JOHN SEIGENTHALER, HOST: Its history is bloody.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We used to have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a day, sometimes even more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEIGENTHALER: Inmates battled guards on a daily basis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn‘t count how many times I had to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEIGENTHALER: Then a new regime wrenched back control of the prison.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s more stable. There‘s less violence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEIGENTHALER: But there are also fewer programs, less time out of the cells and less hope.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘ve got guys coming in at 17, 18 years old with 80 or 90 years hanging theyself because they can‘t take it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inmates that assault staff, inmates that assault other inmates are going to come to Stateville and they‘re going to lock up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Stateville, it‘s like you dead, but you living. You know, like walking dead, man. That‘s how it is in here. You living, but you dead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEIGENTHALER: As he left office, Governor George Ryan made a dramatic decision, rocking the justice system in Illinois. Ryan granted clemency to all death row inmates, saying the system was broken. Ryan commuted 167 death sentences, reducing nearly all to life without parole. Until 1998, executions were carried out at Stateville Correctional Center outside Chicago. Today, nearly half its prisoners are in for murder.
Stateville had a long reputation as a place where inmates challenged guards for control. How that all changed is the big story behind the walls of Stateville.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another day in paradise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to let you know, the next couple of days, talking about extreme heat. We need to ensure that ice is passed out, so you guys can keep your fluids and for drinks. It‘s really important to check each other out, make sure you guys are OK because we‘re looking at 105 heat index plus for the next four to five days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, towers? Curry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tower one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here.
SEIGENTHALER: It‘s 6:45 AM at Stateville Correctional Center. Officers on the 7:00-to-3:00 shift are preparing for their day. For the next eight hours, 400 correctional officers will police more than 2,600 inmates. Before most inmates wake up, the humans and machinery whose sole purpose is to ensure that the prisoners stay secured begin their daily routine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got nine (UNINTELLIGIBLE) coming your way.
OFFICER MICHAEL WHITE, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: Ten-four.
SEIGENTHALER: Officer Michael White‘s responsibility is to stand guard in tower 14, from which he sees the entire northeast corner of Stateville. He‘s been on the job for more than five years.
WHITE: You have to be serious, serious about it. It‘s real easy to get kind of lax around here, you know, because, you know, you‘re dealing with people and you‘re dealing with guys really trying to wear you down and find a weakness in you. You know, so I‘d say serious, serious penitentiary, you know?
SEIGENTHALER: Even as White stands vigil, the day is also beginning for some new arrivals to the prison. Many of them will end up spending more time here than most of the guards will in their entire career. Walking through the first of many outer gates, there‘s no mistaking this for a minimum or medium-security facility. Stateville‘s reputation is well known.
OMNI WALTON, INMATE, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: From what I hear, people killing each other and stuff like that. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) guys doing life and stuff down (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and—I hear a lot of bad things about this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Kind of scary because you‘re going to be here, and you see all this, like, maximum security and stuff like that. So I‘m going to stay to myself, man, hope for the best, let me get (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here.
SEIGENTHALER: Inmate Walton and Officer White make up the opposite ends of Stateville. White will spend eight hours in his tower. Once Walton is processed into the system, he will join his fellow inmates, who spend more than 20 hours of every day in their cells.
The relationship between guards, inmates and the prison they both inhabit is more than 75 years old. Construction began here in 1916 and the prison opened in 1925. It differed from any other prison in the world. Circular cell houses orbited around and connected via tunnels to a huge central dining hall. Today, one of the original cell houses remains, the only one of its kind in the country. Stepping into it conjures up images of gladiators stepping into a colosseum.
CARRIN HUNTER, CELL HOUSE SUPERINTENDENT, STATEVILLE: It‘s very beneficial because, basically, you can stand in one spot and get a visual of the whole cell house. You can also watch the officers on the gallery floor, not just the tower but anybody in the house can see if something goes wrong. So, you know, I‘m glad it‘s a round house. I love it.
SEIGENTHALER: The original design, however, proved to be difficult to maintain and was subsequently replaced. One of the few remaining original buildings is this rectangular cell house, the longest such structure in the world. Thirty-three-foot-tall concrete walls surround the 64 acres that comprise the entire prison. Looking across the institution, it‘s gray, desolate and foreboding.
