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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Juveniles Sentenced to LWOP -- December 15, 2011

Some people may think there is nothing worse than death. However, they could not be more mistaken. These people who fear dying do not know what true misery and suffering is. They have lived soft lives in Plato's allegorical cave of misconstrued perceptions. It is not death they should fear, but life--a life of continuous meaningless torment and anguish. Death is finite, however, misery can be drawn out for years upon years. Many seek the abolishment of capital punishment, especially amongst the political left who seek a utopian and illusionary world. However, if any sentence is so cruel that it should be abolished, it is natural life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).

This week, I noticed my cellmate holding a huge bound criminal appeal in his hands. As he was flipping through its hundreds of pages, he said that I may be interested in reading it. My initial thought was that I did not care to waste hours, if not days, of my time reading about an issue that did not apply to me. My cellmate has in the past given me legal papers thinking incorrectly that it was relevant to my case. This time would be no different, but what he told me greatly piqued my interest.

The appeal he held was an argument on behalf of a man sentenced to LWOP as a juvenile. My cellmate had the case because someone he knew outside of the prison was interested in advocating against that punishment, and he wanted to give her the names of organizations that were lobbying for its abolishment. However, he said it may be useful to me because I also was a juvenile when sentenced to LWOP. My cellmate mistakenly thought I was 17 at the time of the murder, and not 28 days past my 18th birthday. Although the issue did not apply to me, I have always had a hatred for the punishment smitten upon myself and numerous prisoners with LWOP that I have met or heard about over the years, especially those who were teenagers. For the last several days, I have spent the vast amount of my time reading and contemplating about the exhaustively comprehensive appeal.

The 4" thick legal document was a successive post conviction petition filed by a conglomerate of different groups, but mostly written by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch. The book my cellmate had in his hands was actually only Volume 5, and just an appendix to the appeal. However, most of it centers on one issue: juveniles should never be sentenced to LWOP. From every conceivable angle, the lawyers demonstrate how a protracted death sentence is an incredibly cruel and preposterous penalty for juvenile defenders, regardless of their crime. I was amazed by how well-written, researched, and comprehensive the appeal was. It was apparent this case was chosen to make a broad political and social statement, and not to simply support the individual defendant named on the front page.

Typically, copies of an appeal are only sent to the court and prosecutor's office. However, this appendix was sent to President Barack Obama and numerous governors across the United States. It was also sent to the Federal and State Congress, as well as the attorney generals of both levels of government. The material, furthermore, was addressed to judges and prosecutors throughout the country. All of these political offices were implored to change the law, commute the sentences of juveniles with LWOP, or do whatever they could in their capacity to stop adolescents from being tried as adults and punished with a sentence that leaves them with no hope. Although I was 18, I would have liked my trial judge to see this appeal before he told me he was giving me the same hope I gave the victim, Dean Fawcett. And that was none.

The appeal is written for Adolfo Davis, who was 14 years old when he was arrested for a double homicide in 1990. According to what I read, Davis was a lackey in Chicago's Gangster Disciples gang. Two older adult gang members brought him along to rob a rival gang, which was selling drugs out of an apartment. They used a buyer to gain entry to the residence, whereupon the older G.D.'s shot two men to death and tried to kill two others. They all then fled the scene of the crime together. Police soon thereafter arrested the trio. Davis confessed to being the guardian for the robbery, which turned into an assassination. Although he was armed with a gun, he did not intend for anyone to be killed, and he never fired a shot.

Davis was subsequently charged with two counts of 1st degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and one count of home invasion. Although today all children 13 and older are automatically transferred to adult jurisprudence in Illinois, in 1990, the case was first heard by a juvenile court. This judge, however, quickly decided to have Davis tried as an adult. He did not apparently base his decision on the severity of the charges, as I would assume, but because of his belief that Davis acted aggressively and in a premeditated manner. He is also officially on the record as transferring the case due to Davis' significant delinquent behavior.

Other than arguing Adolfo Davis' sentence of LWOP is unconstitutional, the appeal sets forth new evidence that defense attorneys claim may have persuaded the original judge to keep his case in the juvenile court system. This evidence comes in the form of an affidavit from the man who was used to gain entry into the drug dealer's apartment. This man states that Davis seemed to be scared and was merely a "tag along." When he testified earlier that the group talked about murder, he did not mean to include the defendant. Davis did not say anything, and stayed outside the apartment in the hallway.

Adolfo Davis is in the same position I am in regard to seeking legal relief. All of his regular set of appeals have been lost or dismissed. The only option he has, other than a clemency petition to the governor, is a successive post conviction petition. These appeals, however, are incredibly difficult to succeed in just getting a court to review, let alone win. A defendant must either show actual innocence with new evidence not available at trial, or meet "cause" and "prejudice" requirements. "Cause" is defined legally as a reason why the issue was not able to be brought to the court's attention previously in a regular appeal. "Prejudice" is defined as an issue which likely would have altered the verdict or sentence. In Davis' case, the affidavit demonstrates cause because it was just obtained recently and could not have been presented earlier. His attorneys also argue it meets the prejudice requirement because, although it would not have altered the verdict, it possibly could have altered the sentence because, if left in the juvenile court, Davis would not currently be in prison. This is his 5th post conviction appeal, and all former petitions failed to be heard by the court.

By chance, yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet Adolfo Davis who is known in prison as Spooncake. While I was listening to talk radio, as usual trying to block out my cellmate's incessant chatter, he tapped me on the shoulder. I did not notice who he was talking to in the holding cage across from my cell, but there was the person I was reading about. I was not aware he even lived in the same cell house before Ely told me that was him. Once again, my cellmate mistakenly told Davis that I was also a juvenile who was given LWOP as an accountable party. Davis asked me if I was one of the numerous people interviewed by Amnesty International or the other groups which helped create the report. I told him no, but did not bother to explain my cellmate's error. Davis was a somewhat short, black man who was clearly in his mid-30's now. The 14-year-old child I had read about was in the past.

After my cellmate finished talking to Spooncake, he began to address me. I had already put my headphones back on, and had to take them off to follow what he was saying. He told me that Davis wanted to distinguish his case amongst the thousands of other juveniles sentenced to LWOP in the United States by making a point that he was found guilty of 1st degree murder via a theory of accountability, and not as the actual killer. Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch were, however, only lobbying on behalf of all juveniles regardless of their crime or culpability, if they had no possibility of release. I told Ely this may be a wise strategy, but I understood that these organizations were not interested in individual people, but greater causes. No adolescent should receive LWOP, regardless of what they did.

Volume 5 of Davis' appeal was full of many statistics and charts. According to one of them, there were 2,300 men in the U.S. prisons serving LWOP who were 17 or younger at the time of the crime. Other than Israel, the U.S. was alone in the world with such draconian punishments. Most countries, in fact, have laws explicitly forbidding LWOP for minors, and some forbid it for adults as well, including Canada. It was interesting looking at a global map with dots representing all the juveniles who will never be let out of prison clustered in America, except for a handful on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. The U.S. had so many dots that it was nearly a solid color, while the rest of the world's nations were clear.

I have known for quite some time how different the U.S. justice system is compared to other countries. Many years ago, when I placed personal ads on the Internet, I often met and wrote girls overseas. They were always incredulous that I had LWOP. Many could not even comprehend how I was even prosecuted for lending my vehicle, especially when the man who supposedly borrowed it was acquitted. Many women told me my case would not have been allowed to proceed to trial in their countries. I was also told how the maximum penalty in many of their countries was 20 years, or less, and life was always parolable. I never asked about their juvenile systems, but I assume they are also nothing like what exists in America.

The vast majority of juveniles with LWOP in the U.S. have been convicted of murder. However, I learned one-quarter of these are based on the charge of felony-murder. The felony-murder law does not require the defendant to kill anyone. It only requires the defendant to be proven of committing a felony where a person was killed. The prosecutor uses felony-murder laws to convict people who never had the intent to commit murder, and who did not. Unfortunately, statistics of how many minors were convicted of murder via a theory of accountability could not be ascertained. Prosecutors do not indict defendants of accessory to murder, but just argue it to obtain murder convictions. Like myself, Adolfo Davis was charged and convicted of 1st degree murder although it was a co-defendant who actually committed the crime. According to the charts I reviewed, a little over 90% of all juveniles with LWOP have been convicted of murder, but I am willing to wager less than half of them actually killed someone.

Volume 5 of Davis' appeal cites racial statistics of juveniles sentenced to LWOP, and finds black adolescents receive the punishment 10 times more often than Caucasians, and concludes from this that the system is racially prejudiced. Time and time again, I hear liberal groups make this claim, not only with regard to punishments within the justice system, but in regards to employment, education, housing, and so forth. However, I disagree with the associative deductions made. For example, just because there are more African and Mexican juveniles with LWOP does not necessarily mean they were not treated equally. The statistics do not take into consideration the types of crimes, the backgrounds of the convicts, including criminal records, or most importantly, the obvious fact that Caucasians commit fewer crimes to begin with. These social statistics are often used to promote a political agenda, and one I do not share.

