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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Blagojevich Goes to Prison -- March 15, 2012

Yesterday, I watched former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich give a speech outside his home. It seemed odd a person convicted of numerous counts of political corruption was in front of the cameras giving a semi-pompous speech the day before he went to prison. I might imagine he may be pummeled with tomatoes or at least receive a pie to the face, yet the audience received him like he was a hero of the people rather than a malfeasant derelict politician. I noticed a few people even draped an American flag over his shoulders which he only slightly objected to, although it was apparent he was enormously gratified to be so honored and adored by the public. He still seemed to have illusions of becoming President rather than being in prison the next 12 years. Indeed, the tone of his speech was similar to that of the real presidential candidates who were in Illinois campaigning for the state's Republican primary. At the end of his rhetoric, he answered questions and I thought the news media had given him his last day in the sun yet I was wrong. Even before daybreak today, there was a crowd of media to watch the former governor go to prison.

I began my day as I typically do eating breakfast and watching the news. I knew today my cell house would be the first to be sent to the chow hall for lunch and therefore only ate a small bowl of branflakes. Before I peeled off the top of my 25 gram self-serve container of cereal, I turned on my television. I discovered the national and world news programs I usually watch were supplanted with local news, and all I saw was the front of the Blagojevich residence. No, I had enough of the egomaniac and with my remote control stick I switched from station to station. However, except for CNN which was at a commercial break, CBS, FOX, NBC, ABC, and WGN were all camped out in front of the ex-governor's Ravenswood Manor home in Chicago. What possibly more was there to cover with this story I thought. Did they come for another bizarre speech? Did they intend to follow the man all the way to Colorado? In fact the local news media did have intentions to follow him from the front door of his house to the front door of Englewood Penitentiary. The man apparently was Chicago's own dysfunctional, dethroned Hollywood celebrity.

I did not have to wait long before seeing a taped replay of Blagojevich leaving his home. He was dressed casually in blue jeans and a black collared shirt. His Donald Trump/Elvis Presley hair style and his demeanor seemed more subdued. Initially, I thought he may actually just go into the car awaiting him without a word. But, of course, with the sight of the camera crews, there was a sparkle in his eyes. The former governor could not resist the opportunity to have the attention of the media again. Although with a plane to catch there was not enough time for another speech.

Most of what Blagojevich said I missed because of an argument with my cellmate. "Old Gangster Bobby" was mad that I had left the inside of the sink with a slight film of soap residue. The sink in my cell does not drain well, and if it is not wiped out after using it may leave some particle matter behind or even water droplets. I refuse to wait a few minutes to see if any residue is left behind. I also refuse to scrub the sink out with soap 30 or more times a day, nor will I merely wipe it off to remove water. I wash the floor, sink, and toilet once a day, sometimes more. I also scrub and disinfect the bacteria infested sink and toilet rags he uses daily. Everytime I use the sink, I wipe the sides or top of any splashed water or soap, but I will not wipe out the basin. Ironic the desheveled, unclean old man with maybe five teeth in his mouth has a fixation with the sink.

After the argument with my cellmate, I wondered who former governor Rod Blagojevich would be celled with, or if he would even have a cellmate. The Englewood prison in Littleton, Colorado was a minimum-security federal prison and I imagine the inmates there are predominately Caucasian and have non-violent convictions. Most I assume have been convicted of white collar crimes. The prisoners there will be a stark contrast to those here at Stateville. There will be few, if any, inner city ghetto gangbangers with little education and long rap sheets of brutal crimes. No, I doubt Blagojevich will be celled with a Vice Lord, Gangster Disciple, or Latin King, nor a cellmate like O.G. Bobby who served over a decade on death row for his second murder. Interestingly, I have heard there is a possibility the former governor may not only have one cellmate but three. Some of the cells at Englewood have 4 bunks. I imagine how Blagojevich would respond to being assigned my last three cellmates, although the extroverted social politician may like the company until they abused or took advantage of him. Fortunately for Rod, he will not be locked up nearly 24/7 with his cellmate or cellmates, and for the most part he will be free to come and go as he chooses.

The media followed the former governor by helicopter to Chicago's O'Hare Airport. At the airport, the man began palm pressing, posing for photos, and signing autographs. Once again, he was in campaign mode. Strange the politician who had broken the public's trust and abused his office was still so popular. I believe I even saw Blagojevich give some people hugs and kisses. What was more odd--the public who still adores him or the convict who believes he is running for office? I speculate some people were only intrigued by the Chicago celebrity despite what he may have done. Even O.J. Simpson had his fans and onlookers in public. As for Blagojevich, it was obvious he loved the lime light and still clung on to hopes that his stay in prison would be brief.

In his farewell address I heard him say he had a "heavy heart, clear conscience, and high hopes for the future." I have seen numerous prisoners with a delusional absolute belief they will win their direct appeal and their prison stay will be only temporary. The odds of winning a state appeal are statistically much less than 5%, and the federal courts are not much better. The issues Blagojevich has, such as the jury not being allowed to hear a tape recording of his brother say on the telephone they are not for sale, are legally poor. Men who come to prison oftentimes must lie to themselves because they cannot accept reality. People new to the "justice" system are particularly naive, even when evidence against them is insurmountable or they have no significant trial errors. Even after losing all their regular set of appeals some men cannot give up hope. I knew an old man convicted of murder who blindly believed he was going home, even after two decades in prison. Despite my ridicule and telling him he lived in a fantasy world, he would not think otherwise and died in prison still clinging to hope. Blagojevich may be one of those people, although I tend to believe he will see his out date in 2024.

Unlike these men, I had no illusions. I am a pessimistic person to begin with and I have never believed life was fair. My natural skeptical predisposition, along with my realization the prosecutor would use the full resources of the state to convict me by hook or by crook, always kept me realistically grounded. When my trial attorneys failed to contest the prosecutor's theory of accountability, I knew it was over. On appeal, I knew the odds and how much slimmer they were with the Palatine Massacre still hanging over my head. Incompetent counsel also did not help. I believe my realism has made me a stronger person, albeit more somber, unhappy, and grim.

It may be unfathomable for a man such as Blagojevich to be realistic. His life has seemed to always have been on an upward trajectory. From the time he obtained a job at a law firm through the powerful Chicago alderman Vrdolyak to his marriage to the daughter of another city heavyweight, Dick Mell, who catapulted him through the ranks of the Democratic Party to the Governor's office. I am almost certain Blagojevich had dreams on the White House and to go from seeing yourself as President of the US to a lowly, impotent nobody in prison was a great fall. One news reporter said the worst thing for the former governor with a huge ego, dreams, power, and fame was to become just another number in the prison industrial complex.

While waiting for chow lines to be run, I turned on my Walkman to listen to Bruce Wolf and Dan Proft on WLS talk radio. I was interested to hear their perspective on the media-Blago fiasco. As I suspected, they thought he was a nut case going into campaign mode before he went to prison. During his speech yesterday he rambled on about free mammograms and pap smears for women, free rides for senior citizens on Chicago's public transport, and various other special interest perks. Even with his little daughter tugging at him to go, he could not resist pretending he was a man of the people and not the selfish, self absorbed, corrupt politician with no work ethic. During his 6 years in office, Blagojevich rarely even went to Springfield, the state capital, to work with the legislature or make any diligent efforts. Rather he preferred to do what he did best: talk.