SERGIO GOMEZ, INMATE, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: Me growing up, hearing these old-timers talking about being in here, made it sound, you know, like you were cool to be in here. But I got down here, it wasn‘t like—it was nothing like that. It‘s all messed up. Man, it‘s messed up! It sucks.
SEIGENTHALER: Stateville has long been home to some of Illinois‘s most violent offenders. The vast majority of prisoners are in for murder or violent assault.
JOHN JOHNSON, INMATE, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: It‘s hard, man. I mean, prison ain‘t nothing nice, you know? It ain‘t like the state‘s fault, you know? You live a life of crime, this is where you‘re going to end up.
SEIGENTHALER: Stateville has housed its share of infamous criminals. John Wayne Gacey, convicted of murdering 33 young men and boys in the late 1970s, and Richard Speck, convicted for the murder of eight student nurses in 1966, were both condemned to die in Stateville‘s execution chamber. Speck died of a heart attack in 1991. Gacey was executed by lethal injection in 1994. The last execution to occur at Stateville took place in 1998. Since then, all Illinois state executions occur in a different maximum-security facility. Until it‘s torn down, Stateville‘s death chamber remains fully operational as an emergency backup system.
With such a high concentration of violent criminals in the prison population, it was only natural that the violence would continue within the walls of Stateville. Over the years, a number of incidents occurred that still reverberate among the old-timers today.
JAMES FILES, INMATE, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: In the old days, we had quite a bit of violence here. When you got up in the morning, you‘d take a couple of magazines (ph), tape them to your chest or your back, and you‘d go out and you‘d carry your shank with you wherever you went because you didn‘t know what was going to happen, who you was going to fight. There was always trouble.
OFFICER CHARLES FLETCHER, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: I‘ve been up here 11 years, and the majority of the holes that you see around us are mine (ph). I‘ve seen (UNINTELLIGIBLE) beat up. I‘ve seen inmates killed. I‘ve seen them stabbed. I‘ve seen bloody fights out here.
SEIGENTHALER: One man who knows Stateville better than most is Captain Kenneth Morgan. He‘s worked here for more than 28 years. He‘s seen the violent potential of the prison at its worst.
CAPT. KENNETH MORGAN, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: We had a lot of problems with the gangs here at Stateville, carrying shanks, assault and stab, assaulting other inmates.
We had an officer by the name of Officer Kush, probably one of the best officers I ever knew. He was returning from chow, going back to G-dorm, and on his way back, there was a couple inmates back here. They was hiding, and they was waiting on him. And they hit him on the head in this area right in here, and they dumped his body right down here. This is where they dumped the body.
SEIGENTHALER: Officer Kush was one of eight Stateville employees to lose his life to prison violence since the prison opened in 1925. For many, some violence was accepted as a way of life inside a maximum-security prison. But for others, it was a shocking and disturbing awareness that the prisoners had too much power. This was true for one young correctional officer who occasionally toured through Stateville.
WARDEN KENNETH BRILEY, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: It was a very dangerous place not only for the staff but for the inmates, as well. There just really wasn‘t very much control at Stateville. I remember when they took over one of the cell houses and they set it on fire and times that they held hostages.
SEIGENTHALER: Things may well have continued unchanged at Stateville until something happened that couldn‘t be tolerated, something that shocked the entire nation and forced Stateville to undergo drastic reforms. Coming up: A mass murderer‘s exploits at Stateville spark massive prison reform. That‘s next on “Lockup.”
CAMPBELL CLAYTON, INMATE, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: You know, I regret what happened back during the past. But I mean, everything happen for a reason. You know, it brought me here at young age. It told me a lot, opened my eyes a little bit more. So get out there and try to do what‘s right for my little son and everything.
SEIGENTHALER: By the early 1990s, Stateville was one of the wildest and most violent prisons in the country. It was a tough place to be for both correctional officers and inmates. All of Chicago‘s most powerful gangs flourished here, continuing the same business they‘d been busted for on the outside. The strong preyed on the weak.
