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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Commissary -- December 9, 2009

My cell house was finally able to receive commissary goods from the prison store. It has been over a month since B House has been permitted to shop. Inmates have been very disgruntled the last few weeks after our shop date was cancelled twice, and then pushed back several times. However, on Monday, we were happy and excited when cell house workers were sent to the commissary building to pick up our store purchases.

Many prisoners were out of food and other supplies. The few who had merchandise were hoarding it, or taking advantage of those who were without by selling things at a ratio of one for two. Thus, the buyer had to pay that person back double of what he borrowed. A couple of prisoners in every cell house make a living by running a one-for-two store. Many who cannot wait till the next shop date, or who are waiting for money, will borrow from these stores. Sweets, coffee, and particularly tobacco (when it was still being sold in prisons), were the biggest sellers at these stores. Coffee is now the #1 sought after item, and inmates will often buy what is called "coffee balls" for a dollar. A coffee ball is instant coffee poured into a small bag and tied. It looks like a golf ball sized bit of coffee. I have never purchased anything from these stores, and never had a need to. I am the ant in the ant and the grasshopper fable, and never go hungry.

It is a lot of work for cell house workers to pick up and pass out commissary goods to approximately 300 prisoners, particularly this Monday. Although commissary workers fill the bags and mark them with a name and cell number, it is the cell house workers that stuff the stapled brown bags into large heavy duty plastic garbage bags, and stack them on carts to bring to the cell house. There were considerably more store purchases than customary, and seven carts were loaded high with bags. If I had been able to see the procession of carts moving to our cell house, it would probably resemble a slow-moving freight train.

At the cell house, the plastic garbage bags are brought to their respective galleries. The plastic bags are torn open then, and the brown paper bags are placed in front of the cells by matching the numbers on the bags with the cell numbers. Cell house workers only come out on their assigned shift. However, on commissary days, all cell house workers are let out.

While inmates do all the strenuous labor, guards will go cell to cell giving inmates their receipts along with an ink pad. Prisoners are required to sign their receipts, and give their right hand fingerprints. This procedure is done to prove inmates received their store purchases. If there are any complaints made later, guards can check the signature and prints to see if they match. Signing your name is also attesting that you received everything you were billed for. However, guards are too busy to stand by your bars, wait, and watch to see if you received all your merchandise. At times, prisoners will lie and say they did not get something they did, or contrarily, a guard will not accept the word of an inmate telling the truth, and he will be ripped off. I will ask a guard to stop for a moment before going to the next cell when I have made an expensive purchase. This is probably unnecessary because I have been at Stateville so long, and most of these guards have known me for years. They know I would not lie to try and get something for free.

My hyper cellmate was eagerly awaiting his commissary bags when workers began to pass them out. When his bags were placed in front of our cell several feet away from the bars, he asked me if I could read his receipt which was stapled onto a bag. I read off the list, and my cellmate was upset that the gym shoes he ordered did not come. For a couple of months, both my cellmate and I have been trying to buy a certain running shoe, although they are of poor quality. My cellmate who jogs in circles in the small yard, and the 1/4 mile track on the large south yard, and in the cell for hours, has nearly worn the soles off his shoes. My cellmate was also upset that his fruit pies were substituted with Bear Claws, though he must not have been too unhappy because he ate all ten of them in a day and a half.

All I ordered was a pair of gym shoes and two pens. I write so much that I am continuously going through pens. Because there is a limit of two on pens, I am often using pencil. This journal entry, like most of my others, is written in pencil. And I see that I am going to have to find some more pencils because I only have one now that is longer than two inches. Apparently, the size of shoe my cellmate and I wear is out of stock, and commissary workers were too lazy to fill an order for just two pens -- because I did not get a bag.

I am angered by the Illinois Dept. of Corrections making a profit from my incarceration. Illinois prisons are allowed to overcharge prisoners 25% on all commissary purchases. On top of this, Stateville has been breaking the law to make even more money by adding 3% to the prices before adding the 25% allowed by legislation. An audit was recently done showing Stateville's commissary earning $2.3 million in 2008, $500,000 dollars more than permitted. Stateville has responded by saying they believed they could add costs for commissary staff, utilities, and warehouse space before adding the 25%. However, the 25% is supposed to include these expenses. Stateville has also been caught not using competitive bidding, and giving contracts to friends and family of prison administrators.

The reason B House has not shopped in over a month is due to a lockdown, and the laziness of the commissary supervisor. Recently, overtime, which has been abused by Stateville staff, has been cut to save money. Staff's reaction to this has been to work even slower than they were previously. They want to force the administration's hand to hire more unnecessary staff, or let them continue to make double time and six figure salaries along with their plush benefits. The supervisor of the prison's commissary says that if he and his civilian workers are not allowed to make overtime, they will only be able to let prisoners shop twice a month. Earlier this year, inmates' four shops a month were cut to three, and now the supervisor wants to see if he can push it to two. Rumor has it that our new warden is not going to let him get away with this, and has threatened to fire him if work does not get done.

Stateville offers a variety of merchandise for prisoners to buy. I have been told it has more selection than many other prisons in the state, albeit Stateville does not sell a number of products that are sold in minimum or medium security prisons due to security reasons. For example, I cannot buy a pencil sharpener, and am currently writing with a dull pencil. Occasionally I scrape it down with my toe nail clippers. Another example is toothbrushes, which are only 3" long and made of flexible rubber. State toothbrushes given out to the indigent are hard plastic, but only 2" in length. I must almost stick my hand in my mouth to brush my back teeth, and I often drool on myself when brushing.

Stateville is the only prison in Illinois, except Tamms Supermax, that does not allow inmates to go to the commissary to make purchases. At other penitentiaries, prisoners tell a commissary worker what they want though a plexiglass or wire mesh window, and the workers fill their bags. The bags are then rung up at a register by civilian staff. There are a number of disadvantages to not being allowed to shop like everyone else. When you fill out a list, often you do not know what you are getting, or if the item is in stock. If present at the order counter, you could look at the product to see if you wanted it. At the register, you could also try on a pair of shoes to see if they fit. Stateville prisoners must guess how much money they will have on their account when the orders are filled. They cannot make last minute additions or substitutions. Furthermore, those at other prisons do not have any problems with being charged for items they did not receive or shoes that do not fit.

Although most prisoners would like to shop at commissary, there are some who do not, and there is probably a good reason for Stateville's shop in abstentia policy. Regularly, people at other prisons, particularly maximum security or high-medium security institutions, are coerced or beaten at commissary for their purchases. At Pontiac Correctional Center, I often saw people have their bags taken by force. Typically, a victim will give up their store when threatened, but there are times that people have been severely beaten or even stabbed. The weak and non-gang-affiliated are often targeted. However, being in a gang is not always protection, because gang members must pay dues, and are at the mercy of their mob leaders. White men, especially younger men from the suburbs who are often thought of as soft, and typically are, are also preyed upon more. Suburban white prisoners often have more money and do not know how to react to intimidation and violence. At Cook County Jail, I was regularly protecting white people from the gang bangers, and other thugs. Although I was only 18, white, and from an affluent suburb, I was not your typical suburban teen. Despite having autism, I was not a coward, and often went without fear. I did not fear the hoodlums in the county jail. I feared a natural life sentence where I would be put in continual anguish, torment, and misery until the end of time.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My 35th Birthday -- November 30, 2009

Many mornings, I wake up and do not know the day of the week. Sometimes, I will forget not only the day, but the year. However, this morning, I could not escape the dismal reality that it was my 35th birthday. Over the weekend, I had called home, and was reminded that Monday was my birthday. I was also asked if I received any birthday cards. Apparently, a number of people had sent me cards, and were interested to know if I had received them. Other than a card from my sister that she mailed in October, I had to answer no. The incoming mail at Stateville is regularly weeks behind. At this time of year, it is even worse. It seems that long after this sad milestone in my life has passed, I will be reminded of it time and time again. The Yuletide will be here, and I will still be receiving late birthday cards.

I do not look forward to my birthday anymore, nor have I for almost two decades. A birthday is yet another reminder of how old I am, and how many years I have been incarcerated. Today is the 17th birthday I have had while in prison or the county jail. Next year, my birthday will have the significance of my being locked up for as long as I had been free. I will have then had exactly 18 birthdays before and after my arrest. Certainly, that fact will not elude me, and I will brood about it for a long time.

When you are young, a birthday is indeed a time to celebrate and be happy. A birthday is not only a special day for friends and family to commemorate, but represents a period of both physical and mental growth. You are becoming stronger, faster, bigger, smarter, and more attractive to the opposite sex. Every year brings new freedoms and power. Your potential is becoming realized. However, for a man, or at least for myself, it is down hill after 25. Those that mature quicker typically decline quicker, and now every day is one day closer to my death. There is little to nothing to fulfill or give meaning to my existence, and there is nothing to look forward to. There is just time ticking away, wearing you down until there is nothing. Don't wish me a happy birthday. It is only a day of sorrow.

