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Friday, March 11, 2011

Blizzard of the Century -- February 5, 2011

Last weekend I listened to weather forecasts that were predicting a winter storm that may break records across a large swath of the U.S. By Monday, I heard sensationalized reporting of the perfect winter storm converging on the Midwest. The Roe and Roeper Show on WLS AM talk radio was entertaining listeners with almost doomsday scenarios. Although the radio show over dramatized the approaching storm, news weathermen accurately predicted a blizzard that will go into the record books for decades to come.

As timed, the snow began to come down on Tuesday afternoon. It was not long until winds were whipping the snow to create whiteout conditions. I looked out my prison window and was not able to see a single building or razor wire fence. Even the prison wall disappeared from sight. Jokingly, I told my cellmate, "Now is your chance. Simply dress in white and you will be invisible." Incredibly, he could have dressed in a fluorescent green jumpsuit, worn by the labeled extreme escape risk inmates when out on writs, and no one would have seen him.

My cellmate, Iowa, was sent to Stateville from a medium-security prison on a disciplinary transfer. A snitch told the prison's Internal Affairs Unit that Iowa spoke of escaping. While searching his cell, I.A. found an Illinois road map, and that was enough to find him guilty. He spent six months in Seg and is now in Kickout with me. There is no room in general population for short timers at Stateville, and he will be kept in F House until he is able to transfer.

The blizzard brought high winds and snow from upper Michigan all the way south to Texas. Even the site of the Superbowl at the Dallas Cowboy Stadium was hit with snow and ice. The Chicago area, including Stateville, received almost two feet of snow. The winter storm brought more snow to the city than any other in years, but what probably made it the "blizzard of the century" was how far it reached, and the tremendous 30 to 50 MPH winds. After crossing the Midwest, the storm moved on to the east and hit the New England states particularly hard. New England already had a couple feet of snow from previous storms, and was still digging out at the time.

Throughout the night Tuesday, strong gusts of wind hit the prison. My cell window does not have any locking mechanism and I have tied one window shut, but the other is held in place by two thick rubber bands. Although the tension on the rubber bands is tight, the right window was pulled outward and slammed shut repeatedly. The makeshift insulation I made for the outer edges of the windows did not prove efficient, and drafts of cold air could be felt. The cracks in one of the windows did not help matters. From our cell, my cellmate and I could hear the large metal garbage dumpsters outside X House being thrown about. We could also hear the cell house being hit by torrents of wind and snow. We wondered if the prison would lose power again like it did a few weeks ago. Stateville would then ironically face a black whiteout.

On the radio they spoke of snow thunder, an event I had never heard of. I did not know thunder was possible in a snowstorm. I listened at the window a few times to see if I could catch the sound. I also thought I possibly could see some flashing light. Visibility, though, was probably only several feet, and no light was getting through the sheets of snow. I heard no snow thunder, but maybe it was too low to be heard over the cell house noise.

The prison was placed on a level one lockdown Tuesday evening, and everyone was locked in their cells. Inmate workers were not let out to pass out breakfast during the night. A guard who I recognized from the previous shift passed out our trays and later picked up garbage. It was not until Wednesday evening that cell house workers were permitted to work. They were quickly locked back up however, after taking care of the dinner meal and picking up trash. The prison was kept on a modified level one lockdown until Friday. I was told on the day after the snow storm that over 200 guards did not show up for work. Many guards worked double and some even triple shifts. On the night of the blizzard, some guards slept on cots at the prison. I think it may have been a good experience if they had slept on bunks inside cells like we do. I wonder if our captors ever wonder what it is like to be the captives.

After the storm passed by, frigid arctic air moved into the area. The temperature outside of Stateville on Thursday morning was -10 degrees F, with a wind chill of -30 degrees F. I heard on the news that Northern Texas and Oklahoma were setting record low temperatures as well. Arctic air dipped far into the U.S. so the temperatures here were lower than that on the South Pole. I noticed the temperatures in Alaska were warmer also, especially on the coast where the main cities of Anchorage and Juno are. Claims of global warming must seem foolish now to everyone, I thought, until I heard Al Gore, former Vice President of the U.S. and an adamant global warming advocate.

Al Gore claimed, incredibly, that the severe cold and snow was the result of global warming. How could this man who was one position away from the most powerful office in the world, and who just lost the presidency by the slimmest margin, make such ridiculous claims? It is apparent these Chicken Little global warming alarmists have beliefs like apocalyptic religious zealots who will argue for the end of days despite common sense that flies in their face or literally, snows on their heads. In Al Gore's documentary, he showed melting glaciers and recent warming temperatures as proof of global warming, but the coldest and heaviest snowfalls in the U.S. are not signs of global cooling. Everything to the global warming zealots only confirms their faith. The truth to any objective, educated person is that the planet goes through climate cycles and experiences changes in weather due to factors far beyond the CO2 emissions of man. The climate has been changing on the earth since its inception, and this will continue regardless of human action or inaction. It was fortunate the U.S. dodged the presidency of Al Gore, although the country later elected Barack Obama who has the same delusions and hatred of fossil fuels.

This week, Tunisia overthrew their dictator, and currently Egyptians are reeling against President Mubarak. Mubarak has been an ally of Israel and the U.S., and there is discussion in America whether to support the revolution. It has been the policy of the White House to encourage democracy to spread throughout the Middle East and Islamic world. Former President Bush claimed after the Iraq war when no weapons of mass destruction were found, that his goal was building democratic governments. Personally, I do not believe it is the U.S.'s business to promote modern Western style democracy. Rather, we should be focused more on "real-politic" and our own declining democracy, power, and values.

