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Monday, May 31, 2010

My Cell Mate's Birthday -- April 19, 2010

This morning, my sleep was undisturbed by my cell mate. In fact, when I awoke, I was alone in the cell. My cellmate, Jon, sometimes goes to the barbershop school early. He will leave at 6 a.m. on Mondays and Fridays. It was nice to wake up to a cell by myself. I wish I always had a single-man cell. However, this is not a possibility at Stateville, or anywhere in the Illinois Department of Corrections, except Pontiac segregation or Tamms supermax. Although Jon can sometimes be annoying and his politics are anathema to me, he is a good cellmate to have. At Stateville, it is particularly difficult to get a cellmate you are not fighting with, let alone get along with. Jon is respectful, polite, and considerate. Today is his birthday, and I was going to go out of my way to show my appreciation.

Yard was run this morning not long after count cleared at about 8:30. I was not going because my gallery and the one above mine were scheduled for small yard today. There are two small yards used at Stateville for general population. They are not really yards, but two basketball courts surrounded by a cyclone fence and razor wire. Recently, a chin-up bar was put on the small yards, but I had devised a way to do chin-ups in my cell, and there was nothing for me to do out there. I did not want to play basketball, nor did I want to socialize. The small yard is cramped and I do not like going out there. I am much more content to stay in my cell and exercise to one of my cassette tapes.

Before I worked out, I watched the morning news programs. Today was the anniversary of the Waco massacre and the Oklahoma City bombing. I clearly remember the burning of the Branch Davidian Compound 17 years ago. I, like many people, were bothered by growing Big Brother government. The enormous use of force, including hundreds of FBI and ATF agents to arrest one man, David Koresh, was outrageous. When an assault vehicle resembling a small tank rammed the house sending incendiary grenades that lit the building on fire, I was appalled. Yes, the group had a death wish, but the response by government was uncalled for.

The Waco massacre enraged many people, including Timothy McVeigh, who later was to bomb the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. This was the focus of most of the media this morning. Some Democratic politicians had made an inference that Tea Party activists come from the same mind-set of people. Liberals have repeatedly tried to radicalize and vilify the Tea Party movement, despite how the values of the activists are shared by a majority of Americans. Government has grown too big, and become too intrusive in the lives of American citizens. The fiscal irresponsibility of government will push trillions of dollars of debt onto generations of Americans. On Tax Day, Tea Party activists have complete justification to show their outrage in rallies. To me, those who demonstrate are not radicals or potential terrorists, but patriots greatly concerned about their country.

A few weeks ago when my cellmate told me his birthday was on April 19th, I mentioned how that was a date not easily forgotten. He, however, was unaware of its significance. Possibly it is more memorable to me because of my politics and the fact that Waco was the focus of newsmedia just before the arrest of my co-defendant, and days later, myself. From the sensationalistic coverage of the Waco massacre, TV news went to sensationalistic coverage of the Palatine Massacre. After his arrest for the murder of Dean Fawcett, my co-defendant, Robert Faraci, told police that he knew who committed the murders at the Brown's Chicken restaurant in Palatine, Illinois. I had a suspicion, but was not sure--it seemed too unreal, or far-fetched, however, my intuition was correct: Bob Faraci was trying to frame me of the Palatine Massacre. Soon thereafter, I was arrested with the overwhelming force of nearly 20 gun-wielding FBI agents and Palatine Task Force police.

As I exercised, my neighbor was yelling out his bars for a guard to let him out. My neighbor who goes by the name "Tay-Tay," had served all of his time, and today was his out date. Tay-Tay had been up all night annoying his cellmate, and his cellmate was glad for him to be leaving. They had been cellmates for about half a year, and they had come close to fighting many times (although I do not think it would have been much of a fight with Tay Tay easily being subdued). Tay-Tay was a 20-year-old black man who acted and looked more like he was a 10-year-old. He was very obnoxious and immature.