Wolf and Proft were as amazed as me at how people in Chicago continued to support the former governor. However, they were to note how friendly and personable he was, even if it was ingenuous. They also noted how people in Chicago probably became accustomed to the political corruption and patronism which was commonplace. Half of all governors in the state since the 1960's have been sent to prison, including Blagojevich's predecessor, George Ryan. Numerous politicians in Illinois have been investigated or convicted of corruption and it is probably the tip of the iceberg. Jesse Jackson Jr. is currently under investigation for seeking to buy Barack Obama's open senate seat and yet still has the President's endorsement. Derrick Smith, a state legislator, was arrested earlier this week for taking bribes. It is nearly expected politicians use their power to enrich themselves, family, or friends.

This may explain part of the public's sympathy, but what of the media? The media has clearly portrayed Blagojevich in a positive light and continues to give him all the publicity he seeks. Possibly, this was due to him being the first Democratic Governor in many years, and liberal bias. However, it was more than his politics. Blagojevich was a very friendly, social, and personable person to his constituents and to members of the media. Bruce Wolf brought out how the only reporter with the gall to ask a sharp below-the-belt question was Chuck Goudie. He asked Patti Blagojevich if she was going to stay with her husband. Considering most prisoners' wives or girlfriends leave them or are unfaithful, especially over a decade's time, I thought it was a good question. However, of course, Patti would never say she would not remain with him and as expected she ignored Goudie as if his question was unthinkable. I wonder if she will feel the same in 2020.

Chuck Goudie has been a news reporter in Chicago for a long time. He is known for his big breaking news stories and hard hitting questions . Only minutes after my arrest, he was at my home asking my mother if she knew her son had just been arrested for the Palatine Brown's Chicken Massacre. He barraged my stunned mother with a litany of questions. No other reporter was so quick on the story and I assume he has inside connections. Interesting how Chuck Goudie knew I was arrested but when my parents called numerous police agencies and the FBI, they all said they never heard of a Paul Modrowski. The police and prosecutor's office while leaking information and slander out one door were discreetly controlling it otherwise. They did not want to be seen vilifying their suspect nor did they want this suspect to access a lawyer before they were done with their abusive, illegal, incommunicado interrogation.

I went to chow and thought some prisoners may be talking about the ex-governor considering he was plastered all over the news this morning. However, there was not a word about the man who once had an enormous control over the IDOC. When he was first at trial, there was a lot of interest and even some during his second as well as his sentencing on December 7, 2011, but his media hyped trip to prison was a nonevent to prisoners at Stateville. A man complained at the table about his special diet tray of rice and lean cuts of turkey. I traded him my regular tray of fried chicken-soy pattie with gravy. Even when I went to the gym, no one cared about Blagojevich. I bet there would be more interest if he was coming to Stateville.

During my argument with my cellmate earlier, he said he was through with me. I had taken this to mean I need not exchange the few words I spoke to him daily. However, when he returned from a visit apparently he changed his mind and was his usual self. After I washed up in the sink, I scrubbed it out as well as the toilet. I mentioned to him if he wants I will wipe out the sink with toilet paper, but not with the rag. He told me that was not necessary and I was right about the germs. Unfortunately, I see my cellmate still does not see a problem keeping a bottle of drink mix in the toilet to keep it cool, even after he just defecated in it.

When I was at chow and the gym, I missed the media following Blagojevich onto the airplane, driving around Littleton, Colorado, and his final steps into Englewood just before noon. However, it did not matter because all this news coverage was repeated by the local networks at 4, 4:30, 5 and 6 p.m. I suspect there will be even more coverage after I finish writing at 9 and 10 p.m. Like in Chicago, a helicopter followed Blagojevich and his two trial lawyers Aaron Goldstein and Sheldon Sorosky. It reminded me of watching OJ Simpson travel along California highways before finally surrendering. Apparently the former governor wanted to do some site seeing or was just not ready to turn himself in yet. He stopped at a local restaurant called Freddies Burgers and the owner seemed quite pleased to have the media attention, even if it was for a corrupt politician on his way to prison. The patrons also seemed to enjoy the media publicity and Blagojevich himself who was still campaigning and went from table to table shaking hands and talking.

While watching the media spectacle I could not notice how the former governor had a personality almost my polar opposite. Blagojevich is a very extroverted, social person who loves the crowds and limelight. He cared very much what others thought of him and he at least pretended to care about everyone he met. He was also a very shallow, superficial, manipulative person who was an opportunist with little honesty, integrity, virtue, or work ethic. Such people make friends easily, but after those learn who he really is, I tend to think he is less likeable. I could see how the public could be duped by such a man and why there was a lot of sympathy for him.

Despite how I think poorly of Blagojevich's character or job as governor, I agree with popular opinion that his 14-year sentence was excessive, although he will only serve 12 and be in a nice minimum-security prison. Other politicians convicted of corruption like George Ryan were given less time. Also, the prosecutor failed to prove Blagojevich actually received benefits from his attempts to shake down people and businesses or use his power for illegal quid pro quos. Although the law does not require this, I would have liked to have seen more than talk, even if the governor used such blatant and colorful language such as "I have this thing (senate office) and it is fucking golden." For Blagojevich I would think he deserved much less time and much more appropriate retribution and restitution. The man with the big ego could be on a work crew to clean up trash at city parks or along the highways that once had his name on them. He wants to help senior citizens? He could work at geriatric wards cleaning adult diapers. Even having President Elvis in a stockade outside the state capital building where people could spit on him or peg him with tomatoes is a good idea, although people may rather get their picture taken with the man. I watch Americans eaten up by the costly prison industrial complex every day and it needs to be scaled back for more alternative or productive purposes.

The media seemed to infer the former governor was going to do some hard time. Much video of the outside of the stone penitentiary and its surrounding double fencing with razor was shown on TV. On PBS, Chicago Tonight, Scott Fawell, another person convicted and sent to the penitentiary for corruption, was interviewed and he spoke ominously about the conditions inside. This type of reporting was ridiculous, in my opinion. There are no murders, rapes, hostage taking, stabbings, or brutal assaults occurring at these minimum federal prisons. I doubt there is much violence at all except for a rare fist fight. The rooms at Englewood are freshly painted, clean, without infestation, and in good working order. Blagojevich will even have air conditioning and be given new bedding and clothing upon arrival. As for austerity and oppressive living conditions, this is absurd as well. Englewood will have plenty of unregulated movement, programs, recreation, pleasant visitation conditions, and overall privileges. Through, or over that purported "suffocating double fence," Blagojevich will be able to view the majestic Rocky Mountains from his cell window or while wandering prison grounds. The former governor remarked he will "persevere and suffer for his children," however, he will never know what real suffering is.

While writing this post, I received a letter from a man I knew in prison over a decade ago. He thanked me for helping him make it through the tough times. I guarantee Blagojevich would not have made it back in those days, especially at Stateville. Even today, I imagine the ex-governor would request protective custody. Interestingly, the governor could have shut this miserable, debilitated, violent prison down during his term in office. However, because he was facing the prospect of the legislature signing a bill to remove him, he made deals with certain congressmen and the prison's union to keep it open. There are consequences to political corruption and lack of integrity, even when the public does not readily see it. Maybe it would be just deserts if Blagojevich spent a few years at Stateville along with some community service rather than 12 years in Englewood.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Leap Day -- February 29, 2012

The earth's orbit around the sun does not take a perfect 365 days. Therefore, every four years an extra day is added to the shortest month of the year. February 29th is considered "Leap Day" and to some people it may have special significance. However, for a prisoner with natural life it is just yet another day I could have gone without.

