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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Cleaning House -- September 20, 2014

Last week the Orange Crush ransacked the cell house. SORT was dressed in their bright orange jumpsuits and black body armor including helmets with face shields. The 100-man force also carried batons and canisters of mace. Prisoners were strip searched and handcuffed before being escorted to the chow hall. Once removed from the building, SORT rummaged through their property for a few hours. Only a quarter of the cells were searched and inmates who thought they could rest easy were mistaken. This week, SORT returned without tactical gear to go through cells again. They began on the upper floor and seemed to be working their way down systematically. My gallery has yet to be searched by this second round, but I expect them to toss my cell soon.

After the Orange Crush searched the quarter unit, it was placed on a level 4 lockdown. A few inmates were allowed out of their cells to assist guards with work such as sweeping and mopping floors, passing out food trays, and picking up garbage. One hour visits were permitted and prisoners were also able to use the telephone. Surprisingly, the administration even told staff at the commissary building to bag up store and have it brought to the cell house where it could be given to inmates in their cells. Most wardens would make prisoners wait until after a lockdown. Despite this, men were not happy and I overheard some shouting to one another that they did not receive their complete orders. I thought they should not look a gift horse in the mouth.

A better gripe for inmates and staff alike would have been the lack of heat. Day time highs were in the 50s, but at night temperatures dropped to under 40. I have been sleeping under two blankets and miss the warmer clothes I sent to the laundry building. Laundry bags were picked up on Monday but not returned for a week. I did not even have clean underclothes to wear and was forced to wash some in my sink several times. Last weekend, guards on the midnight shift complained about the cold and how they should have a space heater in the sergeant's office. At least they had warm clothes to wear and could go home after their shift. I was confined to a cell and had to persevere the austere conditions in the prison, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

A new sergeant began working the first shift in the cell house this week. She is a middle aged black female who was recently promoted. Rumor has it that administrators wanted her in C House because the inmates here are older and generally cause less trouble. The quarter unit was a good place for her to learn how to run operations. Over the lockdown, I was not able to see if she was up to the task or learn her disposition. The previous sergeant was a good manager of affairs. He was never rattled by convicts and had a strong, cool, and collected personality. His experience allowed him to do his job well and I tend to think his presence will be missed. For the time being, he has been assigned to the movement team.

Throughout the week, prisoners have been fed meals in their cells. Some kitchen workers are making the food, but it is still as unpleasant as usual. For lunch on Sunday men were served tamales, and I do not believe they are the same the public at large eats. Regardless, I gave them away to my neighbor and ate a package of sardines with Ramen noodles. During my meal, I watched the New England Patriots destroy the Minnesota Vikings 30 to 7. The Patriots were going to win the game regardless, but the Vikings would have performed much better if their star running back, Adrian Peterson, was playing. Peterson was suspended due to allegations of child abuse. When did parental discipline even with a switch become unlawful or the business of the NFL? The NFL needs to resist pressure from the liberal media to become involved in the family matters of its players.

Prisoners' favorite football game was that between the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers. There are many Bear fans here and men cheered loudly when quarterback Jay Cutler led a come-back to win in the second half. I missed most of the game watching an episode of Naked and Afraid on the Discovery channel. A fat female bartender tapped out after only a couple of days in the wilderness of Botswana, Africa. Even the man could not make it for the full 21 days and tapped out. I have survived living in the concrete jungles of the state's most violent and oppressive penitentiaries for over 21 years. Living a few weeks in the Kalahari Desert would be a piece of cake. In fact, I may have more difficulty living in modern society given how much it has changed over the decades.

Monday prisoners were allowed to use the shower for the first time in a week. My cellmate after being handcuffed walked down the gallery and stairs to the shower area. Handcuffs are required during any movement on a lockdown despite how unnecessary it may be. While he was gone, I used the toilet. It was more for his benefit than my own. Prisoners regularly must defecate in their cellmate's close proximity even when not on lockdown. Unless sleeping, we will go to the front bars of the 6 by 11 foot cubicle, however, this is still similar to being in the same bathroom. Occasionally, I think of the cell as a standard sized bathroom in most American homes except instead of a shower and tub, there is a steel double bunk.

When prisoners returned from showering, I was at the bars shaving with my Norelco electric razor. Men told me rumors of the tactical unit continuing to search the penitentiary. Purportedly, some weapons were found last week and the warden thought there may still be some hidden. There are always weapons available at maximum and even medium security prisons. They can never be totally eliminated. This does not stop administrators from trying with ridiculous safety precautions or ever continuous searches. Every now and then, they clean house and it is expected by incarcerated men that have done a lot of time. However, what was odd was cleaning house again after just having done so.

