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.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

3 Days on Lockdown -- August 10, 2013

On Tuesday afternoon, the penitentiary was placed on lockdown. I was not certain why and speculated it may be due to a protective custody inmate who died the previous day. The man was in his 20's and was not known to have any health problems. The suspicious death, however, was not the cause of the lockdown and on Wednesday I learned B and E quarter units were being searched by SORT after a shank and a small quantity of drugs were found. Fortunately, C House had normal operations and I was able to attend a visit. Thursday, my unit was back on lockdown, although cell house workers were let out to perform their normal duties. The following morning, however, they were abruptly locked in their cells and the Orange Crush rushed into the unit. About 10 prisoners were taken to the offices of Internal Affairs while their cells were thoroughly searched. Nothing of any consequence was discovered and in the evening prisoners were allowed to go to the yard after dinner. The day ended appropriately with a DVD called "Snitch" being played.

On Monday,  I did not go to lunch, however, a couple of prisoners stopped at my cell bars when they returned. One of the men was a commissary worker and I asked why he had yet to be moved to the Roundhouse. Wally was an obnoxious convict and the sooner he was gone the better. After threatening to lose my subsequent store orders, he told me all the moves were put on pause. A man who was classified protective custody died in X House. There was no apparent cause for his death and it was being investigated. The previous week all PC inmates were moved in a group from the Roundhouse to X House. The space in the former building was needed to accommodate prison workers.

I skipped dinner as well as lunch and stayed in the cell the entire day. There was nothing good being served in the chow hall and I did not want to be disrupted. In the morning, I exercised, bathed out of my sink, and then shaved with my electric Norelco razor. I then put a second coat of paint on the shelving unit before taking an early afternoon nap. I awakened when a guard came to the cell with mail. I was given 5 letters and all of them were post-dated in early July. The delay in my mail was upsetting and I considered writing a letter to the assistant warden. All prisoners' incoming mail at Stateville was behind weeks, but my outgoing mail was as well unlike others I had spoken to. While watching the season finale of "The Bachelorette," I went over my snail mail. I did not know what was more absurd: a woman who changed who she loved in one week or reading month old mail.

Tuesday morning, I left the confines of my cell to lift weights and run laps on Stateville's large south yard. My cellmate joined me for part of my routine, however, he lacks motivation and I found myself working out with a black man who recently was moved from the Roundhouse. He was very strong and shoulder pressed with over 200 pounds. Later I passed by Anthony on the quarter mile track still trying to break a 5 minute mile. He was strolling along listening probably to some soft rock music. Recently, I have been comparing him to a fat and lazy shark in a comic strip called "Sherman's Lagoon." In the last one I read to him, the shark commented how he could smell blood miles away. His friend, a crab, tells him that was very impressive. Sherman the shark however says that is just too far away to get a meal. Why go all that distance when there is closer unmotivated prey? I then made a joke about his victim being a weak female who lived in an apartment building next door. Apparently, she was a victim of convenience.

On the 2nd shift, the cell house was placed on a level 4 lockdown. Lockdowns are classified by four levels of severity with a 1 being the highest. The numbers are not greatly relevant, however, because the warden can modify a lockdown as he sees fit. During the evening there is very little movement in maximum security prisons of Illinois other than chow lines which were cancelled. Instead, dinner trays were passed out in the cell house to men in their cells by prison workers. On my tray was a very greasy chicken-soy patty and I gave it to "Sherman" while I prepared myself a meal with pink salmon. Later, I responded to a couple of letters I received the previous day from blog readers and wondered if they still cared to receive a reply.

On Wednesday, I awakened an hour earlier than I normally do and was done with my calisthenic exercises by 8 a.m. The sergeant then announced showers, library, barbershop and other movement in lines. The announcement of normal operations led me to believe the low level lockdown was connected to the protective custody prisoner's death. There may have been some question of foul play. However, later when I went on a visit I discovered otherwise. From what I heard, a snitch notified security of some hidden shank material and a small quantity of drugs. Thereafter, quarter units B and E were searched by SORT. Both cell houses were on a strict level 1 lockdown while prisoners' cells were being ransacked and some men were questioned. I thought the visiting room was strangely uncrowded. I could actually talk with my visitor without having to raise my voice or yell.

