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Friday, February 25, 2011

Suicide -- January 18, 2011

A little past noon on Saturday, I was going over stock charts before the first round of NFL playoff games came on TV. The Pittsburgh Steelers were playing the Baltimore Ravens at 3 p.m., and following the game, the Green Bay Packers played the Atlanta Falcons. I was trying to get in as much work as possible before the pre-game show began. I knew I would not have any time later because it would be about my bedtime when they were both complete. I also wanted to call home quickly before the games began. An incident in the cell house would cause immediate lockdown, however, and interrupt my pre-game plans.

My cellmate noticed all the guards rushing toward our side of the building before I became aware. In fact, it was him that brought my attention to the commotion downstairs. Something had occurred in Segregation in one of the cells underneath ours. We tended to believe that there was just another fight among cellmates, however, after much time passed and no one was seen in handcuffs, we knew it was something different.

The bell on the tower rang, and all the workers were ordered to lock up in their cells. My cellmate and I saw them standing or going to their cells on four gallery across from us. There was no question we were going on lockdown, and my cellmate quickly went to the cell door to yell for the phone. He also wanted to use the phone to call home. He was expecting his daughter and her mother to be there today and he did not want to miss them. A lockdown always caused the phones to be shut off, but sometimes there is an hour delay.

While my cellmate was at the door, he told me a medical crew was coming in with a stretcher. The nurses and med tech were in no hurry, however, which seemed odd to us. Why the stretcher and lockdown if no one was seriously injured fighting? If a man had been badly beaten or stabbed, the aggressor would have been taken out in handcuffs, and medical staff would be quick to respond. Possibly, my cellmate said, both were severely injured, or one had killed the other. I did not bother speculating. I had Baytex, Apache, British Petroleum, Western Gas and numerous other energy companies to think about. In a few hours, the Steelers-Ravens game would kick off. Not long thereafter though, I turned my attention to the cell house.

A man was finally wheeled out of the cell house in a stretcher. He was not moving and had a sheet covered over him. All I could see were the toes of his feet. The man was dead, and there was no urgency on the part of medical staff to move him out quickly. Prisoners around the Roundhouse were at their doors watching as the gurney was led out. In the shouting among some of them, my cellmate and I learned it was a suicide.

My cellmate remarked that this was the second suicide he had witnessed while here. Apparently, in the summer of last year, another man had killed himself. He also was in one of the first floor cells. In that instance, however, my cellmate told me they kept him in his cell for hours dead until an outside medical examiner came in to inspect the body. He told me the cell house was very tense during that time with everyone knowing there was a dead body in a cell not being attended to. He said it also was not taken well by the prisoners when the body was moved. He was dragged out by his ankles.

The phone finally was passed cell to cell to my cellmate, and he pulled the line in to the back counter to make his call. He was only on for about 20 minutes when the phone went dead. Despite the suicide, I also wanted to call home. Yesterday, my sister and a friend came to visit me. They told me another friend of mine had met Robert Faraci. I wanted to know if my parents knew anything more.

The prison, or at least the Roundhouse, was kept on lockdown until the following day. No workers or anyone were let out of their cells on the evening of January 15th. As planned, I watched the two wildcard playoff games. I was pleased the Green Bay Packers decisively beat the Atlanta Falcons, and hoped this 6th seed team would go to the Superbowl. I asked my cellmate if he wanted to watch the games with me, but he did not care to do so. He told me he prayed for the soul of the man who committed suicide. Personally, I thought he may very well be in a better place, and it did not dampen my spirit as I watched the games. The mood of the cell house seemed a little depressed, and there was not the usual amount of enthusiasm and cheering for the games. NFL playoffs typically bring a lot of excitement to the prison population.

In the middle of the night, breakfast was passed out by inmate workers. I asked one of them if the prison was still on lockdown, and I was told no. I then asked if he saw what happened. Inmate workers have cells on the other side of the Roundhouse and would be able to see the cells underneath mine. He told me the man who killed himself was a "bug," and not long before he committed suicide he had squirted some perfume on another cellhouse worker. I said, "Perfume?" He said, "Yeah, perfume, cologne, aftershave, whatever. I am not sure exactly what he sprayed on him, but it was a potent scent. Even after he changed tee shirts, I could smell him." I told him the man was fortunate not to be squirted with urine or feces like most unruly nutcases in Seg are known to do.

The inmate worker went on to say that he did not see the suicide, but staff had informed him the man tied a noose to the window bars and jumped off the back counter, snapping his neck. Medical staff were in no hurry to respond because they knew he was dead. Despite this, a nurse tried to resuscitate the man. I asked why, and he told me, "I have no fucking clue. Maybe it was just to show they tried to do something. But even if they put the paddles to him right after the jump, that man was not coming back."

