You are reading a rare, detailed account of everyday life in Stateville Prison.

Click to read Paul's blog quoted on:
To contact Paul, please email: paulmodrowski@gmail.com
or write him at the address shown in the right column. He will get your message personally.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Medical Care at Stateville -- February 28, 2010

Years ago, I injured my back while lifting heavy weights. After the pain subsided, I continued to squat, dead lift, clean, and do many other exercises with weights, putting enormous pressure and strain on my lumbar spine. On the prison yard, there are not many alternative exercises one can do to vigorously work certain muscle groups without taxing the lower back. It was not like working out at Bally's Fitness Center. I used rusted scrap iron on very crude, and often broken, equipment, outside in the yard. Time and again, I reinjured my back until I had chronic lower back pain. Although I have since ceased power lifting, my pain has become more severe and I require medication on a regular basis.

Earlier today, I finally received several sheets of medications. I had been waiting since December of last year for my prescriptions to be refilled, and had been in a lot of pain. At last, I thought, I would have some relief. However, after looking at the medications given me, I realized the most effective pain reliever was missing. All I had was a sheet of Prilosec, Flexeril, and two sheets of extra strength generic Tylenol. Tylenol is something you take for a headache, or some minor injury, not a crushed or ruptured disk causing agonizing back and sciatic pain. I have been hobbling about my cell like an infirm old man, and I have lost part of the feeling in my left leg--and yet, I was sent Tylenol.

Last week, after writing several letters to doctors, the warden, and assistant warden, and after filing a medical grievance, I finally was taken to see a doctor. I told her about my medications not being refilled, and my need for stronger medications and a cortisone injection. I also asked about traction therapy. Last October, I saw a neurologist who recommended, like many specialists before him, that I receive regular cortisone injections and traction therapy before surgery is considered. Months went by and these treatments were never given to me. Instead, my prescription for an anti-inflammatory called Diclofenac had been allowed to expire.

The doctor I saw was one of three at Stateville. One serves as the medical director of Stateville, and is rarely seen by inmates. The other one is not officially a doctor at all, and is only qualified to address minor medical problems. She is often seen and comes to the cell houses once a week for in-house sick call passes. If an inmate is found to have a more serious medical problem, they are given an appointment to see Dr. Zhang, the doctor I was there to see. Dr. Zhang is an Asian doctor in her fifties. She is sometimes difficult to understand, and it is clear that she immigrated here. However, she is easier to understand than the medical director, who is of Pakistani descent. Besides the three doctors, Stateville has a handful of medical technicians and a number of nurses. Med techs and nurses have various responsibilities including collecting requests to see the doctor, giving diabetics their insulin, and caring for sick or disabled inmates at the infirmary.

Dr. Zhang could not tell me why my prescription was not refilled. However, she was able to answer why I had not received a cortisone injection or traction therapy. After searching through my medical file, which after 15 years looks like an enormous book, she found the medical director's latest entries. Dr. Ghosh had rejected the treatment plan of the neurosurgeon and other specialists before him. I was looking at the medical director's notes as Dr. Zhang reviewed them, but I could not make out his chicken scratch writing. Only the last word was legible--the word was "NO."

The medical director of Stateville is the only person who can authorize certain medical treatments, including the ones that were recommended for me. Several times before, I had spoken to Dr. Zhang about the inadequacy of the medicines I have been prescribed. Her hands were tied, however. She could not authorize a cortisone injection or stronger pain medications. She also could not authorize traction therapy. When I saw her last week and complained about the matter, she told me that even if Dr. Gosh had authorized the treatment plan of the neurosurgeon, the health care company, Waxford, probably would have rejected it. Waxford was attempting to control costs, and cortisone injections and physical therapy are very expensive. She went on to say that traction was not a fully accepted treatment and, furthermore, I could do traction therapy in my cell. With a bit of sarcasm, I said, "Oh, really?" Apparently, my skeptic tone was missed upon the Asian doctor, or fell flat because she continued to explain in some detail the various stretches which could achieve the same results. I did not interrupt her and allowed her to make a fool of herself before I said that I already do those stretches without results. The only minor and very temporary relief I get from stretching is a lessening of stiffness in my lower back. When I mentioned stiffness, the doctor quickly informed me she could prescribe a muscle relaxer, as if that would placate me. I have tried muscle relaxers before, and they have not helped, but I did not stop her from writing out an order for it.

