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.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Backlash to Tyranny -- January 6, 2012

In the maximum-security prisons of Illinois, the number of staff assaults has been increasing. At the same time, although crime rates are down to 1950's levels, shootings of police officers are up. Ironically, the response to both of these developments has been the same oppression, laws, and brute force that caused the violent increases. For decades, the U.S. has moved towards a big brother government and police state. More prisons have been built, and more guards and police officers hired than throughout the history of the Republic. Laws and prison sentences have been exponentially expanded where several million Americans are in prisons and jails, either on probation, parole, court supervision or work release. I would like to think the Hobbesonian Leviathan which pervasively grips society can be slain heroically and in a decisive blow, but history teaches liberty and freedom are hard fought battles.

Since my last journal entry, I have learned more about the incident in E House that almost caused the prison to be placed on lockdown through Christmas. From what I have heard, a guard was beaten unconscious after a confrontation. The inmate was thereafter overwhelmingly subdued and pounced upon further in retaliation. Onlooking prisoners locked in their cages were not happy by the excessive use of force. In prison, a guard who fights successfully man-on-man is respected, however, a mob that stomps on an inmate after he is already handcuffed is looked upon with great disdain.

Not long after Christmas, there was a one-on-one fight in the shower of the cell house I reside in between two Mexican prisoners. The shower is a place many prisoners go to settle their differences without police intervention. There is no overlooking gun tower nor do guards go in the locked area. The fight probably would have gone unnoticed by staff had the two not sustained visible injuries. One of the men was stabbed and the other had his head split.

Internal Affairs, the investigative unit of Stateville, does not usually become involved in isolated fights. Fights between inmates occur regularly in maximum-security prisons and are not taken seriously. However, because one of the combatants used a shank, I.A. conducted an investigation. Last Wednesday, late in the evening, a group of Hispanic prisoners were questioned. I saw them in the holding cage across from my cell, and they complained of racial profiling. Their complaints were half-hearted, and partly made in jest. Internal Affairs regularly uses specific group questioning and this policy is far wiser than a broad round up of prisoners.

The following morning, the prison was on a level 1 lockdown, and it has been so until yesterday. Various rumors have circulated about the reason for the lockdown. Some say it was due to the holidays. Many guards have taken days off work for Christmas and the New Year. On one of the days the prison was on lockdown, a guard informed me that 84 people did not show up for work. Numerous guards were working double shifts to make up for the lack of staff. Along with the decrease in manpower, the administration realizes many inmates and guards alike get drunk on New Years Eve. Considering the lack of staff and possibility of drunkenness, it was probably considered prudent to lockdown the prison, although I tend to believe the questioning of Hispanics the night before was at least part of the reason.

According to kitchen workers, who were unusually allowed to continue to work through the lockdown, guards reported knives were found in the cell house where the Christmas Eve incident occurred. It is no secret there is great animosity, especially amongst prisoners of E House, because a gang member was beaten in retaliation when he was defenseless. Prison shanks plus a threat of retaliation against staff, even if ambiguous or incredible, would be enough to make the administration cautious. I would not be surprised if one of the men questioned by I.A. did not have something to say.

After the lockdown, prisoners were surprised to be let out for showers and learn they could no longer take their laundry bags with them. Inmates do not have any benches or hooks to place their clothes, soap, towel, etc. in the shower area. Thus, everyone uses their mesh laundry bag to place those items in, and will tie them to the pipes or bars before showering. The reason for the new rule was apparent to everyone, and one prisoner yelled out of his cell, "You scary motherfuckers!" Administrators thought by not allowing inmates to bring their laundry bags this would prevent staff assaults. However, this rule would not have had any effect on the Christmas Eve incident where the prisoner used only his fists. The rule also will not prevent inmates from improvising or using other weapons. A sock, towel, pillowcase, or even the leg of a pair of pants knotted and filled with a bludgeoning object still can be used, not to mention knives. The security precaution will not lessen violence against staff or inmates for that matter. It is only another inconvenience and foolish rule, similar to those Americans experience when traveling by plane.

The initial rumor I heard about the Christmas Eve assault was that a prisoner who was fed up with living at Stateville and without any family to visit him, decided that he would rather be in Pontiac segregation or Tamms Supermax. The administration fails to realize that in maximum-security penitentiaries in Illinois there is little motivation to behave. No matter how many rules, new procedures, safeguards and staff, the tight fisted control imposed will not prevent violence. The poor quality of life and excessive repression only stirs greater resentment amongst inmates who have nothing to lose. The vast majority of men at Stateville or Menard are incarcerated for life. The threat of Segregation means little because there is little difference between being locked in your cage in general population or somewhere else. As it is, Menard spends half the year or longer on lockdown anyway. At Stateville, the situation was similar until a new warden changed policies of the previous administrations. However, despite this, Stateville remains a miserable and oppressive place to live. I often wonder why I continue to behave when a single man cell awaits me in Pontiac or Tamms.

