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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.


  1. Editor Note: Paul's posts have not been in date order due to a major slow down in mail processing at Stateville. Some of his mail simply disappears.

  2. Being in healthcare, I would like to assure Paul that it is very difficult for a phlebotomist or any other healthcare worker to contract disease from drawing blood. Even if they get a needle stick from a patient that is infected, the chance of contracting the disease is minute even though the worker will be treated and precautions are always taken in that case.


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