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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Chow Hall Brawl and the Seat Dictator -- June 15, 2013

The prison has been on a partial lockdown throughout the week. All recreation periods, health care passes, religious services and programs have been cancelled. However, inmates are being let out of their cells to work and since Wednesday to be fed in the chow hall with the exception of men confined in E House. E House remains on a strict level 1 lockdown after prisoners from the cell house were involved in an incident last Saturday. From what I am told, a belligerent guard instigated a fight with inmates in the chow hall. The story is not at all surprising to me and the guard was eventually going to cause trouble. He is well known to prisoners for his hostile and rude personality. He had a very unprofessional attitude even many years ago when I knew him at Pontiac C.C. before he was demoted from captain and transferred.

The day the fight occurred, my cellmate awoke early to attend detail yard. Prisoners who work have a special yard period on Saturday mornings. My cell mate almost never goes out because he prefers to sleep late or watch TV. While he was gone, I exercised as I typically do early in the day. It was nice to have the cell to myself because I did not have to be concerned with making too much noise and could use the entire cell. Normally, I confine myself to the outer corner and if he is asleep I attempt to be quiet. It is difficult sharing a small space with another person, but I try to be considerate.

When my cellmate returned, he seemed disappointed. He told me the yard was crowded with over 100 men from 3 cell houses. There were not only prisoners with work details on the yard but school. Accredited college courses have not been offered in well over a decade in maximum security prisons. There are classes, however, for men who never finished high school. These convicts tend to be young and dumb as well as very obnoxious. Anthony said he tried to avoid them and mainly walked around the quarter mile track listening to his Walkman. It is very difficult getting radio reception from inside the cells, but outside numerous stations can be heard clearly.

To avoid the crowded chow hall, my cellmate went directly from the yard to the cell house. By doing so, he also missed the great commotion which occurred there. However, not long after he returned, other prisoners who did go to eat after being on the yard came back and spoke about what they saw and heard. Because the chow hall is divided, prisoners were not able to see the fight. They were only able to see responding guards rushing in and shots being fired from the gun tower. Two warning shots were sent into the ceiling before a third was directed into the chow hall.

My cellmate speculated obnoxious students from F House had begun fighting each other. However, another man who was in the chow hall believed they were from E House. He was correct, although both were wrong to believe it was a fight amongst prisoners. During the week I heard a couple of rumors about what transpired which was proven to be false. With E House prisoners confined to their cells 24-7, word of what happened was slow to reach me. Furthermore, I am not a social person or an investigative journalist. In fact, to ask too many questions in prison is not well received to say the least. I have gone about my week as I usually do without pursuing information as to the reason the penitentiary was on lockdown.

The night of the brawl in the chow hall, I watched the NHL playoffs for the first time this season. Professional hockey has caught the attention of many Chicago area residents due to the Blackhawks playing exceedingly well and their promise of winning another championship title. I am not personally a fan of the city's team and it is difficult to have any enthusiasm for the sport when most games are televised only on a special cable network the prison does not have. The game on Saturday, however, was on NBC and was a particularly good competition. Wednesday's game was even more riveting with the Chicago Blackhawks defeating the LA Kings 4 to 3 in triple overtime. There were some cheers in the cell house, but for most inmates they could care less. Pro-basketball is their favorite sport, and although the Chicago Bulls have already lost their playoff bid, inmates in the cell house can go wild with excitement during NBA games.

The day after the lockdown, cell house and kitchen workers were let out of their cells. My cellmate was not too happy about having to return to work so quickly and was hoping to have a few more days off. He also did not appreciate working longer shifts because there was less help without prisoners form E House. I do not blame him and during the week a few people asked me if I was interested in a job. In response to the cell house lieutenant, I asked him if there was a desk job available. Of course, there was not and what I meant to convey was that I could not deal with all the interaction, noise, and aggravation in the zoo. The meager pay and menial labor was also not appealing. I told another person who asked me about a job that contrarily I preferred to be locked in a cell within a cell to get way from everyone and the environment here. Despite how I may feel, the vast majority of prisoners like to have jobs and were happy on Wednesday when nearly everyone with assignments was permitted to work.

It was very unusual that inmates were sent to the chow hall for meals during a lockdown. In fact, during my 20 years of incarceration, I cannot recall a time it had occurred. I asked my cellmate what he knew about it and he said the kitchen had run out of the Styrofoam box trays that prisoners are delivered on lockdowns. On lockdown, the penitentiary needs about 7,000 per day and they almost ran out of them for breakfast the night he worked. I told him to reprimand whatever kitchen supervisor was in charge of inventory because I like having room service. Going to the chow hall is disruptive to my routine and I despise all the noise and the crowds. On Thursday, another kitchen worker told me an order of 40,000 was just received, but apparently the administration sought no need to cease feeding prisoners outside their cells.

