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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Crushing Rebellion -- August 24, 2013

Last Saturday, Hispanic prisoners entering the chow hall were accosted by Internal Affairs. A member of the security unit who is also Hispanic provoked a fight and was mildly injured before other guards trampled his combatants. The penitentiary was immediately placed on a strict level 1 lockdown and over the weekend SORT and I.A. from a few prisons were assembled. The small army invaded Stateville on Monday and they continue to wreak havoc. Midweek, my cell block was ransacked and plundered by the Orange Crush. I was also questioned by I.A. if I knew about the fight or any conspiracy. Later, I learned there were a few other incidents in other penitentiaries in the days prior, including Pontiac Correctional Center where several guards were hospitalized. The administration suspects there is a connection, however, I tend to believe it was a coincidence. The more oppressive the IDOC becomes, the more likely there will be rebellion.

The evening of the incident, I did not bother going to the chow hall. Some distasteful form of salami was being served for dinner. Prisoners call it "slick meat" amongst other names. Furthermore, I did not want to miss the political commentary and news on the PBS program "The McLaughlin Group". Feed lines from C House went out and returned without incident. However, at about 7 p.m. I noticed cell house workers were being locked in their cells. One of them mentioned something happened during D House chow lines and the prison was on lockdown. Later, I overheard a guard say there was a staff assault in the chow hall. I assumed the assault was rather minor as is most often the case at Stateville. The guard did not elaborate and said it casually. There was also no hurry to lock men in their cells. In maximum-security prisons, scrapes between men are nothing out of the ordinary.

Monday I had no clue a battalion of Orange Crush and Internal Affairs had descended upon the penitentiary and I went about my day as I customarily do. I ate breakfast while watching the news, exercised for an hour, and then bathed out of my sink. Afterwards I began the laborious process of washing clothes by hand using the toilet as a basin. Monday evening, laundry bags were scheduled to be picked up, however, due to the lockdown I was uncertain if guards would do so. They are very work averse and even if the clothes were sent to the laundry building, there was no discerning if they would be washed or passed back to inmates in a timely fashion. It may not be days until the laundry would be returned.

In the evening, baked chicken was passed out by guards for dinner. Oddly, the Styrofoam box trays had two state cakes in them. Prisoners are only given one dessert and I knew there had to be a catch. Scrutinizing them under the bright fluorescent light in my cell, I noticed blue spots of mold growing on them. My cellmate was looking at me and I told him those are not blueberries, and he had better not eat his. The chicken leg and thigh looked as if they were properly cooked and not long after I began to eat a neighbor tapped on the side of my cell. I was annoyed to be disturbed, but after rinsing the grease off my hands, I went to the cell bars to see what he wanted. He passed me a note that read Orange Crush from Menard Correctional Center had been at the prison today tossing cells in D House and to expect them bright and early the following day.

I thought the days of massive multi-institutional SORT raids were over. Stateville has plenty of manpower to conduct its own cell house searches without the assistance of other prisons since an abundance of new staff was added earlier in the year. Furthermore, the busing of guards from the southern Illinois penitentiary near East St. Louis did not make any logistic or economic sense. My cellmate agreed, however, we both spent part of the night before going to sleep preparing. Neither of us had any real contraband, but what the Orange Crush deems legitimate property is something a prisoner can never tell. Oftentimes I believe they do not care and pillaging is done just out of malice.

I went to sleep and awakened an hour earlier than I normally do. Before the Orange Crush shut off the water and rushed into the building, I wanted to get ready for a long day. Sometimes, prisoners can be in handcuffs 5 or more hours without being able to eat or use the bathroom. Therefore, I ate a large breakfast and then quickly used the toilet, washed my face, and brushed my teeth. I also tried to listen to guards' radio traffic to learn any information about the tactical unit's plans for the day. Repeatedly, I overheard the name of Stateville's SORT commander as well as some movement orders. From what I could discern, the Orange Crush was raiding another quarter unit. Depending on how many men they had, SORT could search two cell houses in a day. However, I doubted this was their intention and went about my day as I customarily would.

