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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Prisoner Exchange -- September 21, 2011

Yesterday morning, there was a heavy fog that delayed movement and caused recreation lines to be cancelled. However, it did not prevent the transfer of close to 40 inmates to Menard C.C. The men were exchanged for 40 other inmates from the maximum-security prison down state, and they arrived at Stateville late in the afternoon. The swap was a surprise to many at the institution. None of the prisoners were told they were leaving until the night before. They had to hurry and pack up all their property and were given no explanation. Since then, however, various rumors have been circulating.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a gang fight on the way to the gymnasium. During the walk, a man severely beat another inmate in revenge for killing a relative of his on the streets of Chicago. When fellow gang members saw one of their own being brutally beaten, they attacked the aggressor. However, this only caused his mob to defend him. The result was a melee of about twenty prisoners fighting. Escorting guards were unable to break up the brawl and called on their radios for assistance. There was no gun tower capable of taking a shot, but eventually hostilities between the gangs were stopped and the entire line of men were placed in handcuffs to be taken to Segregation or their cell house. The prison was also placed on a Level 1 lockdown until last Wednesday.

While Stateville was on lockdown, a number of inmates on the gallery in E House that was headed to the gym were transferred to Tamms, Pontiac Seg, and Menard. A few weeks later, some people assumed the prisoner swap was an extension of the transfers which occurred earlier. Internal Affairs was assumed to target other people in the two gangs even if they were not involved in the fight or were even in different cell houses. Administrators may believe the gangs may continue to have animosity towards each other, so some were sent away as a precautionary measure. The Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples, however, are large gangs and shuffling the deck between two prisons may not have much of an effect if there are still strong grudges. The two gangs were enemies before the fight anyway, and regularly shoot at each other in the city.

During my time at Stateville, I have seen mass prisoner exchanges between the state's two maximum-security prisons before. Usually these involved the expulsion of the Latin Kings. The Mexican gang is probably considered the most dangerous gang in Illinois' penitentiaries now. Over the years, there has been an enormous increase of Mexicans incarcerated. These growing numbers along with a strong group identity, loyalty, and prevalence for using weapons has caused Internal Affairs to be diligent in trying to prevent their activity. The problem with swapping them for prisoners in Menard is that Menard officials do not want them either. Just like the Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples, shuffling the deck does not always change the hand a person is dealt.

As I reported in an earlier post entitled "Black Stones Raided," black gangs can often be the focus of large transfers also. The largest racial group in Illinois' prisons by far still are African-Americans, despite the fast growing population of Mexicans. However, the black gangs are not as organized or cohesive. There are many divisions among them, even within the same gang. Black prison gang members are also less likely to wield knives.

Caucasian inmates are a small minority in the IDOC, especially at Stateville. The only white gangs that have existed in the Illinois Department of Corrections are biker gangs and the Northsiders. The Northsiders is the largest of them, however, they have essentially disappeared in this decade. That is because the gang, unlike all the others, was formed in prison as a protective force against exploitation by the colored races. The Northsiders never existed outside these walls as a criminal organization, and once the enormous danger white inmates faced receded when guards took control of the prisons, the purpose of the gang faded. Despite the small minority of Caucasian inmates in prison, in the past they also have been the focus of Internal Affairs.

For a years in the late 1990s, I was incarcerated at Joliet CC. However, in 2000, I was transferred out with a group of other white men. The transfer was due to a prison snitch telling Internal Affairs that there was growing unity among the Caucasian inmates. A number of the men transferred out were Northsiders, but I and a few others were not even in gangs and were considered "Neutrons." Some men were sent to Menard, others to Pontiac, but unfortunately, I was sent to Stateville. I filed a grievance on the matter asking in part to be returned to Joliet. However, by the time the state supervising agency reviewed it, the old penitentiary in Joliet was closed down. It was emptied by 2001, and filming of the TV show "Prison Break" had began at the facility. Many men will be sent without warning to different prisons due to suspicions of conspiracy, and not for actually committing any infraction. Some will even stay at Tamms Supermax or Pontiac Seg for years.

Today, I was able to learn more about the men transferred to Menard. Earlier I went on a visit and afterwards I was made to wait in a crowded holding cage for a few hours before being returned to my cell house. The holding cage was filled to capacity with men standing shoulder to shoulder. They were loud, and some had sour body odors. While I was trapped in there, I overheard a number of conversations including talk about the inmate swap.

It has been a long day, and I look forward to sleeping after I write this post. Not only did I spend hours waiting in holding cages, but I was also given the 3rd degree by a lieutenant who wanted to know why I did not have a jacket. The IDOC is required to give inmates blankets and jackets for the winter. Increasingly, however, staff is reluctant to do so. It is even difficult getting socks, underwear, and T shirts now, and prisoners are expected to buy these items from commissary.

From what I have heard, only a handful of the men transferred yesterday morning were members of the gangs that fought on the way to gym a few weeks ago. Most of the men had been at Stateville for a very long time, even over a decade or two. Some had jobs, and this usually meant they had good disciplinary records. An inmate cannot have an assignment unless he has not been given a ticket in over a year. I have learned prisoners who had jobs in the kitchen, barber shop, print shop, and elsewhere were transferred. This information led people to speculate the inmates were not selected due to gang affiliation but for having too much influence with staff, or simply being just too comfortable. There was even speculation that one prisoner may have been transferred to discourage his appeal, although I am skeptical of this.

Many men in maximum security prisons have been incarcerated for numerous years, and have during this time built friendships with staff. A few men even have sexual relationships with female guards or nurses. If Internal Affairs ever suspects a sexual relationship, that prisoner will immediately be transferred. They also may spend a long time in Seg, depending on the level of proof. Men that simply have just formed a number of friendships also will be bussed out. I.A. will suspect those prisoners to have gained excessive influence, and this is taken as a threat. I have witnessed kitchen workers who I.A. would send to Seg for ambiguous charges, and who were then let out and given their jobs back. When I.A. noticed this, they were sent to Menard.

While in the shower area, I spoke to a couple of people about James who had been at Stateville since Joliet was closed. He had been working in the print shop since I arrived here in 2006, and probably long before, despite how wardens had decreed prisoners must be moved to different positions every six months and be laid off for a year after working a year. The print shop is not a job that can quickly be trained for, like someone who sweeps a floor or slops food on a tray. Despite this, the warden wanted the two print shop workers to be fired. Even Jimmy Files, who I now call "Operation Deep Throat" after learning of his claim to have killed President John F. Kennedy in a CIA-mafia conspiracy, and rumors he has French kissed men on visits, was fired. A person may think "Operation Deep Throat" would be reviled in prison, however, he has been at Stateville over two decades and has made friends with staff. The warden had to actually remove Jimmy Files from the print shop himself or he may still be working there. However, James continued to keep his detail and the supervisors refused to let him go. Even after Internal Affairs searched the print shop and discovered James had apparently made himself a second residence there, he was kept on. Apparently, I.A. thought this man was a little too comfortable and had a little too much influence, although there may be another reason for his transfer.

James has been stalled for years in a post conviction appeal. The prosecutor, time after time, has asked and been granted continuances. It seems that the State's Attorney's Office does not want the case to move forward. According to James, he is assured an evidentiary hearing and a new trial. His appeal accuses the prosecutor of withholding exonerating evidence of another man who confessed to the crime. It also encloses documents that the fire was originally determined to be an accident, and a retraction from a jail house snitch. The State's Attorney's Office never admits fault, and fights vehemently to prevent a murder conviction from ever being overturned, let alone an arson triple murder case. Although unlikely, it is possibly James was transferred to make it more difficult for him to meet with his lawyers and attend evidentiary hearing proceedings. Tomorrow, the prosecutor was supposed to give reasons why an evidentiary hearing should not be granted.

The prisoners from Menard are currently housed in the Roundhouse. I am informed most of them are gang members and were transferred due to a number of staff assaults that have occurred in the penitentiary recently. Inmates say the guards at Menard are regularly disrespectful, petty, and mean. They are thought to regularly try to instigate a fight, confrontation, or some type of trouble. They do not care if they are beaten up either because they know they will be paid well by the union and other guards will get revenge on their behalf. The men who have arrived at Stateville are perceived by Menard's Internal Affairs Unit as being influential gang members or possible leaders. I know little about various gangs' inner hierarchies and have not met any of the transfers myself.

