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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cold Water - March 26, 2011

Last Wednesday, the hot water button on my sink completely went out. The button has been on the fritz for a few months. Oftentimes, it had to be pressed multiple times to work, and when it did, only a trickle of water came out. The hot water had so little pressure that it ran down the faucet, and the run off had to be collected with a cup. Filling a cup with hot water would take a few minutes or longer if one wanted to make sure the water was hot. Washing clothes took an immense amount of time. It was a great inconvenience, but having nothing but cold water is a greater inconvenience.

My cellmate was bothered immensely when the hot water button refused to work for him. He tried banging the button, and then the plumbing door, until after I told him the problem was not mechanical, but electrical. The plumbing in F House is connected to electric circuits so staff can easily turn off sink water with a switch, and the toilet will only flush every ten minutes. My cellmate thought by banging the plumbing door he could rattle the short in the wiring. Iowa is not the smartest man.

After realizing there was nothing he could do about the problem, he procured my makeshift apparatus for heating water. While using it, he broke it. My cellmate is not only unintelligent, but clumsy as well. I was about to scold him for breaking the device which had taken me some time to create. It was a rather good work of ingenuity, but instead, I remained quiet and listened to him apologize. He told me he would buy me new materials to build another one. He also said he should have waited for me to cook up the water for him. Iowa was the caveman who could not even be trusted to make fire.

I had the means to make a new model of what Iowa had broken, but I was not going to interrupt my day to serve his interests. He was just going to have to do without hot coffee or vittles for a while. Earlier that day, I went on a visit, and I was currently writing a long letter to a paralegal student who wrote me. My cellmate filled up an empty peanut butter jar with cold water and put it on his lamp light.

The prison sells very cheap plastic lamps. I have never purchased one because it is just another piece of clutter I can do without. The lights from the cell house are bright enough for me to write or read. If I need a lot of light, I can always turn on the overhead fluorescent light that is in every cell. Many inmates though, like the lamp light or have poor eyesight. Some inmates buy the lamps to heat packages of food. I have been told that bacon on a tin wrapper can even sizzle off a lamp, eventually. Those inmates better stock up on incandescent bulbs, however, because the IDOC is only going to sell the cold, mercury hazardous, and $5 compact fluorescent light bulbs mandated by the federal government next month.

Thursdays, if the prison is off lockdown, I go out to yard. I wake up when the count lights come on around 6:30 a.m. The Roundhouse has very bright halogen lights on top of the gun tower that are aimed outward at the cells. They are very annoying but wake me up timely to get ready for the yard line. My cellmate has usually drunk a couple cups of coffee by the time I awake, and Thursday I noticed he had his peanut butter jar on his bulb with a skull cap over it to insulate the heat even further.

Iowa is a hyper person who does not need any coffee. This morning he was particularly obnoxious, asking me repeatedly to use my "juice card" with the cell house lieutenant to get our hot water button repaired. I may have known the lieutenant a long time, but I do not have any "juice card" with him. Even if I did, I would not bother the lieutenant before going through the chain of command. The lieutenant has many things to attend to, and not my plumbing problems.

Cell house convicts are regularly bothering our lieutenant about trivial matters, and I was not going to be one of them. I told my cellmate if I happen to converse with the lieutenant while waiting to go out to the yard, I will mention the hot water. However, I reminded him that I spoke to the lieutenant months ago while he was making his rounds, and asked if he could put our cell on the work order list, and no plumber ever came to our cell. My cellmate seems to think he is at an efficiently run medium-security prison. He often fails to realize he is at Stateville now. Fixing a prisoner's sink buttons are not a priority for staff. He tells me, however, that if I speak to the lieutenant, our water button will certainly be fixed that day. Once again, I remind him he is no longer in Kansas, or in his case, Iowa.

The gallery officer came by telling inmates that yard would soon be run and to be ready. My coffee-hyped cellmate, who I suspect was a meth-hyped addict before his arrest, did not say a word to him. I, however, went to the door and told him about our problem. I asked if he could put our cell on the work order list. He said it was not a problem. The plumbers have a list of things which need to be done in the cell house, and they go about their tasks by priority. A sink button was not a priority, and I doubted anything would get done today, or even this week. In fact, I wondered if I would not be moved to general population before the hot water was restored in the cell.

On the ground floor of the cell house waiting to go out to yard, I happened to meet with the cell house sergeant. I asked him if he had a minute. He seemed to be preoccupied, and I did not want to bother him if he was. He said, "Sure," so I told him about the hot water button being broken. He wrote down my cell number and told me if the plumbers were in the building, he would give them the work order. I did not expect anything to be done, but on the way back from yard, the sergeant said the plumbers had been in the cell house and they may have repaired my sink. For the walk back, I thought possibly my optimistic cellmate would be in Nirvana. Although I had not made a new device to make boiling water, he might have hot tap water to work with.

Upon my return to the cell, I was amazed to see Iowa was gone. He had actually ventured out of the cell to go to Catholic Mass. He had not left the cell in months due to his fear of getting into trouble and ruining his medium transfer. My cellmate is obsessed with leaving Stateville, and has asked for a transfer to Illinois River, but will go anywhere happily that the transfer coordinator sends him.

I was so glad to have the cell to myself that I did not even check to see if the hot water button was fixed. For about two months, I have not been able to be by myself. I cherish time alone and away from people, particularly those at Stateville. My cellmate was decent considering where I was, but he oftentimes has no consideration for space. In a 5 x 10 foot cell, I feel claustrophobic, but this feeling is exponentially increased with another man in the cell. It was irritating to always be around another person. He especially aggravates me when he invades my personal space, or when I cannot do something where I am. He has reached over me a few times whereupon I will spear him in the gut with my remote control stick. I have even punched him in the ribs when he came too close for comfort, but I still do not think he understands personal space.

