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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Long Wait -- April 1, 2010

Today was a Thursday, and like most Thursdays, I was expecting a visit. My mother, father, sister, or any combination of them, usually come to see me once a week. Thursday is the typical day they come because weekends are limited to one hour visits, Tuesday is my law library day, Mondays and Wednesdays are my "recreation" days, and Fridays are always very crowded. Thursdays have become very crowded as well now, and I have asked my family to visit on Wednesdays instead. Wednesday seems to be the day the least number of visitors come to Stateville. However, this week my family had already used up the maximum number of visits allowed per month (5). Because it was the first of the month, I was expecting the visiting room to be packed, and my family and I to probably wait hours. I hoped whoever came today would arrive early so our visit would not be so short.

Typically, when my cellmate leaves in the morning to work in the barbershop, I workout. However, yesterday, I had went to the gym and used the universal machines. The machines are old, and half of the equipment is broken, but despite this, I was able to get a good exercise program in. My muscles were sore, and therefore I decided to take the day off. All I would do today is a half hour of stretches. For some of them, I held a towel at the ends and reached behind my back, then side to side. I also thread it between my cell bars to pull and stretch my upper back muscles. While doing my stretches, I almost always get the notice of passersby. There is no privacy in maximum security, and almost everything I do can be seen by those on the gallery. Today, as the cell house workers passed out laundry, they were asking me what the purpose of this and that stretch was. I seemed to draw their interest using the towel and with other stretches used in more advanced yoga. If we were still allowed to have curtains, I would have drawn them. In fact, I would keep them drawn most of the day.

After stretching, I opened my laundry bags and began to sort and fold my clothing. Some of the laundry returned damp and I put those clothes on the fans that my cellmate and I own. While I rotated them and waited for them to dry, I read a few newspapers. I have a subscription for the Wall Street Journal, and I usually read it almost in its entirety. I also had a Chicago Tribune that a visitor had left me the week before, but I only read certain articles from it. When I am done with a paper, I typically pass it to another prisoner. Prisoners tend to like to read the local news and sports, but have little appreciation for the politics and financial news in the Wall Street Journal. This is just as well because I tend to tear out a number of articles from the WSJ to send to my family with my notes. Today, I took out an editorial critical of the health care bill passed recently to give to my cell house lieutenant. The lieutenant and I have spoken on a number of occasions, and he is a fervent supporter of the health care legislation, and most everything Barack Obama endorses.

Lunch lines were run, but I did not go out. The kitchen was serving processed turkey-soy meatballs, and I figured I would eat something from the vending machines in the visiting room. Much of the meat we are served here is an unpleasant tasting blend of soy meal and turkey scraps. No matter how much the kitchen tries, soy products will never taste as good as real meat. A long time ago before soy and processed turkey became our staple diet, the food served in the Illinois Department of Corrections was decent. I remember, with nostalgia, the meals served 10 years ago before administrators decided to cut feeding costs. I believe that now prisoners at Stateville are fed on a budget equaling less than 30 cents per meal. If I ever leave prison, I will never eat soy again, and processed meat will be a rarity in my diet.

About 11:30, my name was called on the loudspeaker. After a few minutes passed, I yelled out from my cell, "Two gallery visit." I did this a few times before I sat back down and continued reading my papers. I do not like yelling, but if you don't, no guard will come to open up your door and you will be forced to wait for the guard working your gallery to pass by. I wanted to get to the visiting room especially quick today because I knew it was going to be very crowded. I read a few more articles, and then yelled out again, "Two gallery visit." My voice is rather low pitched, and does not carry far. Inmates have joked that my voice will not carry five cells away. Thinking I was not heard, I went to yell again, but a guard answered, "I am on my way, Modrowski." The guard soon opened my cell door, and we immediately left the cell house with a couple of other men who also had visits.

After I went through gate 5, which is located near the entrance to Stateville, I noticed a large crowd of inmates waiting to go on their visits. Seeing the crowd, I estimated that I would be waiting for at least an hour, and I would be fortunate if I got an hour visit. Someone in the crowd recognized me and I went to the back to speak with him. Celt is a tall white man with tattoos over most of his body. I have known him for many years, and although people outside of prison may pre-judge him to be of a nefarious character, I tend to believe he is one of the better people I have met in prison. I asked him how long he had been waiting, and he informed me about 20 minutes, but there were some in the hallway who had been waiting close to an hour. After exchanging a little small talk, the man with tattoos began a long monologue. He spoke with a slight southern accent, and I only interrupted to make a short comment or two. Apparently he had a lot of prison gossip he wanted to get off his chest, and although I was not very interested in the subject, I was a good listener.

