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Monday, December 27, 2010

Repealing the Death Penalty -- November 30, 2010

Today I am 36 years old, and I have now spent half of my birthdays in prison. I was arrested when I was 18, and the following 18 years I have been a detainee in Cook County Jail, or a convict in the Illinois Department of Corrections. More than likely, I will remain in maximum-security prisons until my death. I was sentenced to natural life without parole because I purportedly did not try to prevent a murder, and lent my roommate my vehicle. Despite the judge ruling that I was not at the crime scene, and my roommate being acquitted of killing the victim, I am forced to languish in prison until my last breath.

I can prove I did not lend my car on that winter day some 18 years ago, but I will probably never be given the opportunity to do so. The justice system in Illinois is incredibly unfair and cruel, but instead of fixing the system, the state legislature is considering abolishing the death penalty to save the state some money. I heard about this plan today while listening to news radio. I cannot believe the incredibly foolish ideas being floated about to solve the state's massive and growing $15 billion deficit. On my 18th birthday in prison, the death penalty proposition definitely takes the cake.

No one has been executed in Illinois since former Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium, and thereafter emptied out the state's death row. If no one is being executed, why not abolish capital punishment? The decision made by the former governor was not made to save the state a few bucks, or because of his opposition to the death penalty. It was made because the Illinois justice system is broken. Numerous men who were on death row during George Ryan's time in office were exonerated, even one man just minutes before his execution. The Governor could not in good conscience continue to authorize executions with a probability an innocent man could go to his death. He reasoned logically that if all those men were innocent, there were others on death row who were innocent as well. Unfortunately, he never considered those with even less legal protections and scrutiny rotting away in the prisons of Illinois who were innocent, and thought erroneously these people would eventually be cleared, or at least have the opportunity to be exonerated.

Since the moratorium on the death penalty, the legislature has tinkered around with the law to add greater protections to those accused who face capital punishment. Defense lawyers now must be certified by the state to serve as counsel in cases where the prosecutor is seeking death. This is to make sure trial and appellate lawyers have enough experience and are competent and qualified. Many people on death row who were exonerated were represented by incompetent and inexperienced attorneys. My trial attorney, for example, could never have represented me under the new rules. He was predominately a civil attorney for Jenner & Block, and had only participated in a couple of murder trials before taking my case.

Death penalty appeals have always faced greater scrutiny, and go directly to the State Supreme Court. When a person is on death row, he or she has more opportunity to appeal, and appellate issues are taken more seriously and not dismissed for technicalities. My post conviction appeal was thrown out of court because my lawyer failed to attach affidavits, an error fatal for those with natural life, but not if the defendant is facing death. My federal appeal was thrown out as well, because my attorney filed it one day late. I appealed the ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but they upheld the lower court's ruling. Certain errors considered not grave enough to warrant a new trial for those with natural life or a set number of years, such as the prosecutor lying about the law of accountability or the evidence, are cause for remand in death penalty cases as well.

Even in 1995, before the moratorium and new protections for death penalty defendants, I knew I would have stood a better chance on appeal on death row than I did in general population. In fact, I told my attorneys not to argue against the death penalty. I was not going to mitigate actions or inactions. I did not want to languish in prison for many years or indefinitely either. However, most importantly, I wanted a new trial, and this was more probable from death row. My trial attorneys, though, refused to not defend me against capital punishment, and said it was their duty to make a defense. I do not know why they thought they had a duty to defend me against being executed, but not to defend me at trial.

People may think the death penalty is inhumane, cruel, or morally wrong. However, until they have spent 18 years in maximum-security institutions and look into the abyss of spending all of their life in misery, they should remain silent. I have lived nearly two decades in Illinois' worst, most violent, and oppressive prisons. I have suffered incredible anguish all my adult life and my existence is made more wretched and meaningless every year that passes. Banished to the island of Alba, even Napoleon Bonaparte would say, "Death is nothing, but to live in defeat is to die every day." Napoleon lived a lavish lifestyle and had considerable freedom after his arrest, and he knew nothing of the deprivation, suffering, or oppression I experience on a daily basis, but I agree with his sentiments. I would rather be crucified than to live out the rest of my life at Stateville or other maximum-security prisons in Illinois.

Illinois' legislatures are not considering ending the death penalty because of any belief of the cruelty of the sentence, nor are they thinking about it because of any concern over executing an innocent man. They are doing so because trying defendants where the state seeks the death penalty costs more money. The state must actually provide defendants with well qualified and competent counsel. After conviction, death row inmates continue to get better and pricier defense attorneys. Trials and appeals must go through a more extensive and rigorous process, all of which costs more. In many instances, I have heard of prosecutors conceding the death penalty just to avoid costs or to increase their odds of gaining a conviction in cases with little evidence. This has been especially true since the new rules and law passed. The legislature is not only immoral in their thinking, but penny wise and dollar foolish. I notice this more and more as they attempt to deal with a runaway budget deficit.

Ending the death penalty for the alternative of natural life or other extreme sentences will not save the state money, but will actually increase it in the long term. All of these people that must serve 50 to 100 years, or have no out date at all, must be fed, clothed and housed. Even though the IDOC feeds us merely to meet federal guidelines and we are served food not much better than livestock feed, over a period of half a century these costs add up. We are given merely underclothes and state-issued blues that are made by female inmates in Dwight Correctional Center, who are paid less than the wages in slums in countries with the lowest standard of living. However, the materials cost money, and so do numerous costs of housing inmates. Inmates with natural life are never eligible for a medium transfer and the costs of security at these maximum-security prisons are much higher. The cost per inmate at Stateville is close to $50,000 a year, and this does not include union maintenance workers, renovations, repairs, equipment, etc. Most importantly, it does not include medical costs. As prisoners become old, they need more and more medical care.

The State of Pennsylvania did an extensive review of their prison costs, present and projected. They found that the medical costs of housing elderly prisoners was so high it could eventually bankrupt the state if sentencing laws were kept the same. A house committee advised the legislature to permit elderly prisoners to be eligible for parole so the state would not be obliged to pay for their exponentially rising medical costs.

Illinois has roughly 50,000 prisoners, and with new harsh sentencing laws, many of these people will never be released. The costs of incarcerating 50,000 and growing numbers of prisoners far exceeds the amount of savings from repealing the death penalty. It is almost laughable, if I were not one of thousands who will rot the rest of their existence away in maximum-security prisons, that the legislature thinks they can save money in this fashion.

If the state legislature did not think short term or in political boxes, and truly wanted to cut the costs of IDOC, they would reform sentencing legislation across the board, and make sure the people prosecutors convicted were truly guilty. The courts in Illinois give out natural life sentences, or the equivalent, like candy on Halloween. These sentencing laws are excessive and are not effective at deterring crime. There is no purpose in sentences that exceed over 20 years. If a convict is unable to learn a lesson after two decades, or if his or her crime is so terrible, they should be executed.

Europe does not believe in capital punishment, but they do not have the ridiculous sentencing laws the U.S. has. The U.S. stands alone in 40, 60, and 100 year sentences, or natural life without parole. In Spain, the maximum sentence is 20 years, except for terrorists who can be given life, although their life sentences allow for parole. Throughout Scandinavia, the maximum sentence is about 15 years. Finland has a maximum 12 year sentence, and first offenders cannot be given more than 6 years, regardless of the crime. The only exceptions to these maximum terms of years is if the convict is believed to be criminally insane, or a sociopath. In those cases, they can be held indefinitely or until they are cured. Governor Quinn speaks about the importance of funding education. Many European countries fund their education programs lavishly, up through college. They choose to invest in their futures and their youth, instead of in a prison industrial complex.

The Illinois legislature recently passed a bill to greatly expand gambling in the state to raise revenue. If the bill is signed by the Governor, casinos will be built in Chicago, Rockford, Danville, and other places. There will also be six new racetracks built. It is estimated all of the tax revenue will eventually bring in almost an additional billion dollars. The idea of permitting more race tracks and casinos is not going to encourage fiscal responsibility in the state. Illinois must learn to live within its means, not to continue to increase taxes, sell assets, and create Las Vegas.

More taxes will not encourage businesses to move to Illinois, and revenues ultimately will fall as they move out of state. Less business means fewer jobs, and even less revenue for the state. Selling the state's assets for quick revenue is foolish also in the long term. And gambling...well, already revenue from current casinos and racetracks is declining. With ever more competition and a poor economy, I doubt the expected billions of extra revenue will ever materialize. I do expect corruption and social dislocation to occur, however. I also expect these casinos and race tracks not to be built for years, possibly over a decade, especially with all the government regulations, red tape, and public debate. Illinois' budget deficit is $15 billion now, and Illinois has the worst credit rating in America. Serving that debt is going to add to it quickly and reduce important government projects and funding. The state must immediately address its economic problems with across the board cuts like Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady spiritedly spoke about, or the new Cook County Board President Preckwinkle has proposed.

Today, Chicago Police Officer Michael Fliss was buried. He was killed along with retired CHA Officer Steven Peters by a recent parole, Tim Herring. Apparently, the killer had been released after only serving half of his sentence for a gun offense. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and Chicago Police Captain Jody Weis condemned the murders, and the policy of convicts only serving half of their sentences.

