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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hostage Crisis -- January 27, 2012

On Monday evening, a demand for all inmate workers to report immediately to their cells was sent over the cell house loudspeaker. At the time, I was carefully reading through a 100+ page corporate report of Enterprise Products Partners. As with all company statements, the devil is in the details, and an investor is wise to review all of these. The announcement, however, and the following commotion easily distracted me. Guards were soon thereafter seen outside my cell bars briskly walking about shouting at prisoners to go to their doors. They were acting urgently as if there was some great threat or impending danger. While guards ran about to secure the cell house, I heard prisoners say a Code 2 came over the radio. Inmates, including myself, did not know what this meant, and a guard was asked what happened. The guard just said, "A whole lot of shit." I assumed this meant there was an assault on staff, but it was odd that whatever occurred was in X House.

X House is currently the prison's Protective Custody Unit. It is not usually known for violence. Many of the men there have special security needs due to a variety of reasons. Some of the inmates there simply have high profile cases and seek to avoid harassment. For example, Juan Luna, convicted of the Palatine Brown's Chicken Massacre was there until media attention dissipated. There are state witnesses, men who have snitched on their gang, and a few former police officers. Some men are seeking sanctuary from drug or gambling debts. There are also men who think they are women, sexual predators seeking these sissies out, and pedophiles that have been victimized in General Population, or threatened. A number of prisoners just do not want to be at Stateville and approved inmates are eventually sent to Pontiac C.C. My current cellmate claims he sought P.C. status to avoid being transferred to Menard where he has had problems with guards. He also knows P.C. inmates at Pontiac have better living conditions and privileges.

Upon hearing there was an incident in X House, my cellmate was trying to figure out what occurred and who was involved. DD had spent several months in the unit before he became my cellmate. He knows many of the prisoners and guards there, and sometimes mentions checking back into P.C. although he was denied. Prisoners cannot be denied P.C., and those rejected can repeatedly try again. However, those inmates not approved remain in a type of limbo status. They do not have contact with approved prisoners nor with those in general population. Basically they are treated like segregation prisoners except they have the same privileges except for movement. They are confined to their cells, except for visitation, yard, and showers.

Although initially guards rushed to lock everyone in their cells, they later allowed some kitchen workers to take a shower. A few cell house inmate workers were also let out. My cellmate asked me if it was typical for kitchen workers to be given a shower although the prison was on lockdown or if I believed the lockdown was called off. It was difficult to determine, but my guess was that the urgency of whatever happened had ended and guards were just letting some men who slaved in the kitchen to take a shower. DD stopped a cell house worker to ask if the prison was still on lockdown. He said no, and we were led to believe there was once again normal operations. This was not incredibly surprising because X House is an isolated building.

Monday night, I watched the reality TV show "The Bachelor," believing only X House was on lockdown. It is difficult to ascertain whether there are normal operations at night in the cell house because there are no movement lines. Only a small contingent of cell house workers were out, but this could be because guards did not see a need to let the others out when there was only limited work to be done. I did not care much, one way or the other. I was more interested in the unfolding melodramatic romance show and thinking why there was so much competition and outflowing of emotions for a man I believed was an undesirable nerd. At times, I turned the station to the season premier of "House," whose main character I could more readily identify with.

It was not until 3 a.m. that I knew with certainty the entire prison was on lockdown. It was then a guard woke me up yelling "Trays." Half asleep, I got up to get my tray and that of my cellmate, along with some units of generic Cheerios. I glanced into my tray to see three small pancakes with no syrup or any other toppings. Syrup has long been discontinued at Stateville, but on occasion prisoners will get a package of peanut butter. As I went back to sleep, I wondered why the guard did not just put the food on the bars or on the table as the prison workers do.

Tuesday, the prison was on a full lockdown and no one was let out of their cells. I did not mind being locked in my cage and continued my reading of the corporate report that I was reading the night before. Enterprise Products is a pipeline limited partnership. With the increased production of oil and especially natural gas domestically, I know there will be a much greater demand for the transfer of these fuels. Pipelines pay an excellent yield or distribution and they also have the potential for enormous growth over the next decade. Although I listened to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, I knew his rhetoric was largely deceptive, especially in regards to energy production. The halt of the Keystone Pipeline and many other projects demonstrates his true administrative policy. However I am willing to wager he will be a one term president. This will be a victory for not only Republicans, but energy investors too.

My new cellmate, while emotionally unstable and possibly mildly psychotic, is much less disruptive than the former man assigned to my cell. While I read and did other things, he mostly watched TV the entire day. He watched a number of true crime or prison shows such as "I Almost Got Away With It," "Gangland," and "Jail." He also watched "The Family Feud," "Cheaters," some black comedies, and even cartoons with much enjoyment. Many prisoners in the state's maximum-security penitentiaries spend vast amounts of time watching television. Although I find most television greatly unproductive, I sometimes question if I should join them. I study stocks, economics, history, astronomy, and other subjects. I pay attention to politics and significant news stories. I also regularly write, including this blog, but I wonder if my occupations are much more meaningful than those who live around me. At times when I read over the extensive corporate report of Enterprise Products, I paused to stare at the dreary cracked and peeling gray painted sides of my tomb and the bars which cage me. I share the same hopeless slow death as thousands of other prisoners, despite my innocence or what may be my aptitude or education.