Eventually I got around to checking the hot water button. It did not work. I was going to wash up with cold water until I saw my cellmate's note saying I could use the water bottles he had placed on the radiator. This was thoughtful of him, although the water was only enough to fill up the sink half way, and I still had to rinse with cold water. As I bathed, I thought I may put together a new heating device. I needed one anyway for myself.

When Iowa returned from Mass, the first thing he asked was if the hot water had been fixed. He seems to have this idea that prisoners have the right to have hot water, and all plumbing problems should be immediately fixed. Possibly, in the medium-security prisons, this is the case. I lied to him and told him the button had been fixed. In fact, hot water now came out of the sink like a fountain. He was very happy until he pressed the button and nothing happened.

On Friday, my cellmate thought with certainty the plumbers would come to fix our sink. I knew better and filled up some more water bottles to place on the radiator. Fortunately, the radiator in our cell has been working. Some days it will be cold, despite below-freezing temperatures outside. In general population, I know the heat has been turned off. The first day of spring was last Sunday, and the heat is never kept on afterwards. I imagine those in the G.P. cell houses are complaining due to temperatures being unseasonably cold. The last several days, temperature highs have only slightly breached freezing, and nights have been in the 20's.

After exercising, I used all the water from the bottles that had been placed on the radiator to bathe with. My cellmate complained that I had left none for him. I told him to bother our neighbors to fill up the bottles with hot water. They are always bothering us for this or that, so they can do us a favor in return. My cellmate called over to one of them, and the neighbor had no problem refilling the bottles.

Washing up in the sink with the warm water bottles was still not very pleasant. I had enough water to fill my sink up to wash, but none to rinse off or wash my hair. The cold water was frigid and so was the draft coming in through the windows. I had sealed the windows very well after moving into the cell, but my cellmate during some warm days earlier had thought winter was over and removed some of the sealant. After rinsing, I was quick to dry myself off and put on some clothes.

My cellmate is somewhat spoiled, in my opinion, and washing up with cold water was an even greater discomfort for him. Iowa had become used to having a good working shower in the day room of some medium-security prison. After complaining about the lack of hot water, he told me he was considering going out to one of the cell showers in the Roundhouse. Three times a week showers are run in F House (except when on lockdown), but my cellmate has not been going due to his fear of being assaulted or getting into a fight. It was not any surprise to me that this fear outweighed any discomfort from having to use cold water to bathe in and wash his clothes. Unlike me, Iowa washes his underclothes after washing up instead of sending them out with the laundry. I do not know how he is getting his clothes very clean washing them in frigid water, but I suppose clean clothes are less of a priority to him than his safety.

Every morning before I exercise, I wash the floor of the cell. With only cold water to use, getting suds of any sort is difficult. All washing is difficult -- whether that be bathing, the floor, clothes, etc. When I went to clean my sweatpants and shorts, I had to wait several hours for water to heat up in bottles that I put on the radiator. I could have asked a neighbor, but waiting was not a problem for me. In the meantime, I listened to the news out of Libya until I became disgusted with rhetoric of an internationally-led humanitarian mission.

President Obama continues to claim the airstrikes and no fly zone set up by NATO forces are to protect the citizens of Libya from Gaddafi. I certainly hope the president is not using the U.S. military to promote his liberal democratic ideals abroad. The true mission should be to secure Libyan oil for the West. Possibly, he is using the same propaganda he criticized George Bush for in the Iraq War, although his energy policy continues to amaze me. While Bush was in favor of promoting the country's own oil production, Obama has steadfastly blocked it. Instead, he is in Brazil giving their country $2 billion to develop their offshore oil deposits. His policies are full of contradiction, inconsistencies, and hypocrisy.

I checked the water bottles on the radiator, and they were only mildly warm. There were several pop bottles on the radiator along with a laundry detergent container, peanut butter jar, and a bottle of Fuze. Fuze was some odd black and green tea vitamin beverage that was passed out to inmates a couple of months ago. My cellmate kept the thick plastic bottle as a drinking bottle.

I never heard of Fuze before, and I tend to believe when the prison serves such food products, it was donated to the IDOC because the company was not able to sell it on the market due to some problem. It may have an expired date on it, may contain a possible harmful ingredient, etc. Last year, prisoners at Stateville were blessed with Dannon Yogurt. The yogurt was supposed to be sent to Haiti, but due to delivery problems and the product about to go sour, it was donated to the IDOC. For a month, prisoners have been fed Frito corn chips, and there is a rumor they were donated because the expiration date on them expired in 2009.

This morning, my cellmate once again told me he hoped the plumbers come to fix the sink. I told him he was a fool to think there was any chance of this occurring over the weekend. He replied, "God willing, we will have hot water." Iowa had his Bible out, and I wondered if he actually had prayed for the sink button to be fixed. Possibly, he prayed to some patron saint of utilities. Amazing to me how some people believed in divine intervention in almost every trivial matter. I wondered if he actually believed in such absurdities. I wondered if his prison conversion to Catholicism was even real, or if it was a facade, or will disappear once he returns to his life outside of prison. I am highly skeptical of religious converts, and the more fervent they are, the more I question them.

Some people have told me that if I just believe, I will be released from prison. Repeatedly, I am annoyed throughout my incarceration by religious preachers. Today, as a matter of fact, I had an argument with my mother over the phone about the matter. It is one argument of thousands I have had with her. I am most aggravated by people who think that by mere prayer, good things will come. Faith and prayer will not swing open the doors of Stateville for me, just as it will not fix the broken button on my sink. I will rot in prison for years, if not until my death, and more than likely, my cellmate and I will be using cold water for a long time to come.