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Monday, January 31, 2011

Kickout -- December 17, 2010

Last Friday, I was surprised when a guard pounded on my door and told me to pack up. I was being released from Segregation. I did not anticipate leaving Seg until Monday, the first weekday after my three month Seg time was completed. None of my property was ready to be moved, and I began to scramble putting it together, mostly in garbage bags. I would have taken my time bundling my property together, however, I was told that if I did not hurry, I would miss the personal property line, and it would be closed over the weekend. I did not want to be without the property that has been kept from me for the last three months, although I knew Internal Affairs had stolen many of my foodstuffs, among other things.

I was given a yellow jumpsuit to wear to the personal property warehouse. It is the same jumpsuit that court and hospital writs are made to wear. I do not like the bright yellow jumpsuit that I call the "banana peel," and I do not understand why I was given it when I will only be discarding it later in the day when given my property boxes and state-issued blue clothing. I could have stayed in my brown Seg jumpsuit, but procedures are what they are, even if they make little or no sense. In my banana suit, I began to walk my property to the front door of F House. It was nice to be out of my cage without any handcuffs, chains, or a leash, although the blaring noises of the cellhouse and the numerous people attempting to talk to me as I moved my property were annoying.

I was told I was moving to cell #440, a cell on the 4th floor of the Roundhouse. Men almost never go directly from Segregation back to general population. Prisoners must wait in what is called "kickout" until an available and appropriate cell is found for them in the quarter units building. Some men wait four months or longer on the upper two floors of F House until they are given permanent placement. Stateville and the entire Illinois Department of Corrections is overcrowded. There is no space for many of the prisoners coming from county jails and being released from Seg. Illinois continues to incarcerate more and more people with longer and longer sentences. Some 50,000 people are incarcerated in Illinois' prisons, and there are not enough cells or money to open or build more prisons.

Although I was only being moved upstairs, I had to take all my property with me to the personal property building, excluding mattress, sheets, blanket, TV and radio. It was a laborious and redundant task moving the heavy trash bags of property to the personal property building, only to bring it all right back. However, this is done to make sure prisoners can fit all of their property into their boxes. If you cannot secure all your possessions in the two boxes assigned, you must discard things. Prisoners are given the option of mailing excess property out of the institution, however, rarely does a prisoner want to pay the postage to do this.

Before I made the trip to the personal property building, I went upstairs to drop off my TV, radio, fan, and bedding at my new cell. As I went up the flights of stairs, I dreaded learning who my cellmate would be. In Seg, a prisoner can sometimes go without a cellmate, but I know in "kickout" there would be no single-man cells. Before I even left my cell, I looked up and across the Roundhouse to see if I could gain a look at who I would be moving in with. I saw a dark figure at the door looking out. I could tell the man was black and tall, but other than his silhouette and race, I did not know what to expect. I tried to tell myself that whomever was my cellmate would only be temporary, and hopefully, if we did not get along, he or I would be moved to general population soon. I was not optimistic, however.

Many of the men getting out of Seg were mildly insane, unruly, and difficult to live with. They were in Seg for a reason, and the inmates of Stateville, in general, were of the lowliest kind. For three months, I had been tortured with their yelling and banging, and now I was going to be in a cell with one of these annoying thugs. Much to my relief, I discovered the man I was moving in with seemed to be a considerate, friendly, and normal person. We introduced ourselves, and he volunteered to take my property into the cell as I went back downstairs to collect more of it. His name was Jamie, but he went by the name Iowa.

Many fights, assaults, and murders occur because of the administration's control of cell assignments, and their refusal to move cellmates who do not get along, or have nothing in common. Prisoners in maximum-security often are violent and have such long sentences that they can never live to see freedom. There is no more parole board and good time credit has been removed since 2000 for those with murders. It is very difficult to live in a 5' x 10' cell with someone, let alone someone you do not like. In the past few months, I have been aware of numerous fights in the Roundhouse. Some of these people have been severely injured and hospitalized. One of these men almost was killed and remains in the prison infirmary with serious injuries. Years ago, prisoners could choose their cellmates, and this greatly limited the amount of cell violence. The administration, however, wanted complete control over the IDOC and took away this practice. Fortunately, a new placement officer has been hired, and she seems to try to assign prisoners compatible cellmates. The task is very difficult, however, even with the best of intentions, and I believe prisoners should have much greater control over who will be their cellmates.

There were five inmates being released from Seg the same day I was, and they were waiting for me in a holding cage just outside of F House. One of the men recognized me and asked if I remembered him. Despite his unique tattoos, including a crown above his right eyebrow, I did not know who he was. He was a short Mexican, and told me he lived in the same cell house as I a couple of years ago before he was transferred to a high medium-maximum security prison. I did not have to inquire, and he went on to say he was in a gang fight which caused him to be transferred back to Stateville to serve out several months of Segregation time. He must now wait at least 6 months before he can request a transfer back to a medium-security prison. He tended to believe he would be kept at Stateville for at least a year, but he did not care. His family and friends live in Chicago and he was closer to home now. His Latin King brothers also were here at Stateville.

Eventually, a guard let us out of the cage and we stacked our property on a cart with the help of a cell house worker. The cart was heavy and the cell house worker complained, but no one helped him push it. I lent him a hand for awhile, but I was not experienced in moving these long heavy carts and the cart at times swayed from side to side down the corridor. The cell house worker asked me if I was in prison for a DUI and I told him if he did not like my assistance, he could push the cart by himself.

At the personal property warehouse, several guards were waiting for our arrival, and had our property boxes stacked. We took our boxes and began the process of packing our other property into them. The boxes were trashed, and nothing was in order. This was terribly upsetting to me, and I quickly went to work trying to fit everything inside in a meticulous order. I knew the guards would not give me the time to clean and organize my boxes to my satisfaction. Thus, I quickly smashed property as effectively as possible. I noted Internal Affairs took some of my packaged food and hygienic items. I also noticed they took my jars and oatmeal boxes that I used to organized my property. It would now be more difficult to order my box. The Mexican who spoke to me earlier must have noticed my frustration and annoyance, and he said, "At least your box was not invaded by mice." His box had numerous food packages broken open with food and rodent droppings everywhere. I looked into my small box and found it was totally empty. I.A. had, as I suspected, stole my blog writings, letters, and envelopes. I was hoping to be surprised with their presence. However, I knew with certainty now that I.A. had taken and probably destroyed these things. There will be no Wiki leaks at Stateville if I.A. has any control over the matter.

