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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tattoo - May 26, 2011

A little before Christmas last year, a strange-looking man was assigned to the cell next to mine. He is a white man in his mid-30's with short cropped dark blond hair. He is of average build and height. However, this is all that is average about him. He has tattoos across his entire body including his face, and even on his eyes. He also has six gold front teeth which match his gold colored wire rim glasses. The man looks like a carnival attraction, and I wanted little to do with him. However, over the months, I have gotten to know the man who is appropriately called "Tattoo," and has the word printed on his forehead--in large letters.

My former cellmate, Iowa, used to talk to Tattoo, and help him out with various supplies he needed. Unlike the majority of prisoners in the Roundhouse, Tattoo was just recently convicted and sent to the penitentiary. He had almost nothing when he arrived at Stateville, coming from the Northern Receiving Classification Center, also known as NRC. I thought my cellmate was making a mistake so generously helping out a man he did not know, and who looked like a freak. My impression of the man was that he was not only a weirdo, but a drug addict and low-life. Iowa was mad at my quick judgment until Christmas, when I gave Tattoo some old clothes that I was going to throw out. My opinion of Tattoo did not change and still has not. However, considering where I am, he is relatively not such a bad person. On occasion, I have spoken with him.

The first time I spoke to Tattoo at any length was on the prison yard. I was lifting weights on a corner of the concrete basketball court. He told me he was about to rehire the attorney who represented him at trial to now do his appeal. I told him that may not be a wise idea. Trial counsel may be unwilling to raise their own mistakes, or may not see them like a new attorney would. I also mentioned that most attorneys specialize in a specific field. There are attorneys who specialize in trials, and others who only do appeals. Furthermore, before paying an enormous sum of money, he may want to see who the court appoints him and get their thoughts. I told him he could always drop the attorney at any time, and then seek private counsel. I must have made an impression on Tattoo, and he thereafter wanted to tell me all about his case.

After completing the exercise I was doing, I walked over to the monkey bars with Tattoo. No one was about, but he was still concerned about other people hearing about the specifics of his crime. This is a good precaution, even if you are innocent. Many people will make up a story to gain the favor of a prosecutor. This occurs much more often in county jails where detainees are desperate to get a charge dismissed, or a reduced sentence. After a person is convicted and sentenced, there is not as much for a snitch to gain. I have heard of snitches getting special privileges, job assignments, and sometimes transfers to better penitentiaries, however.

Tattoo had told my previous cellmate and I that he was in a gun fight with police, and had been charged with attempted murder of a police officer. The truth, from what I was told a few months ago, was a little different. In Logan, Illinois, Tattoo was riding with two women. He was incredibly drunk and on drugs, and the women told him to get out of the car. Outside the vehicle, Tattoo took out a gun and fired a couple of shots at one of the women. He missed. I do not know if it was his true intention to kill her, under the influence of so many drugs.

After the shooting, the women drove off, and Tattoo stumbled along the road until he convinced someone to give him a ride. Before they got too far, the truck was surrounded by police. The driver fled, but Tattoo stayed inside. Police shouted at him to get out with his hands up, but instead, he went low and clutched his handgun. When police peered into the vehicle, they saw that he was armed, and they fired numerous rounds. Astonishingly, Tattoo was hit nine times, even to the back of the neck, and survived. He showed me a number of bullet wounds, some of which I had not seen before. The scars look strange due to the disfiguration of his tattoos, but are probably not as noticeable because of all the ink covering his body.

Tattoo told me that he was not trying to shoot his way out from the encirclement of Logan police. He wanted to commit suicide, and be shot dead. He told me he was not aiming the gun, but it just happened to go off while he was being shot by the police. There was a video tape of the events, and from it one can ascertain that the police shot first, and the bullet from Tattoo's gun went through the ceiling. Despite this evidence, the prosecutor charged him with two counts of attempted murder. By the time he was released from the hospital and went to trial, the charge of attempted murder of the woman was dropped, and he only faced one count. This was enough though to net him 35 years in the penitentiary.

