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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Last Samurai -- August 30, 2014

For centuries Japan had evolved into a powerful feudal system. During the era of the shogunate, the emperors were merely figure heads with warlords exercising authority over their fiefdoms. The power of the warlords derived from a warrior class known as the Samurai. The Samurai conducted themselves under a strict code which emphasized the values of loyalty, bravery, and honor. From early childhood, boys were trained in combat and their ethics were comparable to the ancient Spartans. They were not only the defenders of their lords but of a way of life. In the 19th century, however, a movement largely created through interaction with the U.S., caused a shift towards modernization. Feudalism was replaced with a centralized state under Emperor Meiji Tenna. Along with military technology developed in the West, Japan became a world power defeating China and Russia in two successive wars. Unfortunately, it then had the audacity to challenge the U.S. which led to its destruction; the Empire of the Sun had risen only to be quickly blotted out.

On Sunday the highlight of my day was watching the Little League World Series Championship game. Jackie Robinson West had amazingly been given the national title after barely winning their last 3 games. It was doubtful that they were considered the best kids baseball team in the U.S. considering that they squeaked by their competition and then tied with Las Vegas. Both teams had the same record in the regional playoffs double elimination round losing one game to one another. There seemed to be a need for a third game where either Jackie Robinson West or Las Vegas would have the opportunity to break the tie. However, this was never questioned by liberal media which adored the all black inner city team from Chicago. They never cared who was most deserving to succeed, but only in promoting equality.

Japan was ultimately brought to its knees in World War II when two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, the country was to rise from the ashes largely emulating past U.S. values and culture. Oddly enough, although baseball has ceased to be America's favorite sport, it remains to be in Japan and South Korea. Furthermore, unlike the U.S. which has moved away from a competitive meritocracy, the Japanese and Koreans still strive for excellence. Despite having only a third the population of America, I knew any baseball team they fielded in the Little League World Series most likely would win based on merit. When I turned on my television to watch the championship game I looked forward to seeing the South Koreans crushing Jackie Robinson West.

I surmise a quarter of prisoners in my cell house watched the game. Black inmates enthusiastically cheered for the inner city team throughout the series and they hoped Jackie Robinson West would be crowned world champions. I relished cheering for the Koreans as their pitcher struck out player after player and they tallied points when at bat. I thought the game was going to end by slaughter rule, but Korea played conservatively. I was reminded of the Samurais strict code of Bushido. Grandstanding was not acceptable and they played with strong self discipline and respect. The final score was 8 to 4, although this did not reflect how the South Korean team dominated.

After eating a "breakfast of champions" the following day, I began my cell workout. I was not a fan of karate which I did not think was as lethal as other martial arts. The Japanese sport relied too heavily on strikes regardless of how disabling or destructive they were to an opponent. Instead I had my own mix of martial arts which has served me well in prison. I practiced some of these movements in combination with my cardio vascular exercises. It was a hot humid day and by the time I finished my clothes were drenched in sweat. The sink in my cell had broken again requiring I wash with cold water. Getting a lather in cold water was difficult, but otherwise I did not mind.

The sergeant announced "chicken bones with noodles" for lunch over the cell house loudspeaker. I think he and other staff take joy in mocking the food prisoners are served. I did not intend to go to the chow hall, however, and would eat a package of sardines with a Ramen noodle later in the day. South Koreans and prisoners in the U.S. apparently share the commonality of eating the instant noodles regularly. According to a newspaper I read, it is the most popular food in that country and they were upset that a college in America conducted a study which concluded it was very unhealthy. I have noticed it does have a high fat content, but assume the worst aspect is the level of sodium. In every seasoning packet is 4,800 mg. of sodium which is two times more than the FDA recommends in an entire day. This does not matter much to me, as I rarely use the salt.

Towards 11 a.m., I was allowed out of my cell and I walked down several flights of steps to the front door of the quarter unit. Steve was at his cell bars and asked me where I was going. Before I could answer, he said, "Crazy doctor?" Indeed, the high functioning autistic prisoner had a pass to see the psychologist. This time the doctor seemed more engaging and tried to be constructive. I was asked about my case and mentioned how I was convicted largely because the jury was misled to believe that I knew the victim was going to be killed. Members of the jury later remarked how awful they thought it was that I did not attempt to intervene or just warn him, allowing him to go to his death. I was impressed the psychologist remembered they also held me accountable for purportedly lending my car to my roommate. Occasionally, I do not know how much mental health care staff care or pay attention to their clients in prison as long as they are not hearing voices, about to kill themselves, or kill someone else.

Before my arrest I had fewer problems dealing with the idiosyncrasies of autism. In prison, I cannot escape my environment and the persistent aggravations accumulate and prove to be greatly disturbing. The psychologist told me that the IDOC was considering opening up a ward in what once was the juvenile penitentiary in Joliet. The details have yet to be worked out but if appropriate she would recommend that I be transferred there. Because of my natural life sentence, I can never be eligible for a medium security prison where conditions would be better. However, it was clear to her that I should not be at Stateville.

In a Barron's newspaper which I read recently, there was an editorial condemning Germany for not returning all the artwork, property, and other valuables or assets taken during WWII. The editorial greatly annoyed me because never before in the history of warfare have countries been held liable for the seizure or expropriation of property. War is raping, looting, and killing. Furthermore, no other country has been held accountable for their conduct including the Soviet Union which by far committed the most horrendous and wide scale malevolence. On the yard while waiting for my turn to bench press, I spoke to Steve about the matter. He eventually receives my newspapers with the angry comments I made in the margins. Steve readily concurred with the hypocrisy and for a few minutes we also discussed the atrocities the U.S.S.R. committed in eastern Europe yet are commonly ignored by the media and writers of history.

The serious nature of our conversation was interrupted by prisoners around the bench. Another inmate, Horse, had gotten everyones attention talking about the show "Dating Naked" on VH1. According to him, there was an episode where a woman's genitalia and anus were shown without being blurred. She was suing the program for the indiscretion and claiming her current boyfriend dumped her after seeing the show. Apparently, he did not have a problem with her being on a naked dating TV program, but he did have a problem with picturing her orifices. The Elephant, yet another inmate, stupidly asked me if there was a correlation between how big a woman's mouth was and the size of her "box". I would not entertain the silly question and told him to ask my cellmate "Quagmire".

The talk of prisoners abruptly ended when a torrential rain began to pour down. There is no cover on any of the yards and men did not know how to escape it. The Elephant took the top off of an ice bucket and put it over his head. Others seeing him with the improvised umbrella tried to get under the lid or his enormous 350 pound body. However, not everyone could get under The Elephant and they complained bitterly about being soaked. Amusingly, on the parallel yard a prisoner dumped ice water over another man's head. Inmates on the yard threatened to give Dr. Smith the ALS challenge as well but simply joked that he could not avoid a shower today. Smith was an old disheveled and filthy black man who was often the butt of jokes or ridicule. Personally, I did not care if it was pouring rain and lightning zigzagged across the sky. I continued to work out and was pleased I no longer had to share the two barbells. Unlike many people, I have a tremendous amount of self-discipline, fortitude and after 21 years, enhanced perseverance. A thunderstorm only had the effect of invigorating me.

Typically guards will take prisoners off the yards at the first sign of lightning. However, later I learned they were distracted by a fight in the chow hall. From what I was told, two men housed in the Roundhouse began to exchange blows and would not disengage. Guards had to subdue, handcuff, and take them to segregation. Since segregation is in the lower two galleries of the Roundhouse, they were simply sent back to the same unit but separated by placing them in different cells without their property. Eventually, they will be given their books, clothes, and hygienic items. After a month they will be moved yet again to the upper floors. Fighting is only disciplined by one month in Seg, although they could be cited with assault if anyone was seriously injured; assault carries more Seg time.

While my cellmate's wet clothes and my own dried in the cell, I took a nap and then watched news on CNN. The television station had on Bernard Sanders, a socialist congressman from Vermont. He was ridiculing U.S. companies like Burger King for moving their headquarters out of the country to avoid paying taxes. The practice of buying a foreign business and relocating is known as an "Inversion". I did agree inversion laws should be narrowed, however, a company's first loyalty is to its shareholders and they cannot maximize profits while paying the highest tax rate in the world. As former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan proposed, tax rates need to go down while closing loopholes. Strength through fair competition was not understood though by socialists like Sanders or Barack Obama. They appear to despise capitalism and most everything the U.S. once represented.

While not winning the Little League World Series, Jackie Robinson West was still given an enormous salutary celebration in Chicago. All local television stations broadcast the event and even CNN gave it some live coverage. Many of the prisoners at Stateville tuned in Wednesday to listen to the undeserved praise and tribute. Although I had my headphones on, occasionally I would hear them yelling to each other from their cells about the superiority of the black athlete. One convict claimed the only reason why the Asians beat them was because they cheated. He accused the South Korean Little League players of being older. This was preposterous and also ironic. All the players in the Little League tournament were between the ages of 11 and 13 and if there was any favoritism it was towards Jackie Robinson West. The Urban Initiative and other affirmative action programs or charities gave millions of dollars to advance baseball for inner city children. Also, the support given the team went well beyond financial aid and reminded me of how pervasive liberal ideology was in America.

Marxism sought a utopia where all people were equal despite how this was inherently false. Thus, the weakest groups of people had to be uplifted while the strongest were pushed down. They wanted to invert the natural order and along with it the values and culture which came with it. This was a great contrast to free and traditional societies where the strong prevailed and their ethics were emulated. During the era of the shogunate, it was the Samurai who reigned and their values were passed down within Japanese culture. The founders of the American Republic also sought a hierarchical order but without the rigid caste system. They created a two house government and a Constitution which espoused a system where individuals succeeded and failed on their own merit. The ideals of meritocracy are now embraced by conservatives and fought by liberals.

