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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.

3 comments:

  1. What kind of father would you be?

    ReplyDelete
  2. YOU SERIOUSLY NEED A HUG.

    ReplyDelete
  3. She smiled and waved because you are handsome.

    ReplyDelete

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