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Monday, July 21, 2014

Excessive Force -- June 7, 2014

The Roundhouse was placed on lockdown last Saturday after a guard and prisoner fought each other. Because those confined within the large domed building are isolated, news about the incident was slow to filter out. According to inmates, a belligerent guard provoked the fight and excessive force was used by responding staff. Excessive force and retaliation in the IDOC is pervasive and I was not surprised to read about a lawsuit filed by a former Stateville inmate in Prison Legal News that made similar claims. Along with guards, police also often use excessive force and violate the rights of criminal suspects. Recently, the warden posted news of a wide investigation of convictions tied to former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge along with his subordinates at two police departments. I also was a victim of excessive force and police abuse during arrest and interrogation. However, unlike these prisoners, I never gave a confession. A detective from the Cook County D.A.'s office simply fabricated an incriminating statement. His testimony, despite being uncorroborated and conflicting with evidence, was never contested by my trial lawyers. 19 years later, I remain in prison based on his lies.

After being prescribed Melatonin, I have been sleeping much better. However, I continue to be sick along with the majority of inmates in the cell house. Early Sunday morning, I could hear a chorus of coughing and I could not help but be a part of it. Until my cellmate awakened to take a shower, I coughed into a small towel to muffle the noise I made as well as to prevent germs from being airborne. As soon as Anthony got down from his bunk, he began coughing himself. I filled out yet another medical request slip and asked if he wanted to do the same. No, he did not care to bother and said he will wait to see what I am diagnosed with if I ever do get to see a doctor.

Some inmates at Stateville have a subscription to Prison Legal News. The publication is printed by a human rights advocacy group in Florida but is distributed nationwide. It covers a myriad of topics of interest to prisoners and occasionally I will peruse it if my cellmate is given a copy. The May issue was passed to him and when he went to the shower room he told me to check out page 20. An article by David Reuther described an incident that took place at Stateville in 2008. In the chow hall, a prisoner was yelling to men in a dining room from the inner chamber. A lieutenant told him to shut his mouth and get in line. After an argument, the prisoner punched the lieutenant in the face. Guards quickly wrestled Eduardo Navejar to the floor and handcuffed him behind the back. Despite being subdued, he was stomped on and pepper sprayed.  Then he was dragged out of the chow hall and the lieutenant pepper sprayed him again before he was tossed into a Seg cell without any medical treatment. Navejar filed a lawsuit which was initially dismissed, but later the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case and the IDOC is currently discussing terms of settlement.

When a prisoner acts violently, only sufficient force to subdue him is supposed to be used. Furthermore, once restrained, a prisoner cannot continue to be struck or retaliated against. However, the law is regularly disregarded by guards who have their own code of conduct and justice. They usually use overwhelming force particularly now that they have excessive amounts of manpower and have little to fear from gangs. Also, if the inmate assaults one of their own co-workers, there is often a desire to retaliate if not an obligation. Guards want to stand united even when they see something they find disagreeable. Being isolated in a Seg cell with limited property for 6 months to a year or longer is not always thought of as adequate punishment. Thus, there is regularly misconduct involved when staff assaults occur even when it is instigated by staff.

For lunch turkey-soy burgers with French fries were served. Fries are a rare treat for prisoners and nearly everyone went to the chow hall. I sat at a full table with 5 other men. One of them was Steve and I made fun of him for having Grey Poupon mustard. I told him he was now in a maximum security penitentiary and his pampered life of luxury was over. "Let it go," I said before other prisoners began to chime in with jokes from the old commercials where a man drives up to a traffic light in a Rolls Royce and says to another driver, "Excuse me. Would you happen to have any Grey Poupon?" Later, Steve told me he did not buy it. "The Dentist" did. He said the reason why he befriended the old, disheveled black man was because he saved up a lot of money before his arrest and continues to get $600 a month from a pension trust. I asked what he spent the money on considering his clothes have holes in them and he comes to chow implying he is not buying any food. Steve did not have an answer but finally said, "Grey Poupon".