I left my cell to go to the chow hall. Had I known I would be waiting almost an hour for some plain turkey-soy tacos, I would have stayed inside. The reason for the delay was a prisoner in the line in front of me was knocked unconscious. I watched as guards gathered around him laying on the concrete bleeding. What I did not see was him being blindsided. Apparently it happened so quickly that guards did not know what occurred either. Later, in the chow hall, they collected all the IDs from inmates who were in line with the man who needed to be helped to the Health Care Unit. I believe they later used video footage to learn who struck him. Cameras are almost everywhere at this prison and although they may not be all monitored 24-7, they are always recording. In the serving line an inmate whispered to me that the man who was struck was a snitch. The code of convicts has deteriorated over the years I have been in prison, however, snitches risk being the target of violence.

Later, mail was passed out and I received an old email from a private investigator I had been attempting to reach on the phone for a couple of months. Apparently, one of the blog processors misplaced it or had forgotten to forward it to me. John, the investigator, said that he would be willing to help investigate leads which will further corroborate my innocence except he was very uncomfortable seeking evidence which will demonstrate that my trial attorney was ineffective. The P.I. worked with William Von Hoene at Jenner and Block many years ago and he continued to feel a loyalty towards him. This is a problem I am beginning to realize. No one wants to cross the lawyer whose failure to contest the lies of the interrogating officer caused me to receive a national life sentence. However, I respected his sense of loyalty and will appreciate it if he is willing to work on other matters.

The following day I visited with my mother. She informed me that she spoke with the Illinois Innocence Project's case coordinator. The coordinator said they never received my Petition for Executive Clemency and suspected Stateville staff of tampering with my mail. The mail room staff is very slow and can occasionally mix up mail, but they did not open up my package, drive to Springfield and remail my petition using the unique return address sticker of the IIP. The only conclusion was that faculty or a student had mistakenly sent the petition back to me without making a copy for themselves. The confusion upset me. I will remail the thick brief. I think it is important the IIP sees my request to the governor for a pardon or commutation of sentence because it is very comprehensive and contains all the exhibits that show my innocence.

Before my visit with my mother I was listening to the John Kass and Laura Cohn radio talk show. It was amusing hearing them make fun of Governor Quinn's reception at the Jackie Robinson West celebration. When he was introduced there was dead silence and even when someone said, "Please give it up to our governor!" you could hear a cricket chirping. The humor of the show was disrupted when news reported thousands of Russians with tanks were crossing into the Ukraine. This was reprehensible and can be fully blamed on the weakness of the Obama administration. Incredibly, he later addressed the nation beginning with an upward revision of the country's 2nd quarter GDP before talking about the crisis in Iraq and Ukraine. The country of Iraq was falling into chaos due to the withdrawal of U.S. troops. He responded that he had not yet developed a strategy. As for the invasion of Ukraine, perhaps he will increase economic sanctions against Russia. The incompetence and aloofness of the U.S. Commander and Chief was amazing.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq was not because people had been decapitated or any humanitarian mission. It also was not necessary to react to ISIS because ISIS was not a significant threat to the U.S. The purpose is to control a strategic position in the Middle East and oil. America cannot be a dominant power using solar panels and wind mills. The European Union needs to be beefed up and expanded to counter the power of Russia. This is the most significant purpose of NATO, very similar to the military presence the U.S. had in Japan and S. Korea. When Japan surrendered, it left a power vacuum. The Empire of the Sun was a counterweight to China and even Russia hegemony.

Having not secured a new lawyer to represent me on appeal, I asked someone to contact a few on my behalf. Yesterday, I was informed this was done but their responses were not very promising. One said he would look into the matter which I took as a polite way of saying he was not interested. Another wanted a minimum of $50,000 up front which I also took as a rebuff as it was well beyond my means. The last attorney had the most haunting words and they continued to reverberate in my thoughts into the night. He suggested that I quit chasing ghosts. Often I think of myself as a dead spirit from a bygone era.

Before I went to sleep I watched the film "The Last Samurai" which is what gave me the inspiration to write this post. The movie takes place in the late 1800's when Japan's power was influenced by a young Meiji Tenna causing him to dismantle the feudal system. U.S. military equipment as well as some personnel were sent to help the emperor consolidate power. In one of the ensuing battles an officer played by actor Tom Cruise is captured by the Samurai. Because of the courage and skill he displayed, they allow Cruise to live. In the Japanese village, he begins to admire the warrior class and that of their traditions and values. He knew modern society was going to vanquish it and would battle alongside them, as a Samurai. They fought gallantly, but were vanquished in the end. The Japanese troops were armed with the same weapons which had created fields of blood in America's Civil War. The Samurai knew they would be defeated. However, as I learned over the decades, it was better to die with honor than live an empty and sorrowful existence.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Visitor from the Past -- August 23, 2014

A couple of months ago I was surprised to receive a letter from a girl I had not seen in nearly 25 years. "Cynthia" had gone to junior high school with me and I was elated she contacted me after all these years. For all practical purposes, my life abruptly ended at 18 and the years before my arrest consequently have an enormous significance. Her letter brought me back to a time that was not filled with ceaseless misery and emptiness. Quickly I wrote her a reply and we have exchanged a few more letters since. In our correspondence she expressed how she would like to see me once again. Although I had some reservations, I filled out the necessary paperwork to have her approved as a visitor. Yesterday, she came to the penitentiary and despite the terrible circumstances, I was very happy to see her. The nostalgia I have for the distant past cannot be broken.

Cynthia's first letter was written with large round print and a few smiley faces. It reminded me of the notes girls in middle school wrote minus the looping cursive. Oddly, Cindy was not certain if I would remember her, and did not enclose any photos because she thought they may not be allowed. She did not have to send me a picture, however, for me to recall who she was or what she looked like. Simply recognizing her name on the envelope I imagined the friendly girl with long dark hair and slim figure. We did not date or even attend any of the same classes together, but the junior high school we went to was rather small. It had students from 6th to 8th grade who were basically from 3 grade schools in the west suburban town. There were fewer than 300 students and I remember most of them particularly those who were in my grade.

Over the decades that I have been incarcerated, family and friends faded away. At the Cook County Jail, my Sundays were filled with visitors and I spent much of the day talking with people through a mesh screen in Plexiglas. Immediate family drove into the inner city to see me every week. My extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins also visited regularly. Often Brian and other friends including a few girls I had dated in the past showed up. Remarkably, my first visitor was a girl I had not seen in a couple of years. However, after being convicted and sent to the penitentiary, people became disconnected and reality set in. My life was within these walls and theirs was outside them. A girl who continued to visit me clung on to hope until I told her a life sentence meant forever. The former statute which permitted parole after 12 years had changed in 1979. Life literally meant life. I never saw her again.

Since Sue created this blog forum in 2009, a few former classmates of mine have contacted me. The emails are far and few between and usually brief. Some have signed my petition for executive clemency which is still pending before Governor Quinn. However, rarely does anyone write and they are all aware of my arrest and conviction. The news media coverage was immense and I did not think there could be a classmate who missed it. Amazingly, though, Cindy was not aware until earlier this year. After high school, she moved out of state and only recently returned to the Chicago metro area. She reacquainted with classmates who mentioned what happened to me. From her letters she seemed to be shocked by the news and that is what compelled her to write.

I assume most of the students I went to school with believed I was guilty. The news media was incredibly negative and full of slanderous reporting. It may not have been until the Palatine Brown's Chicken murders were solved that they began to question my conviction. Cynthia did not ask but I knew I had to address the pink elephant in the room. In my letter to her I said that during my high school years I increasingly began to associate with men involved in criminal activity. I did so for various reasons but mostly to escape living at home. After my 18th birthday I moved in with Bob Faraci who only a couple of weeks later allegedly killed someone in the northern suburb of Barrington. She would probably have more questions but I left them for another time.

In junior high, as throughout most of my school years, I was on the honor roll. I was also an exceptional athlete and played on numerous sports teams both in private leagues and at school. The students I associated with during that period of time that Cindy knew me were also very clean cut and heavily engaged in sports. The exception may have been Tom and his older friends with that were in higher grades than us. Tom had failed a grade or maybe two. He was probably considered a trouble maker, but he was fun to be around. He was also probably the only other student who could be my equal on the football and wrestling teams. We were also a good duo in other activities in junior high social life. Like Cindy, however, he moved away and I never saw him again after 8th grade.

This week it was entertaining for me to watch the Little League World Series. The televised games reminded me of when I played in junior high. Sunday was my favorite game because it was between Law Vegas, Nevada and Chicago's Jackie Robinson West. Numerous prisoners at Stateville were cheering for the all black team and thus I intentionally sought to antagonize them by rooting against them. Furthermore, I felt a little connection with the kids from Vegas. There was Austin Kryszczuk who teammates nicknamed "AK-47" apparently after his initials, size, and physical prowess. Also playing on the team was Brennan Holligan and he also reminded me of myself because of his pitching. Throughout nearly all my 7 years playing baseball, I played the position of pitcher. Coaches wanted me on the mound because by 8th grade I was able to regularly throw over 80 mph fast balls. On the small Little League diamond, 77 was the equivalent to a 100 mph pitch in professional baseball. It was very difficult for any middle schooler to hit and Holligan with almost similar speed kept Jackie Robinson West to only a few hits. Boasting, I said to my cellmate, "If I were there, it would have been a shut out." Anthony retorted that there also would be a few batters hit with wild pitches. I cannot deny that my fast ball was not as accurate and sometimes came with collateral damage.

More amusing than the comments between my cellmate and I was my exaggerated cheers for the benefit of convicts in the building. Early in the game, Las Vegas had the bases loaded and I was just waiting to burst with applause. When Brad Stone hit it out of the park for a grand slam, I shouted, "It's going, it's going, it's gone!" and then clapped loudly. The cell house went quiet except for a few disgruntled mutterings. Vegas went on to win by slaughter rule in the 4th inning, 12 to 2, and I was very pleased. The news media has been heaping praise on the all black Jackie Robinson West team. I knew it was simply due to their race. Later a black girl would become the darling of liberals and even be placed on the cover of ESPN magazine.

Later at dinner, a biker asked me if it was I who was making "the natives" unhappy. I could not deny my fun, but quickly changed the subject. Bone looked very sickly and moved almost like the living-dead. He said he felt like he had one foot in the grave and this was ironic because the following day he was to break his foot. Early Monday morning I heard him telling the sergeant that he fell out of bed and needed to go to the Health Care Unit. The sergeant seemed unmoved and Bone then added that there was blood all over his mattress, sheets, and the floor. Despite trying to bandage the wound, he continued to bleed. A few hours later when I went to commissary, I noticed a trail of blood on the concrete and knew it had to have come from the biker.

