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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Living Dead -- October 31, 2012

When I awakened today, it was dark. The sun had yet to rise and there was only a dim light reflecting off my dull gray cell walls. It was remarkably quiet for a cell house with 300 convicts stacked on top of each other on 5 floors. My cellmate also was not at the cell bars as usual, but on his bunk wrapped in a blanket still sick with a cold. The prison continues to be on a strict level one lockdown and I was glad for the relative serenity on this Halloween morning. However, it gave me time to ponder how grim and meaningless my life was. There was little I cared to live for and this cell may as well be my tomb. Only in death did it seem I could escape the ad infinite torment, oppression, and emptiness which pervaded my existence.

On the morning news, I heard the winds from Superstorm Sandy were receding. There were reports of over 10 foot waves on Lake Michigan and footage of them crashing onto the coastline of Chicago were shown. People were told to keep away, but I tend to think I would want to see and experience the turbulent weather. The wind was blowing from the north making not Chicago but the southern shore of the lake the most heavily hit. I have been to the Indiana Sand Dunes and could imagine what it would be like there. The dark gray skies would reflect off the water making it appear almost black. The dunes were a soft white sand and I thought about the giant black waves crashing down upon them. I also imagined how the force of the wind and spray of the water would feel. It may actually make me feel alive again.

After watching the news and completing my breakfast, I began my workout. Typically, I will wait until my cellmate has left the cell or has enjoyed enough time sitting on his box at the bars listening to music. However, with him sick and on his bunk watching TV, I thought I may as well kick start my day early. Possibly, it could knock off the cobwebs I felt being spun over my corpse. The intense hour long exercise did get my blood flowing, but it did not alter my bleak outlook. Before washing up in the sink, I asked my cellmate if he wanted to come down off his bunk. He looked miserable and had stuffed toilet paper in his nose to prevent snot from flowing out. He may have something more virulent than the common cold. Bobby eventually muttered what I interpreted as "no," and rolled on his side.

I considered reading a horror novel for the holiday. I have several books by the authors Stephen King and Dean Koontz some of which have been in my box for years. However, instead, I read the Wall Street Journal. The paper is delivered 6 days a week and consumes much of my reading time. Since the lockdown began, I have been able to catch up and read yesterday's paper while listening to Rush Limbaugh. The paper had a number of articles about the devastation left by the enormous storm on the East coast.  Despite the president's photo ops with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, it did nothing to help the millions of people who had their lives shattered. Expressed sympathy and some hugs did not rebuild homes or communities destroyed. It also did not restore electricity or gasoline, feed the hungry or warm those freezing.

Although the morning began quiet, it did not remain this way. By the time lunch trays were passed out, inmates were yelling and screaming. Several times I was disrupted by neighbors passing items down the gallery. Fortunately, it was not as bad as the former week when there was a massive traffic of goods. The lockdown left prisoners on the upper two floors without any commissary. They were desperate to get supplies and sent down mesh laundry bags tied to lines to be filled by their friends and fellow gang members. I called the lines from the 2nd floor to the 5th or 4th floor "elevators" and the convicts working them "bellmen." The bellmen had vast amounts of commissary being sent to them to go upstairs and I was continually bothered to pass it. It was a great inconvenience and I was disturbed by the cacophony of inmates yelling over each other to coordinate the movement. However, if I were unable to shop for a few months, I would definitely appreciate a handout.

I have begun to take mid-day naps and Halloween was no exception. In fact on the holiday, I looked forward to escaping from my miserable, loathsome existence. Prisoners often nap in the afternoon but they probably think it is odd I put on my sweater, jacket, gloves, and skull cap pulled down over my eyes to do so. I become nearly as cold as a corpse and I like to mummify myself whether for an hour or two during the day or on chilly nights. Along with all my clothes on, I push some earplugs in to muffle the noise around me. If I could, I would sleep like the dead, but my cellmate or the loud convicts in the penitentiary usually prevent me from doing so.

I dreamt about a girl I had corresponded with romantically in the past. We were at some cliffs overlooking a stormy sea. I had the compulsion to jump off onto the sharp rocks below and she seemed to want to go with me. I was awakened, however, by the loudspeaker announcing showers. Inmates had not been able to shower during the last two weeks. Immediately, there was an expressed excitement, although I did not know why. The showers did not work well and often were cold. The idea of showering with a crowd of men some of whom were gay also was not appealing. I could only speculate prisoners had a pent up desire to get out of their cells and socialize. Even though my cellmate was gravely ill he went, but I stayed in. My enjoyment was being alone, however, numerous prisoners passed by my cell ruining my solitude.

One of the people to stop by was the gregarious elephant. He noticed I had a remote control stick for my TV and ironically asked me if I was too lazy to press the buttons manually. I told him to push on and take a shower making sure to soap between the rolls of his fat. On the way back from the shower, Mertz stopped by my cell and I gave him some newspapers to read. When doing so I asked the former death row inmate where his hockey mask was. He answered by asking me where the candy was. I told him, "No costume, no candy."

For dinner, prisoners were served some slop. I knew my cellmate with the Ebola virus did not want it, but possibly my neighbor may. Like the character Sheldon from the TV comedy "The Big Bang Theory" did when knocking on the door of his apartment neighbor Penny, I pounded on the wall and said his name three times in quick succession. He responded, "What? What? What do you want?!" I was just retaliating for all the times he bothers me. Finally, I asked him if he wanted the dinner tray. He said "no," and asked me why I just did not ask him. I responded, "Then you would not have had to be disrupted and get up to come to the bars." My neighbor knew the joke I was playing on him, but said he yells out my name several times because he does not know if I have headphones on and cannot hear him.