Tuesday was another brisk morning and I did not warm up until I began my exercise regimen. While at the bars, I occasionally looked down on the lower floor. The lieutenant was joking with a couple of prison workers. He told them the administration thinks they were getting too close and therefore he, like the sergeant and other staff, were being reassigned. The lieutenant went on to say the next thing you know convicts may be asking him for weed. Later, he said loudly whenever approached by cell house help, "No. I will not smuggle you in a cell phone!" To another he said, "Stop asking me for a hair weave!" The shifting of staff was indeed the administration's efforts to prevent relationships forming between guards and inmates. However, it was counterproductive in the fact they had to learn an entirely new group of prisoners or job they had become good at.

After washing up in the sink, I heard inmates yell, " the cell house!" The 10 man crew, however, I believe was just a contingent of SORT. They were simply not dressed in their bright orange jumpsuits or other tactical gear. The group searched a handful of cells on the upper galleries and then left for lunch. In the afternoon, they returned and attempted to catch some prisoners off guard. Some of the SORT quickly perused galleries looking for anything suspicious, while others went directly to cells. The occupants were strip searched and placed in the cell house holding cage for a couple of hours or sent to the offices of Internal Affairs to be questioned. One prisoner was sent to segregation, but I do not know the reason.

Last week, SORT had the cold water turned off to prevent prisoners from flushing contraband. However, this week, this was all incarcerated men had. The hot water button only dribbled cold water and the plumbing problem was not resolved until the following day. It was particularly chilly in the cell house and cold air blew out a vent so strong that I had to block it with a floor rag. My neighbor was disappointed he could not drink any hot coffee and when he complained to me about the matter, I told him he needs to watch more survivalist programs. "Rub a couple of sticks together and make a friction fire," I said. Apparently, this Leprechaun not only lacked magical powers, but could not improvise the least bit to make a cup of hot instant coffee.

Stateville's tactical unit did not meander about searching cells or other parts of the prison during the second shift and prisoners could relax in the evening. I spent my time responding to readers comments. When this blog began, I only received a few comments weekly, but now there are dozens. They also are spread out amongst a couple hundred stories. This makes it very difficult for blog handlers to "cut and paste" commentary to send to me. Furthermore, because of the volume of comments and emails I can no longer respond to all of them. However, I did read all the messages posted or sent to me from the month of August and just in time to watch an ongoing series on PBS about former Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt.

SORT returned on Wednesday to finish searching the 5th floor. Most of these prisoners had already been through a thorough shake-down the prior week. Despite this, I noticed bags of property and garbage being removed. A cell house worker later told me that the SORT was not only searching cells but making prisoners go through what was called a "compliance check". This meant all their property except for a TV, fan, and radio had to fit in their two state issued boxes. What men could not fit was being confiscated. Neither I nor my cellmate were concerned about a compliance check because neither of us keep a lot of property. Most of our belongings were kept inside our boxes even when we were in the cell.

General mail was a few weeks behind, both going out and being delivered to prisoners. However, legal mail was a priority and is generally processed within a week. Before I went to sleep, I was surprised to receive a letter from the Illinois Innocence Project. They notified me the petition for Executive Clemency I sent to them earlier in the month was in their possession. They will make a copy before sending my original back to me. I was glad there was no confusion this time. I had already sent them the petition in January and somehow it was sent back to me without anyone at the law school seeing it.

The following day a group of about 50 SORT rushed into the building early. Once again they were not dressed in their bright orange jumpsuits and black body armor. They also did not have any billy clubs in their hands or on their belts. I was not certain where the tactical unit was headed until I saw the inmates they led down the stairs in handcuffs. Juan Luna was amongst those prisoners being sent to the chow hall to wait while his cell was searched. Despite how he has cut his hair and now wears a bald head, he will always be easily recognizable to me. It was the mass murder he committed along with James Degorski that I was blamed for. If not for suspicions in the Palatine Massacre, I would have probably never been prosecuted let alone convicted and sentenced to an eternity in prison.

Half of the 4th floor was searched in the morning and the second half in the afternoon. The SORT removed a considerable amount of property, however, much of it was extra state issued items. For example, about 10 mattresses were brought downstairs and inmate workers stacked them on top of the sergeant's office. Extra pillows, sheets, and blankets were also confiscated. For a moment, it seemed like there was a snow storm in the building as I noticed numerous white bed sheets fluttering down from above. Prisoners are only allowed to keep two sheets, however, most men keep at least four because when laundry is sent out there is no telling when it will be returned. No one wants to sleep on a vinyl mattress or not have anything to cover up with especially in this chilly weather.

