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:
or write him at the address shown in the right column. He will get your message personally.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Partial Lockdown and Paralysis -- May 11, 2014

Prisoners were locked in their cells early several times during the past week. I heard various reasons including problems with count and radio communications. However, most convicts were skeptical and believed these were only excuses to reduce work for the guards and give them more free time. Within the penitentiary, it is widely known that Officer Appreciation Week consists of more than just better food. The restricted movement only mildly affected operations at the maximum security prison where incarcerated men spend most of their time in their cells regardless. Other than a health care pass, I did not miss anything I wanted to attend. In fact, I was glad when evening yard was rescheduled because I would not have been able to go. I aggravated a spinal injury and for a few days was nearly paralyzed. I continue to be in great pain even as I write this post.

At every penitentiary in Illinois, one week of the year is dedicated to honoring guards and other staff. Apparently, the state unionized workers' lavish salaries, benefits, and pensions are not sufficient. Officer Appreciation Week has existed since before my conviction and was once a greater event than it is currently. Like most things in the IDOC, it has been diminished and basically is now just specially ordered and prepared food for staff. Monday was Cinco de Mayo and if inmates thought they were going to share in the Chipotle-like meal served to guards they were mistaken. Incarcerated men were given a scoop of processed turkey-soy and beans along with a literal handful of iceberg lettuce and fried corn chips without any cheese. Behind the serving line were a number of drawings made by prisoners illustrating Mexican nationalism, however, I doubt these were any consolation to Hispanics who were expecting a much better meal.

Later in the cell, I made myself an alternative lunch consisting of commissary bought beef stew and a package of Ramen noodles. While I ate, I listened to Rush Limbaugh discuss Condoleezza Rice withdrawing from a commencement speech she was scheduled to give at Rutgers University. Liberal professors and a small but vocal minority of students protested against having the former Secretary of State visit because of her involvement in the Iraq war. Regardless if Intel of weapons of mass destruction was incorrect or even a ruse, taking control of the country was important for geopolitical reasons and oil. Furthermore, Iraq could have been used to invade Iran, a country whose regime was unquestionably developing a nuclear weapon. The use of military force, however, was abhorrent to peace nics and the left wing except for possibly humanitarian purposes.

There has been growing support even amongst liberals for the U.S. military to rescue approximately 200 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by an Islamic group in the northern part of their country. Boko Haram has threatened to sell the girls or marry them to their adherents if the government refuses to release prisoners. This has caused a public furor mainly through social media and the U.S. President is sending a team of advisers, reconnaissance, and possibly Special Ops to assist Nigerian forces. Despite the Twitter hash tag "Bring Back Our Girls" that even Michelle Obama has re-tweeted, these are not our girls. The first Lady likens the hostages to her own daughters, but they are not Americans. America, in fact, has no national interests to get involved. Boko Haram is a regional group that has for many years been fighting a civil war in the corrupt country. Atrocities far greater are pervasive across the continent of Africa and the world. America's military should not be used for political expediency or as a global police force.

The season premiere of 24 Hours: Live Another Day was on television Monday night and I watched it with my cellmate, although on separate televisions from our bunk beds. In a prior season of 24, the main character Jack Bauer played by Kiefer Sutherland was controversial for using torture-like or violent methods to prevent terrorism. In this episode, the controversial theme seems to be the U.S. use of predator drones. I did not have a problem with the CIA using enhanced interrogations nor do I mind if America's fleet of predator drones is being used to kill or spy on enemies of the state so long as they are not flying over the U.S. or killing U.S. citizens abroad. During a commercial I told my cellmate they could even be deployed on America's southern border to eliminate the invasion of drug smugglers and illegal aliens. The Mexicans can celebrate their freedom from Napoleon all they want, but they have no right to undermine our sovereignty.

