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Friday, June 25, 2010

Night Yard -- May 25, 2010

Today was my gallery's first night yard of the year. Throughout the year, yard is only run in the morning or afternoon. All inmates, with the exception of certain workers, are locked in their cells after 3 p.m. However, during the summer, yard lines are run on the second shift from the chow hall to almost 8 p.m. These yards are called "night yards" rather than evening yards because many years ago these lines were run later, and inmates were allowed outside till 10 p.m., well after it became dark. I still nostalgically remember these yards when you could watch the sun go under the wall, and see the moon and stars in the night.

Although night yard lines are run Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, a prisoner will only have an opportunity to go once every other week. There are 3 yards that are used at Stateville for general population inmates; one large and two small. Since the galleries of the cell houses are kept separate, it takes two weeks to run everyone to yard. Long ago, an entire cell house would go to the yard at the same time, and the small yards were not utilized. In fact, the small yards did not even exist for general population until this decade. Segregation inmates were the only ones to have these type of basketball court-sized concrete yards surrounded by fencing and razor wire back then.

Night yard is thought of as a special treat by many prisoners. Before the night yards begin to be run, there is much speculation and talk about when they will commence. Every administration begins night yards a little differently from their predecessor. Sometimes, night yard will not begin until after the official start of summer on June 21st, and it will last only till mid September. A couple of wardens did not run night yards at all. Last week, and over the weekend, I heard a number of rumors about night yard, and it was a well mentioned topic of conversation.

Yesterday, night yard was run for galleries 10, 8, and 6 in my cell house. Count did not check until late, and consequently feed and night yard lines were delayed. The upper galleries of men were anxious to get on the yard, and many of them rattled their doors or yelled from their cells at guards to get moving. It was disturbing to listen to all the commotion. However, after I returned from chow, the cell house was quiet. Until their return at 7:45, I read without my headphones on. Whenever I stay in from yard is a good time for me to enjoy silence, or at least minimal noise.

Earlier today, the count was cleared at 4:30, and chow lines were sent out soon thereafter. The lower galleries are customarily last to eat in the cell house. However, today we were first. The cell house and galleries that have night yard are always first to be fed. From the chow hall, they are sent to the three yards, and they stay outside until all the chow lines are run and secured in their cells.

It was very crowded in the chow hall. Many inmates who skip meals go to chow on days there is night yard. Prisoners are not permitted to go to night yard from the cell house and must go to chow first. One of the reasons I occasionally choose not to come out for meals is the most aggravating noise and crowds. However, today I had to endure it if I wanted to see the South yard.

Leaving the chow hall and entering the prison's main and central yard was a relief. I was glad to get away from all those obnoxious people. I quickly set upon a route away from the herd. I walked by myself for half the distance of the yard until a neighbor caught up with me. He is a rather sociable person, but I was not in a mood to talk, or have any company. I made a few responses out of courtesy, mostly, until we reached the far end of the yard.

At the fence, I took out the carton of milk and wrapped bread I had in my socks. I was planning to make a peanut butter and oatmeal sandwich when I returned to the cell house. I also needed the milk to eat the cereal I had in my cell. People may think a peanut butter and oatmeal sandwich is odd, but it tastes pretty good. I use a flavored packet of instant oatmeal as a spread instead of jelly.

Also at the fence, I took off my shoes and sweatpants. Underneath I was wearing shorts. For some reason I am unable to understand, prisoners are not permitted to wear shorts on the walk to yard, but can wear them once they get on the yard. I took my milk and bread and wound my sweatpants around them. I had brought out a bottle of water with me, and initially I just put this against the fence. However, when my neighbor placed his water bottle next to mine, I put my bottle inside my pants as well. I did not want my neighbor drinking out of my bottle accidentally or intentionally. My neighbor has sclerosis of the liver, that I suspect was caused by hepatitis C. He may deny it, but I was not going to take the chance. My neighbor has sores on his skin, and his complexion is almost as yellow as Bart Simpson's.

Yesterday, my gallery had gone to the gym, and while there, I worked on all my primary muscle groups: legs, chest, and back. Today, I had planned to use the free weights to target my shoulders and arms. I do not like using free weights to exercise my leg muscles because of my lower back injury. In the gym, I can use a leg press machine as well as a leg extension and curl machine that will not put pressure on my lumbar spine. On the yard, I would have to do squats, lunges, or steps, all requiring me to put weight on my shoulders.

I always come to yard with a plan of what I am going to do. I would like to make a specific regimen and order, but I do not because I dislike working out with certain people, or just too many people. Thus, if I go out with a general plan, I can just use whatever weights or equipment is not being used and work out by myself.