I was surprised the man was able to snap his neck from such a short fall. On the gurney, he did not look like a heavy man. Regardless, I thought to myself before I fell back asleep, he was fortunate not to slowly suffocate. Hanging yourself is very difficult and torturous if you die slowly by asphyxiation. Your head feels like it is going to explode, you become nauseous, and you gasp for breath. It takes five minutes or longer, depending on how tight the noose is around your neck cutting off blood flow to your brain, and the body instinctively tries to free itself. A person slowly hanging himself will buck and wildly shake. There is an impulse to try to loosen the noose, even if you want to die.

In several movies I have seen, people are easily strangled. This is a myth. No one just goes easily to their death by asphyxiation. The Godfather movies are a bit more realistic. For example, when Don Corleone's enforcer is strangled with piano wire, he fights frenziedly before dying. During my time in prison, people have sought to choke me. A tip to defend yourself: the best defense is a good offense. Fight the urge to pull the noose or get out of a headlock. Strike your attacker. It will take a long time for someone to knock you unconscious, during which time you can do many things to severely injure your attacker, and more than likely, he will cease trying to strangle you.

There are, on average, several suicides each year at Stateville, and I am surprised there are not more, considering how miserable and usually completely bleak prisoners' lives are. The State of Illinois, in my opinion, would be doing a service to inmates to begin a euthanasia program. I am continually hearing about the sadness and misery of prisoners. Most men are way too proud, or do not want to show weakness, and therefore I know the unhappiness I hear about is only a fraction of what exists. Prisoners in isolation or Seg are more susceptible, I believe, because they have a lot of time to think about their pathetic existences. In population, they are often preoccupied with various matters.

My current cellmate only has 7 or 8 more years to do, and is not very unhappy. He regularly talks about a transfer to a medium-security prison, and what he plans to do when he is released. Contrarily, my cellmate in general population frequently spoke of his grim thoughts. He was sentenced to 40 years at 100%, and will not be released until he is a very old man, even if he makes it. It was a harsh sentence in my opinion, especially considering the victim was a rival gang member and my cellmate had some reason to believe his life was in jeopardy.

As I have stated before in my journal, although I support the death penalty, I do not believe in sentences over 20 years. Like myself, my former cellmate had gone through all his regular set of appeals. He was obsessed with longevity and making his 2040 out-date, despite fully realizing his life would be largely over and pathetic, even if he survived that long. Many times, he would express his dreariness, while contrarily, also exuding a very cheerful, energetic, extroverted, and social person, to most people. When he was asked "What's up?," he would commonly respond, "Oh, the usual: death, misery and suicidal thoughts." He would say it with a smile like he was joking, but I knew at times it was true, especially when we were on lockdown, and he had little to keep himself busy. My former cellmate actually asked me if I would kill him to end his suffering. I told him, "No. If I must continue to suffer, so must you." As it is said, "misery loves company."

Many men become sad over women who have left them. In the county jail, there were several people who confided in me their total despair because a girlfriend or wife had left them. I know they were not the only ones. One man was terribly distraught about losing his wife and children. He obsessed about the matter and how to keep them. He even convinced me to draw a few family portraits and other things, somehow thinking such drawings could actually have an impact. I eventually told him there was nothing he could say or do, nor anything I could draw, even if I were Rembrandt, that would make her stay. He needed to cut off her and his former life completely. That was the past, and this is your present and future, despite how grim it may be. He told me he would rather commit suicide, but he never did. However, I witnessed other suicides or attempted suicides while at Cook County Jail.

Last week, a cell house worker told me he was depressed about his wife leaving him for another man. For several days, he did not come out for work, and I thought he may have quit or been given a different assignment. No, he told me. He just could not get himself motivated to get out of bed. I asked him how long his wife had stayed faithful to him while in prison, and was told "5 years." I told him that was longer than most, and he should have long ago realized it could not last forever. He said he knew that, but they were married, and "for better or for worse" was her commitment to him. He had gone down the aisle with her, and gave her a ring, something I infer he took as very significant, considering people rarely get married nowadays. He commented that she was fully dedicated to him when he was free and making a lot of money on the streets. I then reminded him of the saying, "But what have you done for me lately?" He agreed, and left my cell bitter with his head hanging low.

Too many men become sad and suicidal over women in prison. Fortunately, I have always realized the futility of having a faithful relationship over a period of years. I have met some attractive and quality women during my incarceration, but other than one, I always ended the "romance" after a year. One woman I made an exception for, and held onto a lot longer than I probably should have. It is difficult to let go, especially when you find someone special.

I met an older man who refused to let go of his wife. She was not the type of woman who could remain faithful, and it was a mistake probably for him to marry her. Eventually, the man found her in bed with another man, and he shot and killed both of them. He is in prison now for the rest of his life. He takes a heavy dose of Zoloft morning and night to keep him from sinking into depression. He almost killed himself on the night of the murders, and even today he sees little purpose of living without the wife he killed. I noticed numerous cuts across his wrists, and it is apparent he has attempted suicide on more than one occasion. Now that he is in prison for the rest of his life, he truly has nothing to live for.

