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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My Last Post -- January 17, 2015

My 40th birthday was a turning point in my life. No longer can I dwell on memories of the past and pretend I can return to them. It is impossible that I could ever begin where I left off over two decades ago. The world has changed and I have aged. There was nothing I could do which could amend for the vast amount of time lost. When the last governor denied my request for clemency, it obliterated what little hope I had to make the best of the remnants of my life. An appeal will take possibly 10 years to be adjudicated, and even if it was successful, being free as an old man has little allure for me. This blog also has little more to offer and subsequently this will be my last post. It was never my intention to write indefinitely nor allow readers to watch me wither away. I only carried on writing thinking there was a minute chance I could end my story with some finality. However, I was not freed and will continue to languish in prison more than likely until my death.

Since my last post several more prisoners at Stateville have died. On December 4th, a Caucasian man was brutally beaten by his black cellmate. When medical staff removed him from the cell, he was unconscious with a cracked skull and an eye ball dangling out of the socket. The prisoner remained comatose and later died at an outside hospital. Purportedly, his cellmate, Pumpkin, killed him over a dispute regarding the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, although they had not been getting along since they were put in a cell together. Pumpkin was sent to segregation and will face murder charges, however, I doubt he cares. He was never going to be released from prison anyway.

Another prisoner who died was a fat, slovenly man most convicts referred to as Gay Ray. He had at one time been housed in the same quarter unit as I. Before he was given a lay-in tray, he could barely make it to and from the chow hall and I recall him hanging onto the cyclone fencing to keep himself from falling. Eventually, he was placed in the infirmary but apparently medical staff believed there were other prisoners who required more attention and he was sent to another quarter unit. Not long after he arrived, he suffered a heart attack and died. Medical technicians did not get to him for a long time and there is some contention he would be alive had he been kept at the infirmary. Being celled at the Health Care Unit is no guarantee of greater longevity, however, and another older prisoner with various medical problems died while there.

Of the men who died over the past month, the only one I had acquainted with was Sergeant Major. Sgt. Major was a white prisoner in his 70's who once was celled on my gallery. He was moved to X House where protective custody and inmates who are deemed as not dangerous are kept. His nickname derives from his rank in the U.S. Army before he retired. Sgt. Major was an alcoholic and was arrested a couple of times for DUI before he was in a major car wreck which killed the occupants of the other vehicle. He was sentenced to spend the rest of his days in prison and I am informed the last one was December 27th.

The spate of deaths at the penitentiary has caused some prisoners to derisively muse this was how the IDOC planned to solve the problem of overcapacity. However, deficiencies in health care have always existed. What has not existed are higher incarceration rates and elderly prisoners. There is a wider web of criminal statutes and the penalties have become much more severe. Even an 18 year old who purportedly lent his car to his roommate was convicted of 1st degree murder and sentenced to life in prison despite the actual killer being acquitted by a separate jury. I still have one more chance in the courts, but when I will be able to simply file an appeal remains a big question.

There has been no progress in my request for DNA testing nor collateral appeal since I last wrote. I have not had any further contact with the lawyer or two students I met from the law school at the University of Illinois in Springfield. I assume they are working on other cases or waiting to discern if forensic evidence was preserved by the Palatine Task Force. Under law, police are required to keep and maintain the integrity of forensic evidence, but this does not always happen. As for my appeal, I have yet to discuss with Jennifer Blagg my strong disappointment with the partial rough draft she sent me. Going on 6 years, I expected a fully polished completed work raising all my issues along with supporting affidavits. I have lost faith in her competency and I question if it matters if I ever speak with her again. Without the money to hire a new attorney, I may be forced to write and file my appeal without counsel.

I was finally able to hire a private investigator. His name is John Rea and he worked on my case with trial attorneys at Jenner and Block. Thus, he already had some familiarity with the evidence and people involved. I was glad he was willing to work directly through me rather than an attorney. Many PI's will not. I was also glad he did not charge me an arm and a leg because I will be paying him without the assistance of any family members. For years, I have been slowly collecting money on my prison account. Only one of the people who read my blog has sent me a dime and it has not been easy raising the funds. Hopefully, I have enough to cover all the expenses of the P.I.  His work is essential to supporting my appeal with new evidence not available or forthcoming at my trial.

On Christmas day, I learned Governor Pat Quinn went through about 600 clemency petitions. He decided even more on New Year's Eve. I asked my mother to look on a website to see if mine had been denied yet. Apparently, though, the governor's administration had ceased printing the names of those approved or rejected. The reasoning may have been to allow people to be notified by mail or not to disclose the identity of offenders who had been pardoned of their crimes. The vast majority of people seeking a pardon were not in prison but simply wanted their criminal records expunged. I told my mother over the phone that she will just have to wait until January 12th. If I am at her door, she will know it was approved, and if not, denied.

Needless to say, the day came and went without me being released. For a fleeting moment the counselor got me excited when she yelled to me from the lower floor. It seemed as if she had something urgent to tell me. However, all she wanted to say was that she found my letter to John Rea in the mail room and had brought it to the business office for my money voucher to be processed. A month earlier I had sent the P.I. a check and was impatient for him to receive it. Giving the money voucher to the business office, however, did not mean it would be processed any time soon. In fact, a package I sent out in September requiring only postage has yet to be stamped.

On the day after the governor left office I learned on the television news that only two people of the few thousand clemency petitioners were released from prison. Tyrone Hood who was convicted of a 1993 armed robbery and murder walked out of Menard Correctional Center on Tuesday. He was not pardoned but granted a commutation of sentence from 75 years to time served and he will be on parole for 3 years. The other man was Howard Morgan who in 2005 got in a shoot out with police after he was pulled over in his car for a traffic violation. Police claim there was an argument and he went for his firearm. The police began to barrage him and his car with bullets. Morgan who had a license to carry a gun fired back and was thereafter charged with the attempted murder of 4 police officers. His sentence was also commuted to time served from 40 years. There were some indications both of the men were innocent, however, I thought the case I made to the governor was much stronger.

My mother tells me she has yet to receive a letter from the governor's office saying my petition was rejected. I do not know whether to believe her, but it could be on the way. Regardless, it is irrelevant. Even if Pat Quinn did not decide my petition and passed it off to Bruce Rauner, I do not expect him to act. Granting pardons or even commutations of sentences to prisoners convicted of murder is highly controversial. It is why all governors wait until their final day in office to make such decisions.

Bruce Rauner has wasted no time taking the reigns of power from his predecessor. Earlier this week I was even told a few people from his transition team were at the penitentiary. Their visit put fear into union bosses and high ranking correctional officers who scrambled to put on the best show possible. Rauner may not be able to shake up Springfield but the IDOC already is anticipating an earthquake. I hope he does have the courage to make the tough bold decisions Illinois so desperately needs and other politicians cower from. However, I doubt he is willing to squander any political capital on my behalf.

I may not have as yet received confirmation my clemency petition was denied, but I did receive a brief letter from the so-called "Conviction Integrity Unit." Assistant Cook County States Attorney Susan Caraher writes me: "I am in receipt of your inquiry letter requesting that the Conviction Integrity Unit review your case. Pursuant to your claim of wrongful conviction, we have examined your case. Based upon review, we have determined that your claim is without merit and does not warrant any further investigation on our part at this time." The letter does not at all surprise me. Since its inception, I have known the C.I.U. was a farce. I have written a reply asking exactly what they did to examine my case and then listed 4 pages of evidence which shows Robert Faraci killed Dean Fawcett and I did not lend my vehicle to him on the day in question. Amazing how they can come to a conclusion my claim is without merit having not spoken to a single person. I will request my reply to her be published under the post "An Open Letter to Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvarez" when I am able to make copies.