When I finally fit all my property into the two boxes, the supervisor of the personal property office gave me a form to sign that stated I had received all of my property. I did not receive all of my property and began to write on this form the items that were missing. The guard quickly stopped me and asked, "What the hell are you doing?!" I said, "I am not signing this form without listing the property that's missing." This made him very upset, and he told me he had not taken any of my possessions. Everything was in my boxes except what he had sent me in Seg while I was under investigative status. I told him I knew he did not take my property. Internal Affairs had done so before he received my boxes. I informed him my boxes did not arrive at the personal property building directly from the cell house, but only after I.A. had searched and pilfered through them. This seemed to diminish his anger, and he asked me what was missing. Briefly, I described the type of property stolen. He threw out the form I had written on, and rewrote a new form mentioning the missing property, and then handed it to me to sign. He said, "You realize you will never win a grievance on this matter, don't you?" I told him I knew that, but I still was not going to sign a false statement, and I wanted it on the record for the principle of the matter.

We stacked our boxes on the cart, along with TVs, fans and radios, and began our trip to the clothing warehouse. It was very cold outside, and the wind went through my thin banana peel jumpsuit. As I walked outside, I began to regret not immediately putting on my sweater and sweatpants while packing my box. At the clothing warehouse, I hoped to get an insulated jacket.

The clothing warehouse is a large building with stockpiles of clothing, but the way the supervisor acted, you would imagine it was a tiny place with limited supplies. The clothing supervisor was very stingy and only gave us two pairs of socks, underwear, and T-shirts. He dictated what sizes we were to be given and I complained when he told a worker to only give me a size XL T-shirt. I told him I needed an XXL, possibly an XXXL. The supervisor, who knows me somewhat from my years at Stateville, said, "I don't know if you have realized this, but you have lost a lot of weight, Modrowski." I told him this was not lost on me, but I was still tall and an XL T-shirt will be short, especially after I wash it. Furthermore, I don't plan to stay an emaciated skeleton. The supervisor replied that when I gain weight, I can put in a request for a larger shirt.

Inmates often want oversized clothing, and I often see pants that sag to the knees, or T-shirts and jackets several sizes too large on prisoners. For some reason, this has become the style and is thought of as "hip," especially among black and Mexican prisoners. The little Mexican who had the tattoo above his eyebrow was furious to be given a size large jacket, although he could probably fit in a small or medium and the sleeves went below his hands several inches before he rolled them up. He went on and on complaining and cussing at the clothing room supervisor, but he would not budge. I thought it was more insulting that we were given used pants and button-up shirts to wear. The worker told us we could pick from any of the boxes of state blues two shirts and two pair of pants, but they were in poor condition. One pair of pants I thought was in decent shape I discovered was missing a zipper when I tried them on. Other pairs were ripped or missing buttons. It took me a few minutes to find a decent pair of pants in my size. I cannot believe how petty Stateville and possibly the entire IDOC has become in trying to save a few pennies, when they squander millions. Truly, they are penny wise and dollar foolish.

Finally, I made it back to the cellhouse, and up to my new cell on the 4th floor. Iowa, my new cellie, was sitting on the stool in the back of the cell. I noticed he had his gym shoes on and this is a precaution most people take when getting a new cellmate. It is easier to fight in gym shoes than slippers or socks. When you fight, you want to have a good grip on the floor. A man who is slipping around does not have balance and cannot use his weight or body motion, leaving him at a severe disadvantage. Cell fights can be especially brutal because you are surrounded by metal and concrete. There is also no escaping your attacker or being saved by a guard in the gun tower. The cells in F House are made mostly of perforated steel, and even those that are not, do not have bars, but glass rectangular fronts. Despite my new cellmate's precaution, we seemed to hit it off well.

Iowa is a 40-year-old white man from none other than the State of Iowa. He is of average height and build. His hair is cut almost bald, but I can see it is of a rusty blond color, as is his slight facial hair. The black man I had seen earlier standing at the cell door was moved to general population. Iowa was glad to be rid of him and told me he was an obnoxious, loud, and very immature person. Iowa told me the man used to stand at the bars yelling to people all day long, making Iowa's life quite miserable. I could readily empathize with that and I was glad not to have him for a cellmate. Iowa seemed like he valued peace and quiet as much as I do, and I was glad for my good fortune.

I was very discombobulated upon my move and, in fact, all this week I have had a terrible time adjusting to this new cell. I do not like to think of myself as having autism, but throughout this time period, I could not help but recall the movie Rainman, and the troubles of the character played by Dustin Hoffman. I seemed obsessed with reorganizing and renovating this cell so I could continue to keep my routines and the order I formerly had. It was very difficult adjusting not only to the new cell, but also to my new cellmate. Fortunately, he seems to be most obliging and considerate. He told me I could move his property around or do anything I liked to the cell to make it more comfortable to live in. Hopefully, he has not regretted those words because I have been continually working on the cell since I moved in.

The first line of business for me was to clean and organize my boxes. I did not have time to do this at the personal property building. I dumped out all of my property and then washed the insides. I organized my property into groups on my bunk, and meticulously put my belongings in order. This project took a few hours, and then I went to where to place my TV, radio, and fan. As before, I wedged my TV in between the top bunk and horizontal beam. However, I quickly realized I could not tie my TV in place as before and had to figure out another system to secure it in place. My radio I had formerly kept on the back counter and my fan underneath, but I did not want to infringe on my cellmate's space. I know how greatly I can be claustrophobic in these cells, and thus I put my fan and radio on a lower horizontal bar of the bunk. They are somewhat wedged between my bunk and the front barrier of the cell.

