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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Christmas in the Roundhouse -- December 25, 2010

On Christmas Eve, I was awakened early by the heavyset cell house worker who works the midnight shift. Once again, he wanted my advice for wagers on the NFL games this week. Ever since I won him money on Thanksgiving, he has been bothering me for more tips. I figured as much a month ago when I was lucky picking three out of three, he would be back time and time again. Some people are just addicted to gambling, and he is not the first person I have met with such an addiction. Even before my arrest while I was in high school, I met a number of compulsive gamblers. Just like these men, I knew he would be back. I was half asleep but sent him on his way with a few teams I liked, including the Green Bay Packers over the New York Giants. Before I could fall back asleep, he was back with a couple dozen donuts. Breakfast consisted of donuts and cereal, and apparently, there was extra food left over. I thanked him, although I do not eat donuts.

I was awakened again between 7 and 8 a.m. My cellmate had been up for some time. Iowa usually wakes up around 5 a.m. He does so to use the toilet without my awareness and to have some quiet time to himself. Early in the morning is the quietest time in the cell house, and most people are asleep. As soon as I got up to make my bed, my cellmate asked if all the donuts on his box were for him. I told him "Merry Christmas," and continued wrapping my mattress with my state blanket. He was very appreciative and thanked me numerous times, possibly because I did not say anything. It was early, and I am not a big talker even at midday, let alone after just waking up. He asked me where I got all the extra donuts. Finally I said, "Santa Claus." He then asked if I was sure I did not want any. I told him, "No, they're all yours. Enjoy."

Typically, I exercise and then bathe in the sink during the morning. However, the day before I had gone to the yard, and this was only the second time in many months that I had used weights. My muscles were sore, and it seems that Fridays will be my established day off while I wait for placement in general population. Instead of working out, I decided to wash clothes. On the yard I had sweat through to my thermals, and my sweat shirt and pants were dirty. Thursday, the weather had turned warm, and the melting snow had created a lot of mud on the yard. I ran through this slush and my pants had splashes of mud on them past my knees. I should have immediately washed them and all my yard clothes, but I was too tired.

I despise washing clothes, especially in F House where the toilets only flush once every ten minutes. Rinsing clothes is the most laborious and time consuming part of cleaning laundry and it is prolonged with the toilet on a timer. Some prisoners refuse to rinse their clothes in the toilet. My cellmate will not, and spends a few hours filling the sink time and time again, ultimately never getting all the laundry detergent and dirt out. My cellmate came from a medium security prison where clothes can be washed in a laundry machine by yourself or by a prisoner laundry worker. I have never been to a medium security prison and do not foresee ever being in one. I have been rinsing my clothes in the toilet for 16 years, and it is the most efficient and effective way to do so in your cell. People may think it is gross to wash or rinse clothes in the toilet, but I scrub and disinfect it first. If it is good enough for a dog to drink out of, it is good enough for me to clean clothes in.

It took several hours to wash my clothes, and I did not finish until the afternoon. As I washed clothes in my correspondence box and rinsed them in the toilet, my cellmate sat or lay back on his bunk seemingly enjoying his Christmas Eve. He drank coffee and ate donuts while listening to his Walkman, periodically reading. Iowa seemed in a good mood, although I was not enjoying myself. My lower back pain was great, and here I was rinsing clothes in my toilet on Christmas Eve. I wondered how people outside were spending their day. I knew many people had the day off work, and I figured they were with friends and family or spending their day with some pleasant, happy, or relaxing pursuits. A majority of people probably are glad prisoners are deprived, suffering, or live in misery, even on the holidays. Certainly, I would not feel as bitter if I had committed some crime and had not been wrongfully convicted. As I wrung out my wet clothes and placed them on lines to dry, I wondered how my co-defendant, Bob Faraci, who was acquitted, was spending his Christmas on the outside.

