You are reading a rare, detailed account of everyday life in Stateville Prison.

Click to read Paul's blog quoted on:
To contact Paul, please email: paulmodrowski@gmail.com
or write him at the address shown in the right column. He will get your message personally.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Punxatawny Phil, the Gubernatorial Elections, and "Lost" -- Feb. 2, 2010

I woke up this morning to turn on my TV and watch Punxatawny Phil make his traditional extended weather forecast. Punxatawny Phil is the groundhog who is ceremoniously pulled out from his home every year on February 2nd in a small Pennsylvanian town to see if he sees his shadow. The groundhog did not look happy to be awakened from his sleep and cheered by a hundred townsfolk and media this year. Not surprisingly, the host of the event announced there would be 6 more weeks of winter. It was a cloudy day, and I don't know how the groundhog could have seen a shadow of any sort. The tradition is goofy, and there is only a semblance of logic when waking a groundhog from hibernation to see if he stays awake, or crawls back into his hole to sleep as a predictor of winter. However, I have begun to follow the tradition after watching the movie "Groundhog Day."

"Groundhog Day" is more than just an amusing movie for me--it often reminds me of my own life. For those who have not seen the movie, comedian Bill Murray plays a character who must relive Groundhog Day time after time, indefinite. Everything remains the same in the life of Bill Murray regardless of how the night before ended. He awakes in the same hotel bed, to the same radio alarm clock, in the same small town he hates, on February 2nd. Likewise, I live practically the same life over and over, yet my environment is not nearly as pleasant as the town of Punxatawny, despite how Bill Murray may loathe it.

There is a progression in Bill Murray's attitude in the movie. At first, he is bewildered or shocked. How the hell does he continue to live the same day, over and over again? How can this be? Then there is a period of amusement in knowing what will happen before it occurs, but this quickly changes to frustration, and an intense hatred of his life. Murray tried everything he can to alter February 2nd from being repeated. He never liked this town or the people in it from the beginning, but now he despises it, them, and his life. In a desperate attempt to escape from what has become a hell-like existence, he even commits suicide, only to reawaken to the same alarm clock, in the same hotel bed. He kills himself in all sorts of ways, even finally kidnapping Punxatawny Phil, stealing a pickup truck, and followed by all the town's police, he drives straight off a cliff. After a bout of depression, Murray accepts his predicament and attempts to make the best of his life. He reads books, learns to play the piano, befriends the people of Punxatawny, and learns everything about the town and its inhabitants. He also learns, by repeated trial and error, to seduce every good looking woman in the town within 24 hours, every woman except one, at least until the end of the movie.

Since my arrest, I have gone through a similar progression. Initially, I was stunned, and could not believe I was under suspicion in numerous murders. How could I be in jail facing the death penalty for a crime, or crimes, that I did not have anything to do with? I never believed the justice system in the U.S. worked well, but still I was shocked. I watched some of the enormous and incredulous media coverage which seemed intent on demonizing me, and making me public enemy #1. Sometimes I was a little amused by such media attention, and also when inmates at the Cook County Jail would shout and point at me, and ask me for an autograph. Some tried to attack me, but that was not so entertaining, especially when a mob of black inmates attempted to beat me to death in a bull pen. The media coverage and notoriety quickly lost its novelty, and I grew to intensely despise the news media and its tireless negative and slanderous coverage.

Life at the county jail gave me an idea of what the rest of my life would be like after my lawyer failed to contest the prosecutor's theory of accountability at my trial. Like Bill Murray, I tried killing myself in various novel ways. I threw myself into a rival gang war where people were being stabbed and bludgeoned. I fought with both gangs, but unfortunately, only suffered minor scrapes and bruises. I attempted making cyanide from thousands of apple seeds which contain trace amounts of the poison. People probably thought I was odd collecting hundreds of apple cores over a few days time. In my cell, I boiled the seeds and removed the water. I put the concentrate in a mug of hot tea. I drank it that night, thinking I would die a painful but quick death. However, the tea tasted good, and I fell asleep only to awaken to another day in captivity. I hate my life--it is a never-ending series of oppression, mental anguish, and untold misery. It reminds me of Dante's Inferno, and in prison I am tormented with everything I dislike and hate. Despite my misery, I have attempted to adapt and make the best of my circumstances.

I lifted weights almost every day for hours until I was 220 pounds of lean muscle, and could have competed nationally in body building competitions. I made the power lifting team and out-lifted competitors who abused anabolic steroids. I read hundreds of books, and educated myself like Benjamin Franklin. At Joliet CC, I was in the last college class to graduate in a maximum security prison. I graduated with a perfect 4.0 grade point average, and was class valedictorian. Similar to Bill Murray, I tried romancing every good looking woman I became acquainted with through writing letters. Initially, I was not very successful finding women who were interested in a prisoner with a natural life sentence. However, after trial and error, I was writing many women from all over the world. I found a very special woman, and like Bill Murray, I spent a great deal of time getting to know her and bonding, despite the difficulties of having a relationship from prison. I gave this woman a ring, and hoped my fortunes would change. However, happy endings only exist in the movies, and despite all my struggles to succeed in life, I am ultimately left with the same miserable, meaningless existence I began with, except now I am older, and more bitter.

