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Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Week of Prison Food -- June 25, 2011

The food served to inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections has become progressively worse, and the portions smaller. When I first arrived at Pontiac maximum-security penitentiary in 1995, the food was surprisingly good, especially compared to that at Cook County Jail where I spent two years prior to my trial. The food in prison was incredibly much better in the 1990s, however, as the State of Illinois has accumulated enormous debts, administrators have tried to squeeze the costs of housing 50,000 prisoners. Medical care, educational programs, detail salaries, mail service, clothing, and building maintenance are some of the areas with major budget cuts. In this journal entry, however, I will focus on the food we are given daily at Stateville.

Breakfast is served always in the middle of the night. About 3 a.m., trays are passed out to the inmates. Every Sunday we are given a biscuit and gravy, along with grits or oatmeal. At one time, the prison served scrambled eggs and two large fluffy buttermilk biscuits with real beef gravy. The gravy had onion and chopped green peppers in it, and it went well with the biscuits. We were also given a hearty portion of oatmeal with packages of sugar, butter, and jelly. However, now prisoners are given a tiny flat biscuit, thrown into some distasteful soy gravy drool. With this we are given about a half cup of grits. We are never given eggs, butter or jelly anymore, and packs of sugar were taken away a long time ago.

Because I have the lower bunk, I get up to get the trays. Usually I have difficulty sleeping and waken before the cart of food is brought by, however, sometimes the prison worker will wake me up. My cellmate despises Sunday's breakfast, and I do not wake him for his tray. Instead, I put his carton of milk and half carton of juice on the window bars for him to drink when he wants to. Then I look at the two trays and decide if anything is worth saving. I never eat my breakfast when it is served, but put it in a plastic container until I wake up later in the day.

The biscuits were covered in soy gravy, disliked by most inmates. I pulled them out of the congealed quicksand in an attempt to save them. Using my plastic spoon, I scraped them off and put them in a bowl. In this bowl I also put one portion of grits. Because it was cold, it came out in one clump. I would have taken my cellmate's serving as well, if it was oatmeal. I am not a big fan of grits, however. After putting the two trays on the door and my milk and juice on the window bars, I went back to bed. Before I fell asleep, I heard the prison worker going by with the cart asking if anyone wanted another tray. I do not think anyone took him up on his offer.

When I awoke several hours later, I ate breakfast while watching the morning news. The two tiny biscuits and meager portion of grits were not going to satisfy my appetite. I took out a jar of peanut butter and a jar I store bran cereal in. I also took a banana that was served to us a few days ago and sliced it into my bowl. I used these to put on my peanut butter-smeared biscuits and my cereal.

Lunch was passed out at about 10 a.m., and not long after I completed my workout. I was not hungry, however, and took out the breaded chicken-soy pattie from its tray and put it in my bowl, along with the serving of lettuce. The chicken-soy patties served at Stateville are usually as hard as hockey pucks. They are tough to eat and have gristle and chips of bone in them. At about noon, I put some store-bought packages of ketchup on the pattie to give it some flavor, and to make it easier to swallow. We were given a bun to put the pattie on, but I ate it separately because it was stale and would have only fallen apart if I made a sandwich. For dessert, we were given a little packaged cake that I put in my box for another time. As I ate my seasoned hockey puck, the phone was brought to my door. Sunday was Father's Day, and after I ate, I called home.

Sunday dinner consisted of 2 cuts of imitation bologna, 2 slices of bread, a portion of lettuce, 2 little packs of corn chips, and another packaged cake. My cellmate only wanted his corn chips and cake. I took off the bread and put it in a Ziploc bag. Then I crushed up my corn chips and put it in a bowl with some tuna fish I had purchased from commissary. I mixed this together with ketchup and made two sandwiches. I never eat the mystery meat cold cuts, and I left that on my tray to be picked up later by a worker. I usually give my cellmate my chips, and he was probably disappointed that I ate them. He asked me if I was going to heat up water later for a meal, and I told him I was. Later I boiled water for some Ramen Noodles. He ate his with only chili seasoning. I mixed the rest of my tuna into my noodles.

I do not eat Ramen Noodles often, but it is bought en mass by most prisoners. The noodles only cost a quarter, and men will often eat them as a substitute for prison food. The last time F House prisoners purchased commissary, I bought my cellmate 20 of them in exchange for a jar of peanut butter and 3 bags of instant brown rice. An inmate can only order 24 in one shop, and my cellmate wanted over 40. A portion of his box was dedicated to Ramen noodles, and I imagine many prisoners try to keep a supply of them.

On Monday, prisoners were served a turkey-soy pattie, 2 waffles, and the customary carton of juice and milk. Many times I will toss out the soy pattie, but this week I saved it in an empty rice bag. My cellmate ate his dry waffles in the middle of the night, but disposed of his pattie before going back to sleep. As always, I went back to sleep without eating but not before asking the inmate worker for a couple of extra milks. He usually knows to give me an extra milk, but had forgotten that night. I almost never bother the workers for extra food, but I will always get an extra milk or two out of them. Milk is only passed out at breakfast in the Roundhouse.

When the count lights came on Monday morning, I arose to make a cup of hot instant coffee. Prisoners are never given syrup with their pancakes or waffles, and thus I make my own. After spreading peanut butter over my waffles and a few slices of bread, I crushed cookie crumbs onto them before pouring my coffee over it all. I do not know when I began to do this, but it works very well, possibly even better than having maple syrup. Along with my waffles and bread, I ate some bran cereal. Breakfast is often my favorite meal of the day, although I usually have to improvise the meal, or use my own purchased foods.

Monday's lunch was sausage, bun, lettuce, and chocolate pudding. I discarded the sausage, and ate my breakfast soy-turkey pattie instead, along with some instant brown rice. My cellmate again ate a pack or two of Ramen noodles. Usually he eats a little better, but his loss on the NBA Championship game set him back a bit.

I had a plan for the chocolate pudding, and scooped this off my tray and into an empty milk carton. When meatballs were served for dinner, I made "Reese's Peanut Butter sandwiches." A Reese's peanut butter sandwich was just a peanut butter sandwich with chocolate pudding as a sugary spread. I ate about six of these while watching "The Bachelorette," and during commercials, I watched the Republican debates.