Since 2000 and the passing of the Truth in Sentencing Law, all homicide convicts must serve 100% of their time, and all violent offenders 85%. Only nonviolent offenses are eligible for parole after serving half their sentence. The former sentencing laws were already harsh. Numerous people I knew in prison were sentenced in the 1990s, and they will die in prison, or possibly only get out when they are very old men. These people committed serious crimes, but many of them I doubt would ever commit another. It is a tragedy this crime occurred, but it is not reasonable to assume that had we had more harsh sentencing laws that society would be a better place. What about all the parolees who got out and never committed another crime? What about the men who are released who become industrious, productive and positive influences? You do not hear about these people because they do not make the news. However, I am willing to wager there are a lot more people who are paroled and do not commit other crimes than there are those who commit double homicides.

One thing I agree with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley on, however, is that this offender most likely deserves the death penalty. We do not need to repeal capital punishment, contrarily, it needs to be used more often. The justice system needs to be repaired, and protections for those facing death sentences need to be adopted for all class X felonies. How many prisoners continue to do time well beyond what is just? How many continue to rot in the massive prison industrial complex who are no longer a threat to society, or would never commit another crime? How many innocent people continue to languish in prisons because of a broken justice system which the legislature and courts still refuse to rectify? How many innocent men have miraculously finally been exonerated and have sued the state for millions?

Possibly, the state would save more money not incarcerating people needlessly. Possibly, the state would save more money making sure that those in prison are truly guilty. Possibly, the legislature should consider fixing the justice system and repealing excessive sentences instead of repealing the death penalty.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Week in Segregation -- November 26, 2010

This week, I have missed my family and have felt bitter that another holiday has gone by that I could not be with them. However, by and large, the week has been one of my better ones in Seg. I have been eating better, I was able to call home for 15 minutes, and I saw my mother on another visit. I have been told my cousin is recovering from surgery and my attorney claims to want to give my appeal her special focus in the month of December. The cockroaches in my cell seem to be on the retreat, and I have not had to worry about them crawling all over me. Neither the guards nor prisoners have given me a hard time or have been overly disruptive. I continue to have a cell to myself and am enjoying my solitude to such a degree that I have thought I may want to stay here, and that this punishment is more of a blessing.

Not only was I given 3 months in Segregation, but 3 months of C grade (privilege restriction), and 3 months of commissary denial. The Adjustment Committee, as they call themselves, also oddly recommended I lose a month of good time. I have natural life without the possibility of parole, and I could lose a decade of good time and it would be irrelevant. Despite the loss of privileges, I was able to call home Sunday and surprise my parents. No, I was not out of Seg, but apparently someone forgot to change my grade status in the computer. I am still listed as being in A grade. The phone is only passed around in Seg once a month, and it is meant for those in investigation status, or those who were given more segregation time than C grade. I spoke with my parents for about 15 minutes before a worker told me my time was up. I asked him what he was talking about, and I was told that Seg inmates, even if they are in A grade, only get 15 minutes of phone time. I told him to hold on, and quickly said my goodbye.

Since being in Segregation, I have filed two grievances about the roaches. The first one was answered a month later by a counselor. She said the warden personally informed her that pest control would be here on the third week of October to spray the cells. The month of October came and went, and no one sprayed. In the meantime, I had been moved to a cleaner cell and the roaches were not nearly as numerous. However, when the heaters were turned on, the roaches began to multiply. I often kept my window open, even though I was cold, to keep the roaches away. I filed another grievance, and this one has not been answered, but Monday morning I noticed a man spraying along each gallery of the Roundhouse. I thought this was not very helpful. The roaches are in the cells and breeding in the locked plumbing units behind our toilets and sinks. The next day, the cell house lieutenant pounded on my door to get my attention. He was passing out a memo to all the prisoners stating sometime in the near future the inside of our cells will be sprayed, and we will be required to take all our property off the floor. I asked the lieutenant if he could unlock the plumbing doors so that area could also be sprayed. He said something like, "We will jump that hurdle when we get there, but for now, it would be good just to get the cells sprayed." The cells have yet to be sprayed, but the temperatures outside have dropped to the 20s and 30s which I believe is discouraging the roaches, for I see less of them.

The prison came off lockdown on the 16th, and Stateville's general population kitchen workers have been making our meals. It is a greatly noticeable difference. The food is better and there is much more of it. During the lockdown, I was losing weight quickly with the 1,500 calorie a day diet. Some days I refused to eat portions of the meager food we were served, making my progression of weight loss even more rapid. Last Friday, commissary was passed out, to the delight of F House. F House has not been able to shop since September. The prisoners of F House beat their doors in anticipation of the carts of commissary bags. However, I did not care. I was in commissary denial, and in Seg you are not able to buy food anyway. I also heard that the prison store ran out of stamped envelopes. Never in my nearly 18 years of incarceration have I heard of a prison store running out of envelopes. Thus, all I was expecting was shampoo, which I had almost run out of. To my great surprise, a good sized bag was placed in front of my cell, and it had more than some small packets of shampoo. It held food!

When I received my bag, I discovered the order I had placed before going to Seg had been filled to $30. Commissary denial does not mean you cannot shop at all, but you can only shop once a month for hygiene or writing supplies, up to a maximum of $30. Years ago, it was a big restriction because prisoners at Stateville shopped every week, and in minimum or some medium security prisons, an inmate could shop whenever he or she wanted. However, Stateville only allows prisoners to put in orders twice a month now, and that is only if the prisoner is not on lockdown. So, commissary denial, for the most part, only punishes people by prohibiting them from ordering food, or ordering over the spending cap. For some reason, the person filling out my order was in a generous spirit, and gave me some food. Even off lockdown, I am continually hungry and I was very glad to be able to supplement my diet or replace the garbage we are often fed. On Monday, we were served mystery meat bologna, and I tossed this into the toilet. Instead, I made myself a meal of fish and chips, or more precisely, tortilla chips with Velveeta cheesy rice and sardines in a zesty tomato sauce. I took the lettuce off my tray and tore it into pieces over my meal.

While I was making my meal, I heard a roar from the round house. I was going to ignore it, but inmates were going berserk, so I went to the front of the cell to see what all the commotion was about. I saw a sissy in spandex being led down the stairs in handcuffs by a couple of guards. I had no idea what happened until later in the week when I spoke to a legal clerk. He told me that the sissy had made a deal with his cellmate to suck each other's dicks. After the sissy completed his end of the bargain, the other man refused. The sissy, apparently, beat up his cell mate, possibly using a weapon of some sort. I said to the clerk, "How do you know such details?" He told me another clerk was assisting both of them on some appellate matters and was told the story. The man who was beat up by the sissy was sent to the prison's Health Care Unit, but was not seriously injured, and is back in Seg. Both men now have new cellmates.

There are all types of homosexuals and sexual perverts in prison. This week, I overheard my neighbor speak to the lieutenant and then a guard, complaining that he is in Seg. The man was masturbating at the front of his cell bars and a nurse reported him. He was trying to convince these people that he had done nothing wrong, and the nurse should have minded her own business. He should not have been written a ticket. The lieutenant was not trying to hear it and became loud and cross with him, as he should. This man intentionally wanted the nurse to see him playing with himself. I have heard repeated stories about men in prison who get sexual excitement by exposing themselves or masturbating before the females that work here.

Pretty nurses are often harassed at Stateville, particularly those who are white. Today I heard a black man screaming obscenities at a white nurse who refused to engage him. His voice could be heard across the Roundhouse as he shouted, "Nasty ass white bitch! You smell like a can of rotten sardines. You think you are something? You have no ass, white whore." The woman continued to pass out insulin to inmates in the building, and ignored him. She looked over to his cell for a moment, however, during his ranting. "That's right. I'm still talking to you, white bitch. Get the fuck out of this cell house!" Nurses are always escorted by a guard in Seg, but all the guard could do is write him a disciplinary ticket for insolence or possibly threats and intimidation. The man is already in Seg, and can only get more Seg time. He has been yelling to people he is going home any day, but is being held up for this reason or that. I believe he is lying in an attempt to con people to send him coffee, food, or other things. He promises these people he will leave them his Walkman, fan, headphones, gym shoes or other property when he is released.

I have not seen the pretty nurse, who looks like the actress Julia Stiles, in two months. Hopefully, Danielle found a better job. I do not like to see such women work here. White women who come from the suburbs often do not know how to defend themselves or respond effectively to the elements in prison. These women seem too vulnerable in the zoo. Fortunately, Danielle, although nice, was not gullible or easily intimidated. Regardless, she should not be working at a place like this.

My mother came to see me on Tuesday, and this time the guards did not bind me like I was a highly dangerous serial killer. It is quieter in the Seg visiting booths, but the time is short and I do not like seeing visitors while in cuffs and behind an inch of plexiglass. In our one hour visit, I was told my cousin was released from the hospital and is finally recovering from the infection that nearly killed him. He went in to have back surgery, but because of dirty surgical instruments or airborne contagions, he developed a severe infection which required the surgeon to reopen his wound twice to apply newly developed antibiotics. Apparently, Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn and some other hospitals have problems with mutated and more drug resistant bacteria. It was not pleasant to hear about the family member I remember as a strong, robust young man who played as a lineman for the Wisconsin Badgers be so weak, sickly, and near death, and I was glad to hear he was doing much better.

While my cousin is recuperating, I was told about the deteriorating health of other family members, including my father. My father suffers from severe degenerative arthritis, and the disks in his spine have virtually disintegrated. He was in a little car accident recently, and the bump almost caused him to become a quadriplegic. Doctors want him to immediately undergo surgery to place metal brackets in his neck. My father, mother, and various other family members have a multitude of health problems. Everyone seems to be aging and dying.