In lieu of a cortisone injection, Dr. Zhang told me she could prescribe cortisone pills. I have never heard of such a thing and, thus, she got my "oh, really?" response again. Dr. Zhang has played games with me before, and I no longer believe what she tells me. For example, about a year ago, I saw her regarding my back injury. She told me she could administer a cortisone injection herself, and I did not need to go to an outside hospital. Although I knew only a trained specialist could give a cortisone injection to the spine, I went along with her claim. She told me to take off my shirt and show her where the source of my pain was. I did that, and she told me this was going to be painful, and involved using a large needle. Was I still certain that I wanted the injection? Yes, I told her. She told me to lie down on the examination table, and then went searching through various drawers and cabinets. Finally, she told me she could not find the necessary equipment. When Dr. Zhang told me about the cortisone pills, I speculated she was playing mind games with me again. Thus, I told her I was willing to take them despite the possible dangerous side affects. Just like the last time, however, she was only bluffing. She told me she will wait a few months to see how these medications worked before prescribing the cortisone pills. Did she really believe I would have some miraculous recovery from an anti-inflammatory I have been taking for years? or from Tylenol?

I can only speculate on Dr. Zhang's bluffing. Possibly, many inmates want to be sent out to the outside hospital for a procedure they do not need. Many men have been locked up for so long that they view a trip to the hospital like a field trip. I do not share this view. Contrarily, I hate having to go outside these prison walls. Any time a prisoner from Stateville is sent out, he is shackled, placed in painful boxed handcuffs that are secured to a chain wrapped around the waist, and led like a dog on a leash. Prisoners also must wear an ugly, uncomfortable bright yellow jumpsuit that I call the "banana suit." During the ride to and from the hospital, I usually must listen to some guard's concept of music, or a "bug" prisoner who will not stop talking (and usually stinks). In the hospital prisoner waiting room there is nothing to do and while guards have good times and eat pizza, steak sandwiches, or Chinese food, a few bags of bologna sandwiches are thrown to the prisoners. Even if I wanted, I could not eat the sandwiches because of the boxed handcuffs that are never taken off (unless you have to defecate). Yes, I have natural life and have been incarcerated 17 years, but I would rather never have to go on another "field trip."

During my talk with Dr. Zhang last week, she mentioned that part of my pain could be in my mind. She told me people who are depressed feel pain that is only psychologically based. I asked her what made her think I was depressed, and I was told she noticed in my file that I was prescribed a drug by the psychiatrist that is often given to people with depression or bipolar disorder. I told her she was mistaken to believe I was being treated for depression. I was seen by the mental health care doctors for Aspergers, or what is now defined as Autism Spectrum Disorder. This revelation apparently threw her a curve ball, and she abruptly quit trying to suggest that my pain was in my mind. Despite this, Dr. Zhang only prescribed me a mild muscle relaxer, and the anti-inflammatory I had previously been taking.

The anti-inflammatory is called Diclofenac, and it is a generic for Voltaren. Voltaren is basically the equivalent of Motrin, just more potent. Despite its greater potency, a person taking Voltaren gets no more relief because while Motrin comes in 500 mg. tablets, Voltaren only comes in 50 mg. doses. Both drugs help dull the pain, but are sometimes incredibly inadequate. At times I aggravate my back, and I will be unable to walk or move about. I have a high tolerance for pain, but the back pain I sometimes experience is the worst I have ever experienced.