Adolfo Davis is not actually the "poster boy" for the cause to cease the punishment of LWOP to juveniles. Davis readily admits to being a member of the Gangster Disciples since the age of 10. In fact, he states the criminal organization became his true and only family. From the age of 9, Davis had been in and out, but mostly in, Audy homes. He was arrested for numerous crimes, including armed robbery, as a child. According to his own words, he sold drugs for his older adult co-defendant from an early age and regularly robbed people with him or by himself. He thought nothing of the crimes he committed, and believed it was just a part of life. Many of the juveniles interviewed admitted openly their ceaseless criminality. I tend to believe the majority of these children came from the inner city ghettos, and were not Caucasian.

Apparently, the terrible background of juveniles with LWOP is used to support, rather than detract, from the argument that they should never receive the punishment. For example, lawyers for Davis greatly describe his abysmal home life, education, and intelligence. His mother is repeatedly reported to be an alcoholic and drug addict. He does not know who his father was and his primary caregiver was a grandmother who did not seemingly give much care or guidance. Davis' probation officer and the DCFS regularly noted the squalor and unsanitary conditions of the apartment he lived in, and that he had few clothes or food to eat. Davis regularly did not go to school, and after his arrest he was found to have the educational equivalent of a child in 2nd grade. His intelligence quotient was also found to be 82, well under average. All these details of Davis and other juveniles are provided to create sympathy and mitigate their behavior. However, I find that an adolescent who comes from a solid family, a good home, and has a high intelligence is less likely to recidivate. I also believe that those juveniles have a better chance to become productive members of society and their prospects are exceedingly higher.

The other arguments made by Amnesty International and others are profoundly more compelling, and I am glad that these are elaborated on at much length. It is obvious to me, and I assume others, that juveniles have considerably less maturity, and their culpability thus should be less than that of an adult. Most minors have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, and are unable to foresee the long term consequences of their actions. Decision making is based on far less experience and wisdom, and the decisions made are often made precipitously. The impulse control of adolescents is far inferior to their adult counterparts. I also think most people will agree the susceptibility of teenagers to negative influences of peer groups are exceedingly higher. However, in my opinion, the greatest argument not to end a child's life is that their character and in fact their entire being has yet to be developed. This can be seen, not only physically and by behaviors, but by recent studies of the brain. The mind is not fully developed for many people until the age of 20. Because of this, it is absurd to believe that a crime of an adolescent is indicative of incorrigible depraved character. For most minors, criminal behavior is fleeting, and as adults, delinquents can become model citizens. Juveniles are enormously more able to change and be successfully rehabilitated.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roger v. Simmons, that the execution of juveniles was unconstitutional. The appeal of Davis I believe correctly seeks to demonstrate LWOP is also unconstitutional. What is life in prison but a protracted death sentence? The punishment is infinitely worse because misery and pain continue decades rather than a few minutes, if there is any pain at all with modern execution methods. Instead of slipping away into darkness, a juvenile has a lifetime of punishment. If I live until I am 78, I will have endured over a half century of torment in maximum-security penitentiaries. It is grossly ironic the court believes a quick death is cruel and unusual punishment for a juvenile, but not a slow one.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court became a little more reasonable, ruling in Graham v. Florida that LWOP for adolescents not convicted of murder is also unconstitutional. I do not know why, however, the crime of murder makes the punishment valid, nor how this ruling does not distinguish those convicted via accountability or felony-murder. It is also interesting how this ruling has not apparently been made retroactive to all the juveniles sentenced before 2010. There are over 200 people currently with no chance of parole still in U.S. prisons, although they were minors at the time of their crime and their crime was not murder. The Illinois Supreme Court has also made a ruling prohibiting LWOP for juveniles, however, it is also not retroactive to the over 100 people sentenced before the ruling. Adolfo Davis tried in his 4th successive post conviction petition to receive relief under it, but was denied.

The U.S. Supreme Court looked at three factors that are the basis of punishment: deterrence, retribution, and incapacitation. The Court found that none of these applied to juveniles who had not committed a murder. The sentence of life in prison does not deter minors because they do not consider the ramifications of their actions. Even adults, furthermore, may be ignorant of the law, especially when it applies to obscure and vague statutes. Although I never lent my vehicle as falsely reported, I had never heard of murder via a theory of accountability, and I am sure the vast majority of people who read this blog never heard of the felony-murder laws either. To incapacitate a child by taking away any possibility of freedom, the Supreme Court stated it must be assumed the offender will forever be a danger to society. A child who has not yet formed an identity can never be said to be unrehabilitatable: LWOP "makes no reasonable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment" and is "nothing more than purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering." The Constitution of Illinois also says: "All penalties shall be determined both according to the seriousness of offense and with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship," however, these wise words are not followed.

The groups that oppose life in prison for juveniles advocate an alternative sentencing scheme. Instead of a protracted death sentence, they want the minors to be eligible for parole according to their age, plus one year. For example, a 14-year-old such as Adolfo Davis, would be able to see the parole board after he served 15 years. Why the extra year, I do not understand, nor is it explained. I find this sentencing proposal, although better than LWOP, still absurd. A teenager under this system could continue to be denied parole indefinately. Furthermore, I do not believe adult offenders should ever do more than 20 years, and cannot justify a minimum 15 year sentence for a 14-year-old. Rather, I would suggest a sentencing range from half the minor's age to the age he or she was at the time of the offense. Illinois had indeterminate sentencing ranges for adults before 1980, and I believe the state should return to this for juveniles.

In today's Wall Street Journal, I read an article entitled "New Death Sentences Fall to Lowest Level in 35 Years" by Ashby Jones. The article gave credence to the decline to a number of factors. Violent crime, despite its attention in the media, has sharply dropped in the last 20 years, and is actually less than levels in the 1950's on a per capita basis. There are thus fewer occasions for prosecutors to seek the death penalty. The reporter also noted a shift in support of capital punishment and a change in state laws. Even the Governor of Illinois Pat Quinn, was quoted saying the death penalty system in the state was seriously broken. Other governors also concurred. Another reason for the reduction of executions is the expense. The average cost to prosecute a death penalty case in Maryland was $3 million, and I will estimate it is not much lower in Illinois. This was in fact a major reason for the legislature's abolishment in my state, despite what the governor said. Finally, the article noted how in 1970 there was no LWOP, but now it is an option.

This article was incredibly infuriating. If the justice system is broken, why is it not fixed? Why is not money used to give defendants more protections? Why is LWOP thought of as a substitute for execution? It is apparent that politicians do not want to fix the system. They would rather just let injustice continue and let thousands rot away in prison. Capital punishment opponents should not applaud the decreased use of the death penalty. It would be far better to fix the judicial system, increase executions, and abolish LWOP. State executions are not an abomination, but the draconian sentencing and criminal statutes are. Any day I would take death rather than a lifetime of suffering.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Arts and Crafts -- December 8, 2011

On Monday, the prison was taken off lockdown status. After the brief escape of a Stateville inmate on Friday, the regular monotonous routine at this maximum-security penitentiary resumed. Men went back to work picking up trash, mopping floors, washing laundry, cutting hair, cooking food and scooping the slop onto trays. Those that did not have details were mostly confined to their cells, except for chow lines and an occasional yard, prison program, or religious service. Some prisoners made use of their abundant time making various arts and crafts and attempting to peddle their goods to make a buck. Others simply occupied their time creatively just for their own enjoyment. People outside these prison walls may be surprised by all the various things inmates make in their cells.

Earlier this week, I watched a program on Chicago's Public Broadcasting Station (PBS). The station often has travel programs such as "Rick Steve's Europe." On occasion, I will watch these to get away from Stateville. It is as close as I will ever come to a vacation. This week, a program about Christmas crafts made in the small medieval border towns of Germany and Switzerland was on. It was nice to see the warm and folksy ambiance of these towns. They have a tremendous amount of history, and their quaint cities were lavishly ornamented in Christmas decor. I do not care much for the consumerism of the holiday, but there were numerous shops offering various arts, crafts, and foods, especially chocolates. Although their craftsmanship was superior to what is offered in the penitentiary, inmates here at Stateville make a number of handcrafted goods that are reflective of their culture and talents.

My cellmate has thankfully continued to occupy himself making jewelry boxes. He has a variety of them made out of intricately folded and woven paper and cookie plastic wrappings on the cell counter top. Apparently, he is advertising them to passersby and inmates stuck in the holding cage across from our cell. The best of his jewelry boxes is at the far end, facing the bars for everyone to see. It is a 6" x 4" shallow box made with white and pink paper. He has added a paper pink rose to the front and an etched mirror on the front and back of the lid.

The cell I live in is in a high traffic area of the cell house, and many people have asked Ely about his boxes. It is as if they are window shopping, and although I despise the extra attention, my cellmate loves it. He now has yet another subject of conversation, and possibly a sale to be had. Men will ask to see his boxes, whereupon he will let them scrutinize his handiwork. Sometimes, they will offer a trade, but more often than not, they are just browsing.

Depending on the size of the box and the work that went into it, Ely will expect a certain payment. Usually, he will want $10 for one, and if it can be paid in coffee or sweets, that is better. The price of mirrors at Stateville has gone up to $2, and it is an additional $2 for Ely to have them engraved. My cellmate does not have a tattoo gun, nor does he know how to make designs with it. Hence, he charges extra to have another prisoner make these enhancements.

Tattoos are probably still the most lucrative and in demand artwork in the penitentiary. Those men who are well skilled as tattoo artists can make an excellent hustle. Recently I spoke to the man who was my neighbor in the Roundhouse and goes by the name Tattoo. His real name is Michael Knuth, and people can see his mugshot on the IDOC website under "inmate search." Michael's entire body and face are covered in tattoos. I asked him if he is making a good deal of money now that he is in general population. Although he was a tattoo artist before his arrest, he is not doing any tattoo work in prison. He tells me it is not worth the penalty of going to Segregation. Instead, he draws tattoo patterns for others to use.