I began my exercise routine doing shoulder presses. The sun was strong, and I faced away from the light so I could see my shadow. In many gyms, mirrors are commonplace. While these are there mostly to focus people's attention on their bodies and encourage vanity, it is also done so body builders can perfect their form. Many people will not realize they are working out incorrectly, or unevenly. Even a person such as myself who has been lifting weights since their early teens can succumb to bad posture, and thus why I like to look at my shadow when exercising. Another reason I turn my back to the sun is to prevent sunburn. A lot of men will fail to consider the possibility of sunburn while out on the yard. Living in a cage with no sunlight for long periods of time, men will stay out on the yard for hours without any cover or protection. It is a common sight to see white men with severe burns in the summer, or even in the spring.

Although it was 5 p.m. and the sunlight was angled, it was very hot outside. The high temperature today was 90 degrees, and it was in the upper 80s when we first came out on the yard. The heat was accentuated by the fact the weight pile was on concrete or rock. I thought about summer days of upper 90s and 100s that were sure to come later in the year. Days so hot, soft hands are burned by gripping the steel barbells that have been baking in the sun all day. I told a Mexican man near me, who I know to be an Islamic radical sympathizer, I had had enough and was joining the Jihad. As I said this, I took off my tee shirt and made myself a turban of sorts which, tied around my head, fell back covering my shoulders and upper back.

My cellmate goes to far greater extremes to protect himself from sunburn. Even on the hottest days of the year, he will wear a sweatshirt, gloves and a skullcap to the yard. He looks like he is dressed for late fall or winter. Before he was my cellmate, I thought he was partly insane sweating profusely in all those winter clothes. But one day, I saw him after he had been outside in a sunny, but chilly spring day, and his face was sunburned fiercely where his skull cap did not cover. My cellmate's skin is so sensitive to sun exposure that he may be able to get a sunburn at night just off the reflective light of the moon.

Although I like to work out alone, on occasion people will want to join me, or follow my workout routine. Today, Dante, a black man who is in his middle thirties, but appears to be a mere 20 years old, wanted to be my workout partner. On prior occasions, he has sought me out, and I was not surprised to see him wanting to follow my lead again. As we were working out, he asked me for various advice, and even to write down a workout routine for him. I told him to send me some pencils that he was given at school, and I would consider the request. Pencils are not sold on the prison commissary, and I am always in need of them because of all the writing and chart-making I do.

After we finished a few exercises, I decided it would be a good time to run. This way, I would lose Dante's company. Dante plays basketball, and he would follow me all around the weight pile at least until he became distracted, but one thing he will not do is run the track. On the South yard is a quarter mile track I like to make use of. Some people will jog around the gym or in tight squares around the small yard. However, it is just too crowded and has too much commotion for me to enjoy. It is also simply just too difficult to truly run in these confined spaces because I do not jog.

The quarter mile track is ideal for me to time myself. Before I left the weight pile, I went to my Al Qaeda sympathizer and asked for his watch. With the band on my wrist I counted down the seconds to 6 p.m. at a crack in the asphalt, and then took off. This year, I am seeking to break a 5-minute mile. As I sped past a few acquaintances that were socializing as they walked around the track, one yelled at me, "Run, Forest, Run!" I paid him no mind, and continued to push myself. Exhausted, I finished my four laps in 5 minutes 45 seconds. Clearly, I still have a long way to go to break that 5 minute milestone.

After my run, I lifted the preacher curl bench from its spot next to the handball courts. Apparently, someone was using it as a seat while being a referee to the games, or just waiting his turn on the court. Most of the people who play handball are interestingly white. It is rare to see any of the black inmates there. They will play basketball, lift weights, cards, chess, or just socialize, but it has been a long time since I have seen one play handball. As I brought the preacher bench back to the weight pile, I noticed that there was not a single white man lifting weights. I looked for my cellmate in his winter gear, and saw that he was socializing near the guard tower. It did not bother me to be the only white man in the area. I have been alone quite often during my years in prison and the county jail. There are very few white people in the maximum-security institutions of Illinois. This is particularly true at Stateville.

The preacher bench is broken, like most of the equipment here. The part you lay your arms on to curl has come off from the part you sit on. I placed the two parts together and then used a strip of a garbage bag, which I happened to find, to tie the pieces together. It was not a perfect fix, but it was good enough to do some curls on so long as I placed my arms directly on the pad. Even before the preacher bench was broken, I had difficulty using it because it was too low to the seat. The equipment would be fine if I was a midget, but since I am 6'2", I must go onto my knees to use it. I wish I could use the equipment I hear is available at private gyms these days. However, this is probably not in my future, and it is especially not in my present, and I must work with what I have.