Every Wednesday morning in C House, two lines of prisoners are permitted to go to the barbershop. Each line consists of between 10 and 15 inmates and the first line leaves the cell house soon after count clears. This morning a guard walked by the cell with a clipboard asking if my cellmate and I wanted to go. We both said yes, and he wrote down our names. About a month ago, I trimmed my own hair in the cell using beard trimmers, a comb, and a couple of small plastic mirrors. I did the best job I could, however, I wanted someone to go over it.

Not long after the guard wrote our names down, the names of prisoners on the law library list were announced on the cell house loudspeakers. After my cellmate heard his name called out, he began to search through his boxes for legal papers. Although I am highly skeptical, Bobby claims to still be on his first post-conviction appeal. Most prisoners have exhausted all regular state and federal appeals within 10 years, let alone the 23 years my cellmate has been in the IDOC. I speculate because he was formerly on death row, a legal organization or lawyer who represented him earlier has continued to help him but on an irregular appeal.

My cellmate and I were let out of our cell to join the crowd on the lower floor. The holding cage was packed with prisoners going to the Health Care Unit and the visitation room. Inmates attending pre-GED classes or going to job assignments, and the law library waited outside. They were mainly cluttered around my former cell and I was glad to have finally gotten away from it. It is much better living on 4 gallery despite having to readjust myself to a new cell and cellmate.

On the fringe of the crowd I saw Albert. Albert is a clean cut Polish immigrant who is a striking contrast to most of the prisoners at Stateville. He lives on the gallery above mine and I do not have much opportunity to speak with him. The lower two galleries are intermingled for yard and chow lines, but all other galleries are segregated. After talking to him about his appeal to assure myself the U.S. justice system was not failing him any more than is customary, I asked him if he would cut my hair. Albert has been enrolled at the barbershop school for almost a year and is the only person who has some proficiency at cutting Caucasian hair. I assumed he would say yes, but was surprised when he told me he could not. A Mexican had asked him a week ago if he would be his barber today. I said to him, "But we are Polish and must look out for each other in the concrete jungle. Whatever happened to Solidarity?" referring to the political movement in Poland to overthrow the U.S.S.R. Albert told me if he had not given his promise he would. I cared less about his promise and told him he was a traitor.

The barbershop line was brought into the chow hall to eat first. It was not even 9 a.m. and I was being served lunch. Fortunately, I brought a Ziploc bag I usually use for bringing bread back to the cell house. The meal was shredded chicken and noodles, and because it was not soy I did not want to pass it by. It is rare that prisoners are fed real meat. A prisoner at my table seeing me scoop the food into my bag asked if I wanted his, and I took him up on his offer, although in retrospect, possibly I should not have. I filled my bag up so full that later the seal broke and chicken broth leaked into my coat pocket. Fortunately, tomorrow, blue clothing is being washed and I can put my jacket in a laundry bag to be cleaned.

While at the chow table, I listened to an inmate give advice to another about his case. The prisoner he was speaking to is a very stupid and disheveled white man prisoners have begun to call "Hillbilly," although calling him a hillbilly is an insult to hillbillies. The man has little education and an IQ certainly under 80. He is also rumored to be a snitch who was recently sent to C House after X House was cleared of protective custody inmates.

The former P.C. inmate was convicted of murder and will never be released from prison. At the table, he admitted his guilt although I do not think it was ever in dispute. Prosecutors had overwhelming evidence against him including a confession and his DNA from under the fingernails of the victim. Even if the man was to win a new trial based on error, he will be re-convicted. Thus, the convict talking to him told him to play crazy. In Illinois, there is no "guilty but insane" verdict but if a person was incompetent to stand trial, he is remanded to a mental ward until he meets certain criteria to be prosecuted. The retarded man was being advised how to fake insanity, although I do not think he needed much help. I was quick to ascertain he was a "bug".

The prisoner giving him advice I do not especially like either, despite how he tries to impress me with his background in the Armed Forces and a few words he can say in German from being stationed there. His name is Brown, and he is particularly obnoxious and hyper. He also tells me how he killed a drug dealer and his co-defendant was convicted of the murder with him. He laughs and brags how his co-defendant became ensnarled in the case through his own stupidity. Mertz and I have condemned Brown for not telling prosecutors the truth and helping his co-defendant but from what Brown tells us, it would not matter because of his involvement in an underlying felony. Under the felony-murder law, anyone guilty of a felony is automatically guilty of any murder which happens in the course of it. This is true, but because I am doing time for another person's crime, I did not like his attitude. Brown, by the way, is attempting to also get himself sent to a mental hospital and sometimes acts psychotic or schizophrenic. The bullet which went through his brain during an attempt by him to rob another drug dealer, may substantiate his claims on appeal someday if a court hears his case.

At the barbershop, I sat in the waiting area while other prisoners had their hair cut. All of the inmates who had graduated or who helped teach the class have been removed. This left few who knew how to cut hair, especially straight hair. The students could shape Afros, line hair, and beards. They also could do one length hair or bald heads with great efficiency. However, no one was able to layer, feather, taper, or style any type of straight hair with the exception of Albert, and even he was not very good. I wasted my entire morning at the chow hall and then at the barbershop. I saw the man being called "Hillbilly" sporting a bald head afterwards. He still looked unkempt and possibly crazier which may have been a tip of advice I missed.

Upon returning to the cell, I poured out my chicken noodles into a bowl and only took a few bites before I heard my name called for a visit on the loudspeaker. A guard was quick to unlock my door and I also did not have to wait long for an escort to the visiting room. The strip search room, however, was a different matter. There was a former Internal Affairs guard in the room and he was meticulously thorough in the search. He went through every article of clothing and even pulled out some insoles of a pair of shoes thinking he found a hidden stash. The "robocop" then wanted to look under our tongues and upper and lower lips. Our ears, fingernails, toes, genitals, and even ass cracks were checked by the weird guard before we were allowed to go on our visits.

In the visiting room, I noticed half of the prisoners were from the NRC (Northern
Receiving Center). NRC has its own visiting room, but it is left empty and these men are bused over to Stateville. Because of this foolish policy, families of prisoners are made to wait an extraordinary amount of time. Visits for men at Stateville are also greatly delayed. The visiting room is continually jammed full and the noise level so high that people are nearly shouting to be heard. Oftentimes, I will lean in as far as possible to hear my visitor speak.

My mother had come to see me alone. She looks frail but good for her age. Unfortunately, she is becoming senile and I often repeat conversations I already had with her time and again. It is sad to see my mother losing her mental faculties. The week prior, I saw my father and while his memory is fine, he is deteriorating physically. Before they are 70, I expect them both to be dead, and if they are still alive they will be too feeble to be without a full time caretaker. With my life without parole sentence, I doubt I will ever be of assistance.

One of the major subjects I talked about with my mother was her finances. The Dow Jones Industrial average crossed the 13,000 mark yesterday, and I pleaded with her to sell off 10% of her investments. President Obama and the Federal Reserve are doing everything in their power to artificially stimulate the market until the election. However, by propping up the economy, they are only doing more harm. I am steadfast in my position: Europe and the U.S. will sink into a double dip recession and the signs will be prevalent later this year. The recession will not be as sharp as before but will linger like the stagflation of the 1970s. Often I wish I could take over my parents' finances despite my mother being an accountant. This will be her last year working and this is probably best.

