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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lockdown Respite -- September 8, 2011

On Monday, there was a gang brawl on the way to the gym. According to guards and inmates, about 20 men from cell house E were involved in the melee. I have not heard if anyone was seriously injured, but I do know the dispute was between Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples. As I write this journal entry, the prison is on lockdown and over 100 tactical team guards from across the state are searching the prison for weapons and other contraband. They have not come to the cell house I am in yet, but they could be here tomorrow. The administration takes organized group activity seriously, and the entire prison will probably be searched. I assume men have already begun to be interrogated and transferred out to Pontiac, Tamms, and Menard's segregation. In the meantime, I have been taking this time to rest, daydream, and attempt to heal my many injuries.

Most inmates do not like when the prison is on lockdown and they must remain in their cells. However, for me this has come as a great blessing. Without any movement, there have been no prisoners walking by my bars or standing in the holding cage. It has been quiet much of the time, not only at night, but throughout the day. No longer do I have prisoners yelling and talking just outside my cell. Even my cellmate has been quiet since the prison has been on lockdown, as he has no one to talk to. On top of the relative peace and quiet, I once again have "room service." All three of my meals are brought to my cell by guards. The food may be terrible, but at least I do not have the aggravation of going to the chow hall.

Since I have been moved to general population, I have been at great unease. I am in a cell that is positioned on the ground floor, across from a holding cage, and near the cell house door. The enormous and almost ceaseless amount of traffic and noise just outside my bars is almost maddening. I hate prison and the vast majority of convicts here. This cell forces me to be a part of it and them every waking moment of my life. There is no privacy and no escape. Even from inside my cell there is regular aggravation. My cellmate is frequently talking and shouting to his numerous friends, gang buddies, or just about anyone who happens to want to talk. It has been great that lockdown has stopped all of this. Hopefully, the prison will remain on lockdown for the rest of this month.

For years, I have been dealing with a back injury. I have two crushed disks in my lumbar spine that cause chronic pain. Recently, I injured something in my left shoulder. I do not know what the problem is or how it occurred, but it is even more painful than my back. Oddly, the severity of the new injury often makes me forget about my back pain. Before the lockdown, I had submitted several requests to see a doctor, but I was never given an appointment. I do not know what the prison doctor would have done anyway other than give me ibuprofen. I already have stronger anti-inflammatories in my cell and they do not help. In prison, doctors do not normally attempt to figure out what your ailment is, but just give you cheap generic pain pills. It will be many months, if not years, until I see a specialist who will determine if I tore a tendon, pinched a nerve, or damaged my rotator cuff.

In addition to my lower back and shoulder injuries, I have a sore right knee. I tend to believe the problem is due to tendinitis or repeated stress to the joint. I regularly do intense cardiovascular workouts in my cell on the concrete, however, the injury could be due to the years I lifted heavy weights. Possibly I have disintegrated some of the cartilage in the knee. The pain only affects me when I exercise and has only been persistent for a couple of months. If the pain was due to power lifting, I would assume it would have stayed with me for years. I have never complained about the knee injury because, again, I know the response of prison doctors will be to give me Tylenol or Ibuprofen. If I want to see a specialist, have an MRI, or C/T scan, it will require persistent litigation. It took me years to see a specialist about my back, and it was not until I was unable to walk that I was sent out to the hospital to see a neurologist.

Regularly, people will comment on the intensity of my workouts. Prisoners and guards alike will stop and watch when I exercise in the cell. I hate the attention it draws and wish I had a curtain to block out the view of bystanders. Last week, I had a lieutenant standing at my bars as I did hyper extensions off a box stacked on my bunk. When I finished, he asked if I was all right. I said, "No, I am not. I have a natural life sentence and will probably die in prison." Apparently though, he was commenting on my strange setup and exercise. He likes to try to be funny. I suppose he also may have thought it was a way to open up conversation.

Over the weekend, I had the black inmate who is a fan of Green Mountain Coffee stock offerings at my bars. He asked me how I was doing. I dislike these ambiguous questions which I often do not understand. I do not know if the person is just saying this as some kind of a greeting, to be social, or if they actually want to know how you are doing in some degree or way. Instead of trying to figure it out, I just told him I was in a lot of pain. He said he could not tell by the way I work out. I told him I do not allow pain to stop what I want to do. He is not the only person to make such comments.

