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.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Reclassification of X House -- February 19, 2012

Since the beginning of the week, numerous prisoners at Stateville have been moved to different cell houses. Already about 20 men just from C House have left the unit. Throughout the penitentiary, I suspect close to 200 prisoners have new housing assignments, and I expect there will be more in the following days or possibly weeks. Because nearly every bunk at Stateville is occupied, a game of "musical chairs" or cells has been playing out. All prisoners who leave are soon replaced by others, oftentimes in the same day, and some are being sent out of the prison altogether. Unfortunately, I have not been invited to participate in the musical cell game and remain in the same disruptive cell I was assigned when I first arrived at C House.

The purpose of the major shakeup is the reclassification of X House. Protective Custody inmates in X House are being moved out and replaced with low aggressive and low security inmates with less than 20 years to serve. Prisoners who have been approved P.C. status have been transferred to Pontiac. Pontiac C.C. is primarily a segregation prison, but it has one cell house which holds prisoners deemed to require special protection. Inmates who were waiting to be approved were moved to the Roundhouse, and those denied are being sent to the quarter units in General Population. Empty bunks in G.P. not filled by P.C. inmates are occupied by those from F House and other cell houses based upon certain criteria. C House is being filled back up mostly with older men from other cell houses who have been incarcerated a long time and have relatively good disciplinary records. A number of prisoners denied P.C. are also being sent to C House.

The past several days, I have noticed a few men who were trying to be approved for P.C. While standing in line waiting to go to chow I was surprised by one of these prisoners I have known from the past. He goes by the name Chase, and he is a middle aged white man who I do not believe has any need for special protection or isolation from general population. I simply believe he was seeking a less hostile environment with more privileges, movement, and job opportunities. While I was talking to Chase, a weird old man leaned forward and began to listen to our conversation. I asked Chase if that was his "rappie," which is prison slang for co-defendant. Chase gave me a weird look and shook his head. I then asked if the person was a friend, buddy, or prior cellmate, and again he answered no. Finally, I addressed the old geezer and asked why the fuck he was leaned up against Chase eavesdropping. The man backed off and I told Chase he cannot be bringing that riffraff with him from P.C.

At the chow table, I asked Chase what cell he was assigned in C House. Chase was fortunate to be given a decent cellmate and I told him so. He already seemed to realize this. There are so many terrible convicts at Stateville who I knew neither Chase nor I could get along with. Chase told me he had already settled in and was planning to do some painting later in the evening. I was envious of the man who had so much peace and comfort that he was able to paint only a couple of days after moving in with a complete stranger. Since moving to C House, I have remained uncomfortable.

Prisoners were talking about the men who came from other cell houses and were new to C House. Gossip is very common in prison and inmates are always interested in learning about people even if the information provided is incredible. I care little for gossip because I care little for the people around me who I have little or no interaction with. Despite this, I do listen to the rumors and there is often little I can do to avoid it. For example, a couple of the new men sent to C House have been readily identified as snitches, pedophiles, or "bugs." They may not last long in G.P., although others some have been able to survive without much trouble.

The vast majority of men being sent to X House are eligible to be transferred to a medium security prison. The reason they have not been sent out varies from person to person. Some men have medical holds which prevent them from going to another prison. These prisoners are kept at Stateville because they are receiving medical treatment at the University of Illinois in Chicago or another nearby hospital. A few inmates have out-of-state or federal warrants for their arrest as soon as they complete their sentence in Illinois. For example, Jimmy Files, the man who claims to have killed President John F. Kennedy, purportedly has a federal warrant pending. Other men simply are not transferred because they do not want to leave. They may be close to family, have good jobs, or have become comfortable here. Finally, there are prisoners who have been denied a transfer due to a lack of space. These men will soon be transferred, however.

The Illinois Department of Corrections is almost at full capacity, and ways to deal with the overcrowding are being sought. The Segregation Unit at Stateville is now limited to the lower floor of the Roundhouse. Prisoners who are disciplined with long periods of Seg time are sent to Pontiac which has been doubling up men in their cells. The court writs which were once kept in the Roundhouse have completely been moved to the Northern Receiving Center (NRC) which is located just outside Stateville's prison walls. NRC has the capacity of holding twice the number of prisoners as Stateville, although it was designed to only classify incoming convicts before transferring them out to appropriate penitentiaries across the state.

The Roundhouse, which once was almost entirely Segregation several years ago, is now primarily General Population. The upper three floors, except for a few cells designated as unapproved P.C., have similar movement and operations as the quarter units. This basically consists of walking to and from the chow hall, showers three times a week, access to religious services, and visitation. Inmates in the Roundhouse still only continue to have yard once a week, but the yard period is twice as long as it is in G.P. and never includes the two small yard areas. Those prisoners on the upper three floors of F House are those recently released from Seg, recently sentenced to the IDOC, and transfers, including men coming from Tamms Supermax.

