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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Waiting for the Orange Crush -- February 22, 2013

Since knives were found in the prison last week, Stateville has been on lockdown. Due to incidents at other maximum security penitentiaries in Illinois, I have been expecting the Orange Crush to storm into the building to ransack every cell. The Special Operations Response Team, or SORT, has a notorious reputation for harshly treating inmates and leaving their property in complete disarray. They also oftentimes damage or confiscate property without reason in their reckless and irresponsible searches. In years past, SORT searches were mainly used to collectively punish prisoners and to demonstrate power. I was not looking forward to the event, but thought it was inevitable and like most happenings in prison, I had no control. While waiting for the Orange Crush, I attempted to enjoy my increased seclusion during the lockdown as well as use my time productively.

Lockdowns tend to reduce the noise and commotion in the cell house. There is no movement of inmates going to chow, job assignments, or religious services. In fact, there were no visitations or men going to the Health Care Unit except for dialysis patients. The only time there was movement on the gallery outside my cell bars was for guards passing out chow, collecting garbage, passing out mail, or conducting count. Because of the lack of inmate movement, it is much quieter. Guards are not yelling regularly or using the loudspeaker to announce various activities or events. Prisoners still will occasionally yell to one another between cells or galleries, but it is significantly lessened on lockdowns. Furthermore, many prisoners will stay up late watching television and sleep during the day. The lack of distractions has enabled me to do a lot more things I have put off for a lack of focus or time.

Last year I was sent a rough draft by my attorney of the first part of my successive post conviction petition. I was so disappointed, I nearly threw it in the trash. It was written so poorly, I thought one of the incompetent "jail house lawyers" at Stateville could have done a better job. I have grown so frustrated and disgusted with my attorney, I have since ceased to communicate with her. She was hired years ago and has yet to do the vast amount of work necessary. This rough draft was supposed to show me she was actually making progress, but it was missing all the legal issues. Furthermore, the introduction lacked structure, purpose, and was full of errors, both factual and grammatical.

This week, I spent the time to systematically note all the errors and problems with the draft. Originally, I had planned to write them on a separate piece of paper and refer to them by page number. However, I noticed all the pages had the number 12 on the bottom and this would be impossible to do. Thus, I underlined or circled parts of the draft and placed a number by it which I then addressed on the opposite side of the paper which was blank. This took me a couple of days to complete and when I was finished, I thought I may as well just write it myself. I am a good writer and who else knows my case better than me? However, the introduction to an appeal is like the foundation to a house, and I am not certain exactly what issues are going to be raised or how they will be legally argued. Issues to my appeal are still not known or defined due to investigative matters not being resolved. It is actually backwards to write the foundation of an appeal without knowing the type of house one intends to build on top of it.

My cellmate is either sleeping or watching television as I write, but occasionally when there is a lull in his TV programming, he will inquire what I am doing. For hours, I will be completely silent and focused on tasks. Sometimes, I imagine I could go the entire day or days without saying a word. However, while I am thinking about or working on my appeal and he interrupts me with an inquiry, I can go into a long diatribe. I have been incarcerated for nearly 20 years for a crime I had no involvement with let alone knowledge of. My defense attorneys and the justice system in general can make me incredibly angry or frustrated. It will take me sometimes a while to realize my cellmate was bored or trying to be social and does not care. Some prisoners can be not only bored but annoyed or envious. Nearly everyone incarcerated at Stateville is guilty and has no chance of being released.

Since my cellmate was made aware of my blog, he has been very guarded about discussing his case. However, he has slowly been opening up to me again especially when I go at length about my own. I have known for some time one of his issues on appeal was taking a psychotropic medication which at the time was not known to cause severe interactions with alcohol. What I was not aware of was a second issue regarding an inoculation he was given in the Marine Corps called Larium. Larium has been used by the military to prevent troops from catching malaria but has become under increasing scrutiny since the Iraq war. A number of soldiers who took the drug developed intense depression, mood swings, psychosis, and even had extreme outbursts of violence. There is a suspected correlation between a number of suicides, men who killed their spouses, or committed other violent acts. Sgt. Bales who massacred a number of Afghan civilians, for example, was also given the inoculation. My cellmate's lawyer has raised the issue of "involuntary intoxication" in his federal appeal which if successful would lead to a new trial, reduced charges, or a sentence reduction. I was glad to hear this because I do not want my cellmate to die in prison. Furthermore, because he has some chance, albeit very slim, of having his case remanded, he will not be bothered by my legal troubles and innocence.

Over the holiday weekend, I did not believe the SORT team would be assembled. Monday was President's Day and I knew guards were paid double time on holidays. IDOC administrators who are attempting to cut costs probably would be adverse to bringing a few hundred guards from various prisons to search the penitentiary. Despite this, I took the time to contemplate if I had anything which may be construed as contraband. Technically, anything which cannot be bought at the prison store or was given to prisoners through normal procedures can be contraband. In my boxes, I found some petty items such as rubber bands, non-commissary pens, and Tupperware-like bowls. Orange Crush will also take extra containers, cardboard, laundry lines, and hooks or other fixtures on the walls or bunks. I thought if they did take these things it would not be a great loss and I would just have to get new ones. What I did not want to lose were the packs of prison peanut butter I had, so I spent the time to squeeze them out into peanut butter jars which are sold on commissary. My cellmate asked me if he should discard some glue and I told him, "Definitely not. We will need it after the SORT tears off or scrapes off all our hooks and twister ties on the wall."

