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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Stateville Showers -- March 9, 2012

Rarely do I ever take a shower at Stateville. The showers do not work properly and dribble out water or spray it haphazardly. Sometimes, the showers do not work at all or provide only cold water. Even less appealing is the crowd of men I must bathe with or wait with in the holding area until a shower is available. Many inmates have poor hygiene, communicable diseases, mental illnesses, or are homosexuals. Prisoners are also very loud, obnoxious and have little etiquette. Lastly, shower lines are not run with any consistency and typically do not fit in with my routine. Today, however, I made a decision to shower because the timing happened to coincide with my schedule and I noticed only sections of prisoners on the gallery were being let out to shower, rather than everyone. I expected the shower area not to be crowded and to be able to quickly wash up and return to my cell.
 
Prisoners here are given the opportunity to shower three times a week unless the prison is on lockdown or they are in Segregation. Inmates in Seg only receive one shower a week, which is the federally mandated minimum. On my gallery, shower lines are run on Wednesday and on the weekdays, although occasionally like today, they will occur on Friday rather than Saturday. Inmates who have job assignments are allowed to shower every day after their work assignment, and I have heard many say it was a great benefit especially before the shower days were changed from once a week. There is this odd perception that showering is a privilege, however because of the deplorable conditions, I could care less for it. I can bathe out of my sink under better circumstances.

Only at maximum-security prisons in Illinois do prisoners not have regular access to showers. At medium security penitentiaries the inmates can come and go from their cells into a day room and at low-minimum security prisons, men live in open dorms. A day room is a common area shared by inmates before lockup at night. It typically has tables, phones, and a television. Connected to the day rooms or adjoining them is a shower, laundry and sometimes a recreation room or area. While I was detained at Cook County Jail awaiting trial, I was in Division 10 which is a maximum-security building. Despite this, all the decks had day rooms that inmates were allowed to use until 10 p.m. At the jail, I showered daily and never washed up in the sink. However, I was able to shower at my convenience and typically did so when the shower area was empty.

In the quarter units at Stateville, hundreds of men share a single shower room or two. In my cell house, the shower room is located at the end of the building and on the lower floor. The shower room is about 10' x 25' and has 8 shower heads along one wall. Outside the room is a larger holding area prisoners are locked into. A barrier of bars with a gate extend from the outer perimeter wall to the cells. The bars are approximately 20' high and are topped with razor wire. At about waist height is a band of cardboard about a meter in width that I suppose is to offer some privacy. However, if a prisoner is not standing next to the barrier, he can be seen naked across the entire floor of the cell house. Regardless, there is a high tech wide lens camera in a bubble just above the shower holding area.

Unlike the back quarter units of C and D, B and E cell houses have their shower rooms on the second and third floor above the boiler room and front doors. There is no holding area in those cell houses and inmates are trapped in one of the two small shower rooms. The shower rooms are about the same size but have very low ceilings. In fact, the rocky concrete ceiling, often covered with mold, is only a few inches taller than me. When I lived in B House, I recall ducking under the two dim light fixtures. The shower rooms in the front two cell houses reminded me of dingy, dark, dank caves with little room to move about and no escape until a guard unlocked the heavy steel door.

The Roundhouse which holds about 500 prisoners once had two shower areas in the basement. However, because they were deemed unsafe and excessively violent were redone and now function as storage rooms. Instead of the basement shower rooms, two cells at the front of every gallery were converted into shower stalls. The John Howard Association, a prison rights group, last year came out with a scathingly critical report of Stateville and especially of the Roundhouse. One of the issues they focused on was the filthy showers, two men being forced into the same shower cell, and that nearly the entire building of staff and prisoners could see them bathe. I found the condemnation odd because the shower rooms in B and E houses are just as filthy, albeit lacking the cockroaches, and there is no privacy in the holding area where most everyone dries off and dresses or undresses. As for being in the shower cell with your cellmate, at least it is not possibly 50 strangers.

As my cellmate and I waited for the guard on the galley to unlock our cell door, I noticed Bobby had put on his boots and laced them tightly. I told him there was no need to do that. He responded it was a force of habit. The shower room is occasionally a place where fights occur, however, in the 90's and earlier, it was regularly a place of severe violence. One of the first things my cellmate taught me when I was sent to the penitentiary was to always wear your shoes until you knew no gang hostilities were to take place and a guard was posted for protection. The guard was a prisoner and was usually armed with a knife. Every gang had their own security to make sure none of their members were assaulted unexpectedly while they were showering. However, prisons in Illinois are not nearly as violent as they once were. Furthermore, C House has the oldest and least violent population of inmates. I tend to believe my cellmate was being less "O.G. Bobby" (Old Gangster) than "Insecure Old Midget Bobby".

In the 90's, the shower room could be a gladiator pit. There were not only regular fist fights, but rapes, bludgeons, stabbings, and melees of gang violence. I still recall times when the floors were stained with blood. The gun tower is unable to shoot into the shower room and guards never looked into them. They simply rolled open the doors of the galleries letting out anyone in the building who wanted to shower. A prisoner depended on others or themselves for protection and typically showered in groups. Walking into the shower without any friends often led to victimization.