While talking to Tattoo, he told me of a man in his cell house who is making miniature models of Harley Davidson motorcycles out of paper. I was told that the finished product is painted and looks almost like the real thing. The prisoner making them charges people $50. Although Tattoo tells me they are well worth the money, I tend to believe he does not have too many sales. Fifty dollars is a lot of money in prison, and there are not many here who are biker enthusiasts. He would do better selling his paper motorcycle models at Menard Correctional.

Most prisoners do not have a prime cell location to advertise their goods, like mine unfortunately has. Instead, they will have to rely on word in the cell house being passed around, or will have inmate workers go down galleries peddling their arts and crafts. Throughout the week, cell house workers have brought various handmade products to my cell. I have ignored them, but my cellmate will readily engage them, even though he has no commissary to trade. One of the most popular goods being sold by workers currently is Christmas cards. Using heavy paper or cardboard that can be used as cardstock, men will write messages and draw pictures on the holiday cards. They will typically use markers, colored pencils, or pens to decorate them.

This week, I wrote a number of my relatives letters, although I did not send any of them Christmas cards. I appreciate the culture and traditions of the season, so I add a little Yule decor to my letters such as a few snow flakes, some holly, or other ornamentation. A couple of letters I simply addressed the envelopes in green or red Gothic script. Considering that Internal Affairs is delaying and even destroying my outgoing mail, they will probably not reach their destinations before the 25th, if ever.

One of the men peddling his arts and crafts on the gallery was selling cloth bracelets. He had sewn these bracelets with string or yarn. The prisoner had a collection of various designs and colors for sale. My cellmate told him he had no money and was "po" (poor). The man said he will give him three for a jewelry box, and then offered four when my cellmate said no. Even four were not an attractive deal for Ely. Ely had already purchased a designer cloth bracelet from another man. It was made of white and violet string, and at one part of the band it had his name embroidered on one side and the name of the woman he was sending it to on the other. My cellmate only bought the bracelet thinking the woman would be so moved that she would send him money for his birthday or for Christmas. However, no money or even a thank you letter was forthcoming from her. Although initially my cellmate bragged that his investment would be returned at least ten fold, I believe he is now disappointed he wasted his money on an old fat woman.

At the chow hall this week, an old white man who walks with a crutch sat at the table with me. Upon the mentioning of the cloth bracelets being sold on the gallery, he pulled up the sleeves of his jacket and showed others his plastic bracelets. He had four shiny turquoise blue bracelets on his arms. They were intricately designed and stretched so he was able to take one off his wrist by bending it open. Those at the table could tell he was proud to display his work. However, although I am certain the man put considerable effort into making them, no one was interested in buying one.

Also of discussion at the chow table was former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. This Wednesday, he was finally sentenced to 14 years in prison for numerous counts of corruption, including attempting to sell the vacated senate seat of Barack Obama. Prisoners commented on how the ex-governor would remain out of prison until well after Christmas and will go to a nice minimum-security federal penitentiary. The men were envious of what was seen as preferential treatment. Most men who are at Stateville are not given a bond, and those that were are immediately taken into custody upon their conviction. Men with over ten years are also sent to a medium-security penitentiary, not a minimum. Even medium security prisons are an enormous improvement compared to Stateville. There was talk about how Blagojevich will have a radically better life than any of us. Personally, however, I took notice how there was a distinction between convicted murderers and a man who abused his political office.

Last week, when old man Bruce died of cancer on my birthday, my cellmate told me that he used to make colored handkerchiefs and T-shirts. I do not recall prisoners making designer shirts, although I do remember how popular the handkerchiefs were. Many prisoners had these decorated with various designs years ago. Many black prisoners had their gang colors or symbols drawn on the cloth in dye, markers, or pen. Mexicans also used handkerchiefs to display their gang membership, but there were many green, red, and white flags with Aztec Indian motifs. Popular amongst Caucasian men were swastikas, rebel flags, or motorcycle insignias. Men also bought the artwork on handkerchiefs to send out to family or friends. Over the years I have been incarcerated, however, handkerchiefs have become obsolete and I rarely see one anymore.

Other than very basic education, there are no more school classes in maximum-security prisons in Illinois. However, there are a few programs inmates can attend led by volunteers. For example, there is a Long Term Offender and House of Healing Program, both of which are to help prisoners make the best of their time. There is also a Creative Writing and Art class. I have never attended any of these because I do not need assistance doing my time. I also know the latter two classes are not taught by professionals, and they do not have any skill. They mostly just play a supportive role and encourage convicts to write poetry or to draw and paint. I asked someone recently who is in the Creative Art class if he figured out how to finger paint yet, and he told me I underestimated his talent. I apologized and said that I did not know he had excelled to be a master of Jackson Pollock already. I do not think he knew who Pollock was, however, and believe my attempt at humor was unsuccessful.

Some men at Stateville, however, can really draw and paint well. I have seen a few almost professional looking paintings on canvas panels be sent out of the prison recently. Because they cannot go out with the regular mail, they are often given to counselors who bring them to the personal property office to be packaged and mailed out or picked up on a visit. Prisoners cannot have paintings on their walls.

Some prisoners who can paint or draw well sell their artwork online. I have heard the woman who presides over the Creative Art class will assist in having prisoners' art auctioned on websites. Some men will simply do paintings or drawings for other inmates for a fee. I have heard of paintings selling for $50 and more. A man I know, who goes by the name Spider, sells his oil paintings for sometimes $100. He once offered to make a painting for me of anything I wanted for free. I considered taking him up on this, however, I knew that my family or girlfriend at the time would not appreciate the work unless it was done by myself.

A couple of months ago, I read a book on John Wayne Gacy. In the middle of the book are a number of pictures, including a terrible portrait he made of his defense lawyer who later became my presiding judge. This made me recall in 1994 when the serial killer was executed at Stateville, many people burned his alleged artwork, thinking it would become valuable after his death. These people however, did not realize that Gacy could not paint or draw at all. His greatest efforts were not much better than a child's. All of those clown paintings were done by someone else, and he just signed them.

I have not bothered spending much of my time on arts and crafts while in the penitentiary. However, I remember when I first came to prison that I noticed how many prisoners lived out of cardboard boxes stacked along the walls of their cells or underneath their bunks. I began to make cabinets out of cardboard that looked like, and were as strong as, real wood cabinets. I supposed the enterprise came easily to me because I had spent time working at a cabinet manufacturer. While there, I worked every stage of the business from cutting the wood into proper lengths, and loading the final products on a truck for shipment.

After I made dressers, a desk, a sound system cabinet, a couple of clothing chests, and numerous shelving units for my cellmate and I, other inmates wanted me to make them furniture as well. For a short time, I mass-produced cabinets for inmates, but the time I spent on making them was not worth the commissary I earned. Just like when I worked for the cabinet business, I quickly learned my labor was not worth my salary. I still made furniture for the needs of my cellmate and I, or for the very few people I associated with, but that was it. Eventually the cabinet business was forbidden, when in the late 1990's, the IDOC supplied inmates with two plastic boxes to put all their property in. Even when I made two television shelves, I was brought into the Sergeant's office to be talked to.

I can draw very well, however, I have rarely done so in prison. I need solitude and quiet to focus on any art work. This is not commonly found in prison. At certain times when I have had my own cell, I have used colored pencils to draw. I have mostly drawn for my own enjoyment and not for any payment. The last picture I created was done years ago, and for my then-girlfriend. I drew a portrait of us together in black and white, except for the red in the charm around her neck and the blue in my eyes. She told me I made her look prettier than she was, but she was mistaken.

There are numerous arts and crafts being made at Stateville. This holiday season, I have seen an assortment being peddled: jewelry boxes, suckers made out of melted hard candy, cloth bracelets and necklaces, fake roses made out of toilet paper, Christmas cards and tattoos. There seems to be a lot of goods for sale in the penitentiary, although I do not know how much demand there is for them. Just like outside these prison walls, retailers pushed heavily for sales and were momentarily pleased by a record turnout. However, these bargain shoppers I believe were only a reflection of how many people have their finances strapped thin. The jubilation that began this holiday season will probably peter out, and this is just as well. Even Charlie Brown knows there is more to Christmas than exuberant consumerism.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Lab -- November 18, 2011

Grudgingly, I broke my regular routine this morning. Instead of eating breakfast while I watched the 7 a.m. news programs, I immediately began my workout after waking. Yesterday, I received a lab pass for 9 a.m. and I expected the nurse to enter the building about this time. I wanted to have completed my hour exercise regimen, bathed, and dressed before a guard opened the cell door. The pass notified me not to eat anything after midnight for a blood test and therefore I could not have breakfast.

This was the third lab pass I have received. The first appointment I missed because I went to the gym. The second pass was given to me on the day the prison went on lockdown. After learning a sergeant had been beaten unconscious, I crumpled up the pass and threw it in the toilet. I thought there was no way any health care passes would be honored just a few days after the institution was put on a Level 1 lockdown. I was surprised, however, when the Monday morning after the assault my name along with a number of others was called out on the cell house loudspeaker. The guard told us to get ready, but I ignored him. I had eaten a large breakfast and was currently working out.