FILES: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you just fought for your own territorial rights and you fought for what was yours and for what you‘d bought and didn‘t let nobody take nothing away from you.
WHITE: It was almost like a question mark of whether you really wanted to come sometimes. You know, it was a little wilder, a little less restrictive, the movement and everything.
SEIGENTHALER: And then in 1995, the entire world got a firsthand look at just how wild Stateville was. A video surfaced detailing the prison exploits of Richard Speck. Shot by other inmates, the video included scenes of Speck and his lover having sex and snorting what appeared to be cocaine. Illinois lawmakers declared that the tapes validated long-standing rumors of gross misconduct in the state‘s prison system. Prison officials said it was an aberration and that it pointed out the difficulties inherent in trying to control thousands of inmates with only hundreds of guards. The fervor caused by the tapes demanded a response.
DONALD SNYDER, DIR., ILLINOIS DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS 1999-2003: What the Speck tape did was it enlightened the public of what was going behind not only Illinois Department of Corrections but corrections throughout the country. And the public demanded that there should be a change. The behavior that got them incarcerated, we shouldn‘t accept that, same behavior why they‘re incarcerated with us.
SEIGENTHALER: Changing the way things had been done for decades wasn‘t going to be easy, but it was going to happen. That was the mandate. The first step came in leveling the playing field.
BRILEY: You hear this thing, Power is in numbers, and that‘s really true. You put 150 or 200 class X murderers in a room together, and that‘s a lot of power. You take that number down and knock it down to 50 and you put a couple extra officers there, and it really kind of balances things out.
SEIGENTHALER: Today, anywhere you look within Stateville, there are rarely more than 50 prisoners together. Oftentimes, there are fewer. Unlike many other prisons around the country, where hundreds of prisoners congregate, at Stateville, whether it‘s in the prison yards, dining hall or any other location, the number of inmates is always limited. These same limitations also apply any time prisoners are moved from one area of the prison to another.
MORGAN: In the past, we used to move 200, 300 inmates at a time. Now it‘s no more than 50 inmates at a time, whether they‘re going to chow or whether they‘re going to the yard. That‘s the total, 50 inmates.
SEIGENTHALER: A second component of Stateville‘s institutional reforms involved limiting the amount of personal property an inmate could possess. That came in the form of two property boxes. Everything an inmate wants to keep in his cell, other than fans, televisions and radios, must fit inside his property boxes.
BRILEY: Prior to property boxes, inmates had really kind of unlimited amount of property. When you have an excessive amount of property, when you have—when officers have to search cells, it becomes very difficult because the more property you have, the greater places there is to hide contraband.
SEIGENTHALER: Random shakedowns turn up far less contraband than they used to.
RODNEY STEWART, CHIEF INVESTIGATOR, STATEVILLE: Weapon recoveries are significantly down. At one time, I found as many as 125 weapons in one cache. Now we‘re finding one or two or three, and this is rare when we‘re finding them.
SEIGENTHALER: The third big reform completely changed inmates‘ personal appearance. Today, all of Stateville‘s prisoners are issued the same standard clothes. Just a few years ago, fashion statements were totally different.
BRILEY: You would see, you know, very name brand-type of clothing. That‘s a status symbol inside of a prison as to how much power you truly have. The gang leaders had those kinds of articles. We took that away and put inmates in correctional industry blue pants and blue shirts and T-shirts and made everybody look the same. When you make everyone look the same, it takes away that status.
SEIGENTHALER: The reforms didn‘t happen overnight, but they did happen. The administration held the key card. If the inmates didn‘t toe the line, if there was any sign of trouble, the entire prison went under lockdown, a condition where prisoners don‘t leave their cells, period, except for medical attention or a parole hearing. Lockdowns are a common occurrence at Stateville.
GOMEZ: We go on lockdown damn near every week, when something happens, you know? You‘re in here with a bunch of murderers, rapists, something happens, you know, you go to the yard, somebody‘s fighting, they lock us down. You go to the shower and somebody fights, they lock us down.