When I was at Stateville in 2001, I briefly had a homosexual as a cellmate. He was an Indian or a Mexican sissy with long black hair that was worn like a girl. I refuse to cell with homosexuals, despite how clean, considerate, or respectful they may be, and was moved to a cell down the gallery. Not long after, the man hung himself off his bunk. It must have been a slow asphyxiation because his neck was not broken. Some of the people I am acquainted with jokingly said he killed himself because I left him, but the true story was that his prison boyfriend had dumped him. I was not aware he had a boyfriend, but after I moved, I did notice him spending a lot of time with a specific black man. I also noticed he disappeared behind the gym bleachers on occasion, which greatly disgusted me, and I was glad to not have lived with him long.

There are a number of semi-crazy or totally insane people in prison who commit, or try to commit, suicide regularly. The man who killed himself last week may have been one of them.

Earlier this week, I brought up to my cellmate the movie The Matrix and a movie recently released on DVD called The Union. I asked him, "What if our lives are fake and only simulated computer programs? Possibly we are in the future hooked up to machines." In the movie The Union, the main character and his lover are killed, but the movie continues for a half hour where the viewer is led to believe they escaped and lived happily ever after. However, at the end of the movie, you see the man is all but dead except for his brain waves and a computer program keeps him dreaming happily.

My religious cellmate told me that was the devil talking, and there is no question our lives are real. I told him that even ancient thinkers pondered our existence, and mentioned Plato's "The Cave." How can he be so certain to not even entertain the thought? Before he could accuse me of being Satan again, I said, "Even the Catholic church believes this is only a temporary existence until we pass on. Why should a Christian not kill himself or at a minimum lead a courageous life of abandon, without fear of death?" To this I got a long dialogue I had heard numerous times before, all based on intangibles and interpretations of Scripture. I tuned his ramblings out, and as I looked out of the cell at the numerous prisoners locked in their cages around the Roundhouse, I was reminded of all the people trapped in cocoons and tied into The Matrix. . . .

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Blackout -- January 12, 2011

Yesterday, about 3:30 in the afternoon, I had just turned on my TV to see how the stock market had closed for the day. U.S. markets have been climbing steadily since the Federal Reserve announced plans to print an extra trillion dollars, and the government had passed legislation extending unemployment payments along with former President Bush's tax cuts. Initially, I had thought the Dow Jones would fall not long after reaching 11,000. However, the new legislation and quantitative easing by the fed has altered my opinion. Now I believe the Dow will easily surpass 12,000 before sliding.

CNN news has continual tracking of the Dow Jones and Nasdaq. When the markets close, the news program often gives a brief synopsis of the day's events on the NYSE, and sometimes the global markets as well. Occasionally, I will tune in for this news rather than catching it on talk radio. Yesterday happened to be one of those days, but before I could get any economic news or even see the Dow's numbers in the corner of my screen, my television went out. Taking off my headphones, I heard booing by the inmates in the Roundhouse. The power went out in the entire building.

The power occasionally goes out at Stateville, and I was initially not bothered by the matter. Usually, if it is not caused by a storm, the power is back on within minutes or an hour. However, this loss of power would be an unprecedented event that has never occurred at Stateville during my incarceration here.

Typically, when the power goes out at prisons, there is a back-up system that is activated, and certain power is maintained. The power to prisoners' cells will be gone, but the lights in the cell house as well as to the cameras, will work. The outside lights along the cell house and on tall towers are also plugged in to the alternative power source. Yesterday, however, I noticed even the cell house lights were out. In the Roundhouse are large lights which hang from the rafters supporting the large domed ceiling. The only light coming into the cell house was that from prisoners' windows and a tiny bit at the top of the dome where sunlight was able to reflect inward. As the sun set, however, the cell house grew darker and darker until it was pitch black.

Had the power gone out at night, there would have been a big uproar from prisoners being put in complete darkness abruptly. That the light slowly diminished probably gave inmates some complacency. Even my cellmate would say to me, "They will have the power back on soon." And then, "The back-up power will be on any minute." And "Before it is dark, they will have fixed the problem." Even after it became dark, my cellmate continued to make such statements. Finally I said to him, "I don't think you understand. You are not in Kansas anymore, or in your case, Iowa. This is Stateville Correctional, not some competently run prison. We could be without power for days and it will not surprise me if we spend the night in darkness."

The guards count heads at 3:30 p.m., and therefore, all the workers were already locked in their cells. Count is conducted at the beginning of each shift, and during this time, most if not all, prisoners are locked in the cell houses. At medium-security prisons this may not be the case, and there is plenty of movement during the 2nd shift. But maximum-security prisons in Illinois are largely shut down in the evening, except for chow lines and some details. My cellmate and I noticed the cell house workers were not let out later, and I was not surprised. Until the power was restored, the prison would be on lockdown.

My cellmate quickly discovered that our toilet did not work when he took a piss and tried to flush it. I asked him to check the hot and cold water buttons on the sink. Only the cold water button worked, and this was because it was oddly not hooked up to an electric system. Some time ago, the administration thought it was a good idea to put electric timers on our plumbing. Toilets only flush every 10 minutes, and with the flip of a switch inside the plumbing unit, the cold and hot water can be turned off. At newly built prisons, plumbing can be controlled by a guard in command centers. Any time they want, they can shut off an inmate's toilet or sink electronically.

