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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Summer Heat -- July 29, 2010

We have had a series of 90 degree days at Stateville this week. It has been a humid heat with intermittent rain. A front finally moved through the area last nigh,t taking with it the hot, wet weather. I am glad it has passed, although I know there will be more muggy days to come in August. Torrid temperatures can make living at a maximum security prison more miserable.

This summer, each general population cellhouse was given a fan. These fans are not your typical fans, but enormous industrial fans enclosed in a pivoting metal cylinder. If you look inside it, the blades resemble that of a small airplane propeller. The roar of noise it emits when turned on, however, sounds like a B-17 bomber. On the side of the fan, I noticed a tag that says it has 1200 RPM, and it is so powerful it can sometimes blow out the electric power on the outer perimeter wall.

During the week, prisoners argued and fought over the enormous fan. It was turned on and then off. It was moved from one end of the gallery to the other. It was angled this way and that. Some prisoners brought it in front of their cells and angled it directly into it. The fan is very loud and will drown out any inmates trying to yell to each other from gallery to gallery. It is even difficult to hear your neighbor with this fan on. My cellmate and I like the fan because of this, but some inmates like to continually talk and do not like the fan, especially those upstairs who get no benefit from it. The gallery workers are mostly in control of the fan, and they often are arguing over it. A few days ago, a worker turned off the fan so it would not blow all the garbage and dust he was sweeping. Another worker passing out laundry bags was dripping with sweat and turned it back on. They came close to fighting, but ultimately did not.

I do not get involved in the battles of the fan. There is a blower not far from my cell which in the winter is used to blow hot air downward. In the summer, however, the hot water pipes are turned off and it is used just as a fan. Although the filter around it is becoming clogged with dirt and dust, it still can be felt three or four cells in each direction from it. I also have my own store bought fan. It is only 9" in diameter, but has a lot of power for its size.

I mostly use my fan to dry my clothes. The humidity can keep towels and clothing wet for days if a fan is not used to dry them. Prisoners are not allowed to make lines to hang their wet clothing, and often I put clothes directly on my fan. The waistline of my pants, shorts, and underwear can be fit around the perimeter, and the air blows through them. I also use the two bunk railings near the back wall to hang damp or wet clothing. On the upper levels, prisoners often break the institution rule of no lines to hang their clothes. Administrators are less likely to pass by on these galleries and most guards do not care. The 4th and 5th floors can have temperatures of over 100 on days like this, and not many wardens or lieutenants wish to do rounds up there.

On Monday and Tuesday, I exercised in my cell. Although I began my workout in the morning when temperatures had not reached their highs, I was quickly covered in sweat. It was sometimes difficult getting my grip or footing because the concrete floor was slick with my sweat. I put a fan on the ground in an attempt to dry it while I exercised, but it did not work. In order to do push-ups, I had to lay a T-shirt down to prevent my hands from slipping. I was particularly cautious with my footing when performing other exercises that could land me hard on the concrete or any of the metal objects in my cell. Afterward, all my clothes were soaked and I wrung them out before fitting them on my fan.

Although I sweat a lot while exercising, I do not throughout the day, or not as much as others. While in the chow hall yesterday, I noticed prisoners sweating as they ate their food. One heavy-set man complained about the heat and I told him if he was not so fat he would not be sweating profusely. He denied being obese and continued to stuff his face. On the way back from chow, I noticed many overweight men with wet shirts. Some carried wash rags to wipe the sweat from their bald heads or faces. I am glad to have very little body fat, particularly on days such as this.

When temperatures exceed 90, ice is passed out to all inmates. Prison workers bring large plastic bins filled with ice down the gallery on a cart. They yell out "ICE!" as they go, and inmates reach out their bars with plastic bags or other containers. A worker will give you so many scoops before moving to the next cell. I will get ice to keep any drink cold until I eat my snack at night. The ice melts quickly, especially if you do not cover it with a towel in your sink, and I often ask for a couple of extra scoops.

One day this week, I was washing up in the back of the cell and told my cellmate to get some ice for me. I specifically told him not to let the gallery worker go by with only giving him a few scoops. However, when I dressed and took down a privacy sheet, I noticed he only had a tiny amount of ice. This ice would be melted in a few hours. I asked him why he did not get more ice, and he told me that was all the worker was passing out. I told him he was a coward not to demand more ice and let the worker treat him like a chump. He was offended, but I did not care and I grabbed the bag and went to the bars. When the gallery worker came back around, I told him to give me more ice, and he filled my bag up with so much ice I had problems getting it through my cell bars. I did not want all this ice and only got it to make a point to my cellmate.

I never use the ice to put directly in my drink. The workers often sweat onto the ice as they reach into the bucket. I can also still remember disgruntled workers pissing in the ice before passing it out years ago. The ice is made in another building, and I am not sure how clean the ice makers are kept or what happens to the ice on its voyage to the cellhouse. Large coolers are sometimes brought out onto the yard. These coolers are meant for prisoners to drink from, but I noticed some people opening the top to grab ice out with their hands. The people who live at Stateville are very inconsiderate and unsanitary.

