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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.