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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Transition at Stateville & Revolution Abroad -- Feb. 22, 2014

The penitentiary was on lockdown for part of the week to conduct a massive move of inmates. All prisoners with jobs that had been sent to the Roundhouse last summer were reassigned cells in the quarter units. The upper galleries in the large domed building were then filled with convicts deemed by administrators as staff assaulters, highly aggressive, or weapons violators. They joined those in Segregation to be collectively punished and isolated from general population. The moves could not be done easily and required a shuffling of prisoners across the living units of the penitentiary. Stateville's SORT was used to escort the movement of men and was done slowly in small groups. I was not able to watch the major transition from the confines of my cell and instead was preoccupied with the revolutions occurring in Venezuela and more so the Ukraine. Over the week, I paid attention to the coverage on television and radio. I hoped they were successful in overthrowing their corrupt and oppressive regimes.

The prison administration rarely informs prisoners of changes in policy or even radical shifts in placement. Thus, on Monday morning I had no clue why the penitentiary was on lockdown. I considered there may be fewer staff than usual because it was a holiday and there was snow. However, not many guards would take a day off work for President's Day and the snow was light from what I could see outside the dingy cell house windows. Later in the morning, I heard a prisoner shouting to another man that he regretted telling the assignment officer to take him off the waiting list for a job. Like many prisoners, he did not want to be sent to the Roundhouse, but would gladly go to E House. He wondered if he could get his name back on the list without it going to the bottom.

When my cellmate awakened, he asked me why we were on lockdown. I told him I did not know but some obnoxious loudmouth upstairs was rambling about trying to resubmit for a work assignment and was under the impression he would be moved to E House rather than F House. For a couple of months, there have been rumors the administration was reconsidering the move of prisoners with jobs to the Roundhouse and instead filling all the cells in quarter unit E with them. Several times, Internal Affairs has found segregation inmates in possession of food and other items they could have only received from workers. If these men were moved to a quarter unit, they would be unable to intermingle with Seg and be isolated. The main purpose of moving prisoners with jobs to the Roundhouse was so they could function separately from the rest of the penitentiary particularly during lockdowns. My cellmate dismissed the rumors as well as the prisoner I told him about, at least until the evening.

On the 2nd shift, a few workers were let out to help with the labor in the cell house. When one of these prisoners gave me a couple of food trays, I asked him about the lockdown. Little Johnny told me workers from F House were being swapped for those inmates in E House. When he left, I speculated the prison was placed on lockdown not only because of the enormity of the task but because two galleries in E House held men designated as staff assaulters and weapons violators. Although many of these men were no more dangerous than others at Stateville, the administration treated them almost as if they were Hannibal Lectors or at the minimum deserving of super-max security precautions. They had been given special black and white striped jumpsuits to wear and were greatly limited in movement. Many of their privileges also had been stripped away. They were basically prisoners in segregation, although not in Seg. However, this week they were all put together in the same building.

Confined to my cell, I watched and listened to the unfolding unrest in Venezuela and the Ukraine on various TV and radio stations. After Hugo Chavez died last year, I was hopeful the South American country could regain its freedom. Chavez had seized power in 2002 and sought to reign indefinitely. He claimed to be a populist with his welfare state, nationalization of industries, labor and price controls. Oil revenue largely helped subsidize the poor and gain their favor. However, the corrupt and heavy handed socialist government increasingly caused more poverty and discontent. His successor, Nicholas Maduro, was struggling to keep the left wing totalitarian state bound together. He lacked the clout and cult of personality and I was hopeful his regime would finally be toppled.

The events in the Ukraine were of greater interest to me. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia continues to exert enormous control over its neighbors. Repeatedly, elections in the Ukraine were rigged to keep a puppet government in power. Vladimir Putin even had a popular presidential candidate who sought independence poisoned with dioxin. Along with these villainous tactics, the Russian government used economic and trade extortion including shutting off the flow of natural gas in the midst of winter. The growing animosity in the Ukraine boiled over when pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign legislation increasing trade with the European Union which would give the country greater autonomy. Another revolution was in progress and I was riveted to news reports covering it.