Today was a day like many others, except for a few subtle distinctions. At noon, my name was called for a visit. Having been expecting a visit, I was ready to leave with my cell in compliance, and had my state blues on. I was escorted to gate #5 by a guard without much delay. There are a series of gates leaving or entering the prison. Gate #5 is the last one you approach upon entering, and is always manned by a guard who lets traffic through. I waited in a cage for a while until I was permitted to go to the strip search room, which is just before gate #3. Some wardens have made a fuss about all the gates being locked, but for the vast majority of my time here, gates 3 and 4 are left open. They are redundant, and only cause more work for the guards, and annoyance for the numerous people who must go through them. After being searched, I went down the stairs into the visiting room while looking to see who had come to visit me. Although there were many people there, my table was empty.

The visiting room was crowded, and noisy on this last day of the month. I was hoping some prisoners had used up their maximum 5 visits, but this was not the case. I was sitting at an odd table which was lower than the stools attached to it. These tables are unique to Stateville, and it prevents people from passing items under the table or touching. The guards and cameras have an unobstructed view of the inmates. I sat on my stool waiting for my visitors to arrive. At times, I inconspicuously used my fingers to close my ears, trying to muffle the loud and obnoxious chatter. I grew more and more irritated as time went by. Finally, a female officer approached me and said she was going to call to find out the reason for the delay. Another 30 minutes passed after this, until I saw my mother come down the stairs. I had waited over an hour, and she had been waiting over three hours. It was already close to 2 p.m., and we had less than a half hour to visit. I spent half this time listening to my mother tell me about an unfriendly, unprofessional, and lazy guard at the visitors' waiting room, and then instructing her to get the guard's name so we could report the matter. I also gave her instructions on how to deal with such a problem in the future. Considering the non-confrontational nature of my mother, and her friendliness, I probably wasted our little time. However, by then, I was too angered and irritated to have a good visit anyway.

I came back to my cell in a poor mood, though I am typically unhappy. I was only more dissatisfied, and more bitter about my life than usual. I also was very hungry, having not eaten since 7 a.m. I had planned to eat some vending machine food during my visit, and therefore had skipped lunch. I was going to skip the prison supper as well. For supper, we were being served turkey-soy meatballs with two slices of bread, corn, and applesauce. The turkey-soy meatballs are of the worst quality, and often you bite into pieces of bone and gristle. It is probably made of turkey scraps, including beaks and feet, with soy meal ground into it. For my birthday, I decided not to go out for meals to prevent myself from having to deal with the people imprisoned here anyway.

I saved my appetite for the Monday night football game. I was making burritos for my cellmate, a neighbor, and I. Using flour tortillas from the commissary, and also store-bought roast beef, cheese, refried beans, and rice, I made an enormous meal. Preparing and cooking all this food was time consuming, and a little difficult, especially considering the means at my disposal. For example, heating the water: I needed to boil the water by using a makeshift stinger. Stingers are no longer sold at maximum security prisons due to boiling hot water, bleach, hair straightener, or other acidic substances being tossed into people's faces, mostly guards. Burritos are a favorite meal among the Mexican population here, and they will even fry the burritos on metal bunks or stools with plenty of butter. I will not go to such lengths, and I prefer non-fried or grilled food. Burritos are not one of my favorites either, but it is one of the better meals I can make with what we have available. As I began to roll up the burritos, I heard Hank Williams say "Are You Ready for Some Football?" And, yes, I was.

There is a commercial for Monday night football that has been getting a lot of air time lately. There is some man going about his job or life on a Monday morning. He is unhappy with his boring life, and nothing seems to be going right for him. But, he then remembers there is Monday night football, and he is happy. Similar to the man in the commercial, I was looking forward to the game, and knew it was finally here.

This Monday night was a key match-up between the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. Most of the prison cell house believed the Patriots would win this game, despite the Saints' undefeated record and the most explosive offense in the NFL. I like a number of players on the New England team, but I knew the Saints had a clear advantage, and should not be underdogs. I found myself rooting for the Saints, and predicting their victory. It brought back memories of when I was friends with a bookmaker before my arrest, and I watched games with him where there were thousands of dollars on the line.

In the first quarter, I thought possibly I had made a mistake in my prediction. Although the Saints scored on their first drive, they accepted a field goal rather than going for it on a fourth down to secure a touchdown. The Patriots, contrarily, were more aggressive and took a fourth down chance and got into the endzone. The cellhouse was cheering, and banging their cell doors. The excitement of this game was similar to a playoff game. However, by the beginning of the 4th quarter, it was over with. The Saints were dominating, and a few of the best players and even the coach of the Patriots, had given up. The final score was 17 - 38, and after the game, one of the most brilliant coaches of the NFL looked like he was going to cry in a post game interview. I enjoyed the Saints' win, and choosing the winning team, but I did not like seeing the Patriots so devastated by the loss.

Even with the conclusion of my birthday ending with a big victory, I doubt I will remember it in the years to come, unless this journal still exists. I do not remember any of my birthdays in prison. Even my 34th is a loss to me. In prison, I live to forget, and birthdays are particular days I wish not to remember. Despite not remembering last year's birthday, I recall many of my birthdays when I was a free adolescent or child.

One of my more memorable and better birthdays was my 17th. I recall this birthday almost as if it was yesterday. I spent the evening with a few friends, and a number of girls, after a long train ride to the northwest Chicago suburbs. My friends presented me with a number of odd gifts. Mixed drinks were made, and Brian had prepared trays of lasagna. Brian was a pretty good cook, and the meal turned out well. Brian nor I drink, but the girls were drinking and quickly began acting silly. I remember Brian's little brother, Jeff, who was only 12, making out with a half naked high school girl. Brian's mother came home late from working, but by that time, only Brian, me, and a handful of girls were still there. Jeff was already knocked out in his room. The rest of us slept overnight, with most of us on blankets on the floor. I did not wake up until well after noon the next day.

The last birthday I had before my arrest was my 18th. I had a heated argument with my father that day about my curfew time. My father and I, unfortunately, did not speak that often, and when we did, it was usually to lock and ram horns. Soon after my birthday, I spoke with Bob Faraci, one of Brian's friends, who quickly offered me to stay at his place with him and his wife, and I accepted. Eighteen days later, Bob was to (allegedly) kill Dean Fawcett, and contrary to my interrogating officer, I knew nothing about it. Regardless, here I am in Stateville, 17 years later, serving natural life without parole. Birthdays....who needs them? Who wants them? Not me. I wish I could have stayed 17 forever.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thanksgiving Day -- November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day is much like any other day in prison. The only distinction is that we get a little better food for lunch, and we are on holiday schedule. A holiday schedule does not mean anything special for inmates. Contrarily, it means we remain in our cells all day except to pick up our lunch and dinner trays. Other than kitchen workers, and a few cell house helpers, there are no prison details. Holiday schedule is not for the inmates, but the guards and staff who work here. They are able to take the day off, or be lazier than usual while earning twice the pay they normally would. More than likely, holiday schedule will continue until Monday.

I slept poorly during the night, despite wearing a pair of ear plugs. I awoke at 5 a.m., when my cellmate was using the toilet. He had a sheet up blocking my view, but it is only about five feet from where my head was. Having to live in such close quarters is something most inmates get used to. However, I have been in prison for about 15 years, and I still am not comfortable with the confines of space. After getting a drink of water from a bottle I keep on the floor next to my bunk, I went back to sleep with my head in the farthest corner from my cellmate.

I woke up several more times before I finally got up for the day a few hours later. My cellmate was dolling up for a visit he was expecting. I made myself a cup of tea, and let it sit a minute while I fed the birds. The sparrows were particularly hungry this morning, and squawked at each other until they realized there was more than enough bread to go around. I flicked out more food than I usually do. It is Thanksgiving Day, and the birds deserve their holiday meal too, I think as I feed them.

My breakfast consisted of a square of crumb cake on which I spread commissary peanut butter, and two small self-serve containers of generic corn flakes. I don't drink tea often, but it was a good combination with the cake. I ate my breakfast on my bunk as usual, as I flipped through the channels on my TV, looking for news. I learned that Governor Quinn granted 133 clemency requests. All were filed during the Blagojevich administration. The Governor made a statement to the press that the petitions were long overdue to be answered, but there was little follow up about the type of clemency granted, or the cases involved. I speculate that most of them were for people who already served their sentences, and were not newsworthy.