I almost never eat the meatballs served at Stateville. I joke to my cellmate that they taste like an entire groundhog was put through a wood chipper, and with the help of some soy emulsifier, made into meatballs. There are plenty of groundhogs on the prison grounds, and everyone knows the state wants to save money at our expense. These are the worst meatballs I have ever eaten. They are extremely tough and difficult to cut apart. If you bite into them, you are likely to see veins and weird configurations and colors. Once, the inside of one of my meatballs was green. They also have a lot of gristle and bone chips. I am surprised I have not broken a tooth eating them before. By the way, with the 4 meatballs in gravy, we were given 2 slices of bread, some chopped potatoes, and a dry packaged cake for desert.

Tuesday, prisoners were served 2 pieces of turkey bacon, a portion of oatmeal, and 2 slices of bread for breakfast. As always, I gave my turkey bacon to my cellmate. Most inmates love turkey bacon, and I was amused to see my cellmate when I awoke still having a piece of it in his hand as he slept. He had stayed up late watching TV, and apparently was so tired he fell asleep eating it in the middle of the night. I was surprised the cockroaches were not crawling all over him.

Instead of the turkey bacon, I ate my oatmeal with three peanut butter sandwiches. I cut slices off the cakes we were served the day before to put in my sandwiches and oatmeal. I also rinsed off some salted mixed nuts to put on them. The sandwiches were a little dry, but I ate them with plenty of skim milk.

The kitchen workers often reuse grease, and so when one fried meal is served, there is usually another after it. For lunch we had a fried triangle of breaded fish. Once again, I did not want it and offered it to my cellmate. When he said no, I gave the tray to my neighbor who was in control of the telephone. It was smart to be nice to the "phone man" every now and then, especially now, when I am using it much more often than I have in the past.

I asked my cellmate why he did not want the fried fish, and he said, "Because it is dripping in grease." I gave him the four bags of corn chips that were passed out after the trays, however, and this made him happy. For my part, I ate instant brown rice with chicken breast meat that was sold in a package from commissary. I continue to spend more and more money to feed myself with supplemental or substitute foods. Never before in my incarceration have I spent so much money to feed myself.

For dinner on Tuesday, inmates were served "Sloppy Soy" with a bun, more corn chips, a small portion of green beans, and a dry cake without frosting. Sloppy Soy is the name I have given the Sloppy Joes they serve here. It does not taste anything like a Sloppy Joe I remembered before my arrest, despite how much beef seasoning is put into the turkey-soy meal. Fortunately, it was mostly tomato paste, and I ate it like a dip with the corn chips.

The Sloppy Soy dip was not that much food, so for a snack later, I made myself oatmeal cinnamon raisin peanut butter sandwiches. The movie, "Equilibrium" was on the prison's DVD system, and I ate my sandwiches while watching it. The film was a dumb and unbelievable action flick where I think I saw over 5,000 people killed by automatic gunfire, swords, blunt objects, grenades, and other weapons without a drop of blood until the very end. Christian Bale starred in the movie that reminded me of the Matrix in some ways. While it was on, a strong storm passed by which I thought would leave me eating my sandwiches in the dark. The storm passed within 20 minutes, however, and I was able to complete watching the movie.

On Wednesday, prisoners were served turkey-soy patties again for breakfast, along with grits and 2 slices of bread. I was blessed with 2 patties that were stuck together. When I gave my cellmate his tray, he gave it back to me and asked me why I woke him up. I told him turkey-soy would make him a big and strong Amazon woman. Soy contains a trace amount of estrogen, and the quantity given prisoners probably increases their levels of the female hormone. It is regularly a topic or gripe of Stateville convicts. My cellmate was not amused, and rolled over to go back to sleep.

In the morning, I ate my turkey-soy pattie. I did not think I had too much to worry about, although I did not eat both of them. The processed turkey-soy does not taste good and cannot be good for a person's health. I made some bran cereal to eat with the grits, but discovered that my milk was sour. I dumped the cereal into the toilet, and figured I would just eat a lot of vending machine food later in the day. I was expecting a visit Wednesday.

When a tray of meatballs and chopped potatoes and carrots were served for lunch, I was glad I was to go on a visit. I did not have to make myself an alternative meal, or eat the processed groundhog. While waiting for my door to be opened and closed to notify me that I had a visit, I ate my carrots as well as my cellmate's. The food we are given often lacks sufficient vitamins and minerals. I will often take a multivitamin to make up for this, although I am uncertain if pills can be a substitute for nutritious food.

After 1 p.m. passed and I did not receive a visit, I knew no one was coming to see me. Visitation ends at 2:30 here, and no one is allowed to check in after 1:30. I searched through my box for something to eat. There was not much to choose from. Finally, I took a package of tuna fish and a chili Ramen noodle package. As I ate, I wondered if my parents had any health problems or worse, if my mother got into a car accident. As my parents age, I become concerned if they do not show up as expected.

Wednesday evening, recreation was run for us on 4 gallery in F House. I always like making a good meal before going out. I usually exercise the entire time and need the fuel and nutrition. Sausage, however, was served to my disappointment, along with a bun, lettuce, corn chips and an apple. I saved my apple and bun to spread peanut butter on as a snack after my workout, but otherwise only ate some lettuce before going to yard. I gave the chips to my cellmate.

Thursday morning, I usually eat a huge meal because I am on the yard for 5 hours. However, I had a health care pass and could not go out. This pass was to see Stateville's temporary medical director. Seeing the prison's medical director was very difficult, and I was not about to miss my appointment. All I ate that morning was a peanut butter sandwich and a small portion of oatmeal. On our food trays was also a sausage, but just like the day before, I threw it out. I hate sausage and would not mind going my entire life without every eating another, even if it was grilled Bratwurst or genuine Polish sausage.

I was at the Health Care Unit for 6 hours waiting to see the medical director. I was not the only one waiting, and after many people complained, the sergeant told us we could go back to our units if we wanted. If we chose to stay, he could not guarantee we would be seen, but he would give us all lunch trays. For lunch we were given fried chicken, and this quieted everyone. Fried chicken is the favorite meal of inmates here. True to his word, we were given trays. On them was a thigh and a leg, plus cabbage and mashed potatoes. As soon as I ate my food, I was called to see the doctor.