George Zimmerman's attorneys this week began selecting the jury for his 2nd degree murder trial. For those who are unaware how the process is done, it is more about cutting people the defense and prosecutor do not want on the jury. If the judge does not strike someone for cause and neither side uses a peremptory challenge, that person becomes a member of the jury. In most states, 12 jurors and 4 alternates are selected but in Florida non-1st degree murder charges only require 6 jurors and 2 alternates. Using peremptory challenges can be extremely important. It can be the difference between being acquitted or spending the rest of your life in prison. In the Zimmerman case, race will be a major factor with the defense attempting to exclude any black jurors while the prosecution will seek the opposite. Like the Jodi Arias case, I will be following this one closely. This time, however, I believe the verdict will be, and should be, not guilty.

On the 12th, my cellmate mentioned to me he was arrested exactly 12 years ago. April 28th was the day of my arrest and there is not a year that goes by without me remembering it. For Anthony, I do not think the date has the same significance, impact, or bitterness for him. I asked him to tell me about that day and he gave me a brief story which ended short. In the morning, he awakened at a friend's apartment after a night of partying. Police knocked on the door and spoke to his friend and asked if he had seen or heard anything suspicious the previous night. A woman was killed in a nearby apartment they explained. The police left and for lunch my cellmate ate his last meal as a free man at a pizza buffet. Later, he went to work. He was not only a student at Illinois Eastern University but had a janitorial job there. During his shift, the police went to the school and asked him to come in for questioning in the murder. He said he went freely and answered their questions. However, he gave no details about why he became a suspect so early or what happened after he was taken into custody.

My cellmate stayed up all night and slept most of the day on his arrest anniversary as well as the following day. When I was getting up in the morning, he was soon to lie down and he did not rise until the evening. I noticed he spent his time during the night after working in the kitchen reading a novel called "Road Dogs" by Elmore Leonard. I never heard of it or the author, but he seemed to enjoy the book and completed reading the hard bound book in two nights. I have not had any time to read any books lately and this week I spent many hours analyzing the stock market and a number of specific stocks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost several hundred points this week, closing below 15,000. For some time, I have thought stock valuations were exceedingly overpriced. Due to the Federal Reserve's enormous purchases of Treasuries and mortgage securities as well as its interbank loan interest rate of near zero, the free market has been distorted. Investors are almost forced to put their money into stocks if they want any type of return on their capital. However, what the Fed giveth, it can take away, and recent comments by Ben Bernanke have rattled investors who have been riding the wave. These jitters are probably temporary as Fed policy has not changed. The $85 billion in monthly purchases will only be slowly retracted next year and I expect interest rates to only rise incrementally for banks and those people who would like to put their money there.

Although I spend considerable time studying economics and stocks, I am losing interest. Most of my motivation is driven by the ability to help others invest wisely. However, some members of my family totally dismiss my recommendations. Furthermore, they are not helping me with my appeal or the funds I require to hire a private investigator. Why should I waste my time trying to help them when they will not help me? Many prisoners lose the support of family and friends over the years and after two decades, I seem to be one of them.

In the hopes I can raise money eventually, I have been writing private investigators. During the week, I received an interesting reply. The man who is also a criminal defense lawyer told me he was the supervising attorney to my co-defendant. What were the odds of that? I was not even aware there was anyone reviewing the work of Vito Colluci or Beth Miner. Due to the possible conflict of interest he said he did not think it was best if he worked on my case. While initially I was turned off by anyone who helped my co-defendant, I have been pondering how it may actually be to my advantage. Unlike other P.I.s, he will already be familiar with the case, the people involved, and what needs to be done. Furthermore, what could be better than a double agent?

Yesterday, I went out for chow and spoke to the prisoner who recommended the P.I. When we went to sit down, he mentioned how he was glad "The Seat Dictator" was gone. The Seat Dictator was the nickname prisoners had given the disrespectful guard who started a fight with inmates last Saturday. Whenever the fat black guard was in the chow hall, he was rudely ordering prisoners to specific seats. The entire chow hall could be empty but he would demand inmates sit where he told them. He enjoyed bossing, threatening, or yelling disparagingly at prisoners. I listened to the story another inmate heard from staff and inmates in E House.

