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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.


  1. Interesting post. Perhaps Paul learned some tips from these survivor-type shows that are helping him survive in the Segregation Unit of F House!

  2. A related post is "Mission Impossible." That one goes right to the topic of being clever to survive.

  3. Your thoughts on prison romances are interesting, especially regarding whether or not chemistry could be present post-release. Are you surprised that Damien Echols (of the West Memphis 3) and Lorri Davis are still together? She met him during his incarceration, they did have 'contact visits' but nothing conjugal, so the bulk of their physical intimacy in person was quite new upon his release in 2011. Just curious on your opinions regarding their relationship; she isn't overweight or otherwise bad looking, some people have theorized Lorri Davis was/is seeking attention. Due to the immense amount of effort she put into his release (even before a lot of the big name stars like Eddie Vedder & such became involved), I wonder if her zeal stemmed from the belief in his innocence & that no innocent man should sit in prison or on death row.

    1. I am not surprised Echols and Davis continue to be a couple. The most difficult part of forming a relationship is overcoming the obstacles in prison. For those who are able to make a deep connection despite the divide are at an advantage when they can enjoy their freedom together. However, although I have never experienced it, I realize the dynamics of a relationship will radically change. If an unrealistic fantasy was created, it will be shattered. Both people must not only be passionate about each other but honest and realistic.

    2. Damien passed thru Chicago this summer and made some appearances promoting his new book. He and Lorri looked fit and well.

  4. "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"

    In return, what would you expect from the woman?

    1. For me there is no quid pro quo, and I act and feel the way I do naturally. Conversely, I seek out women who have intrinsic characteristics and values that I find appealing. Chemistry is very important in a relationship.


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