On my return to the Roundhouse, I asked the guard at the door if I could have a lunch tray. Trays are kept at the door for those returning from passes who were not present when lunch was passed out. The guard did not know I had been given a lunch at the hospital, but I do not think he would care. He told me, "Sure, take a tray and a snack." There was a box full of state cakes and a bundle of bananas. I took some bananas too.

I was glad to get the extra fried chicken tray because dinner was only cold cuts. I never eat the mystery meat, even when I was in Seg and was so thin that I could see a network of blue veins spiderweb across my entire body. With the two slices of imitation bologna was bread, lettuce, and 2 cookies. I ate the lettuce with my lunch tray, but put my bread and cookies in a zip lock bag.

On my return from the HCU, I read a book that was sent to me over a month ago. I did not care to read it because it was about a near death experience. I do not believe in the afterlife, but the person who sent me the book told me it was her favorite book and I wanted to see what she saw in it. I wish I had brought the book with me while waiting at the HCU for hours. However, I read the book until I completed it. It was then 8:00, and time for "Dual Survivor." While the men on the show dined on elk tongue and bone marrow, I ate a cinnamon raisin oatmeal peanut butter sandwich, just like the one I made a few nights ago.

Yesterday, I awoke especially early to get a haircut and did not have time to eat breakfast until I returned. At the barber school, I was scalped by some student who did not know how to cut hair. I wanted to immediately try to fix my hair, but I was too hungry. My favorite prison breakfast awaited me, and that was pancakes. Like the morning we were served waffles, I spread peanut butter over my flap jacks and 4 slices of bread. I then put cookie crumbs and nuts on top of the peanut butter before pouring hot coffee over all. I was especially hungry and also made a bowl of bran cereal to eat. The turkey bacon that was served with the meal, I had given to my cellmate in the middle of the night. This time he did not fall asleep holding it.

Lunch was also a good meal, in my opinion, although most other inmates did not agree. It was noodles and shredded chicken with a side portion of green beans. Any time it is not sausage, soy, or processed meat, I am content. A man returning from the law library offered me his tray if I gave him the two cookies that came with it. I agreed, and it was a good deal. I ate the meal I bartered for, instead of the greasy fried fish served for dinner. I would not be surprised if the fish we are given is not the bottom feeding Asian carp the State of Illinois is trying to eradicate from its rivers.

Today, inmates were given their favorite breakfast: donuts. Every Saturday, prisoners are served two donuts and two containers of cereal. The donuts used to come in different varieties and flavors, but now they are just plain. Regardless, prisoners treasure their donuts. I care less for them, however, and gave mine to my cellmate. Instead of donuts, I ate the generic cheerios with a couple of peanut butter-banana sandwiches.

Sloppy Soy was once again served for lunch, along with corn chips. I was not going to eat the soy meal again, and offered it to my cellmate. All he wanted was the chips, and so I saved the bun and cookies for some other time. Unfortunately, the same soy-turkey kibble was served for dinner. This time kitchen workers made it into taco filler. Dinner consisted of processed turkey-soy, two stale corn shells, lettuce, and a packaged state cake with no frosting. I ate this meal begrudgingly, along with some brown rice I made. I was very hungry after skipping lunch.

The last Batman film to be released is on a cable network tonight. While I write this journal entry, I am thinking of a snack to eat while watching it. I still have rice left over from earlier. I may make some burritos, however, I am hesitant to use my last package of chicken breast meat. Commissary was passed out Thursday, but only half of my order was filled. The prison store was out of all meat products. On my commissary form someone wrote "OUT" next to my list of chicken breast, shredded pork, tuna fish, and roast beef. Earlier today, two people asked me if I had any summer sausage. "No," I told them. "No one does." Usually I think of myself as the ant that is well prepared when winter arrives, but times are getting tougher, even for the most frugal and fiscally responsible prisoners. At least I have a lot of peanut butter to last me until next shop day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Double Dip Recession -- June 11, 2011

This week, the Dow Jones fell below 12,000 as investors saw the writing on the wall. Despite attempts by the Obama administration and Federal Reserve, the ailing economy cannot be cured. The enormous intervention and spending has only delayed the inevitable, and made the day of reckoning worse. Massive debt, increasing home foreclosures, unemployment, inflation, and slowing domestic, as well as export business, are all causing financial agencies to lower growth expectations. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke even had to downgrade forecasts of gross domestic product this week. However, even this reassessment was overly optimistic. The future of the United States is a shallow recession, followed by years of slow anemic growth.

A considerable amount of my time is spent in my cell reading and analyzing various types of economic news and data. I have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal that I read almost in its entirety. I also read various financial and investment magazines. Then quarterly, I will go over the fundamentals of approximately 10,000 companies on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. I keep charts on 500 stocks that go back several years. Finally, I read a number of specific corporate and mutual fund reports. A few days ago, I read about a number of Fidelity Select Portfolio Funds, including chemicals, energy, and natural resources. Earlier today, I listened to the Larry Kudlow Report on WLS radio. My cellmate recently scolded me for spending so much time on studying the economy and investments instead of working on my appeal after I spoke about some of the injustices of my case. What he does not realize is that the vast majority of what work I need done is the procurement of documents and affidavits I am unable to do myself.

This week, I visited with my parents and a friend. As is common, I became frustrated with my mother. I give friends and family members advice about investments, including my parents. Despite the enormous amount of time I dedicate to studying the market, my mother will often dismiss my recommendations. I told her to sell at least 10% of her portfolio when the Dow Jones breached 12,500 and looked like it was to surpass the 13,000 mark. I gave her specific stocks and funds to sell and even the prices to sell at. However, she did not. Like many other people, she wrongfully thought the market was going to go higher and have a full recovery. This was preposterous to me. I know the impressive rebound was a facade created by unprecedented governmental spending and intervention. I cannot predict when, and the market will no doubt have its ups and downs, but ultimately I expect another 15% decline in the S & P 500.

