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Friday, October 7, 2011

Visit With My Sister -- September 30, 2011

This morning I was expecting my sister, Bernadette, to visit me. As noon approached, I increasingly hoped she would not show up. I felt like putting my ear plugs in and lying in bed for several hours. I would rather fall asleep or continue daydreaming about a time before my arrest. Yesterday, I thought about my time as a student at Lincoln-Way High School and was eager to continue doing so. My current life was miserable and it would be even more apparent if I left my cell. The last few weeks, I have holed up in my cell, rarely ever going out even for chow lines. The less of prison and prisoners I see, the better. Unfortunate that I cannot escape it altogether.

I was sitting at the steel table next to the bars reading an investment newspaper when a guard approached me. I took off my headphones to hear what he had to say, although I was practically certain it was to notify me that I had a visit. I was correct, and I told him to give me 5 minutes to change my clothes. Other than when prisoners go to yard, we must be dressed in state blues to leave our cells. One benefit of being only about 20 feet from the guard's front door desk is that I did not have to wait to be let out of the cell for visits. Many people shout out their cells for a half hour or longer before a guard unlocks their door.

I was sent out without an escort. The guard told me there was someone waiting at the end of the building to walk me the rest of the way. The building that houses prisoners in general population is a huge stone structure that is the length of city block. There was little chance of me escaping or going off route. Along side the building is a concrete walk with tall fencing on both sides topped with razor wire. A sergeant and a few prisoners were waiting at the end of it. They were going to the Health Care Unit which is on the way to the visiting room. One of the inmates who I did not recognize asked me if I was still a workout machine. I told him I haven't exercised in about a month because of a shoulder injury. The sergeant asked if I got it from all the headstand push ups he used to see me do on property boxes when I was in unit Bravo. I told him I did not know how I injured myself, but I think I tore a ligament.

At gate 5, I saw there was a crowd of inmates not only in the holding cages but outside in the adjoining hallway. I thought this is why I did not want to go on a visit. I did not want to be in a large crowd of loud, obnoxious prisoners. I also thought I may be waiting for an hour or longer, and my visit would be greatly curtailed. Fridays are usually extremely crowded. However today was the last day of the month and I did not anticipate it being so bad. Prisoners at Stateville are only allowed five visits a month, and most that receive them have used them up by the last week.

The guard at gate 5 took my ID and locked me in the hallway, but fortunately not in one of the cages. In the hallway I noticed Bob, who was my cellmate for a short period of time several years ago. He asked me how I was doing and who was here to see me. I told him his first question was stupid. I am at Stateville, and he knows I have a protracted death sentence. He is forever the optimist and overly friendly. He said that I was going to go home some day. I told him he was right, but in a pine box. Bob was a good cellmate, but I do not like people that are always rays of sunshine.

I asked Bob how his case was going after telling him my sister was here to see me. He told me he was still waiting for the prosecutor to respond to his post conviction appeal from the circuit court. The trial judge, not surprisingly, dismissed his claims as frivolous and without merit. This is usually what the trial judge does, despite what errors you bring to their attention. My trial judge, Sam Amirante, dismissed my appeal also. He ruled my claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was without merit. In his opinion, the lawyers who put on no defense at all, and even told the jury to believe the lying interrogating officer were exceptional, and even if that claim and others filed in my petition had merit, because the appeal failed to attach affidavits, it was a procedural default.

Robert Mueller was convicted for the statutory rape of a 17-year-old, and sentenced to an incredible 40 years in prison. The sentence went way beyond what statutory rape allows, but the judge gave him a consecutive sentence for every time he had sex with the girl. Bob was a high school teacher in Hinsdale, and probably had something to do with the severity of his sentence. I personally think he should not have been given 4 years, let alone 40. I do not consider Bob a pedophile by any means. For Bob's birthday, I sent him a cassette tape with recordings of nothing but the song "Hot for Teacher," by David Lee Roth. The next time I saw Bob, he had a big grin on his face and told me "Thanks for the tape," but I do not know how amused he was. He may end up dying in prison for having sex with the high school student.