JOHNSON: It done changed from the way it used to be, you know, people getting killed, getting raped, things like that. They got ahold of the penitentiary now, so it ain‘t really like it used to be.
SEIGENTHALER: Inmates and staff agree the reforms make Stateville much safer. What they disagree about is the price prisoners have had to pay. That‘s next on MSNBC‘s “Lockup: Stateville.”
SEIGENTHALER: Oftentimes, Stateville appears deserted. Only the ever-present guards in their towers break up the otherwise lifeless landscape. The desolate atmosphere is a direct result of the institutional reforms implemented here in the mid-1990s. Before then, hundreds of inmates filled the grounds, worked out in the yards and pursued a variety of programs. Today, the vast majority of inmates spend most of their day in their cells.
JOSEPH MOORE, INMATE, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: It‘s depressed. It‘s real depressed. It‘s depressing. But I try to stay focused. I always try keep an avenue of hope because without hope, you‘ll go crazy here.
SEIGENTHALER: Life here means spending more than 20 hours a day in a 7-by-10-foot cell. The only regular time out is an hour of exercise in the yard five days a week and one hour for lunch and dinner. The majority of prisoners spend their days watching television, reading and sleeping.
DIANE COLEMAN, TEACHER, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: You have capitalization, commas...
SEIGENTHALER: Stateville does have a mandated adult education program, where prisoners can work towards their GED, or graduate equivalency degree.
COLEMAN: I think you‘ve had enough time with that paper.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
SEIGENTHALER: Any inmate who fails a standardized test must attend 90 days worth of classes. They may leave the program after 90 days, even if they continue to fail the test.
COLEMAN: Remember, I said I want my complete sentences. All right.
You know I be watching. OK?
As they get older and as they get locked up and find out that they‘re at a dead end, they do have a tendency to want to get an education because they feel that is an escape.
Are you ready for book two?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
SEIGENTHALER: It‘s a brief escape, 90 days of classes passes quickly. For those inmates who‘ve been here long enough to remember when things were different, the time feels especially hard.
GREGORY MACON, INMATE, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: We had programs. We had college. We had activities. We had musical programs.
SEIGENTHALER: Gregory Macon is serving 40 years for murder. He‘s been at Stateville since 1985. He remembers when the prison had regular programs, including theatrical and musical performances that used to take place here in the now long-abandoned prison auditorium.
MACON: The musical program was a great award-winning thing because, in fact, we would have competition against other penitentiaries. And Stateville was always No. 1.
In here, it‘s like a cage of awaiting execution because there‘s nothing for a man to do. There‘s no programs or nothing. So you‘re just like—you‘re just sitting here like a commodity, you know, like a pricetag on your forehead and nothing to do.
ROBERT ROSS, INMATE, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER: Rehabilitation?
What‘s that? What‘s that? They erased that out of the dictionary here. There‘s no such thing as rehabilitation. It‘s not about rehabilitation, it‘s about money. It‘s all about money. If they can keep a number—if they can keep a number on you on and keep you in here, they get their check, and that‘s it. This is the new cattle drive.
BRILEY: This is not the place where we want do services for inmates to get them reintegrated back into society. Stateville‘s not that place. We don‘t have all those things to offer here. Stateville is a place to come and lock up.
SEIGENTHALER: Being constantly locked up doesn‘t give a man many options. Anger is often the result. Working with this ongoing anger is one of the biggest challenges for staff at Stateville. Medical technician Mike Borkowski has worked here for almost 17 years.
MICHAEL BORKOWSKI, MEDICAL TECHNICIAN, STATEVILLE: It‘s an entirely
different world from the outside. Coming here, it takes a long time to get
used to that because you get lied to. You get called every name in the
book. And you have put that aside. Sometimes, even nowadays, it‘s
difficult to do when you‘re getting called names after 16 years. You just
· you try to be a little bit professional and go on. And sometimes that can be very difficult.
MARJORIE RONZONE, SOCIAL WORKER, STATEVILLE: So recovery? Keith, you want to make a point there?
KEITH BARNET, INMATE, STATEVILLE: As far as anger cycles, well, me, that‘s my problem. My biggest problem is the anger in me.
