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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Heat Wave -- July 22, 2011

All this week, a sweltering heat wave has covered most of the United States. Record temperatures have been set from the upper Midwest to the Atlantic coast. Minneapolis hit 114 degrees on Wednesday. On Friday, New York City and the country's capital had highs of 105 F. What made these temperatures worse was the high humidity. Heat indexes have been over 120 F, making it feel like I imagine a tropical rain forest would feel. At Stateville, located in the southwestern suburbs of Chicago, no heat records have been broken. However, the oppressive heat has made life in captivity all the more miserable.

In the Roundhouse, there was a window in my cell and I enjoyed the breezes that went through it. However, in general population, there are no windows in any of the cells. Prisoners in G.P. live in large block buildings where cells are not located on the perimeter, but the inside. There is no air flow here and the concrete shells often retain heat. Fortunately, I am on the lower floor, which stays the coolest. There can be up to a 20 degree difference between the first and fifth floors.

Prisoners at Stateville are allowed to purchase 9" clear plastic fans. This week, my fan has been on almost continually while I have been in the cell. Sometimes I will move my fan from place to place to follow me. Last night, I slept with my fan inches from my upper body instead of setting it up at the end of my bunk. Usually, I become cold during my sleep and cellmates will be amazed how little I use my fan, but not this week.

The holding cage is directly across from my cell. Many prisoners stand in there waiting to go on a pass or to be locked up. They will talk, yell, or stare into my cell. This week, I had three people yell over to me to ask about my cell mate's fan. Cork's fan is a couple of inches wider than those sold here. The prisoners wanted to know where I purchased it and if they could buy it. They bother me instead of my cellmate, because I am often at the table writing or reading next to the bars. My cellmate bought his fan at Menard C.C., and although it is larger, it does not have the power as the fans sold here. If it were my fan, I would have sold it to one of these envious onlookers for more than its purchase price. I may have even been able to get double.

When temperatures are hot, it makes prisoners louder, more obnoxious and violent. I have tried to avoid these people as much as possible, but being near the cell house door, the holding cage, and in general population, it has been difficult. I keep my headphones on most of the time while in my cell, attempting to block out their yelling and rambunctious behavior. One benefit of being in C House is all the elderly prisoners here. They often remain in their cells hugging their fans and sucking on ice cubes. When I have left the cell, I often see overweight, older inmates laid out on their bunks like beached whales. It is almost like a geriatric ward on the first floor, and several people had to be sent to the hospital due to problems associated with the heat. Even my cellmate, who is only 41, has spent much of this week lying on his bunk with the fan on him. Yet, he still yells on occasion to people outside our cell, much to my aggravation.

This week, I was fortunate to get two visits. The visiting room is air conditioned, and it was nice to get out of the heat for a little while. Visitation on Wednesday was extremely crowded, however, even early that morning. I was able to get away from the heat, but not the noise. While I was waiting to be strip-searched, I asked the supervising guard when the best days were to visit. She said, "Monday through Thursday, but at the end of the month." The strip search room is kept very cool, and it is the only nice thing about having to go through the degrading search. Stepping out the door, I was hit with an oppressive heat, however, and had to remain in a crowded holding cage with a number of obnoxious inmates. I could readily see how a fight could break out on a day when the heat made everyone irritable. In fact, there was a fight yesterday.

While waiting to return to the cell house outside the gym, I was talking to my former cellmate, Cracker, who attended the religious service upstairs. We heard traffic over the guards' radios and one went running. Cracker asked a black female guard standing near us if that was a "10-10," which is an urgent call for assistance. She wiped sweat from her brow and, with an attitude, told Cracker it was none of his business. Another guard with a better disposition came out of the gym and told us there was a fight at Gate 5. Gate 5 is where prisoners wait to go on visits, or to be escorted back to the cell house.

Later, there was a fight in the prison Health Care Unit. My cellmate had gone over there to see the medical director, and he did not return until 6 p.m. He said he was there so long because the doctor did not seem to know what he was doing, and was taking his time seeing prisoners with health problems. He said a fight in the HCU also delayed operations as well. From what he told me, cellmates in the infirmary fought, and the Orange Crush Squad had to be brought in to extract one of them. People in the infirmary usually have just returned from surgery, are too sick, or crippled to be in general population. It was a surprise to learn they had a violent assault there. Even the heat could not have been a factor because that building is air conditioned.

On Monday, scraps of pork were served for lunch. I had not eaten any pork in a couple of years and wanted to go to the chow hall, despite how hot it was in there. Inmates were sweaty and some stank. I was lucky to sit at a table by myself to eat my heaping serving, which went over my entire tray. One of the kitchen workers who works on the line seems to like me and continued to pile the meat on my tray despite how I said that was plenty. As I ate my food, I looked around at the multitude of sweaty, foul, ugly prisoners with their poor manners. They reminded me of pigs.