On my visit, I asked my mother what her plans for Thanksgiving were. She told me the family is attending a gathering at another cousin of mine. When I was free, everyone went to my grandparents' home for the holidays. My grandmother was a chef who worked at a banquet hall. She made some very good meals at Thanksgiving. She died many years ago, and the tradition has been passed down the generations. Since I was free and a teenager just out of high school, so much has changed. All my grandparents have passed away, and my parents, aunts, and uncles are all very old. Almost all my cousins are married and have homes and children. I listened to my family's Thanksgiving plans with both sadness and bitterness. I have not been able to be with my family in nearly two decades. My Thanksgiving Day will be spent in a cage in Stateville Segregation, alone, or with 500 convicts I do not care for, and many of whom make my life miserable with their loud, rude and obnoxious behavior. As the years go by, I become increasingly angry at my continued imprisonment.

In the evening Tuesday, I went through the few cable stations I can get and found The Bucket List just starting. The Bucket List is a movie with actors Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. In this movie, they play two men sharing a room in a hospital, dying of cancer. The character played by Morgan Freeman wrote up a fanciful list of some of the things he wanted to do before he died. It was called the bucket list because it was a list of what he wanted to do before he "kicked the bucket." Jack Nicholson played a multimillionaire, and after finding his roommate's list, he added a number of activities. He then convinced him to leave the hospital and quit hoping for a miracle. With his millions of dollars, they could do whatever they wanted or die trying before the Grim Reaper came to take them away.

The Bucket List made me think about the things I would like to do before I die. First, I thought about spending time with family, particularly my parents. They certainly have less time than I do, and I hope to be with them before they kick the bucket. Then I thought about a wife and family of my own. I thought of having a home and life, far away from the oppression and misery I have lived with all my adult life. I did not have any desire to jump out of an airplane, or drive a race car like the characters in the movie. I wanted some type of meaning to contrast the meaningless waste of existence I have had in prison. Most of all, I thought I want justice. Some people tell me they do not know how I have persevered all these years. What drives me more and more as I languish in prison is to see justice before I die. It is this that prevents me more than anything else, from ending my torturesome existence. The Palatine Brown's Chicken murders were finally solved after a decade, and I continue to wait to be exonerated of the lies of my co-defendant, interrogating officer, and prosecutor.

Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, I finally wrote my grievance addressing the ticket I received in October. I was waiting on commissary records before I filed, but it seems they will not be forthcoming. I have only two months to file, and December 10th is my deadline. I cannot believe that I must prove everything in my possession was purchased by me from commissary at one time or another. I cannot believe that commissary could even be considered to be contraband. Although I am currently enjoying my single man cell, and am not in a hurry to be back in general population, the ticket I received bothers me out of principle. Furthermore, Internal Affairs will continue to harass me and take my property if I am unable to overturn the verdict of the Adjustment Committee.

My grievance is a page and a half long, and written on an official Illinois Department of Corrections grievance form. I was never given my commissary records, however, as exhibits I am enclosing two affidavits, the disciplinary ticket, the ruling and reasoning of the Adjustment Committee, and my former cellmate's grievance along with his commissary receipts. I suppose if I was wise like my cellmate, I would have kept my receipts as well. The two affidavits I have are from my cellmate and the cell house worker who Internal Affairs accused of passing me things. I had requested both of these men be called as witnesses at my hearing, but they never were. My former cellmate just simply stated the majority of the property I.A. took and claimed was mine was, in fact, his. The cell house worker admits in his statement that he gave my cellmate some supplies, but never passed me any commissary. I enclosed the ticket and ruling to show the errors and inconsistencies in them.

Just like the adjudicating system, the grievance system is largely a facade. The prison must provide prisoners with due process, and administrators comply by merely going through the motions. I am surprised that my grievance about the cockroaches now seems to be being addressed. Not long ago, I heard rumors how officials in Springfield were considering having the Roundhouse closed down because of its state of disrepair and to save money. This was not the first time I have heard such talk. If these rumors are true, I tend to believe the warden may be concerned grievances of roach infestation reaching Springfield. It will give those in authority over IDOC more reason to close this building.

In the middle of the night, a heavyset black man with a bald head awakened me. He apologized for waking me, but said he heard I was very good at picking winning football teams and he wanted my advice on the games later today. Apparently, since I.A. put me in Seg for gambling, my reputation for it has spread. I am very good with statistics and odds. I usually can beat Las Vegas spreads by 60 to 70%. Vegas takes 10% of all winnings and that is called "the juice," consequently, I doubt a career as a professional gambler is in my future. When people make side bets, they do not charge a 10% fee, however, and many of the people in prison are not very intelligent. So, I can oftentimes be successful in making picks.

The man told me he was betting $20 on each of the three games on Thanksgiving, and if I made his picks for him, he would give me a bag of coffee. He also promised to give me a cut of his winnings, if he won. I asked, "What if I picked losers?" He said it did not matter, it was better if I picked them. He told me I came highly recommended, and he trusted me. I told him I have not been paying close attention to football since being in Seg, but said, "Give me the spreads the man you are wagering with will give you, and I will do my best." The man was real happy, and he quickly smashed a bag of instant coffee under my door. I figure if I am in Seg for a falsified ticket for gambling, I may as well assist someone in the rule infraction. In fact, I relished the idea.

On Thanksgiving, I spent the day writing letters to my family. I thought if I cannot be with them, I can at least write them. I did not complete as many letters as I had wanted. It is difficult writing with the dull little pencils I have. Every now and then, I had to stop to gnaw with my teeth a little more wood off the tiny writing sticks. Furthermore, I also wanted to be neat in my letter writing, and this took more time with the poor writing utensils I had. I did not watch the football games on TV, or root for the teams I had picked for the stranger who came to my cell door. The games were on a channel my TV was not picking up, however, I did look at the scores on ESPN from time to time while eating my Thanksgiving Day meal. Initially I thought my picks were going to be losers. The New England Patriots were tied with the Detroit Lions at the half. Ultimately, however, the Patriots won by 3 touchdowns, and my other two picks were winners as well. True to his word, the man sent me a package of a little over $5 in miscellaneous food. I appreciated the food, but I hope this man does not continue to wake me up in the middle of the night for tips.

Prisoners are given their largest, and in the past, best meal on Thanksgiving Day. Although I had been given some commissary food last week, I must conserve it until late December, and I was looking forward to all the food. Thus, I was very pleased when I was given three cold trays and two servings of desert. The cell house worker apparently was in a generous spirit, and in passing out the refrigerated food, treated my cell like it had two people in it. On top of the tray lockbox, he left two styrofoam trays, two prepackaged wedges of pumpkin pie, and two half cups of sherbet.

To prevent inmates in Seg from throwing piss and excrement onto guards, there is a lockbox built into every cell door. The box has two doors so the front door can be opened, the tray put inside, front door closed, and then back door opened so the inmate can pull out his food. The lockboxes are not always used, but inmate workers use the top of the box to place food trays on and the guards come later to open the locks and put the trays inside the boxes. The guards were hurrying to complete this task, and one of the trays he picked up to put into the box spilled out a little. He was considerate enough to get me another cold tray.

Inside the cold tray was a real salad, complete with a full complement of raw vegetables: pieces of green pepper, onion, tomato, cucumber, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Throughout the year when inmates are served salad, it is merely a handful of plain lettuce, and I literally mean a handful. Inmate kitchen line workers grab the lettuce with a hand to toss on your tray. Although guards have access to a full salad bar with each of their meals, and can take as much as they want, inmates only get a small portion of lettuce. So, the Thanksgiving cold tray is something special, and it, along with my desert of pumpkin pie, would be the best part of my Thanksgiving meal.

The hot tray which was passed out a half hour later, was not impressive. On it was a serving of my least liked vegetable: collard greens. At least it did not taste like lawn mower clippings as it usually does when served throughout the year. Also, on the hot tray was a portion of sweet potatoes, cheese macaroni, stuffing, and turkey-soy loaf. Prisoners at Stateville have not been served real turkey for years. Instead, we get a processed blend of ground soy and turkey which is formed like a meatloaf, and every prisoner gets two to three slices. The soy-turkey loaf did not taste very good, and the stuffing was even worse. The stuffing had little flavor and was a paste rather than a fluffy mixture with a slight crispness to it like I recall my grandmother used to make. The macaroni had very little cheese on it, although the sweet potatoes were OK. Unfortunately, there was no cranberry sauce; this ceased to be served to prisoners here about the same time as real turkey.

I ate half my hot tray, and half of one of my cold trays for lunch. The other portions were put aside for dinner. I knew dinner would be very small and distasteful as it always is on holidays. I was not mistaken, and for dinner we were served two slices of mystery meat bologna, bread, and plain lettuce. I did not eat my small wedges of pumpkin pie, nor the other two cold trays on Thanksgiving Day. Instead, I put them in my freezer (the window sill), to eat throughout the weekend. I assumed the 20 to 30 degree temperatures outside should keep the food good until Sunday. On Thanksgiving evening, I ate the green sherbet and was disappointed because it had melted. Apparently, the temperatures did not drop enough to keep them frozen. The serving of salad I ate today was frozen, and I had to thaw it before eating. For breakfast this morning, I ate one of my small slivers of pumpkin pie. As soon as I woke up, I put it on the radiator in my cell. It was hot and delicious when I finally ate it. I only wished I had been given more.