SEIGENTHALER: Out of more than 2,600 prisoners, a few are eligible and volunteer to participate in the prison‘s one therapy opportunity, a group that meets once a week.
BARNET: I‘m angry because I‘m locked up. I‘m angry because I‘m not with my family, my children. I can‘t do the things I want to do. They tell me when to eat. They tell me when to sleep. They tell me when I can go and when I can‘t. So that‘s a whole cycle to me there.
RONZONE: And you‘re angry not just about things that have happened to you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) other people have done to you, but are you ever angry over some of your own decisions? Do you ever say to yourself, How could I have done this? Why did I do this?
SEIGENTHALER: These men have a chance to gain some insight into their behavior. They are the rare exception at Stateville. Illinois corrections officials say there are many more programs available at the state‘s other prisons. They emphasize that Stateville is reserved for their most hardened criminals.
WHITE: When it really comes down it, you know, you‘re in the penitentiary. You know, so I mean, you know, it‘s—certain things they can have, like maybe some more school. But you know, guys get over there and they don‘t really take it seriously. So I mean, for the most part, no. You know, this—you know, you‘re in prison, man.
BRILEY: Whether I‘m walking galleries, I‘m talking to inmates and I get inmates that say they don‘t like it at Stateville, I think that‘s a good thing. We don‘t want Stateville to be a nice place. Stateville is not designed to be a nice place.
SEIGENTHALER: Stateville becomes an even worse place for inmates who cause trouble. We‘ll see just how bad things can get when we return to “Lockup: Stateville.”
SEIGENTHALER: After decades of ongoing battles, sometimes bloody ones between the inmates and the staff of Stateville Correctional Center, reforms finally put the control of the prison back in the hands of the administration.
Part of those reforms meant cracking down on any prison who doesn‘t follow the rules and regulations. When the average inmate spends more than 20 hours a day in their cell, how much worse can things get? We‘ll find out as we follow one problem prisoner.
SEIGENTHALER: It‘s a typical day at Stateville until Warden Briley and his staff get a tip from a confidential informant that two inmates have drugs in their cell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The information that we have is that, within those cells, they should be tested (INAUDIBLE) They have been smoking.
BRILEY: Between the two officers and you and Captain Stiggler (ph) in the house, then you guys go can hit the cell that way.
SEIGENTHALER: Immediately, a team of officers and investigator spring into action. After a quick search, the tip appears to be accurate. A small amount of what looks like marijuana is found.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see, this is how they put it in the knob of the radio, put it on. For unsuspecting staff, they can walk by all day. You can shake the radio down. If you don‘t look in there, you‘ll never find it.
SEIGENTHALER: It looks like marijuana. But, to be sure, it‘s chemically tested.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See the purple?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a positive test for THC.
BRILEY: OK. Well, this is a good one then. Now what we‘ll do is drug test both of these guys. Hopefully, we can talk to them and get them to tell us where he got the stuff from.
Good job, guys.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seven more years.
SEIGENTHALER: The lead suspect is 25-year-old Maurice Wilson, doing his second prison stretch, this one 35 years for home invasion and aggravated battery.
MAURICE WILSON, INMATE: I used to follow a crowd, you know? And I was following around guys, just wanted to hang out, be popular. Like I said, they—the bad guys. So, man, I wanted to a bad guy, too. I wanted to be recognized. Hey, when I come through, the show stops. And that‘s what happened, you know? The show stopped because I got popped.
SEIGENTHALER: Getting popped for an offense inside Stateville means an additional sentence, in Maurice‘s case, six months in the segregation unit, also known as I House. Here, inmates are given hard time, time that‘s added onto their sentence. It‘s also considered hard time because of the harsh conditions and severe restrictions that accompany time in I House.
Officer Loquita Younger is one of the correctional officers assigned to the segregation unit.
LOQUITA YOUNGER, PRISON OFFICER: Basically, this is where the bad people for being extra bad in the facility come to be locked up.
SEIGENTHALER: A walk through one of I House‘s wards quickly reveals how different it is from the general population units. This is Stateville‘s version of solitary confinement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you all doing?
