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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Retro Prison Garb -- October 19, 2013

During the week, the administration has ceased to use guards in tactical gear for extra security during movement lines. However, while they have taken off their bright orange jumpsuits, prisoners with staff assaults on their record are now dressed in bold black and white striped jumpsuits. The clothes are almost as striking as the Orange Crush and I have never seen such attire in the IDOC. Convicts in Illinois have worn blues for probably a century and the only exception made over the years at some penitentiaries has been for those in Segregation or who are leaving on court or hospital writs. Other than to make the men stand out to be scrutinized more thoroughly by security personnel, some people believe the purpose is simply to punish them. I question if it will have this effect or reduce any violence.

I first noticed the black and white striped clothing while in the chow hall. No memorandum had been passed out or posted on the television about the change in dress code nor had I been told by any other prisoners. To my knowledge, no one in my cell block knew and therefore it was a surprise to see them. The jumpsuits were a great contrast to a crowd of other men dressed in state blues. Regardless, I took a second look to be sure. No, I was not mistaken. The men had wide black and white stripes from head to toe, although some wore a blue jacket covering the upper part of their body. I suppose new matching jackets were too much of an expense.

At the chow table, a few prisoners spoke about the jumpsuits. Some thought they looked   ridiculous and my cellmate mentioned it brought images of the Three Stooges to mind. Another man said it reminded him of the old prison attire depicted in films like "O Brother Who Art Thou" where convicts were in chain gangs smashing rocks. Personally, I like the retro look except that I think it would look better with a black jacket. Furthermore, pants and striped T-shirts would be preferable. Jumpsuits are not practical and are bothersome to wear.

On Columbus Day, there was renewed talk about the NFL team named the Washington Redskins. Apparently, some tiny Indian tribe I never heard of until his month thinks the name is offensive. The Oneida Indian Nation is pressuring the league to change the name and has found support amongst a few liberal groups as well as the president of the U.S.  The team owner refuses to kowtow to the vocal minority and I was glad the NFL commissioner will not force him to do so. Team owners should have the freedom to name their teams whatever they wish. When talking about the subject with my cellmate, I mentioned how the Oneida Tribe is probably trying to shakedown the owner for some money and it has little to do with being offended. Recently, the NFL settled a lawsuit with former players claiming brain injuries for $765 million despite how injuries in the sport should be obvious.

I watched the first half of the Monday night football game before going to sleep. The number of penalties called in the NFL has gotten to a point of absurdity. There are too many flags thrown for unnecessary roughness. The sport has been diminished by the petty foul callings and over sensitivity to players possibly becoming injured or even their feelings getting hurt. I am astounded a lineman named Richie Incognito is being criticized in the media for being a bully. If his teammate Jonathan Martin at well over 300 pounds cannot handle some razing, he definitely does need to find a new sport to play. As I ridiculed the big sissy who left the Miami Dolphins, my cellmate who was watching the game with me brought up the pink adornment players were forced to wear for breast cancer awareness. This had to be demeaning I thought, and considered if the IDOC made those prisoners wear pink instead of black and white stripes. In maximum security prisons such as Stateville, men would refuse if not riot. Even in Arizona where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has jail detainees in pink, it is only done in minimum security.

Somehow the month of October has become a rallying cry for the liberal media to denounce bullying. The crusade to make American children even softer, more sensitive, and coddled is repugnant to me. It had reached new levels of absurdity when I read about the arrest of two girls ages 12 and 14 for aggravated stalking. Purportedly, the girls bullied Rebecca Sedwick to such an extent it drove her to commit suicide. Sheriff Judd Grady of Polk County Florida ordered the arrest after one of them sent the Facebook message: "Yes jk I bullied REBECCA and she killed herself but...IDGAF". Neither indifference nor bullying should be criminal. The true focus of this story should be how troubled or emotionally fragile Sedwick must have been. Bullying is pervasive in society from schools, the NFL, or the workplace. It is a part of life. If people cannot handle a little razzing, they definitely will not be able to handle the truly hard times in life. If I had a soft upbringing or attended schools where teasing was criminal, I may have been continually victimized at the Cook County Jail or the penitentiary.

