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Monday, November 22, 2010

Halloween -- October 31, 2010

Autumn is my favorite time of year, and I especially like the time around Halloween. The hot summer days break to cooler pleasant temperatures. The nights are cold but not frigid, and before my arrest I would enjoy a campfire under an open sky with starlight or a Hunter's Moon. At Stateville, I do not have a fire to be warmed by, but the radiators in the cells were finally turned on. At night, I can look out through my window to see the black sky lit with a few stars and the moon as it falls on the horizon beneath the razor wire and prison buildings. Unfortunately, there are no trees outside my window or on any of the grounds of the institution. On the local weather news, however, I was able to see the autumn foliage of gold, orange and red leaves. After the intense storms early last week, though, I imagine they are now gone.

Last Sunday night, some powerful thunderstorms passed through. I was sitting on my bunk facing away from the cellhouse and toward the back of the cell watching a werewolf movie called "Blood and Chocolate." As I watched the movie, I could see the lightning out my window towards the west becoming brighter. Initially it was only small flickers and I heard no corresponding thunder, but eventually the storm produced lightning so bright it lit up my entire cell. I had the window open so I could hear and feel the storm approach, but I soon had to close it. The rain and wind was fierce, and although the prison walls are over a foot thick of concrete, the rain was easily coming into my cell. With the window shut, I watched as the storm went by. I thought that at any moment the power would go out, leaving the Roundhouse in total darkness, and prisoners screaming and beating their doors like madmen, but it did not happen. The power stayed on and I was able to watch the end of my movie.

Early Tuesday morning, an even stronger storm swept by. This storm did not produce the thunder and lightning as the previous one, but the winds were tremendous. Gusts of 50 mph whipped through the area all day, and even into the following day. I heard on the news they were so strong as to cause 15 foot waves on Lake Michigan and snap large tree branches. A woman in her car was incredibly impaled by one of these branches, and a tornado touched down in Peotone, a town near Stateville. The wind caused a howling sound and rattled my windows throughout much of the day. I like to feel storm winds and opened my window. It was not easy to push my window out with the wind beating against it, and once open, my cell became a wind tunnel. Having been caged in prisons half my life, I have a particular fondness for nature. I like the wind, but I closed my window quickly during this tempest.

With the violent storms that swept through, I felt the seasons shift for the year. There will be no more warm 70 or 80 degree weather. Halloween used to mark the end of the year for northern Europeans, and this year the transition was more apparent than most others. Autumn tends to bring change into my life. Certainly my imprisonment in Seg was life-altering, but I tend to believe other changes are to come. Being in the worst possible predicament, I can only believe any change will be for the better. I think about the mid-term elections and my clemency petition with optimism.

My cellmate, Tex, has been moved to another cell, and I have been alone the last week. Tex was a good cellmate, but an even better cellmate is no cellmate at all. I enjoy a single-man cell and the solitude tremendously. If Internal Affairs believes I am being punished with solitary confinement, they are mistaken. They are also mistaken if they thought I would be dissuaded from writing my blog. I now have even more time to write and be critical of the living conditions at Stateville, and the conduct of staff.

For the last couple of weeks, cell house workers have been thoroughly cleaning and renovating the Roundhouse. Jet washers were used by prison workers on electric scaffolding to blow off dirt and grime on the center gun tower, then the lights, stairs, bannisters, as well as the ceiling rafters. This took about a week to complete, and then prison workers began stripping, waxing, and buffing the concrete floors, until they now almost shine like a mirror. If there was no gun tower in the middle, the Roundhouse might look like a hockey rink and stadium. Although earlier in the year when I wanted to paint my cell, I was told there was no paint, staff apparently found a supply and the gun tower was painted inside and out. The paint, I believe, was also used to touch up various surfaces on the inside. However, nothing was done to fix, clean, paint, or fumigate the cells the prisoners live in. The plumbing still goes out regularly, and cells, other than my own, are nasty with old peeling paint, and broken water buttons, electric sockets, windows, and cable wires.

The cockroaches in this cell were not so bad initially. However, now that the heat is on, they are out at night in abundance on the back wall, unless I keep my window open to flood the cell with cold air. I can just imagine how my former cell on the second floor is now. It must be just like the old 1980's horror movie "Creepshow," where roaches came out during a storm in such numbers to overwhelm and kill the late night laboratory worker. This cell is relatively clean, but I know in other cells of F house, the roaches are crawling over everything, even during the day, and at night, they are even worse. Prisoners in some of these cells must be tormented during their sleep with roaches crawling into their bedding and over their bodies, maybe going into their ears and mouths as well.