Earlier in the week, the men in the cell next to mine were moved, and two others were put in their place. One of the men was white and had numerous tattoos. He had more tattoos than I have ever seen on a person, even more than my former cellmate, Tex. Most appropriately, I later learned this man went by the name of "Tattoo." He even had the word "TATTOO" written in bold letters on his forehead. With the gold front teeth, he was a person I would expect to see at a carnival or circus. His cellmate was black, and went by the name "Sonic," for reasons I am not aware of. Sonic stopped by my cell and began to talk to me as if I knew him. Apparently we had met before, however, I do not have any memory of him. This is not uncommon for me. Many people seem to know me very well, but I have no recollection of meeting them. I wonder if the inability to recognize faces is a symptom people with autism share, or if I am just a person of distinction inside these walls. Regardless, Sonic seemed happy to see me and I did not squander the opportunity to ask him if he would be so kind as to connect my cable to his. For the last couple weeks, I had been collecting cable wires to make it reach four cells down to RC's cell, but I was still a few feet short. My thick bundle of cords was made redundant when Sonic quickly agreed to connect my cord to his splitter. I had no idea who Sonic was, but my opinion of him improved and I will hereafter recall his face.

In the evening, I went through my cable stations for something to watch. I found Star Wars Episode II - Attack of the Clones on Spike TV. I have seen all of the Star Wars movies, and since a child I have enjoyed science fiction films. I cannot remember Sonic, my new neighbor, no matter how I struggle, but I can clearly recall the first time I saw The Empire Strikes Back. The Star Wars movies are clearly made for a child audience and it was difficult for me to stay interested in a movie where robots say "ouch," or a little green alien flies around with a light saber, but the movie was a diversion to my prison life.

Christmas morning, I did not wake up to presents under a decorated evergreen tree, but I did have a special crumb cake for breakfast to eat along with some cereal. At Stateville, we are only served crumb cake twice a year--once on Thanksgiving, and again on Christmas. The sweet, rich cake goes well with a cup of black coffee, and I made myself a cup of instant Taster's Choice. I also made a cup for my cellmate when I awoke, although he had already eaten his cake hours ago. My cellmate will typically eat his breakfast at 3 a.m. when it is served.

Not only did I heat up some hot water for a good cup of coffee, but as I did so, I placed my cake on the radiator so it also would be warm. Unfortunately, the cells on the fourth floor have radiators that do not get nearly as hot as those on the first floor. Often, I find the radiator is not emitting any heat at all. This is an electronic system, intentionally set up so the lower floors get more heat and the upper ones are not overheated. I am surprised this old and decrepit building has such a sophisticated and working system.

Unlike the morning before, I did work out on Christmas Day. I knew that we would be well fed today, and did an extra strenuous exercise routine. While I worked out, Iowa sat at the back counter reading his Bible or some other religious book while listening to his Walkman. I listened to an old Metallica album and at times went over mixed martial arts moves in contrast. No, I did not wish for peace for mankind or have any Christmas spirit, but I did not blast my radio and kept it low so as not to disturb him excessively. Often, cellmates are off into their different routines and trying to coordinate them in the small confines of a cell. Unlike my cellmate in general population, Iowa does not have a job. In fact, he rarely goes anywhere. In the last two weeks, he has not left the cell once, and therefore I must exercise and do other things while he is in the cell that I normally would not do. It is much more difficult, inconvenient, and annoying to always have to be coordinating activities with a cellmate who is locked in a cell with you 24 hours every day. I like autonomy, space, privacy, and just some time alone. Iowa is a decent cellmate, especially considering those incarcerated at Stateville, but I greatly miss my one-man Seg cell. I would rather spend Christmas alone than trapped in a cage with someone.

For most prisoners, Christmas is unique only in that we are given a special lunch. However, the lunch has been becoming less and less special over the years. For about five or more years, prisoners have been fed the exact meal they receive on Thanksgiving, and the Christmas meal is largely Thanksgiving leftovers kept frozen. It is the same processed turkey-soy loaf with stuffing, cheese macaroni, collard greens, and sweet potatoes. The stuffing is like paste and the macaroni has very little cheese, although the collard greens are made better than throughout the year. The cold tray is the same as well, but this time, the salad I was given was not nearly as well made as the one I received on Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving, my cold trays had a large amount of raw broccoli, cauliflower, green peppers, onion, cucumber, and tomato. Today, my cold tray was mostly lettuce and chopped tomato. As was served last month, we were given a portion of potato salad and two rolls along with salad dressing.

In kickout, inmates do not go out to pick up their trays like they do in general population. Here, all our food is delivered to us. Normally this is a great convenience for me. I would much rather have room service and avoid the crowds, noise, and need to dress up in state blues for a walk in cold frigid air to and from the chow hall. However, I learned that on the feed line this year, they were giving prisoners the choice of turkey-soy loaf or roast pork. I would have much preferred real pork than processed turkey-soy. Stateville ceased serving pork years ago because the administration did not want the inconvenience of having to offer Muslims an alternative. Another factor considered is that pork is more expensive than soybeans or processed soy blends.

