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Friday, March 5, 2010

The Insane Asylum -- February 12, 2010

As I sit here at a steel table near my bars, I endure the noise created by 300 prisoners in this cell house. I usually wear my headphones, or I put earplugs into my ears. The noise can severely agitate or disturb me. It is a continuous barrage of noise, which except for a few hours in the early morning hours, is never ending. Various radios and televisions can be heard, but mostly it is numerous prisoners yelling, talking loudly to be heard over long distances, banging or rattling of bars, chess board numbers being hollered out, or the occasional nutcase talking to himself at his cell bars. Typically, I tell people that the five story big house at Stateville is like the monkey house at any large zoo, but there are a number of insane, or mentally ill people here, and possibly an 18th century insane asylum is a more accurate description.

Since the beginning of this day, a black man celled a few levels above me has been at his bars yelling in a rambling fashion. He is not speaking to anyone in particular, and what he says does not make much sense. His words are vulgar rantings, and can be heard throughout most of the cell house, except when the noise of the other prisoners drowns him out. This man has not just chosen today to rant for hours incessantly--he does this every day. I have never met this person, but I assume he is a disheveled younger or middle aged man who is schizophrenic. I am told by others that although he talks nonsense to himself, or to anyone who will listen, he does not look mentally disturbed.

When I do not have my headphones on, I will still try not to listen to the nutcase above me. However, for purposes of this journal entry, I listened and will attempt to write down his words. (Ed note: Don't finish reading this paragraph if vulgarity offends you.) The following are his words spoken just minutes ago: "They put a flashlight between your ass. Those niggers with gold and bling driving Cadillacs in the world are pussy bitches in the joint. Any motherfucker who says they didn't spread their ass is lying. Those so called gangsters even kick it with the police. The same police who checks their ass crack with a flashlight and treats them like shit. Pussyass shit. I don't go for that; I tell those police to get the fuck off my bars. I don't play games or any of that bitch shit. Those snitch bitches lying in their tickets. Lying to internal affairs. Those bitch ass snitches. Niggers don't do dat back in the days. Dose niggers got stabbed. Beating police ass when they got out of pocket. I'm going to fuck those bitches up. I smack the dog shit out of those pussy motherfuckers..." And on and on he goes. He is still talking nonstop, and I figure he will until late into the night.

Earlier this week, the nutcase had a "friend" to duet with. An older Mexican several cells down from me lost his sanity, and began to rant from his cell bars. His ramblings were not as vulgar, but were wilder and made less sense. My cell mate thought it was amusing that the cell house had two people who "flew over the cuckoo's nest," and were yelling nonsense together. Although both of them lost it, they did not talk to each other or to anyone. Rather they rambled in discord, oblivious to the world. While conducting his errands, a cell house worker stopped at the raving old Mexican's cell. He informed us that the man three cells down was at his bars with bloodshot, wild eyes, pacing aggressively while he spoke.

My cell mate knows this man, and tells me he goes by the name "Cool." I replied, "A better name for him would be Loco" (which means crazy in Spanish). I was told that Cool is usually a cool and likable person. However, Cool is schizophrenic and when he is off his medications, he is a radically different person. Although the crazy Mexican was annoying me, my cell mate seemed empathetic. My cell mate's father is a schizophrenic, and must take medications in order to be normal. His father killed his grandmother due to his mental illness, and he has spent much of his life in and out of mental hospitals in the State of Tennessee.

In Illinois, people who are guilty but insane, still go to prison. The courts and laws in this state do not send the criminally insane to mental hospitals. They go to prison with all the other convicts. Thus, in the IDOC, there are probably hundreds of people who are mentally ill. They receive medications to treat them, or make them manageable while in prison. Despite this, many act violently or cannot follow the rules, and are then sent to Segregation. Some spend their entire prison terms at Pontiac Seg.