I do not think my cellmate was a jock during his school years, however, on Tuesday he went to the gym to play full contact basketball. The black inmates he plays with have begun to call him "Hatchet," apparently due to his physical defensive play and flagrant fouls. It was a humid day and inside the unventilated gym the building was like a hot house. Anthony returned almost soaked in sweat and hung up his soiled under and outer clothes to dry. Unfortunately while he was gone I washed my blues after working out and the cell had wet clothes draped everywhere. Although we used our fans, a heat index near 100 prevented them from drying until after midnight.

The hot weather continued into the week and when my mother visited on Wednesday, it was very uncomfortable. A fan was placed near an open door in the back of the room but this did not help. The visiting room was filled with a crowd of people, many of whom were fat. In addition to the heat, it was very loud and my mother could only hear me if I spoke loudly or leaned forward. At Stateville prisoners must visit with friends and family at specially designed tables. The tables are lower than the stools and the stools are intentionally set far apart to prevent the passing of contraband or touching. A prisoner sits on one side of the table and up to 3 people can sit on the other side.

In contrast to the visiting room, the strip search room was cooled with air conditioning. Visits in summers past were also but purportedly the A/C unit was broken. I did not believe this was true and most likely administrators were trying to save money or intentionally make visits unpleasant to discourage them. Typically, prisoners were in a hurry to be done with a strip search but on this occasion me and the other men undressed and dressed slowly while conversing with guards. Everyone was making fun of the guard who passed out legal mail. She had a lot of attitude and could greatly annoy men. I was not aware but she also is on the "crisis team" which is staff meant to help prisoners deal with trauma or some other psychologically upsetting event. Men in the strip search room joked that she could be the source of distress and when an inmate asks to see the crisis team, she would only leave and come back to give him more grief.

In the evening I watched the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It was an amusing 80's film about high schoolers. My cellmate tried to make character connections with me. Initially he said I was ticket scalper who tried to be cool and left the girl hanging when she needed a drive to the hospital for an abortion. He knew this was not true however because it was impossible for me not to be myself. Furthermore, I wanted children and was opposed to abortion. Then I was the black football player who goes ballistic when his younger brother crashes his car. I told him I was always a brute when I played football and my Mustang was covered by State Farm Insurance. His last comparison was to the stoner played by Sean Penn. This was ridiculous but I had to agree that I did attend classes other than my own and while I never thought of ordering pizza delivery to class, I may miss a class to leave for lunch. During high school there was no stereotypical clique or student Anthony could compare to me. I was a rogue and did not fit into any square.

Thursday the penitentiary was placed on a low level lockdown. Thunderstorms had rolled through and purportedly disrupted guards' radio transmissions. I spent the day in the cell doing what I commonly do. Occasionally, I would reminisce about my years in high school and even to the time period I knew Cindy. In my last letter to her I wrote that she had been approved to visit and she could drop by the penitentiary any time she wanted. I was a little hesitant to put her on my visitor list, however. In my mind, I had an idealized image of her I did not want altered. I knew it was foolish but I wanted her to be the exact same girl I remembered from 8th grade. Also weighing on my thoughts was how much I had aged or may be disappointing to her. I had fallen in so many respects from my years in high school. The prison visiting room was definitely not going to help any impression I wanted to make. In fact, it was the last place I would like to meet a classmate I had not seen in 25 years.

Close to noon on Friday my name and cell number was announced over the loudspeaker for a visit. I told a guard to give me 10 minutes to get ready. I was not expecting anyone and if it was not my sister, I assumed it was Cynthia. As I brushed my teeth and looked myself over in the small plastic mirror taped to the wall, my cellmate began razzing me that I was preparing for my big date. Going on a visit at a maximum security prison was hardly a date and his insinuations that I had a girlfriend were silly. Despite this, I did want to make a good impression if this was even possible in my circumstances. For me it was like the class reunion I never had the opportunity to attend.

From the air conditioned strip search room, I walked down the stairs into the visiting room. The heat was even greater than that on Wednesday and what I would expect in a Brazilian rain forest. The place was also mobbed with over a hundred people all talking and yelling at once. It was a zoo and the worst possible circumstances. However then through the crowd I saw Cynthia and I could not help but smile as I approached her. For a moment all the noise, people, and other unpleasantries disappeared and there was just the girl I remembered from junior high.

After so much time had passed, a person may expect a disconnect, but I felt the opposite. Conversation was easy and there was a lot to talk about. We spoke about school, classmates we both knew and our lives since 8th grade. For me there was little to say. Just out of high school I had been arrested and charged with murder. My attorney failed to contest a lying cop and I have been in prison ever since. Unlike me, she has lived a very full life. She had married, had children, and been employed in various lines of work in various different states. She eventually earned a bachelor's degree in education and was now a school teacher. I must have expressed disappointment that most of my life was a great empty void and she said it was not what one does but who they are. Contrarily, I thought all meaning and value came from accomplishments and I was a pathetic failure.

I asked what classmates she met earlier in the year. I expected to know most of them but only remembered Kristen. I had several classes with her and inquired how she was. I was told she was well and was married with 2 children. She could not say the same about a punk skateboarder who I came close to putting into some shop machinery. Troy was shot and killed in a mugging. I said, "How terrible," but in my flat sarcasm I wondered if some students thought the same about my wrongful conviction and sentence to life, a fate comparable to death. In fact, I would have preferred to be shot dead. I asked what the other students she had met thought about my plight. I was told they just talked about what occurred and did not express an opinion. Possibly, that was Cindy's way of being nice.

At times I gave her long looks. It was like peering into a portal to the distant past. I was also scrutinizing her appearance and every slight movement. She was the same in many ways but also different. It was the differences that I quickly picked up on and disliked including her eyebrows which were trimmed excessively. Girls could often be unnerved by my steady gaze and I suspect she also, even as an adult, became uncomfortable. "Would you prefer if I were sullen and disengaging?" I asked. No, she did not want that and said she was glad I was happy to see her again. I told her I have probably not smiled so much in months. Prison was the most miserable and soul draining place to live.

At 2:30 sharp a guard yelled for everyone to get out. Cindy asked if we could hug. On the walls are signs that no touching is allowed. These rules applied during visits and not upon greeting or leaving. I did not particularly like hugs, but I gave her one and then grabbed her belt buckle to pull towards me. She said she will come again to see me and I wondered as I let her go. Sitting at the table, I watched her walk out of the visiting room and up the short flight of stairs. She looked back a few times and I tried to imprint a mental picture of her in my mind. I may never see her again or revisit the past. Those times were over, and no matter how much I would like to, there is no going back.

As I write this post there are dark skies outside the barred windows of the cell house. The rain is falling and I recall a song which became popularized by the 80's movie The Breakfast Club. I believe it is called "Don't You Forget about Me" (by Simple Minds) and the lyrics repeat in my thoughts. The Breakfast Club was about a group of students who had to serve a Saturday detention. All of them came from divergent cliques or paths in life until they converged on that day. At the end of the film, a person is left uncertain whether they will ever meet again and this is how I feel. Regardless, I am glad to have had this one visit from the past. Even the dead like to be remembered by the living on occasion.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Mundane -- August 16, 2014

Life in prison is often eschewed by television and movies. To entertain audiences they portray a riveting tale or emphasize the extreme. However, the truth is much less dramatic. Generally, men incarcerated in maximum security prisons have an unexciting and monotonous existence. They deal with the austere and oppressive conditions of their confinement day after day. It is a slow grind which eventually crushes all men into dust. During my 21 years of incarceration, I have experienced much turmoil, brutality, and mayhem. However, my life is predominately mundane.

Almost every morning I will exercise for one hour.  I conduct my workout in the small   3 by 6 foot space in the front of the cell. My routine is a mix of high intensity calisthenic exercises. Occasionally people walking by will inquire what I specifically do or if I am following a workout program such as that popularized on television infomercials such as P90X. No, I do not have any ordered system. In fact, at Stateville where yard and weights are limited, I intentionally seek to mix up my exercises. From the most bizarre improvisations to the most common calisthenics or cardio exercises, there is little I have not done. The only thing which remains consistent is the time and pace. It is always 1 hour and there are no rest periods.

After working out, I will bathe out of the sink. If my cellmate is awake, he will go to the bars and watch television occasionally on both my TV and his. Bathing in the cell is time consuming and never enjoyable. For privacy I will hang a bed sheet up which will go from the wall to the upper bunk and across it forming a square in the corner. I use a piece of cardboard to stop the water from draining. The sink basin takes a long time to fill, not because it is deep but because the warm water dribbles slowly into it. After soaping up, I will again repeat this process to have fresh water to rinse with. Almost always, I leave a mess of water and soap on the floor. I keep a large rag to soak up the water and when finished to clean with. My "shower curtain" needs to be dried and a fan blows air on it as I wipe off or scrub the floor, walls, sink, and toilet.

If I wash any clothes, it will be after I bathe. With the toilet scrubbed and disinfected, I empty it of cold water and slowly empty bowl after bowl of hot or warm water into it. The floor rag is rolled up and shoved into the toilet to prevent any of this water from exiting. Prisoners are permitted to purchase liquid laundry detergent and I will pour a little of this into the commode before tossing in some clothes. There is laundry service at Stateville, however, bags are only picked up once a week. During a lockdown, they may not be picked up at all. The shorts I work out in need to be cleaned every other day or they begin to stink. I also must do my prison blues by hand unless I want to wear deeply wrinkled clothing.

Rinsing clothes in the toilet is relatively easy. I simply flush the water to get new fresh water. In between flushes, I spin or dunk clothes until all the soap is removed. Then I wring them out by hand to be dried by my fan. There are rules against using lines and thus I will typically drape the clothes over a property box lid. Oftentimes, I will wrap clothes around a fan so air flows through them. Drying clothes in humid weather can take many hours if not overnight. Since I have a bad back, agitating clothes while bent over the toilet for an hour or longer can leave me in more pain than my workouts. I hate washing clothes by hand in the cell, but it is something that must be done regularly.