My cellmate and others are trying to send supplies over to the men who just arrived. Apparently, the prisoners from Menard were sent without their property. In the middle of the night they were awakened and told to leave. They were bussed in only their boxers, jumpsuits, and open toed shower shoes on their bare feet. Eventually, I assume their property in Menard will be bussed to Stateville and they will be given it. In the meantime, people want to make sure they have some clothes, food, hygienic items, or other things.

As I write this journal entry, I have heard a rumor that many more inmates are planned to be exchanged with those in Menard. A lot of Stateville's population will not want to go to the downstate prison. Many Stateville prisoners are close to family who live in Chicago. A drive to Menard from the inner city takes about 8 hours. People also will not want to move because of stricter rules and the perception that many of the white guards are racist.

Being white, I am not concerned about guards who are in the Klu Klux Klan. Before the turn of the century, Stateville was often nicknamed the white man's graveyard, and to this day it is not a friendly place to be if you are Caucasian. I will not miss being one of a small handful of white men in a cell house. Menard has a higher proportion of Caucasian inmates and they are often not integrated. I have not seen the recent film "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" but I have seen the old movies. It is not fun playing Charlton Heston's character all the time.

Stateville is located in Cresthill, not far from many prisoners' families and friends. Stateville also is not run as strict as the southern Illinois maximum security prison. However, otherwise, Menard is a better institution to be at. The mail is processed timely, visitation is longer and more comfortable, and the health care is not as incompetent or negligent. There are also weights and exercise equipment on all their yards, including dumbbells, and they are always in good condition. Menard is, furthermore, quieter! Inmates are sent to Seg for yelling in line or in the cell houses. They also must use headphones when using their TVs or radios. There are no roaches, and the cells and cell houses are kept clean and in working order. No where in maximum security or prison in general is nice, but I will not mind if I am in a future prison swap.

October 5, 2011

There were no further prisoner swaps between Stateville and Menard. Unfortunately, it appears I am stuck here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dear Readers:

Governor Quinn has nearly finished going through all the Clemency Petitions left behind by Illinois' former governor, Rod Blagojevich. Very soon he will begin making decisions on those filed since he became our Governor.

Although Gov. Quinn has granted many pardons, most have been given to clear those with minor convictions on their record. It is unusual for any governor to grant a pardon to a person who has been convicted of a serious felony, especially when no DNA evidence exists. Paul's situation is unique in that he truly is innocent. Like many others, he has not had full access to the courts because of lawyers' mistakes.

You can write a personal letter regarding Paul's request for a pardon, explaining this horrible miscarriage of justice, and asking for the Governor's intervention where the lawyers and courts have failed. Paul's petition was reviewed by the Prisoner Review Board in July 2010. They made a confidential recommendation to the Governor a month later.

Other than the link above to Governor Quinn's email, you can also write him at:

Governor Pat Quinn
James Thompson Center
100 W. Randolph, 16-100
Chicago, IL 60601


Governor Pat Quinn
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706

Paul sends his heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all of you who have taken the time and made the effort to try to help him gain his exoneration and freedom. All of us want to thank those who also signed the online petition.

May God bless you all,

The Friends and Family of
Paul Modrowski

Friday, September 23, 2011

Remembering 9/11 and Moving On -- September 11, 2011

Today is the ten year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The week leading up to the anniversary has been filled with an overwhelming amount of sensationalistic and alarmist news reporting. I have watched, read, and listened to parts of this blanket news media coverage, including this morning's "Day of Remembrance" event in New York City. Like many, I remember the airplanes' collision into the skyscrapers and their collapse. However, unlike many, I fail to see why it remains of great significance. I also believe the U.S. government has greatly overreacted and continues to do so at the detriment of the republic.

As I do every morning, I watch the news while I eat my cold breakfast which was served to us in the middle of the night. Since the prison has been on lockdown, I have taken my time eating and getting ready for the day. There has been no movement at Stateville since the gang fight a week ago, and I have been doing little over the past week. I have been resting and trying to heal from my numerous injuries. The news this morning was centered entirely on the events that occurred ten years ago and the memorial in New York. I changed channels from CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and CNN, but it was all the same coverage from one angle or another. Apparently, I had little choice but to remember 9-11 and 10 years of unnecessary war, scare tactics, and amassing Big Brother government.

The site of the Twin Towers has been remade into an elaborate memorial greater than any I know of in the United States. Where the two buildings stood are now large square waterfalls and reflective pools. News people were persistent to point out the water will be regulated so it is never too cold or warm. Around the circumference of the waterfalls are the names of all who died, similar to the Vietnam War Memorial for dead soldiers. Next to the waterfalls is a museum apparently designed to allow people to fully experience all the trauma of the attack time infinite, and remind them why Americans must continually live in fear and in a police state. The memorial and museum were a costly feat of engineering due to a railway that passes closely underneath. The missing buildings and surrounding park surrounded by skyscrapers in downtown Manhattan seem to create a void and a gaping wound in the city. If this memorial was not enough to remind the public of 9-11 in the daytime, two enormous lights on occasion send a beam of light skyward like a beacon for Batman to protect Gotham from the mayhem of the Joker.

One may ask where is the caped crusader and America's superhero? To seemingly answer that, this morning former President George W. Bush and President Barack H. Obama were presented to a crowd of families of the victims and, of course, the entire nation via television. Before they spoke, a slow solemn procession of men playing bagpipes and beating drums circled the memorial. People at the park were shown clutching each other, crying, or moving their fingers over the inscribed names of the dead engraved on bronze plates. Obama and Bush did not give political speeches, but instead read from the Koran, the Old Testament, and a letter written by Abraham Lincoln. I noticed that a bulletproof glass protected the current President, but not the former. I suppose his life is not important anymore, although I do not know how any harm could come to either one. There was such an overwhelming police and security presence that I do not think a mouse with a backpack explosive could get in.

Hopefully, I did not just give America's purportedly most nefarious, all pervasive, and ingenious zealot terrorists any ideas. These James Bond villains with their shoe/underwear bombs and use of airplanes as missiles cannot be underestimated. Currently, there is a nationwide alert of a plot underfoot to strike the U.S. on the 9-11 anniversary. It is not known where, how, or whom is behind this threat, but from government sources, it is credible. From coast to coast, America must be mobilized with massive police, government intelligence, and other resources to stop the ambiguous attack. Airports, railway stations, energy infrastructure, schools, football arenas, and entire cities are in danger. No place is safe, and Americans are reminded: "if you see something, say something." It is so dangerous out there, I am glad I am in this cage surrounded by numerous walls, razor wire fencing, gates, cameras, and hundreds of unionized guards. Unfortunate that all U.S. citizens could not have the same protections, but maybe they will some day have this privilege.

As I write this journal entry, I am listening to news radio. A couple of hours ago, F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept and follow a commercial airplane. Apparently, two passengers had spent too long in the bathroom. I suppose if you had bowel troubles from bad airplane food, or want to have a cheap sexual thrill during a flight, that is unacceptable after 9-11. They could be making a bomb in there. Who knows? A chemical could be added to an explosive tampon or any sort of altered item still allowed on a plane. Whatever happened on board Frontier Flight 623 San Diego to Detroit, those suspicious lavatory users are now under arrest and being relentlessly interrogated along with a couple of other passengers from another flight who had also purportedly acted strangely.

During the week, I heard many people on television or news radio recount what they were doing ten years ago when airplanes were sent into buildings in New York City and the Pentagon. It seemed like everyone had a story to tell. It was similar to earlier stories a preceding generation had of when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Some people even tried to stretch a correlation with the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. I recall September 11, 2001, although I did not see life altering significance to it until government used it to change millions of lives at home and abroad.