A guard who I know and was working at the front desk came over to my cell. He leaned on my bars and asked how I was doing. What type of response was he expecting? I thought of saying "I live in a cage for the rest of my existence and my life is meaningless and torturesome." However, I simply said I was folding clothes. The guard has been employed at Stateville many years, and although he is free, I sometimes get the impression he is also burned out as well. He worked as a kitchen supervisor for a short time and also tried to change his job to a counselor. As I folded socks and engaged in trivial small talk, I thought of asking him if he had a spare bullet to put in my head. A truly empathetic counselor would do this, but prison policy would be to place me in an empty room, naked, under suicide watch.

As word traveled in the penitentiary, my cellmate and I learned more details of what occurred in X House. Apparently, a Level E inmate took a guard hostage with an improvised shank. The incident occurred after he let the inmate out to take a shower. X House does not have large shower rooms like in general population, but single shower stalls that can be locked. One of the showers is like a small dark closet and has a thick steel door. I do not know if the guard was taken to this shower or another, but he was locked in one of them. He was also forced to give up his set of keys and walkie-talkie. The prisoner smashed the radio, and this may have triggered an automatic alarm. Regardless, a sergeant working in X House confronted the inmate and got him to surrender. With the threat of Stateville's tactical unit busting into the wing and beating him senseless, the hostage taker went to his cell, leaving the keys on the gallery. The guard was let out of the shower soon thereafter without any serious injury.

My cellmate was greatly interested in who was involved, but initial sources did not know. For a half hour or longer he speculated with me and others. Eventually word came to my cellmate that the Level E inmate was Jeremy. According to DD, Jeremy was a strange short black man who often spoke in whispers but at other times would rant violently. He was also known to have strange behaviors while in his cell. From the description I was given, I wondered if the prisoner was mentally ill to some extent. Odd that my cellmate spoke of his volatility because he is also unstable.

I was informed of the guard's name, but I am not publishing it. I am not sure if I ever saw, met, or talked to the guard taken hostage and cannot even give a description of him. My cellmate theorizes, however, the guard may have provoked the inmate to "snap." Apparently, when men are let out for showers in X House, a guard will watch men to make sure they go directly to the shower without loitering on the wing. Many prisoners, though, want to stop at cells to talk or exchange books, magazines, etc. DD speculates the guard yelled disrespectfully at the prisoner or put his hands on him.

Despite my cellmate's speculation, I have heard contradicting rumors. The first of these is that the Level E inmate was simply trying to escape. He thought he could lock the guard in the shower and use his keys to leave the building undetected. The other rumor is that Jeremy was trying to lure a female guard onto the gallery to force her into a cell and rape her. According to this story, the prisoner used the walkie-talkie to ask her to report to the wing, but she was suspicious and told the sergeant. It is difficult to verify what was the true motive behind the hostage crisis unless I speak to a guard or an inmate who actually witnessed the events.

Interestingly, the P.C. unit at X House is being closed down to make room for inmates from Tamms Supermax. According to plans, P.C. inmates will no longer be kept at Stateville but quickly be transferred to Pontiac. Inmates waiting approval will be kept in the Roundhouse. X House will soon be called "Tamms Stepdown," which is a transition period before these inmates are allowed back into general population. The inmates at Tamms are supposed to be gang leaders, and the most dangerous or violent prisoners in the IDOC. If a guard is able to be taken hostage by a P.C. inmate, I wonder how staff will deal with exiting Tamms' inmates. I tend to believe additional superfluous security, manpower, and rules will be imposed. Already a new rule has been announced in general population, although it does not prevent or deter hostage taking and probably will make the prison less secure, if anything.

This morning, inmates in C House were told they could no longer use a privacy sheet in the back of the cell when bathing or using the toilet. Shouts of complaints immediately erupted from the cell house. I did not join in the protests, but I also greatly disliked the rule. It will, in fact, make me the most uncomfortable and inconvenienced. Throughout the day, numerous guards and prisoners are standing in front of my bars or walking by. Without being able to prop up a privacy sheet, it will be similar to me showering or sitting on the toilet in the middle of an airport.

Even if there was not a great amount of traffic in front of my cell, I do not live alone. I am trapped inside this 6' x 10' cage with another man. In maximum-security prisons of Illinois men spend the vast amount of their time in uncomfortable close proximity. Lockdowns can keep cellmates trapped with each other for weeks or months. The Placement Officer does not care if cellmates get along or even try to kill each other. This often tense and hostile atmosphere can be aggravated if men cannot give each other the common courtesy of using a privacy sheet while they bathe naked or defecate. The cells in maximum-security were never designed to accommodate two men. It was only because of overcrowding that they were. However, at least years ago, prisoners were able to chose their own cellmates and this greatly reduced hostilities.