When I was on the first floor sometimes I would jest with Steve. Upon leaving the shower room, I would ask if he required my protection services. He would say he was fine, but again I would ask him if he was sure while I glanced at La La, who is a large, black homosexual. After he would tell me he was OK, I would say, "Fine, but I do not want to hear any complaining later that you were raped by a big black Smurf." On the subject of La La, he fell hard onto the concrete floor of the shower holding area in an epileptic seizure on Wednesday. I am told no inmates came to his assistance, but finally a guard and a med tech arrived and lifted the 300 pound inmate onto a stretcher. On the way to chow after the incident, Steve was very angry. He said they used his T-shirt and boxers which were on the bars by where the big man fell to wipe off his body. He demanded the lieutenant replace his clothes, and because she is a nice woman apparently she agreed to stop by the clothing warehouse. After I heard the story, I told Steve there was nothing wrong with a little Smurf spit or sweat. He could have just put those clothes right on. He was not amused with my words.

Steve has been the brunt of my jokes lately because he continues to say or do things that could be perceived as weak. Steve has only been in prison a few years and does not know how violent it once was. Thus, the pampered life in the suburbs as a teacher or pianist sometimes clashes with the maximum-security prison setting I have mostly known. Before I was moved to the second floor, he once again amazed me by his softness by making up with another prisoner who had months previously come into the shower room dressed and with shoes on threatening to fight. Steve was naked taking a shower, from what I was told, and they just exchanged some more hostile words. Since then they never spoke and had a great animosity towards each other until all of a sudden they made peace at the chow table. The overly sentimental apologies and niceness they lavished upon each other made me incredulous. I could not help but mock them before they began to exchange hugs. It was very pathetic, even for a man I have nicknamed Pudding.

The next time I spoke with the two of them I told them they need to resolve their differences not like women but men and by fighting it out in the shower room. I continued stating we can set up some ground rules just like in the "UFC", such as no striking the balls, back of the head, or poking eyes. There will be three 5-minute rounds unless there is a KO or I stop the fight. Just like "Big John McCarthy," I will referee the match to make sure everything is fair. Everything I said was nonsense because the two old, out of shape cripples could not fight. It was absurd to think they could go one 1-minute round, let alone three 5-minute rounds.

Although my cellmate wore his boots to the shower room, I stayed in my Bob Barker shower shoes. Most people probably associate the name Bob Barker with the popular TV game show "The Price is Right" which he hosted for decades. However, most prisoners believe he did not just make his millions as a game show host but in the prison industries. According to talk, he has produced many products for prisoners or with prison labor, although I notice my shower shoes say "made in China." He also was heavily invested in privatized prisons in California and elsewhere. While the U.S. began to exponentially grow the police state and mass warehousing of millions of men and women in penitentiaries, Bob Barker knew where the money was at. Apparently, the rumors about the former game show host are false, although they continue to circulate. It is odd how there could be another Bob Barker and even I was surprised to be told t was a different man.

Everyone in prison uses shower shoes in the shower room. The floors are filthy and festering with bacteria. The chances of contracting Athletes Foot or something much worse is exceedingly high for one who dares to walk in barefooted. Only the most ignorant or retarded would venture into the shower room of a penitentiary without something on their feet. I try not to even touch the walls let alone the floor. Unfortunately, even shower shoes do not always protect inmates' feet and many convicts have disgusting looking feet and toe nails. Shower shoes, by the way, are worn by nearly every inmate in the cell as if they were house slippers. As I write this post, I have my orange Bob Barker shower shoes on.

After having my cell door unlocked, I walked down the gallery and stairs to the lower floor. I hung my laundry bag with my change of clothes onto a faucet that was underneath the stairwell. This is where I normally tie my bag if I take a shower because it is out of the way and provides some privacy. With my soap dish, wash cloth, and towel in hand, I walked into the shower room with only my shorts on. I was initially only going to look inside to see how long I was going to have to wait, but surprisingly there were a few empty showers. I went to the one at the far end so I would only have one person beside me as I bathed.

The shower room in C House is empty except for the 8 shower heads, a drain against the wall, a small metal bench, and a plastic garbage bin in the corner. It is on top of the garbage bin that I placed my property, however, other men used the bench. The bench is not solid but welded of square pipes and bolted to the floor against the wall opposite the showers. Unlike the shower rooms in B and E houses, the ceiling is not low and there is appropriate ventilation and lighting. The showers, however, do not work any better and I noticed one of them not in use was broken.

While I was showering, a retarded black man with a catheter and a bag of urine strapped to his leg asked if he could share the shower with me. I told him no, and to take himself and his bag of piss to the other side of the shower room. He did as I said and stood naked staring at some other man taking a shower. I have spoken with the man's cellmate before and was told he was found guilty of murder but insane, and was released into a halfway house. However, for some reason I do not understand, he was later incarcerated. Illinois law does not allow "guilty but insane" verdicts anymore and men are confined in a mental hospital until they are deemed fit to stand trial. Then they are tried, convicted, and sent to prison. Despite the change in the law, it should not affect convictions before the new legislation. The catheter I am told is due to the man not being able to piss because of a bladder infection or enlarged prostate. There is a rumor he is to be operated on soon to remove these organs and others, but I do not know the truth of this.