Medical specialists at the University of Illinois in Chicago have repeatedly recommended I receive Tylenol #3 in combination with an anti-inflammatory. However, the medical director of Stateville refuses to prescribe this medication. Stateville has many drug addicts and people who would abuse any narcotic drug. There are also people who would sell their medications to drug addicts. Of course, I am not one of these people, but it seems Dr. Ghosh is not willing to take this chance. I can understand a policy of not giving prisoners, especially at Stateville, a sheet of narcotic pills. However, I do not understand why a nurse cannot give me one pill when she does her psychotropic drug rounds. Twice a day, nurses go through the cell houses giving people psychotropic medications that they are not trusted to keep in their cells. There is no reason why this cannot be done in regards to Tylenol #3 as well.

Many months ago, I wrote a prisoner advocate about the lack of medical treatment at Stateville. This man publishes a news pamphlet that may be known by readers, called "Stateville Speaks." He wrote me back telling me he referred my letter and documents to an organization called the "National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression" or NAARPRA. I had no idea why an organization such as this would be interested in my medical issues and had forgotten about the matter. However, this week I received a letter from them stuffed with all types of information and forms. The forms included long questionnaires about medical treatments and a medical release form, and a long questionnaire about my criminal case. The letter enclosed was from a nice woman who oddly lives in Britain, and she was interested not only in medical malpractice and negligence, but my wrongful conviction. I do not agree with a number of this organization's political activism, and I will not be sending a donation. However, I filled out the forms and wrote the woman a nice thank you letter.

Stateville is well known within prison rights groups to have atrocious medical care. Numerous class action lawsuits have been filed and won, or settled, against the medical staff, health care company, and the wardens who are held responsible for the welfare of prisoners in their custody. As I write this journal entry, there are at least ten ongoing medical lawsuits that I am aware of against Stateville. The medical staff here are often negligent, lazy, indifferent, or incompetent, and a handful are guilty of some of most severe malpractices. Often I wonder how these people are ever hired or keep their jobs. Furthermore, Waxford, the health care management company of Stateville, is often pressuring or providing incentives to undercut medical care and its costs at the detriment of prisoners' health or lives.

A few years ago, I put in a medical request to see a doctor. I could barely walk and was in excruciating pain for weeks before I finally received a cell pass. With much difficulty, I finally made it down the stairs and to the office where in-house sick calls were conducted. Although I had basically crawled there, and I had sweat rolling down my face from the pain, the doctor said there was nothing wrong with me. In his choppy, heavy Asian accent, he told me, "You do not have herniated disk. If you had herniated disk, you could not tie shoes." I also saw this same doctor when I was having difficulty urinating. His diagnosis was, and I quote him: "You be jacking off too much." For a moment, I thought he was trying to be funny, but he was serious. Later, I learned that I most likely had an enlarged prostate, but not until many months later and seeing a different doctor. The Asian doctor no longer works at Stateville.

I have a neighbor who has had liver cancer for three years, and has only just recently begun treatment. In 2006, a routine physical and blood analysis was done. The doctor's aide happened to notice an alarming result in his blood test that demonstrated severe liver failure The doctor's aide told him she was going to notify the medical director about the matter and he should receive a cell pass soon to see him. Several months passed before Dr. Ghosh decided to meet with him. Dr. Ghosh informed him he was not exactly sure what the blood test results meant and therefore was ordering a biopsy. My neighbor waited and waited. Finally, half a year later, he was sent out to the hospital at the University of Illinois. The result of the biopsy was that he had stage 3 sclerosis of the liver. However, although the doctors at Stateville knew he had liver cancer, they did not begin any treatment until November of last year. A few days ago, he told me that he was given another blood test and the treatment was not working. The results were worse than before. Several other people I know at Stateville also were delayed treatment for years for various forms of cancer. One is now close to dying.

There is a large number of inmates here that must undergo dialysis. The Illinois Department of Corrections will not permit prisoners to have organ transplants whether that be for a heart, liver, or kidney. Even if a family member wants to donate one of their kidneys and offers to pay the full costs of the surgery, it will not be allowed. I did not become aware of this policy until last year when I thought it odd that every morning many prisoners went to the health care unit to have their blood run through a machine, and I asked one why he never was given a kidney transplant.

