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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Home Improvement -- March 29, 2012

Recently I have been preoccupying myself with a litany of different projects to improve my living conditions and this cell. It seemed like an appropriate time to do some remodeling. Although weather conditions have went from unseasonable summer-like temperatures to mornings with frost, this was the first full week of spring. Life in maximum-security prisons, especially a debilitated and austere penitentiary like Stateville, is very uncomfortable and inconvenient. Life here is spent mostly within the confines of a cell many would not cage animals in, let alone humans. I have been denied transfer to more hospitable prisons and thus try to make the best of what I have by making regular adjustments and repairs. Prisoners comment I am a perfectionist and I am probably overly concerned about achieving perfection in a most unideal place. However, because I have a life sentence without the possibility of parole, I do not have the perspective that this is a temporary residence of captivity. This is my home.

One of the first projects I took on this week was designing new hooks for a privacy sheet. Nearly all prisoners at Stateville use a bed sheet to block the back corner of the cell when they use the toilet or bathe. Unlike medium or minimum-security prisons, the front of the cell is made of bars and there is no ability for a cellmate to leave into a dayroom. The hooks made before I moved into this cell were on one wall and underneath the bunk. Most inmates will only require one wall hook because the other side of the sheet is placed underneath the top mattress. However my cellmate has a narrow ragged old mattress he has pressed against the wall to create several inches of space on his bunk to act as a shelf. In this area he has a variety of things including a pen, some Q-tips, a roll of toilet paper, some hard candy, a rolled newspaper, and a tube of hemorrhoid cream. The hook underneath the bunk is inconvenient for me to use.

Typically, I like to fuse plastic to surfaces by melting them together. However, when I attempted to melt an old toothbrush to the upper lip of the edge of the bunk, it fell off. Obviously the light casting of gray paint on the steel bunk was not enough to fuse the plastic to it. Thus, I used some glue I received from another prisoner. Cutting out two rectangular pieces of cardboard that came with the writing paper I am currently using, I glued them together with a paper clip wound inside and out to act as a hook. I then glued the cardboard to the bunk. Because the bunk has a 3" lip on the outer edge to keep a mattress in place, I was not only able to make it more convenient to use but raise the sheet. Although a low privacy sheet is not important to a midget using the sink like my cellmate, for someone over 6' tall, it was an improvement.

After attaching the first hook, I decided to add another to the end of the bunk by the back wall. Therefore when I use the privacy sheet it makes a square enclosure around the sink and toilet. To make the cardboard less noticeable and nicer looking, I painted it gray to match the color of the bunk. I also sharpened the tips of the paperclips so the sheet would easily be pinned. I was fairly happy with the improvement but my cellmate expressed concern he may poke or scratch himself despite how I pointed the paperclips horizontally. I asked Little Bobby sarcastically if he was scared, and he said, "Damned right I am." I took my nail clippers and cut off the tips to alleviate his concerns.

After making the new sheet hooks, I secured some pencils in the wall. The walls of this cell have holes in them which were once where bolts or screws used to be before the cell was gutted of all shelves and accessories. I assume these were removed on the orders of a previous administration long ago which believed they were a danger. Prisoners could break or disassemble the steel to make knives. Furthermore, the shelving units were just another place inmates could keep property and it was much easier for guards if they only had to search two plastic boxes. In any event, the holes are useful to hammer in nails, pens, or pencils to hang various things on. For example, although I had folded up my jacket and put it under my mattress, I had to bring it out again this week for the chilly weather. The pencil pegs I made are also convenient for my cellmate to tie a line between to hang and dry his bed sheets which he hand washes in the sink.

The main reason why I secured the glue, however, was to fix my radio and my fan. My radio was cracked by ransacking Orange Crush guards and my fan by a former cellmate who dropped it onto the concrete floor. Radios are no longer sold in the IDOC, only Walkmans. However, I could buy a new 9" plastic fan for $30 at the prison store. This I will not do unless I must because the product has been cheapened and I have become increasingly frugal as prices at the commissary have been inflated to make prisoners help pay for the costs of their own incarceration. Already the State of Illinois spends approximately $2 billion to confine 50,000 prisoners, and this amount is only to increase in the years to come.

Initially, I was not certain if the adhesive I had would work to fix the cracks in my radio and fan. The adhesive was not super glue and I am not certain exactly what it is used for. However, after some time I was able to reconnect all the major breaks. I was impressed by how well the epoxy worked and almost glued my fingers together. It may not be super glue, but it was very strong. This made me think how I could glue my cellmate to the toilet seat and other malicious although amusing purposes.

Unfortunately, my fan was not yet completely repaired. Because I move my fan around the cell regularly for various purposes and yank its cord out of the electrical socket, the wire has developed a short. To fix it, I had to disassemble my fan and take out the old wire and replace it with a new one. I used an extension cord and cut the end off to do so. My cellmate, seeing how easily I was able to repair my fan, asked me to attempt to fix his. He bought his fan last year and since he purchased it the fan will only spin slowly. Numerous other prisoners had returned their defective fans, but for some reason Bobby kept his. After bypassing the switch box and the fuse, I determined the fan's motor had been improperly made and there was nothing I could do to repair it. After telling my cellmate his fan was unrepairable, I thought he would discard it. But to my dismay, he kept the useless fan that makes a breeze as light as a folded up piece of paper being moved back and forth.

