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Friday, February 25, 2011

Suicide -- January 18, 2011

A little past noon on Saturday, I was going over stock charts before the first round of NFL playoff games came on TV. The Pittsburgh Steelers were playing the Baltimore Ravens at 3 p.m., and following the game, the Green Bay Packers played the Atlanta Falcons. I was trying to get in as much work as possible before the pre-game show began. I knew I would not have any time later because it would be about my bedtime when they were both complete. I also wanted to call home quickly before the games began. An incident in the cell house would cause immediate lockdown, however, and interrupt my pre-game plans.

My cellmate noticed all the guards rushing toward our side of the building before I became aware. In fact, it was him that brought my attention to the commotion downstairs. Something had occurred in Segregation in one of the cells underneath ours. We tended to believe that there was just another fight among cellmates, however, after much time passed and no one was seen in handcuffs, we knew it was something different.

The bell on the tower rang, and all the workers were ordered to lock up in their cells. My cellmate and I saw them standing or going to their cells on four gallery across from us. There was no question we were going on lockdown, and my cellmate quickly went to the cell door to yell for the phone. He also wanted to use the phone to call home. He was expecting his daughter and her mother to be there today and he did not want to miss them. A lockdown always caused the phones to be shut off, but sometimes there is an hour delay.

While my cellmate was at the door, he told me a medical crew was coming in with a stretcher. The nurses and med tech were in no hurry, however, which seemed odd to us. Why the stretcher and lockdown if no one was seriously injured fighting? If a man had been badly beaten or stabbed, the aggressor would have been taken out in handcuffs, and medical staff would be quick to respond. Possibly, my cellmate said, both were severely injured, or one had killed the other. I did not bother speculating. I had Baytex, Apache, British Petroleum, Western Gas and numerous other energy companies to think about. In a few hours, the Steelers-Ravens game would kick off. Not long thereafter though, I turned my attention to the cell house.

A man was finally wheeled out of the cell house in a stretcher. He was not moving and had a sheet covered over him. All I could see were the toes of his feet. The man was dead, and there was no urgency on the part of medical staff to move him out quickly. Prisoners around the Roundhouse were at their doors watching as the gurney was led out. In the shouting among some of them, my cellmate and I learned it was a suicide.

My cellmate remarked that this was the second suicide he had witnessed while here. Apparently, in the summer of last year, another man had killed himself. He also was in one of the first floor cells. In that instance, however, my cellmate told me they kept him in his cell for hours dead until an outside medical examiner came in to inspect the body. He told me the cell house was very tense during that time with everyone knowing there was a dead body in a cell not being attended to. He said it also was not taken well by the prisoners when the body was moved. He was dragged out by his ankles.

The phone finally was passed cell to cell to my cellmate, and he pulled the line in to the back counter to make his call. He was only on for about 20 minutes when the phone went dead. Despite the suicide, I also wanted to call home. Yesterday, my sister and a friend came to visit me. They told me another friend of mine had met Robert Faraci. I wanted to know if my parents knew anything more.

The prison, or at least the Roundhouse, was kept on lockdown until the following day. No workers or anyone were let out of their cells on the evening of January 15th. As planned, I watched the two wildcard playoff games. I was pleased the Green Bay Packers decisively beat the Atlanta Falcons, and hoped this 6th seed team would go to the Superbowl. I asked my cellmate if he wanted to watch the games with me, but he did not care to do so. He told me he prayed for the soul of the man who committed suicide. Personally, I thought he may very well be in a better place, and it did not dampen my spirit as I watched the games. The mood of the cell house seemed a little depressed, and there was not the usual amount of enthusiasm and cheering for the games. NFL playoffs typically bring a lot of excitement to the prison population.

