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Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Groundhog Invasion -- July 1, 2010

The grounds of Stateville are inhabited by numerous groundhogs. They are virtually everywhere, and have dug holes on the yards, under sidewalks, and even under some buildings. When you go outside during the day, you see them hopping about, peeking their heads out of holes, scavenging the lawn eating grass or weeds. Mostly however, you find them eerily lined up on the way to chow, begging for food.

Prisoners, and guards as well, regularly feed them. Inmates will pocket bread, apples, cakes, peanut butter packets, cookies or other foodstuffs to give the animals. These rodents will eat just about anything, and seem to have an insatiable appetite. I understand groundhogs put on a lot of weight before they go into hibernation for the winter, but summer has just begun and many are already fat. Some are so obese they cannot run, but only waddle. A few are so big they have trouble fitting into their holes.

Groundhogs have lived on Stateville grounds for many years. However, it seems this summer there is an extraordinary number of them. On a sunny day walking to the chow hall, I may see 30 of them. They are semi-domesticated and many will walk up to you without fear. Earlier this week, I was standing in line and one stood on his hind legs and put his front paws on my leg, beseeching me for some food. I told him I did not have any, but he seemed to not believe me. Somewhere this human has a tasty morsel hidden away, I imagined him thinking.

The inmates and staff often treat them like pets. I have seen men hand-feed the animals and even attempt to pet them. I have no desire to pet these often dirty rodents. Only on rare occasion will I toss them some food from the chow hall. These groundhogs are not aggressive, but they have some mighty big front teeth. I am surprised people will risk being bitten and having to undergo rabies shots. Last summer, a prisoner was bitten by one on the way out of the chow hall. The warden, at the time, told guards to forbid any more feeding of the animals. A few people were caught doing so and were sent to Seg. That warden is no longer here, and I am glad he and his petty rules are gone. In my opinion, inmates should feed the groundhogs at their own risk.

The groundhogs apparently do not have any natural predators to control their population inside the prison grounds. A few years ago there were a few fox that chased them down, but I have not seem them lately. On occasion, hawks will fly overhead and dive down for small prey. However, these groundhogs are so fat, other than the young ones, even bald eagles may have trouble picking them up.

I am still suffering from insomnia and have been spending most of my time in the cell trying to avoid irritations as much as possible. However, on Monday I did go to the South Yard. While out there I saw a few people playing with the groundhogs on the open field within the quarter mile track. They had brought some snacks out with them and were attempting to get the groundhogs to perform tricks. I do not think it is possible to train a groundhog, but this did not stop them from trying.

As I usually do, I ran laps on the track. I was extremely tired and did not bother timing myself. My lower back and left leg were not very accommodating either. While I jogged around the course, I noticed a groundhog at the edge with a pal. They were sitting upright eating what appeared to be Pop Tarts. They do not serve Pop Tarts at Stateville, nor are they sold at the commissary. I was a little envious that they had foodstuffs that I did not even have access to, but what was more weird was how they ate them as they seemed to watch me. These groundhogs often eat with their hands, just like people do. And as I jogged by them, they followed me with their eyes. They were not at all frightened by my movement and seemed to be entertained. I thought about how, before my arrest, spectators would watch sporting events I played and munch on sandwiches or other goodies. These are some odd groundhogs, I thought.

After yard, inmates were brought directly to the chow hall. The noise and crowds were almost unbearable for me. Some obnoxious and inconsiderate man screamed in my ear to a man far away. I told this man, "What the fuck is your problem?!" as I grabbed him by the shirt and pressed him up against the fence. I added, "Do not scream in my ear!" This exchange could have easily led to a fight, something in my adult years I have tried to avoid, especially when under a gun tower. However, I was at my wits' end. I had only slept several hours over a week's time, and was very distraught and easily irritated.