The friend who came along on the visit was surprised by my expressed anger. She does not, however, understand how much of my life revolves around trying to predict the market and make wise judgments about the economy. I live in a 10 x 5 foot cell, and there is little meaning to my existence. I make these herculean efforts to be productive in some way, rather than just rot away. I will probably die in this cell or one very similar to it. What will I have to show for it? At the least, I wanted to assist others, since I cannot assist myself. Maybe I should just watch TV all day, or pound on my door for hours, like the bug downstairs in Segregation.

The housing bubble that occurred in 2008 has never been allowed to deflate. The U.S. government has tried all sorts of rebates, foreclosure obstacle loans, and other gimmicks to stop or at least put the brakes on tumbling home prices and homeowners' losses. Despite all this, a staggering number of people are underwater in their mortgages. Almost one out of every four homeowners owe more money than their house is worth, and home prices are not going to improve for years. In fact, prices fell further in the first quarter and will continue to fall well into 2012 before flatlining. In the end, trillions of dollars in wealth will have disappeared. Even a country like the United States cannot absorb such a loss without a significant contraction.

Although the government bailed out a number of large banks that held bad debt, numerous other medium-sized and small banks are in precarious positions. Almost 800 banks that own commercial and residential loans are still at risk of going under. Most of these banks' capital reserves should be adequate if the economy keeps humming along. However, there is a severe problem if economic growth and housing prices go in reverse. It is certain that the latter will, and in my opinion, the former will as well. Once the banks start to go under, it will precipitate a domino effect that will only be prevented by another enormous bailout package the government cannot afford.

President Barack Obama and the Democratic legislature have racked up a debt never seen before in the history of the United States. Last month, the federal government hit its debt limit -- the total amount Congress has authorized the Treasury Department to borrow. The sum is a staggering $14.3 trillion, and is continuing to grow exponentially. Soon the U.S. will default on its debt if the two parties are unwilling to come to an agreement to permit the government to borrow yet more money, and this is likely to occur if Democrats refuse to cut spending and insist on raising taxes. A default on Treasury securities will cause the country to lose its triple A credit rating, although this may occur anyways if debt continues to mount. As most people are aware, if you do not have good credit, it affects your ability to borrow and increases your costs of borrowing. This is the same with Uncle Sam. Already, countries and major financial institutions are fleeing U.S. treasuries for gold and other countries that pay higher rates and have more secure economies. The ability for the government to continue spending stimulus or to prevent another financial freefall is over.

The future of federal financing is what is already occurring in most states' sharp austerity measures. Even if Democratic legislators and the President continue to block significant cuts to government, they are set to be voted out of office in 2012. Despite how much constituents love handouts, they will come to realize how entitlements and other social subsidies are crushing the United States. Within this year, government debt will total the entire gross national product of the country. Half of all government revenue will soon go to paying off merely just the interest $15 trillion in debt requires. The government and Federal Reserve are the only reasons the economy rebounded, and soon they will not only be impotent, but retracting. The economy will retreat along with it.

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan first put forth a bold and courageous plan that will solve the United States' financial crisis. It is bold and courageous because it calls for cuts in entitlements that most politicians, including Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich are too cowardly to confront. Reductions and modifications to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other spending, along with simpler and less oppressive taxes is the only solution to restore the health of the nation. President Obama continues to offer an expanded nanny state that squelches business with higher taxes, and will continue the United States' descent into the abyss.

The austerity measures by states, and soon by the federal government, will cause significant pain in the economy. However, removing a splinter, or probably more anomalous, an arrow from the body is better than leaving it in. Democrats under the leadership of Obama would like to see a slow death, rather than fix the problem, and see constituents cry and whine. It is not surprising when many registered Democratic voters are those special interests that gain by lavish spending and handouts by the government. These voters, in my opinion, should be ashamed of themselves because they are, in effect, parasites. I wonder if these leeches have the foresight to see that eventually they will kill their host. Whether they do or not, the future of the economy is down. The question is only when and for how long.

The Federal Reserve has reduced the rate banks borrow money to virtually zero. It has also bought trillions of dollars in treasuries and other securities. The government has now shot all of the rounds in its arsenal except one, and that bullet if used, will be tantamount to playing Russian roulette with the economy. Inflation is already suppressing economic activity in the U.S. Gasoline, food, and other products have risen in price, causing consumers to cut back spending. Consumer spending is 70% of the United States' economy and is vital for continued growth. If the Federal Reserve were to print even more money, the stimulating effects will probably be offset by higher prices. A persistent stagflation as seen in the 1970's during the Carter administration is almost certain to occur.

Also weighing on economists' minds is the huge debt levels of the countries in the European Union. Some of these countries have already had their credit ratings reduced, and a few are facing default. These countries, also known as the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain), even if able to pay their bond holders, will have to endure years of austerity. The cuts in spending, although necessary for long term prosperity, will cause temporary retraction in their economies. The PIGS, because of their membership in the European Union, will cause the entire group to suffer financially. Germany and other well-off countries will have to pay for the excesses and irresponsibility of their neighbor states. Due to a globally entwined marketplace, the problems of Europe will effect the U.S. and vice versa. We are all in the same ship, and that boat is sinking slowly.

One of the few bright spots in the economy has been the manufacturing sector. As the U.S. dollar has plummeted, the goods produced in America are cheaper and thus more desirable globally. However, recently manufacturing has seen a decline. The White House would like to remind people of the effects the tsunami in Japan had on crimping production, but although some of the slowdown can be attributed to this, not all of it can. Global demand for U.S. products and services has slowed as governments like China have ceased to stimulate their economies and are in fact pulling back. China and other countries have raised interest rates to stop soaring inflation. They have also raised the cash requirements of banks. U.S. officials were counting on emerging markets to help sustain the recovery. Instead of reducing the value of the dollar, however, they should have enacted a tougher and fairer trade policy as was advocated by Donald Trump, until he was mocked at a White House dinner party for questioning whether Obama was truly a U.S. citizen.