It is readily apparent to me that I will not be released any time soon and will most likely die in prison. From my very first post I had no intentions to continue writing indefinitely. In fact, after 5 years had passed, I was going to put my pen down, but with my clemency petition still pending and my belief Governor Quinn would not have another term in office, I thought I may as well see it out. Had Quinn granted me a pardon or a sentence reduction, I could have written my final post from home. Regular readers probably would have been satisfied with this conclusion. Unfortunately, this is not a movie with a happy ending.

The purpose of this blog was to give readers a little peak into my life inside these prison walls. I believe I have done this and more. Towards the end, the subject matter even occasionally diverged because I had run out of new ideas. My life is mainly spent in a cell and because I am not a social person, it is even more insular. There is probably a greater range of prison topics and stories a more outgoing convict could have written about. However, that is not who I am. In fact, sharing my experiences, observations and thoughts with strangers around the world is opposite to my natural disposition. Furthermore I absolutely loathe my life and having to think and write about it weekly only made me more miserable.

Readers probably do not realize the amount of time and effort that has gone into "On the Inside." All my posts are hand written on paper. I must print neatly and avoid corrections. Recently I began using a pen because pencil sharpeners are not allowed. When I make a mistake, I must start over with a fresh page of paper or use white acrylic paint to wipe out words. The stories I write are folded and placed in a numbered envelope to be mailed. All posts are numbered to keep track of them as well as to dissuade prison staff from destroying them. For periods of time I had to write duplicates because my letters were disappearing. At Stateville, the mail room is incredibly slow and my posts can take a month or longer to reach the person who reads, types and posts them. As traffic to the blog increased, so has the number of comments and emails. I wanted the site to be interactive as much as possible and therefore those messages are printed and sent to me via mail whereupon I will respond in writing only for it to need to be mailed back and then typed and posted. There is various computer related work which must be done to maintain the blog. I cannot even explain because the Internet did not exist when I was arrested. I was spending occasionally 3 days a week devoted to the blog and it is time for me and those who assist me to move on.

With my free time, I will be working on my appeal. I will be keeping in contact with the private investigator and providing him with information. The evidence he is able to procure will be used in crafting a successive post conviction petition. The petition will have a statement of fact and at least 50 pages of argument. To supplement the arguments, I will need not only evidence but law. I have already done a lot of research, however, my time spent at the prison library will increase and I may begin going on an almost weekly basis excluding lockdown periods. The blog never assisted in gaining my freedom. It was only a diversion. I must use my time more wisely or I will never see justice.

In the movie "Gladiator," Russel Crowe plays a character whose entire life is torn from him. He was a commander of a Roman army, however, after the emperor was murdered by his own son, he was sent out in the woods to be executed. Maximus escapes his executioners and races to save his family. He was too late and both his wife and son were dead. The republic he believed in was dead. His status as general was dead. His entire purpose for living was dead and therefore with a broken heart he just laid there waiting to die himself. Eventually, travelers find him and make him a slave. He is forced to fight as a gladiator and fight he does until he has slaughtered hundreds. His master brings him to the Roman Coliseum where he is told he can win his freedom. Maximus does not care about freedom anymore, though, only to kill the new emperor who took everything worth living for from him. Upon meeting his nemesis, he says, "I will have my justice in this life or the next." And that is all I care about anymore as well. I may be an old crippled man when I am freed with nothing to live for, but I will have justice.

This is my final post and I say farewell to all those who have followed my blog. I hope to have given some insight into the dark realms inside the criminal justice and prison system. If nothing else I hope my stories have been entertaining. I will continue to respond to some comments and emails for a few months. During this time I will also be looking to maintain contact with a few readers on a personal level. I do not currently have any pen pals, but if anyone is interested in corresponding regularly, I encourage them to send me a letter introducing themselves. It may become lonely at times in these dreary dungeons. My time on the Internet must come to an end just as my liberty and life for all practical purposes ended on April 28, 1993.

Update  (April 2015)

Paul's clemency petition was denied by former Governor Pat Quinn on Christmas Eve. The letter was received by his parents after this post was written. Paul continues to work on his post conviction appeal and seek out new legal counsel. He will also file a 6th Clemency Petition in 2016 with the Rauner administration. Hopefully, his suffering in prison will not be indefinite.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Palatine Massacre: 20 Years Later -- January 11, 2013

EDITOR NOTE:  Paul wrote this a few years ago, but due to his lawyer's objections it was never published.  Several readers have questioned how Paul's trial and most likely some of his jurors were influenced by the infamous Brown's Chicken Restaurant murders. The perpetrators of those horrible crimes had not been caught at the time of Paul's trial in 1995. This post provides the details and answers their questions. Because Paul feels he must now devote all his time to writing his own post conviction appeal, we thought it would be a good time to post this (some last names have been omitted for legal reasons):

On January 8, 1993, seven people were brutally murdered at a Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine, Illinois. The mass murder created a frenzy of intense media coverage which in turn put enormous pressure on police to solve the crime. A few months later when my former roommate was arrested for a murder in Barrington, he conspired with his wife to frame me for the murder along with the massacre in Palatine. Their statements to police were inconsistent and not believable, but this was an opportunity authorities could not pass up. I was a perfect scapegoat to offer the public and the news media immediately took the bait reporting almost ceaselessly about my suspicion in the mass murder. Television news was the worst with the most hyped, sensationalistic, and biased coverage despite how I was never charged with the Palatine murders. Before my trial, Rose admitted she and her husband were lying, but this was largely ignored by the media and state prosecutors who had already politically committed themselves. Instead of dropping the charges, the prosecutor simply changed theories and at trial argued my guilt in the Fawcett murder through a theory of accountability. The trial testimony supporting this theory was false, but my defense attorney failed to contest it choosing rather to spar with the prosecutor over the law. Due to this failure and almost certainly the cloud of suspicion in the Palatine Massacre, I was found guilty. Twenty years after the mass murder, I continue to brood about the set of events which led me to be connected to the crime. I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole even after the person who tried to frame me was acquitted by another jury.

The day after the Palatine Brown's Chicken murders, I recall television news was pervasively covering the crime. I did not watch any of the reporting, but Robert was fascinated by the breaking news. He talked on and on about what was being reported and attempted to get my interest. When I did not come over to the television in the living room, he commented this was a huge story I was missing. There had not been a mass murder like this in the Chicagoland area since the Valentine's Day Massacre. It figured my wannabe mafia friend would connect the two crimes, although I did not see any similarities except for the body count. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was an assassination of a rival gang with Tommy Guns ordered by Al Capone during the prohibition era which thereafter gave him control of the city's underworld. The Palatine Massacre was apparently a robbery gone awry or thrill killing at a chicken restaurant. I had other things to do and could care less about the crime despite how it seemed to have my friend and the Chicago metro area riveted. Little did I know Robert would later use the mass murder to deflect attention away from his murder of Dean Fawcett and as a possible bargaining chip.

