[NOTE TO OUR READERS (8 Feb 2017): This post is very popular and surprisingly it is read by many people from outside the US who apparently have friends or relatives locked up in “Crooked Crook County” Jail. So we want you all to know: It is very important that if bail has been set for your friend or relative and you have the money, bail your friend/family member out of jail as soon as possible! No one is allowed to bail themselves out of jail! The sooner you can bail them out the better it will be for them: it is very difficult to defend yourself from inside a jail or prison in the USA. Also, the longer your friend or family member is stuck in jail the more likely it is that they will lose their job. Last but not least: though for non-violent defendants the jail is not all that dangerous ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN WHEN YOU ARE IN JAIL! The biggest threat comes not from the other inmates but from the sadistic, violent and often racist guards! Also: bail money is only used to guarantee that your friend or family member will show up in court; it will be returned to you in full when your friend or family member makes his or her scheduled appearances in court for their hearing dates and trial. SO LONG AS YOUR FRIEND/FAMILY MEMBER ATTENDS EVERY COURT HEARING AND THE TRIAL AS SCHEDULED YOU WILL GET YOUR MONEY BACK! So don’t be cheap: pay the bail and get your friend/family member the hell out of that jail so they can get back to work and defend themselves from OUTSIDE the prison! – IWPCHI]
TO VERIFY THAT YOUR FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER IS ACTUALLY IMPRISONED IN COOK COUNTY JAIL, CHICAGO, IL go to this website: COOK COUNTY JAIL – INMATE LOCATOR
It may take a few hours or up to a day before your friend/family member will be listed on the inmate locator.
BOND PAYMENTS: Inmates must go to bond court before their bond is set and that may not happen until the day after their arrest. IN CROOKED CROOK COUNTY, ALL BOND PAYMENTS MUST BE MADE IN PERSON. If you do not have anyone in Illinois who can pay the bond in person, contact us at iwpchi.gmx.com and for a small donation we can make arrangements to have you send the money to us and we will be happy to make the payment in person for you. FOR MORE INFORMATION GO TO THIS LINK: COOK COUNTY JAIL – HOW TO PAY BOND FOR AN INMATE
If your friend/relative has had a public defender appointed to defend him/her you can contact the Public Defender’s Office directly. For more info go here:
If there is no way to bail out your friend or relative and you want to send them money so they can purchase food, clothing and other personal toilet articles:
If your friend or relative is imprisoned by the State of Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC):
[A friend of ours wrote a friend of ours an email asking what it was like to go to the infamous, overcrowded Cook County Jail in Democratic Party-controlled Chicago, IL. The following is from an eyewitness account combining two separate experiences of being incarcerated in what we like to call “Crook County Jail” – once in late 2011 and again from early March to mid-April 2012. This person was originally arrested during an Occupy Chicago general assembly meeting in December of 2011 and sent to jail upon the demand of one of their leaders. The pretext for this man’s arrest was an utterly phony “assault” charge brought by this leader of the Occupy movement. Her assault case against this person was dropped on April 6, 2012. The details of the circumstances that led to Occupy Chicago’s allowing this politically motivated frame-up to occur will be fully covered in a future article in the series “My Trip Through the Looking-Glass with Occupy Chicago”. – IWP Editors]
[“So how was jail? Did you have a roommate? What did you do all day?”]
I’ve been meaning to write up a memoir of my experience in Cook County Jail – so thanks for giving me a reason to do it right now.
The worst part of going to Cook County Jail is in the going to and from jail – the processing. You usually first go to a local police station and are held overnight. Then, unless you were arrested before, say, 5PM, the next day they take you to the County Jail. If you were arrested on a weekday or a Sunday night you get to go to a bond hearing first, where bond is set at a ridiculously high figure for many people – the idea is obviously for Crook County to make as much money as possible from those who can afford to pay.