On Thanksgiving Day I heard on news radio that Governor Quinn reviewed about 80 Clemency Petitions and granted 20. No details were given about the cases of the petitions he granted, and they could have been for minor crimes or for people who had already done their prison time and merely wanted their records cleared. However, I was impressed the Governor was willing to use his executive authority to grant any pardons, or commutations of sentence. This news made me minutely hopeful that he would grant my petition as well. Formerly, I thought that if he did not lose the election, he would not want to to risk his politicial standing. Unfortunately, at the end of the short news segment, it was mentioned that all of the petitions were leftovers from the do-nothing Blagojevich administration and all had been filed in 2004! For a fleeting second, I had thought, maybe I could be home for Christmas. However, with the backlog of petitions, I will probably be fortunate if Governor Quinn gets around to deciding mine before the end of his term in office, and Christmas 2014.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Security vs. Freedom -- November 17, 2010

This week, many travelers are outraged by the new invasive security measures being taken at airports across America. The Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) now requires everyone to be X-rayed so their nude bodies can be seen on screens, or given thorough pat downs. During these pat downs, security agents grope over every part of your body, and even genitals are touched. The TSA says these measures are necessary to prevent terrorism, although many Americans disagree and believe their freedom, privacy, and dignity have been lost. In prison, I have seen the Illinois Department of Corrections become more and more zealous, intrusive, oppressive, and security conscious, often in the name of safety. Massive amounts of resources, money and manpower, have been used to keep strict control over the state's penitentiaries. The prison system in the mid-1990s and earlier was indeed much more violent, however, the measures taken in response have been excessively extreme and often are absurdly so. I see a very similar trend outside the prison walls in response to terrorism. I will risk my safety any day to have a return to the prison lifestyle I once had a decade ago. I believe Americans who are finally waking up to the police state will also not want to trade their freedom as a price of security.

Throughout the week, the controversy over the invasive searches has been growing, and I speculate it will cause even greater anger as Thanksgiving Day approaches and much more of the general public travels by air. The Thanksgiving holiday is a time when many travel home to be with their families. Many are not frequent fliers and have no idea what awaits them at the nation's airports: incredibly long lines, the almost endless list of prohibitions of various luggage, the enormous police presence, and attack or drug-bomb sniffing dogs. The massive security force will also be overly sensitive and ready to pounce, subdue, or arrest anyone who does not follow the litany of rules or does not act in a passive, obedient fashion. Technology of every sort will be there to monitor passengers' every move, and I will be willing to bet one could not get away with picking their nose or scratching their butt without ten cameras observing. Upon all this anxiety, inconvenience, and scrutiny will be the indignity of being forced to be seen nude through an X-ray device which can see through your clothes just like Superman gazing at Lois Lane. Too shy or bashful to have people examine nude x-rays of you? Well, then you can just be molested by TSA workers' hands, just like prisoners at Stateville regularly are by prison guards.

I have heard story after story of traveler's complaints about the new invasive pat down procedures. One man actually recorded his experience and it has been played repeatedly on television. After refusing the X-ray, he was told he must be frisked. The man said, "Fine, but just don't touch my junk or I will have you arrested." This comment, a sentiment I am sure is shared by many, caused him to be quickly surrounded by a threatening mob of police. After being harassed for hours, he was escorted out of the airport and will probably be on the TSA blacklist for years. He is fortunate to not have been arrested or fined $1,000, which I heard is possible for those who do not cooperate or who cause a "disturbance."

Many other alarming stories of excessive force or pat downs have been told by the news media. One woman was so upset by the invasive body search that she was crying afterwards and said she felt as if she was sexually molested. Apparently, TSA felt underneath her underwear and touched her breasts and genitals. Another woman declined the X-ray because she was pregnant and concerned about radiation's effect on her unborn baby. A security agent patted her down, putting hands under her breasts, around her belly, up her legs and even touched her crotch. Women wearing skirts have spoken of having hands going underneath them, all the way to their underwear. Many men and women alike are told to undress during their search, making opting out of the body scan largely irrelevant. These procedures are even being used on old women with canes, or three-year-old children. Some have said the invasive frisking of children would normally be tantamount to child molestation.

Incredibly, airplane pilots also must be scanned or vigorously searched. Many complain they must be repeatedly groped, or exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. The searching of the pilots flying the plane must be the most ridiculous part of the TSA's universal X-ray or pat down procedure. The pilot is in control of the plane, and can, at whim, nose dive it into the ground or a building. Apparently, I am not the only person to think this is absurd, and I heard today the TSA may make exceptions for pilots.

Forcing everyone to go through invasive searches is a foolish policy. Other countries do not subject their passengers to such searches, including Israel. And if Israel, the top target of Islamic terrorists, does not do this, it stands to reason it is not necessary in the U.S. It has been pointed out that Israeli airports have many less air travelers than the U.S. and therefore can focus their security and intelligence resources with much more efficiency. However, in the same line of thought, it can be argued it makes TSA policy all that more ridiculous. The U.S. must squander tremendous amounts of manpower, money, and technology for an overzealous system of security. Furthermore, millions more travelers are affected by such a blanket and crude policy. Every year there are close to 700 million air travelers in the U.S. This upcoming holiday will bring about 5 million fliers. To have such a strict, intense, and universal system of security is foolhardy. Not even in maximum-security prisons are movement lines subject to complete pat downs, although it is done on occasion.

Unlike prisoners, free U.S. citizens are protected by the 4th Amendment against unreasonable search and seizures. What is being done at U.S. airports is a violation of Americans' rights of privacy and prohibitions of searches without probable cause, or court order. It is an egregious affront to the Constitution to search everyone going through airports without the slightest bit of cause. It would be understandable and legal if a person acting particularly suspiciously was told to undergo an X-ray, or pat down, but not all passengers or even a small percentage of them. If a man was on an intelligence list for being acquainted with Al Qaeda, or if a drug or bomb-sniffing dog were to single a person out, this would provide reason for the government to conduct a search.

Instead of the TSA scrutinizing every air traveler, the government should step up terrorist profiles. Many liberals condemn the practice of singling out certain groups of people. In their utopian stupidity, they want universal equality. Political correctness has gone way too far in America, and probably all of Western Civilization, when foreigners of Middle East descent are given the same scrutiny as a rural American family traveling to Disneyland on vacation, or a grandmother going to see kin on Thanksgiving Day. This makes as much sense as not allowing Arizona police to consider racial background when looking for illegal aliens. To liberals and President Obama, it makes much more sense to scrutinize everyone the same. The White House is so concerned about not violating Mexicans' or enemy combatants' rights, but cares little about violating the rights of U.S. citizens. Ironic that police must turn a blind eye to the invasion of our southern border and give Constitutional protections to foreign terrorists, but must treat our own citizens unscrupulously.

Incredibly, I heard TSA was considering prohibiting the search of Islamic women under religious grounds. If anyone should be frisked or X-rayed, it should be Islamic foreigners. Although it is mainly Islamic men who carry out acts of terrorism, it is not unknown for female adherents to be instruments of Jihad. Islamic women have gone on suicide bombing missions, although I do not know what they earn in the afterlife. Twenty virgins may not be so compelling to them. It seems odd that Islamic females may be exempt from invasive searches, but Catholic nuns are fair game. Apparently, a photo is being circulated on the Internet of a nun being groped by TSA. Again, the ideology of the White House and willingness to bend over backwards to appease the Islamic world continues to amaze me. Possibly, I should not be surprised, however, when all types of minority groups are given special rights, accommodations, and entitlements when the white man who founded this country are 2nd class citizens--another great irony of America and many Caucasian nations.

During the week, I have heard the argument that America has become so racially and culturally diverse, profiling has severe limitations. Such critics of profiling bring up home grown terrorism to support their position. There have been American citizens, even Caucasians, who have converted to radical Islam and seek to join the Jihad movement. One white American was even taken prisoner of war in Afghanistan fighting U.S. forces. Many African Americans have converted to Islam, and have been arrested for attempting, or committing terrorist acts. I have personally noticed in the maximum-security prisons here how appealing and prevalent Islam has become. Some of these prisoners believe in radical fundamentalist Islam and are sympathetic or even supportive of the actions of groups hostile to the U.S. Islam is mostly appealing to black prisoners to give themselves a separate identity, as a rebellion to a white culture, or to provide cover for gang activity. However, I have heard a lot of hostility toward the U.S., and on 9-11 many prisoners were merely intrigued by the attack, indifferent, or even happy.

I cannot deny multiculturalism and racial diversity in the U.S. will make, and has made, security more difficult. Liberal thought, especially during the Civil Rights era and beyond, has radically altered America. In the 1950s and earlier, America was largely a homogeneous nation of Caucasian people with shared values, beliefs and identity. Even during the early part of the country's history when waves of immigrants were coming overseas from Europe, America was a much more united and cohesive society. European immigrants quickly assimilated into U.S. culture and became Americans, even fervent patriots.