In the middle of the night, breakfast was passed out by inmate workers. I asked one of them if the prison was still on lockdown, and I was told no. I then asked if he saw what happened. Inmate workers have cells on the other side of the Roundhouse and would be able to see the cells underneath mine. He told me the man who killed himself was a "bug," and not long before he committed suicide he had squirted some perfume on another cellhouse worker. I said, "Perfume?" He said, "Yeah, perfume, cologne, aftershave, whatever. I am not sure exactly what he sprayed on him, but it was a potent scent. Even after he changed tee shirts, I could smell him." I told him the man was fortunate not to be squirted with urine or feces like most unruly nutcases in Seg are known to do.

The inmate worker went on to say that he did not see the suicide, but staff had informed him the man tied a noose to the window bars and jumped off the back counter, snapping his neck. Medical staff were in no hurry to respond because they knew he was dead. Despite this, a nurse tried to resuscitate the man. I asked why, and he told me, "I have no fucking clue. Maybe it was just to show they tried to do something. But even if they put the paddles to him right after the jump, that man was not coming back."

I was surprised the man was able to snap his neck from such a short fall. On the gurney, he did not look like a heavy man. Regardless, I thought to myself before I fell back asleep, he was fortunate not to slowly suffocate. Hanging yourself is very difficult and torturous if you die slowly by asphyxiation. Your head feels like it is going to explode, you become nauseous, and you gasp for breath. It takes five minutes or longer, depending on how tight the noose is around your neck cutting off blood flow to your brain, and the body instinctively tries to free itself. A person slowly hanging himself will buck and wildly shake. There is an impulse to try to loosen the noose, even if you want to die.

In several movies I have seen, people are easily strangled. This is a myth. No one just goes easily to their death by asphyxiation. The Godfather movies are a bit more realistic. For example, when Don Corleone's enforcer is strangled with piano wire, he fights frenziedly before dying. During my time in prison, people have sought to choke me. A tip to defend yourself: the best defense is a good offense. Fight the urge to pull the noose or get out of a headlock. Strike your attacker. It will take a long time for someone to knock you unconscious, during which time you can do many things to severely injure your attacker, and more than likely, he will cease trying to strangle you.

There are, on average, several suicides each year at Stateville, and I am surprised there are not more, considering how miserable and usually completely bleak prisoners' lives are. The State of Illinois, in my opinion, would be doing a service to inmates to begin a euthanasia program. I am continually hearing about the sadness and misery of prisoners. Most men are way too proud, or do not want to show weakness, and therefore I know the unhappiness I hear about is only a fraction of what exists. Prisoners in isolation or Seg are more susceptible, I believe, because they have a lot of time to think about their pathetic existences. In population, they are often preoccupied with various matters.

My current cellmate only has 7 or 8 more years to do, and is not very unhappy. He regularly talks about a transfer to a medium-security prison, and what he plans to do when he is released. Contrarily, my cellmate in general population frequently spoke of his grim thoughts. He was sentenced to 40 years at 100%, and will not be released until he is a very old man, even if he makes it. It was a harsh sentence in my opinion, especially considering the victim was a rival gang member and my cellmate had some reason to believe his life was in jeopardy.

As I have stated before in my journal, although I support the death penalty, I do not believe in sentences over 20 years. Like myself, my former cellmate had gone through all his regular set of appeals. He was obsessed with longevity and making his 2040 out-date, despite fully realizing his life would be largely over and pathetic, even if he survived that long. Many times, he would express his dreariness, while contrarily, also exuding a very cheerful, energetic, extroverted, and social person, to most people. When he was asked "What's up?," he would commonly respond, "Oh, the usual: death, misery and suicidal thoughts." He would say it with a smile like he was joking, but I knew at times it was true, especially when we were on lockdown, and he had little to keep himself busy. My former cellmate actually asked me if I would kill him to end his suffering. I told him, "No. If I must continue to suffer, so must you." As it is said, "misery loves company."

