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Good-Bye Freedom

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I've had some disconcerting experiences in the 12 years I've been taking photographs in Illinois prisons. I'll never forget the day I was caught in the middle of a riot at Menard and got shoved into a cell for my own safety. Or the time I was threatened at Stateville by gang members. But I hadn't remembered my strange encounter with Patrick Page until I heard about the closing of the Joliet Correctional Center, a pre-Civil War structure built by convicts, using massive limestone blocks cut from nearby quarries. The medieval fortress-style prison shut its doors in mid-February, but the Reception and Classification Center, which routes convicts to various state penitentiaries, will remain open until next fall. Its operations will then move to the nearby Stateville Correctional Center.

I was in the center one morning in December of 1990, photographing a 19-year-old inmate who was sentenced to 16 years for home invasion. Hundreds of new inmates were doing the state processing shuffle, walking right past us. The kid said, "I'm next to go," signed some papers, and stripped.

The officers tagged and inventoried his clothes and then put them on a shelf. He'd get the bundle back "as is," they told him--in about a decade, if the state shaved some time off for good behavior.

So there I was, standing amid 20 or so naked men. Some hadn't bathed in days, and I could smell their sweat as they brushed by. Suddenly I heard, "Hey, dude! Dude." An inmate was trying to get my attention. He couldn't remember my name, but I could remember his--Patrick Page--as well as his weird habit of saying everything twice. He had brutally murdered an Amoco attorney and then dumped the body in a field. I also remembered a news story about the farmer who'd found Page's victim buried in a shallow grave, an arm poking up through the ground, the sun glinting off a wristwatch.

A few years earlier, I'd shared a couple of beers with Page and a mutual friend, Little Johnny, who had just been released from Cook County Jail after doing 90 days for breaking and entering. Aside from being a thief, Little Johnny was a pretty nice guy--as long as you didn't leave anything around to tempt him. But Page was different, with wild hair and predatory eyes, sizing me up and down, looking, it seemed, for a vulnerable spot.

Now, here he was, decked out in a lime-green high-security-risk jumpsuit, wearing handcuffs and ankle chains. He'd spent more than six months in Cook County Jail before his convictions (he'd killed someone else too), and now he was calling out to me, "Hey, dude! Dude."

I said something inane, like, "Hey, how's it going?" He replied, "Not bad, not bad," which seemed equally inane, considering he was on his way to death row at Pontiac.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Lloyd DeGrane.

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