Bond Court in the United States is a classic “kangaroo court”. It is not a hearing to determine the merits of the case against a citizen; it is merely a formality during which, so long as the arresting officer is present in the courtroom – and she or he usually is – the case, regardless of its obvious glaring defects, such as a badly beaten prisoner or a police report that is clearly self-contradictory, will be going to trial. The decision that is made during the bond hearing is a simple one: will the accused citizen “choose” to “admit” his guilt, or not? Plead guilty and your Public Defender can work out a deal with the State’s Attorney that allows you to go home, usually. Plead innocent and you either pay the bail right away – immediately – or you get sent to the County Jail – and that’s all there is to it.
This is the modern version of “showing the implements of torture” to a medieval prisoner. The propaganda widely disseminated throughout the nation by the bourgeois press is of prison rape being the first thing that happens to all inmates. They even make hideous jokes about being locked up with “Bubba the Booty Bandit” or some such bullshit. The result of all this brainwashing is that most people – innocent or guilty – will pay as much money as they, their families and their friends can manage to scrape together in order to avoid going to the county jail. This completely unconstitutional frame-up system by which the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is stood on its head results in two things of value to the criminals who run the US judicial system: One: the money they are able to extort from arrestees goes to offset, slightly, the costs of incarcerating millions of petty criminals and scofflaws, and; Two: it provides the criminals in judicial robes – who must oftentimes stand for re-election occasionally – with ridiculously high conviction rates. In the Skokie Courthouse in Cook County, Illinois, for example, some judges boast of obtaining an astonishing, seemingly impossible “98.5%” conviction rate!
For the 1.5% of arrested citizens in Crook County who adamantly refuse to plead guilty – due to their astoundingly pigheaded belief that they are actually innocent of the crime they are accused of – and for those who simply can’t afford to pay their bond – there is now no option but to pass through the purgatory of their being “processed” into the Crook County Jail system. This is no fun at all, and is deliberately made to be extremely unpleasant by the scum who run the Crook County Jail into an ordeal that no one who must suffer through it is likely to forget. Handcuffed right wrist to a fellow prisoner’s left wrist, you are herded into a Cook County Sheriff’s jail bus and oftentimes driven from police station or courthouse to police station and courthouse to pick up more prisoners until the bus is either full or has completed its route. Then you are taken to the Crook County Jail at 26th and California on Chicago’s south side. Here you are forced through a series of petty humiliations that add up to a major humiliation – it’s not utterly unbearable – hundreds of men and women go through it and survive the ordeal every day – but it is inhuman. And though it would be needlessly cruel even if it was being done to a self-confessed and convicted baby killer, the fact that it is being done every single day of the year to people who have not yet been to a single actual court hearing, and who haven’t been convicted of anything except their poverty and/or their firm belief in their actual innocence – should be shocking to any person who believes in the concept that a person is “innocent until proven guilty”. This entire “processing” experience routinely takes 8-10 HOURS, starting around 2 or 3 in the afternoon and lasting until 11PM to 1 AM the next morning, give or take.
First, you are driven through the city in a bus that has expanded-metal mesh fitted over all the windows so that you can not see out of, and no one can see in to the bus. The bus is painted in the colors of the Crook County Sheriff’s Department, and clearly labeled as a prison bus. This is a modern-day equivalent of a tumbrel, in which prisoners were publicly humiliated while on their way to and from jail, either to court, or to a place of execution. The fact that a prisoner can not be seen clearly enough to make out his or her identity isn’t of much consolation to anyone unfortunate enough to be riding inside one of these buses. It is indeed a humiliating experience for most people.
When you arrive at Crook County Jail, you are driven past several lines of razor-wire topped chain-link fences, with more coils of razor wire stretched out lengthwise between the fences; up to the razor-wire-topped gates that stand next to the guard tower at the entrance. Once the driver and additional guard riding inside the bus go into the guard shack and surrender their weapons, they re-board the bus, the gates are opened and the bus drives into the jail complex, past prison buildings old and new, housing prisoners dangerous in some buildings and relatively harmless in others.