According to rumor, many prisoners at Tamms won a class action lawsuit which prohibits them from being kept there indefinitely or because they are suspected gang leaders who have not disobeyed any specific rule. Formerly, Internal Affairs was transferring any inmate they speculated was or may promote gang activity. These prisoners, once sent to Tamms, could also be isolated there for their entire sentences. However, a new rule requires men at Tamms to be evaluated yearly and by a semi-independent panel. This change of policy is bringing a number of Tamms' inmates to Menard and Stateville. When I was at the Health Care Unit on Saturday, I met two of these men who had served over five years in solitary confinement. Although they spoke to each other about their struggle to leave and how happy they were now to be out, I do not think they yet realize how good they had it. I was very envious of the two men who had single man cells, peace, and quiet all the time.

The men leaving C House or arriving from other parts of the prison this week were held in the holding cage across from my cell, sometimes for hours. The cage was tightly packed with them and other men returning or going out on passes. It was incredibly noisy during the day listening to these men talk and yell to others. They yelled about where they were going, coming from or just about anything. I tried to ignore them by wearing my headphones and when this was not adequate to block them out, I tried ear plugs and headphones. On occasion, my cellmate would talk with those in the holding cage. Fortunately, however, he is not as socially obnoxious and loud as my former cellmate, Ely.

This Sunday, Thad and I watched the Superbowl together in part. He missed the third quarter by talking to Ely who was in the holding cage because his cell was being searched. He also missed the first quarter because he was making two large trays of nachos for us to eat. My new cellmate takes his nachos very seriously, but I was not impressed by his meticulous attention to detail. He spent over two hours preparing a meal that could have been made in less than a half hour. At kickoff, I was hungry and ready to eat, but my cellmate continued to dilly dally. I told him that if I did not have some food in my hand soon I was going to be very upset. Thad offered me a slice of onion he was cutting up, but I was not amused. I also was not happy that I could not focus all my attention on the game because I had to pay attention to ensure my cellmate practiced good hygiene while making the food. Finally, when I was given the finished product after much patience, it was as disappointing as the play of the New England Patriots who I was hoping to win.

I have been getting along better with Thad, despite the bad nachos, than I was with the previous three cellmates I have been assigned while in C House. However, Thad fails to understand that I do not want to be his friend, and I do my time alone. I am not interested in playing chess, dominoes, cards, or any other games with him. I also care less to engage him in any long conversations. Thad is more educated than most men at Stateville, and at times I will discuss a topic with him. However, he still is a black ghetto gang member that I have little in common with. I usually have much better ways to occupy myself than conversing or interacting with him. I sense this bothers him, and he continues to try to get himself moved to another cell.

On Tuesday morning, the prison was mysteriously on lockdown. I was dressed for a cold day on the South yard, but recreation lines were never announced. Nothing, in fact, was announced over the loudspeaker, and it was not until later that I discovered the Roundhouse was being searched by cadets, and no movement was allowed. The cadets are in training to be hired as guards, and they are out to prove something to their supervisors. From what I was told by other prisoners today, cells were ransacked and men's property was confiscated, often for no reason. I heard the cadets, for example, were going by an outdated list of how much of a certain commissary product a prisoner was permitted to have. Those prisoners who had more than the limit, such as two bars of soap, had their property taken. The cadets were accompanied by the Orange Crush Tactical Unit, but to my knowledge they only played a supporting role.

I am not certain what caused the administration to order the search of the Roundhouse. The building was on a lockdown for a fight not long ago, but I did not think it was serious. It did not cause the entire institution to be placed on lockdown and men outside of the building did not even speak of it. I only learned about it after seeing men sent to the Health Care Unit from F House in handcuffs. The search could have been conducted because of information learned through an investigation by Internal Affairs. However, I tend to believe it was due to the transformation of the Roundhouse to accommodate more prisoners not in Seg or on court writs. The cadets may have been given the experience of searching cells while at the same time making the unit ostensibly more secure for a population of more dangerous prisoners.

Tuesday was the first day I spent on lockdown with my new cellmate. He spent most of the day on his bunk, and I was glad he was not interrupting my thoughts. Later in the evening, however, he was especially talkative. Thad wanted to discuss politics, religion, education, and more. Three states were in contention for the Republican primary and Rick Santorum pulled off a surprising upset. Part of his succession of victories seemed due to President Barack Obama mandating the Catholic Church to provide contraception, but also because the other two front runners had ruined their reputations by attacking one another. Obama has quickly backed off his mandate, but now is requiring health care providers to provide contraception for free. I do not know why contraception is considered health care or covered by any insurance company. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a free lunch, however, and the cost of health care will go up for everyone. Lastly, the Church will not be able to wash its hands like Pontius Pilate for Obama's shell game. My cellmate agreed it was a shell game, and seemed amused by politicians' attempts to be clever and manipulative.