In Illinois prisons, Mexicans are a growing segment of the prison population. Most are first generation Americans or illegal aliens. The vast majority of these first generation Americans, furthermore, were born in the U.S. by illegal aliens. These men have more loyalty to their gang or Mexico than they ever have had for America. The U.S. has a foolish policy of granting citizenship to anyone born within its borders. Citizenship should have to be earned, and only given on a selective basis. Loyalty, aptitude, and unity should supersede liberal ideals of universal and blind equality. During the cold war, there were Communist traitors, but never before has the country been such a breeding ground for foreign-sponsored, but home grown, espionage, sabotage, or terrorism, and never before has it been as difficult identifying infidels. Despite this, however, I still believe profiling can be an effective tool in fighting enemies of the state.

The prisons of Illinois are some of the most diverse populations in America. Caucasians are a small minority, and are mixed in a system of African Americans and increasing numbers of Hispanics. These races are divided by religion, ethnicity, and gangs. Internal Affairs uses profiling extensively in their scrutiny and oppression of thousands of prisoners. Identifying gang members is especially important to maintaining control and security of the institution. When incidents occur, the entire prison population is not commonly interrogated or searched. Instead, I.A. uses their collected data and intelligence to target certain groups. Profiling greatly improves the productivity and efficiency of security staff at Stateville, and other institutions. Although I have no rights, and can be searched and interrogated, or even have my property seized or be thrown in Segregation at the whim of my captors, this is usually not procedure. I believe administrators have learned universal harassment is a waste of resources, time, effort, and often leads to mass resentment and rioting.

I am surprised the Obama administration is as concerned about airplane bombings and not for more dangerous threats. The emergence of Red China and its threat to overtake the U.S. economically and militarily should be much more of a fear than cave dwellers in Afghanistan who use crude measures to take down our aircraft. China has the possibility of instigating WWIII and completely obliterating the U.S. Yet the White House coddles the growing monster in foreign affairs, both militarily and international trade. China is on the rise with its trillion dollars of surplus and expanding military might, while America is on the decline with trillions of dollars of debt and shrinking global power. Even if things do not come to total war, a cold war is a distinct possibility, and I imagine it will be much worse and precarious than the one with the former Soviet Union.

Not only is there the vastly greater danger emanating from China, but a nuclear Pakistan, Iran and North Korea. Both Iran and North Korea snub their noses at the U.S., and America looks impotent with its petty negotiations and sanctions. Do American leaders really think these countries care about sanctions? North Korea sends missiles over Japan, sinks South Korean naval ships, and tests nuclear weapons. Soon they will have the capability of sending a nuclear missile to the U.S., and what balls will our leaders then have? Then there is the threat of biological and chemical weapons, which I think Americans should fear even more so than a hydrogen bomb. Barack Obama is so worried about a commercial airplane being destroyed, he wants Americans to be groped at airports en mass, but he does little to nothing about the U.S.'s southern border where terrorists or other enemies could easily sneak across with far more deadly weapons and unlimited targets. Of course, though, the U.S. would not want to make illegal aliens, Mexican constituents, or drug smugglers unhappy.

The White House is terribly concerned about air safety, but cares little about imported food and other consumer goods. Recently, I saw a documentary about toxic fish being imported to America. Fisheries in S.E. Asia are located in polluted and toxic waters. The fish are given hormones and other dangerous supplements so they can survive to be shipped to the U.S. China and other Asian countries are selling American consumers toxic products, whether it be fish, lead in children's toys, or poisons in dog food. Mexico and other South American countries sell the U.S. agricultural products laced with deadly pesticides the FDA has banned here. These countries do not have the same standards as the U.S. or Europe, and they do not care if their products kill or harm their foreign consumers. The deaths, sicknesses, and intangible detriment to Americans' health far exceeds the threat of an airplane bombing, and yet, the FDA only checks 2% of the country's food. 100% of passengers must have their privacy violated and be scrutinized down to their naked bodies, but only 2% of imported food is being checked. The U.S. could easily pay for higher scrutiny of imports, and shipyards as well, if we placed tariffs on these countries' commerce, but that is anathema to government leaders. The U.S. would not want to create trade wars with countries who systematically abuse and take advantage of America's free trade policy.

In the news today, I heard General Motors issued stock to pay back the government's bailout. Half of the loan, or approximately $14 billion, was returned. Many people criticize the bailout because in a capitalist system, bad businesses should go out of business, and government intervention usually only makes matters worse. Certainly bankruptcy and the ability to make new contracts with the union would have been preferable. However, the government was partly to blame for GM's financial straits. How are American car companies supposed to compete globally when China artificially reduces its currency, and South Korea only allows 1 U.S. car to be sold in its markets for every 40 Korean cars sold in America? How does America compete economically with countries with subsidized industries, lower safety standards and lower standards of living? The Fed just reduced the value of U.S. currency by beginning to print an extra trillion dollars. I suppose the government's answer is to lower ourselves to the third world instead of making sure trade is fair and imported products are safe. Even the economic collapse of the U.S. is more of a danger in my opinion, than an airplane possibly being bombed.

The threat of terrorism is greatly overblown, especially in comparison to other dangers. The odds of dying in a terrorist attack are infinitesimally minute when compared to dying in a car accident. Tens of thousands of people will die in car accidents this year, but there is no hysteria or massive government effort to prevent it. Interestingly, because of the TSA's harassment of air travelers, many people will drive instead of fly this Thanksgiving; there will probably be well over a hundred serious car accidents, but I doubt anyone will be injured traveling by air.

There are many occupations that are dangerous and have high rates of injury or death. Miners and fisherman face numerous risks in their line of employment. People probably remember the Peruvian miners who were trapped for months not long ago when the mine collapsed. They lived, but not all miners are so fortunate. Miners who worked in West Virginia for Massey Energy earlier this year were killed, and just recently, miners in New Zealand are presumed dead after an explosion. There is a program on the Discovery Channel called "The Deadliest Catch," that follows the lives of fisherman out on the open sea. Fishing on these boats in frigid and volatile waters is often dangerous. Many fishermen die, or are severely injured every year. There are various hazardous occupations people usually do not ever think of, but these people have odds of dying that are much greater than they ever would be from a terrorist attack.

The odds of dying from sickness, disease, or accidents far exceed that of being killed by a suicidal bomber or on an airplane. How many people die yearly from cancer, heart attacks, strokes, influenza, or just from falling in their own bathroom? There is no comparing the risks people live with, day after day, with acts of terrorism. Yet, you do not see massive expenditures of money, resources, and government intrusion or action to eliminate those risks. People do not live in fear of these fatalities, despite how much more probable they are. Some may argue this is because not much can be done to prevent them. But how truly effective are TSA's nude X-rays and invasive pat downs at preventing terrorism?

Terrorists, like bacteria, will adapt to new security measures. For every gap in security that is plugged, there will be another. How far are Americans willing to go? Should American air travelers be subjected to anal cavity searches? Breast implant checks? Tampon scrutiny? X-rays of stomach contents? Pacemaker or defibrillator checks? Is it even possible to make sure a pacemaker is not an explosive device? Initially, terrorists just strapped explosives to their chests; then they used carpet cutters to hijack planes to use as crude missiles; then there was the shoe bomber, and more recently the underwear bomber. Not long ago, a Yemen terrorist mailed explosive devices inside computers which could have been detonated by cellphone. Where there is a will, there is a way. Fanatics are very determined. When someone is willing to die to cause destruction or death, there is little you can do to prevent it. Intelligence and reasonable security measures are all Americans can use. The more government attempts to tighten its grip in efforts to make America safe, the more the country will become a police state, and the more the terrorists will win.

Maximum-security prisons have become absurdly security conscious in the last ten years, making inmates' lives exceedingly miserable and oppressive. As I write this journal entry, I write with a dull pencil that I have had to peel down with my fingernails, and now that my nails are broken or mangled, I am gnawing the wood with my teeth. Sometimes I use a metal edge to scrape the wood off, if I find a good one. Oftentimes, I will use my toe nail clippers, but these were not given to me in Seg. Pencil sharpeners have ceased to be sold, and are now considered contraband for security reasons. Possibly, I could take the tiny flimsy steel carving piece to make a weapon, the thinking goes. The pens that are sold at Stateville are made of such thin plastic that when I use them, they bend or snap. A normal pen could be used to stab someone.

Earlier, I brushed my teeth with a 3" toothbrush. Stateville no longer sells full-sized toothbrushes because someone might melt the end into a point and hurt someone with it. I am not allowed dental floss because purportedly it can be used to cut through metal bars, although this myth was busted on the Discovery show "Myth Busters." I don't know how prison security could ever think dental floss could cut through steel.

Sewing needles are not sold any more because I may use it as a blow dart, or stabbing weapon. It is also not sold to prevent inmates from altering their clothing. God forbid if a man hemmed up his state pants. I have a hair brush without a handle, and the lid to my bowl was confiscated because I could hide something in it. The radio I currently listen to is made of clear plastic, as is my TV and drinking mug. Every drinking mug, by the way, is not allowed to have a lid because, again, I could hide something in it.

The specially-made 13" TV I have, without a remote or any special functions, cost me over $200. I could purchase a similar model for $59 outside these prison walls. By the way, all bags or purses the guards bring into the prison must be made of clear plastic, although if they wanted to smuggle drugs, weapons, cigarettes, or other contraband in, they could just hide it on their person. There is no X-ray machine or intrusive pat down for them.