This cell has caused me major discomfort because it is not configured like the last one, and does not have Plexiglas or perforated steel covering the front of the cell. This cell and about two thirds of the 4th floor have not been altered. They still have the original glass rectangles. If a number of them had not been knocked out or broken over the years, the cell house noise would be buffered. The noise is much greater in this cell than the one I had in Seg, and it has much less privacy, both of which bother me immensely.

After cleaning and organizing my property boxes, cleaning the cell, and setting up my electronics with their accompanying cords, it was close to 8 p.m. I was tired from the move, and the change of environment. I was looking forward to relaxing and watching a couple hours of TV with my new cable hook up. The cable coupling in my cell did not work at all, and I had connected it to a splitter on the gallery. Three cells were all gaining their cable through a cell a couple doors down. Although a number of TVs were all connected on the same line, I was glad to see my reception was better than downstairs. I now could get in all the stations, including the prison's DVD station which, on Friday night, was playing the new Robin Hood with Russell Crowe. I thought Russell Crowe was a good actor and was looking forward to seeing this movie, although I never appreciated the socialist "take from the rich and give to the poor" theme of Robin Hood, I was pleasantly surprised this was not the focus of the move but rather freedom, patriotism, and overtaxation by the king. The movie not only had a resonating message, but quality acting and a creative original story with a historical backdrop. Robin Hood was one of the best new releases I saw this year and I was glad to see it before my TV cable was taken from me.

The following day, a cell house worker came to my cell with a cable connector or bullet and wanted to remove the splitter serving my cell. Apparently, the man whose cell my cable was coming from did not want me on his line. I yelled down to the man in anger about the matter, but he did not respond. A neighbor, however, said they were connecting another cell to the line, and the signal would be too diminished with me on it too. My cellmate then explained to me the obvious. I was not black, and I was not friends with the man who had the working cable. He was willing to share with my cellmate's former cellie, but not with me. I allowed the cellhouse worker to disconnect my cable, and thought I could later reason with the man, however, he would not be convinced otherwise. I only watch a few hours of TV, if that, on some days, so I did not press the issue.

Being on the 4th floor, I can see over the prison wall out my window. It is nice to see things outside the prison grounds, however, I no longer have the pleasure of seeing the sun and moon set. In fact, I never see the sun or moon from this cell. I noticed that my cellmate had tied the two window doors shut because they lacked a locking mechanism. I could not go without fresh air on occasion or a means to keep my food cold, and consequently set upon devising a way to easily open and close one of the windows while at the same time preventing it from blowing open with cold winter air. I took off all of the windows' haphazard ties, and after cleaning the window sill and glass, I securely bound one of the windows shut with new ties and a makeshift sealant to prevent any drafts. With two thick rubber bands, I pulled the second window shut. The rubber bands can easily be taken off the window, but provide tension to keep it tightly closed.

Throughout the week I have been busy with various projects to help myself settle into this cell. Along with the window, I have made hooks for my cellmate and I to hang our jackets and electrical cords on. I melted hooks on the wall for my cellmate's towel, washcloths and baseball caps, as well. I also removed his taped pen on the wall, and replaced it with another hook. I made lines to hang my towel, washclothes and other laundry on, as well as one for the floor rag. I made a new larger floor rag that soaks up more water when we wash up in the sink. I tied my Walkman onto a beam on my bunk where I often sit and write, as I am now. The radio reception is much better on the top floor, and as I write this journal entry, I have about 30 stations I can listen to. I have made a wide grip and close grip chin up bar out of a ripped up bed sheet given to me by a cell house worker. The chin up ropes are tied securely to a metal mesh area on the front barrier of the cell close to the ceiling. It took me hours threading cloth through the mesh and knotting it to a larger cloth, which is also knotted at the threads and where you can grab the sheet. Now I can do a full body workout in the front of the cell without disturbing my cellmate when he sits at the counter in the back of the cell.

My cellmate has not made any improvements to the cell while I have been here. He has an attitude that this cell, and even prison, are temporary for him. Often, I think his mind is on some medium-security prison, or even in the world. I cannot think like this. I have a natural life sentence, and I will not be going to a medium-security prison. I also may only be in "kickout" temporarily until space is found for me in general population, but I must always and quickly accommodate my living quarters to make my life easier, better, more ordered, and less cluttered. While I labor away improving the cell, my cellmate is rather indifferent, although he does on occasion express gratitude.

The cell I moved into is infested with cockroaches. Since I have moved in, I have killed over 50 of them, but I tend to believe even if I killed 500 of them each day, there would still be more. The cockroaches are moslty coming from the plumbing area, and I spent numerous hours trying to seal the cracks in the door. I used wet toilet paper with soap that when dried hardens to seal areas the roaches like to hide in. I asked the lieutenant when the exterminator was going to come through. He told me on Thursday morning, and to be sure to take my property off the cell floor before going to yard. True to his word, the cells were sprayed yesterday. I was out on the yard, but my cellmate stayed in and told me he watched him spray the floor along the walls. My cellmate asked him to spray the back wall, particularly near the toilet and sink with extra roach killer, and he complied. Today I noticed the roaches were moving about slower and were easier to kill. The poison seems to be working, but I am fully aware that spraying can only kill off one or two generations of them. When eggs continue to hatch, they will not be affected. Spraying must be done regularly, and this is certain not to be done at Stateville.

In kickout, inmates are permitted all the privileges and movement that is given those in general population, except for chow. All three meals are brought to you in your cell, just like in Seg or during a lockdown. Many prisoners do not like missing feed lines because it gives them yet another opportunity to talk and get out of their cells. However, I like "room service," and it is one of the benefits of being in F House. Inmates in kickout are given 3 showers a week. They can go on visits in the general population visiting room without restraints. They are also allowed to attend pre-GED classes and chapel services, although my cellmate complains he cannot attend Catholic mass on Thursdays. The phone is available on the gallery for inmates to use and they can chose their time and stay on for as long as they wish, so long as no one else wants to use it. I tried calling home and found out that I was finally placed in restriction. During my Seg time, I stayed in A grade, but now that I am out and can use the phone, I have been placed in C grade. I have no idea when I will be able to call my family, lawyer, or anyone, for that matter. If the C grade just began upon my release from Seg, I will not be able to use the phone until spring. I also will only be able to shop for $30.