For some time, I have known the hot water was on an electronic system. I can hear a faint click from behind the locked plumbing door. It can also be heard when the toilet is flushed. My cellmate does not believe me and continues to say he cannot hear anything. I tell him that he has worked too many years in a corn mill or with heavy machinery and has gone deaf. In any event, we were fortunate our cold water was not connected to that circuit or we would have no water at all. Almost the entire cell house was without water.

Later, when dinner was passed out, prisoners yelled from their cells complaining of having nothing to drink. Some, in jest, shouted to them, "Drink the water out of the toilet bowls!" When I heard my neighbor complain, I told him I was selling bottles of water for a dollar, but if he purchased a six-pack, I had a special $5 rate. After I had my fun, I sent him a bottle for free. However, I ignored the others.

The electric timers have been installed on the toilets in the Roundhouse to prevent, or at least discourage, prisoners from flooding their cells and the gallery. Before the timers, inmates often shoved a rag or some other object into their toilet and continually pressed their toilet button until water went out of their cell. Sometimes, water will leak or fall to lower floors and all of the neighboring cells will be flooded. Years ago when I was in a different seg unit at Stateville, flooding was a regular occurrence. Once I was watching TV in the dark with my headphones on, and when I got off my bunk I stepped into half a foot of water. Inmates flood their cells because they feel they have been wronged in some way, and to get the attention of a person with authority. Some inmates, however, just flooded their cells because they were bored in Seg, or were semi-crazy.

I do not know the purpose of the electric switches on the sink buttons. They only dribble out water slowly and it would take a very patient prisoner to flood his cell with sink water. However, there are a few who will go to such lengths, and I suppose it is easier for staff to go into a cell, unlock the plumbing door, and flip a switch rather than take a wrench to some valve. Regardless, now a unionized plumber will need to be called. It may surprise readers to know that neither guards nor prisoners are allowed to touch even a plunger. A plumber making over $40 an hour must do all plumbing work, despite how trivial or easily fixable a problem may be.

I am sure many prisoners were bored and did not know what to do with themselves without a television to watch. Watching TV is the major preoccupation of most prisoners, although half of the Roundhouse is Segregation and those in Seg do not have their TV or radios. Having no power did not significantly alter my life because I watch very little TV. However, eventually, after I began to be annoyed by the increasing cell house noise, I sought out some music to block this out. I discovered that my Walkman no longer worked on battery power. For over a year I have not bothered with batteries because I have an adapter. Some people use batteries because they bring their Walkman out to yard or move about their cell with them. Cell house and yard workers often work with their Walkmans clipped to their clothing or in their pockets. Without any music or news to listen to, I used my earplugs to muffle the noise while I read my newspapers, and then wrote a letter.

I had begun to write my letter with only twilight left in the sky. By the time I was finished, the cell was almost pitch black. In order to address the envelope, I had to go to the wall where some faint light was coming in from the back window. For a long time, I had been meaning to write this person and I was not going to let the distractions of the cell house or lack of light prevent me. However, when I was finished, I knew it was impossible to read or write any further. I could only vaguely see the outlines of the interior of my cell.

My cellmate had a Walkman, and I was a little envious he had some preoccupation in the dark. I was interested in what came of two state legislative bills that Democrats were trying to pass in the last hours of a lame duck session. At midnight, the Democrats lost the power to push through legislation without some Republican support. Unlike the U.S. Congress, the Republicans had failed to take over the House in Illinois. However, they did gain enough seats so Democrats could not outright dismiss them. All week, Democrats had been trying to lure a few Republicans to vote for a huge corporate and individual tax hike so they could claim the bill was bipartisan, and not bear fully responsibility to the voters. Fortunately, Republicans held their ground. Unfortunately, the Democrats went ahead and passed the tax increases themselves without a single Republican vote.

I asked my cellmate during the night to periodically check out news radio to see if he could learn the outcome. I was hoping Republicans made a stand, and Democrats were too cowardly to pass the bill on their own and face the wrath of voters in 2012. Possibly, there were enough fiscally responsible or frightened Democrats to stop the reckless state financing. Earlier, I had heard Christine Rodagno, the Republican Senate Minority leader, strongly state her party would not endorse the tax hike. I was glad to hear her say it was foolish to allow government more funding before it solved its enormous fiscal problems with spending cuts. I was in complete agreement. The Democrats, just like on the federal level, were greatly harming society with crushing debt and government expansion.

My cellmate was not able to learn about the passage of the tax or death penalty bills. Democrats not only wanted to almost double the taxes of people and business in Illinois, but take away the special rights and protections for defendants facing capital punishment. As I wrote in my journal entry "Repealing the Death Penalty," Democratic legislators sought the end of executions, not on ideological grounds, but mostly to save the state some petty change. The money saved on removing the death penalty will only be temporary because the costs of imprisoning convicts for the rest of their lives will far outweigh the short term savings. The repeal will also cause many more innocent people to be convicted and languish in prison for the rest of their lives. I knew Governor Quinn would sign the tax increase, but was not certain about the ban on the death penalty.

