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Monday, March 28, 2011

MRI Scan at the U of I -- March 18, 2011

Yesterday, I was awakened at 5 a.m. by an inmate cell house worker. He told me I had a court writ and wanted to know my jumpsuit size. I knew I wasn't going to court. The worker just assumed so because usually when prisoners leave the institution, especially those in the Roundhouse, it is to attend a court hearing. Half of a gallery in F House is reserved for inmates incarcerated at various prisons across the state who are here only temporarily to be transported to courthouses in northern Illinois, mainly Cook County. I am not one of those, and was being sent out to the hospital at the University of Illinois in Chicago for another MRI scan.

Years ago, I damaged my spine lifting weights. In my teen years and twenties, I lifted weights fanatically. While I was at Joliet Correctional Center, I was on the prison's power lifting team. There, I competed with other inmates in our weight class. Only the strongest men were allowed to stay on the team. During competitions, I squat pressed and dead lifted close to 600 pounds. So much weight was placed on the bars that they would bend, and probably looked as if they would snap. This never occurred, but what did happen is I repeatedly injured my lower back. Over the years, two discs were damaged in my lower spine. In my 30's, these injuries have been progressively problematic, although I no longer lift such heavy weights.

I have been taken to the U of I occasionally over the past several years. I have seen surgeons, neurologists, and various doctors at the pain clinic. The first doctor I saw was a surgeon who wanted to perform a laminectomy. A laminectomy is a surgical procedure where a part of the disc which is pressing on a nerve is severed and removed. I did not like this plan because when this procedure is performed, it greatly weakens the structural integrity of the remaining disc. I may not be squat pressing 600 pounds any more, but I will continue to vigorously exercise, and I have no plans to quit. A laminectomy also carries the risk of developing hard scar tissue which would cause more pain than having a disc press on nerves.

Since refusing the surgery offered me, the medical director at Stateville has given me a hard time about receiving any alternative treatment. He will not authorize any physical therapy or narcotic medications, not even Tylenol #3. Trying to get anti-inflammatory medications on a regular basis has been difficult, although this may not be the fault of the retiring Dr. Parth Ghosh. All of January and part of February this year, I went without any meds, despite how I repeatedly wrote the doctor and spoke to various nurses and med techs. During this time, my cellmate would comment that I moved about the cell like an old man, and indeed, I did feel like a cripple and was in a lot of pain. I have also had problems receiving cortisone injections that have been ordered by doctors at the hospital.

On March 4th, I was sent to the U of I to have a cortisone injection in my back. However, after talking with a neurologist, he wanted to first see an updated MRI. The last injection I received did not have any effect, and while watching the procedure on a fluoroscope, the doctors noticed my two discs appeared to have compressed further. The neurologist thought if my injury had changed and the last cortisone injection was worthless, it would be best to have another look before going forward with any other treatment. I was disappointed by this because the medical department at Stateville may not send me back there for many months, if not a year, and they often do not follow the recommendations of outside specialists. Thus, I was greatly surprised to be going back there so soon.

I despise going on writs. It is a miserable experience and as I got ready to leave early yesterday morning, I thought what a terrible day I had ahead of me. Many prisoners, especially those who have been incarcerated as long as I have, enjoy being outside these walls. However, I would have much preferred staying in my cell. On writs, prisoners are shackled, handcuffed, chained around the waist, and led around like a dog on a leash. We wait in holding cages, or rooms, for hours upon hours, usually in cramped and uncomfortable quarters. We are given usually nothing to eat during this time, but processed soy-turkey imitation bologna sandwiches, which are difficult to eat when wearing handcuffs. Guards often prolong your discomfort at the hospital waiting room for hours to gain overtime wages. Knowing what a long day I had ahead of me, I ate a large breakfast and waited for a guard who never came. I had hoped the cell house worker made a mistake, and I fell back asleep.

At 7:30 a.m., I was awakened by the cell door opening and closing electronically. I got up to see a guard on the ground floor yelling out my name. He told me I was going on a writ and asked if I was ready. I told him I was not brought a jumpsuit yet. Not long thereafter, he was at my door with a bright yellow jumpsuit. He told me the best he could do was a size 6XL. As I put on the jumpsuit, I thought it was large enough to fit Big Bird. At least it was not ripped down the leg like the last one I wore, and I rolled up the bottoms so they did not drag on the floor. I was then handcuffed before the door was opened. Usually this is not done till later, but the prison was still on lockdown. I was brought over to the front of the prison along with an inmate from Seg who I knew from general population. Jokingly, I asked him if he had been written another disciplinary ticket for putting up a privacy curtain. He said, no, he was in Seg for not being able to piss in a cup for a drug test. Later, he admitted he intentionally did not take the test because he knew he was "dirty." The punishment for not taking the test, and taking it but failing, is the same: 6 months in Seg. However, the inmate thought he had a valid excuse. He suffers from kidney stones.

At the front of the prison, a number of people were waiting to go to court. I noticed a man I knew that had just last year been released. Before he left, I had asked him his plans. He had told me he was going to sell cocaine until he had enough money to be a high rolling businessman or real estate investor. I said to him, "Who do you think you are? Warren Buffet or Donald Trump?" This man was nothing like those two successful millionaires, but he was not stupid or uneducated like most of the people at Stateville. He had an electronics degree from DeVry, and I could tell he was brighter than the average man. He could have made good money legitimately, and I scolded him for his plan. When he saw me approaching him, he pleaded for me not to strike him. A guard taking me on my hospital writ was in a hurry to get going, so I only had time to tell the man he was a fool before moving on.

I was taken to a room that is typically used for attorney visits. Waiting there were three other men from general population who were going to the same hospital. They seemed like they had been waiting a long time, and I was glad the guard had not come and retrieved me until 7:30 so I could get another hour of sleep. It is common for hospital and court writs to wait in cramped, loud holding cages for hours before even leaving Stateville. At least I missed this discomfort, but the day was still young, I thought as I sat down and extended my feet out so a guard could place shackles on my ankles.

While sitting in the legal visiting room waiting to leave, I saw a man who looked familiar. I gave him a long look and realized it was James, a man I knew from Joliet CC in the late 1990's. James was transferred to Stateville in 2001 when Joliet was closed down, and he has been here ever since. I have seen him briefly a few times since 2006, but have never had much time to talk to him. We have never lived in the same cell house, and he rarely leaves his cell other than for his assignment, which has become his life.

I walked over to James who was sitting towards the back of the room. I said, "I thought I recognized a familiar face. How have you been?" He went on a long litany of his health problems, from his eyes to his feet, and from his heart to his kidneys. It seemed like he was falling apart, however, other than being overweight, he did not look so terrible. I asked him what he was going to the hospital for, and he said he did not know because he had so many ailments, but he was hoping it was for his heart problems. James explained a number of symptoms he was having, and after asking him some questions, it seemed like he was suffering from congestive heart failure. I told him it probably would not hurt if he lost some weight.

After going over James' numerous health problems, he wanted to know what the real story was in the Roundhouse. Rumors go about the prison rather quickly, but the validity of them can be very poor. I told him about the subject matters I discussed in recent journal entries "Orange Crush Invades the Roundhouse" and "Fights, Floods, and Fire." The man I came with from F House Seg got a good look at the inmate who set his cell on fire and jumped through it to pummel a couple of guards at his door. James seemed entertained by this story, and it was a rather peculiar event. The man from Seg told James that after the guards subdued and hog tied the inmate, they carried him out by the legs and shoulders, kicking him in the head from time to time.

A small Caucasian female guard walked into the room wanting my signature, and a signature from the man I came with from the Roundhouse. Once again, I recognized another person I knew, but had not seen in a long time. This woman had worked at Joliet CC before it had closed, and like James, had transferred to Stateville. I had not become acquainted with her, however, until I began to go on writs. On one of the van rides to and from the hospital, she told me she recognized me from television news and knew about my case. She was also aware that I lived in the same area as where she grew up. Apparently, she attended Providence High School, which is in the same town as Lincoln Way Central, the school I attended. Although Lincoln Way Central was a public school in New Lenox, Providence was a very expensive private high school. I dated some girls who went to Providence before my arrest, but no one the guard knew. She was a few years older than I, and probably graduated by the time my family moved out there. I thought it odd that a girl who had attended such an affluent school would ultimately become a prison guard. She was an odd woman, however, and I was reminded of this when she gave me a pen that looked like a syringe to sign my name.

Around 8 a.m., the writ guards were ready to leave. We left the attorney visiting room and lined up at a gate leading out of the institution. A man there called out our names, and we were asked to state our prison ID numbers. Our mug photos were looked at to make sure they matched our faces, and another guard checked our restraints before we were allowed to proceed out the door. We waited again in between another checkpoint, where I noticed all the lieutenants had a mail shelf identified by name. Another prisoner said if he could, he would leave some shit for a particularly hated guard, an ugly female lieutenant. She is almost always attempting to give inmates and guards alike grief. People in the prison call her an assortment of unflattering names, and she is said to be a "bull dyke." Before the line moved forward to the last checkpoint, an inmate spit in the "Wilderbeast's" mailbox.

The front entrance of Stateville always strikes me as remarkable because it is such a contrast to the filthy, ugly, crude conditions in the prison. The floors are made of marble, and you can almost see your reflection in it because it has been waxed and buffed so often. There is an impressive double spiraling staircase going down to the lower floor, and in the foyer is a large sparkling chandelier hanging from the ceiling. I have never been in them, however I am told the offices used by the warden and for other purposes are also lavishly opulent. I cannot but believe the reason for the dichotomy is to deceive or impress visitors to the prison.