If I have completed my workout and washed any clothes that needed it, I may go to lunch. The food served in prison is commonly the same week after week. It is also commonly distasteful. Some prisoners tell me they are just going out for the walk which I interpret to mean to get out of their cells and possibly socialize with someone other than their cellmates. Personally, I hate "the walk".  A large group of noisy men are assembled into two lines. This may take 5 to 10 minutes or longer. Then, the two lines walk about 100 feet only to stop and wait until a guard is content with the formation. At the end of the concrete path surrounded on both sides with high cyclone fencing topped with razor wire, prisoners are again ordered to stop until given the green light. One line will proceed followed by the other to the front of the chow hall. Yet again, prisoners must wait to enter the building and even inside there is a gate leading into the feeding circle. Returning to the cell house is often the same slow and annoying procedure. There are times I will spend an hour going to and from the chow hall, but with only 5 minutes to eat.

On one occasion this week, I kicked Trigger in the stomach while bored and waiting in line. I did not give him a spinning back kick that sent him flying into the fence or any other object. It was just a tap which I simply meant to convey hello. Despite this, the prisoner became very upset with me and said he just washed his blue shirt. Trigger has wild mood swings and sometimes I think he may have intermittent explosive disorder. He can be very playful and goofy sometimes and then at other times seem like he is about to go into a rage over the most trivial matter. His seesawing nature, though, breaks the zombie-like walk back and forth from the chow hall.

I attempt to avoid the chow hall as much as possible. I often do not like the walk, the food, the crowds, etc. Instead, I will make snacks or meals in the cell. After 21 years of eating prison food, I am not too particular as long as it is healthy. An easy meal to make is a tuna or sardine sandwich. I just tear off the top of a package, drain, and put the fish on bread. If I have no bread, I will use an uncooked Ramen noodle as if it were a cracker. On Sunday, prisoners were given miniature potatoes again and I used those to put my sardines into. I am becoming tired of eating fish so regularly, but it is one of the cheapest and most nutritious foods sold at the prison store.

On occasion I will break up the monotony of food served at the penitentiary or the food I make for myself with something unique. However, cooking and preparing more exotic meals is difficult. First, I am not able to go to a grocery store and the food I can access is limited. Secondly, I do not have a stove, grill, or a microwave. Cooking is mostly done by boiling water using various different improvised methods and instant foods. Because the process is laborious, I will also make enough for my cellmate. It only takes a little extra work to cook for him also. This week, I made a favorite of his, beef burritos, to eat while watching the classic movie "Jaws".  If Anthony thought my food was free, he was mistaken. A few times while watching the film I would say, "Man-shark!" in reference to a Saturday Night Live skit and his conviction for killing an unsuspecting woman in her apartment.

The DVD system at the prison is broken or not being used. There is a rumor that Stateville will soon get movies from Netflix rather than rent them from a store. I am told places like Blockbuster have gone out of business and similar stores that rent videos are almost extinct. Jaws and other movies prisoners at Stateville watch are currently restricted to the ones played on broadcast TV or the 13 satellite stations such as TBS, Spike, and TNT. They regularly play the same films that are many years old. Despite this, at night when tired I will watch a good movie even if I have seen it numerous times before.

Prisoners in maximum security will spend vast amounts of time watching television. In the cell, it is their main preoccupation. Contrarily, I watch very little and instead read. On Monday, I received my weekly Barron's newspaper and that was the subject of my attention most of the evening. Russia retaliated last week to the meager economic sanctions imposed on it with their own. All food imports from the West are banned. Considering Russia only receives about 7% of their food from the U.S., it has little significance. It does account for $15 billion yearly of sales from Europe, but this also will not greatly damage their economy. European countries have much greater problems with their economies than a food export ban. Hopefully, the West is willing to accept whatever Russian sanctions are imposed on them and give military aid to Ukraine before it is too late.

Even before my arrest, I had a strong interest in politics. However, trapped in a cell for long periods of time has given me more time to study and keep up with world affairs. This week the focus of news has been the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, a town just outside of St. Louis. The black mobs believe a white police officer maliciously shot to death a black 18-year-old. I do not know if there is any truth to the matter or if race was at all a factor. Oftentimes, black provocateurs stir up unrest and the liberal media is more than happy to oblige them with pervasive coverage. What I will note, however, that is an issue, is the militarization of local police agencies. Police officers are now armed with weapons, vehicles and other equipment from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They no longer just have a revolver and possibly a bullet proof vest but helicopters, machine guns, grenades, and assault vehicles. According to news I read or listened to, the Defense Department has given police agencies across the country billions of dollars in military equipment including 600 MRAPs. Why local police need mine resistant armored protected trucks is beyond me. Police have now become soldiers and hopefully if anything comes out of the controversy in Ferguson, it is that the American public realizes the country has become a militarized police state far removed from the free republic it once was.

Midweek the penitentiary was placed on lockdown. Lockdowns are so frequent in maximum security that commonly the only reason why I inquire about them is to inform the readers of this blog. Half the time I do not care. It is a regular part of life here. Initially the people returning from the kitchen and school could not provide me with any answers other than to mention that two people were arrested trying to smuggle drugs into the prison over the last week on visits. However, later in the day staff would mention it was unrelated and the Roundhouse was being searched by SORT. Internal Affairs also was conducting interviews of various men throughout the institution. Ten prisoners from C House were taken away for questioning. All of them were brought back to their cells after a few hours, but a couple of days later two Hispanics were taken to Seg for investigation. The build up of SORT and I.A. has been an oppressive and harassing development in prison. However, having said this, it seems that the administration is using them less sweepingly.

My father was planning to visit me on the day SORT ransacked the Roundhouse. In lieu of talking with him, I wrote him a 4 page letter. Writing letters is another common activity of mine. This year, I have written well over 200. The majority goes to blog handlers and consists of posts and replies to comments and emails. However, I also write family, lawyers, private investigators, and others. A pen pal I had thought became bored of corresponding over the years, sent me a letter which finally reached me this week. After writing my father, I also wrote him back a reply. Unlike people outside these walls who communicate with phones, texts, emails or Facebook, my communication is limited mostly to snail mail.

The two day lockdown gave me a little extra time to do a few things I had been delaying. The first of these was fixing my watch. Just the week prior I had purchased a new time piece. Immediately I noticed the pins which keep the bands in were too small and fall out. Thus, I made my own pins with a paper clip. I also exchanged the clear plastic band with a cloth band I had made myself. Security at the level 1 and 2 penitentiaries in Illinois is ridiculous. Does the administration really believe I will hide something dangerous in my watch or under the band? Soon there will come a time when they will want prisoners to wear sheer or see-through clothing, although for the last several years it does not seem like they want to provide any clothing at all.

My T-shirts, socks and underwear have not been replaced by the clothing room in a long time and are falling apart. During the week I became fed up with the holes in my socks and sewed a few. Unfortunately, the elastic in them has been lost to such an extent they fall to my ankles, but at least my toes do not stick out any more. While I sewed my socks, I noticed my cellmate was sewing a pair of boxers. Apparently, the old underwear tore on the inseam when he played basketball. Commissary does sell underclothes, but like most everything they sell, the prices are exorbitant. Two boxer shorts in my cellmate's size cost $15.23. A T-shirt (XXL) is $13.75 and these are not quality clothes or with any color. They are made of thin material and are white.

Once a week I shave using an electric razor and periodically I will trim my hair. The guards will usually pass out disposable razors on Saturdays, however, I rarely use them. They are dull and so tiny that I can barely hold them. There is also a barbershop at Stateville, but it is a school where prisoners learn how to cut hair. Needless to say, they are not very good particularly with cutting Caucasians hair. Instead, I will use a pair of beard trimmers and cut my own despite the difficulty of doing so. This week, I spent a few hours trying to perfect my hair. Accidentally, I cut off a little too much on one side and for symmetry I had to bring it all down shorter. When I finished, my cellmate said I looked like Ivan Drago, a character played by Dolph Lungren in the movie Rocky 4. It was not exactly the look I was going for, but imitating a scene where he faces off against Sylvester Stallone, I said, "I must break you."

Generally, I will become tired in the early afternoon and will take a nap. Even if I am confined to the cell, I keep busy and the continuous aggravations of prison add up. Furthermore, a nap will not only give me renewed energy, but break up a monotonous grim existence. On Thursday, however, I was awakened by my cellmate taking a shit a few feet away from me and the yelling of prisoners. Black convicts typically do not follow baseball, but they are big fans of Jackie Robinson West Little League team. The team of all black kids is from an inner city neighborhood where a number of men at Stateville lived in or near before their arrest. They played Lynnwood, Washington and the game was broadcast on ESPN. Jackie Robinson West won by "slaughter rule," 12 to 2 in the 5th inning. The liberal media so intent on promoting the success of minority groups had it on all news stations later in the day, including the world news.

Unable to sleep, I got up from my bunk and thought of something productive to do with my time. I had been putting off cleaning and fixing my fan until there were cooler temperatures and I did not need it to dry wet clothes. The fan was very dirty with dust, blanket and hair fuzz which continually drifts into the cell. There are 5 floors and approximately 300 prisoners in this quarter unit of the big house and the airborne dirt from all these people will turn a fan black over a summer. Fortunately, I have an older model without security screws which is easy to disassemble and clean all the dirt out. This fan has been through a lot and the plastic is cracked in many places. After cleaning it, I considered gluing pieces back together again but I knew the adhesive I could procure would not hold long. Instead, I just fixed the problem of it pivoting too easily by wedging a couple of cardboard squares in between the moving parts.

On Friday the prison was taken off lockdown, however, as I write this post it is back on. Purportedly there is not enough staff to run normal operations safely. Manpower has increased enormously over the years and this news is difficult to believe. Never during my time in the IDOC have there been more guards, SORT, or members of Internal Affairs. In the morning just before the 7 o'clock shift, I heard the radio dispatcher asking over 50 correctional officers to stay and eventually many were mandated. The prison system needlessly pays millions of dollars in unneeded overtime yearly. Regardless, incarcerated men spend vastly more time in their cells than they did before the turn of the century.

