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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Valentine's Day and The Bachelor -- February 14, 2011

Earlier today, the prison went on a level one lockdown. It was about noon when I noticed cell house workers being locked into their cells. A man coming back from a Health Care Unit pass stopped by my neighbor's cell, and told him what he had heard was the cause of the lockdown. The front of my cell is made up of rectangular glass, but many of them have been knocked out. It was easy for me to eavesdrop on the conversation next door.

The man coming back from the pass said a lieutenant and a guard were beat up by an inmate in the visiting room. During the fight, the lieutenant tried to mace the inmate, but the mace was taken away from him and used against him. Eventually, numerous guards rushed in, and the inmate was mobbed, subdued, and taken away in handcuffs. They speculated on the reason for the conflict in the visiting room. Fights nor staff assaults are common in the visiting room.

Stateville has the worst visiting system in all of IDOC. Visitors are groped and searched like TSA agents do at airports, and inmates are strip searched before and after each visit. Visits are only 2 hours long on weekdays, and an hour on weekends. Visitors and inmates alike often have to wait hours to see each other, although waiting times have improved recently. The visiting room is extremely crowded and noisy. I sometimes find myself yelling to be heard over the noise, or leaning forward to communicate with my visitor. People are made to sit on steel stools separated by several feet, with the prisoner on one side of a low table and his visitors on the other side. Men are not allowed to hold their children, or even hold their wife or girlfriend's hand during the visit. There no conjugal visits in Illinois, and an inmate can only briefly hug and kiss his visitor upon arrival, and at the end of his visit. Other than this, no touching is allowed. During my time inside, I have seen many men lose their wives or girlfriends, and relations with their children as well.

My neighbor and the man returning from the HCU speculated the incident in the visiting room was due to a strained relationship. Men in prison are powerless to keep their family intact. Many are frustrated, distraught, and angry. The conditions and rules on visits could push a man to the brink if hassled by a guard or if a guard is disrespectful to his visitor. Usually, the guards in the visiting room are not rude, in my experience. However, on occasion there will be one with a bad attitude.

The door to my neighbor's cell opened and shut quickly. This was the guard in the gun tower control center's way of telling the inmate on the gallery to get moving. Oftentimes, inmates will stop by another person's cell to talk before locking up or going on a pass. A number of new guards have been hired recently, and they will stay on the galleries to prevent prisoners from meandering. They will often follow you from the stairs all the way to your cell or vice versa. When they have nothing to do, they will just stand there, or meander themselves. None of these new recruits were in the cell house Monday that I noticed, however, and there was a normal amount of staff.

After the inmate walked off, my cellmate asked me if I heard what they were saying, and why we were going on lockdown. I do not like being a parrot and repeating things I have heard. For all I knew, the man did not even know what he was talking about. Rumors are spread around the prison quickly, and they can often be wrong. I also do not know why my cellmate thought I could hear the conversation better than him. We were both sitting on our bunks near the front of the cell. Possibly my cellmate has come to the realization his hearing is indeed poor, as I have told him in the past. Possibly, also, it is due to the fact my cellmate keeps his fan on high continuously day and night to block out the noises of the cell house.

Today was Valentine's Day, and I could imagine a scenario where a strained relationship could lead to violence in the visiting room. I know a number of wives and girlfriends come to the prison to visit on this day. But, this did not necessarily mean the story I just heard was true. Feed lines were still being run as well as a number of other lines. Statistically, the odds of an incident happening elsewhere were much higher.

Earlier this month, cell house workers and other prisoners were going cell to cell trying to sell Valentine's Day cards. Stateville's commissary does not sell cards, unlike the other prisons I have been at. The only professional cards available are those through the chaplaincy. However, they do not have Valentine's Day cards that I am aware of. The inability for prisoners to buy cards off commissary has caused a demand for them, which is filled by some prisoners who make them and then hustle them off. The cards can be sold anywhere from $2 to $5, and vary in quality.

I stopped one of the cell house workers to see the product he was selling. He had about five cards in his hand. They were not square in shape, like most store-bought cards, but long and rectangular. The reason for this is so they will fit in a #10 stamped envelope which is sold at the commissary. If a prisoner used a different sized envelope, he would have to enclose a money voucher form for the postage. Money vouchers at Stateville take over a month to be processed. If a man wanted his Valentine card to be received on time, he would have to mail it in early January, possibly in December. There is no telling how long a money voucher will take to be processed, and thus why card makers at Stateville make them odd shaped so this is not necessary.