For every prisoner who is sent out on a writ, at least two guards accompany them. Going with us were ten, and four rode in the same van. Six others went in another one. The vans used by Stateville have four benches behind the shielded driver, and are not comfortable to seat more than eight passengers. Initially I was assigned a seat in the first bench next to James, and I was not a happy camper. James was complaining of a rolling stomach and asked for a bag, in case he puked. Furthermore, the first bench has no leg room, and you must sit sideways. After the guards settled in, however, I was invited to sit on the third bench. The writ guards are usually accommodating and friendly.

The drive to Chicago was rather uneventful and quiet, thankfully. Sometimes I must sit with loud, obnoxious and rambling prisoners who will not shut up, or they smell and intrude on my space. It can be a cramped sardine can on wheels, but some inmates make the ride much more uncomfortable than need be. The woman who attended Providence High School drove, and thankfully did not play any hip hop music, unlike the driver on the way back. The drive was so quiet that a few people actually fell asleep, and I even heard some snoring. On occasion, the man from Seg would say a word to me such as "This is where I caught my case," as we passed through Hinsdale. In Chicago he also commented how he lived off of Cicero, and he was surprised all the gang graffiti was gone. A black man mentioned the ghetto projects he used to live in had been closed down. Both sounded disappointed, as though these were unfortunate changes.

The prisoners' waiting room is under one of the hospital buildings. The basement is only partially finished, and water pipes and electric lines are exposed in the tunnels. I got the impression the hospital does not want us to be seen, and I do not blame them. It is probably best to have their prison clientele out of sight from other customers there on business, as well as for security reasons.

In the waiting room, I got to listen to people question James about the commissary available at the prison store. James works as a printer, but also as a clerk at Stateville's commissary. The prison's commissary often gets a number of products inmates are unaware of, or do not know the quality of. He answered all these questions and mine, pertaining to unionized staff intentionally being lazy to get more overtime or manpower. He told me staff had been cut in half, and he did not think they were intentionally going slow. James has been working amongst union workers and guards so long that I tended to think he sided with them because he thought he was one, although he lived in a cage and made peanuts compared to them. By the way, he also did not get their lavish dental, pensions, or health care benefits, despite how he was now at the hospital for some type of cardiogram.

I was surprised to learn that among the five people I went to the hospital with, four of them have done more time than me. Usually, my 18 years beats everyone in the room, but not this time. The Mexican had been in prison since 1980, and had 18 more years to do. In 1980, the maximum for murder was a 60 year sentence at 50%. Apparently, he had more than one murder or had multiple consecutive sentences. An old black man who was going blind said he had been in custody since the mid 80's, as well. James had been incarcerated since 1988 and had six natural life sentences, but he told me not to feel sorry for him because he will be released later this year when he wins his post conviction appeal. For the next hour or more, I listened to James ramble on about his case.

James told me that in 1984 there were a series of fires in Chicago, one of which caused the death of six people. From what I was told, the fire that claimed a half dozen human lives was not made an arson or murder investigation until four years later when a jail house snitch told police that James was responsible. He initially told me this was all the evidence against him, but eventually admitted that his wife also made statements to police and the Grand Jury. She told these people that she had witnessed James light the fire. However, at trial she apparently had second thoughts, but the prosecutor was able to impeach her with her prior testimony under oath. The prior testimony was considered to be more credible by the judge, and along with the snitch, the judge convicted him. James now had a retraction from the jail house snitch, however, and claimed his wife was coerced by the prosecutor. He also told me the prosecutor was guilty of a Brady Violation for failing to supply the defense with another possible arson suspect, and his trial counsel failed to submit to the jury the police documents stating the fire was accidental.

After James' story of injustice, I got to listen to the man from F House Seg. I tend to be skeptical of inmates' stories. Many convicts will lie, embellish, or omit important details. However, on the other hand, I have heard people tell me the ungarnished truth and provide all their paperwork. I suppose people who read my blog may question what I say, and they should. This is why I am attempting to have my 5th Clemency Petition put online with all its exhibits. I also invite people to examine the information already available online or through the Circuit Clerk of the Court's Office. Although I talk and provide information to the public about my case, I did not bother to reciprocate with the other inmates' case descriptions or appeals. I keep the possibility of my appeal and clemency petition a secret inside the prison. Furthermore, I am sure James already was aware of my high profile case, and there was no need to go over what he already knew. I did not feel like talking, and am often just a good listener.

Time ticked by slowly in the waiting room, and eventually I became tired and bored. I layed out on two seats and tried to go to sleep. I believe I fell asleep for a period of time while I waited for my appointment, despite the chatter of inmates and guards from not only Stateville, but Dixon, Sheridan, Dwight, and elsewhere. Eventually the guards told us to get ready to leave, and I thought my appointment had been cancelled. I asked the female guard I knew, and she told me no, it was just delayed. My appointment was not until 3 p.m., and apparently the hospital was behind. She said this was not unusual for MRI scans. I was somewhat bitter to have been sent on this writ so early when it was known that my appointment was not till mid afternoon. Two vans were used, and I could have went out later. James said goodbye, and offered me some hard candies he had brought with him. I said, no thanks, and he replied it is probably better than peeling off all the bread from the mystery meat to eat, but I still refused.

In the waiting room, a couple of garbage bags filled with imitation bologna sandwiches had been thrown on the table for us. I did not intend to eat, but as the hours passed by I became increasingly hungry. Finally, I began to open the paper bag lunches inside and peel the bread off the distasteful meat. I must have eaten at least a loaf of bread before I was finally called for my doctor appointment. The guards ate all types of good take-out food from restaurants in the neighborhood such as pizza, Subway sandwiches, and Chinese foods. The prisoners were offered nothing, but toward the end of my wait, the guard who graduated from Providence High School offered me some corn chips, which I declined. They were the same outdated chips that were being served in the prison nearly every day for the last two weeks.

Truckloads of chips have been donated to Stateville C.C. Because the expiration date has passed, they cannot be sold to the general public. I am not a fan of chips, and have been giving these corn chips to my cellmate who I have nicknamed Jamie Picken Corn, after the children's song "Jimmy Crack Corn." My cellmate's name is Jamie, and he used to work in a corn mill. Despite the outdated products, many inmates are glad for the donation.

The waiting room had cleared out, and all that was left was a small contingent from Stateville. The black man who was sent to the hospital to see the opthamologist was stuck behind with me, although he had already been seen. He sat quietly, but the guards talked loudly and I unfortunately had to hear about one guard's poor parenting skills. I thought about how my father's behavior only pushed me away and caused me to move in with my co-defendant. I also thought about what type of father I would be if ever given a chance. Finally at about 6 p.m. the phone rang, and the doctors were ready to see me. Two guards got up to escort me, and as we left the waiting room I saw the female guard I knew sitting outside alone. I said to her, "So that is where you've been hiding." She gave some excuse as to why she was outside, but I figured it was due to the fact she did not fit in among the others there. I do not blame her. I would sit ouside as well, if I could. I would not even work at Stateville, and again, I pondered why a girl who graduated from Providence would become a guard.

The MRI machine is loud and uncomfortable for most people. However, I was so tired that I almost fell asleep in the machine. The East Indian technician gave me a squeeze button to press if I had to get out, but there was no need for this. I could have stayed in there for hours, although I was eager to get back ironically to the comforts of my cage in the loudest, most disturbing, cell house at Stateville. Fortunately, the guards were also wanting to get back as soon as possible. Unusual, I thought, because typically they want to run up as much overtime as possible for themselves. The guard driving me back to the building where the prisoner holding room was located, asked me if I left anything behind or needed to use the bathroom before leaving. No, I told him, I am more than ready to go. The guard used his radio to tell those remaining in the building to meet us out in the van, and not long thereafter we were on our way back.

On the road out of Chicago, a carload of black girls began smiling and waving at us. The guards joked that possibly they will flash us so we could see their breasts. I was puzzled by the girls' excitement. The man next to me was an almost blind, old black man, and I was white. I thought they must have friends or family in prison, or at Cook County Jail, which was near by, and were just trying to be friendly. Later, however, while stuck in traffic on the Eisenhower expressway, a Caucasion girl smiled and waved shyly. What appeared to be her brother careened over her shoulder to get a look at me. I did not think my Big Bird suit was so flattering, although it or the IDOC's van seemed to get young people's attention. Perhaps these kids thought of me as a clown, but I was glad not to be looked at as a piriah and greeted, especially by this girl I may have dated in high school. However, then I thought, I was now 36 and I probably would be put back in prison if I went out with her now. Lincoln Way High School was in my distant past, and I was now a middle aged man. I may be an old man by the time I get out, or I may just die in prison. These thoughts bothered me as the van continued to drive towards Stateville dungeon.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fights, Floods, and Fires -- March 12, 2011

This week has been a tumultuous week in the world, and behind the walls in the Roundhouse. There have been uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, most notably in Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi refuses to relinquish power and plunges the country further into civil war. Heavy rain and snow has led to flooding in parts of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Illinois, as well as certain New England states. Liberals and union activists who think money grows on trees and they deserve special treatment, continue to protest in the state capital of Madison, Wisconsin, despite Governor Scott Walker's victory for the people of his state. And finally to cap the week, there were the catastrophic earthquakes in Japan yesterday, which leveled buildings, set fires, and swept villages away in a tsunami that went across the Pacific. Even today, the Japanese are in a state of emergency searching for survivors and attempting to prevent meltdowns at two nuclear power plants. The events that have occurred in the Roundhouse have not been nearly as traumatic, but seemed similar in some minute dimension.

Last week, as I reported, there was a hunger and recreation strike at Stateville. Prisoners were fed up with the poor treatment, lack of medical care, poor quality and quantity of food provided, and various other issues. The main gripe I heard about was the severe wage discrepancy between the unionized public workers at Stateville and the inmate workers, who on average make 5 cents an hour and have no benefits except side hustles and being let out of their cages. I am not sure this was the focus of the protest, because F House was largely left out of the loop. Even the papers distributed in general population were ambiguous about the purpose of the strike. When a guard came by in the middle of the night asking if we were eating breakfast, my cellmate, me, and most of the cell house had no idea what he was talking about. Of course, I want my breakfast, even if it is a tiny portion of cereal and a soy patty with bread. Unlike the protesters in the Middle East and Wisconsin, prisoners do not have access to social networks. It is difficult to organize any type of protest with a lack of communication devices. The protest, of course, withered and died within a few days.