Walking back to the cell house, I saw the lieutenant who I had just read about. If I were alone, I would have asked him what he did to get punched in the mouth. Was he again rambling on about his idol Barack Obama? Instead, I just said that I saw he made the paper. He did not know what I was talking about and I was not going to explain in the presence of prisoners, although some may have already connected the lieutenant to the article in Prison Legal News. Already there are convicts who do not like him and have commented to me that they do not understand how I can get along with the lieutenant who can be hyper and petty with the enforcement of certain rules. Just being friendly with a high ranking corrections officer can raise eyebrows because there can be an "us vs. them" mentality. However, I refuse to lump everyone together and I have not taken sides in the incident I read about. Stateville can have a crazy, zoo-like atmosphere and there is a lot of ethical ambiguity. Indeed, I often feel like striking obnoxious prisoners yelling in the chow hall.

The movie "The Town" was on TV Sunday night. The film is about a crew of Irish criminals in Boston and a member who wants to start a new life. The character played by actor Ben Affleck is resolved to get out when during an armor truck robbery a security guard is killed. The group's leader, however, threatens to kill him and his girlfriend if he does not partake in yet another even more dangerous job. Everyone in the race track robbery is killed by police except him and he returns to the crime boss to shoot him and his enforcer before fleeing. In my teen years, I acquainted with a similar group of men. In fact, my co-defendant sought to be in the mafia. However, this does not mean I participated or condoned what they did. In regards to the murder of Dean Fawcett, I was not even aware that Robert Faraci was going to kill him and did not find out until months later when I saw on television that my former roommate had been arrested.

Monday morning, I had the pleasure of going to the commissary building. It was incredibly noisy in the holding area where prisoners talked loudly to each other. They also coughed openly, snorted snot, and spit phlegm on the floor. A large fan was set up and inmates jockeyed for position around it until someone passed gas whereupon they dispersed. I sat in the corner by a card game waiting impatiently for my name to be yelled out from the locked gate. Occasionally, those playing cards sought out new players as men left to get their store orders. They glanced at me, but knew better to ask. I was not happy and wanted to leave ASAP.

After returning from the commissary building, I read most of the day dropping newspapers as I finished them in my neighbor's cell. Amusingly, the thud of one roll of papers startled Hooch to such an extent that he smacked his head on the bunk above him. The newspapers were from the previous week and I quickly went over the old news including the scandal at VA hospitals. The corruption and delay of health care made me think about a conversation I had with my father the day before. My father began his career in real estate working for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. He regularly became embroiled in arguments with top administrators about the pervasive cover up of bonuses given to people who did not meet quotas or other efficiency standards. Because of this, he was passed up for promotion to other employees who kept quiet and kissed ass.

The VA scandal has been swept from the news by the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl who had been held captive by the Taliban for 5 years. Initially, the White House gloated in their triumph and ability to reverse the political damage particularly amongst veterans. Susan Rice even was again in the media with her spin giving Bergdahl glowing praise for serving the U.S. with "honor and excellence". However, quickly, sources came out that he was hardly a hero. In fact, he was a private, only promoted to the rank of sergeant after he deserted. Furthermore, many Republicans and even some Democrats were aghast the president without congressional authorization or even notice swapped the U.S. soldier for 5 senior Taliban leaders being held at Guantanamo.

On Tuesday, my cellmate went to the gym and while he was gone, I washed the floor, counter, and table before exercising. A gallery worker came by pushing a bucket of ice and I stopped momentarily to get a bowl of it to ice a bottle of water. At commissary, I purchased a dozen due to rumors the tap water was unsafe to drink. I doubt it will make a difference, however, because I drink about a gallon of water a day and drinking a little 17 oz. bottle periodically will probably not prevent any health issues. After working out, I guzzled the water before bathing out of the sink and washing clothes out of the toilet. Being sick, I was very tired and was back on my bunk a little past noon.

