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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.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Petition for Executive Clemency Denied - Sept. 29, 2009

My fourth petition for Executive Clemency was denied last December, however, it was only today that I learned the grim news. The Illinois Prisoner Review Board never contacts an inmate when his or her petition is denied. Instead, they send a brief letter to your family. My mother received the letter in the spring, but has been keeping it a secret from me. In fact, my entire family has known, and not one of them was forthright enough to tell me. After asking a few of my family members, I was told it is because they did not want to depress me, or be the harbinger of bad news. My sister and father gave the additional excuse that the letter was sent to my mother, thus they felt it was her responsibility to tell me. This is the second time my family has kept a rejection of a petition from me. They like giving me false hope, although they know how this angers me, and that I will eventually find out.

Executive clemency is, for the most part, the only avenue in which I can seek some sort of remedy for the injustice smitten upon me. All my regular set of appeals have been exhausted. I am researching the filing of a successive post-conviction appeal, but these appeals are very difficult to get heard, let alone win. Today, James Degorski, the second defendant in the Palatine Browns Chicken murders, was found guilty on all counts. I know very well that I was taken to trial, slandered by the press, found guilty, and sentenced to life without parole because of being named a suspect in the Palatine case. However, even after the two killers have been caught and convicted, I am still made to suffer, and no one cares to rehear my case. The courts, nor the governor, will reverse my conviction or sentence. It seems I am forever doomed to live out the rest of my years in prison.

Apparently, to make me feel better about my 4th petition being turned down, my father said the petition was a waste of time to begin with. He said no matter what I presented to the Prisoner Review Board, or how well and persuasive my petition was, it would have been denied. Executive Clemency is a highly political action, and although there is a board, it is the standing governor who is held responsible for the decision. Any governor who seeks a future in politics does not want to put his neck out for a man, even an innocent man, who languishes in prison. Politicians fear looking soft on crime to the media and voters; they must also worry that granting a pardon or commutation of sentence could come back to hit them in the behind. However, I thought my petition may have had a chance because it was clear to me, if not to the governor, that he would never be re-elected.

Ex-governor Blagojevich was under federal investigation for corruption, and had the lowest approval rating by voters in decades. He was eventually arrested, and charged with many crimes, including trying to sell the vacant federal senate seat left open by Barack Obama. There were a number of other pending corruption charges at the time my petition was before him, and I thought certainly this would allow him to do the right thing, and not act upon political self-serving interests. Contrarily, the governor denied my petition just before being arrested. I have no information as to what the Prisoner Review Board recommendation was, as their decision always remains a secret.

My fourth petition could not have been written any better. I spent many hours drafting, and redrafting it. I also went through many of my trial transcripts, police reports, and other documents to attach as exhibits. My petition was fully corroborated, and had twice the number of exhibits as it had written pages. I had to identify the exhibits with two sets of letters, A to Z, and AA to ZZ. In that petition, I did not just cast doubt on my conviction, but proved my innocence. I proved police and prosecutorial misconduct. I proved that I was not at the crime scene, and did not, nor could I have, lent my car to my co-defendant on the day in question. I proved that my lawyer was incompetent, and did not even try to contest the prosecutor's theory of accountability despite having overwhelming evidence at his disposal to do so. The interrogating officer, John Robertson, who claimed I admitted being told by my co-defendant that he was going to kill the victim, and lending him my car, was thoroughly discredited. Anyone who read my petition and reviewed my exhibits, along with their authenticity, could not have thought otherwise.

The Prisoner Review Board (PRB) seems unwilling to retry my case. Therefore, my petition also demonstrated the injustice of my sentence. I argued that even if the prosecution's case was true, it was a terribly cruel and unusual punishment, and that I received a protracted death sentence. I was convicted under a theory of accountability for allegedly having foreknowledge of a murder, not attempting to prevent it, and loaning my vehicle. I have listened to the evidence of numerous prisoners, and researched cases in law books. I have yet to learn of a person given life without parole who was not at the crime scene, and so minimally involved, or uninvolved, receive such a harsh sentence. A member of the PRB interrupted the prosecutor in his tirade at one of my public hearings to ask him if he knew of any case such as mine where the sentence was natural life without parole. The prosecutor did not want to answer, but the board member interrupted him again to ask, where upon the prosecutor had to admit that he had researched that and found no other case. Why should an 18-year-old be sentenced to life in prison for lending his car? Why does a person who is the most marginally accountable be given the most severe sentence? It is extremely difficult to accept that I must die in prison for the lies of a deputy who claims I lent my car. This is not justice.