On Tuesday, I sought out more discussion and commentary on the Rush Limbaugh show. However, during the half hour I listened, he spoke about the fraud of global warming. Researchers had a self interest in perpetuating the myth and even when they were unswayed by benefactors, the data was manipulated for public consumption. Liberal and international organizations such as the IPCC wanted to deceive and scare people to advance their goals of greater government intervention. These facts were all well known to me, but Limbaugh occasionally had to speak to the "low informed voter".

Later in the day mail was passed out and I was handed five letters. They were all marked with post dates from early January and I spent most of the evening reading them. However, because I did not want to be a low informed voter or simply a political ignorant (prisoners cannot vote), I momentarily turned on my TV to see if a Republican gubernatorial debate was going to be broadcast. Last week, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford was the subject of a blitz of local news when a former member of his staff accused him of sexual harassment. The claim stirred much controversy because the person was a man. Rumors that Rutherford was bisexual have been around for some time but now that the Republican base was made aware of them, his campaign was doomed. The debate was not telecast and I was unable to see how he squirmed and dodged the issue while denying the accusation.

Although Stateville remained on lockdown midweek, prisoners were permitted visits. They were limited to one hour and I spent three times this amount of time waiting in holding cages. During those hours, I listened to other inmates speak about the moves occurring in the penitentiary. According to what I heard, workers in F House were not simply being swapped with prisoners in E House. They were being assigned cells in all of the quarter units. Instead of isolating and confining inmates with jobs, the administration sought to do this with all the purported bad apples. Convicts labeled as staff assaulters and weapons violators were going to be housed with those in Segregation. Furthermore, those men considered the most likely to act hostilely were also being sent to the Roundhouse.

The transition at Stateville was taking a long time not merely because of all the juggling of prisoners to different cells, but because the SORT was conducting the moves. Guards dressed up in full tactical gear moved a handful of men at a time. There was an excessive concern about security as well as prisoners not having extra property. For example, the Orange Crush demanded that men being moved were able to fit all their property in their two state-issued boxes except for a TV, radio, and/or fan. Numerous prisoners had excess property and tried various tricks to fool the SORT. One man put on several pairs of pants, shirts, thermals, and sweat shirts. Despite already being puffed out like the Michelin Man, he tucked other property into his pockets and under his layers of clothes. The Orange Crush team pulled him out of line and after strip searching him they took all his extra clothing and property he was carrying.

My cellmate immediately awakened when he heard my name called for a visit and eagerly waited for me to leave. Even when the prison is not on lockdown, I rarely leave the cell and he has little time to himself. It is liberating not to be trapped in a small cubicle with another person. Anthony has been calling the days I am gone on a visit "naked days" insinuating he strips naked and does whatever he wants. I do not concern myself with what "Quagmire" does while I am away, but on my return I could not but noticed he had shaved his head. The day before I had told him one of my blog readers commented that his hair cut looked ridiculous and apparently it got under his skin. I made fun of his sensitivity and told him he looked worse now.

Anthony was interested in what I had learned in the holding cages about the moves. Not long ago, he requested a cell house help job because it did not require being moved to the Roundhouse. Last year, he had quit his detail in the kitchen to avoid the unpleasant and dilapidated building. The Roundhouse had smaller cells that commonly had electric, plumbing, and cable problems. The circular domed building also was extremely loud throughout the day and night and was infested with cockroaches. My cellmate, like many inmates, thought it was a form of punishment to be celled there and the extra $18.80 earned each month was not worth it. However, if he can stay in C House, he will ask if he can regain his job in the kitchen. Already supervisors there were trying to persuade him to come back.

Contrary to my cellmate, I care little about the transition in the prison as long as it does not affect me. My interest continued to be the growing upheaval in Venezuela and the Ukraine. Massive demonstrations had changed to violent clashes with the police. In Caracas, there were many casualties and a few deaths including a popular beauty queen who was shot dead by Maduro's police. Her bloody body was seen on television being dragged across a street. The violence was little to what was occurring in the Ukraine. Forces loyal to the puppet government of Viktor Yanukovych stormed areas occupied by those demanding his removal. Assault vehicles and police were bombed with Molotov cocktails, fireworks, and various crude explosives or weapons. They in turn fired into the crowds and beat others with clubs.