No one who resides in my cell block was given a black and white striped jumpsuit to wear. The clothes are solely for prisoners who have committed a staff assault during their incarceration or are considered "weapons violators". These men are all confined to the upper two galleries of E House which was where prisoners from the now closed supermax Tamms were initially placed. E House has for some time been designated for the most violent offenders and those galleries are across from the catwalk. Going around the perimeter of the general population building is a balcony that guards stand on who are armed with rifles. Because of the angle, they cannot shoot into or monitor lower galleries except for the ground floor.

Although prisoners in C House did not receive any jumpsuits, they did surprisingly receive new clothes. Approximately a hundred brown bags were brought to the unit from the clothing warehouse. It was the first time the orders of prisoners were filled this year. My clothes are falling apart and I was looking forward to receiving a bag, but none ever came to my cell bars. I asked a guard about the matter and he said many men who had put in an order did not have it filled. My cellmate thought it was amusing and told me he would sell me a T-shirt for $10. My cellmate did not get a bag either, but because he wears store bought tank tops, he has kept IDOC T shirts for over a year in his property box. He knows very well I refuse to pay for clothes which the prison is supposed to provide us for free. Twice a year at other penitentiaries men are given three pairs of socks, boxers, and T-shirts as well as blue pants and button collar shirts. Once a year, boots, sheets, and a thin wash cloth and towel are also supposed to be provided. Stateville attempts to force prisoners to buy such items from commissary, although this may be occurring elsewhere now in the IDOC. I have been here for over six years.

My cellmate, not finished having his fun, told me at least I got my new Walkman in record time. The previous week, I ordered a new stereo/cassette player to replace the one which had been damaged by the Orange Crush over the summer. The cheap Sentry Walkman made in China was defective, however. It only played cassette tapes in fast forward. Numerous other prisoners who had purchased the item had the same or similar problem. The counselor I have is very helpful, and he took the Walkman back and exchanged it for another one that worked. I thanked him yesterday, but wonder if this model will last long enough to be worth its $15 cost.

On my way to the visiting room, I was forced to wait until prisoners from E House moved off the walk. They had just come from the small yard across from my quarter unit and were in two lines at the end of the building. Nearly all of the men were dressed in black and white striped jumpsuits and together they looked like a herd of zebras. The stripes seemed to blend together and I recalled the Serengetti zebras were mostly prey, but in Stateville they are thought of as predators. I asked the escorting guard if we could just go around the double line of men and he seemed to be alarmed by just the idea. Possibly, the administration has told staff to keep us separated, but regardless I thought it was silly that they were thought of as some dangerous species different from the rest of the convicts at Stateville.

At Gate 5 and in the visiting room, I noticed a color poster of about 50 prisoners. On the top it read "Staff Assaulters" and warned personnel that they should not have any tools. What types of tools did they believe they may be given? A mop, a kitchen spoon, a stapler? The only jobs I could think of which required the use of tools or machinery were at the soap or cabinet factories, but they only employed about 20 people and even the most well behaved prisoners have a difficult time getting assignments there. Furthermore, all job assignments had to be vetted by Internal Affairs. The posters seemed like a redundant most wanted fugitive display. However, I have since heard they were posted in other places in the penitentiary.

After my visit, I was forced to wait in a holding cage at Gate 5 for a half hour and then another half hour in the cell house before I was allowed to go up to my cell. I had the added misfortune of being trapped in there with a most obnoxious man. He would not cease rambling on and on about how everyone at Stateville had the potential of being free again. He seemed like he was manic and had drank one too many sodas in the visiting room. Eventually, I told him he was wrong and nearly everyone here would die in prison, possibly even myself. This was a prisoner, however, who lived off of false hope and there was no reasoning with him. Before I was able to escape his presence, he gave me the U.S. Supreme Court site for Allen Ryan Alleyne. He claimed it made Apprendi vs. New Jersey retroactive. Apprendi is well known in the prison because it forbids people from being sentenced beyond the maximum unless the aggravating factors are in the charging instrument, and proved by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. If made retroactive, it would release thousands of prisoners in Illinois alone. Even my life without parole sentence would become void.