All the cleaning, painting, and buffing of floors is unusual, especially in the fall. Typically, when this occurs, state representatives, the director, or the Governor is planning to visit. However, I have not witnessed any of these men or women of power come through. What I have noticed, however, is many tours. A tour of about 20 or 30 people have visited the Roundhouse almost every day this week, and the week before. I know there is a Stateville Haunted House not far from here that gets a lot of business in the weeks leading to Halloween. I do not think these people have confused the haunted house with the real Stateville Correctional Center. However, possibly there is an increased interest to see the prison from the inside by college students. Most of the men and women who came through are in their early 20's and appear to be with an older man, whom I presume is a professor of criminal justice or related study. A white female guard with a nice disposition usually brings in the tours. I tend to believe she was chosen for this task intentionally for good PR. She acts like a tour guide and talks to the group occasionally, pointing things out or answering their questions. I imagine the administration chose her intentionally to put a nice image on Stateville staff, and it probably greatly contrasts with the perception visitors have of the inmates. The prisoners often go berserk, yelling obscenities at them. Fortunately for the tours, yard has been run and a portion of the inmates are not present when they come through. I tend to think their visits would be met with more noise, rudeness, or hostility if the building was full with its close to 500 occupants. Possibly, however, these people are looking forward to such a greeting if they are here for Halloween thrills.

I asked one of the workers in F House why all the work was being done to make the place look nice. He told me there is a rumor that there are discussions in Springfield to have the cell house closed. F House and all of Stateville has been on the chopping block for years. I can almost guarantee it that if the Republican Bill Brady is elected, the prison will be shut down. The IDOC has a huge bloated budget, and Stateville is the most corrupt, inefficient, incompetent and expensive prison in the state. Only the power of the union and certain Democrats have kept this place open so long. I wonder if a new Republican administration concerned with enormous budget deficits will be impressed with the new paint and buffed floors.

Stateville is no longer the extremely violent prison that would scare the general public, but on occasion, violence does break out. This week, I learned more about the reason for the prison's lockdown last month. One of my neighbors was written a ticket for gang activity and inciting a riot. He has a big mouth, and although I did not want to hear him talking, I could not avoid it. Apparently, two opposing gangs were fighting on the yard. My neighbor was trying to convince a gallery worker his charges were not valid because nowhere in the ticket did it say he was actively involved in the fight; contrarily, the ticket says he was heard by sources telling people not to fight. I have also heard that someone was stabbed with a shank during the fight. If my neighbor is found guilty, he may be sent to Pontiac Seg. Although I overheard this conversation, I have been in my own world lately, intentionally, trying not to bother myself with the goings-on of the prison.

I have watched a few movies this week to pass my time in the evenings. I even disrupted my routine to watch a 3-hour James Bond movie on the USA network, which comes in relatively clear on my TV. I would not normally disrupt my routine for just any movie, but this was "Casino Royal," with the new Bond actor, Daniel Craig. I tend to think his movies are less far fetched than other Bond films, and he is the best actor since Sean Connery. I had seen "Casino Royale" once before, but I did not catch it in its entirety until last Thursday. There has been a Bond movie marathon on Spike TV, but Spike does not come in as well. I am less interested in those films, although I did watch "Goldeneye" one evening.

The remake of "Halloween" by Rob Zombie was on last night. I watched the movie, although there was plenty of static and I could barely see the final scenes that were filmed in the dark. I was surprised that the remake was pretty good. Usually, sequels or revisions are much worse than the original, especially horror movies. The movie, directed and acted in by the alternative-metal music singer, was more brutal and graphic than the original. I did not think Rob Zombie could put together a decent movie. Although the acting was not as good without Jamie Lee Curtis, the horror film kept my interest. I did not leave the TV or put down my headphones once, except during commercials.

Earlier this week, I sent a kite (prison letter) to a real Michael Myers (his real name is Steve) who happens to be in the Roundhouse with me. This man, while a teenager, stabbed a girl some 30 times. He was arrested with minimal evidence, and because he was ineligible for the death penalty due to his age, he was eventually given a bond. His parents paid 10% of the million dollar bond, only for him to beat his brother to death with a baseball bat, and then rape his sister. Despite how this man is obviously deranged, and some may say evil, one would never know it by speaking with him. I got to know him while I was at the Cook County Jail, and we were celled in the same living unit before he bonded out.