After telling his story, Tattoo wanted my advice and opinions. The most sought after answers newly sentenced prisoners want to hear is whether they can win on appeal, and if they will have to do all that time. However, even if a man tells me the truth and the complete story, I usually cannot give them a definitive answer. New trials are based on errors, the vast preponderance of the time, not the sufficiency of the evidence. To find out if there were any errors in his trial, I would have to review the transcripts of his trial. And that, I told him, I did not have time for, even if he had them in his possession. I did tell him, however, if the entire incident was on tape for an appellate court to review, he had more of a chance at a reversal than most other convicts. Tattoo told me that everything can be seen except what he was doing while laying low inside the truck. The cop testified that Tattoo aimed the weapon at him. In that case, I was able to tell him there was no chance the appellate court would reverse his conviction based upon the sufficiency of the evidence. However, due to the lawsuit his lawyer filed against the police officer, possibly a deal can be made where the sentence or charges can be reduced.

For a week after hearing his story, Tattoo was bothering me with questions. I would hear a thumping on the wall, and then he would pass me a note or some correspondence from his lawyer. I would explain to him what certain legal papers meant, and give him what advice I could. Tattoo was a freak, and not anyone I could be friends with, but I could empathize with him to a certain degree because of the terrible counsel I had, and my desire to see the justice system work properly.

When Tattoo was passing me various legal papers and notes, my prior cellmate would ask me what he had told me, and if there was any way he could win on appeal. I had given Tattoo my word that I would not repeat anything he told or showed me. Regardless, I would have felt an obligation to keep what he told me in confidence. Hence, I told Iowa that I could not say. I think Iowa was a little bothered that Tattoo, a person with whom he spoke and to whom he was so generous, would not open up about his case with him, but that he would open up with me, who expressed a disliking for him. I am only, by the way, now relating his story because I have heard him talk to others about it. If he is going to let his business be known to people in the Roundhouse, then it may as well be known to the readers of my blog. In any event, what Tattoo told me was his attorney's in-court defense, and that is public domain.

Earlier this month, I returned from a visit, and the guard in the gun tower was preoccupied, or too busy, to get out of his seat to press a button to let me in my cell. Tattoo noticed me standing outside, and showed me pictures from his photo album. I almost never show others my photos, but some prisoners like to. Tattoo showed me pictures of his children, and the various women that had been in his life. I was surprised he had kids that were apparently normal. I could not see the circus attraction as being a father, although just because he has children does not mean he was a part of their lives.

Tattoo showed me a photo of his ex-wife. This is the woman that drove him to indulge in drugs with reckless abandon, and to have a death wish when she left him. Incredibly, she was also tattooed from head to toe. I understand Tattoo was a tattoo artist, but I never thought he would practice on his wife and make her look like a freak as well. She was not a bad looking woman, and although I did not say anything, I had even less respect for my neighbor. He even tattooed the words "Mrs. Tattoo"
on her forehead. ( See her photo at )

When I finally was able to enter my cell, I told my cellmate about the tattoo. He said that was the ultimate "tramp stamp." I asked him what a tramp stamp was, and he said it was usually a tattoo a girl was given on her ass of the name of her boyfriend. Josh said Mrs. Tattoo is never going to be able to hide that branding. I thought her body was covered with so many tattoos that the stamp may not even be noticed.

This week Tattoo's cellmate was moved to general population, and Tattoo has been alone in the cell. The solitude apparently greatly bothers him, and he has been annoying me regularly. The first matter he was to bother me about was the cable. The cable coupling in my cell does not work, and for the last several months, I have had two cable wires leading into his cell. There was not enough power to supply all three of our televisions, and thus, Tattoo had been using a digital antenna to pick up stations. When his cellmate left, he wanted to split the cable with me, but he had neither a splitter nor a threaded cable wire. He pounded on my wall for these things. Then he wanted a cable conjoiner and another wire. I did not have another wire, and so he then wanted me to fix a broken cable that he had. It went on and on until I just began to ignore him. When I began to watch the movie "Stone" that was being played on the prison's DVD system, Tattoo began tinkering with the wires and the movie went in and out on me, and then there was static. Apparently, this was his way of showing me his unhappiness about my not responding to him anymore. Although I wanted to see the end of the movie, I pretended like I was asleep, and did not say anything. The following morning, my cable was working again.

