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Friday, December 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Week in Segregation -- November 26, 2010

This week, I have missed my family and have felt bitter that another holiday has gone by that I could not be with them. However, by and large, the week has been one of my better ones in Seg. I have been eating better, I was able to call home for 15 minutes, and I saw my mother on another visit. I have been told my cousin is recovering from surgery and my attorney claims to want to give my appeal her special focus in the month of December. The cockroaches in my cell seem to be on the retreat, and I have not had to worry about them crawling all over me. Neither the guards nor prisoners have given me a hard time or have been overly disruptive. I continue to have a cell to myself and am enjoying my solitude to such a degree that I have thought I may want to stay here, and that this punishment is more of a blessing.

Not only was I given 3 months in Segregation, but 3 months of C grade (privilege restriction), and 3 months of commissary denial. The Adjustment Committee, as they call themselves, also oddly recommended I lose a month of good time. I have natural life without the possibility of parole, and I could lose a decade of good time and it would be irrelevant. Despite the loss of privileges, I was able to call home Sunday and surprise my parents. No, I was not out of Seg, but apparently someone forgot to change my grade status in the computer. I am still listed as being in A grade. The phone is only passed around in Seg once a month, and it is meant for those in investigation status, or those who were given more segregation time than C grade. I spoke with my parents for about 15 minutes before a worker told me my time was up. I asked him what he was talking about, and I was told that Seg inmates, even if they are in A grade, only get 15 minutes of phone time. I told him to hold on, and quickly said my goodbye.

Since being in Segregation, I have filed two grievances about the roaches. The first one was answered a month later by a counselor. She said the warden personally informed her that pest control would be here on the third week of October to spray the cells. The month of October came and went, and no one sprayed. In the meantime, I had been moved to a cleaner cell and the roaches were not nearly as numerous. However, when the heaters were turned on, the roaches began to multiply. I often kept my window open, even though I was cold, to keep the roaches away. I filed another grievance, and this one has not been answered, but Monday morning I noticed a man spraying along each gallery of the Roundhouse. I thought this was not very helpful. The roaches are in the cells and breeding in the locked plumbing units behind our toilets and sinks. The next day, the cell house lieutenant pounded on my door to get my attention. He was passing out a memo to all the prisoners stating sometime in the near future the inside of our cells will be sprayed, and we will be required to take all our property off the floor. I asked the lieutenant if he could unlock the plumbing doors so that area could also be sprayed. He said something like, "We will jump that hurdle when we get there, but for now, it would be good just to get the cells sprayed." The cells have yet to be sprayed, but the temperatures outside have dropped to the 20s and 30s which I believe is discouraging the roaches, for I see less of them.

The prison came off lockdown on the 16th, and Stateville's general population kitchen workers have been making our meals. It is a greatly noticeable difference. The food is better and there is much more of it. During the lockdown, I was losing weight quickly with the 1,500 calorie a day diet. Some days I refused to eat portions of the meager food we were served, making my progression of weight loss even more rapid. Last Friday, commissary was passed out, to the delight of F House. F House has not been able to shop since September. The prisoners of F House beat their doors in anticipation of the carts of commissary bags. However, I did not care. I was in commissary denial, and in Seg you are not able to buy food anyway. I also heard that the prison store ran out of stamped envelopes. Never in my nearly 18 years of incarceration have I heard of a prison store running out of envelopes. Thus, all I was expecting was shampoo, which I had almost run out of. To my great surprise, a good sized bag was placed in front of my cell, and it had more than some small packets of shampoo. It held food!

When I received my bag, I discovered the order I had placed before going to Seg had been filled to $30. Commissary denial does not mean you cannot shop at all, but you can only shop once a month for hygiene or writing supplies, up to a maximum of $30. Years ago, it was a big restriction because prisoners at Stateville shopped every week, and in minimum or some medium security prisons, an inmate could shop whenever he or she wanted. However, Stateville only allows prisoners to put in orders twice a month now, and that is only if the prisoner is not on lockdown. So, commissary denial, for the most part, only punishes people by prohibiting them from ordering food, or ordering over the spending cap. For some reason, the person filling out my order was in a generous spirit, and gave me some food. Even off lockdown, I am continually hungry and I was very glad to be able to supplement my diet or replace the garbage we are often fed. On Monday, we were served mystery meat bologna, and I tossed this into the toilet. Instead, I made myself a meal of fish and chips, or more precisely, tortilla chips with Velveeta cheesy rice and sardines in a zesty tomato sauce. I took the lettuce off my tray and tore it into pieces over my meal.

