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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reality TV -- September 10, 2010

I am currently watching various reality television programs. Reality TV can draw my interest in large part because I have no life. I live in a cage and have for over 17 years, so I like to watch people engaging in real life situations. Some men who have been in prison a long time can become hooked on soap operas. Others like dramas. My cellmate enjoys fantasy themes. I tend to like serious programming, documentaries or shows that reflect reality. I cannot get into fictional stories that are far fetched, goofy, or not well grounded in truth, history, or fact. I realize most reality TV is scripted to some extent, but because my life is devoid of experiences outside these prison walls, these programs can be satisfying.

Monday evenings I watch "The Bachelor Pad" and "Dating in the Dark" on ABC; the shows run consecutively. I tend not to watch TV for three hours straight, but I am most intrigued by romance and courtship. These parts of my life have been missing for quite some time and I feel a great sense of loss. The Bachelor Pad has a number of people who have participated in prior Bachelor or Bachelorette shows. Most of the people I recognize, and it is interesting to follow along with their lives some more. However, I do not like the money component to the show. These people are mostly not looking for love or romance, but fame and a quarter million dollars. I suppose the producers added the monetary reward to make the program sleazier and compel artificial romance. This has changed the dynamics of the show to one where popularity, deceit, manipulation, and alliances tend to dominate over true attraction and love.

On Monday's Bachelor Pad, the remaining men chose a female pair. The three females who were not picked, were sent home. Most of the attractive women who had bonded with a man in the house were selected and this was good. Although certainly some strategy existed to win the money, the men chose women who they had the best connection with. Pairing up the people on the show allowed some to be more true to each other because before they were mostly hiding their attractions or relationships due to fear of being evicted. It also should bring about closer ties and, in fact, one couple sneaked off into the bachelor suite to sleep with each other.

"Dating in the Dark" is a program where 3 men and 3 women go on a series of dates, however, they are never allowed to see each other until the very end. Physical attraction is obviously the most important aspect of courtship, but it is interesting how people size up each other without the aid of sight. On the dates which are conducted in a room without lights, they can touch and talk to each other about anything. Some, without even seeing the other, will kiss or make romantic overtures. It somewhat reminds me of women I used to write and never got to meet. Of course, pictures can be exchanged and all women who are pretty send a photo within a few letters, if not with their first. Women who did not send a photo until I asked for one, were almost always unattractive. But despite the photos, you do not know if the photo really resembled them. A few women even attempted to trick me by sending a photo of themselves taken 15 or 20 years ago. One of these women I had a lot in common with and liked, but after seeing her recent photo, I no longer had any attraction for. She was heartbroken that I did not want to correspond anymore, but she should not have deceived me. After "the reveal," I would not have met these women on the balcony.

Corresponding with a woman, even without seeing them in person, can create very strong and deep bonds. If both people are sincere, you are able to know a person at a level you may not if your relationship was based primarily on physical attraction. I have developed deeper bonds with women by writing them than I ever had before my incarceration. Before my arrest, I dated quite a number of girls, but typically only for short periods of time. I doubt I ever dated one girl regularly for more than a few months. My most serious relationship actually occurred after my incarceration with a woman who lived overseas. She sent me photographs regularly, and on her summer breaks, she would come to the U.S. to visit me. However, other than being able to briefly hold each other and kiss after a visit, the extent of our intimacy was through long and frequent letters plus occasional phone calls.

"Dating in the Dark" attempts to force people to develop a deeper relationship before becoming physical, or relying on appearance. Other than the dates, they will be able to examine the opposite sex's car, clothing, purse, wallet, or other personables. The host of the show does not give the people on the program any notice, and for example, on Monday's episode, they were told to immediately undress and their clothing was taken to the other side where the man or woman was. One woman immediately disliked a man for his choice of clothing and their smell. Men looked at style, but seemed more concerned about the sizes of clothing. None of these dating shows, in my opinion, create an opportunity for people to develop deep relationships. Possibly they can grow into something afterwards, but no one serious about finding that special someone can do so in that environment and short period of time. It is highly unfortunate that I was never given a chance to be with any of the women I wrote in prison, and I am sad that there is no opportunity for me to see a relationship through. There is no post showmance for me.

Most men in prison write women for money and not for any true feelings or attraction. Prisoners often have no money to buy commissary. A few times, I have given the addresses of fat or ugly women to these men. I told one man about a plumper who had written me and described her as being similar to a Goodyear Blimp. He excitedly said, "Those are the best women to write! The fat girls are like fat piggy banks," he said. These men remind me of some of the men on "The Bachelor Pad" who are only seeking to win a quarter million dollars, although there are now no ugly women remaining. Possibly, these men are just being practical considering these shows, particularly this one, are not ideal circumstances to find a serious relationship. Sometimes I have thought myself foolish for searching for my princess via online ads and developing relationships from prison. Not only am I painfully aware I will probably never get out of prison, but I wonder what will the chemistry be like outside of these prison walls? Will the dynamics that make a couple feel like soul mates while one is in prison change after? Unlike most men in prison, I would have certainly liked to have found out.

On Wednesday, I watched "Fan Versus Wild" with Bear Grills, while switching over to ESPN during commercials to watch Caroline Wozniacki play Domika Cibulkova in the U.S. Open. I have been following Wozniacki, the Scandinavian tennis player, throughout most of the sports event. My cellmate caught me watching tennis and was surprised that I would take the time to do so. Normally, I am writing, reading, developing stock charts or other things. I watch very little TV, and the sports I watch is limited mostly to football. My cellmate peeks over the bunk, on occasion, if I am not at the table at work, to see what could get my attention. He tells me tennis is boring and is always surprised to see me watching it. It certainly is not football, but the game is not boring to me. I also like the individual and national element to it. Furthermore, I find Caroline Wozniacki very pretty. I am impressed not only by her beauty but her abilities, particularly on a concrete court. Concrete courts have the advantage to players with strength and power. Wozniacki is very fit, but still feminine, unlike some of the Russian brutes or the Williams sisters who I often refer to as the gorilla sisters. Hopefully, Kim Clijsters from Belgium will defeat Serena Williams on Friday, but regardless, I will look forward to the U.S. Open title going to Caroline Wozniacki.

"Fan versus Wild" is a spin on "Men versus Wild," where two fans get to join Bear Grills survive in the wilderness. Bear Grills is a former British Special Ops soldier. He is very resourceful and talented. I am always impressed by his ability to survive in the most dangerous and difficult environments. He often reminds me of a real James Bond, although I know the reality show is edited, and Bear Grills always has a film and safety crew with him. A few seasons ago there was controversy over just how real and how dangerous the show was when viewers learned about the crew that accompanies him. Now, all shows begin with a disclaimer, but I always reasoned that "Man Versus Wild" had at a minimum, a film crew, and that the show was staged in part or edited. Regardless, I am still impressed by the nature and the things Bear Grills does.

Despite the nice figure and good looks of Caroline Wozniacki playing in wind gusts of over 30 mph lifting up her skirt and throwing her long blond hair around, "Fan Versus Wild" was my focus. This special reality program had been advertised for months, and I had been looking forward to it since the show announced they were looking for fans to join Bear Grills in the wilderness. I often have wondered if I could keep up with the former British Special Ops solder. If I was not in prison, I would have entered my name. I care less about being on TV and would rather not be, but I would like to learn from the survivalist and challenge myself. I also would love to be put in the wilderness away from civilization.

"Fan versus Wild" was filmed in the wilderness of British Columbia, Canada. The two men chosen to be on the show did not strike me as being particularly athletic or skilled. Possibly they were specifically chosen for being average men to contrast them with Bear Grills, and so they would be seen struggling. These men did not even seem strong willed, or spirited. Were these real fans of the show, I thought. I know I would have been more enthusiastic to be there and determined to surpass or at least be Bear Grill's equal. The show seemed to be less exciting, and slower with the two fans in tow most of the time. I think if it was the producers' intent to find average men, they should have been put into more dangerous and precarious situations. I was looking to see them tested to the limits and sent out in a medical helicopter if they failed. However, it seems the producers did not want to face any liabilities and the show limited the danger.

