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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Level E Cell Searches -- December 20, 2011

Once a week, all inmates that are designated extreme escape risks have their cells searched. If you are in the cell with one of these inmates, your property is also looked through. Thus, not only am I blessed to live with this socially obnoxious man, but I regularly have my day or evening interrupted and my belongings tossed about. The cell searches can be done at any time from early morning to late at night, and prisoners are never given any advance notice. For a person who likes to plan their day and keep their property neat and organized, having your cell regularly ransacked is most bothersome and inconvenient. I will be glad to be assigned a new cellmate next month.

There are four security classifications for inmates in the Illinois Dept. of Corrections. They are abbreviated by staff as L, M, H, or E: low, medium, high, or escape. My cellmate, Ely, has a green colored ID card and is a Level E. He has been a Level E for most of his 31 years in prison for trying, or succeeding temporarily, to escape three times. Most inmates at Stateville have a high or medium security rating. I am classified as a moderate or medium escape risk, and have a blue ID card. There are approximately 50 Level E's here, but only three are in C House. C House has the oldest population of inmates, and it is considered the least violent and unruly of the general population units.

Cells are searched randomly at Stateville, regardless if an inmate is a Level E or has a cellmate who is. A prisoner can expect his cell to be searched on average once a month. Typically, these are brief cursory searches lasting no more than ten minutes. Because I have a Level E as a cellmate, I am subject to both random and targeted searches. The two months that Ely has been my cellmate, our cell has been searched ten to twelve times.

The targeted Level E cell searches were for a period time conducted by the Orange Crush Tactical Unit. These guards thoroughly ransack cells for a half hour, and leave it in great disarray. They also are more likely to confiscate property or write disciplinary tickets for trivial rule infractions. I am glad not to have my cell turned inside out by the Orange Crush every week. I dislike the disruptions in my routine and having to reorder all of my belongings. Unlike most inmates, I have my possessions meticulously ordered in my two boxes and throughout the cell. It will take me hours to reorder my property from a state of chaos. Fortunately, the special tactical unit no longer conducts the searches of inmates' cells who are designated extreme escape risks.

Internal Affairs also does searches of cells, but only for specific reasons. Their searches can be even more thorough than the Orange Crush, although typically they are looking for something specific. When I was sent to Segregation last year, I.A. searched my cell for an hour, and then took both of my property boxes with some of my cellmate's property to search further. Later I learned they had inventoried all of the commissary to determine what I had purchased in the prior 3 months. Everything I did not buy in this time period was claimed to be contraband, and procured through trading and trafficking, or gambling. I have not had my cell searched by I.A. since then, but I believe my outgoing mail has been targeted.

Outgoing mail typically reaches my family within a few days. However, in the month of November, my mail began to be delayed a month. I asked other inmates if their outgoing mail was being sent out as slowly to determine if it was a systematic problem. Often, incoming mail at Stateville will be behind a month, and this is not unusual. However, after speaking with these men and the cell house counselor, I discovered that only my outgoing mail was untimely. Initially, I thought it was due to my sharing a cell with a Level E, but this was also not the case. Other inmates who were celled with green ID inmates were not having this problem and had not in the past. Internal Affairs does not like that I have a blog, and on occasion they harass me with disciplinary tickets, Segregation, confiscation of property, or disruption of my mail. I assume they are responsible for not only the long delays in my outgoing mail but also destroying my posts "Sergeant Bludgeoned" and "The Lab," both of which I had to rewrite from memory. I also toned down the subject matter and rearranged it so these versions would also not disappear.

The Level E cell searches are done by regular staff working in the cell house. This is better than having guards who do not know you and are unaccountable for their conduct. Guards and prisoners assigned to the same cell house spend at least 40 hours a week together. Although there are about 500 inmates living in 250 cages on 5 floors, over a period of time a familiarity and rapport usually develops. Considering my cell is close to the guards' front desk and my cellmate is hyperly social, this significantly adds to our interaction. Cell house guards often have much more other work to occupy their time and do not care to be bothered by unnecessary cell searches which seldom uncover any serious contraband. If you or your cellmate get along with staff, they are less likely to be inconsiderate when searching your cell.