While I was making my meal, I heard a roar from the round house. I was going to ignore it, but inmates were going berserk, so I went to the front of the cell to see what all the commotion was about. I saw a sissy in spandex being led down the stairs in handcuffs by a couple of guards. I had no idea what happened until later in the week when I spoke to a legal clerk. He told me that the sissy had made a deal with his cellmate to suck each other's dicks. After the sissy completed his end of the bargain, the other man refused. The sissy, apparently, beat up his cell mate, possibly using a weapon of some sort. I said to the clerk, "How do you know such details?" He told me another clerk was assisting both of them on some appellate matters and was told the story. The man who was beat up by the sissy was sent to the prison's Health Care Unit, but was not seriously injured, and is back in Seg. Both men now have new cellmates.

There are all types of homosexuals and sexual perverts in prison. This week, I overheard my neighbor speak to the lieutenant and then a guard, complaining that he is in Seg. The man was masturbating at the front of his cell bars and a nurse reported him. He was trying to convince these people that he had done nothing wrong, and the nurse should have minded her own business. He should not have been written a ticket. The lieutenant was not trying to hear it and became loud and cross with him, as he should. This man intentionally wanted the nurse to see him playing with himself. I have heard repeated stories about men in prison who get sexual excitement by exposing themselves or masturbating before the females that work here.

Pretty nurses are often harassed at Stateville, particularly those who are white. Today I heard a black man screaming obscenities at a white nurse who refused to engage him. His voice could be heard across the Roundhouse as he shouted, "Nasty ass white bitch! You smell like a can of rotten sardines. You think you are something? You have no ass, white whore." The woman continued to pass out insulin to inmates in the building, and ignored him. She looked over to his cell for a moment, however, during his ranting. "That's right. I'm still talking to you, white bitch. Get the fuck out of this cell house!" Nurses are always escorted by a guard in Seg, but all the guard could do is write him a disciplinary ticket for insolence or possibly threats and intimidation. The man is already in Seg, and can only get more Seg time. He has been yelling to people he is going home any day, but is being held up for this reason or that. I believe he is lying in an attempt to con people to send him coffee, food, or other things. He promises these people he will leave them his Walkman, fan, headphones, gym shoes or other property when he is released.

I have not seen the pretty nurse, who looks like the actress Julia Stiles, in two months. Hopefully, Danielle found a better job. I do not like to see such women work here. White women who come from the suburbs often do not know how to defend themselves or respond effectively to the elements in prison. These women seem too vulnerable in the zoo. Fortunately, Danielle, although nice, was not gullible or easily intimidated. Regardless, she should not be working at a place like this.

My mother came to see me on Tuesday, and this time the guards did not bind me like I was a highly dangerous serial killer. It is quieter in the Seg visiting booths, but the time is short and I do not like seeing visitors while in cuffs and behind an inch of plexiglass. In our one hour visit, I was told my cousin was released from the hospital and is finally recovering from the infection that nearly killed him. He went in to have back surgery, but because of dirty surgical instruments or airborne contagions, he developed a severe infection which required the surgeon to reopen his wound twice to apply newly developed antibiotics. Apparently, Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn and some other hospitals have problems with mutated and more drug resistant bacteria. It was not pleasant to hear about the family member I remember as a strong, robust young man who played as a lineman for the Wisconsin Badgers be so weak, sickly, and near death, and I was glad to hear he was doing much better.

While my cousin is recuperating, I was told about the deteriorating health of other family members, including my father. My father suffers from severe degenerative arthritis, and the disks in his spine have virtually disintegrated. He was in a little car accident recently, and the bump almost caused him to become a quadriplegic. Doctors want him to immediately undergo surgery to place metal brackets in his neck. My father, mother, and various other family members have a multitude of health problems. Everyone seems to be aging and dying.

On my visit, I asked my mother what her plans for Thanksgiving were. She told me the family is attending a gathering at another cousin of mine. When I was free, everyone went to my grandparents' home for the holidays. My grandmother was a chef who worked at a banquet hall. She made some very good meals at Thanksgiving. She died many years ago, and the tradition has been passed down the generations. Since I was free and a teenager just out of high school, so much has changed. All my grandparents have passed away, and my parents, aunts, and uncles are all very old. Almost all my cousins are married and have homes and children. I listened to my family's Thanksgiving plans with both sadness and bitterness. I have not been able to be with my family in nearly two decades. My Thanksgiving Day will be spent in a cage in Stateville Segregation, alone, or with 500 convicts I do not care for, and many of whom make my life miserable with their loud, rude and obnoxious behavior. As the years go by, I become increasingly angry at my continued imprisonment.