Although the White House had intervened meekly in other revolutions, there were no steps taken to help those in the Ukraine and Venezuela. Barack Obama merely admonished Yanukoych not to escalate violence or use military forces to crush the popular uprising. The Ukrainian military was never going to support their corrupt leader who was a Russian stooge anyways. Barack Obama and the people he delegated authority to in the State Dept. were weak and abhorred the use of force. The military was largely disdained by him and his inner circle of liberals. Furthermore, I speculate he was sympathetic to the socialist government in Venezuela despite how repressive it was to its people and antagonistic towards the U.S. In the Ukraine, Obama continued to want to reset relations with Russia and appease Vladimir Putin. If he thought the ruler of Russia was going to be happy simply winning the Olympics, he was greatly mistaken. Losing sway over the Ukraine meant a lot more than gold medal count.

On Thursday morning, I heard a "10-10" called over guards' radios. Generally these were given when a brawl erupted and they were seeking immediate assistance. I was not certain if it was associated with the move of prisoners, but later the penitentiary was briefly let off lockdown. A couple of programs were run along with chow lines. Yard was initially announced but then was cancelled and in its stead I exercised in the cell. While working out, my cellmate watched the gold medal match in women's ice hockey. Earlier in the week, I had watched the Finns defeat Russia and take them out of contention for a medal in the men's tournament. It was a grudge match worthy of the cold war and it was obvious animosity still existed between the two countries. Although I watched a couple of male hockey games and will do so tomorrow when the Swedes play the Canadians, female hockey was yet another event the Olympics could eliminate. I cared less that the U.S. women's team lost to Canada 3 to 2.

In the evening, prisoners were fed in their cells due to the fog. Looking outside the cell house windows, all I could see was a hazy white. While eating my prison meal, I watched the CBS evening news. Viktor Yanukovych was attempting to pacify the mobs demanding his immediate removal from office. He claimed he would allow early elections and made other conciliatory concessions. However, the people of the Ukraine had been tricked before and there was no peace. I was glad to see their resolve. Freedom as I personally knew was not easily won.

Yesterday, the prison returned to full normal operations. Commissary and yard make up lines were even surprisingly run in C House. I speculated most of the moves had been completed and this was confirmed when I went to dinner. Briefly, I spoke with a kitchen worker who said he and the rest of the prisoners he worked with had been moved. Big John was pleased to be out of the Roundhouse but seemed to be annoyed by the way the move had been carried out. At least he was able to keep his cellmate. For me this was most important unless I did not get along with the person, then it was a blessing.

Earlier today, I was pleased when a religious volunteer who I have spoken to in the past stopped by my cell. I did not seek any spiritual discussion but political. The 70+ year old man had ties to both the Ukraine and Venezuela. He had been born in the Ukraine but was eventually able to flee the oppression of the Soviet Union. He then lived about 20 years in the South American country before gaining citizenship in the U.S. I was intrigued by his insight in the underlying conflicts in the countries which has led to their uprisings and I could only learn about through news programs. I also was impressed by his difficult journey towards ever greater freedom and opportunity: from communism to socialism and then finally to America. However, ironically, once arriving in "the land of the free" it was regressing in similar order. At the end of his life he was walking the galleries of one of about a hundred maximum security prisons in the U.S.  America has more people incarcerated than any other country in the world, nearly 1% if jail populations are counted.

Before writing this, I learned the Ukrainians had taken back their country and puppet President Yanukovych had fled. In his abandoned palace people were finding lavish riches and paperwork proving his corruption and graft. Parliament has voted to put the House majority leader in power until elections can be held. Arseni Yatsenyuk seems like a wimpy person to hold power in the interim, but he was a part of Ukraine United which backed the revolution. Ukrainians were happy and I was as well. Despite being behind bars, I felt in some part I had been liberated as well. Certainly it is fleeting, but hopefully it is not for Ukraine. They have won independence time and again before only to be taken. Freedom is precarious and must be vigilantly fought for and defended whether one is in America, Venezuela, Ukraine, or elsewhere.