Having been evicted from Joliet Correctional Center, I was sent to this most miserable maximum security prison in 2000. I spent a few years here before being able to transfer. It was while at Stateville that the terrorist attacks occurred. I was at the gymnasium when the planes hit and was not able to watch it live on TV. On the return, someone mentioned the U.S. had been attacked. I did not learn the details until I returned to my cell where my cellmate was glued to the television. I watched the prerecorded plane collisions into the towers and saw the buildings collapse. Although I am not a religious person, the destruction reminded me of the Biblical tale of the tower of Babel.

My cellmate seemed riveted by what had occurred. However, I continued about my routine as normal. In retrospect, it was like when I returned to the apartment I shared with my co-defendant and he told me about the Palatine Massacre that occurred the night before. He went on and on about the mass murders. It had little interest to me despite how he would try to impress on me the sensationalism of it all. Seven people had been brutally murdered at a Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine, Illinois. A couple thousand people had perished in the Twin Towers. Yes, I heard this, but what apparently was lost on me was the emotional impact it had on the Chicago metropolitan area, or in the case of 9-11, the entire country.

The media coverage of the terrorist attacks and the Palatine Brown's Chicken murders in Illinois were very different in scope, but similar in the nonstop hyped emotional and sensationalistic news coverage. The public would demand justice and revenge at any cost. After the Palatine massacre, a task force of over one hundred police from various agencies was created. This police agency and the State's Attorney's office were under enormous pressure to solve the case. Politicians also sought to prop up their own elected office, and under no circumstance wanted to be seen as incompetent or less than zealous. Enormous sums of money and resources would be spent, and suspects' rights were of no concern. When I was arrested, I was denied a lawyer, intimidated, and roughed up. A statement was eventually fabricated, and I was presented to the public as a scapegoat for the Palatine Massacre while my co-defendant later walked free and the real Palatine Brown's Chicken killers were not apprehended until a decade later.

After 9-11, the Bush administration pursued a vague global war against Islamic terrorism. This strategic incoherence along with an emotionally enraged public allowed the U.S. executive to battle thinly accountable enemies, with or without credible evidence. Millions of people, trillions of dollars, and untold amounts of resources have been used in the vast war on terrorism whose battlefields have no boundaries. America itself has been turned into a police state with the rights and liberties of U.S. citizens being further curtailed. All the while, al Qaeda largely slipped through the cracks, their global support grew, the invasion of the U.S. southern border continued, and a vastly more dangerous threat in the East was ignored. Almost a decade later, Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind was killed.

"Strategory," as former President George W. Bush may say, was greatly missing. The ability of al Qaeda to take control of a few airplanes with box cutters and use them as crude missiles to plow into U.S. buildings never demonstrated their power, sophistication, or pervasiveness. Contrarily, it showed how impotent, crude, and insignificant they were. It was an enormous overreaction to send an invasionary force into Afghanistan. It was also unwise to attempt to defeat the host tribal leaders and Taliban in the extremely difficult mountainous terrain bordering Pakistan. It was almost tantamount to Bill Murray in the move "Caddieshack," bumbling about attempting to kill some gophers on the golf course. The British Empire tried this, then the Soviet Union, but Americans thought they could not only win at Whack-A-Mole, but succeed in putting together a united free democracy allied with the U.S. and embracing Western culture. No wonder the world views Americans as arrogant. The arrogance or delusion of the White House is almost laughable, if not for its serious negative consequences.

Former President Bush said we will bring the war to the enemy. However, instead of changing the way of life in Afghanistan, the way of life has changed in the U.S. The fear of terrorism and the growth of Big Brother government since 9-11 has further eroded the founding principles of America. I may have been in prison almost the last two decades, but I see how liberty and freedom have been lost at almost every turn. Homeland Security, eavesdropping on U.S. citizens, enormous police presences in public, police so heavily armed they may as well be soldiers, checkpoints, searches, seizures, arrests without cause, and the list goes on. You cannot even be in an airplane toilet too long or face arrest and interrogation. Bush and Obama have spoken about bringing freedom to the oppressed peoples of the world, but Americans should be more concerned about their own freedom. More and more, the maximum security prison of Stateville is a microcosm of the country around it.

In the Wall Street Journal, I read an editorial entitled "Ten Years Without an Attack." It seemed to argue that America is safer now than a decade ago, and this is worth being a police state. It is misleading to say there have been no al Qaeda inspired attacks because there have been mass and serial shootings. These, ironically, also were the cause of the government's overreaction to 9-11 and giving such a small terrorist group the prestige and recognition they desired. There is no question the U.S. should have retaliated with fierce vengeance. However, this retaliation should have been strategically focused. My father had a saying I recall from childhood that it was often "better to be smarter, not harder." This is advice the republic's executive should pay heed to. The fact there has not been a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil says nothing of the expensive and oppressive measures taken in security. The Gecko-like Cavemen could have carried out 9-11, and the fact it has not occurred again is not necessarily due to the trillions of dollars that have been spent, the wars, and massive human and other resources implemented, nor the country's oppressive police state. The threat of being harmed in a terrorist attack then and now is less than the odds of being hit by lightning. Possibly, I am biased as a prisoner, but I tend to believe the vast majority of Americans would prefer this risk of danger than live in an oppressive police state.

There are a number of more reasonable or smarter approaches that could have been taken by the U.S. to retaliate, deter, and protect the homeland. Precision bombings and special forces could have eliminated most of al Qaeda. Over the years, intelligence agencies could have located other members of consequence, and assassinated them like Osama Bin Laden. Hijacking of airplanes could have easily been thwarted by a locked reinforced cockpit door and armed pilots. The CIA and NSA could have been greatly expanded without causing unnecessary infringements on U.S. citizens' liberty and Constitutional protections. Border security and ICE could have been enormously increased also, not only stopping the invasion of the country by Mexicans and violent gangs or cartels, but scrutinizing non-Western foreigners' entry, visitation, and residency in the U.S. I agree with the Bush administration that foreign terrorists have no rights and can be squeezed for information, detained at Guantanamo without lawyers or civilian trials. I have no qualms with war. In fact, I believe the U.S. should have a powerful military and intelligence agency to not only defend the nation but to project its power globally. What I disagree with is how the might of the U.S. is used.

I find it ironic that while the U.S. continues to play "Whack-A-Mole" in Afghanistan, which is of no threat and is a barren wasteland that does not even have any oil, nothing is done about other enemies, most ominously China. It is clear the U.S. will soon be in a cold war with the Asian horde. While America has been recklessly spending trillions on homeland security, an unnecessary and futile war, wasteful consumerism, and a purported economic stimulus, China has been amassing a fortune. They are currently accumulating enormous assets around the world, especially natural resources, to build and sustain a technologically advanced modern national infrastructure, economy, and ominous military. It is no secret that China has been steadily cranking out submarines and stealth bombers, and recently an aircraft carrier was revealed to the world. The Asian menace also protects North Korea, engages in cyber attacks, espionage, and threatens their neighbors. It is only a matter of time until they are able to threaten the world with projected global power. While America continues to look back at 9-11, China is gaining economic and military parity that will soon eclipse the U.S.

China is not any joke like Osama bin Laden pretending to be an Austin Powers super villain from the caves of Afghanistan or the compound in Pakistan he was assassinated in. China is set to become as dangerous, if not more so, than the former Soviet Union at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Unlike the former Communist country that imploded from its own backwards socialist economics, the Chinese have largely turned away from collectivism. They are a virile hybrid dynamic, mixing capitalism and nationalism on the world stage. While liberals cling to the folly of tax and spend socialism, and neo-conservatives cling to the idea of global free trade, the U.S. continues to lose economically. The U.S. cannot compete with a country such as China that cheats, steals, subsidizes industries, lowers their currency, and sells the U.S. unsafe children's toys and foods with poison ingredients. I get the impression sometimes that Western leaders are not simply cowards or beholden to international business, but think they can cause a democratic revolution by letting them take advantage of open trade policies. However, they are only feeding the tiger.

Years ago, when the war against terrorism first began, some prisoners had a fantasy that possibly they would be released into the military. I do not know what these men were thinking, considering they were convicted murderers, rapists, and armed robbers. Possibly, they had watched the movie "The Dirty Dozen" one too many times. It was an intriguing daydream, however. I would most certainly love to be on a Special Ops team, and even die in battle rather than die a slow death in prison. However, I will not die in vain or for a counterproductive purpose. Although Americas are not imprisoned at Stateville for the rest of their lives, I believe they should nonetheless have the same perspective.