A kitchen worker came to my cell bars to talk after taking his detail shower. Guards do not always immediately lock up workers returning from assignments, or the shower room. They cannot get into their cells and often wander about on the gallery talking to people they know. I was busy at the table reading and taking notes, but I did not mind talking to the kitchen worker for awhile. Recently, I have been advising him on filing a successive post conviction appeal before going to the federal courts. Today, however, he wanted to talk about how hot it is in the kitchen. He said it is often 110 degrees or more where he works. The numerous cauldrons, stoves and fryers raise temperatures in the kitchen to unbearable conditions in the summer. He said they have some fans back there, but it does nothing but blow the hot air around. Yesterday, he said, while standing over a large kettle of boiling food, he felt like he was about to pass out. During his shift he repeatedly had to wring out his T-shirt and he snuck into the cold storage area a few times. I told him he better not be sweating into my food. He says he is careful not to, but I know the kitchen workers often do. Fortunately, kitchen workers must be tested for TB, hepatitis, and other communicable diseases. I also hope that our food is cooked to such high temperatures that it kills most germs.

During the summers at maximum security prisons, there are many more arguments, fights, and assaults. Usually, Stateville is on lockdown most, if not all, of the summer due to acts of violence. There have been several fights just in my cell house in the last few weeks, that I am aware of. In fact, we were on lockdown from the 23rd to the 28th for a cell house fight where a guard gave no warning shot and grazed one of the men in the ass with some pellets. There were probably a number more that I have not heard about. The current administration is not locking down the prison as often as previous ones for these incidents. It is not that the warden is less concerned about safety or security. I believe he simply realizes that fights are unpreventable and a part of life here. Locking down the entire prison for these incidents does not serve any purpose.

Hot weather not only seems to cause more fights, but increases the obnoxious and rude behavior of inmates. I have been sleeping well now that my medication has been changed. However, I continue to attempt to have less contact with the people incarcerated here. I have skipped a number of meals this month, and although I went to yard and chow yesterday, I intend to be my reclusive self, particularly on the hot days of summer. I am quite content to stay in my cage and make myself commissary meals that often taste better than what is being served.

Wednesday yard was at mid-afternoon while the sun was directly overhead. Sometimes inmates will move weights to the shade provided by the gun tower. However, between noon and 2 p.m., there is no shade. I wore two T-shirts out to yard and a navy blue baseball cap. Once on the yard, I took off one of my shirts and placed it under my cap so it fell down blocking the sun from the sides of my face and neck. It also absorbed my sweat so it did not run down into my eyes. A number of prisoners ceased lifting weights early in the 95 degree heat, and I was glad to be rid of their company.

The South Yard has no drinking fountain, but it does have a shower of sorts. A water pipe is connected to a length of PVC tubing that has had holes drilled into it. Inmates will fill their water bottles from the water that sprinkles out of it. On hot days such as this, they will undress to their boxers and get under the water. Some will bring a bar of soap with them. I have never showered in the water, but on occasion, I have put my head under the cold water to cool down before continuing to work-out.

While under the sun yesterday, I thought I should have worn a thin thermal shirt and some gloves to compliment my cap and turban/T-shirt. I could feel my arms baking in the sun and when I picked up a steel barbell, it singed my hands. Commissary does not sell sunblock. It also does not sell long sleeved shirts. I have a thermal top, however, with long sleeves. It has been wash a hundred times and is no longer very thick. Possibly I will pack it for the next blazing summer afternoon yard.

This week, I began to use my little earphones rather than my heavyset headphones that have thick padding around the ears. An envious neighbor of mine asked me why I was using the cheap earphones instead of my Koss stereo headphones which are no longer sold in I.D.O.C. I told him they were too hot to wear on days like this. He told me if I ever wanted to sell them, he will give me a great price. He added that he will pay me in whatever store I want. I will never sell my Koss headphones, however. Even if they wear out, I will send them back to the manufacturer to be replaced. They have a lifetime warranty and I have a life sentence. The guards can bury me with these headphones on when I die.

Sleeping can be difficult for some prisoners during the not, humid days of summer. My cellmate has been sleeping with both his fans blowing directly on him. He comments when I do not use mine, and I think he may want to use mine as well. It is unusual for me to sleep with my fan on, but on very hot, muggy nights, I will use it. I have also devised a way to pin my bed sheet on one of the bunk crossbars so that the air from my fan is trapped under it and flows over my body as I sleep.