The unrest in Egypt can spread to other countries in the Islamic world. The significance of the Middle East to America is mainly oil. The U.S. needs access to abundant cheap oil, all the more so since the Obama administration is strangling the country's own ability to produce fossil fuels. The White House has crimped drilling permits offshore, and on land. Coal mines have also been restricted. There has been no effort to increase fossil fuel or nuclear production. Instead, so called green energy has been heavily subsidized, although it is inefficient, costly, and cannot put a dent in the U.S.'s energy needs. Possibly, we will see how well wind mills, solar panels, and corn can fuel the republic's economy.

Despite the unrest in Egypt, the Dow Jones closed above 12,000 the day of the blizzard for the first time in three years. The American economy has been rebounding on the back of massive government stimulus spending, extended social subsidies, a small temporary payroll tax decrease, and the Federal Reserve's continued printing of a trillion dollars. The deficit is now greater than the entire country's gross domestic product. The market's optimism, however, will be short lived when Republicans reign in government spending. The Fed could continue to print more and more money, but this will only contribute to stagflation. If Americans think $90 barrel oil is high, they should see what price materializes if the dollar is further devalued and compounded with a decrease in Middle East oil production.

No yard was run on Thursday, but even if it had been, I would not have chosen to go. The idea of staying outside in -30 degree F wind chills for five hours was not very appealing. I did say to my cellmate to get ready to bear the elements with me. He said, "Hell no." I could not drag him out there. Not only was it frigidly cold, but he was ill. He has been ill for a couple weeks now with flu-like symptoms. I continued to pressure him to go out to yard. I told him I will be the only white man out there if he does not join me, and I could use a wing man. He told me it was so cold out there that only a few fools will go out, and they will be too cold to fight. He had a good point, and I imagine if yard was run, the African-Americans would be huddled together like a group of penguins in Antarctic. If there was any fighting, it would be for the center of the penguin huddle.

One good thing about the cold and wind was that I have only seen a few roaches in the cell this entire week. Typically, I am smashing the detestable bugs regularly. I do not even bother to crush them with toilet paper any more, but use my bare hands whenever I see one. There is no time to get toilet paper, a magazine or even my slipper to kill them. This entire cell house should be vacated for bug bombs to be set off. Possibly, this building should be condemned, but since this will not be done, the frigid arctic air and window drafts will at least temporarily keep the roaches at bay.

The blizzard filled up the window sill with snow. There are bars on the outside of the windows and a metal screen, but the snow was undeterred with the heavy winds. The milks, juices, cakes and Danishes I had placed out there were buried. I had to dig them out, and considering the weather forecast for weeks out is for continued cold, I could not wait. Taking a cup, I reached my hand into the sill and scooped the snow into my sink and toilet. It took me some time to remove all the snow and then wipe down and clean the sill. My cellmate was not happy with the cold air which spilled into the cell for almost an hour, but it had to be done. I told him to hide under a blanket and I will make him a hot cup of coffee when I finished.

Visitation was finally allowed on Friday, and I thought someone may come to see me. I wrote my mother on the weekend after hearing about the predicted snow storm telling her if the roads were too bad, not to come until the end of the week. She or another family member will usually visit on Wednesday. The roads were cleared by Friday, but no one visited.

Earlier today, I called home to see how my parents had fared during the blizzard. What I heard for the most part made me think my parents were too old to be living alone. One of the first things I was told was that they were snowed in until Thursday when a Hispanic man in a truck stopped and saw my mother trying to shovel the snow. He convinced my mother into paying him to clear the snow from their driveway. He initially asked for $100, but was willing to do half for $80. He did not have a snow plow, and returned later with his children who shoveled the snow by hand. Angrily, I asked my mother why she did not use the tractor my father had bought. She complained when he bought it, and again when he purchased a snow blade for it. Now would be the time to use it, and she did not.

She told me because of the wind, snow drifts over 4 feet had accumulated on the driveway and the front of their house. The tractor could not handle so much snow. The tractor my father purchased, however, was a machine even the "more power" Home Improvement character played by actor Tim Allen would be impressed with. It could probably clear the snow off the side of Greenland. After talking to my father, I learned the truth.

My father had just undergone spinal surgery last week and was incapacitated, and my mother was not able to operate the tractor properly without his help. She tried to get my father to explain how to use the machine, but he was in severe pain and had a 105 degree fever. My mother claimed he was semiconscious, and while awake was delirious from pain medications. She thought she may have to drive him to the emergency room. However, he recovered after antibiotics began to work, and when I spoke with him days later, he seemed OK. The health and age of my parents made me think they should not be living alone. I asked why my mother did not call someone for assistance, and was told everyone lived too far away and the roads were bad. I asked, "What about your neighbors?" I was told they do not have their phone numbers, and walking in the 4 feet of snow to their homes would be too difficult for her. When I hung up the phone, I was sad so much time had passed that my parents are now almost invalids, and also that I could not be of any assistance to them.

In 1979, when I was only 5 years old, I remember another blizzard that swept across northern Illinois. It is one of the earliest memories I have from my childhood. I recall standing on the driveway of our newly built home in the western suburbs. The driveway had just been cleared by my parents, and the snow piles were well over my head. I remember making an igloo in all the snow. I remember also how young, healthy and robust my parents were. After my phone call, I went searching through my collection of photographs. I found photos from long ago, and thought how those years are forever gone. I doubt my parents will even be alive the next time an event like this week takes place again. The blizzard of 2011 will be the last for us, and ironically, I was trapped in my cell and they were trapped in their home. I wonder if we will ever be a family again.