In the last decade, neither America nor any of the Caucasian nations of the world are any safer. The freedoms America purportedly fights for others have been taken away in their own land. The power of the nation has not been quantitatively increased, but seemingly diminished. The country is trillions of dollars in debt, the standard of living has deteriorated, millions are unemployed, the economy is on the brink of another recession. Furthermore, while the U.S. mobilized to fight terrorism, its other military hardware and preparedness has been left to atrophy, despite a greatly more powerful enemy emerging. Traditional Western values, culture, and its people continue a slow death. Does 9-11 mark the resiliency of the U.S., or its accelerated decline? While today is a day of remembrance, hopefully tomorrow is a day of ascension and moving forward.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lockdown Respite -- September 8, 2011

On Monday, there was a gang brawl on the way to the gym. According to guards and inmates, about 20 men from cell house E were involved in the melee. I have not heard if anyone was seriously injured, but I do know the dispute was between Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples. As I write this journal entry, the prison is on lockdown and over 100 tactical team guards from across the state are searching the prison for weapons and other contraband. They have not come to the cell house I am in yet, but they could be here tomorrow. The administration takes organized group activity seriously, and the entire prison will probably be searched. I assume men have already begun to be interrogated and transferred out to Pontiac, Tamms, and Menard's segregation. In the meantime, I have been taking this time to rest, daydream, and attempt to heal my many injuries.

Most inmates do not like when the prison is on lockdown and they must remain in their cells. However, for me this has come as a great blessing. Without any movement, there have been no prisoners walking by my bars or standing in the holding cage. It has been quiet much of the time, not only at night, but throughout the day. No longer do I have prisoners yelling and talking just outside my cell. Even my cellmate has been quiet since the prison has been on lockdown, as he has no one to talk to. On top of the relative peace and quiet, I once again have "room service." All three of my meals are brought to my cell by guards. The food may be terrible, but at least I do not have the aggravation of going to the chow hall.

Since I have been moved to general population, I have been at great unease. I am in a cell that is positioned on the ground floor, across from a holding cage, and near the cell house door. The enormous and almost ceaseless amount of traffic and noise just outside my bars is almost maddening. I hate prison and the vast majority of convicts here. This cell forces me to be a part of it and them every waking moment of my life. There is no privacy and no escape. Even from inside my cell there is regular aggravation. My cellmate is frequently talking and shouting to his numerous friends, gang buddies, or just about anyone who happens to want to talk. It has been great that lockdown has stopped all of this. Hopefully, the prison will remain on lockdown for the rest of this month.

For years, I have been dealing with a back injury. I have two crushed disks in my lumbar spine that cause chronic pain. Recently, I injured something in my left shoulder. I do not know what the problem is or how it occurred, but it is even more painful than my back. Oddly, the severity of the new injury often makes me forget about my back pain. Before the lockdown, I had submitted several requests to see a doctor, but I was never given an appointment. I do not know what the prison doctor would have done anyway other than give me ibuprofen. I already have stronger anti-inflammatories in my cell and they do not help. In prison, doctors do not normally attempt to figure out what your ailment is, but just give you cheap generic pain pills. It will be many months, if not years, until I see a specialist who will determine if I tore a tendon, pinched a nerve, or damaged my rotator cuff.

In addition to my lower back and shoulder injuries, I have a sore right knee. I tend to believe the problem is due to tendinitis or repeated stress to the joint. I regularly do intense cardiovascular workouts in my cell on the concrete, however, the injury could be due to the years I lifted heavy weights. Possibly I have disintegrated some of the cartilage in the knee. The pain only affects me when I exercise and has only been persistent for a couple of months. If the pain was due to power lifting, I would assume it would have stayed with me for years. I have never complained about the knee injury because, again, I know the response of prison doctors will be to give me Tylenol or Ibuprofen. If I want to see a specialist, have an MRI, or C/T scan, it will require persistent litigation. It took me years to see a specialist about my back, and it was not until I was unable to walk that I was sent out to the hospital to see a neurologist.

Regularly, people will comment on the intensity of my workouts. Prisoners and guards alike will stop and watch when I exercise in the cell. I hate the attention it draws and wish I had a curtain to block out the view of bystanders. Last week, I had a lieutenant standing at my bars as I did hyper extensions off a box stacked on my bunk. When I finished, he asked if I was all right. I said, "No, I am not. I have a natural life sentence and will probably die in prison." Apparently though, he was commenting on my strange setup and exercise. He likes to try to be funny. I suppose he also may have thought it was a way to open up conversation.

Over the weekend, I had the black inmate who is a fan of Green Mountain Coffee stock offerings at my bars. He asked me how I was doing. I dislike these ambiguous questions which I often do not understand. I do not know if the person is just saying this as some kind of a greeting, to be social, or if they actually want to know how you are doing in some degree or way. Instead of trying to figure it out, I just told him I was in a lot of pain. He said he could not tell by the way I work out. I told him I do not allow pain to stop what I want to do. He is not the only person to make such comments.

Not long ago when I was on the yard, Steve told me that for a man who is in so much pain, I certainly do not show it. I asked him if he ever saw the movie "Predator." When he said he had, I asked him if he remembered when a member of the Special Ops Team told Jessie Ventura he was bleeding, and Ventura dismissed his concern and said, "I don't have time to bleed." I told Steve, "I do not have time for pain." However, since I made this comment, I have reconsidered. I have nothing but time to languish in the maximum security prisons of Illinois until they shovel dirt on top of my body. I have been over training and taxing myself for years, if not decades. Now that I am old, I can no longer heal and rebuild muscle and tissue like before. It is time to take a break. I have time for pain.

Since the beginning of the lockdown, I have ceased to work out. For this entire month, I plan to rest, and nurse my injuries. I am not certain if it will do any good, however, because my problems are possibly beyond any natural healing. The disks in my back are never going to regain their height or structural integrity. If my shoulder injury is a torn ligament, it will most likely need to be sewn back together. If it is a nerve, this also may not heal with rest. Nor will my knee, if damage is irreversible wearing away of cartilage. Despite the uncertainty, I will give it a try. I regret not having done so with my back the first time I injured it. Possibly it would not ail me today, if I did.

It is difficult for me to assess injuries because of my insensitivity to touch. Yesterday, laundry was returned to prisoners in C House and I had to ask my cellmate if my clothes were damp. I cannot tell, and did not want to fold them in my box if they still had moisture. Indeed, they were wet, and I had to use my fan to dry them out. Sometimes, I will take the returned laundry and put it to my face because it is more sensitive to touch, but this does not always work. Not being able to figure out if something is wet or dry also applies to pain stimuli. I can push myself through pain or not even be aware of it. When I was a child, I burnt the skin on my back by leaning up against a hot popcorn maker. I did not realize my skin was burning until my mother and sister began to smell not popcorn but burning flesh. Being insensitive to pain can have advantages but also disadvantages. I often do not know how badly I have been injured. If I did not have this problem, upon hurting my back in my 20's, I may have stopped working out. With my shoulder and knee, I have no idea the extent of damage or how it occurred.

It is odd not exercising. I work out almost every day, and it is a part of my routine. I have played sports, lifted weights, or exercised almost continuously since I was a child. I have only been nonactive for four days, but already I feel the urge to do something. The man I talk to a couple cells away has told me just do a lighter workout. However, this I cannot do. It is everything or nothing. I hate half measures. Even in my attempt to rest and recuperate, I will do so with completeness.

Every day, I have been going to sleep at 9 p.m. and waking up at 7 a.m. I also lay in bed from about noon to 4, even if I do not fall asleep. I will just daydream for several hours. I daydream about a life I would have had if never arrested. Repeatedly, people ask me what I will do when I am freed. I tell them their question is ridiculous because they assume I will get out. Despite how my case and sentence may defy sensibility, the justice system is not about adhering to common sense. Odds are that I will never be given any relief in form of a pardon, commutation of sentence, or a new trial. Even if I was to be released, I do not know under what circumstances or when. A post conviction appeal in Cook County Illinois usually takes between 5 and 10 years if it is successful. Prosecutors and judges delay the process with numerous continuances and appeals. Even defense lawyers can be the cause of delays. I do not care to daydream about a life in my 40's and beyond. A life as an old man has no appeal.

