

I was impressed that my cellmate was able to craft these jewelry boxes. He has a short attention span, and I tend to believe he is not creative. When he gave me a completed box, I asked him how he came up with the idea. He told me he got it from another prisoner who was selling them. Ely bought a box from him, but instead of sending it out to a girlfriend or a family member, he disassembled the box to figure out how it was made. He told me it took him weeks to understand how it was created, but then he was able to make his own. The man he had bought the box from was furious when Ely began to sell his own and take away his customers. They fought over the matter, although it did not settle anything and my cellmate continued to make them. The story reminded me of how the Chinese continue to engage in corporate theft, espionage, parasitical business partnerships, and do not honor intellectual property rights. They do everything to abuse Western free trade policies and undercut their global competitors.

My cellmate was motivated to make his boxes, not only because I frequently ignore him, but because he has little to no financial support and cannot have a prison job because of his escape risk. He has been in prison over 30 years and will soon be 55 years old. His parents are dead as well as all his aunts and uncles. This week I have heard Ely complain that his siblings have forgotten him, and his box is empty of food except for one Ramen noodle packet. If this was a ploy to get me to give him a handout, it will not work. I will not give my cellmate any commissary, despite how he may grumble.

Not long after Ely was assigned to my cell, he told me how if I may ever need anything, he will share whatever he has. It is interesting how only prisoners who do not have anything make this offer. Recently, I have noticed how the Obama administration and liberals in Congress continue to press for increased taxes on the wealthy. Already there is a progressive income tax that stifles the country's growth, but this is apparently not enough for those who want increased wealth redistribution. Socialists seem to believe those who are successful must be penalized so that there can be more equality despite how the aggregate of this policy will be to the detriment of everyone. The rhetoric of Marxism is very enticing to those who are envious and poor. However, America was never about equality of result. It was about opportunity. My cellmate is wise to try to make a buck for himself instead of relying on others for handouts. He will be surely disappointed if he waits on me to embrace collectivism and the theories of Karl Marx.

On a Level 1 lockdown, guards pass out food trays to the inmates in their cells. In C House, the trays are stacked not far away from the front of my cell before they are brought to the upper galleries. More important for my cellmate is that leftovers are returned to the same place to be thrown out. Throughout the week, Ely has been pestering various guards for extra food. Sometimes they will hand him an extra tray or two. A few times he was given stacks of trays. My cellmate did not want all this food. He just wanted the cookies or cakes on them. Ely fuels his hyperactivity and ceaseless talking with sugar and caffeine. Hopefully, he will soon run out of coffee.

I do not care usually for extra prison food, especially on lockdowns. The food served on lockdowns is typically worse. Possibly, this is because the guards or administration wants to punish us collectively, however, I tend to believe it is more out of laziness. On a lockdown, Stateville's inmate cooks are not let out. Instead, kitchen staff must rely on the labor of inmates from the minimum security unit or their own. MSU prisoners do not know how to prepare food, and the supervisors thus make meals as simple as possible. I have a decent supply of commissary food to substitute for bad prison food when I want. However, I have run out of stamped envelopes and had to ask an inmate on my gallery to loan me some.

On Tuesday, my cellmate was relatively quiet and this gave me an opportunity to read without much interruption. Visitation, however, began again and the men who were called for visits were brought to the cage in front of mine. The people were too much of an opportunity for my cellmate to pass up, and he had to talk to them. He had nothing important to say and usually doesn't, but this does not stop him. I was listening to the radio while he yelled over my head to one man, and I could not help but hope the asteroid that was passing by Earth did not make a bullseye of Stateville. According to the news segment I was listening to, the asteroid was passing within the moon's orbit. Although this was still about 200,000 miles, it was very close on an astronomical scale.

I had read almost the entire day only taking time to work out. By the evening I was tired and looked for something to entertain myself on television. The movie "Bad Teacher" was being played on the prison's DVD system. I did not care for stupid comedies, but there was little else to watch. The movie had a few amusing parts, but was mostly a waste of my time. If I did not live such a meaningless existence in prison, I would have never watched it and learned who Justin Timberlake was.