On Sunday this week, there was a large fight on the way back from a Christian services program. From the people who attended the religious service, between six and ten men erupted in a melee of fist fighting upon entering the tunnel which goes around the chow hall. The guards leading the line were caught off guard initially, but they quickly yelled into their radios for reinforcements. During chow lines, there are numerous lieutenants and guards standing around, but apparently this abundance of manpower was not present when the chapel line came through. The tunnels at Stateville are not overseen by a gun tower, and there is no threat of being shot. Despite this, the fight was broken up without anyone being seriously injured.

The guards immediately placed some men into handcuffs, but were unsure of who was involved. Not long after, the line returned and the prison was placed on lockdown. Guards returned to let out everyone who was on the Christian services movement list. They were taken to the chow hall and physically examined for scrapes, bruises, and cuts, but especially for marks to their fists. After this, a few more men were sent downstairs to live in Segregation. Fighting only carries one month in disciplinary confinement. However, if disciplinary tickets charge the inmates with dangerous disturbance or gang activity, they will be shipped out to Pontiac Seg or Tamms for up to one year.

Internal Affairs views gang activity as a very serious threat to the security and control of the institution. On Thursday, the investigative unit ordered all the inmates who attended Christian services to be questioned. I.A. then conducted individual interviews, or possibly more appropriately, interrogations at their offices in an attempt to figure out what happened, who was involved, and why. Many years ago, inmates never would go to Internal Affairs. They would not even speak to a member of I.A. However, times have changed, and I.A. will charge any inmate who refuses to answer their questions with impeding or interfering with an investigation, which is a major disciplinary ticket that carries up to one year in Segregation. In prison, at least in the IDOC, there is no right to remain silent.

The guards in the Roundhouse responded to the order by I.A., and began to let out prisoners. Many men attended the religious service, and due to a lack of handcuffs, seeing no need for them or an attempt to speed the huge fishing expedition by I.A., a number of inmates were let out without restraints. The procession of inmates downstairs was initially proceeding without incident, but then a black and a Mexican prisoner began to fight on three gallery. The fists flew fast, but the fight was quickly broken up by fast responding guards. The men were quickly cuffed and led to shower cells before being placed in Seg. I do not think these men ever were interviewed by I.A., and I suppose this was a way to avoid the KGB-like wannabe cops.

More than likely, the one-on-one fight in the Roundhouse was connected to continued hostilities from the Christian services brawl. My cellmate told me it was almost certainly a gang dispute due to the racial differences of the opponents. Although gangs are for the most part racially homogeneous, black and Mexican gangs will sometimes have alliances. Furthermore, in a prison or cell house where fights are commonplace, it is difficult for me to say with certainty the fight was connected to the previous brawl. I could probably ask around, but then I would be doing I.A.'s job, and they have enough stool pigeons.

All this week, prisoners have been flooding their cells. They must have a lot of patience because the toilets are on 10-minute timers. Possibly some of these cells have timers that have broken or have been disconnected. Early Monday morning on Casmir Pulaski Day, I was eating my breakfast as I watched guards attempt to stop a waterfall from coming down in front of their offices. The offices are near the entrance to the Roundhouse and on the first floor. Someone in a cell directly above had clogged up their toilet and was continually pressing the button. The water went from underneath his door out onto two gallery. Eventually it began to fall over the side. Guards, just coming into the first shift, grabbed a bunch of state blankets and sheets and tossed them in front of his cell and along the gallery.

Three times this week, a man on one gallery flooded his cell. This time, inmates from the minimum-security unit were there to clean up the spill. The man, after flooding his cell, refused to come out, and a group of special tactical unit guards dressed in the infamous orange crush gear came to extract him. Once the six to eight man team assembled in front of his cell, the inmate was handcuffed behind the back and was manhandled to the shower cell. The Orange Crush Unit entered the shower, and I could not see what was occurring, however, I believe he was strip searched before being locked in there while his cell was cleaned. His cell was filthy, and the guards took out a lot of garbage, disgusting laundry, and other disheveled property, much of which was soaked in water. After the mess was cleaned up, the inmate was brought back to his cell. This was done repeatedly during the week, and my cellmate asked me why a man would continue to do this. I said, "Maybe he was just obstinately rebellious. Maybe he was like the man in Cool Man Luke and 'there was a failure to communicate.'" However, this man was not just rebellious, he was a "bug."

My cellmate continued to press the issue for a reason why a man would do this. I said to him, "Why does an inmate shove a jumpsuit up his butt or pens into his pecker? Why do men smear shit on their walls? Why do men eat shit, like shit-eating Benny who was black but would only eat white people's shit? Why won't Naked Jackie put his clothes on in the cell? Why does some other man shave his balls in the front of his cell?" My cellmate got tired of all the weirdos I continued to rattle off, and said, "Enough!" I said, "Why do you ask me 'why'? I can't explain these peoples' madness."

Wednesday evening, I was watching a PBS program when my neighbor began yelling something to my cellmate and me. I could hear him yelling, but could not make out his words with my headphones on. In fact, I did not care to hear what he wanted or had to say. Oftentimes, I ignore my neighbors because I do not wish to talk to them, pass something for them, or am absorbed in some book, letter, newspaper, or television show. The Roundhouse is annoying and distracting enough, and at times I refuse to cease what I am doing to attend to requests. My cellmate, however, seems compelled to always answer them and will jump down off his bunk or come from the back of the cell to see to their needs. This evening, my cellmate had already gone to bed, but he jumped down to find out what our neighbor wanted, and for once, it was good that he did. The man was yelling, "The gallery is flooding! The gallery is flooding! Take your property off the floor!"

My cellmate and I looked out onto the gallery and water was flowing past our cell. It almost looked like a river. I was surprised our cell had not flooded already, but there is a 1" lip at the door to our cell which was presently keeping the water at bay. Iowa quickly grabbed his two boxes and stacked them on the stool and counter in the back. He then went to bed to let me deal with the problem. Initially, I was going to stack my boxes on top of his, but I noticed how quickly the water was moving and if it had not breached the cell already, it might not. Just in case, however, I moved my box down to where his was and picked up my shoes and an extra roll of toilet paper I keep in the front of the cell under my bunk. I also put my laundry bag on top of his broken TV in the back.

I was amazed by how much water continued to pass our cell. The man who was flooding the gallery could not have a timer on his toilet, or possibly he had blocked the water from coming out of his cell and then allowed it all to flood out. I folded a towel in front of the cell door and then put my fan on top of it to blow the water away. I have a small 9" fan that has a lot of power, especially if you take off the front grill. The wind created did not move all of the water away from the cell, but pushed it enough to keep its momentum flowing past our cell. I could not see, but I reasoned the water had already reached the stairs and was careening down them. The fourth floor gallery has a 4" barrier which acted like a levee, preventing water from falling over.

The man who had clogged his toilet had succeeding in flooding half of 4 gallery. The only thing that stopped him from flooding it in its entirety was the stairs. Dividing the galleries of F House are two staircases. Eventually, inmate workers from the minimum-security unit were brought over to clean up the mess. They did not have a shop vac or even a mop. All they did was push the water down the gallery with squeegees. They then mopped the stairs and the lower floor. The flood left a trail of scum in its wake. Much of it, I noticed, was blanket fuzz off the cheap, but warm, wool blend blankets that are passed out in the winter. After the PBS program I was watching ended, I took soap and disinfectant and scrubbed the section near and under the door. I had at least two full handfuls of scum and fuzz to dispose of when finished.

Why did the inmate flood the gallery? I am told he had a grievance of some sort and apparently he thought this was the best way to resolve it. I do not know if his issue was ever addressed, but his actions rewarded him a cell in Segregation. Hopefully, the Seg cell he was placed in has a timer on his toilet.

The timer on the toilet is a great inconvenience, and I wish they did not exist, except for people who flood their cells. It would be best if everyone was not inconvenienced for a few "bugs" or obnoxious men. New prisons have the ability to shut off a cell's water electronically from a control center. They may use timers as well, however. Many years ago, inmates did not flood their cells because of punishment from staff, but from other prisoners. Prisoners were largely left in control to resolve problems and troublemakers. I would not mind going back to those times.

For the first time this week, inmate cell house workers were let out. Normally, I could care less if the prison stays on lockdown. I spend almost all my time in my cell, and lockdowns have only a small effect on me. I did miss our weekly yard on Thursday, and when my mother came to see me, we were limited to a one hour visit. An hour visit goes by rather quickly and is hardly worth the inconvenience for both of us. I did make sure to have my mother find me something to eat during that short time period. Inmates in F House have not been allowed to shop in a long time. Typically, I have plenty of food reserves to last me, but this lockdown has caught me short of some food staples. I have been eating tuna fish almost every day of the week rather than the terrible state-issued meals we have been served, and to supplement what little food we are served while on lockdown. Thus, it would be nice to get off lockdown just so I could buy some supplies, however, if there was a plan to let F House off lockdown shortly, it may be delayed by today's events.

I was listening to news radio and writing a few letters, not paying attention to the ongoings of the cell house when I heard a loud raucous of noise. I turned and looked out my cell to notice a large cloud of smoke. I followed it to a cell where a number of guards were trying to take down a black man of some size wearing a green jumpsuit. Smoke was billowing out of an open cell in Seg where the struggle was. The lieutenant had a fire extinguisher in his hands and he was trying to put out a fire, all the while other guards forced the high escape risk inmate to the ground. The event could barely be seen because so much smoke was in the building.