While I was at Pontiac Seg, I was surrounded by many prisoners who were insane. They would bang on their bars or walls for hours without reason. They would light their cells on fire, or smear excrement all over their cell walls. Many of them cut themselves, or hurt themselves in other ways, even thrusting pens into their penises. The lunatics in Pontiac Seg would rant to themselves or whoever would listen. Some were just lonely, others were probably hearing voices. Some had lost touch with reality due to the isolation, others lost touch with reality before they came to Pontiac. While at Pontiac, plexiglas was put over the cell bars to prevent prisoners from shooting or throwing piss and excrement at the guards. A lot of prisoners did not like this, but the plastic dampened the noise coming into my cell, and I was glad. In fact, I wish I had one of the punishment cells which had a solid steel door and front wall. The less I had to hear or see outside my cell, the better for me.

During my time in Pontiac Seg, a large obese white man was moved next door to me. This man ironically went by the name of "Tiny." Tiny was sent to Pontiac from Danville after he stabbed a few guards with a pen. I did not usually speak to anyone while at Pontiac, but I sometimes made an exception for Tiny. Initially, I thought the man was mentally balanced until one day when he told me he was hearing voices which told him to take all his blood pressure and heart medications at once. He asked me what I thought would happen if he did this. I told him that I was not sure, but he would be foolish to think about committing suicide when he was going to be released in less than 6 months. I told him that if anyone should have been contemplating ending his life, it should be me. I have a natural life sentence, and will never go home. I seemed to have dissuaded him from attempting suicide, or so I thought. In the next few days, Tiny would tell me the voices were getting louder, and would not leave him alone. He said he could not take it any longer. When the guard working the gallery came by, he called out his name, and Tiny began chugging hundreds of pills. The guard quickly got on his radio, and the med tech came with a stretcher a few minutes later. By that time, Tiny was already unconscious, and they had a difficult time putting the 300+ pound Tiny onto the gurney. Later, I asked the guard if Tiny lived, and I was informed that he survived, but only after having his stomach pumped and being put on life support.

The last couple of days, my cell mate has been telling me the schizophrenic a few cells down will do something to earn himself a trip to Seg. I am told a story where Cool walked to the prison health care unit unescorted from a chow line, and before that, he had attacked someone for no reason. Both times, Cool was off his medications. The man has only been back from Seg for a few weeks, and my cellmate speculates it is only a matter of time before he goes back.

Apparently, however, a nurse or guard noticed Cool's bizarre behavior, and he was taken to the infirmary earlier today. At the prison hospital, he was probably sedated and put in a single man cell after being stripped naked. People who are deemed a threat to themselves or others from mental illness are often put in what prisoners' call "the naked room." Most likely, the man will be kept at the infirmary until his medications stabilize him and he is able to return to general population.

Cool is not the only schizophrenic on my gallery. There is an older white man several cells down from mine, in the other direction, who is most certainly schizo as well. The man has unkempt gray-brown hair and beard which gives him the look of being homeless, or like the Unibomber after he was found living in a hut out in the woods. The man is not only disheveled in appearance, but acts oddly. Furthermore, he talks to himself. Once I was in line for chow with him behind me. He began to talk, so I turned around and asked him if he was talking to me (I knew he was not. I just wanted to see how he would respond, or rationalize his self talk.) He mumbled that he was not talking to me--he was just getting his thoughts together.

A number of people, including my cell mate, have told me this disheveled old man annoys them with his self chatter and odd behaviors. However, unlike the others, he talks quietly to himself and he does not rant at his cell bars for everyone to hear. He appears to be an introverted person who is nonviolent and nonthreatening. I am annoyed by the loud, inconsiderate, and obnoxious behaviors of many who live here. However, this quiet person, even if a nutcase, does not bother me.

Months ago, my cell mate told me a story about a giant who came to sit in his barber chair. He went on and on about how big this man was. From what I was told, he was 7 feet tall, and strongly built. Not only was this man huge, he proclaimed, but he was insane. The giant supposedly was extremely amped up like he was on speed, and coming from my cellmate who is hyper, he must have been truly manic. The man was a biker and had long blond hair, which my cellmate was afraid to cut. He feared the man would go ballistic if he cut his hair to his disliking. My cell mate ultimately gave him a light trim, although he spent a lot of time pretending to give him a hair cut.

