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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shutter Island -- June 9, 2010

Earlier today I finished reading the novel "Shutter Island." It was the first work of fiction I have read in a couple of years. People may be surprised that although I have a natural life sentence, and spend much of my time locked in my cell at a maximum-security prison, I have little time to read novels. My aunt and others have sent me a number of books to read. However, they have just piled up in my box, or I have given them away. Fiction literature is a last priority for me to read, and I only read it when I have nothing else to do.

This week I had to re-prioritize. The movie "Shutter Island" was released on DVD yesterday, and it was possible it could be rented as one of the prison's movies this week. Two movies are rented each week at Stateville, and they are switched every Wednesday. The movies play once a day at different times. The first viewing is at 8 p.m. tonight. I have had this novel in my box for a few years and I was determined to read it before watching the movie. I knew that if I saw the movie first, I would never bother to read the book. I have not heard what the movies are this week, and as I write this journal entry, I am waiting to find out.

I began reading the novel on Sunday and read about a hundred pages a day. The reading was very easy compared to what I usually read. It was nice to read something casually, and purely for my enjoyment. Often, I have been going over the data in corporate reports. It is often a chore, and I must take notes and make numerous calculations to figure out certain valuations.

While reading this novel, I usually sat on my bunk facing away from my cell bars and leaning on my folded pillow. I do not like seeing all the movement on the gallery. The prison is currently on lockdown, but there are workers walking about, as well as guards. When I watch TV for entertainment or to just relax, I often want to absorb myself in it, and escape the prison environment. I found it was the same when I flipped through the pages of this book. Not only did I turn myself away from the bars, but I used earphones to block out the noises. For a few hours yesterday I used earplugs.

A prisoner's cell mate can often be a distraction. Because we are on lockdown, I am in this cell 24-7 with my cellmate. I read most of this book while he was on his bunk, and out of sight and out of mind. I noticed he was getting ready to exercise, so I put my novel away and went to the desk at the cell bars. While he worked out, I went over some stock charts. On occasion, I had to decide if the gallery movement was more distracting than him. For the most part, I faced the wall.

My cellmate is hyper, but he is not continually disruptive. He spends a lot of time reading. He is currently reading "The Children of Hurin" by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien is the person who wrote "The Lord of the Ring" books. My cellmate tells me that this book is not as good as the Ring series, and was pieced together by Tolkien's son after his death. I like the movies, although I tend to think I would have liked them better when I was a child and played Dungeons and Dragons. My cellmate is a big fan of fantasy novels, and has read about half of the Shannara series by Terry Brooks in the last few months. The Shannara series is a set of about 16 fantasy books with interlocking stories. I was aware that Terry Brooks wrote "The Phantom of the Opera" but did not know about his fantasy writings until my cellmate began reading it.

My cellmate had all his fantasy novels sent to him in the mail. Not all prisoners have family or friends to send them books, and many rely on others or Stateville's library. The library here is mostly devoted to legal books. However, there is a small section way in the back with fiction and some nonfiction books. The selection of nonfiction books is very limited, and very old. Most of them were published decades ago. I have only bothered checking out a few of them over the five years that I have been here. There is a better selection of paperbacks, but I have never taken one of those to read. All of the nonlegal books have been donated to the library by prisoners. I have donated a number of books after reading them as well. Shutter Island may find its way over there eventually. The older man who goes by the name "Hawkeye" wants to read it when I am done, and another person also asked if he could check it out as well.

Many books, magazines, and newspapers get passed around by inmates. I have even found people recently who want to read my Wall Street Journal when I am done with it. The USA Today, Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times are much more prized by inmates, however. Although only a few people in this cell house may have subscriptions to these papers, they are passed around to numerous people. Inmates have made paper routes where a paper will have an ordered line of succession. Popular magazines are also highly valued by inmates. Men's magazines like Maxim, sports magazines, and pornography are well sought after, but there is also some demand for news and more educational subject matter. Lately, I have only been reading financial magazines, but I also like to read such magazines as Discovery, National Geographic, or Men's Health and Fitness.

Prisoners can order books from catalogues if they have money on their accounts. This takes an enormous amount of time at Stateville, however. After filling out a money voucher, an inmate attaches it to his outgoing letter to the book company. The mail room will then re-route it to the warden's office where it must be approved. The warden may wait a month to sign off on the voucher and then it is sent out. The book company then may take a few weeks to fill the order. Upon being received at Stateville, the book will sit for over a month in the mail room, as all mail does at this institution. An inmate will be lucky if he receives a book three months after ordering it. I have never bothered to order any books while I have been here, and always have a friend or family member do it for me.