Stingers to heat water and make meals warm have been barred to prevent inmates from throwing hot or boiling water on staff or other inmates. Now, the vast majority of prisoners have devised other ways of heating water, including fire. When there was a gang fight on the yard amongst F House inmates a couple of months ago, guards searched the entire building looking for weapons. What did they find? Empty pop bottles, extra sheets or blankets, containers with lids and other miscellanous nondangerous property. However, at this time, someone noticed the cells in Seg had windows with metal levers to open and close them. So, during the lockdown, maintenance came to saw off all the handles, making it very difficult to lock, close, or open the windows now. I even cut my fingers a few times turning the steel levers, which were cut but not filed down to a smooth finish. The administration is so concerned about weapons, but for every silly thing they do or take away from prisoners, there are a hundred alternatives that are better or more easily procured. There is no way to make Stateville completely safe, and this is true in regards to airplane travel or life in the U.S. in general.

Movement lines are often subject to pat downs, or metal detecters. A guard will stand by the door to wand every inmate going out. This, of course, makes the procession of inmates out the door very slow. It now takes five hours to feed general population, and often we are only given 10 to 15 minutes to eat. Of course, the delay is also caused by the rule that inmates must walk in twos and make lines, which are often stopped when they break apart. Inmates spend more time waiting to go to chow and on the way to chow than actually eating. While in line, inmates are picked out to be patted down. What do guards often find? Packets of ketchup, mustard, napkins, gloves, and hats. On the way back, guards may find inmates bringing milk, bread, cookies, or other foods. Weapons? I have not yet seen an inmate found with a weapon on the way to or from chow, library, school, chapel, or yard.

Despite this, there are usually about 10 guards lined up during feed, and 10 lieutenants standing around as well. Possibly, they are needed in case a fight breaks out, which occurs regularly, although I have never seen so much staff in my 18 years of imprisonment for routine chow lines. In fact, a decade ago, I almost never saw a lieutenant or higher supervisor. Security has increased to absurd levels and their unions still complain there is not enough staff and the prison is still too dangerous. The counselor who recently had his head busted will probably be pointed out to administrators to demonstrate more staff is needed, although no amount of storm troopers will make Stateville entirely peaceful, even if the bankrupt State of Illinois could hire them.

The IDOC has over 40 prisons, and approximately 50,000 prisoners. There are another 20,000 jail inmates, with over 10,000 just at Cook County Jail. Thousands more are on parole, probation, or work release. The prison industrial complex, justice system, and adjoining infrastructure, I speculate, involves close to a million people. The entire State of Illinois only has about 13 million people, and yet with a budget deficit of $15 billion, not including pension obligations, there is no effort to curb the enormous waste of resources and money. Even I am made to languish in maximum-security prisons for the rest of my life for allegedly lending my car to a man who allegedly killed someone, but was acquitted. Contrarily, the defeated Republican candidate for governor repeatedly accused Governor Quinn in vicious attack ads of endangering the public by releasing prisoners up to a month early. I severely doubt the general public was put in increased danger, just as I severely doubt air travelers are in increased danger without universal X-rays and invasive pat downs by the TSA.

Currently, I am in Segregation for purportedly gambling, trading and trafficking commissary, and being in possession of commissary I did not personally purchase. The purpose of Segregation is to isolate dangerous inmates from the general population. Minor rule violations are supposed to be disciplined with a loss of privileges, and the rule violations I am accused of would not even be written up by a guard, or especially Internal Affairs, years ago. However, IDOC now has two prisons entirely dedicated for violent and dangerous prisoners, and the other prisons have the room and capacity to hold people in Seg for minor infractions. Years ago, guards were concerned about murders, rapes, violent assaults, and serious crimes. Today, guards are vigilant about hooch, tattoos, cooking devices, insolence, putting a privacy sheet up when an inmate uses the toilet, clothing lines, or God forbid, betting on a football game. As inmates' freedoms have slowly been taken away as security has become overzealously pursued, so have Americans' freedoms been taken away. Today it is invasive searches or X-rays at airports. Tomorrow, it may be at train stations, schools, sporting events, or even your home.

Last week, my name was announced on the loud speaker for a visit. Although I notified guards of my doctor's order to be placed in medical restraints, the guards brought out boxed handcuffs. The difference merely being instead of having a chain around my waist with my wrists held together awkwardly and horizontally in front of me by the box, I have a chain around my waist with handcuffs cuffed to the sides of my waist. In the past, those boxed handcuffs have created nerve damage in my hands and wrists, and when I wear them, my hands and wrists go numb with pain. The guards, however, refused to honor my medical permit because of blind protocol and security concerns. On my visit, I was then shackled and chained to the floor to speak to my mother through a small screen in plexiglass. I asked the guard if he thought I was Hannibal Lector and if he had a face mask as well for me to wear. Apparently, I am a very dangerous convict for purportedly having commissary passed to me, not purchasing this commissary, and gambling.

When I go on non-Seg visits, I am not put in any restraints. However, I am strip-searched on the way to, and on the way out. What the purpose of a strip search is before going in for a visit remains a mystery to me. Would I try to smuggle something out? Perhaps, a clear plastic pen? Recently, Cook County lost a multimillion dollar lawsuit because jail guards were stripping detainees that were being released. Possibly IDOC needs to be sued as well for frivolous searches, but unlike prisoners, detainees have rights, and if you have served your time, then you also reacquire Constitutional protections.

During strip searches, prisoners must totally disrobe. Their clothes are then searched, before they are personally examined. Prisoners raise their hands to show they are not hiding anything under their armpits. Mouths are then checked, looking under tongue and lips. If you have hair, you must run your fingers through it. Ears are checked also, and sometimes guards want to take a look at your fingernails. Possibly you could have a snort of heroin or coke underneath your nails. Prisoners are told to lift up their genitals, and if you have a "supercop" or homosexual guard, he will want you to peel the foreskin on your penis up. The ordeal is still not over and inmates must then turn around, raise their feet, and wiggle their toes. The final indignation is having to bend over and spread your ass cheeks, though not all guards demand you do this.

There is a camera in the strip search room where Internal Affairs can monitor the search to make sure guards do their job, or an inmate does not get away with bringing any contraband into the institution. Hence, prisoners are not only subjected to all encompassing and invasive searches, but to having their naked bodies on screen for anyone present to see.

After describing the conditions in prison and what I must go through to see my family, readers may think a pat down or X-ray at the airport to see their family on Thanksgiving Day is not all that bad. However, I hope they do not become complacent and accepting of TSA procedures. Unlike myself, readers are free and need not put up with invasive searches. Americans have Constitutional rights protecting them from unwarranted search and seizure. They also have a right to privacy. Freedom is an invaluable, but precarious treasure that if not vigorously defended and fought for can, and will, be taken away. If you do not take a stand now, when will you? In the movie Braveheart, Henry Wallace asks a crowd of armed Scots who are having second thoughts about battle, "What will you do without freedom?" Big Brother and the police state are slowly taking over the U.S. Liberty is being lost in all manner of ways, and not just at the airports. Soon Americans will discover they no longer live in the land of the free, but an oppressive, miserable prison like Stateville, where life is meaningless, and death can only come too soon.

Freedom vs. Security Continued -- December 6, 2010

The invasive searches at airports during the Thanksgiving holiday and weekend did not cause public uprises as many thought, including myself. Possibly, Americans do not value their freedom and privacy as much as I, and have become cowardly, passive, and/or accepting of an increasingly intrusive government. Possibly, however, Americans who still value their freedom and who did not want to be delayed or harassed, drove instead of taking to the air. Furthermore, it seemed apparent the TSA intentionally scaled back their aggressive and universal searches. At many airports, scanning devices were not available or happened to not be working. It is said that a frog that is dropped into a pot of boiling water will jump out, but one slowly cooked will die without a struggle. Hopefully, Americans will become vigilant if Big Brother continues to turn up the heat in efforts to take over their lives.

Over the weekend, I learned the U.S. legislature is considering a bill requiring all new cars to have rear view cameras. On television news programs, a few tragic cases where little children were killed by drivers backing up were recounted. The news stories made it appear these incidents were pervasive, and a new law was a good idea. However, as I have argued in this journal entry and others, freedom is more important than security or safety. These news reports highlight and sensationalize a very few instances out of numerous car accidents to make an interesting story, and support socialist government intervention. Americans should not be forced to pay an extra $2,000 for a rear view camera that may or may not prevent a few fatalities, despite how disturbing it may be that one child dies. U.S. car manufacturers also should not be forced to produce these cameras, and thereby increase their car prices. These expensive and unnecessary changes, just like fuel consumption laws, should be voluntary and not mandatory.

Also over the weekend, I heard about a government idea to mandate devices be put into all new cars that prevent drivers from using cell or smart phones while driving. The device will jam the transmission of all phones in the car, not just the driver's. It will also, of course, not allow people to use non-held communication devices. Ironically, the highest cause of distraction related car accidents is not using a cell phone as we are led to believe, but eating while driving. According to a recently released study, 80% of all those accidents were due to drivers trying to eat and drive at the same time. I wonder what the government will prepare next based on this finding. The government may seek to ban drive-throughs at fast food restaurants. It has already made seat belt laws, helmet laws for motorcyclists, child car seats, and breathylizers for DUI offenders mandatory in many states. The eating while driving accident conclusion reminded me of a woman who ordered coffee from a drive through. She spilled the hot coffee on herself and suffered burns. Instead of being more careful in the future, she sued McDonalds for millions of dollars. When will people take responsibility for themselves? When will the government allow us to do so?

