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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Post-Lockdown -- August 9, 2012

Stateville was taken off lockdown over the weekend. Other than a week intermission, the prison had been on lockdown for nearly two months. Lockdown is not uncommon at maximum-security penitentiaries but it was highly unusual for the prison to have two mass scale searches within such a short time period. The searches were conducted in response to two inmates overdosing on heroine and the discovery of cell phones and knives. However, there is an underlying belief the closing of Tamms is interconnected. Tamms is the state's supermax prison which holds in isolation mainly staff assaulters and inmates thought to be gang leaders or organizers. Although Stateville was announced to be under normal operations, there seems to be continued reverberations from the searches and planned changes with the IDOC.

Typically, I will skip many meals because I do not like going out to the chow hall. However, nearly all of my supplies of commissary food have been depleted. During the lockdown, inmates were served terrible meals with small portions. Like many others, I am now unable to skip any chow lines. Even Ramen noodles which is a popular alternative meal for prisoners are in short supply. Due to the extra men coming out for chow, the feed lines have taken longer to run. The delay is also due to extra security measures. There are more guards along the walkway frisking inmates, and in some cell houses, galleries of prisoners have been split in half during movement to the chow hall. I do not know if this is a permanent or temporary policy. Lunch lines which are normally completed before noon are being extended to 3 p.m. Dinner also is being served after sundown, although some inmates participating in Ramadan, will not eat until then anyways.

Due to the lack of supplies by inmates, those who ran "stores" are making a good profit. These men will stock up on commissary products which are popular with inmates and then sell them for twice their cost. For example, a package of chili will be sold for the price of 2 and a small bag of instant coffee is being sold for $1. Cell house workers are also trying to make a profit selling various goods. I had one come by my cell offering bleach, sliced cheese, and packets of peanut butter.

This week, I have attended nearly every meal, both recreation lines and a pass to the Health Care Unit. Tomorrow, I intend to go to the evening yard and attempt to break some Olympic records with the help of some ibuprofen an inmate was kind enough to give me. The contrast from being in the cell 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is great. As I attempted to explain to the prison psychologist, continuous social interaction and sensory overload leaves me drained and lethargic. Regularly, I have been stuffing my ears with ear plugs to keep out sound and taking long afternoon naps. If I did not take a time out midday, I doubt I would be able to function at any high level.

Since the Orange Crush confiscated many black plastic radios, the noise level has decreased slightly in the cell house. On occasion, I still hear hip hop, R&B, and mariachi music but it is not as annoying as it formerly was. Unfortunately, however, it seems inmates are yelling to each other more. There are approximately 300 prisoners on 5 galleries stacked on top of each other, and it is only during the night it is quiet. In other cell houses with younger inmates, the shouting and blaring radios can go all night long. F House (the Roundhouse) is probably the worst with a cacophony of noise reverberating around the building nearly without end.

The Orange Crush mistakenly took a lot of legitimate property of inmates during the last raid. Prisoners have been trying to have things returned, but it was thrown out or put in bags which are unidentified. The staff which works at the personal property office, however, has separated electronic items and the cell house sergeant this week brought back some fans, Walkmans, and lamps for inmates. A few non-clear plastic televisions and radios were returned last week. I spoke with a prisoner who said the Orange Crush took the only fan he had as well as the extra fan owned by his cellmate. This fan was returned to him and he was glad. Temperatures have fallen but many prisoners rely on their fans to dry clothing. My neighbor attempted to get his Walkman returned but was refused because there was no contract record for it. All significant electronic purchases are documented and a list is kept by prison staff in an office. This is to not only prove theft but discourage men from selling or trading their TVs, radios and other things. It also discourages inmates who are going home from leaving their property to others.

On Monday afternoon my cellmate went to the law library. When he returned, he told me all of the cages in the main room now contained a typewriter. The warden has attempted to placate inmates who had their typewriters confiscated by allowing them to use the ones in the library. The problem is prisoners are only in the law library for an hour or two and can only get on the library list once a week, and not at all if the penitentiary is on lockdown. A letter from the manufacturer of the typewriters, Swintec, has been being passed around the prison. It says the IDOC was aware when ordering the typewriters that there was a metal rod inside, although they had another model which did not. Administrators had no concern with the clear plastic typewriters with some metal parts until just recently. Swintec also stated they were able to easily switch the metal parts with plastic ones but they will not pay for shipping costs. Despite this, those supervisors in the state capital seem determined to ban typewriters in maximum-security prisons.

Earlier today, while I was bathing out of the sink after spending a couple hours in the gym, inmates began shouting "on the way up the stairs" and there was a mumble of tactical guards. For a moment, I thought the Orange Crush was in the cell house to conduct searches again. Due to the time, however, I knew it could not be a mass search and I hoped I would not be bothered yet again. Later at dinner, I learned Internal Affairs had removed an inmate or two who were known to be Latin Kings. Yesterday, Orange Crush guards had come to escort ten Hispanic inmates out of a different cell house. They are rumored to have all been transferred to either Pontiac or Menard. I can only speculate the transfers were due to a previous incident between two Mexican gangs or to move people security believed thought wise to separate. There is talk the IDOC may again revive "the circuit." The circuit is where certain prisoners believed to be in positions of power are continually moved from prison to prison, and even to prisons out of state. The circuit was discontinued after Tamms was built and Pontiac became a segregation prison.