This post was probably one of the least interesting. However, it was done intentionally. There are many weeks that go by which are boring and lackluster. Life in a maximum security prison is oppressive and often dull. Without freedom there is little joy, excitement, or purpose. This blog is not the movies or a sensationalized television production. It is my reality that is often filled with the mundane.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Fireworks Show -- August 10, 2014

Most of my week was spent in the confines of my cell. I read more about the growing conflicts in the world and their effect on the stock market. I wrote a few letters and continued to be unable to reach anyone by phone. In the evening, I looked for programs on television or turned in to talk radio. Occasionally, I left the cell to attend meals, yard, store, and a visit. From a prisoner's perspective, it was generally an average week with few highlights. Boredom set in and Saturday night, hyped up on caffeine and sugar, I was compelled to break the monotony with my own little cell party. I worked out and danced to a wide variety of music. Then I watched a dazzling fireworks display through the cell house windows. I never learned the cause for the celebration not far from the penitentiary. Possibly, they, as I, did not need an excuse to break the summertime blues.

Sunday morning I heard a prisoner yell, "Hooch! Hooch! Get your old Yiddish ass up!"  Not long thereafter I saw a rabbi dressed in his traditional attire walk by my cell to speak with my neighbor. There are no Jewish religious services at Stateville nor is there really any need. The prison has fewer than 5 prisoners who claim to be Jewish and of those I question if they are practicing Jews or have any Semitic descent. Thus, the rabbi will come to the prison only sporadically throughout the year and speak to a few in their cells.

Later I asked Hooch what the special occasion was. He told me that rabbi simply wanted to check up on him to see if he was having any problems due to the conflict between Hamas and Israel. CNN and other news agencies were counting the dead in the Gaza Strip and portraying Israel as an aggressor despite how rockets were being launched into their territory. Since the beginning of hostilities, I have spoken to a few people including my cellmate who believe Israel is retaliating excessively. While the state of Israel in the middle of Islam surrounded by enemies was a bad idea, they have no choice but to dominate or take over not only the Gaza Strip but the West Bank and Golan Heights. My view is a minority at the prison where many black convicts are Islamic. However, they care less about Hooch and do not give him any troubles. The rabbi's concerns were almost comical.

In the late afternoon, I was reading a newspaper with my headphones on and did not notice chow lines going out of the cell house until guards were already unlocking doors on my gallery. Quickly, I put on blue state issued pants and some shoes, but had yet to put on a shirt when the door to the cell was unlocked. My cellmate joked that I should just go to chow half dressed. He thinks I like to flaunt my upper body and compares me to Vladimir Putin who is regularly seen without a shirt. To one of the guards he said that I was just going to clip my ID card to one of my nipples. Out of boredom I assume, he will make jokes such as this to brighten dull days.

There are numerous groundhogs on the prison grounds and prisoners treat them almost like pets. They have become so domesticated that they will even approach people in the hopes they will give them something to eat. However, convicts thought it was odd when one put his front paws on my leg to beg for food. Once again this gave my cellmate a chance to joke and called me "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective". Later in the chow hall he continued for the benefit of those prisoners seated with us. When I dismissed the strange behavior of the groundhog as coincidence, he said the animal walked straight by the line of other prisoners to me as if we were friends. What could I say except that animals like me?

I never watched America's Most Wanted, but in the evening I turned on my TV to watch CNN's season premiere of "The Hunt". The show had the same theme of trying to solicit the aid of the public to capture wanted fugitives. It also had John Walsh as its host. There seemed to be a political agenda or narrative, however, by the liberal news station. Directors of the show sought to disparage the way of life and beliefs of people in western Montana. They focused on militia groups, rugged individualism, and disdain of big intrusive government. If there was a political slant to the program, it made me less likely to believe the accusations they made against the man who was accused of an attempted murder on a police officer. The media is already viewed by me with skepticism given the way I was portrayed after my arrest. Repeatedly, I was referred to as a nefarious character who committed a mass murder in Palatine.

The excitement for prisoners on Monday was being allowed to shop at the prison store. Personally, I was not eager to go and did not leave with most other men on my gallery who went directly from the chow hall. Rather I enjoyed some time alone in my cell and left with inmates on the gallery above me. While waiting in the holding cage, my watch just happened to stop. It was symbolic of how my life had abruptly come to an end. I played around with it and got it to start ticking again but very slowly. This was also similar to how much my life dragged on day after day in maximum security penitentiaries.

At the window, having my order filled was extremely slow. All the inmate workers had been fired and the few new hires were not up to speed. Regularly, the woman who scanned the merchandise was forced to go into the back herself to get items I purchased. She was friendly though, and permitted me to add a disposable watch to my order. I had never heard of a disposable watch before, but upon receiving it I saw why most people just threw them away rather than buying a new battery. The cheap, clear plastic watch made in China cost me $13, however, and I will be buying batteries until I at least recover its marked up price.

For dinner prisoners had another treat by being served a slice of pizza. Most everyone came out of their cells in my unit despite being able to buy alternative foods at store. Noticeably missing however was Leprechaun. According to men I ate with, he was pouting because numerous prisoners had been approved jobs and he believed he had been skipped over. My neighbor does not have any family or friends to send him money and he is dependent on the IDOC stipend of $10 a month. More so than the extra money he could earn with a job, I think he misses being preoccupied throughout the day and not confined to his cell. Like most leprechauns, he is an excitable and energetic person who likes to be busy.

The following day when I returned from the yard, I noticed that someone had left an assortment of Catholic relics on my cell table. While my cellmate bathed out of the sink, I looked at these items with curiosity. I did not understand why people believed in a god or why they thought a scapular necklace would have any power. The rosary also baffled me and even if there was a god, why would the deity want people to recite the same monotonous prayer over and over again? Leprechaun was lying on his bunk depressed and I threw the religious items at him. He rolled over and I said, "Wait there is more! Here are some butt beads for you to play with." Leprechaun did not need a job. He needed some Jesus or at least some attention to break him out of his funk.

Not long thereafter, his Jewish cellmate returned from his job of scraping paint. Apparently, he was not feeling well and complained to a guard of having chest pains. The sergeant radioed for a med-tech and he was brought to the Health Care Unit. A doctor saw him and gave him nitroglycerin tablets. He was told to stay at the infirmary at least as a precaution, but Hooch refused and came back to the quarter unit. Later, he told me he was experiencing all the classic signs of a heart attack before taking the medication and resting. I told him he should have put on the scapula because on the back it says whoever shall wear it will not burn in the fires of hell.

Tuesday evening I wrote a letter and reviewed information about a petition site called "" before watching some television news. Former General Petraeus gave an interview where he spoke of the imminent threat of a Russian full scale invasion of Ukraine. Already, Russia was fighting a proxy war and will do whatever is necessary to seize more territory. This was all very obvious to me for several months and I have become bored with the news as well as NATO's failure to act militarily. Later in the week a Russian news agency claimed the country was ending its military "exercises" in the west and withdrawing. However, I knew this was just a ruse. Vladimir Putin was just playing games to keep the U.S. and European allies indecisive. After finishing my snack of generic Cheerios, I went to sleep. My dreams were more lucid and sensible than the policy of the White House.

I spend a considerable amount of time in the cell even when given opportunities to come out. My hermit-like behavior apparently is not welcomed by my cellmate. As most often, he was eager for me to leave to go on a visit Wednesday. Before I left I told him to enjoy "naked day" but not to overdo it. I warned him not to go "Ted" squirting lotion on himself by the cell bars while a female guard watched. I thought it was horrendously funny and not much will make me laugh within these dreary prison walls. My cellmate tried to disguise his amusement and said, "At least you can entertain yourself." Coincidentally, later I learned about a black prisoner who was written a disciplinary ticket for masturbating to the same guard. He was about to be sent to Segregation immediately, but the lieutenant let East Side stay until his ticket was heard in front of the adjustment committee.

Although my visit left me very exhausted and wanting to avoid all social contact, I went to dinner. Baked chicken was being served and it is not often prisoners are given real meat. Incredibly, I listened to men, including Steve, say how they were looking forward to the CBS reality TV show "Big Brother." Despite how bored I became I was not going to tune in to it. Instead, I went over an investment newspaper called Barron's and tore out various articles to mail to my mother which had my notes on the margins. As my parents become older they seem to need ever greater investment advice. While writing my commentary, I listened to the radio talk show host Rick Savage. He was greatly annoying with his anti-interventionist babble and conspiracy theories including how Barack Obama wants to start a war with Russia so he can remain in power indefinitely. Contrarily, I think Obama is doing his utmost to avoid any conflict, even if his negligence leads to global disaster.

Thursday I spent most of the day reading ever more newspapers as well as a couple of corporate reports. There is a pipeline master limited partnership called Crestwood Midstream. It has had poor ratings recently and I sought to understand if this was temporary due to its merger with Inergy or if it was a long term problem. After some study, I came to the conclusion it was still a good investment particularly for income seekers, and given some time, its profits would grow steadily. The stock was trading at its 52 week low and offered a 7-1/2% yield. Analyzing all the minute details of companies can be an arduous and boring task, but I seem to have a knack for it. Possibly, if I was ever exonerated, I could be an investment consultant or manager. I have no idea whether I will ever be free or what opportunity will exist and rarely entertain any thoughts of a life outside these walls.

On the PBS News Hour was an interesting segment regarding how a pendulum seems to be swinging away from the extremes of draconian prison sentences. On the panel were both people on the left and right of the political spectrum including a former attorney general. They all agreed there were far too many people incarcerated and sought changes in the system. Pat Nolan from the American Conservative Union Foundation spoke about a Texas initiative to be "Right on Crime". The state has moved away from locking up low level offenders and was using the savings for rehabilitation and making sure convicts did not recidivate. Bill McCollum expressed that sentencing statutes also needed great restructuring. As the attorney general of Florida, he saw pervasive imbalances, but disagreed that not all non-violent offenses should be treated lightly such as drug traffickers. Despite how there is a shift in public opinion of locking every offender up and throwing away the key, I doubt it will matter in my circumstance. I need to get my case back into court to prove my innocence.

