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Friday, July 26, 2013

Extra Invasive Security -- June 18, 2013

This post was originally written on May 10th, but was apparently destroyed by the prison's Internal Affairs unit. Security personnel periodically intercept my mail to scrutinize it before it leaves the penitentiary. When they do not like the content, the letter is thrown away. They have no right to do this and despite being a prisoner, I still have certain constitutional protections including the 1st Amendment. Unfortunately, any complaint I would make will be ignored or denied. There is no way to prove my mail was taken and Internal Affairs will never admit to doing so. Using my notes, I will attempt to recreate the post I wrote over a month ago. Hopefully, it will not also disappear and readers will still find it of interest.

On May 2nd, prisoners in my cell house were let out early for chow. It was only minutes past 9 a.m. when I was lined up outside the enormous city block long concrete building with other prisoners from the first and second floor. To our surprise, between 10 and 20 SORT guards were waiting just inside the chow hall. They were dressed in their bright orange jumpsuits which had led in part to their nickname Orange Crush. The men wore a full complement of black body armor and were also equipped with batons and mace. As prisoners filed into the building, many were pulled out of line to be thoroughly frisked.

Uninterrupted, I walked into the inner feed circle to get my meal and then sat at a table in one of the peripheral dining areas. A few inmates I customarily acquaint with joined me and spoke about the Orange Crush ambush as they ate their meals. It was unusual for the SORT unit to be used to pat down prisoners. They are outfitted and trained to deal with hostile situations such as cell extractions, mass inmate rebellions, riots, or during large scale cell house searches. The O.C. was basically the administration's battle battalions and yet they were searching prisoners who were simply going to eat.

For lunch men were served a chicken-soy pattie, bread, lettuce and instant potatoes. The dessert was an unripened banana and typically most prisoners would bring them back with them to eat later. However, with the Orange Crush conducting searches, the men wanted to avoid confrontation with the heavily armed guards. I was not eating a green banana and put mine in my front pants pocket. I told others at the table there was going to be trouble if anyone touched my banana, pun intended. Although many inmates were again frisked and some even were strip searched when leaving the chow hall, I managed to escape being groped.

In the early afternoon, I left the cell to go to the large prison yard. I mainly lifted weights with my cellmate during the recreation period. He even joined me at the chin-up bar which was on a slight hill near the handball court. While there, we watched the Orange Crush march around the penitentiary seemingly without purpose. Their aimless wandering amused us and we speculated the administration had them suited up simply to use the excess manpower which exists at Stateville. Since the closure of Dwight, Tamms, and a few juvenile detention centers, the prison has been the recipient of many personnel transfers. The surplus of guards has mainly been used to beef up an already superfluous security presence rather than to support operational activities.

The Orange Crush stopped their wanderings to enter the personal property building. They were in there for almost an hour before they came out to continue their march around the prison grounds. Later, I learned they searched through the legal boxes of inmates. Prisoners were resentful of the search because legal materials are supposed to be confidential. Guards are not permitted to read correspondence from attorneys, work product, or discovery. However, despite the rule, I do not know if this prohibits them from looking for contraband in the legal boxes. A guard can sift through papers without reading them.

After returning to my cell, I bathed out of my sink and then made myself a few peanut butter sandwiches. I was sitting on a property box at the table near the bars when I noticed inmate workers being locked in their cells. Workers are locked up at the end of their shift, but it was still early. I spoke with my neighbor who informed me the prison was placed on lockdown. Apparently, the Orange Crush was searching various buildings and inmates throughout the day. In the school, prison wine was found along with a cell phone. The man laughed when he said the phone was found in someone's ass.

The thought that a prisoner hid a cell phone in his butt and brought it to school was hilarious. For the next hour, my cellmate and I entertained ourselves speculating how the phone was found and why the man was carrying it around in his kiester. I told my cellmate facetiously that we were wrong and the Orange Crush was not aimlessly wandering the prison grounds. They were triangulating the electronic signals of the cell phone. I pretended as if I had a tracking device and made a series of escalating beeping sounds which pointed out the man with the nefarious contraband stuffed in his butt. I hypothesized another scenario where the prisoner got caught because his phone began to ring to some hip hop music when the Orange Crush was there. I commented the man was lucky cell phones had been miniaturized because before my arrest they were the size of a boot. Even if he brought his own KY like Jodi Arias, he was going to have problems.

I could not figure out why a prisoner would bring a cell phone with him to school. Did he have an important call he had to make or was he expecting one? Was he going to give the phone to someone else or did he always carry it around in his butt? My cellmate asked me if I ever saw the movie "Pulp Fiction" where actor Bruce Willis jeopardizes his life to go all the way back home after a clean get-a-way to get a gold watch. I did, but did not recall why and he explained the watch belonged to his father who was killed in the Vietnam War. A friend of his took the watch and had to keep it hidden in his ass because he was a captured P.O.W. I told him no watch or phone was worth keeping in your butt.

During the evening while I was watching closing arguments in the Jodi Arias murder trial, a large number of guards entered the cell house. Prisoners shouted "I.A. in the building!" but they were not all from the security unit. I went to my cell bars to see what all the commotion was about and saw the guards quickly going up the stairs. A couple of them exited on the gallery I am on and began to go in and out of cells. I was not concerned, only curious, and continued to eat a burrito I had made earlier when a guard opened my cell door. He said he just needed to check something and I did not have to leave. The guard checked a metal cap on the ceiling where a light bulb once hung to make sure it was secure. To this day I do not know what the emergency was. I assume I.A. thought they may find contraband hidden above the cap in the ceiling.