Rose traveled by plane to Florida the day after the Palatine massacre and the following week Bob and I drove to Clearwater. The coincidence of our relocation later gave the impression we were fleeing from the mass murder or murder of Fawcett. However, this could not be further from the truth. Fawcett's body had not been found yet alone identified or considered a homicide. I tend to believe Bob thought he had committed the perfect crime and there would never be an ID of the victim who was dismembered after he was apparently shot. Months later while seeing Bob's arrest on television, I recalled how he had read a book about mafia killings. The bodies were sometimes disposed of so they were never found or identified. The victims just disappeared or were "Houdinied". One story he told me about pertained to Hell's Kitchen, a very violent neighborhood in New York City controlled by the Irish Mafia where bodies were occasionally found missing their heads and hands. A film called "State of Grace" with actor Sean Penn was later made about the mafia controlled area.

The landlord of the Schiller Park apartment was in eviction proceedings before I moved in with them just after my 18th birthday. The judge gave them until January 15th to leave but long before this they were planning to relocate. I think they initially were just going to find another place in the NW suburbs of Chicago, but they began to have troubles with the network of organized crime amongst Italians in the area. Bob married Rosalia who was born in Sicily purely for her family’s connections to the mafia. This strategy seemed to be working out well for him initially, however, their relations in late 1992 began to sour. Bob did not like being a lackey and increasingly bumped heads with those in the syndicate. He even robbed a high stakes poker game and shot an Italian man who refused to turn over his money. People tend to think I knew all about my co-defendant's activities, but this is false. He kept a lot of secrets from me and it was only by accident that I learned about the robbery. A mutual friend of ours was furious Bob never returned his little brother's shoes he borrowed. The friend did not care if he had gotten blood all over them from the shooting and said he should have bought him a new pair after disposing of the shoes. It was amusing they were arguing about a pair of gym shoes while the shooting was irrelevant.

On the evening of the Palatine Massacre, Rose's family had plans to come over to the apartment to say farewell before she moved to Florida. Rose's family did not know I was living with the couple so we hid all my belongings so they would never be the wiser. Rose's parents were from the old country and would be stunned if she was living with two men, even if I was just a friend. Thus, when they arrived, I went out the back door to the parking lot. Robert felt bad about kicking me out and thus met me at the other door and pretended like I had just arrived to visit them. He invited me in and introduced me to his wife's family. They were very warm and friendly, but I did not intend to stay and listen to them talk in Italian. I had already made plans to go the movie theater.

I remember after my arrest the police trying to figure out if I had an alibi. Mostly, I believe it was the media because I do not believe the police ever thought that Robert and Rose were telling the truth. My alibi for the time period when seven people were murdered at the Brown's Chicken restaurant was not a good one because I could not prove it and no one accompanied me to the theater. Furthermore, while my roommates knew where I was going, they were the ones trying to frame me. In any event, I watched the film "Leprechaun" until I could watch no more of the stupid horror movie. I thought the Cineplex owed me a refund or at least another movie and consequently went to another theater and watched "Bram Stoker's Dracula." It was the best vampire movie I ever had seen and satisfied I returned to the apartment. Rose's family was gone by then.

The day after the murders, Rose traveled by plane from O'Hare Airport to Florida where she stayed with her cousin Ralph and his family while she looked for an apartment. I was not too enthusiastic about living with them and it was only meant to be temporary. However, both Rose and Robert wanted me to join them. I was even told that Rose's cousin owned a cabinet manufacturing company where I could work at least until I found something better or while I attended college. I had spent part of 1992 working for Sacco, a kitchen cabinet manufacturer in Frankfort, Illinois and because I knew all about the business Ralph would be glad if I was an employee. During the week before Rose left, Rose and I collected cardboard boxes from local grocery stores to pack all our possessions. Although Rose was flying, Bob and I were driving. I drove a U-Haul truck and towed my car behind while Bob followed in his Pontiac Firebird. We left three days before the body of Dean Fawcett was found. Unlike the couple I shared an apartment with, I was not aware he had been killed.

Rose found a new apartment quickly with the assistance of her cousin in Clearwater. She called her husband to ask what my last name was so she could fill out the lease agreement. As a prank, he told her "Himmler," and Rose being oblivious of the practical joke and only knowing me by the name Viktor told the new landlords my name was Viktor Himlor. The lease was already made out by the time I got there so I felt I had to go along with the alias. I also had to pack most of the remaining property because Bob was lazy. A day or two before we left I learned of his plan to drive across half the country with loaded firearms kept casually in his car. This was moronic or reckless in my opinion so I packed these along with other belongings in the truck. The prosecutor made a big issue of this at my trial, however, I had no idea if any of them were used in the murder of Fawcett. I tend to believe the murder weapon was quickly disposed of by my co-defendant.

While in Florida, Robert began to work at a newspaper/magazine store partly owned by John Fain.  Robert led John to believe he was going to take over Nicholaus C’s half. Nick wanted out of the business and Robert would then be John’s new partner.  Initially Bob had intentions of turning the place into an adult book store. However, when he learned only a quarter of the store could be used to shelf pornography, he lost most of his interest. Bob was lazy and increasingly I did most of the work. John Fain did not personally like me and at trial he made disparaging character inferences such as I was “cold and aloof” and “did not speak much at all.” My attorney was angry and objected to his comments about me, so the judge told the jury to disregard those comments because they were not facts but opinions. Then John surprisingly testified that we offered to sell him a gun like one of his. On cross examination, my attorney asked him why he had not mentioned this to Officers Koziol and Robertson when they traveled to Florida to interview him in 1993, or the following year when he was interviewed by the defense investigator who contacted him by phone.  John said he just didn’t “recall the whole conversation.”

After visiting Las Vegas, Robert and Rose returned to the Chicago area. Although I had ceased to live with the couple, I assume Bob who was a gambling fanatic blew away all of their savings and they had to fall back on family and friends in their old neighborhood. However, for the couple this meant resolving issues with organized crime. Rose went to an intermediary she knew and asked him what could be done. Richard L. said he would try to smooth things out including checks they had used to defraud Italian businesses. At some point, Rose also asked if the private investigator could find out if her husband was suspected in any murder(s).  Little did Rose know her friend was now an informant and although Robert quickly went into damage control, the police were quickly involved, particularly after the mention of the Palatine mass murders.

They were arrested on the 22nd of April after leaving a restaurant with some friends. They both tried framing me and Brian Palasz for the Barrington murder. However, most tragically for me were their assertions that I committed the Palatine massacre. Both of them made up detailed stories incriminating me in the mass murder. Rose said that on the night of January 8th she found a bloody glove of mine in a garbage can. Robert alleged on the trip to Florida when we stopped at a gas station I commented how it looked just like the restaurant I robbed. Amongst these accusations they even said at one point that Bob was driving by the place when I told him to stop so I could get take out. Moments later he said he heard gun shots and screams. Robert took a polygraph test regarding his accusations against me in both the Fawcett and Palatine murders and not surprising to the police, he failed. Bob was an expert con artist, but his lies to professional law enforcement were met with great skepticism if not total disbelief.

On the 28th of April, I was arrested by numerous heavily armed police. They seemed just as willing to shoot me dead and claim the mass murder case was closed as in taking me in for questioning. Although I had nothing to do with the murders, I was not talking to them without an attorney and immediately asked for one as I was being yanked out of my car and thrown face down on the asphalt of Archer Avenue in Chicago. However, police had no intention of adhering to my Miranda rights and I endured hours upon hours of intimidation, threats, and physical abuse. Eventually, I made a few comments to my interrogators which were largely twisted later and became the basis of the prosecution's theory of accountability. John Robertson fabricated a story of how while armed with a firearm Robert told me he was going to kill Dean Fawcett and asked to borrow my car. Although I was grilled about the Barrington murder for two days, only a couple of questions relevant to the Palatine case were asked. I remember toward the end of my interrogation John Koziol asked me if I had anything to say about the mass murder. I ignored him like I did most of the time. He said something like "Oh, come on. You can't even answer whether or not you killed those people at the restaurant?" Finally, with him starring me down, I said, "Fine. I did not do it."