After watching Punxatawny Phil, I changed stations to find the local news. Today was not only Groundhog Day, but Election Day for the people of Illinois. Numerous local referendums and elections were being held, including a few statewide primaries such as the open senate seat left by President Barack Obama. The most important of these elections, however, was the gubernatorial primary. The incumbent, Pat Quinn, was running against Dan Hynes, Illinois' current comptroller, in the Democratic primary. The Republican primary had a wide field of candidates, including Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, current state congressmen, Jim Ryan, a former prosecutor and Attorney General, and my most preferred candidate for governor, Andy McKenna.

I am usually very knowledgeable about politics, politicians, and candidates running for office. However, for these primaries, I did not have the thorough understanding I typically do. Since having my property confiscated and receiving a disciplinary ticket, I have been absorbed in defending myself, and procuring my property back. I have the tendency of going through intense obsessions where much of my life and other interests fade into the background if not into oblivion. Furthermore, I have had a number of distractions in my life, such as the Orange Crush raid, that have broken my regular routines. Finally, even when I found some time, I have found it difficult to get news about the candidates.

Before today's election, I watched several gubernatorial debates. I would have watched all of them, but I found they were not all televised. Incredible how the most important office in the state was not televising all the candidates' debates. I turned on my TV at 7 p.m. sharp to watch a debate, only to find out that it was not going to be aired until midnight because they did not want to interrupt prime time television programs. Absurd. How does a show like "The Simpsons" have priority over a governor debate? I thought I could find information on local news stations about the candidates. However, they were not reporting on the subject until the week of the election, and then only reported on the politicians' controversial TV advertisements. I would have turned to a local newspaper, but I do not have a subscription to one of these, and the few Chicago Tribunes I did get my hands on were short of information. Possibly in this millennium, concerned voters must turn to the Internet. The lack of information available to voters makes me question the system of democracy all the more, particularly a universal democracy where even the most stupid, uneducated, and unpatriotic person can vote.

A few years ago, many prisoners were paying attention to the presidential race. Barack Obama was strongly supported by prisoners, particularly the black inmates. Regularly in the chow lines and in the cell house, the talk was about Obama this and Obama that. When Obama was proclaimed the winner, the prison went berserk. Black inmates were screaming out of their cell bars, banging things on their cell bars, and throwing all types of garbage onto the galleries, like confetti. After the election, I heard black guards and one lieutenant yelling "Obama!" and giving the black power fist salute to the jubilance of the black inmates. I could understand how blacks could feel a victory when this country once enslaved Africans, and they had no rights. The U.S. has radically been altered from its roots. What I could not understand, however, was how many black inmates had a perception that when Obama was in office, they would be freed, or that massive changes would occur in the Department of Corrections in Illinois. These inmates were disillusioned, and nothing would change for them immediately after the election, or four, or eight years into Obama's presidency. They failed to understand that the President has no influence over the states' prison systems. If Obama had run for governor of Illinois, then I could understand a belief in great changes to come. It is the Governor, the Chief Executive Officer of the state, who has the absolute authority over IDOC. Despite this fact, there was not a peep from anyone about the gubernatorial primary elections.

I follow all important elections, and not just the ones that may affect me. However, in the governor's race, I am particularly interested in a candidate's policies in regard to the criminal justice system, sentencing laws, and the Department of Corrections. In the Democratic primary, I could not fail to notice Dan Hynes' numerous attack ads criticizing Pat Quinn for an early release program. A couple of months ago, the mass media was sensationalizing a few crimes committed by people who were released early, and Dan Hynes was attempting to capitalize on this reporting which heavily blamed the governor. This made my preference in the Democratic primary easier.

Although the early release program was far from ideal, it certainly was not deserving of criticism. Furthermore, any candidate whose vast preponderance of time was spent attacking the governor for this reason was not only playing politics, but most likely represented his own policy, or would be boxed in by it. Illinois has an enormous budgetary crisis. It also has an excessive prison population, with a wasteful and over-bloated Department of Corrections, which is siphoning off funds from other far more important state spending and programs. Even if I were not a prisoner, I would strongly support funding cuts to the Illinois prison system and release of prisoners. Apparently, Hynes and I do not see eye to eye on this issue.