It took a long time, but eventually the inmate was handcuffed behind his back and taken out by the feet and shoulders. The fire had been put out, but thick, dark gray smoke filled F House. My cellmate went to open the window, but I told him not to because the draft would draw the smoke even more so into our cell. The cell house was very loud, and some people threw objects down onto the lower floor. I did not know what happened, so over the noise I yelled to my neighbor. My neighbor related a strange, but I cannot say unusual, event for F House.

From what I was told, the prisoner in Seg had set his cell on fire. The fire was so high he claimed he could clearly see flames rising to lick the ceiling. A few guards tried putting out the fire from the crack on the side of the door. This clearly was not going to work, despite how much fire retardant they sprayed. The lieutenant ordered the gun tower to open the door. As soon as the door was opened, the prisoner jumped through the flames to punch the first guard in the face. The guards were caught off guard, and the man began to beat them with his fists. The smoke was too great for the gun tower guard to take a shot, and other guards in the building were slow responding because they could not see anything. Eventually though, they saw what was happening and came running up the stairs and around 2 gallery.

From my cell door, I watched the dark smoke slowly rise toward the large domed ceiling. I thought the guard in the gun tower would open the steel door at the apex of the building, but he did not, and the smoke lingered in the Roundhouse. It reminded me of the nuclear reactor in Japan that filled up with radiation. I wondered if F House was about to explode in prisoner unrest. However, the smoke and agitation of the cell house dissipated.

My cellmate said this was quite a week in the Roundhouse. I told him that it was quite a week in the world.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hunger Strike -- March 3, 2011

The prison is off lockdown, and this morning I went to yard. The yard that F House goes to is larger than a football field in both length and width. It is mostly grass, but has a handball and basketball court. There are a few small concrete tables, and telephones for men who are in grade to make collect calls. Several welded barbells and two benches were at the end of the basketball court, and that is where I spent the vast majority of my time. Prisoners in F House kickout are given 5 hours once a week on this yard as long as we are not on lockdown, and I used virtually all my time to exercise.

While at the small weight pile, I listened to other inmates talk. Many talk more than they lift weights, and it is annoying that they delay my workout by socializing. Usually their talk is of the most crude, base, and vile sort. They talk of drugs, selling drugs, gangs, the "hood," and sexual perversions. They also talk of other topics I am not interested in, such as basketball. However, I was surprised to hear one of my neighbors talk about the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. This I listened to, as well as the following conversation about a hunger and recreation strike at Stateville.

Apparently, in the general population cell houses, papers were passed out telling inmates to stand united beginning Monday, and not to go out for chow or recreation. The paper also said for men to refuse their breakfast trays. The purpose of the strike was to protest the tiny wages prison workers are paid, and a number of other issues including poor medical care. The inmates in F House had not been informed of the protest, and many like myself, were not even aware of it. Inmates blamed the cell house workers in our unit for not spreading the word. My cellmate and I thought it was highly unusual earlier this week that we were being fed so well.

On Tuesday, prisoners were fed grilled sausages with a large portion of French fries for lunch, and dinner was fried chicken. On Wednesday, several thick slices of pizza bread were served and later we were given grilled cheese sandwiches, which does not sound so impressive, but in the chow hall prisoners' trays were filled with scoops of chocolate chip and peanut butter ice cream. Stateville has not served real ice cream in years, let alone with chunks of chocolate and peanut butter.

The administration always seeks to break unity among the prison population. They try to break hunger strikes by having kitchen supervisors serve good food. I am not sure how effective the response is. Many years ago, when I threatened a hunger strike, guards tried to entice me with a box of chocolate donuts. I do not even like donuts, but I was insulted that they tried this tactic. No type of food would alter my resolve, or make me complacent. Certain grievances are too serious to be placated.

All inmate jobs at Stateville pay $30 a month, except for the few kitchen cooks who make about $80, and those with industry jobs. Many of the jobs inmates do are 7 days a week, and some men work more than one shift. On average, most prisoner workers make about a nickel an hour. The wages are even less when the $5 a month living expenses are subtracted, and commissary prices are increased from 20 to 30% over the retail prices.

Many men in prison do not get any money sent to them from friends and family. With that $25, they must buy various hygiene items, writing supplies, clothes, and food to supplement the meals served. A small television costs $250 or more. Those inmates who do not have anyone looking out for them often will be saving up for years to buy a TV. Sometimes they will buy a used television from someone going home. However, their TV is always at risk of being confiscated because inmates are forbidden from buying others' electronics, and all electronics are engraved with the original purchaser's name and prison ID number.

The meals at Stateville and across the state have become smaller and less expensive to prepare over the years. We regularly eat processed turkey-soy, imitation bologna, and soy patties. Portions, especially on lockdowns, can add up to only 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day. While new clothing used to be regularly provided by the prison, this is no longer the case. At Stateville, shoes, thermals or gloves are only given to those who work on the yard crew. If you want those things, sweat clothes, or a skull cap, you must buy it off the commissary.

The IDOC provides a monthly stipend of $10 to those who do not have jobs, as long as there are no lockdowns. Every day on lockdown is deducted from the $10, and so at Stateville there are times the inmates do not receive any money at all. The $10 stipend has stayed the same for the 18 years that I have been incarcerated, despite how dramatically prices have increased. It is no wonder many prisoners turn to a "hustle" to get by.

As I write this, some man is yelling out, "Coffee balls for sale." A coffee ball is a little bag of instant coffee sold for one dollar. Someone who hustles coffee balls will take a bag of commissary bought coffee and divide it up into a number of small bags. When coffee is short in the cell house, he will sell the coffee and make a $10 to $15 profit. Last night, a cell house worker tried to sell me bed sheets which are supposed to be given to inmates for free. But because Stateville no longer provides them, they are stolen and then sold for $2 or $3 each.

While prisoners make less than literally a bag of peanuts a week, the unionized guards and other staff at the prison have incredible salaries, not to mention benefits. Out on the yard, I heard inmates gripe about how they do more work than the guards, and yet make a minute pittance of what they do. This seems to be a part of the reason for the call to strike, and I can very much see their point in certain respects. The unionized public workers have used their power to take advantage of the State and Illinois taxpayers.

People may be amazed to learn that a number of guards at Stateville make over $100,000 a year. Their base salary is not this high, but from working countless hours of overtime, they can breach six figures. Correctional officers also have excellent health care coverage, job protection, and pensions. Recently, the State of Illinois hired 500 new guards, and representatives of the Governor claim this will actually save the state money. The new hires do not have the same lavish pensions nor are paid as much as those who were allowed to retire early. However, the pension obligations of the state are already enormous. There is about $200 billion in pension obligations currently. If the government was truly interested in curtailing spending, it would have cut back the number of employees and inmates that are given protracted death sentences.

The staff at Stateville often make overtime necessary by causing delays, problems, and working at a snail's pace. Commissary staff is one example. A few years ago, prisoners used to shop weekly. Now, we only shop twice a month, if that often, due to lockdowns. Unionized workers at the commissary claimed they could not shop everyone weekly without overtime. These workers intentionally worked slowly and inefficiently to cause the problem. Because they are in the union, they cannot be fired, so the administration cut back prisoners' access to store to three, and then two times a month. Although they now have half the work to do, they are still saying the job cannot be done without overtime, or more staff. Last time F House commissary orders were filled, it took an entire week. Cell house orders used to be done in a day. Sometimes, two entire cell houses' orders were filled in a day. The same work ethic is rampant at Stateville.

In Wisconsin, unionized public workers are demonstrating at the state capital. Senate Democrats have even fled Wisconsin to avoid a legislative vote. At issue: collective bargaining rights of public workers, health care benefits, and pensions. The newly elected Republican governor and legislature want to end union dues from automatically being siphoned from workers' paychecks, to making it voluntary. The Republicans also want public workers to pay more for their health care and pension benefits.

The State of Wisconsin is in debt over $3.5 billion, and the newly elected government wants to be fiscally responsible. They are quite aware what a massive expense it is to pay public workers such luxurious benefits. They are also quite aware how the union takes advantage of the system, to the detriment of the state. It is no secret how the union lobbies the Democratic Party to increase their power and keep wages, benefits, job security, and jobs at exorbitant levels. The state needs to have the ability to fire lazy, incompetent, or superfluous workers. It also needs to be able to trim the fat in lean times such as these. If anyone should be upset and protesting in Madison, Wisconsin, it should be the masses of Wisconsinites who foot the bill of wasteful spending. Outrageously, Senate Democrats refuse to approve the bill, and have fled to Illinois to prevent its passage, but I suppose they are in friendly company now. Illinois is definitely a safe haven for union beholden, spend, tax, and borrow politicians. Illinois' problems are multiple times greater, and with the Democrats holding the Senate, House, and Governor's office, it will only get worse.

Another great disparity among Stateville staff and prisoners is health care. While public workers have lavish health care benefits, inmates in the prison die every year due to medical malpractice, negligence, and deliberate indifference. Men incarcerated have a difficult time even just seeing a doctor or a dentist. On the yard, I heard about someone who has been waiting over a year just to have his teeth cleaned. I did not mention that I have yet to have a cleaning in the six years I have been here. My neighbor has been in severe pain for weeks with a cracked tooth that has not been treated. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was unable to exercise due to my prescription not being refilled for over a month. I suffered in much pain, and moved about like a cripple at times.

I notice that Republicans and Democrats in Washington are fighting over a sliver of the federal budget. Neither side apparently wants to tackle the issue of entitlements. Not only must the President's health care bill be rescinded, but Medicare and Medicaid costs must be reined in. Social Security, unemployment, and disability costs are spiraling out of control. The state problems are a microcosm of the looming federal disaster.