Not long ago when I was on the yard, Steve told me that for a man who is in so much pain, I certainly do not show it. I asked him if he ever saw the movie "Predator." When he said he had, I asked him if he remembered when a member of the Special Ops Team told Jessie Ventura he was bleeding, and Ventura dismissed his concern and said, "I don't have time to bleed." I told Steve, "I do not have time for pain." However, since I made this comment, I have reconsidered. I have nothing but time to languish in the maximum security prisons of Illinois until they shovel dirt on top of my body. I have been over training and taxing myself for years, if not decades. Now that I am old, I can no longer heal and rebuild muscle and tissue like before. It is time to take a break. I have time for pain.

Since the beginning of the lockdown, I have ceased to work out. For this entire month, I plan to rest, and nurse my injuries. I am not certain if it will do any good, however, because my problems are possibly beyond any natural healing. The disks in my back are never going to regain their height or structural integrity. If my shoulder injury is a torn ligament, it will most likely need to be sewn back together. If it is a nerve, this also may not heal with rest. Nor will my knee, if damage is irreversible wearing away of cartilage. Despite the uncertainty, I will give it a try. I regret not having done so with my back the first time I injured it. Possibly it would not ail me today, if I did.

It is difficult for me to assess injuries because of my insensitivity to touch. Yesterday, laundry was returned to prisoners in C House and I had to ask my cellmate if my clothes were damp. I cannot tell, and did not want to fold them in my box if they still had moisture. Indeed, they were wet, and I had to use my fan to dry them out. Sometimes, I will take the returned laundry and put it to my face because it is more sensitive to touch, but this does not always work. Not being able to figure out if something is wet or dry also applies to pain stimuli. I can push myself through pain or not even be aware of it. When I was a child, I burnt the skin on my back by leaning up against a hot popcorn maker. I did not realize my skin was burning until my mother and sister began to smell not popcorn but burning flesh. Being insensitive to pain can have advantages but also disadvantages. I often do not know how badly I have been injured. If I did not have this problem, upon hurting my back in my 20's, I may have stopped working out. With my shoulder and knee, I have no idea the extent of damage or how it occurred.

It is odd not exercising. I work out almost every day, and it is a part of my routine. I have played sports, lifted weights, or exercised almost continuously since I was a child. I have only been nonactive for four days, but already I feel the urge to do something. The man I talk to a couple cells away has told me just do a lighter workout. However, this I cannot do. It is everything or nothing. I hate half measures. Even in my attempt to rest and recuperate, I will do so with completeness.

Every day, I have been going to sleep at 9 p.m. and waking up at 7 a.m. I also lay in bed from about noon to 4, even if I do not fall asleep. I will just daydream for several hours. I daydream about a life I would have had if never arrested. Repeatedly, people ask me what I will do when I am freed. I tell them their question is ridiculous because they assume I will get out. Despite how my case and sentence may defy sensibility, the justice system is not about adhering to common sense. Odds are that I will never be given any relief in form of a pardon, commutation of sentence, or a new trial. Even if I was to be released, I do not know under what circumstances or when. A post conviction appeal in Cook County Illinois usually takes between 5 and 10 years if it is successful. Prosecutors and judges delay the process with numerous continuances and appeals. Even defense lawyers can be the cause of delays. I do not care to daydream about a life in my 40's and beyond. A life as an old man has no appeal.

I also daydream about the life I had before my arrest. My former cellmate, Josh, was always trying to figure people out with various stereotypes based on psychology all the way to astrology. He would tell me I was a "Crushed Star." A crushed star is someone who was full of promise and at a high point in their lives before having all of it destroyed by their arrest and conviction. He said he could tell by the way I spoke about my past before my arrest. I had a great nostalgia for it. My former cellmate is correct in that regard. I do often seek to remember my years as a teenager before my life was abruptly ended at age 18. I would not care if my entire prison years were erased from my memory. However, I treasure those years during my teens.

