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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Orange Crush Security -- October 5, 2013

Since the penitentiary was taken off lockdown, there has been a great increase in security during movement lines. Additional guards were hired and the SORT is positioned along walkways, outside the chow hall, and other places. Dressed in full tactical gear, they are conducting pat downs and strip searches but their presence is mainly to respond to any fight or disturbance. When prisoners on an upper gallery in my cell house refused to leave the chow hall, the Orange Crush quickly assembled in the inner chamber. However, the warden diffused the situation and inmates went back to their cells without incident. Since then, everyone in the quarter unit has been fed in their cells and this is just fine with me. Had I any food in my cell, I would not have gone out for any meals at all. After I was given a flu shot, I became sick with a cold and regardless I preferred "room service" to avoid the loud crowds in the chow hall. Avoiding the harassment of the SORT was an extra bonus. Although most of the guards acted professionally and a few were even friendly, their presence in itself was oppressive and unnecessary.

On the first day C House was off lockdown, I was stunned to see all the extra manpower when I stepped out of the building to go to chow. The movement team had been quadrupled and there were groups of Orange Crush along the walkway. Never during my incarceration has the SORT been used in this manner. In their bright orange jumpsuits, black body armor, helmets and boots, they held batons in their hands to beat any man or group of men who did not behave. The chow lines were stopped repeatedly to reconfigure them in tight formation. On the other side of the general population building, prisoners were randomly frisked. The chow lines were supervised by the major, warden, and the assistant warden of security. Due to all the additional security measures, it took over 2 hours for C House to be fed lunch.

This week, manpower on the movement team has remained heavy and they have been accompanied by small groups of guards in tactical gear. A group of 4 may stand on the walkway parallel to the quarter units building, on the segway leading into the chow hall or just outside it in the tunnel. Their cans of mace and billy clubs are holstered. Generally, they have been acting as extra security, however, they will sometimes assist other guards in patting down inmates. Occasionally, I have seen them pull men out of line in the tunnel to be strip searched. Although I have not had to undress, a few times I was frisked. The Orange Crush can be very thorough when they pat down and one guard noticed I had a packet of ketchup in my pocket. He asked me what it was and after I told him he let me go back in line.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to miss too many meals. Other than peanut butter, I do not have any food in my cell. Prisoners in C House have not shopped at the prison store for over 2 months. On Monday, many men were angry and shouted from their cells that commissary lines be run. Every Monday, half of the quarter unit is supposed to be permitted to shop according to a warden memorandum. However, the last week is designated as inventory. Commissary staff and prison workers need a few days to make an account of what is left, what needs to be ordered, and how much has been stolen or been thrown out because of food going past expiration dates. Due to the lockdown, prisoners thought there was no need to do inventory on the last day of the month. Inventory could have been done any time earlier in September. Despite the noise and complaints of prisoners, they were ignored.

I thought there was a possibility of some incident occurring. Prisoners with no hope of parole being fed slop regularly can lead to trouble even in the "old man's house" which many people nick-named quarter unit C. However, the only disturbance in the penitentiary Monday was on a segregation yard. Apparently, men began fighting and were not dissuaded by a couple of rifle shots. The brawl was not broken up until guards ran to the scene. A rumor circulated that the fight was a diversion so inmates on another Seg yard could unravel metal off a cyclone fence. There are clasps and short pieces of fencing used to hold the fence to its steel supports. The latter can be unwound and made into classic ice pick like stabbing weapons. Security is continuously scrutinizing fences and has even painted all the connections blue to make them more visible.

On a number of occasions, I have overheard prisoners expressing a great amount of animosity toward the groups of Orange Crush. Much of this is due to the fact the bright orange jumpsuits have come to symbolize brutality, oppression, and large scale theft. The Orange Crush is notorious through the IDOC's 50,000 prisoners, although mainly in maximum and medium security prisons. I do not believe the SORT is used much if at all at places like East Moline or Vienna. The weapons the Orange Crush have on their belts are also a source of anger. No one wants to be under the continuous threat of being beaten with a bat or maced. Many prisoners I know thought about taking these weapons and using them against their captors. Scenes from the horror movie "Silence of the Lambs," when Hannibal Lector beat to death one of his guards, came to mind.

A man next to me in line mentioned how easy it would be to disarm a guard and break a knee cap, strike the throat, or crack their skull after pulling off their helmet. I also did not like the display of force, but I tried to look at the guards individually and not as a group. I knew and got along with some of these guards when they were not in orange jumpsuits. The fact they had changed clothing and carried a club should not change this. To lighten the tension, I joked with one man who usually works in the cell house when I came out for dinner. I asked him if it was not a bit early to be dressed like the Great Pumpkin and then what he had in his man-purse. My cellmate who was walking behind me chimed in asking if his mother packed his lunch. The bag he was carrying was actually to carry a gas mask. How these guards are to be able to fit themselves with a gas mask quickly, and be able to respond, is unknown to me. However, much of their gear is unnecessary as is the excessive security.

From what I am told, guards get an extra $15 per shift to wear the tactical gear. I do not know if it is optional or if they are told to dress in the orange jumpsuit at roll call. I speculate going through tactical training is optional, but they have no choice after they are a part of the SORT what their assignment may be. I saw a little woman in one of the groups of Orange Crush and thought I would prefer to give her $15 so she would not be putting herself in harm's way. I do not like to see women working at Stateville let alone as one of the administration's goons. Some women who work in corrections are manly or unattractive and this does not bother me as much. However, the prettier and more lady-like a woman, the more I find it disagreeable. Is there not some other job they can find? Is there not some man they can marry to take care of them?