I did not stir from sleep until my cellmate awakened me by flushing the toilet and the foul smell of his excrement. However, that was life in maximum security prisons and I could not expect him to hold it until I was awake. I went to the cell bars to get some fresh air. The windows are now open, but unfortunately the flow of air mainly comes from the vent in the back of the cell. When my cellmate got up from the commode he told me about his time in the gym. After he quit playing basketball because of petty arguments, he wandered around listening to his radio. In his meandering, he was approached by someone trying to sell him drugs. Oddly, they were pharmaceutical rather than marijuana, heroin, or crack.

For dinner I left the cell for baked chicken. Some inmates refused to eat it because it was not fully cooked. I took a chance eating the pink meat but not the donated bread. The buns had green mold growing on them. My neighbor, who was not eating, spoke to me about where he lived before his arrest. I was surprised he lived in Frankfort, a few miles from where I once lived with my parents. I was also surprised he was at Joliet CC for a time when I was there. I did not remember him and asked if we ever spoke. Leprechaun said, "Hell, no." Apparently, I looked mean and unapproachable. Some staff, I recall, would even intentionally mispronounce or spell my last name as MADrowski. Staff at the Stateville Health Care unit also will do this and I was reminded of this after a guard searched my cell and asked me why all my sheets of prescription medications were made out to Madrowski. I told him they did not know how to spell, but knew it was just them having some fun. Amusingly, a nurse recently brought my sleeping meds and asked if my name was Madrowski. She was new and did not know the joke other nurses play.

In the evening, I watched a PBS documentary about an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh while waiting for the prison DVD "Dirty Harry" to repeat. For readers who have not seen that movie, it is about a cop who does not mind breaking the law to get the bad guy. The detective would beat murderers until they confessed or take evidence without a search warrant. The character played by Clint Eastwood also commonly used excessive force and would even kill a murderer rather than let him go free or be sent to prison. In one of the final scenes, he taunts a serial killer to go for his weapon before blasting him with his 44 caliber Magnum revolver. I like these old Dirty Harry movies and with my voice raspy from a cold, I gave my cellmate a couple of my best Clint Eastwood impressions including "Go ahead. Make my day."

By midweek, prisoners in G.P. were hearing news from what occurred in the Roundhouse. A lieutenant claimed a guard working in the building was punched, however, other sources were telling a somewhat different and more detailed story. According to it, the guard was regularly looking for trouble and eventually an argument between him and an inmate led to a fight. The two men exchanged punches until a large group of responding staff brought the prisoner down hard. That was not the end of the matter, though, and he continued to be struck before being tossed into a Seg cell.

Most guards do not come to work with a hostile attitude and seeking to provoke convicts with no out dates. Furthermore, although there is strong solidarity among correctional officers particularly when it comes to physical conflicts with inmates, they will not always stand lock step with their co-workers. In fact, this week I was told a guard defended a prisoner who was being scolded and wrongfully accused of misbehavior. After entering the quarter unit, the prisoner went to where a rack of food trays were and took several to pass out to others who were not able to attend lunch. This upset the guard at the front door because she was a new employee who was not familiar with common procedures. Furthermore, she had an obsession with securing all gates and inmates despite how impractical it can be. When another guard told "the Gatekeeper" it was OK, the rookie accused her co-worker of siding with inmates. This caused the senior correctional officer to become enraged and go into a tirade which could be heard across most of the cell house. Afterwards, many prisoners in the unit applauded.

Thursday morning, the pedophile who lives next door returned from the hospital. He had been gone for two days and I was hoping he stayed there until someone else was moved into his cell.  From what I am told, the child molester had lymph node cancer but it was cut out before spreading and now he just gets occasional check-ups. While he was gone, I also heard more about his case and prior offenses. Apparently, he had molested other children before he abducted a 10-year-old retarded girl walking home from school in Brighton Park. He will never again be able to get his hands on another child with the 120 year prison term he was given. The sentence was ridiculous and I thought a sentence of 12 years with periodic caning was more appropriate and practical. Human rights advocates may object, but I think Dirty Harry would have approved.