Before I finished rinsing off, a man began yelling demanding to know who left his boxers on his soap dish. He was very angry and told whoever it was in a threatening manner to remove them. When no one responded, he shouted insults at the unknown offender and threw the boxers on the floor. More than likely, because all the soap dishes look alike, the man made a mistake and was too cowardly to admit it. The little rusted metal bench does not have much room on it and prisoners have little ability to separate their shower supplies or clothes. Yet, another reason why I use the top of the trash bin.

I dried myself off with my towel and then wrapped it around my waist before leaving the shower room. When I went to get my clean set of clothes from my bag, I noticed a game of chess was being played blocking my path. I had to ask the participants and onlookers to allow me to pass. They did, and I jumped over the chess board underneath the stairway. I did not like that a number of men were in close proximity, but I undid my towel and dressed anyway. After drying off my feet, I had to get by the chess game enthusiasts. I was surprised they were not playing craps against the wall with some cut out soap dice. Shower time is often socialization, play and gambling time.

I stood against the wall underneath some hot water pipes looking to see when the gate on the 2nd floor was opened so I could go back to my cell. I greatly dislike waiting in the shower area, even if it was not as crowded and loud as usual. A prisoner named Brown came to speak to me. He is an obnoxious, talkative, and possibly mildly insane white man. Since I moved onto 4 gallery, he has been trying to befriend me. I tend to believe he has been being extra friendly because of how I disapproved of him killing a man and allowing his co-defendant to take the rap for it. Earlier, Brown sent me a typed letter attempting to make peace with me. Along with the letter, he sent some commissary foods. Prisoners will suddenly have a change of attitude when they know they must shower with you.

While I waited, Brown told me how he remembered how I was set up for the Palatine murders, and he could see how I would be upset about him not helping his innocent co-defendant. However, he told me he did not make any statements against him and even if he threw himself under the bus his co-defendant would still not be set free. Apparently, the other man was guilty of an underlying felony of selling drugs, and thus any murder which happened in the course of the drug deal was felony-murder. Plus, his co-defendant made some stupid admissions that were incriminating and the prosecutor would not drop the charges regardless of what he said. Brown has told me numerous stories and I do not know what to believe. I do know he is an unscrupulous, annoying, pathological liar and scumbag, and more, however. Despite his apologies and attempts to make me like him, I thought about how he may deserve an unregulated UFC cage fight in the shower room. Fortunately, I did not have to dwell on it long because a guard opened up the gate and I quickly left.

16 comments:

  1. The Bob Barker of "The Price is Right" is not the same person, and has nothing to do with the Bob Barker who is in the detention supply business.

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    1. I apologize for the poor reporting. After some research I learned the Bob Barker who was once the host of the "Price is Right" has nothing to do with prison industries. Almost all prisoners believed this was true and I did not think to question it. I am surprised someone else was able to copyright the name. Soon I will correct this post so it accurately reports the truth. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

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  2. What's wrong with contraception? Why are you against it?
    Are you against contraception in general or are you only against free contraception?

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    1. Contraception has completely changed society and generally not for the better since it has become widely available to women in the 1960's. Read the Fall of Western Civilization.

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    2. So you are against contraception. I think you are a closet Catholic.

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    3. So you are against all contraception? Or only women using contraception ,,, so condoms are OK for men but women shouldn't use anything at all?

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    4. Are you only talking about the pill? Or all contraception? Your opinion is interesting to us because the only people we know who oppose contraception do so for religious reasons. It's unusual to find someone who opposes contraception for secular/cultural reasons. Thank you for allowing us to pick your brain on this one. We look forward to your response.

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    5. Paul: this is a link to a transcript of a talk against contraception. It is by a Catholic but I think you might enjoy reading it. http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/264/contraception-whynot.htm

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    6. Mr&Mrs -- I think all contraception has led to moral decay as well as the suicide of Western Civilization. However, by far, the pill has caused the most damage.

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    7. How has the pill causes the most damage?

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    8. The pill is the simplest and most effective form of birth control. It has caused sharp population decline in entire nations as well as their moral values. Notice the difference between the time oral contraceptives became available to the public in the 1960s and afterwards. This was not just a product of the counter-culture hippie movement.

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    9. Yes, good points. That's what Pope Paul said in the 1960s in his encyclical "Humanae Vitae" though many ignored his warnings. Hope you enjoy the book we sent you about this topic. I was disappointed to find out you are ending your blog, but may your future be full of hope.

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  3. Hello, it was interesting to read your blog. I was doing some research on the conditions of Stateville prison and this was very helpful and informational. thank you!

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  4. Hello, I was fascinated with reading your blog and found the information you posted very useful for a research I was working on, Thank you!

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  5. "O.G." does not stand for Old Gangster it stands for Original Gangster in reference to the Charter members of today's black street gangs in the 60's and 70's

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  6. Sucky conditions.

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