On a level 1 lockdown, guards must do all of the work in the cell house. Generally, they keep it to a minimum and sit around all day until the end of their shifts. However, on Tuesday, they must not only pass out food trays and collect the garbage but distribute supplies. Once a week prisoners are given a roll of toilet paper and a bar of soap or two which is made at the penitentiary's soap factory. Occasionally, a little tube of generic toothpaste and a 3 inch toothbrush is also given to inmates. I told my cellmate the guards should have waited to pass out supplies because the Orange Crush generally takes them. Later we thought it was amusing that guards had to ask inmate workers where certain things were, including garbage bags without many holes in them. A couple of months ago, the administration came up with a brilliant idea to prevent prisoners from using garbage bags to ferment hooch by having holes drilled through the rolls. Of course, fluids now leak out of the trash bags and guards hate to use them. The cell house, however, has a special stash of garbage bags which have not been drilled and guards sought them out.

Wednesday, I awakened at the crack of dawn. For a moment I watched the orange orb rise above the prison wall through cell house windows. The sun cast an eerie red glow and it reminded me of the saying "Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor's delight." I was no sailor, nor did I think there was any correlation to red skies and weather. However, I did believe there was about a 50/50 chance the Orange Crush would storm the cell house and make my entire day miserable. About an hour later the odds became 100% when I noticed the water was turned off. The loss of plumbing also did not escape the attention of prisoners and they began to shout from their cells warning others of the imminent arrival of SORT.

The Orange Crush marched in formation on the concrete walk before they rushed into the cell house. I did not count them, but I estimate they were about 100 strong. As always, they were wearing their notorious bright orange jumpsuits with black body armor and boots. On their belts were canisters of mace and more menacingly wood batons that reminded me of baseball bats. The SORT ran up the flights of stairs to the 5th floor and I watched them while sitting on a steel table next to the cell bars. They were almost all Caucasian men and I commented to my cellmate that they must have come from another penitentiary. Stateville has a more racially diverse staff and I was unable to recognize any faces. However, because Stateville had recently added new personnel to their SORT, it was possible some of the prison's own manpower was being used and in fact later I did see several I knew.

When prisoners saw the Orange Crush, a few began to throw garbage and low level contraband out of their cells. None of it was serious, but they were apparently concerned a disciplinary ticket could be written. One prisoner on my gallery had the nerve to toss a piece of a device used to boil water in front of my cell. I reached out my bars and flung it back from where I believe it originated. A moment later, someone from an upper gallery threw out a cut extension cord and it landed on the sergeant's office with a thud. The noise was heard by a member of the SORT and he began to climb up the wall to retrieve it. He was having a difficult time and jokingly I told the sergeant to give him a boost and I gestured. The sergeant was not about to help him out let alone push his ass and said he would unlock my cell so I could assist him.

After rushing upstairs, about a half hour passed before the Orange Crush led prisoners down from the fifth gallery. Inmates did not look happy as they walked down the staircase single file, handcuffed behind their backs. Two guards accompanied every other prisoner in the line until they went out the cell house door. The fourth floor of prisoners were taken out in the same way and I expected them to continue until everyone had been removed from their cells. However, the SORT stopped moving men and began to search cells. I was disappointed that I had to wait because I knew there would be wreckage to clean up later which would take untold hours, although at the same time I was glad not to be bound the entire day. I laid down on my bunk and incredibly fell asleep. Orange Crush raids can cause a lot of anxiety, but there was nothing I could do about it. I have been at the mercy of my captors for over 20 years and Wednesday was no exception.

Around noon, prisoners were brought back to the upper floors and I once again waited for the tactical unit to take me away. Eventually guards assembled in front of the cells on the 2nd floor. Two SORT members seemed to be assigned to every one of them. One of the men addressed me and my cellmate. He told us to come to the bars to be handcuffed which confused me. Normally, prisoners are strip searched before they are taken out. I began to put on my gym shoes, but the man told me not to bother. After handcuffing us behind our backs, I was told to stand facing the back wall while my cellmate was strip searched. The cell doors were opened and my cellmate's handcuffs were removed so he could undress. When they finished searching him, he was handcuffed again and we switched places in the cell. I underwent the same thorough strip search and was only permitted to wear my state issued blue pants and shirt: no boxers, undershirts, or socks. Instead of gym shoes, I had to wear sandals.