Later in the day, I was annoyed to hear news of the president calling the surge in illegal immigration across the Texas border "an urgent humanitarian situation" requiring billions of taxpayers' money to care for their needs. He did not mention he is largely responsible for the exponentially growing Central American border crossings. When Barack Obama's so called "Dream Act" was rebuffed by Congress, he decided to act on his own through the DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The executive decree allows millions of illegal aliens brought to the USA as children to stay. When those in countries such as Guatemala heard this, they put their kids on buses and in many cases, they were unaccompanied by adults. While there was only approximately 10,000 apprehensions per month of Central Americans in 2012, this figure has increased fivefold and officials expect close to a half million to pour in this year, most of whom will be released. Children or no children, they should all be deported. Instead, they are used as pawns in Obama's push to get amnesty passed in the legislature.

Also on television news was a humiliating video of the U.S. president lifting weights at a gym in Poland. Was he trying to buff up before a possible encounter with Vladimir Putin at a French dinner party? Lifting those tiny dumbbells leisurely was symbolic of his weak and apathetic foreign policy. It was not reassuring to NATO allies and definitely did not earn the respect of Russia despite how their military has seemingly backed off a full invasion of Ukraine. More comical was a liberal pundit who claimed Obama was not demonstrating weakness abroad but being thoughtful like John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis. The only similarity I found there were both presidents created their own problems by not using military force. Kennedy failed to back the overthrow of Fidel Castro before the USSR set up nuclear missiles and Obama failed to build up military forces before or during the Ukrainian revolution which gave the new Russian state the opportunity to seize Crimea.

Before night yard yesterday, some prisoners were amazed the warden posted a bulletin on the cable system which addressed pending litigation that could lead to overturned convictions. One convict even yelled out from his cell, "Now that's love!" although the information provided was probably court ordered. Circuit Court Judge Paul Biebal had appointed a "special Master" to identify any additional victims of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge who were convicted based on coerced confessions. The investigation was broad in scope and sought out any prisoner who was arrested by the commander or detectives under his authority between the years 1972 and 1995.

I am certain Burge and Co. were responsible for some innocent men being convicted. However, not everyone interrogated by them was tortured, beaten, or had their rights violated. Furthermore, even those who were coerced to give confessions are not necessarily innocent. Cops will often use unscrupulous tactics to get evidence. It is probably pervasive when it comes to serious or high profile crimes. Many prisoners have admitted to me over the years that they were guilty but the police, prosecutor, or even judge usurped the law in order to gain their conviction. Sorting out the truth from fiction is probably going to be impossible with so much corruption. It may be best just to throw out all the convictions that are tainted to make sure the innocent are released and to bring some integrity to the system.

It is unfortunate with so much attention being paid to the misconduct of Jon Burge, other suspect interrogations are not being scrutinized including my own. The Palatine Task Force used excessive force to arrest me. Between 10 and 15 gun wielding police surrounded me in my car at a traffic light. With laser scope beams trained on my body, I was roughly handcuffed and thrown into the back seat of an unmarked squad car. Neither I nor any of the occupants in my car were armed, but this did not matter to police. Offhandedly, an FBI agent told me I was lucky to be alive, inferring they were more than willing to shoot me dead. I was then taken to a secret location and held incommunicado for two days during which not only my Miranda rights were violated, but I was intimidated, threatened, and struck many times. Unlike other prisoners who had their convictions overturned, I never gave a confession. In fact, no amount of abuse by police was going to pressure me into doing so. The only way my interrogator John Robertson was to get an incriminating statement would be if he made one up, which he did. Oddly enough, his uncorroborated claim that I admitted to lending my vehicle to Faraci remains the thread condemning me to an eternity in prison.