When Tay-Tay first moved next door, he tried to befriend me. However, I did not want to be friends with him. He annoyed me as well, and I did not like his character. Despite my obvious dislike of him, Tay-Tay would continue to attempt to engage me in conversation or give me the "dab" or a fist bump. I would tell him when he put out his fist that I had nothing for him, and I was not his friend.

Tay-Tay had a relative that lived a few cells down from me, and he was regularly bothering my cellmate or I to pass things between them. I do not mind passing things for people on occasion, but not repeatedly, and not when there is a gallery worker available. My neighbor's cold water button did not work for a month, and Tay-Tay would repeatedly ask me to fill up his water bottle. I told him to just fill up some bottles and let them sit, or put them in his toilet to get them cold, but he refused. I told him that dogs drink out of the toilet bowl, and if he wants cold water so bad, he should do so as well. He told me he will do no such thing, and would pass me over his bottle. I told him I do not know why when I am only filling up his bottle from my toilet anyway. Tay-Tay then used his mirror to see what I was doing with his bottle. I did not fill his bottle up with toilet water, but the next time he disturbed me and demanded that I fill his water bottle, I went to the back of my cell and pissed in it. My cellmate told me I was no good, but I had had enough of his antics. I gave him back a warm bottle of urine. After this, he never bothered my cellmate or I for any more water. I believe Tay-Tay sought out a father figure in his life, and that is why he continued to try to befriend me. I do not have any children though, and even if I cared to adopt one, Tay-Tay would remain an orphan.

In the days before Tay-Tay left, his cellmate suspected him of wanting to steal or break his television before he left. He thought that while he was out of the cell he may clean out his box, and then tell guards he was requesting protective custody. On one day that his cellmate left on a pass to the Healthcare Unit, he asked me to keep an eye on Tay-Tay. I agreed; every five to ten minutes I used my mirror to look in their cell. Tay-Tay remained asleep most of the time. When he awakened, he was talking to various people in the cell house, so I did not have to check to see if he was up to any mischief.

I did not go to lunch today. Sloppy Joes were being served, and had it been made with beef instead of ground turkey and soy, I may have gone. Not only did I not like what was on the menu, I did not want to interact with the people here. I try to avoid the prison environment and people as much as possible--and today, I was planning to make a special meal for my cellmate. My neighbor, whose cellmate had left, had given me two bags of tortilla chips and a container of nacho cheese spread. I put the chips into three large bowls, and then heated some refried beans, rice, and roast beef. While I let the beans and rice sit, I thinned out the cheese spread with some milk. I also added a little seasoning before I put it in a container to be heated along with about 10 packs of ketchup. In each bowl, I layered a mixture of beans, rice, and shredded roast beef. Then I poured the hot cheese and ketchup packs on top. I had made a nacho chip masterpiece, but when my cellmate returned, he said he was not hungry. He had gone on a visit directly from his barbershop job, and ate 15 ice cream bars and cones. My cellmate took a few chips and then I gave his bowl to my neighbor. I broke open a couple of Cokes, but my cellmate did not want one of those either, so I passed that to the cell next door, also.

The Nascar Talladega races were today. Over the weekend, both the Nationwide and Cup series had been cancelled due to the rain in Alabama. While I ate my nacho chips, I watched the end of the Nationwide race and then the Cup series. Periodically, I would take my mirror to tap on my neighbor's cell to make a comment or two about the races which he was watching as well. There was a huge wreck at the end of the first race that my driver, Brad Kaslowski, avoided, and he won. In the second race, I did not pick a specific driver, but my neighbor was a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fan. Earnhardt, Jr. came in 12th, to the disappointment of my neighbor. My cellmate did not watch the races, and sat on his bunk reading a fantasy fiction novel about elves and magic.