While public workers unions and others, who suckle at the governmental nanny state, cry and whine when their bottle is taken away, no one is there to listen to the plight of prisoners. Prisoners do not have a vote, nor do they have a powerful lobby to influence legislators. Thus, why cuts come to them easily, but to no one else. Many may argue that prisoners should work for nothing, have no health care, and, in general, be treated like dirt. And, as I listened to gripes on the yard and from others in the past, I often have the same indifference, although I am a prisoner myself. However, I do think society needs to think twice before it writes off a large and ever-growing segment of the population. You do not just have the most incorrigible people in prison anymore. You do not even have everyone who is guilty of a crime. Some 50,000 people are in prisons in Illinois, and a few million across the country. The U.S. has more people incarcerated than any other nation on the planet.

Jobs for prisoners are good in multiple respects. First, by working, prisoners can pay back society in a constructive way rather than rotting away in a cage. Second, if prisoners are given jobs that require learning some type of skill or craft, they will have this experience to take with them when they are freed and enter the work force. Third, prison jobs keep inmates busy, and many of them happy. However, there must be some incentive for prisoners to work, and I doubt that 5 cents an hour is adequate.

Giving prisoners a skill or providing health care is predicated largely on actually releasing them some day. However, current sentencing laws are draconian, and many inmates will never be paroled. The amount of convicts who will grow old and die in prison has grown exponentially. I can see it with my own eyes throughout my many years of incarceration, and I do not just see it in the mirror, but all around me. The State of Illinois' expanded mandatory sentencing laws, and recently a bill to abolish the death penalty in favor of natural life without parole, will only reinforce the irrelevance of job training, health care, and other prison issues. However, what is the point of building living tombs? That is how I often feel of Stateville. It is not a correctional center or a penal institution. It is one enormous tomb.

From what I heard on the yard, the inmate strike petered out even before it began. Only one cell house was to stay in from yard and chow in large numbers, and already that solidarity has almost disappeared. It was enough, however, to get the attention of the warden and Internal Affairs. The warden was seen out on the grounds talking to people, and although I was not informed, I reason that I.A. will be looking to find some leader or organizer of the event to send to Pontiac Seg or Tamms Supermax.

The administration is certainly set upon crushing any organized rebellion, even if it is passive-aggressive. Who, but the inmates themselves, will suffer by not eating or going to recreation? However, this does not matter. Any form of group protest is thought of as a threat to the security and control of the prison. Even the Soviet Union was to ultimately crumble by peaceful protest. Though I note the communist state largely imploded, rather than was defeated.

Hopefully, the State of Illinois and other states will rethink the prison industrial complexes they have built, as the leaders of the Soviet Union rethought their oppressive communist regime. The Soviet Union used massive resources to keep its immoral and ideologically backwards government in tight control of Poland and numerous other countries. Eventually, it went bankrupt fiscally, militarily, and spiritually. Illinois stands at this precipice with $15 billion in debt, $200 billion in pension liabilities, and a broken and oppressive justice system. Illinois can double its taxes, borrow billions, sell its assets, and build casinos in every town, and yet this will only keep a sinking ship afloat for so long.

Last month, former President Ronald Reagan was often mentioned in the newsmedia in commemoration of what would have been his 100th birthday. As a child, I remember when in West Berlin, President Reagan gave a speech that will always be remembered. I was reminded of that when I was on the yard which is half enclosed by two enormous concrete walls. He said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" And the people of Illinois should say the same to our Governor: "Mr. Quinn, tear down this wall!"

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Orange Crush Invades the Roundhouse -- February 21, 2011

Last Tuesday, I woke up and went to the sink to make myself some hot water. I often do this first if I plan to boil water for oatmeal, or on occasion, tea or coffee. It takes between five to ten minutes to boil water with my improvised device, and my cellmate often wants some as well. Sometimes, I am just making hot water for him. While I wait for the water to boil, I make my bed and do other things. This particular morning, no water came out of my sink when I hit the hot water button. I tried the cold water button, and then the toilet. Nothing worked. This was odd, and as my mind was connecting the dots, about 100 guards dressed in Orange Crush tactical gear stormed into the building.

The special tactical unit usually turns off the water just before they rush into a building. This is done to prevent inmates from flushing contraband, and also so they do not drink an enormous amount of water in an attempt to dilute their urine, thus being able to pass a drug test. Cutting off the water is usually redundant because inmates who want to get rid of contraband will often just throw it out of their cells. In F House, cells have windows, and many have holes in the outer metal screens. As for preventing the consumption of water, inmates who have been smoking marijuana or using another illicit drug, sometimes keep bottles of water handy just in case they are ordered to submit to a drug test. A desperate inmate may even piss into his sink and drink the water from his toilet bowl, if given adequate time.

Although I knew there was a staff assault the day before on Valentine's Day, the Orange Crush squad caught me off guard. It is usually the administration's response after a guard is attacked to order the cell houses to be ransacked and inmates harassed. The Orange Crush Unit is used as a way to collectively punish the prison population. The overwhelming show of force is meant to show prisoners who is in control, and also as an act of retaliation. Guards stand united, and will pressure directly or indirectly the warden for a response to an attack on any one of them. Despite understanding how Orange Crush raids oftentimes follow a staff assault, I did not believe such a force could be assembled and executed so quickly.

Recently, I spoke with a guard who commented that the tactical unit's use was preplanned long before the guard and lieutenant were beat up by an inmate. I tend to be skeptical, and thought he was trying to spread misinformation. The Orange Crush Unit is almost always used in response to an inmate rebellion. Stateville now has a lot more staff, thanks to Governor Quinn hiring 500 new guards. There are so many guards now, they oftentimes do not know what to do with themselves. Possibly, this was the Governor's way of saying "thank you" to the guards' union, which heavily supported his election. Possibly, it is a new welfare program. Instead of just giving money away, correctional officers are hired. In any event, Stateville no longer needs staff from other penitentiaries to conduct an Orange Crush raid. As for preparation, those on the special tactical unit are trained in advance, and could have easily been given the heads up the day before. Although there was some order to the raid on F House, I noticed the average rank and file guard was not always on key, and superiors regularly had to give instruction.

Seeing the rush of orange and black into the building quickly depressed my spirits. I knew it was going to be a long miserable day of high anxiety. I had images of being handcuffed behind the back in the dining room or chapel for hours upon hours, with no food, water or use of bathroom facilities. I thought about a time F House was put on the yard, handcuffed to fencing for over 10 hours. I thought about guards yelling orders and threats, demanding total submission, and using batons and dogs to intimidate. There was also the abrupt break of routine, and having my living quarters put in complete disarray. The last was to be true, but surprisingly, the other images, for the most part, did not happen this time.

The Orange Crush team, after storming into the Roundhouse, did not go to the upper floors as I anticipated. They secured the lower floor and then some stood next to the doors of the men on one gallery. There was a contingent of guards in the center near the gun tower, and then two guards per cell. The warden and other administrators stood by the entrance of F House watching. A few tactical squad leaders moved around giving instructions at times, but mainly stayed in the center.

Inmates were stripped and their clothes were searched before they were let out in handcuffs behind their backs. The doors to the first floor were opened up electronically at the same time. The prisoners in those cells were escorted around the gallery to sit on the center floor perimeter. They were dressed in pajamas, sweats, shorts, and various attire. The guards apparently did not give them any orders as to what they could wear. The last time the Orange Crush came through, they told us we could only wear state blues and boxers; no T-shirts, socks, or gym shoes, only sandals. I remember I was very cold that winter morning being thinly dressed.

As the inmates came around to sit down against the perimeter, I noticed only half the first floor was being searched. I speculate this was done to keep more control and to increase thoroughness. With fewer inmates out, there was less to guard, although I doubt there would have been any trouble. Numerous guards stood with their batons in the center watching. One guard even had what looked like a flame thrower or submachine gun, but I knew it to be a high powered mace spray.

The guards spent a long time searching in each cell. Initially, it seemed there were two guards assigned to a cell, but other guards came and went. Sometimes, there were five people in a cell going through property and looking about. A supervisor of the special tactical unit went in and out of cells assisting and giving instructions. Certainly some of the squad were new hires, and had little experience. What they lacked in experience was certainly made up for in manpower and thoroughness, however.

I was glad to see that only half a gallery at a time was being searched. This meant a lot less inconvenience and misery for me and the rest of us in F House. We did not have to be handcuffed all day without access to food or the toilet, although the toilets were not working. Around noon, the guards passed out trays to the inmates in their cells. They did not give us any water, but fortunately, I had bottled water in my cell. No, I was not preparing for a drug test, but recently began buying bottled water from the commissary due to the amount of rust I often see in the tap water.

Warden Hardy seems like he is a more reasonable warden than many of the prior ones that have been assigned to Stateville. While he has been in charge, Orange Crush raids have not been as abusive, mean-spirited, or retaliatory. Last year, a guard told me that I should do a journal entry about Mr. Hardy and what a terrible, pompous warden he is. This was not long after he began as warden here. I told the guard I did not know enough about the new warden to write about him. He began to ramble off a number of things he disliked about him. I will not judge a person by what I hear, but only by what I see, and I saw no reason to write critically of him.

Warden Hardy was not the only person overseeing the operations of the Orange Crush. There were a few other people that stood with him at various times. I did not recognize them, and possibly one was a new assistant warden. I tend to believe the others were representatives from Springfield. One black woman could have been IDOC's new director. Authorities from the state capital, on occasion, visit Stateville. It may not only be the warden's supervision, but that of others, that caused the Orange Crush squad to act with more restraint.

It was many hours before the special tactical unit made it to my cell. My cellmate said to me, "Maybe they will only search Segregation." This, I knew, was a foolish statement. You do not bring in a team of 100 guards to only search half a cell house. During the wait, I read a magazine and on occasion looked to see what was going on. My cellmate and I also prepared for our own shakedown.