I told my cellmate when he climbed off the top bunk that if he continues to piss in the toilet, our cell will begin to stink. Iowa backed away from the toilet and told me he will just hold it until the power comes back on. Again, I told him his faith in Stateville staff was remarkable, and reminded him he is in the most incompetent, inefficient, and negligent penitentiary in Illinois. I told him to piss in the sink. There was no telling when the power will comeback on. He refused, and climbed back up onto his bunk. However, after another hour or two passed, he came to his senses and pissed in the sink. A number of inmates probably shared my cellmate's thinking that this was gross or unsanitary, but as Bear Grills has said (and done) on "Man Versus Wild," man must do a lot of things he may not normally do in order to survive.

I told my cellmate I was not holding my urine, nor was I going to wait to defecate if I needed to. Many times throughout my incarceration, I've been in cells without working plumbing. I simply used Styrofoam trays for that purpose and then wrapped a plastic bag around it. Initially, Iowa said he was not going to eat until the power came on, and when dinner was passed out he did not eat. However, later he asked me to save him a plastic bag.

Chow was not passed out until late. As I suspected, it was an easy to prepare and distasteful meal. Two slices of mystery meat imitation bologna, two slices of bread, and a small portion of lettuce. For a snack, we were given a packaged rectangular cake, the same snack we have been served for months. I peeled the meat off my tray and threw it out of my cell into the darkness. I hoped to hit the gun tower but it was so dark there was no way to know where it went. I was not the only one to throw their food, trays, or other garbage out of their cells. As guards moved about in the darkness with flashlights, I could see all the trash on the ground floor. I could also see, on occasion, or hear objects being thrown from the upper floors. The inmates of F house were not happy, and their discontent grew.

As the sun fell below the horizon, and twilight faded, I was reminded of the ominous portent shown in various vampire movies. A maximum security prison with many killers, rapists, and violent criminals was in total darkness. I wondered what would happen if by chance the cell doors were to be opened. I had no doubt mayhem would break out, and the guards would flee for their lives. I mentioned the scenario to my cellmate, and he said he would hide underneath the bunk. Although the cellhouse most certainly would be dangerous, the darkness, freedom, and chaos I imagined would be exhilarating. I have lived under extreme oppression for many years, and the loss of light or security did not scare me. Contrarily, the blackout brought me a sense of calm, even with the prisoners growing more loud and obnoxious.

I went to the cell's window to see if the blackout went beyond Stateville's walls. I can see X House from my window and noticed their lights were on. Possibly, however, they had a generator. The guards who conducted count at 8 p.m. said the entire prison was without electric power, and the reason was still unknown. There is a power plant about 5 miles away from here which always had red blinking lights on its smoke stacks at night. Yesterday, however, they could not be seen. Other lights I typically noticed at night were also conspicuously absent.

I mentioned to my cellmate a book I had read written by Stephen King called The Stand. In the novel, a plague wipes out almost the entire world's population, and those few remaining had to battle between good and evil. I went on to tell Iowa how all but one inmate at a prison had succumbed to the disease and died. The guards had fled or died as well, and he was trapped in his cell. Despite how he tried, he could not get out. He suffered from terrible thirst, and had drank every drop out of his toilet bowl, licking it clean. He made a sling to pull a neighbor to his bars and ate his leg, and gnawed on the bones. I told my cellmate he was a true survivor. Jokingly, I went on to say to Iowa that he should not skip his meals so he was not emaciated if such circumstances came to us. I then asked him how much he weighs, and he told me there was no way I was going to eat him.

Looking out the window again, I said to my cellmate, "What if there was a nuclear war?" There are new bombs that can take out all electric power. The Chinese probably even have ways to shut down all our electric grids, even without a bomb, and simply by hacking into sensitive Internet websites. My cellmate then brought up a rumor I had heard numerous times in prison. Supposedly, if America was invaded or faced the possibility of total political and social upheaval in war, all inmates in maximum-security prisons were to be shot. I do not know how or where this rumor got started. I have never read or heard any official policy or law of the U.S. government confirming it. I am skeptical such plans exist, and asked my cellmate how he knew this was true. He did not know.

While listening to my cellmate, I noticed nurses entered the building. There were four of them, and they separated in pairs. One held a flashlight while the other gave out medications or insulin. The two pairs of nurses were closely followed by a guard. Although they seemed hesitant and fearful at first, by the time they reached the 4th floor unmolested, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. The blackout apparently added some excitement or fun to their jobs. When I was given my sleeping meds, the nurses were joking friendly with inmates. With inmates locked in their cells and most of them behind Plexiglass and perforated metal, they had little to fear. The most dangerous spot was in the middle of the Roundhouse where garbage and other objects continued to rain down. The guards avoided this area until an administrator or high ranking guard got an idea.