I do not like to talk cell to cell, especially in the Roundhouse. It is too loud, I cannot hear well, and I must shout. The cell house noise bothers me immensely as well, and I usually have headphones on, or earplugs in my ears. During the day when Tattoo repeatedly knocked on my wall to get my attention, I increasingly became annoyed with him and how stupid he seemed to be. How could he be so lonely after only hours being in the cell alone? How could he be so dumb not to be able to connect some cable wires together and get his TV tuned to cable? I made a comment to my cellmate, who was laughing. He said he will give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that Tattoo was not born that way, and that he had scrambled his brain using meth and other drugs.

The next day it was my turn to have fun at my cell mate's expense. Josh had stopped at his cell to talk to him for a moment, and thereafter, Tattoo was rapping on the wall to talk to him. My cellmate is somewhat like me, and does not want to be disturbed repeatedly. He continually had to jump down off his bunk to go to the door to see what Tattoo wanted. By the time evening came around, he was tired of going back and forth. Then I began to relay their words. Tattoo wanted to know what kind of music Josh listened to, and if he had any cassette tapes. They exchanged "Eminem" tapes. I was surprised they both had them. Then Tattoo gave me a Guns N Roses tape. I was not a big fan of the group, but I wanted to hear an amusing song they recorded called "I Used to Love Her."

This week, evening yard was run for 4 gallery, and Tattoo came out. I never see him during morning yard because he sleeps late, but he comes out when yard is run later. Tattoo once again sought me out, and I talked to him between sets of exercises. He has so many tattoos in blue ink that I told him all he needed to do was shave his head bald, and he could possibly try out for the Blue Man Group. Then I asked him if he had seen his doppelganger. There was another man with blue tattoos all over his body. I said he could start his own freak show group. "Do you know how to play the drums or make any odd noises?" I asked. "No," he said. "I just know how to use a tattoo gun."

While working out, I asked Tattoo if he wanted to do a set instead of just standing there like a freak. He told me he could not do a number of exercises due to the metal rods and screws in his forearm. Some of the bullets that tore through his body had shattered the bones in one of his arms. I looked at his arm more carefully than I had before, and noticed he had a tattoo covering up another tattoo. I asked him if he was a former gang member, and he said, yes, and was surprised that I was able to guess which one. Tattoo then said, "If you think I look like a freak, you should have seen me before my arrest. I had six lip rings, a steel rod that went through my nose, and devil's horns."

As I was writing this journal entry, Tattoo pounded on the wall to get my attention. He then asked me if I had any freak books. I assumed he was asking about porn magazines, and not body tattoo art magazines. I have a few, but I will not share my girls with anyone. I wrote him back to use his imagination. He has only been in prison half a year. This got a big laugh from my neighbor, but Tattoo said he wanted the porn to make drawings from. Maybe this was so, but I still was not sharing.

As far as I was concerned, Tattoo could not get a cellmate soon enough. I joked with him that the placement officer was trying to find him someone really special. As soon as he gets out of Seg, some big psychotic homosexual would soon be his new cellmate. Then, they could look at freak books together. Tattoo did not like this and asked if I was trying to jinx him. No, I would not do that. I know how terrible it is to get a bad cell mate. Furthermore, I need him to be assigned a person he will get along with. Then he can socialize with him, and not regularly bother me.

August 1, 2011 addition:

I have recently become aware that Mrs. Tattoo is pictured on a website called
"Ugliest Tattoos: Bad, Awful and Horrible Tattoos" at It is unfortunate she has this distinction. She is not an urgly woman, but this tattoo on her forehead is forever going to disfigure her. I spoke to the man who put this mark on her, and he incredibly was envious that she had such publicity. He thought he deserved credit, and wanted his face and body pictured online, or in a magazine. I did not tell him I saw his former girlfriend on the Ugliest Tattoos website, however. He should be ashamed of himself.