Word of the cell phone traveled quickly around the penitentiary and by the weekend it was the joke of guards as well as inmates. Guards in my cell house joked with a prisoner who is celled on a gallery above mine. They shouted to him they were about to shake-down his cell and he better have that phone hidden before they climbed the stairs. Later they would tease him and say if he did not turn over the phone, they were calling the proctologist. The prisoner cried out he did not have a phone. "Too late," the guards said. "I.A. is already here and they have some extra thick rubber gloves." The exchanges received a number of laughs in the cell house.

I had to resolve my curiosity and eventually asked a guard how they discovered the cell phone if it was hidden in the convict's body. He told me the Orange Crush found a cell phone recharger on the man when searching prisoners at the school. The man tried to claim it was just a Walkman adapter, but the guards knew better. During a strip search, they thoroughly scrutinized him and saw the contraband partly sticking out when he was ordered to bend over and spread his cheeks. No one on the SORT wanted to pull it out so they called the Health Care Unit. While some lucky nurse was en route, the phone just happened to come out. I assume the prisoner, to save himself further embarrassment or violation, made sure it did not come down to extraction. The cell phone was not your typical model but a watch phone which I did not even know existed. Hearing that the phone was a watch my cellmate exclaimed he was right. It was just like the movie Pulp Fiction.

Cell phones have been found before without the prison being placed on lockdown and some prisoners speculated it was done because it was Officer Appreciation Week. They believe the administration put the Orange Crush on a mission to justify the closure of the facility to make the guards happy. Without normal operations, guards have less work to do and have a more carefree and easy shift. I am not buying the conspiracy theory, although I do know that despite the level one lockdown kitchen workers were allowed to work to prepare and cook the guards' special meals. Officer Appreciation Week is mainly about the food. Most of the year, guards will bring their own meals with them to work and many refuse to eat the garbage prisoners are fed. This week, they were served pizza, grilled BBQ chicken, bratwurst and burgers, deep fried breaded catfish, and sliced cheese and ham sandwiches. On one day, Subway takeout was brought into the prison for staff to eat.

During the lockdown, B House was searched by SORT and Internal Affairs. The entire upper gallery was ransacked as well as random cells throughout the unit. From what I am told, some cash and drugs were found. Just the month prior, about 1/4 oz. of marijuana was discovered. My cellmate happened to see the lieutenant bring the bag to the offices of I.A. across from the kitchen. I had been meaning to joke with the lieutenant about his big pot bust and also accuse him of skimming some for himself. I know how left-wing socialists like to smoke weed. It is probably how they are able to maintain their ridiculous ideology.

My subscription to the Wall Street Journal expired and occasionally I will read my cellmate's central Illinois newspaper, The News-Gazette. There was an interesting article about how on the day Stateville went on lockdown a female guard at Danville was assaulted. According to the paper, a prisoner lured her from a day room into an adjacent laundry room. Once there, he beat the guard and then sought to rape her but another prisoner came to her rescue. A union representative was quoted complaining the incident illustrates how unsafe the IDOC is and how more staff is needed. The accusations and conclusions of the union representative were absurd. The IDOC has the least amount of violence and the highest number of guards ever in my 20 years of incarceration. My cellmate agreed the complaints were nonsense, but said because of them prisoners will no longer be allowed to work the midnight shift in living units.

The administration's response will certainly not be appreciated by guards who work from 11 to 7. Now they will have to do all the work once done by inmates including passing out breakfast trays, picking up garbage and soiled laundry bags. Every week at Stateville, hundreds of dirty mesh laundry bags from each cell house must be collected, bagged, and brought over to the laundry building. It is a lot of unpleasant work and already the 3rd shift guards attempted to get out of doing it, but superiors have ordered them to do so. Apparently, midnight shift guards will not be sitting on their butts all night anymore, and they have their own union to thank.

Also not well received by staff were searches conducted by I.A. on them. It is a well known secret that much of the contraband in the penitentiary is brought in by guards and various other staff who work here. Normally, they come and go without any scrutiny, but over the week security personnel randomly frisked and looked through the belongings of these men and women. They were not strip searched or treated like prisoners but nonetheless they did not like having their privacy invaded. Ironic how some staff have no problem with the excessive and invasive security until they get a taste of it.

On Tuesday evening, an announcement was made over the cell house loudspeaker that all prison jackets were being collected. The following day the major was in the building and threatened inmates who did not turn in their coats that they would be subject to disciplinary action. Angry prisoners yelled out complaints and obscenities. It was still cold outside and they knew the administration sought to recycle their jackets. The next winter they would get someone's old and possibly torn up clothing. I turned in my coat the first day without protest, but I knew the idea to reuse the cheap coats was stupid. Although some jackets are lost or discarded in the summer, the amount of money saved will be minuscule to the amount squandered on redundant security. The cheap windbreakers are made by prison laborers for under $20. However, the costs of unnecessary staff and security is in the millions.

The closure of Tamms, Dwight, and a few juvenile detention centers was supposed to save the State of Illinois a significant amount of money. However, the greatest expense of those facilities is not their maintenance, but the salaries of staff. Originally there was going to be layoffs for non senior guards, but this did not occur. What occurred was simply jamming more people in less space with little cost savings. The extra guards at Stateville are not needed. They have only allowed the administration to impose more rules, regulations, oversight, and most of all, security. While little manpower has been used for operations, a great amount has been used to increase already absurd levels of SORT, I.A., and other security personnel. It is little wonder the IDOC continues to squander vast sums of money.      

Update -- July 9, 2013
Midnight shift guards have convinced the administration to have laundry picked up on the 2nd shift. Prison workers are now once again doing the work.