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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tex -- October 13, 2010

Yesterday afternoon a guard pounded on my door and yelled, "Cuff up--you're getting a cellie." For the last two weeks, I have enjoyed being by myself. Despite being in Segregation and the mayhem of the Roundhouse, I was beginning to think this was more of a blessing than a punishment. There is nothing like having a one-man cell. I can go about my day without having to coordinate my activities with another man in a 5'x10' space. Although I am in a small cage, I felt free inside it. I also did not have to put up with any of a cellmate's disruptions, obnoxious behaviors, conflicts, or hostilities. It is very difficult at Stateville finding a compatible cellmate, yet alone someone you can get along with and like. As I put my hands behind my back to be handcuffed, I dreaded who was going to be my next cellmate.

The door opened, and a moment later a medium stature white man in gray shorts, T-shirt, and gym shoes, entered. It was apparent he came off the yard when he was taken to Seg. I waited until we were both uncuffed and the door was shut before I said anything. The man indeed had just been on the yard. He was on one of the two small yards when guards came and got him, along with two other men. Usually I would expect fighting, but this man did not appear to be in any fight. Apparently, a guard in the gun tower noticed him giving someone a tattoo. The guards that came out onto the yard handcuffed them, and confiscated the tattoo gun, as well as the patterns.

Almost every inmate here has tattoos, but getting one in prison is against the rules. It is written up as a "402 - Health, Smoking, or Safety Violation," and includes smoking, body piercing, tattoos, or "disregarding the basic hygiene of any person, cell, or other area," although I have never heard of anyone being written up for not bathing or having a sloppy cell. I have, however, heard of it being used when prisoners smear the walls of their cell with excrement, and this is not as uncommon as one may think in here. Tattooing can spread diseases like hepatitis. My neighbor in general population was dying of liver cancer; I suspect he contracted hepatitis through jail house tattoos or using drugs. The people who do tattoo work in prison often do not take safety precautions to prevent the spread of diseases. However, prison administrators usually could care less about our health, and the rule prohibiting tattoos is used to prevent gang proliferation. Most men in prison get tattoos to demonstrate their gang affiliation.

Not long after he told me the story of how he came to be taken to Seg, a guard was at our door telling him he had to go talk to Internal Affairs. Once again, we were both handcuffed behind our backs before the door was opened. While he was gone, I looked around at my meager possessions to see what I could offer him. I knew what it was like to come to Seg without any property, and I wanted to make sure he did not have such a hard time. Although I.A. did not seize all his property as was done to me, he was unable to make a Seg bag and Personal Property would take a few days to bring him some of his possessions. I gathered a couple of tubes of toothpaste, a toothbrush, spoon, and a drinking cup for him. Most importantly, I found two bars of state soap that I hoped he would use soon, because he stank. He must have been working out or playing basketball before he started tattooing because I could smell him as soon as he came in the door. I intended to offer him a book, magazine, pen, and paper later. I wished I could be more generous, but I did not have too much myself.

My new cellmate returned about a half hour later, and I asked him if they put hot irons to his feet. He said no one talked to him, and for that time period he was kept in the shower waiting. In F House, the showers are regularly used as holding cages. Every floor has two showers at the front. These shower rooms were formerly cells, but have been converted. The bunk, toilet/sink, counter and stool have been removed. In their stead, a shower head has been put on the back wall and a floor drain. Since being in Seg, I have taken one shower and I will not be taking another. Although it is nice to shower alone in Seg, the shower head dribbled out water as fast as my sink, and I was stuck in there for over an hour before a guard came to get me.

I asked my new cellmate what name he goes by. The vast majority of men in prison go by a name other than the name given at their birth. He was no different, and he told me, "Tex." I thought I noticed a southern accent. Tex is a common name used by people from Texas. I have met Mississippi's, Kentucky's, and other states. Prisoners also go by cities such as Detroit, if they are not from the area. I tend to get along with Southern white folk, and although new cellmates are always very uncomfortable, difficult to adjust to, and stressful to me, I tended to think here was a person I could get along with. I did not know what to think of all his tattoos, however.