In the evening Monday, I surfed the stations on my television trying to find something interesting to watch. As I did so, I noticed the stick I use to switch stations was in need of replacement. The stick is made up of wound pages from a magazine that I taped together and stuck a pen down the center at the end. The bottom of the pen tube fits perfectly around the buttons on my TV. Remote controls have never been allowed in Illinois' prisons for reasons I am unaware of. While I waited for the 8 p.m. DVD to be played, I made myself a new stick. I have a tradition of always naming my new TV button staff. This one I called "Apache," after the oil and natural gas exploration company, Apache Energy, whose corporate report I used to make it.

On Tuesday, I spent a chilly morning lifting weights and running on the large South yard. When I returned, stuffed in the cell bars were the laundry bags and sheets I had sent out to be washed the night before. I noticed one of my large mesh laundry bags was frayed and torn in spots. I have sewn it repeatedly but it was now time to dispose of it. Later, after I bathed out of the sink and folded my clothes, I began to make myself a new bag. On occasion the prison clothing room will supply inmates with new bags. However, they are half the size of my old one. If an inmate wants a nice big one, he must buy it from commissary for $5. Increasingly, Stateville is cutting back on the clothes issued to prisoners and forcing them to buy them. As a ward of the state, I believe it must provide me with all basic necessities: adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care. Thus, instead of buying a new bag, I cut two state issued small bags and sewed them together into one large bag. This process took me a few hours but it was worth my time rather than providing the State of Illinois with more money to continue my wrongful incarceration.

On Saturday, I watched Fareed Zakaria on CNN. He had a segment about the ironic priorities of the U.S. spending more money on the prison industrial complex than on educating students. He focused on the State of California which has a $10 billion dollar budget for their Department of Corrections. This caused the state to spend about $50,000 per inmate while only spending $8,000 per student. In the last decade, California has built 11 new prisons, but only one school, and despite this because of draconian sentencing laws, they still do not have the room or money for their increasing prison population. Interestingly, the only state to have a worse credit rating than California is Illinois. Governor Quinn has spoken about budget cuts, however, I doubt if he is committed to them or to restructuring the criminal and sentencing statutes in Illinois to curb the absurd spending.

After making my new laundry bag, I needed a black marker to mark it. The laundry bags return mixed together and cell house workers need to know where the clothing came from in order to deliver it. Mertz happened to stop by my cell after his visit and I asked him if he had one I could borrow. He told me he did and he would have it sent down to me after he was locked in his cell. I told him it may be useless after I am done with it because I plan on not only marking my laundry bag but every article of clothing I own. Even my underwear was going to have my name and number on it, just like Steve's. Mertz knew I was making fun of the Danny DeVito look alike downstairs. Both of us thought it was very odd the man put his name on all his clothes.

I have noticed Steve had his name on all his outerwear but I did not realize he did it also to his underclothes. While in the shower holding area, I saw that he had his name printed in bold black magic marker across the waist. This was ludicrous and I asked him if he thought someone was going to steal his boxers. He told me when the guards ransack his cell he oftentimes cannot determine his clothes from his cell mate's because they are all mixed together. To avoid the confusion, he has his name on nearly every piece of clothing. I asked him, "Is there really another man with size 5XL boxers?" Then I made fun of how the issue was not serious and if he was unable to discern whose clothes were whose he should just divide them appropriately. My solution was not adequate for him, however.

Although I did not mark all my clothes, I did mark an assortment of my property while I had the marker. I marked the lids of all my peanut butter jars, boxes of instant oatmeal, and 9 x 11 envelopes. The purpose of this was to discern easily what was inside them. For example, I have 20 jars that all are identical, and I do not know what I have stored inside until I pull them out of my box. I also have about 20 envelopes in my legal-correspondence box on their side, similar to a filing cabinet. They are already labeled in pen but the black marker makes them easier to identify.

Wednesday, I spent my morning exercising while my cellmate was at the law library. With him not in the cell, I was able to use the entire floor to workout. When I finished, I was surprised my name was called over the loudspeaker for a visit. Typically, any visitors spend hours waiting and I am not called until noon or later. However, the warden has ordered the empty visiting room at Stateville to be used for NRC inmates. Inmates from the Northern Receiving Center are housed outside the walls a half mile away and must be taken by vans into the prison. They are the major reason for overcrowding in the visiting room, and long waiting times. I am glad two visiting rooms are now being used, but do not know why NRC inmates cannot use the vacant visiting room in their own building.

After returning from my visit, I began to sew a few socks and my gym shoes. The stitches in the sides of my shoes have started to come undone. Although these are brand name gym shoes, I have come to expect cheap craftsmanship from goods made in China. The shoes are narrow and although this is ideal because I have narrow feet, I use two sets of insoles when I exercise to provide extra cushion. I typically work out on the concrete floor of my cell and this takes a toll on my joints, particularly my lower back where I have two crushed disks. It was difficult pushing the needle through the leather but it was worth the time and effort. I care little to buy a new pair of shoes and put more money in the coffers of the IDOC or the Chinese economy.