Yesterday I watched a reality TV show on CBS called "Big Brother" that is very popular among inmates at Stateville. In this show, a group of people live in a house that is filled with cameras and everyone is forced to wear a microphone. There is no place in the house a contestant can go to escape monitoring except the bathroom. Every week contestants face competitions for food, head of household status, and veto. Head of Household is the most important competition, and the winner gets to put two people on the chopping block. They are also safe from elimination. The winner of the show receives a half million dollars, which after taxes is probably only a quarter million. Big government seizes half the winnings of even "Big Brother" winners.

"Big Brother" is less of a show about competition than the social interactions of the people trapped inside the house. There is a lot of drama, and I think producers intentionally choose a diversity of people as well as people who are excessively emotional. Many people believe I am stoic, but even for average folks, I think these people are overly sensitive. The diverse group of people form friendships and coalitions to carry themselves further in the game. Ultimately, the last two people remaining go before contestants who have been eliminated. This jury picks the winner. The show is not only over-dramatized, but goofy. I do not know how I first began to watch this show; it is definitely not my forte. However, it is sometimes entertaining to watch people interact, and I always pick a person to root for who I can most identify with. This season, it is Lane, the oil rigger from Texas.

"Big Brother" often reminds me of prison. Almost every area of Stateville is covered with cameras. Internal Affairs or other guards can watch virtually everything you do. For the most part, the only place you are safe from the prying eyes of your captors is the shower rooms and your cell. Not only are there hundreds of cameras in Stateville, but all phone calls are monitored and recorded. From what I hear, recordings of telephone calls will be kept for a year or longer. Advances in data collection probably make it possible for all recordings to be kept for eternity. All incoming mail is checked for contraband and money orders. Letters are also read indiscriminately and discriminately. Some prisoners' mail may be flagged to be read and photocopied. In the visiting room, there is not only a camera being closely watched, but signs on the wall (written in English and Spanish) say that your communications may be monitored and recorded. Although I know guards watch the visiting room camera at all times when the visiting room is open, and move the camera around and zoom in on people, I highly doubt sound recording systems are used because it is so loud in there. Sometimes my visitor nor I can hear each other unless we shift forward and yell. By the way, there are also many snitches at Stateville that keep guards informed even if they do not see or hear you.

I have often thought the show "Big Brother" could be easily replicated here at Stateville. There could be 24-hour live feed on the Internet, an after dark show on Showtime, and during prime time, an edited version with the most dramatic or interesting cuts. Instead of losers being kicked out, they would remain, and the winner would win his freedom. The final show could be a prisoner walking out of Stateville a free man. Unfortunately, I doubt I would win the show. I may be good at competitions, but I am a loner and unpopular loners always lose in the Big Brother house. Hopefully, however, Governor Quinn will use his clemency powers to release people based on merit, and I will not have to depend on a Big Brother Stateville TV show.

Earlier today, Kim Clijsters defeated Serena Williams. I was initially not aware the semifinal match was on until I heard applause in the cell house. Several times I heard loud cheering and clapping. There was no football, basketball, or even soccer on TV, so I knew it had to be the U.S. Open. Tennis is not well watched by prisoners here, however, many black men like the Williams sisters and root enthusiastically whenever one of them play, especially in significant matches. When I turned on the TV, Serena Williams had just won the first set. However, thereafter, Kim Clijsters turned the tide and won the next two to be victorious. The cell house grew quiet as Clijsters won repeated volleys. I did not care to cheer, but I did just to annoy the Serene Williams fans. I heard another lone clapper, and that came from an older white man down the gallery from me. Also, today was the semifinal of Wozniacki and the Russian, Zvonereva. Wozniacki had not lost a single set the entire U.S. Open, but she lost in two straight sets in this match. I do not know if I will bother watching the final without the pretty Danish contender. I went back to writing at my desk and continued to do so until 8 p.m.

The reality show "Man Woman Wild" comes on Friday evenings, and I have yet to miss an episode. "Man Woman Wild" is an offshoot of "Men Versus Wild" with Bear Grills. In this show, however, a former special forces soldier with exceptional survival skills takes his wife along with him. His wife has no knowledge about surviving in the wilderness, and she is often dependent on her husband. Many men in prison seek out women who will send them money, and they talk about finding a woman to use when they get out. These men are degenerate low-lifes, in my opinion. It is the man's responsibility and even duty to take care of the female in their lives. I would be ashamed to be dependent on a woman, and have never asked a female to send me money. Many of these prisoners believe they are macho gangsters, but a masculine man would not want to use women but protect, provide, and care for them. What I love about "Man Woman Wild" are the dynamics of the relationship and higher values promoted. In the wilderness, outside of corrupted modern liberal society, traditional roles of the sexes is reestablished. This reality show fulfills a part of my life as a prisoner I cannot live myself, but can merely daydream about.

"Man Woman Wild" is also a good program to learn survivalist skills. Bear Grills often moves very quickly and does not explain survival techniques. It is a fast paced survivalist show whereas "Man Woman Wild" is slower, and more in-depth. There was another reality survival show that had its season finale a few weeks ago called "Dual Survival" which also was more comprehensive. Instead of the interplay between a man and woman, however, there was the contrasting styles of an ex-marine and a hippie naturalist who refused to wear shoes. I often told my cellmate that we could be the "Dual Survivor" team of Stateville. The ordered, nonsocial prisoner with conservative politics forced to be partners with the disorganized, social extrovert with liberal Marxist politics to survive the concrete jungle of Stateville. Sounds like a good reality TV show, yes?

"Beyond Survivor with Les Stroud" comes on after "Man Woman Wild" on the Discovery channel. I used to like watching Les Stroud a lot when the show was called "Survivorman" and Les Stroud was in the wilderness by himself without a camera or safety crew. But now he joins Aborigine tribes untouched by civilization to learn their ways, including ways to survive. I am not so much interested in how those people live and their poor survival skills. I want to learn from the world's best, not primitive tribes that are on the edge of extinction. I want to see the survival skills of British Special Ops, Navy Seals, Rangers, etc., not people who put bones in their noses and live in huts because they know no better. As I write this journal entry, some native tribe of Indonesia has been sitting on poles in the ocean for hours upon hours, trying to catch fish. Despite about 30 of them, I tend to believe they will go home hungry using such primitive and foolish techniques.

I doubt anyone wants to live at Stateville. However, possibly, my journal entries are interesting to the public at large. Just like Big Brother or other reality TV shows, I attempt to provide people with a very real look into Illinois' maximum-security prisons. I doubt IDOC will ever open up Stateville to cameras and audio to the public, and even if they did, it would be very edited and biased. I don't see a "Big Brother" or "In the Big House" show coming to cable any time soon. But in the meantime, I hope you enjoy my journal writings.

The Law Library Ambush -- August 24, 2010

Details and other movement were delayed in my cell house this morning. There was a fight in another part of the prison where a guard working the catwalk fired a warning shot. From what I was informed later, the cell house lieutenant told the guard to stand down because everything was under control, but the guard was trigger happy and fired a shot into the ceiling anyway. Guards too often fire their rifles, endangering not only prisoners, but staff as well. Although a guard may shoot into the ceiling or into a warning shot box, the pellets they use as ammunition often are scattered and have the habit of bouncing off objects. Last year, when the new director of IDOC walked through, there was talk of taking all the weapons out of the prison, or at least in the cell houses, but this was never implemented. Director Randle is under pressure to step down now, and he may soon resign.