During the race, Jon told me that by chance he went on his visit the same time Tay-Tay was taken to gate five to await processing. Jon knows most prisoners tend to recidivate, especially ones that are immature and only did a short sentence. He told me he tried to give Tay-Tay a few words of wisdom before he left. Tay-Tay was arrested for an unarmed robbery, when he was 17. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison, but only had to serve 3 of them. He will be on parole for the next year or two. People on parole have a number of rules they must abide by, and if they violate them, they can be sent back to prison to finish the rest of their sentence. The fact that Tay-Tay was an irresponsible and care-free person without any strong parental or other guidance, and would be returning to the same gang-infested neighborhood, leads me to believe that Tay-Tay will be back in prison before long.

Many prisoners with long, or natural life sentences, are envious of people who go home. It also angers me to see people like Tay-Tay released when I know many men who are more deserving and would not recidivate. I spoke to my cellmate about some of these people today. There are a number of convicted murderers who I think would never commit another crime, let alone a murder, who are forced to rot in prison for decades, if not till their deaths. A few of these people are bright men who could become assets to society. They committed their crimes when young, and yet will never be given a second chance. Some of the murderers I have met are unrepentant, but even these people I believe should be freed before the likes of Tay-Tay.

This evening, I took out a state cake from my box that I had brought back from chow over the weekend. State cakes are small, rectangular cakes, sealed in a plastic wrapper and given to us for some of our meals as a desert. All the cookies, cakes, and even our bread is made in Illinois Prison Industries and thus why they are called "state cakes." This cake was chocolate, and had some white frosting on it. I tore off the wrapper and put it on a bowl lid before offering it to Jon. I told him I had made him a birthday cake. He asked me where the candles were. I said if he likes I can put a blob of hair grease on top, and light it on fire. He said that was OK, and ate it.

I asked Jon if he had a birthday wish. He said he wants a medium transfer. My cellmate has 28 more years to do in prison. Inmates are ineligible to go to a medium-security prison until they have 20 or less years to do. However, Jon has been asking some prison advocates or politicians to lobby IDOC officials to make an exception on his behalf. Recently, he learned that these people were successful in getting his name submitted for a transfer on an institutional level. Now, the transfer request is sent to Illinois' state capital to be reviewed by the state's transfer official. My cellmate has done all his time (10 years) at Stateville. He is looking to improve the quality of his life and he also wants to attend a car repair program. Other than pre-GED classes and the barber school, there are no educational programs at Stateville. I do not want to play the game of Russian Roulette with a new cellmate. However, it is difficult to hope Jon's transfer is denied, particularly on his birthday.

The administration has recently made a few exceptions to the 20-year-and-under rule for people who have not had a disciplinary ticket in 10 years. A few months ago, I heard about the warden of Stateville issuing a policy of approving transfers at the institutional level for those who have been model inmates for a decade. I did not think anyone could do 10 years without a ticket when institutional rules have become so petty, and knowing first hand how tickets are often written unjustifiably. However, my counselor said she and the other clinical service staff searched the records and found 3 people who have gone without a disciplinary infraction for 10 years. One was a very fat black man who lived on my gallery and worked in the kitchen. Another is a 60-year-old white man who works in the library. Today, they told this man to pack up his property. He was on the transfer bus to Galesburg on Wednesday. The prison at Galesburg is a high-medium security prison that is unappealing to me. Even if I were one of the few people to be able to transfer out of maximum security, I would rather stay at Stateville. The old man's cellmate is a cell house worker, and he told me that the old man is glad to be leaving. He has a natural life sentence, and has been in prison over 20 years. He would never be eligible for a medium, if not for the rule exception. However, I was told he was nervous about the move and being victimized by a new set of prisoners.

Before I went to sleep, I asked Jon if this was his best prison birthday ever. He responded he could not say, as he does not recall any of his prior birthdays since being incarcerated. I can understand this. I have had 17 birthdays since being incarcerated, and it is extremely difficult for me to recall the memories of any of them. Today Jon is 33, and he will not be released until he is 51. I tend to believe his 51st birthday will be the first in many years that he will remember.