Citizen or not, President Obama promised unemployment would not rise above 9%. The last numbers to come out this week show unemployment increased to 9.1%, and this figures does not nearly illustrate the enormous problems with the workforce. 9.1% is only the number of people known by the government to be actively seeking a job. Many more people have given up and are no longer looking for employment. The true unemployment rate is more than double. Furthermore, many people who do have jobs are not working full time, or have had to accept lower wages. Despite rhetoric by the President, unemployment will stay high for years to come.

As a prisoner, I have noticed how the Illinois Department of Corrections has attempted to cut costs to deal with the poor economy. The food served throughout the state, and not just at Stateville, has become worse and more meager. Clothing that used to be given out to prisoners has ceased, and Stateville inmates are expected to buy their T shirts, boxers, and socks, as well as other items. Inmate workers' meager wages have become more minute, and most jobs at this institution only pay $25 a month. Programs including schooling have been cut. Even prisoners' health care has been severely curtailed so that even those with serious illnesses or injuries must vigorously fight for treatment.

Despite the cost cutting, the budget for IDOC has continued to grow. According to the documents procured through the Freedom of Information Act, Illinois spent approximately $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2010. This cost is 20% higher than 5 years earlier, and exceeds almost all of the state's expenditures. The reason for this is obvious. The draconian laws passed by the state legislature are greatly increasing the number incarcerated. Over 50,000 people are now imprisoned in the State of Illinois.

A few weeks ago, I read a U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating that California release tens of thousands of felons, or provide adequate housing and medical care. California's prison population has risen 800% since the 1970's, due to severe sentencing laws enacted, which are very similar to those in Illinois. Despite the huge growth in their incarceration rate, the state has been unwilling or unable to build more prisons and give adequate care. Governor Jerry Brown is currently attempting to convince voters to raise taxes to pay for the improvements, but this is almost certain to fail, and the State of California will be forced to free thousands of prisoners.

The silver lining to the looming dark cloud of serious economic malaise is Big Brother government will have to be sharply curtailed. The Leviathan has grown to monstrous proportions, crushing freedom and liberty in its wake. The Tea Party that swept elections in 2010 hopefully will return to demand revolution in 2012. Hopefully, it will not only sweep away Barack Obama and the oppressive, intrusive, and debt-ridden government he espouses, but also the prison industrial complex.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Cage with a View -- June 3, 2011

One of the few benefits of living in the Roundhouse is that every cell has a window. None of the cells in maximum security general population have this distinction in the State of Illinois. The cell houses in Menard, Pontiac, Stateville, and the former prison in Joliet are based on block designs. Cells are in the middle of these concrete monoliths and have no windows to look out of. Depending where you are, prisoners can look past their bars to see out windows in the outer cell house walls. The last general population building I was in had a number of large windows, but they were always too dirty to see anything. Furthermore, because I was on the ground floor and the windows were all above, all I could see was an obscured sky. However, a few panes were broken out and on occasion I could see a rising moon. One year, I was able to see the fireworks from my prison cell on Independence Day which had some irony to me. My cage in F House, unlike those in general population, always has a view.

The window on the back wall is about 4' x 2'. It has bars going across the front and back with a foot of space in between. It was in this area that I used to keep food cold in the winter, but now that summer is almost here, it remains empty. Prisoners in the Roundhouse are able to shut their windows by two glass doors when it is cold, although they are not well insulated and often have cracks. One of the glass doors in my cell has not only cracks, but is partly unhinged. The windows in my cell are currently open, and I plan on keeping them open until well into the fall. A nice breeze goes through the cell, but unfortunately it seems air usually goes from the cell house outward, instead of fresh air coming in.

I said to my cellmate this week that if there was a tiny balcony in the cell, I would not mind staying in F House permanently. He, like my prior cellmate, also greatly enjoys having a window. There is something fantastic to be able to look outside your miserable surroundings. I cannot understand why so many men are always staring into the cell house, instead of outward. There is one homosexual who has his head almost continually sticking out a rectangular square looking into the cell house. Possibly, it is his inverted sexuality and thinking that makes him so predisposed. When I walk by his face on the gallery, I feel like punching him because he is repugnant. Many of the men in the cell house are repugnant, and it would be nice if they were behind a solid wall and door. I certainly wish I had the same so I would never be distracted by the ongoings of the Roundhouse and could have some privacy.

The most prominent structure outside the window in my cell is the old Stateville water tower. It is faded blue in color, and has some rust coming through its paint. Across its girth is the word "Stateville" in large black letters, and sometimes I think it should be "Hell" instead. On top of the water tower, encapsulated in a steel frame, is a light that no longer works. The water tower is no longer used because the well water had a heavy content of radon, a radioactive element that is known to cause bone cancer. For many years, prisoners drank the water until administrators were forced to have a new well dug and new water tower built.

Two prison buildings can be seen from my window. One is I House, which is a large, drab, grey, prefab concrete cell house with thin rectangular windows, as seen on many medieval castles. While I was in a different cell and had nothing but a view of it, I would tell my cellmate it was Castle Greyskull. Instead of a moat, the building is surrounded by two fences that once had razor wire on top, and in between them. The cell house at one time was Segregation for Stateville, but was condemned by federal courts and is no longer in use. It is now an empty tomb, and only serves for spare parts to fill the needs of the other living mausoleums at Stateville.

The other building outside my window is X House. It is a smaller building with orange and beige bricks. X House is still in use and is where protective custody inmates are held. Long ago, the building's front wing held death row inmates. Prisoners were once executed in the basement, and I hear the electric chair is still down there. John Wayne Gacy was one of the last people to be executed here before all executions were moved to the far southern tip of Illinois at Tamms Supermax. This was done to discourage opponents of the death penalty, who came mainly from Chicago, from protesting outside.

From my window, I can also see the far corner of the large X House yard where we are taken. Protective custody inmates have a tiny concrete yard next to the building now, and only F House population uses the big yard. My cell mate, Josh, who wears glasses sometimes, says he can see me running the perimeter. I asked him how he could tell with his distant vision being poor, and he said, "Because you are white." He added, "Also, no one keeps a pace as quick as you do."

