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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.


  1. hi paul

    i am new to your site, and have only read the one post. also, i've read the bare bones of your case and am almost speechless. now i am not naive; i know there are many miscarriages of justice. what boggles the mind is how gutless our public officials are when it comes to righting wrongs. again and again via the innocence project, one reads where a d.a. will fight tooth and nail to retain an unjust ruling. why? is it to retain a win on his or her record? or a judge will refuse to hear a case again for fear his decision will be reversed. why? is it an inability to admit one is wrong? or again, is it about preserving ones record? either way it often comes down to pride, i think. they cannot admit mistakes were made, that an innocent man like you has been dealt a major injustice. it would disrupt their sleep at night. anyway this is my first time on your site; but if it's okay with you i'd like to peruse it and learn more about your case. i think you are right, the powers that be probably thought you were involved in this chicken massacre; it's the only thing which makes sense. as i'm sure you know by now, Blagojevich has been found guilty of corrruption. he is a silly man, and for the life of me i cannot understand how he was ever elected governor of a state the size and importance of illinois in the first place? perhaps now he will be replaced by a man of integrity, someone who will endeavor to right this wrong and grant you clemency? paul i am no one of any importance, with no influence or power. but if it's all the same to you, i'd like very much to learn more about your case and do whatever possible to help.


    eric alexander

  2. Paul has his clemency petition in front of our Governor right now, a great place to start would be to write him a letter on Paul's behalf, and to have others do the same. It may be some time before he gets around to his petition, but when he does it would be great for him to see the public's opinion over this injustice.

  3. It sure would be nice to see the day that sets you free...I am so disgusted with society....I hope that your injustice is righted soon...I don't know where I will be or what I might be doing but the day that you are set free is a day that will be a resurection of our corrupted system...I hope that you get to walk in those fields of corn and get to dance beside the foxes that you enjoy getting a glimps of from your cell..I think you desrve to be free...

  4. IF ANYONE would like to, you can send an email directly to the Goveror's office using the red link in the heading of the blog - look -- you cannot miss it. Click and you are direct to Illinois Governor Quinn' s office staff.

  5. Hey Paul,
    I went to the same school as u in jr. High. U were a grade ahead of me. I understand the system and corruptions. I spent some time in max federal system. Sounds like the state did not have sufficient evidence but going first in a trial is a negative as it happened to me as well. Hope they overturn your case.

    1. Both my co-defendant and I had simultaneous but separate trials. One problem with my jury was that they were sequestered for deliberations for several days. They did not realize the person who they held me accountable for was acquitted of the murder. The judge informed them after their standard "thank you for your service" speech. One of my lawyers told me a few jurors cried when they learned of this.

  6. I just read this post today and you are not only a great writer but unbelievably still have a sense of humor. Your descriptions of this prison are haunting, but I am glad you have a window and can look out and view the "real world" outside. I hope and pray you will be exonerated and free again soon. I wrote Gov. Quinn on your behalf. The famous quote comes to mind about how it is better for 3 guilty men to go free than to have even 1 innocent man sent to prison. I've read about your case and truly believe you were set up by your trial lawyer who threw your case. Wondering if someone paid him off. Praying for your freedom, Paul. Stay strong--no one knows the future.

  7. That globe structure in the distance that you could see is the National Weather Service Romeoville-Chicago doppler radar tower about 3 miles away from you.


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