The police arrested a former employee of the Brown's Chicken restaurant the day after the crime. His name was Martin Blake and he was interrogated until the 11th of January. According to Blake's subsequent lawsuit and testimony at a pre-trial motion of mine, his Miranda rights were violated and he was held incommunicado. He also accused the police of not providing him with proper food, drink, or access to bathroom facilities as well as unlawful arrest. Although the Palatine police knee jerk reaction would end up costing the village an undisclosed settlement, police were correct in their instincts. A former employee was involved in the mass murder.

Juan Luna had worked at the fast food restaurant, but because a woman provided him with a false alibi, police did not pursue him as a suspect. It was not until nearly ten years later that he was looked at again. Anne Lockett along with Eileen Bakula finally came forward to tell police they had been with Luna and James Degorski immediately after the murders. The two said the alibi was fiction and the two men had discussed the crime in detail with them, including a never before released bit of information that one of the victims vomited french fries. They showed the women the money they had stolen and gave them a portion of it. Later they were driven to the crime scene which was then surrounded by police and ambulances. With so many leads that turned out to be false, the police were still not ready to arrest the two. Instead, they had Anne call James Degorski and tape recorded him admitting to the false alibi of his friend Juan Luna as well as other incriminating statements. Finally, police who had kept the last meal ordered compared DNA with that of Luna. It was a match and the Palatine Task Force made their arrests in the mass murder.

Both Juan Luna and James Degorski made confessions to police. The former even made one which was videotaped and he described in detail the crime. According to Luna, they forced the owners to open up a safe and after gaining the money began to kill everyone in the restaurant. Degorski fired most of the shots killing the employees using a 38 caliber revolver which was reloaded. In the frenzy of the moment, Luna admitted to slitting the throat of one of the owners of the restaurant. Because he had worked at the place, he knew the best time to rob the restaurant would be at closing time. He had jammed the back door so no one could get out, and he knew he would be let in because the owners and workers knew him. The place was cleaned up after the murders, but Luna thought nothing of the chicken he ate and threw the bones and partially eaten pieces into a garbage bin along with the napkin he wiped his hands on leaving further evidence behind.

Five years after their arrest, Juan Luna was finally tried and convicted of the mass murder. In 2009, James Degorski was convicted also. Both men avoided the death penalty due to a single hold out in their juries. It would not have mattered anyway since the death penalty was abolished in Illinois a couple of years ago. Juan Luna, who initially asked for protective custody, now resides at Stateville and I have seen the vermin a number of times particularly when I lived in the Roundhouse where he was a cell house worker. Initially, he was given a detail in the prison's Health Care Unit, but nurses complained about the threat to their safety. Although I think the cowardly little man is no danger, medical staff thought otherwise. A number of times I have considered clobbering the thrill killer who I blame in part for my prosecution and conviction. However, there are so many prisoners at Stateville with disdainful crimes and it would be absurd of me to expect him to turn himself in to prevent my injustice. Furthermore, it was my friend along with his wife who made up the stories making me a suspect in the crime.

James Degorski was sent to Menard C.C. and although I have met his trial attorneys, I have never met him. I spoke with his lawyers about the denial of my Miranda rights and abuse by my two interrogating officers as well as Robertson's manipulation and fabrication of my statements. Degorski had made claims of police abuse and although I have no affinity for him or his crime, I wanted him to be tried and convicted fairly. My parents told me not to talk to his attorneys because they did not want me to help in his defense and thought possibly the lawyers could use me as an alternative suspect. However, I had no such concerns and in fact would relish the opportunity to testify about the lies of Robertson and how I was used as a scapegoat by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office who would ironically have to defend me to protect their interests in convicting Degorski.

There is no doubt in my mind my suspicion in the Brown's Chicken murders affected my arrest, prosecution, conviction and sentence to natural life without parole. I blame less the perpetrators of the horrific crime than those who accused me of it. Had Robert and Rose not conspired to frame me of the mass murder, nearly everything would have been different. The over 100 strong Palatine Task Force under tremendous pressure by the state's attorney's office and media would have not been involved. Instead, detectives from the small town of Barrington would be in charge of the investigation. Those police would not have questioned me after I requested an attorney, and had no reason to violate my Miranda rights or manipulate anything I said.  Had I still been charged with murder, after Rose admitted she and her husband lied to prevent him from going back to prison the state would have dropped the charges against me. Even had the state's attorney not, there is little chance a jury would have convicted me on what amounts to guilt by association. A judge also would have been under no political pressure to sentence me to life in prison without a possibility of parole particularly when the actual killer was acquitted. He may have even had the courage to grant a direct verdict or overturn any jury's conviction. My life would have been radically different these last 20 years if not for the false accusations in the Palatine Massacre. All I can do now is hope the courts or the governor intervene on my behalf.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Dead Man's Boots -- November 30, 2014

Today I mourn my 40th birthday. Since 18, I have languished in the maximum security prisons of Illinois. During this time all my dreams, hopes, and aspirations have faded away. Everything, in fact, I once valued is gone. Regularly, I try to recall the past when my life had meaning, but those memories are blotted out by stark reality. There is no light at the end of this tunnel only a growing black void. I never wanted to see the day my body and mind succumbed to old age and yet now I have gone the distance with nothing gained but misery, hatred, and immense sorrow. In retrospect, I wish the police would have executed me upon arrest. The judicial system is a farce and my fate was set the moment the Cook County States Attorney's Office saw the opportunity to make me a scapegoat for a massacre they could not solve. My trial attorney had a fleeting chance to unhinge the unfolding disaster, but failing I have since been the living dead. For a quarter of this time readers have been able to follow in my footsteps. However, as I lace up a dead man's boots, I intend to walk on alone.

Early last Sunday I stood at the bars watching Colin's Football Show besides my cellmate who was on the gallery with a broom in his hand. We were making our picks against the spread and wanted the most recent lines. I had won predominately more games and his ability to catch up by the end of the NFL season was almost over. I jested I may just take all his teams except the Broncos to retain my lead. The Broncos were favored by a touchdown and I expected their opponent to play competitively. However, because there is no money involved and only bragging rights, I picked 10 different teams including the Buffalo Bills whose home field game was moved to Minnesota because of a blizzard of lake effect snow burying the city.

There was little joy in my life, but football Sundays occasionally provided some entertainment. Before my arrest, I played the sport for a number of years. I fancy myself that I could have excelled as a professional athlete or at least in college. However, I know that time has passed and other than Adam Vinatieri, a kicker, there is no player I am aware of in the NFL over the age of 40. Many men and women as well try to delude themselves that their age is less relevant in modern times. Advances in medicine and easier lives not to mention cosmetic surgery has certainly made people look younger or increased longevity. What it has not done, however, is increase the natural health, aptitude, beauty, or overall constitution of the species. Contrarily, I believe modern society and technology has caused its decline.

