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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Trip to the Hospital -- August 19, 2009

Many years ago, I injured my lower back exercising with heavy weights. I was on the prison power lifting team (at another prison), and in competition could clean and bench over 350 lbs, and squat, as well as deadlift, 600 lbs. Between competitions, I lifted weights almost daily. It was during this time period, I first blew out a disk in my lumbar spine. Before allowing myself to completely recover, I was again lifting heavy weights. I have been lifting weights since age 12. Sports, exercising, and weight training have been a part of my life since childhood. Thus, even after repeated lower back injuries, I continued to work out. Only in the last several years did I give up lifting heavy weights.

I now suffer from chronic lower back pain, sciatica, and have variable degrees of numbness in my left leg. On occasion, I can lose mobility, and be in excruciating pain. For the most part, however, I am able to move about without a problem, and can even exercise with the help of strong anti-inflammatories and cortisone injections. The medical treatment at Stateville is very poor, inconsistent, incompetent, or even nonexistent, and getting medication or cortisone shots has been difficult. Indeed, one of the first doctors I saw here denied that I had a medical problem, and told me in a choppy Asian accent: "You not have herniated disk. If you had herniated disk, you could not tie shoes." When I saw him, I could barely walk, and was perspiring due to intense pain. It took an MRI to prove that not only did I have a herniated disk, but a crushed one above it.

Yesterday, I was awakened at 3 a.m., and asked for my jumpsuit size. At maximum security prisons, you are never told when you will be going on a trip to the outside hospital, and it was not until that time that I knew I would be going. A couple hours later, I was brought a worn out bright yellow jumpsuit, which I call the "banana peel." All writs leaving Stateville must put on the banana peel to make us stand out among civilians. I put on the jumpsuit, and my cell door was unlocked. At the front door of the cell house I waited for an escort, thinking what a long, miserable day it would be.

I was taken to the front of the prison where I was put in a holding cage with a few others who were going on court writs. Typically, these cages are jammed with prisoners, but fortunately, that was not the case yesterday. After a few hours, one of my writ officers came to the cage and asked me for my shoe size. Prisoners are given very thin, cheap, flat white shoes to wear, but the guard later told me the closest size available was a size 16. The guard cannot make me go out in Bozo shoes, so I was able to keep my own gym shoes.

In the strip search room, I was thoroughly searched. After getting dressed, the guard began to put on all my various restraints. Handcuffs were put around my wrists with my hands facing opposite directions. A handcuff box was put around these cuffs, and a chain was threaded through it around my waist, and then locked behind my back with a padlock. The boxed handcuffs are used to keep your forearms and wrists in an awkward horizontal position. The box also covers the cuff's key holes, just in case you are Harry Houdini. The chain bound around my waist prevented me from moving my wrists away from my body. A lead chain, which is just another word for a leash, was attached to the chain around my waist in the back. The guard held the end of it to make sure I would not get too far from him. This is another redundant precaution when shackles were then put around my ankles, forcing me to take small steps. With my numerous restraints and banana suit on, I was ready to go, and was then led to Gate 2. A lieutenant who had my mug shot asked me my institutional number and date of birth, just to make sure I was who I said I was. My restraints were then double checked.

Whenever I leave the prison, I notice how clean and classy the entrance is to the main building. There is a large glass chandelier hanging over a double staircase. The floor is polished marble, and the woodwork for the winding stair rails is polished. The pristine decor is a sharp contrast to the dirty, and ugly, cell houses. Outside, I noticed the parking lot and all the expensive vehicles the guards have. Guards make a good salary at Stateville, and some make over $100,000 a year with overtime. Top ranking personnel have marked parking spaces close to the building. I looked to see what type of car the warden drives, just to get an idea of his personality, but his parking spot was empty.

In contrast to the nice vehicles of the guards are a few writ vans. As we approached one of them, I asked the guard if IDOC has heard of the "cash for clunkers" deal. He said apparently not, but commented that it is a great deal. I must agree it is a sweet deal for the person trading in their old car, but not so great for the taxpayers footing the bill.

The van typically has four bench seats that prisoners are squeezed into, except for the last row which is reserved for the guards. I was fortunate to be the only passenger, and the front bench was removed, which provided me with some leg room. A blessing, because usually I am shoulder to shoulder with prisoners who are often obnoxious, have foul body odor, and/or bad breath. Before I could be too content, the guard turned on the radio to some rap station.

