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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Death in the Family -- August 2, 2012

On Tuesday evening, my cellmate learned his daughter had died. He discovered the news when a prisoner informed him her name was in the obituary section of a newspaper. Most men in prison learn of deaths in the family through the counselor if they do not have any regular contact. However, O.G. Bobby has been in prison nearly 40 consecutive years. He not only has little contact with his family, but has become so estranged no one even bothered to call the prison. For many prisoners, a death in the family can be a great loss. Inmates in maximum-security prisons who will die incarcerated have little meaning or value left in their lives. When someone dies who was or is close to them, it can take away what little connection they have to the outside world and increase their awareness of a bleak, despondent, and empty existence.

I rarely speak to my cellmate and he did not tell me about his daughter's death until the following day. Unusual for him, he was by the bars seeking to use the telephone. The old black man rarely uses the phone and I was curious to know what his apparent urgency was. However, more so, I wanted to complete my exercise regimen and bathe before I received a visit. I was not certain anyone would come to see me, but I did not want my clothes dripping in sweat if my name was called over the cell house loudspeaker. Eventually, Bobby got the phone and for a half hour attempted to get through to someone. No one answered or accepted his collect calls and he finally went on his bunk permitting me to have access to the floor space. As I expected, my name was called for a visit toward the end of my workout and I had to rush to get ready. I noticed while dressing, my cellmate was again trying to use the phone. This time he was able to get through and was talking to someone when I left the cell.

It was only when I returned that Bobby told me about his daughter dying and his anxiety trying to reach someone on the telephone. My cellmate is nearly 60 years old and both of his parents died long ago. He has two grandchildren, however, he has not had much contact with them over the years. He has only been free to spend a few years with his daughter and none with her children. Bobby was 20 years old when he committed his first murder, and not long after he was paroled, he was arrested for a second murder. Thus, his grandchildren have never really considered him their grandfather and the little contact they have had while he has been incarcerated has not been positive.

The daughter who died was his only child. She was 40 years old and died from breast cancer. Bobby was aware she was diagnosed with cancer but thought treatment was going well. Like most prisoners who have been incarcerated a long time, the mothers of their children have moved on. They have found new husbands or boyfriends. I did not ask Bobby about his relationship with the mother of his daughter, but it seemed apparent they had little communication, if any at all. Bobby expressed to me some anger about how no one bothered to even notify him about her death and how he had to learn about it from a newspaper. Because of how estranged he was to his daughter, he was not terribly upset and did not feel any great loss from what I could perceive. This is not the case with others I have known who have lost a family member.

Earlier this year, Steve, one of the few people I speak to in the cell house, lost his mother. He did not openly show any grief, but I could tell he was significantly affected by it. There was a perceptible change in his attitude and he became reclusive. Normally, he did not miss any meals even if they were of the most distasteful kind. He also went out to all recreation periods, religious services for Catholics, and to the law library. After his mother died, he only came out of his cell occasionally. When I saw him he was not as good humored and did not appreciate my ridicule despite how witty others thought of it. I have never been good at recognizing the emotional states of people, however, I tend to think Steve was depressed for a month or longer.

Steve was convicted several years ago of solicitation of murder along with two counts of 1st degree murder. According to prosecutors, he borrowed his girlfriend's SUV, drove to his estranged wife's house and shot her along with her mother. The convictions of murder were not very strong, but the evidence of solicitation is overwhelming. Regardless, even if he were to be able to vacate the two murder charges, he will die in prison due to the 30 year sentence he was given for solicitation. Steve has some experience as a paralegal, but I doubt there is any way he can overcome all the charges. I have read his direct appeal and the errors in my opinion will not cause the court to grant him a new trial. I tend to believe Steve knows he will die in prison and I ask myself often what does a condemned man have to live for? The meager relationships prisoners are able to maintain in the penitentiary can give meaning to an otherwise miserable life void of purpose.

I am told Steve was permitted to have a special visit with his father, uncles, and some other relatives after his mother's death. Typically, prisoners are limited to having a maximum of three visitors at one time. They also must visit in the crowded, loud, general population visiting room. However, Steve's family was able to gain special accommodations through the warden. The warden permitted them to visit in one of the legal visiting rooms. I asked Steve about his visit at my next opportunity, but he did not want to talk about it. I cannot say if the visit was consoling in any way or only made him more sad and despondent. I know prison administrators are apt to grant special visitation after the death of a close family member, but I believe it is done less out of sympathy than to prevent an inmate from striking out in violence or committing suicide.

Not long after Steve's mother died, another person I acquaint with lost his younger sister. Anthony asked if he could attend the funeral but was told no. According to the policy of the IDOC, only those inmates with low security designations can attend the funeral of a family member. At a maximum security prison, there are only a few men who are not at least deemed a moderate security risk. In fact, I believe all prisoners with more than 30 years to serve must have a blue ID card which signifies moderate security risk. Unless a prisoner is being punished for a disciplinary infraction, they are not at a maximum security prison with less than 20 years. Because of the draconian sentencing laws, Menard and Stateville nearly are full with men who will never be released from prison.