The early release program only released prisoners a month early. It is absurd to believe that had these inmates served an extra month that they would have had any less propensity to commit crimes or violate their parole. In fact, I looked at the numbers, and only a few people, out of over 500, committed new crimes. The rest had violated their rules of parole. Both these numbers were consistent, or better than average, recidivism rates. However, one of the few crimes which occurred happened to be the brutal and senseless beating of a couple who became fodder for a news media seeking higher ratings. The governor, fearful of losing his office, quickly ended the early release program.

The best solution to Illinois' budgetary problems and enormous prison industrial complex, is comprehensive sentencing reform, and large cuts to IDOC. It is not only shown in study after study, but by my own observations--prisoners who have been incarcerated long periods of time are less likely to commit more crimes than those who are only in prison a few years. The cause of this is multifold. People released after a decade or two are older, more mature, less willing to risk returning to prison, have a greater appreciation of freedom, and have possibly educated themselves. Furthermore, those who have served 15 or 20 years are most likely in prison for a murder, and although murder is considered the most serious offense, murderers are most likely never to kill another person, unlike a drug user, pedophile, or career criminal. Unfortunately, comprehensive sentencing reform requires the state legislature to create and pass bills that may meet the resistance of constituents who are uneducated and emotional. Contrarily, a governor can act unilaterally to grant good time credits to prisoners who are able to earn them.

For the Republican nominee, I supported Andy McKenna, even though I was disappointed that he did not attend debates. Andy McKenna, who was leading in the polls, apparently thought he was too good to spar with the other candidates. His campaign manager probably made this decision, but nevertheless, I thought it was smug of him to rely almost entirely on his TV ads, and not reach out to the people in a more informative fashion. Because he did not come to the debates, I had to judge him by the discussions of political commentators and indirect news, but mostly by the groups who supported him. The Tea Party activists endorsed McKenna, and this made a large impact on me. My political views are very closely aligned with this movement, and although I do not like to rely on endorsements, lacking other information, I did as well.

My decision came not only from the Tea Party activists, but for several other reasons as well. From news reports, McKenna was absolutely opposed to new taxes or borrowing, and promised to slash state spending by close to 20 billion dollars. Most of his Republican challengers were against higher taxes and borrowing, however, none were so strongly committed to slashing state spending. Even Bill Brady's plan to have a 10% across the board cut on every department did not match McKenna's goals. The federal, state, and local governments have, for far too long, overspent, overtaxed, and increased big brother government, at the expense of the self-made man. I also liked the fact that McKenna was a successful businessman, and was using his own money to run his campaign. Once in power, he would not be obligated to special interests, and could act independently. McKenna also was not a party insider, and although this lack of experience may be detrimental in a state whose behind the scenes politicking was what made the wheels turn, I thought it was more important that Illinois' government had refreshing new leaders.

One person I knew I did not want to win was Jim Ryan. Jim Ryan was formerly the States Attorney of DuPage County. He repeatedly retried an innocent man during his time in office, despite the shoddy and contradictory evidence of his guilt, which eventually exonerated him in the Appellate Courts. I have met other people who have been prosecuted by Ryan, and although they were guilty, the prosecutor acted illegally, and grossly improper. I know, if not these men, other innocent people have been convicted. The States Attorney's office of Jim Ryan often acted above the law, and with great malfeasance. During a debate, I was impressed by how he answered the question of whether he supported the death penalty. Most of the Republican candidates quickly said "yes," but Jim Ryan responded: only after more improvements were made to the justice system and the scope of death eligibility was drastically narrowed. I wholeheartedly agree, but I doubt Ryan was sincere, and I must judge a man by his deeds, and not his words.

After watching an hour's worth of local news by jumping from channel to channel to get all the latest election coverage, I began my day. Unfortunately, I did not make the law library list again. It has been over two months since I have been permitted to go, and I have been delayed in my legal research. As well as filing a new clemency petition, I am working on filing a successive post conviction petition. I need access to the books in the law library in order to cite relevant case law to the district court in support of my issues. It is a time consuming practice of reading numerous cases and finding case law that is applicable. Although I have a lawyer now, she seems to be sitting on my case. In any event, I will no longer trust a lawyer to do all my legal work. I also need copies made for the grievance I typed pertaining to the confiscation of my property, disciplinary report, and the improper hearing I received. Prisoners can only make copies at the law library, and because Internal Affairs confiscated my carbon paper along with the vast majority of my property, I had no way to duplicate my grievance except by retyping it several times. I have been doing this for a number of other papers I have written recently, not only consuming numerous days of my life, but even to my mental and physical exhaustion. The documents I have been retyping are many pages long, and I cannot type fast. I refuse to do any more retyping now that we are off lockdown, and I gave my 6-page grievance to a person who was on the law library list to copy for me. I told him I would give him payment in the form of commissary for the cost of the copies, but he refused. I was glad later in the the day when he returned with four copies of my grievance. This saved me an incredible amount of time. Keeping a copy for myself, I will send out these grievances to the Grievance Officer, my lawyer, and my parents. Finally, I will finish this phase of my life and I can go on to other matters.