After all prisoners on the gallery were strip searched, one of the Orange Crush guards in front of my cell gave an order for everyone to step out. It was only then I realized he was a sergeant. This probably did not bode well for my cellmate and me. A sergeant was more likely to thoroughly toss a cell unless he was going in and out of other cells supervising. I considered if the sergeant was intentionally assigned my cell or if it was just coincidence. I do not know how much planning goes into a cell house search, however, I tended to doubt it was so meticulously planned or I would be specifically targeted. Later, I would again have to speculate if I was not being singled out.

Outside the cell house, inmates were ordered to form a double line and face away from the tactical unit. This was a security precaution to dissuade prisoners from becoming rebellious as well as to further incapacitate us. They probably have considered putting hoods over everyone's heads to prevent us from seeing at all, but then how could we walk in formation to the chow hall? Despite prisoners obediently obeying all the orders, a guard continued to shout there was no talking in line. I did not hear a whisper and in silence looked out across the prison grounds to the wall. The sun no longer hovered above it, but was directly overhead. It was a hot summer day without a cloud in the sky. Again, I wondered why any sailors should be warned of any turbulent weather.

As I suspected, prisoners were escorted to the chow hall. There were three dining rooms and the men on my gallery were sent into the middle one. Lined up against the wall, guards reversed handcuffs so our arms were in front and then we were told to come forward to be handed a tray and a juice carton. The dining area was filled 3 men to a table but by the time I received a lunch tray, I had to sit with 3 other men because there was not enough room. One of the black men was very obnoxious and babbled stupidly about various topics. I ignored him while I ate my chicken-soy pattie and mashed instant potatoes until he began to talk about Cook County's Conviction Integrity Unit. I told him the unit created by State's Attorney Anita Alvarez was a fraud and all the prisoners they had dropped charges against would have been eventually released by the courts anyway. They just preempted a few acquittals or reversals.

Briefly I spoke with an older prisoner who was at the table with me. Charlie was in prison for an  armed robbery he committed 20 years ago. He was sentenced to life without a possibility of parole because of the Habitual Criminal Act. If a person is convicted of 3 class X felonies, he or she must spend the rest of their lives in prison. The younger man at the table jumped into our conversation to comment he would never come back to prison. I was amused when Charlie said he would be right back in Stateville if he was ever released. The man asked how did he know and Charlie's reply was because that is the same thing he said when he was his age.

A man from Stateville's Internal Affairs unit was let into the locked dining area and he shouted for the following men to come forward. To my surprise, the first name he called was my own. Initially, I thought I was going to be tested for drugs as is commonly done during Orange Crush searches. However, when I stood next to him, I noticed he had copies of inmates' ID cards and certain ones were highlighted. Also, oddly, my cellmate was called as well. We were the only two men to share a cell together. What were the odds that we would be among 6 randomly chosen prisoners on a gallery with over 60 men?

The man from I.A. led me and my cellmate along with the four other inmates out of the chow hall. He stopped at the offices of the security unit across from the kitchen and told two of the group to take a seat inside. Then the rest of us were led down a corridor to the front of the penitentiary. My cellmate was told to go into the NRC visiting room and another man into Stateville's G.P. visiting room, leaving just me and a black prisoner. Two people came out of the legal visit rooms and a black man dressed in plain clothes told me to come with him. He sat at a large table and invited me to do the same across from him.