Tuesday morning was extremely chilly and I used 3 wool blankets during the night to keep warm. Despite my shivering and warming my hands around a hot mug of instant coffee, on the news was an alarmist U.S. government report on climate change. If CO2 emissions were not reduced immediately there would be dire consequences including raging wildfires, increased hurricanes, droughts, floods, pestilence, famine, and on and on. Later when conservative talk show host Mark Levine was listing the apocalypse, I thought, "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!" after the character played by Bill Murray in the comedy Ghostbusters. The Obama administration seeks to scare the public to please Democrats' environmental constituents and push his plan to put additional regulations on the energy industry, most notably coal utilities. In this report, the U.S. is broken up into regions to attempt and personalize the doomsday predictions that the public has grown increasingly skeptical of.

I went out to the prison's small yard despite how it was basically two concrete basketball courts surrounded by cyclone fencing topped with razor wire. Last year, the warden to pacify prisoners' complaints allowed a weight bench and two barbells to be put inside along with a couple of steel tables. Lifting weights was boring and several men while waiting for their turn played games of chess. Other convicts talked amongst themselves. Neither my cellmate nor anyone else I cared to speak with was lifting weights and I tried to occupy my time doing supersets. A prisoner wearing a green shirt to signify he was classified an extreme escape risk asked me if I recognized him. No, I did not and often I do not know who people are who were incarcerated with me in the past. During my 21 years of captivity I have kept a small circle of acquaintances and often was oblivious to others or their social groups.

Stateville is located under a route taken by commercial airliners going to Midway Airport in Chicago. While working out, prisoners often looked at these jets but more interesting were the small propeller planes from Lewis University. The university has a flight school and conducts patterns nearby. A helicopter began to fly around the penitentiary grounds and unintelligent convicts speculated it was also from there. No helicopters, however, are permitted to tour over the prison and it was obviously authorized by the IDOC. The helicopter may have even had IDOC administrators on board. More to my amusement were the incarcerated men's speculations that a chicken hawk was flying overhead. It was indeed a raptor of some sort but the only chicken hawks around were walking amongst us. A chicken hawk is a name given to sexual predators in prison.

For a moment I stopped exercising to talk to Bone. Bone was on the basketball court and told me how he had recently gotten over a bout of pneumonia. After taking the antibiotics, he was going to be given more drugs for a liver problem which was causing fluid to build up in his abdominal area. Doctors had considered just taking a large needle and draining it, but they were concerned about infection. After speaking of his troubles, I told him about my legal woes, in particular my search for someone to get the affidavits I need to reinforce my post conviction appeal. The good thing about Bone is that he knows a lot of prisoners and said he would get me the name of a P.I. who is being used by Northwestern University.

After chow I walked into the cell house holding cage. I had a pass to see my new psychologist who has a son with Aspergers. In the cage with me was a prisoner bent over with stomach cramps. He believed he had food poisoning and I would not be surprised if he had contracted it from the kitchen. Mice run around defecating and urinating on food in storage.  I will occasionally see cockroaches on the serving line. Kitchen workers are also not the best handlers of food. Then if there was yet another reason not to eat the food at Stateville, the trays often have remnants of previous meals on them. It is little wonder guards usually bring their own food from home and even during Officer Appreciation Week there were a few guards who did so.

I spent over an hour at the Health Care Unit waiting to be called to see the doctor before guards said all passes were cancelled. A moment later, more guards entered the prison's hospital and ordered all of us to leave. Prisoners were escorted back to their quarter units and in my cell I asked my cellmate if the prison was on lockdown. He did not know, nor did he know if the matter was related to guards losing keys in X House. For a couple of weeks, X House had been on lockdown and was just recently let off, although the keys were never recovered to my knowledge. I threw a blanket over myself and took a nap. Later, I learned there was purportedly a problem with count which was very odd at that hour of the day.