From what I was informed, there is a heavy set man who goes by the name Red, who claims to be a biker, but is not. Red does not claim to be in just any biker gang, but the Hell's Angels. Years ago, a man could be killed or seriously harmed for claiming to be in a gang he was not. Usually, it was that gang that sought you out, however, most people looked down on such a person. There are only a few Hell's Angels in Illinois prisons, and I doubt Red has much to worry about except his reputation, which apparently was not good to begin with. Not only has Red lied about being in a biker gang, but about his case. Red brags to people that he is in prison for killing a cop, a respectable murder to most convicts. However, the truth of the matter is that Red killed a person who was selling him drugs, and he only thought was a cop. Apparently, during the drug deal, Red became paranoid and shot the man dead. Later he was to discover the man was not a police officer nor an informant, but precisely who he claimed to be.

Interestingly, Red was accompanied by a man to this drug deal who later became his co-defendant, and now resides on my gallery. This man, who witnessed the murder, initially tried to become a state witness against Red for a reduced sentence. However, when Red learned of his co-defendant's attempt to make a deal for himself, Red simply pled guilty in a plea agreement. Red's co-defendant went to trial, and was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years.

I have known Red's co-defendant for a few years. He initially went by the name Boss Hog, but after people saw he was no boss at all let alone the goofy Boss Hog character from the 70's TV show "Dukes of Hazard," he was just called Hog. From Hog his name went to Pig, Piglet, and then Juden Schwein. Some people just call him a bitch. Though Juden Schwein was formerly a cell house worker, he was being bullied and ironically "bossed" around by most every one in the building, so he quickly requested and received a change of assignment. Before I learned of his attempt to become a state witness, I thought this fat man with pudgy cheeks was of weak and slimy character. He was easily intimidated by the smallest hoodlum in the building and conducted himself in a lowly, duplicitous manner. I noticed he moved in the cell with a respected and confident man for protection, in an attempt to climb up the prison pecking order. But he seemed to be more this man's lapdog, and purchased his friendship with hundreds of dollars in commissary. Eventually people discovered this weasel was half Jewish, and quickly he became known in the cell house as "Juden Swein" or Jewish pig.

As most people at Stateville, Celt did not think well of Juden Swein, or his co-defendant. It was amusing to me that both of these men were wannabe bikers. My cellmate and I always speculated on how Juden Swein could be a biker, especially since he conceded not knowing anything about motorcycles, and to never owning one. My cell mate guessed he rode "bitch," or behind some real biker. Apparently, he rode behind Red, but possibly, as I have commented to my amused cell mate, he rode in a motorcycle side car.

People were permitted to go into the strip search room three at a time. While I was listening to the prison gossip, about 12 people had left the hallway to go on their visits. The guard at gate 5 had no system or order to who he was letting go first, and this got our attention. We moved through the remaining group. We did not want to be left behind while others cut in front of us. I looked up at the clock on the wall and it was 12:30. I would not be getting a full 2 hour visit, but I had positioned myself well in the herd, and I would soon be breaking ranks. As I saw the guard approach to inform that three more could go, I quickly moved out into the center hallway and toward the strip search room. I just left Celt behind in mid-sentence.

As I walked down the short flight of stairs into the visiting room, I could see the room was nearly filled to capacity. I was assigned a table on the wall toward the back. It was the last table available, and I was momentarily glad with my good fortune. I walked toward my assigned seat, passing many visitors as I did. The place was incredibly loud, and I wished I could have brought in my ear plugs. I sat down at the odd sized table which was lower than the stool I sit on. These tables have been made by special order for Stateville. They do not restrict the lines of sight of the guards and the surveillance cameras. Prisoners sit on stools that are higher than the tables and higher than the visitors' stools. The lengths the administration has gone for security at this prison border on the absurd.

Sitting at the table by myself, I looked across the room to see a man I know who lives on my gallery. He was sitting across the table from an older man. I wondered if he was his father. I see and meet a lot of people in the prison, but often you do not really get to know them. I find most people to be artificial or not genuine. Seeing people at the visiting room can give me a better perspective of those I live with. I watched him intently and noticed he talked with ease while eating an ice cream sandwich. I wondered what they talked about, and assumed they were engaged in some trivial banter.

Sitting to the left of me is another inmate I know from my gallery. I have never spoken to him, but I know from hearing his conversations and looking at him that he is retarded. He has physical characteristics similar to those with Downs Syndrome. I was curious to learn if his family is also like he is. After waiting ten or twenty minutes, his family was brought downstairs. They appeared normal looking, and greeted the man very warmly. Sitting there with nothing to do, I eavesdropped on their conversations. They talked about nothing of significance and it was apparent his visitors had no mental retardation, despite the unsophistication of their speech and heavy use of slang.