One of my older clemency petitions is available online at This is a copy of my 3rd petition, and not the one that was rejected by former governor Blagojevich. The 4th petition is more compelling, and contains twice the number of exhibits. The petition now on the freewebs was posted by a girl I wrote years ago, and she did this without my knowledge. I suppose it was a surprise gift to me. She did not have access to the exhibits, so none were included. Ironically, it was the rejection of my 3rd petition that caused me to stop writing to her. What was the point of continuing a relationship where there was no foreseeable future? My family will always be there for me, along with other supporters of my freedom, yet having my petition denied once again does leave me with a bitter, empty feeling. As long as I am alive, however, I will continue to tell my story, like a ghost haunting the living, until there is justice.

My apologies to all those who signed my online petition this year. I do appreciate all the support. I am touched by those from my past who I have not seen in years, and yet who still remember me and have signed my petition for executive clemency. I realize I was not the most popular or friendly kid in school, and I am happy to have collected so many signatures. I recently received a signature from a girl I knew in junior high, and one of my early supporters was my best friend in elementary school, who I have not seen since 5th grade. These signatures mean more to me than I believe anyone realizes. I died, for all practical purposes, when I was 18, and those years before my arrest have special meaning to me, along with all those I knew back then. I am also grateful for all those who never met me, and despite this have given their support. The courts and past two governors of Illinois will not give me the time of day, but I am happy that hundreds of people across the USA, and even around the world, can sympathize with the injustice committed against me. I will not allow your signatures to have been made in vain. I will file yet another petition for clemency at the end of the year to Governor Quinn. This 5th petition, along with exhibits, will be put online for everyone to see. Hopefully, this petition will be my final petition.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Are You Ready for Some Football? - Sept. 14, 2009

The regular season for professional football began this week. Watching and gambling on football is a major pastime at Stateville, as well as at other prisons. During the games, you can hear numerous inmates cheering loudly, yelling insults, clapping, banging, and making the occasional ooh's and aah's. There are many one-on-one bets made between people before, and even during, the games. People yell out to one another, even from galleries far away, to place a bet. There are also a few bookies who take bets, fantasy football "commissioners," and an occasional pool. Prisoners are bored, and spend enormous amounts of time in their cells. Football gives them something to do, and get excited about.

I also like the sport of football. Before my arrest, I played organized football in a private league, and also at school for a number of years. I typically played the position of defensive end, but did from time to time, find myself in other positions. I was good on the defensive line, and there were a number of quarterbacks who feared being sacked because of me. However, the opposing coach would eventually make adjustments, and have plays go the other way, or pitch the ball past me to a receiver. I had a coach who regularly warned me not to get sucked in, but the temptation to get to the quarterback or make a big play sometimes got the best of me.

Because I played football for a number of years, I probably pay more attention to the intricacies of the game. I also watch it sometimes from the perspective of a player. I am not one to be yelling, screaming, or banging, but the sport can sometimes get my full attention. I look at the strategies employed, the plays of individual players, and the team as a whole. Of course, I also enjoy the exceptional talent or plays exhibited during a game. At times, I will wonder if I had the talent to play successfully in college or on a professional football team, although I never contemplated the idea of a sports career, and had other ambitions and dreams.

I watched a few games this week, in part or totality. The Sunday night game was the most watched, and emotional game for the inmates at Stateville. The game was the Chicago Bears vs. the Green Bay Packers, and was played at Lambaugh Field in Wisconsin. Most of the people at Stateville are Chicago Bears fans, but there are a few "haters." Haters are prison slang for people who just like to root against a popular team without liking the opposing team. I do not really have teams I like or dislike, especially now that players are traded and switched about so often. I have particular players that I like, and if enough of them are on one team, then I will favor that team, and vice versa. There are considerably more players I like on the G.B. Packers team, and coaching staff than are on the Bears. Thus, I was a Packer fan last night, and contrary to the vast majority of people here, was glad when they won in a dramatic fashion in the last quarter.