When I finally returned to the cell house in the afternoon, I was told I had to go to the "B of I" which is short for the Bureau of Identification. The B of I is where inmates get updates to their ID card. It was about a year since I received my last mug shot. I did not want to go back up to Gate 5 where the office was near the visiting holding cages. I wanted to go to my cell, wash up, and then have my fan dry and cool me off. I was not sweating like most of the pigs around me, but I still wanted to get away from them and be more comfortable. There was no refusing an ID, and so I went with a line of other inmates that had also been missed.

I stopped trying to take good mug shots years ago, but I was surprised by how terrible this one came out. I thought I looked like a disheveled psychopathic serial killer. No wonder people thought I committed the Palatine Browns Chicken murders. I showed my photo to a man a few cells down from me, and he said, "Here's Johnny," in reference to Jack Nicholson's character in the movie "The Shining" when he stuck his head out a door he had cut into with an axe. He went on to say I must not have had a good visit earlier.

On Tuesday, my gallery had South Yard, which is a large yard with phones, tables, basketball and handball courts, as well as weights and a quarter mile track. Although we went out in the morning, it was 95 degrees by noon, and a heat index of over 110 F. I did not care. I was going to work out. Very few men lifted weights with me in the stifling heat, heat that reflected off concrete and metal bars that singed soft bare hands. One white man lifted weights with me for an hour before he quit and went under the cool water flowing out of a PCP pipe with holes in it. He has a disgusting arm vein due to improper dialysis implants, but he still tries to keep in shape.

I have been lifting weights on prison yards for 18 years, and I knew how to overcome the brutal conditions outside. I have exercised in sub zero blizzards, lightning storms, and days like Tuesday, where the sun blazed overhead at triple digits. I wore light gym shoes, shorts, two T shirts, and a navy blue baseball hat. Upon coming on the yard, I took my shirts off and put one on so the neck hole went around my forehead and flowed over my shoulders and upper back. I then put my hat back on. This gave me protection from the sun and allowed my sweat to evaporate easily. After the angle and intensity of the sun became more fierce, I put my other T shirt back on and smeared my arms with sunblock. Interestingly, I discovered later that my calves became sunburned. I never thought of putting sunblock there.

I exercised the entire 2 or 2-1/2 hours we were out on the yard, only stopping a couple of times to run my head under cold water. I not only lifted weights, but ran a mile. I was disappointed to clock myself at 5 minutes 50 seconds. Before I was sent to segregation, I was trying to break 5 minutes. I was getting close with runs at about 5:20. Someone I know has daughters on a high school track team, and they can run 5 minute miles. It bothers me immensely that a girl can outdo me. I will try this year to best them, even if temperatures stay over 100 and I must swallow several ibuprofen tablets for my back pain.

In F House, prisoners are only given one yard period, but it is for 5 hours. I usually spend the entire time exercising without breaks. However, on a day like Tuesday, I doubt I would have made it. Possibly, out of determination, I would have tried, but would have succumbed to heat exhaustion. There is no cool running water on the yard prisoners in the Roundhouse go to, although a couple of buckets of ice water are brought out.

In C House, prisoners are given three showers a week. The entire gallery is run, although there are only 8 showers in the shower room. Many people on my gallery work, and take their showers at the end of their shift, however, so it is not so crowded. A benefit of being in C House over the more violent and classified aggressive cell houses is that we are not locked into the shower room and can walk out into a fenced in area to get away from the heat. While I was in B House, I rarely took a shower because I was trapped inside, not only with violent and obnoxious convicts, but tremendous humidity during the summer. There is one exhaust fan, but it is so clogged with dirt, lint, and grime that it does not work.

Wednesday, I hurried into the shower room so I did not have to wait on others to finish. I had just completed my hour long core muscle and cardio workout, and I did not care to stand around outside for the shower room to clear out. Normally, I only wash my shorts a couple of times a week, but have found this is not sufficient in this weather. My shorts were soaked with sweat and stank. Although I was initially thinking that I would wait until after Thursday yard to wash them, I washed them in the shower room the day before.

A black homosexual I noticed has taken a liking to me since moving to C House. He has been sending me sweets and saying hello to me from time to time. Possibly I should have sent his commissary desserts back so he is not encouraged. I do not even like Honeybuns, and other highly sweetened foods with trans fats. However, I have been giving them to a man I know who likes them. I am not intimidated by the faggot who goes by the name Frankie, and joke about how I should continue to take his commissary and ignore him. However, I noticed in the shower how he intentionally took a stall next to mine. If he touches me, I will pummel him, even if I must do so naked in the shower. I thought possibly he may do something foolish due to the heat affecting his rational thoughts, but he was his usual self.