Every morning after Monday, I have been anticipating the Orange Crush to storm the cell house. Water is usually turned off and I look over to the sink to see if the dribble ceases. The sink has been broken for a long time and recently it just continuously dribbles out cold water. I also try to listen to the guards radio traffic. Since I am in a cell near the sergeant's office where many guards congregate in the morning, I can sometimes hear their radios. SORT may use a different frequency but I thought nevertheless I may get a "heads up" or clue. Although I have no real contraband, I do not like to be surprised and be disrupted. Thus, throughout the week, I have been waking up a little earlier to eat my breakfast, use the toilet, wash my face, brush my teeth, and do other things. My cellmate apparently does not care and will sleep late as usual. Anthony does not seem to be perturbed about the mayhem an Orange Crush invasion can bring.

On a few mornings, I could tell guards in the cell house were preparing for the SORT. However, it seemed when they came to work, they did not even know what the Orange Crush's plans were. I tended to get the impression they would only be informed a short time in advance. After 8 a.m., I knew the cell house would not be searched but there was still the possibility the tactical team could come at noon if they split their work between two cell houses as they have done before when there was a massive contingent of guards. On Wednesday morning, I knew the Orange Crush was in the cell house next door and thought they could be in C House later in the day. They never came, but various inmates told my cellmate and I to expect them Thursday, bright and early. Showers were surprisingly allowed for prisoners Wednesday evening and these men stopped by to tell us what they had heard.

According to rumor, shanks were found in other cell houses. In B House a stash was discovered, not in someones cell but in the cell house somewhere. Like the knife found last week in this unit's shower drain, guards seemed to know exactly where to look. Also, interestingly a cell phone was found inside a dialysis patient's cell. A nurse was immediately suspected of bringing it into the prison because apparently these phones can store photographs and one of the photos was of the nurse giving oral sex to the prisoner. My cellmate said he might have to consider intentionally causing his kidneys to fail. I knew he was joking but thought about how ugly most of the nurses were. Ever since a couple of nurses I talked with on occasion quit, there is maybe only one or two who are above average looking.

During the evening, I could relax. There was no chance of SORT coming on the second or midnight shift. I watched a couple of movies and television programs sometimes with my cellmate, although fortunately he now has his own TV. The film "Basic Instinct" was on Sunday, and "Gladiator" on Wednesday. I nearly always watch Gladiator when it is shown on TV despite how many times I've seen it already. Basic Instinct with Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas was made in the 80's, and I had not seen it in awhile. In the movie the character played by Stone is suspected of killing someone with an ice pick. Later in the week when my cellmate made a joke about how easy it would be to kill me in my sleep, I told him as a precaution I may have to keep an ice pick-like shank under my mattress like in the film. My cellmate and I regularly exchange dark humor to amuse ourselves. We even had plenty of jokes for the double Bachelor shows and another reality TV program called "Survivor".

Yesterday, Drew Peterson, an ex-cop from Bolingbrook who was convicted of killing one of his three wives was sentenced to 38 years.The media reported falsely that he was quickly transferred to Stateville. Oftentimes, people misconstrue the NRC as a part of Stateville. NRC is the Northern Receiving Center next to Stateville which is where inmates are processed before being sent to a penitentiary. Typically, men are there weeks if not months before being transferred. However, apparently, because of Peterson's notoriety and former employment as a police officer, he was only there for a day before being sent to Pontiac's protective custody unit. My cellmate commented the IDOC would be held responsible if any harm came to him. Despite this, we both thought it would be amusing if the entertaining ex-cop with a confident swagger was actually sent to Stateville. Hopefully, he will sign out of P.C. before he wins his appeal and is remanded for a new trial.

After the guards realize the SORT is not coming to the cell house, they will oftentimes have a good time joking amongst themselves or occasionally with inmates. I had the lieutenant making fun of my exercising which I do at the front bars. Another lieutenant came to my cell to joust with me about political discord in Washington, D.C. A guard in the cell house regularly jokes with my neighbor by telling him to get ready for work. My neighbor is a cell house worker and the guard does not want to pass out food trays, supplies, or pick up garbage. Another inmate yelled to him the gallery floor was dirty and needed to be swept and mopped. The guard just laughed at him. There was no chance he was going to do more work. An inmate who lives on one of the galleries above mine is regularly razzed by guards. They pretend he has to pay extortion or protection fees. The cell house lieutenant told me that one needs to keep a sense of humor in a miserable place like this. Possibly, this is true to lift the spirits of not only the condemned who live here but those who work here as well.

It has been very cold outside and snowing on some days. I thought of how uncomfortable this will be if prisoners are made to go to the chow hall to wait while their cells are ransacked without adequate clothing. The Orange Crush will always limit the clothes an inmate can wear. During their last search, prisoners could not wear any underclothes or socks. Men were dressed barefoot in slippers with only a thin pair of blue state pants and a blue state shirt. It was about 100 degrees that day, but this week it has been in the 20's with wind as well as snow.

Fortunately, the prison was placed on a level 4 lockdown yesterday and the rumors of inmates were false. C House was not searched nor will it be searched. The Orange Crush did rush the cell house next door, but only about half of the cells were entered. No outside assistance from other penitentiaries was used and it seems the search was more focused with fewer resources. I tend to believe the Intel of I.A. is much greater than commonly thought. Full sweeps of the entire prison are typically wasteful, redundant, and unnecessary. The penitentiary should be off lockdown completely by Monday and my respite from the noise and discord of regular operations will be over. Apparently, my anticipation of the Orange Crush creating havoc was unwarranted.