The bus winds its way through the prison “campus” until it arrives behind a seemingly windowless brick building 3 stories tall directly across the narrow road from another, much taller building that is under construction and that will house hundreds more prisoners some day in the not very distant future… because this entire jail complex is hugely overcrowded, and the Cook County Sheriff has been under a federal court order for more than a decade to stop cramming the facility with more human beings than it can legally, “humanely” hold. These court orders have been ignored for decades while the United States, largely due to its senseless persecution of millions of people in the “War on Drugs”, has seen its prison population explode over the past quarter century until it the US has “achieved” the dubious distinction among industrialized nations of having the largest number of citizens, per capita, “living” in jails and prisons.
The prisoners are now made to get off the bus, and are herded, in twos, across the decrepit sidewalk along the decrepit wall and into what now becomes more apparent as you go inside it, a very decrepit building. There are lawnmowers and snow removal machines inside the garage area you enter first; birds have, most incongruously, built nests inside this place! – and you head down the stairs, led by the driver and guard from the bus, to the first of many locked, heavy steel doors you will pass through.
[For reasons of space and time, I will omit the rest of this processing info. You get to meet your first guards, who try to impress upon you the fact that they are guards and that they will not tolerate any disobeying of orders. You are first once again body-searched – even though this was done already before you boarded the prison bus – for weapons, drugs or other contraband herded through: a metal detector; then taken to a bullpen – a jail cell maybe as big as a 20′ x 20′ storage space, with a filthy toilet and sink – and crammed in there until there is no room to sit and perhaps more than half the room is full of men forced to stand for up to several hours, shoulder to shoulder. You may or may not get some food at this point, consisting of what you will be eating twice a day for as long as you stay there: a plastic 8 oz. bottle of some fake “juice”, and two bologna or salami sandwiches with mustard, on white bread. Eventually, your name is called, and you are taken to another bullpen – and crammed in there for another couple of hours with 60 or 75 men, again shoulder-to-shoulder. Then your name is called again and you are led to a place where your photo and fingerprints are taken; you then enter another large room where you have a brief medical evaluation and you are crammed into another bullpen for a couple of hours where you wait to be “voice printed” – ostensibly in order for you to be able to use the prison telephone system whereby your friends and family will get ripped off to the tune of $10.00 per collect phone call made from the prison to them. Then, it’s back to the overcrowded bullpen until your name is once again called and you are brought before the guards who oversee the “prisoner property” department of the jail, where you surrender your jacket, any other “contraband” items of clothing such as shoelaces and belts, and all your cash, all of which you are then given a receipt for. Next, you get separated into another bullpen where you are segregated into medium or minimum security prisoners.
From here, your name is once again called and you are again handcuffed and herded, in twos, back through the building the way you came in, up the stairs and out through the garage into the open air. Now you are ordered to walk across the campus of the jail until you arrive in another large room on the first floor of an old, three-story housing unit, where your handcuffs are once again removed and you are forced to go through yet another metal detector. Yet again, you are placed into a large bullpen and made to wait, again, until your name is called, at which time you are made to go behind a flimsy room divider like you see in a doctor’s office to remove your clothing and you are handed a prison uniform and your towels, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste. You change into your new clothing while your “civilian” clothing is placed into a garment bag which you have labeled with your own name and taken away by the inmates who work for the prison. Your clothing will be held in these bags until you are released.
You may or may not be given some bologna sandwiches at this time, depending on how long you have been in the jail. You are then placed in yet another room and made to wait until your name is called again, when, again, you will be handcuffed and led across the “campus” to your final destination, the dormitory where you will be spending the next few days, weeks, months, or in some very unfortunate cases, years. Once you arrive at your dorm, you are (usually) given two flat sheets and a blanket and told of your bunk assignment. Oftentimes, it is so late at night (or early in the morning) that everyone in the dorm is asleep when you arrive. One of the overnight inmate-workers takes you to your bunk, where you make your bed and by now, goddamnit you are most likely so exhausted from your ordeal that you are eagerly looking forward to your arrival at this bed, no matter its condition or location.