Four years ago, I had a cellmate who had a grotesque protrusion from his lower abdomen. It was almost as large as a basketball, and people would make fun of him. Inmates would say he was pregnant, he was incubating an alien baby that was about to burst out, or that he had an enormous tumor. However, the truth was he had a gigantic hernia, and his intestines had ruptured through his diaphragm. The man lived with this for years because the medical director refused to authorize the necessary surgery. Finally, after many grievances and the threat of a lawsuit, his hernia was repaired.

A few months ago when I was in the gym, I saw an old man walking around holding his testicles. The man is a weirdo, and as he passed by, I said to him, "Chuck! Cut that out." He approached me and explained he had a testicular hernia. I already knew this, and I cut him off by saying, "Get yourself some tighty-whities and quit walking around holding your nuts." The medical director of Stateville refuses to authorize his hernia to be repaired. Dr. Ghosh has told hm the procedure is cosmetic and he will just have to live with it. Although the man is probably a sexual deviant, a hernia is not merely cosmetic. Nevertheless, I figure I will continue to see this old man holding his privates for some time to come. Possibly, even when Dr. Ghosh is forced to give him the operation, he will continue to go around groping himself with the same crooked grin on his face.

Last summer, I noticed a man I knew who was formerly in good health walking about with a crutch in the yard of the health care unit. I asked him how he injured himself, and he told me he was not in the infirmary from an injury. He almost died from a blood clot in his leg. He saw a doctor when his leg swelled, but the doctor gave him Tylenol and sent him away. Not long after, his leg muscles began cramping and he was unable to walk. A med tech had to come with a stretcher to get him, and he was immediately sent to an outside hosp;ital. There he was told that he had a blood clot, and he underwent surgery. The doctor at the U of I told him that he could have died if they had not removed the clot when they did.

Routine health care is abysmally behind at Stateville. Inmates are supposed to see the dentist once a year, as well as get a physical. I have been here for over five years, and it was not until the fourth year here that I saw the dentist. The dentist merely looks at your teeth to see if you have any problems. If so, you are put on a waiting list for up to a year, even if just for a cleaning which does not include polishing of teeth. All dental care, other than a check-up, requires an inmate to fill out a money voucher for $2. Anytime an inmate sees a doctor at Stateville, he is supposed to pay a surcharge of $2, however, most prisoners are too poor to pay even this amount. A man I knew with an extremely painful tooth infection had to wait over a month to see a doctor. By the time he did, the infection spread throughout his gums and affected the entire right side of his face. This man filed a lawsuit which was settled out of court.

My cellmate noticed me writing about medical issues. He is not aware that I have this blog site and believes I am writing NAAPR. He wants me to mention to them that he has not seen an opthalmologist in several years, and his glasses are broken. I asked him if he wanted me to mention his G.I. problems and how the doctors refuse to give him a food allergy test, but he said "No." He is too embarrassed to grieve the issue. Little does he know that I have already written about his problem on my blog, and hundreds of people probably know about it. But, as I wrote in my last entry, what he does not know will not hurt him.

Health care has become the focus of national debate recently. President Barack Obama continues to pursue universal health care. Although I support better medical care for prisoners in IDOC, I oppose nationalized health care. Individuals, not government, should be responsible for their medical care. Costs can be brought down and medical care improved with greater free market competition, not government health care or more regulations. Enormous pharmaceutical and health care companies can be broken up and be put under anti-trust laws. The ability to buy health care from across state lines will also help. Tort reform is also necessary to keep costs of hospitals down as well as the ability of hospitals to turn away the noninsured or illegal immigrants. If Americans go along with Obama's plan, they may end up with the health care we have here at Stateville, and also have an enormous national debt that will bring down this nation. The public must understand that medicaid, medicare and social security must all be cut. As much as people don't like these ideas, it is better than having prison-like health care and being crippled by debt.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Out of Order -- February 16, 2010

Yesterday morning upon waking, my cellmate told me that the toilet was not working properly. He went on to say it did not always flush when the button was pressed, and I was fortunate not to have to look in the bowl and find a big surprise. As usual, my cellmate wakes up very early to make an hour-long bowel movement. He said that when he went to press the flush button, it did not work. With much anxiety, he pressed the button time and time again until finally, to his relief, it worked, and his mountain of excrement disappeared. I was not in the a mood to talk, having just woke up, and, thus, I just listened. After making my bed, I used the toilet and pressed the button while my cellmate watched. The toilet flushed and seemed to work just fine.