SEIGENTHALER: Markers indicating dangerous inmates fill the ward, as does an overwhelming stench.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a strip cell, so they don‘t have on any clothes or very little clothes. They urinate. Bowel movement everywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feces spreads over everything. Clean it off every day. Every day, he puts it right back on.
YOUNGER: I think they are just kind of crazy, kind of the prison life is probably getting to them.
SEIGENTHALER: Not only are the conditions much more stark than in the other cell houses. The inmates don‘t get out for the normal yard, dining room, visiting hours or any other privileges. What they get is one hour of yard and one shower a week. That‘s it. This is what the next six months hold for Maurice.
WILSON: This is the penitentiary, the real deal.
SEIGENTHALER: In addition to the problem prisoners like Maurice, the segregation unit also houses inmates with psychiatric problems. Stateville doesn‘t have a psyche ward. So, until it‘s determined that an inmate needs more comprehensive off site, they are observed here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the emergency?
SEIGENTHALER: That creates daily challenges for the staff.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) of threats. I‘m here for being assaulted. And he tells—and I‘m going to have Mr. Notella (ph) and Mr. Snyder (ph) and the head of investigations down here. I want the media.
I‘m going to...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want an awful lot, don‘t you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, listen. I don‘t want no problems. I‘m having a problem with my cell...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then don‘t beat on my door. Don‘t beat on my door.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I respect that. But I can‘t live in this cell with this man. I haven‘t done anything to anybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes you did. You did. You‘re disturbing the peace down here. Do not bang on my door.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘ve been threatened. I can‘t live in this cell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don‘t holler at me, OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m not in here because I did anything.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don‘t holler at me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
YOUNGER: It‘s very hostile. It can bother you. You have to be very strong to work over here, because, you know, just every day, name calling, you know. Just the stress over here from dealing with different issues with these inmates can get to you.
SEIGENTHALER: One week later, Maurice is having difficulty adjusting to conditions in I House.
WILSON: It‘s like a sweat box, man. I‘ve been shook down every day for the last three days. I‘m looking old. I haven‘t shaved. I have to wash up in the sink. God, man. It‘s rough. This type of place will break you down, man, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, delta, zero, two.
SEIGENTHALER: Maurice‘s biggest problem is himself. With good behavior, he stands a chance of getting out after 17 years. But if he continues to be written up for drug charges and other grievances, he could wind up doing the full 35. His only real inspiration comes from his family.
WILSON: My wife and kids, you know, they‘re sticking by me right now.
But who knows what is going to happen in the next, you know, 12, 13 years? It hurts, man. It‘s like, it takes a part of my heart, man. It hurts bad not seeing my (UNINTELLIGIBLE) She tries to bring them up as much as they can. But the questions steady come, dad, when are you coming home? It‘s hard, man, growing up with your kids without a father, you know.
No father figure, they wind up going out there in the street looking for a father figure, you know? And then they run into the wrong crowd, you know? Hey, wind up being in here with me, you know? I can only tell them so much, you know? I‘m trying to teach them, hey, man, don‘t wind up here with me. But I‘m not there. And that hurts, man. That hurts bad. I sit and cry sometimes, man, because I‘m not there with my kids. Yes, man.
SEIGENTHALER: Under the best of circumstances, Maurice will be 42 years old when he‘s released. If that‘s the case, and if he somehow manages to make a life for himself on the outside, he‘ll become one of Stateville‘s few success stories.
Otherwise, he‘s destined to join the majority of men here who will spend the rest of their lives bouncing back and forth between trouble and Stateville.
WILSON: My life is gone, man. You know, the majority of my life, I‘ve been in here, you know? It‘s like my second home. And that‘s messed up to say that it‘s my second home. But I was just a kid. It seems like I‘ve been in and out of here, you know?
SEIGENTHALER: Next, we‘ll visit the one exception to the rule at Stateville, a place that‘s a small piece of paradise for a few fortunate model inmates.
That‘s coming up on “Lockup: Stateville.”
HENRY WALLACE, INMATE: This here is not no joke, period. It‘s not no
joke. You‘ve got guys up in here 17 years old with natural life, 17 years
· that‘s—I‘m talking about 17 years old with natural life for what?
