The Law Center’s Legal Director, Alan Mills, visited Menard prison yesterday, here are some of the things he saw:
This is a preliminary report on my visit to Menard today. A few of the men I spoke with asked that their stories be told more fully. Those will be the subject of blog posts in the coming days, after I get back to Chicago and have. A chance to organize (and decipher) my notes.
I arrived at Menard at 9:10. I immediately noticed that they were installing a much needed new roof on the south cell house. However, once inside, I was kept waiting until 10:15 before I started my first visit–scheduled for 9. I later learned that the prisoner I was visiting had been in the visiting room since before 9. Probably this was just a matter of under-staffing, not malice. Side note: one poor family was denied a visit entirely. A young woman and her mom were trying to visit her dad on her 17th birthday. They did not realize that 17 is the age at which the “adult id rules” kick in, and she suddenly needed two forms of ID. Her newly minted IL drivers license would have worked fine yesterday, but was not enough today. Visit denied – who knows how far they had to travel to get to the prison and when the family will next afford to take the trip.
I saw a total of nine men in seven hours. Two were in general population; three were confined in the special “High Security Unit” (one more had been there when I arranged the visits, but was moved out THIS MORNING–more on his story in a coming post); two suffered from serious mentally illnesses; and two were housed in the North2 segregation unit–see March 25th blog post, “45 Square Feet (http://uplcchicago.org/blog/2014/03/26/45-square-feet/).
When I was last at Menard, I had heard a rumor that two men in North2 had developed bed sores. I was skeptical. Healthy young people do not get bed sores in this society. But my source was adamant. He was right; The rumor is true. I met both men today. I can not over-emphasize how appalling this is.
Four days a week, two grown men are locked, 24 hours a day, in a 4 1/2 by 10 foot cell.
2 days a week, they get a 5 minute shower.
1 day a week, they may be allowed 5 hours yard (often cancelled).
That is IT. Otherwise, they are locked into a tiny, airless cell. To enforce this level of inactivity on a person is inhumane! When incapacitated elderly people develop bed sores, it is a sign of severe mistreatment and neglect. Bed sores look like this:
There is NO excuse for this to EVER happen to ANYONE in prison. One of these men was only 33!
Even worse, was my interview with one of the most seriously mentally ill men I have met. He has a long history of psychiatric treatment. He was first diagnosed as a child. In his late teens, he developed full blown psychosis. He is on enforced Haldol injections that are high enough that his gait is severely impaired. His memory is impaired. He broke down in tears twice during 1/2 hour interview and could not continue without a break. He also has cataracts–for which surgery has been repeatedly delayed. He can no longer clearly see the food on his plate. Now they have agreed to do surgery, but only on one eye, because you only need one eye to see. They will not do the closely related surgery (standard for cataract patients) to fix his lifelong astigmatism. Why is he in prison at all, let alone housed in one of the most secure units in one of Illinois’ highest security prisons?
General population is unquestionably better than segregation, even at Menard. But general population is unrecognizable to anyone whose experience with prisons is limited to television and the movies. It is unrecognizable for most anyone! General Population prisoners in Menard are also confined almost full time to their cells. Those cells are (usually) a little larger, and have traditional bars, not solid doors. They get out of their cells:
25 minutes (cell to cell) for lunch and 25 minutes for dinner, 7 days a week.
2 1/2 hours yard 2 days a week.
1 hour gym one day a week.
1 hour in the library one day a week.
No jobs. No education. No religious services. No vocational training. No day rooms. 22–23 hours a day, staring at a TV, reading, or staring at the wall. And that is GENERAL POPULATION!
Illinois: What are we doing? How do we live with ourselves? How did we allow our prisons to become the very worst in the country? We owe our fellow human beings more. We can do better. We MUST do better.