I do not typically make one on one bets, but occasionally I will. Yesterday, someone wanted to wager me ten dollars on the G.B./Bears game. I told him the highest I would bet was five, and he said that was not worth his time. On the Superbowl, I will bet higher amounts, or on certain playoff games, but not otherwise. When the Bears made the Superbowl a few years ago, another man wanted to bet me one hundred dollars. Again, I told him no. He settled on a twenty dollar wager, though, and bet another person eighty. Later, he told me I should have accepted because I would have won a hundred, but I did not want him to harbor any bitter feelings towards me. There are some people, although not this man, who become terribly upset when they lose. I have had people become upset upon losing a few dollars; they were sore losers.

For the first time last year, I played Fantasy Football. I do not like playing this game because it is very time consuming, and I have better things to do with my time. Plus, I do not trust the commissioners who make the rules and count up your score from week to week. However, a cellmate of mine went to segregation, and left me three teams. I did not even want one, let alone three, but he was unable to play the game from Seg, and did not want to forfeit. I won second place in two different leagues, and may have won first place in one of them, but did not confront the commissioner about my skepticism because there was not much difference in the reward.

This year, there are more parlay tickets circulating than usual. A parlay is where you must bet on more than one game, and the more games you bet on, the higher your payoff. The catch is that you must win every game you wager on, and if you lose just one, you do not receive anything. The tickets cost a minimum of one dollar, and the highest payoff I saw this week was three hundred for a dollar. Wagers are not made in cash, of course, but in commissary goods. Cigarette packs were used regularly as currency, but smoking has been banned in Illinois' prisons since January 2007, when a legislative bill was put into law that forbid smoking in any public building. This week, I noticed an amateur parlay ticket that had poorly set spreads, and payoffs better than any casino in Law Vegas would ever give. I placed a wager on a pick four, and won. I would have placed more money on the ticket, but with a new bookie who I do not trust, I did not want a possible problem in getting paid.

A few weeks ago, the prison's internal affairs unit raided a number of prisoners' cells in a different cell house. They spent hours looking in cells for any fantasy football paperwork. A number of people were taken to segregation, and the guards were not believing the men who said it was merely fantasy, and just done for fun, not money. In my cell house, fantasy football drafts were done this week, just before the first games. The draft is done by prisoners yelling their picks out of their cells. Any snitch or guard could easily know who was involved. The majority of guards do not care, however, and many play fantasy football or gamble themselves. This is probably why the internal affairs unit conducted the searches.

There is a double-header Monday night football this evening. The New England Patriots play the Buffalo Bills, and then the San Diego Chargers play the Oakland Raiders. I will watch the first game, but not the second. One game is enough football for me tonight. Although the Patriots are expected to win easily, I suspect it will be a better game than anticipated. It is just about game time, and thus I close this journal entry.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Television at Stateville - September 24, 2009

Earlier this month, inmates were notified that picture tube televisions will no longer be stocked. When the last of them are sold, a 13" flat screen TV will be sold for $275. Prisoners were surprised we would be allowed to purchase these fancy, modern TVs. I have never seen a flat screen TV, other than in photographs, and asked my family about them. From what I was told, these TVs are not very durable, and that is an important factor when your property is often moved, banged around by guards conducting shakedowns, or mishandled during transfers. On the other hand, it will be nice to have such a compact TV in my cramped cell, and I will be able to wrap it in a blanket and put it inside my box when changing cells. It will also be nice to be able to mount it on the wall. Currently, I have my TV wedged between a horizontal bunk bar and the top bunk. My cellie has placed his on his mattress, where he occasionally will kick it in the night while sleeping. Another plus will be having a remote control. (I am told that flat screen TVs have no buttons except for an on/off button.)

Televisions, as well as radios and Walkmans, are considered privileges by the prison administration, and will be taken away from inmates if they are sent to segregation. Inmates that are well behaved while in segregation can, however, request their audio-visual property back after three months in solitary. TVs are used as carrots, and also as babysitters by the administrators. Many people outside of prison think that offenders sent to prison for punishment should not have a TV. However, the administration realizes that if prisoners were not preoccupied by hours and hours of television, they would occupy themselves in other ways. TV pacifies a large number of violent and unruly convicts who are locked in their cages with nothing to do. Politicians have at times considered the removal of TVs in prison, but the guards' union and top correctional administrators have opposed any such bill. Ironically, the television privileges are more for the guards than those who watch it.

