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Friday, May 28, 2010

The Terminator -- April 13, 2010

A few days ago, I was standing in line outside the cell house waiting to walk over to the chow hall. Inmates at Stateville are ordered into two lines before they are allowed to go to chow, yard, library, or any other destination. It usually takes five to ten minutes for inmates to file out of the cell house, and settle into the two lines. Many people talk to each other to pass the time while standing in line. I was in my own thoughts, thinking about the Polish president and military leaders of Poland being killed in a suspicious plane crash the day before when I heard someone yell "Terminator! Hey, Terminator!" I turned around to see a black man I did not recognize, but who apparently recognized me from the county jail. I said to him, "You must have a good memory to recognize me from nearly two decades ago." He said I had lost a lot of size, but he would never forget me, the "Terminator."

The Terminator was a name given me by the detainees at Cook County Jail. I was a very muscular 18-year-old when I was there in 1993. People thought I had a cold, robotic demeanor, and the fact that I was on TV news regularly, accused of numerous execution-style murders added to the image. Even before the county jail, people at times would say I looked like the body builder-turned actor-turned governor of California. When I was with my co-defendant, Bob Faraci, people joked that we looked similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito in the movie "Twins." I was first called the Terminator while at the jail and I asked a man on the phone how long he would be. He told me five or ten more minutes, whereupon without much thought I said, "I'll be back." The black man got off the phone, and jumping up and down yelled to everyone on the deck watching TV or playing cards at the tables, "Did you hear what he said? He said 'I'll be back'. He be the Terminator!", which got a lot of laughs, and from then on, everyone called me the Terminator.

In prison and at the jail, it is rare for anyone to go by their real names. Many times, names are not those people choose, but were chosen for them. My cellie is called "Cracker," a name he does not like, but nonetheless everyone calls him. Names can often be unflattering, or undesirable, but they stick on someone. The Terminator was a name I was stuck with throughout my time at Cook County Jail. If anyone ever says they knew me from those two years as "Paul," you know they are most likely lying. (Only a few people at the jail called me Paul.) It was not until I came to prison that I was able to escape that name.

While in the chow line, the man who knew me from the county jail seemed glad to see me. There was a lot of violence at the jail, and it was good that I was able to recognize that he did not harbor any hostility or grudge from those years. I asked him what name he went by back then to see if I could recall who he was. He said, "Bodine," and I looked closely at the details of his face. He had salt and pepper hair, and I tried to imagine what he looked like 17 years ago. Despite how I tried, I could not remember him. He told me that he would sometimes lift weights with me, and that he had a cell on the other side of the deck. Often people will remember me easily because of the massive notoriety I received by the news media or the fact I was one of the few white people there. However, there are very few people that I remember from the jail.

Yesterday morning, I went to the South yard. The South yard is usually the only yard I go to. It is a very large area with a quarter mile track, basketball and handball courts, telephones, and some rusted weights and benches. I was working out by myself with some iron, and Bodine approached me. He wanted to reminisce about times at the county jail. I do not like thinking about the jail, or any of my time in prison. As I often tell people, "I live to forget." When I reminisce, I think of the time before my captivity. The time in jail and prison has been a time of sorrow and misery for me. Despite this, I could not prevent Bodine from rehashing his memories.

Bodine brought up a very young black man who was on our deck, named "B.J." Although I saw him as very young, he was the same age as me at the time. However, while I was very mature for my age, B.J. was very immature and often acted like a 12-year-old. B.J. was in jail charged with a series of rapes. The news media had labeled him as the "southside rapist" and reported that he was probably guilty of numerous other rapes as well. The southside rapist was known to ambush unsuspecting old black women from anywhere, including from behind trees. From my own experience with the news media, I knew not to trust their reports. I got to know B.J., and knew he was not this rapist the media or prosecutors had him pegged as. Typically, I believe anyone with signed confessions guilty, but B.J. was so juvenile, silly, and naive or gullible, I could easily see how police could intimidate him into confessing. Some people thought as I did, but others did not, and B.J. was a target of violence at times. I remember B.J. paid a seasoned convict on the deck named "Pinky" to give him protection. Every week B.J. shopped, and gave a full bag of goodies to Pinky.

B.J. was at the county jail for a long time, as the state convicted him of rape after rape. He was still going to court when I was sent to the penitentiary. I never saw him again until a few years ago when he was on TV news. After 15 years, B.J. was finally exonerated. DNA evidence collected from the rape victims did not match his, and when the court ordered a new trial, the state's attorney chose not to retry him. B.J. was fortunate to ever be released--he had already lost all his appeals. If not for a new DNA law that allows prisoners to retest evidence, B.J. would have died in prison as an old man. I almost did not recognize him when I saw him on TV. He was no longer the childish teen with pimples. He was in his mid-30's, and I could tell, although he was free, there was sadness and bitterness in his heart.

Bodine said he thought I would have also been released after the Brown's Chicken murders were solved. Most everyone in the county jail and prison thought I was convicted of the mass murders. They never heard of the Barrington murder, and were oblivious of the prosecutors' sly maneuver of publicly pinning the Palatine murders on me while, without much fanfare, prosecuting me for allegedly loaning my car to my co-defendant in a totally different case. Bodine asked me if I was still in the courts. I told him, "No, I have lost all my appeals."

Bodine told me he had spent most of his time in Menard. It was only a few years ago that he had been transferred to Stateville. He remarked that it was odd he had not seen me earlier. I told him that I do not come out of my cell too often, and Stateville has almost 2,000 inmates. General population is split into four cell houses, and these cell houses are kept separate; you rarely have any interaction with those in other cell houses unless you attend pre-GED classes, chapel services, or other activities I do not attend. Bodine is celled on the gallery above mine, and I will be seeing him when I go out to yard and occasionally when the feed lines of the two galleries are run together. I asked him what cell he was assigned just a few days ago, and I was surprised to learn he is in the cell directly above mine. It is a good thing Bodine is not a loud and overtly social person, or I may hear him yelling "Terminator" to get my attention. I do not think the name will catch on here: I am no longer a suspect in a mass murder, and I am only a remnant of my former muscular self.