During the day, I heard it was the lieutenant's birthday. A few prisoners I knew were contemplating making him a goofy card as they do for incarcerated men. The idea "Lunchbox" had was a drawing of an obese black female guard in a string bikini giving him a lap dance. The lieutenant was in his mid-50s and will retire in a couple of years when he is able to collect a maximum pension. I have heard him talk before as if he has served a quarter century of prison time. He does not know what it is like, however, to be on the other side of these bars. He chose to work in the IDOC and has been lavishly compensated. His freedom is not restricted and he goes home at the end of his shift. I asked a guard what we were going to get the lieutenant for his birthday and he responded, "A number of thumps equal to his age." Yes, if he got this every day on the job, he may know what my suffering is like, I thought.

At night I watched the movie "Law Abiding Citizen" for the umpteenth time. This vigilante film starring Gerard Butler stirred a lot of emotions in me. A ruthless criminal breaks into Butler's home and rapes and slaughters his family, leaving him as dead. The man is arrested, but because the evidence is not presentable or strong enough to gain a conviction, the prosecutor cuts a deal with him. He will testify falsely that another person committed the crimes and in exchange he is released with time served. The person who was only present to commit a burglary thus is given the death penalty while the actual killer goes free. Butler so angry by the egregious injustice goes after not only the man who butchered his family but everyone involved in the perverse system. The rage he feels is comparable to my own except I am on the other side of the coin. It was my co-defendant who killed Dean Fawcett and when arrested he claimed I did it along with the Palatine Massacre. Unlike the movie, I was not even present nor aware of what he did yet the prosecutor was not concerned with truth or justice. He was only concerned about politics and convictions especially one against a person the public was led to believe killed 7 people at a Brown's Chicken restaurant. The Cook County State's Attorney's Office even sought my execution after Robert Faraci was acquitted, however, the judge gave me an even worse punishment: life in prison without the possibility of parole.

I awakened Monday morning to the bang of my cell door being slammed shut. Anthony was let out to begin his menial labor in the unit and I was alone. It was nice to start my day without his presence and not sharing the space in the 6 x 11 foot cell for the next 6 hours. Time in the penitentiary would be much better if I did not have a cellmate and after another prisoner bumped my breakfast tray off the bars onto the floor spilling its contents I thought time would be much better if I did not have anyone to deal with. Most of my misery stemmed not from isolation but the dregs of society I was imprisoned with. After cleaning the floor I stood at the bars looking out the building. There was snow on the penitentiary grounds and it was not a winter wonderland. Nothing was wonderful about prison.

Towards noon, my cellmate asked me if I wanted an extra tray. It was soy-turkey meatballs and I declined, but asked him to heat up a bottle of water for me in the microwave so I could make my own instant meal in the cell. He told me the new sergeant does not allow cell house help to use the microwave. C House has lost both its 1st and 2nd shift sergeants in the last month. Sergeants set the tone of a unit more so than any other correction's officer because they are in command of regular day to day operations. However, since I rarely leave my cell, I have yet to notice any difference.

Like most of the prisoners at Stateville, I turned on my television to see if Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson would be indicted of any charges in the shooting of Michael Brown. Earlier in the day I had heard there would be an announcement by prosecutor Robert McCulloch while listening to the Rush Limbaugh radio talk show. However, I did not realize he would speak at length to explain the process which began on August 20th nor the grand jury's decision rejecting all 5 potential charges. Nothing he said I knew would change the minds of people who already formed an opinion. Since Brown was killed, the reporting had been heavily slanted and skewed by liberal mass media seeking not only ratings but to push their political agenda. Black activists such as Al Sharpton and the lawyer who represented the family of Treyvon Martin were given plenty of air time, however, there were few opposing views offered to the public. It was difficult simply getting objective facts while black mobs rioted in Ferguson clamoring "No justice. No peace."

Immediately upon McColloch saying there would be no charges brought against Wilson, many black prisoners at Stateville began yelling and rattling their cell bars. They continued to be upset the following day when I went out to the yard and I listened to them rant about pervasive racism in the justice system as well as elsewhere. As the only Caucasian amongst them, I felt compelled to point out I was not given a fair trial and the prosecutor and police were just as dirty if not more. I doubted anyone around me was actually innocent and yet here I was two decades later. Furthermore, the police who arrested me were looking for any excuse to shoot me dead. A dead Palatine Massacre suspect was a solved case. The police did not have to arrest me at gunpoint with overwhelming force while in my car in the middle of heavy traffic. They knew where I was living and could have executed their recently acquired warrant for missing a court date in a peaceful manner. Ironically, I wish they would have killed me because it would have spared me the farce of due process and a lifetime in the penitentiary.

A couple of convicts demurred, but most accepted what I had to say. The conversation then went from racial bias to the special treatment accorded police officers. This was the crux of the issue. Most suspects were not granted an open grand jury. In fact, it is almost unheard of that a prosecutor presents both incriminating and exculpatory evidence. They only present the former and it is not subject to any scrutiny. Even 1st degree murder charges were easily approved with a few state witnesses regardless of their credibility. It was a mere formality across the U.S., but the St. Louis County Grand Jury was in session for a month in what was almost a trial. Pigs would fly before the state's attorney would call my interrogating officer John Robertson to the stand and then say "but here's all the reasons to show he is a lying piece of shit."

Later in the day I received a few birthday cards from family members. They stupidly wished me a happy birthday despite how I was condemned to die in prison. My aunt, however, had a sardonic sense of humor and sent me a card with a picture of a smiling chimpanzee on the cover. It said, "Nephew, figured you didn't want a sentimental birthday card, so you're getting this monkey card instead." When opened, the primate popped forward with its arms out as if reaching out. The message above the monkey was, "But you're so great, even he couldn't hold back giving you a hug." The dumb humor did not amuse me until it made me correlate it with something else. I called my neighbors to their cell bars and with the card in hand so they could see it, I opened it and said, "Hands up. Don't shoot!" For almost a minute I heard them laughing.

A number of readers probably think my joke just shows how racist I am. However, it is only a reflection of themselves and how they jump to conclusions. The joke is aimed at all those chimps out there who joined protest marches denying racism in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury decision. Racism is not the reason why more black people are incarcerated, mistreated by police, or shot dead like Michael Brown. The fact is people of color are more likely to commit crimes and be involved in the criminal justice system. Their greater exposure to law enforcement and courts allows them to see how much excessive force, corruption, and injustice exists in the U.S.  America has become a police state and it does not see black, white, or brown. There is only blue and everyone else.

Thanksgiving morning I awoke in time to watch the major news stories. Holidays generally do not have any serious news reporting and there was not much to draw my interest except on the FOX network's ticker tape. It read that Governor Pat Quinn had granted 163 clemency petitions. No other information was given and thus I guessed they were all for people with minor offenses and had already completed their probation or prison time. Many people who had been swept up into the system simply just wanted their records cleared. For the governor it did not involve any potential controversy or political risk. The governor had already lost the election and will never again campaign for political office. However, there may be some things he wants to tie up with the legislature before January 12th.

Towards 9 a.m., I left the cell to get my Thanksgiving Day meal. It was one of the few days in the year that prisoners were fed well. On the serving line, kitchen workers placed turkey, pork, macaroni and cheese, and a portion of sweet potatoes and stuffing on my Styrofoam tray. At the end of the line I was given yet another tray with salad, cranberry sauce, bread, and a little wedge of cherry pie. It was enough food to feed me for the entire day as I did not plan to leave the confines of my cell again, yet I received an unexpected visitor.

