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.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Spring Forward -- March 15, 2014

Daylight Savings Time began this week moving clocks forward and leaving me behind. Despite spring being a week away, it still felt like mid-winter with temperatures below freezing and a snow storm. I received a dozen letters yet all were post dated from early February except for a letter from my attorney. She asked me about inquiries from the Illinois Innocence Project and why I have not written in some time although my appeal has languished in her hands for 5 years. James Degorski was in the news after winning nearly half a million dollars for being beaten by guards at the Cook County Jail which reminded me of my time there and when I was reported to be the mass murderer. The Soviet Union which broke apart about a year before my arrest seemed set to retake east Europe under a new belligerent regime recreating the cold war I knew as a child. People have sprung forward an hour in time, however, within these prison walls it seems I have been left in the past weeks, months, or numerous years.

Sunday morning I slept late forgetting to change my watch the night before. I only watched ten minutes of television news, however, I did notice on a ticker tape that James Degorski was awarded $451,000 from a lawsuit against Cook County Jail guards who broke his jaw when beating him. In 2002, Degorski along with Juan Luna were charged with the murder of 7 people at a Brown's Chicken restaurant in Palatine, Illinois. I am not surprised that one of them was assaulted at the jail where some staff seek to administer their own retributive justice. When I was arrested in 1993 in connection to the mass murder, I was roughed up by interrogators for two days and then greeted by a few guards at the Cook County Jail with hostility. After my conviction in the Fawcett murder, I recall yet another guard saying he hoped I was executed. I did not understand his animosity, but thought I could only wish to get the death penalty.

For the most part, staff at the jail were sympathetic, however, and I was not singled out for any vigilantism. I can only speculate that despite receiving ten times the amount of negative publicity, guards could see through the sensationalistic reporting.   I may have been oddly quiet, but this was a far cry from the horrifying monster commonly depicted in the media. The Cook County Jail has over 10,000 detainees mostly from the inner city of Chicago. Although I was on TV almost every day, I tend to believe I stood out more for being a clean cut white teenager than a mass murderer. The violence I dealt with in the jail was mainly from gangs and various other hoodlums awaiting trial rather than guards.

On the heels of Degorski's half million dollar award was a class action suit filed by Northwestern University's legal department. The lawsuit accuses guards at the Cook County Jail of pervasive brutality and abuse. Although Sheriff Tom Dart vehemently denies the claims, I am inclined to believe them. In the early 1990's, conditions were poor and detainees could be the victim of excessive force or even unprovoked brutality. The vast amount of violence encountered in the jail was from those being held there, however, as in the IDOC this has probably changed. Thousands of new guards have been hired and security has grown exponentially. The relative freedom inmates once had is gone and the oppression men live under is greater than at any time I have been incarcerated.

Other prisoners heard about James Degorski winning his lawsuit and it was repeatedly brought to my attention. At the chow hall, Steve predicted he would receive little of the money. First, his attorneys would take a third for their salaries. Then the remaining $200,000 would be seized by the IDOC for "room and board". It was preposterous but the courts are allowing the state to take prisoners' money and assets for the costs of their own incarceration. The same attorneys who represented the guards in the civil suit have said they will also represent the victim's families in gaining some of the award money. Steve believes there will be little if nothing left.

Later in the week I was talking with "The Elephant" on the yard. Since he was moved to the quarter unit again, he has been searching for a friend. I did not particularly like the fat man and he was annoying me while I did headstand pushups off a steel table. Initially, he was asking me about his leg pain. It was almost certainly sciatic pain from a herniated disk, but the hypochondriac thought it could be a myriad of serious health problems including bone cancer. Eventually, he brought up the lawsuit he had won against the IDOC for keeping him in a cell without any working plumbing for over a week. Unlike Degorski, the state could not touch any of the money because it was punitive damages. The court was punishing the IDOC for their actions and to allow them to just retake the money would not serve any purpose. The Elephant inquired if I would help him invest the $10,000 in stocks, however, I knew he had no intention of doing so. That money would be quickly spent on commissary food.

Some family members continue to seek out my advice on stock market investments despite not caring to help me financially with attorney or private investigator expenses. Possibly, they think I have nothing better to do with my time and studying corporate reports keeps my mind preoccupied. I went over one person's portfolio and discovered they had a large amount of money invested in British Petroleum. The energy major may be a British company, but it has significant ties with Russia. About a quarter of their oil production comes through their minority ownership in Rosneft. When or if NATO responds to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there will be an exchange of economic sanctions and BP will be a big loser. I advised selling the stock at $50 a share and moving the money from the sale to Shell or Chevron.