My mother will read my blog posts and she regularly wants to give her opinion. This week, I was once again told my writing was too candid and mean spirited. She believes one of the purposes of my blog is to inform people about prison ongoings, and another is to get people to like me. I do not write, however, to gain readers' approval or sympathy. The blog is my personal journal, although at times I will discuss broader ranging subjects. A subject my mother thought would be newsworthy is the charity donated to Stateville prisoners that they regularly never see.

Many charities and businesses will donate food to the prison. For example, Stateville has received truckloads of Gatorade, potato chips, yogurt, soda pop, and various other goods over the past couple years. Many times this food will be left in storage for only the guards or other staff's consumption. When the food is spoiled or past its expiration dates, it is then given to prisoners. For example, two years ago the warden discovered hundreds of boxes of corn and potato chips and demanded the kitchen supervisor to begin passing them out. For months, prisoners ate the expired vending machine sized bags of chips. More recently, truckloads of yogurt were donated and only the guards had access to it until it began to spoil. Then they were served to prisoners. I had a bad case of food poisoning from eating one, and later I looked at the date and found it had expired over a month ago.

To make sure my information was accurate, I stopped by a kitchen worker's cell to discuss the matter today. He told me it was true that sometimes donated food will never be served to inmates. However, he said there were usually reasons. For example, if there is not enough of the product to go to the entire prison population, it will simply only be offered to staff so there are no complaints of disparity. The kitchen worker also added that once a donation is made to Stateville it is theirs and they sometimes barter the goods with other penitentiaries. As for guards getting first dibs on the best and freshest donated food, this was indisputable and staff is always fed better than the inmates. I asked him if he knew who the charities were because I think they should be informed, but he did not know.

After visiting hours were over, the 30 or more inmates left the visiting room and were sent across the hallway to another visiting room to be strip searched enmasse. This room is not used and remains vacant despite how crowded visitation may get at Stateville. Once again, the "robocop" thoroughly searched the group of inmates who stood naked and lined against a wall. Searching convicts on the way out of visitation makes more sense than when they are going in. However, the guard had a zeal for strip searching inmates which was not only absurdly excessive but abnormal or weird. Prisoners called him a homo and a control freak. He responded, "Yes, I am, and now let me do what I do." The other guards just sat there and occasionally chuckled at their queer co-worker. Despite the guard's extensive search, I thought of numerous ways contraband could have still been brought into the prison.

When I got back to my cell, I knew showers were going to be run for 4 gallery soon. Thus, I thought it would be a good time to trim my hair. Using beard trimmers, a comb and a couple of small plastic mirrors, I went to work. However, it is exceedingly difficult tapering hair where one cannot see. Despite my best attempts, my hair was irregularly cut when the doors were unlocked for us to take showers. In the shower waiting area, I had another man go over what I did. When he was about finished, Albert was let into the gated area to take his detail shower. In his Polish accented English he said he did not know I wanted a "fade," and he may have been able to give me this hair cut after cutting the other man's hair. I told Albert I did not want it this short, but it was the only haircut Chase was proficient at. He said he thought I actually looked better with high cropped shorter hair.

While waiting to take a shower, I noticed Hillbilly and another prisoner having a heated exchange of words. There was a tenseness in the holding area I thought was going to lead to violence. A few people were eager to pounce on the retarded snitch until he backed down. Incredibly, he apologized to several men for accusing him of talking to the police. He did not gain any respect for this and someone spit in his face. Even in C House, a snitch is likely to have trouble.

After returning to my cell, I heard someone announce we were on lockdown. This would have been disappointing to many prisoners in C House. The building had not been allowed to receive commissary in over a month, but was scheduled to go tomorrow. Eventually, I was to learn cellmates were fighting in E House and a rifle blast was reported. The isolated incident only delayed feed lines temporarily.

Prisoners were excited to hear they were going to be served a special meal for dinner. Kitchen workers were calling it "Shepherd's Pie." Most of the inmate population, including myself, never heard of it, but nonetheless, we were eager to go the chow hall just for the reason it was something different. Some people speculated it was a pot pie of some sort. Brown told me it was a poor Irishman's pie of leftovers. He was close to the truth, although while in line I thought it looked like a delicious pie pizza. I asked the prison worker serving the food if this was Stateville's version of a deep dish Chicago pizza. He told me it was not as good as it looked. Very cheesy scalloped potatoes were piled on green beans and ground turkey-soy kibble and then put on a pizza crust. As I ate it, I thought it would have been better just to have a cheese pizza. I could have then brought it back to the cell and added some ketchup and real meat to eat while I was watching the movie "Seven". "Seven" is a 1990's film I have seen before but planned to watch yet again later tonight after completing this post.

At the end of this Leap Day, I wished it was another I could have leaped over. In fact, the last 19 years I could have done without. There is news on television currently predicting strong storms to pass through southern Illinois and Indiana. Although it is not yet spring, there are tornado warnings. It would be nice if a category 5 tornado would directly hit Stateville in the night and reduce to rubble this entire miserable penitentiary. Although I will most certainly die crushed by concrete and steel, I dream of the minute chance I will survive unscathed and tossed miles away. In fact, I daydream of being swept up in the tornado like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, but unlike her, I will never seek to return. If I ask anything from the Wizard, it will be to leap back into the past two decades.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

4 Gallery -- February 25, 2012

Two days ago, I was moved to a cell on 4 gallery. Four gallery is not on the 4th floor as many may assume, but on the 2nd. Many years ago, the entire block-long building holding most of General Population was one huge unit. However, over the years the building was divided in half, and those two were later divided to make four separate cell houses. General Population is often referred to as the "quarter units" because of this and it is also the reason for the strange gallery numbers. C and B cell houses only have even numbered galleries while on the other side of the building there are only odd numbers. There are 5 floors numbered 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 in my cell house. The enormous building which cages about 1,200 prisoners was not called "The Big House" for no reason, and it was split into quarters to increase control over what was an extremely violent and unruly prison.

I was given no advance warning or notice that I was being moved to 4 gallery, although I have repeatedly requested to be moved since I was sent to C House in July. For 7 months I have lived in cell #242 which was directly across from the holding cage and not far from the front door and guards desk. Due to these factors among others, I have had to deal with a tremendous amount of traffic, noise, and disruption. The holding cage was a large reason for my discomfort. Inmates were packed into this cage most of the day waiting to go on passes or to be allowed to return to their cells. Often it was filled to capacity and details, religious services, or library lines stood outside my bars talking and yelling. They stared into my cell or engaged one of my 5 cellmates, especially Ely who was always looking for conversation.

I specifically asked the sergeant and others if I could be moved in with Mertz. Mertz is one of the very few prisoners I speak to in the cell house. He has a quiet disposition like me and we share some common interests. I also knew his level E cellmate had to be moved soon because of security procedures. When the sergeant came to my cell and told me to pack up because I was being moved to 4 gallery, I initially assumed I was being moved into Mertz's cell. However, after some reflection, I knew this was too good to be true. When the sergeant returned to inquire how much time I would need, I asked him specifically what cell I was being sent to. The cell number was not Mertz's and my happiness abruptly ended. I had no idea who my new cellmate was going to be, whether we could get along, or if there would be immediate hostilities. A different gallery, cell, and cellmate were causing me a lot of anxiety.