I was waiting for a half hour before I was strip searched and then allowed into the visiting room. As I walked down the short flight of steps, I looked to see if my sister was there. She was not. There are about 40 tables in the visiting room, and almost all of them were filled. The sergeant at the front desk assigned me to one of the few empty tables. The table was against the wall and directly in front of me was the table Bob sat at. His ugly wife was not there, but two men he told me earlier were friends.

I did not wait too long before I saw my sister in a line of people coming down the stairs. She waved to me before checking in, and I gave her a brief hug when she got to the table. My sister and I have always had a good relationship that has persisted despite the nearly two decades I have been incarcerated. As a child, my sister and I got along well, although our age differences did not give us much in common and she left home when I was very young. I did not see her again until years later when I was a teen. She soon thereafter got married, and bought a home with her husband that was not too far away. I went to visit them from time to time, even after I moved in with my co-defendant who lived in Schiller Park. In fact, I was at their home on the day the prosecution speculates that Dean Fawcett was murdered.

The last time I saw Bernadette was when I was still caged in the Roundhouse, so she was interested in my new location. I told her about being moved to general population and being assigned an obnoxious cellmate. I also told her about where my cell was located and the great amount of traffic and noise just outside my cell. I used some napkins on the table to illustrate where my cell was in relation to the holding cage, guard's desk, and front door. She asked me if the noise was as loud as it was now in the visiting room, and I said it was. The only time that is quiet was between 10 p.m. and 7 in the morning. She said she felt sorry for me.

My sister asked if I had eaten lunch, and if I wanted some food from the vending machines. I told her I was not particularly hungry even though I did not go to lunch. She was thirsty and got herself something to drink. She returned with a couple bottles of green tea, and informed me there were only cheeseburgers and snack products available. Again I told her I was not hungry, but she said I was too skinny and brought back two cheeseburgers and a bag of Doritos. Dorritos has been her favorite snack since I could remember when I was a small child.

As we ate the cheeseburgers, I told her I was expecting her to be fat. Our mother had commented a few times on her expanding size, and I was led to believe she would be enormous. She said she only put on a few pounds and wondered why this would be said. I told her I did not know but I was glad she did not roll in like The Great Pumpkin, in reference to her choice of clothes. She was wearing black shoes, pants, and a jacket but had on an orange shirt. My sister mentioned how she thought she was dressed for Halloween, a month early. I noticed she did not eat her chips after opening the bag, although there were only about 10 chips in it. Women are incredibly sensitive about their weight, I thought.

Bernadette asked me what happened to "Lisa," a woman I had been in contact with for a couple of months. I said I didn't know. Possibly, I had hurt her feelings and was too insensitive to her problems. From the beginning, I told my sister, I thought she was too emotional. I also thought it was very odd that she spent so much time with my parents.

My sister and I shared a laugh after I told her how I spoke to "Lisa" about sharing finances. I told "Lisa" that I did not believe in marriage, and if by chance I ever married I would without question have a prenuptial agreement. Plus, we would never share any bank accounts or credit cards. All of this made her very upset, especially when I told her that if I ever bought her a ring, the stone would be a fake. My sister thought I was just playing with the woman, but I told her I was not. A lab created diamond is just as good as a real one. In fact, the only way an expert can tell the difference is a lab created stone is perfect whereas a real diamond has flaws. It is the diamond cartels that hoard the abundant rock, greedy stone cutters, and manipulative marketing that give diamonds their value. My sister said she wished she knew this before her husband spent so much money.