When the cell house sergeant came to my cell to let me out, I told him I was refusing the pass. He wanted me to see the nurse regardless, and he told me she was in the building. I was dressed in gym shoes, shorts, and had a T-shirt tied around my head like a bandanna to help prevent sweat from running down into my eyes. After putting my shirt back on my body, I allowed the sergeant to handcuff my wrists through the chuck hole in the cell bars. Waiting in line sweating in damp clothes to see the nurse, I was not happy. My routine had been disrupted for nothing. The sergeant was standing near me and I do not think I could hide my animosity. Only drug and tuberculosis tests were mandatory. There was no reason for the sergeant to insist on me seeing the nurse.

The sergeant is a large white man with a beard and long hair kept in a ponytail. Although he can be stern, he usually has a calm, cool, collected demeanor. Keeping with his ZZ Top-like persona, he will wear sunglasses even on a cloudy day. The sergeant does not look like your typical guard who usually has short cropped hair or a bald head. I tend to believe he is a biker, and I can imagine him riding a Harley after work. The sergeant has been assigned C House for about two months. Despite how I have only spoken briefly with him and his insistence that I see the nurse, I tend to like the way he conducts himself. From what I am told from other prisoners, he is nothing like the sergeant who was severely beaten.

The nurse was in the sergeant's office which is at the far end of the cell house, opposite the showers. I sat down next to the nurse and explained that I had already eaten mistakenly thinking my appointment would be cancelled due to the lockdown. She said it was not a problem and she would reschedule me. I had considered letting her draw my blood however, just to see if medical staff actually analyzed it. I knew a man who had his bi-annual blood test taken and no one noticed his radically abnormal white blood cell count. The test was never reviewed until over a year later when he fell ill and was taken to an outside hospital. When those doctors diagnosed him with cancer, staff at Stateville finally looked at his blood work and discovered the alarming numbers.

Despite how I altered my routine this morning, I soon discovered my day was not going to go as planned. Over the loudspeaker a guard announced the prison was off lockdown. My cellmate who had formerly been snoring, abruptly woke up excited. He did not like lockdowns and was anxious to talk to people and leave the confines of the cell. Upon hearing our cell house was first for lunch and that we had gym in the afternoon, he was ready to climb off his bunk and get ready. He asked me if I was going to chow, and I told him I had a health care pass for 9 a.m. Since the prison was off lockdown, apparently, I had to walk over to the Health Care Unit. The nurse would not be coming to the cell house.

It was not long after my cellmate made himself a potent cup of coffee that another announcement was made. All 9:00 health care passes would be going out first thing this morning with details. Despite this, I continued to exercise. I knew that count could not clear until after 8, and I had time to get ready. My cellmate and I shared the same tiny space as well as the same sink and toilet. I did not swap places with him until he had finished what he was doing.

As I washed my face and brushed my hair, we could hear a lieutenant complaining loudly. She rambled on in a crackling voice about how convicts should be punished for what happened to Sergeant Johnson and not be let off lockdown. She went on to say she did not want to be in the cell house if prisoners were not locked in their cages. To this statement, I heard an inmate say "Then you should leave." Prisoners did not like this woman who on occasion substituted for the regular lieutenant, and it was no secret why.

The substitute lieutenant was very unprofessional, and had an unpleasant appearance and attitude. Personally, she reminded me of a witch, and not the seductively attractive type, but the squat, ugly type that one may imagine dwelled in a cave hunched over a cauldron stirring a bubbling brew of bat wings, eye of newt and children's body parts. Not long ago, I paged through the comics of the Chicago Tribune and saw a strip called "Broom Hilda." The green witch with a mole on her hooked nose wearing the characteristic black pointed hat reminded me of the woman who was in charge of the cell house today.

My cellmate, listening to the woman continue to speak negatively of prisoners, said to me that he has found my soul mate. I think he was trying to goad me into talking, but possibly he was also commenting that we shared a similar personality. I told him she was the exact opposite of the type of woman I sought after. I care less how aged, ugly, and bitter I become after decades in prison, I will never settle for an old hag. I will buy myself a pretty effeminate mail order bride from East Europe, and if I am penniless, I will prefer to just be alone. Ely was of the opinion that I will be alone, and he may be correct.

Outside of my cell amongst the men going to their assignments, I overheard the grumbling of inmates. It seemed many people were listening to the lieutenant rant. Someone said that she should also be beaten down like the sergeant a couple of weeks ago. However, it may be that she is intentionally trying to provoke a prisoner to assault her. Staff who are assaulted are paid generously while on leave. Those who have worked a number of years are sometimes offered early retirement with full pension and benefits. Furthermore, assaulted staff are often able to sue the IDOC for thousands of dollars, if not over a million. If this is the lieutenant's intentions, I think she should work in a different cell house. C House is considered the least aggressive, and many old men live in the lower galleries.

When I arrived at the prison's Health Care Unit, I noticed an older man I knew from a different cell house. He went by the name "Hawkeye," but because of his case and an odd story he related to me, I sometimes call him "Chicken Hawk." Chicken Hawk is in prison for vehicular hijacking and rape. I am not certain of the details because he has only vaguely referred to them. However, I do know how he paid for the address of a boy who sent a helium balloon aloft as part of a school project. The cord attached to the balloon asked the finder to write back so the class could learn where their balloons traveled. I reckon the boy or the boy's parents never thought he would be receiving a letter from a convict at Stateville. Hawkeye tells me he received a visit by a guard sent by the warden after responding. The boy's parents did not want him writing again. Despite the questions I have about Hawkeye, he is a very normal, down to earth person--a rarity at Stateville, and I said hello to him when entering the holding cage.

I did not stay long in the cage before my name and several others were called for lab. The lab is not actually a laboratory as someone may imagine. It is just a small office where a nurse takes blood samples. Outside the office I waited for my turn in a hallway. Just across from the lab is the dentist office, and one inmate peeked his head in there to talk with the females who work there. After chatting for awhile, he was asked what he wanted. He told them he wanted to know when he would be called to have a tooth pulled. This was an obvious ruse, however, and he was just looking for conversation.

Eventually, it was my turn and I walked into the small office. I sat down next to the nurse who inmates had begun to call "Casey Anthony" while her case was of prominence in the news. The nurse was about the same age and height. She was also a brunette, but other than this I did not see any similarity. I was not even sure it was her the men were referring to until I asked her out of curiosity when she was passing out medications on the second shift. She became very upset just by my inquiry for some reason. I still to this day do not know why. I said to my cellmate at the time, "I wonder if she would feel better if I tell her I also would have acquitted her"? He said he did not think so.

The nurse was friendly and casually social as she prepared some supplies. She asked me how I was doing this morning, and I answered, "Aggravated." She said she hoped it was not because I was there to give a blood sample. "No," I told her, "It was just my life at Stateville." The nurse seemed to genuinely empathize with what I said, and told me she was sorry to hear this. When she put on a pair of gloves, I told her she should probably put on several pairs considering where she worked. She did not seem too concerned about her work but I watched her carefully to make sure she used a new needle and was hygienic. Apparently, the nurse had done this so often it was rather routine for her. After wrapping my arm with a band she closed my hand to ostensibly have me make a fist to cause the blood veins to be more visible, but this was not necessary. I had over ten veins that were clearly seen in my arm.

After the nurse completed taking two vials of blood from me, I asked her if anyone actually looked at the results of the tests. She told me they were, and apparently to assure me of this, she showed me a chart. Today, I was being checked for cholesterol, white blood cell count, and a number of other things. I did not think the list proved anything but I listened to her. Before I left she asked me if I could give a urine sample. I asked her how much of a sample, and she showed me a small jar. I told her I thought I could manage.

I walked down the hallway back to the area of the holding cages. Beside one is a bathroom and I stepped inside. The bathroom is odd because it has a real ceramic toilet and a separate sink with a polished steel mirror above it. I have become accustomed to the connected bathroom fixtures, and the only mirror I had in my cell was a little plastic one that had a poor reflective surface. I looked in the mirror to see my aged face. I looked even older, I thought. Outside the bathroom was a red bucket, and I dumped my urine sample in there before I was locked in the holding cage to wait for an escort back to the cell house.

Surprisingly, I returned in time to join the line to the chow hall. Usually, a health care pass will require hours of waiting. I am glad I did not have to endure so much annoyance, although the feed line was particularly crowded and noisy. Prisoners have been on lockdown for a couple of weeks and most were out of commissary food. They were eager to get outside their cells, talk, and even eat prison food. Most men spoke about the incident in D House. According to talk, the inmates who were in their cells and hit by buckshot were not seen by medical staff, or at least not for some time later. The guard who fired the shots may be under suspension. It is not proper procedure for a warning shot to be fired next to the incident because there is a great possibility of deflection.

Before gym, my cellmate was asking people for an empty bottle. The drinking fountain in the gym only gives forth rusty orange water. No prisoner who knows any better ever drinks from it. Instead, men bring bottles of water with them. My cellmate finally was able to get a bottle from a gallery worker. The gallery worker, however, has Hepatitis C, and I told Ely about this. He tossed the bottle out and thanked me. I did not tell him about it for his own benefit, but my own. If my cellmate has Hepatitis, then the chances of me contracting it are much greater. I noticed how he wipes off the sink, spreading germs everywhere, and I would not be surprised if he does not put his lips on the faucet when getting a drink of water. I thought about the nurse at the Health Care Unit who draws blood from inmates at Stateville who regularly have not only Hepatitis but herpes, syphilis, TB, and HIV. I wish she would be more careful.