Cellhouse workers have the benefit of having first dibs on any leftovers. They also are allowed to divvy up the leftovers to anyone they want. The gambling addict's friendship was a plus on Christmas Day. Although he does not work the day shift, he still was given access to extra trays, and he sent two of them my way. The trays the workers were given were the best of the lot, and were overflowing with food. I had more food than I could eat in a day and set most of my cold tray and one entire hot tray out on my window sill. Christmas Day was a cold day and tonight the temperatures will drop into the teens. My food will stay good until tomorrow and I will eat the rest of this for lunch. I am currently stuffed.

For dinner, we were served an imitation bologna sandwich with cheese and lettuce. I threw out the mystery meat, but added the bread to my collection of rolls. I also added the lettuce to my cold tray on the window sill. The cheese I put on my macaroni and cheese which had very little of the latter, despite its name. I ate one lunch tray for lunch and one of the extras I was given for a late dinner. Normally, I split the Christmas Day lunch into two meals because there is enough food to make two meals out of it, and because I know dinner will be cold cuts, which I never eat. However, because of all the food I had, I ate two entire trays. As I write this journal entry late Christmas night, I feel as if I have been a glutton. Since leaving Seg, I have been eating more food and probably have gained back ten pounds. People will comment that I look thinner than before Seg, but if I continue to gorge myself like this, I should be back to my former weight soon.

After lunch was passed out and my cellmate had eaten, he called his mother's house in Iowa. For Christmas, his daughter and the mother of his child were there. I was exercising at the time the phones were passed out in the morning, but to make sure he got the phone at 1:00, I stopped in the middle of my routine to yell to my neighbor to give my cellmate the phone later in the day. Sonic and Tattoo are to one side of my cell, but to the other is the "phone man." My cellmate is a particularly anxious person, and he may have had a heart attack if I did not immediately reserve him the phone time he wanted.

Often a prisoner must be considerate of his cellmate's needs. Yes, it is often an inconvenience, but when you live in a box, cooperation is necessary and makes both of your lives better. It is important to have a cellmate you can not only live with without hostilities, but a cellmate you can coordinate activities with. I often have difficulty adjusting to new cellmates because I am very much an independent, nonsocial person. I also have very intricately set routines. Connecting with a stranger, especially one very different from myself, is problematic, and thus I am glad to have Iowa for a cellmate. He is more compatible as a cellmate to me than many others here at Stateville, although he is high-strung.

While Iowa made his call, I put on my headphones to give him some privacy when talking. I did not want to listen to anything personal he had to say, although later he related much of his conversation to me. He seemed very happy to talk to his family and former girlfriend. I would have called home today, however, I am still in C grade which prohibits me from using the phone. Instead, like on Thanksgiving Day, I wrote letters to a few family members. Usually, I send cards to my immediate family and some of my relatives. However, I did not have any cards to send out this year. Cards are not sold at Stateville's commissary, but are given out by the chaplain's offce. The chaplain is rarely seen in the Roundhouse, and I forgot to write him a letter requesting some cards. A card takes over a month to be sent out due to the money voucher processing system here. Thus, a Christmas card must be written and sent out in November for it to be received before Christmas. Incoming mail is very behind now, and the last letter I received was written in mid-November. I probably will not receive any Christmas cards until late January, unless my family thought ahead about the mail delays.

While I was writing and listening to the radio with my headphones on, I failed to notice a group of Orange Crush march onto 2 gallery. My cellmate was off the telephone and brought my attention to the matter. I then saw a group of six in full gear with one in back holding a camera. The special tactical unit went underneath our cell so we could not see what happened next, but after five or ten minutes we saw a man being carried away in shackles and cuffs. The man refused to walk, and the guards were awkwardly carrying him by the ankles and shoulders like he was hog tied. Twice they stopped on the gallery to get a different grip. They also stopped at the stairs to figure out how to get him down them. It was apparent they did not know what to do. In my opinion, they should have brought a wheel chair to sit him in so they could just roll him out, and then down the stairs. But they carried him head first, although without throwing him down or dragging him. Later, I asked a cellhouse worker what the man did to deserve being extracted out of his cell and carried out by his legs and shoulders. I was informed the man was a "bug," and keeps on smearing excrement on his cell walls. He commented that it was stupid to remove him because after they clean it up, "They will just put him back in the same cell where he will probably do it again."