Eventually, inmates were let out in B House to go to their work assignments, the Health Care Unit, and other destinations. The warden had decided not to put the entire prison on lockdown, but only the cell house where the incident occurred. E House had just been taken off lockdown for another fight which occurred Friday evening. Because of this fight, night yard was cancelled for 2 and 4 gallery in my cell house. I was in the chow hall when this fight occurred, and we were just about to be let out onto the South yard. Instead, we were sent back to our cells and locked in our cages for the night.

Around 10 a.m., the afternoon law library list was announced on the loudspeaker. Inmates never know if they will be allowed to go to the library until the list is called out. Many people fill out request slips, but only 30 names make the list. One of the staff members who works at the library decides who is allowed to go based on court orders, deadlines, and most urgent need. She is not always fair in the list she creates, and there are usually several disgruntled inmates. I had some legal work I needed to do in the library, but my name was not called. That was just as well, because after last Thursday's visit to the library, I was not eager to go back there.

On Thursday, the 19th of August, my name was surprisingly called on the loudspeaker for the law library. I never put in for Thursday library because it is run during the morning. Mornings are my time to have some cell space alone when my cellmate leaves to work in the barbershop. I had already put on my shorts and gym shoes to exercise as soon as my cellmate left. I often get visits on Thursdays, and today I was expecting my family to come early. I probably would not be called until after I returned from library, but this meant I would be out of my cell the entire day. I did not like having to deal with Stateville's inmates, guards, and others for long periods of time only to return to my cell occupied with my very talkative and hyper cellmate. Furthermore, legal boxes are not taken out of storage for inmates at the library on Thursdays. One of the reasons I go to the law library is to gain access to my legal materials which I am unable to fit in my two cell boxes. Unhappily, I took off my shoes and shorts, and dressed in state blues. I came very close to waiving my privilege to go the law library, and if I had E.S.P. I would have.

The law library line was very noisy. On the walk over to the building, the sun was already beating down hard. It was only a quarter past 9, but the temperature was already a muggy 85-90 degrees. Inmates in the library and school lines which are run together in the morning, were talking loudly to each other and yelling to those on the South yard. The line was stopped to allow prisoners from other cell houses to join the line, and while standing there I looked over some of my legal papers to remind myself of what I needed to do in the library. I did not have time to make a list before I was let out of my cell, and did not want to waste time. Inmates are given only an hour or two to conduct all their legal work before they are told to leave.

Eventually, the law library and school line made it to the library building. Those going to grade school or high school classes continued on their walk while inmates going to the library waited outside. There is usually a wait before we go inside, but this morning it was a little longer than usual. As I entered the library, I found out why. About 20 guards quickly came out from around the corner and closed in about us. They shouted at us to put our hands in the air and line up along the wall. We were then ordered to place our papers on the floor and face towards the wall. People began to do as they were told, but lowered their hands. We were then shouted at to keep our hands up and put them on the fencing. I felt like I was a victim in a bank robbery and thought about how I knew I should have stayed in my cell today. For the next couple of hours, I was not going to be able to do any legal work, but be continually demeaned and harassed.

One side of the main room of the library is a painted cyclone fence. This fence is here to lock in inmates from Segregation who have court orders to have law library access. There are about 8 small cages that are kept locked. Some of the cages are also used to store some inmates' legal boxes as well. The cage I stared into was empty and was used to hold Segregation inmates. I grabbed onto the fence above my head as I waited to be searched.

This was not a routine shake down. The major was present along with several members of Internal Affairs. Most of the guards, however, were from the movement team, or pulled off of other assignments. The guards went meticulously from inmate to inmate. We were not strip searched, but we were thoroughly patted down and told to take off our shoes. The guards went page by page through a number of prisoners' legal books and papers. Some inmates had a stack of papers and numerous books with them. Several guards looked through their property, but most inmates only had one guard search them and their papers. Some guards stood by just for security and to make sure prisoners did not move out of position. I assume the library itself was searched before we arrived, but some guards may have been searching while we were lined up against the fence.

The major and other guards shouted at prisoners who dared to look behind them, or turn their heads. The major told one man, "Why the fuck you keep looking back here! Face forward. If I see you glancing around again, I am going to take you to Seg." To another inmate, he shouted, "Face the fuck forward! What is your problem?! No one is reading your legal papers." A guard also snapped on some man who pivoted his head to the side. The man said he had a pinched nerve in his neck. The guard told him if he kept on turning his head, he will have more than a sore neck and be taken to Segregation.

Guards can search through inmates' property, but they are prohibited from reading privileged legal documents and correspondence with their attorneys. Many guards do not care about this rule, and do so anyway. An inmate can write and file a grievance on any staff who reads their privileged legal papers, although grievances typically are dismissed and written in vain despite the issue or any corroboration. In guards' defense, though, determining legal product from other papers is not always readily apparent.

The prison population in maximum-security has become increasingly older. There are many men now over 50 years old with various medical conditions. Even I was feeling lower back pain and sciatica pain as I stood there against the fence for over a hour. The man who spoke about a pinched nerve in his neck was an older black man, and I do not believe he was lying. However, our comfort is of no concern to our captors. The major and guards were obviously trying to make a statement of force and control.

After a half hour into the search, some of the guards began to make jokes. I heard one say to another, "Is pornography legal material?" Another voice asked to no one in particular, "Do these inmates know what they are allowed to bring to the library?" He was now looking at the porn magazine and said, "I think this is contraband. I may have to take this." The major shouted that the prisoners know what we can and cannot bring to the law library. A guard then said, "I don't know. This centerfold could be an exhibit to an appeal." Another guard then told the other they will never get done if they continue to search porn magazines.

The library is not just a law library. It is an all purpose library, and men can bring any type of reading materials with them, even porn, I suppose. I have never heard of any prohibition against Playboy or other magazines and books. I am not certain what was taken by the guards during the search, but when it was over, they did have a few bags of property. Later I was told by an inmate that the guards took his pens. There was more than pens in those bags, however.

It was some time before a guard began to search me. I was in the middle of the line, and the guards began searching at the ends. They also focused their attention on the inmates who had brought over a lot of property. All I had brought with me was one 9" x 11" envelope containing about 1" of papers in it. In my pockets, I had 8 pencils bound in a rubber band, tissue paper, and a small instant oatmeal package with a teaspoon of garlic powder in it. After library, I assumed we would be taken directly to the chow hall, and I wanted the garlic to season the soy spaghetti I heard was on the menu. I bring all my pencils to the library because this year a pencil sharpener was put out for inmates to use. I will easily dull 8 pencils in a week, depending on how much writing I do. I am currently writing with one of those pencils.

The guard searching me was a respectful and polite black man I have known for some time. His pat down was light, and he did not pull out my pencils or packet of garlic for inspection. He did tell me to take off my shoes, and he did go through my papers, but rather quickly. I tend to believe the guards know who the troublemakers are, and search them more thoroughly. I also tend to believe the guards do not like certain men and seek to harass them more than others. A few people were taken out of line for special treatment. I could not see who they were with my peripheral vision, and I did not dare to look back. None of these people were taken to Seg, despite the threats I heard.

The last two days, the library was closed, purportedly because library staff were taking depositions in a lawsuit filed by an inmate at Stateville. However, possibly the library was being searched from top to bottom. In the past, I have heard of knives being found in between books, under shelves, or elsewhere. Other potential weapons and drugs have been found in there as well. Later, while I was taking care of some legal work, I happened to pass by a guard talking to the major. The guard was showing him a very old rusted pipe elbow. I overheard him say, "This was found during the search." I can't say if it is something an inmate stashed away, or if it was just a part a union plumber left behind when making a repair. I speculate the latter, however.

Inmates were lined up against the fence for about an hour and a half, before the major told us we could go about our business with the remaining time left. There was only a half hour remaining though, and I heard inmates griping. Some had court deadlines pending, and had to have appeals or other legal filings made. We were not allowed to go to library earlier in the week, and this probably put a few people in a bind. Ultimately, the major gave us more time, but I was notified that I had a visit not long after that.