Doesn’t that sound like fun? If you enjoyed it, then good for you, because you can now look forward to going through this same procedure – minus the fingerprinting, photo-taking, voice-printing and property-surrendering – TWICE EVERY TIME YOU GO TO COURT! And once again when you are finally released! And every single time you are made to go through this ordeal, throughout the entire process, the guards will make sure to take as long as they possibly can to perform each and every one of their “duties”, wasting time joking with their fellow guards, exchanging gossip or flirting with each other, and simply wandering around aimlessly – and they will scrupulously observe every coffee and meal break and every shift change regardless of how many hundreds of prisoners are being forced to remain stuffed shoulder-to-shoulder inside every one of those stinking, overcrowded, toilet-paperless and filthy bullpens until the guards return or are relieved!]
You asked if I had any roommates? Uh… yes, I did. I had 300 roommates, crammed into a room approximately 100 feet long by 75 feet wide. The Cook County jail is world-famous for its continuously overcrowded condition. It’s so overcrowded that they are using “condemned” areas of the jail to temporarily house new inmates – in spite of the fact that – thanks to a successful class-action lawsuit against the Crook County Sheriff’s Department – every inmate housed in a “condemned” section of the jail is paid $80.00 for every day they spend in those areas. Whenever a prisoner is released – either because his friends or family have paid his bail, he has served his time or (rarely) won his case – and is allowed to go home, within a few hours – and often within 15 minutes – another man is taking his place.
We were allowed to sleep about 5 hours a day; had access to 2 televisions – one which was for Spanish-language programs, the other for English… so mostly we watched either stupid-ass daytime TV or stupid-ass sitcoms. Since the population of American jails is over 75% black (and it was just before and during the NBA playoffs) we watched a lot of basketball. We had no access at all to daily newspapers, so except for our ability to watch the local evening news (and an occasional national news broadcast) we had no ability to keep up with current events. There is no access to the prison library – in fact, the guards claim – even though “Public Library” is listed on the request forms handed out to every prisoner who asks for one – that “there is no prison library”. All reading material is sent in from friends and family, and passed around from prisoner to prisoner – and every article of printed matter guarded rather jealously. And, of course, we had no access to normal telephones or the Internet. The telephones are not allowed to use directory assistance, so unless you have memorized all your friends’ numbers, you are “up shit’s creek” when it comes to contacting the outside world. And the phone system is designed to rob everyone who uses it, as well as to make phone calls coming in from incarcerated friends and family members unwelcome to everyone who receives a call from jail: they calls are all “collect” calls; the recipient has to set up a payment plan with the swindling company that runs the phone service; and the calls cost $10.00 each for 15 minutes, no matter how long you actually stay on the line. The company routinely overbills people for the phone calls, and if the phone call is cut off before the 15 minutes is up, too bad – it still costs the full $10.00.
The overriding experience of life at the Crook County Jail is one of utter boredom. The TV is always tuned to something worthless; there is no radio available, usually (although the TVs can play a few radio stations); no newspapers are available; there is no reading material at all unless you have something sent to you or you cajole a book from a fellow prisoner… many guys just choose to sleep all day and only arise from their bunks for meals.
Many, many times I heard men say – men who knew that they were definitely going to be convicted and sent to an actual state or federal prison – that they couldn’t wait to get there, because almost everything is better in prison – the food, access to TV and radio, relative privacy of cells, access to educational opportunities – than it is in Crook County’s jails. They’d rather deal with the increased violence they routinely face in prison than have to vegetate in that crappy Cook County Jail!