My cellie's name was called out on the loudspeaker for a visit. His was the first name of almost 50 announced today. More visitors come to Stateville on Thanksgiving Day than on any other day of the year. My cellmate told me the visiting room quickly filled up to capacity, and when he left there was a huge number of prisoners waiting upstairs for tables to open up. All week has been crowded, even on Tuesday when I visited with my father. Despite holiday visitation being limited to one hour, many visits were cut short or cancelled. Sadly for many prisoners who wanted to be with their family on Thanksgiving Day, an identical visiting room across the hallway remains empty. Apparently, the prison administration is indifferent, and does not want to make accommodations, or intentionally wants to dissuade visitors. Possibly they will say that they lack the extra couple of guards to oversee the other visiting room, but of course, that would be a lie.

While my cellmate was on his visit, I exercised. I typically wait for him to leave to work, chow, or whatever, to work out. The cell is small, and I feel uncomfortable exercising when he is here. I also want to be courteous and not annoying, distracting or cramping his space. My work out is an intense cardio-calisthenic routine, but is brief. I am done within an hour's time.

After working out, I washed up in the sink. I have become accustomed to bathing out of my sink for so many years that a shower now seems odd. When I bathe, I put a bed sheet up that is secured at one end by a hook, and at the other end by pushing it under my cellmate's mattress. The sheet follows the mattress back to the back wall, so it is an L-shape, which gives me a square area of privacy up to my chest. I fill my sink up with hot water using a piece of cardboard to block the drain. I attempt to get the water and suds to fall into my toilet, but plenty goes on the floor. I have a floor rag that I lay out to absorb some of the water, but mostly to prevent water from moving underneath my bunk where my cellmate and I have our boxes and other property.

While I was rinsing off the soap suds, the loudspeaker announced stand by for chow. This typically means that we have a half hour, and sometimes up to two hours, so I was in no hurry. However, a few minutes later, I saw people being let out for chow. I was not going to miss my Thanksgiving Day meal, and I scrambled to dry off, dress, and put my cell in apparent compliance. When I left the cell, there was a pile of items thrown haphazardly behind my bunk, a puddle of water under the toilet, my hair was wet, and I had no socks.

Despite the early chow line, we were forced to wait in one of the chow halls for an hour before given our styrofoam trays to take back to the cells. On Thanksgiving Day, and most other holidays, we do not eat in the chow hall. We just pick up our food in styrofoam trays, and leave. This is supposed to be a quick process, like a drive through, but not today. I spent the time talking with a man from another gallery who I do not see very often. I talked to him through a cyclone fence about stocks, real estate, and financial trusts. He will be released soon, and he has been trying to learn about these matters before he leaves. He intends to raise capital for a real estate business by selling cocaine. I tend to believe he will not be the next Donald Trump, but come quickly back to prison.

Finally, the guard unlocked the gate and allowed us into the serving area. While in line, I asked an old man if chicken hawks eat turkey as well. The man goes by the name "Hawk Eye," however, after he was suspected of being a pedophile, I began to call him "Chicken Hawk." The old man was not amused, but those who overheard were. I was more entertained yesterday when the man was jogging around the gym with a known homosexual in the lead. My cellmate brought this to my attention, and I immediately knew why: the chicken hawk appeared to be chasing the chicken.

Because of the holiday, prisoners' laundry was not picked up. When I returned to the cell, I cleaned up my mess, and began the unpleasant task of washing my clothes by hand. For so many clothes, I slowly filled up my correspondence box with hot water from the sink. As I dumped mug after mug of water into the plastic box, I added more and more clothes to the soapy water, and swished them around. Afterward, I put the lid on and let them soak while I ate my Thanksgiving Day meal.

My lunch consisted of two trays: one warm, and one cold. In the warm tray was a scoop of collard greens, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, and a couple of pieces of turkey-soy loaf with gravy. Turkey loaf is processed turkey that is similar to meat loaf with added soybean meal. Inside the cold tray was a salad with not only lettuce, but onion, green pepper, and tomato. Although guards have a full salad bar, prisoners only receive lettuce throughout the year. Also in the cold tray were two biscuits, noodle salad, and a small prepackaged slice of pumpkin pie. We were also given a little cup of sherbet, but I traded mine for another slice of pie.

I saved my cold tray for later, but ate the warm one while I watched the DVD "Angels and Demons." I read the Dan Brown novel years ago, and it was good to see the movie, although it lacked depth. The food was better than we usually receive, but not as good as the homeless receive from charity groups in Chicago. I was disappointed that we continue to be fed processed turkey-soy, and it has been many years since prisoners in Illinois have been given a really good Thanksgiving Day meal. If these meals were served 20 years ago, the guards would have been dealing with a riot.

After the movie, I wrung out all my clothes and used the soapy water to clean out the toilet. I then used the large steel toilet to rinse my laundry. Although this method is exceedingly quicker than using my sink, I did not finish for two hours. As I write this journal entry, it is 9 p.m., and a few of my socks are still drying. It was a cold, wet day, and I was not able to get a cellhouse help worker to turn on the hot air blower until the second shift.

I did not go out for the dinner meal of bologna sandwiches. Instead, I used the hard boiled eggs we were given for breakfast, and my cold lunch tray to make an egg salad. I was only given two eggs, but my neighbors gave me their eggs, and so I had six. It was difficult cutting up the onion, green pepper, and tomato without a knife. I ended up using my toenail clippers to chop up the onion and green pepper slices. The tomato was torn apart with my nails, and the eggs were shredded with a plastic fork. Despite my method, the egg salad turned out to be pretty good.

The rest of the day I spent reading. Months ago, someone gave me three "Soldier of Fortune" magazines. I made time this evening to read them. I used to read this magazine often, but the Illinois Dept. of Corrections placed the publication on their banned list. The inmate who gave me the magazine had come from a southern penitentiary where the guards are more tolerant to this type of publication. In fact, a guard may have given him these.

When I decided to write about my Thanksgiving Day, I planned to conclude with what I was thankful for. However, now that I have reached that point, I find it very difficult. My life is a torturesome existence, and a turkey loaf meal does not relieve much of my anguish. Let me try though to give some thanks....

I am thankful for my deluxe set of Koss stereo head phones that I am wearing now that keep the continuous zoo-like noises at bay, and from driving me insane. I am thankful to the nurse who just brought me my medication so I can gain some sleep and escape from this miserable place. I am thankful for my strength of will and character which has helped me survive these many years spent in the worst maximum-security prisons of Illinois. I am thankful for my memories before my incarceration, and those few that have made me happy after, including the women who have come and gone in my life. I am thankful for my parents who have never given up, and have suffered along with me. Finally, I am thankful for those who support my freedom, and hear my voice beyond these prison walls.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thomson Supermax -- November 17, 2009

This week, the governor of Illinois announced that the supermax facility in Thomson has been offered to the federal government to house the detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay. Thomson is located near the border of Iowa in northwest Illinois, and the newly built prison was ready to be opened in 2000. There were plans and talk of transferring prisoners from Menard, Pontiac, and Stateville for years, but it remained empty until a few years ago when a small contingent of minimum security prisoners were transferred there.

Construction on the Thomson prison began when state lawmakers were pursuing an extreme, though politically expedient, get tough on crime policy. Truth in sentencing, and other laws were passed to drastically increase the time served by convicts. Illinois built, and quickly filled several new prisons during that time. However, at the turn of the century, it became apparent the state could not continue to build enough prisons to keep pace with all the people being incarcerated with long sentences and no hope of parole. Furthermore, the cost of an expanded prison system was consuming revenue from state coffers at the expense of other programs and projects. Today, when Illinois is in enormous debt and tax revenues continue to fall, it makes sense for Governor Quinn to sell Thomson.

Thomson cost the state millions to build, and even with it sitting empty, it costs over a million a year just to maintain. For years, constituents of Illinois have been angry that a more efficient and brand new prison sits empty while Stateville, that is over 100 years old, decrepit, corrupt, and costly to maintain, continues to operate. The small town of Thomson could also certainly use the jobs and uptick in their economy. It made a lot of sense to close Stateville, and transfer its inmate population to Thomson. However, what makes perfect sense does not always make political sense.

For many years, former Governor Blagojevich sought to close Stateville, and open Thomson. The guards at Stateville, however, have a powerful union, and this union along with certain key state politicians, fought tooth and nail to keep Stateville open. The union allowed guards to take days off work to protest in Springfield, the state capital. Guards would even try to enlist support from visitors at Stateville. It was odd how the guards could be much more friendly when they wanted something. Before Springfield administrators and auditors toured Stateville, the prison would be quickly painted and cleaned. Ultimately, political deals were made behind the scenes, and Thomson continued to stay vacant.

