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Friday, January 8, 2010

Christmas - December 25, 2009

Christmas began much like Thanksgiving Day. Around 6 a.m., I was awakened by my cellmate on the toilet. As soon as he heard me stir, he began to flush the toilet repeatedly so I would not hear anything, or smell the stench. My cellmate does not have normal bowel movements, and is on the toilet usually an hour daily. He awakens very early in order to have time to use the toilet before his day, or mine, begins. He also does this because he is afraid the guards on the first or second shift could write him a disciplinary ticket for having a privacy sheet up, or will be suspicious of him being behind the sheet so long. Being awakened by someone taking a crap is appropriate. Christmas or not, my day will be crappy, just like most other days.

The evening before, an older white man with gray hair, who I occasionally talk to and have nicknamed "Chickenhawk," sent my cellmate and I chocolate Santas as Christmas gifts. My cellmate, who does not have much good to say about this man, was touched by the gesture. He immediately felt obligated, so he dug out a Snickers bar from his box to send his way. I thought to myself, my cellmate nullified Chickenhawk's intent, and was being petty. On closer inspection, I wondered if the gift giving fit the old man's MO. Possibly, at some earlier time, he used candy to lure or seduce children. Regardless, I am keeping his chocolate Santa, and I will not feel the least bit indebted or charmed. Although I thought it was a nice gesture, he will not seduce me with a 63 cent piece of candy.

Earlier in the week, I was thinking of giving my cellmate some candy as a Christmas gift. I have these chocolates that I was going to put in a couple of his socks, and hang them on the hooks on the back wall. It was to be more of a spoof on the holiday than an actual present. I was to be entertained by him waking up to seeing the socks and finding candy inside. However, as every kid knows, Santa will not come if you do not go to sleep.

On Christmas Eve, I made a large meal for my neighbor, cellmate, and I. Despite eating all his share, my cellmate stuffed his face with enormous amounts of junk food. He ate an entire tub of soft batch butter Christmas cookies, a box of chocolate Whoppers, at least five fruit pies, a few candy bars, and, of course, the Chocolate Santa given to him. He ate all of this with several large cups of sweetened, creamed coffee. My cellmate who is already a hyper person, was then wired for the rest of the night. I do not think he slept at all, and in the morning he was still bouncing off the cell walls. After using the toilet, he was incredibly obnoxious, doing this and that to my annoyance. In retrospect, if I put anything in his socks, it should be lumps of coal, or Stateville rocks.

While my cellmate was in super hyperactive mode, I attempted to focus on some typing, and then reading. I read the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, and many articles about holiday retail sales. America's economy is over 70% domestic consumerism. Bad retail sales on Black Friday, and during the month of December, would spell bad news for Wall Street. Most investors are hoping people will spend, but I was not.

The United States needs to change from a consumer economy to an industrial exporter. The way the winter solstice holiday has become commercialized makes me disgusted. The darkest days of the year are supposed to be marked by the gathering of family, friends, and community, not maxing out your credit cards or unwise spending. I feel a bit like Charlie Brown on the Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon. There is no need for people to be buying all these expensive gifts. The best gifts are ones that are intangible or have meaning, and not a big price tag.

When I was a child, of course, I liked to get toys. However, when looking back, I think about the quality time I spent with my parents and family. I think about the customs and traditions unique to North Europeans that we enjoyed. In my early teen years, my mother, unfortunately, ceased celebrating Christmas because of its pagan roots. In my later teen years, I was unfortunately estranged from my father and regrettably missed the festivities with my relatives. Both of these weigh heavily on my mind now. With a natural life sentence, I may never be able to enjoy the holiday with family. Even if I was to one day be released, so much has been lost, and many have or will have passed away. I am haunted by the ghosts of Christmas' past, present, and future.

Once a week, I will not take any pain medication for my smashed and bulging disks in my spine. I do this because taking these pills for such a long time is probably having a bad effect on my body. I only take these medications to enable me to exercise. If I do not work out, I do not take any pills. Today, I decided to take the day off, and all I did was some stretching. However, despite being mostly inactive, I was in a lot of pain. The pain made my day even more miserable, and I was in an even less pleasant mood.