In the evening Tuesday, I went through the few cable stations I can get and found The Bucket List just starting. The Bucket List is a movie with actors Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. In this movie, they play two men sharing a room in a hospital, dying of cancer. The character played by Morgan Freeman wrote up a fanciful list of some of the things he wanted to do before he died. It was called the bucket list because it was a list of what he wanted to do before he "kicked the bucket." Jack Nicholson played a multimillionaire, and after finding his roommate's list, he added a number of activities. He then convinced him to leave the hospital and quit hoping for a miracle. With his millions of dollars, they could do whatever they wanted or die trying before the Grim Reaper came to take them away.

The Bucket List made me think about the things I would like to do before I die. First, I thought about spending time with family, particularly my parents. They certainly have less time than I do, and I hope to be with them before they kick the bucket. Then I thought about a wife and family of my own. I thought of having a home and life, far away from the oppression and misery I have lived with all my adult life. I did not have any desire to jump out of an airplane, or drive a race car like the characters in the movie. I wanted some type of meaning to contrast the meaningless waste of existence I have had in prison. Most of all, I thought I want justice. Some people tell me they do not know how I have persevered all these years. What drives me more and more as I languish in prison is to see justice before I die. It is this that prevents me more than anything else, from ending my torturesome existence. The Palatine Brown's Chicken murders were finally solved after a decade, and I continue to wait to be exonerated of the lies of my co-defendant, interrogating officer, and prosecutor.

Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, I finally wrote my grievance addressing the ticket I received in October. I was waiting on commissary records before I filed, but it seems they will not be forthcoming. I have only two months to file, and December 10th is my deadline. I cannot believe that I must prove everything in my possession was purchased by me from commissary at one time or another. I cannot believe that commissary could even be considered to be contraband. Although I am currently enjoying my single man cell, and am not in a hurry to be back in general population, the ticket I received bothers me out of principle. Furthermore, Internal Affairs will continue to harass me and take my property if I am unable to overturn the verdict of the Adjustment Committee.

My grievance is a page and a half long, and written on an official Illinois Department of Corrections grievance form. I was never given my commissary records, however, as exhibits I am enclosing two affidavits, the disciplinary ticket, the ruling and reasoning of the Adjustment Committee, and my former cellmate's grievance along with his commissary receipts. I suppose if I was wise like my cellmate, I would have kept my receipts as well. The two affidavits I have are from my cellmate and the cell house worker who Internal Affairs accused of passing me things. I had requested both of these men be called as witnesses at my hearing, but they never were. My former cellmate just simply stated the majority of the property I.A. took and claimed was mine was, in fact, his. The cell house worker admits in his statement that he gave my cellmate some supplies, but never passed me any commissary. I enclosed the ticket and ruling to show the errors and inconsistencies in them.

Just like the adjudicating system, the grievance system is largely a facade. The prison must provide prisoners with due process, and administrators comply by merely going through the motions. I am surprised that my grievance about the cockroaches now seems to be being addressed. Not long ago, I heard rumors how officials in Springfield were considering having the Roundhouse closed down because of its state of disrepair and to save money. This was not the first time I have heard such talk. If these rumors are true, I tend to believe the warden may be concerned grievances of roach infestation reaching Springfield. It will give those in authority over IDOC more reason to close this building.

In the middle of the night, a heavyset black man with a bald head awakened me. He apologized for waking me, but said he heard I was very good at picking winning football teams and he wanted my advice on the games later today. Apparently, since I.A. put me in Seg for gambling, my reputation for it has spread. I am very good with statistics and odds. I usually can beat Las Vegas spreads by 60 to 70%. Vegas takes 10% of all winnings and that is called "the juice," consequently, I doubt a career as a professional gambler is in my future. When people make side bets, they do not charge a 10% fee, however, and many of the people in prison are not very intelligent. So, I can oftentimes be successful in making picks.

The man told me he was betting $20 on each of the three games on Thanksgiving, and if I made his picks for him, he would give me a bag of coffee. He also promised to give me a cut of his winnings, if he won. I asked, "What if I picked losers?" He said it did not matter, it was better if I picked them. He told me I came highly recommended, and he trusted me. I told him I have not been paying close attention to football since being in Seg, but said, "Give me the spreads the man you are wagering with will give you, and I will do my best." The man was real happy, and he quickly smashed a bag of instant coffee under my door. I figure if I am in Seg for a falsified ticket for gambling, I may as well assist someone in the rule infraction. In fact, I relished the idea.