I can easily occupy my time constructively without TV, and often do so by choice. However, the majority of prisoners are unable to do this, and I believe many are TV addicts, watching many hours every day. Without TV, these inmates can go through withdrawal-like symptoms. I once had a cellmate who threatened me because I did not share my TV with him. Most inmates will share their TVs with their cellmate, if one does not have one. However, I am not a social person, and like to watch TV by myself, unless I have come to know or like the person with whom I share a cell. Furthermore, I will not give a stranger permission to use my TV or any of my property when I am not using it, or not in the cell. I fought with the cellmate who threatened me with violence over the TV. Afterwards, my cellmate still did not have a TV to watch, and spent his remaining days with me mostly on his bunk twiddling his fingers.

All prisons, that I am aware of, have a large number of cable stations. Menard, for example, has almost 100 stations. Stateville, however, until a few years ago, only had broadcast TV. In 2005, a warden finally approved satellite television. Initially, prisoners were happy about the news, but they were soon disappointed when the two huge satellite dishes set up outside the prison walls only brought in an extra 11 channels.

In addition to broadcast stations, Stateville inmates now have CNN, HLN, TBS, TNT, SPIKE, DISC, VH1, BET, CMT, and ESPN 1 & 2. I have been in prison a long time, but when I was free, I seem to recall that even basic cable came with 40 stations. There is something odd with a satellite TV provider that has an option for just 11 stations. The satellite service, by the way, is funded with money from the inmates' trust fund, and not by the taxpayers.

Including the prison's DVD station, inmates have less than 30 stations to choose from. Of these, I only have a few programmed into my TV. I have blocked the other 15 stations, and do not care to watch them. TV shows often depict decadent values, and appear to be geared toward amusing the unintelligent, uneducated, or base masses. It is also often a waste of time, and even though it may seem I have plenty of it to squander while serving my natural life sentence, I would rather not do so.

Every week, movies are rented and played on the prison DVD player. Although it has the capability of holding, and being programmed to rotate and play five DVDs, typically, only three movies are rented. New releases are usually rented, but Hollywood does not produce many quality movies that I would find entertaining. Often, I will only watch the first few minutes to get a feel for a movie before switching to another station. The last DVD I watched was two weeks ago, and called "Che."

"Che" was a movie about the Marxist revolutionary Ernesto Guevara. Guevara was a Cuban who worked with Fidel Castro to topple the Batista government. Afterwards, he resigned his post and dedicated himself to the overthrow of the Bolivian government. However, in Bolivia, Guevara was not nearly as successful as he was in Cuba creating a revolutionary army. The Bolivian government, with the help of the CIA, was able to crush his insurgency, track down, and kill him as well. Ernesto Guevara continues to be a martyr of the radical left, Marxists, and some anarchists. He is pictured on the cover of an album by the alternative rock band, Rage Against the Machine. Although I despise Ernesto Guevara and his ideology, the movie about his life was interesting.

On average, I watch about an hour of television a day, not including Sundays, when I will watch a couple of games of football as well as FOX News in the morning. My daily routine upon waking is to eat breakfast while watching the news. I will flip from station to station with my remote control stick, watching various news segments without commercials until I finish eating. My TV will then be off until 4 p.m., when I turn on CNN to see how the stock market performed. During the evening, I will usually pick a program or movie to watch. Some evenings, I will not watch TV if I have other things to do, or if there is nothing on to my liking.

Yesterday evening, I watched "Man vs. Wild" with Bear Grills. It was a behind-the-scenes look on how the survival TV show is filmed. Tonight, I will catch the reality show "Survivior," although I wish it was more about surviving and competition, than forming alliances and not getting voted off. I will also probably watch the season premier of "The Mentalist." Other programs and shows I will watch are The McLaughlin Group, The Bachelor, UFC (mixed martial arts fighting), PBS documentaries such as produced for Nova, or Secrets of the Dead, which is about prehistoric civilizations, Lou Dobbs on CNN, FOX Sunday news, the ABC show called Lost, or some nature shows.