There are rumors that the Roundhouse will be closed by the end of the year at Stateville. Since 2000, little by little, cell houses have been shut down. First it was the Honor Dorm, which housed well behaved inmates who had jobs. Then, I House and H House were closed. I House was condemned by the federal government for years. The building had major electrical, plumbing, and heating problems. It also was infested with cockroaches that no pest control service could eradicate. The cockroaches were so bad in certain wings, the walls would seem to move at night. It reminded me of the movie "Creepshow" and roaches would crawl on you in your sleep, and even in the light when you were awake if you were not paying attention. I have heard many prisoners tell me that roaches got into their TVs, radios, and even their ears. It is good that I regularly use headphones and earplugs at night.

The transfer of enemy combatants and terrorists to Thomson has ignited much controversy. Republican congressmen from Illinois quickly condemned our governor and president. They claim bringing detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Illinois will endanger the townsfolk of Thomson, population 500, along with the rest of the state. Illinois will become a target of terrorism, if you listen to the critics' rhetoric. Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower, nuclear facilities, and sporting events could be bombed as well as other sites. These arguments are without merit, and I continue to be annoyed by politicians' attempts to scare the public.

The threat of Al Qaeda is, and always has been overblown, and used to pursue political objectives. The 9-11 attack, although catastrophic, was an unsophisticated, crude, and easily preventable attack. Those that were behind the plane hijackings were a small fringe group of radical Islamists. The mass media sensationalized the Twin Towers' collapse, and the Bush administration took advantage of public emotion to take away American freedoms, declare wars, and expand an already intrusive government.

I believe in a strong military and foreign intelligence agency to be used to defend and protect our clear national interests. However, special forces and strategic missile strikes could have destroyed Al Qaeda leadership and any budding nuclear program in Iraq. An invasion force to bring democracy to these states was unnecessary, and unwise. To prevent further terrorist attacks like 9-11, cockpit doors could simply have been secured. America faces little threat to religious radicals who live in caves and its only means to attack the USA was by using a commercial airplane as a missile. There are much larger threats to the United States such as rising superpowers.

Not only does the town of Thomson face little or no danger from incarcerating Al Qaeda members, but there is little to no chance of an escape. The supermax prison is one of the most secure prisons in the U.S., including the federal supermax that already houses other identified terrorists and dangerous criminals. I have spent time in similarly designed buildings such as the closed H and I House units at Stateville. I have also heard much about Thomson from newspaper and TV news reports.

Each cellhouse at Thomson is built on an X design with four wings of cells, and a secured control room in the middle. The cells are not stacked on top of each other like where I live now, and although there are two floors, they are divided. Other than for visits, which I do not believe Guantanamo Bay detainees will be allowed, they will never leave their wing. Showers are on the wing, and food is brought to inmates in trays which are pushed into a chuck hole in a solid steel door. The chuck hole has a door which is only unlocked to feed. If the accused terrorists are given recreation, it will consist of being let out of a door outside their wing, and into a small concrete court. The court is walled, and has razor wire. There is also a security camera focused on the court, as there is everywhere you go in Thomson, except inside your cell. The cell has a concrete slab for a bunk, and there are no bars. It will be difficult for those detained there to communicate with others on the wing, and they will have to shout at the bottom of the doors. They will also probably resort to shooting tightly folded letters ("kites") underneath the door to be fished by the receiver. The outside perimeter of Thomson has no high walls like Stateville, and one on the outside can see the prison cell houses. However, the absence of a 30 foot wall does not make the prison any less secure. Two tall fences with razor wire go around the penitentiary. One is electrified with near fatal electric current. The perimeter also has motion and pressure detectors as well as gun towers.

Despite the lack of movement, isolation, and increased security, I would much rather be at Thomson than Stateville. In fact, I will be jealous of the members of Al Qaeda if they are indeed transferred there. Thomson is a brand new prison; it is clean and does not have problematic plumbing, electric, or heating. Although the prison does not have windows that open, it does have air conditioning in the summer. The cells at Thomson are not open with bars to allow screaming and banging, or blaring radios and TVs to disturb me day and night. The wings are not long, and an inmate would not have many people to bother him anyway. As I listen to numerous prisoners yelling over each other, I think of the blissful quiet I could be enjoying at Thomson. Finally, the best part of living at Thomson would be not to have to share a bathroom-sized space with another person. Every time there was talk of opening Thomson to maximum security state prisoners, I quickly told my counselor to put me on the list. It seem that I will never get there now.

Although I see no controversy with moving detainees to Thomson, I find it ironic that President Obama is more concerned with the rights, fair trials, treatment, and living conditions of these foreign terrorists than with U.S. citizens. Why is it that a member of Al Qaeda should not be water boarded or harshly interrogated in the name of national security when U.S. citizens are routinely mistreated and abused during arrest and interrogation? Why is it that a member of Al Qaeda is to be assured a fair trial with all the rights and safeguards of our Constitution, but many of our own citizens are not, and are convicted although innocent? Why is it that members of Al Qaeda are to be incarcerated at a brand new penitentiary with better living conditions than those at Stateville, or any number of other prisons? Those at Guantanamo Bay are not U.S. citizens, and should not have Constitutional rights. They are foreigners, enemy combatants, and terrorists. It is time Americans began thinking about our own country, justice system, and its incarcerated citizens, and not the perceptions of the global community.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Stock Market -- November 14, 2009

I spend a considerable amount of my time studying the stock market. I read several financial magazines and newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal and Smart Money. I also read numerous annual and quarterly reports of various companies and mutual funds. As I write this journal entry, I have almost 10 corporate reports to read. Furthermore, I collect enormous data on hundreds of stocks, and key economic reports. I compare this information to evaluate individual corporations, and attempt to predict their future performance.

My obsession with the stock market did not come overnight, but was probably sparked while taking a business course at Joliet Correctional Center. I took several economic and business classes, and in one of these, our professor from Lewis University gave us basic lessons on how to understand economic data, how financial markets work, and how to buy and sell stocks. I was very intrigued with the subject, and drilled the teacher with numerous questions. I also read a number of books on my own, other than our textbook. Although the teacher had intended for this to be only an introductory course, I would not allow this to happen, and by the end of the course, the teacher was allowing me to give lectures to the class, and debate him on different issues.

My first lecture was on the different fiscal policies of Bill Clinton, Herbert Walker Bush, and Ross Perot, whose policy I supported the most. The second lecture was about free trade and economic mercantilism. I concluded that I saw free trade as a destructive policy that will lead to America's fall as an economic superpower, and spoke of the superiority of economic nationalism and protectionism. My professor did not agree with my views, and in the last lecture, we debated investment strategies. My professor had made a lot of money in technology stocks, and told the class that people should invest heavily in the stock market, particularly in Cisco Systems. Contrarily, I told the class the market was enormously overvalued, and to buy bonds, CDs, and gold. The market continued to soar in 1999 with Cisco Systems posting new and newer highs. While my professor may have gloated that year, he was certainly not so smug when the Internet bubble burst in 2000. By then, however, the college program was terminated, and I was transferred to Stateville, never to see the professor again.

In 2001, New York city's Twin Towers were crudely plowed into by hijacked airplanes. Instead of sending in special Ops to destroy the small group of Al Qaida, our president declared war on Afghanistan and soon thereafter, U.S. troops were invading Iraq. I knew this was a perfect time to invest in oil, and other related energy companies. The prices were still low from the 2000 stock market crash, and instability in the Middle East would lead to higher prices. Demand from not only the military, but the world, was growing for natural resources. Not having any money, I told family members to buy stocks in these areas. No one would listen to me. I told my mother just to buy one mutual fund for me: Vanguard Energy. No, she would not oblige me. From that time to the 2007 October highs, my parents could have increased their investment almost 500%. My parents would not dismiss my investment advice again.

As the market peaked in 2007, and I could foresee the cliff approaching, I told my family to move out of U.S. stocks and funds. I advised a move into cash, gold, and foreign markets. Some of my family took my advice, but not as much as I would have liked. Furthermore, instead of buying real gold, they bought gold mutual funds which went down with the market. I did not foresee European markets, Canada, or Australia doing as poorly, but apparently we are all connected now, and the NYSE brought the world markets down with it.

At this juncture is when I began to obsessively read about, and analyze, stocks. For hours every day, and continuing for weeks, and then months, I would spend studying and making charts. It is an incredibly tedious and time consuming process when you do not have ready access to information at a touch of a button on a computer, and must go through a huge pile of newspapers until your fingers turn black from the ink. It is also extremely time consuming to make my "homemade" charts that compare various information, and are color coded, using dull colored pencils that I must sharpen with a nail clipper. (Pencil sharpeners are not allowed in maximum security prisons.)