Tuesday evening, the entire cell house was given flu shots. Six to ten men were let out at a time to come downstairs to the sergeant's office where two nurses were. It took almost the entire 2nd shift to inoculate about 300 men, although some people elected not to get a shot. I was eating a peanut butter sandwich at the time a guard unlocked my cell door. I took a mug of water with me and the guard said something indiscernible. It sounded like she said I could not bring the water with me. I asked her to repeat herself and was annoyed that was indeed what she had said. Why cannot I bring a cup of water with me so I do not choke on this peanut butter? Was it some security risk? What can I do with water? Later while waiting in line, I watched the female guard. I think she was just being moody. It may be stressful for some women to work here, particularly those who are new hires.

The nurses in an adjoining room to the sergeant's office were women I know. I was somewhat playful but as my cellmate would say "a smart ass". For my attitude, the Polish nurse stuck me hard with the needle. I did not flinch or show any discomfort. She was not going to get any satisfaction from me. The following night, however, she asked me how my arm was. After she left, my cellmate said I had mastered the art of the "flirt-dis" which apparently is being flirtatious while at the same time being disparaging. He thought the nurse was just responding in kind. Sometimes, I am unaware how I come across and am not cognizant of other people's emotions. However, I can also be intentionally provoking.

Wednesday, I had to wait an hour in the cell house holding cage before I was escorted to my visit. The reason for the delay was feed lines were being run very slowly. It was surprising lunch was being served so late and I asked a guard about the matter. He said D and E Houses were let off lockdown and the latter quarter unit was being fed one gallery at a time. The extra security precautions being taken for C House were absurd, but to only allow one gallery of men in the chow hall at one time was even more ridiculous. Even if E House had the most violent prisoners and a few of them had fought with guards early last month, there was no need to drag out feed lines. Administrators were going overboard.

The guard escorting prisoners to visits and other destinations was new. She had just been hired a few weeks prior while the prison was on lockdown. It was amusing that she did not know where anything was or how to use the radio to gain clearance or notify a cell house that men were returning to their unit. On the way back to the quarter units she became mad that some inmates walked passed her and did not want to wait. I did not like seeing her frustrated and gave her some advice while trying to be sensitive to her feelings which can be difficult for me. When I finally returned to the cell, I mentioned the new guard as well as others I had seen to my cellmate. He was not surprised and asked me if I did not notice them when they toured the unit. No, I had not noticed, however, the last thing Stateville needs is even more manpower. Incredible how the IDOC squanders money and lawmakers continue to give it to them with the state teetering on bankruptcy.

Also when I returned to the cell, my cellmate spoke about how 8 gallery refused to leave the chow hall. It was passive resistance, but from what I was told a small army of guards, many dressed in tactical gear, rushed in the building. They were ready to storm the dining room with mace grenades and then busting men's skulls with batons. All the prisoners wanted was to shop, however, and the warden spoke to some of them and cooler heads prevailed. Everyone returned to their cells without any violence. Either this Monday or the next, 8 gallery will be allowed to buy commissary. To avoid any more disruptions, though, the gallery was placed on lockdown and the rest of the cell house has been fed in their cells until today. While writing this post, prisoners have gone out and returned. Rather than the tamales served I will eat a couple more peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. I care less for the obnoxious loud convicts I must be in line and eat with. I care even less to be under the threat of force or harassment of the Orange Crush.

Since Wednesday, I have stayed in my cell. I am happier when left alone. Furthermore, I developed a cold after the nurse stabbed me with the hypodermic needle and have not felt like going out even to attend yard. Thursday afternoon everyone except 8 gallery was permitted recreation time. I do not know if it is punishment or to prevent the men from refusing yet again to leave.In any event, I do not feel well and have a sore throat along with other cold symptoms. I tend to believe I am fighting off this germ when by body's immune system has been stressed with the flu virus. The strain was dead, of course, but it still causes T-cells to respond. Now they are juggling two threats: one real and one imaginary.

Along with the extra security during movement lines, there is a continued effort to split up or shuffle men considered to be in "security threat groups". A number of moves were made in the cell house where men were swapped with men in other quarter units. Even if the number of gang members stays the same, shuffling them purportedly takes away their unity. Unity within convicts is something the administration seeks to weaken. The overwhelming use of force is only part of their strategy to keep a tight stranglehold on the prison.

I noticed this week that all guards as well as staff have been given new radios. These radios have more bells and whistles than the former ones. They also have the convenience of being able to speak into a separate handset which can be clipped on the collar or epaulet of a shirt. The IDOC probably spent a lot of money exchanging the old radios for the new. The new hires were even more expensive, although they do not have all the pension benefits as the older employees. The Orange Crush groups are most likely manageable if they are only paid an extra $15 per shift. However, again, I am struck by all the money spent on security which is unnecessary while prisoners continue to lack essentials such as medical care, clothing, and decent food. Yesterday, used jackets were passed out to men to save a few bucks. The jacket I received was ripped down the front and I had to have a prison worker exchange it. This jacket has no tears but the zipper does not work well.

I took a break from writing to call home. I caught my father in the middle of having some furniture and other belongings packed into a POD which will be picked up on Monday. He is fed up with living in Illinois and is leaving to another state. I will rarely ever see him now, however, I do not blame him for leaving. If I could, I would leave this state as well. Unfortunately I am trapped in the IDOC. I can only assume things will become progressively more oppressive even if the Orange Crush on the walks is only temporary.