Earlier in the week, my neighbor, Tattoo, wrote me a scribe (prison slang for a note). He asked me for some coffee and said in return he would draw any type of picture for me. I told my cellmate what the note said because it was addressed to both of us. He jumped off his bunk to put together a bit of instant coffee for him. I then passed the coffee over and told him we were not really interested in any drawings, but I possibly may be interested in a Christmas drawing if he had any card stock. Not long thereafter, Tattoo sent me an envelope with a number of drawings in it. They were drawings of guns, knives, muscle cars, scantily clad women, and skulls. No Christmas trees, wreaths, sleighs, fireplaces, or any Yule scenes. I showed my cellmate the drawings and he laughed. They were crude tattoo patterns common among convicts, nothing that had Christmas card potential. I returned the drawings and told Tattoo, "Thanks, but no thanks."

On Christmas Eve, my cellmate told me he spoke with Tattoo for a period of time while I was on the yard. He told me Tattoo had just been convicted for attempted murder in a shoot out with police in Lincoln, Illinois, and was beginning a 45-year sentence. Tattoo still had not received any money from his family and had no property, but that provided to him by the state. My cellmate said to me he thought Tattoo was a cool guy that had fallen on hard times. My impression of Tattoo, contrarily, was that he was an uneducated, illiterate, crazy, drug addicted, low life criminal.

When I expressed this to Iowa, he became angry because I was judgmental. Iowa wanted me to accept the man who looked like he belonged at the circus, and could barely write a note, without any prejudice. Furthermore, he thought even a person who was on a drug induced crime spree that ended in a shoot-out with police was not beyond redemption and could become a changed man. Possibly he was overly sentimental because it was Christmas Eve, but I sensed I hit a nerve with Iowa. My cellmate, I believe, led a life he now regrets and has turned to Catholicism. I have seen many men go through this phase. To some of them it is permanent, but for most, it is only temporary and precarious. I do not have much respect for people who have an abrupt change of character or system of beliefs. Only a weak person could be so rattled, and such change is usually only superficial. I did not express this to Iowa because it would have had no impact other than to make him angry.

Today, I was going through my box and, as always, trying to make space and order. I noticed I still had an old sweater and thermals in my box. Initially, I was going to throw them out, however, I then thought of my neighbor next door with no property except some IDOC underwear and blues. I passed them over to Tattoo, and he expressed much gratitude. He even said, "Merry Christmas, brother," and gave me a fist bump. My cellmate also seemed happy. Possibly he thought I had reconsidered my prejudgment of Tattoo. No, I still think the same about him, and my cellmate for that matter. Furthermore, that I happened to be cleaning out my box and discarding unwanted clothes on Christmas was merely a coincidence.

After I had completed a couple of letters and was becoming tired, I turned on my TV to see if there was anything of value to entertain myself until I went to sleep. I first went to the prison's DVD station to learn if the movie Inception would be playing again. I had watched part of it earlier in the week, but missed the beginning. After it became apparent it was a complicated surreal movie that I needed to watch all the way through to understand, I ceased watching it. The movie, however, was not being played and all that appeared on my TV was a blue screen.

I searched the other channels and found It's a Wonderful Life and The Lord of the Rings: Twin Towers. I thought, because it was Christmas, it would be more appropriate and memorable to watch It's a Wonderful Life. However, I changed my mind after a half hour. It is NOT a wonderful life. I am in prison until I die, and there are no happy endings. Unlike the character in the classic Christmas movie, it would probably be better if I was never born, and I probably should jump off a bridge or this 4th floor to my death. I only had a few good years of existence, and those golden years in my childhood are long gone and over with. The suffering and pain that has accompanied my life, and will no doubt continue, far exceed those good years. The jolly, optimistic, and hopeful sentiments of Christmas are lost on me. I turned the station to Lord of the Rings just in time to see the king ask the soldiers of the dead to fight for him. This was a film of far reaching fantasy also, but I felt much more in touch with its theme than the former movie. It's a Wonderful Life may be appropriate for some other disillusioned person possibly like my cellmate, but not for me.

1 comment:

  1. Try to have some Christmas traditions.


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