The closure of Tamms is still in the news. The guards' union filed a court injunction stopping at least temporarily the transfer of prisoners out, and its systematic closure. I highly doubt the closing of the supermax will become a danger for guards who work in the IDOC. For example, serial killer Brisbaum who media nicknamed the "I-57 Killer" and who has tried to kill various staff can be placed in Pontiac segregation. Pontiac can hold many of the prisoners guards are afraid of and are currently at Tamms. Many men at Tamms, however, are there for dubious conspiracy accusations and should be transferred to Menard or Stateville. A court in downstate Illinois will soon decide if the petition filed by guards has any merit. I doubt it does legally or otherwise. IDOC personnel cannot override the chief executive's authority.

Also on Chicago Tonight, a PBS news telecast, was a segment about Dwight Correctional Center. Dwight is the only female maximum-security unit in Illinois and it is slated to be closed by the end of the year. People from the small town were interviewed opposing the closure because the prison is their main source of jobs and revenue. A guard who works at the prison also was interviewed and he claimed it made no sense to move the incarcerated women elsewhere. However, I disagree. I noticed on the news piece that the prison was a very old stone building probably built in the late 1800's. I tend to believe like Stateville it is in a poor state of repair. I also believe closing Dwight and moving the prisoners to Logan makes practical sense. Logan is currently a medium security male prison, but it is adjacent to Lincoln, a female penitentiary. The male population can be redistributed amongst the numerous other medium and minimum security prisons in Illinois and the two prisons can be made into one facility. This is an efficient use of resources for a state which has a greater debt problem than any other state in America.

The only problem with the closure of Dwight is that it will temporarily cause overcrowding in the IDOC. From various news sources, I have learned minimum security prisons are being pushed way beyond their maximum capacities. Administrators are able to get away with this overcrowding because these prisoners are typically well behaved and trying to be paroled as soon as possible. They are unlikely to cause trouble against staff or amongst themselves. Furthermore, it is easy to add more bunks to dorm room settings. The governor has signed new legislation creating incentives for nonviolent offenders to behave by attending school or other rehabilitation programs.

The director of the IDOC has recently forbid news agencies from entering any of the penitentiaries in the state. A few prisoner rights groups are filing complaints because they believe there is an intent by administrators not to allow reporters to see the conditions inmates are living in. Two minimum security prisons the media are particularly interested in reporting about are those in Vienna and Vandalia. I was surprised Stateville was not one of them but it seems these groups are concerned mostly about overcrowding. Inmates' bunks in these prisons are reported to be stacked together so close there is only enough room to walk between them. Inmates have also been forced to live in the basements which were never designed to house prisoners and are subject to flooding and have mold covered ceilings and walls. There is also complaints of rodent and roach infestation. When I heard about the roaches, I was curious if it was as bad as in the Roundhouse here at Stateville or in the prison's kitchen. News reporters asked guests on their television programs if the director will eventually relent and allow access to Illinois prisons again. They speculated possibly if the new good time laws passed begin to relieve the prison population.

I was surprised to learn how the media are now forbidden to tour any of the prisons in Illinois. The public has always, at least since my incarceration, been allowed access to the prison system. Stateville used to bring in tours and camera crews on occasion. However, I notice I have not seen a tour in many months and definitely none during 2012. It is obvious officials are trying to keep a lid on the conditions and ongoings inside the prisons. This is probably also why my blog posts are scrutinized, delayed, and sometimes destroyed or confiscated.

Yet another news story I have become aware of this week is a lawsuit filed by guards from several penitentiaries. They accuse the director's office of having Internal Affairs frisk them because they have been outspoken about their opposition to the prison closures. The guards claim the frisks are a form of harassment and have no security purpose because they are searched on the way out of the penitentiary. It does seem odd to me guards or other staff would be searched when leaving and is similar to inmates being strip searched before they go on a visit rather than just after when they could possibly bring contraband into the penitentiary. However, this may simply be a tactic by the union to prevent the governor's office and his appointees from stifling their freedom of speech. The guards union is very powerful and they will fight any infringement on their clout or attempts to squelch their public wailing. If the union had its way, Illinois would be on a prison building crusade to incarcerate 100,000 people and increase their workforce, rights, and entitlements as well as pay by double.

While I was at the gym today, I spoke to a man about the guards complaints of harassment. He thought it was great our captors had to go through the same searches as we did and it was unfortunate they were not strip searched as we are. He then began to rant about the Orange Crush raid and how the guard who came to his cell shouted at him to spread his ass cheeks and show him his ass hole. Repeatedly, the guard yelled at him, "Show me your ass hole!" I told him he should have told the fag instead he will show him some dick. Outrageous, I thought, that some guards were acting like that. There was no way I would pose myself like in some gay porn magazine. I understand there is a need for security but there are guards who take the matter too far and act unprofessionally. I tend to believe the guard who searched him harassed and bullied him because he is a little man. I doubt he would have tried this on a bigger prisoner despite his body armor, baton, and mace.

The cell house has just been placed on standby for chow. For dinner tonight, prisoners are being fed lasagna. This is one of my favorite meals served here despite how it is made with processed turkey-soy instead of ground beef. Since the prison has been taken off lockdown, inmates have been fed better and I am glad because I can only eat so many peanut butter sandwiches. I hope that the treatment and conditions of prisoners will improve in general in the future, but I am doubtful. The IDOC seems intent on tightening its grip of power even in the face of budgetary restraints.