Inmates and guards alike find my preoccupation unusual. I sit at a steel desk next to the bars for hours every day. Several lieutenants have come over to me and inquired about my interest. A couple have even asked me for investment advice. It is odd that some people have stock investments, but know very little about the companies or funds they own. They also do not have much knowledge about economic principles. The inmates are much worse, and are completely ignorant of the subject. A past cellmate of mine asked me to explain a little, but the most basic information would be lost on him. Not that I want to, but I catch the interest of a number of prisoners, at least briefly. Criminals are excited about the prospects of making quick and easy money. However, it requires work, study, and, of course, capital, and a person outside the prison--all things that most prisoners do not want to do, cannot do, or do not have.

I do not have any capital myself. All the money and belongings I had before my arrest have been given to my parents or to relatives. My father continues to say that I am in deep debt to him for legal fees, and even if he was not serious, the victim's mother was awarded a $5 million dollar judgement against me. In most states, you can demand a civil trial for a wrongful death lawsuit, but in Illinois, if you are found guilty criminally, even under the accountability law, you are automatically found guilty civilly. Thus, I do not profit from the stock market. All the work I do is only to advise the members of my family and relatives. I am motivated solely to help them, and make my empty life have some purpose and productivity.

Each time the Dow Jones has fallen from its high of 14,000, I have advised my family to buy more and more stock and mutual funds. The market fell more than I had anticipated, and unfortunately, a lot of stocks were purchased at 12,000, 10,000, and 8,000, before reaching the true bottom of 6,500. At 6,500, I was the most adamant about buying, but by then, people were looking at me like the boy who cried wolf too many times. Very little stock was consequently bought at the bottom. In my defense, I cannot predict the bottom, and I don't think many can. I can only give reasonable advice to investors. The best rule of thumb is to buy low and sell high.

Every quarter, I go into an obsessive mode as quarterly reports are released by the government and by corporations. For the last week, I have been doing very little but trying to absorb every tidbit of information, chart it, and make sense of it. The prison went on lockdown earlier in the week due to an incident in the Round House, and this has given me the opportunity to sit at my desk for hours with only having the maddening loud noises of the cell house, and my cellmate for distractions. And my cellmate was nice enough to put me on "no talk" for part of Thursday and Friday. He was mad at me for putting his things away and organizing his property box. Usually, I am indifferent to his sloppy, disordered box, but when I went to put his property away, I could not stop myself from dumping the contents of the entire box on the floor, and refilling it in an orderly fashion. We had an argument where he called me a "bug" and a "cell dictator." I will not deny it. I am probably a little of both. I am terribly bothered by clutter, lack of space, and disorganization. In any event, he is talking to me again, and with much pent-up socialization, I knew he could not last giving me the silent treatment.

Tomorrow, I will send out my Top 50 List to my family. After all my analysis, I make a chart listing my favorite stocks, numbering them from 1 to 50. The charts are based off of much data, including earnings per share growth, sales growth, price to earnings, dividends, debt levels, cash reserves, and future outlook. The list of 50 comes from over 1,000 stocks that I have individually looked at, although only briefly for companies with terrible numbers. It is this list that I encourage my family to invest in, but because of my belief that the market is now overvalued in respect to fundamentals, I do not advise buying much, or to place sell orders with the purchases.

"Be greedy when others are fearful, and be fearful when others are greedy" -- Warren Buffet. He has not been investing too wisely of late, but I still agree with these sentiments. The Dow Jones has quickly bounced off of March lows, and on Friday was just under 10,300 points. This "V" shaped recovery is not sound, and is based off of government stimulus, near zero interest rates, the flooding of the market with dollars, and business cost cutting. When the government is forced to turn off the spigots, cut spending, raise interest rates, and under an Obama administration, raise taxes, the market will stall and reverse. Again, I cannot predict the timing with certainty, but have told my family they should consider selling before the DOW reaches 11,000.

In this market, my favorite sectors are gold, energy, natural resources, and foreign countries such as Canada, Australia, Europe, and emerging markets in East Europe. These countries will fair better in the long run because they have not spent themselves into oblivion. East Europe relies on financing from the West, and will fall with the U.S., but until then, will perform four times as well. I refuse to encourage investment in China for policial reasons, and Latin America due to its socialist tendencies, corruption, poor work ethic, lack of education, and poor infrastructure. With the dollar falling like a rock, gold is a no brainer, and hungry emerging markets will increase demand for natural resources far into the future. A random mix of stocks from my Top 50 are: Quicksilver Gas, Joy Global, Diamond Offshore, BHP Billiton, Ebix, IBM, Astra Zeneca, and Consol Energy.

I am dismayed by Obama's willingness, albeit eagerness, to pass on enormous debt to future taxpayers. I disagree strongly with his socialist ideology as well. I wonder what the standard of living will be if I am ever released. I also wonder about America's superpower status, and the decline of values. If I am released 20 years from now, what country will America have become?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Prison Perverts -- November 4, 2009

Early this morning, while I was eating breakfast in bed and flipping through channels on my television looking for news, a couple of guards and a sergeant came to my neighbor's cell. I was not paying much attention because I had my head phones on, but the next thing I noticed was my neighbor leaving with a Seg bag. A Seg bag is a laundry bag filled with a few items you are allowed to take with you when you are being sent to the Segregation Unit. A prisoner can take a bar of soap, towel, wash cloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a couple of tee shirts, socks, and boxers. Usually a prisoner is not permitted to make a Seg bag, and is sent directly to "jail" without passing "go." These prisoners must wait several days to a few weeks to be given a portion of their property. Their cellmate packs their belongings into their boxes, and the property is later inventoried and sifted through by guards. Eventually, the property allowed in Seg will be given to the inmate. The remaining property will stay in their boxes, and will be stored until they are let out of disciplinary confinement.

The person next door who was sent to Seg was in his mid-20s; he was a black man with a youthful and innocent-looking face. To my knowledge, he was never given a disciplinary ticket, and morning count had not been cleared so I was puzzled as to what he could have done. Later, I asked his cellmate what had happened. The noise in the cell house was so great, however, I could barely hear him. It sounded like he said that his cellmate was caught saying something over the phone last night. All our phone calls are monitored, and if you speak of certain illegal acts or rule violations, you can be sent to Segregation. The cellmate went on to say that he did not know because he was sleeping. I thought these words were peculiar because how would he know what his cellmate was talking about unless he was eavesdropping on his calls.

In the afternoon, I was still curious as to what had happened to the man next door, who did not seem to be a trouble-maker. I asked a man who always seems to know all the gossip. As an introverted person who does not speak with many people, and is typically disinterested in the affairs of others, I am often ignorant to those around me. I often rely on "rabbit ears" or someone else to tell me the news. Not surprisingly, my source already knew all about what happened. Apparently, during the night, my neighbor was masturbating at the bars when a female guard walked by. She told him to cut it out, but he continued. Later, she told the lieutenant and wrote up a disciplinary ticket for sexual misconduct, and possibly refusing to obey a direct order. My cellmate, who was paying attention to the story, jokingly added that he was also written up for "unauthorized movement."

I am not sure if the man had just been caught masturbating, or if he was watching the woman, and she was the focus of his fantasy. Considering that he was at the bars, however, I reason it was the latter. People who live outside these prison walls may think this is a rare occurrence, but such incidents are common, and clearly intentional at Stateville. Men will masturbate while watching a nurse or female guard on the gallery. They will also flash these women, particularly an unescorted nurse who is walking through the cell house passing out medications. In a number of instances, it will be the man waiting for his psychotropic medication who will flash the nurse when she gives him his pills. I cannot fathom how men get excited masturbating or flashing the women who work here. First, almost all of them are unattractive. Second, even if they were models walking around in bikinis, I do not see any sexual gratification exposing, or playing with, oneself in front of them.

Not long after I was placed in general population at Stateville, I learned how brazen the perverts at the prison are. There was a female guard working on the catwalk, which is a balcony off of the cell house walls, and parallel to the 4th level of cells. I remember her as a very unfeminine and ugly black woman. She had just come out of the military and still had that persona with her. The guard was watching the first chow lines leave the building on the first floor. She held her rifle in an aggressive manner, like she was expecting some Iraqi to jump out of the sand. I was on the 3rd floor, and waiting to go out for chow when I began to hear some man begin to talk sexually to her. He said things like, "Oh, yeah, soldier girl, you hold that gun so tight" and things like that. I thought the man was just making fun of her for acting like she was still in the Army. What I did not know, however, was that the man on the 4th floor had unzipped his pants, and was masturbating as he spoke to her. The guard said some things to him that I could not hear, but she stayed on her post. After the chow lines left, the guard apparently called the lieutenant about the incident. The lieutenant went upstairs himself, maced the pervert, and brought him out in handcuffs. As I was entering the building, having come back from chow, the lieutenant was pushing him along to Segregation by the handcuffs behind his back, and he had only his boxers on. It was winter, and it must have been a cold walk to Seg. No, this inmate was not given a chance to make a Seg bag. From what I had been told, the man was a "bug," however, not all perverts are noticeably odd.