Television provides not only a utilitarian purpose of learning about the news or various subjects, but an escape from my miserable environment. I will use my large headphones to tune out the blaring zoo-like noises from the cell house. I have my TV positioned so my back is turned to the gallery. It is nice to find a good movie, show, or program that allows me to forget about where I am for the moment. However, television is a poor substitute for a real existence. No amount of television, despite how entertaining it may be, will make me feel better about life or the many years that have been stolen from me.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cracker -- September 19, 2009

My cellmate goes by the name of Cracker. Although it is usually a derogatory name people of color use against Caucasians, it does not bother him. He grew up in a predominately Mexican neighborhood, and joined a Mexican gang. Those that knew him, and were his friends, called him Cracker. Apparently, over the years, he came to identify himself with the slur, and the name has stuck with him. I refuse to call him Cracker, but almost everyone in Stateville does.

Cracker's real name is Jon, and he once was a member of the "Maniacs." Jon grew up in Elgin, Illinois where, apparently, there is a large gang element. He joined this gang when he was young, and was often in and out of juvenile detention centers or youth homes. He has told me he missed his entire high school years while in juvenile prisons. When he was 22 years old, he was in a confrontation with a rival gang. He pulled out a gun, and shot and killed one of them. For this, he was sentenced to 40 years at 100%. He will not get out of prison until he is 62.

Jon does not deny his guilt, and has told me about the shooting. Although at the time he thought his actions were justifiable, and there was a possibility that his own life was in jeopardy, he now regrets what he has done. He still maintains some friendships with certain gang members, but long ago he ceased being a member, and regrets ever being in a gang. I do believe he is a much different person from the man who entered prison. Not that the Illinois Dept. of Corrections has "corrected" him; it has not. Time and maturity, however, affects everyone, and looking at another 29 years in prison tends to change most people's perspective. Forty years was an excessive sentence, in my opinion, and I hope he does not end up serving all of it.

Jon is 33 years old, but he looks older than his age with already wrinkled skin, and a bald head. He is a gangly 6'2" man with light freckles and an orange beard. If you would give him some green clothes and a hat, he could pass for a leprechaun if he was short. In fact, today while watching the Notre Dame college football game, he remarked that he could be the Fighting Irish mascot, and I must agree with him. Although my cellmate once identified with being a Mexican gang banger, it seems he has now embraced his roots of being an Irish Catholic. He has a great knowledge of Celtic history and customs. He is also a dedicated Catholic who regularly reads one of his many Bibles, and prays on his rosary beads.

Jon and I have been cellmates since Feburary. He does have some annoying habits, and we are far apart politically, but he is the best cellie I have had at Stateville. At a maximum security prison where you are often on lockdown, and live in a violent environment, it is exceedingly important to have a cellmate you get along with. You share the same small space for days, weeks, and sometimes for months at a time. You must learn how to live together for long periods of time. It is not easy, and I have had problems with the cellmates that have led to violence. However, Jon is friendly, very polite, and courteous.

Some prisoners do not know how to occupy their time, and will expect a lot of interaction with their cellie. I am not one of those people, and neither is Jon. We will play chess, cards, and Scrabble once in a while, or on occasion, watch a movie together. We also have a good rapport with each other, unlike most of my former cellies who I had avoided conversation with, or would never have considered interacting with more than necessary. Although we share the same cell, and get along well, we are mostly preoccupied with our own interests and pastimes.

Jon spends much of his time reading and exercising. He has several Bibles that he reads, including a huge hardback illustrated Bible that looks like it is a collector's edition from the Middle Ages. I kid him by saying that he will not win any extra points in heaven for how big his Bible is. I also tell him there is no longer a parole board, and he need not try to impress chaplains, guards, or other staff. However, Jon does not just have his Bibles as show pieces. He does read them every day, and has a good understanding of theology, particularly Catholicism. He is currently taking a correspondence class in religious studies. He also reads many novels and nonfiction books. He is currently reading a very basic book on physics.
Almost every day, Jon will do cardiovascular exercises for several hours. He will jog in place for enormous amounts of time. Prisoners will often poke fun at him for his continual jogging. The other day, a guard told him he was already caught, and there is no point running now. I will tell him that he is like the Energizer Bunny, that just keeps on going and going. And I don't always say this with a smile because it can be annoying to have a man jogging for three hours in this small cell. I am trapped on the other side of the cell while he exercises, although he will stop or switch places with me if I express a need to do something at the other end.