I also daydream about the life I had before my arrest. My former cellmate, Josh, was always trying to figure people out with various stereotypes based on psychology all the way to astrology. He would tell me I was a "Crushed Star." A crushed star is someone who was full of promise and at a high point in their lives before having all of it destroyed by their arrest and conviction. He said he could tell by the way I spoke about my past before my arrest. I had a great nostalgia for it. My former cellmate is correct in that regard. I do often seek to remember my years as a teenager before my life was abruptly ended at age 18. I would not care if my entire prison years were erased from my memory. However, I treasure those years during my teens.

In my hours of lying in bed, I think of many hypothetical alternative realities. A movie people may have seen, "The Butterfly Effect," is commonly a type of theme in my daydreams. For those who have not seen the movie or are aware of the theory behind it, the smallest change in action can have a ripple effect that radically affects your life and numerous others', even those you have never met. Not only do I ponder how to alter my arrest or conviction but various parts of my teen life. Although I like much of the times before my arrest, it is greatly intriguing to think about even better scenarios. If someone knew me in the past, there is a good chance I have thought about you. Even those who only knew me from afar may be a part of my thoughts sometime in my nearly two decades of incarceration.

Also in my thoughts are totally fictional creations. Purportedly, those with Aspergers have poor or no ability to fantasize. However, I have always had a good imagination. The only problem I may have is with the enormous intricacy and desire to be realistic. Along with my daydreams of a future I could have had if not arrested or the past, I have thought of several themes lately, one of which I think could be made into a good romance novel. Over my years in prison, I have thought about writing numerous novels with subjects ranging from science fiction, horror, romance, history or war. If I had been inclined to put these ideas to paper, I could have at least written ten fictional books and possibly over 20. However, the amount of effort I would have had to use would be enormous. I do not have a word processor or computer or access to the Internet where I could do quick research or even make easy corrections. Like the blog posts I write, they would have had to be written slowly in dull pencil, then typed, and sent to publishers. I am confident at least a few of these works of fiction would have been successful, although I would have had to use an alias, such as I have in the past when writing political editorials for a few newspapers and magazines. Even fictional writing would be difficult being published when you are a convicted murderer.

As usual, I have read and listened to talk radio while on lockdown. I am limited in the music I can listen to now that I am on the ground floor of a concrete and steel monolith. FM reception is almost nonexistent except for pop and a Mexican music station, unless I dangle an antenna out of my bars. I care not to listen to pop or the carnival music Mexicans seem to enjoy. I have some heavy metal tapes, but most of my tapes were taken by Internal Affairs because they were copies. Inmates are not supposed to have recordings, but I refuse to pay $10, or up to $100, to order cassette tapes that are almost extinct. There are rumors prisoners may get MP3 players this decade, but there is discussion on how music will be recorded and controlled.

On talk radio was a brief mention of the Governor closing a prison or two due to budget difficulties. Apparently, television news has also reported it because while I was reading earlier today an inmate yelled out to guards, "Attention all correctional officers. Be prepared for layoffs." This was in response to a guard announcing to prisoners: "Attention all inmates. Be prepared for an Orange Crushing." It would be nice if Stateville was closed, but from information I have heard, Pontiac and either Vandalia or Logan C.C. are on the chopping block. At least the Governor is considering retracting the prison industrial complex, even if only marginally and because he is forced to. However, the problem needs to be addressed through the legislature with scaled back sentencing and criminal statutes. The judicial system also needs radical reform.

I believe the cuts to the IDOC have been under discussion by administrators for a period of time. Recently, counselors have been allowing prisoners with over 20 years remaining to serve to apply for medium-security transfers. Previously, no one with more than 2 decades was permitted to leave maximum-security (except for a privileged few). However, there are so many people with natural life sentences or other sentences which would never make them eligible, a change in policy had to be made. The only maximum-security prisons in Illinois are Menard and Stateville, which are already over capacity. If Pontiac segregation is closed, those fifteen hundred men must be sent to these two prisons, or Tamms Supermax. There is no way this can be accommodated.

Thinking I may have a chance to leave this place, even I requested a transfer. However, not long ago, it was denied. The brief memo I received from clinical services simply stated "offender is properly placed." This is a generic and arbitrary denial meaning the person who decides transfers at Stateville had no legitimate reasons. Despite this, I was not terribly upset. I have never had any optimism about the justice system or my incarceration in the IDOC. I will probably never see freedom or justice, or less miserable and oppressive living conditions while incarcerated. I am a "crushed star," and will just continue to rot away in my cage brooding about a life I once had, or should have had. Maybe, I will get up this evening to listen to the U.S. President's continued economic stimulus gimmicks or the NFL's season opener. I will not care however, if I do not wake up from my afternoon nap and sleep around the clock, or even this entire lockdown. In fact, I would prefer to be in a coma my entire captive existence.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Appeal of a Double Homicide Convict -- Aug. 31, 2011

Not long after I was moved to cell house C, a man a few cells down from me asked if I would read his appeal and give my opinion. Interestingly, he wanted my criticism, and to respond as if I was the prosecutor. Most men in prison want you to tell them how their appellate issues are wonderful, and that they will soon be going home. These people are always disappointed when I review their cases because I am brutally honest and have an unappreciated ability to pick apart and find fault in most everything. I am a cynical person, and even much of my humor is dry satire. Thus, I was looking forward to reviewing his case, however, I had many other priorities and did not have time to read his appeal until yesterday.

The direct appeal that I read and made comprehensive notes, comments, and opinions of belonged to Steve Zirko. Steve was convicted and sent to Stateville with natural life plus 30 years in 2009. It was not long after his placement in the same cell house as me that I began to talk to him. Coincidentally, he was assigned a cell two cells down from me in B House, and after my return to general population, we were again almost neighbors in a different cell house. I also was able to talk to him from time to time in the Roundhouse because he was a law clerk. The law library workers on occasion were sent to F House because they were in Segregation or could not go to the law library. When inmates in Kickout were finally allowed access to the library, I was also able to see Steve, but not very often. It was difficult making the library list in F House.

Steve Zirko is a squat 50-year-old man with an almost Mediterranean complexion. He looks like he would be Italian, and his last name led me to believe so until he told me otherwise. Steve keeps his hair very short or bald, and that is rightfully so. Except for some hair implants, he only has a horseshoe shaped growth of dark brown hair. Despite being much older than me, he is one of the few people I talk to. He is a good acquaintance because, unlike most people at Stateville, he is intelligent and educated. He also shares some of the same values as I have. In prison, I am surrounded by mostly ignorant, obnoxious, gang members from the ghetto.

Yesterday, I was very tired from working out and running laps on the prison's large south yard. I was also in a lot of pain, due not only to my lower back injury, but also some sharp pain in my shoulder and neck which I have been dealing with for a few weeks. At 36, I often feel like 56, and after bathing in my sink, I took a short nap. Steve's appeal had been put on my table by a cell house worker while I was sleeping. When I got up, I read his note which instructed me to read his appeal as if I were the prosecutor. It was going to be difficult judging the merits of his appeal without having read his trial transcripts. However, I was not going to read the vast pretrial and trial proceedings. His trial was a month long. I would have to depend on the Statement of Fact written by his attorney. Despite this, I was prepared to eviscerate the arguments put forth in his appeal. Steve had actually offered me some payment, but I was more than happy to crush any hopes he had of going home. Yes, misery loves company.

The week before, I had spoken to Steve about the basics of his case. However, now I had a much better understanding of what occurred. In 2004, his wife, Mary Lacey, and his mother-in-law, Margaret Ballog, were killed in Lacey's home in Glenview, Illinois. Both women were shot three times, but Lacey was also brutally stabbed 48 times. I thought only someone with hatred and who personally knew her would commit such a murder. Considering Steve and his wife were separated and still had animosity towards each other, there was no question he would be an immediate suspect. In my notes, I made a joke about how he could not be a more obvious suspect and he should have had an alibi.