The noise in the visiting room was incredibly loud. There are approximately 50 tables and each has four stools: 3 for visitors and 1 on the opposite side for the prisoner. Not all stools are filled, but many visitors have babies or toddlers on their lap. All of the noise from numerous sources began to bother me immensely, and I put my head in my hands and discretely used my fingers to close my ears. I closed my eyes momentarily and tried to calm myself. I despise having to visit under conditions such as this. Nowhere in the IDOC do they have worse visitation. I attempted to find some peace within myself, so I would not be irritable when my visitor(s) arrived. I often regret becoming unfriendly towards my family due to no fault of their own.

I have been waiting now over a half hour and I have seen groups of visitors come into the room. There is no effort made at Stateville to make the process more efficient, and families, friends, and inmates regularly wait hours to see each other. As I have been waiting, some visitors have been told to leave, and other inmates including Celt, have taken their places. He was seated facing me at a table on an angle from mine. I asked him if he was mad that I took off in front of him, and he said no. He then tried to engage me in conversation, but I could barely hear him over the roar of the visiting room. Eventually, he saw the futility of it, and stopped talking. We just sat there, both waiting for our visitors.

Throughout this time, I had been hoping to see an attractive woman. None of the female staff at Stateville are particularly good looking. Even the female guard I had once thought pretty and wholesome, has become overweight. Being incarcerated 17 years is a very sad and lonesome experience. It is nice to just see a pretty woman on a visit, even if she is not there to see you. After about 40 minutes passed, a white family came down the steps. I noticed a younger woman in her late teens with dark blond hair. As she approached, I saw her features were attractive. However, before I began to dwell on her too much, I noticed she had a nose ring. I put my head back in my hands, and tried to close out the world again.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Celt shift on his stool and his attention became raised. His visitor must be here, I thought, and I looked toward the front to see if I could distinguish her from the newest groups that arrived. It should be relatively easy since we were one of the few white people in the room. Earlier, Celt had been trying to tell me he had befriended two women who came to see him. One was good looking and lived in town, but would probably not stay with him long. The other was older and ugly, but was committed, and sent him money. I saw a young pretty brunette coming toward his table, but she stopped to hug another man. My eyes lingered on the brunette for a while before I noticed the old, ugly white woman who came to his table. I could never pretend to like an ugly woman just for money. Just the thought of using a woman, even a lonely, ugly one, for money, was an idea I loathed, and could never understand, despite how many men in prison do this. My eyes went back to the pretty girl, and I admired every detail of her feminine gestures and figure.

I must have had a look of sorrow on my face because a black man who goes by the name "Big Country" said, "Hey, Paul. You alright over there?" I do not remember Big Country from over a decade ago while at Joliet CC, but for some reason he remembers me. Since he has been assigned a cell in my cell house, he has been attempting to befriend me. Big Country is a rather large black man, and has an extroverted, if not obnoxious, personality. He has been in Menard the last several years. I told Big Country how I had been waiting an hour, and he informed me in a loud voice from a table down from me that none of this happens down in the "pit." He said visitors wait less than 10 minutes and inmates are sent directly into the visiting room after being strip searched. The "pit" is known as Menard because the prison is built in a rock quarry. Many black prisoners refer to it as the pit, inferring a sinister tone. People say that on a hot day, steam can be seen coming up from the quarry as though it was hades.

Finally, at about 1:45, I saw my frail mother with her long blond hair descend the steps into the visiting room. As I watched her, I thought sadly about how old she had become. Not long ago, I had looked at old photos of my mother when she was in her 30's and younger. She had once been a pretty woman. I thought about how old we all had become during the nearly two decades I have been in prison. It is difficult to believe sometimes that before my arrest I was a teenager, just out of high school, and now I was a middle aged man with handicapped, near infirm parents. I thought about how much time had passed, and how I wish we had that time back.

Last year, a prisoner approached me after visitation, and told me how the guards were talking about my mother after she had been processed in, and sent to the main building. His family had heard the guards say that my mother had been my 1,000th visitor. The guards had never seen a man achieve 1,000 visits. I failed to tell my mother that she had come in as my thousandth visitor, but I feel like she should have received a prize of some sort. Unfortunately, I have nothing to offer my mother, or any of my family members who have stood by me all these years. I hope they know, however, I am eternally grateful, and I love them very much. Hopefully, soon we can be a family once again.


  1. Paul, you make it sound like your mother is an old lady. She is pretty good-looking and feisty, if you ask me.

  2. Paul I have to say that I'm currious if you ever have spoken to Bob or Rose Faraci since his acquittal. I wouldn't think so but just curious.

  3. To Chip Plumb: It has been over 2 decades since I attended Westmont High, and unfortunately, I only vaguely remember you. Can you refresh my memory, Chip? I will answer your question if you supply your email address. Mine is

  4. I'm sure your mother appreciates how you call her OLD.

  5. 1000th visit during your entire incarceration? Or just at Stateville?

    1. Most of my time has been spent at maximum security prisons. It was my 1,000th visit while in the IDOC.

    2. Impressive. Your family and friends really care for you.

  6. Why don't u try to transfer to mennard?


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