Yet another socialist bill being pushed by the White House, particularily by the President's wife, is a school nutrition bill. This bill, if passed, will ban certain foods considered unhealthy from being served at public schools. It seeks to eliminate french fries, cheeseburgers, pizza and other lunches in favor of salad bars and tofu. I can tell you that as a high school student I was very health conscious, and usually brought my own lunch from home. However, it was my choice, and it should remain the student's choice, and the local public school boards and the residents who elected them. Who is to say students will not bring a bag lunch of junk food if given a choice of tofu? Who is to say a salad bar frequented by many children will not be unsanitary and cause more illnesses than obesity? Who is to say active children will not burn off these calories? Who is to say the federal government knows what is best for our children? For better or worse, Americans should be free to make their own choices. By the way, I find Michelle Obama's promotion of nutritious school meals ironic considering her husband regularly eats cheeseburgers and smokes cigarettes. Maybe Michele Obama should be more concerned about her own family's health habits, and not ours.

This morning the temperature outside was 5 degrees, and when I took my milk carton in from the window sill to pour on my cereal, I discovered it was as solid as a brick. Yard was cancelled this morning because of the severe cold. Prison guards do not care if foolish prisoners are improperly dressed or freeze in the cold, but administrators are overly concerned about liability and our safety. During lightning storms, yard is also cancelled to prevent the freak accident of lightning striking an inmate. Years ago, however, yard was always run regardless of the weather, and if you froze or were struck by lightning, that was your problem. I remember winter days bundled up so much I could barely move my limbs to lift weights in sub-zero blizzards. I also remember lightning storms where I would lift steel barbells over my head in the middle of the yard to tempt fate. Cold weather nor lightning ever harmed me, but I feel as a broken man nontheless due to the years spent in maximum-security prisons that have become increasingly oppressive and crushingly strict. Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying "Men who will trade their freedom for security, deserve neither." I hope this is an attitude Americans will embrace as Big Brother tries to become ever larger.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Editor Note- Governor Quinn Contact Form

Editor Note: Paul has a Clemency Petition pending before Illinois' Governor Quinn. If you would like to ask Governor Quinn to free Paul, you can do so right now, very easily, by sending the governor a direct email on the form at this link:

Your efforts are greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Hoodlum from the Past -- November 9, 2010

The prison is still on a level one lockdown. Since last Thursday, I have been able to verify that a counselor was attacked in general population. An inmate apparently beat him severely and smashed his head into a metal railing on one of the upper floors of E House. He was semiconscious and bleeding heavily when the med techs put him on a stretcher to be sent to an outside hospital. I was not absolutely certain the ambulance siren I heard from my window was connected to the lockdown, however, now I have no doubt. I am told the counselor will live, but he has a number of facial and skull fractures that will require a long recovery.

I do not know why the counselor was attacked. Counselors are supposed to help prisoners with various issues, but as I mentioned in my last entry, many counselors will not do their jobs and have bad attitudes. The counselor who was attacked, I have seen around but have never spoken to. I know, however, many people did not like him, or thought he was a poor counselor. If I was not in Seg, possibly, I could learn of a motive, but I am rather isolated here. On the day of the lockdown, I looked outside my cell for a little while to see if any new prisoners were brought in. A very old man was brought to Seg, however, I doubt he attacked the counselor. I did not look out my cell too long because it bothers me to do so, and I went back to my own preoccupations. I do not like prison, especially the Round House, and the more it is out of my sight and mind, the better.

Today, I was assimilating new data from numerous companies to evaluate their stocks. I have a complicated formula I rely on and because my calculator was apparently broken by Internal Affairs, I had to make these calculations myself. It is a very time consuming process even with a calculator, and possibly I have become too concerned with these numbers over my own insights of a company's growth or profit potential. I was in the back of the cell with my headphones on when eventually I heard banging on my door. I turned around to see an inmate worker there. The warden had apparently allowed guards to let out a few workers to help them, despite the level one lockdown. I came to the door to learn that a man I do not like, but have known for a long time, wanted me to give him some coffee. "No, I do not have any coffee for him, and quit bothering me," I told the worker to relay back to him. The worker just turned around and yelled to him over the cell house noise. He called out his last name (which everyone calls him by), and then told him he was "burnt the fuck up!"

Before the lockdown, this man has sent workers to my cell several times to ask me for things. The last time he wanted the Sudoku and crossword puzzles out of my newspaper. I said, "What the hell does that dimwit want those for? Is he trying to stimulate his brain?" Lately, I have heard in the news about various theories to exercise your mind and make yourself smarter, or prevent mental atrophy. There are even a few businesses that have opened up that offer brain stimulating activities including video games. I told the worker to give him the message that no amount of Sudoku or crossword puzzles will prevent the further decay of his twisted noodle of a brain.

The first name of the person who has been having workers bother me is Don. He is a Caucasian of average height with brown hair. He is a physically weak person of low intelligence, although part of his dim-wittedness is due to having severe diabetes, and all too often allowing his blood sugar levels to go low. He can often act spacey and foolishly, but despite this, he can also be arrogant, rebellious, and disrespectful. Don also has little strength of character or integrity. I met him over ten years ago, not long after he was sent to IDOC. Although he was convicted of serious crimes, he was a punk then, and I still think of him that way.

In 1997, when Pontiac Correctional Center was closed down to general population and made into a segregation prison, I was transferred to Joliet C.C. Joliet was the oldest prison in Illinois, and was originally built during the Civil War as a fort for the Union. It was undergoing a slow and costly renovation process when I was sent there. Part of it was new, but most of it was still over a century old. Initially, I was assigned to a gallery in the remodeled area. In the 90's, prisoners could choose their cell mates. However, the man I moved in with said he already made plans to have a fellow gang member assigned as his cellmate. He was a Royal, which once was a small white gang in Chicago and Rockford, Illinois. I was a "neutron" or non gang member. He told me I could just swap cells with the Royal, moving into his cell. His cellmate was a white neutron as well.

The following day, I moved to the other side of the West House of Joliet C.C. This side had yet to be renovated and as I made my first trip over there, I knew it was not an equal trade in living quarters. When I met Don, my new cellmate, I also knew I was not making an equal trade in company, although he was a young, white suburban man with no gang affiliation, like myself. The galleries were dark and dirty, and I had seen no white inmates other than my new cellmate. Upon entering my new cell, cockroaches were scattering everywhere as Don made room for some of my property. I had never seen so many roaches before in my life. My new cellmate must be an unclean slob or the cells here must all be infested, I thought. Later, I learned it was both. In the renovated part of Joliet, there were no roaches, and the cells had shelves and a table to put property on. This side had nothing to place property on, or a place to sit and write. Don was living out of cardboard boxes infested with roaches, and his seat was the toilet.

One of my first projects, after thoroughly cleaning the cell, was to make furniture to put our property in. I made these out of cardboard glue, paint and polyurethane. My furniture looked like any store-bought furniture, and was as solid as wood. The painted and sealed cardboard furniture cut down on the roaches, but did not eliminate them. I still remember, to this day, chewing on a roach which had crawled unnoticed into my bowl of instant oatmeal, just before I added the boiling water and put the lid on. I also remember at night roaches crawling all over my TV screen, and having to bag my TV while it was not in use to prevent roaches from laying eggs or defecating inside it. The roaches were about as bad as the former cell I was in.

I immediately was not happy with my new living quarters or cellmate. I could choose another cellmate if I wanted, however, there were no other white people on my floor and everyone was in one gang or another. I learned this part of the prison was the most violent, but I minded my own business and did not have many problems. The gangs, like in the county jail, were often in conflict with one another and left the neutrons alone, unless they could be easy prey. I may have been alone, but I was not a cowardly victim. I tend to believe Don could have been victimized or taken advantage of if he was not my cellmate. I noticed he sometimes drew the fury of our neighbors because of his carefree punk-like behavior, and he relied on my protection.

The benefit of being in what I called "the ghetto" was that the guards left you alone. In fact, they did not even like coming on the dark galleries. Also, the unrenovated section had old plumbing like I had never seen in a penitentiary before. They did not have the common stainless steel toilets and connected sinks with buttons. We had ceramic toilets with levers to flush, and turning valves for hot and cold water. How I miss the ability to have rushing water and not some sink faucet that dribbles out water for a few seconds before you must hit the button again. In the old part of the prison, prisoners could also paint and decorate their cells in any way they pleased. Most prisoners painted their cells in gang colors. I chose a beige color to paint our cell, and I suppose its neutral color symbolized to others our neutron status, but that was not my intention. Don did not really care about my improvements to the cell, although he did express a desire to paint the cell entirely black. I made the cabinets, cleaned the cell, and painted without much help from Don. He seemed quite content to live like a hobo.

Don did not have much money, and what little he had was spent on tobacco or coffee. Sometimes he would pilfer my coffee. I did not drink coffee, but someone had given me a bag as barter, and I had emptied it into a jar because I thought roaches may chew through it. The contents diminished, and I confronted my cellmate about it. I was not terribly upset about it, and would have given him some if he had asked. I just did not like the fact that he took it. Possibly this is why he earlier asked for coffee, although things have changed between us. Don was regularly rolling cigarettes and smoking. He would toss his butts out onto the gallery and once onto the back of a gallery worker. The worker came to the cell and told him if it was not for his cellmate, he would have had his head busted long ago. Don just laughed at him and spit on the floor.