The guards were throwing out of cells the extra blankets, sheets, state clothes, mattresses and other state property that prisoners had, along with numerous lines, containers, and other property. I was amazed how many prisoners had two mattresses. I had slept on a blanket for my first few weeks in F House. By the end of the search, there were at least 50 mattresses piled up, and a hundred sheets and blankets thrown about. I was glad my laundry had not returned and my two extra sheets would not be taken. Inmates are only allowed two sheets, but I had two more so that when I send out the ones I used for the week, I had spares remaining. Although I was glad no sheets would be taken from me, I was concerned about all my containers, the food I had in them, and the numerous boxes of breakfast cereal I had collected.

I keep a number of jars and boxes, as well as pieces of cardboard, that I use to organize my property box. My jars are filled with instant rice, cereal, coffee, nuts, and various other foodstuffs. It is easier and more practical to pour packages of products in sealable jars. It also prevents roaches from getting into my food. Guards do not care if inmates use these containers to store food or other things, but the Orange Crush throws them out. There was nothing I could do to avoid having my food and containers confiscated, but I did think of an idea for my cereal.

Much of my cereal was not bought off commissary, but was received from workers on the breakfast shift. The Orange Crush takes not only all extra state issued blankets, sheets, and mattresses, but food as well. Thus, I opened up box after box of the state cereal I had and poured it into two empty commissary cereal bags. I still had a number of state cereals left, and all I could do was stack them in the back of my box. I hoped the guards who would shake down my cell would miss it.

While I was concerned about losing my bran flakes and generic Cheerios, my cellmate was worried about all the lines we had up. An inmate can be written a disciplinary ticket for having lines, and Iowa did not want to jeopardize his transfer back to a medium-security prison. Since I have been his cellmate, his thoughts have been consumed with getting out of Stateville. It is annoying having a cellmate who never gives me any time to myself because he is afraid to leave the cell and chance getting into some trouble, and who is continually talking about medium-security prisons, prisons I will never see. My life is here at Stateville, but he is regularly somewhere else.

I told my cellmate, "You see all those lines the guards are taking out of almost every cell? There is no way they are going to write some 200 or 300 tickets." Despite how I told him the guards were just going to rip them down, he was insistent on cutting down our lines. He even cut down my chin-up ropes, although I told him that if by some minute chance we are written a ticket for them, I would tell the Adjustment Committee they were mine. But, no, he had to cut them all down, and I let him because he was pacing the cell and then sitting in the back fretting about the matter.

Iowa was at the door to our cell watching all the movement in the cell house. He had only been through one other Orange Crush experience and he seemed anxiously captivated by it. He told me, "Look, there is a little blond haired woman on the Orange Crush team." I looked down and saw who he was talking about. She did look oddly out of place amongst all the much bigger men. Her bulky, heavy jumpsuit and gear also contrasted her petite frame. My cellmate told me she is a cutie, and asked me if I knew who she was. I did, but I didn't tell him. I have known her since she first began working at Stateville, and I have always wished she would find new employment. An attractive white female should not work at this place.

Although I recognized the blond, I did not know many in the special tactical squad. My cellmate and I speculated that many of the guards were from other prisons. However, since the search, I have learned that all members of the team were from Stateville. A lot of the guards were just recently hired, or from the NRC unit. I have also learned this week that F House was not the only cell house to be raided.

B House was also searched, however, they were searched by cadets. Cadets often have something to prove, and I was glad to not have been back in my old cell house. I would have certainly lost my collection of containers, food, and then some. Interestingly, unit Bravo was the only other cell house to be searched. Possibly, the administration wanted to make a statement by sending in the Orange Crush Squad only to the cell house where the man who fought the lieutenant and guard resided and F House, mainly a disciplinary Seg cell house. Almost always, the entire prison is raided.

Close to 2 p.m., the Orange Crush finally made it up to four gallery. I was glad to be last because I knew by now the guards would be tired and looking forward to the end of their shift. The administration definitely was not going to pay all those guards overtime to stay longer. Years ago, when money was not a concern, the Orange Crush may stay all day. Even now, the waste by the IDOC astounds me. The use of the special tactical unit, even on just two cell houses, was not a wise use of money or resources.

The guard who came to our cell did not ask us to strip, and just handcuffed us behind our backs. While waiting for the doors to be opened, my cellmate said he was glad not to have to go through the humiliation of a strip search. I asked him if he was afraid the blond guard may see his teeny weenie, and before he could respond, the doors were opened. Although the guard did not strip search us, he gave us an invasive pat down that the TSA would be proud of. He even checked our shoes and because of our handcuffs, we were unable to tie them back up. This was not a problem for me because my laces are short, and I intentionally made them that way so they would not be a problem. My cellmate on the other hand, had a difficult time putting his shoes back on, and his laces trailed behind him. I considered stepping on them on the way down, but he could have been seriously injured on the steel stairway.

Like the inmates before us, we were led to the ground floor and told to sit at the perimeter. A prisoner in Segregation on the first gallery began yelling to a neighbor of mine. When he began to yell back, a guard snapped at him to shut up. However, inmates sitting were allowed to talk to each other. I mostly sat in silence, looking up at the 4th floor and seeing what things were being taken from the cells. I could not see my cell because my view was obstructed by the gun tower. I asked my cellmate if he could see our cell from his vantage point, and he said his view was obstructed as well.

One of the guards found something he was proud of, and began showing it to a number of others. I could not identify what he had in his hand, but it was shiny like chrome. Possibly, it was a shank. Not long after, the guards came and got a man sitting on the floor. I assume it was in his cell that they found the shiny object, and they were going to give him a new home in Seg. Another weapon was found in one of the cells that held protective custody inmates. However, I did not see the guards take him away. The men waiting for space in the protective custody unit of X House were not amongst us. Later, my cellmate remarked that the protective custody inmate must have thought he needed extra protection. I thought this odd coming from the man who is afraid to leave his cell.

While waiting on the ground floor, a black female guard grabbed another guard and led him to my neighbor, Tattoo. She wanted him to see the circus attraction who lived next to me. Tattoo has tattoos over his entire body. Even his entire face is a collection of tattoos, and his front teeth are gold. I did not hear much of their conversation, but I did hear the woman say, "Even his eyes are tattooed!"

Upon returning to my cell, I was dismayed to see our property dumped out everywhere. It was going to take hours to put everything back the way I had it. After being uncuffed, the first thing I did was check to see if my jars, other containers, and state cereal was taken. Surprisingly, they were still there. As my cellmate went through his property, he noticed very little was taken. He said, in a serious tone, "God was looking out for us." I did not know how the Orange Crush not taking our property was divine intervention, but I said nothing. Instead, I gave him the shake down record receipt that said no contraband was found, and told him he may want to keep it just in case he was still worried about getting a ticket.

It was not until late Tuesday evening that I had ordered all my property back into the two boxes. My cellmate had thrown our line materials out of the cell, and I had to make new ones. I would have had to do this anyway. Although the guards did not take much of our property, they would have definitely torn down the lines. I noticed the melted hooks I had put on the wall were still there. I wonder if the guards could even remove them without a chisel and hammer.

This week, I learned the information I had overheard on Valentine's Day was incorrect. The incident did not occur in the visiting room, but in the chow hall. A prisoner was inside the center circle yelling at others that he knew in one of the divided eating areas. Inmates are commonly on the fence talking or screaming to people they know, however, the lieutenant ordered him and others to get off the fence. The man did not listen and when the lieutenant took out his handcuffs to take him to Seg, he resisted. A guard in one of the chow halls ran to the lieutenant's assistance, but he was repelled and beat up as well. During the fight, the lieutenant tried to mace the inmate, but it got away from him. A lot of mace was sprayed, from what I was told, however, it was uncertain from my source if the man who refused to be handcuffed was able to use it effectively. The struggle was ended when a rush of guards tackled and subdued the prisoner. I am told that members of the man's gang came close to coming to his rescue, but the shots from the gun tower persuaded them otherwise.

I saw the inmate on Valentine's Day being brought into the Roundhouse. He had some cuts and bruises. He was not kept in Stateville Segregation long, and he was transferred out to either Pontiac or Tamms Supermax. For fighting a lieutenant, he will be given at least a year in solitary confinement, but more than likely, longer. A year or several years in a single man cell away from the zoo of maximum-security general population, ironically seems more like a reward, in my opinion, than a harsh punishment.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Valentine's Day and The Bachelor -- February 14, 2011

Earlier today, the prison went on a level one lockdown. It was about noon when I noticed cell house workers being locked into their cells. A man coming back from a Health Care Unit pass stopped by my neighbor's cell, and told him what he had heard was the cause of the lockdown. The front of my cell is made up of rectangular glass, but many of them have been knocked out. It was easy for me to eavesdrop on the conversation next door.

The man coming back from the pass said a lieutenant and a guard were beat up by an inmate in the visiting room. During the fight, the lieutenant tried to mace the inmate, but the mace was taken away from him and used against him. Eventually, numerous guards rushed in, and the inmate was mobbed, subdued, and taken away in handcuffs. They speculated on the reason for the conflict in the visiting room. Fights nor staff assaults are common in the visiting room.

Stateville has the worst visiting system in all of IDOC. Visitors are groped and searched like TSA agents do at airports, and inmates are strip searched before and after each visit. Visits are only 2 hours long on weekdays, and an hour on weekends. Visitors and inmates alike often have to wait hours to see each other, although waiting times have improved recently. The visiting room is extremely crowded and noisy. I sometimes find myself yelling to be heard over the noise, or leaning forward to communicate with my visitor. People are made to sit on steel stools separated by several feet, with the prisoner on one side of a low table and his visitors on the other side. Men are not allowed to hold their children, or even hold their wife or girlfriend's hand during the visit. There no conjugal visits in Illinois, and an inmate can only briefly hug and kiss his visitor upon arrival, and at the end of his visit. Other than this, no touching is allowed. During my time inside, I have seen many men lose their wives or girlfriends, and relations with their children as well.