I knew the toilet was malfunctioning. Over the weekend, I had noticed it did not always work. I was not terribly concerned about it. If it went out, I would just piss in the sink and use a Styrofoam tray for other waste matter until the toilet was repaired. Over the many years of my incarceration, I have gone without a toilet. I have even been put in cells with no working plumbing, and simply did what I had to. There are plenty of things which disturb me in prison, but a broken toilet is not one of them. For my cellmate, however, a broken toilet was close to a shattered universe.

I went about my morning ritual, washing my face, brushing my hair, and eating breakfast while flipping through the morning news programs. For breakfast yesterday, we were given two stale waffles and two containers of generic corn flakes. I had saved them, and spread some commissary peanut butter on the stale waffles, and with spoon-cut slices of a banana saved from lunch the day before on them. I then ate my waffles like two large crackers. I also chopped some banana chunks into my cornflakes and added commissary peanuts as well. While I ate my breakfast, my cellmate went to the toilet to test it. It did not work initially. The second time he pressed the button, it did flush, however. My cellmate told me we should have the guards put in a work order for it, and I agreed.

After eating and brushing my teeth, I went to use the toilet. I used my bed sheet for a privacy curtain, as I always do. First, I flushed the toilet to make sure it worked. I did not want to be scooping out a Snicker bar, although giving my cellmate a "Caddy Shack" moment did amuse my thoughts. After washing my hands, I wiped the inside of the sink of residual water with tissue paper and threw it into the toilet. I pressed the button, but the toilet did not flush. I noticed my cellmate's eyes go wide as I pressed it time and time again, as nothing happened.

I told him not to be concerned--we'll just have to piss in the sink, and defecate on closeable Styrofoam breakfast trays until the plumber gets around to fixing it. Before I could make a joke about sending them down to this old white man to whom I always give my turkey bacon, my cellmate adamantly said he was not pissing in the sink, and he would rather hold it before he used a Styrofoam tray. He went on to say it would be impossible for him to use a tray anyway because his stool was not solid. I told him to line the toilet with a plastic bag then, or ask the guard to let him out so he could use one of the storage room toilets, but it was unrealistic to believe you can hold your excrement for what may be days. He told me he refused to use the maintenance rooms and he will bother guards all day until they bring a plumber. I informed him it was Presidents Day and he has a better chance of living to see his out-date than of seeing a plumber on a holiday.

My cellmate refuses to urinate in the sink because he has an irrational phobia about germs and an obsession with keeping the sink clean, or at least looking clean. Like most normal people, I rinse my mouth out after brushing my teeth in the sink. My cellmate, however, will spit into the toilet, and has made it clear to me that what I do is disgusting. I have tried to reason with him, pointing out that we wash our hands in the sink regularly, and the germs on our hands are just as many, if not more than, in our mouths. I brought to his attention that he rinses his toothbrush out in the sink, and thus the same germs are going into the sink, but this does not matter to him. I told him how we wash our dishes in the sink, and our faces as well. We even wash our entire bodies in the sink, but none of this matters to him.

My cellmate has an obsession with wiping the sink of any water. Every time he uses the sink, he wipes it dry. Even after I use the sink, he will wipe it out. I have repeatedly told him that he is only spreading the germs to all parts of the sink unless he uses soap and scrubs the sink, as well as the rag, which he does not. However, this doesn't matter to him. Apparently, as long as he cannot see the germs, they do not exist.