I am not certain why, but the sergeant after initially seeming unpressed for time, was in a hurry to have the move take place. He ordered prison workers to take my property upstairs as soon as I placed it near the bars. This was fine with me because I preferred not to do the work or possibly aggravate my lower back injury by carrying cumbersome heavy objects. As I untied my TV, disengaged extension cords, pealed the mirror off the back wall, and did other tasks, my cellmate spoke to various gallery workers who were moving my property. Thad wanted to know who I was switching places with. The name he was given he did not recognize and he seemed also concerned about who his new cellmate would be. Although I cared little to interact with Thad, I was by and large a good cellmate to live with, especially at Stateville. When the sergeant returned to see how much progress had been made, my cellmate asked him if it was possible we could both be moved into the same cell on 4 gallery. The sergeant said that only one move was approved by the Placement Officer.

The only object I ended up moving to my new cell was my vinyl covered mattress which I tried to roll up as much as possible. The foam mattresses have just begun to be passed out to prisoners. I had just received mine a month ago and was not going to trade it with whomever I was switching places with. Most prisoners still had the old cotton cloth covered mattresses which I thought were unsanitary to be exchanging. Furthermore, my mattress was new and uncompressed or lumpy. As I left the cell with the mattress over my shoulder, I told Thad I will see him around. He replied that we will still have plenty of opportunity to talk because 2 and 4 galleries are typically kept together for yard and chow. I thought, however, that I will probably never say a word to him and since my move, I have not.

When I arrived at my new cell, I noticed two black men scrambling in a confused manner to move out the property of one of them. Apparently, the man who was changing cells with me was not given much time to pack or lived in such a state of disarray that moving was not easily done. From the appearance of the cell, I figured it was the latter. The cell was filthy and had an enormous amount of clutter or garbage strewn about. I did not know which man was my cellmate but both looked disheveled and dirty. Standing outside the cell, I grew more and more disappointed and angry. I was not assigned a cellmate I knew and was comfortable with but yet another stranger who was seemingly dirty and I obviously had nothing in common with. I said to no one in particular that I was taking the lower bunk, and whoever had their belongings there needed to move them. The shorter of the two men answered he will get to it after his cellmate moved out. He seemed flustered and possibly this move was as upsetting to him as it was for myself.

My new cellmate's name is Bobby but some call him Little Bobby or O.G. Bobby for "Old Gangster". Mertz calls him Dirty Bobby because he often looks unkempt and disheveled. Bobby is a very short man at least a foot shorter than me. He is in his late 50's and has been incarcerated 23 years consecutively. This is Bobby's second time convicted of murder however and if his former time in prison was included, he has served over 37 years. Most of his second stint in the penitentiary has been on death row and he would have been executed by now if former Governor George Ryan did not give a blanket commutation to all death row prisoners to natural life sentences. The man has shaggy graying hair that he tries to comb back with grease and is typically seen with a comb caught in the tangles. Bobby has a ragged gray and black beard which adds to his disheveled homeless man appearance. The lack of most of his teeth does not help impressions either. My new cellmate gave me the initial impression of what Buckwheat from the "Little Rascals" might look like today after joining a real criminal gang, selling and using crack, killing one or more people, and spending a third of a century in prison.

The cell house was on standby for yard and both my new cellmate and I were intent on going. Although I felt a strong compulsion to begin tackling the enormous challenge of rehabbing the cell, I also felt I had to get away into some open space. There was plenty of time later to clean and organize. The pigsty would require hours upon hours of work, if not days. At the moment, I just wanted to put my boxes away and throw my mattress on the bunk which was still all piled up in the front of the cell. My cellmate rushed to untie his TV, fan, and Walkman from the lower bunk beams. He then moved all the bits of clutter he kept on his bunk plus his lamp, headphones, and numerous hooks he had taped haphazardly to the wall.

After he moved his compressed debilitated mattress to the top bunk and climbed on top of it, I was finally able to move some of my property in place. I thought about cleaning the cell from top to bottom first, but there was no time for this. Guards were already opening up cell doors on 10 gallery. I simply moved his property box over and scattered what clutter or trash was there to make room for my boxes. Tossing my mattress on the bunk, I placed my TV and radio unplugged. Belongings I had in a laundry bag, I shoved into my large property box. While Bobby was tying his TV to a new location, I asked him if the junk all about the floor was his and told him I liked to keep the cell clean and orderly. He told me the clutter was his prior cellmates, however, when I began to throw out the various things, he turned around to see me giving a gallery worker an empty cereal bag and told me that was his and he needed it.

Outside, it was cold with intermittent drizzle. I began to think I should have stayed inside to begin the transformation of my new cell. Once again my life had been turned upside down and the thought of righting it made me unable to focus much on my exercises or the conversation around me. As usual, I lifted weights with Mertz but another prisoner who went by the name Chase joined us at various times. Mertz told me he also thought initially I was being moved in with him. His cellmate was on a court writ and he was uncertain whether to pack his property until a gallery worker told him I was being sent to a cell seven doors away. Mertz was also disappointed and he will soon have to spin the roulette wheel of cellmates where he will most likely be a loser.

I asked Mertz about my new cellmate. He told me he seemed like a dirty person, but on the positive side, he also seemed very quiet. I looked across the vast South Yard and could not find "Dirty Bobby". Although prisoners were bundled up in similar blue coats, skull caps, and other clothing, not to mention how they were all black except for Mertz, Chase, and myself, I had better than 20/20 vision and thought I could easily spot him. For a moment, I thought he had avoided the yard line, but Mertz found him hiding against the handball court wall. I asked what he was doing there all by himself and Chase suggested he was trying to avoid the rain. However, the rain was falling straight down. "At least he's not in the porti-pod," Chase said, and then reminded me of a time homosexuals piled into the units.

The prisoner I switched cells with was called "Freaky Ty." He was not a homosexual but was known to flash nurses. I heard a story how he sat or stood by the bars naked with only a bath robe on. When a nurse or female guard would walk by he exposed himself. He had returned from Segregation a few months ago from being written a disciplinary ticket for sexual misconduct and apparently it was not his first. I commented that Thad was probably not going to like Ty's freaky side, but if the weirdo was social and engaging maybe he will be happy.

After returning from the yard, I bathed in the sink and then began the laborious process of cleaning, reordering, and accommodating my new cell. The cell had no table or counter, and although this made the cage less claustrophobic, I no longer had a place to write or put my radio or a few of my hygienic supplies. I cleaned out my boxes and made room for my radio that I almost never use. I tied my Walkman to a vertical beam on my bunk. The TV oddly did not fit in the place where I had it downstairs or everywhere I have been. It is then I noticed the bunk was shorter. It also seemed the sink was lower as well, but this must be an illusion I thought. When I noticed my cellmate had a mirror taped on the wall so it was directly across from my stomach and not my face, I asked him if he had the cell retrofitted for a midget.

As anticipated, it was difficult adjusting to my new cell and even today, two days later, I am still making minor adjustments. For example, because there is no shelf, I drilled a screw into the wall to hang a mesh laundry bag to keep my toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, and shampoo. I also melted a few hooks on the wall to hang items such as my towel or washcloth. I even jammed a short pencil into a hole in the wall to affix a toilet paper dispenser. A shoelace goes around the pencil and through a hollow plastic pen which holds my roll of toilet paper. Although almost all prison sink/toilets have a hole in the side of them for toilet paper, these cannot be used because of the propensity of water running down onto it. The cell has been gutted of all fixtures except for the toilet/sink and double bunk. I am currently writing on the lid of one of my property boxes. The only reason the cells on 2 gallery have tables and shelves is for appearances. Those who tour the prison rarely go upstairs on the narrow galleries, and the higher the gallery an inmate lives on, the more likely the cell is to be barren.