Frequently, while reading or writing, I listen to WLS talk radio. Earlier today, I was surprised when Sarah McKinley called in to be interviewed by the Roe and Roeper Show. For those who are unaware, Sarah McKinley is the woman from Blanchard, Oklahoma who shot a man dead in her home under suspicious circumstances. Her 911 call to police has repeatedly been played on national television news networks this week. Photographs of her posing while holding the shotgun she used in the killing also have been shown. While some people, especially gun rights advocates, tout her as admirable for defending herself, others question her use of deadly force. The prosecutor's office has no intention of arresting her, and has publicly stated she was fully within her rights.

Sarah McKinley answered all of the questions posed by the radio talk show hosts, although her answers were not all entirely credible, in my opinion. She states on the afternoon of December 31st she heard a knock on her door and peered outside to see two men, one of whom she knew. Instead of answering the door, she retreated inside of her trailer with her baby and 21-month-old German Shepherd. She says she knew the men had bad intentions when she armed herself with a pistol and a 12 gauge hunting rifle. As she waited, McKinley called the police and asked for permission to shoot the men. The dispatcher would not authorize such action specifically, but said she should do what is necessary to protect herself. Soon thereafter, one of the men broke into the place and without saying a word, the woman blasted him. She was asked why she did not first give a warning or make a verbal threat. She simply stated that she did not want to give her position away. McKinley had intentionally been very quiet, even giving her baby a bottle so the man would not know where she was. Police came less than a minute later and found the dead man on the floor with a knife in his hand. The other man had already run off, but later turned himself in.

The man who fled said that they were there to procure pain medications. McKinley's husband had been prescribed these to help ease his pain before he died from lung cancer on Christmas Day. McKinley initially told people that she thought they were there for the drugs, however, on the Roe & Roeper Show, she changed her story and said she believed they wanted to rape her. I tend to doubt if this was the true reason. Pain medications are in high demand on the black market, and if she was known to possess them it would make her a target for a burglary. It is even possible that Sarah McKinley may have even sold the medications to them on another occasion. Despite not knowing exactly what occurred, I fully support gun rights. However, I believe the media has totally missed the real controversy of this incident.

The man who fled the trailer after his friend was shot was, incredibly, charged with his murder, and may even face the death penalty. It does not matter that he had nothing to do with the death, or that he did not even enter the home. Whether he was there to assist in a burglary, robbery, or rape also does not matter. Regardless of the felony his friend had intentions of committing, he was automatically guilty of it, and any death which occurred during the commission of the crime. This is the insanity of the felony-murder law which exists through much of the U.S.

Thousands of people across the nation serve lengthy prison sentences or life without parole because of the felony-murder law. There are also close to 100 men on death row who although they never committed a homicide or intended for one to occur, were made liable under the broad based statute. Just at Stateville alone there are over a hundred men convicted of felony-murder who will never see freedom again. They are all guilty of robberies, kidnappings, burglaries or other felonies, but none of them actually killed anyone. They are all held accountable for another person.

Many people have brought to my attention the conviction of Ryan Holle in Florida that is similar to my own case. On March 10, 2003, then 20-year-old Ryan Holle lent his car to his roommate to commit a burglary with some other men. During this burglary, one of the intruders killed a woman by beating her head with a shotgun found in the home. Despite not being present, and having borrowed his car to his roommate numerous times previously, Holle was convicted of felony-murder and sentenced to natural life without parole. The prosecutor justifies this conviction and sentence by saying the crime "would have never happened unless Holle lent his car," a proposition I highly question. He furthermore says, "He must be treated just as if he had done all the things the other four people did." The prosecutor sounds alot like mine who theatrically would shout "All for one and one for all. The actions of one are the actions of all," while moving across the courtroom during closing arguments pretending he was one of the Three Musketeers. The only distinctions between my case and that of Ryan Holle is that he readily admitted to lending his car, while I can prove mine was not used. Furthermore, Holle was convicted of felony-murder while I was convicted of murder via a theory of accountability. Interestingly, my case may also be similar to the one in Oklahoma because my co-defendant was acquitted of murder. No one is held responsible for the actual killing.

The felony-murder and accountability laws are just two examples of how absurd and draconian the criminal statutes in the U.S. have become. There has been a vast expansion of laws that are unprecedented in the history of the country. Furthermore, the punishments for these almost infinite laws are incredibly harsh. For example, in Illinois class X felonies carry 6 to 30 years imprisonment, however, there is little to prevent prosecutors from seeking aggravating circumstances that increase the range to 30 to 60 years. In addition to aggravating prison sentences is the cumulative sentences for other crimes committed in the same act. For example, a robbery sentence can be compounded due to the use of a gun. Armed robbery convicts can be eligible for over 100 years in prison and they must serve at least 85% of this time. By the way, people convicted of murder in Illinois must serve 100% of their sentences.