While I waited for an escort, I sharpened my pencils and then gave them, along with my legal papers, to a person I knew on the gallery. I asked him to put them on my desk for me when he returned so I could go directly to the visiting room. There have been some long delays in visitation lately, and I wanted to get to gate 5 as soon as possible. If I had to return to the cell house, I may be trapped in a holding cage until another escort was going that way.

In the last few weeks, prison officials have greatly increased searches of inmates, cells, and various areas of the prison. My cell and others in my cell house have been shaken down at least twice. Some inmates have told me their cells have been ransacked several times. Having your cell searched is a big inconvenience. Not only is your property scattered about and must be reorganized, but you must stop whatever you are doing and immediately leave your cell. I hate disruptions to my routines. A couple of weeks ago, Internal Affairs and cell house guards searched a number of cells on my gallery and the one above mine. I was in the middle of working out, and was dripping in sweat. My shorts and T-shirt were drenched when I came out of the cell. There was an I.A. guard waiting near the cell house holding cage to frisk me. This is a guard that is known to be extremely thorough, even absurdly so. If he is in the visiting strip search room, he will want to look at your nails, inside your ears, between your toes, and even your butt crack. He even tells men to pull up the foreskin of their penis. While he was working the strip search room, rumors abounded that he was gay. I do not know if he is, but he definitely takes his job too seriously. Anyway, he was not so thorough patting me down. Apparently, my body odor or dripping wet clothing dissuaded him, and I only received a couple of taps to my sides.

For several days last week, the major had come to our cell house to personally supervise cell searches. Usually, cell searches are infrequent and conducted by cell house guards along with a sergeant. The major brought over some new cadets to conduct cell searches during the evening. The new guards are looking to impress their boss and go by the book. They took their time searching cells. Some cells were searched for an hour. During all of these searches, nothing serious was found and no one was sent to Segregation. The only person I have heard to go to Seg in the last couple of weeks from being found with contraband in their cell was a loud mouth black man and his cellmate who lived above me. From what I am told, Internal Affairs found bottles of hooch, or prison wine, in his cell.

I spoke with a worker who lives in another cell house and was informed cell searches were being conducted there as well. He also told me that their morning yard had been cancelled so guards could search the grounds for weapons. Guards use metal detectors and go about the yard searching for knives or shank materials. Years ago, inmates would plant knives in the ground until they were needed. Before then, inmates commonly carried knives on them wherever they went. Stateville was very dangerous in the 1990s and earlier. Even I would have kept a weapon on me at all times back then, if I had been here. However, now stabbings rarely occur, and shanks are not commonly stashed or carried.

I do not know what has caused the major's new vigilance on security. Possibly, a snitch has made accusations to Internal Affairs. Possibly, dangerous contraband of some sort has been found this month that I have not been made aware of. Possibly, the major is acting on orders from the warden, or attempting to make a statement to inmates or to the administration. I tend to believe, however, the ambush of inmates at the law library and repetitive cell searches are unnecessary and will not make Stateville C.C. any safer.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Blagojevich Verdict -- August 18, 2010

Yesterday afternoon the jury finally had a verdict in the trial of the former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich. Out of 24 counts, the jury was only able to come to a unanimous verdict on the last, and least serious, charge: lying to federal law enforcement. This conviction was probationable and only carried a maximum of 5 years in prison. Many people were surprised by the verdict including myself. Even after it became known the jury was deadlocked on certain counts, the legal community and public at large assumed Blagojevich would be convicted of more than just lying to federal police.

Two weeks ago I began a pool to see who could guess how long the Blagojevich jury would be in deliberations. Because of the notorious tapes of the former governor talking on the telephone trying to profit from his office, I thought the jury would come back with a verdict the first Friday. Juries typically do not like continuing deliberations over the weekend. My jury in fact, came back with a guilty verdict on a Friday. Others thought deliberations would continue into the second week due to all the counts and jury instructions. They chose various days from Monday through the following Friday. Listening to the Roe Conn news radio program on WLS, the latest guess was Friday the 13th of August, and it seemed she picked this date more out of superstition than any logical basis. She and the inmate several cells down from me, however, were the closest. I do not know what the news radio woman on the Roe Conn Show won, but the Stateville inmate won a six pack of soda pop.

The day after I made my prediction, I knew I was wrong. The jury sent a note to the judge asking for all the trial testimony. This was incredibly unusual. No jury asks for all the transcripts. The request signified to me the jury was going to go over the prosecutor's case meticulously. The judge rejected the jury's request, but told them if they wanted specific testimony, it would be ordered. Transcripts are not typed out verbatim by trial stenographers, but in a very abbreviated short hand that is not decipherable by people who do not know the coded language. Prisoners on appeal have to pay thousands of dollars for trial transcripts if they had a long trial, and do not claim an inability to hire a private lawyer. Some inmates have a Public Defender appointed to them on appeal before they hire counsel to save on legal expenses. The court in the Blagojevich trial did not deny the jury transcripts because of financial reasons, however. The judge probably made his decision based on the time required to produce the transcripts but also to encourage the jury to be more focused and rely on their notes and memory.

There was not much sympathy for Rod Blagojevich at Stateville. There was a certain tendency for prisoners to wish the same misery that we experience on the man who controlled the Illinois Department of Corrections. The governor does not make court rulings, nor does he prosecute the men behind bars. And although he can be influential in laws that are passed, he does not make legislation. However, the governor does have enormous control over our lives through the director and other administrators he appoints to control the prisons in Illinois. During Blagojevich's reign, life in prison did not improve, but conversely became worse.

When the Democratic governor before Rod Blagojevich was prosecuted there was some sympathy by prisoners, particularly those who were formerly on death row. George Ryan, before leaving office, commuted all the death sentences to natural life. He also commuted a handful of prisoners on death row to a term of years, and granted a few pardons. George Ryan made an impression on me due to his public recognition that the Illinois' justice system was broken. Many people have been convicted who are innocent. Over 10 prisoners who had death sentences were found to be innocent during George Ryan's tenure. One man came hours to being executed before the court granted his lawyer a stay of execution. Although I admired George Ryan for bringing attention to a flawed justice system, he did nothing to improve it, and I felt no sympathy for his conviction for corruption or for the amount of time he was sentenced to serve.

The answer to a broken justice system was not commuting the sentences of all death row inmates, despite how this may make the liberal left and capital punishment opponents happy. The answer was to correct the errors in the system and review cases on an individual basis. An investigation into the causes for wrongful convictions should have occurred, and then the governor should have immediately pushed for reform. Those prisoners with questionable convictions should have been given new trials or greatly reduced sentences if the courts or attorney general would not agree. What does natural life without the possibility of parole matter to a person who is innocent? Although many on death row are happy to have had their sentences commuted, I believe natural life is a protracted death sentence. It is an existence of infinite torture. If those who call for the abolition of the death penalty truly wanted to lessen suffering, they would advocate for more executions instead of life in prison.

Although George Ryan had a commission review the cases of those on death row, no one with a life sentence or term of years was granted any scrutiny. Between George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, four of my requests for clemency were denied. I have reason to believe the Prisoner Review Board has made positive recommendations in the past, but neither governor would give me the time of day. I had a federal congressman speak to George Ryan on my behalf, and I had someone personally hand Rod Blagojevich my petition along with letters of support. Blagojevich probably threw my petition in the garbage when he boarded his private jet to Springfield. He failed to review thousands of petitions, and ultimately, I doubt he personally looked at a single one. Possibly, I could have got Rod Blagojevich's attention if I had known everything was for sale. Afterall, my freedom is "fucking golden" and I would pay just about anything to have it back.