Although I was not able to call my family over the weekend, my mother came to see me on Wednesday. It was the first time in three months that I had a visit without being handcuffed, chained around the waist, and chained to the floor. I was glad not to be so restrained and have a two hour visit, however, the noise in the general population visiting room was tremendous. I figure my future visits in December will be just as loud and crowded, if not more, due to the holidays. No other prison in Illinois has such poor visitation facilities.

During my visit, my mother continued to bring me food from the vending machines, until I told her to stop. I have lost a lot of weight in Seg, and apparently it shows. Since being out of Seg, I have been eating much more, and sometimes even gorging. My cellmate was generous enough to give me some of his food. On one of the days this week, I made a huge pork dinner for my cellmate and I. He also provided the food for an enormous serving of nacho chips. On both these nights, I went to sleep stuffed. I met my former dreadlocks cellmate from Seg, and he was nice enough to send me some instant rice, tuna fish, and peanut butter. The cellhouse worker I gave gambling picks also brought me some food, as did "Michael Myers," or as he is known in prison, "Spider." Spider lives about ten cells down, and he says he did not reply to my Halloween letter because he did not know what cell I was in. It is good to be able to eat again, and not ration my food or space meals 7 hours apart.

Yesterday, I went to yard for the first time in 3 months. Kickout has only one yard a week, and it is 5 hours long, just like in Seg. However, kickout inmates go to a very large yard that has telephones, basketball courts, monkey bars, and a few weights and benches. It was cold when I went out to yard, and snow covered the ground. I waited in line to use the weights for a few hours. I also did chin ups and dips on the monkey bars. Spider was the only other white person to go out to yard, and the only person I spoke with. Toward the end of the yard period, I ran in the snow around the perimeter. It was difficult running in the snow, especially with the uneven ground with an occasional groundhog hole. I was also concerned about slipping, for in certain spots the packed snow had turned into ice. While running, I thought of Rocky Balboa in the movie Rocky IV, where he trains in Siberia to fight the boxing hero of the former Soviet Union. It was nice to be out of the cage with space to enjoy and run in without being hindered, although the two tall concrete walls, razor wire, and gun tower prevented me from forgetting I was in prison.

This morning, I saw my psychologist, and she wanted to know how I was adjusting. I told her it has been a very difficult and stressful week for me. The new cellmate, the new cell, the new gallery, all the people I have had to communicate with, the noise, and extra movement have all been overwhelming for me. Most prisoners would be tremendously happy to be out of solitary confinement, however, after this week, I have wished I was back in Seg with my single-man cell. As I finish this journal entry, I look out into the huge domed building of the Roundhouse. From upstairs, I have a bird's eye view of virtually every cell and movement within its perimeter. I even look down on the guard tower. I can see my old cell, and I think how comfortable I was in there, alone and isolated. In kickout, I will be unable to escape the miserable realities of being in prison. Possibly, Segregation was more of a blessing than a punishment.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Innocent Man -- December 10, 2010

On Monday, I expect to be released from Segregation. Most likely I will be sent upstairs and be given a cellmate. The new cell and cellmate are bound to be very distracting for me, and earlier this week I was determined to read another book before my solitude was disrupted. I have many books, novels, and magazines in my box, all sent to me by family and friends. I read a couple of Discovery and National Geographic magazines last week. Over the weekend, I read a very lengthy corporate report by British Petroleum, or their new name and logo "Beyond Petroleum." I was interested in reading a work of fiction before I headed back to the grim realities of general population. I looked over all the novels I had, trying to find something enjoyable that would take my mind away from maximum-security prison and the painful injustice that has been committed against me. Ironically, I was led to read the book The Innocent Man, by John Grisham, which would only reopen old wounds and force me to think about the travesty of my past, present, and possibly future.

In my cell, I have several works of nonfiction including a book on Friedrich Nietzsche, that I have yet to read. I did not consider any of these as easy reads, or instruments to escape and entertain myself for my last week in Seg. Thus, I went to the ten novels I have bound together with a shoelace. I discovered I had several books written by authors Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I have read many of their books in the past, and have found their stories almost always entertaining. I very much like the detailed writings of King, but at the moment, I sought something easier to read and of greater fantasy, so I leaned toward one of the three Koontz books in my collection.

I also noticed a couple of classic story books that I have wanted to check out to see if they were truly great writings. I have been told The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is a truly good work of fiction. I wondered if I would enjoy it as thoroughly as I enjoyed Gone With the Wind. Lastly, I had two novels by John Grisham. I have read a few of his novels, the best being The Firm, in my opinion. The two novels of Grisham I had were The Innocent Man and The Appeal.

My attorney has told my family she will be working diligently on my appeal this month, and although the Grisham novels seemed to be the least appealing, I thought I had better read The Appeal, which I assumed would be a story about the appellate process of someone convicted of a serious crime, most likely murder. I knew that John Grisham was formerly a lawyer, and his books naturally have a legal insight and perspective other authors do not have. However, when I read the back cover, I discovered the book was not about a criminal appeal, but a civil appeal. At this point, I had set my mind on reading one of the Grisham novels due to its practical application, and thus began reading The Innocent Man.

The full title of John Grisham's book was The Innocent Man, Murder and Injustice in a Small Town, and it was to my surprise not a work of fiction, but a true story. John Grisham has written about 20 books, and all of them are works of fiction, except this one. I did not like to learn it was a true story. I did not want to read about reality at this moment, particularly the grim and tragic life that I already knew all too well. I was seeking a fictional legal thriller that was entertaining and enjoyable to read, but at the same time I could relate to and maybe gain some helpful insights. What I got, however, was just the opposite. The book was not entertaining or pleasant to read. I often had to push myself to turn the pages of this very dry, and poorly written work that dragged on and on, reminding me of my own injustice and misery. It provided no inspiration or help, but only reinforced the bleak outlook I have for myself.