Since our cell is on the 4th floor, we can see over the 30 foot wall. All maximum security prisons in Illinois are surrounded by high walls. No one can see in, and no one can see out, except those on our floor facing the north. Possibly those men on the 5th floor of C and B Houses can also, but not nearly as well. I recently asked Josh if he would like to ask to be moved to a different cell so we could have working cable. He said, "Not unless it is in the vicinity." It is nice to be able to see off prison grounds, and my prior cell mate and I would often gaze into the distance and daydream about being free. Josh and I have natural life sentences without the possibility of parole, but we may like to dream at times. Regardless, the view is nice to have.

My prior cell mate and I would discuss what certain things far off on the horizon were. There are several smoke stacks in the distance. In the winter you can clearly see white plumes coming from them and moving off to the east. He used to comment that possibly it was a large factory. I know a lot about energy companies, however, and speculated it was a power plant, most likely a coal burning power plant. Most people probably do not realize it, but most of the U.S. energy is produced from coal. I was proved correct when taken on a trip to the hospital at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and was driven by the smoke stacks. The power plant is a huge facility covering miles. Many large buildings are there that cannot be seen from our cell. I saw railroad tracks, coal chutes, and numerous high powered electric wires coming from the power plant. I also noticed large cylindrical tankers, and that may mean it also serves as a refinery.

At night, the power plant is well lit. From the window, I can most prominently see the blinking red lights on the smokestacks. Some people may not like the idea of working at a power plant, but it seems tranquil and alluring when it is dark. I sometimes think I wish I was there, rather than in this place, but anywhere outside of Stateville is probably a better place.

Another subject of discussion for a time between my former cellmate and I was a globe structure in the distance. I told Iowa that I could see that it was not another water tower because it had no center beam holding it up. Rather, there was steel scaffolding under it. I speculated it was a weather radar unit. To this day, I am not certain, but I believe I am correct.

There is a wooded area that can be seen on the horizon that prevents us from seeing further into Crestwood or Romeoville. However, I told both Iowa and Josh that I know that just behind those trees is Lewis University. I am familiar with the school because it is the university that had a program at Joliet Correctional Center, where I earned my college diploma in the late 1990s. Although I cannot see its campus, I wonder sometimes what it would have been like to go to school there, rather than doing my studies in prison.

Lewis University has a flight school, and sometimes you can see the low flying airplanes from the window. The small engine planes are more easily spotted from the X House yard. Often they will fly over the walls and get the attention of prisoners. I will regularly hear things while lifting weights on the yard such as: I wish a bundle of marijuana or some other drugs were dropped down. I will think how wonderful it must be to fly, and to be free. I envy those in the planes as well as the falcons that occasionally fly overhead.

From the window, one can sometimes see the wildlife that live behind the walls of Stateville. There are not only various birds, but ground hogs, skunks, and my favorite, the foxes. A few weeks ago, I saw a golden fleeced fox romping about, chasing prey of some sort. The fox was not mangy whatsoever, but had a beautiful coat of golden fur. It is a rare occasion to see a fox on the prison grounds, and I appreciate it always when I am able to catch a glimpse of one.

Thunderstorms are great to watch from the window. I love to see the lightning and hear the thunder, as well as see the rain coming down. With the window open, it can almost feel as if you are outside. Wind will whip through the cell, and extreme thunder can cause reverberations, not only through the cell house but the air as well. The zigzagging flashes of light across a black sky or electricity striking down into the ground are always impressive to see. I often feel sluggish and like a zombie living in the oppressive and miserable conditions of Stateville, but a powerful storm will invigorate me. I greatly miss the natural world. Tomorrow, strong storms are expected to pass by, and I am looking forward to it.

My former cellmate, Iowa, who I also sometimes called Jamie Picken Corn, used to wonder when the tractors would come out and till the cornfields beyond the wall. There is a large area of open land from the prison wall to the trees on the horizon that is farmland. Iowa transferred about a month too early to see the ground turned for planting. I watched the large John Deere tractors cross the fields, leaving behind rich dark brown earth. It was interesting and pleasant to witness. Sometimes I have entertained thoughts of becoming a farmer while in prison. The idea of a rural life away from the city and having a connection to nature is very alluring.

Corn fields used to be much more prevalent in the far southwest suburbs of Chicago. My family home, built in 1990, originally had a lot of farm land around it. I am told, however, this is mostly gone now. The open fields of corn and other crops have been replaced by suburban sprawl. There is nothing but residential housing, and not far away, commercial establishments two decades later. I am told I would not even recognize the area anymore, as it has changed so much. I am surprised this development has not completely devoured all of Cresthill and the areas around the prison. I am glad it has not, however, because the view can remind me of home.

Thursday evening, I stayed up to watch the movie "Apocalypto" on the prison's DVD system. I was very tired that night, but I was not going to miss an exceptional movie I may not have a chance to see again for a long time. Apocalypto is one of the most brutal, cruel, malicious and oppressive movies I have seen, but it also is incredibly inspiring. Mel Gibson did a terrific job directing this film, and I think he deserved to have won an Oscar for it despite how he has fallen out of grace with Hollywood and some fans.

For those who have not seen Apocalypto, it is a movie based about 500 years ago in Central America. The Aztec Empire dominated the region, butchering and enslaving the other aborigine tribes. One of the Indians taken captive is the focus of the film. He is brought to a temple to have his heart cut out in front of a multitude, as thousands before him had been sacrificed to the sun god. However, the sun is blotted out and the high priest tells the wallowing public not to be alarmed, the sun god will return. The eclipse did end, and the priest told the gullible masses that the sun god was pleased and no more sacrifices were needed that day. The Indian is brought with the others left of his tribe, who had not been sold into slavery or executed, to an open field. They are told if they can make it to the corn fields, beyond in the woods is their home, and they would be free. The Aztec warriors, however, kill the fleeing Indians, except for the one. Despite the misery, anguish, and brutality he had endured, he was able to pass the corn fields, enter the woods, and kill all his pursuers but two. They stop at a beach in awe of the large Spanish galleons from Europe. They know their decadent, oppressive, and wicked empire is at an end.

