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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.

3 comments:

  1. chip.plumb@yahoo.comFebruary 14, 2011 at 4:45 PM

    Hang in there Paul. I truely think that you will be released one day. Accountability is no justification for a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

    ReplyDelete
  2. To think there used to be three roundhouses back in the old days.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, there were 4 roundhouses at one time. Stateville was built with a design where all the living units came off the circular chow hall like spokes on a wheel. The front administration building was A, and the longhouse where I currently reside was B. Then C through F were roundhouses. To create more capacity, G dorm was added along with H and I Houses. All the roundhouses were razed to the ground after being condemned and only F was left standing. G, H, and I despite being newer were also condemned. They still exist but are vacant.

      Delete

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