Lately, the news media has been focused on the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old in Florida. The liberal media has been hyping up the incident due to the racial dimension, despite how the shooter was a mestizo and because of their opposition to gun rights. The publicity is annoying to me because the political spin is so obvious and so is the attempt to villainize George Zimmerman and make an angel out of the victim who was a juvenile delinquent. When I was arrested, I also was the target of an intentional smear campaign. This case should not be tried in the media but go through a fair and unbiased police investigation. If the "stand your ground" gun law of Florida needs to be reviewed, it also should be done without the inaccurate reporting and pressure of left wing tabloid news media.

While stitching my shoes, I listened to conservative talk radio but even they could not avoid the story. Although they were much more balanced in their reporting, I did not care to listen to any more news about the shooting and turned to a music station. Unfortunately, even on the 2nd floor, radio reception is poor and I was only able to tune in several FM stations. Therefore, after completing work on my shoes, I went to work on an antenna for my Walkman. I used the cord I had taken out of my fan that had a short in it to make a long wire. This wire I wrapped around the jack of my headphones, through my cell bars and up and over a pipe on the ceiling of the gallery. Still, I was unsatisfied with the radio reception and I extended the wire outside the second set of bars at the edge of the gallery. These bars were added in addition to the railing to prevent people from being thrown off, which once did occur regularly. Finally, I was able to get a full spectrum of radio stations.

For several days, Mertz has been scraping the rust off the countertop in his cell. He has been using a broken nail clipper and I gave him credit for his determination. By Wednesday, he had removed most of it and made a smooth surface. I sent him a cup of gray paint I had made by mixing the white paint I had with some black I received from another prisoner. When I came out for a meal of soy spaghetti, I stopped at his cell to see how his newly painted shelf looked. The color was not a perfect match to the walls, but it looked much better than it once did. I told him to let it dry a day and then add some wax so the paint never bleeds. I returned to my cell to watch the newly released DVD movie "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." I was glad to be able to watch the interesting film without disruption from my cellmate or gallery disturbances as were so common downstairs.

I am currently sitting at my new table as I write this post. The cells of Stateville were originally designed with bunks and tables supported by chains. Those were taken out long ago but many cells still have the brackets. I used them to tie shoelaces around my box lid and it hovers perfectly perpendicular to the wall. For a stool, I am sitting on my small box. I tend to like being here rather than on the edge of my bunk because it provides me with greater distance between myself and my cellmate who may be at the sink, toilet, or rummaging in his box. I regularly feel cramped living in a cage with another man, even if he is only a little over 5' tall.

It is almost time for mail to be picked up but I am leery of sending this letter out. My mail is increasingly being intercepted by Internal Affairs and delayed or destroyed. The prison's security unit cannot legally infringe on my 1st Amendment rights to correspond with the outside world. However, they can, and have, thrown out my letters and continue to deny doing so. Possibly, soon a couple of goons will throw me in Seg on trumped up charges as they have in the past. Possibly, they will cite this table as a misuse of property. I think they realize though that in Seg I will only have even more time to write and more to write about. If I.A. was wise, they would allow me to transfer to a nice medium-security prison where the administration would not be so ashamed of the living conditions and ongoings. However, I doubt they want to reward me with such a great home improvement.

6 comments:

  1. Mr. Sunshine...how did you like the prisons in socialist Sweden? Did you see the laptop? the dude had a freaking laptop :) Well...Republicans enjoy knowing people suffer even though they talk about "justice" and truth in sentencing and "the public demands." Republicans are sick my friend...very sick in their heads...they think they are closer to god but everything they do tells me they are closer to the other dude...Hey, didn't you fall off your chair when the girl gives the guy that bag of papers with no guard checking the bag and x-raying it fifty times? :) Stupid socialists...how they don't understand the rich needs its fun in the name of security :)

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    1. Apparently, you do not pay much attention to politics. The Illinois House and Senate are dominated by Democrats and will have a super majority in January. The governor Pat Quinn is a Democrat as well. However, Illinois has the most draconian criminal and sentencing statutes in the country. It also has the most disfunctional justice system where more convicted murderers have been found innocent. There is no correlation between political parties and their justice or corrections departments in the U.S.

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  2. Paul, other lifers have been sent to medium prisons. Hope they send you too.

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  3. yeah, have you ever actually tried?

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  4. NRC is not a half mile from the Walls of Stateville,as a matter of fact when NRC inmates are out on the yard we could reach through the fence and touch the 30 foot wall surrounding Stateville CC.This may have changed since I was housed there but the reason the visiting room at NRC was not used was because there were no vending machines there and an obscure Illinois statute actually requires vending machines or other type of food service to be available to inmates and their visitors (I am not sure of the purpose of this statute but it is indeed on the books)

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    1. Many inmates enjoy going on visits for the purpose of eating vending machine food. Since prison food is so menial, awful tasting and poisoned with soy and inmates cannot always afford or receive commissary food, they depend on the vending machine food on their visits for nourishment.

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