Although I am not the American Indian depicted in the movie, I can identify with his strife, suffering, and continued struggle to survive. My life as a captive has been the most unkind and horrific. I was torn away from my family and home. I also came close to being given a death sentence, and have suffered and struggled in maximum security prisons. But like the Indian, I am still alive. One day, I also hope to breach those corn fields to my home. I also wish the entire unjust, decadent, and oppressive system that continues to endure is brought down. In my cage, I will go to my window now and dream of the omen of the black sun.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tattoo - May 26, 2011

A little before Christmas last year, a strange-looking man was assigned to the cell next to mine. He is a white man in his mid-30's with short cropped dark blond hair. He is of average build and height. However, this is all that is average about him. He has tattoos across his entire body including his face, and even on his eyes. He also has six gold front teeth which match his gold colored wire rim glasses. The man looks like a carnival attraction, and I wanted little to do with him. However, over the months, I have gotten to know the man who is appropriately called "Tattoo," and has the word printed on his forehead--in large letters.

My former cellmate, Iowa, used to talk to Tattoo, and help him out with various supplies he needed. Unlike the majority of prisoners in the Roundhouse, Tattoo was just recently convicted and sent to the penitentiary. He had almost nothing when he arrived at Stateville, coming from the Northern Receiving Classification Center, also known as NRC. I thought my cellmate was making a mistake so generously helping out a man he did not know, and who looked like a freak. My impression of the man was that he was not only a weirdo, but a drug addict and low-life. Iowa was mad at my quick judgment until Christmas, when I gave Tattoo some old clothes that I was going to throw out. My opinion of Tattoo did not change and still has not. However, considering where I am, he is relatively not such a bad person. On occasion, I have spoken with him.

The first time I spoke to Tattoo at any length was on the prison yard. I was lifting weights on a corner of the concrete basketball court. He told me he was about to rehire the attorney who represented him at trial to now do his appeal. I told him that may not be a wise idea. Trial counsel may be unwilling to raise their own mistakes, or may not see them like a new attorney would. I also mentioned that most attorneys specialize in a specific field. There are attorneys who specialize in trials, and others who only do appeals. Furthermore, before paying an enormous sum of money, he may want to see who the court appoints him and get their thoughts. I told him he could always drop the attorney at any time, and then seek private counsel. I must have made an impression on Tattoo, and he thereafter wanted to tell me all about his case.

After completing the exercise I was doing, I walked over to the monkey bars with Tattoo. No one was about, but he was still concerned about other people hearing about the specifics of his crime. This is a good precaution, even if you are innocent. Many people will make up a story to gain the favor of a prosecutor. This occurs much more often in county jails where detainees are desperate to get a charge dismissed, or a reduced sentence. After a person is convicted and sentenced, there is not as much for a snitch to gain. I have heard of snitches getting special privileges, job assignments, and sometimes transfers to better penitentiaries, however.

Tattoo had told my previous cellmate and I that he was in a gun fight with police, and had been charged with attempted murder of a police officer. The truth, from what I was told a few months ago, was a little different. In Logan, Illinois, Tattoo was riding with two women. He was incredibly drunk and on drugs, and the women told him to get out of the car. Outside the vehicle, Tattoo took out a gun and fired a couple of shots at one of the women. He missed. I do not know if it was his true intention to kill her, under the influence of so many drugs.

After the shooting, the women drove off, and Tattoo stumbled along the road until he convinced someone to give him a ride. Before they got too far, the truck was surrounded by police. The driver fled, but Tattoo stayed inside. Police shouted at him to get out with his hands up, but instead, he went low and clutched his handgun. When police peered into the vehicle, they saw that he was armed, and they fired numerous rounds. Astonishingly, Tattoo was hit nine times, even to the back of the neck, and survived. He showed me a number of bullet wounds, some of which I had not seen before. The scars look strange due to the disfiguration of his tattoos, but are probably not as noticeable because of all the ink covering his body.

Tattoo told me that he was not trying to shoot his way out from the encirclement of Logan police. He wanted to commit suicide, and be shot dead. He told me he was not aiming the gun, but it just happened to go off while he was being shot by the police. There was a video tape of the events, and from it one can ascertain that the police shot first, and the bullet from Tattoo's gun went through the ceiling. Despite this evidence, the prosecutor charged him with two counts of attempted murder. By the time he was released from the hospital and went to trial, the charge of attempted murder of the woman was dropped, and he only faced one count. This was enough though to net him 35 years in the penitentiary.

After telling his story, Tattoo wanted my advice and opinions. The most sought after answers newly sentenced prisoners want to hear is whether they can win on appeal, and if they will have to do all that time. However, even if a man tells me the truth and the complete story, I usually cannot give them a definitive answer. New trials are based on errors, the vast preponderance of the time, not the sufficiency of the evidence. To find out if there were any errors in his trial, I would have to review the transcripts of his trial. And that, I told him, I did not have time for, even if he had them in his possession. I did tell him, however, if the entire incident was on tape for an appellate court to review, he had more of a chance at a reversal than most other convicts. Tattoo told me that everything can be seen except what he was doing while laying low inside the truck. The cop testified that Tattoo aimed the weapon at him. In that case, I was able to tell him there was no chance the appellate court would reverse his conviction based upon the sufficiency of the evidence. However, due to the lawsuit his lawyer filed against the police officer, possibly a deal can be made where the sentence or charges can be reduced.

For a week after hearing his story, Tattoo was bothering me with questions. I would hear a thumping on the wall, and then he would pass me a note or some correspondence from his lawyer. I would explain to him what certain legal papers meant, and give him what advice I could. Tattoo was a freak, and not anyone I could be friends with, but I could empathize with him to a certain degree because of the terrible counsel I had, and my desire to see the justice system work properly.

When Tattoo was passing me various legal papers and notes, my prior cellmate would ask me what he had told me, and if there was any way he could win on appeal. I had given Tattoo my word that I would not repeat anything he told or showed me. Regardless, I would have felt an obligation to keep what he told me in confidence. Hence, I told Iowa that I could not say. I think Iowa was a little bothered that Tattoo, a person with whom he spoke and to whom he was so generous, would not open up about his case with him, but that he would open up with me, who expressed a disliking for him. I am only, by the way, now relating his story because I have heard him talk to others about it. If he is going to let his business be known to people in the Roundhouse, then it may as well be known to the readers of my blog. In any event, what Tattoo told me was his attorney's in-court defense, and that is public domain.