Although Anthony's father said he would pay the $1,000 for a security detail to escort him to the funeral, I doubt he would have wanted to attend. Prisoners in Illinois are not allowed to be present for funeral services or even visit the cemetery. They never see any family members and are only taken to the funeral home alone. There they can look at the body in a casket for 15 minutes before being brought back to the prison. In my opinion, this is ridiculous and I would rather someone just send me a photo of the person while still alive. There is no meaning to me visiting a corpse. Seeing a family member dead in fact probably would only cause me to become more bitter and angry for my unjust incarceration as well as remind me of my own mortality. I do not believe in any "thereafter." This is all there is for me and my loved ones. Every day I spend rotting in prison is one less day I have, they have, and we have together.

I am not certain how Anthony took the loss of his sister. I know his two siblings are the closest family members he has, or had. After he was informed of her death I happened to be locked in the cell house holding cage with him. Normally, he would have engaged me in conversation but he did not say anything. Eventually, I spoke to him and he failed to mention his sister's death. He told me simply he was sleeping when the guards pulled us out of our cells to conduct a search. Both of our cellmates at the time were Level E's, or classified as extreme escape risks. It was only later that Anthony told me about his sister. Apparently, he was stunned by the news. His sister was about 40 years old and died from a heart attack. He tended to recover from the loss though much quicker than Steve, and I was glad he was not as sensitive or soft as "Pudding." I even was able to joke with him not long after the event and asked him if I needed to take away his shoe laces.

In January, one of my uncles passed away. He was 91 years old and had lived a long and full life. Despite this, I was a bit sad and angry at his death. He married my aunt in my late teens not long before my arrest. I did not get to know him as well as I wanted to. Tadeusz was a WWII veteran who earned the Purple Heart and many other commendations. He and my aunt visited me when they were in Illinois. Nearly every year, they would travel from Arizona to the Chicago area, typically staying with my parents. I appreciated the fact he was interested in visiting his nephew he vaguely knew from outside the prison. Tadeusz and I, although separated by over 50 years, had a number of common interests and got along well. He used to promise me we would spend time together when I was freed including taking vacations around the world to any place I would like. However, as the years passed by and I saw him deteriorate from Alzheimer's and other problems, I knew he would be dead long before I ever was exonerated.

During my incarceration both of my maternal grandparents died. My grandmother died only a month or two after my arrest. This upsets me because I tend to believe it caused the stress which burdened her after having open heart surgery. The surgery went well from what doctors told me and other family members. She seemed to be recovering well when I visited her in the hospital after her surgery. However, then I was arrested and accused of the Brown's Chicken massacre and other then-unsolved murders. The media was extraordinarily vicious and unscrupulous in their attempt to villainize me and captivate the public. For weeks, news crews camped out in front of my parents' house, where my grandmother was recuperating after being released from the hospital. My home was a very nice and tranquil place for her to get back on her feet, at least until the media invasion occurred. With the commotion outside my house, reporters ringing the doorbell and spying through windows, and the constant TV reporting that I knew she watched with my parents, I wonder to this day if it caused her heart to stop early one morning.

I was not only upset by the loss of my uncle and two grandparents, but even of my dog. As a child, my parents bought me a Dalmatian whose company I greatly enjoyed despite how excitable and obnoxious he could be at times. I eventually was able to train him and even won several awards at dog shows. He had a large back yard to run and play in, but I would occasionally walk him around the neighborhood or to parks. My family and I also would always take him with us when we went to our vacation home in downstate Illinois. We called him Dapper, and he represented my childhood in many ways. When I was told of his death, it symbolized the death of my youth. Those years were gone. My protracted death sentence allows me to watch everything and everyone I ever cared for slowly die, leaving me with nothing but hatred.

There was a point in time when I wanted to push away my past and family. It seemed like it only brought us all grief. I notice how many prisoners are happy when they return from their visits, but I am almost always more sad and angry. I consider myself a dead man, especially after all my appeals were dismissed or denied. When family and relatives come to see me, it was almost as if they were visiting a grave site at the cemetery. They were coming to see a dead man. Yes, he could move, think, and talk, but I was nevertheless a zombie. I was devoid of any meaning, joy, or life and in fact was envious of the living. I thought often why do these people continue to visit my grave? It was better for them to forget me and move on with their lives. However, I failed to realize for some people, they can never move on and this is especially so for my parents who have lost their only son.

My parents are becoming very old and I question how much time I have until they also pass away. I am tremendously grateful for how they have supported and stayed with me all these years. Nearly two decades have passed and many prisoner's families do walk away after such time. Many of my relatives I have not seen in years and I have not seen a friend from before my arrest. Possibly they were never friends to begin with. My sister still occasionally visits for a considerable amount of time, but over the years I see how she too has forgotten about me. I do not blame them for what am I other than a condemned man beyond a 30' concrete wall. Should they also visit the cemetery like my parents routinely do?