Thursday was the worst day of the week with temperatures topping out over 100F, and a humidity that made it feel 120F. The cell house was miserable, despite staying next to my fan and getting extra ice. Twice a day, ice is passed out to inmates from a large bucket wheeled down the gallery. I never drink the ice melt or put the ice directly in my drink. Workers are not very sanitary and I have heard rumors of men pissing or spitting in the ice. The scoopers they use also are not cleaned and may touch hundreds of prisoners' containers or bags before it is given to you. However, I do put a juice or milk from breakfast on the ice. On Thursday, I put two bottles of water underneath my bag of ice in the sink to bring with me to the gym.

I know from experience how hot the gym becomes in the summer, let alone a day like yesterday. There are close to a hundred men in the gym, many of them playing basketball or using the machine weights, which are in a terrible state of disrepair, but are still used. There are some windows high on one wall of the gym, but these are always kept shut. There is no airflow in the gym, and the heat and perspiration of all the men is trapped inside. Despite this, I went anyway. I have not been to the gym in over a year and was determined to make the best of the broken machine weights.

The gym had sauna-like conditions very quickly. While I used the weights, I sweated profusely. During the two and a half hours we were there, I rung out my T-shirt 5 times, and a shirt I used as a bandanna, 3 times. At times, I wanted to take off my shirt, but did not want to lay on the benches which had the sweat and germs of others on them. After an hour of exercising, I switched out of my shorts to my sweats. The prison has a foolish rule that inmates can wear shorts on the yard or in the gym, but cannot walk in them to those places. In any event, I had to wring out my shorts, which were soaked in sweat. They actually became heavy and at least a pint of water came out of them. My sweatpants also became drenched thereafter, and before I left the gym, I wrang them out as well.

Despite how much I sweat, my body did not become any cooler. I only became hotter and hotter as I worked out. The toughest exercise by far was using the leg press machine. Heat just seemed to emanate from my body in waves with every heart beat, which I could feel course through my body. At times, I felt slightly light-headed, but I did not care if I fell out. I work out intensely or I do not work out at all. Some little Mexican, who seemed a bit loony, said to me that he had never seen anyone work out so hard. I did not respond to him because I did not have the breath to waste talking.

When I returned to my cell, my work was not done and I had to wash all my clothes. I scrubbed out my toilet with disinfectant and soap before clogging it with a rag and adding hot water and laundry detergent. As I washed my clothes, sweat dropped into the water, although I had the fan directly on me. After wringing out my soapy clothes, I flushed the soapy water and began to rinse them. The cold water felt good on my hands and forearms. I cupped some of the water and poured it over my head. People may think this as well as washing and rinsing my clothes in a toilet is gross, but I am beyond such thinking. I have been in maximum-security institutions since I was 18 years old, and you do a lot of things you may not do in the free world. It is about practicality and surviving. I am a survivor.

After rinsing my clothes, I hung them to dry. However, with the enormous humidity, they would be damp all night. It was days like this that I wish I had two fans. My cellmate was gone and it was nice to be rid of him. In his absence, I was able to focus better. Even if he were present at the time, I imagine he would be lying in bed trying not to stir and soil his bed sheet with sweat.

I was feeling better from the heat, until about 5 p.m. when the power went out. No power meant no fan, and also no music through my headphones to block out cell house noise. My cellmate returned at 6 and asked about the power. After telling him everything was out he climbed onto his bed, and as I thought, laid there. Unfortunately though, he wanted to distract my writing by talking about fantasy football. Eventually, emergency power was restored to the outer cell house wall and the lights came on. There were a couple of electrical outlets on the outer wall. The cell house worker I worked out with on Tuesday was nice enough to collect a number of extension cords for us on the lower gallery so we could at least have power for our fans. With a 120 degree heat index and stagnant air in the cell house, this was a blessing. Power was not restored to the cells until 9 p.m.

Today the hot weather was broken by a strong storm that passed through in the morning. By coincidence, the rain began to come down in sheets just as I was walking to the chow hall for lunch. I may have been annoyed to have all my clothes drenched with water, but it was a respite from the heat. For a few hours after the storm, temperatures were comfortable.

As I finish this journal entry, the power has gone out again. I do not know what the cause is, but it seems odd that it occurred at the same time as yesterday. In the Roundhouse, I would not only be without a fan, TV, or radio, but without plumbing as well. The Roundhouse has all the toilets on 10 minute electric timers. Most of the sinks are also controlled by electricity, although I am uncertain why. Hopefully, power will be restored before I go to sleep, so I have a fan to cool myself with during the night. Unlike yesterday, no one has connected extension cords from the outer cell house wall outlet to the ground floor cells in the vicinity.

Power was restored. It is now 8:30 p.m. This heat wave cannot end soon enough for me, although I see in the extended weather forecast it will be here for some time.

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