One benefit of having a vacant cell is more space to move around in. A prisoner and his cellmate are less often playing Twister. There is also a lessened feeling of being cramped, restricted, or claustrophobic. Furthermore, I have more room to exercise in. Without the table and stool by the bars, the cell has a 6 x 3.5 foot of space in the front. My prior cellmate, Thad, told me this area used to be referred to as the foyer, and prisoners curtained off what was behind it. Today, I worked out in my new cell for the first time. Instead of limiting myself to the corner by the door, I used the entire "foyer." I discovered I was able to do a lot more exercises including side and front kicks. I did notice, however, when I did push-ups, I must flank my legs because I am slightly taller than the width of the cell. A couple of times, I hit my head on the wall.

The best part of my new cell and being on 4 gallery is the absence of continual distractions and blaring noise. No longer must I deal with crowds of prisoners just outside my cell, all talking, yelling, and pestering me. There is also little traffic on the gallery and it is infrequent to have prisoners or guards walking by except when chow lines are run. The cell is perfectly situated away from the stairs and the shower area which is very noisy. Looking out my bars, I no longer see a wall, holding cage and numerous prisoners. Instead, I am able to look out the cell house wall windows onto prison grounds, including the two small yards. Four gallery is not high enough to see over Stateville's 30' high walls, but I can see the top of a few trees through the dirty windows. I look forward to watching the moon rise over this oppressive dungeon, although at night I doubt I will be able to see through the dirty windows until they are tilted open in the spring.

Not only is my cell in a quiet area, but my new cellmate is very quiet as well. He'll probably be the best cellmate I have had while in C House. Bobby rarely says anything and when he does he is usually mumbling, which I often cannot discern. He does not want to play games, show me his photo albums, or talk. He mostly reads, writes, watches TV or stares outside the bars while drinking coffee. I tend to believe Bobby is different from most other prisoners here because of the 15 years he spent on death row. On death row, prisoners do not have cellmates and must learn how to do their time alone.

Since reordering and cleaning the cell, my new cellmate has apparently lost his proclivity to live like a homeless person. Bobby still has some clutter behind the bunks but much of this will disappear in the near future hopefully without the old man noticing. Since being in the cell, I notice my cellmate washes his clothes regularly with bar soap and will wipe the sink dry of water. Unfortunately, he, like many of my former cellmates, has no concept of unseen germs. He has no problem dunking the floor rag straight into the toilet to wipe off the floor or his shoes. He also will remove drops of water from inside the sink without soap and leaves the wet cloth to hang festering bacteria. When he washes clothes, he does so in the toilet without cleaning it. I will use the toilet to wash my clothes in, however, I always first scrub it with soap and disinfectant or bleach.

Yesterday, I thought I was going to lose the quiet, germ loving midget when he was taken to the Health Care Unit with chest pains. In the morning, he was sitting on his box near the bars as he seems to commonly do. However, he looked sick and mumbled something about not feeling well. When prisoners were let out of their cells for chow, he sat on a crate by the door and did not go out with us. Returning from chow I asked him why he skipped lunch, and he told me the nurse checked his blood pressure and gave him a nitroglycerin pill when she found it very high. An hour later, he told a guard he was still having problems, and he called a med tech to come to the cell. After checking his blood pressure, she told the guard he had to come to the Health Care Unit to be monitored. Bobby was gone most of the day.

Later at dinner, prisoners asked me what happened to my cellmate. Mertz said, "He was only your cellmate for one day and already almost had a heart attack?" He continued saying possibly it was better I was not put in his cell. He accused me of being like "Death" and asked where my staff and sickle were. After I told him how my cellmate also complained of shocking himself while washing up, he then had even more jokes. Recently the DVD "Final Destination - Part 5" was played for prisoners and those at the table around me had plenty of farfetched scenarios of how I was to kill my cellmate, including a wet floor and frayed extension cord. Mertz asked, "Why not just be more direct and use a dead fall?" whereupon I asked, "Where was I going to find an object so heavy as to crush a man?" He replied, "Little Bobby is pretty small and a heavy property box may do." Another man chimed in that I should not go "Darth Vader" on my new cellmate because there may be few as quiet as him. I did my best Darth Vader impersonation of choking him using "The Force."

After the prisoners got their laughs in, they spoke about the Governor's budget address. Although I watched the entire speech live on Wednesday, I did not join their conversation. The discussion had little value because it was based on speculation. The Governor does not make laws, the legislature does. Governor Quinn had little leadership and clout to push his proposal with a state house controlled by Michael Madigan. Furthermore, it was obvious the Governor was playing politics and was intentionally obscure about his plan. He wanted the legislature to take a leading role so all of the unpopular cuts would not be seen as his doing. Apparently, though, the administration within IDOC was taking his talk of closing Dwight and Tamms Supermax seriously. Not only has space been made in the Roundhouse but also on the 4th floor of the two most violent quarter units. The 4th floor was seemingly chosen because it was directly across from the cat walk where guards walking the perimeter could have a clear shot with their rifles.

Illinois has massive pension liabilities totaling close to $100 billion and a budget debt of $9 billion. The Civic Foundation forecasts the debt to increase to $35 billion within 5 years. There is no way for the state to get out from its pension liabilities nor should it be able to break its promises, despite how foolish they were. As for future bills that are unilaterally amendable, state politicians must make drastic cuts to medicaid, IDOC, and other agencies. Bill Brady, who ran against Pat Quinn in 2008, proposed a 10% across the board cut, and then further specific cuts which were vehemently attacked. However, I see now Quinn is proposing a 9% cut to most state budgets. I suppose 9% sounds much less than 10%, but the reality is that whether liberal or conservative, enormous cuts must be made.

I am glad cuts to the IDOC are coming, but I do not see how closing Tamms and Dwight will fix the massive overcrowding. Allowing more home monitoring will not make a dent in the upward trajectory of costs and prisoners. Furthermore, the largest strain on the IDOC is convicts who are elderly, have class X felonies, and no outdates. As Stateville has moved inmates around to reclassify X House and make room for incoming Tamms prisoners, I have noticed how C House has almost become a geriatric ward filled with men who have done decades of time and will never be released. The legislature and Governor need to enact fundamental sentencing reform across the spectrum.

I believe 4 gallery will be a positive change for me. Already I am feeling relieved to be away from my prior cell. I also was very distressed with the numerous alternating obnoxious, hyper social and unstable cellmates I was assigned. However, everywhere in prison, especially maximum security, is miserable and unjust for me. I was sentenced to life in prison for purportedly lending my car, a lie I can prove is false, but due to an incompetent legal system I probably will never be given the opportunity. Many prisoners can crack jokes and could be happy for a minor improvement in life, even at Stateville, but I tend to believe I will always be grim and unhappy.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Valentine's Day Roast -- February 15, 2012

The morning of Valentine's Day was dreary and cold with a slight drizzle. I thought this was appropriate for a man who was condemned to dungeons for the rest of his life and whose only romance was in the distant past. Before my cellmate awakened and the cell house became a loud obnoxious zoo, I thought about those girls I once knew. A significant part of my bitterness while incarcerated is the unjust tyranny which has torn from me my true love. Although I have never loved, nor was even dating at the time of my arrest, I imagine an idealized soul mate who is waiting for me just like in the movie "Sleeping Beauty." However, unlike the classic fairy tale where the prince is able to escape to slay the dragon and take his bride, I am doomed to slowly languish in prison. Even if the evil sorceress was to set me free one day, as a decrepit old man the girl of my dreams will not awaken by my kiss.

