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Friday, February 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Hope Monster -- November 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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