My neighbor and the man returning from the HCU speculated the incident in the visiting room was due to a strained relationship. Men in prison are powerless to keep their family intact. Many are frustrated, distraught, and angry. The conditions and rules on visits could push a man to the brink if hassled by a guard or if a guard is disrespectful to his visitor. Usually, the guards in the visiting room are not rude, in my experience. However, on occasion there will be one with a bad attitude.

The door to my neighbor's cell opened and shut quickly. This was the guard in the gun tower control center's way of telling the inmate on the gallery to get moving. Oftentimes, inmates will stop by another person's cell to talk before locking up or going on a pass. A number of new guards have been hired recently, and they will stay on the galleries to prevent prisoners from meandering. They will often follow you from the stairs all the way to your cell or vice versa. When they have nothing to do, they will just stand there, or meander themselves. None of these new recruits were in the cell house Monday that I noticed, however, and there was a normal amount of staff.

After the inmate walked off, my cellmate asked me if I heard what they were saying, and why we were going on lockdown. I do not like being a parrot and repeating things I have heard. For all I knew, the man did not even know what he was talking about. Rumors are spread around the prison quickly, and they can often be wrong. I also do not know why my cellmate thought I could hear the conversation better than him. We were both sitting on our bunks near the front of the cell. Possibly my cellmate has come to the realization his hearing is indeed poor, as I have told him in the past. Possibly, also, it is due to the fact my cellmate keeps his fan on high continuously day and night to block out the noises of the cell house.

Today was Valentine's Day, and I could imagine a scenario where a strained relationship could lead to violence in the visiting room. I know a number of wives and girlfriends come to the prison to visit on this day. But, this did not necessarily mean the story I just heard was true. Feed lines were still being run as well as a number of other lines. Statistically, the odds of an incident happening elsewhere were much higher.

Earlier this month, cell house workers and other prisoners were going cell to cell trying to sell Valentine's Day cards. Stateville's commissary does not sell cards, unlike the other prisons I have been at. The only professional cards available are those through the chaplaincy. However, they do not have Valentine's Day cards that I am aware of. The inability for prisoners to buy cards off commissary has caused a demand for them, which is filled by some prisoners who make them and then hustle them off. The cards can be sold anywhere from $2 to $5, and vary in quality.

I stopped one of the cell house workers to see the product he was selling. He had about five cards in his hand. They were not square in shape, like most store-bought cards, but long and rectangular. The reason for this is so they will fit in a #10 stamped envelope which is sold at the commissary. If a prisoner used a different sized envelope, he would have to enclose a money voucher form for the postage. Money vouchers at Stateville take over a month to be processed. If a man wanted his Valentine card to be received on time, he would have to mail it in early January, possibly in December. There is no telling how long a money voucher will take to be processed, and thus why card makers at Stateville make them odd shaped so this is not necessary.

The Valentine cards I looked at were simple designs that were obviously traced and done by a person with no drawing abilities. One, for example, was a picture of Mickey & Minnie Mouse holding hands with little hearts above them. The two cartoon characters and hearts were traced in a colored pen or marker. The inside coloring and shading was done with a colored pencil. I have never bought a prison-made card during my incarceration because I am quite capable of drawing my own, and my ability is usually superior. Furthermore, I realize that if I sent a non-store made card, people would expect me to make it myself, especially a Valentine's Day card. A girl would be much more appreciative of a card made by yourself than one you bought off another prisoner. I gave the worker his cards back and told him to push on.

Why was I even looking at Valentine's Day cards? I do not have a girlfriend nor have I for some time. This fact, however, did not stop me from wishing I did. I thought about the girls I dated before my arrest, and the ones I wrote to while in prison. I recently received an insulting letter from one of them, and I figured I would respond in kind. The Valentine's Day letter I wrote was mildly romantic, but ended with sarcastic wit I hope she will appreciate.

After writing my letter, I watched the ABC program "The Bachelor." I figure if I cannot have any romance in my life, I can watch it on television. I have not missed an episode of this show this season, and I have tuned in to the program since its inception, except when there have been men featured that I could in no way relate to. The reason I watch the show is not only to watch the courtship and romantic interplay, but also to imagine the perspective of the bachelor. If I cannot identify with the bachelor, the reality TV show loses its appeal.

The current bachelor is Brad Wilmak, and he has been on the show previously. The first time, he told both the final women he cared not to continue seeing them, let alone propose to one of them. I liked his honesty, despite how he hurt the women's feelings and was criticized by social media. Why should he settle for a woman he did not truly value or see any future with? I figure there is a lot of pressure on the bachelor to pick one, and it was nice to see a man who had the grit to send all the women packing. Unfortunately, I noticed this time around, the man portrays himself as more sensitive. Perhaps the editors had something to do with it. This probably makes him seem nicer and more of a gentleman, as well as more likable to the female viewing audience. However, it also makes him look like a sissy and a fake, in my opinion. I watch reality TV to see real people and circumstances, not fantasy.

The Bachelor show began with 30 women. They came from all over the U.S. There was a wide variety of women for the bachelor to chose from, but I noticed all were Caucasian. Usually these romance shows have some racial diversity for political correctness. Most of the women on the program seemed genuinely interested in meeting a husband, although there was certainly a few there for fame or to just have a fun experience. For example, one of the women wore vampire teeth. Madison was probably the most attractive and intriguing, in my opinion, but apparently, was not serious about getting married, or about the bachelor.

In tonight's show, the bachelor surprisingly sent home Michelle. Michelle was not liked by the other women, but I thought she had the greatest physical chemistry with Brad. She was a very intense, passionate, and assertive woman. The bachelor said he did not give her a rose because he foresaw the relationship as being too volatile and that she had less qualities of a wife. The bachelor acts very poised if not passive, but I do not believe this is his true nature. He does not want a bossy woman, but a feminine, eloquent lady who is not promiscuous. The bachelor seems to be taking the courtship process very seriously, and I tend to believe he will chose the widow Emily, despite the fact she has a 5-year-old daughter.

Although I would dislike the prospect of being on television, I very much envy the bachelor. I have been in prison 18 years and my life has been devoid of romance since I was in high school. I have met women though correspondence in the years since, but a relationship from inside prison walls is nothing akin to one outside, despite how one may go to great lengths to make it so. It is most certainly why so many marriages fall apart for men in prison.

One of the greatest sadnesses in prison is losing a loved one, or just simply having a life void of romance. I would very much like to have the opportunity presented to the bachelor. I tell my cellmate, jokingly, to hurry up and write down the number to nominate me as the next bachelor. I, too, want a pretty wife and family. I have for a long time. However, with a sentence of natural life without the possibility of parole, I know my dream will always be just that, a dream. I am doomed to be the perpetual bachelor alone on Valentine's Day.

Ironically, as I finish this journal entry, the song "Waiting for a Girl Like You" by Foreigner is playing on my radio. I will go to sleep now thinking about her.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Superbowl XLV -- February 7, 2011

Yesterday was the NFL championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I had been looking forward to the football game for the last couple of weeks. I have watched all the playoff games leading up to the Superbowl. Football is my favorite sport to watch and is a good excursion from life in prison. I am not alone in my thinking, and it is a major preoccupation for many inmates. Every Sunday, televisions are tuned in for the games, and yesterday, I would estimate almost everyone with a TV in the Roundhouse was watching the Superbowl.

The Superbowl, of course, is not only popular inside the prison walls of Stateville, but outside as well. Over 110 million people watched the game, and it was the most watched TV show ever. The NFL championship also brought in higher attendance and ticket values than any previous game. Despite the cold outside of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, over 100,000 people attended the event. The owner of the stadium, Jerry Jones, and the NFL made over $200 million in ticket sales and commissions. $140 million was made just on Superbowl merchandise.

I do not understand why so many people would want to attend the game. People from all over the country paid top dollar for tickets and traveled to Texas just to be smashed in a loud crowded stadium where often they could barely see the game. To counter this, Jerry Jones had a huge television board hung from the ceiling of the stadium. Two televisions are 160' by 72' and the TVs facing the end zones are 48'x 27'. There are also approximately 3,000 televisions inside the building in lounges, suites, and other areas. If a fan is going to watch the game on TV, why not just stay at home? In my opinion, the best seat is the one in your own home.

Unfortunately for me, I was not in my own house for the game, and I had to watch the game on a small 13" RCA television I have wedged in the bars of my bunk. I do not have digital TV, and my reception was anything but crystal clear. The Superbowl in cell 440 of F House was watched in static. Many of my stations do not come in clearly and the FOX network is one of them. At least the sound was not disturbed by the poor reception. Possibly I should just be glad I have any TV at all. This cell does not have working cable, and I have a cable wire going into the adjacent cell where my neighbors have been nice enough to connect it.

From the beginning of the playoffs, I had been hoping for a Packers-Patriots Superbowl. Those are my favorite teams in the NFL. It is incredibly difficult to be a fan of one team, especially over the years. Ever since free agency, players are moved about from team to team. However, these two teams had more players and coaches that I liked than the others. On the Packers were Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk and John Kuhn amongst others. The Patriots had such great names as Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and their coach Bill Belichick. Both of these teams, in my opinion, also had the best offensive lines. Not many people think about the linemen, but without them, the best big name offensive players are not anything. The Packers also have something unique about their team in the entire NFL. The team is not owned by one rich person, but by the City of Green Bay. Green Bay is the only team owned by the shareholders of the townsfolk.

In the divisional playoff game between New York and New England, I watched with disappointment as the Patriots were defeated 28 to 25. The Patriots were the number 1 seed in the AFC and were the odds-on favorite to win the Superbowl, as they should have been. They had the best record in the NFL, only having lost two games. Tom Brady, MVP with three prior Superbowl wins, led the most explosive offense, defeating some teams by 30 point margins. Bill Belichick was elected Coach of the Year again. Even their offensive line was given the 102-pound bronze trophy: Madden's Most Valuable Protectors Award.