The penitentiary was only placed on lockdown until the 2nd shift and prisoners speculated guards just wanted some time to dilly dally. After 3 p.m., little movement occurs other than chow lines. My cellmate went out for this meal despite eating nothing but a state cake. During the evening I listened to talk radio while reading a few letters. In one of them were copies of comments from my blog site as well as a few emails. Everything readers send me must be printed and then mailed. The mail is very slow and I hope people understand I cannot immediately respond. By the way, I very much appreciate the woman who sent me $20 through the prison's JPay service and encouraged others to do so. I will continue to try to persuade blog handlers to set up an easy and free Pay Pal donation button to raise money for a private investigator and other legal expenses.

Wednesday morning normal operations were announced over the cell house loudspeaker. Names of prisoners and their cell numbers who were on the law library list were called, as well as a couple of programs and religious services. A guard also walked by and asked me if I wished to go to the barber shop school for a haircut. No, I was not interested. The only haircut they were proficient at was a bald head and I could do that in the cell with my beard trimmers. After I dressed for my exercise routine, I washed the floor and noticed a rabbi walk by. He stopped to talk to my neighbor and inquire if his Passover was observed. I considered telling the man that Hooch had violated Judaic law by eating swine. However, the rabbi does many favors for him and he may not be so apt to do so in the future if I told him even in a jestful way. Later, Hooch coincidentally become greatly ill almost as if he was being punished directly by Yahweh for his sacrilege.

For lunch I left my cell for soy-spaghetti. While waiting in line by a gate going to the chow hall, prisoners were taken out in wheel chairs from the infirmary. One prisoner was even pushed out onto the hospital yard on a stretcher. A man standing next to me mentioned he was cellmates with an old Caucasian inmate who was in a wheel chair. He complained that he had very poor hygiene and was glad when they parted ways. I had heard other stories about him including a black man who even beat him for being so dirty and unclean. He was in his late 70s and needed geriatric care a long time ago. Ironically, the prison administration has him designated as a dangerous staff assaulter because one day when guards harassingly strip searched him, he threw his soiled underwear in one of their faces.

It is one thing for an old crippled man with a myriad of health problems to be unhygienic, but another for a  man in his early 20's. When being strip searched before a visit, a prisoner next to me reeked of body odor. The entire strip search room stank as he undressed and no one said a word. Finally, I asked him what cell house he was from and then followed my question with another asking him if they did not pass out soap there. He apologized and said he had just awakened. He was in a hurry and did not bother to use any deodorant. He went on to say the deodorants were not effective anyway. The prisoner had a point with the deodorant sold on commissary ever since the administration stopped the sale of any with a plastic screw stick inside which they claimed could be used as a weapon. However, I will then wash my armpits throughout the day if I need to.

When I returned from my visit, I stopped by my neighbor's cell to see how Hooch was doing. Earlier, I had passed him in a wheel chair slouched over and he did not respond when I asked him what was wrong. Apparently, not long after the rabbi visited him, he began to have migraines so strong that it caused him to vomit repeatedly until he was just dry heaving. Hooch was currently on his bunk almost catatonic and his cellmate told me medical staff gave him a medication at the H.C.U. to thin his blood.

Before passing Hooch in a wheel chair on my way to the visiting room, I spoke to an escorting guard about Officer Appreciation Week. Somewhat sarcastically I asked him how appreciated he felt. He replied, "Very little." The guard has been employed by the IDOC for about a decade and a half and probably recalls years ago when it was a bigger affair employees looked forward to. I asked him if at least the food was good. He told me the pizza was decent but the French fries were soggy. I did not mention this to the guard nor did I want to pry, however, from other sources I heard some staff were drinking alcohol. Many guards will drink after work and it seems like a popular pass time. Of course, drinking on the job is not allowed, although it will largely go overlooked by co-workers or supervisors.

For over a week, I have been experiencing pain in my hips. Eventually, I figured out that it was from having such a thin mattress. When I sleep, I will repeatedly turn over spending time on my back but mostly on my sides. I have very little body fat and my hip joints will grind into the steel bunk below the mattress. Thus, I thought I would experiment by sleeping on my stomach. The pain in my hips went away, but that in my lower back increased. Despite this, early Thursday morning I did an intense work out in the cell with little stretching of my spine. It was a big mistake because afterwards I was in severe pain and could barely move about. Every little movement I made caused a jolt where I have 2 degenerative lumbar disks. I crawled onto my bunk and in a fetal position laid there most of the day.