What is most absurd and aggravating about my cellmate's compulsion to wipe the sink of every drop of water is that he uses the same rag to continually do so throughout the day--he never washes the rag. The "sink rag" will continually stay wet, and becomes a breeding ground for germs. I scrub it with soap and disinfectant and then dry it with my fan once a day to prevent that from happening. I have my own quirks, however, such as being very neat, ordered, and always having to put things away or in their correct place. Thus, I have entertained my cellmate's foolish phobia of germs and water in the sink. I now always rinse my mouth out and spit into the toilet, and then wipe any water from the sink. I often use toilet paper, however, to wipe out the sink, which bothers my cellmate. He calls toilet paper "white gold" and hoards it like a Leprechaun covets his pot of gold.

My cellmate stood at the bars waiting for a guard to pass by for over an hour. Finally, he went on his bunk to read, and I sat by the bars reading the newspaper. Eventually a guard came by, and I asked him if he was assigned to our gallery. He said he was, and asked what I needed. I told him about the toilet, and he pulled out a pad of paper and a pen. He told me he would put in a work order. My cellmate asked if we could see a plumber that day, and the guard said he'd try. When I went out for lunch, my cellmate told me to speak with the lieutenant about our toilet, and press him about getting it repaired. I listened to him, but I was not going to do that. The lieutenant does not want to be bothered about a toilet, and in any event, there is nothing he can do. Even if I were to run into the warden, no one can force the plumber to fix a toilet on a holiday. On my way back from chow, however, I asked the guard if he was able to reach anyone. He told me no one was answering the phone, but he would try again later. Back in my cell, my cellmate asked me if I spoke with the lieutenant, and I told him no. I went on to say the officer working our gallery was a responsible person, and if a plumber can be reached, I am sure he will.
Close to noon, my cellmate told me he had to piss. I told him to piss in the sink. He told me that was disgusting and he would urinate in a water bottle before he did that. The cell house sergeant walked by soon thereafter, and my cellmate asked him if he could use the toilet in one of the storage cells. The sergeant let him out, and I followed. I figured that I would make my cellmate happy and not piss in the sink. However, if I had to piss later in the day and there was no guard available to unlock my door, I was going to piss in that sink whether or not he liked it.

Presidents Day came and went, and no plumber arrived to fix our toilet. Several times, my cellmate told me how a plumber must be kept on the premises in case of an emergency. He must have been daydreaming in Never Never Land. He certainly was not in Stateville. Here, nothing is done timely--not the mail, not medical care, not visitation, not movement lines. Even if a pipe burst in the back of the cell house, no plumber would be there to fix it on a weekend or holiday. In fact, on several occasions in the last few years, pipes have burst, and they went unrepaired for days. I once heard a torrent of water like a waterfall when I woke up one morning. I put my ear to the vent to listen better, and then looked through. I could see the water falling from above and crashing on the cement floor. There was a drain hole in the floor behind my cell and the water was pouring down into it. I notified a couple of guards about the matter, and they told me they already knew. The plumbers did not show up for almost a week, and only when my neighbor's cell began to flood and water went out onto the gallery.

In the year 2000, I was in Stateville's now-condemned I House. On a few occasions, I was placed in cells with no working plumbing. I notified guards about the matter, and weeks would pass. Finally, a sergeant moved me to another cell. I learned later that another unfortunate prisoner was moved into that same cell, without any repairs having been made. I was once in a cell that not only had no working plumbing, but no electricity. I remember reading from the moonlight that came through the window at night. I House is built differently than the general population cell houses. I House has no cell bars, and therefore no light comes from the gallery lights. Your cell is pitch black if you do not put your cell light on. It is nice not to have the gallery noise and to have privacy, but the cells in I House were prone to have electric, plumbing and heating problems. Eventually, the entire house was condemned by the federal courts.

This morning, when the guards did their head-count, my cellmate complained again about our toilet not working. The guard was our regular gallery officer, and he said he'd look into the matter. My cellmate asked if he could use one of the maintenance room's toilets, and our door was unlocked. My cellmate ran down the gallery so quick that by the time I got up and left the cell, he was gone. As I passed by one of the first cells on the gallery, a prisoner we know asked me from his bars where the fire was. I told him that my cellmate has probably been holding his urine for hours. He asked me if he was not flying down the gallery to take a crap, and I said I didn't think so. I informed him that my cellmate had restricted his diet the day before and says he will not defecate until the plumber fixes our toilet. The person I was speaking with works at the barbershop with my cellmate, and knows him well. He was amused by my cellmate's childishness and he said he hoped the plumbers did not fix our toilet for days.