The last time the New England Patriots played the New York Jets, they destroyed them 45 to 3. Although I would have liked to see another decisive victory, I knew the game would be closer than anticipated. Many Las Vegas casinos had the Patriots winning by 9 points. The heavy set black man who always is coming to me for advice did not want to listen to me when I told him he was a fool to give up 13 and the tie to have a wager on New England. I did not think the Patriots would lose, but they were overrated while the Jets were underrated. Even the best team can lose to the worst team on a bad day. The week before, the Seahawks beat the Saints. Who could have anticipated that game's result? The Patriots indeed were having one of those bad days, and fell behind due to poor play and bad fortune, before making it a 7 point game. I have no doubt if the game played another few minutes, the Patriots would have come out on top.

After the Patriots' defeat, I only had one team left in the hunt I personally liked: the hated Packers. I write "the hated Packers" because the vast majority of football enthusiasts in the Chicago area are dedicated Chicago Bears fans, and the Bears have had a heated rivalry with Green Bay for decades. When the two teams met two weeks ago in the NFC Conference Title game, there was enormous excitement expressed by football enthusiasts, and this was hyped in the news media. When my sister and her boisterous friend came to visit me the week before the game, a guard told them they had better be talking about "Da Bears" while they were waiting in the visiting room. In the prison, the talk of guards and inmates alike was centered on the big rivalry game, and how the city's team was going to the Superbowl. I was virtually alone in being a Packers' fan, but this suited me just fine, and worked to my advantage.

Although the Packers were 3 point favorites, nearly everyone was willing to bet on the Bears "heads-up" without a handicap. If I trusted and knew more people in the Roundhouse, I could have made over a thousand dollars in bets. There was a man who wanted to bet $100, but I refused. I did not know the man well, and it was not worth the problems that would result if he reneged, or did not have the money to pay. I have learned it is always better to be wise and conservative than greedy in a maximum-security prison with numerous people of unscrupulous character. If I knew some of the guards in F House better, I would have bet money, and I definitely would have done so through a professional gambling service if I was not in prison.

My father is also a Bears fan, and before the game, I sent him a letter with antagonistic newspaper clippings of the Green Bay Packers. I told him this was not Mike Ditka's Chicago Bears, but a Lovie Smith's, who should have been fired long ago. Even the newly acquired offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, could not make something out of nothing. My father took the letter in good spirits, unlike the Bears' fans in the prison who loudly cursed the team and banged on their doors until falling silent and solemn with the 21 to 14 defeat.

While there were many willing to place wagers on the Bears in the conference title game, the Superbowl is the single biggest betting event in the U.S., and possibly the world. Las Vegas took in almost $100 million in wagers, and an estimated $10 billion is wagered illegally. Almost half the U.S. adult population has some form of wager on the game, whether through offshore and domestic bookmakers, Internet gambling sites, office pools, and person-to-person bets. Inside Stateville, wagers on the Superbowl were also very popular, and again, I was happy to find most inmates liked the Pittsburgh Steelers.

While my co-defendant, Bob Faraci, was in prison (on another crime), a friend of mine took over his small bookmaking operation. He was a gambling addict and had little business sense. I was often helping him balance the books, but I could not prevent him from making his own individual bets through various other bookmakers and even Vegas casinos. One year, he took three thousand dollars of my money and added another several thousand to wager on the Superbowl. I was incredibly angry, but he insisted the Buffalo Bills was a "lock." He rented a hotel suite with a large screen TV and cajoled me to watch the game with him. I watched bitterly as the Bills lost, despite being heavy favorites.

The cell house worker came to me the week of the Superbowl and told me the Steelers were a lock, and I thought I have heard that before. No matter how I tried to tell him otherwise, he was betting "the bank" on Pittsburgh. I told him he was a fool, and as long as he was giving away all that money, he may as well give me some as well. His cocky haughtiness, like my friend decades ago, bothered me. I could take his money as well as several other's. Afterwards, I learned he lost close to $200, and he was not the only one to bet heavily on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Internal Affairs probably monitors my blogsite, however, I do not care if they want to send me to Seg again for gambling, trading and trafficking, or some other petty offense. I did not mind my stay in solitary confinement. I will be glad to not have to be bothered by the numerous annoying and obnoxious low-lifes in prison, or the ongoings at Stateville. Hopefully, I will have a single man cell, and I can really be at peace, or the closest to it, at this institution. I.A. does not care about gambling, but apparently my Wiki leaks blogsite bothers them.

In the morning before the game began, I was placed in a shower stall to wait to see the doctor. While I was there, a man who wanted to wager with me said, "You're going down!" He was as cocky as the others, and I told him if he was so confident, we could double the wager. He told me, "You're on." I wanted to wager $100 on the Green Bay Packers with no point spread before kickoff. I would be pleased to have money on a team I not only liked, but believed was superior, both offensively and defensively. On the astro turf at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium, the Packers offense would be even more explosive. Their 5th ranked defense and 2nd highest interceptions will decisively defeat the Steelers. I was ready for some football.

My cellmate often asks me what I think will be served for chow. We are usually only served about 10 different meals for lunch and dinner, and most involve processed turkey-soy kibble. Oftentimes, I can guess what the meal will be. As lunch trays were being passed out, my cellmate asked me what we were having today. Jokingly, I said, "Pizza," which of course, he did not believe. Pizza has not been served since the day I went to Seg, about six months ago. When we opened up our trays, however, we were astonished--I had guessed correctly. There was a small slice of pizza in our styrofoam trays. Was this a bad omen, or possibly a sign of good fortune? I dismissed the superstition and coincidence.

I considered saving the pizza for the game, however, it was so small that it would not suffice for the biggest sports game of the year. About an hour before kickoff, I made a large meal for my cellmate and me using various commissary foods. I mixed a couple of packages of shredded buffalo chicken hot wings with Ramen noodles, nacho cheese, and refried beans. I tried bartering for some flour tortilla shells so I could make chicken fajitas, but no one I knew had any. I did have a couple of pops and I took them out of the window sill to thaw before I sat down to watch the game.

I was greatly pleased to see the Packers quickly jump out to a 14 point lead. As anticipated, the Packers had a blitzkrieg offense on turf, and their defense had 2 picks by halftime. I was beginning to think the Packers were going to blow out the Steelers like they had the Atlanta Falcons a few weeks earlier. When the quarterback for the Steelers was picked off and the ball was run in for a touchdown, there was a collective groan from the cell house. As the Packers dominated the first half, there were boos, but increasing quiet. It was odd that the noisiest cell house at Stateville was eerily quiet during the Superbowl. I was expecting the noise to be similar to the Dallas Cowboy stadium in the 500-inmate domed Roundhouse. The Steelers' fans, however, would come out after halftime.

The FOX network was oddly advertising the Superbowl halftime show. If the network was smart, they would not say anything about it, so as not to turn off viewers. Actually, they would have been smart to have invited someone other than the Black Eyed Peas. I despise the Black Eyed Peas, and whenever I hear one of their songs, I change the station quickly. Fortunately, their music is not played on the radio stations I frequent.

At the end of the half, I said to my cellmate, "Here is the moment you have been waiting for." Of course, my cellmate also despises the Black Eyed Peas, but I pressed on. "I know the only reason you are watching the Superbowl with me is to see your favorite band, The Peas. You don't have to hide your excitement." I went on and on, and then turned the volume up on the distasteful music.

The Black Eyed Peas were dressed somewhat like the 70's rock band KISS, and I brought this to my cellie's attention. He agreed, and added that their costumes and the huge stage production might be an attempt to make up for their terrible music. I said to him, "Why could the NFL not get KISS together for a show if they were going to have people dressed like them anyway? At least KISS had better music." My cellie told me he thought the bleach-blonde woman in the band was somewhat attractive to him. I said, "I knew you liked The Black Eyed Peas. Maybe, she will have a wardrobe malfunction."

I did not watch all of the halftime show, and turned the station after a few minutes. I did not want to watch the commercials either, but my cellmate was interested to see the new ads created especially for this event. I thought the commercials were not very witty or amusing. The best, however, was the Volkswagen commercial with the little boy playing Darth Vader. On the morning news today, I got to see what the boy behind the mask looked like. He was a fair complected boy with blonde hair and blue eyes, like his mother, who was also on the program.

During the morning news, I also learned Christina Aguilera flubbed one of the lines of the national anthem. I was still making the Superbowl meal while she sang, and missed her error. I asked my cellmate who was watching, if he knew what her mistake was. He said he did not even notice. So, apparently, she did well playing it off. I told my cellmate, "Perhaps she needed a teleprompter, like our President uses."

The Steelers came back in the 2nd half of the Superbowl to the excitement of F House. Although Green Bay's offense looked unstoppable in the 1st half, receivers continued to drop passes thrown by Aaron Rodgers. Donald Driver was out, and Jordy Nelson had taken his place as a receiver. He seemed to have butterfingers, but at least he made up for it with a couple of clutch plays and one touchdown. Also injured for Green Bay were two defensive backs. However, what I thought contributed a lot to the Steelers' ability to slash a 21 to 3 game to 21 to 17, and in the last quarter only a field goal, was the conservative coaching strategy of Green Bay.

Once out in the lead, the coaching staff wanted to play it safe. In the Bears game, I saw the prevent-defense put into play as well. I did not like this strategy at all, and it reminded me of my trial attorney's defense. In the Superbowl, and when your life is at stake, you leave nothing in your hand. Play all your cards, and put in everything you've got. You do not get a second chance. Because of a prevent-defense, or a nonexistent defense, I lost my life. Fortunately for the Packers, they escaped with victory when linebacker Clay Mathews forced a fumble by Rasheed Mendenhall in the 4th quarter. I wish I had such stars on my criminal defense team. If I had a dream team like OJ Simpson, or even the competent public defenders I was originally appointed, I would not have watched Superbowl XLV with static on a 13" screen in a 5' x 10' cell.