For nothing. Just because somebody looked at him hard or something like that. It‘s not worth it at all.
SEIGENTHALER: Way off in the far southwest corner of Stateville is an almost completely abandoned area. Years ago, apprentice programs flourished here. Inmates learned to trade in hair cutting, foundry work or tailoring.
But with institutional reforms came a redirection of time, energy and money. One by one, the trade programs fell by the wayside, until today, one last program remains. The Stateville industries program produces office furniture, including desks, bookcases and tables. The only men who work here are longtime model prisoners. One of those men is William Earl Basset. Basset has been incarcerated since 1963 and in Stateville since 1966.
Originally, he was serving a maximum of 10 years for burglary and forgery at another Illinois penitentiary called Menard.
WILLIAM EARL BASSET, INMATE: I had a short parole coming. A guy was messing with my food in the dining room, you know? And I went off and tried to get him, you know? And I got involved in a prison riot down there. There was three prison guards got killed down there at the time. They gave meet the electric chair for one of them murders. They said everybody stabbed this one lieutenant.
SEIGENTHALER: In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished capital punishment. Basset‘s sentence was commuted to 150 years with the opportunity for parole every year. Though he‘s been repeatedly turned down for parole, he remains one of Stateville‘s model prisoners. He‘s worked in the industries department for more than 15 years.
BASSET: Now, just make sure to get that to the right place. You know, we have got to number everything.
I like it. Well, I like—well, I‘m the type of guy that likes to stay busy. I can‘t just lay around. I like to work. They call me a workaholic, really. They will be trying to slow me down.
DRAGO ZUPEVEC, SUPERVISOR: I hire a man as a janitor. And, slowly, we train him on working different equipment and assemblies and stuff. And I never have a problem with him.
SEIGENTHALER: Basset and a handful of other similarly well-behaved, low-risk inmates live in G Dorm. There are no bars or locks on their doors. They have more living space. They have a full bathroom. It‘s a small slice of heaven compared to the rest of the prison.
BASSET: There‘s so much noise out there. You know, just the noise alone. The guys that come over, that‘s the first thing they notice. It will so quiet at night. They can‘t sleep for the first few nights. They‘re used to all that noise.
SEIGENTHALER: Basset has lived far more than half of his life in prison. He‘s missed his chance to have a normal life, a career, a family. He‘s graduated to the best position he can be in at Stateville. Now all that‘s left is to hope that one day, soon, he‘ll make it to the outside.
BASSET: It‘s a wasted life, you know? I look back. I know I was young and wild. And if I had to do it all over with, there was a lot of things I would have changed. But can‘t do it.
I think I‘m ready for society now after all these years. I got in 37 ½ years. I still got four brothers and my son and a grandson. My son has got his own business over there in Saint Louis. He wants me to come and live with him. He said he‘d give me a decent job. I could stay with him.
Got a pretty clean record now, you know? And, as you get older, you slow down. You don‘t think about nothing but just getting out there and getting to know your son and your grandson again and cooling out.
SEIGENTHALER: William Earl Basset will soon face the parole board for yet another chance at freedom.
When we come back, we‘ll follow one rare and fortunate Stateville inmate as he spends his final hours in prison preparing to return to his life on the outside.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One free man walking.
SEIGENTHALER: That‘s next on “Lockup.”
MICHAEL WHITE, PRISON OFFICER: Between sports and, you know, the right person, you know, looking up to the right people at the right time, you know, just—and by the grace of God, you know what I‘m saying, I didn‘t wind up on that side of the wall, you know?
JAMES ANDREWS, VOLUNTEER CHAPLAIN: Be strong in the lord. Now, how do you get strong in the lord unless you get in the book?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.
SEIGENTHALER: A famous saying originating in World War II claims there are no atheists in foxholes. There are plenty in prison. But many inmates do find some solace or escape in God.
ANDREWS: I‘m a new Christian in Christ Jesus. All things are past (INAUDIBLE) I‘m the righteous of God created in Christ Jesus. You have got to know who you are.