The White House continues to astound me with their naivety and lack of action. It is now certainly known that Vladimir Putin was making plans to seize Crimea during the Olympic Games and it was not a spontaneous use of the military. The Pentagon also must be fully aware the buildup of Russian forces on the land bordering Ukraine is a prelude to an invasion which could advance to the Dnieper or all the way to the Carpathian Mountains. I almost laugh when I hear Putin say the troop movements inside Russia are nothing the West should be concerned with. When tens of thousands of soldiers are assembled on a border with supply lines it is not just for military practices. It reminds me of the movie Star Wars where Obi Won Kenobi tells storm troopers, "These are not the droids you are looking for" and waves his hand hypnotizing them. Does Vladimir Putin know the mind tricks of "The Force" or is the president of the U.S. that stupid?

During the week I sat down at a table in the chow hall with Lunchbox, a real mental midget. Last month he asked me to find out about a prisoner who is rumored to be a child molester. I do not usually sit with him nor the people he acquaints with and he was interested in my motives. I told him I had the information he requested, but was not going to let everyone at the table listen. This made the other four convicts uneasy, however, I did not care. In fact, if they were made uncomfortable it may demonstrate they also had skeletons to hide. Later when a guard yelled for prisoners to exit and I was alone with Lunchbox, I told him that Malinowski was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a minor under 13 who was mentally retarded even more so than himself.

I already suspected John was a child molester based on his demeanor, however, I had to be certain. I never want to pass on false information or rumor about other prisoners particularly of this sort. Like James Degorski, it could make him the target of vigilante justice. I do not think pedophiles should be executed or even receive decades of prison time like some inmates or those in the general public believe. However, if some corporal punishment came his way, I would not be terribly upset. There are a lot of loathsome creatures in the IDOC, yet I have a little extra disdain for this man because he is apparently of Polish descent. I have higher standards of character for people who share my ethnic background, and because there are few of us incarcerated, it has the propensity to make us all look bad.

Monday evening I watched Venezuelan Juan Pablo Galavis give out his final rose in the season finale of The Bachelor. The media and show's producers did not like him not proposing or even saying the words "I love you". However, I had renewed respect for the South American. Out of the last group of women, he picked Nikki, the same girl I would have chosen to continue dating and not marrying. It was ingenuous and unrealistic to believe a man could develop such strong feelings over a short period of time. Some men may never have them and to choose a wife during a TV show was unwise. If a person is smart they will continue courtship off camera and see what this leads to. It may not be dramatic television, but it is the sensible thing to do.

I only watched half a dozen of the Bachelor episodes this season. Not only was I disappointed in the choice of the bachelor but the women. On the first show, I told my cellmate I would have immediately eliminated all of them except for maybe five. Just out of the limousine on the first episode, I would have told them to turn around and go back home. Anthony thinks I am too finicky particularly when I am no longer the man I was two decades ago. Later this year I will be 40, and even if I was not a prisoner, how many young attractive women would be interested in a relationship with me? If I had been smart, I would have married one of the girls I knew in high school and lived with them while I attended studies at a university. Instead, I moved in with my co-defendant and his wife who later framed me for murder.

I have not only greatly aged, but so have my parents. Mid-week, I called my mother to be stunned by some of her stories. First, she tells me two feet of snow fell overnight and some spruce trees on her property are weighted so heavily they are bent over nearly touching the ground. This had to be an exaggeration because although the prison was placed on lockdown due to the snow storm, only half a foot came down at Stateville which is only about 20 miles away from her. Furthermore, the trees had to be at least 20 feet tall now, and regardless of how wet the snow was, it would not cause such big trees to fold over. They were not Charlie Brown Christmas trees. My mother insisted, however, they were about to snap and I said, "Well then get out there and shake the snow off or use a broom!" Any type of physical labor for my frail, old mother seemed like a herculean task and I had to encourage her. Weather news was forecasting 10 degree temperatures for the next couple of days and she could not wait for the snow to freeze on the tree branches.