A most obnoxious and ugly female guard woke me up out of a deep sleep a couple of weeks ago. She was yelling at me to take my pillow and towel down. I sleep without a pillow, but I prop it up at the end of my bunk to keep the gallery lights from shining in my face. I also do so to provide myself a barrier when my cellmate wakes up in the middle of the night to gorge himself with an enormous breakfast. He sits at the table that is next to the end of my bunk. I do not appreciate his proximity when I am asleep or even when I am awake. I have hooks for my towel and washrag on the back wall of the cell. However, on humid nights I hang my towel across the rail on the far side of my bunk so it will dry. On the hook, if wet, it will quickly collect mildew. My gut reaction to being rudely awakened by the bulldyke, referred to by many guards and inmates alike as "the Beast," is to say "Get the #%@& off my bars!" However, I knew The Beast would not move on, but continue to argue with me indefinitely. She is a most stubborn, petty, and disagreeable person. Instead, I yanked my towel down and put my pillow over my head. Hopefully, she will go away and let me get back to my dreams away from this miserable place. In the distance, I heard her waking other inmates for other ridiculous matters.

One of the counselors for B House was reassigned to the placement office. It was unfortunate to lose her because she was one of the better counselors here and she had a strong work ethic, unlike many who work here. I often saw her busy at work in the cellhouse and throughout the institution trying to help inmates in a variety of ways. She was not only energetic and motivated in her work, but was also a very nice person. I still recall when I first moved to this gallery, she made a point to come to my cell and introduce herself. Never in my 17 years incarcerated has a counselor been so professional and friendly.

This week, I finally saw the new counselor who took the place of the former. She is a thin black woman in her 30s. She walked quickly by the cells saying "counselor" in a soft voice. It seemed like she was hoping she could make her rounds without anyone stopping her. I had a matter, though, that I wanted to speak to her about. Months ago, I had given my former counselor some envelopes to be stamped with international postage so my letters to Canada did not take a month or two to go out. The mail room continued to delay adding the extra postage. I wanted the new counselor to pick them up, and thus, as she went by my cell I said, "Miss," and then again, "Miss," but she continued to walk by. On her return, I tried to get her attention, but she ignored me again.

My cellmate was reading on his top bunk with both his fans blowing on him. He asked me what was all that about? I do not know, I said. Possibly she did not care to talk to me. Possibly she did not hear my low voice. I didn't want to shout at her. My cellmate often says he cannot hear me, but said I must have gotten her attention the second time. Maybe she is prudish or shy and did not want to talk to me because I had my T-shirt off. On hot days, I do not wear a shirt in the cell. I said to my cellmate, "If she is unwilling to talk to me because I am not wearing a shirt, she will not be talking to too many prisoners." Prisoners often sit around in their cells during the summer in just their boxers or shorts. "I wonder how she will handle the nudist, Jackie," I said. Jackie is a weird black man who does not wear any clothes in his cell. He wears no clothes in the winter as well.

After coming in from yard yesterday, and washing up in my sink, I turned on my TV to hear how the court ruled in Arizona's illegal immigrant law. I was outraged to learn the court will not allow the state to defend itself from being invaded. For the last few weeks, I have been paying close attention to the media attention surrounding the issue. I had seen Sheriff Joe's expanded tent city and heard the liberals' criticism of the law and the sheriff. I do not agree with the mistreatment of U.S. citizens that have yet to be adjudicated by the courts. However, I have no sympathy for illegal aliens. Austere living conditions in the desert heat is very appropriate in my opinion. In fact, I think the vilified sheriff is being too nice.

Today I noticed the high temperature in Phoenix was expected to be 113 degrees. I would not want to be in a maximum security prison like Stateville in that heat, even if they say it is a "dry heat." I am not a person who likes hot weather, and I am looking forward to autumn. Hopefully there is no Indian or illegal alien summer in the Midwest and temperatures break sooner rather than later.

7 comments:

  1. I am so grateful that your headphones have that warranty!!!!

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  2. "The guards can bury me with these headphones on when I die." so very poignant. I hope this doesn't become a prophesy, as I truly am rooting for you to get everything sorted out to where you'd be released. I'm being optimistic, which I imagine you have no use for, but the positive thoughts are there just the same. Anyways, during my brief incarceration, constant lights bothered me as well, so I'd put a t-shirt over my eyes to sleep. Now, almost two years beyond all that horseshit, I use a pillowcase over my eyes to get that total dark, despite not being incarcerated and having much more darkness while sleeping.

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    1. My headphones shorted out over a month ago and I have been using earbuds. Fortunately, Koss has a lifetime guarantee and I sent them back to the company. Hopefully, by the spring I will have a new headset. The noise in the penitentiary bothers me much more than the continual light.

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  3. I'm a light sleeper now, and rarely sleep through the entire night. I never had issues like that before jail. On somewhat unrelated note, I also find I want to hoard random containers. It actually takes a conscious thought process of "no, I don't need to keep this, I have legit tupperware"... plus I've watched enough episodes of Hoarders: BURIED ALIVE, seen the myriad empty shoe boxes and reused sour cream tubs & realized it's a slippery slope!

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    Replies
    1. The SORT always takes containers or boxes the prisoners have. Inmates are not even allowed to purchase bowls or cups with lids. Thus, I am regularly looking for things to keep my property in. Peanut butter jars and instant oatmeal boxes only go so far.

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  4. I don't understand why they can't let prisoners have air conditioning. Do other facilities have it?

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