In Chicago, corruption is taken for granted by many of the people who live there. It is not surprising that two of Illinois' governors have been prosecuted. I am sure many other governors and politicians engage in patronage, quid pro quos, and other deal making. What is vulgar about Blagojevich's schemes to enrich himself, his wife, or his friends is the indiscreet and crude manner he went about it. To talk on the telephone about selling Barack Obama's senate seat was certainly blatant folly, especially considering he was fully aware of the federal government investigating his office. I sense an arrogance that he thought he was above the law and a king without anyone to answer to. And Blagojevich was a bad monarch, as testimony at his trial revealed he was only in his office performing his duties a few hours a week. Almost all the work and responsibilities of the governor's office was delegated to subordinates.

The massive $14 billion state deficit, not including pension liabilities which tally over $100 billion, was largely inherited by Governor Quinn from the Blagojevich administration. Blagojevich refused to make the necessary cuts to government spending, and did not even try getting agreement with the Democratic or Republican legislature. I tend to believe former Governor Blagojevich did not care about the state's financing, only his own. I will give him credit for remaining true to his word and not raising taxes, however, I do not know if this speaks to his integrity or principles. He seemed to want to be popular by giving out foolish subsidies like the "Seniors Ride for Free Program," and not making any cost-cutting decisions. At one point, Blagojevich, or most likely his staff, sought to reduce IDOC spending by closing the state's most costly and run down prison: Stateville. However, when the legislature attempted to pass a bill that would allow serving governors to be evicted, he changed his mind to get the support of the guard's powerful union and several legislators. It was a bad bill, but the former governor refused to make the necessary cuts to state spending. His predecessor, it must be said, however, also failed to make those politically tough decisions as well. Hopefully, his political opponent is willing to use the hatchet to remedy Illinois' financial catastrophe.

Although I was not sympathetic to Rod Blagojevich, I could understand, or possibly empathize with him and his wife's wait during the jury deliberations. Waiting on a verdict for a criminal defendant is very stressful. Any any moment, the jury could reach a verdict. There is nothing you can do to reason or argue with jurors at this point. It is completely out of your hands once your attorney gives his final argument. In my case, the jury was out for several days. For those days, my life literally was in their hands. Rod Blagojevich did not face a death sentence, however, if convicted on all counts, he could have spent most of his remaining years in prison, albeit a nice minimum-security prison in the federal system. Nontheless, I am sure this weighed heavily on his and his wife's thoughts for those two weeks. Although Blagojevich gave a spirited speech afterwards to reporters, I noted Patty Blagojevich appeared drained, and I knew the ex-governor must also be despite his continued optimistic rhetoric.

Fortunately for Rod Blagojevich, he was given bail and could wait out most of the deliberations in his nice home. I was bussed back and forth from the maximum-security section of Cook County Jail. Early in the morning before the sun was up, I had to walk the tunnels underneath the county jail and wait in dirty, loud cages with hundreds of other detainees until we were handcuffed and smashed into sardine can-like buses. At the courthouse, I waited hours and hours usually alone in a barren cell. On occasion, my lawyer or family would visit with me.

Despite the recorded tape conversations of Blagojevich and a number of witnesses that told of his attempts to profit from his position as governor, Sam Adams, Jr., put on an aggressive defense and argued passionately inside and outside the courtroom his client's innocence. At least Rod could think that, for better or for worse, his lawyers did all they could to keep him out of the clinker. Contrarily, my lawyer did not contest the prosecution's theory of accountability, and even told my jury that the interrogating officer's testimony was true. My attorneys had numerous witnesses and evidence at their disposal, even such that put my car 50 miles away from the murder scene to prove the cop was a liar, but chose not to use it. I knew going into deliberations that I was doomed. Even when my co-defendant was acquitted, I knew I was going to be convicted. After a few days passed, I hoped for a hung jury. I wish I had one juror who would obstinately refuse to render a guilty verdict. My lead attorney had bought me an ugly tie to wear, and I continued to wear it every day of my deliberations. Superstitiously I thought if I kept the same clothes on that the deliberations would go on indefinitely and remain at a deadlock. At least with a hung jury, I could fire my lawyers and hire new ones who would actually present a defense. Unlike the Blagojevich jury, however, no one held out for me.

After the judge announced a mistrial on 23 counts, the defense team and former governor came out with very self-confident statements. I heard about how the prosecution with the full power and resources of the federal government could not prove their case. Sam Adams, Jr. told the media how millions of dollars were used to prosecute an innocent man. Blagojevich also spoke to the press and gave them a spirited "I am not a crook" speech. As he told the public time and time again, he had done nothing wrong and this verdict, or lack thereof, proves it. Indeed, at the time, it seemed the defense was victorious. Out of 24 charges, the prosecutor was only able to obtain one unanimous guilty verdict, and this was on the least serious charge in the indictment. If I was Rod Blagojevich, I would be jubilant as well. However, I would not be so smug until I knew how the jury deadlocked. In my case, I am almost certain I would win a retrial. In Blagojevich's case, I would be highly skeptical if a jury was only a vote away from guilty verdicts.

While his jury was deliberating, I had a discussion with my neighbor about hung juries. It is one of many I have had with him. My neighbor portrays himself as a "know it all," although he knows very little. And despite his ignorance, he will vehemently argue a point if you let him. Yesterday, he told me that if the jury had deadlocked with a minority voting guilty, Blagojevich would have to be acquitted. This is false, and even if eleven of the twelve voted for acquittal, Blagojevich still would have a hung jury. A verdict must be unanimous or a mistrial is declared. As I told him before, he is a "real man of genius." He knows I was disingenuous in my words and I say this often when there is no point discussing a subject with him. "The real man of genius" quote comes from a silly beer commercial that mocks a man's intelligence.

Today I learned on news talk radio that the jury was deadlocked, not 11 to 1, in Blagojevich's favor, but against him. Only one juror held out and if it was not for this one woman, the ex-governor would have probably been found guilty on all 24 charges. On the WLS Roe Conn Show they joked that this older woman was one of the few to benefit from Blagojevich's "free ride for seniors." The news that there was only one hold-out certainly had to deflate the hot air balloons of the defense, and vice versa, caused the prosecutor to feel more confident. Blagojevich will be retried, and most likely he will be found guilty on all counts.

Sam Adams, Jr., and later Rod Blagojevich, would try to put pressure on the government by speaking about the expense to reprosecute him. They claimed the prosecutor would spend $30 million in a second trial, and inferred this was a waste of taxpayers' dollars, especially at a time of needed fiscal restraint. Other legal experts were interviewed by news programs and were of the opinion this figure was greatly exaggerated. Furthermore, they stated it was an irrelevant figure because federal prosecutors get paid a flat rate and this money would be spent regardless. If Blagojevich was not being reprosecuted, another case would be. Thus the defense then attacked the federal prosecutor for not going after other criminals. Sam Adams, Jr. told the news media babies were being killed on the streets of Chicago and yet the federal government was going after his client whose only crime was talking too much.

After my trial, my father attempted to find out how much the county spent on my conviction through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The government refused to give him a figure and stated that although the amount could be ascertained by calculating all the bills, it was not a figure tallied by Cook County accountants. Almost all information collected by government offices can be procured through FOIA. However, the statute cannot be used to gain information that is not readily available or requires processing. Despite this, sources speculated more money was spent prosecuting me than the serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Legal analysts of news programs I watched stated that Rod Blagojevich's defense would most likely cost more than his reprosecution. It was estimated Sam Adams Sr. and Jr. were paid over $10 million dollars. The ex-governor has claimed to have no more money to finance his defense. However, even if this is true, I tend to believe a law firm will volunteer to represent him pro bono. Law firms gain tax write-offs for doing legal work for free. They also gain free publicity. I tend to believe the Adams' will not represent Rod Blagojevich again because not only will they not be paid, but the first trial will always be seen as a victory in prospective clients' minds. A second trial will be a losing proposition. Odds of rolling snake eyes again are minute. Though, Sam Adams Jr. did say he loved Rob Blagojevich.