During the evening I made beef burritos for my cellmate and I. On television was a repeat of a PBS Nova special called "Secrets of the Viking Sword". I had previously watched it a few weeks prior, but did so again because I found the subject so interesting. Archaeologists have found a popular sword that was used during the Viking era from 700 to 1100 AD. The sword was unprecedented in its strength, quality, and killing potential. The Ulfberht sword was such a masterful design that the makers took great lengths to engrave their brand on it and owners typically passed it down for generations or were buried with it. What made the sword so unique was that all the carbon was melted out of the iron making it the strongest steel ever. When the secrets of the blacksmiths disappeared so did the swords and the world would not see it again for hundreds of years.

I encouraged my cellmate to watch the program, but he had other shows he did not want to miss. Disappointed, I got up from bunk and asked him if he did not want to learn the riddle of steel. I then took my stick of rolled up magazines that I use to change channels on my TV and moved it around like it was a sword. My imitation of Conan the Barbarian caused my cellmate to say, "I think we're going to have to stop letting you watch these programs" as if he was one of my parents. Changing movies I shouted, "What?! Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained!?" And mimicking Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator, I tossed my "sword" at him. He laughed and said he was entertained. Anthony has seemed to rebound since the federal district court rejected his appeal, but occasionally I have to amuse him as well as myself. The grim, austere and oppressive existence in prison needs to be broken by some humor on occasion.

Yesterday I was trapped in the Health Care Unit for a few hours. First there was an incident in the infirmary where about 20 guards, the major, and two wardens responded. I never found out what happened, but a plain clothes tactical unit guard left without his shirt on. The second incident I learned what occurred from my cellmate when I finally returned. A prisoner in our cell block started a fist fight in the chow hall. He was being released next week and was seeking out some conflict before he left. The IDOC cannot hold a prisoner after their out date, but from what I am told he was maced up and down by a female guard working in the building. The guard in the central gun tower also fired two shots into the ceiling. I asked Anthony if the fight was entertaining. He said that although numerous prisoners went up to the cyclone fencing to watch, the action was lame. Neither came anywhere close to being Gladiators.

I spoke to a prisoner in black and white striped clothing while at the HCU. He was labeled a staff assaulter after he had an argument with a guard and tossed his flimsy headphones at him. A number of these convicts are not nearly as dangerous as they have been made out to be. Staff assaults can be anything in the past decade in the IDOC from bludgeoning a guard to bumping into one. I noticed on the most wanted posters a 70+ year old Polish man who merely flung his underwear in a guard's face when he was being strip searched. He can barely move and runs out of breath just walking to and from the chow hall. Just like outside of these walls, the prison system in Illinois had become absurdly sensitive and overly reactionary. Much of it I suspect is to simply justify the excessive security measures and costs.

Update - December 1, 2014:

The warden of Stateville finally posted a memorandum for prisoners to read on their televisions regarding staff assault and weapons violators. Convicts who are found guilty of either offense will not only be forced to wear black & white horizontal striped jumpsuits, but will suffer other punishments. Shopping will be limited to once a month, $30, and hygiene, clothes, or writing supplies (no food). Visitation will be limited to two visits per month in the non-contact visiting area where men speak through a mesh screen in plexiglass. They also cannot attend any religious services or programs except for federally mandated grade and high school classes. They will also not be permitted on the large South yard and all their "recreation" will be on one of the prison's two small yards. They will be permitted to go to chow and to keep their TVs and radios. The new punishments for these inmates basically condemns them to segregation status without being in Segregation. It probably violates the law and the equal treatment clause in IDOC's own rule book.