Tex was covered head to toe with tattoos. He had various types, but most conspicuous was a line of bugs that went up his leg, and most likely under his shorts and T-shirt to his neck and side of his head. I did not ask him at the time, but later he told me he got the bug tattoos just because they were something different he had never seen anyone else with. I know that certain types of drug users get the feeling of bugs crawling on their skin, and I wondered if he was once a drug addict. I do not like drug users. Even if they are no longer using drugs because they are in prison, I still do not trust them. I also look down on these people, and even in high school had conflict with a clique of students called "stoners."

Later that afternoon, showers were run on the first floor. I was surprised the guards were doing some work, for it was a holiday, and usually nothing is done on holidays. However, it seems this warden has stopped the policies of the past, and yard, shower, and other lines are run like normal operations. Tex had a bad body odor and I was hoping he would go to the shower. He did not, even after I gave him some soap and offered him my shower shoes, which I never do because of my concern of catching foot fungus. I thought I could just scrub my shower shoes with soap when he returned, however. When he told the guard he did not want a shower, I told him he stank and to at least wash up in the sink. He did that, but afterwards he still smelled because he did not wash his shirt as well. I would have offered him a set of my clothes, but I get so cold at night, and I needed my extra clothing.

When Tex was put in my cell, I was attempting to complete a long letter. I had been writing at the counter, but was now sitting on my bunk and using my property box to write on. With a cellmate, I had to give him some space and did not want to occupy the back of the cell in case he wanted to sit down, use the toilet, or maybe wash his shirt. Texas was restless, I could tell, and I told him he may as well settle in. He asked me what punishment I thought he would be given, and I told him, "One month." One month was the maximum punishment for a health and sanitation violation. However, they could write him a ticket for contraband for having a tattoo gun, and such a ticket carried up to three months. He mentioned gang activity because one of the patterns was that of a crown which is a symbol of the Latin Kings, but then told me he did not draw the pattern and his cellmate was willing to say it was his design. I told him I doubt he would then be charged with Security Threat Group Activity, which carried one year.

I offered him a book to read, and then a magazine when he declined. I doubted he would be interested in any of my financial magazines or corporate reports, and handed him a Men's Health and Fitness magazine. He just flipped through it with little interest. I had WLS talk radio on, and told him I watch very little TV. However, if I am not released from Seg in the next couple of days, I will take my TV down and put it on the counter for him to watch. Tomorrow, I told him, was my 30th day in Seg under investigative status. According to their rules, I should be let out of Seg.

Only a few hours passed after I said this when a guard appeared at my door asking for Modrowski. I told her that was me, and she began reading off a disciplinary report. Although it was the 29th day, I suspected they would serve me with a ticket. I could barely hear the guard through the plexiglass, and told her to just put it through the door so I could read it. I was being charged with gambling, trading and trafficking, and contraband/unauthorized property. The report was falsified in many respects, and I quickly wrote down a few witnesses' names to prove the allegations false. If you want to have the Adjustment Committee speak with witnesses, you must write it on the form immediately, although it says to turn it in later. If you send it in the mail, the Adjustment Committee will say they never received it. They will probably not talk to your witnesses regardless, but if you write their names on the report, you can prove they did not follow your due process rights. The guard was in a hurry, and she was demanding her report back, however, I had to digest all the bullshit and fill out my witness list. After I gave it back to her, I turned to Tex and said, "Well, now I know what I am in Seg for."

When dinner was passed out, I told Tex he had better put his food into the styrofoam tray they had given him for lunch to save some for later. It was a small meal and he did not heed my advice; he ate it all. Later, when I was eating the remainder of my meal, I knew he regretted his decision. After a couple of days, Tex was saving his dinners to eat later, although he still got up to eat breakfast at 3 a.m. just to go back to sleep. The first time he saved his food to eat later, cockroaches got into his tray. I told him to wrap his tray in a plastic bag or at the minimum, not to leave it on the counter; again, he did not heed my warning.