I visited with my father while the deliberations were in their second week. My father has thought from the beginning the prosecutor's case was weak and the jury would not easily come to a decision. He has even gone so far to say he would not convict the ex-governor if he was on the jury. I inquired why, and he replied, as some others have to the news media, that Blagojevich spoke about committing a number of crimes, but ultimately he did not do them. The lone juror who refused to tender a guilty verdict also, apparently, did so based on this reasoning. The law is clear that many crimes, like the 23 counts Blagojevich was charged with, do not have to be completed. The are inchoate offenses. However, there is certainly a problem in the conscience of many Americans about being convicted of crimes only contemplated, but not committed. And I believe this is rightfully so.

America is supposed to be a land of freedom. But how free are we when we can be sent to prison for merely thinking about committing a crime? Just because a man or woman may consider, or talk about committing a crime, does not necessarily mean they will do so. Our freedom is substantially put at risk when laws are made to give power to the thought police. Who among us has never considered committing a crime? Who among us has never uttered a threat or desire to commit a crime? Who has never reconsidered an action after that contemplation? If society creates thought crimes, we may all be in prison.

I am reminded of a movie starring the actor Tom Cruise where psychics predicted crimes that were going to occur. Before the crime(s) actually occurred, police would arrest the potential offender. This person was given no trial, and was immediately put in prison. The rate of crime plummeted to virtually nothing. The police and public were under the illusion of a perfect, utopian society until one day the oracles predicted one of their own thought police would commit a murder. Tom Cruise, instead of turning himself in, ran. Ultimately he never killed anyone, and it was found the psychics were not infallible. Many people had gone to prison that would never have committed a crime.

The movie Minority Report was science fiction, but even in the real world, many police, prosecutors, judges and juries think they can see into the hearts of men and read their future. It leaves me to ponder the suppression of freedom and justice inchoate laws create. I also ponder how many men are in U.S. prisons, victims of wannabe psychics.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Prison I.D. -- August 10, 2010

Early this morning while I was eating breakfast, a guard announced over the loudspeaker that photo IDs were going to be updated today. If you heard your name, get ready to leave to the B of I (Bureau of Identification). I was watching the morning news, and I took my headphones off so I could hear if my name was called. The guard went on and on calling names. It seemed as if a fourth of the inmates in my cell house were being called. Eventually, I heard my name and cell number. I was not surprised. Photos are updated approximately every year, and it has been 11 months since my last photo was taken.

I finished my breakfast and casually started to get ready to leave. I did not think we would be let out until after head count cleared, and that is usually between 8:30 and 9 a.m. However, over the loudspeaker came a voice telling inmates going to the B of I to be on their doors. Apparently, the guards were going to try to have the B of I line sent out and returned before count cleared so it would not disrupt details or other movement. I had already dressed and put my property away. As my door was keyed open, I looked at one of my plastic mirrors and ran my hands down through my hair.

Other than your yearly mugshot, prisoners in maximum-security prisons in Illinois never have their photos taken. The last time photographs were permitted was in the 1990s. In the 1990s, prisoners could have photos taken during visits with a Polaroid camera. These were of poor quality, but inmates and their families now treasure them. I wish I would have had more taken because other than my yearly mugshot, my family has no photos of me and I have none of us together since the turn of the century.

Early in my incarceration, Polaroid photos could also be taken in the gym. All photos were taken by inmate L.T.S. (Leisure Time Services) workers. The charge for a Polaroid was $2, and prisoners paid it in coupons that used to be sold on commissary. Visitors could also buy these coupons and use them to buy photos or foods offered by the L.T.S. department. On visits, frozen pizzas and other snacks could be ordered that would be brought back to you like you were at a restaurant. This is no longer allowed, and now all food must be purchased from vending machines with a debit card. Microwave ovens are provided, and visitors must serve themselves and carry the food to the person they are visiting. Prisoners are not permitted to leave their seat except when greeting visitors and again when saying goodbye.

When I was at Pontiac CC in the mid-90s, ID cards were rarely used. Most of the time I kept my ID in a folder. I only recall bringing it with me when I went to the commissary. At the store, a prisoner had to prove who they were, so the purchases made were deducted off the correct account. At times, I heard of prisoners stealing another man's ID to buy merchandise off his account. This was rare, however, and most prisoners were just robbed after they shopped. Others were intimidated or extorted to give up their store. Other than at commissary, prisoners only had to show ID when they were being released. I was never going home, and never had to think about that.

While I was at Joliet CC in the late 90's, guards attempted to make prisoners carry their IDs with them wherever they went. Not many people listened to them, and we continued to keep our IDs in our cells, unless we were going to store. Once a guard wanted to write me a disciplinary ticket and demanded I give him my ID because he did not know who I was. When I told him I did not have my ID, he handcuffed me and brought me back to the cell house. At the cell house, the sergeant saw me and asked what was the problem. The guard said he wanted to write me up for some petty rule infraction, but I did not have my ID and he would not take my word for who I was. The sergeant told him to uncuff me and basically get a life. Despite this, administrators slowly forced inmates to keep their IDs on them, and IDs were required to eat, go on visits, and other things.

I did not like having to always keep my ID on me. It was an inconvenience. I recall times at the chow hall that I had forgotten it and I had to sneak around the machine that scanned the cards. A guard usually stood at that point to make sure you swiped your card, but he was often distracted and there were a lot of prisoners in line. At Joliet, the kitchen was run by a private catering company and they wanted to make sure no inmates were eating twice. They also wanted a tally of how many meals were served to be more efficient with the food they ordered. Prisoners continued to break their sensitive scanning machine, and eventually we did not need an ID to eat.

There was a time I left my ID in my jeans that were sent out to the laundry. The laundry would be returned in a day, but I was expecting a visit. I had to go to the B of I and prove who I was to get another ID card. It was not a big process and I doubt anyone questioned me. Who would want to say they were Paul Modrowski and had a natural life sentence? My picture was pulled up on the prison computer though to compare with my face, but I do not think the man scrutinized it much. The next day, I was given my laundry bag and still in my back pocket was my ID. However, now it was warped and shrunk. It reminded me of one of those Shrinky Dinks that kids made and their parents put in the oven. At Joliet CC, you never had to worry about your clothes coming back still wet or damp.

It was not until several years ago that Stateville guards began to vigorously enforce that ID cards had to be on inmates at all times. Guards would say you cannot drive without your drivers license and would sometimes not let you out the door of your cell without showing it. Usually, however, they stood at the exit of the building and you had to show your ID to leave. There have been a few times that I misplaced my I.D. Once I asked my neighbor for his ID to get out of the cell house. He was black, but the guards do not really look at the photo. I put my thumb over the face, just in case.

Inmates designated extreme escape risks are given a green colored ID. Many times, guards only looked at the color of your ID. Those inmates with green IDs must be kept track of and when they leave the cell house, guards call in their number. There are four different colored ID's: white, blue, red, and green. White is the lowest escape risk, blue is moderate, and red is high. When I first came to prison, I had a red ID, but after a few years, it was reduced to blue and then white. About ten years ago, an administrative policy mandated that all prisoners with more than 30 years must have a blue ID, and thus I now have a blue one and am classified a moderate escape risk.

Now the inmates considered to be extreme escape risks must also wear green striped pants and a blue shirt with green patches at the shoulders. When these inmates order a jacket, they must be given one with green stripes down the sleeves. The stripes are slightly fluorescent so even in the dark they can be spotted easily. If these inmates fail to wear their special identifying clothing, they can be put in Segregation. Many of the men that are classified extreme escape risks are really not. The more men a prison classifies this way, the more money they are allotted from the Illinois Dept. of Corrections. Fortunately, a few years ago, Springfield administrators realized the poor and sometimes fraudulent system, and forced Stateville and other maximum-security institutions to reduce the number. Now it is not as bad, but the number probably still could be cut in half.