The first chapter and other portions of this book read like trial transcripts or discovery reports. Unlike Grisham's other books, there is very little style or flow. It was apparent the author spent a lot of time researching this book even before reading the author's note at the very end, where he states it took him 18 months to collect information to write this story. Grisham spent much too long researching the facts instead of writing a well written, captivating tale. The book is a little over 400 pages long, and although I completed it in four days, I fell asleep turning its pages on three of those days. The author writes, "Writing nonfiction has seldom crossed my mind. I've had far too much fun with the novels, and I had no idea what I was getting into." The author was absolutely correct. The book was no fun to read, and it is clear he did not know how to write a good nonfiction story. Grisham should stay with his talent of writing novels.

The Innocent Man is based in the town of Ada in southeast Oklahoma. It is in Ada that Debbie Carter was raped and killed, and the police investigation of two townsmen begins. Coincidentally, I began reading this book on the exact same day the victim was killed. It was on December 7, 1982 that 21-year-old Debbie Carter was murdered in her apartment.

The book describes her as "a dark-haired, slender, athletic, pretty girl who was popular with the boys." Being "popular with the boys" seemed to me to be a euphemism that she led a promiscuous lifestyle. The book has some black and white photographs in the middle of its pages, and I turned to those often to get a mental image of the characters I read about. Debbie does not come across as the description of the author. In the photo, she seems to have a fair complexion and although petite, not "athletic". She also does not look exceedingly pretty, but average, although her photo does not give an impression of being a slut. Her photo makes her look chaste and innocent. However, as I am well aware, the photo of a victim always is meant to give this impression, whether or not it is true. In my trial, a similar photo was shown to the jury and it was obviously chosen by the prosecutor or victim's family to create empathy. I assume John Grisham, his editor or possibly the family, chose this photo with purpose.

Regardless of the character or attractiveness of the victim, Debbie Carter was the victim of a horrendous act of violence. Her apartment was found trashed, with property scattered and thrown about. The killer had written crude messages in blood or ketchup on the wall, counter top and even on the victim's nude and lifeless body, which was left face down on the floor. The victim had been raped and sodomized with a ketchup bottle before being strangled. A bloody rag was found shoved deeply in her mouth. Such a crime was bound to stir the emotions of a small rural town in Oklahoma, which had probably seen little violence. As I myself know, horrendous crimes which shock the public often lead to rash judgments. Furthermore, the police and prosecutor's office are under intense pressure to solve such crimes, regardless of the evidence or lack thereof. After reading about the murder, I had a good idea of how an innocent man would be rounded up to serve as the focus of hatred, and be a scapegoat.

One of the best scapegoats police could find for this murder happened to be Ron Williamson. Ron initially had a good reputation in the small town of Ada. He even was probably thought of with high esteem when he was the town's star athlete who was contracted to play for the New York Yankees. However, Ron never made it to the majors, and after failing to make a career of baseball, he became an alcoholic and drug user. He also was to live a transient, bar-hopping lifestyle, something he learned while on the minor league baseball circuit. He was charged several times with DUIs and even two rapes, although he was acquitted of those rape charges. What was most suspicious about Ron Williamson, however, was that he was bipolar, with manic as well as schizophrenic swings. He was in and out of mental hospitals, and this fit the description of a homicidal maniac. I could very much understand how this man could fit the profile police had of the murderer of Debbie Carter.

Unlike the Palatine Massacre, the police did not arrest anyone in the Debbie Carter murder for years later. Possibly, I thought, the Ada police could restrain themselves from acting precipitously. The police had questioned Ron Williamson, and he was one of their main suspects. However, without any evidence tying him to the crime, except for his bizarre and disturbing behaviors and close proximity to the victim's residence, no arrest was made. It was not until yet another murder of a young woman in Ada occurred, did pressure mount for an arrest in the Carter murder.

A woman named Denice Haraway was abducted from a convenience store, and was thought to be killed. A couple of men were arrested for that murder, although no body had been found. The men were put through intense, coercive interrogations, and eventually confessed. Their confessions were highly suspect and did not match one another. After their trial and conviction, the victim's body was found. The evidence discovered and the manner of death conflicted with the men's confessions. The prosecutor gained convictions based not only on them, but two jail house snitches and a highly dramatic and emotional closing argument.

Whenever evidence is shaky in a big case, prosecutors tend to turn to jail house snitches, and emotional arguments. I recall in my trial, prosecutor's Paul Tsukuno and James McKay relied heavily on drama and stirring jurors' emotions. They also used the same trick the prosecutor in the Haraway murder case deployed of calling numerous witnesses to the stand who had no relevance. In addition, every day the prosecutor wheeled in a huge cart of files to place in front of my jury, which gave the jury the impression there was a huge amount of evidence against me. In reality, their case rested on one lying police officer who claimed I admitted to knowing about my room mate's intentions and lent him my car. Possibly, McKay wanted to remind them I was a suspect in the Palatine Brown's Chicken murders, and infer to them my guilt in the other case.

Similar to the Palatine Massacre, the murder of Denice Haraway caused the police and States Attorney's Office to come under great pressure. A book was written about the case that was very critical of authorities called The Dreams of Ada. Other media was also skeptical of police work. Although they had arrested two men for the Haraway disappearance, there was doubt about their confessions and guilt. Possibly the real killer(s) were still out there, and of course, the killer of Debbie Carter was still at large. Why after years had no one yet been arrested for her murder? Not long after, warrants for Ron Williamson and a former friend of his, Dennis Fritz, were procured.

I paused in my reading for a moment and looked out of my cell into the Roundhouse. I saw Juan Luna, walking on the third floor. Unlike what I read about the two men arrested in the Haraway murder, there was no doubt about Juan Luna's guilt and confession in the Palatine Brown's Chicken murders. Juan Luna gave a very detailed, videotaped confession where he described slitting one woman's throat and other brutal acts. The confession he gave was credible, and matched the evidence at the crime scene. The woman who originally gave him a fake alibi testified against him, along with another friend, saying that he and his co-defendant immediately after the murders told them what they had done. These statements included details never leaked to the news media, such as how one of the victim's vomited french fries before dying. Finally, there was Juan Luna's DNA on the last meal ordered at the restaurant just after closing time. I thought about Luna and how his senseless thrill killings spurred police and prosecutors in my arrest and prosecution. I have little doubt that if the Palatine Massacre had not been committed, I would not be in this cage at Stateville Correctional Center.