I finished my objectives for the day in time to watch the two hour season premier of "Lost." For those who are not familiar with the ABC program, "Lost" is about a group of people who survived a plane crash in the South Pacific. They have been living on a paranormal island with many secrets. Initially, I thought the survivors were actually dead because of the strange and unexplained phenomena, but this turned out to not be true. "Lost" has been running for 5 seasons, and I have rarely missed an episode. The show is an enjoyable distraction from my often miserable prison life.

My favorite character on the program is Sawyer, because his personality is such that I can most readily identify with him. However, there was another character, John, who has always been distinguished from the rest of the cast, and for that reason, I can also identify with him. John, unlike the other survivors of the crash, never wanted to leave the island or be rescued. He has been more than content to be "lost," and has, in fact, sabotaged attempts for rescue. John was a paraplegic before he crashed on the island. The island miraculously allowed him to walk, and restored purpose and meaning to his life. What I would not give to have purpose and meaning to my life. What I would not give to be away from this hell-like place and be lost on an island in the middle of nowhere.

Hundreds of years ago, Britain gave many of its prisoners a choice of rotting in the confines of an oppressive prison, or beng sent abroad to one of the Empire's many uncivilized global outposts to fend for themselves. The purpose was to remove criminals from British society, expand the borders of the Empire, and make these people do all the hard work of creating a settlement which could later be expanded. Australia was, in fact, first settled by British convicts. If I had been in one of those prisons, I would be the first to volunteer. Given a choice between Stateville and the farthest, most formidable wilderness, I would choose the latter without hesitation. I would even volunteer to live on Mars rather than in a prison.

In the season premier of "Lost," two alternate realities are depicted. One follows the cast as if nothing were changed and the airplane crashed, stranding them on the island. The other script follows the cast as if the plane never went down and the passengers arrived safely on their trans-Pacific flight to Los Angeles. The alternative scripts are intriguing, and I have often wondered what would have happened to myself had I never moved in with the Faracis. Or what if I had been arrested, but upon my interrogating detectives ignoring my demands to see a lawyer I attacked them, or began screaming so that later they could not fabricate a story? Or what if I had gone to trial but refused to go along with my lawyer's strategy not to put on a defense? What if my lawyer contested the testimony of one of the interrogating officers, and did not simply argue that his testimony was true but did not make me accountable for my co-defendant? Or what if I had refused to allow my parents to fire my Public Defenders and replace them with the inexperienced criminal lawyers from Jenner & Block? These alternative scenarios have been a source of many daydreams for me. I wonder if right now there is a Paul Modrowski in an alternative universe who has not had the last 17 years of his life torn from him.

Throughout the show "Lost," ABC was giving updates to the elections. At commercials, I was also switching channels to FOX or WGN news to catch the latest tally of votes. I was rooting strongly for McKenna and Quinn. It was a tight race in both primaries. Quinn, who was leading by 5% initially, slowly lost his lead as the evening progressed and the downstate votes were tallied. McKenna, Dillard, and surprisingly, Brady, were in a 3-way race for the Republican ticket. I knew even less about Brady than I know about McKenna. For the most part, all I knew was that he was a conservative Republican in the state congress from Bloomington who was rather assertive in debates and always wore a fake smile whenever he was televised. Dillard was also a state legislator, and was considered one of the most moderate of the Republican field. He was endorsed by former Illinois' Governor Jim Edgar, who signed into legislation cruel and absurdly harsh sentencing laws during the 1990s. A number of prisons were also built during Jim Edgar's reign. This did not mean Dillard also supported such legislation, but I knew his election would mean basically the status quo, and not the change Illinois needs, especially in regard to fiscal discipline.

After "lost," I turned my full attention to the elections. Governor Quinn was leading by only several thousand votes. Bill Brady was leading Kirk Dillard by only five hundred and Andy McKenna was in third, about five thousand votes behind. The Republican primary winner for Barack Obama's former senate seat was unfortunately Mark Steven Kirk. I was hoping his more conservative opponent would pull an upset, but I knew it was a long shot. It is close to midnight as I write this journal entry, and before I began writing, I realized the gubernatorial winners will not be known tonight. Some reporters speculated a recount in the Republican race. I hope Brady or McKenna come out on top. People with autism are known to dislike change. However, when it comes to my miserable repetitive existence and the state of affairs in Illinois, change is something I greatly look forward to, and not the change offered by the socialist, big government supporter, Barack Obama. Hopefully, soon, Groundhog Day will be just a bad memory.