Not having privacy is not only disrespectful towards your cellmate, but staff who work in the prison. I am certain the change in policy did not come from guards but the administration. In fact, I tend to believe staff opposed the new rule. There are many female correctional officers and nurses who work in the cell houses. Nurses must do regular rounds on the galleries, and guards can spend every day and hour of their shifts where convicts are celled. I doubt they want to be exposed to hundreds of men using the commode, bathing, or changing their clothes. The male guards also would prefer if convicts had some privacy and manners. Inmates already live demeaning lives in cages like animals and the administration wants to take away what little human dignity they may have left. The administration also seems ambivalent to increased tension and animosity between prisoners and staff. I do not see how men being prohibited from having the slightest bit of privacy will prevent hostage taking.

Before the President's speech before Congress on Tuesday, he said "job well done" to Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense. No one at the time knew what he was talking about, but later information was released to the press. Twenty members of Navy Seal Team 6, the same unit which killed Osama Bin Laden, parachuted into Somalia and rescued two Danish hostages who were kidnapped. The mission was an impressive operation by the Special Forces, although I wonder if it was not used as a political tool to highlight the President's effective leadership as Commander-in-Chief, despite questions about major strategic policies. It reminded me, in a small way, to events at Stateville, although definitely the hostage crisis at Stateville was dramatic. What I thought was similar was how the President used it to increase his prestige and the warden used it to make a change that seemed done only for appearances. A maximum-security prison is always going to be dangerous and violent things are going to occur, but the administration seemingly sought to act authoritatively. Not being able to see a man take a crap, however, will do nothing for security.

Earlier today, my cellmate left the cell on a visit, and I soon heard him arguing with a guard who is known to follow regulations like an automaton. All prisoners must be handcuffed behind the back during lockdowns, but this guard wanted DD handcuffed in a specific way where his hands faced outward. I believe the guard was following a new policy, but my cellmate has an injured elbow and shoulder making such handcuffing extremely painful. The argument intensified with them shouting at each other. The guard threatened to write him a ticket for calling him a "bitch coward", and a "house nigger". My cellmate did not care, however, and yelled to me to pack his property for Seg. I could see the incident unfold from my cell and thought it would turn into a physical confrontation until the sergeant came by and diffused the situation.

The administration seems bent on taking more and more away from prisoners until they are stripped of everything. Possibly, people will argue that convicts should suffer, but the increased oppression and tighter controls do not increase security. Contrarily, I believe at a certain point it diminishes it with a group of men who have nothing to lose. Recently, an inmate sold me a few tapes. One of them is "Nine Inch Nails--the Downward Spiral." A song I listen to now as I write is called "Piggy." I am not certain the pigs refer to cops, but the song ends repeating the same lyrics time and again: "Nothing can stop me now because I don't care anymore." The staff assaults, hostages, and other violence seems to embrace this sentiment of prisoners. Prisoners simply do not care anymore.

7 comments:

  1. The Keystone Pipeline Project would have brought tens of thousands of good paying jobs to several states that it would pass through. I was surprised that Obama said no to it. I thought he wanted to be re-elected!

    One big problem at most prisons is that they only have punishments, and no rewards. They also have little to nothing for inmates to do all day. States like to defend this by saying they have no money left for prison programs, but it is just a ruse. Most prison activities are free ! There are many volunteers from local colleges/universities and churches who would offer classes or training at no cost. Sadly, the states just have a "hang 'em high" attitude instead of a goal for rehabilitation.

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  2. THIS ONE IS excellent! hang in there.

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  3. I agree -- excellent post! Oh, if only administrators would meet with a few select prisoners (such as Paul) to learn some things that to me seem like common sense!

    I don't advocate emptying our prisons, but making life inside more bearable and allowing prisoners to have something productive to do would be a good start.

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  4. Yes yes yes to all comments above. What a waste it is to have prisoners spending their lives being idle. I can see how it would make it more dangerous for the guards to go to work. It's too bad.

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  5. Ex-cops goto Sheridan CC not Statesville PC.

    Forget stocks and stuff. Only very few, and always the same, make money in the market..anyone else makes a little, loses a little and with inflation and taxes they end up exactly where they started 5 years earlier. Wall Street is real scam...you are wasting your time. Use it for astronomy :)

    Your Republican bitches would like more than 50% of profits in NHL even though they don't do nothing but own the teams. So they locked out the players...season's first 2 weeks already canceled.

    Obama vetoed the Keystone project because his people were not ready for it and he doesn't want those not connected with him or his party benefit. Typical of a politician, Democrat, Republican, they are all the same, looking out for their kind only.

    The privacy thing with curtains and stuff...that would make inmates almost human. The point it seems, is to break you guys slowly, one stupid rule at a time. Retaliation will justify their point that you all are animals. Not much you could do really...no one wants to admit they fucked-up with your sentence or appear soft on crime or appeasing the gangs or whatever labels media will hit them with. The only ones who could help you are those with money but they have no hearts...you are in deep trouble Paul :) the system you like is against you and the people who hold the key are cowards who would sell their mama for 22 cents, per share. On the bright side...you are not living among these creppy, greedy, cowardly excuses of humans as those who know you don't belong in the Ville yet they ignore it hoping you die or something. Piss them off: stay healthy and have a good life when you come out...it will eat them alive.

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