This week, my cell was searched without displacing much of my property, and while my cellmate and I were out to chow. Upon returning, I noticed the overhead fluorescent light was on, and my property boxes were left partially opened or moved. My cellmate's mattress was rolled up, but overall it was not so bad. I keep all my books, magazines, corporate reports, and a number of labeled 9 x 11 envelopes with various papers in my small box. I noticed that some of them had been taken out and put back in the wrong order. I also noticed my clothes had been sifted through in my large box. This did not take long to reorder, and I appreciated the courtesy of staff.

Before lunch, the other two Level E inmates and their cellmates had their possessions searched. I was bathing in the sink at the back of the cell when my cellmate told me they were in the holding cage across from our cell. Typically, all the Level E searches in C House are conducted simultaneously, and I was annoyed to be in the middle of washing up. I had a privacy sheet up across from the wall to the upper bunk. Water was all over the floor and I had soap all over my body. I said to my cellmate, "The guards have great timing." However, they never came into our cell.

While at chow, I mentioned to Anthony how I was fortunate not be inconvenienced earlier. Anthony's cellmate is a Level E as well, and noticed that I was bathing in the back of the cell when he was in the holding cage. He told me guards caught his cellmate though, in the same predicament. They did not want to wait for him to rinse and dry off. Despite this, Matt refused to immediately leave the cell without doing so. I was told the guards became angry by this, and demanded he hurry. They also threatened to ransack the cell, but did not carry through with their threat, and only left their belongings in a mild state of disarray.

Cell searches can come at many inconvenient times. Once I had already fallen asleep for the night when I was awakened by guards. Half awake, I put on my shower shoes and walked over to the holding cage across from my cell. One of the guards asked me how I was doing, and I responded, "Sleepy." He said I looked as if I was in bed, and I told him that I had been. The guard, who I have known since being here in C House, was a considerate man that I get along with well. He apologized for the late search. Although they had been given orders to conduct the Level E cell searches earlier, they had not gotten around to them until just then. Another guard was only in our cell for ten minutes or less. I walked back into my cage and crawled onto my bunk without bothering to reorder anything.

Earlier this month, I was eating a meal and watching the movie "The Fugitive," with Harrison Ford. I thought it was an appropriate film to watch after an inmate from Stateville had recently escaped. The man had jumped out of a moving transport van on the way back from a court writ. Unlike Harrison Ford, he was only on the loose for several hours before he was apprehended. I told my cellmate the Stateville escapee had a lot of spirit, but was not nearly as intelligent as Harrison Ford's character. My cellmate agreed that his flight was foolhardy, and went on and on about what he should have done differently. However, when the commercial break was over, I put my headphones back on and did not pay attention to him any more. My movie was interrupted not long after when guards came to the cell telling us they were going to conduct a search.

In the holding cage, I heard Matt gripe about when he was sent out on a court writ recently he was placed in the same van as the escapee had been. The van had not been cleaned and he was forced to sit on a bench that still had residual fecal matter and chemicals on it. The stench was overwhelming and he wanted to sue the transport guards. I had heard on television news that the escapee had been found hiding in a portable toilet, but I was not aware he hid down inside the noxious liquid until guards were laughing about it the day after. I assumed the van would have been cleaned or the entire seat removed, but it was not.

The holding cage across from my cell is about 10' x 10'. There is one door that can be locked, and one rectangular hole in the front to pass inmates food trays or to handcuff or unhandcuff them. The cage is made of interwoven horizontal and vertical steel bars separated by 3" squares and like most things at the prison, it is all painted gray. Buckets, or sometimes trash cans, sit on top of it and the adjoining cage to catch water when it rains. I can clearly see into my cell while a guard or guards are searching it, but seldom do. I care little about the search, just about how much guards will leave my cell in disorder. Although I will not say anything to them, my cellmate has no reservations about complaining.

A few weeks ago, a guard continued to search our cell well after the other guards returned from searching the other two Level E cells. Initially, my cellmate had wandered from the holding cage to talk to a man on the lower gallery. When Ely became restless, he returned to look and see what the guard was doing to take so long. The guard had inspected a set of my pens wrapped in a rubber band, a collection of items on my cellmate's bunk, the prescribed medication for my lower back pain, the underside of a mirror taped to the wall, and various other things and places.