My attorney has been in greater contact with me recently and I received a letter from her. Legal correspondence is brought to an inmate's cell and opened in his presence. Unlike my other mail, it is usually delivered within a week of the prison mail room receiving it. However, I learned my outgoing legal mail was being delayed 3 weeks or longer. My attorney commented to me how it was strange all her other clients at Stateville did not have this problem. In a grievance I wrote, the counselor who replied there were only two people working in the mail room and all mail was uniformly behind. The reply also said there was no malicious or specific intent to delay my mail. This is why I rarely bother filing a grievance because it is such a farce. In my response to my attorney, I asked her about threatening the prison with a lawsuit. I prefer not to distract my attorney with matters other than my post conviction appeal, but I am fed up with my mail being delayed and/or "lost."

Thursday morning I put my breakfast to the side because I thought lunch lines in the cell house would be run early. From my menu, barbecue shredded chicken was going to be served and this, in my opinion, is one of the penitentiary's better meals. I would eat my breakfast after gym in the afternoon. It is not like it can get any colder when the trays are passed out by guards on the midnight shift around 2 a.m. However, after waiting and waiting, I learned the cell house was back on a level 4 lockdown. What now could have occurred? Later, a cell house worker told me a cell phone was found in the searches the prior day. It seems like a cell phone is being found every month. God forbid a prisoner from having an unmonitored or recorded phone call. He may even be able to access the Internet and set up a blog. The nefarious possibilities are endless.

With my cellmate I discussed how productive I could be with a smart phone. The blog I have could be directly designed and written by me without the help of any intermediary. My posts and answers to emails would not be delayed one to two months. I mentioned to him how surprised I am to receive any letters considering how letter writing has become almost an obsolete mode of communication and how long people must wait. A smart phone would also allow me to write editorials for newspapers or magazines once again. My cellmate asked me if I had kept any of the articles I wrote and were published for Soldier of Fortune. I do not even keep any of my posts, I told him, let alone editorials I wrote two decades ago. Lastly, I spoke about how I could indulge my interest in stocks by being able to buy and sell through electronic trading websites. I may actually be able to earn a substantial amount of money not only trading stocks for myself but others and charging a percentage for my service. In the middle of my talk my cellmate chimed in that I could also text nude photos of myself like the New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Wiener. Since he wanted to joke, I said, "Wiener can still turn this scandal around. Just think, he can ride around in a 'Wiener mobile' selling hot dogs. Instead of getting combative, he can own the sexting controversy by going on late night comedy shows including Saturday Night Live. The people of New York City need a man like Wiener if nothing else to be the butt of American comedy. How much worse can he be than Michael Bloomberg who sought to ban The Big Gulp?"

Most of the day, I read various economic and investment publications. I began with a Kiplinger's and then I read The Economist before finishing off with an Investment Business Daily. Initially, I did not have to use my headphones, but the cell house became very noisy and I had to put them on. Since the moves of prison workers and others, the unit has become much louder. Although C House was supposed to become a cell block for older inmates, many people under the age of 40 have been sent here. Some of them came from the Roundhouse and all they seem to want to do is yell and talk. When a guard let me out of my cell for a visit on Wednesday, he commented about the riff raff. My cellmate responded that along with older convicts, the cell house received a number of ghetto vermin and circus freaks.