When I came out for chow, I walked with a limp. A man I sometimes speak with, Jim, asked me why I always come out of my cell with an angry look on my face. I told him that he would be bitter too if he had spent the last 17 years in shit holes like this because of a lying cop. Perhaps, you could understand my bitterness, old man, if the best of your years had been stolen, and you were not recently locked up here for blowing away your estranged wife and her boyfriend with a shotgun. I had never before cast judgment on him, and he seemed to take what I said quite hard. He then told me that regardless, I did not have to be a f*&#ing Scrooge.

Our Christmas Day meal was the exact same meal we were given for Thanksgiving Day. I suppose Stateville got a good deal on the turkey-soy loaf. The local news showed the homeless receiving real turkey and ham dinners provided by various charities. I wished that I could have been a homeless man, not only so I could have eaten better, but I would rather be free and living out of a box or a car than living in this cage. When I went through the serving line, I was not given a slice of pumpkin pie. I mistakenly thought it was inside my cold tray. The styrofoam trays they give us have lids that can be folded down. Although the pumpkin pie triangles are tiny, we only get them twice a year, and they are one of my favorite desserts. My cellmate, out of politeness, asked me if I wanted half of his. Of course, I would not want him to cut his dessert in half. Then we would both only have two bites. I asked a kitchen worker if he could get me one when he went to work. Kitchen workers have the benefit of being able to eat all the food they want, and sometimes bringing food back to the cell house. He told me he would see what he could do, but he heard the kitchen had already ran out of pies.

As I do every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I separate my holiday meal into two meals: one for lunch, and one for supper. They were serving sausage for dinner, and this way I did not need to come out of my cell again. I ate lunch while reading some corporate reports, and I was planning to eat my supper while watching a DVD movie. However, the machine was not working properly, and all that came on were some deleted scenes. Interesting how in the 21st century, edited cuts of a movie are included with the rental of the movie. I did some channel surfing, and did not find much to watch. At 9 p.m., I caught the local news, however.

Earlier today, inmates were shouting at one another to check out channel this and that, where Chicago news was being reported. An older black man who had served over 20 years and was released from Stateville earlier this year, had been arrested for another murder. On the news, I learned that Lee Cration had shot and killed a 79-year-old from Hyde Park, who was leaving a Popeye's Fried Chicken. The motive of the murder was theft, and police found several wallets on him from various people he had robbed. Lee Cration lived in my cell house, and I remember him as a "bug" (prison slang for someone mildly crazy). I recall him coming out for chow and making the symbol of the "all seeing eye" above his head, and bowing down in different directions while reciting praises to his god. Hopefully, the public and politicians will not believe his actions are atypical of convicts released after serving long sentences.

The kitchen worker returned with a number of pie wedges. They were not pumpkin pies, however. They were bean pies. The serving line was supposed to give these out to the vegetarians and other special diet trays, but had given them the pumpkin pies like everyone else. He gave me one of the bean pies, and I thanked him even though I had little intention of eating it. My cellmate's eyes lit up, and he told me how good they were. Since he seems to think so highly of these pies, I am going to give it to him. After he falls asleep, I will put the small piece of pie on top of one of our rolls of toilet paper, and place a note on it. The note will be neatly written in decorative cursive with green pencil, and it will say: "Jonathan: I thought you could use the extra fiber. Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas, Santa Claus".


  1. Great post, Paul!

  2. " Even if I was to one day be released, so much has been lost, and many have or will have passed away." You are wrong. A few hours after you will be released you'll get it: is a new life with no regrets about the past. You will see. anyway, except that, your writting is just hitting the target, and good, through and you can't blow it even now and then...What were you in another life..platoon leader or something?

  3. That was so kind of you to give Jonathan your bean pie!!!

  4. Can you decorate your cell at the holidays?


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