The writ officer's partner had to get a handgun before she joined us in the van. This guard was a white female, approximately 40 years of age. She was friendly and talkative. When we drove up to the front gate and her partner got out, she turned off the music, and asked me where I was from. She made some small talk until the driver returned, and turned the radio on again. We drove to Stateville's receiving unit where I guessed that I would gain an unwanted passenger or two, but the guard returned only with an unwanted brown bag lunch for me.

We headed to the hospital at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Depending on traffic, it is about an hour drive from Joliet. On the road, I noticed how much the area in the southwest suburbs has been built up. No longer are there cornfields after cornfields. I also noticed how vehicles have that plastic bubble look. I wondered, if I were to be released as an old man, if there will be "George Jetson" flying bubble cars. In the city, I was amazed by how almost everyone was talking into cellphones as they walked. When I was free, pagers had just become popular, and I knew no one with a cell phone. So much has changed in 16 plus years. It is almost a bit frightening, and just to be in a moving vehicle was odd.

All prisoners in north or north central Illinois go to the U of I in Chicago for medical needs. In the basement of one of the hospital buildings is the prisoner waiting room. It was empty when we arrived, but throughout the day we were joined by guards and inmates from other institutions. A white female juvenile with dyed black hair and purple lipstick was second to arrive. The guards put her in a tiny open room on the other side of the waiting room, away from me. She protested, cussed, and demanded to know why she must sit in a closet. Later, several other adult male prisoners came and went, including a child rapist from Pontiac's Protective Custody Unit. Restrained as I was, I did not see the need to keep the 17 year old in the closet, but it is procedure.

The MRI machine is in another building, so we took the van there. A few people on the street noticed the man in the banana suit with many restraints. I wondered what they must think of me, but they continued on their way without staring. Their casualness was not shared by the male guard who was with me.

The MRI room does not permit anything metal in it, and my restraints had to be removed. Before doing this, the guard put on some plastic ties very tightly. Already my wrists were causing me pain, and now I had this hard plastic digging into my flesh. During my half hour scan, my hands turned purple, and I almost pushed the emergency button, but I dealt with the pain. Afterwards, the guard cut off my plastic ties and put the metal restraints back on. He put the handcuffs on so tight that they pinched my wrists, and I asked, "Don't you know how painful these boxed handcuffs are?" He opened the cuffs a couple of clicks.

Back in the waiting room, I used the washroom, and was shocked that this guard came in while I was pissing to check on my chains. Never has a guard done that to me before, and I have never seen it done to anyone else. Where did this man think I was going in a sealed room? How did this man think I would be able to get out of those restraints? Due to the restraints, it was enormously difficult for me just to urinate into a toilet let alone attempt some type of magician's trick. The next time I used the washroom, I locked the stall's door behind me to prevent this paranoid, rude guard from bothering me.

Although my MRI was at 9 a.m., my escorting guards wanted to make a day of this, and we stayed until about 2 p.m. I was probably fortunate they did not want to milk the State of Illinois for overtime like many writ officers do. Although I was highly uncomfortable, the guards were passing their time reading the newspaper, talking with other guards that came in, and even looking at porn websites with a smartphone someone brought with them. One guard amused himself by pretending to be an Eastern Indian on the telephone to anyone who called in. The guards also ate well, buying pizza and Chinese food for themselves. I sat there in silence with my lunch bag of a bologna sandwich and juice box. In my hunger and boredom, I attempted to open the bag wearing my box handcuffs. After about ten minutes, I was able to pull out a piece of bread and ate it with difficulty.

The female guard drove on the way back to Stateville. Unlike the black guard, she turned the radio on to some country music station. I was very tired, and fell asleep on the ride back, not to awaken until we were at the prison gate. On the way into the building, the black guard mockingly sang the chorus line to one of the country music songs: "If you are going to play in Texas, you have to have a fiddle in the band." The guard was glad to be over with his shift, but not nearly as glad as I was to be rid of the box handcuffs. My hands are still numb from yesterday, and I doubt I will get full sensation back for a month.

At the front door of the cellhouse, I was greeted by a guard who asked me if I came back from court. My counselor saw me arrive, and asked me the same thing. I got the impression they thought I might have good news about my case. However, I didn't. I wonder if I ever will.