My cellmate was puzzled as to why a prison would not have a gas powered generator just in case the primary and back-up power failed. While he expressed this once again, we noticed a lot of flashlights coming from the entrance of F House. Eventually we were to see a number of guards, several lieutenants, and the major. The guards pulled a cart with what looked like a large object on top of it. I said to my cellmate, "Maybe there is your mobile power generator." However, we soon realized it was a bundle of lights with stands. My cellmate and I thought they must be also bringing a generator to go with them, but none came. Despite this, a couple of lights came to life, and were aimed up at the rows of cells on both sides of the Roundhouse.

While looking out the window, I noticed a guard outside adjusting a very long extension cord in the snow. The cord led to X House and it seemed they were attempting to light this cell house with the power from another building. I was skeptical this plan would work for long, and I was correct. Soon the lights flickered and went out. I do not know if it was because prisoners bombarded the lights with objects, or if the electric cords connecting the two buildings failed. After the lights went out for good, I put my earplugs back in and went to sleep. It was about 9 p.m., and there was nothing for me to do. My intrigue with the blackout was over, and it was just another day in prison-- just one without electricity or working plumbing.

At 3 a.m., breakfast was passed out by a guard. We were given a couple single serving boxes of cornflakes and a styrofoam tray with two slices of bread and a packet of peanut butter and jelly. Prisoners had not been given syrup or jelly in half a year, and it went through my mind that supervisors were trying to placate angry prisoners with a little packet of jelly. I was not the only one to think this, and I heard a prisoner yell this from his cell. It was followed by an object hitting the gun tower or floor. After pissing in the sink, I wrapped up my bread and went back to sleep.

Despite my cellmate's insistence that the power would be back on by morning, it was not, and the prison was still on a full lockdown. I began my day as I would any other, except instead of watching the news as I ate breakfast, I read a newspaper. I also took a styrofoam tray and plastic garbage bag with me when I put the privacy curtain up. Later, as I showed my cellmate a wrapped tray in my hand, I asked him if he was still hungry because I had an extra tray. He asked me what I was going to do with it, and I told him I was going to put it outside our cell with all the other garbage that was there and had not been picked up, unless he had a better idea. He did not, but other inmates in the cellhouse did.

The prisoners in F House were more upset in the morning than they were the night before. They had now been without any electricity, water, or plumbing for almost 20 hours. They demanded to be let out to use the bathroom and to be served water. Inmates threatened to throw shit at the guards, and in both serious and joking tones I heard shouts of "Watch out sergeant (or some officer's name). Here comes some doo doo!" The guards, or at least the smart ones, stayed in the office, or by the stairs where they could not get hit. However, when the banging and shouting of the cellhouse began to reverberate through the building, the lieutenant charged out into the middle to address the cellhouse with a loud voice. This was a mistake, and what I think was a water bottle whizzed by his head. The lieutenant quickly retreated to his office and was not seen again.

Cold cuts were again served for chow. Like before, I tossed them out of my cell. I looked in my box for something to eat and found some beef stew I had purchased from commissary. I put this package on the radiator. One benefit of the power being out was that the thermostat and electrical system controlling the heat was out. Now the upper floors' radiators were super hot, and not luke warm as they normally are. The heating system is made to create more heat at the lower levels and less on the top. Sometimes, the fourth floor radiators are cold even in sub- freezing temperatures. I placed the beef stew on the radiator along with a bottle of water. A half hour later the water was hot, and I poured it over some Ramen noodles.

Before I added the beef stew, my cellmate's fan turned on and I heard cheering from the inmates. The electricians of Stateville finally solved the power failure. Inmate workers were not long afterwards allowed out to pick up all the garbage and mop the floors. Life returned to its normal mundane and drudging ways. My cellmate hopped onto the toilet and everyone seemed to be content and happy, at least for the moment.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Farewell to 2010 -- January 2, 2011

On New Year's Day, I awoke at about 7 a.m. and began my day as any other. There was nothing special about the new year, and the night before there was nothing to celebrate, as millions of people around the world do every Dec. 31st at midnight. I watched the morning news shows as I often do while eating breakfast, and saw the celebrations of various cities: St. Petersburg, Berlin, Paris, London, and New York. Last night, at the stroke of midnight, I had the misfortune to be awakened by the prisoners of the Roundhouse banging their doors and yelling. Half of the men in the cell house do not have a TV, radio, or a watch to know what time it is, but they began to hit their doors and shout when they heard others doing so. What do they have to be so jubilant about? We live in cages in the most austere and oppressive conditions. Many of us will never get out of prison. New Years was just an excuse to act like an obnoxious idiot, and I wished they would be quiet so I could continue sleeping. My dreams or even the void of awareness were far more pleasant than the thought of another year in prison.

On many previous New Year's Eves, the prison has been placed on lockdown during the evening. I do not know the reason for this, but possibly previous administrations thought the new year and unruly prisoners could pose a security threat. The warden currently at Stateville, however, did not order a lockdown nor a holiday schedule for New Year's Day. Before this warden, all holidays meant prisoners spent the day in their cells, except for feed lines. However, detail yard and religious services were run yesterday as any regular Saturday. Feed lines are never run in F House, and our meals are served to us in the cells.