Friday was another day I languished in the cell. For a little while I attempted to preoccupy myself watching news. The president reluctantly gave the order for some limited air strikes in Iraq to prevent ISIS from butchering a group of Christians on a mountain as well as overrunning the U.S. consulate. He still does not understand that America must use the full power of the military to retake Iraq and this time set up an authoritarian, albeit benevolent, regime. Later, after reading a couple of magazines, I again turned on my television. There was nothing on of interest. Even my cellmate was somewhat at a loss as to what to watch. I told him the lack of good or even average programming was due to the fact that it was Friday night. Viewership is down and people outside have better things to do.

Saturday I began to make some notes for this post. My cellmate, bored but also nosy, asked what I was writing about. I told him this post was called, "A Whole Lot of None of Your Business". While I struggled to come up with a theme for my story, he struggled to find something to occupy his time. After watching some television, he stood at the bars waiting for a shower. When he returned, he brought the telephone back with him. He managed to get through to someone, however, when I tried to call my parents I received the same automated recording that I have been hearing for a month.

All religious services were cancelled in the morning and eventually I learned why. A charitable organization was at the penitentiary which sought to give children presents on Christmas who had a parent incarcerated. Angel Tree has good intentions, but I did not know how a doll or a small set of Lego's could make up for the loss of a father. They also were not helpful to me in any way. When a man from the organization asked me if I had any kids, I told him no and then added I was a kid when arrested. He did not know how to respond to this and went next door. Maybe the child molester had some kids he wanted to send toys to.

I missed dinner and in its stead I ate cookies smothered with peanut butter. To go along with the sweet snack, I had a large mug of instant coffee. The sugar and caffeine caused me to have a surge of pent up energy. Locked in my cell, there was little I could do and I began to do push-ups. Still, I was not satisfied and sought out greater stimulation. To gain radio reception, I put my Walkman on the table and weaved the headphone cord outside of the cell bars and back in. In between sets of push ups and other exercises, I searched for music on the FM bandwidth. I skipped around from station to station listening to the heavy metal of Danzig to the pop music of Justin Timberlake. My cellmate really thought I was going crazy when he noticed me dancing to "Go Heavy Go". Yes, it was greatly out of character, but I had so much energy and there was nothing to do.

As I did chin-ups off the bars, there was a boom and a flash of light. I looked around to where it came from and through the cell house windows I could see fireworks to the northeast. Initially, there were only a few lighting up the night sky. However, the fireworks increased in intensity with large colorful displays occurring one after the other and sometimes together. I was dripping in sweat from exercising but stopped to watch the performance. I also took off my head phones to hear the explosions which could actually be felt from inside the cell. For a few minutes my cellmate sat on the counter top to see the firework show and we speculated what the occasion could be. Anthony mentioned the Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago that he saw on television news earlier in the day but I did not think there were any similar celebrations in the far southwest suburbs.

The show ended at 10 p.m. and I bathed out of the sink before returning to the cell bars. The spike in energy I had was fading, but I knew I would not be able to sleep. Instead, I stared out into the night sky and listened to some slower songs I found on the radio. Eventually, I just took off my headphones. The cell house had become quiet and I could be left undistracted to my thoughts. After a brief respite, I was again glum and pondering the meaning of my existence. The fireworks show was the highlight of my week, however, it only served to contrast how empty and bleak my life in prison was.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Make-up Yard -- August 2, 2014

During the long days of summer and late spring, I will regularly awake to bright sunshine streaming into my cell. However, yesterday, it was dark and gloomy with only faint shadows being cast from a vertical fluorescent light some 30 feet away on the cell house wall. Despite many windows being tilted open, the concrete cell was dank and reminded me of a medieval dungeon. The 300 incarcerated men catacombed in the unit had yet to be stirred and I could hear periodic slow rolling thunder. In the relative quiet, I brooded about my bleak and empty existence. I attempted to grasp onto something during the day to look forward to and all that came to mind was a couple of hours outside on an austere prison yard. However, even this small excursion would be cancelled for another day due to the inclement weather.

Earlier this week some news agencies described the world as being on fire because of the various wars being waged in the Middle East and Ukraine. As I suspected, Russian President Vladimir Putin was preparing for a full invasion after semi-covert support to insurgents was failing. In the Gaza strip, Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel and cease fires were largely ignored. Syria and Iraq were in chaos with ISIS seizing ever more territory. While I ate breakfast sitting on my bunk, I listened to the latest developments on television.

The cell house was the first quarter unit to be fed in the penitentiary and doors on the 5th floor began to be opened and slammed shut at 9 a.m. The prisoners who walked down the flights of stairs were very noisy and yelled to others in their cells. I was not going to disturb my day so early by going to chow nor was I even hungry. Once again, I put on my headphones, but this time to listen to music. Reception was difficult to get in the cell and therefore I played a cassette tape.

Usually at this time of day, I would be just finishing my workout and preparing to bathe out of the sink. However, because the 2 lower galleries of prisoners in the quarter unit were scheduled for yard in the evening, I altered my routine. For most of my day I intended on reading with an emphasis on exchange traded and mutual funds. On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial average plunged 300 points and ended the week at 16,493. This was the largest weekly decline in the stock market since January and much of it was due to international conflicts. When there is an array of global risks, investors generally flee to safety, including gold. Late last year, I had advised my parents to purchase shares in a gold mining company or mutual fund. The prices of these equities were undervalued and due for a significant recovery in 2014. They already had a gold fund, but there was a better one offered by Fidelity. In addition to gold funds, I read about biotechnology and pipelines. Both of these were overpriced, however, if they corrected 10 to 20%, they would be good investments.

While I was studying, Bucky came to my cell bars and handed me a birthday card to sign for Hooch. Upon opening the envelope I wondered what type of crazy card Lunch Box had made him. It was silly, but I was amused by the cartoon characters. The lieutenant was depicted with an exaggerated Monopoly Man mustache and a tear drop rolling down his cheek. In a bubble above his head were words expressing how he missed Little Frank, a black homosexual who was transferred earlier in the year. Standing beside him was the sergeant with his trademark dark sunglasses, beard, and pony tail. He had a big grin on his face and told an old decrepit Hooch to at least roll his balls up which were hanging out of his boxers as he headed into the shower.

Not long after I was handed the birthday card, prisoners began yelling, "I.A. coming to the cell house!" followed by "I.A. in the building!" The warnings were largely unnecessary and I knew the security unit was simply conducting "drops". Drops are prison slang for urine drug tests and they were not easy to cheat. Regardless, the drops were to vet men for jobs and were probably clean. During the week, all inmate commissary workers were fired for suspected theft and new help needed to be found quickly. There was only a handful of civilian staff and they could not possibly fill the orders for not only Stateville prisoners, but those in the Northern Receiving Center.

As soon as the purpose of I.A.'s presence was clear, Hooch began playing his radio. The entire afternoon he was listening to this favorite radio station, 104.3 K-Hits. I thought he may be celebrating his birthday until Bucky came by to collect his birthday card. He told me his birthday was not till tomorrow and then asked if I knew anyone else that Hooch would appreciate signing his card. The card already had many comments and signatures and I could not think of any other prisoners. Finally, I told him he should have the lieutenant and sergeant sign, but they had Friday's off.

At the desk near the bars, I listened to the classic rock music while I went through mutual fund reports. My cellmate interrupted me occasionally, including telling me what he heard on his favorite TV show, TMZ. According to the gossip, the last man rejected on the Bachelorette had sex with the woman and wanted to know why she chose someone else. I did not follow the reality show and found it disgusting how one woman will have various sexual contacts with numerous men. The reason why the bachelorette slept with different men during the show was obvious to me. She was a slut and any man who did not realize this was a fool. My cellmate speculated he may just be "outing her" on national television.

As 4 o'clock approached, I got ready for yard. I had been looking forward to the Rec period most of the day. It was not simply because I like to lift weights, but because I wanted to be in the open space. Inmates in maximum security penitentiaries are largely confined to the small perimeters of their cells which are shared with another person. Even if you happen to get along with your cellmate, it is still very cramped and uncomfortable. Lately, Anthony has been awaking at nearly the same time as me and due to this he is more disruptive than when he slept till noon. Furthermore, leaving the cell to attend health care passes, chow, or visits brings me in contact with ever more people and aggravations. In contrast, the South Yard is a large open area where, if I choose, I can get away from people. If not for the gun tower and cyclone fencing topped with razor wire, I could almost imagine being free.

I walked along the long stretch of the South Yard with Bone who was moving very slowly. He almost had what prisoners call the "Thorazine Shuffle". The formerly robust biker was sickly and weak. He had a slight yellow complexion and was gaunt except for his gut which was bloated. Bone was dying of liver failure and was heavily medicated. Doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital in Joliet had told him they would put him on the transplant list, however, IDOC forbid it. Organ transplants were too costly and all doctors could do is give him a myriad of medications. At the prison Health Care Unit, Bone told me he was present Wednesday when a convict from the NRC died in the bathroom. I could tell it weighed on his thoughts. It was probably only a matter of time before he keeled over and was sent out in a body bag.

The rain had ceased falling earlier in the day, however, the skies around Stateville were still dark. After only completing 5 sets of bench presses, a guard in the gun tower said yard was cancelled. Prisoners balked at grouping up at the gate to be sent back to their cells. The administration has an obligation to protect inmates from any threat of lightning strikes, but none could be seen except far in the distance. Ironic how they care about the minute chance of someone being struck by lightning but will not provide medical treatment which without will almost certainly kill incarcerated men. Lieutenants seemed undecided whether to demand prisoners to come off the yard and men continued to play table games and workout. Eventually, though, I assume the shift commander gave the order and prisoners including myself were disappointed but stopped what they were doing and headed for the gate.

When I returned to the cell, I understood why yard was cancelled. On the television news was talk of apocalyptic weather. On one weather map was a dramatized depiction of lightning strikes. The large thunderbolts covering almost the entire Chicago area made it appear like the world was coming to an end. Television news will do anything to sensationalize the most trivial news including the weather for better ratings. Despite the dire warnings, not a single drop of rain fell on prison grounds or any lightning bolts.