When my cellmate returned, he was looking at the pictures in my John Wayne Gacy book. My cellmate yelled at him to quit meandering and hurry his ass up. There was nothing in the cell and he was just wasting time. When a different guard commented that this was the 2nd shift he was working, my cellmate really began to razz the guard in our cell. The guard responded he was just doing his job, but it was apparent he was tired and just filling time before his shift ended and he could go home. My cellmate is extremely hyper and obnoxious, and as we were walking back into the cell, the guard said he felt sorry that I had to live with him. I wish the placement officer was as sympathetic.

On a few occasions, guards will search the cell when showers for the gallery are run. By the evening, I have already bathed, usually because I exercise early in the norming and do not bother going to the showers. In maximum-security prisons in Illinois, many men think a shower is a treat, but it is not something I look forward to. The shower room is dirty and unsanitary. I also do not like bathing amongst a crowd of men, especially some of whom are homosexuals, mentally unstable, violent, or as socially obnoxious as my cellmate. Staying in the cell for me is a small period of time of peace away from Ely. When guards tell me they are going to search the cell, however, I will go to the enclosed shower waiting area to talk to Steve rather than stand in the holding cage. Sometimes, I will wait until most people have showered and then take my own, although this squanders a lot of time.

Now that Anthony has a Level E for a cellmate, I will usually talk to him in the holding cage when waiting for our cells to be searched. Last week, Anthony looked as if he had just rolled out of bed from a late afternoon nap. He seemed not to be in any mood for conversation, thus I did not bother him with any. Afterwards, my cellmate said that he thought Anthony and I could be brothers. This is not the first time he has said this, although there is little resemblance except that we are both white and are of the same approximate height and age. In the cell, I asked my cellmate why he thought we looked alike, and he said it was not so much our appearance, but demeanor. He explained that we were both quiet, sullen, and psychotic. Ironic how those who were clearly disturbed mentally would think that of Anthony and me because we are introverts, or normal. However, later that day, Anthony told me he had just learned that one of his sisters had died, and that was why he looked depressed in the holding cage. I suppose I look depressed often because I feel I have died.

My cellmate often harps on the lieutenant who oversees the inmates who are Level E's. Ely wants his security level brought down to "high". He continually tells staff, but especially the lieutenant, that he only has seven more years to do and he is the longest serving Level E that he is aware of. Time and time again, he will remind people of how short he is, and even if the doors were flung open he would not flee. His argument was made less convincing, however, when a man from Stateville with minor convictions and only a 7-year sentence jumped out of a moving van. I told my cellmate after this episode that the administration was not only unlikely to lower his security rating, but increase it. Instead of having just a green stripe down his pants and jacket, he would be given entirely fluorescent green clothes, including his underwear. My cellmate was watching "The Green Lantern" at the time, and I said the police are going to give him Green Lantern briefs, if not put a GPS tracking chip in his skull. Ely did not like any of these ideas.

Because my cellmate is so persistent and annoying, the lieutenant finally told him he would talk to the warden about his security level. This, I knew, was just a ruse to attempt to get Ely from pestering him continually. I am not present for their conversations, but my cellmate unfortunately tells me all about them. One time, he was very aggressive and was in the lieutenant's face arguing with him. From what I am told, another lieutenant stepped in between them to deescalate the altercation. The lieutenant's response was to order our cell to be searched as a form of retaliation. For about 15 minutes I waited in the holding cage with Ely, as a guard went meticulously through our cell and our belongings. He had a mirror with him, and used this to look underneath the bunk, sink, and stool. He carefully put his hand underneath the bars and the place where the door slides through. The guard even flipped through the pages of books to see if anything would fall out. It was obvious that he was looking for a knife. The lieutenant may have wanted to make sure my cellmate was not armed.

In the last couple of weeks, my cellmate has been given two sets of bad news. First, he was told that his Level E status would not be changed. Second, he was informed by the Illinois Supreme Court that his appeal was denied. I am suspicious if the high court even took his case, and this may have been a ruse to make others believe he had a chance of going home soon. With the lieutenant, warden, and even the director of IDOC flatly telling him he was going to stay a Level E probably for the rest of his sentence, there was no need to lie any further. I cannot fathom my extroverted cellmate not showing me his legal work. I am further convinced that he had no appeal pending. However, the bad news was offset by Ely receiving 90 days of good time back, and for me, the knowledge that I will only have to live with this man another month before he is moved.