Yesterday morning the day began with the cell house on a level 4 lockdown like the previous day. However, not long after inmate workers were let out, they were locked back in their cells abruptly. I thought that was odd, but continued to wash the floor. Moments later, I heard prisoners yelling "Orange Crush in the building!" About 20 SORT guards in full body armor hurriedly rushed up the stairs. Later prisoners were brought back down in handcuffs. My cellmate commented that was probably some of the riff raff the guard had mentioned earlier in the week. However, then we noticed a short bald man on the concrete walk outside the cell house. Numerous prisoners shave their heads but this man looked like Steve. Steve was a person both my cellmate and I spoke to. He was not a gang member or trouble maker other than his pompous attitude and penchant for filing lawsuits. He currently has a lawsuit in regarding medical negligence that was close to being settled and we wondered if that was why he was singled out.

The prisoners taken out of the cell house were gone for a long time while SORT searched their cells. I was glad they did not take the entire unit of men and were selective. I did not want to spend the day in the chow hall handcuffed and then the entire evening putting my possessions back in order. Typically, mass searches turn up little serious contraband. Drugs, cell phones, and knives are often found due to internal affairs' network of snitches. There are numerous prisoners who will tell on someone else to be forgiven for some rule violation on their part or for a special favor. I have heard of men who snitched on someone who had a cell phone being given transfers to nice medium-security prisons despite having poor records and boat loads of time to do on their sentences.

I expected the cell block to remain on lockdown the entire day if not over the weekend, however, I was surprised when on the 2nd shift guards yelled for prisoners to get ready for chow and yard. I did not care to eat tamales, but I got dressed because the yard line was run directly from the chow hall. In line outside the cell house, I sought Steve out to ask him what happened and if he knew why. He did not want to talk amongst other prisoners and I had to wait until we were seated in one of the dining areas. He then whispered to me that he and his cellmate along with the rest of the prisoners were taken to the offices of Internal Affairs and grilled. "They did not put you on the rack?" I asked jokingly. "Because if they did, you are still no taller," I added to make fun of the short man. Steve, I think, was exaggerating by using the word "grilled" and he toned down his language. Basically, I.A. wanted to know if he knew anyone who could get things into the prison. There are always inmates who have connections to procure contraband. Steve told them "no," and also was cocky telling I.A. he also did not know anything about what was found in the other cell houses.

Why, I asked, did he think Internal Affairs targeted him? Steve speculated there was a prisoner who they connected to him that was able to get all types of hard core porn into the institution. Pornography is allowed to be sent in via the mail or visitors, however, certain magazines are on a banned list. Because they are banned there is a huge black market for them and prisoners who can get them are able to sell them for double or more their market value. Anyway, Steve thought I.A. believed if a prisoner he knows can get hard core porn, he may be able to get other things that they are more concerned about. The fact is this inmate cannot nor would he want to get the contraband security personnel were hunting for.

Other than being able to talk to Steve, I wasted my time going out for chow. Guards told us we were being put on the small yard because no one was sent to man the central gun tower. Prisoners in maximum security prisons must always be "under the gun" during their recreation periods. I cared less to be on twin basketball courts surrounded by fencing topped by razor wire for two hours. Instead, I went back into the cell house and exercised in my cell. I can get a better workout in the confines of my 11 x 6 foot cubicle than on the small yard. I can also avoid the crowd of prisoners in the dog run.

At night, I watched a DVD called "Snitch" with the actor Dwayne Johnson. I am not a fan of "The Rock," but it was Friday and nothing was on television so I thought I would give the movie a chance. It was not a bad film and addressed a political issue about mandatory minimum sentences as well as problems created by police using snitches. In the movie, a high school senior is arrested for selling drugs. To escape a mandatory decade in prison, he frames his friend. The friend's father is "The Rock," and he tries to persuade the police and D.A. that his son is innocent, but they do not care or believe him. He is told the only way his son can get a reduced sentence is by snitching on someone. Other than the person who set him up, he does not know anyone and therefore "The Rock" makes a deal he will find someone they can bust. He ends up getting in way over his head with a Mexican drug cartel. Ultimately, his son is freed, however, the movie reminded me of how loathsome the use of snitches can be.