Ron Williamson was arrested on May 8, 1987. Initially he told police he never met Debbie Carter and had never been to her apartment. However, after much yelling and bullying, Williamson gave a "dream" confession. He admitted to hanging out at the Coachlight, a club where Carter was last seen alive, and having thoughts of following a pretty girl home. With some prodding, he went on to say he had a dream about raping and strangling her. The police asked him why he killed her, and he stated that she made him mad. Soon thereafter, Williamson told them that they cannot expect him to confess. He has a family to think of, including a nephew to protect, and a sister who will be torn apart. If police were going to prosecute him for the murder, he wanted Tanner, no, David Morris, as his lawyer. Surprisingly, police after hearing the mention of counsel, ceased interrogating him.

Normally, when I learn a person confessed to a crime, I believe they are guilty. However, Ron Williamson was a mentally ill person suffering from not only severe bipolar disorder, but hallucinations and schizophrenia. His life, as told by John Grisham, was terribly erratic and troubled. He seemed not to be able to function without hospitalization and heavy medications. Most questionable about his confession though, was the fact police did not videotape the statement, or at least gain a signature as Ada police seemed to always do, and did do with the Haraway suspects. Although police ceased to question him when he mentioned a lawyer, and Ron Williamson never claimed his rights were violated, I tend to be suspect of uncorroborated claims by police during interrogations.

In my own case, police claimed I admitted to being told by my co-defendant that he was going to commit a murder and lending my car to him thereafter, both of which are pure fabrications. While members of the Palatine Task Force routinely obtained audio taped, stenographed, and written statements, none of this was procured with me. Why? Because I immediately invoked my Miranda rights, and did not say what my interrogating officer purported I said. Adding to my suspicion of Ron Williamson's dream confession is the fact that not long after the murder he was brought in for questioning, and while videotaped, he vehemently denied killing Debbie Carter.

For some reason, police did not believe the Carter murder was committed alone. They sought out a possible accomplice to Williamson and found it in Dennis Fritz. Years earlier, Dennis Fritz and Williamson were friends and were known to go bar hopping together. In fact, Fritz told police this not long after the murder occurred, when he was questioned. Fritz was arrested at his home in Kansas by a large contingent of SWAT police, reminding me of the numerous gun wielding FBI agents and Task Force police that arrested me in my car. During interrogation, Fritz refused to confess to the murder or to knowing anything about it. He was nonetheless put in jail where an assigned cellmate later said he confessed to him. At a preliminary hearing, a judge was close to letting Fritz go, but because of the snitch, he was indicted and held over for trial. Although the credibility of the jail cellmate was highly suspect, a judge ruled that credibility was a matter for a jury to decide. Thus, Fritz was formally indicted and prosecuted for first degree murder.

While in jail, Ron Williamson screeched for hours from his cell. He rambled on about how he was innocent, and he ranted about other thoughts that haphazardly entered his mind. From the book, I envisioned the schizophrenics and others who have lost control at Stateville. A few weeks ago, there was a man in a cell not far from mine who would incessantly yell out of his cell. Segregation can get to some prisoners, but possibly he was mentally ill. Numerous people in the Roundhouse take psychotropic medications. Likewise, Williamson was eventually given heavy doses of Thorazine to shut him up. I was surprised the book mentioned "the Thorazine shuffle," which is known at Stateville as well, to describe the way people shuffle along, or back and forth, in a sort of semiconscious state. Thorazine does not really cure schizophrenics but makes them more manageable. It causes sedation, lethargy, the dulling of awareness, and is labeled in the book to be the equivalent of a chemical lobotomy. Because of how loud and annoying many prisoners in the Roundhouse can be, I wished a number of them were given chemical lobotomies. As I write this journal entry, I can hear them yelling, even with my ear plugs in.

Like my co-defendant Robert Faraci and I, Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz had separate trials. Their trials were not conducted simultaneously however, and Dennis Fritz was tried first. The testimony presented at Fritz's trial was scant, and questionable. A couple of people said they had seen Fritz sometimes in the past at the Coachlight, but not on the night Debbie Carter was killed. A police officer testified how they believed the murder was committed by two people because of the carnage at the crime scene, and a message left that said, "do not look for us or else." Fritz was found to be a good friend of Williamson, and because of evidence against Williamson, Fritz was a natural suspect. Several people testified how they had seen the two together in the past at bars, stores, and possibly outside Fritz's apartment around the time of the murder. Similarly, at my trial the prosecutor presented a "guilt by association" case. Still to this day, I recall how the prosecutor often referred to Bob Faraci as my "good friend, pal, roommate, and partner in crime." I also vividly recall how he argued vehemently to the jury my guilt by association by dramatically yelling to the jury: "All for one and one for all. The actions of one are the actions of all!" as if I was one of the Three Musketeers.

During Fritz's trial, two people at the jail testified how he confessed to them. The first, who took the stand earlier at his preliminary hearing, testified to such a ludicrous story it brought chuckles from the jurors. Jail house snitches are often so incredibly desperate to make a deal with the prosecutor for the crime or crimes they are being detained for that they will make up the most outlandish stories. An equally desperate and unscrupulous prosecutor will not forego using them to bolster a weak case.

The other person who testified against Fritz was a jailer trainee who seemed eager to impress his superiors. He told the jury Fritz admitted to being at the victim's apartment, but it was Ron Williamson who broke in and raped and killed her while he stood outside. The jailer also went on to testify how they often spoke about Fritz cooperating with law enforcement and getting a plea agreement.

The prosecutor concluded by calling a few forensic experts who although were touted as having solid, concrete evidence against the defendant, had nothing of the sort. A person testified that the semen collected from the victim was from a "non-secreter," or person whose semen, saliva, or sweat did not identify their blood type. Fritz was one of these people, although so were millions of others.