I built a tall dresser to place my TV on just so that Don could also watch it from his top bunk after I went to sleep, and so he would not sit on the toilet in my line of site. I never let him sit on my bunk, as this has a connotation of homosexuality in prison. Don stayed up late watching TV, and I let him use my headphones so he did not disturb me. I did not watch much TV then or now, and it was a good babysitter for him. I also let him use my radio as long as he did not listen to any "stoner" or hippie rock, which he seemed to enjoy. This music was verboten.

Don was often doing stupid and foolish things. Once, when the heat did not work in the middle of winter, he took plastic garbage bags and taped them together and then to the front of the cell to block out the bitterly cold air coming in. Later, while I was not paying attention to him, he built a fire in the back of the cell. The cell, of course, filled up with black smoke. As soon as I saw the fire, I said to him, "What the hell are you doing?" and I told him to put it out. By then though, the cell had a lot of smoke trapped inside.

Don's insulin levels were often low, and he would act almost like he was intoxicated. Once, on the walk to the chow hall, Don was walking tipsy and to the left and then the right. A lieutenant just happened to be walking by, and took him out of line. Don did not explain that he was diabetic, but instead gave the man nothing but attitude. The lieutenant asked him who his cellmate was, and Don pointed me out. The lieutenant then brought us both to the Health Care Unit to take a breathalyzer test. I explained to the officer that Don's blood sugar was just low, but he did not believe me until the nurses confirmed it at the hospital.

Don could be easygoing and amusing, but he was also annoying, and could be disrespectful. In the 90's, breakfast lines were run and they were run in the middle of night. I rarely ever went, but Don got up to go and then to get his insulin. Normally he was courteous in being careful not to wake me, but a few times he flopped down on my bunk. I kicked his butt off, and asked him what the hell he was doing. He merely told me, "Can't a man sit down to tie his shoes?" Don at times made Polish wise cracks such as when he broke our light bulb, and I had to remove and replace it. He said, "Don't you need some help?" I told him, "No," and he replied, "But I thought it took three Polacks to screw in a light bulb?" Ironic, this coming from a klutz who possibly would cut or electrocute himself removing the light bulb.

After I shared a cell with Don for several months, I became suspicious of his background and case. I knew he was from the western suburbs of Warrenville and Wheaton. I grew up in the western suburbs before moving to the southwestern suburbs, so I knew that area, the schools and a couple people Don mentioned to me. I also knew he had an 80-year sentence. However, I did not know how one could receive 80 years for a murder when the maximum was 60, unless you were given death or natural life as I was. When I questioned Don about his life before his arrest, and about his case, his answers did not add up. When he was not in the cell, I went through his legal papers to learn the truth. This is a serious violation of prison etiquette and privacy. However, ever since I once had a cellmate who contacted the Palatine Task Force in an attempt to secure the $200,000 reward money or other deals for solving the Brown's Chicken murders, I never trusted any of my cellmates again. I now always look into the background and case of any cellmate I have for an extended period of time. It is always wise anyway to know who you are living with. These days so much information is available on the Internet, I don't really need to do any snooping now. (Editor note: Paul does not have access to the internet. He is referring to having someone outside the prison look things up for him on the internet.)

I learned my cellmate had a cousin who was his co-defendant, and they committed burglaries and home invasions. They would sometimes target old and defenseless women who were alone at home. A couple of these women were killed for no reason. They also robbed and killed a man on the roadside for a few measely dollars. While I was reading his papers, one of the victim's names caused me to pause. I knew that name from somewhere. Eventually, it came to me: Oberweis was the name of a wealthy man who owned a dairy business and had run for various political offices. I had seen some of his ice cream and political ads on TV. Later, he ran for governor, but lost in the Republican primary. A name like Oberweis was not so popular, and considering they lived in the same area, there had to be some relationship.

Also in my reading, I learned that at least one of the home invasion-murders was originally blamed on some innocent men, who were tried and convicted. Later, stolen merchandise was discovered in my cellmate's possession, so Don eventually confessed to police, but placed the blame mostly on his cousin. He later testified against his cousin for an 80-year plea agreement, and his cousin was given the death penalty. I knew Don was a low-life, but now I thought much worse of him. He killed people for no reason, allowed innocent men to be condemned for his actions, and then he testified against a family member to avoid the death penalty. I kept this information to myself until he made some wise crack about my alleged involvement in the murder of seven people at the Palatine Brown's Chicken restaurant.

I caught Don off-guard with my knowledge of his case, and he clumsily tried to defend himself. He told me that his older cousin had put him up to it. I asked him why he had to kill the 60-year-old home-bound woman, and he said his cousin threatened him to do it. This reminded me somewhat of the ridiculous stories made up by my co-defendant, and after I continued to stare at him with skepticism, he told me the autopsy concluded his shots did not cause the victims' deaths. Apparently they were shot with two different weapons, and only one supposedly was fatal. This was one of the worst defenses I had ever heard, but I moved on to his testifying against his cousin to avoid the death penalty. He had little to say, except that he had to look out for himself. Don sent his cousin to death row in exchange for 80 years, and even though 80 years at that time would be translated into 40, an unhealthy diabetic like himself has little chance of living to his 60th birthday.

There are a lot of men that I must live with in maximum-security prisons who have committed serious crimes and murders. There are those among them, however, I have come to like and respect. I will go so far as to say that those men in prison for murder often have more integrity, valor, and redeeming value than those who have been convicted of lesser offenses. Most of the people I have associated with these past 18 years have killed someone, and admit to doing so. However, Don's personality and case bothered me immensely, and he did not make me feel any better when he brought up the Palatine Massacre again to rub in my face. Unlike him, I was innocent, and it was people like him who helped cause my conviction and natural life sentence. I told Don to find a new cellmate.

In the morning when I left for yard, I told the guard who keyed me out that when I return, that cretin in my cell had better be gone. He said he was surprised I was able to put up with him for as long as I did, and told me to talk to the captain on the way out. The captain was not surprised either that I wanted Don out of the cell. He asked me who I wanted as a replacement, and I told him a white man that was just recently moved on the gallery. He then asked me what should be done with the lowlife I had for a cellmate. I told him I did not care, but I did not want to see his face again.

In the afternoon when I returned from yard and chow, Don was gone and I had the new cellmate I requested. My new cellmate was much of an improvement, however, not long afterward, I was moved to EGP, or East General Population. It was considered a privilege to live in EGP and there were only a small population of inmates chosen to live there. The East House was all receiving (prisoners just convicted and waiting to be bused to penitentiaries across the state) except for two short galleries, and the upper floor was mostly for orientation. EGP was much quieter, cleaner, peaceful, and had more freedoms and privileges. I found myself a good cellmate, and was happy with the move, although I had never requested it.

What happened to Don? Well, eventually, I heard he was living on the renovated side of the West House, at least until he sat on some female guard's lap in the lieutenant's office and was sent to Seg. After that, I heard rumors that he had turned homosexual and was living with a sexual predator. When he was my cellmate, he never gave any hint of homosexuality and even spoke in opposition to it. I doubt the rumors are true, but many years later, I heard that he was raped in Joliet. Someone also said it was consensual, and the other man bought him all types of commissary. When Don's blood sugar was low, I could see him being taken advantage of. Possibly the rumors are true.

After Joliet was completely remodeled in 2001, it was closed down, and Don was transferred to Stateville. In 2005, I was transferred here as well, to eventually be reacquainted with him. He has lived in the same cell house as I at times, and I have had the occasion to see and talk to him. However, Don has been regularly going to Seg for minor rule violations. In the 1990s, an inmate would not be sent to Segregation for such things, but now the rules are much stricter. Plus, many of the guards do not like him, and he is often a target. I do not know what he is in Seg for currently, but one of the more humorous and talked about incidents involved him punching a man at the chow table for taking his cookies. The man being struck recovered quickly, and beat up the very weak and undexterous Donald. However, his willingness to go toe-to-toe with someone surprised many. Gossipers said it was ironic he would not protect his "booty," but will not let anyone take his cookies.

I have heard that Don keeps himself busy filing many grievances and lawsuits against medical staff and guards. Most of these are frivolous and without merit, however, he may be successful in his lawsuit regarding his poor treatment of diabetes. The medical care at Stateville is very poor, and medical staff are often negligent or guilty of malpractice. Don has always had troubles related to diabetes. At Joliet, medical care was better, but at Stateville, I am not surprised he has went unconscious multiple times and has suffered from related problems. He told me the state has already offered to settle, but he was holding out for more money. He also expressed concern the victim's families would be able to seize any lawsuit money awarded him.

I do not talk to Don much, and only a few times since he was my cellmate. However, I do not detest him as much as I once did. There are so many people at Stateville that have even worse characters and crimes. To single him out among the slime would be foolish. It may be just my perception, but it seems the convicts these days are more unscrupulous, and lacking of morals or values. Believe it or not, even convicts once had codes of conduct and principles. Possibly all of Western culture is degrading, and along with it, the men behind bars.

I heard that Don's cousin won a new trial through one of his appeals. I was surprised when Don spoke to me about testifying against him again, and seemed to seek my advice. Don spoke about trying to get the prosecutor to make another deal with him, such as a transfer to some nice medium-security prison. I scolded Don, and told him he was eligible for a medium transfer anyway in a few years. He asked me what he should do. I told him, "For once in your life, quit thinking about yourself and do the right thing." Don is still at Stateville, so maybe he did not testify against his cousin, or testify to the prosecutor's liking. I doubt it is possible for a worm to grow a backbone, but it would be nice to believe so.