Since I could not workout on the yard, I did so in the cell. For the first half hour I did a cycle of strength exercises including where I put my feet up on a horizontal beam and grabbed the upper bunk to pull myself upward. A young guard happened to notice and later commented how he does the same exercise at the gym. With all the sophisticated equipment that was available at gyms outside the penitentiary I wondered why he would bother with any of the improvised exercises I did in the cell. I also went on to ask him what gym he went to simply out of curiosity. Guards and other staff are instructed not to reveal any personal information and he was hesitant to answer. Finally I said, "Do you go to Bally's or Gold's gym?" He laughed at the latter and said there have not been any Gold's gyms in many years.

This morning, the sun was there to greet me at the crack of dawn and I grabbed a towel to drape over the same bar I had put my feet on to do back pulls. Later when I got up for the day, I took it down and noticed the great contrast in weather. Not only was there not a cloud in the sky, but all the dampness in the air had gone. It was a cool, dry summer day with an expected high temperature of 80 degrees. A day such as this would be nice to have time outside on the yard and my cellmate asked me what I thought the chances of us being given make-up yard was. I put the odds at 4 to 1.

Anthony was again up early this time to shower. Shower lines were once run in the evening for the lower galleries, however, this was changed to the morning due to complaints by staff working the 2nd shift. Apparently, they thought they had too much work to do. My cellmate upon returning told me he noticed Malinowski had fresh sutures and speculated his cancer had spread to other lymph nodes. The child molester who was celled next door recently returned from another trip to an outside hospital. I did not miss his presence.

Saturday detail yard is run. All the prisoners who have jobs are permitted to attend. It is meant not only as a perk of working for long hours at a monthly salary of $18, but to give those workers who cannot attend weekday recreation periods time outside. Hooch was 60 years old today and he spent his birthday on the detail yard playing game after game of handball. For an old man, he is still a relatively good handball player. He returned in the early afternoon with a heavy sunburn. I told him if meat balls were served for lunch, I would have made him a foot long meat ball sandwich for his birthday with all the trimmings. Hooch hated the meat balls served at Stateville and that was a part of the joke in the card drawn by Lunch Box.

After conversing with Hooch, I lay down on my mattress to rest. I almost fell asleep with my headphones on, when I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker for prisoners to get ready for yard. I was surprised the administration was making up for the Rec period cancelled the previous evening. Generally, this does not occur and I assumed inmates on the lower galleries would not see the South Yard for a couple of weeks. Quickly, I got up to dress, stretch, and put on some sun block. I did not want to sport the cooked lobster look my neighbor Hooch had.

Despite the near perfect weather, not many people went to the yard. Several tables were filled with convicts playing cards, dominoes, or chess underneath the gun tower. A handful of men were on the hill including Hooch playing handball. Bone sat on the grass with Horse and KY. My cellmate who wanted to play basketball was unable to get a game going and instead ran off to jog laps around the track. He has lost nearly 20 pounds since the winter and seems determined to keep it off. Amusingly, I noticed him disappear into one of the porti-pods when he thought no one was looking. The portable toilets are rarely used by prisoners because they reek of chemicals and waste. They also only have 4 foot walls and no doors to give a man any privacy. I assume Anthony got the runs from drinking a large quantity of grapefruit juice at dinner just before yard. I considered running over to the porti-pod to tip it over or just mess with him, but I had a workout to do.

I was glad the yard had fewer prisoners on it. This meant more space and weights for me. Already, the South Yard was down to 7 barbells, one of which was 450 pounds and I did not dare to lift it with my bad back. Another barbell was crooked and was missing the end. Despite its condition, The Elephant insisted on doing shoulder presses with it. Earlier in the week prisoners were giving him a hard time when he tried doing cleans with a lighter weight. They yelled at him it was lighter than the two babies he picked up and threw into a wall.

Along with The Elephant was a black man who went by the name Kid, although he was nearly 50 years old. While lifting weights, he told me about his hearing in front of the "adjustment committee". The lieutenant hearing the disciplinary tickets sent two men to segregation. One of them became so angry he seemed as if he would strike the white shirt. A number of guards rushed in, however, after the lieutenant pressed an emergency button on his radio. Kid believes he was found guilty because almost everyone is regardless of the ticket's merits. He will probably be given C grade or commissary denial for 3 months. Most people at the prison know the woman who passes out legal mail is difficult to get along with.

After my cellmate used the porti-pod, he seemed to lose his motivation to jog and walked over to the weights where Kid and I were. Kid asked him what the tattoo on his chest meant. Anthony may have been ill, but he did not lose his sense of humor and told him USMC stood for the University of Southern Mississippi and the devil dog was their mascot. The letters actually represented the United States Marine Corps, but Kid would never be the wiser. In fact, I tend to believe he initially thought it may be a gang tattoo. Most prisoners at Stateville are covered with gang related ink.

In jest I asked the "Devil Dog" if he wanted to run some laps with me. No, he said, he had done enough for the day. I pressed further telling him we could have a mile race and I would give him a quarter lap lead. Again, he said no and never mentioned his visit to the porti-pod. By myself I hit the asphalt track and had Anthony time me on his watch. I was trying for a 5:30, but was told my run was 10 seconds shy. It seems like I will not be breaking a 5 minute mile this year. Maybe, in my old age it is not possible anymore.

Trigger had ceased playing handball with Hooch and was at the weight pile casually doing a few repetitions. I told him if I ever get to the age of 60 to kill me. He said, "Hell, no! I get out when I'm 67." Initially, I thought he was joking. Who wants to be released in their 60's? However, he was serious and told me his out date was 2047. Unlike Trigger, the longer I languish in prison, the less I care about having a life outside these walls. Already, the state has taken most of it and the remnants are not very appealing. What could I even do with freedom as an old man? I cannot envision anything productive or meaningful. The sun was waning in the western sky and it reminded me of my own existence. Before I could dwell on it too long, a guard in the gun tower set off a siren on his loudspeaker. Make-up yard was over and I morosely headed towards the gate.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Simple Pleasantries -- July 26, 2014

Time that passes while at a maximum security prison is very difficult. Austere and oppressive living conditions suppress most happiness. For me, the loss of freedom and ability to accomplish anything significant drain nearly all of my vitality making me feel like the living dead. In addition, I am surrounded with the most loathsome and obnoxious people. These convicts are incredibly annoying and I regularly seek to escape the agitation they cause. Finally, the bleakness of any future outside these walls can crush the spirit of anyone. At Stateville, most men will die in prison even if they delude themselves otherwise. Despite the grim circumstances, some inmates will attempt to seek solace in the penitentiary. During the week, I took notice of the small pleasantries men embraced and struggled to do the same. After 21 years of hardship, it is increasingly rare for me to find any laughter, hope, or serenity.

Monday morning, I awakened yet again to the horror of being doomed to a life in prison without any chance of parole. In my dreams I was young and free, but now I was old and captive in a cell. Lethargically, I began my day by first peeking into the breakfast tray sitting on a shelf across from my metal bunk. Inside was hash browns and friend imitation bologna. I tossed the food into the toilet, saving the bread. The bread was not made by prisoners at the penitentiary in Illinois River Correctional Center, but was donated. Donated bread is almost always better than the bread made in Canton and trucked to Stateville and this time was no exception. A prisoner must appreciate the little perks even if it is simply sandwich bread.

I believe the men were much happier to see what was being served for lunch. Kitchen workers had made pizza and the slices served were larger than usual. It was still early for lunch, and in a plastic bag I took my portion back to the cell to eat later. The plain cheese pizza needed some toppings. On the return, I noticed prisoners seemed happy, even those who were "slow walkers". Slow walkers is a term given to crippled old convicts who had difficulty walking. The guards working the movement team allow them to get a head start and I saw Joe Miller, "Mold Head," and even the old man Adrian Vlot who shot gunned off part of his face walking with a little more pep in their steps.

Standing next to me in line was Fat Jimmy and he did not look as happy as the cripples. Last week, he had been fired from his job. Despite being overweight and sweating heavily doing the lightest work, he enjoyed being out of his cell and being able to move about the cell house freely. I asked Jimmy why he was fired and he said it was due to his first homicide conviction. In the late 1960's, Jimmy along with a friend brutally killed and sexually assaulted another teenager. Apparently, staff or the administration did not want him having a job because of that. Prisoners do not have a right to a job and they are actually considered privileges in maximum security penitentiaries. They therefore can be given and taken away with little justification.

Towards noon, I was unlocked out of my cage for a health care pass. In a holding cage, I sat by a prisoner who goes by the name "The Alchemist" although usually people just call him Alchy. I asked the Mexican what all the fury in B House was about earlier in the day. Around 7:15 a.m., I could hear yells and the banging of bars coming from the quarter unit adjacent to the one I am assigned to. Alchy just said the prisoners were riled up and anxious to be let out for yard. Despite how men in his cell house seemed restless, he was contrarily tranquil and I thought I detected even a bit of cheerfulness. It was not long thereafter Alchy told me his conviction had been reversed on appeal. If the prosecutor does not recharge him, he will be released from custody.

The psychologist I see once a month or every other seemed very casual during our meeting. She periodically sipped on a cold soda and made some brief small talk. I tend to believe the mental health care staff are simply reviewing patients rather than trying to help them. I considered that because I am introverted and do not cause trouble or express my inner turmoil, that psychologists see no need for me to be a patient. While I was in the office I noticed another psychologist look in through the open door. She was in her mid 20's and had long blond hair. Since the warden had made mental health care checkups mandatory and I was not receiving any treatment, I thought I may as well have small talk with a more attractive woman. Anyone can sip soda and make casual conversation.