Many men become sad over women who have left them. In the county jail, there were several people who confided in me their total despair because a girlfriend or wife had left them. I know they were not the only ones. One man was terribly distraught about losing his wife and children. He obsessed about the matter and how to keep them. He even convinced me to draw a few family portraits and other things, somehow thinking such drawings could actually have an impact. I eventually told him there was nothing he could say or do, nor anything I could draw, even if I were Rembrandt, that would make her stay. He needed to cut off her and his former life completely. That was the past, and this is your present and future, despite how grim it may be. He told me he would rather commit suicide, but he never did. However, I witnessed other suicides or attempted suicides while at Cook County Jail.

Last week, a cell house worker told me he was depressed about his wife leaving him for another man. For several days, he did not come out for work, and I thought he may have quit or been given a different assignment. No, he told me. He just could not get himself motivated to get out of bed. I asked him how long his wife had stayed faithful to him while in prison, and was told "5 years." I told him that was longer than most, and he should have long ago realized it could not last forever. He said he knew that, but they were married, and "for better or for worse" was her commitment to him. He had gone down the aisle with her, and gave her a ring, something I infer he took as very significant, considering people rarely get married nowadays. He commented that she was fully dedicated to him when he was free and making a lot of money on the streets. I then reminded him of the saying, "But what have you done for me lately?" He agreed, and left my cell bitter with his head hanging low.

Too many men become sad and suicidal over women in prison. Fortunately, I have always realized the futility of having a faithful relationship over a period of years. I have met some attractive and quality women during my incarceration, but other than one, I always ended the "romance" after a year. One woman I made an exception for, and held onto a lot longer than I probably should have. It is difficult to let go, especially when you find someone special.

I met an older man who refused to let go of his wife. She was not the type of woman who could remain faithful, and it was a mistake probably for him to marry her. Eventually, the man found her in bed with another man, and he shot and killed both of them. He is in prison now for the rest of his life. He takes a heavy dose of Zoloft morning and night to keep him from sinking into depression. He almost killed himself on the night of the murders, and even today he sees little purpose of living without the wife he killed. I noticed numerous cuts across his wrists, and it is apparent he has attempted suicide on more than one occasion. Now that he is in prison for the rest of his life, he truly has nothing to live for.

When I was at Stateville in 2001, I briefly had a homosexual as a cellmate. He was an Indian or a Mexican sissy with long black hair that was worn like a girl. I refuse to cell with homosexuals, despite how clean, considerate, or respectful they may be, and was moved to a cell down the gallery. Not long after, the man hung himself off his bunk. It must have been a slow asphyxiation because his neck was not broken. Some of the people I am acquainted with jokingly said he killed himself because I left him, but the true story was that his prison boyfriend had dumped him. I was not aware he had a boyfriend, but after I moved, I did notice him spending a lot of time with a specific black man. I also noticed he disappeared behind the gym bleachers on occasion, which greatly disgusted me, and I was glad to not have lived with him long.

There are a number of semi-crazy or totally insane people in prison who commit, or try to commit, suicide regularly. The man who killed himself last week may have been one of them.

Earlier this week, I brought up to my cellmate the movie The Matrix and a movie recently released on DVD called The Union. I asked him, "What if our lives are fake and only simulated computer programs? Possibly we are in the future hooked up to machines." In the movie The Union, the main character and his lover are killed, but the movie continues for a half hour where the viewer is led to believe they escaped and lived happily ever after. However, at the end of the movie, you see the man is all but dead except for his brain waves and a computer program keeps him dreaming happily.

My religious cellmate told me that was the devil talking, and there is no question our lives are real. I told him that even ancient thinkers pondered our existence, and mentioned Plato's "The Cave." How can he be so certain to not even entertain the thought? Before he could accuse me of being Satan again, I said, "Even the Catholic church believes this is only a temporary existence until we pass on. Why should a Christian not kill himself or at a minimum lead a courageous life of abandon, without fear of death?" To this I got a long dialogue I had heard numerous times before, all based on intangibles and interpretations of Scripture. I tuned his ramblings out, and as I looked out of the cell at the numerous prisoners locked in their cages around the Roundhouse, I was reminded of all the people trapped in cocoons and tied into The Matrix. . . .