The Valentine cards I looked at were simple designs that were obviously traced and done by a person with no drawing abilities. One, for example, was a picture of Mickey & Minnie Mouse holding hands with little hearts above them. The two cartoon characters and hearts were traced in a colored pen or marker. The inside coloring and shading was done with a colored pencil. I have never bought a prison-made card during my incarceration because I am quite capable of drawing my own, and my ability is usually superior. Furthermore, I realize that if I sent a non-store made card, people would expect me to make it myself, especially a Valentine's Day card. A girl would be much more appreciative of a card made by yourself than one you bought off another prisoner. I gave the worker his cards back and told him to push on.

Why was I even looking at Valentine's Day cards? I do not have a girlfriend nor have I for some time. This fact, however, did not stop me from wishing I did. I thought about the girls I dated before my arrest, and the ones I wrote to while in prison. I recently received an insulting letter from one of them, and I figured I would respond in kind. The Valentine's Day letter I wrote was mildly romantic, but ended with sarcastic wit I hope she will appreciate.

After writing my letter, I watched the ABC program "The Bachelor." I figure if I cannot have any romance in my life, I can watch it on television. I have not missed an episode of this show this season, and I have tuned in to the program since its inception, except when there have been men featured that I could in no way relate to. The reason I watch the show is not only to watch the courtship and romantic interplay, but also to imagine the perspective of the bachelor. If I cannot identify with the bachelor, the reality TV show loses its appeal.

The current bachelor is Brad Wilmak, and he has been on the show previously. The first time, he told both the final women he cared not to continue seeing them, let alone propose to one of them. I liked his honesty, despite how he hurt the women's feelings and was criticized by social media. Why should he settle for a woman he did not truly value or see any future with? I figure there is a lot of pressure on the bachelor to pick one, and it was nice to see a man who had the grit to send all the women packing. Unfortunately, I noticed this time around, the man portrays himself as more sensitive. Perhaps the editors had something to do with it. This probably makes him seem nicer and more of a gentleman, as well as more likable to the female viewing audience. However, it also makes him look like a sissy and a fake, in my opinion. I watch reality TV to see real people and circumstances, not fantasy.

The Bachelor show began with 30 women. They came from all over the U.S. There was a wide variety of women for the bachelor to chose from, but I noticed all were Caucasian. Usually these romance shows have some racial diversity for political correctness. Most of the women on the program seemed genuinely interested in meeting a husband, although there was certainly a few there for fame or to just have a fun experience. For example, one of the women wore vampire teeth. Madison was probably the most attractive and intriguing, in my opinion, but apparently, was not serious about getting married, or about the bachelor.

In tonight's show, the bachelor surprisingly sent home Michelle. Michelle was not liked by the other women, but I thought she had the greatest physical chemistry with Brad. She was a very intense, passionate, and assertive woman. The bachelor said he did not give her a rose because he foresaw the relationship as being too volatile and that she had less qualities of a wife. The bachelor acts very poised if not passive, but I do not believe this is his true nature. He does not want a bossy woman, but a feminine, eloquent lady who is not promiscuous. The bachelor seems to be taking the courtship process very seriously, and I tend to believe he will chose the widow Emily, despite the fact she has a 5-year-old daughter.

Although I would dislike the prospect of being on television, I very much envy the bachelor. I have been in prison 18 years and my life has been devoid of romance since I was in high school. I have met women though correspondence in the years since, but a relationship from inside prison walls is nothing akin to one outside, despite how one may go to great lengths to make it so. It is most certainly why so many marriages fall apart for men in prison.

One of the greatest sadnesses in prison is losing a loved one, or just simply having a life void of romance. I would very much like to have the opportunity presented to the bachelor. I tell my cellmate, jokingly, to hurry up and write down the number to nominate me as the next bachelor. I, too, want a pretty wife and family. I have for a long time. However, with a sentence of natural life without the possibility of parole, I know my dream will always be just that, a dream. I am doomed to be the perpetual bachelor alone on Valentine's Day.

Ironically, as I finish this journal entry, the song "Waiting for a Girl Like You" by Foreigner is playing on my radio. I will go to sleep now thinking about her.