I was asked how I knew "Lisa" lost interest in me. I said it was readily apparent how she went from great infatuation to nothing. It was a night and day difference. The long letters I received regularly stopped. She also went from continually wanting me to call her to ceasing to add money to her phone card so I could not call her at all. She wanted me to call so often that I was regularly bored and had to make provocative comments to keep my interest. Finally, as my sister already knew, she always wanted to visit me, which meant my family could not visit. Then suddenly, she did not want to come to see me at all. She disappeared from my life seemingly overnight.

My sister expressed how it was not only odd, but in poor taste for her to abruptly cease contact without explanation. I told her that was OK because she was not close to the type of woman I liked. Even my parents noticed how radically different she was from Susanna, my last girlfriend. Regardless of how I thought, I did not blame any woman for not wanting to be with me. I am a prisoner who will probably die in prison. She was smart to so quickly make an about face.

We then talked about why my appeal was so delayed. It is extremely difficult to get a court to look at your case once you have lost all your regular set of appeals. My attorney believes the only way I may be successful is by offering the court new evidence that was not available at trial, and by making a strong actual innocence claim. All the evidence my trial attorneys had at their disposal and did not use cannot be submitted, however. I hope my attorney is busy collecting new evidence that can be used.

I then went on to tell Bernadette how incredibly slow the court system was in Cook County. Even if my appeal was filed today, and it was to ultimately be successful in gaining me a new trial, the odds are I will not see another jury until 2020. I know a few men in my cell house who have successive post conviction appeals based on actual innocence still pending 7 years after they were filed. I expressed my hope that Governor Quinn would grant my request for clemency because this would immediately set me free. The last I heard, however, this administration was still reviewing petitions from the last governor.

News from family members comes to me quicker than the mail. My sister told me a childhood friend of mine, Jeffrey, had made contact somehow via the Internet, and she asked if I remembered him. I do remember him, as well as his two brothers. She did not know anything specific, but I was glad to hear someone from my past had emailed me or posted something on the blogsite. Another man who said he worked with me at a cabinet business in Frankfort also made some contact. Unfortunately, his comment was posted as "anonymous," so she could not give me a name or a way to respond to him.

The noise in the visiting room was so loud that I often had to lean forward to hear my sister. Sometimes I noticed we were almost yelling at each other. The noise was irritating, and for a moment I stopped talking and just looked about the zoo. My sister noticed that we were the only white people in this crowd, so I pointed out Bob who was at a table behind her, and then spotted an old white woman near the back who was visiting a younger black man. My sister remarked that she was probably being used for her money. Probably so, I agreed. A Social Security check will go a long way in prison.

We talked about a CNN Piers Morgan interview that I watched last night. On the show, he had Damien Echols, his wife, and Jason Baldwin. The alleged near-retarded Jessie Misskelly who told police he witnessed his two friends torture and kill three boys in West Memphis was conspicuously absent. I am still intrigued by the case that in some respects reminds me of my own, although mine did not receive nearly the attention after my conviction. I told my sister I wish the judge had given me the death penalty so my case may have been scrutinized more on appeal. However, I doubt I would have garnered the support of capital punishment opponents or Hollywood liberals. I think the death penalty should be used much more often. The problem, in my opinion, is with the judicial process, the draconian sentencing, and vast criminal statutes.

Before the visiting room was closed, I told my sister I did not fail to remember her birthday earlier this month. I simply did not want to mention the subject in my last letter because of how old we are. There was nothing but sadness in my 30's, and I assumed the 40's would be even more depressing. She said that I am not that old and still have a baby face. I told her she was being ludicrous because I have creases throughout my face, pains throughout my body, and frequent thoughts of withering away. She told me everyone in their 30's has the lines and pains I have. I don't want to be in my 30's. I want to be 18 again. I want the life that has been stolen from me.

Although I was not very eager to go on my visit earlier today, I was glad my sister came to see me. Often I am left more unhappy than I was before a visit, and aggravated due to the prison conditions I must endure. However, it was nice to see my sister and I hope to see her again soon. Hopefully she does not visit again on my birthday.