The police, after finding the bodies, immediately went to pay Steve a visit. Steve had a few restraining orders against him. After he hit his wife, the court had him undergo anger management treatment. In my notes, I wrote: "apparently these did not help." I also made fun of his attorney's inference that police precipitously focused on him as a suspect. Lacey was already with another man of questionable character. However, the other man had an air-tight alibi. Before police start looking for the "one armed man," it made sense that they went to Steve. Other evidence would also make Steve the obvious suspect.

In prison, you rarely get to learn about a man and what he was like before coming here. Even when people tell you about themselves, I always have a high degree of skepticism. Although a defense attorney is going to want to portray their client in a good light, there are a number of undisputed facts I could learn about Steve from his appeal. For example, I learned that Steve taught band and music to high school and college students. He also was an entertainer on cruise ships playing the piano. This fact I already knew, and Steve likes to talk about the times he visited port cities in South America and in the Caribbean. I always questioned his ability to play the piano professionally, however, because of his short, fat fingers. I have told him on a number of occasions, "Those look like the hands of a bruiser and not an elegant piano player." "How do you even reach all those keys with precision?" I would ask him. He told me, "You would be surprised." He said his hands move very quickly and nimbly on the piano. I still insisted they would look better with brass knuckles busting someones teeth out.

While reading the Statement of Fact, which is a summation by the lawyer before arguments are given in an appeal, I knew why I never heard Steve talk about his wife and two sons. Most prisoners like to talk about their kids, if not their wife or girlfriend, who have usually left them. Steve not only had two sons with Mary Lacey, but had become a father to the two children she already had before marrying him. I was told that all of these children disliked or hated him. They probably went to live with his wife's family after the murders and never had any contact with him since. Ironic, that they were the cause of most of the friction, and if Steve killed the mother, now he has lost them completely.

While taking my notes, Steve came by my cell. He had been let out to take a shower. There was a grin on his face because I assume he knew I was being very blunt, critical, and derogatory in my writings. I told him he may want to take a Klonapin before he read what I was writing. He said, "No. I can take it. That is precisely what I wanted." He did not want anyone "blowing smoke up his ass". He knew I would tell him exactly what I thought and be very meticulous. I told him again that my opinion could only be of limited value without reading the transcripts from his trial. To help me get a better understanding, I asked him a few questions before a guard was at his cell door wanting him to lock up.

The first issue an appellate lawyer lists is usually the strongest issue the defense puts forth in a request for a new trial. The issue at the forefront of Steve's appeal was "Is it error for the court to submit to the jury instructions on the law of accountability?" Having been convicted on a theory of accountability, I was very knowledgeable about the issue. I knew that court instructions must be supported by some evidence and also must fit with the prosecution's argument.

Nowhere, according to Steve's attorney, did the prosecutor tell the jury he was guilty based on another person's actions. The prosecutor argued that he was the killer. The only way I saw evidence that could infer guilt by a theory of accountability was the testimony of solicitation of murder. In the law of accountability is the word "solicits," and Steve was not only charged and convicted of two counts of 1st degree murder but solicitation of murder. However, courts have ruled that when the prosecutor seeks a conviction based on accountability, they must identify the actual killer. In my case, it was my co-defendant, Robert Faraci (Faraci was acquitted). In Zirko's case, there was no one. Therefore, he had a decent possibility of a reversal on this issue, and in my notes to him I stated so.

Steve's second issue was that the court erred in allowing highly prejudicial evidence of his prior Internet searches. Like the Casey Anthony trial, prosecutors seized the defendant's computer as well as his new girlfriend's, and submitted to the jury Internet searches made in the past to prove their case. In Steve's case, they were even more incriminating and there was no one else who could have made those searches. Steve's girlfriend specifically testified that she did not make the searches. The searches were for "hire a hit man," "mercenaries," "guns," "how to destroy evidence," and many other very incriminating inquiries. Steve's attorney argued that these searches were a fraction of thousands made and just showed what type of fictional reading he liked. She also wrote that the most recent inquiry was made a month before the murder.

Courts are supposed to weigh the prejudicial impact that evidence would have compared to its probative value. For example, in my case, my collection of right-wing political books, newspapers, and writings as well as my VCR tapes of war footage was irrelevant to the murder. The state only sought to introduce them to tarnish my character. However, in Steve's case, the admission of these searches was relevant, and corroborated much of the prosecution's case. Despite the brutal murders that occurred, I mocked Steve in my notes for some of the ridiculous searches he made in his quest to hire a hit man. His attorney's attempts to make it sound like the searches were meaningless was almost laughable.

The third issue raised was the court's failure to suppress his statements to the police. This is an issue normally I can sympathize with due to not only my Miranda rights being violated, but being struck and held incommunicado for two days. When my interrogator could not get an incriminating statement from me, he simply made one up. He told my jury that I admitted my roommate told me he was going to kill the victim, and I lent him my car. Because the judge did not suppress the officer's claims and my trial attorney failed to contest this testimony, I was found guilty of 1st degree murder under a theory of accountability. I was sentenced to natural life without the possibility of parole, and I will most likely die in prison due to the lies of the police officer. Steve and I may share the same sentence minus 30 years he could never humanly do, however, we share little else.

Steve does not dispute what he told police, only that what he said should not have been used against him. Also, unlike me, Steve was never brought to a secret location so police could intimidate, threaten, and hit him without a lawyer ever being able to intervene. In fact, before Steve was taken to the police station, his parents were able to call his lawyer and tell him to go to the Glenview Police Department. Steve was not in any way abused nor does he deny being Mirandized. His lawyer, however, argues because Steve told his parents in front of the arresting police officers to call his lawyer, police should have never spoken to him. Also, his lawyer was apparently not allowed to see Steve for a period of time once he was at the station.

The reason Steve wants his statements suppressed is because he lied to the police about an alibi. This lie was used by the prosecutor to help convince the jury he was guilty of murder. "Why would an innocent man give a false alibi?" the prosecutor asked his jury. I can think of reasons why an innocent person would lie about his whereabouts when he is arrested for a double homicide. However, I do not know if the defense was able to demonstrate if his Miranda rights were violated and if the statements were prejudicial enough to deserve a new trial. In my writings to Steve, I told him I thought it was an important issue that should be raised, but I tend to think it will not be persuasive to an appellate court.

Issues number 4, and especially 6, I thought were totally without merit. These issues argued that the state did not prove their case of murder and solicitation of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Whenever a defendant raises the insufficiency of evidence, the appellate court looks at the evidence in the light most favorable to the state. It is extremely difficult to win this argument unless there is virtually no evidence. In Steve's case, not one, not two or even three, but seven people testified that he asked them to kill his wife or find someone who would. Steve's attorney tries to discredit a couple of them, including calling one of them a "psychopathic drug addict." I can believe a few people may be lying about a defendant, but not seven. One of them was his chiropractor, and he actually went to the police a month before the murder. Steve's attorney says the chiropractor apparently was not too credible because no arrest was made. However, police at that time did not have the other six peoples' statements or two dead bodies. They also did not have Internet searches for a hit man.

The 5th issue was intriguing to me. In it, the appellate lawyer argues Steve's trial attorneys, Barry Spector and Stephen Richards, were ineffective for joining the murder and solicitation charges. There was an abundance of evidence that Steve solicited someone to kill his wife. However, there is almost nothing to show he committed the murder. If his attorneys had been able to defend him against the charges separately without evidence of one crime being used to convict him in the other, there is a very good possibility he would have been acquitted of murder, and thereby only face a possibility of 30 years of which he would only have to serve 85%, or 25 years. I was not able to watch Steve's trial like the Casey Anthony trial, but from what I read, absent the solicitation evidence, there was no case to convict him of the murders.