Reading is not a pastime of all prisoners. There are many who will never open up a book. They would rather watch TV, play games such as cards or chess, or talk on the gallery. I have a neighbor who can barely read. Once I sent him a note, and it took him 5 minutes to read it and respond. He is always watching TV and stays up well into the middle of the night. I once had a cellmate who had just been sent to IDOC and had not been able to purchase a television yet. I offered him a book to read, but he said he did not read books. Instead, he wanted to watch my TV. When I did not want to share, he became very hostile and we ended up fighting over the matter.

The chaplains and other religious people who walk through the prison often pass out literature for inmates to read. Sometimes they will not accept no for an answer, and give you reading materials that you do not want. I have told a few of them "no", and yet have had papers put in my bars. I have also been pressured to take a Bible on a few occasions. One chaplain was most bothered that I did not have a Bible. I told her I had already read it numerous times, and did not need to read or study it infinitely. She disagreed, and would not leave my cell bars until I took it.

My cellmate has several Bibles, including one that probably weighs 10 pounds. He recently received a number of leather bound prayer books called "The Liturgy of the Hours." He is regularly reading out of them, or one of his Bibles. Sometimes I thought he was trying to con people to believe he is a reformed convict, but he reads his books even when no one is about. The other day, I asked him about a particular Bible verse, thinking that since he reads it all the time, he would quickly be able to tell me what I wanted to know. He did not. He did not even know where I could find it. He told me he is Catholic, and not a fundamentalist that memorizes scripture. My cellmate often distances his faith from Protestants, and will not talk with the Protestant chaplains or accept their literature.

Back to the book I have been reading. "Shutter Island" was a novel about a federal marshal bought to an insane asylum to track down an escaped fugitive. I have seen the previews to the movie, and knew this part was played by Leonardo DiCaprio. I tried to imagine this actor playing this character, but often found he did not fit the image of the marshal. The book took place in the 1950s on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. The island held the country's most disturbed, criminally insane, including the escapee who was a woman who had drowned her three children. While searching for her, a hurricane hits the island, and many lunatics are roaming about the institution freely. As I read this part, I could hear the nutcase upstairs ranting loudly despite having my headphones on. I thought how appropriate. Stateville is somewhat similar to Shutter Island.

The federal marshal becomes convinced that the insane asylum is not your typical sanitarium. The warden and doctors seem to be covering up radical experimentation on the inmates using mental manipulation, drugs, and brain surgery. Having discovered these secrets, he believes that he will never be let off the island, and the marshal becomes the hunted fugitive. He is ultimately caught, but the novel presents an odd twist. The federal marshal is, in fact, an inmate at Shutter Island. He had been sent there after shooting his wife after she drowned their three children. Since that time he had been unable to accept reality, and had been living an elaborate fantasy. The doctors at Shutter Island were indeed using unorthodox treatments, but they were attempting to snap the former federal marshal back to reality.

The 8:00 movie just came on. It is not Shutter Island, but Pirate Radio. I watched about 5 minutes to see what it was about. It seems to be a goofy movie about a banned British radio network broadcasting from a ship at sea during the 1960s. I do not blame the British government for trying to put a lid on the hippie movement. This movement was a degenerate force that not only contributed to the collapse of the British Empire, but led to the decline of all Western civilization and culture, in my opinion. This DVD should probably be put in the dumpster. My Marxist cellmate, of course, disagrees with me. He tells me this is going to be a great movie and he is absorbed in it as I write. There will be no Pirate Radio for me--I think I will turn on game six of the Stanley Cup.

June 30, 2010

Tonight, I was able to see the movie "Shutter Island." I was surprised how close the movie followed the novel. However, as I commonly hear others say, the movie was not as good as the book. I think this was so for several reasons. Although the acting was good, Leonardo DiCaprio was not the best actor to play the part of the federal marshal. Furthermore, when reading, your imagination is often better than the director's cut, and the skill of a writer can often be better than the person who tries to visually recreate it. Movies also tend to be more simplistic than the books they are based on. I like very intricate and complex stories. This was taken back a little in the film. Finally, I knew the ending of the story. This surprise twist was missing when I watched the movie. Modrowski's rating: 2-1/2 stars.