It is important to keep in mind that in all cases, although many of these guys had arrest records going back years, none of them were currently convicted of anything. Many had “violated parole” by missing a court date or by having failed a drug test, or by having been arrested for some trivial misdemeanor. We were all awaiting trial, and so, “innocent until proven guilty”, right?
Exercise was not available to us at all. Cook County Jail has a huge gym and basketball courts everywhere but they go unused except for the gym, which is used for mainly Christian religious indoctrination. This is one of the most significant human rights violations at this jail; some men had been held in the minimum-security wings of this jail awaiting the final disposition of their cases for as much as 3 years without ever having a chance to get any kind of significant physical exercise. As a result, men and women who are detained here for extended periods of time suffer severe deterioration of their physical health.
Contrary to bourgeois propaganda, and the fact that I was in medium-to-minimum-security wings of the Cook County Jail, there was very little fighting (2 minor fights over the 8 weeks in total that I was in jail) and as far as I was aware, not a single incidence of sexual harassment, never mind rape. In fact, it was quite amazing how well these guys behaved towards each other given the very difficult conditions we were all forced to live under.
The food is garbage, and there was plenty of it served to us. Breakfast was the only halfway decent meal of the day. We got a bowl of sugary cereal (frosted flakes, cocoa puffs or fruit loops), a box of “juice” and some bread (under cooked onion bagel, sometimes a couple slices of bread with bologna or a slice of yellow American cheese.). Occasionally we’d get a hard-boiled egg or a tube of peanut butter or jelly. For lunch it was always the same: two bologna or salami sandwiches with one packet of either mustard or mayonnaise. This came with a packet of powdered artificially-flavored fruit drink, and a bag of chips. Dinner was some kind of dog food served wet or made up into meatballs, served with a tablespoon of salad greens and a heaping helping of some kind of starchy crap – undercooked potatoes or rice; a scoop of vegetable (green beans or carrots) and a couple of oreo-type cookies.
As a result of this shitty diet, practically everyone was severely constipated. Guys went a week at a time without taking a shit, even though they definitely felt the need to go. On several occasions, I had such a difficult time taking a shit that after waiting a week to finally seriously feel that this time it would be a real shit and not another futile attempt to expel a turd, after 20 minutes of straining to take a dump I finally had to reach down and actually pull the shit out of my ass with my hand. After that, I stopped eating all the bread, bologna sandwiches, undercooked potatoes and rice and undercooked bagels and traded that junk for salad and veggies. That worked to stop the severest constipation symptoms for me, although I was far from my usual healthy digestive system. Putting up with this for a couple of weeks is barely tolerable; having to deal with this for a year or three would be very bad for one’s health.
The only avenue for anyone to get some decent food was to buy it from the commissary, which we could do once a week. Another private company was hired to provide these commissary services – at inflated prices. The way that worked is that when you get arrested, they seize all your cash and use it to open up an account from which your commissary purchases are deducted. You can also have your family and friends add money to your account from “outside”. You can buy foil packets of tuna fish, mackerel, salmon; packets of mustard, mayo and hot sauce; squeezable “cheese”; peanut butter and jelly packets; and toiletries like “Magic Shave” (no razors – the shittiest razors in the world are given out, and re-collected very sparingly, by the guards every weeknight) and toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and soap, as well as t-shirts, underwear, socks and “shower shoes”. All kinds of junk food: cookies, candy, chips and super-sugary ‘baked goods’ are available (which is what most people load up on every week). You can also buy crappy ballpoint pens with the hard plastic tube removed (possible weapon!), stamps, envelopes and allegedly, paper – although in the entire 6 weeks I was there, I tried to buy paper 5 times and was never able to get any, though I did buy stamped envelopes and a couple pens.