Typically prisoners receive visitors from their families on Thanksgiving, but my visitor was a girl I knew in junior high. I was surprised to see Cynthia on the holiday especially after she told me she had been in the hospital for 3 days earlier in the week. She said before she was stabilized in the emergency room she thought I would have never learned what happened to her. I would have simply never received another letter or visit and would think she was just another person who had come and left over my 20 years of imprisonment. She prepaid $40 with the prison collect call phone service provider so I could reach out to her if I wanted. It seemed like she wanted to keep in contact or possibly develop some type of relationship, but for what reason I did not know. I was condemned to die in prison and with the passage of time she would eventually fade away like everything else in my life. There were some more deeper issues I wanted to discuss with her, however, it would have to be done another day. Visiting on holidays was limited to one hour. She asked if she could come back on my birthday. That was a horrible idea I thought. Do not come on my birthday, I told her. It was only a day of sorrow.

On Thanksgiving and Christmas, prisoners bring their food back to their cells. This saves time and allows men to eat at their leisure. To keep my food warm, I had wrapped the tray in a wool blanket. Even after I returned from my visit in the mid-afternoon, the heat had not escaped. Unlike the food served most of the year which a dog may sniff and turn away from, the lunch on Thanksgiving is rather good. However, it did little to change my overall misery.

I did not watch any of the NFL games on Thursday. However, before I went to sleep, my cellmate informed me I had won all 3 against the spread. Yes, I was just a big winner, I said to him. This makes up for the 22 years of my life which has been taken from me. I have turkey, stuffing, cherry pie, and I even beat the casinos in Las Vegas. I am really cashing it in. Just as Richard Speck bragged, I have never had it so good. Anthony was not in the IDOC when the serial killer's video tape was made public. While at Stateville, Speck was filmed drinking, doing an assortment of drugs, and engaging in homosexual activity. The partying and debauchery the man who brutally killed several nurses was having enraged people outside the prison walls who thought he was doing hard time. Although the tape was made years before, when it was released in 1997, it was yet another impetuous for change in the IDOC. Well, the people of Illinois can rest easy now. Everyone is suffering in prison, including the innocent. Trying to fall asleep, I counted the numerous ways I could kill myself. Some people count sheep, but I think of a hundred ways to die.

As she promised, Cynthia came to the penitentiary to see me again the following day. However, once again there was a one hour time limit and the visiting room was packed. It was so noisy at times it was difficult having a conversation. I was not aware old television news archives were available to the public, but apparently they are. Cindy spoke about watching coverage after my arrest in 1993. She said the media tried and convicted me well before I had my day in court. I missed a lot of it while in the Cook County Jail, but knew how heavily biased and incendiary the television news was. In my jury pool were a number of people who openly admitted they could not be fair and thought I killed the employees at the Brown's Chicken Restaurant in Palatine.

I asked Cynthia why she did not create a petition on nor help me with finding a lawyer or private investigator. She said based upon what one lawyer told her and all the vast negative news reporting, she thought my situation was hopeless. Despite the Palatine Massacre being solved and evidence I had showing my innocence in the Fawcett murder, it was highly unlikely the governor would grant me a pardon. There also was little chance the courts would reverse my conviction, at least any time soon. If this was the way she felt, I wondered why she bothered visiting a dead man. Was it out of pity? I did not want anyone's pity and in the little time we had, I tried to ascertain if there was a purpose to stay in contact with her.

After my visit, I waited in a hallway off of Gate 5 with a crowd of other prisoners. One of the men I recognized despite how greatly he had aged over the years. His hair had thinned to almost nothing, there were dark circles under his eyes, and he was gaunt with wrinkled skin. It seemed like Death was knocking on his door and I asked him if we were all going to die in here. He surprised me by saying his appeal had recently been remanded for a new trial. A recantation from a witness and some other exculpatory evidence had convinced an appellate court to finally overturn his conviction.  He was now waiting to see if the Cook County States Attorney's Office would fight him tooth and nail over the past decade was going to drop the charges, re-prosecute him, or offer him a cop out of time served. He had already served 29 years and tended to believe the D.A. would not want to spend the money for another trial. In my mind I thought about how long it would take me to file my appeal and if it would also be argued over for 10 years. The idea of being released after my 50th birthday left me with a sense of dread.

In the cellhouse, I stopped at my neighbor's cell to speak to Hooch. Hooch had also been in prison since the mid-1980's and knew the man who had recently been ordered a new trial. While talking with my neighbor, I noticed he had a new pair of boots and inquired about the ones he kept in his box but never wore. The other boots, unlike the cheap products occasionally sold or given out by the IDOC, were of high quality and made of suede and not synthetic materials. I never saw a pair like them and offered to buy the shoes. Hooch told me he could never part with the boots because they had belonged to John Piggot, or Doc as most prisoners knew him as. Doc had served nearly 40 years for a string of robberies in the 1970's before he finally died last year. When he knew his time was near, he gave away his most valuable possessions including his black suede boots.

In my cell, I received another birthday card. This one was from my sister who I had not seen or spoke to in nearly 2 years. Unlike the stupidly cheerful ones I received earlier in the week or the goofy one sent by my aunt, this card was gloomy. On the front cover was a wood dock ending abruptly to a still lake at dusk. In the distance was a man alone in a row boat. The dock reminded me of a plank on a pirate's ship which the condemned were forced to walk. The row boat conjured up images of a lonely old man in his twilight years or the scene in the movie "The Godfather" where Michael Corleone has his brother executed while out fishing.

Yesterday the big news in the cell block was Big John returning from work and requesting Protective Custody. While he was packing up his property, my cellmate stopped to speak with him, but he would not say why he was concerned for his safety. Steve also saw him outside when he was morosely pushing his cart of belongings to X House. John would not even look up and ignored him. A secret is difficult to keep, however, at Stateville and by dinner I was told that word had gotten out that he was a former cop. This was false and he was actually a former guard at the Cook County Jail. To some convicts including KY, it did not matter. Cops, guards, or anyone involved in law enforcement was despised and considered the enemy. I hated the emergence of the police state as well as the prison industrial complex. This oppressive and corrupt system of government needed to be dismantled. Despite this, I did not hate all those who worked within it, and in fact I had known John was a former guard for a long time but I got along well with him.

As I was writing this post, my neighbor passed over the suede boots for me to have on my birthday. They fit rather well and I paced the cell several times wearing them. I do not know where Doc got the shoes and they may never have been sold in the IDOC. Hooch did not explain why he changed his mind, but I tend to think he was in essence passing the mantel onto me. Doc had done nearly four decades in prison and I will probably do that and more before I pass away. I was arrested when I was 18 and this was the 22nd birthday I've had since being incarcerated. At the age of 40, I could probably languish in prison for over a half century if I did not commit suicide. In the minute chance I am freed, I think Doc would be happy to know that although he never made it out, his shoes did.

Readers have followed my stories at the maximum security penitentiary, Stateville, for over 5 years. I never intended to write until I keeled over an old, decrepit and defeated man. As my 40th birthday has approached, I have increasingly lost interest in sharing my life, or more accurately my death, with the public. After Governor Pat Quinn leaves office, I may cease writing for this blog. Regardless if he grants my request for executive clemency or not, there is no happy ending to this story. Either way, I will be walking in a dead man's boots.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Hope Monster -- November 22, 2014

Sunday morning I woke up later than usual. My cellmate had already finished what he needed to do and was sitting on the table dressed in his jumpsuit waiting to be let out for work. During the night I had slept restlessly waking periodically with thoughts of dread. My mind churned over the possibility the governor had rejected the clemency petition I submitted 5 years ago. The petition was not the first one I had filed and there were four before it going all the way back to the Edgar administration. None of them ever notified me of their decisions and instead sent out brief letters to my family who misled me to believe they were still pending. My family wanted me to cling onto this glimmer of hope thinking it pulled me through these most difficult times. What they failed to realize, however, is that they are never ending and there was nothing worse than false hope. At least when there is no hope, there is finality even if that meant for me death in prison.