For a long time I listened to Thad talk about his mixed race daughter being assigned to a dorm which was entirely black. Apparently, the university has segregated dorms, although I believe the living quarters are voluntary and not a policy of the school. My cellmate condemns Martin Luther King and the government enforcement of integration, but he seems to want the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana to do so. He tells me his daughter was not liked by either the black nor white students and was eventually permitted to live off campus her freshman year. I told him this seemed like an appropriate accommodation, and I wish the prison also had a similar policy. Fortunately, the season premier of the TV show "The River" same on before I had to tell Thad his daughter was a freak. Living with prisoners of different races is always difficult due to a litany of conflicting opinions, culture, and other values.

Yesterday morning, I was called for a visit. As I waited for an escort I noticed, like the days prior, the group of inmates being moved in and out of the cell house. One of the prisoners was standing alone near the front door. He told me he did not want to leave F House, and I assumed the Caucasian man was formerly in Protective Custody. A lieutenant yelled at him saying if he wants, he will take him back, but he will be in handcuffs. The lieutenant was insinuating he would be placed in Seg. A counselor came over to talk to him and convince him to stay. She said C House was rather quiet and peaceful. I interrupted her and said, "Unless you live in my cell where it is extremely loud, or you get assigned a cellmate you do not get along with." The counselor seemingly being playful told me to shut up, and said I knew it was not that way. I continued to say how I had been stuck in the same miserable cell for half a year and have yet to have a good cellmate. I also mentioned how just this morning cellmates were taken to Seg for trying to kill each other. The counselor did not appreciate my remarks, but I do not know if the prisoner stayed or not. I went on my visit.

The lieutenant of the cell house escorted me and another man to the visiting room. On the way, the other prisoner brought up the fight. One of the men apparently was seriously beaten and he did not think it was too cool that a younger, stronger man beat up an old man. The lieutenant responded that he doubted the bigger man will get much prison credit or respect. He went on to say that it was like getting kudos for beating up a tall, skinny, white guy like Modrowski. The prisoner said I was probably in better shape than anyone in C House, and if anyone was going to be the victim, he doubted it would be me. I ignored what he said, and addressed the lieutenant saying, "That is why he needs to help me get moved before I am pummeled and taken off to Seg. The skinny, white guy needs a cellmate he can get along with." The lieutenant told me he thinks I will be transferred to a medium security prison soon, but I am highly skeptical this will ever happen, despite how the prison system is quickly running out of space.

Later in the shower waiting area I was talking to Steve, a prisoner who lives a couple of cells down from me. He told me at Catholic services he spoke to Bob, and that Bob was moved to X House. Bob was convicted of statutory rape and given a 40-year sentence, but he is now almost eligible to go to a medium security prison. Bob has never had a disciplinary ticket and has a low aggression level as well as a low security classification. I do not even think he should be in prison, let alone the newly classified X House. Through Steve, I learned that Bob was moved into the center wing of the cell house which has enormous 10 x 20 foot cells and no bars. I told Steve I was envious, but apparently Bob does not like it because the large cells have nothing inside them but a double bunk. There is no table, stool, shelf, or even a cable connection. Furthermore, the regular day lieutenant is Shivers, and she is appropriately named. Any man who looks at her too long is likely to get the shivers, if not turn to stone. She has a very bad attitude and is similar in respects to Lt. "Broom-Hilda." Possibly, they have a witches coven to conspire how to make prisoners' lives more miserable.

Interestingly, Bob was assigned Jimmy Files as a cellmate. Already from what I am told, Files has given Bob an earful of conspiracy theories, including how he killed the President. I do not like the semi-crazy man who goes about bragging that he assassinated John F. Kennedy, even if the President liked to play with rubber duckies in the bathtub, I told Steve. Steve replied that even so, his stories were very entertaining to him. They were almost as good as reading a professional novel. The old man who has spent over 20 years at Stateville has apparently had time to spin an elaborate and intriguing tale. However, I have no time or interest in his fiction.

Originally, the administration sought to reclassify X House as Tamms Stepdown. However, I believe they wisely reconsidered after a guard was taken hostage in the building. It is far better to have X House holding low security inmates than the high security inmates being released from the state's only supermax facility. As the great changes in Stateville were occurring this week, I felt a desire to be a part of it. For almost two decades, I have languished in captivity for a crime I did not commit. I long for freedom and a break from a long life of oppression. On the return from the dinner meal yesterday, I noticed a full moon hanging low, just above the tall prison wall. The moon seemed to represent the natural, free, and wild world that I long for. Some people may wonder why a wolf howls at the moon, but I know.