According to him, the Seat Dictator was being his usual belligerent self and became angry when inmates ignored his assigned seating. He was unsure who put their hands on the other first but the guard by his actions or words basically picked a fight. As they exchanged blows, other guards rushed in to help the guard and other prisoners jumped in as well. For a few minutes a brawl ensued until the guard in the gun tower began to fire warning shots. Prisoners did not want to stop in the midst of battle, however, for fear of being left defenseless and pummeled by guards. Thus, it was not until the gun tower guard shot into the melee and hit a few prisoners with pellets, they began to surrender. He was not certain if anyone was seriously injured.

The guard who started hostilities in the chow hall was once a captain at Pontiac Correctional Center. The rank was dissolved, however, about 10 years ago and the chain of command thereafter went from lieutenant to major. Some of the captains had enough time in to retire, but those who did not had to apply for other lesser positions. The arrogant fat man who loved to throw his power around was demoted to a guard. This must have been a huge ego bruiser to go from the top of command to the bottom. He no longer wore a white shirt with gold bars and gave orders. He took orders from former subordinates he thought were beneath him. One day when I saw him doing what he considered was the menial labor of guards, I could not help but poke fun at him. I asked him how it felt to be just a piss ant picking up inmates' garbage. He pretended it did not bother him and laughed when he recognized me. A year earlier, he had given me a hard time.

When I was on one of Pontiac's large prison yards, I noticed a group of black inmates had surrounded a non gang member. In prison, convicts are supposed to mind their own business, however, something in my instinct motivated me to intervene. I was not going to allow this pack of hyenas to maul the isolated man despite what gripe they had against him. The pack attempted to convince me to look the other way and when I refused, a couple of them took swipes at me. After responding with a barrage of hard blows and another prisoner coming to my aide, the gang dispersed. Cowardly, one or more of them later "dropped a dime" claiming that we had knives. This was not true, however, they said they sought to disarm us just in case. They also may have thought they could have me sent to segregation and I would then be out of their way.

The following day, the warden was at my cell with two guards. The warden got in my face and asked me if I had any shanks in my cell. When I told him no, he said even if he finds a pencil he thinks is too sharp, I was in serious trouble. The warden was melodramatic and I basically ignored him. In handcuffs, I was taken to the lieutenant's office while guards searched my cell. Oddly, they did not even bother patting me down for a weapon.

I waited in the lieutenant's office until the captain strutted in. The big cocky man tried intimidating me into telling him who "Tex" was. He also threatened me with a long stay in segregation,  but I was not moved. Pontiac Seg had one-man cells and I did not feel punished being isolated or losing my TV and radio. I told the captain I knew exactly who Tex was, but I was not going to tell him. This made him furious. The captain thought inmates were sub-humans and because of his rank I was in no position to refuse his questions. He brought me into the shower room and with the door closed threatened to hurt me physically. Although I was still in handcuffs, I knew after a nice kick I could quickly bring my hands around my legs and defend myself. I was confident the captain would regret trying to beat me into submission. I think he realized this or was bluffing and tried a new tactic. I was grabbed by the arm and led down a gallery while he stopped at cells yelling, "Is this Tex?! How about this man?!" After he discerned his antics were futile, he put me back in the lieutenant's office. About a half hour later, he came by with the prisoner who went by the name Tex. Gloating, the captain said he found Tex.

I am not certain why the captain after being demoted was transferred to Stateville. I assume he no longer wanted to be around staff or inmates he had treated poorly. Despite being at a different penitentiary, his attitude did not change. He was not well liked by some of his co-workers and many inmates hated him. I do not know if it was wise to eliminate the rank of captain. Captains sometimes served a useful function and the entire reason of eliminating them was to reduce bureaucracy which over the years has become much worse. The administration eliminated approximately 10 captain positions at Stateville but a few majors have gone up to 9, and from about 20 lieutenants there are now nearly a hundred. How did the IDOC reduce bureaucracy or save money?  However, this particular captain should have never been given any authority and probably should have never been working in the IDOC. Hopefully, after this incident, he will be forced to resign or be assigned some job in the penitentiary where he will not be a problem.

UPDATE  July 14, 2013:  The Seat Dictator was again working in the chow hall. However, I do not know if it will be a regular assignment for him.

Editor's Note:  This post was received on August 28th. Mail must leave Stateville on a snail's back!


  1. I always like to see the once mighty take a fall. Be humble or be humbled.

  2. Its Paul's mail that takes a month to get out. I get mail from the person I write to in 2-4 days typically. A long time is one week. They may screw around with your mail Paul, but they haven't stopped you.

  3. Paul, this is one of the most frightening posts you've ever written. I can see why those in power delayed mailing it out! (Thank God inmates still have some rights in the U.S.) If this guard did this to you, one can only imagine what he's done to others! He definitely should never have been hired in the first place, but I suppose the guards' strong union will back him up now, no matter what he does.

  4. The sport has a complete of 109 melee weapons.


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