Also in the news this week, in addition to the Oklahoma case, were a number of cop killings. One Chicago police officer and several in Utah were gunned down. I do not watch much local news but I did learn about the out of state shootings. Apparently, a couple of men were surrounded when robbing a store. Instead of surrendering to the police, they tried to shoot their way out with fully automatic weapons. Police representatives later commented that their police force was outgunned and they needed to be armed just as the criminals are, or better. Unfortunately, this is the usual response by law enforcement. They need more money, men, or better weapons. I regularly hear calls to create soldier-like battalions in towns and cities of America. Already many cities do have heavy armaments like the military. These people, however, fail to understand that the police are there to serve and protect. They are not supposed to be a domestic military force. Americans do not need returning soldiers from Iraq patrolling their streets.

The police state and prison industrial complex is not only an assault of the U.S. Constitution and dearly held values of freedom, but counterproductive efforts to fight crime. As the story about the officers shot in Utah aired on television, my cellmate said contemptuously, "Fuck ya, dey tried to shoot dey way out. Dey had no choice." My cellmate was given 60 years for a home invasion and has now served half of his sentence. This was a harsh sentence back in 1980, but it is common now. Men are regularly given 60 or more years for class X felonies. Criminals who are aware of the penalties of their crimes are willing to do anything to escape. They also have no reason to show restraint. Killing a cop or several makes no difference because the punishment will be a protracted death sentence regardless.

Prosecutors and some legislatures often say the felony-murder law and other harsh criminal statutes prevent crime. The reduction of violent crime would seem to give credence to this deduction, however, I believe that other factors are at work and deterrence loses its effect after a certain point. Many people do not even know the law, or how greatly it has changed over the years. Does anyone think the man who fled from the trailer in Oklahoma could have been deterred or knew about the felony-murder law? Furthermore, those who know the laws when they break them will act with much more brutality and violence because degrees of guilt have diminished.

Prosecutors justify the felony-murder law saying it makes criminals plan their crimes with more care, makes them take more precautions to ensure that no one is killed, or even decide not to do the underlying felony. This is ridiculous on its face, but even statistical data collected by the federal government demonstrate the number of deaths which occurred during burglaries, car thefts, and rapes was the same. The incident of deaths after the new statute for robberies actually greatly increased, and this is to be expected.

The felony-murder law has been abolished, or never instituted, in all of Europe and the vast majority of other countries around the world. Canada, which derives its common law from Britain like the U.S., saw the error of the statute long ago. In 1990, their supreme court ruled the culpability of co-defendants under the statute violated the principle that the punishment must be proportionate to the moral blameworthiness of the offender. England no longer has the law, and European courts continue to hold the perspective that people should be responsible for their own acts and not those of others. I find this ironic considering how America touts individualism and condemns the collectivistic policies of Europe except for the extreme left of the political spectrum. America was founded on the principles of individual rights, freedom, self-determinaion, and responsibility. However, with respect to the justice system, prosecutors are socialists and quote the Three Musketeers with approval of the courts.

As in all repressive regimes around the world, oppression is met with resistance. Governments that seek to quell unrest, sedition, and violence against authority with ever more force often discover it leads to even more hatred and rebellion. It is particularly so in places where people live in squalor or have grim, miserable and bleak existences. There is only so much an oppressive agency can do to a people who already find their lives so worthless and terrible. Even a beaten, cornered dog will lash out despite impossible odds, and in American maximum-security prisons there are many cowering but growling canines. I would like to hope the prison and judicial system would be reformed, but I doubt there is political courage and leadership to undertake this massive overhaul.

I have been paying close attention to the Republican primary. Many of the candidates for President speak of reducing government, however, none so much as Ron Paul. He is especially committed to freedom and dramatic reactionary change. Disappointingly, Ron Paul is not a charismatic or effective communicator. He is unlikely to inspire the ideas and values long forgotten in the U.S. Next week on Tuesday, the Republican primary will come to New Hampshire, a state whose motto is "live free or die." Unfortunately, I have learned much of the sayings, symbols, and rhetoric in America are facades. The flames of liberty have long been blown out.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." In the maximum-security prisons of Illinois, I have seen blood spilled and it seems this blood is flowing outside of these walls. It is no surprise there is a backlash to tyranny, especially when the police state continues to grow while the citizens of America are increasingly oppressed, disenfranchised, and impoverished. Barack Obama has attempted to quell this discontent and even harness it with superficial economic stimulus and quasi-Marxist rhetoric. However, this did not fare so well in the former Soviet Union. Hopefully, America's descent into a repressive Communist state can be turned back, although I wonder if the spirit of liberty still lives on in the hearts of men or if they will only fight once their back is up against the wall.

February 3, 2012

Update: Apparently, the administration has reconsidered making X House Tamms Stepdown. Instead it is being made to house low aggressive inmates who have less than 15 years to do. The administration has also changed their policy of prohibiting men from using laundry bags to carry their shower supplies, and the privacy curtain rule has been rescinded or is not being enforced. I am impressed with the wisdom of policy makers and it is a contrast to the hard-headed wardens of the past.