Those men with green IDs have their photos more carefully scrutinized. If they change their appearance, they are given a new photo. While most only get an update once a year, extreme escape risks can get updates several times a year. A man on my gallery with a blue ID shaved the sides of his head and gave himself a Mohawk, but no one said a word to him about getting a new ID. However, if a man with a green ID grows a mustache, he will be told to update his photo.

Last year, inmate IDs were fitted with clips so they could be attached to our clothing. At first, inmates were under the illusion it was voluntary. However, after a month or two, it became mandatory. All inmates when out of their cells must attach their ID cards to the left collar of their blue shirts. When going to yard, IDs must be attached to our T-shirts or sweaters so they are clearly visible. Once out on the yard, however, we can put them away, and I always do. The IDs have become a nuisance and I dislike the lack of anonymity.

Illegal immigration has been a subject in the news, and various ideas have come forward to combat the invasion of the U.S. borders. Along with securing the borders, I think a national ID card would be a good idea. Although I do not much like the use in prison, if the United States developed an ID card with encoded biometric information that could not be fraudulently used or replicated, it would be well worth any decrease in privacy. This ID could prevent illegal aliens from gaining many social services, jobs, or housing. It would also aid police and ICE in determining the legal residence or citizenship of detainees. Having a national ID card, unlike in prison, could become a source of pride if citizenship was not just granted on anyone born within our borders, and if the status of citizenship was elevated to having unique rights, powers, and freedoms.

Last week an immature and unintelligent man repeatedly spoke to various lieutenants about getting him a new ID clip. To each lieutenant he would claim his clip had broken. This man eventually tricked about 5 of them to go out of their way to get him a new clip. Typically, an inmate would not bother a lieutenant about such a matter and would approach a cell house guard or sergeant, but these lieutenants happened to be on the walk or chow hall and are easily accessible. If they see an inmate holding his ID rather than having it clipped to his shirt, they will possibly inquire and then get you a new clip if it has broken. However, this man played the trick once too often, and a lieutenant who had just given him a new clip saw him holding his ID a few days later. The lieutenant asked him about the one he had just given him, and the man said he accidentally stepped on it and needed another one. Later that evening, the lieutenant came to the cell house to give him yet another clip when he ran into the cell house lieutenant who also had given him one. Both lieutenants then came to his cell and searched it. They found a number of ID clips, and were very mad. I could only hear some of their words, even though they were yelling, because of the drone of the B-17 bomber fan being not far away. However, I did hear them threaten him with Seg. Afterwards, I asked the cell house lieutenant, whom I occasionally talk to about politics, if there was any trouble. He seemed to be annoyed, but he said everything was fine and the incident on the gallery was not worthy of speaking about.

After gate 5 is a hallway that has holding cages for prisoners going on visits, court writs, or being paroled. There are also several offices. The one at the end was the office for the B of I. So many inmates had been brought over from B House that this hallway was filled. It was crowded and noisy, but eventually I got into line to get my photo taken. I was somewhat concerned about taking a decent photo because it will be the only picture friends or family have of you. However, I have given up trying to take a good mugshot. No matter how I try, these photos never look flattering.

Last year I had time to shave and comb my hair. I even put some gel in my hair, but we were on lockdown at the time and placed in handcuffs behind our backs. While waiting outside for the line to catch up, large gusts of wind tossed my hair about. There was nothing I could do about it, though, being restrained behind the back. Not only was my hair spiked to one side, but I was caught looking down when my mugshot was taken. I knew that photo would not be going in my family's photo album.

This year I knew better than to attempt to take a nice picture, and I was correct. About five minutes after the shot was taken, a guard handed me my new ID card. The color of my complexion was the same as Bart Simpson's. A few inmates around me joked that I looked like I had jaundice. A few speculated that the camera man may have changed the hue to bring out the features of dark complexions, and when a pale, white person was photographed, it made his skin color look yellow.

All Illinois prisoners' mugshots can be seen on the Internet. The site not only shows inmate's photos, but also lists the crime(s) they were convicted of, previous convictions, and sentence information. Also, listed are general physical descriptions like height, weight, hair and eye color. Date of birth and even all of an inmate's tattoos are listed. Only photographs and release dates are updated into the system and the information can often be old or incorrect. On my page, I am described as having strawberry-blond hair, green eyes, and 6'1" in height. Although my hair color was dark blond some 17 years ago, it was never strawberry blond. My eyes are blue, and I am 6'2". My weight fluctuates depending on how much food I am given, or can purchase. I have lost between 20 to 40 pounds when in Seg., depending on how long I am in there, but I believe the IDOC website is about accurate in regards to my current weight.

It is somewhat depressing to look at your prison mugshot year after year. There are no good memories being preserved, just time. I imagine that if I put all my prison photos together and flipped through them quickly, it would show a man quickly aging. It would be a time elapsed video or flipbook of a person from the prime of their life going toward the end of it. In my photos I can notice the lines in my face growing deeper, and my hair receding and thinning. I notice that my nose has become longer and my face has become more gaunt. The intensity of my eyes has faded along with other various attributes of youth. It is no wonder why some say I have the demeanor of Lurch, the butler from the Addams Family. Every year, I resemble him more and more. I wonder what my final prison photo will be. Will it be a lifeless skeleton face, or an old man's face with no future that a sympathetic governor has finally decided to release? Either way, it will not be a happy picture. Some argue that natural life sentences are more humane than the death penalty. However, they have not lived it. Natural life without the possibility of parole is just a protracted death sentence.

Black Stones Raided -- August 2, 2010

Yesterday at 4 or 5 a.m. I was awakened by prisoners yelling, "I.A. in the cell house." I.A. is the prison's Internal Affairs Unit, and they are often causing trouble for inmates. Their appearance usually means they are about to search a person's cell, grab them for interrogation, or send an inmate to Segregation. Unlike the guards that work in the cell houses and often have things to do other than harass prisoners, I.A. typically does nothing but this. Internal Affairs' job is to investigate inmates and guards alike, but mostly the former. They can be a force to root out serious threats to the safety and security of the institution. However, they are usually preoccupied with petty matters.

Although I heard the warning that I.A. was in the building, I did not concern myself with it and fell back asleep. If I.A. was coming to harass me, they would have to wake me up. I was not going to stay up and worry about it. There was nothing I could do, nor was there any contraband in my cell. I was not involved in any mischief and although a snitch could fabricate a story about anyone, I cannot prevent it and must deal with it when confronted. I did not care to concern myself with any drama in the prison. Prison is something I want to think less about, particularly when dreams away from this miserable place await me.

About 7:30 a.m., I woke up and took a look in my breakfast tray. Inside was a scoop of scalloped potatoes and, to my surprise, a good-sized blueberry muffin. These potatoes I planned to put in my toilet, but I was looking forward to eating this muffin. However, it would not be enough to satisfy my hunger. This morning my gallery was scheduled to go to the gym, and I wanted to have a good meal before working out. I decided to make some instant oatmeal to go with it along with some peanut butter and mixed nuts. In order to make the oatmeal, I had to heat up some water in an improvised fashion and I would have to wait until my cellmate was done using the sink.

My cellmate not only spends an hour on the toilet, but about two hours getting ready to leave the cell. I have never seen someone take so much time to start the day, not even a girl. My cellmate has no hair, and does not wear make-up, but he will wash his face and bald head twice. He will brush his teeth two or three times in succession, flossing in between rounds. He will also stare in the mirror for a long period of time looking at his image. Fortunately I have a plastic mirror that will not break. Then he will spend a considerable amount of time cleaning the area he just slopped up in the back of the cell. During this time, he will also piss a few times due to the enormous amount of water and coffee he drank. This, of course, mandates that he vigorously scrub his hands each time. I think he is obsessive-compulsive. I attempted not to get angry waiting for him to go through his rituals and made my bed and did other things while waiting. I would not be so bothered by the delay, but I do not have a microwave or stove to bring water to a boil. It takes some time and even instant oatmeal takes ten minutes to cook. Gym line is always first to leave, and I did not want to miss it.