The cell house slowly became louder until it was a roar of animals demanding their recreation. Movement lines were delayed yesterday by a late institutional count. While I waited, I did a number of stretches until I was limber and then sat down at the front desk to brood more about my earlier thoughts. My cellmate was awake and planned to play basketball at the gym. He attempted to engage me in meaningless chatter but I did not care to listen to him. I was in my own world thinking about the dream girl who could never be mine.

I was almost startled when a nurse said "Modrowski" while I was waiting at the bars. The new medical director prescribed Ultram for me, to be taken twice a day for back pain. Because it had an ingredient which is somewhat similar to a narcotic, it was hand delivered by nurses. Possibly, the medical director thought an inmate may try to get high taking a handful of Ultram at one time, although I tend to believe it would only give the prisoner a stomach ache. Many prisoners are drug addicts or former ones, so I understand the precaution.

The nurse was a pleasant surprise to see. She is probably one of the most attractive females who works here. Prisoners often comment she looks like the actress Julia Stiles, and I tend to agree. The nurse seemed like she was in a hurry, but I had to stop her before she ran off to the next cell. There were hundreds of cells she probably had to stop at to dispense mostly psychotropic medications. I asked her if she had changed shifts because I had not seen her in a long time, and almost never during the day. She told me just for today, and disappeared before I could say anything witty or flirtatious. When she left, I figured she was working the day shift to go out on a special Valentine's date in the evening. I felt foolish to think I could interest her in a man who was condemned to prison for life, and I was glad to not bother wasting my time talking to her.

Many of the prisoners will try to talk and flirt with the female staff who work here. However, I will rarely ever unless I am in a particularly good mood and the woman is particularly attractive, which is almost never. When the nurse who looks like Julia Stiles first began to work at Stateville, she struck my interest more. However, because she is attractive and I assumed she received a lot of attention here, I usually just gave her a hard time or made fun of her. There was no point heaping more flattery on her. Plus, I am much wittier "roasting" people than I am at being charming.

The doors to prisoners' cells were finally keyed open on the first and second floors for gym at a quarter past 9 a.m. Standing next to Steve on the gallery waiting to leave the cell house, I asked him if he made a Valentine for Franky. Franky was a little black homosexual who is fond of white men. I told him if he had forgotten about the special day, it was not too late. I had some red construction paper he could make into a heart shaped card. Steve retorted the queer would much rather receive a card from me, and reminded me of all the sweets he continues to send down to my cell. Unfortunately, I had to concede that Franky would definitely rather have a Valentine from me, despite how I ignore him unless I am throwing insults his way. I told Steve that as a prank we should make him one, and sign it from "your secret admirer." We could toss it on his bunk while he was at the law library. The queer would go nuts trying to figure out who had sent it.

In line outside of the cell house, I gave Mertz some candy my cellmate had given to me earlier when I was trying to ignore him. As I gave him the candy, I said "Happy Valentine's Day." Although men observing thought this was funny, Mertz was his cool usual self and just said "Thanks." Steve, feigning jealousy, asked where his candy was. "I have nothing for you," I said. "You sent me an IDOC breakfast tray of soy and potatoes this morning, minus the only items of value: bread and jelly. I was greatly insulted. On the other hand, last night Mertz sent me a vintage Slayer cassette tape I have been wanting to hear for years." To this Mertz added, "I am also younger and better looking with no hair plugs." This again greatly amused the bystanders crowded in the prisoner lines.

The gym is on the other side of the penitentiary grounds, and it took the double line of prisoners almost 20 minutes to reach the building. The time could have been cut in half if guards did not regularly stop the line to maintain order. During the walk, many men were talking and the lines lost their configurations. Prisoners at Stateville have less ability to stay in line than first graders. The weather forecast I heard in the morning was correct, and it was cold with a light rain.

In front of Steve and I was our neighbor. He was a big black man with very poor hygiene. Prisoners will regularly comment about how he and his cell stink, and I was glad there was no wind and the rain kept the dust and body odor cloud around "Pig Pen" at bay. Even guards will notice the rank emanating from his cell, and earlier this week they "Febreezed" his cell. Febreezed is a verb I made up, to the great amusement of my cellie. It was funny that the guards sprayed his cell while he was gone, and I have not seen that done before. Not only does the man stink, wear dirty clothes, and have lint in his unkempt Afro, but he is rumored to be a homosexual. The large 300 lb., 6'4" black man oddly goes by the name "La la". The name purportedly originates from his singing ability, but I also think it is connected to "The Smurfs" cartoon. On the walk to the gym, I asked Steve if he thought the gorilla in front of us had a boyfriend or girlfriend before his arrest. Steve said, "Smelling like that? Neither." However, I said, "But is there not someone for everyone? Somewhere, deep in the sub Saharan jungles of Africa was a primate just for La la. I just do not know what sex it is." Steve speculated that he was bi-sexual.

After moving through the line to get away from La la, Steve asked me why I stayed in the day before. I told him I was in grieving because Whitney Houston had died, and I was terribly sad. Steve knew I was being sarcastic, even though I said it in a flat serious tone. Although I cared less about the celebrity's drug overdose, I was bothered by a song the media continued to replay called, "I Will Always Love You." It was a song a girl in high school gave me when I ceased to date her. At the time, I did not appreciate the girl and did not even bother to listen to the song she gave me, let alone pay attention to the lyrics. However, now that I am old and in prison, I think about her.

In the gym, Steve exercised a little with Mertz and me, mostly to prove he was not a "softy." The day before I embarrassed him at the chow table making fun of his sensitivities and calling him "Pudding." Steve is regularly complaining about the austere conditions in prison as well as minor pains, health issues, and discomforts. I tend to believe he had a very pampered life before his incarceration and I would not doubt if he was a nerd and a mommy's boy when younger. He has allergies, wears eyeglasses, was in the school band, and has a lack of athleticism. I notice he regularly gives himself manicures, and shaves his face and head smooth, despite his body being as furry as Chewbacca from Star Wars. At chow, I gave him the pudding off my tray as I always do. All Steve ate, in fact, was pudding, and as he stuffed his face he said how the dessert was his favorite. I said it was no surprise considering the litany of soft qualities he has been exhibiting. I told the convicts at the table, "We should all begin to call him 'Pudding" from now on."

While I used the peck deck, I leaned against a couple of boards which have been nailed together, to give my chest muscles a greater stretch. The piece of wood I had taken came from underneath a side of the exercise machine which was off balance. The wood was rough and had splinters as well as nails sticking out of it. Although Mertz, Chase, and I used the board, Steve took it down to do his set. This gave me another opportunity to call him "Pudding," which he did not like. In fact, before we left the gym, he asked me if I would cease to call him the dessert in front of other inmates. I agreed because although it was much fun to razz him, I did not want to reduce his reputation or respect within the prison.

While working out, I asked Mertz if he had watched "The Bachelor" the night before. Mertz watches a great amount of television and most of the shows he watches are solely because of the women. He will watch a program despite how stupid or bad it is if there are attractive females in it. Often I will overhear him talk about various females on TV with other inmates with great zeal. Mertz will not bother me with the subject matter because he knows I have no interest. Women on TV are not real to me. They are phony actresses and personalities I do not know. I also suspect they are shallow, superficial people with values and politics disagreeable to me. Contrarily, I speculate that Mertz fantasizes about them. I tell him in a jesting fashion that he is a "celebrity stalker," although this could have some truth.