Upon mentioning that pizza was being served, the psychologist left on her lunch break and I went back into a holding cage. Alchy was no longer present, but Spoon Cake gave me a fist bump. Spoon Cake was once in my cell house and I got to know him not only because he was a cell house worker, but because of his case. Adolfo Davis had been convicted of a double homicide and sentenced to LWOP despite only being 14 years old and not actively participating in the murders. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled mandatory natural life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional and states across the country have been trying to determine what to do. Spoon Cake told me Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez was stalling having him be re-sentenced to a term of years. The District Attorney is resisting the highest court's ruling until details of it are defined in appeals to federal circuit courts. He expects to be released with time served, however, anything could happen. Interestingly, he tells me that the court will not be allowed to consider any of his behavior while in prison for the last 24 years. I guess taking those creative writing classes and learning poetry will not matter.

My neighbor Leprechaun passed over a jar of instant Folgers coffee for my cellmate and me to try. The prison store just began selling the brand last week. Since tobacco has been eliminated from the IDOC, prisoners appreciate their coffee even more. Some men including my cellmate will drink it excessively. Hyped on caffeine, Anthony argued with me that his eyes were not brown, but hazel. Hazel is actually light brown, although many people think it refers to eye color which is multi-colored. I told my cellmate that even if his eyes had a couple of non-blended colors, they were still colors which create the color brown. To settle the matter, I told him to stand underneath the bright fluorescent light. For about 5 minutes he held his slanty eyes wide so I could inspect them. There were no other colors and eventually after I thought he played a fool long enough I told  him, "As I already knew, your eyes are....shit brown!"

Mail was passed out and my cellmate received a stack of newspapers to read and preoccupy himself. He sat at the table going through them with the fan angled up from the floor blowing air on his balls. I told him not to sexually molest my fan like that, but he simply pushed the fan closer. While "Quagmire" read the News - Gazette, I sat at the other side of my bunk farthest away from him and went over blog commentary. Sometimes, I like to have fun with readers' comments particularly those I suspect have political views opposite to mine. I wrote a few witty replies to feminazis, although I suspect they will be considered mean spirited and may not be published. Blog handlers can take all the fun out of commentary. They do not know how little joy I have writing about my miserable existence and the zingers brighten up my day.

Tuesday morning, I went to the small yard to work out. There was not much to do, but I made the best of it as a few other prisoners did as well. In between sets of bench presses, I listened to black men talk about all the flagrant homosexuality on the CBS TV show "Big Brother". I knew better than to watch the program, but it was popular amongst many convicts. Apparently, there is not only a couple of gay men but a radical left wing woman with blue hair who can go either way. A prisoner I was lifting weights with said he had no respect for women who act like men and in "the hood" would beat a bull dike up if she ever crossed him. From there, the conversation went to the Juvie Hall at Joliet where many of the men once were before committing other more serious crimes as adults and being sent to the IDOC. They spoke and joked about a black teenager who was a homosexual and went by the name Kool-Aid, however, when he was released he flipped and was dating girls.

As the sun rose, the temperature greatly increased. The heat and humidity caused a number of men to cease lifting weights. It did not bother me and I was glad there were less people. With the 220 pound barbell, I did a few pull overs with Kid spotting me to make sure I did not crush my face. There is a reason why they call these "Skull crushers". Kid was mad about the female guard who passed out legal mail. "The bitch" had written him a disciplinary ticket for threats and intimidation. I knew the woman had an antagonistic attitude, although what caused him to exchange words with her was that she was reading his mail. All regular correspondence can be read by staff, however, legal mail can only be checked for contraband and for that reason it was opened in front of inmate's presence.

After yard, I was not looking forward to going into the chow hall. It was stifling hot and sweat rolled off my body as if I was in a hot box. The food being served was also very unappealing. What the prison kitchen supervisors called Chicken-Ala-King was just chicken bones, broth, and noodles. The only thing I had that was appetizing again was the donated bread and I stuffed it into a sock to make a tuna sandwich later. In the meantime, I drank a chilled bottle of Gatorade I had brought to the yard with me. Prison workers will bring a couple of buckets of ice out to the yards during the summer and men place bottles of water, soda, or Gatorade in one of them. The other bucket is used to drink from.

After eating my sandwich in the cell, I switched places with my cellmate and bathed out of the sink. Although the sink was fixed a couple of months ago, the water pressure had already dropped back down to a dribble. To wash my hair, I scrubbed out the toilet and then used the water in it to rinse. The water was cold and refreshing. I had dried off and dressed when the counselor made rounds in the quarter unit. The counselor was actually a guard who was temporarily assigned the task of being a liaison. Many prisoners thought she could not be objective and was worthless. Fortunately, I do not expect them to be of any assistance. My cellmate wanted me to inquire about Securus not allowing me to make any phone calls, however, I knew better than to ask. New to the job, she would not know and indifferent, she would not care to find out what the problem was. Prisoners in my cell house now greatly miss the former counselor who was reassigned to a different unit.

By midweek, the hot humid weather had passed and it was back to pleasant 75 degree days. Despite this, I was lethargic and greatly annoyed by prisoners who shouted from their cells. I stuffed some ear plugs in my ears and as noon approached I nodded off only to be awakened moments later by my cellmate. He told me a guard had just announced my name over the intercom system for a visit. I dressed in my state issued blue clothing as I tried to wake fully. As I did so, I could not miss how happy my cellmate was. I asked him what he was so happy about. I was the one with a visitor. "Naked day!" Anthony said. I should have known my cellmate was happy to be without my presence for a few hours. It is uncomfortable being locked in a cell with someone all the time. Guards in the visiting room even gave me extra time which they almost never do.

My mother also seemed happy when I saw her. She had been contacted by the Illinois Innocence Project. The woman who spoke to her said the reason why they have not been in contact with me was because it was summer. Nearly all the students and faculty left the university. She assured my mother that they had yet to make a decision about accepting my case. In fact, a student has taken special interest in it and was reviewing it even during summer break. She wanted to know if I needed the copies of my appeals to be sent back or if she could keep them. She was also interested in what work Northwestern University had done and why they quit. My mother explained that the students investigating my case were threatened and therefore Professor David Protess dropped it. Hopefully, the IIP will eventually take over as counsel and hire private investigators because I am having great trouble just contacting people.

When I returned from my visit, there was a stack of magazines on the counter. My cellmate said they were all from Steve. I looked through them with disbelief. "Is Steve in fantasy land?" I asked. He had subscriptions to Esquire, Cruise Travel, Vanity Fair, Bon Appetite, Forbes and Oprah. "Steve does realize he has two natural life sentences and is at Stateville Correctional Center?" I asked again rhetorically. I knew the prisoner continued to try to pamper himself and fantasize, but I did not know the extent of his delusion. I told my cellmate I was going to toss all the magazines. Even if I were free, I would not waste my time with such pretentious garbage. Anthony did not care to read them either, although he did want to look at the women in Vanity Fair.

Later in the evening, I was somewhat regretting my decision to throw out all the magazines. For a third straight night, there was nothing on TV. I had some interesting books to read, but they were several hundred pages long and required deep thought. I just wanted something to preoccupy my time for an hour or two before I went to sleep. Turning stations on my television, I stopped at CNN to watch the funeral procession in Holland. Finally, some of the dead from Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 had been brought back home. The Dutch solemnly commemorated their lost citizens and even I was saddened by the event. More so, I was angered the U.S. and its NATO allies were not responding to Russian aggression. Russia was now barraging Ukrainian forces from across the border. They had also again amassed their army to invade their neighbor at a moment's notice. Nearly 20,000 troops with heavy weaponry had been assembled by week's end and all European leaders could do is reach an agreement to step up sanctions.

Thursday morning, prisoners were treated to shredded pork for lunch. Nearly everyone came out of their cells for the meal even those Muslims who were purportedly participating in Ramadan. I sat at a full table of men including Lunch Box, Otis, Bratcher, and Steve. Bratcher I called the "Gunslinger" because he walks with his elbows out like he is going to pull 2 six shooters out. He has a bad back injury but while this may cause someone to walk hunched over, there is no reason for his arms to bow. After making fun of the Gunslinger, he defected and spoke about how his cellmate is the biggest "bug." Purportedly, Jesus collects a myriad of insects. The Mexican was at Tamms for a number of years and prisoners believe he lost some of his marbles there. I do not know why, and would love the isolation.

Pork is rarely served in prison or for that matter any unprocessed meat. The IDOC is intent on feeding prisoners in the least expensive way. Steve who was sitting next to me tried to savor the food while at the same time eating it quickly. There was no way to tell how much time guards would allow us to eat before yelling for men to get out. I told Steve to stop pretending he was at a 4 star restaurant and just shove the food in his mouth like the common convict. To help him, out, I lifted his tray towards his face and said, "Let's go, piggy! Bon appetit!" Then I went on to sarcastically thank him for sending me all the magazines. Finally, Steve stopped eating to say that he saw how much I appreciated them when he saw them in the garbage.

I worked out for almost 3 hours on the yard Thursday. Guards usually only give us 2 hour Rec periods, but possibly they were feeling generous. It was a pleasant 70 degree day with sunny skies and slight breezes. While most other prisoners played basketball, table games, or just lounged around, I was determined to take full advantage of the time to exercise. Later, I was exhausted and with my cellmate sitting at the table wearing my Koss headphones, I jumped up onto his bunk. Anthony had just been given a new mattress and it was thick and fluffy. Compared to my old mattress, where I could feel the steel underneath, it was like lying on a cloud. I said to him, "This is the Serta pedic mattress I asked the prosecutor to give me," making a joke from the movie "Law Abiding Citizen". Anthony was even more amused when I said I was getting a T-bone steak next time and would share a little with him while he checks out my iPod. Personally, I suggest he plays Bach "Air on the G String".

I did not awaken until 6 p.m., long after dinner was served. I asked my cellmate where my T-bone steak was. He said the warden is never going to allow me to have the bone in the center so I could stab him in the throat. However, he did find some packets of peanut butter. Both Little Man and Leprechaun sent me a bag. After eating prison food for 21 years, peanut butter has become a favorite snack of mine and earlier I had complained of being completely out. With the sun setting in the west casting an orange glow on the prison wall, I ate a couple of peanut butter sandwiches on good donated bread and listened to one of Steve's cassette tapes. It had Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata", Edward Greig's "Morning", and, of course, Bach's "Air on the G String". With my plush Koss headphones on, I did not hear the yells of convicts, and almost felt a bit of tranquility.