Prisoners are never called back for a follow-up on their blood or urine tests. Purportedly, if something is wrong a man will be given further tests or be treated, however, I have not seen it done this way. Usually, the reverse is true. Once an inmate becomes severely ill, they will look at his blood work or the results of the urine test. Preventative care or treatment is too expensive. It is much more cost effective, from the prison's point of view, to wait until a prisoner keels over with a heart attack or has kidney failure, and then deal with it. Fortunately, I believe I am in good health.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Birthday Blues -- December 2, 2011

This week was yet another of no significance other than to mark my slow death in prison. On Wednesday, I spent my 19th birthday as a captive. While many prisoners may count down their years to freedom, time only brings men with natural life closer to the grave. With every year I spend tormented in captivity, I only grow more miserable and bitter. The last several days I have dwelled on my age, injustice, and the distant past that has brought me here.

On Monday, I went to the Health Care Unit to see one of the prison psychologists. Recently, my doctor was changed, and the new one was interested about my case. I am not certain what good these doctors serve. They are unable to make my life any better, and I do not care to talk. Talking about my hell-like environment does not make it go away. I am told that it is therapeutic for some people to babble about their problems, but for me it has no consequential value. Talking about how I was wrongfully convicted and given the most severe punishment only made me depressed. In a monotone dead voice I related the facts, and she took notes. Possibly, she thinks this background information will serve some purpose.

My cellmate is attracted to the black psychologist I have begun to see. He has attempted to get into her anger management group just so he can flirt with her. However, when he met with the mental health care supervisor, Ely was told that he does not have any anger issues. I agree. My cellmate's problem is his hyperactivity and that he talks too much. He is annoying and does not know how to shut up. A bad case of laryngitis would be more productive than anything a psychologist could do for him.

After leaving her office, I sat in the holding cage. There was a man there whose court transcripts I have read. The man blew away his estranged wife and her new boyfriend with a shot gun. On the stand, he was asked if he killed them and he answered he did not know. Well, even if he does not, I do, and I did not care to hear about his legal troubles. Until I was given an escort back to the cell house, he told me about how his court appointed lawyer filed a motion to dismiss his appeal, and asked me what he could do about it. I do not like it when attorneys fail to defend their clients. Time and time again, defense lawyers failed me. However, the difference between "Tom" and me was that he was guilty and there was overwhelming evidence against him. Although I gave him advice, I thought how legal resources could be better used.

"Tom" has told me how on the night of the murders, he took the shotgun to a cemetery where his mother was buried. At her grave, he had intended to commit suicide. As I listened to him, I thought he should have. Now, he will suffer in prison the rest of his life. If I could go back in time, I would have let the arresting mob of police shoot me from every direction. I could have done without these 19 birthdays in prison and the numerous more to come.

As I thought this, I saw a white man who had a bloody-looking gaping scar that went down his cranium and split his nose. I have seen this man many times before at the Health Care Unit, and his story is well known at Stateville. He killed his wife and then put the gun in his mouth to kill himself. However, amazingly, he lived. I never spoke to him before, but on that day as I stared at his disfigured face, I told him, "Next time use a shotgun." He did not say anything and I said, "Just ask Tom. You would not have even had a head." Tom began to say I was "bogus" and continued, but my name was called and it was time for me to leave. As I put on my jacket, I encouraged them to talk. They had a lot in common. Unfortunate they did not compare notes before, I thought.

Back in my cell, my cellmate was eager for conversation. I obliged him but did not mention the psychologist. I do not want prisoners thinking I am a "bug." Furthermore, I did not want him aware that I had seen the woman he admired. Prisoners see the psych doctors for various reasons, including manic depression, schizophrenia, and other psychotropic disorders. Some claim they just like to talk with the females, although this may be a ruse. I never mention that I see a psychologist, and if someone finds out I just say it is for insomnia, which is partly true. I never mention being autistic, and I do not think it is readily apparent to inmates or staff.

Most of the rest of my Monday I spent reading. I read through a couple of newspapers before turning my attention to the mail I received. I had to sign for a letter from my attorney. All legal mail is delivered separately and opened by a guard in front of the inmate. The reason for this is that correspondence from attorneys is not supposed to be read by staff. My attorney wrote me a brief one page letter addressing my problem of sending out mail to her, affidavits, and that she will be ready to file my appeal this year. I am highly skeptical this is true. There is much more needed to be done and I must review, as well as edit, her petition to the court.

Tuesday was my cellmate's birthday. He was 55 years old and this was his 31st year in prison. There are few people who have served over 30 years in the Illinois Dept. of Corrections, especially that were not convicted of murder. If my cellmate was not such an annoying person, I might pity him. Throughout the day, he pressured people to send him gifts, specifically sweets. He also repeated to many that he is "short" now and has only seven more years to do. Seven years was a long time in my opinion, and with sadness I thought how if my appeal is successful, we will probably be released at about the same time. Not only were our birthdays adjacent to each other, but so may be our out dates.

My family came to visit me the day before my birthday because they were unable to come Wednesday. It was nice to see my father, mother, and sister together, but I was tired. I had been sleeping poorly because the nurses were failing to bring me Benadryl at night. Instead of melatonin or a real sleeping drug, the psychiatrist prescribes me the allergy medicine. The prison health care provider will not pay to treat sleeping problems. I have volunteered to pay for melatonin but she says it is still not permitted. In addition to waking up throughout the night, I have been worn down by my cellmate. He is a ceaseless distraction and irritant. After he bothered me much of the morning, I was not in the mood to be social on my visit.

My mother told me how I had dark circles under my eyes. I knew this already and she was not the only one to notice. A prisoner who is assigned a cell a couple of doors down from me has mentioned I look particularly haggard lately. He even went on to advise me not to exercise and just relax for a few days. Steve told me I need to take a vacation from prison. He also gave me some tips to make the skin around my eyes look healthier, but I was not listening. I told him it was impossible to relax or be comfortable with the cellmate I had, and this is what you look like after being in prison close to two decades.

When I returned from my visit, there was no guard to open up my cell door. I noticed the cell house laundry had been returned and was in large bags against the outer wall. I was not in any hurry to be locked in my cage with my obnoxious cellmate and therefore I sat on one of the laundry bags and eventually laid down on it. After resting there for about 10 minutes, I saw Steve in the shower holding area with Frank. I walked over to the far side of the cell house where they were and Steve said, "Shhh, here he comes." I told them I do not mind if they talk about me, but asked, "What is going on here? Is this midget shower time?" Both of them are very short, but I was also inferring something else.

Not long ago, Steve told me he had this odd wish to have sex with a midget. I asked him if he meant a dwarf with a big head or just a tiny woman. He told me a woman normally proportioned, but only four feet tall or less. Steve even said he had plans if he ever was released to go to a club in Chicago that catered to midgets on a quest to fulfill his fantasy. Frank was under 5 feet tall and is a known homosexual who likes white men. The inside joke was lost on Franky, but it was not lost on Steve who then explained to me why they were in the shower.

In my cell, I quickly told my cellmate that I did not want to talk. I was taking a nap. Closing my eyes, I thought about how I came to be in prison. My mind drifted back to my 18th birthday. It was on this day I had an argument with my father. Although we get along very well now and I wish I could spend time with him other than in a prison visiting room, we had a poor relationship two decades ago. After I had words with my father, my co-defendant happened to call me. He offered to let me move in with him and his wife. I quickly accepted his invitation, and it was while I was staying with them that he allegedly killed Dean Fawcett. Despite what my interrogating officer said, I never told him that I knew my roommate's intentions, nor that I had lent him my car.

A kitchen worker brought in a tray of sweet potato pie for my cellmate's birthday later in the evening. Ely told me that if I wanted, I could split it with him. My cellmate was very annoying, but he was generous with what little he had. I took him up on his offer instead of going to chow. For dinner, prisoners were being served "Sloppy Soy." This was IDOC's version of Sloppy Joes, and it was a distasteful meal. The pie came from the officers' kitchen, and my cellmate wondered if it was not the more expensive pumpkin pie. As I ate it, I told him I could not tell. I have been in prison too long.

The following day was my birthday, and after I woke up, my cellmate was singing "It's Your Birthday." I told him it was too early for singing. In fact, I thought it was too early for him to be speaking, let alone singing an annoying verse repeatedly. He stopped and said, "Happy birthday!" I told him it was not. It was just another day at Stateville.

As usual, I spent the day reading and writing. I blocked out cell house noise and my cellmate with music. Unfortunately, I was not able to pick up any rock radio stations. I was left with basically a choice between The Star or Mexican music. The Mexican station comes in so clear I sometimes think it is broadcast from the cell house. I have told Anthony, a prisoner here, that I believe one of the Mexicans incarcerated here must have his own transmitter. The Star fortunately played some music I could listen to, including Creed and Journey. The song by Journey reminded me of Susanna, a girl I wrote for several years. I had a CD made of songs for her birthday. It was a birthday and a goodbye gift.