After listening to the snow "catastrophe," I was told about their dog's medical emergency. He had become extremely ill and my mother had rushed him to the veterinarian. The dog I learned had eaten some indigestible item(s) and this apparently is something he commonly does out of boredom. My parents bought a high energy and rather large breed of dog that requires a lot of exercise. However, because they are old and crippled, the Hungarian hunting dog was a poor choice. The vet gave him medication, but it was obvious to me that my mother needed some help and could not live on her own. As a prisoner with no out date, I was greatly upset that I could do nothing.

Typically, I will get the mail when it is passed out by guards on the 2nd shift because I am sitting on the lower bunk or a box to read and write on the table by the bars. However, on an occasion this week I was using the toilet and Anthony was at the front of the cell. I had a privacy sheet up but could hear the guard joke "and there is one for you." I did not know what she was talking about until I saw my cellmate with a stack of letters. They were all mine and I snatched then out of his hands. I can trust Anthony, but he is a nosy person and I suspected he was reading the names on the return addresses. He claimed he was simply looking at the post dates and putting them in chronological order. They were dated between February 3rd and 7th, over a month ago.

One of the letters was from my father and mentioned the Superbowl along with his troubles rehabbing the log cabin he bought in South Carolina. The house was a foreclosure and because of this needed a number of repairs. My father likes doing this type of work but nearing the age of 70 he is not as physically capable as he once was. Furthermore, instead of buying a small cabin with one or two bedrooms, he bought an enormous one in the countryside with a couple acres of land. He was not going to be able to maintain the place alone. Last year, he said to me when I get out I could come to live with him and have the entire 2nd floor to myself. The problem is my father is living in fantasy land and I will not be released any time soon if at all.

Director Godinez was at the prison this week and I happened to see him on the way back from the personal property warehouse. The director oversees the entire IDOC and is appointed by the governor. He usually is at his offices in the state capital but occasionally tours prisons. Years ago he was the warden at Stateville and he knows some of the staff and even some inmates who have been in the system a long time. As we passed him by, he told the lieutenant to stop for a moment so he could briefly talk with an older prisoner. I may have contemplated requesting to talk with him also, but he could not grant me a pardon only a transfer to a different prison.

Because the director was in town along with other Springfield administrators, there were rumors of the Orange Crush conducting compliance checks. A compliance check is when a prisoner is ordered to put all his property away as if he is going to be transferred. Everything an inmate owns except for a TV and radio must fit in their two plastic boxes. The purpose of this is to see if a prisoner has any extra property. It is a lot easier for guards to search a cell when inmates are limited in how much property they can have. This is more practical at minimum or some medium security penitentiaries where prisoners are only serving ten or fewer years. However, at Stateville many men have been incarcerated for decades and have collected a lot of stuff. They also are reluctant to throw away things they may need in the future. Furthermore, due to lockdowns, prisoners like to stock up on commissary. My neighbor for this reason gave my cellmate about 20 novels he has yet to read, although rumors the SORT was going to conduct compliance checks were not true.

CNN has been advertising a new series of documentaries about prisoners who were exonerated after being sentenced to death. The program was produced by Robert Redford and entitled "The Death Row Stories." The first of these was finally telecast this week and I was greatly disappointed because of the political spin. I suppose I should have known anything produced by Robert Redford and narrated by Susan Sarandon would have a liberal tilt. However, I am tired of the repeated perception they give to the public that it is only the poor, intellectually challenged, or people of color that are denied justice. Injustice cuts across all social and racial lines in the U.S. It is not just one or select groups that are victims. All Americans should know of the dangers they face of being stripped of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Last Saturday I received a letter from my attorney. She asked how I was doing and why I have not written in so long. Although my attorney was not officially hired until the fall of 2009, she has been working or not working as the case may be on my appeal for 5 years. Generally, I do not even think of myself as having any representation. I do not bother to write because it apparently serves no function. However, I needed her to cooperate with the Illinois Innocence Project's inquiries. Hopefully, they will help in some substantial capacity.

Last night, a guard stopped at the cell bars to chit chat when picking up mail. He asked me why I was not coming out. My cellmate sought to be funny and said this was my cocoon. Eventually, when I am ready, I will emerge as a beautiful butterfly. The truth is the penitentiary is very disturbing to me and the more I can disassociate myself with it, the better. Most of my life has passed me by and is gone. The prison cell is not a cocoon but more akin to a life draining sarcophagus. No butterflies emerge from inside the walls of Stateville after 20 or more years. If I am ever permitted to spring forward I will be fortunate to be a well preserved mummy.