On Thanksgiving, I spent the day writing letters to my family. I thought if I cannot be with them, I can at least write them. I did not complete as many letters as I had wanted. It is difficult writing with the dull little pencils I have. Every now and then, I had to stop to gnaw with my teeth a little more wood off the tiny writing sticks. Furthermore, I also wanted to be neat in my letter writing, and this took more time with the poor writing utensils I had. I did not watch the football games on TV, or root for the teams I had picked for the stranger who came to my cell door. The games were on a channel my TV was not picking up, however, I did look at the scores on ESPN from time to time while eating my Thanksgiving Day meal. Initially I thought my picks were going to be losers. The New England Patriots were tied with the Detroit Lions at the half. Ultimately, however, the Patriots won by 3 touchdowns, and my other two picks were winners as well. True to his word, the man sent me a package of a little over $5 in miscellaneous food. I appreciated the food, but I hope this man does not continue to wake me up in the middle of the night for tips.

Prisoners are given their largest, and in the past, best meal on Thanksgiving Day. Although I had been given some commissary food last week, I must conserve it until late December, and I was looking forward to all the food. Thus, I was very pleased when I was given three cold trays and two servings of desert. The cell house worker apparently was in a generous spirit, and in passing out the refrigerated food, treated my cell like it had two people in it. On top of the tray lockbox, he left two styrofoam trays, two prepackaged wedges of pumpkin pie, and two half cups of sherbet.

To prevent inmates in Seg from throwing piss and excrement onto guards, there is a lockbox built into every cell door. The box has two doors so the front door can be opened, the tray put inside, front door closed, and then back door opened so the inmate can pull out his food. The lockboxes are not always used, but inmate workers use the top of the box to place food trays on and the guards come later to open the locks and put the trays inside the boxes. The guards were hurrying to complete this task, and one of the trays he picked up to put into the box spilled out a little. He was considerate enough to get me another cold tray.

Inside the cold tray was a real salad, complete with a full complement of raw vegetables: pieces of green pepper, onion, tomato, cucumber, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Throughout the year when inmates are served salad, it is merely a handful of plain lettuce, and I literally mean a handful. Inmate kitchen line workers grab the lettuce with a hand to toss on your tray. Although guards have access to a full salad bar with each of their meals, and can take as much as they want, inmates only get a small portion of lettuce. So, the Thanksgiving cold tray is something special, and it, along with my desert of pumpkin pie, would be the best part of my Thanksgiving meal.

The hot tray which was passed out a half hour later, was not impressive. On it was a serving of my least liked vegetable: collard greens. At least it did not taste like lawn mower clippings as it usually does when served throughout the year. Also, on the hot tray was a portion of sweet potatoes, cheese macaroni, stuffing, and turkey-soy loaf. Prisoners at Stateville have not been served real turkey for years. Instead, we get a processed blend of ground soy and turkey which is formed like a meatloaf, and every prisoner gets two to three slices. The soy-turkey loaf did not taste very good, and the stuffing was even worse. The stuffing had little flavor and was a paste rather than a fluffy mixture with a slight crispness to it like I recall my grandmother used to make. The macaroni had very little cheese on it, although the sweet potatoes were OK. Unfortunately, there was no cranberry sauce; this ceased to be served to prisoners here about the same time as real turkey.

I ate half my hot tray, and half of one of my cold trays for lunch. The other portions were put aside for dinner. I knew dinner would be very small and distasteful as it always is on holidays. I was not mistaken, and for dinner we were served two slices of mystery meat bologna, bread, and plain lettuce. I did not eat my small wedges of pumpkin pie, nor the other two cold trays on Thanksgiving Day. Instead, I put them in my freezer (the window sill), to eat throughout the weekend. I assumed the 20 to 30 degree temperatures outside should keep the food good until Sunday. On Thanksgiving evening, I ate the green sherbet and was disappointed because it had melted. Apparently, the temperatures did not drop enough to keep them frozen. The serving of salad I ate today was frozen, and I had to thaw it before eating. For breakfast this morning, I ate one of my small slivers of pumpkin pie. As soon as I woke up, I put it on the radiator in my cell. It was hot and delicious when I finally ate it. I only wished I had been given more.

On Thanksgiving Day I heard on news radio that Governor Quinn reviewed about 80 Clemency Petitions and granted 20. No details were given about the cases of the petitions he granted, and they could have been for minor crimes or for people who had already done their prison time and merely wanted their records cleared. However, I was impressed the Governor was willing to use his executive authority to grant any pardons, or commutations of sentence. This news made me minutely hopeful that he would grant my petition as well. Formerly, I thought that if he did not lose the election, he would not want to to risk his politicial standing. Unfortunately, at the end of the short news segment, it was mentioned that all of the petitions were leftovers from the do-nothing Blagojevich administration and all had been filed in 2004! For a fleeting second, I had thought, maybe I could be home for Christmas. However, with the backlog of petitions, I will probably be fortunate if Governor Quinn gets around to deciding mine before the end of his term in office, and Christmas 2014.