After a few hours, the people lifting weights began to drift away. In the end, I was the only person working out. A man walking by asked me if I was still working out. I replied until the guards call us off, or my back goes out, I will. He made a comment that I was a machine, a description I have been told before. Bodine, a man I knew from the county jail, said, "Of course, he is a machine". With a grin on his face he said, "Did you not know that's the Terminator?" I did not like being called the Terminator again, but Bodine went on to tell the other man of my notorious past.

It was another good time to take a run, and so I left my company towards the track. I sought out the person I borrowed the watch from earlier. He was at one of the steel tables with a few other Mexicans. I asked if I could see his watch again. He handed it to me, and I asked if he had jogged at all today. He said he did a couple laps. I had formerly seen him jog much longer stretches, and asked him if he wanted to do a few more. He said, "No. You're always trying to show me out." I told him I could not help it. I am the Ubermensch. " This got a smile from him and I went off to my starting line.

The weather had changed greatly since we had first come on the yard. The temperature had dropped, and cumulus clouds now scattered the sky. The large cotton-like clouds contrasted over a deep blue background with sunlight streaming in from the west. In the distance, I could hear the rumble of thunder. I did not like spring, but it was evenings such as this that made me appreciate the season.

As I began to run, it began to rain. It was a light rain, but the rain drops were heavy. I saw them fall and hit the track as I ran with a splash. Wind of an oncoming storm crossed the yard at times, making my run more strenuous. However, the rain and wind only invigorated me, and I felt an inner strength to run even faster. During my final lap, my heart was pounding, and I thought that it would be nice if my life just ended there and then. I finished my run and collapsed on the concrete of the handball court. There was no one playing on it, and most everyone had taken cover. Catching my breath, the rain came down in sheets. It did not bother me. I felt alive, and free as I looked over the vacant lawn and saw lightening flicker over the cellhouse. Unfortunately, the feeling was fleeting because guards soon came to corral us back into our cages.


  1. is there a reason the blog post numbers go from 58 to 60? would just like to know if maybe one was deleted or if i am missing something? thanks

  2. Paul's blog entitled "Snail Mail" is number 59. Somehow it is missing from the Table of Contents, but it is here. You can click on #58 "Changing Lockdown Status" and at the end of it you can then click "newer post" to get to it quickly.

    I think it was just an oversight.

  3. FROM A DIFFERENT EDITOR: There Ya go! I just added #59 Snail Mail to the Table of Contents. The long lost hidden entry makes the list.

  4. what was the big deal? i wasn't sure if there was one or not because these are old...

  5. I have read all of these and was just checking on any new comments that I may have missed. Thank you for adding 'snail mail', now I have new late-night reading material!! there a way to receive an alert when a new comment is posted? Or would I have to 'comment as' with an email address?

  6. One of the EditorsJune 14, 2012 at 8:25 PM

    Perhaps if you click on the "subscribe by email" below, you can receive an email from the site when a new post appears.

    Because new readers post comments on older posts, there's no way to keep up on newly posted comments. If a particular post interests you, or if you posted a comment, the only way to know would be to check back occasionally.

  7. The last paragraph in this posting is awesome. Very moving too.

  8. I recently stumbled on your blog. You are a fantastic writer. The way you describe prison life without exaggerating or glorifying it is very impressive. I just finished doing 2 off a 4 year bid. I was blessed enough to do mine at Lincoln cc till I got bounced over to western cc. That place was a real shit hole but nothing compared to where you've been I know. Those were the longest most miserable 2 years of my life. I can't even begin to imagine what its like for you. This post really brought back memories. Something about night yard always made me feel a little more free. Especially if while I was walking the yard I just looked down that way id see the dirt and grass but not the fences razor wire or guard towers. I also liked sitting in a isolated area and watching as much of the sun set as I could before going back to the cages. I hope you keep writing if only so you have someway to vent your anger and frustration. You seem like a decent man and I hate the thought of you giving into that hell. I have no faith at all in the justice system but I do believe that given the absurdity of your case and sentence that sooner or later the voices of you your family and the supporters you have will be heard and you will eventually be a free man again. As hard as it is try not to let that place chew you up and stay strong my brother. Your day us coming

    1. I often will look down when on the large yard so as not to see the fences, towers, or prison buildings. Fleetingly, a person can imagine being free. I wondered if I was the only one who did this. Thank you for your comment.

    2. I hope you guys got tonsee the lunar eclipse a few weeks ago.


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