Typically I begin my day early and am exercising soon after my cellmate is gone. However, I continued to mull over the thoughts I had during my sleep. If the governor rejected my petition, it was basically the end of my life. Bruce Rauner was not going to grant me clemency and any appeal through the courts of Cook County would take numerous years. I may be 50 before there was any final adjudication. There was not much potential after 40 yet alone at 50. My thoughts drifted to a movie I watched the previous night. In the "Bucket List" actors Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are dying of cancer and are given less than a half year to live. Instead of lying in a hospital bed waiting for death, they decided to do everything they could to complete their lives. I wish I could do the same, however, I am trapped in this cell and there was nothing of meaning to do. I searched for one thing I could put on my bucket list, but came up empty.

Eventually I got on the hamster wheel, although without a clue as to why. I wonder even if the rodents know why they run in place never going anywhere when I was done working out. I went to bathe out of the water dish in my cage but was told by a guard I was being let out for flu and tuberculosis shots. Sweaty and with my hair slicked back I walked into the makeshift medical office on the lower floor. There were two nurses there I know fairly well. The one giving the flu inoculations asked me a series of questions and then gave me a form to sign. While going through these formalities, I inquired if she happened to have any pentobarbital. "But why?" she asked. "You have not done anything yet to deserve it." I told her it would be an act of mercy. I had not noticed but the child molester who lives in a cell next to mine had stepped into the room. In his whining, retarded speech he said, "I don't want a shot." The other nurse tried to explain to him he did not have to be given a flu vaccination but the TB test was mandatory. Again, John repeated himself as if he had heard nothing she said. Certainly there was something special the pedophile could be given I told the nurse giving the flu shots before I left and glared at John.

The melancholy I felt continued throughout the afternoon and evening. Even broadcast football failed to entertain me despite a couple of my favorite teams playing in marquee games. Green Bay Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 341 yards and 3 touchdowns. Linebacker Clay Mathews was also impressive causing havoc in the Philadelphia Eagles' offense. The Packers won 53 to 20, but I just yawned and thought about taking a nap as my cellmate was. The New England Patriots played in the night game and I only watched the first half before going to sleep.

I awoke in a better mood than the previous morning, but then I heard the cackle of an unpleasant female lieutenant. The hag occasionally substitutes for the regular lieutenant on his days off. Soon after operations began, her shrill laughter and loud conversation with staff became shouts at inmates. She scolded and threatened men for the most paltry reasons. Big Rick was even yelled at when he reached into his commissary bag to give me a couple pads of paper. Last week I had given him a summer sausage and he was repaying me. They call Rick "big" for a reason. He is about 6'4" and over 300 pounds. Rick could easily go "Donkey Kong" on the woman, but he just ignored her and said he will send the paper to my cell later. C House has a high proportion of older men who are less aggressive and apt to violently explode. I tend to believe she is assigned the unit because of this. Normally, she works with model or protective custody inmates in X House.

When the lieutenant was on a lunch break, a Hispanic prisoner stopped at my cell. He saw advertisements from the newspapers my cellmate and I were throwing away. Vargas wanted them to share with his wife. I said to him, "I thought you killed your wife." He claimed this was not true and then I remembered it was another woman he was dating after his divorce. Oddly, the prisoner pleaded not guilty and was half way through trial when he broke down admitting in open court that he killed her. I did not like the weasel, but told him he could have the trash.

For dinner, I joined prisoners going to the chow hall. Cubed pepperoni was donated to the penitentiary and it was being served in lieu of turkey-soy. Outside the cell house, inmates fought the bitter wind and cold. I have lived a brutal and harsh life and was not bothered by some frigid gusts of wind. I noticed the sergeant outside by himself supervising movement. He was formerly the cell house sergeant on the 2nd shift, but purportedly was reassigned because of sexually inappropriate behavior towards nurses. I am not certain of the rumor, however, I like to make subtle joking comments about it. Monday night I said, "Kind of lonely out here." To return the favor he patted me down for contraband on the way out of the chow hall. I was the only prisoner who was searched, although I was the only prisoner slowly walking while others were nearly running as if they were in a heavy storm.

Later one of the prettier nurses stopped by my cell to give me my medications. I was studying a corporate report of a large energy company that is selling cheaply due to the dive in oil prices. The nurse asked how I was and I did not know if she says this to everyone as a meaningless greeting or if she really gave a damn. In any event, I was busy and just replied "fine," as I stuck out my hand for the pills. Some sexually starved prisoners will seek out the most banal conversation from female staff, but I did not see the point. Not long thereafter, though, a man was strangely being escorted by a female guard and I had to ask her if male nurses required her protection. Amused, she said, "Some in fact do." My cellmate later commented the guard was a butter face which was a play on words meaning but for her face she was attractive. Sarcastically and in a foreign accent I told him to express himself and not let these inner thoughts stay trapped inside. How will she ever know your true feelings if you do not tell her?

The following morning my cellmate was watching the news with me. There was a segment about Charles Manson getting married in a California prison. Afton Burton was 26 years old while the crazy convict connected to the infamous slayings of 3 women including actress Sharon Tate was the ripe old age of 88. Anthony commented, "See, there is still hope for you." No, there was not, I thought to myself. What 20 year old woman would be interested in me? I was less than half Charles Manson's age, but unlike him I was not permitted conjugal visits in the IDOC. Even if I was released sometime in the near future, I doubted I had any chance of marrying the young princess idealized in my mind. All my hopes and dreams have been crushed over the time I have languished in prison.

Tuesdays were rec days for those in Charlie House, however, few men went out. A mass of cold Arctic air had moved into the upper Midwest bringing with it negative wind chills. Only 5 prisoners on the gallery left their cells to attend yard and those that did were told by a nurse she was not coming out to get them if they fell out. The lieutenant also chimed in prisoners can freeze to death. I did not go, but it was not due to the cold. My lower back was painful and the NSAID I take had yet to begin working. I moved about the cell like a crippled old man and periodically my cellmate stopped at the bars to make fun of me. It was not until close to 9 a.m. that I was able to do my workout routine.

While exercising, I heard prisoners shout, "Major in the cell house!" This was a warning to others who may be committing one of the myriad of infractions in the IDOC. She was only in the building, however, to take temperature readings. Drafts of cold air regularly blow in on blustery winter or near winter days. The central heating system was turned on last week, but it still was not adequate and often guards turned on the blowers. The hot air blower across from my cell is nice not only to keep the cell warm but to muffle the noise in the cell house.

The nurse who I ignored the previous night certainly got my attention Tuesday. I was watching television when I heard her say my name. I was simply going to get the pills and then go back to the program, however, when I turned around I was startled to see her in a zany green hat with her hair curled. I almost thought she was Alice in Wonderland. I exclaimed, "Nice hat! Where did you get that?" She said perplexed, "At a store." "The Dr. Seuss store," I said and my cellmate began laughing. She had left but I went on talking about her tall, fluffy green hat. I said to Anthony, "How did she get into Stateville with that? That was a threat to the security of the institution. Just think of all the contraband she could have hidden underneath it." My ridicule and jokes were not meant to hurt her feelings. I just happen to say what I am thinking and was caught by surprise. Normally, her long hair is tied in a bun and she is dressed in nothing but gray attire. After my cellmate ceased cracking up he told me whatever shot I had at a date were over. What did it matter? I was condemned to prison indefinitely.