There was a Mexican who lived on my gallery for some time who everyone thought of as normal. People, including me, were surprised when he also went to Seg for masturbating to a female guard. The guard was passing out mail when she was confronted with the closet pervert. From what I later learned, he was watching her from the bars as she approached while playing with himself. The guard passed his cell and continued to pass out the mail, however, it was obvious that she was disturbed. My cell was down from his, and when she gave me my mail, she seemed uncharacteristically upset. This female guard is one of the very few who is actually pretty, and the only woman I would consider asking out if I was not in prison. She is a wholesome-looking white woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. She reminds me a little of the actress, Reese Witherspoon. This incident happened a few years ago when I believe she had just started working here. I feel protective toward such women, and wish they would choose another line of employment. If she was family, or my girlfriend, I would forbid her to work here.

Illinois has never had conjugal visits. However, years ago, the bathrooms in the visiting rooms were shared by visitors and inmates alike. Many men would bring their girlfriends or wives into the bathroom to have sex. Some inmates were so uncouth as to have sexual contact in public at the tables, behind vending machines, or when picnics were allowed, behind the gym bleachers. Guards usually turned a blind eye to this, but now it is a quick walk to Segregation. Some prisoners, in lieu of sex, will talk dirty over the telephones. I have noticed a couple of men on my gallery hidden underneath their blankets with the phone cord trailing out. One of these men I know, and will make fun of. When I catch him, I will say, "Hey freak! What are you doing under there?" Whereupon he will pop his head out to tell me to go away. I will also tell him that he better not be French kissing that phone because I sometimes use it. (The phone is very dirty, and whenever I use it, I clean it off.) Another jibe I will make at this man is that he better be careful, and use safe phone sex, or he may catch herpes, TB, or hepatitis.

Prisoners are allowed pornography, but it cannot be hard core, or personal nude photographs. Prisoners often have hard core porn, however, and some mailroom workers do not care, or have different interpretations of what hard core porn is. Magazines are collected and traded by inmates, and I have seen or heard about all types of the strangest porn being passed around. From "Plumpers" to "Over 50" to the foot fetish magazine "Boots and Lace." My cellmate has an odd attraction to women's feet, and I bet he has had one of these magazines at one time or another. I have a few pornographic magazines myself, but they are of a classier type with pretty females, not the raunchy or weird type prisoners seem to value so highly. I also will not trade magazines, look at porn with other men, or even talk about the matter. Other prisoners would be surprised that I even have a few magazines; even my cellmate does not know.

I have learned that pornography is the number one subject sought after on the Internet, and it is probably not odd that so many men in prison have these magazines. However, I do find it strange that free men would want to bother with such magazines. If I should ever be free, I will not waste my time looking at nude photos in magazines or online. Hopefully, I will not be an undesirable, old man who is unable to romance an attractive female. I will be most bitter, and sad if I cannot find my princess.

December 17, 2009 -- Today, yet another man was sent to segregation for masturbating to a guard. He was a black man who lived in cell 9, three cells away from mine. The female guard was an older white woman with red hair and freckles who regularly works in my cell house. She has worked here a long time, and was not disturbed by the matter--rather, she was annoyed. I heard her comment that it was the third time he had done this, and now he was going to Seg.

The man attempted convincing others that the guard was lying. He did not want to be known as a weirdo, or sexual deviant. He spoke to my neighbor and others, telling them the guard was making up the story wanting to book him. One of the people he was yelling to was asked to call his family, and tell them the accusation was false; he was going to refuse to cuff up and go to Seg. The guards would have to bring the extraction team to get him out, he ranted. I was expecting to be called for a visit within the hour, and was not happy to hear the words "extraction unit." This would mean my visit would be delayed, or even cancelled. However, as I suspected, the man was only bluffing. When the sergeant came to get him, he put his hands behind his back, and was hand-cuffed without any fuss, and taken to segregation.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Help Wanted: Defense Lawyers -- October 30, 2009

A few days ago, Jim, an old man who lives on my gallery, had someone drop off several packages of his legal papers, including a draft for a PLA, which is a Petition for Leave to Appeal to the Supreme Court. I was in the back of the cell washing up when I heard the thud of papers hit my steel desk. For months, this man has been pestering me with legal questions, and for advice on his case. I do not mind helping him out a little, but I am a very busy person. From the time I wake in the morning until the time I go to bed, I am predominately occupied with reading, writing, analyzing the stock market, exercising, organizing and reorganizing my property and my cellmate's clutter, as well as working on my own case. I have many ritualized routines, and systems I have developed. It is sometimes difficult for me to make time for other matters.

A jail house lawyer prepared a PLA petition for Jim; Jim wanted me to review it, and I agreed. Apparently, he thought I would review all these other materials as well. No, I will not, and I sent everything back to him, except for the PLA. The PLA was poorly written, both in the statement of facts, which is supposed to be an objective synopsis of the trial, earlier appeals, and in the proceeding arguments. I went over the PLA draft very carefully, and wrote him a couple of pages of my recommended changes and additions that should be made.

When I returned his PLA with my notes, I also included a letter, which prisoners call a "kite." I told him to make the changes, although I realize that the state Supreme Court is not going to grant the petition. The court only hears a very small fraction of cases filed, and most of these are from prisoners on death row, or who have a major issue that is causing discord among the appellate courts in Illinois. All death penalty appeals go directly to the Supreme Court, but the rest of us with natural life, 100 or 20 year sentences never get heard by the highest court. In all the years that I have been in prison, other than former death row prisoners, I have only known a few people who have had their PLA's accepted. I told him this is just a formality to preserve his issues for the federal courts, not to get his hopes up, and to prepare for his post conviction appeal.

Today, I spoke with Jim, and he told me that he wants me to review his entire case including transcripts, what discovery he has, his direct appeal, and the prosecutor's rebuttal. This will be a major assignment, and I will have to abandon my life routines for some time. He realizes that I do not want to undertake this project, so he said he will pay me for my work. I told him I would think about it.

When I entered the prison system, I knew very little about the law. I should have forced myself to learn, but I left the work up to the lawyers my parents hired for me. Time and time again, these lawyers submitted horribly incompetent appeals. One lawyer, Dan Sanders, had his license suspended, for filing my federal appeal without citing any Constitutional issues or arguments. All he did was copy a former state appeal, and sent it in with large sections blank. Most disastrous, and fatal for me, was that he filed it one day late. Lawyers from the MacArthur Justice Center and the University of Chicago Law School later filed for a rehearing, and then filed in the federal circuit court; they even submitted a PLA to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, all the courts ruled that I was not entitled to effective assistance of counsel on a federal appeal, and there would be no exception to the statutory one year deadline rule. My ignorance of the law, and my catastrophic experience with the justice system has made me want to help those coming in on the new who are fighting their convictions.

Although I was uneducated, and ignorant regarding the law, in the first five years of my imprisonment, I slowly acquired more and more knowledge. Ironically, now that all my regular set of appeals are over, I believe I know more about criminal law than my former lawyers who failed me. I do not want what happened to me to happen to others, particularly those who are young, given an excessive sentence, or who are innocent (however, that is very rare). I have not only given Jim advice and assistance, but a number of other inmates. Unfortunately, many are unmotivated, and usually only act on my advice if I do all, or much of the work, for them.

At one time, the law library had old timers, like myself, working there who knew much more than I do about the law. However, that has changed, and now only a few legal clerks have such expertise. One of them is a short, old, gay man who I don't like talking with, and the other works in segregation. Prisoners often lack funds to hire a lawyer, and many lawyers are shysters. Those shysters are not only out there, but inside. Many prisoners will try to sell an inmate a dream, take their money, and file a nonsense appeal. There was one shady jail house lawyer who went by the name "Ace." He ripped off quite a few prisoners until he was beaten up; he then fled to protective custody to hide, and hustle even more people.

I do not like the idea of being paid for legal help. I want to do this because of my desire to see others get a fair shake, or the most they can within a flawed justice system. Another problem with giving Jim and some others assistance is that even if I were the best lawyer in the state, sometimes ultimately, there is no hope. Jim is close to 50 years old, and even if he were to succeed in getting a new trial, from the overwhelming evidence against him, he would most likely be reconvicted. His best hope would be to accept a plea bargain which the prosecutor may offer to avoid the costs of a new trial, especially in his very small, rural county with little financial revenue. However, the best deal I can imagine him getting is 40 years, to serve at 100%, and Jim will be long dead before serving that. By the way, Jim is currently serving two natural life sentences that run concurrently for a double homicide.