It was apparent SORT was only going to search the 4th floor and my cellmate and I went about our day as usual. Stateville now has a contract with Netflix, but the DVD player is broken. The LTS (leisure time service) supervisor brought in another DVD system but it is an old model which cannot be programmed to play automatically. Thus, the supervisor must manually start the disk and he is playing movies at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. During the day I use my energy to work out, read, write, and do other things. Thus I doubt I will be watching any new movies in the near future, but my cellmate does not mind the early DVDs and spent a couple of hours watching a film.

While I read a newspaper, I listened to the Rush Limbaugh show on my Walkman. The subject of discussion was a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Federal Appeals. Incredibly, they ruled a high school principal in California was not violating students' constitutional rights by forbidding them from wearing T-shirts with the U.S. flag on them. Principle Miguel Rodriguez argued the Caucasian students could anger Mexicans on Cinco de Mayo, a day they celebrate their country's independence from France. Ironically, Hispanic students could wave the Mexican flag or wear T-shirts, buttons, or other foreign patriotic symbols. The court ruling demonstrated how white Americans were losing their Constitutional rights and their country in general. Already, non-white Hispanics make up a greater percentage of the population than any other racial group in the southwest as well as in Texas.

In the evening, I noticed prisoners on the lower two galleries including my own having cell house workers move property upstairs. The bags were filled with excess property they could not fit in their 2 boxes and did not want to lose. Incarcerated men assumed the SORT was not going to search or conduct compliance checks of cells they already went to. Some prisoners also sent quasi-contraband to people they knew on 8 and 10 galleries. Amongst those items were rolls of tape, good writing pens, and bowls with lids. Nothing I saw was anything the SORT would write disciplinary tickets for. However, they were most likely going to throw the property out.

I forgot to take all the medication I am given at night to help me sleep and woke up early. The sun had yet to rise and the cell house was quiet. The calm in the 300 man quarter unit, however, abruptly ended when the SORT rushed into the building. The shakedown crew went directly to the 3rd floor and I could hear them giving orders to prisoners above my cell. About 20 minutes later, half the men on the gallery were led down the stairs in handcuffs to the chow hall. Their cells were searched for a couple of hours before they were brought back. In the afternoon the second half of the gallery was searched. Mostly garbage and extra state issued property was taken. No contraband to my knowledge was found by guards. They also did not conduct compliance checks before searching cells and inmates who had excess property moved had did so in vain.

NFL Live was still talking about the issue of domestic violence rather than football. Because I did not care to hear any more about the subject or liberals demanding that Roger Goodell resign as commissioner, I watched Jeopardy with my cellmate. Anthony likes the game show and it is only from time to time that I will watch it with him. He was able to answer more clues than me although I ran the gauntlet on a couple of categories. On afternoons prisoners are not on lockdown, guards will announce "night yard" just after shift change at 3 p.m. Unsatisfied with the Jeopardy play, I thought I would play with staff. Looking down into the sergeant's office, I saw one guard and yelled to him like the common convict, "On that night yard!" It was prisoners appointed day for yard after dinner, but of course due to the lockdown there was no movement. The guard commented after seeing me at the bars, the extra yard period was probably over for the year. It was only a privilege enjoyed during the summer months.

In lieu of yard, I wrote my mother a letter. The Dow Jones Industrial average had hit another record high of 17,280. I advised her to put automatic sell orders on many of her stock holdings. I also recommended selling immediately other equities, although I have been doing this for some time since the Dow hit 17,000 or lower. The bull market is about to wane as government security purchases end and investors see interest rates moving higher in the next year. Any trouble in economic data will increasingly have the potential of setting in motion a correction.

This morning, I was anticipating the SORT to search my cell and the others on the gallery. Early on the midnight shift, I overheard a guard saying he was mandated to stay at the penitentiary. Regularly, guards are told they cannot leave and the IDOC pays them time and a half for unnecessary overtimes. However, I had a suspicion the administration wanted extra manpower to continue their search. When the tactical team was indeed assembled again today but sent elsewhere, some prisoners speculated the lower 2 galleries would be skipped. These galleries cell the oldest men in the unit and are less likely to be involved in a staff assault or conspiracy to commit one. Furthermore, the only weapons they may have are crutches. However, although older prisoners are probably considered less of a priority, I tend to believe it is just a matter of time before SORT is back to finish cleaning house.