Later in the morning, before details and passes were let out, I asked the gallery officer to use the washroom. I brought some toilet paper with me, and told my cellmate he is going to have to use the toilet eventually, so he may as well go now before he goes out to his assignment. He told me again how he was going to wait the plumber out. When I returned, he asked me how I could sit on such a nasty toilet. The maintenance and storage cells were not very clean--the toilet and sinks also have rust and mineral deposits on them. I told him it was not like I was putting my lips on the toilet bowl, I was putting my ass on it. Furthermore, I placed some toilet paper on it. I went on to say he had better go now because later in the day the female counselor may be in the office and it is directly outside the cells we had been using. The office has a large window and from anywhere in the room one can see into the cells. My cellmate said he would ask the guard to let him use the officer's bathroom. I did not even reply to that. He knew very well they were not going to let him use the officer's bathroom.

My cellmate went out to work, but before he did so, he reminded me to repeatedly nag the guards about our toilet. I was not going to do anything of the sort, and after he left, I took a piss in the sink. Just like the germs he smears on the sink everyday, what he cannot see will not hurt him. I was beginning to hope the plumber would not show for days so I could witness my cellmate's anxiety grow. Eventually, I knew he would be forced to use the storage room toilet, and he would be sitting there for an hour or more with no privacy curtain. I could imagine him trying to hide behind a box, bucket, or other object. What would make it worse for him is not only his phobia about germs, or using the toilet in public, but for some odd reason, wearing a shirt while he sits on a toilet. So if the counselor or some other person would walk by, he would be stark naked except for his socks and shoes. That would certainly get someone's attention, particularly in one of the storage rooms.

I went about my day like any other. Although nonworking toilets were supposed to be a priority, I did not expect to the see the plumber the day after an order was put in. Around midday, however, a man got my attention by yelling, "big man, big man!!" I had my head phones on and was absorbed in reading stock reports. Finally I took my headphones off, and he asked me if I had a plumbing problem. I told him the toilet button was broken. He replied "we can fix that," and then disappeared. A little while later, I heard him working behind the cell. He was at it for quite some time, and I wondered if he was not trying to pad his bill by wasting time. How complicated could a toilet button be? I went back to studying various corporations' reports. Later, the man appeared at my bars, and asked me if all was good. I went to the toilet and pressed the button twice. It worked. I asked him what the problem was. He said a spring in the button broke. I said, "You were back there a long time for a broken spring." He explained that in order to get to the spring, a lot of parts had to be removed and then reinstalled. I don't know if I believe him, but I thanked him for fixing it.

When my cellmate returned, the first thing he asked was "Did they fix it?" I was going to lie to him, and tell him "no," but the joke would have been short lived with the guard approaching to let him in the cell. He would have certainly asked the guard about a plumber again. Thus, I told him the truth. In that instant, I sensed he thought all was right in the world.

Incredible, I thought to myself: this man has 20 more years to do in prison, and will probably die without ever tasting freedom again, and yet he is made as happy as a clam by a working toilet! Prisoners certainly lose track of the big picture after becoming institutionalized. Often, I see prisoners joking and having a good time while they live in captivity. Many have protracted death sentences, but often are laughing, smiling, and seem happy. I cannot escape the grim reality; some call me "Lurch" and my cellmate sometimes says I am an animated corpse. There was a time that guards intentionally mispronounced my name as "Madrowski," emphasizing the "mad." Yes, I am bitter, and I sometimes feel like a zombie. My life will not be made significantly better or worse by a working commode.

Upon my cell door being unlocked, my cellmate quickly went to the back of the cell and began to hand wash the toilet seat. Truly, life in prison is dysfunctional, and as out of order as my toilet was earlier today. Unfortunately, there is no plumber who could fix my life as easily.