A hair expert was called to tell the jury the hair samples found at the crime scene were similar to the defendant's. The prosecutor also called someone to testify that the bloody palm print left at the apartment was not the killer's, but was in fact the victim's. On the cover of the book The Innocent Man is a blood red palm print, and I assumed that it would be a significant part of the story, but it was not. Apparently, police for years thought the palm print was that of the killer's when it did not match the victim. However, years later after the Ada police came under criticism, the victim's body was exhumed and the print was oddly found to be hers. This allowed prosecutors to charge both Fritz and Williamson, whose prints excluded them. That evidence and testimony could change over the years to fit the States Attorney's theory may be a surprise to many people on the outside, but for those of us on the inside who have been wrongfully convicted, it is not.

The defense for Fritz was rather brief and consisted of only two witnesses, however, it was more than I can say my trial attorneys did. At my trial, only one witness was called, and she was a handwriting expert who testified all the checks were written by the victim, or my co-defendant Robert Faraci and his wife, Rose; none were written by me. The prosecutor had claimed the victim was killed to prevent him from ever implicating the other participants. My lawyer wanted to show the jury that I had no shared motive to see the man killed.

My lawyer, William Von Hoene, however, did not care if the jury believed the prosecution's key witness, John Robertson, the officer who interrogated me. He even told my jury that Robertson was telling them the truth. When I insisted on testifying, he threatened to withdraw from my trial if I did. I had many witnesses and evidence to contest the lies of Robertson, but my lawyer refused to use them.

Dennis Fritz's trial lawyer was not very good, but at least he allowed his client to testify. The second witness, by the way, was a hair expert to counter the prosecutor's expert. Hair comparison in the 1980s was a very dubious science, if a science at all. It would not be for decades later when DNA became available that hairs, semen, or saliva would be solid evidence.

After closing arguments, the jury deliberated for most of the day before returning a guilty verdict. The book says Dennis Fritz was stunned and shocked, but yet not totally surprised. Fritz had watched the jurors, and seen their distrust. He also knew they represented the town of Ada, and the town needed to hold someone accountable for the horrendous murder. It is noted as well that juries tend to believe the prosecutor and cops. If they thought Dennis was guilty--then he must be. Earlier, Dennis Fritz's lawyer had asked for a mistrial when he discovered one of the jurors was formerly the Chief of Police of Ada, however, the judge denied the motion. This certainly also did not help, and I doubt if Fritz could have received a fair trial.

In a high profile case, it is important for a defendant to get a change of venue so he or she does not have a prejudiced jury. The Innocent Man does not mention media coverage, but in my case, it was enormous, and I was vilified more than the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVey. Although about 20 people questioned during jury voir dire had bluntly told my judge that they thought I was guilty and they could not have an open mind about the matter, the judge refused to have my trial moved to another location.

During my trial, I tried to avoid eye contact with the jury, however, after the interrogating officer testified, I noticed hard looks. I did not have to recognize their change in demeanor to know I was doomed if my lawyer put on no defense for me. My attorney also did me no favor by not carefully scrutinizing the jury pool. Perhaps being a neophyte to criminal trials, or being so smug in the prosecution's lack of evidence, my lawyer did not really care who was to sit in judgment of me. He may have even let the former chief of police decide my fate. I do not know if my jurors would ever even question the honesty of police or the state. However, with a trial lawyer who conceded to the state's evidence, I will never know.

As in my co-defendant's trial, there was more evidence against Ron Williamson than Dennis Fritz. Both co-defendant's had the same forensic witnesses testify about the hairs, semen, and blood print. They also had the same people testify who had seen them together in the past, including the man who thought possibly at around the time of the murder they were both outside Fritz's apartment shooting each other with water. However, Williamson had more jail house snitches to testify against him, plus his "dream" confession to the police. It seems the defense attorney tried hard to contest the interrogating officer by grilling him about why he did not gain a videotaped, tape recorded, written, or even just a signed statement.

To counter the jail house snitches, including one that had said he saw Williamson at the Coachlight the night of the murder, Williamson took the stand in his own defense. He denied being at the club or ever meeting Debbie Carter. On the 7th of December, he was at his mother's house all night. Unfortunately, his mother was unable to testify; she had died before the trial began. A videotaped statement was provided by her, but this had mysteriously disappeared from police custody. The attorney for Williamson was not given money to hire a forensic expert to counter the state's witness who claimed several of the hairs found on the victim's body resembled Williamson's. The jury returned in several hours with a guilty verdict.

The prosecutor sought the death penalty at both Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson's sentencing hearings. Williamson's attorney offered no mitigation or character witnesses, and Ron was quickly given a death sentence by his jury. However, he may have been blessed by the ruling. Fritz was given natural life without parole, and faced the prospect of languishing in prison until his death. He also faced an uphill battle in the courts. Just like in Illinois, he did not have as many rights and as much access to the courts or legal representation as Williamson did. Fritz lost all his appeals and may have never gotten out of prison unless he was able to benefit from an appeal by his co-defendant on death row.

Dennis Fritz was sent to a medium-security prison despite his natural life sentence. In Illinois, prisoners with more than 20 year sentences must remain in maximum-security. A prisoner, like myself, will never see the day rooms, freedom of movement, programs, or visitation rooms that John Grisham describes at Conner Correctional Center. Despite this, I did recognize a number of similarities with my own experiences. For example, cigarettes were used as currency until they ceased to be sold, and smoking was banned from all public buildings. Before guards clamped down on the prison system and divided up inmates into galleries, an entire cell house used to go to the cafeteria or yard together. The chow hall and yard were distinctly divided by gangs or race. Even today, prisoners largely segregate into such divisions, although in much smaller groupings. Fritz describes his experiences on visits as being in a zoo, and in Illinois' maximum-security prisons, I would describe living quarters the same way. The multi-level cellhouses are like huge zoos with animals in row after row of cages. In fact, Stateville cell houses are louder than any zoo house I have ever been to. "Gangs, killings, beatings, rapes, drugs, and guards on the take" have been toned down in Illinois' prisons, but I know what Dennis Fritz experienced in his years of incarceration while fighting for a new trial. I also can relate to Williamson's experiences on death row.

