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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.

5 comments:

  1. This one is a gem, Paul In itself, it is an excellent short story. And darkly funny, too, at times. Most excellent writing.

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  2. A very good read. Paul you are interesting and witty, despite your circumstances. I so hope that you will be pardoned soon, ironic though it will be, for a crime you didn't do. Hang in there.

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  3. I sometimes shop at that WalMart in Lockport--so glad I wasn't there that day! Uniformed men with guns scare me and can't be trusted.

    Great post, Paul. So many interesting stories covered.

    I want to also attempt to give you hope--I believe you will be free some day. I also hope it is soon.

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  4. Grateful for you Paul!!!

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  5. PAUL U FUNNY GUY

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