Eventually, my cellmate finished and I set about making my oatmeal. For a brief moment I thought about how I.A. would not approve of my contraption for heating water. However, they will never have me eating raw, uncooked oats or other meals. My cellmate had moved to the other side of the cell and was sitting at the desk by the bars. It is often difficult living in a closet-like space with another person. Regularly, a prisoner must be trading places and adjusting to accommodate a cellmate, or not feel encroached upon or claustrophobic. I have had the same cellie for a year and we are usually in sync. Today he was delayed.

While in the back of the cell, I asked him if he had heard or seen anything pertaining to Internal Affairs. He said he heard the shouts of inmates and then the opening of doors. He was on the toilet at the time, and said he was worried they would pass by or come to our cell and disrupt him. Sometimes I think most of my cellmate's concerns revolve around his bowel movements. Early in the morning is the most quiet time in this cell house, and my cellmate mentioned he thought he heard property boxes being moved about and concluded they were searching some cells and/ or testing people for drugs.

About 8 a.m., the recreation lines were announced over the loudspeaker. The bottom two galleries were going to gym and we were told to get ready to go, with our cells in compliance. A cell "in compliance" is one where all your property, minus a few items like a bar of soap or towel, is in your property boxes. When an inmate leaves his cell he is to have his property put away and we are often reminded to do so in the morning before details, chow, or recreation lines are run. Cell compliance was yet another reason I had to wait on my cellmate. It always takes him some time to stuff all his belongings in his box.

Not long after the recreation announcement, I heard an inmate yell out, "Orange Crush on 6 gallery," and then a moment later, "Orange Crush on 8 gallery." This was odd because when the Orange Crush team comes through, the entire cell house knows it. They come in great mass, yelling, and making a great commotion. I have not recalled a time when the tactical squad came in the cell house quietly, or with any stealth. Kind of difficult to be unnoticed or unheard in a bright orange jump suit, helmet, shield, baton, cumbersome body armor and combat boots. My cellmate looked out the cell bars with a mirror and he did not see anything. Minutes later, the cellhouse loudspeaker announced, "Two and four gallery--on your doors for gym."

When I walked out of my cell, I looked up at the upper galleries. There was indeed orange crush in the cell house. However, there was only a handful of them. I saw two walking casually on six gallery, and three on eight. I thought possibly they were conducting an extraction. An extraction is when someone refuses to come out of their cell, or refuses to let guards handcuff them from the cell bars. However, even an extraction would typically be done with more men, and they would not be walking casually. Furthermore, we would never have been let out of our cells for gym if an extraction was taking place. It was very odd, but I did not dwell on it. The gym line was going out the door.

At the gym, no one knew precisely what was happening in the cell house. I went to a man who I typically go to for information. He is a very social person and pays attention to all the prison gossip and news. All he knew was that I.A. had rounded up some people and their cells were being searched. He did not know the purpose of the Orange Crush. An hour into our time in the gym, a gym worker came to work out with me. I mentioned the Orange Crush being in my cell house. He informed me I.A. and a few men in tactical gear were in his cell house as well. He said they were targeting the Black Stones.

The Black Stones is a large gang in Chicago and in the Illinois' prison system. The Stones have been around since the 1960s and are a semi-racist, militant black gang. They have an Islamic charter although sometimes the religion is used as a front, and many look up to black leaders such as Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X. During their early formation on the south side of Chicago, it is said the Black Panthers were an influence. You can recognize Black Stones from their crescent moon and five-pointed star tattoos. I have been in battle against the Stones at the county jail and the early years of my imprisonment. In Stateville Segregation many years ago, a Stone attempted to stab me with a crudely made knife. However, despite these incidents, I do not see them as my enemy and I have been able to get along with some of their gang members. Furthermore, although I am white, I can respect their racial pride and some of their other values.

When I returned from the gym I looked up at the upper galleries of the cell house. Even with my back against the outer wall, I can not see all levels. However, on the first three, there were no guards dressed in orange jumpsuits and tactical gear. I noticed a couple of cells were empty and I assumed those occupants were taken to Seg. Operations in the cell house appeared normal.

It was a muggy 91-degree day and inside the gym the conditions were worse. There are no fans and although there are windows high up on one wall, they are always kept closed. My clothes were wet with sweat and I was eager to undress and wash up. As I was filling my sink with hot water, I noticed a brown smear on the wall next to the toilet. I took a floor rag and attempted to wipe it off. It was dry, but some of it came off on my rag. As I suspected, it was shit. My cellmate must have been so rattled by I.A. in the cell house that he somehow shit on the wall. I do not know how that is possible, but he did not do this intentionally. I have heard of people being so scared they shit on themselves, but I have not heard of anyone missing the toilet. Initially, I felt like leaving the excrement on the wall so I could put my cellmate's face to it when he returned, and scold him like you would a dog. However, I know my cellmate has bowel problems, so I just scrubbed it off the wall and continued about my day. I told my cell mate about the matter when he came back from the barbershop. He was embarrassed and apologized repeatedly. I was tempted to demean him, but I did not need him to be even more preoccupied and anxious about using the toilet.

I was going to go out for dinner to try to learn more about what happened today. It seems at times I must be an investigative journalist to have subject matter for my blog. However, chow was not run till late and I did not want to miss the season finale to the TV program "The Bachelorette." Today, the girl chose between the two remaining men. I had been watching the program since the beginning and did not want to miss the conclusion. At times I have mentioned to a few prisoners that I watch reality dating programs. They are astonished, and initially do not believe me. Last week, when I told Hawkeye that I was going to watch the Bachelorette show, he thought I was pulling his leg. I suppose I do not come across as a man who would be interested in such programming. Although I may have a stoic demeanor, I greatly miss the romance that has been absent in my life for a long time.

I ended up only watching part of the finale. After she dumped the man I was hoping she would chose, I changed the station. I was disgusted by her choice and thought they were the least compatible. For the last several programs, I would have been content if she chose any of the remaining men, other than that one. Personally, I was hoping the bachelor from the last program who broke up with the girl he picked in the final rose ceremony would make a surprising proposal in this show. After all, this bachelorette was chosen from the final four women in last season's show, but left because ostensibly she was going to lose her job. Personally, I think she was scared and wanted the bachelor to make a decision before the final rose was given out. These dating shows almost always disappoint me, and I am not surprised their relationships usually fail quickly.

Today I went to the law library and had some movement to discern what occurred in the prison yesterday. From a few sources, I was told I.A. received information on the Black Stones gang that concerned them, including meetings at these Islamic religious services. A number of them were interrogated and/or transferred out of the institution to Tamms or Pontiac. A few were put in Stateville's Seg unit. As a precaution, some guards were suited up in orange crush jumpsuits and tactical gear just in case the Stones gave any resistance. None to my knowledge did, and Internal Affairs probably acted early in the morning to catch them in their sleep and give them the advantage of surprise. I am not aware of what type of disciplinary tickets were written, or if any were written at all. They could merely be transferred on a suspicion and be placed on investigative status.

All gangs are considered by Internal Affairs as "security threat groups" or STGs. I.A. is often collecting intelligence on gangs and attempting to suppress their activities. In the late 1990s, the prisons were taken control of largely by breaking up and disrupting gang organizations. Many gang leaders were sent to the newly opened Tamms Supermax and Pontiac, which was converted into a segregation prison. A tight grip of oppressive control is now maintained by not only strict rules, but an extreme gang vigilance. I.A. will often act in overwhelming force or precipitously toward gang organizations.