Because I eventually fell asleep, I did not notice prisoners were locked up in the early afternoon. However, like on Tuesday, there were normal operations on the 2nd shift. Prisoners on the galleries above mine were permitted to go to evening yard and in their absence I read a newspaper my cellmate receives in the relative peace and quiet. In the May 5th issue of Marine Corps Times was an article about a show I watch weekly called "Dual Survivor." Apparently, there was some controversy regarding cast members military credentials. David Canterbury had his contract terminated by the Discovery channel after producers learned he embellished his record. The man who took his place was now under fire for claiming to be a combat veteran in the Iraq and Afghan wars. I thought the criticism was petty. Joe Teti was verified to be in the Marine Corps elite reconnaissance division in the 80's and Army Special Forces in the 90's. In the two wars he did not serve directly but was contracted in counter terrorism units. Joe Teti will be kept on the show, however, his co-star Cody Lundine was leaving due to conflicts with the high intensity former Special Ops soldier.

When prisoners returned to the quarter unit, I put my ear buds in with some wadded up toilet paper and watched a little television trying not to move. I was in intense pain and the NSAIDs I took were only mildly effective. Eventually, I curled back up in a ball on my side and went to sleep. It was the worst sleep I have had in some time and I awakened repeatedly throughout the night. Every time I moved, even if very slowly, I was struck by sharp pain. Early in the morning, I got up at the pace of a tortoise and reached for a package of Indomethacin on the shelf. I was only supposed to take a maximum of 6 capsules a day, but since aggravating my back, I take 9. At times like this I wish I could take a narcotic pain reliever. However, these drugs require prisoners to go to the HCU and I could barely move.

Friday all movement except for lunch was shut down. My cellmate went out for the meal and said he had the opportunity to meet Kentucky. Kentucky was a prisoner I knew from early in my incarceration. He was one of a very few convicts in Illinois who was in the Aryan Brotherhood. Decades ago, he was very violent and kept a sissy for a cellmate. In this old age, he is now just a homosexual. Anthony told me how he went on talking about his former cellmate's man boobs while at the chow table. In addition to the backwoods queer, he regretted going out because there was a gauntlet of guards and I.A. on the walkway. Purportedly, a radio tower was struck by lightning and guards' radio communications were not working properly. On the 2nd shift, evening yard was cancelled and trays were brought to inmates in their cells. I heard prisoners complain the lockdown was called so guards could be lazy and stuff their faces with Subway sandwiches.

Saturday, radio communications almost magically were fixed and there were normal operations. I was further surprised yard was made up for in the evening. I had spent the last couple of days on my bunk almost paralyzed or inching around the cell in great pain and my cellmate was incredulous I was planning to go. I swallowed 100 mg. of Indomethacin with a large gulp of tea and told him my one-liner, "I don't have time for pain." Out on the yard, I pushed myself to the limit but was simply unable to do all the exercises I wanted. The pedophile John came out to the yard for the first time and like a slug sat on a block of concrete. Anthony jested he knew I was a broken man and may even be emboldened to attack me. I responded saying regardless of my pain, like Joe Teti or Jack Bauer I will make quick work of the child molester and with extreme prejudice.

Ironically, during the Rec period I could barely walk let alone run, the LTS supervisor was officiating a race. The prisoner who could run 5 laps won the competition. In years past the winner was given an award of commissary, but this was just for bragging rights. Despite this, I was disappointed I could not participate. I could have defeated the front runner by 2 minutes if I was not disabled. Instead I sat defeated at one of the tables with the other crippled or old men. After listening to the disheveled "Dr. Smith" get threatened to get his hygiene in order by a much bigger convict, I played a couple games of chess. I won the games, however, this was little consolation. I was a big loser at the game of life. All my best years were behind me and I was physically deteriorating.