In my hours of lying in bed, I think of many hypothetical alternative realities. A movie people may have seen, "The Butterfly Effect," is commonly a type of theme in my daydreams. For those who have not seen the movie or are aware of the theory behind it, the smallest change in action can have a ripple effect that radically affects your life and numerous others', even those you have never met. Not only do I ponder how to alter my arrest or conviction but various parts of my teen life. Although I like much of the times before my arrest, it is greatly intriguing to think about even better scenarios. If someone knew me in the past, there is a good chance I have thought about you. Even those who only knew me from afar may be a part of my thoughts sometime in my nearly two decades of incarceration.

Also in my thoughts are totally fictional creations. Purportedly, those with Aspergers have poor or no ability to fantasize. However, I have always had a good imagination. The only problem I may have is with the enormous intricacy and desire to be realistic. Along with my daydreams of a future I could have had if not arrested or the past, I have thought of several themes lately, one of which I think could be made into a good romance novel. Over my years in prison, I have thought about writing numerous novels with subjects ranging from science fiction, horror, romance, history or war. If I had been inclined to put these ideas to paper, I could have at least written ten fictional books and possibly over 20. However, the amount of effort I would have had to use would be enormous. I do not have a word processor or computer or access to the Internet where I could do quick research or even make easy corrections. Like the blog posts I write, they would have had to be written slowly in dull pencil, then typed, and sent to publishers. I am confident at least a few of these works of fiction would have been successful, although I would have had to use an alias, such as I have in the past when writing political editorials for a few newspapers and magazines. Even fictional writing would be difficult being published when you are a convicted murderer.

As usual, I have read and listened to talk radio while on lockdown. I am limited in the music I can listen to now that I am on the ground floor of a concrete and steel monolith. FM reception is almost nonexistent except for pop and a Mexican music station, unless I dangle an antenna out of my bars. I care not to listen to pop or the carnival music Mexicans seem to enjoy. I have some heavy metal tapes, but most of my tapes were taken by Internal Affairs because they were copies. Inmates are not supposed to have recordings, but I refuse to pay $10, or up to $100, to order cassette tapes that are almost extinct. There are rumors prisoners may get MP3 players this decade, but there is discussion on how music will be recorded and controlled.

On talk radio was a brief mention of the Governor closing a prison or two due to budget difficulties. Apparently, television news has also reported it because while I was reading earlier today an inmate yelled out to guards, "Attention all correctional officers. Be prepared for layoffs." This was in response to a guard announcing to prisoners: "Attention all inmates. Be prepared for an Orange Crushing." It would be nice if Stateville was closed, but from information I have heard, Pontiac and either Vandalia or Logan C.C. are on the chopping block. At least the Governor is considering retracting the prison industrial complex, even if only marginally and because he is forced to. However, the problem needs to be addressed through the legislature with scaled back sentencing and criminal statutes. The judicial system also needs radical reform.

I believe the cuts to the IDOC have been under discussion by administrators for a period of time. Recently, counselors have been allowing prisoners with over 20 years remaining to serve to apply for medium-security transfers. Previously, no one with more than 2 decades was permitted to leave maximum-security (except for a privileged few). However, there are so many people with natural life sentences or other sentences which would never make them eligible, a change in policy had to be made. The only maximum-security prisons in Illinois are Menard and Stateville, which are already over capacity. If Pontiac segregation is closed, those fifteen hundred men must be sent to these two prisons, or Tamms Supermax. There is no way this can be accommodated.

Thinking I may have a chance to leave this place, even I requested a transfer. However, not long ago, it was denied. The brief memo I received from clinical services simply stated "offender is properly placed." This is a generic and arbitrary denial meaning the person who decides transfers at Stateville had no legitimate reasons. Despite this, I was not terribly upset. I have never had any optimism about the justice system or my incarceration in the IDOC. I will probably never see freedom or justice, or less miserable and oppressive living conditions while incarcerated. I am a "crushed star," and will just continue to rot away in my cage brooding about a life I once had, or should have had. Maybe, I will get up this evening to listen to the U.S. President's continued economic stimulus gimmicks or the NFL's season opener. I will not care however, if I do not wake up from my afternoon nap and sleep around the clock, or even this entire lockdown. In fact, I would prefer to be in a coma my entire captive existence.