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Sunday, December 13, 2009

My 35th Birthday -- November 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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