Issue #7 was that the trial judge did not completely comply with all of Illinois' Supreme Court rules as outlined in 431(b). According to the law, the judge must tell the jury the presumption of innocence, the defendant did not have to present any evidence including his own testimony, and the jury could not hold it against him. The judge is also then supposed to ask juror members if they understand and agree with these principles. According to a few cases the appellate lawyer cited, in a closely balanced case where there is a violation of Sup. Ct. rule 431(b), a defendant must be granted a new trial. I am not so sure how strong this technicality is, nor if the reviewing court will think the evidence was closely balanced. My reviewing court said the evidence was not closely balanced and there was much less evidence against me. However, my trial attorneys basically abdicated and told my jury the interrogating officer's testimony was truthful.

Steve's last issue was meritorious, but had little value. He filed a post trial motion telling the judge that his attorneys were ineffective for a number of reasons. According to law, the judge must address the motion, but his judge never addressed it. The appellate court may remand the case back to the original trial judge. However, he is most certain to deny it, and that is the end of Steve's direct appeal. The State Supreme Court is not going to look at his case.

During my reading and note taking yesterday, I was surprisingly not distracted much until a cell house worker came to my bars. He is the black man with a large mole on his chin who has bothered me before about investments. He wanted to know what I thought of the company Green Mountain Coffee Roast. He also wanted me to help him understand the literature and statistics in their 2010 annual report. I did not have time to indulge him. However, I did tell him that the coffee company's profits have grown enormously in the last couple of years, but its price has grown even more. It is now trading at 90 times trailing earnings. If he thought growth would continue at the same pace in the years to come for the single serve coffee distributor in the face of a recessionary or stagnant economy, he needs to quit talking to me and call his broker.

At chow time, I took a break from my work. I did not care to eat the sloppy soy that was being served for dinner, but to ask Steve some questions about his case. One question was how he managed to get the death penalty off the table before jury selection. In a death penalty case, every potential juror is asked if they are willing to render capital punishment. If not, they are kicked out of the jury pool. A number of my potential jurors were taken out because of this, and I felt prejudiced because those jurors were probably better for the defense. Steve said there was a talk between the judge, defense attorneys, and prosecutors outside of his presence, and the prosecution agreed to take it off the table.

Another question I had for Steve was if he paid for his wife's breast implants. According to the appeal, her body was cut so that her intestines and even breast implants came out. He told me she got the "boob job" done after they separated, along with some other cosmetic surgeries. Apparently, when she was back on the market again, she had to make some renovations to attract suitors. The man she finally met, though, Steve thought, was lowly.

Although I finished reading the appeal last night, I did not give it back to him until today when I went out on a visit. When I handed it to him with my writings, I said, "Here's the prosecutor's off-the-record thoughts of your appeal." He glanced at my 5 pages of tiny print before I left. On my return, I stopped at his cell again, and he began to tell me he was innocent. I told him to save it for his next jury if he ever gets a new trial. I do not know if he is innocent or guilty, but I did not care. Almost everyone at Stateville is guilty, and most have murder cases. I did not judge Steve solely on his conviction for a double homicide in Glenview, but who he was as a person in totality.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Story Time on the Small Yard -- August 24, 2011

Prisoners in general population at Stateville are usually sent to one of two small yards for their recreation. The yards are adjacent to each other but separated by about ten feet, and two high cyclone fences. The fences have razor wire wound around the tops and enclose the yards. Each yard consists basically of two concrete basketball courts. However, there is a short walkway leading to the courts, and on each side there is a little grass. Not long ago, a chin-up and dip bar was set into the lawn.

I almost never go to the small yard. It is usually crowded, and I despise the lack of space. The small yards are similar to dog runs except they are meant for humans to run back and forth, or bark at each other. There is nothing for me to do on these yards. I care less to play basketball or socialize with the other animals. Contrarily, small yard is an opportunity for me to be in my cell alone. I am almost always trapped in my cage with my cellmate, but when he goes out to the dog run, I have time to be without his presence. Unfortunately, however, I am almost never blessed with solitude because this cell is directly across from the cell house holding cage, and there is almost continual traffic.

Yesterday morning, small yard was run for my gallery and two others in my cell house. I was glad to be rid of my cellmate for a few hours. It would give me some time to read and write without any distractions from him. Hopefully, the rest of the cell house would be relatively quiet with the majority of people leaving to recreation. Less than an hour passed, however, when my cellmate and others on the yards returned. Thunderstorms were passing, and guards have been instructed not to leave prisoners outside when there is lightning. The chance of being hit by lightning was minute and probably a blessing for society, or the inmate. However, officials do not want the liability. Ironically, convicts at Stateville must languish in prison for most, if not all of their lives, but they must be protected from a one in a million chance of being struck by lightning.

It rained for much of the day, and I thought possibly the evening yard would be cancelled as well. Yesterday, my gallery and the one above it were scheduled to be sent to the large south yard after dinner. The south yard with its weights, quarter mile track, and ample space was a place I could look forward to. Evening yard was only given to inmates once every other week, and it is over at the end of summer. At about 4:30 p.m., an announcement was made over the loudspeaker. Two and four galleries were advised to get ready for chow and that yard would follow. However, we were to be sent to the small yard. "Small yard" was repeated a couple times to the dismay of inmates including myself.

In the chow hall, I sat with a group of older white men. Much of the talk centered on commissary and the auditors from Springfield who were here for the week. I was not aware of any inspection, but that seemed to make sense. Last week, large contingents of inmate workers were given the task of cleaning and painting hallways and parts of the cell house. Commissary was on the minds of many people because the cell house had not been given a full shop in about two months. The computer system used at the prison store suspiciously continued to fail. Finally, however, commissary orders were to be given to inmates in C House that evening and the following one. While those at my table complained about their empty boxes, I thought how convenient the computer failures were for the unionized state commissary employees who have been demanding more overtime, or additional staff.

On the way out of the chow hall, a lieutenant I once debated politics with in a former cell house called me out of line. I knew he wanted to gripe about some Republican position. The lieutenant supports President Barack Obama and is a liberal on most issues. As expected, he asked me, "How come the Republicans refuse to tax the rich?" I told him, "The wealthy already pay the vast majority of taxes, and they are the job creators. It is they who are the engines of economic growth, and not the poor, especially those who leach off the system." These statements riled him up, and he said, "You and your conservative ilk are crazy. You must be drunk," and he asked me if I had alcohol in my bottle. The lieutenant loves to debate politics, but my line was leaving and I could no longer engage him.

Waiting in line outside the cell house, I was planning to go back inside. I had no intention of going on the small yard. However, Steve, who is one of the few men I speak to, asked me if I would go out to the yard with him. The skies had cleared and it was a perfect summer day to spend some time outside, he said. I did not care that the sun was out, but when I learned my gallery would be put on the yard all by ourselves, I changed my mind. There were only about five people who would be out on the yard, and Steve and I would have it almost entirely to ourselves. Unfortunately, a few men began to complain and convinced the guard to put us on the same small yard as the gallery above us. I had already walked well past the cell house door and could not return.

There were close to 20 men on the small yard. Half of them played basketball on one of the courts. The others played cards, dominoes, or talked. I walked around the basketball court that was not being used with Steve, and was glad the homosexual, Frank, did not attempt to join us. There was a younger white man that had Frank's attention. Frank was not thuggish or sexually imposing. In fact, he was polite, friendly, and soft spoken. However, I knew underneath this veneer was a twisted homosexual. He was also a known snitch. I did not trust or like the loathsome queer.

Steve is a short, stocky, 49-year-old man with a bald head. He looks as if he is Italian, but he is a mix of European ethnicities, mostly Hungarian. I suspect one of his ancestors was a non-caucasion gypsy. Despite this, I tend to like Steve because he is educated and more intelligent than most of the people at Stateville. He also shares some of the same values as me, and has strength of character that is lacking among most of those in prison.

For the first twenty or thirty circles around the yard, we spoke about stocks, particularly those companies that deal with natural gas and fertilizer. I told Steve that currently there is a glut of cheap natural gas in the U.S., but after 10 years the price will increase as exporting LNG ports are built and the country begins to use more and more of the fossil fuel. He asked me about environmental concerns of new fracking technology, and I told him a story about a cousin of mine who owns land in West Virginia that has deposits of natural gas underneath it. A company paid them good money to drill, but now a lake on their property is dead of fish and their well water is undrinkable due to leaking methane gas. Despite this, I told Steve that natural gas was America's future energy source. I also told him about an excellent fertilizer stock company called Terra Nitrogen, which has enormous profit margins due to the cheap price of natural gas and the high price of nitrogen fertilizer they make.