The next day I tried calling Cynthia. She knew me from junior high school and liked me despite my frankness or disparaging humor. The collect call provider had apparently put her number into the system, but she was not answering. She may have thought the call was from a telemarketer. For some reason when prisoners call out, they are identified with a phone number associated with salesmen. I was nothing but a salesman, I thought. If I worked at a car dealership I would have to point out to customers all the flaws and possibly make fun of them while doing so.

 This is how I looked back when I met Cynthia. Only one of my cousins pictured here has seen me within the last 15 years. They're all married now and live in other states.

The prison administration refuses to spend the money to buy a DVD player which can be programmed or for that matter accept one that has been donated. Thus, movies must be played manually by the LTS supervisor. He is only here for part of the day resulting in only 2 playings, the second being at 4 p.m. when he leaves for the day. I have not watched a DVD in some time because of the early times. These hours I am busy doing various other things and typically do not watch television for any length of time until the evening when I am too tired to do much else. However, I made an exception Wednesday to see "Edge of Tomorrow." The actor Tom Cruise, a Scientologist, once again stars in a film where aliens attack the earth. He is killed time and time again only to start from the beginning. Apparently, drippings of alien blood mixed with his own caused him to have the power of reliving events and time travel. The plot is ridiculous but it is both sad and heroic watching him die thousands of times and yet still not able to save the planet. I said to my cellmate who was also watching the movie, "I wonder how many times I would have to die in order to change my plight. If it was before my arrest I think I could change my future in one trip, but if after my conviction, the system is so rigged against a prisoner the futility was probably as great as Tom Cruise experienced."

After the film ended, Anthony told me about "Mold Head". Mold Head was an old black prisoner with some type of green growth on the side of his cranium. He was released on parole last month, but was back in a cell on the lower floor. The man did nothing to violate his parole, but because he can barely walk and has so many health issues, he had no where to stay. Over the years, he lost any relationships with family members. He also could not stay at a half-way house because of all the special needs and nursing care he requires. My cellmate overheard him talking to a counselor about his dilemma. The counselor did not seem too eager to assist. I told Anthony that before the turn of the century, prisoners were required to go through a program which prepared them to live on the outside. I then added, "Although in the 1990s there were not nearly as many geriatric old men in the penitentiary."

Thursday morning Anthony got ready for work and then sat on the table by the bars waiting to be let out. He waited for an hour and then took off his jumpsuit. After reading a couple of newspapers, he climbed onto his bunk. No announcements were forthcoming from the cell house loudspeaker. Finally a guard walked by escorting a nurse and said we were on a level 1 lockdown. I wondered what could have occurred overnight to place the penitentiary on a strict, no movement lockdown. Breakfast trays had been passed out at 3 a.m. by inmate workers as usual. The only thing I could think of is the early school and library lines which are run around 6. However, then I noticed a group of prisoners walking outside and was truly puzzled when they were from the adjacent quarter unit and were going to yard.

With my plastic prison mirror, I tapped on the cell of my neighbor and asked Hooch what was going on. He said Jack Bruce had died in the night and C House was the only unit on lockdown. I asked, "Who is Bruce?" Bruce was an old Caucasian man with white hair who lived on the lower gallery. The prisoner did not come out of his cell much recently, but I remembered who he was. Occasionally, I saw him when going to chow. He used a crutch to walk and tired easily. He also made little trinkets which he traded to other convicts for commissary. Hooch speculated he died of health related problems and seemed a tad depressed, although he rarely acquainted with him.

Bruce's cellmate was sent to Segregation. It is a common prison procedure until an investigation is conducted even if the cause of death was readily apparent. When my cellmate, O.G. Bobby, died of a heart attack a couple of years ago I was also sent to the Roundhouse. I overheard the lieutenant say there was no room in Seg for Mark and they had him in a holding cage in the hallway leading to the building. He went on to tell another guard he would not be surprised if they threw a mattress in there for him to sleep on overnight. The guard asked about his belongings and if anything could be sent to him. The lieutenant informed him that Internal Affairs had placed a padlock on the cell and nothing could be taken out until after the investigation was completed.

In the evening I considered asking the nurse if she knew what the prisoner died from with or without her Green Dr. Seuss hat. However, I got caught up in the audacious actions of the president. On national television, he said he was going to use his executive power to nullify the laws set by Congress and permit millions of illegal aliens to stay in the U.S. In 2012, Barack Obama usurped the legislature by enacting DACA which gave residence status of all children (or those purporting to be under age 18) brought to the country by parents and now these parents along with others were allowed to stay. Most of his speech was dedicated to justifying his unconstitutional breach of power. He claimed he was bringing Hispanics "out of the shadows" and those that were criminals would be deported along with new illegal arrivals. However, the illegal immigrants were never in the shadows and were criminals simply by being in the U.S. without authorization. Furthermore, more waves of people would not be dissuaded from coming only encouraged. A political pundit said that a new president could simply reverse the policy, but the problem was any children born in the U.S. were automatically given citizenship. In fact, like Obama whose birth in Hawaii is dubious (and even if not should never have been created into a state) could become president. U.S. immigration laws were absurd and the president was making them even worse. As Mark Levine would say on his radio talk show later that night, Obama was a radical socialist attempting to transform America into a vile cosmopolitan state.

Friday morning the cell house was taken off lockdown and my cellmate was let out to work. During the course of his detail he happened to speak to several prisoners about Bruce. A cell house worker who is on the midnight shift said he was passing out breakfast trays when he and all the others were told to go into the holding cage. From there, he saw guards grouped outside the cell. A med tech went in and checked for a pulse. Later paramedics from an outside hospital arrived and tried to revive Bruce despite being dead for a great amount of time. Then they took his body out on a stretcher. Anthony said the cell had red tape across it like it was a crime scene and inside everything was a wreck. However, he then added the two men were slobs and much of the disarray may have been coincidental.

The dead prisoner's cellmate was let out of Segregation and various people spoke to him. He said Bruce had a heart attack, but some questioned if it was induced. The night of the incident, Mark had said his cellmate committed suicide. Prisoners also noticed Bruce mailed out various sentimental property recently. He never sent out letters let alone a package. Furthermore, guards discovered all his sheets of medication were emptied. Most likely, I reckon Bruce had enough misery of living in prison. He already languished in maximum security penitentiaries nearly three decades and there was no hope of him ever being released. Even if he had an out date which was obtainable, death was preferable.

Today I spent most of my time writing this post, however in the evening I left the confines of my cell to go to the chow hall. There I was greeted by my former cellmate, The Snowman. Over the years I have watched him rot away in the penitentiary. Since coming to the IDOC he has stressed greatly about having a sentence of life without parole. A few years ago, his spirits were lifted when the University of Chicago took on his case. Unfortunately, they were only lifted to be crushed. The courts denied his successive post conviction appeal and he now has no judicial remedies. He calls the optimism of prisoners "The Hope Monster" and I have seen many men succumb to it. Even I fleetingly entertain thoughts of the governor granting my clemency petition and I know my subconscious does as well in my dreams. However, no hope is sometimes better than having false hope.