Jon is overly obsessed with dying in prison, or being so old when he is released that the remnants of his life will be worthless. Thus, the major reasons for his extreme cardio workouts and embracement of religion. He also is a vegetarian, and will not eat any type of meat. He has declared himself some unusual sect of Catholicism to be served a special diet tray without meat. Nearly every day, I will notice him staring in one of our plastic mirrors, dwelling on his aging face and the loss of his hair. I tell him he is fortunate these are plastic mirrors. I also hide one of my mirrors, not that he will crack it, but because his constant handling wears away the reflective surface on the back. John is planning to file a request for executive clemency soon, asking for a more lenient sentence. He goes out of his way to appear to be a model prisoner, which can be annoying at times. He actually thanks guards for locking him in his cage.

Jon is a very hyper, restless, and anxious person. He usually contains himself because he realizes it is annoying to others. However, sometimes he will bother me. He can, on occasion, ramble on for hours speaking very fast. He has made fun of me for my typically low pitched, and thoughtful speech, saying I am like "Lurch" from the Adams Family. I counter by saying if I am Lurch, you would be "Cousin It" on the show, if you only had hair on your head. His response will be an imitation of Lurch, the butler, saying "Y-o-o-u-u R-a-a-n-n-g-g?" My cellie will sometimes invade my space to do something because of his impatience. On occasion, I will punish him by punching him in the ribs, or poking him with my "Spear of Destiny", which is just a hard stick I made with tightly wound magazine pages, and a pen. It is really my remote control that I use to change stations on my TV from a distance. The "Spear of Destiny" is a name given the spear that a Roman soldier allegedly used to stab Christ while on the cross. By legend, it has special powers. Another quite annoying habit my cellie has is blowing his nose so loud that people can hear it on the other side of the cell house. It sounds like a fog horn, although he says it is the bag pipes of Ireland playing. Jon is also a packrat, and I must continually rebuke him about his excess property and clutter in the cell. For example, he currently has 20 rolls of toilet paper, which I told him he must keep in his box, or I will throw some away.

My cellie can be particularily hyper if he drinks coffee. Because he can be this way, I have made a rule that he can only drink coffee before he goes to the barbership or before noon. One night, he began to make himself a large mug of coffee. It was thicker than crude oil. I refused to let him get any water, and he ended up asking a neighbor to fill it up with hot water. While doing that, I dumped the rest of his instant coffee in the toilet. He was very upset, but I feel quite justified. He is bouncing off the walls after drinking lots of coffee, and I did not want his mania disturbing me.

Jon is well read on a number of subjects, and it is good to be able to talk to him about such matters that most prisoners at Stateville would be clueless about. However, he would often brag that he was a genius, and deride me for only being "gifted." Like many in prison who believe their lives are meaningless, it is good to feel superior about something, whether that be basketball, chess, or having a high IQ. However, just because you read a lot, and have cluttered your mind with lots of trivia, it does not make you intelligent. Living with Jon, I knew he did not have a genius IQ, and finally I convinced him to take an IQ test that I had procured from a course in psychology that I had taken years ago. Jon had a subaverage score, and he no longer brags of being a genius. Perhaps I should not have given him the test, and deflated his ego. There is so little to be proud of in here.

Today I watched the Notre Dame Fighting Irish play the Michigan State Spartans. Although I like the Spartans more, to make my cellie happy, I rooted for Notre Dame. I made us some chicken fajitas with commissary bought flour tortillas, Velveeta cheesy rice, refried beans, and a noodle salad with some onions, peppers, and egg mixed in. I also shredded salad off our lunch trays. My cellie does not eat meat, so when I cooked these things, I did not put any chicken in his fajitas. I offered him a soda, but he declined. He didn't want the excess sugar, and it was probably just as well not to give him any sugar. Notre Dame won in a close game by three points, and my Fighting Irish mascot was a happy camper.

I have made a long entry writing about Jon. This is more than appropriate due to how significantly a cellmate effects your time in prison. A bad cellie can make your life miserable, and a good one can make your time much more pleasant. Jon is not a person I would associate with outside of prison, however, he is a good cellmate, and I hope neither of us are moved.