As customary, I waited until 7 p.m. to eat, and to see if there was anything on TV. Tex told me he was a huge football fan, and Monday Night Football was on the first night he was in the cell with me. Tex could not see my TV from where I had it, so I took the time to take my TV down and rewire it on the counter. This way, he could see the game from his bunk, or sitting on the toilet. The game tonight was the Minnesota Vikings vs. the NY Jets. Tex told me he wanted the Vikings to win because he liked Brett Favre, but on a football pool he picked the Jets. He then asked me if I bet on the football games. With some sarcasm in my voice, I answered, "Of course I do. Did you not hear the ticket Internal Affairs just wrote me?"

The Jets--Vikings game was delayed an hour due to thunderstorms. To fill in the time gap, sports reporters talked a lot about Brett Favre sending lewd emails to a woman, and how he may be suspended by the NFL. Tex and I thought this was ridiculous and the media was making more of the matter than need be. On the ticker tape it said "Brett Favre gave a tearful apology to his team for the distraction." The NFL has gone soft. Not only are there penalties for unnecessary roughness, celebrating for a good play, hitting a quarterback or other player a second late, petty pass interference calls, and numerous other penalties emasculating the sport, but now they are having the players wear pink for breast cancer awareness and debating whether or not to suspend a player for texting a woman on an Iphone. Who would have ever thought Brett Favre would cry over an email or anything in public? Maybe he should not be doing commercials for Wrangler Jeans, but for pantyhose.

While waiting for the game to begin, Tex told me how his two favorite teams were the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Longhorns. I told him that one of my cousins played ball for the Longhorns in the 90's, but I was not particularly fond of the team. Another cousin of mine played for the Wisconsin Badgers and I liked that team. I tended to like the midwest college football teams over others. I played football myself for years, and speculated I could have also gained a football scholarship if I had sought it out. My cellmate said he had attended a number of Longhorn college football games, and he was such a fan that he even tattooed himself with their logo. He showed me, and sure enough, he had the bull horns on his arm.

The following day, a guard came to our cell asking for my cellmate. Internal Affairs wanted to speak with him, and he would be back to get him in five minutes. Tex asked himself, or me, (I could not tell), why I.A. would want to talk to him. I told him they probably wanted to know who was the tattoo artist, whose tattoo gun was used, and probably to take photos of all your tattoos. Internal Affairs always like to catalog in detail all of a man's tattoos. They mostly do this to identify a person as being in a gang. None of my cellmate's tattoos were gang related, but I knew I.A. would want to photograph each and every one on his body, and may even demand he strip naked to do so.

Tex was gone for about two hours, and during that time I exercised and spoke with the cell house lieutenant. I told him on the last day of my investigation, I.A. served me with a ticket. He said he was already aware of this, and he would see if I could be released from Seg anyway. Afterall, I had already done a month in Seg, and gambling only carried a maximum of one month. I told him that, like everyone else, I gamble, but this ticket served me was almost entirely made up. He merely commented, "That's how they do things." I am not surprised by the lies of the guard who wrote up the report, and apparently, neither was the lieutenant.

When Tex returned, he told me how correct I was: I.A. wanted to photograph all his tattoos. I did not ask him if they made him strip naked, though I am sure he had a number of tattoos under his boxers. He told me the man who interviewed him was unexpectedly professional and polite. I asked him his name, and he told me. I knew this member of I.A., and he was probably the most respectable person who works on the unit. However, I told him that despite how friendly he may come across, he should not infer anything from it, especially in what I.A. decides to charge him with. Tex told me the man asked him if he would cease giving people tattoos if he was given an institutional job. Tex said he would. Then I told him what little prison jobs pay. Tex could make far more money doing tattoo work than any of the jobs at Stateville, except possibly an industry job, but good luck getting one of those.