Earlier this month, I returned from a visit, and the guard in the gun tower was preoccupied, or too busy, to get out of his seat to press a button to let me in my cell. Tattoo noticed me standing outside, and showed me pictures from his photo album. I almost never show others my photos, but some prisoners like to. Tattoo showed me pictures of his children, and the various women that had been in his life. I was surprised he had kids that were apparently normal. I could not see the circus attraction as being a father, although just because he has children does not mean he was a part of their lives.

Tattoo showed me a photo of his ex-wife. This is the woman that drove him to indulge in drugs with reckless abandon, and to have a death wish when she left him. Incredibly, she was also tattooed from head to toe. I understand Tattoo was a tattoo artist, but I never thought he would practice on his wife and make her look like a freak as well. She was not a bad looking woman, and although I did not say anything, I had even less respect for my neighbor. He even tattooed the words "Mrs. Tattoo"
on her forehead. ( See her photo at )

When I finally was able to enter my cell, I told my cellmate about the tattoo. He said that was the ultimate "tramp stamp." I asked him what a tramp stamp was, and he said it was usually a tattoo a girl was given on her ass of the name of her boyfriend. Josh said Mrs. Tattoo is never going to be able to hide that branding. I thought her body was covered with so many tattoos that the stamp may not even be noticed.

This week Tattoo's cellmate was moved to general population, and Tattoo has been alone in the cell. The solitude apparently greatly bothers him, and he has been annoying me regularly. The first matter he was to bother me about was the cable. The cable coupling in my cell does not work, and for the last several months, I have had two cable wires leading into his cell. There was not enough power to supply all three of our televisions, and thus, Tattoo had been using a digital antenna to pick up stations. When his cellmate left, he wanted to split the cable with me, but he had neither a splitter nor a threaded cable wire. He pounded on my wall for these things. Then he wanted a cable conjoiner and another wire. I did not have another wire, and so he then wanted me to fix a broken cable that he had. It went on and on until I just began to ignore him. When I began to watch the movie "Stone" that was being played on the prison's DVD system, Tattoo began tinkering with the wires and the movie went in and out on me, and then there was static. Apparently, this was his way of showing me his unhappiness about my not responding to him anymore. Although I wanted to see the end of the movie, I pretended like I was asleep, and did not say anything. The following morning, my cable was working again.

I do not like to talk cell to cell, especially in the Roundhouse. It is too loud, I cannot hear well, and I must shout. The cell house noise bothers me immensely as well, and I usually have headphones on, or earplugs in my ears. During the day when Tattoo repeatedly knocked on my wall to get my attention, I increasingly became annoyed with him and how stupid he seemed to be. How could he be so lonely after only hours being in the cell alone? How could he be so dumb not to be able to connect some cable wires together and get his TV tuned to cable? I made a comment to my cellmate, who was laughing. He said he will give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that Tattoo was not born that way, and that he had scrambled his brain using meth and other drugs.

The next day it was my turn to have fun at my cell mate's expense. Josh had stopped at his cell to talk to him for a moment, and thereafter, Tattoo was rapping on the wall to talk to him. My cellmate is somewhat like me, and does not want to be disturbed repeatedly. He continually had to jump down off his bunk to go to the door to see what Tattoo wanted. By the time evening came around, he was tired of going back and forth. Then I began to relay their words. Tattoo wanted to know what kind of music Josh listened to, and if he had any cassette tapes. They exchanged "Eminem" tapes. I was surprised they both had them. Then Tattoo gave me a Guns N Roses tape. I was not a big fan of the group, but I wanted to hear an amusing song they recorded called "I Used to Love Her."

This week, evening yard was run for 4 gallery, and Tattoo came out. I never see him during morning yard because he sleeps late, but he comes out when yard is run later. Tattoo once again sought me out, and I talked to him between sets of exercises. He has so many tattoos in blue ink that I told him all he needed to do was shave his head bald, and he could possibly try out for the Blue Man Group. Then I asked him if he had seen his doppelganger. There was another man with blue tattoos all over his body. I said he could start his own freak show group. "Do you know how to play the drums or make any odd noises?" I asked. "No," he said. "I just know how to use a tattoo gun."

While working out, I asked Tattoo if he wanted to do a set instead of just standing there like a freak. He told me he could not do a number of exercises due to the metal rods and screws in his forearm. Some of the bullets that tore through his body had shattered the bones in one of his arms. I looked at his arm more carefully than I had before, and noticed he had a tattoo covering up another tattoo. I asked him if he was a former gang member, and he said, yes, and was surprised that I was able to guess which one. Tattoo then said, "If you think I look like a freak, you should have seen me before my arrest. I had six lip rings, a steel rod that went through my nose, and devil's horns."

As I was writing this journal entry, Tattoo pounded on the wall to get my attention. He then asked me if I had any freak books. I assumed he was asking about porn magazines, and not body tattoo art magazines. I have a few, but I will not share my girls with anyone. I wrote him back to use his imagination. He has only been in prison half a year. This got a big laugh from my neighbor, but Tattoo said he wanted the porn to make drawings from. Maybe this was so, but I still was not sharing.

As far as I was concerned, Tattoo could not get a cellmate soon enough. I joked with him that the placement officer was trying to find him someone really special. As soon as he gets out of Seg, some big psychotic homosexual would soon be his new cellmate. Then, they could look at freak books together. Tattoo did not like this and asked if I was trying to jinx him. No, I would not do that. I know how terrible it is to get a bad cell mate. Furthermore, I need him to be assigned a person he will get along with. Then he can socialize with him, and not regularly bother me.

August 1, 2011 addition:

I have recently become aware that Mrs. Tattoo is pictured on a website called
"Ugliest Tattoos: Bad, Awful and Horrible Tattoos" at It is unfortunate she has this distinction. She is not an urgly woman, but this tattoo on her forehead is forever going to disfigure her. I spoke to the man who put this mark on her, and he incredibly was envious that she had such publicity. He thought he deserved credit, and wanted his face and body pictured online, or in a magazine. I did not tell him I saw his former girlfriend on the Ugliest Tattoos website, however. He should be ashamed of himself.