"The Bachelor" is a program I like because of the courtship and romance displayed that is missing in my life. Sometimes, I will attempt to pretend to be the bachelor seeking out a mate, but this season the man is a person I cannot identify with. The bachelor was such a wimpy, unromantic, bland person that I was puzzled to understand why the women cared about him. In the words of Mertz, he was a "douche bag," and even the pudding-like Steve thought he was a nerd. During sets, we also cut down the women who seemed desperate and overly emotional in their quest to find love. One of the women fainted, others cried, and a couple became aggressively sexual. Courtney was thought of as the most attractive of the group remaining, but it was uncertain if she was just playing with the bachelor. Her frequent comments of "Winning!" quoting Charlie Sheen, seemed to show that she was just there to compete. Personally, I did not like any of the final chosen women, but tended to think Kasie had the best values to be a wife. Ultimately, I believe the bachelor will be left holding the last rose and will be a two-time loser.

I told Steve that he missed one of the most amusing shows in the former Bachelorette where all the men competed in a comedy roast. The men were supposed to make fun of the Bachelorette, but only one had the courage to attack her. He totally eviscerated the woman until she was in tears. The man definitely has a career in comedy, but his romance on the show was over. Ironic that the woman Emily he said he hoped was the Bachelorette, instead will be in the next program. Possibly, the comedian will also have a second chance, although he will probably not be as entertaining if he wants to stay longer. Women definitely do not appreciate a good roasting like men may.

Steve was too overweight and weak to do dips, so he did leg presses instead. I noticed he selected a light amount of weight and had the seat positioned far back. I told the midget if he was going to only press a hundred pounds at least he should move the seat up. Because he was so short, his legs only moved the platform half a foot. When I called him "Pudding" he mumbled something about disagreement, but I could not hear him over the laughter. I told him if he did not like "Pudding" he could be "Zipper Head", referring to the rows of stitches across the back of his head from his hair transplant surgery.

Steve ceased doing his knee bends and began to walk away. I said, "Good. We need to separate the wheat from the chaff. Go ring the bell for quitters." "Is that not what they do in the military?" I asked Mertz. "With the softies gone that will leave only the ubermensch." Steve laughed at a lot of the roasting, but he apparently wanted to put my feet to the fire. He and Mertz collaborated on a name for me, and after some time they came up with "Sunshine." Apparently because Sunshine was the exact opposite of my disposition, it was greatly funny. Steve went on to say, "You are the type of person who makes flowers wilt when you walk by."

With Pudding gone, I told Mertz that he was now the only one without a nickname. Mertz said, "In the marines, men did not have nicknames and were always called by their last names unless it was too long. For example, you would probably be known as 'Ski.'" Mertz was not going to get away that easily, however, and I told him he can be "The Machine," from the movie "8 mm" that had recently been played on the prison's DVD system. By calling Mertz "The Machine," I was making fun of his conviction for killing a woman. In the film, actor Nicholas Cage played a PI seeking out the truth behind a "snuff" video found in a vault by the widow of a multimillionaire. In the video, a girl is killed by a leather masked man who people only knew of as "The Machine." Mertz said it was not a good comparison because the man behind the mask was actually a pudgy, bald headed old man with glasses like Pudding. Then Mertz tried to turn the tables on me and said, "Did not prisoners call you 'The Machine'?" I said, "Yes, but I was a different type of machine, and it's been a long time since I was thought to have committed the Palatine Massacre, or that I looked like the Terminator."

As most of the prisoners in the gym played basketball, Mertz and I decided to run around the perimeter. Before we began, I walked over to Steve who was playing chess on the stairs. I told him to make himself feel important and hold on to the steel, where upon I handed him one of the pins for the machine weights. Steve did not understand the interplay of words I had used because he has only been in prison a few years. "Steel" was known to be knives in maximum-security prisons in Illinois years ago, and the prisoner who held on to them was typically a lackey of a gang, and at the bottom of their hierarchy. He would hold the knives and other contraband because he was expendable and not of much value for anything else. The person playing chess with Steve began to explain my demeaning words, but I walked away to where Mertz was and said, "I cannot believe there are men who do not know the riddle of steel."

When the gym period was over, I was exhausted and the pain in my lower back was prominent. I had completed over 40 sets of exercises and ran 20 laps at a fast pace lapping my "wing man" several times. I was looking forward to lunch but was disappointed when sausage and beans were served in the chow hall. Sitting at the table, a prisoner walking by shouted something indiscernible at Chase. Chase asked those at the table if anyone could make out what he was yelling about. I could not tell what the disheveled old convict with missing teeth said, however, I asked Chase if he forgot to give that special someone a Valentine today. Chase began laughing and told me he has been trying to lose that bug since he moved to General Population.

In my cell, after bathing in my sink and washing some clothes, I listened to WLS talk radio while eating a sardine sandwich. Roe & Roeper were unsurprisingly talking about Valentines Day and what to give a woman for a present. They and some other people on the show told the audience what their specific plans were, except for one man who said he and his wife celebrated Valentine's Day every day. I thought these people's plans were lame, and if I were ever released I would never be so unromantic. Possibly, people who have never had their lives taken from them cannot appreciate it. However, even before my arrest I was never as dull and impassionate with the girls I dated.

Dinner lines were run early in C House on Valentine's Day. I was extremely tired from all I did that day, but mostly from the conversation. I am very quiet and introverted, and a day of socializing is enough to wear me out, even if I say little. I would have stayed in my cell, but my reserves of food were running low and the cell house may not receive commissary until the end of the month. While at the chow table, I asked Matt if his cellmate Mertz had any odd peculiarities and if he was a decent person to be with before I may try to take his place when he is transferred. A prisoner sitting with us said, "You're supposed to ask about people when they aren't around." "Not my style," I told him. Matt then said, "Are you kidding? That man has serious problems. At 3 a.m. every night he is on the floor barking at the toilet!" The table of prisoners broke out laughing, and even "Sunshine" cracked a smile.

I went to sleep early on Valentine's Day only to be awakened by a nurse with my medications. She was not the nurse from earlier in the day, but she was also pretty, even if I think it often goes overlooked. If the other nurse looked similar to Julia Stiles, this one had a mild resemblance to Wyonnna Ryder. She is petite, intelligent, and has an appealing soft poise. If I was not half asleep, I may have made some reference to the holiday, or asked if she had read anything interesting lately. The evening before she said coyly to me that she had just found out I had a blog. In a quiet voice, I told her not to tell anyone, and put my finger to my lips. I do not mind if she or other staff read what I write, but I do not want other prisoners to know. Before she left my cell, she said she only accidentally came across it, but that is what all the girls say, I thought.

Yesterday, I noticed not many prisoners used the phone. I also noticed for the week leading up to Valentine's Day, no one passed out any cards, necklaces, roses, or other crafts for the holiday. This was very unusual and in every cell house I have been before, there has always been prisoners hustling goods for Valentines Day. I can only speculate it is because I am among old men who have done years upon years in prison, and they have no wives or girlfriends to cater to. Although I am in my mid-30s, I think I am in the same sinking boat. It was pure folly on my part to think a nurse or any other attractive woman would be interested in a condemned man. I spent Valentine's Day roasting almost everyone, but it is my own life which is roasted.