Steve was close in age to me, and we both came from the southwest suburbs of Chicago. In fact, I happened to know a couple people he knew from the area. In a jail that was almost entirely black, Steve and I were quick to make each others' acquaintance. Like the boy who played Michael Myers in Rob Zombie's "Halloween," he did not at all appear to be a serial killer. He also had the boyish looks of a young Leonardo DiCaprio. He seemed nonaggressive, if not a little shy. Steve did not come from "Haydenfield," Illinois, but a wealthier suburb, and from a good, nonabusive family. Despite knowing from television news that he was accused of brutally killing a classmate, I got along well with him, and he was one of the few people I spoke to at the jail. I suppose I was not judgmental. After all, I was on TV nearly every day for being the prime suspect in the Brown's Chicken murders in Palatine.

I sent Steve a casual letter discussing a little that was going on in my life, and asking how he was doing. I also asked him if he could help me out with some food or other things. He is not in Seg, and has all his property and can shop. He was recently transferred from Menard C.C. and is waiting for a cell in general population. At the end of my letter, I could not help myself from making fun of him. I asked him if he was going as Michael Myers again this year, and if he had made his mask already.

There are a number of people in Stateville with multiple homicides. People outside of prison may tend to think these people look and act like maniacs, but this is not usually the case. My former cellmate killed 3 people, and if it were not for his entire body work of tattoos, he would appear normal and civilized. Juan Luna works and lives back here. He slit a woman's throat and killed others at a Browns Chicken and Pasta restaurant. He does not act crazy or hostile, and he seems to fit in with everyone else. On visits, I have seen his wife and child come to see him. There are quite a few people with scary crimes at Stateville, but many of them are not scary men to be around or live with.

There is an older man who works and lives back here that does look a little creepy. He reminds me a little of Norman Bates in appearance. I am not sure of the details, but I do know he was one of the men who had their sentences commuted to natural life from death row. The justice system in Illinois is broken, but I do not agree with former Governor George Ryan's blanket commutations, especially to natural life. I do not believe in natural life sentences without the possibility of parole, and do believe many of those men should have been executed. Yesterday, I told this Norman Bates man he was a day early and he should take off his Halloween skull mask. He told me he was getting a head start on his trick-or-treating. I responded, "You're not going to get much candy working in Seg. We barely have food to feed ourselves." I should probably not have made fun of his ugliness because, having lost so much weight, I probably look like a skeleton myself.

The food we were served on Halloween was nothing special. Many years ago, I remember we were given some candy or special Halloween cookies for the holiday, with our lunch or dinner. This year, we were given soy gravy drool and a biscuit for breakfast. This gravy looks and tastes terrible, and I did not eat it. I tend to think canned dog food would taste better and be more nutritious. Lunch was not bad, and were given baked chicken, a prepackaged state cake, and broccoli stems for a vegetable. At Stateville, we rarely are served the tops of the broccoli. All we get are the stems. Dinner consisted of more broccoli stalks and spaghetti, made with soy meal kibble. As I write this journal entry, my stomach grumbles with hunger. I remember as a kid on Halloween having so much candy to gorge on. I walked a few square miles trick-or-treating until I came home with bags of candy. I had so much I could not eat it in one night, and it lasted for weeks. I wish I now had such treats, despite how health conscious I have become.

The other day, I watched the classic Peanuts cartoon "The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown." I used to love watching this cartoon as a kid. However, now as an adult, it was lame and silly. Despite this, I watched it anyway, attempting to catch a time in my life when I was happy and free. My favorite part was Snoopy pretending to be the Red Baron. My uncle was a WWII air force pilot who, like Snoopy, was shot down behind enemy lines and had to sneak across the French countryside to get back to safety. I also liked the part of Linus and Lucy waiting foolishly for the Great Pumpkin to arise. I always thought Linus was an idiot. Not because he missed the Halloween party or the trick-or-treating, but because he was in the pumpkin patch all night with that girl and did not even get a kiss. If I ever get out of prison, I am going to bring my girlfriend to the pumpkin patch, and I do not plan to just look for pumpkins. I think on Halloween I will also stuff my face with chocolates and candy, just like when I was a kid. As a matter of fact, I am going to take these prison cakes and cookies I have collected and spread some peanut butter on them to eat while I reminisce about my past and stare out into the night sky. Who knows? Maybe I will see the Great Pumpkin.