I thought my cellmate was exaggerating, but not long after he told me this story, the giant was assigned a cell on our gallery. The man was indeed about 7 feet talk with a muscular physique. I never got a chance to speak with him to see if he was mad, however, because within hours, he apparently told a Puerto Rican female guard he was going to crush her skull as soon as his door was opened. The giant then spent a month in Seg for threats and intimidation, and is now back in general population, but in a different cell house. I am informed that he has a white cell mate who goes by the name "Psycho." The giant is rumored to have beaten up 10 of his former cell mates. However, I tend to believe he has finally been given a compatible cellie. It is good to know the placement officer is doing his job.

During my time in prison, I have met some very ugly and weird people. I am not sure they were clinically insane, but they certainly had some screws loose. One of these people was an old white man of French descent that people here nicknamed "Quasimodo". He is called Quasimodo because he looks much like the hunchback of Notre Dame. He is a very ugly man with a slug-like hunched-over physique. At another prison, he was celled next door to me for awhile. His cell mate would tell me some very odd stories about him, such as how he once sat on the toilet and urinated through the leg opening of his boxers.

Back then, Quasimodo had a job of taking trays from inmates to scrape or dump the remaining food into the garbage. His job was also to clean the tables when everybody left. He has been said to be caught eating out of the garbage bins, and even bringing scraps back to his cell. Quasimodo was rumored to be a pedophile, but he was in prison for 1st degree murder.

I did not like Quasi, not merely because of his ugliness, but his vermin-like, demented personality. If he sat at my table when I was eating, I would tell him to go away, or at least turn around so I did not have to look at him. Once he was picked up by the pants while he was digging in the garbage, and was put head first into it. Quasimodo was temporarily stuck in the garbage bin, and only his legs and feet could be seen wiggling out of the bin.

Tuesday evening, all the men taking medication were brought over the the health care unit (HCU) to receive their pills. Typically, nurses come to the cell houses to pass out these pills, and go from cell to cell. I suppose that they were short staffed on Tuesday, and they figured it would be easier to bring the inmates to them. I was surprised by the number of prisoners who lined up for psychiatrist-prescribed medications. There was almost 30 people, including myself. In this line with the schizophrenics and other nutcases, I wondered if I had something in common with them.

Prisoners are prescribed psychotropic medications for various reasons. Looking at the health care line, I tried to guess what everyone's underlying problem was. I knew a few people were taking medication for suicidal depression, and I speculated certain others were also. There were some people there being treated for bi-polar disorder. I tried to identify the man on 6 gallery who is always rambling by his bars, but was unable to do so. All I knew was that he was a black man with short hair, in his late 20's. This fit the description of about 25% of the inmates in the line. Quite possibly the man does not take any medication. The hospital staff, nor the guards, can force treatment on anyone, including the severely mentally deranged. As I speculated on the inmates' psychological disorders, I wondered if I was the only one wondering; perhaps the guards were trying to guess why I was there.

As I conclude this entry, the loony, foul-mouthed black man upstairs is still ranting by his cell bars. I would tell him to shut the hell up, but others have done so before, and he just continues to ramble on and on. The opening ceremonies to the Olympic games are coming on TV in a few minutes, and I will be putting on my large set of headphones to tune him and the rest of the insane asylum out. I may have autism or Aspergers, but there is a stark contrast between me and the vast majority who live here.

Sanitarium - by Metallica

Welcome to where time stands still
no one leaves, and no one will.
Moon is full, never seems to change
Just labeled mentally deranged.
Dream the same thing every night
I see our freedom in my sight.
No locked doors, no windows barred
No things to make my brain seem scarred.

Sleep, my friend, and you will see
that dream is my reality.
They keep me locked up in this cage.
Can't they see it's why my brain says Rage?
Sanitarium, leave me be.
Sanitarium, just leave me alone.

Build my fear of what's out there
and cannot breathe the open air.
Whisper things into my brain
assuring me that I'm insane.
They think our heads are in their hands
but violent use brings violent plans.
Keep him tied, it makes him well.
He's getting better, can't you tell?

No more can they keep us in.
Listen, damn it, we will win.
They see it right, they see it well
but they think this saves us from our hell!

Sanitarium, leave me be.
Sanitariu, just leave me alone.
Sanitarium, just leave me alone.

Fear of living on.
Natives getting restless now.
Mutany in the air
got some death to do.
Mirror stares back hard.
Kill, it's such a friendly word
seems the only way
for reaching out again.