I assumed some outside agency wanted to question me and I was correct. The black man was from Pontiac's Internal Affairs division and was seeking any information I knew about the incident which occurred on Saturday. I told him all I had heard was that there was a staff assault in the chow hall when prisoners from D House were being fed. He wanted to know where I heard that and I answered "from the gallery." In retrospect, I figure he wanted a name but even if I had understood that I would not have told him. He asked if I was aware of any plot against staff or anger shared by convicts. I did not know of any plots and as for anger, prisoners have plenty of animosity about a wide array of things. Apparently, he was seeking something specific or unique. No, I could not assist him and recommended trying to get information from prisoners in D House. He wrote a few sentences on a form and then asked if I would sign it. I am very cautious about signing statements since I've been in prison because a detective lied about what I said. I read what he wrote carefully and had him add a word he had accidentally left out which reversed the meaning of the sentence.

In the chow hall, I sat with my cellmate and exchanged notes. He was asked basically the same things. I asked him to speculate why we were both chosen to speak with IA. He believed they wanted a racially diverse selection and there were only 5 Caucasian people on our gallery, one of whom went on a court writ and was not available. I was skeptical, but before I could give my opinion a black prisoner who was selected sat at the table and began to explain to us why only he and another man were spoken to by Stateville I.A.  He seemed to be concerned we would think he was a snitch. Neither Anthony nor I had these concerns and in fact my cellmate was glad to be singled out so he could spend time in the air conditioned room.

Prisoners were taken back to the cell house between 2 and 3 p.m. My cellmate and I found all our property in disarray. It appeared that the tactical guard and sergeant went through everything with great haste. I was angry by the mess and immediately went to work reordering my possessions once I had put on some underwear and changed my clothes. The SORT, I was to discover, had taken a number of my possessions including cardboard dividers, a Tupperware bowl, a salt shaker, a plastic ware set I had so I did not have to eat with a spork, all my extra sets of shoelaces, and a year old but never used pair of ear buds. My cellmate was missing his hair brush, cup, 10 packages of peanut butter along with the jar he had them in, as well as all his condiments, bottles, salt packets, and eating utensils. From other prisoners, I heard we fared much better.

My cellmate spent a few hours reordering his property and retying his television to a vent in the wall. Both of us had taken our TVs down so guards would not break them cutting them loose. Although I saved my TV from damage, my Walkman seemed to have been dropped and the cassette door does not work properly anymore. I was more meticulous about assembling my two property boxes and did not finish until 7 p.m. My cellmate wanted me to glue new hooks to the wall as well as make him a new ledge for his TV and a little cardboard shelf for him to put his coffee cup on, all of which was scraped off the walls. I told him he will have to wait until the following day. I was exhausted and after bathing I watched a DVD called "Dead Man Down" before going to sleep.

On Thursday morning, a psychologist escorted by a guard made rounds in the cell house to ask prisoners if they were OK. No, I was not OK. I was wrongfully convicted and must spend the rest of my life in prison dealing with such things as senseless Orange Crush raids. The woman looked at me with a dumb look and asked if I needed any mental health services. Later, the lieutenant tried to be more productive by telling men if any valuable legitimate property was taken to send him a note. Neither my ear buds nor my Tupperware bowl were probably thought of as valuable, but I tossed a note down to a guard. Today, I learned the Orange Crush threw away everything they took except contract items like fans, radios and TVs. I also learned several disciplinary reports were written but these were for some very petty things some of which I do not even think of as contraband. For example, Little Johnny was written up for having fantasy football papers.

Since the Orange Crush searched C House, all the other units were searched as well except for the Roundhouse. I assume after the weekend, the multi-institution SORT will be back to ransack and pillage it, although I doubt they will find anything of consequence. The Orange Crush raid seemed to be about retaliation more than anything. A couple of cell house workers were let out today for the first time in a week. I heard a number of Hispanic inmates from D House were transferred. In a central Illinois newspaper, I read about guards being attacked at Pontiac C.C. and this explains why SORT and I.A. from the penitentiary were here. However, the race of the assaulting inmates was not mentioned. Even if they were Hispanic, I see no correlation with what occurred at Stateville. As the screws are tightened in the IDOC, convicts are going to rebel. The men may be black, white, or brown, but they all share an eternity in prison.