After the Rush Limbaugh show, I asked Tex what kind of music he liked. I assumed either country or rock. He told me he liked classic rock mostly, and I told him if he wanted to, he could try to tune in an FM music station he liked. I would have never offered this to my prior cellmate with the long dreadlocks. He may have found some reggae music to drive me nuts. It is nice to have a cellmate that you share some common interests with. I have had some of the worst cellmates at Stateville, and I do not exaggerate when I say I dread being assigned a new one.

I have a cheap radio and it is difficult to get stations in, let alone get working properly. Possibly some of this is due to how my radio has been thrown around by guards when they have searched my cell, but it is also due to the difficulty of getting reception on the first floor of a building made of concrete and steel. I finally had to dial in a station. I put on the classic rock station RXQ, and Tex seemed happy. I showed him my collection of books, and he picked out a Dean Koontz novel to read.

At 7 p.m., I turned off the rock station and looked for something to watch on TV. There was not much of interest to me. The Texas Rangers were playing the Tampa Bay Rays, however, in a baseball playoff game. I played some six years of baseball before my arrest, but rarely ever watched a game on TV. I asked Tex if he wanted to watch the game, and he said, "Sure." I said, "I assume we are rooting for the Rangers," and he said, "Of course," but then added that he did not like their former owner, George Bush.

Before George Bush was president, he was not only the owner of the Texas Rangers, but Governor of Texas. Tex told me he had done eight years in the Texas prison system before his arrest in Illinois. I was informed George Bush radically altered the prison system in the state to make time for prisoners more difficult. I said it still had to be better than Illinois' prison system, and asked if he ever thought of trying to get on the interstate compact program. Tex told me the prisons in Texas were not nearly as petty about rules, and you only had to do a third of your time for non-aggravated offenses. There was also much more movement and freedom. However, he said Governor Bush made living conditions austere, and took away prisoners' televisions. Tex especially did not like his TV being taken. Tex went on to say the prisons there were much more violent, and I figured the violence in Texas was like it was in Illinois about a decade ago. However, in Texas, the prisoners did not group up in gangs, but by race, and 70% of the population in Texas prisons was Mexican. Illinois also had racial hostilities, but the races have always been organized in gangs.

Earlier today, a guard brought Tex some of his property. It amounted to a few sets of clothes, his fan, some soap and a few other hygiene items. Tex finally changed clothes after washing up. I am not sure if he washed his shirt, but I did not smell him anymore. When he had his shirt off, I asked him about a few tattoos, and why he had so many. He did not have any particular reason, other than he liked them. He asked me why I did not have any, as though I was the odd one. Perhaps it is unusual that I have been in prison half my life, but do not have a single tattoo. I do not have any because I do not like expressing myself by marking up or disfiguring my body. I also added that, in my circles, having a tattoo would not be thought of as cool. Tattoos are just not acceptable in my family or community, and furthermore, although I have been in prison about as long as I have been out, I still hold on to the roots of my past.

Tex said he came from a middle class family from Austin, but he was just attracted to a different lifestyle. Not long after he was moved into the cell, I asked him how much time he had, but did not ask him about his case. He told me he had natural life, and this almost certainly meant he had a murder. Today, I learned he did not just have one homicide, but three. He confided that a member of his family was sexually assaulted by a man in Illinois. However, the man was acquitted of the charges, and Tex came to the state to kill him. The other two people happened to witness the murder and so he killed them as well. I told him I could understand how he could be compelled to go after the man and I would have probably done so myself. However, I would not have killed him, and I especially would not have killed two innocent bystanders. He told me the details (omitted for obvious reasons), and said that man got everything he deserved. He seemed resigned to spending the rest of his life in prison. I do not agree with what Tex did, but I can respect his honesty, and his strong, unwavering conviction with no regrets.