Yestereday, I was amazed to see unionized state workers rush down the gallery attempting to fix the hot air blowers. Usually, these people go about their jobs at a tortoise pace and I can only imagine the administration told them they had to fix the heat before they left for the day. Temperatures are dropping below freezing at night, and guards would have several hundred very angry prisoners if they were made to suffer in frigid air the entire evening. The utility men, however, were unable to get the hot water pipes to work, and instead turned on the heat vents along the outer prison walls. Before they did, my cellmate was already complaining about how cold it was and if Ely is cold after drinking ten or more cups of coffee and eating twenty or more cookies, you know it is cold.

Today is Veterans' Day, but mostly the morning news programs were talking about how many people considered this day noteworthy because of its date: 11-11-11. Apparently, many thought the three elevens signified good luck. There was a disproportionate amount of weddings and births today. Thousands of women had even taken drugs to induce labor or had C-sections so their children would have the date for their birthday. At Stateville, however, there was nothing special about the date. It was the same as any other. Days often blur into one another. At times, I catch myself even losing track of what year it is, let alone the day.

Since the lockdown on Saturday of last week, I have learned from various sources what occurred in D House. I cannot be absolutely certain because I did not witness the events, but word travels fast in the penitentiary. If there are several credible people who tell the same story, it is usually correct. My cellmate talks to everyone he sees, including guards, nurses, and inmates. Unfortunately, I must listen to him, but on the other side of the coin, I am able to discern what has happened to cause the Level 1 lockdown.

While showers were being run on one of the upper galleries of D House, a prisoner struck a Sergeant repeatedly with an object in a pillowcase. The Sergeant who is known at Stateville as B.J. was beat bloody and unconscious. A guard ran to his aid, but the inmate began to pummel him with the weapon too. The guard retreated with a broken fist and a number of other injuries. Another guard on the catwalk fired a warning shot into the ceiling, and when the prisoner failed to stop, he fired another shot onto the gallery a couple of feet from him. The buckshot ricocheted off the concrete floor, and hit a few innocent inmates who were locked inside their cells.

The attacker was not subdued until a mob of guards and a Lieutenant rushed up the stairs to where the assault was occurring. They quickly brought the man down, cuffed him behind the back, and beat him severely. According to rumors, the inmate was forcibly taken to an area of the prison where there are no monitoring cameras, and was beaten some more. When the man was transferred out to Pontiac segregation, the administration there refused to take custody of him. They did not want any responsibility for the prisoner's condition. Since he is no longer here and Pontiac would not take him, I assume he is now at Tamms Supermax or a hospital.

It is not known why the inmate attacked the Sergeant, however, Sgt. B.J. is despised among most prisoners. Not a single good word or word of sympathy have I heard about the man. Rather I have heard he has had it coming for a long time. I do not know who Sgt. Johnson is, and I asked my cellmate. He told me I had to know him from being at Stateville for over 6 years. He described him as a pudgy black man of average height who was very loud, obnoxious and had a bad attitude. He continued to talk about him, but I still have no idea who he is.

Interestingly, years ago, Sgt. Johnson had a sister who also worked at Stateville. She was also brutally beaten while working in the Roundhouse. From what I have been told, the inmate who caught her locked her on an upper gallery. She was unable to escape the prisoner's wrath and for a long time she was beat with impunity. After her assault she was never seen again in the prison. I tend to believe we will not see her brother back as well. He may still be in the hospital.

Almost all of the prisoners in maximum-security have natural life without parole or a comparable sentence. There is also no reason to behave when segregation is very similar to being in general population. The difference is mostly just a change of cells because there is little movement other than feed lines. In fact, I often think being at Pontiac Seg or Tamms is better because inmates have single man cells. They even have better food, health care, mail service, and other accommodations.

This year there have been 15 staff assaults at Menard C.C., and the inmates have spent half of their time on lockdown. A couple of months ago, administrators in the state capital swapped who they deemed as dangerous between the downstate facility and Stateville. However, shuffling the deck of violent convicts with no chance of being released is going to make little difference. Some may believe the answer to the growing problem is for prison staff to be more strict and the maximum security prisons to be even more oppressive and redundant with extra security measures. This has been the policy for over ten years, though, and I do not see it as a viable solution going forward. There needs to be a fundamental reform of not only the Illinois Department of Corrections, but the judicial system as well. Only so many people can be crushed into the penal system until cracks start appearing in the walls.