When the details came in from assignments, I learned an old man named Bruce died in the prison. He died a slow death from liver cancer. I am told he was vomiting blood the last few days before he finally keeled over. I did not know Bruce, although I imagined that I was going to die a similar death in prison. I thought about how old I already am and how many more birthdays I have left. I despised my birthday, and other than my cellmate, I have told no one of it and he only knows because of my annual blood test. I feel like hiding the fact, as if I was in the movie "Children of the Corn," where everyone who turned 18 was sacrificed. I suppose I have already been sacrificed during my 18th year, however.

On Wednesday evening, an Islamic friend of my cellmate sent him some burritos in a greasy potato chip bag. Ely had someone put the bag on one of the hot water pipes to sizzle. He asked me if I wanted a couple, but I said no. I already made myself some chicken fajitas. Plus, I did not trust anyone to cook for me. I ate my fajitas while watching the movie "Stand by Me."

"Stand by Me" is a movie I remember watching as a kid. It was odd seeing Patrick Swayze also as a child. He was already dead. A couple of other actors in the movie had also passed away. At least Kiefer Sutherland was still here. I have enjoyed watching his acting career. The movie is somewhat eerie, due to all the people in it who have come and gone, and also because of the plot. In the film, a person was hit by a train and a group of kids went out looking for the dead body. Originally, there was also speculation that Fawcett was also hit by a train. His body was found not far from railway tracks in Barrington, Illinois, by a woman and her daughter. It was not until my co-defendant and his wife spoke to a mafia informant that police were certain the cause of death was definitely not an accident. Apparently, Faraci chose the spot because it was familiar to him. He formerly lived in Barrington and attended Barrington High School, both within a mile of the crime scene.

The movie ended at 9 p.m. and I prepared myself to go to sleep. My hyper cellmate said, "No, no, no, you cannot go to sleep on your birthday so early." Ely does not like when I go to bed because then he must be quiet. I told him the sooner this day is over, the better, and I meant it. Lying in my bunk, I thought about how my life was a meaningless existence, and I wished I had a Michael Jackson dose of propofol where I would never see another day in prison. Recently in the news, were reports how arsenic is in apple juice and Dr. Oz, who was originally ridiculed for stating such months ago, was vindicated. I always knew Dr. Oz was correct. However, I also knew the amount was minuscule. In the County Jail after I was convicted, I made a concentrate of the poison from hundreds of apples. The suicide attempt was unsuccessful. I probably needed a few thousand apples to make a lethal dose.

Today, I watched another movie. This film was on the prison's DVD system and my cellmate, as well as others, complained that it was a romance. Prisoners at Stateville typically want to see fast paced action flicks or slapstick comedy. They also like nudity and sex, regardless if the film is terrible. Unlike my cellmate, I was interested in seeing "Water for Elephants." I enjoy good romance films and I also liked the actress Reese Witherspoon, although she has starred in some very shallow and stupid comedies. Before I was arrested, I recall watching one of Witherspoon's first movies called "Man in the Moon."

"Water for Elephants" was about an educated Polish-American man who joins the circus during the Great Depression. He is unique among the clowns, freaks, lowlifes, and various hired hands and thugs employed there. The owner of the circus quickly takes notice of him and has the veterinarian care for and train an elephant which would become the show's main attraction. The owner's wife is played by Reese Witherspoon, and she and the man fall in love. However, she is hesitant to leave the circus with him. She tells him at one point, "If I only had met you when I was 16." This made me think about how my opportunity to meet my dream girl has long since passed. "Water for Elephants" has a happy ending, but at the Stateville Circus, there will never be one.

At about 2:30 today, the prison was mysteriously put on lockdown. On the guards' radios was a message to secure all inmates, but no reason was given. It was not until the 4:00 news came on that prisoners found out why. A Stateville inmate, Cesar Sanchez, escaped from a moving van while in route back to the penitentiary after attending a court hearing at Bridgeport. Chuck Goudie of ABC News was on TV reporting live. Orange Crush guards with fully automatic rifles were shown outside of a Walmart in Lockport. Later the news reported that state police and other agencies were involved in the manhunt which had now moved to Rockdale.

The news of the escape had many prisoners in my cell house excited. I could hear a number of televisions tuned in to the continuing updates. On occasion, I would hear a man shout, "Run Forest, Run!" No one knew who Cesar Sanchez was, and because of his criminal history of burglary, retail theft, battery, misuse of credit cards, and other minor offenses, people assumed he was in the Roundhouse as either a court writ or segregation inmate. My cellmate stated it was stupid that he would run when he only had a sentence of 7 years, the same amount of time he had left.

The escaped 39-year-old convict was apprehended only hours after he kicked open the van doors. He was found hiding in a porti-pod at a waste management facility. A helicopter camera showed him on the ground surrounded by police. I knew he was to be quickly captured. There was no getting away from Stateville. I recently had my 19th birthday in prison this week, and there will probably be no escape from many more.

2/25/12 Update:

Cesar Sanchez (legal name Juan Sanchez) died on the way to a federal detention facility in Chicago on January 11th. About 100 police hunted him down, and found him hiding in a porti-pod, but he died while in federal custody. The cause of death has been reported to be from inhaling the chemical fumes in the porti-pod he hid in, however, rumors suggest his death was complicated by injuries sustained during his flight or after his apprehension.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sergeant Bludgeoned -- November 11, 2011

On Saturday afternoon, the prison was placed on a Level 1 lockdown. Initially, all I heard from prisoners returning from their assignments was that a couple of shots were fired in D House. I noticed the phone was not being used so I quickly made a call to my parents. I wanted to notify them that visitation may not be allowed in the following weeks and to inquire first before making the drive here. I was only able to speak to my father for a few minutes before a guard demanded I hang up. Phone privileges are taken away on the onset of a lockdown. Later this week, I learned more details of what occurred, and I was glad to have been able to make contact even if it was only for a brief time. It may be a long time before prisoners can use the phones or have normal visiting hours.

Upon hearing the prison was being placed on lockdown I was initially pleased. No longer will I have all the inmates outside my cell staring into my cell or talking and yelling. I also will not have to go out for meals, and will once again have the luxury of room service. Going to chow is a major aggravation for me, and something I liked to avoid. However, after thinking of these benefits, I realized I will now be trapped in my cell with my extremely hyper and obnoxious cellmate. He may be unable to talk and yell with all the prisoners outside of our cell, but he will be bothering me for conversation. My assumption was correct, and Ely has been regularly distracting me throughout the week. Fortunately, he was able to find himself some other way to occupy his time.

This week, Ely has been making jewelry boxes out of folded paper. It is a very time consuming process and has kept him from aggravating me continuously. The boxes require him to make hundreds of strips of paper. These strips are then meticulously folded and then woven with plastic cookie wrappers to make square designs. The bottom square and lid are solid woven squares, although the others are open to make the body of the boxes. Once these pieces are made, he sews them all together. Later, mirrors will be added to the inside of the lids.

I was impressed that my cellmate was able to craft these jewelry boxes. He has a short attention span, and I tend to believe he is not creative. When he gave me a completed box, I asked him how he came up with the idea. He told me he got it from another prisoner who was selling them. Ely bought a box from him, but instead of sending it out to a girlfriend or a family member, he disassembled the box to figure out how it was made. He told me it took him weeks to understand how it was created, but then he was able to make his own. The man he had bought the box from was furious when Ely began to sell his own and take away his customers. They fought over the matter, although it did not settle anything and my cellmate continued to make them. The story reminded me of how the Chinese continue to engage in corporate theft, espionage, parasitical business partnerships, and do not honor intellectual property rights. They do everything to abuse Western free trade policies and undercut their global competitors.

My cellmate was motivated to make his boxes, not only because I frequently ignore him, but because he has little to no financial support and cannot have a prison job because of his escape risk. He has been in prison over 30 years and will soon be 55 years old. His parents are dead as well as all his aunts and uncles. This week I have heard Ely complain that his siblings have forgotten him, and his box is empty of food except for one Ramen noodle packet. If this was a ploy to get me to give him a handout, it will not work. I will not give my cellmate any commissary, despite how he may grumble.

Not long after Ely was assigned to my cell, he told me how if I may ever need anything, he will share whatever he has. It is interesting how only prisoners who do not have anything make this offer. Recently, I have noticed how the Obama administration and liberals in Congress continue to press for increased taxes on the wealthy. Already there is a progressive income tax that stifles the country's growth, but this is apparently not enough for those who want increased wealth redistribution. Socialists seem to believe those who are successful must be penalized so that there can be more equality despite how the aggregate of this policy will be to the detriment of everyone. The rhetoric of Marxism is very enticing to those who are envious and poor. However, America was never about equality of result. It was about opportunity. My cellmate is wise to try to make a buck for himself instead of relying on others for handouts. He will be surely disappointed if he waits on me to embrace collectivism and the theories of Karl Marx.

On a Level 1 lockdown, guards pass out food trays to the inmates in their cells. In C House, the trays are stacked not far away from the front of my cell before they are brought to the upper galleries. More important for my cellmate is that leftovers are returned to the same place to be thrown out. Throughout the week, Ely has been pestering various guards for extra food. Sometimes they will hand him an extra tray or two. A few times he was given stacks of trays. My cellmate did not want all this food. He just wanted the cookies or cakes on them. Ely fuels his hyperactivity and ceaseless talking with sugar and caffeine. Hopefully, he will soon run out of coffee.