Ron Williamson was sent to death row at Oklahoma's maximum-security prison in McAlaster. Interestingly, death row was located in McAlaster's F House, the same lettered building I currently reside in. F House is descibed as "a mammoth 4-story building constructed in 1935". Only the bottom two floors of F House were used for death row inmates, similar also to Stateville's corresponding cell house where the lower two floors are now Segregation. Ron's death row cell was much larger than the cell I am in. It was an incredible 16' long and 7' wide. Only the old death row cells in X House at Stateville are that large. Ron Williamson is quoted as saying, "Thank God there was a window," and I was and still am very glad to have a window in my cell. Death row cells were four concrete walls with a barred door with an opening known as the "bean hole" for food trays. In Illinois, it is called a "chuck hole," but now that we are served soy meal almost every day and brown beans several times a week, possibly a "bean hole" would be a more appropriate name. On Oklahoma's death row, prisoners get three showers a week and go to a small concrete yard the size of two basketball courts for one hour, five times a week. Stateville Seg yards are half a basketball court, and only run once a week for five hours. Segregation inmates only get one shower a week, but the yard size and showers are the same in general population except when inmates are taken to the gym or the large South yard.

There are pieces of John Grisham's The Innocent Man dedicated to Greg Wilhoit who lived across from Ron Williamson. Wilhoit and Williamson discovered they had a shared acquaintance in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They also shared love of baseball, two supportive sisters, and the fact that they were both innocent. Wilhoit was sent to death row after being convicted of killing his wife. I noticed Wilhoit and I tended to both be introverted people who wanted little to nothing to do with prison life. He shuttered up his barred door with newspapers, and rarely ever came out of his cell or spoke to anyone. The book describes him as trying to convince himself he was not on death row, but in his own little cocoon biding his time while voraciously reading from Stephen King novels to Steinbeck. I also wish I could do the same. I care less for Stateville, and want to be just left alone. If I could, I would block the view of my cell and live in solitary confinement forever.

Ron Williamson pleaded with his sisters to sell their houses to pay for a private lawyer to represent him on appeal. Little did Williamson know that death row inmates often receive the best public defenders to represent them. In Oklahoma, there was not a special capital litigation division, but the courts hired out lawyers from the private sector. Williamson was assigned a lawyer whose office was out of Norman, Oklahoma, named Mark Barrett. He represented a number of other men on death row and although he lost Williamson's direct appeal, he was clearly a dedicated, competent, and good lawyer, unlike the various lawyers I have had represent me over the years. Mark Barrett would later represent Williamson again in the federal courts, and won Williamson a new trial.

State courts are often biased against the defendant, and are unlikely to grant an appeal. The reason for this is largely because state judges, even at the appellate and supreme court levels, are elected for office. They must campaign like all other political officials, and similar to them they do not want to upset their constituents. At the federal level, however, judges are appointed and are free to make unpopular but just rulings. Unfortunately, the federal courts are very strict about procedure, especially after many laws have been passed to limit the use of the federal courts and give finality to appeals. My case, for example, was thrown out of federal court because my lawyer filed my appeal one day late.

After Ron Williamson lost his final state appeal, he was given an execution date that was set for three months later. He was set to die by lethal injection on September 27, 1994 at the stroke of midnight. This was terribly upsetting for Ron and his family, although no prisoner on death row was put to death until after their federal appeals were exhausted. To go from the circuit court to district, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court takes years for most prisoners. Although Williamson fell apart mentally and physically on death row, he was fortunate to have the circuit court rule so decisively in his favor and order him a new trial one year after his stay of execution.

Judge Seay gave an unusual 100-page opinion to Ron Williamson's federal appeal, scathingly criticizing his trial lawyer, the prosecutor, the judge, police, and the touted forensic experts. Ron's trial lawyer was found ineffective for failing to raise Williamson's mental competency, not investigating a very suspicious suspect, and not presenting any adversarial evidence other than the defendant himself. The judge also faulted his lawyer for not attempting to have his dream statement suppressed before trial, and not calling any mitigation witnesses during his sentencing hearing. Prosecutorial and police misconduct were found to have occurred when they hid Williamson's initial videotaped statement where he denied the murder and presented his incredible confession as well as jail house snitches. Judge Seay ruled the prosecution should have never even brought this case to trial. The hair analysis was totally unreliable and should be banned from all courts. The trial judge was at fault for barring the defense from hiring their own hair expert, and for not ordering a mental competency hearing.

In 1999, before Ron Williamson was reprosecuted, DNA collected from the crime scene was found not to match him or his co-defendant. The DNA actually matched a man who earlier said he saw Williamson at the Coachlight. This man was not prosecuted for many years later because the state's attorney wanted to save face. In fact, even after the prosecutor was forced to let Fritz and Williamson go, he continued to say they were suspects, and would reprosecute them if new evidence emerged.

This reminded me of when my co-defendant's wife finally came forward to tell police that her stories and those of her husband were all false, and were made up to pin the murder or murders on me. The prosecutor never thought about dropping the charges against me and admitting error. The same is true in the Nicarico murder in DuPage County, where even after DNA evidence cleared men of a rape and murder, the prosecutor continued to say they were guilty. Politics is the same whether you are in Oklahoma or Illinois.

Although Fritz and Williamson were finally released, there was no happy ending, in my opinion. Both men suffered terribly in prison, and their families suffered as well. The men lost over a decade of their lives, and after being in and out of nursing homes and mental hospitals, Ron Williamson died of cancer only five years out of prison. Dennis Fritz, upon his release, moved in with his mother in Kansas. There, he grilled hamburgers for a living, until Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project sued the police and prosecutor on his behalf and eventually won a large settlement. On Ron Williamson's tombstone was written:

Ronald Keith Williamson
Born February 3, 1953 -- Died December 4, 2004
Strong Survivor
Wrongfully Convicted in 1988
Exonerated April 15, 1999

I wonder what will be on my tombstone.