Many prisoners are looking for counsel. Many of us write to law schools, law firms, or legal organizations with pro bono programs. I have written about 50, asking for help. Only a quarter of them even bothered to respond, and those wrote rejection letters based on having a full case load, or that they don't accept accountability cases. Some told me they only wanted DNA cases. Last year, the University of Chicago's Innocence Project took a close look at my case, and I met with one of their lawyers and an investigator. This lawyer went over a lot of my legal papers, but in the end, told me she had lost some personnel and was unable to dedicate herself to another case. Before this, my parents had hired a professor at Chicago-Kent Law School. After two years, he and his students had done very little, and I was about to fire him for his lack of progress, among other issues. I will not be had by another lawyer. This professor withdrew his representation after being told that my mother and I were seeking other counsel and advice. That was just fine with me, as I never wanted his representation to begin with. As with all my lawyers, except my original public defenders, my parents were choosing and hiring them.

Back in the late 1990s, Northwestern University's Investigative Journalism class took my case. This journalism class is taught by Professor David Protess, and has received a lot of media attention for its work in exonerating innocent prisoners. Their most famous exoneration was Anthony Porter, who came days away from execution when students obtained a confession from the true murderer. It was this case which caused the state's governor to cease all executions and commute all death sentences to natural life without parole. The lawyer who worked on the Porter case was Daniel Sanders, and it was him who introduced my case to Professor Protess. Initially, I was optimistic to have these students investigating my case. I thought they may be able to obtain new evidence I could use in an actual innocence post conviction petition. However, it soon became apparent to me that the students on my case were very young, and not destined to become Magnum P.I.s. After being threatened by a person who may have had valuable information, they dropped my case, and I never heard from them again.

Although I am now knowledgeable about the law, and could write my own successive post conviction, I needed someone to help secure affidavits and new evidence for me. Affidavits are essential to a post conviction appeal, and my original was thrown out due to a lawyer failing to attach them to my petition. I also needed a lawyer to spar with the prosecutor in motions, if my appeal is accepted, and a lawyer for an evidentiary hearing. I could file a petition and ask for a public defender to be appointed, however, the Cook County Appellate P.D.'s office is notorious for their overburdened case logs, and incompetence. I am sure there are a few good lawyers working there, but very few.

After much searching, my parents found a lawyer who has recently formed her own private practice. I like the idea of someone who has the spirit to try to make it on her own. It shows me dedication, ambition, and also motivation: three factors I am looking for. I want someone relatively new who is fresh, and not going through the motions for an employer. I also don't want a lawyer who will put my case on the back burner, juggle my case with numerous others, or be resistant to my ideas. It is my petition, my last chance, and things must be done my way. I have corresponded with and spoken to this lawyer on a number of occasions. After reviewing my case, she came to the prison to meet me. She seems to be very personable and friendly, but more importantly, she is energetic, committed, and competent. She has made a good impression on not only my parents, but myself. I am pleased to have received a letter from her just before I began writing this; my parents and her have signed a contract. Jennifer Blagg is now officially my counsel, and I hope she is the last lawyer I will ever hire, and the first to succeed at procuring me a new trial.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Autism -- October 15, 2009

Earlier today, I went to the prison Health Care Unit. The HCU is a building about a block away from the cell house, and is connected to the hallway that leads to the front gates of the prison and visiting room. The building is one story, but has a number of sections. There is an emergency room, a dental office, a few doctor offices, and a lounge area for HCU staff. In the back is the infirmary where inmates are celled who are recovering from surgery, sickness, or just cannot be placed in general population due to severe physical disabilities or health problems. The HCU also has a few offices for the prison psychiatrist and two psychologists. After waiting in a crowded caged area, my name was called, and I walked to my psychologist's office.

Once a month, I am given a pass to see the psychologist. I have been seeing a psychologist ever since I was transferred here. In 2004, when I was in Pontiac, I intentionally walked myself to segregation, and I refused to come out despite being repeatedly told to leave. Pontiac's Segregation Unit is considered the most punitive, isolating, and harsh prison in Illinois, other than Tamms Supermax. My mother became concerned about my mental wellness because it is apparently abnormal to want to live under such conditions, and she had called the prison administration. I was tricked into being transferred to Stateville by being told I was going to a medium-security prison. Much to my dismay, I was brought here. Stateville was the last prison I wanted to go to. Once here, I was given a pass to see the psychologist, which I crumpled up and threw into my toilet. I was issued another pass, but this time a guard came to my cell to escort me.

Pontiac Segregation, along with Tamms Supermax, house the most violent, dangerous, or unruly prisoners. You are not sent to Pontiac or Tamms unless you have committed, or are accused of, a major rule infraction, or gang organization. I was already at Pontiac, however, and thus I was not transferred there. At Pontiac, you are kept in your cell 24 hours a day except on occasion, thanks to a mandatory federal law that allows you to go outside to be placed in an empty 10 by 5 foot cage. They remind me of dog runs, and I never bothered to accept this "privilege." For fun, dislike, or their antisocial personalities, inmates would bring squirt bottles out to shoot urine and feces at each other from these cages. They also did this from the bars of their cells until the bars were covered over with steel or Plexiglas. Thanks, but no thanks--I stayed in my cell.

Most inmates fear being sent to Pontiac or Tamms. The isolation, confinement, and loss of television and radio for long periods of time is a strong deterrent. At Pontiac, your commissary privileges are taken, and you are limited in property. Inmates also must live on a 1,500 calorie diet, unless they are able to make trades with other inmates. While there, I dropped over 30 pounds, and when I got out, some people who knew the muscle-bound man from before, wondered if I had cancer.

Visitation is restricted to two one-hour visits a month behind glass. On your visit, you are handcuffed, shackled, and chained to the floor. Many a man has been broken by the harsh and isolating conditions at Pontiac. However, to me, Pontiac was not a punishment. I had a single man cell to myself, and did not have to interact with all the undesirable people in prison. In fact, I was quite content to be by myself with my books, mail, and peaceful existence away from the "zoo." Possibly, there is a reason for my different perspective.

I have autism, but I am not like the "Rain Man" or like what most people imagine. I am a person on the high functioning end of the spectrum of this neurological disability. If you met me, you would probably not even know that I was any different from anyone else. Even though I was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, I have always questioned it, as has my father, until not long ago. I have thought my personality, behavior and child development were just my own individual style, filled with idiosyncrasies. Yes, I have always been a bit different, or eccentric, compared to others, but then, who is not? However, in the last five years, autism awareness in this country has greatly increased, and after reading about this disability, I cannot deny that I am somewhere on the autism spectrum.

Although I learned to walk and do many things quicker than other children, I did not learn to speak until much later. Even when I learned to verbally communicate, I was quiet, nonsocial, and introverted, as I am still to this day. Lacking good interpersonal skills, I have been a loner most of my life, with few friendships. As a child, I was very sensitive to loud noises and bright lights, but at the same time, I had an insensitivity to pain. My mother tells me a story that when I was about 3 years old, she smelled something awful burning and discovered that I was leaning up against an electric popcorn maker, oblivious to the burning of my flesh. I do not have a scar on my back, but my sister corroborates the incident. I also had obsessive behaviors and interests. While some kids may play a couple hours on a particular theme, I would play a scenario out for days, if not weeks, and my play was less fanciful than others; I would read many books just to make sure I had certain facts correct. I did not enjoy coloring books, but would create and draw complex mazes and charts for hours.

In junior and senior high school, I was, at times, overwhelmed by all the people I had to interact with. It was incredibly draining, particularly when I attended Lincoln Way High, which has a few thousand students. My parents wondered why I slept so much, and it was not because I stayed up late. I missed a lot of days of school, not to play hooky, but just to give myself a break. On those days that I didn't go to school, I often just hid in my bedroom. School is much about social interplay, and not just studying. Lacking certain social skills, I often did not get along well with classmates. In my high school years, I often was indifferent to students at my school. Other than pretty girls who got my attention, I kept myself limited to a few friends who did not go to my school, and were much older. Although I was not socially adept, I was more mature, both physically and mentally, than most of my peers.

In prison, I have a number of problems that are unique to me, and make my life all the more miserable, if not torturous. Unlike when I attended high school, I cannot escape my environment. I am forced to deal with hundreds of prisoners. Even when I stay in my cell, I cannot hide because my cell has bars, and we are no longer allowed curtains. The constant interaction with a cellmate and numerous strangers, along with blaring noises, can cause great mental anguish and even disrupt my ability to function. Not being able to retreat to a safe place of my own, or have freedom to organize my life as I would like, causes much anxiety and frustration. Connecting with and relating to the various prisoners and guards at the maximum security prisons I have been to is difficult. Since childhood, I have learned to deal with many problems; I have learned to control mental anguish, frustration, and anxiety by keeping my emotions, passions, and thoughts within myself.