DANIEL HENNEY, INMATE: God gives you a comfort in your heart whereas no other man in this world can ever give you. He is our father. He created us. In here, it‘s really rough, you know. Brother Anderson (ph), he helps us day to day to cope with our problems.
ANDREWS: This service, it has been a blessing to them and it edified them. It encouraged them, even though they‘re incarcerated, that—to give them a chance of hope and a new life.
SEIGENTHALER: A weekly religious service, contemplation, reading, these are a few opportunities inmates in Stateville have to somehow reach beyond the bars, the guards, and the prison walls. Most will not see the outside ever again or not for a very long time.
But a few will. This is Neil Bell‘s last day in his cell at Stateville. Despite one stretch in the segregation unit, he is finishing up a two-year sentence for aggravated battery. As the final hours wind down, his emotions ratchet up.
NEIL BELL, INMATE: I am pretty anxious. I have been waiting a while. The last week is the longest. I‘m just ready to go home, be with my family.
SEIGENTHALER: Sunrise brings what for everyone else at Stateville will just be another day. But for inmate Bell, it brings him that much closer to freedom.
KENNETH MORGAN, PRISON CAPTAIN: You sleep last night?
BELL: I have been up since 2:00.
MORGAN: I kind of figured that.
SEIGENTHALER: Backing out his property, taking a last walk through the compound, the images of the outside that are long-gone memories for so many inmates are within Bell‘s grasp.
BELL: I‘m going to spend some time with my dad. And I‘m going to go see my sister. I have got a wedding to go to, my cousin. I would like to get back in college for computers. I work on cars and stuff, too. I can go either way.
MORGAN: Sure, I want to see these guys get out and succeed. When these guys get released, we hope we never see them again. A large percentage of them do come back.
Inmate Bell, I have got a feeling that you won‘t see inmate Bell anymore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Name and number.
BELL: Bell, V81872.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Date of birth.
BELL: (INAUDIBLE) ‘78.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One free man walking.
SEIGENTHALER: Bell served the extremely rare short sentence at Stateville.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) coming out.
SEIGENTHALER: He is also very young, hopefully young enough to have learned from his time here that he definitely doesn‘t want to return.
BELL: It‘s hard sometimes. Everybody is apt to get into trouble.
And you just got try to keep yourself out of those situations.
MORGAN: OK, Bell, take it easy.
BELL: All right.
SEIGENTHALER: That ability to learn, to change behavior, is not a big part of what Stateville is about.
BRILEY: And I think the majority of the inmates that are at Stateville today and the majority of inmates that are coming to Stateville tomorrow are really inmates that are beyond that help.
These are inmates that, over the years, time and time and time again have proven in different environments that they just can‘t function. The majority of the people at Stateville are going to stay at Stateville and be here a long time.
WILSON: Oh, man, it‘s a bad place to be. You don‘t want to be here. Everybody says it‘s all glamour. All yes, I‘m going to come to the joint, it don‘t matter. But once you get here and you see it‘s reality, you know, you think you‘re bad. It ain‘t what you think it is, man. They take you away from your loved ones, you know. Kids grow up without you. It‘s rough.
BASSET: I hate to even think about passing away up in here. I would like to get out there on the street and do these last few years anyway that I got left. And, you know, it could happen at any time up in here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Father, we just thank you, Lord. And we just bless your holy name. Even though we‘re in prison, God, you‘re a good God anyway.
MACON: You know, I‘m hoping to God, you know, like I say, somebody up there likes me. And I hope they continue to like me enough to let me live to leave out of here.
And like I say in church services, we preach and tell them, keep your head up. Keep your faith in God. Keep your trust in that, because of the fact right now we‘re in hell‘s glory right here. This is hell‘s glory, because a man can go no lower than to be locked up in here for a long time.
SEIGENTHALER: On the last day of our visit, an inmate at Stateville was murdered. Prison officials say he was killed by his cell mate. The prison immediately went into a level-one lockdown.
It was a sobering reminder that, despite all of their reforms, Stateville is still a very dangerous place.
For MSNBC, I‘m John Seigenthaler.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.