After stocks, we spoke about the man who claims to have killed John F. Kennedy. On the gallery above us lives an old man with long gray hair and a mustache. His name is Jimmy Files, and in cooperation with a writer in Hawaii, he wrote a book about the assassination of the former U.S. president. Steve read the book, along with a couple of other ones with a conspiracy theme that named Jimmy Files as the shooter. Steve has spoken to him at length and told me he thinks Files is telling the truth. I have not read any of these books nor spoken to him about the assassination, but I told Steve, after a brief description of the conspiracy story, that I believe Files is a liar attempting to make some notoriety for himself before he dies in prison. Steve commented that an honest man he knows at Catholic Services told him he saw Files with "his tongue down the throat" of another man on a visit. Steve said after hearing that, he has stayed away from Files. I replied, "You never know about these men at Stateville." Then I commented, "I cannot even kiss a woman on a visit without being yelled at."

The next story Steve told me was about his double homicide conviction. As we walked in circles, he would stop in mid sentence when we would come close to Frankie and his new subject of interest. Much of what Steve told me was information I was not aware of, although I have known him for a few years. He does not talk much about his personal life, except for being a former teacher and a piano player. He also says even less about his case. Steve told me that he has his appellate brief in his cell and wants me to read it to give him my critical opinion of it. I told him I also wanted to read the state's reply brief. He said I could as soon as he receives it, however, he told me never to say anything about what he told me or what I read to others in the prison. He said he did not trust anyone in here. I asked him if I could share the information with the paralegal I know. He said that was fine. I then asked if I could print his personal information on the World Wide Web. He said that also was fine, but I think he thought I was joking with him. So, possibly, I will have a post about Steve's case in the future.

I told Steve, "Let's go speak to Flanders and the Californian Meth Head." As we walked over to the gate where they were standing talking to each other, I was asked why I call Scott "Flanders." I told him he has the voice and demeanor of The Simpson's sissy Christian neighbor. He told me he noticed this, and speculated he had a "little sugar in the tank." I do not know if Scott is queer. I tend to believe he is just a very clean cut, overly friendly, soft spoken person from rural Illinois. However, as I said to Steve earlier, you never know about people at Stateville, and I do not know how Flanders could have survived when the prison system was much more violent. Either he only recently came to prison, or he was someone's "bitch," as convicts say.

The two men were speaking about the incident which occurred over the weekend. A man in E House disassembled his fan to take the metal motor out. He then put the motor in a pillow case and bludgeoned another prisoner over the head with it. Scott speculated the man was trying to kill the person. The man from California, who also goes by the name Scott, worried about the administration taking away all of the fans from prisoners. I did not say anything, but knew none of the sort would occur. A sock rock, batteries in a laundry bag, and even motors in pillow cases have been used as weapons since I could remember. I even heard of men slamming TV sets onto the heads of sleeping cellmates. There was nothing that could be done about the violence. I asked him for the time instead. I had to complete my workout out on the yard since I decided to come out and did not exercise earlier.

I picked six callisthenic exercises to do in a cycle for a half hour that included using the chin-up and dip bar. As I worked out, I listened to the three talk about women, and tell story after story. I thought I heard them talking lustfully about Katie Couric. On and on they spoke about Katie until I interrupted and asked why they continued to talk about the news anchor. They laughed at me and said, "Not Katie Couric. Katy Perry." I never heard of the woman, and was told she was a pop music singer. As I continued to work out, Steve said Katie Couric was nice looking too, and he would not mind being with her also. The others agreed. Katie Couric was in her mid to late 40's, however, she probably was very pretty 20 years ago. In fact, from what I was told about Perry's reputation and appearance, I think Couric would have been much more the type of woman I found appealing.

I was not trying to pay attention to their talk but they were close by, and every now and then I would catch part of their conversation. The next subject they spoke about was gorgeous high school teachers recently in the news who had sex with their students. Flanders said, "How come none of that happened when we were in school?" Then they talked about various teachers they remembered from their high schools that they wanted to have sex with. I happened to be walking by them to do my incline push-ups on the concrete when they were talking about the matter, and I was asked about my favorite teacher. I said I did not know what they were talking about. I had dated two of my high school teachers. This made them think I was an ultimate "stud," and they wanted details. I was too busy working out though, and in any event, it was none of their business.

Despite how I was tight-lipped about the two teachers, they were not about the women they dated and had sex with. The man from California captured the others' attention, however, the most. He even captured the interest of a couple of black men who were formerly playing cards. Scott talked about wife swapping, being in drug orgies, and even having sex with a woman with another man. I should not have been surprised. Scott was not only from California, but San Francisco. I think of San Francisco as not only a bastion for homosexuals, but sexual deviants of all kinds. It was Freak Central, U.S.A.

After I had completed a half hour of exercises, I left the area around the story group to go to the basketball court that had been abandoned. Before I left, however, I said to Steve in a low voice that I was ashamed of him. Steve was a Catholic, and I thought a more conservative person. I did not expect him to join in the stories of wild casual sex and drug use, although he mostly listened to the others. Possibly, I shamed him because he later was to leave them and come by the basketball court to walk around.

On the court, I was doing various high intensity cardiovascular exercises. One such exercise was to jog backwards and then sprint forward into the fence. Bouncing off it, I would begin to high kick the basketball hoop pole. Steve was walking by and asked, "What did the pole ever do to you?" I said, "Do you not see the face on the pole?" On the pole was a shape made from chipping paint. Steve looked at the pole for a moment and asked, "Is it Osama Bin Ladin?" "No," I told him. "It is Karl Marx. Can't you see his image?" He stared at it longer, but could not.

After I finished my workout, Steve wanted to hear a story from me. He said everyone had told stories except me, and it was my turn. I told him a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away--actually only about 5 miles, I interrupted myself--I took out a group of girls I knew from Providence High School. I brought them to a forest preserve somewhere in the unincorporated area of the far southwest suburbs. I could tell I had Steve's attention, and he was probably anticipating another sex orgy. I told Steve that we built a fire in the woods, and before I could romance any of the girls, some stoners from Joliet found us. They were young men with floppy long hair like the Californian Meth Head had before cutting it. I think they wanted to share my girls, but they did not understand. There could only be one rooster in a hen house, and I hated stoners. When one of the men who looked like Kurt Cobain gave me his bag of marijuana for inspection and bragged about the quality of his reefer, I was unimpressed and tossed it into the fire. This, of course, set in motion a brawl where I tossed one man into the raging bonfire and pummeled the others with various strikes. The stoners fled or hobbled away with severe injuries. The man who attacked me first suffered burns and most of his long hair had been singed. Steve asked if I then had sex with the girls, and I said no. He asked, "What kind of a story is that?" I said, "It's a war story. You will have to talk to the man from San Francisco for tales of Woodstock."

Steve told me I must have been one of those jocks who were always fighting with the stoners in high school. I told him that although I was athletic, I usually did not belong to any cliques and was mostly a loner. I then asked him what group he belonged to, and he said, "The band clique." I said, "There is no such thing. You must have belonged to the nerd herd. Only nerds played in the band." He tried to deny it, but it was futile. I told him that was OK. He need not fear me locking him in his locker or putting his head in the toilet. Steve replied that if I put him into the porta-pod that was out on the yard, that would clearly be cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of his Constitutional rights. I told him that no one cares about our Constitutional rights, and to come off the yard with shit, piss, and green chemicals on his face would only be expressive of how we are treated all the time.

The guards were heading down the walk to open the gate. Story time on the small yard was over. As we walked to the cell house, I told Steve that if I ever win a new trial and the prosecutor comes to talk to him, he must remember that the stoners started it, and I was only defending myself and the girls. He said, "Right. You threw the peaceful men into the fire before disposing of their bodies, and they were never seen again." I told him he was a smart ass, and he will not get any more stories from me.