southwest of Chicago a water tower rises above the monotonous snowfields to the
right of Joliet Road. The letters on the tank slowly revolve in reverse order
as you approach: E-L-L-I-V...Stateville, it says, a curiously comic-book name
reminiscent of Superboy, Smallville and Gotham City. The walls appear next, and
the towers at each corner. The entire complex belongs in El Greco's View of
. A sign by the road warns DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS. The Illinois state
penitentiary, Stateville branch, was not constructed to be a cheerful sight
even under the best weather conditions; beneath a massive gray sky in the dead
of winter the prison is terrifying.
Soon, the five iron
gates are behind us. Each gate was locked and tested before the next one was
opened. Everyone was counted five times after being searched and stamped. Even
if there are only two men passing through the gates, the guards point and
count, "One. Two."
"No weapons are
carried by any guard past that last gate," says a frail recreation aide as
he leads the way through the yard. "Some of the weight lifters are twice my
size, why tempt them?"
In the yard we hear
only the resonant crackling of our footsteps. In the dark gun towers the guards
are surely watching the motion, listening to the snow-muffled rhythms, noticing
the hands rubbed together, the white plumes of breath floating upward. All
around are spread the stark brick prison buildings—the hospital, the printing
shop, the cafeteria, the cell blocks and the empty Death Row. Here there has
been trouble. It began in January 1973, when a guard was pushed to his death
from the fifth tier of Cell House B. And then that April a yard brawl broke out
in which more than a dozen convicts were injured. As a result a prisonwide
lockup—confinement to cells except for meals—was ordered.
The lockup lasted
into the summer; during August it was gradually lifted. But the next month
nearly 300 Stateville inmates overpowered their supervisors and seized control
of B House. For nine hours they held 10 guards at knifepoint before releasing
the hostages unharmed and surrendering. More disturbances occurred in the
following weeks. The
called Stateville "a pot about to
A battered metal
door opens. We step out of the icy air into the power-lifting confines and are
greeted by huge, eager men. For several moments everyone slaps palms, laughs
and shouts greetings, setting up a din of echoing and re-echoing "Hey,
babes," and "Wha's been happening?"
Most of the
visiting Chicago AAU lifters have been here for an earlier meet and are known
by name. A few of the Stateville lifters are gone.
where's little Freddy?"
cleaned out. He's on the streets."
"Yeah? Is he