No mail was collected on December 30th, nor was any passed out on the 31st. Like the prior Friday, the mail room staff and others were given two days off. Incoming mail is now a month behind, and the last letter I received was dated in November. I even received a late birthday card this week and assume I will be receiving Christmas cards well into January. The mail here has improved this year, but began to fall behind as Thanksgiving Day approached. I assume mail room workers took a number of days off in addition to the holidays. Only at Stateville can mail be delayed a month or longer.

Approximately 500 new guards were hired last year to work in the IDOC. It is apparent the Governor and Democratic-controlled legislature do not have any plans to trim spending. I can only assume tax increases and billions of dollars in borrowing are to come soon. This week, I have noticed many of those new guards at work. It seems in F House almost the entire regular crew has been replaced by new hires. I also notice an increase in manpower. On New Year's Day, I watched as 10 guards opened up tray boxes built into the segregation doors, placed food into them, and then locked them. Normally, only a guard or two did this. It was somewhat humorous watching all the manpower used just to feed Seg inmates, although I must note they were done much quicker. I wish this amount of manpower was used for inmates' mail.

For lunch yesterday, we were served baked chicken, collard greens, instant potatoes, and bread. I suppose the chicken was considered by some to be a special meal. It certainly beats the processed soy-turkey kibble we are given so often. I debated saving the chicken for a meal later in the evening. My cellmate and I were planning to make nacho chips to eat while watching the Rose Bowl. All I had for meat in my box was tuna fish, and my cellmate had no desire to have fish put on his nachos despite how I tried to persuade him that fish and chips was a good combination. He told me fish and chips was actually fish and french fries in Britain, a fact I already was aware of. My cellmate wanted to use the pork he had purchased off commissary. However, I was not too enthusiastic about eating pork nachos.

This morning my cellmate, Iowa, said, "Happy New Year." I do not know whether he was being sarcastic or possibly he had reason to look forward to 2011. After all, he will be transferring out to a medium and will not be stuck at Stateville for long. Every year, Iowa is one year closer to his out-date, unlike myself where every year is only one year closer to the grave. Iowa seems to be an optimistic person, often pointing out the silver lining of almost every cloud. He tells me I would be a more positive person also if I turned to God. There is no God in my life, only prison, further torment, and death. My cellmate has suggested making a New Year's resolution to bring faith into my life. However, God will be just of an elusive concept in 2011 as in 2010, and all the years before.

Many people make New Year's resolutions, however, I have never understood why. If something ought to be done today, why wait until tomorrow or the beginning of a new year? My cellmate has made a pledge to cease buying sweets in 2011. He used to buy many cakes, candy bars, and other desserts from commissary. However, he will now only eat the desserts provided by the State of Illinois with our meals. Recently, the only dessert we have been given is small packaged cakes. On occasion, we will get a banana or an apple.

Just a year ago, we used to get various sweets or fruits with our meals. We were served packaged chocolate, or white, strawberry, or yellow cake with different frostings. We sometimes received brownies or generic Twinkies. Prisoners were once served three chocolate chip, sugar, oatmeal, peanut butter, or cinnamon cookies. Then it went to just 2 sugar cookies, and now none are served. For the last three months, however, all we have been served is yellow cake with white frosting.

Fruit offerings used to consist of fresh oranges, apples, and bananas or canned pineapple, peaches, pears, and apple sauce. Years earlier, we had an even more diverse selection. I reason the IDOC is attempting to save money by mass producing the cheapest desserts at Illinois River, a prison in central Illinois, that now makes all our snacks and bread. My cellmate has made this New Year's resolution not to save money but force himself to limit his intake of sugary foods. I find it ironic, however, that he asks the cell house worker if there are any extra cakes left over that he could have, and he never rejects the donuts or other deserts I give him. It seems his resolution is more a demonstration of weakness than of true commitment. A lack of will power is often behind those who make New Year's resolutions, and possibly that is why they commonly fail.

My cellmate's TV has been broken since before I moved into the cell. He told me his prior cellmate continually used it until it just died. His last cellmate also broke the cassette player of his Walkman so now all he has is a radio to listen to. Iowa seems to be too generous, or of weak nature, to just tell someone "no." I do not think I would lend the prior cellmate he speaks of this dull, 3" pencil that I am writing with. Since Iowa is without a TV, I have offered to let him watch various movies, programs, or sports events with me. He has continually declined, but he did finally accept my offer to watch the Iowa Hawkeyes play the Missouri Tigers in a college football bowl game. Yesterday, he also watched the Wisconsin Badgers play the TCU Frogs in the Rose Bowl.

All day and evening on New Year's Day are college bowl games. I did not have an interest to watch all of them, although many prisoners, as well as those outside of prison, spend their day this way. Over the years, college football has tried to cash in on the sport, and numerous more regular season and bowl games are now televised. There are now about 30 bowl games beginning in mid-December, and ending with the BCS Championship bowl on January 10th. The increase in games has diluted the sport, in my opinion, and it would be better if only 5 or 7 bowl games matching up only the very best college football teams across the nation existed, as was the case when I was a child.