I have had the ability to request a transfer to Menard C.C., where my time would be better. With the growing number of prisoners being stacked into the IDOC, I may even be able to request and receive a transfer to a medium security prison. However, I am hesitant to do so. If I am ever able to acquire a private investigator, it will be better if I am in the vicinity of Chicago. More importantly, I think about my parents. Stateville is the worst prison in Illinois and has the worst visitation, but it is about a half hour drive from home. I can see my parents much more by staying here, and this is increasingly important to me as the sands of the hour glass run thin.

It is incredibly disappointing that I will never be a free man while my parents are alive. It is disheartening to me that I cannot be there for them in their final years when I know they could use my help. I have never had a normal adult relationship with them. I was arrested when I was 18, and in my late teens I spent much time away from home. I cannot turn back the clock nor can I stop it from ticking away what little we have left.

I have dreamed of a time with my family. I have dreamed of a family of my own. Many prisoners have children and I envy them as well as pity them. Like my cellmate, he never had a relationship with his daughter. A man cannot be a father from inside prison and what good is it to sire sons and daughters if one cannot be there for them? I cannot be a father. I cannot be a son. I cannot be anything of worth. My cellmate lost his daughter last week, but I think I am more disturbed than he is.


  1. Paul, I have read your story from your first post to now..but I am concerned that you haven't posted anything in a while. Are you okay? Granted, I know that okay is a relative term..but are you able to keep posting and just haven't or is there a reason you have stopped? Keep writing Paul..people really do get a lot out of what you write and how you do it.

  2. Paul, What's going on man? Are you on lock down or have you just given up writing? I hope that whatever the issue is, is resolved soon and you let us know how you are and what's been going on. You are thought about and others are concerned about you. Just sayin.

  3. Go to Menard CC if you can...better weather at least. Oops, you don't care about that...As for your grandmother...she was smart to die right after you were arrested...better dead than reading your blog and slowly dying with ever sentence...When your parents will die, they will be smiling first time in a long, long could only imagine the torture of seeing your innocent kid under control of robots and there's nothing you as parent, could do about it...Be smart, have them visit you is easier on them, on the driving home from prison. I'm sure they cherish the drive TO prison but going away from the place where their son is is another story...My sister died of breast cancer as well and is great...the last year was pure suffering punctured by few hours per day when no pain was present...and the last month her speech seemed to wander a little only to come back a minute later...Death is better when the point of no return have being reached. You are not there yet but my sistr was there and your grandmother was getting there by the hour so i end this as I started it: kuddos to your grandmother for going to the other side quick before this side, with your prosecution going on, was going to make her wish she was never born.

  4. Hey Man,

    It bothers me that you speak of your folks mortality, when you know they read the blog. I too think and worry of my parents mortality. I don't believe being incarcerated is a precondition to this kind of thought, although I acknowledge you being seperated from them makes your perspective different.

    ....and on that point, you say they have have a short drive to Staetville, maybe 1/2 an hour. I can see where knowing you are so close, as the crow flies, can be of comfort to them. Being with-in earshot of the same media, weather, time zone, etc., knowing you are just a few miles away.

    To me, you're a young man, 30 something. If something positive were to happen with your case (which I'm cautiously beging to believe is possible) and you were released even ten years from now, you would still be younger than I am today. I understand the time you've lost, but those are not necessarily the best years of ones life. The best years of my life for example, I consider to have begun at age 36. Other's I know claim a much later point, in their mid 50's.

    I must say, I find your lack of finding a suitable "Faith" is keeping you from being a "whole" person and forgoing that comfort. Of course you may disagree, but it's possible you may come to have a change of heart. I'm reminded of being taught that there may be times in a mans life when all he has, is his faith. Perhaps take it upon yourself to borrow a Bible and read the book of "Job" (pronounced Jobe). A man who loses everything BUT his faith.

    I've made a few previous posts in your blog as Anonymous, having just discoverd the blog in the past week or two. From this point forward I will lable my posts as JD. I'm from gary IN and know what it means to be the minority White guy.

    I've now read the entire blog, as many as 20 entries/day and anxiously await new entries. I've acted on some things, telling my significant other of my readings, measured out and marked a 6x11 space of my office, and have decided to lose some fat I've been carrying around. Your writing gives me inspiration. I've also researched other webb sources surounding your conviction. I understand first hand how media reporting can be distorted. I believe your writing seperates you from the others in the "Zoo". Don't stop.

    More Later, JD

    P.S. Oh, a comment about poster "Joliet CC".

    At first I disliked how he spoke, but after reading all he has posted, I see how he challanges you and gets a response out of you.

  5. You say "I cannot be anything of worth." This is not true.

  6. Why would your time be better at Menard? Isn't that also a max security facility?

    1. Not all maximum security prisons are alike. There are over 20 penitentiaries in Illinois and each has their unique differences. Menard and Stateville are both level 1's, but there is no uniformity.

  7. Sorry for your loss.


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