The guards – some of them treated people like as if we were convicts not worthy of contempt, and never missed an opportunity to bellow out idiotic “orders” as if we were dumb animals. These unarmed cretins could easily have been attacked and beaten to death by the prisoners (who outnumbered them 10-1) except for the fact that the prisoners ignored them and held them in utter contempt, not even worth talking back to. There were a few guards who tried to act tough, and I saw and heard of a couple of prisoners who were beaten up badly by guards for very minor disciplinary infractions. About a third of the guards tried to treat us decently, seemingly unaware that the vast majority of us hated their guts anyway.
The demeanor of the guards, universally, was as if they were stars of a reality TV show based on the “Police Academy” movies. They were laughing and joking all the time; at night, they’d fall asleep in a room full of 300 prisoners; they would bark out orders and call us “asshole”, “stupid” or other epithets intended to be demeaning, they’d watch movies all shift, only grudgingly performing the services they were supposed to provide us. Ask them for a grievance form and they would always say they were out of them. Ask them anything and 9 times out of ten they either didn’t know or they lied and gave you some bullshit answer. The only section of the jail I was in where the guards treated the prisoners like they were human was in the section – medium security – housing mostly gang members. Here, the guards gave the prisoners a lot of leeway to run things as they saw fit. The gangs had taken sheets and made curtains around one or two toilets so you could have privacy when you took a dump; they also set up a couple of sheets in the shower area so you could have privacy when showering; only one person was back there at a time. (The showers in this section were in an open room next to the row of toilets, which had no partitions between them).
Most of us were given a bath towel, a facecloth, a tube of toothpaste and a crappy short toothbrush and a small bar of soap for our “toilet”; I didn’t get this complete set when I was there last – no facecloth and dirty bath towel. Apparently the jail was so overcrowded they didn’t have enough of these to go around.
The beds were steel twin-size bunk beds placed about two feet apart. You had a plastic mattress, two sheets and a thin blanket per bed – although I only got 2 sheets and no blanket. Often times the guards left the air conditioning on all day and night, dropping the temperature at one time to the mid-50s. Everyone was forced to wear their blankets all day to stay warm, which is a violation of jail rules. The guards all pretended that they had no control over the heating system. This kind of low-level harassment was de rigeur at this jail. All kinds of petty insults were constantly being tossed our way by the majority of the staff and supervisors.
The prisoners – even in the gang section I was in for a couple of weeks – largely treated each other with a great deal of respect. They tested you when you first came in, especially if you were white, to see if you were a chickenshit – or a racist. Once you passed the “test”, although you certainly weren’t placed on the same level of respect accorded a fellow gang member, you were basically OK as a “neutron” – an unaffiliated fellow prisoner. Once I proved that I didn’t think I was in any way superior to black people and that I could hang out with everyone as an equal I was fine. Immediately, guys offered to share what they had with me; shower shoes, extra toilet paper, even some food. We hung out watching TV and talking about our cases, some of us strategizing as to how we were going to win our cases after having researched the relevant legal precedents we discovered during our rarely-granted and brief visits to the law library. All in all, I’d have to say that some of the most decent human beings I’ve ever met in Chicago in more than 20 years I met while I was in Cook County Jail.
That pretty much covers it. Enforced boredom punctuated by meals not fit to eat, then more boredom, sleep, boredom, shower, sleep, boredom, the ordeal of going to and returning from court (which routinely takes 16 hours!) and the occasional book or magazine between periods of boredom, sleep, boredom and dog food. Oh yes, and the periodic mandatory assembly of all the prisoners in each dormitory to sit through a religious indoctrination presented by a fundamentalist Christian group under the guise of some type of “social work program” or other.
In my case, after going through all that shit – twice – the charges against me in two of the three separate cases against me were dropped, which enabled me to once again qualify for a personal recognizance bond on the third case (called an I-bond in Crook County), at which time I was deemed no longer a danger to the public and allowed to be released from jail… but only after going through the “processing” ordeal two more times on my way from court and then out of the jail…!
Copyright 2012 – Independent Workers Party – Chicago, IL
Spelling corrected, slight improvements made 26 January 2014