Of the numerous bowl games offered this year, I only plan to watch a few. The Rose Bowl was the best game being offered on New Year's Day and probably the year, in my opinion. I was looking forward to seeing it since the match-up was announced. Not only did these universities have impressive records and football teams, but I liked the players and schools more than most others. Wisconsin was a midwest team my cousin had played for in the 1990s, and I favored them over Texas Christian University, although both had good teams and schools.

Tomorrow, I will watch the Orange Bowl and side with Stanford over Virginia Tech. Unlike the game yesterday, I expect and hope Stanford will win decidedly. The Orange Bowl will be the last college football game I will watch until next year. I have no motivation to watch the Cotton and BCS Championship.

As it is, today I will be watching yet another football game. The Green Bay Packers are playing the Chicago Bears in a pivotal game. If the Packers win, they are in the playoffs. For some time, I have been seeking a Packers-New England Patriots Superbowl. I do like football, but I do not want it to consume my life. I have many other things to do and think about, including writing this journal entry.

I made a huge meal for my cellmate and I to eat while watching the Rose Bowl. Dinner served to us was 2 slices of mystery meat imitation bologna. As always, I served those to my toilet. I did bag the bread, and I used the lettuce and cheese to add to our meal. My cellmate gave me a container of Nacho cheese spread that I mixed with milk and some spices. I added the slice of cheese off our trays to it before heating. I ripped apart the salad given us to throw on top of our chips. Making meals in an improvised fashion is time consuming, and before I was done, the game had already begun. Before I could sit down to eat and watch it, I had to clean all the bowls and containers I had used. In general population, I probably would have waited until half time, but I could not leave any food remnants out in the Roundhouse. If I did, the back counter would quickly have hundreds of cockroaches on it.

It was a good meal and a good game, other than a poorly called penalty against the Badgers which probably cost them victory. Wisconsin was down by 9 points, but scored a touchdown in the last minute. They needed a two point conversion to tie the game up and send it into overtime. However, the penalty pushed them back 10 yards, making a two point conversion almost impossible. TCU won by two points.

During the game, my cellmate sat on my small box not far from me, and we both faced away from the cellhouse toward the TV that I had wedged in the horizontal bunk bars. This cell is designed so there is nowhere I could have moved my television to make it easily seen by both of us in comfort. The sink and toilet are on the side opposite the bunks instead of behind the bunks like in the previous cells I have been in while in F House. Iowa seemed to enjoy the game nevertheless, although like me, he favored Wisconsin and did not like the referee's last call.

The pork nachos I made with rice, refried beans and peppers were good, but as I suspected, would have been better with a different meat. The commissary pork that Iowa gave me to use was ground up, processed pork of low quality. It came in one chunk that I had to break apart with my hands to mix in with our food. Even if the pork was high quality cuts or shredded meat, I tend to believe it was not the best choice for nachos.

At half time, the teams' bands took the field, one after the other. My cellmate and I commented on how ugly the females in the band were. They definitely were not as pretty as the cheerleaders, although they never are. I mentioned how some students actually were given full scholarships to play in the band. This was news to my cellmate as it was to me upon learning about it several years ago. He said it may actually be worth it to be a nerd in the band for free tuition, but then mentioned he never was good at any musical instrument. I told him he could try out for the cheerleader squad which he quickly rejected. I said, "Why not? Then you could be with all those girls you said were fine looking, and I heard male cheerleaders are also sometimes eligible for scholarships at those big universities."

I was not the only person to cook a meal in the Roundhouse on New Year's Day. My cellmate and I could smell burritos and sausages being grilled. While the school bands played, I turned around to look out into the Roundhouse. I was looking to see if I could find any fires burning. Some inmates will scrape the paint off their lower bunk and light fires underneath to fry food. In the Roundhouse, I could look into a number of cells, but I did not see any fires aglow. I did notice smoke drifting up into the rafters of this huge domed building. Upon entering F House months ago, I noticed there is a hole at the top of the dome. In fact, two chains lead up from the gun tower to open and close a door at the very top. I bet this door was opened quite frequently years ago during full scale riots that used to occur.

After the football game, I went to bed early. Before I fell asleep, I thought about certain news shows which attempted to summarize the year of 2010. At the end of every year, news programs recap the highlights and biggest stories. I began to think about what has happened personally in my life over the year. However, mostly only bad memories entered my thoughts, so I quickly ceased trying to remember. A number of people have emailed or posted that I should write a book. I have indeed contemplated this, but only with trepidation. Since my arrest, my life has been filled with tragedy, misfortune, and misery. It makes me angry, sad, and bitter. It is not something I like to remember, but forget. Writing a blog in weekly installments is much better than having to recall the last 18 years. As I went to sleep, I tried to forget 2010, and the almost two decades of time before it.

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.