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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.