I do not care usually for extra prison food, especially on lockdowns. The food served on lockdowns is typically worse. Possibly, this is because the guards or administration wants to punish us collectively, however, I tend to believe it is more out of laziness. On a lockdown, Stateville's inmate cooks are not let out. Instead, kitchen staff must rely on the labor of inmates from the minimum security unit or their own. MSU prisoners do not know how to prepare food, and the supervisors thus make meals as simple as possible. I have a decent supply of commissary food to substitute for bad prison food when I want. However, I have run out of stamped envelopes and had to ask an inmate on my gallery to loan me some.

On Tuesday, my cellmate was relatively quiet and this gave me an opportunity to read without much interruption. Visitation, however, began again and the men who were called for visits were brought to the cage in front of mine. The people were too much of an opportunity for my cellmate to pass up, and he had to talk to them. He had nothing important to say and usually doesn't, but this does not stop him. I was listening to the radio while he yelled over my head to one man, and I could not help but hope the asteroid that was passing by Earth did not make a bullseye of Stateville. According to the news segment I was listening to, the asteroid was passing within the moon's orbit. Although this was still about 200,000 miles, it was very close on an astronomical scale.

I had read almost the entire day only taking time to work out. By the evening I was tired and looked for something to entertain myself on television. The movie "Bad Teacher" was being played on the prison's DVD system. I did not care for stupid comedies, but there was little else to watch. The movie had a few amusing parts, but was mostly a waste of my time. If I did not live such a meaningless existence in prison, I would have never watched it and learned who Justin Timberlake was.

Yestereday, I was amazed to see unionized state workers rush down the gallery attempting to fix the hot air blowers. Usually, these people go about their jobs at a tortoise pace and I can only imagine the administration told them they had to fix the heat before they left for the day. Temperatures are dropping below freezing at night, and guards would have several hundred very angry prisoners if they were made to suffer in frigid air the entire evening. The utility men, however, were unable to get the hot water pipes to work, and instead turned on the heat vents along the outer prison walls. Before they did, my cellmate was already complaining about how cold it was and if Ely is cold after drinking ten or more cups of coffee and eating twenty or more cookies, you know it is cold.

Today is Veterans' Day, but mostly the morning news programs were talking about how many people considered this day noteworthy because of its date: 11-11-11. Apparently, many thought the three elevens signified good luck. There was a disproportionate amount of weddings and births today. Thousands of women had even taken drugs to induce labor or had C-sections so their children would have the date for their birthday. At Stateville, however, there was nothing special about the date. It was the same as any other. Days often blur into one another. At times, I catch myself even losing track of what year it is, let alone the day.

Since the lockdown on Saturday of last week, I have learned from various sources what occurred in D House. I cannot be absolutely certain because I did not witness the events, but word travels fast in the penitentiary. If there are several credible people who tell the same story, it is usually correct. My cellmate talks to everyone he sees, including guards, nurses, and inmates. Unfortunately, I must listen to him, but on the other side of the coin, I am able to discern what has happened to cause the Level 1 lockdown.

While showers were being run on one of the upper galleries of D House, a prisoner struck a Sergeant repeatedly with an object in a pillowcase. The Sergeant who is known at Stateville as B.J. was beat bloody and unconscious. A guard ran to his aid, but the inmate began to pummel him with the weapon too. The guard retreated with a broken fist and a number of other injuries. Another guard on the catwalk fired a warning shot into the ceiling, and when the prisoner failed to stop, he fired another shot onto the gallery a couple of feet from him. The buckshot ricocheted off the concrete floor, and hit a few innocent inmates who were locked inside their cells.

The attacker was not subdued until a mob of guards and a Lieutenant rushed up the stairs to where the assault was occurring. They quickly brought the man down, cuffed him behind the back, and beat him severely. According to rumors, the inmate was forcibly taken to an area of the prison where there are no monitoring cameras, and was beaten some more. When the man was transferred out to Pontiac segregation, the administration there refused to take custody of him. They did not want any responsibility for the prisoner's condition. Since he is no longer here and Pontiac would not take him, I assume he is now at Tamms Supermax or a hospital.

It is not known why the inmate attacked the Sergeant, however, Sgt. B.J. is despised among most prisoners. Not a single good word or word of sympathy have I heard about the man. Rather I have heard he has had it coming for a long time. I do not know who Sgt. Johnson is, and I asked my cellmate. He told me I had to know him from being at Stateville for over 6 years. He described him as a pudgy black man of average height who was very loud, obnoxious and had a bad attitude. He continued to talk about him, but I still have no idea who he is.

Interestingly, years ago, Sgt. Johnson had a sister who also worked at Stateville. She was also brutally beaten while working in the Roundhouse. From what I have been told, the inmate who caught her locked her on an upper gallery. She was unable to escape the prisoner's wrath and for a long time she was beat with impunity. After her assault she was never seen again in the prison. I tend to believe we will not see her brother back as well. He may still be in the hospital.

Almost all of the prisoners in maximum-security have natural life without parole or a comparable sentence. There is also no reason to behave when segregation is very similar to being in general population. The difference is mostly just a change of cells because there is little movement other than feed lines. In fact, I often think being at Pontiac Seg or Tamms is better because inmates have single man cells. They even have better food, health care, mail service, and other accommodations.

This year there have been 15 staff assaults at Menard C.C., and the inmates have spent half of their time on lockdown. A couple of months ago, administrators in the state capital swapped who they deemed as dangerous between the downstate facility and Stateville. However, shuffling the deck of violent convicts with no chance of being released is going to make little difference. Some may believe the answer to the growing problem is for prison staff to be more strict and the maximum security prisons to be even more oppressive and redundant with extra security measures. This has been the policy for over ten years, though, and I do not see it as a viable solution going forward. There needs to be a fundamental reform of not only the Illinois Department of Corrections, but the judicial system as well. Only so many people can be crushed into the penal system until cracks start appearing in the walls.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Shopping at Stateville -- November 22, 2011

The cell house I live in has not been able to make any commissary purchases in almost two months. The delay has mostly been due to state union workers who are trying to make administrators give them more overtime pay. The Illinois Dept. of Corrections, however, is no longer flush with money. Staff are actually expected to work now that state coffers are not overflowing with the cash of taxpayers. Even the Democrats' tax increase before Republicans gained more power is still insufficient to run business as usual.

Prisoners have been greatly bothered by their inability to shop. Even before the November 5th lockdown, many men's boxes were empty, or close to it. Inmates increasingly depend on purchased commissary food to supplement the poor and meager meals served at Stateville. They are also dependent on store bought hygienic items, clothes, and writing supplies. Fortunately, I was adequately stocked during the lockdown. All I had to borrow was five stamped envelopes.

Over the weekend, inmates heard rumors that men were going to be allowed to go to the prison store rather than having their orders brought to them. I was skeptical of a change in policy. For about a decade here, commissary has been brought to the cell houses by inmate workers. Order slips are filled out, and when staff feels like doing some work the orders are processed and brown bagged. Inmates actually do all the work except for using the scanners and computerized registers. Until a few years ago, orders were filled weekly but this changed to three times a month, then two, and now once a month.

The reason commissary orders are brought to inmates at Stateville, unlike all the other penitentiaries in Illinois, is because there was a great amount of trouble and mischief previously. Men were extorted, robbed, and beaten at the commissary building. There was also plenty of gambling and the use of drugs. Prisoners immediately after getting their store would play cards, dominoes, or roll dice. They would also purchase alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs. I was not incarcerated at Stateville in the 1990's, but I am told the commissary building was like the Wild West. Stateville in its entirety was very violent, wild, and unruly, but apparently prisoners with bags of store extenuated the circumstances.

I was in Pontiac most of the 90's after my conviction. I still remember my first time shopping at the maximum-security prison's commissary. I bought about $400 in store including a television, radio, deluxe headphones, blue jeans, a denim jacket, gym shoes, and plenty of food. The woman across the counter tallying my purchases and pushing it through the window was concerned about me. She asked me if I had just come to the penitentiary. When I told her I had, she told me to be very careful and wanted me to promise not to gamble.

Although I was a clean cut young Caucasian, I was not fearful. I had spent two years at Cook County Jail, and before my arrest I knew people who were just as ruthless, if not more. I also knew con men and was fully acquainted with gambling and loan sharks. My co-defendant and a friend at the time ran a small bookmaking operation. I also was very skilled at fighting. Finally, despite my age, I was very responsible, mature, and not foolish. I knew how to carry myself at the "Thunderdome," as Pontiac was nicknamed after the Mel Gibson "Mad Max" movie.

Commissary at Pontiac was often violent. I saw numerous men beaten bloody or even to an unconscious state. When the guard would unlock the door to let everyone out, on occasion there would be a man on the floor with blood pooled around him. Knives were sometimes utilized, but mostly men were intimidated to give up their store. If those men had enough courage to fight, they usually were left alone. Commissary sharks typically preyed on the weak.

Gambling was mostly done on the yard or in the cell house at Pontiac. There were card games at the commissary, but it was sporadic or in small numbers. The prison store was dangerous for people who had racked up debts and were unable or unwilling to pay. This went for gambling and drug debts.

Gangs dominated both maximum-security prisons and the Cook County Jail. I often noticed they would extort their own, or the "neutrons" (people who were not affiliated). Not long after being at Cook County Jail, I was amazed a black man I did not know asked me if I would hold his store after he shopped. He told me I could go ahead and take whatever I needed. I asked him why, and he told me if he did not, his gang would take all of his stuff and he would have nothing. He knew his store was safe with me, and for some reason he trusted me over his own mob or the other black men on the deck.