Initially, I did not want to see a psychologist, but now I do so willingly. After much resistance, I have even begun to take medication to help me sleep better and to control my anxiety. At the psychologist's office, I discuss certain problems I may have, and she will give me her advice; on occasion she can have some insights or helpful ideas. The psychologist seems to spend more time with me than with the other patients, even though most of them are insane, sexual predators, schizophrenics, or have serious mental conditions. I tend to believe this is because my condition is unique, and that I am not your typical convict.

Today, I spoke to the doctor about my cellie becoming angry at me for putting some of his excessive rolls of toilet paper in his box. After noticing how messy his box was, I was not able to stop myself from reorganizing all his property into neat sections. She wanted to know how many rolls of toilet paper he had (20), and if I knew why he was mad, and how much he was mad. I am regularly moving my cellie's property to put it away or put it in its proper place. However, I have never organized his entire box before. Typically, I care less how sloppy he is, as long as I don't have to see it or deal with it.

The psychologist told me she noticed I was standing in the corner facing away from the people in the waiting cage. She knows how much it bothers me to be put in a sardine can with numerous obnoxious and loud people yelling and talking, but I told her again. I also mentioned how it would be nice if I was at Tamms Supermax where I would not have a cellie, and would have quiet isolation. This concerned her, and she wanted to make sure I was not planning to do something to get myself sent there. I have thought about this often, however, I did not inform the doctor of this. I do not have any plans in the near future to be sent to Tamms anyway, despite how much happier I think I would be. I need to work on my post-conviction appeal, and I realize how my family likes to visit me regularly. Despite how my mother conspired to get me to Stateville to be close to home, and how unenjoyable most visits are due to the noise, I will stay here for now. Possibly, in the future, however, I may be mailing my posts from southern Illinois at the state's supermax.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Change of Seasons - October 5, 2009

Fall is here, my favorite season of the year. I enjoy the cool temperatures, but not the frigid temps of winter. I also like the gold, orange, and red foliage of the trees during the autumn, although there are few trees within the prison walls. Most of the inner grounds only have grass and small shrubs to allow the guards in the gun towers to have an unobstructed view. Autumn is mostly known for cloudy or gray skies, but on a clear night, the sky seems particularly clear. Prisoners at Stateville rarely are outside after dark, but when the sun begins to descend earlier, and if your cell house is run last to chow, you will be able to enjoy the night. Last week, I was able to see a full moon low on the horizon just over the prison wall. The scene was beautiful, if you ignored the fences with razor wire and ugly prison buildings. However, it is that dichotomy which makes the view all the more moving. The moon seems to represent the wild, free, natural world rising over the oppressive, cruel prison industrial complex of man.

The cold has come early this year with temperatures dropping into the 40's and even 30's at night. The large windows that tilt open in the cell house walls have been closed, but at night that chill moves in. I have been sleeping with two blankets, one of which is made out of a wool blend. Also, on occasion, I wear thermals as well, and I am still cold. Fortunately, today, the hot water pipes on the outer wall have been turned on. These pipes feed two blowers in our cell house that fan hot air downward. There is one not far from my cell, and my cell will stay nice and cozy, if not hot and much warmer than I would like. I was very surprised that the blower was cleaned inside and out, and the hot water was turned on early this year. To my knowledge, those blowers have never been cleaned until this year. Last year, there was so much dust and dirt caked on it that there was very little air coming out, and it was only cool air. We kept them off because they were worthless, and we were cold until the boiler was turned on in late November.

The boiler, once turned on, is on until the end of winter, despite how the temperature may fluctuate. It has no thermostat, and hot air blows out of the vents on the lower level. A person may think that living on the first floor would be uncomfortable from all the vents across from their cells, but just the opposite is true. The hot air quickly rises, and sits at the top of the 50 foot high building. If outside temperatures rise above 50 during the winter, those on the 5th floor will be sweating in 100 degree heat. There is a 5 to 10 degree difference between the floors, so when it is 100 on the upper floors, it is only about 65 on the lower levels. The men on the top floors will be yelling, and banging the bars to have the heat turned off, but it never is. Prison workers will eventually, however, open the windows to let the heat out.

During my first two years in prison, I was celled on the 4th floor in a cell house in Pontiac, Illinois, which is the exact same design as here at Stateville. I do not recall any horribly hot heat in the winter, but I do easily remember the summer of 1995 when temperatures exceeded or hovered around 100 degrees for weeks. This was the summer when many Chicagoans died, especially the elderly. The temperature was not only exceptionally hot, but it was humid as well. There was little relief during the night, and even though my cellmate and I had four large oscillating fans (those are no longer sold in prison), I could barely sleep. I perspired profusely, and my sheets, upon waking, were wet. I was reluctant to spare a fan to dry them, and although I never had any skin problems, that year I developed a rash on my arms from all my perspiration. Incredibly, I still lifted weights on those days. Back then, I worked out regardless of rain, snow, blizzards, and extreme temperatures. I still remember burning my hands on the hot steel barbells which sat in the sun all day, and getting a bar burn across the top of my back when doing squat presses. I also remember working out near the wall -- which provided a bit of shade until the sun was directly overhead, and there was no where to hide. I felt like a vampire with the shade slowly disappearing, and fearing that blaze of sun upon me.

This past summer was the coolest that I can remember. Temperatures never exceeded 100, and I believe we only had a couple of 90 degree days. It was a very nice summer, and I seldom used my fan except to dry clothes or blow the dust off my floor and out of my cell. This summer made me ridicule those Chicken-Littles running around hysterically babbling about global warming. The global warming debate is a farce to me. I do not believe man is causing higher temperatures, but believe there are much stronger planetary and solar causes. I also believe that attempts by man to control the climate are arrogant, and even if possible, would be a waste of enormous amounts of money and human resources. It is also foolish for the West to agree to cripple their economies while China and other emerging countries continue to emit tons of carbon dioxide. We should concentrate on reducing real toxins and pollutants that are unquestionably dangerous and bad for our health, and where real results can be achieved with certainty.

The winters seem to quell the violence of inmates in maximum security prisons, while contrarily, the heat of summer causes many incidents. We are usually on lockdown most of our summers due to numerous fights, assaults, or stabbings. Last month, there was a fight in the gym at a religious service, no less, where a man used a pen to stab his opponent. The man was difficult to subdue, and after a guard was able to get one cuff on his wrist, the inmate used it as a weapon, hitting the guard with the swinging loose cuff. The guard was not hurt, but both inmates were sent to the hospital: one for stab wounds, and the other for being beaten by guards after resisting. We did not come off that lockdown until October 2nd, over a week after summer ended.

This week, coats were delivered to inmates who ordered them. There were over one hundred bags sent from the clothing room. The early cold weather caused many people, including myself, to turn in clothing slips requesting a jacket. I used to own two jean jackets and never wore state coats. However, the coat I bought in my first year in prison, although still in good shape, never fit me well. I am a tall, lean person, and these coats were designed for short fat men. I took the jacket in at the waist, but it still did not fit well. Jean jackets are no longer sold in maximum security prisons, and thus, are highly desired by inmates. I was able to sell both jackets for well over their original price. It is incredible what some men will pay for an item that is no longer available at the commissary.

While autumn is my favorite time of year, spring is my least favorite season. It seems people are in an unreasonably good mood. Yes, the sun is shining, flowers are blooming, and birds are chirping, but in my heart I am unhappy. I live in a cage, and am treated worse than an animal. I have no freedom and little gives me joy. The best years of my life have been taken, and I have no future. My life is meaningless and miserable. Spring is an annoying and depressing time of year. The only thing I look forward to are those intense thunderstorms that come through on occasion. I love the quiet before a storm, and the black skies and high winds that come with them. Such storms invigorate, and make me feel alive. The power of nature also has the effect of earning man's respect, and humbling him. Modern mankind often thinks he is above nature, or forgets it exists. In the distant past, man thought of the natural forces as gods, but now man conceitedly thinks he is god.

Fall is often a period of change in my life. I look forward to this change. As a prisoner with basically a protracted death sentence, most anything life-changing is good. When you are at the bottom, all you can do is go upward. Halloween is a few weeks away, and many may not know it, but Halloween was once the last day of the year for North or Central Europeans. The reason for its connection with the supernatural, and the dead, comes from the superstition that in the transition from one year to the next, time and space were distorted. Christians tried to rid the pagans of their beliefs, but as in many circumstances, they just changed the name and tried to warp the customs. Despite recently learning my petition for executive clemency was denied, I hope this pagan new year brings a positive change to my life, and not just ogres, goblins, and ghosts.