When I went down to eat, I barely touched my food. It was more turkey-soy meal and totally unappetizing. Instead, I filled up my water bottle with a few cartons of milk to bring back to the cell house. Later, I would eat some cereal, apples and peanut butter. I put my fingers in my ears and stared at my tray. Someone asked if I was alright, and I said I was just tired. He remarked that he thought I was having a severe migraine and offered me some Tylenol. No, I was fine, I told him.

In the cell house, a person bumped into me in a seemingly playful fashion. I have sometimes joked with this man, making fun of all of his missing teeth or calling him a 100% nigger. Nigger is a word used often in prison, and does not cause the same outrage as it does in the extremely sensitive and politically correct world outside these walls. I call the man a pure, or 100% nigger as a compliment. Most of the Africans in prison are mixed race Americans, but he was born in Nigeria and is entirely black. A while back, my cellmate had attempted to convince me and this man that no one was of pure race anymore. I told him, "Speak for yourself. I am 100% white." The African chimed in that he was "100% black." From that day on, I chide him as being the 100% nigger.

Although I have joked with this African in the past, on Monday he did not catch me in a good mood. Because he has no teeth, he is allowed to bring his food back to his cell on a tray. He was holding his tray with a sealed cake on top of it when he bumped into me. I knocked his cake on the floor, and then slowly crushed it underneath my shoe. He gave me a dirty look and told me no one plays with his food. I told him not to get so upset. The cake was perfectly fine. I had just changed its shape. The African has not spoken to me since then, and just as well. He is a known snitch and I tend not to like his company. At the time, I did not want any company, and after washing up in my sink and eating some cereal, I lay down and put my pillow over my head.

Wednesday was an irritating day as well. I slept a few hours the night before and around 11 a.m., I tried to get a few more Z's. The cell house noise was incredibly loud, but I put in my earplugs and tried to relax. When I think I was just about to fall asleep, I heard the boom of a shotgun blast. The guard in the gun tower just outside our cell house fired a warning shot to inmates fighting on one of the small yards. The guard was a moron because not even an expert sniper could have made a shot from our cell house to the small yard, which was approximately 500 meters away. All he managed to do was excite all the inmates in B House so they began yelling and banging their bars, and disrupting my much needed sleep. Guards were already on the scene and about to break up the skirmish, which I was later informed, was not the least bit serious.

All movement was put on hold after the shotgun blast. It was B House afternoon recreation day, and inmates continued to scream and demand that they get their yard and gym. Two hours passed until it was announced that lines would indeed be run. The administration had chosen to only put E House on lockdown. It was E House inmates who were on the small yard when the fight broke out.

As inmates began being let out for recreation, my name was announced on the loudspeaker. I had an unexpected visitor. I quickly got dressed in my state blues only to wait an hour to be taken out of my cell. The visiting room was incredibly noisy and crowded, as usual. Visits are greatly prized by most inmates, and inmates can become depressed when their family does not come to see them. This week my cellmate's mother failed to visit him for the fourth straight week, and he was glum. Visitation for me at Stateville, however, is seldom a good experience, and yesterday it was no different.

On the way back from the visiting room, inmates were escorted outside. There were a few groundhogs out and about. One of the inmates picked up a rock and beamed it at one of them. The animal fled quickly into his hole in the ground. I envied that groundhog, and wished that I had a hole to escape into. However, I was brought back to my cage to suffer indefinitely.

EDITORS' NOTE: Please note that Paul has autism, a condition that makes it hellish for him to be in the noisy, crowded conditions of prison. Also, please note that Paul is innocent of any crime and yet has been imprisoned in a filthy, tiny cage for many years, with no hope of release.

Paul writes with truth about what he thinks, does, and feels. He has asked that we do not "doctor" these things to make them more pleasing to the readers. If at times, it seems as if his behavior is unravelling (such as smashing the piece of cake), Paul has written about it because he wants to share the truth of how being in prison is affecting him. We ask that, before you judge, read more posts and think about how you might hold up or act while living under such harsh conditions for years on end.

We give you Paul's words, as he writes them. This is real, folks. Paul is really living this horrific life and really writing this blog. Thanks for reading.