White men at the county jail did not usually fair too well. In prison, Northsiders often protected Caucasians from being victimized due to their race. However, at the jail, there were no white gangs. A Northsider, Gaylord, Aryan Brother, or biker was usually alone. On my deck, sometimes I was the only Caucasian and the few white men I met were usually like myself--unaffiliated. I did my best to help out those who were robbed of their store, even putting my life on the line between an entire gang and a mark. However, I could not always be present and if I did not hold their store, they would be robbed later. I was angry, and sad, but mostly disappointed that white suburbanites were so cowardly.

On Sunday, a worker who goes by the name "Little Man" passed out commissary order forms. He said they would be picked up later along with the mail. This made me think that the rumors of going to the store were false. What was the point of filling out order forms if inmates were to tell waiters what they wanted later? I could only speculate that possibly the shopping was to be implemented like it was done at Joliet C.C. before it was closed down. At Joliet, prisoners' orders were filled in baskets, and when you arrived the merchandise was scanned and given to you to bag yourself. The only advantage of this was if commissary was out of a particular product, inmates were allowed to substitute. Plus, this method would negate any mistakes. Many times prisoners at Stateville will not get products they are charged for, or will get products they did not want.

This morning, I was still skeptical that inmates were to be sent to the commissary despite continuing rumors. I stayed in from the small yard as well as lunch. My cellmate had two Health Care Unit passes, and to my great happiness was gone throughout this time. I did not plan to go anywhere while I could enjoy the cell to myself. However, having written this, I would not have gone out for hot dogs or an unappealing yard anyway.

When the chow line returned about 11 .m., Steve stopped by my cell. He asked me if I was enjoying my peace and solitude. Indeed, I was, I told him. Well, he told me to get dressed in my blues because the guards plan to run us to the store soon. I told him I will believe it when I see it, and he left to be locked in his cage a couple of cells down.

Close to noon, I began to make myself a meal that would serve as both my lunch and dinner. For breakfast, prisoners were given scrambled eggs, which was unusual. I had saved them and was going to mix them with a package of tuna fish. I had instant brown rice, tortilla shells, relish and ketchup packages. My plan was to make a poor man's tuna-egg burrito. As I boiled water to add to my rice, the sergeant walked by and told me to get ready to leave for commissary. I asked him how much time I had and was told about a half hour. That was long enough to cook my bowl of rice, I thought as I dressed.

This sergeant let me out of my cell with about 20 other inmates who live on the lower floor. Steve was there and he said, "Do you still not believe me?" I told him what I couldn't believe was that Joseph Mengele missed the creature standing in front of us. The man was a very extremely ugly white man some people refer to as Quasi-Modo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Personally, I did not think he even looked human. He was some abominable hybrid of species, possibly a cross between slug, pig, and human. Mark was undeniably ugly and even he will readily admit it is so. He has even told me and others that he was convicted just based on his appearance.

The cell house Lieutenant was very hyper and agitated. I could sense he did not want to be the first person to lead a line into the commissary. The major, warden, and Internal Affairs were all going to be watching and judging him. The Lieutenant yelled for everyone to listen for their name and to line up outside when they were called. One by one, he checked the inmates off the list he held. Outside on the walk, he was very concerned about order. Two lines until we came to the tunnel, and then a single line the rest of the way. Some kitchen workers joined us en route and the Lieutenant did not seem pleased with the additions. However, he made a sarcastic joke when inmates did not line up as he directed.

The commissary building does not look any different than the other stone buildings off the many pathways on the grounds of Stateville. It is a building I have passed by many times, but never entered. The interior is basically two holding rooms, an adjoining long rectangular check-out room and an expansive area behind the windows where prisoners are given their purchases. We were led to one of the holding rooms and ordered to take a seat. About 30 blue plastic chairs were set up neatly in rows. I am certain there were never any chairs 10 years ago.

The Major came to the waiting room and told us how the process was going to work. We were to wait quietly in our seats until our name was called. Then we were to go to a window to collect our purchases and bag them ourselves. When finished, we were to proceed to the other holding room and wait for an escort to bring us back to the cell house. A Mexican prisoner interrupted the Major to say, "No English," and she did not know if he was joking or not but said, "Someone, I am sure, can explain it to you." After the major left, the gate was locked, and we were left alone in the room.

Steve was sitting beside me, and I said to him, "This is when the Zyklon B is dropped from the ceiling and we are gassed to our deaths." The room was a very austere stone building with plumbing and electric lines exposed. I looked at Steve and continued by saying, "They lured us to the commissary building with the promise of merchandise, but it is all a ruse. As soon as the door in the ceiling opens up, scale the walls to the pipes. Possibly if we get high enough, the gas will disperse before we are killed." Looking around, I brought to his attention that the revisionists may be correct and the buildings are not sufficiently sealed to act as a gas chamber. Steve said we are probably better off if we die, and I agreed. I told him the first person to grab the gas canister is the winner.

From this conversation, we spoke about an article in the Wall Street Journal that claimed from the very beginning the Nazi hierarchy sought the death of all Jews. Usually, I think the articles in the paper are very well researched, but as a person who is very knowledgeable about history, I knew this was false. The ideology of the Third Reich was to strengthen the strain of the Aryan race, and not the execution of millions. It was only after certain party members realized the war was lost that "The Final Solution" was implemented. It was not called the final solution without reason.

The Wall Street Journal has a very interesting section in their weekend paper that deals with not only history, but culture, books, music, and art. Oftentimes, there are reviews of modern art which I despise, but I asked Steve if he recalled the full page article about Caspar David Friedrich's painting "The Monk at the Seaside." He is one of my favorite painters, and before and during my incarceration I have even copied his work in colored pencils and paint. He expresses a deep brooding romanticism, love of nature, and great nostalgia for a time past. "The Monk" is one of a number of paintings I consider masterpieces. In it, a solitude figure looks out into the vastness of the sea at what seems to be the edge of the world. As I told Steve about my appreciation of the painting he asked me if that was what I was trying to do earlier in the day. Yes, at times I wish I was "The Monk."

Surprisingly, the noise level in the waiting room did not escalate, and I was able to talk with Steve in a low voice. Possibly, this was because prisoners in C House were desperate to get their store and were on their best behavior. Steve has a Master's Degree in Music, and it is good that I can have someone to talk to about the finer things in life. Other than Anthony, I do not think anyone else in my cell house could understand or appreciate the subject matter.

My name was eventually called, and I was let out of the holding room. I walked up to open window number three and gave the woman my ID card. She began slowly at first scanning and passing me my commissary, but by the end she was going very quickly and I had to hurry to place things in my mesh laundry bag. A couple of times I told her she gave me the wrong product, and she took it back without a fuss. She even asked me if I wanted to add anything to my list which my cellmate and others told me the commissary supervisors were not allowing. I told her thank you, but I was fine. I had already ordered over $100 in store. It bothered me to spend so much money, not only because I am very frugal but because I knew 30% of the cost was going toward my own incarceration. How twisted, I thought, that I must pay for my own captivity and torture.

After I had my receipt, I heaved my bag over my back to walk over to the other holding room. I noticed some prisoners had a few bags, even heavier than my own single bag. I thought how they donated even more money to our collective incarceration. I also wondered about how these men planned to carry all their goods back. The cell house was on the other side of the prison grounds. As I thought this, a man came in almost falling over carrying his commissary. The Lieutenant asked him if he was OK, and when he said he was fine, told him, "Good," and grabbed a bag of cookies out of one of his bags. The inmate seemed not to care because he had so much stuff and was glad just to shop. The Lieutenant said he was just trying to help him lighten his load, but gave them back. He was only playing, as he commonly does.

The trip back to the cell house was a difficult one, as I imagined it would be. Again, I thought about how I preferred room service. The drizzle and wind had picked up and although the walkways are mostly roofed, gusts of cold rain hit us on the way back. Before we left the cell house, the Lieutenant had told us that if we could not carry our commissary back, we could not have it. However, some inmates used a cart to carry their bags. I carried my bag over my back the entire way, and it felt like 100 pounds. It was a good workout.

Once in my cell, I quickly added some refried beans and Velveeta cheese rice to my bowl of plain brown rice. After stirring in a little more hot water, I packed all my commissary meticulously and neatly away into my box. I wanted to be finished before my cellmate returned. I did not want him to see the abundance of the ant because sometimes the grasshopper becomes envious. Although I would not let him, I did not want him to get to thinking like Barack Obama or Occupy Wall Street protesters that wealth should be redistributed. When my cellmate returned, I was eating a good meal of tuna-egg burritos. However, because he also just returned from commissary, I do not think he cared about my food. He had bought donuts and coffee, and this more than placated him.

As I write this journal entry, I am listening to talk radio. Today is the 48th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald. A guest on the Roe and Roeper show is debunking the conspiracy theories that there was another shooter. I am curious how Jimmy Files, a man upstairs from me, claims to have made the kill shot by himself. The thought of going out for chow to question him critically appeals to me, but letting him tell his more than rehearsed story will only make him feel self important. Instead, I will stay in from chow again and watch the DVD movie "The Rite" while I eat the rest of my commissary improved burritos. My box is so heavy now that I can barely move it out from under my bunk. If it could remain that way perpetually, I would consider being "The Monk" every day, and never talking to the likes of Jimmy Files.