Instead of eating the prison food, I made myself some burritos made with pink salmon. This probably does not sound appealing to most people, but it was my special Halloween meal. While I ate, I watched the Peanuts cartoon "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" as I do most Halloweens. The cartoon reminds me of my childhood and it has basically become a tradition. I knew every scene by memory from Charlie Brown mistakenly being invited to a party to him continually having rocks thrown in his trick or treat bag or Snoopy pretending to be a WWI fighter pilot being shot down over enemy lines to surprise Linus and Lucy who were waiting for the Great Pumpkin.

While watching the cartoon, I wondered if my mother still refuses to give out any candy believing Halloween was the devil's holiday. I told her the historic origins of Halloween and how it had turned into a social tradition enjoyed by kids. By not passing out candy, she was not only failing to be a part of her community but disappointing a lot of children. Even for the children driven from other areas to our subdivision to go trick or treating, I would still greet at the door to at least throw a rock in their bag like Charlie Brown. She does not care, however, and last year my parents awoke the day after Halloween to discover some kids had drawn an enormous penis and other crude drawings with white chalk across their expansive black asphalt driveway. Underneath the 20 foot dick was written "B. C. Murderer Lives Here." Apparently, the heavy news media coverage of the actual perpetrators' arrest and trials went unnoticed in the area, and I am still rumored to have committed the Palatine Massacre.

From "The Great Pumpkin" cartoon I changed channels to Rob Zombie's remake of the film "Halloween." After I had seen Michael Myers kill enough people and finished my meal, I turned off my TV. I was bored with television as much as I was bored with my meaningless existence. I stared at my cell walls and the peeling gray paint exposing the concrete beneath. It was again dark in the cell and I watched the shadows of light. I imagined from them a grim reaper with a long scythe and only hoped Death was here for me and not my cellmate who seemed to be dying.

From the shadows on my cell walls, I focused my gaze outside the dingy cell house windows to see a rising full moon. Its dull glow still represented the free primal and natural world beyond the prison walls. It was these romantic sentiments which captured my attention and still ruminated in my thoughts even though its light has past my vantage point. Existing in the catacombs of various maximum security facilities for nearly the last 20 years has slowly drained the life from me. In the crypt, the air is suffocating and the concrete and earth crushingly oppressive. It is what I imagine it is like to be buried alive. I exist only to be tormented in this tomb vainly trying to escape. The judge sentenced me to life in prison but it seems more fitting to be a protracted death sentence. I am no more alive than I am dead. I am the living dead.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Nadine -- September 28, 2012

This week I received a list of new comments posted by readers. One of them was by a person who identified herself as Kat. After reading the post "A Letter to Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez," she asks me what I would say in response to Nadine Lenarczak's testimony, and if she was lying. Excerpts from a 1995 Chicago Tribune article are cited quoting Nadine. I do not have access to the Internet but I doubt the article is very comprehensive. If Nadine's background and testimony were discussed at length, the question of whether she was lying would not even be asked. I appreciate readers' interest in my case and am glad they do not accept my claim of innocence without any skepticism. However, I tend to believe online newspaper archives do not provide an accurate or full presentation of my trial, conviction, or the events proceeding them. Nadine was not telling the truth and there is plenty I could say in response to her testimony.

Nadine was one of the prosecutor's most preposterous witnesses. Her background of crime, drug use, and psychological problems made her testimony highly suspect. The incentives or pressures on her to lie on behalf of the state were enormous. Just before my trial, she faced multiple criminal convictions and had become an informant to avoid prosecution in another case. When questioned about Dean Fawcett, she made various different statements which were contradicted by other witnesses. At my trial, her answers during cross examination came off as so ludicrous that a few times there was laughter in the courtroom. From interviews with jurors, I learned her entire testimony was disregarded and was the subject of humor and ridicule. Nadine's testimony is yet another example of how desperate prosecutors were and what extremes they would go to in order to bolster their case.

Nadine had drug and psychiatric problems which were extensively documented in discovery reports. An entire box was devoted to Nadine and a great portion were psychological reports. Discovery is information obtained by the police during the course of their investigation and prosecutors are required to turn it over to the defense. The trial judge, however, has discretion in deciding what is allowed into evidence. The judge limited my attorney to issues which addressed only Nadine's credibility as a witness, but this was more than enough for him to eviscerate her testimony.

Nadine attempted to play down her drug use and mental disorders. Apparently, she was not aware the defense had her medical files. She tried to convince the jury she was only a recreational user of cocaine and my attorney allowed her to present this image before confronting her with evidence which fully disputed these claims. For example, Nadine was asked how recreational drug use could cause her sinus cavity to disintegrate. I will never forget when Nadine claimed her blackouts were not serious. However, she was then forced to admit she had large memory lapses which completely wiped out her recollection. At times, she found herself in places she did not know how she got there including once finding herself sitting up in a tree.

Her life was in great turmoil. At and before the time of her arrest, she was in and out of hospitals. She was using drugs and living out of motels. She did not have a job and relied on various thefts, scams, and men to get by. Her brother had recently been shot and killed while driving his car. The family she had left did not want anything to do with her. From reports, her father moved to California and refused to take her with him until she got help. Her life was spiraling out of control. Even I who only spent time with her on one day and never seen or heard from her again could sense she was a very troubled woman.

I met Nadine Lenarczak at the Riverside Mall in late December 1992 along with Brian, Bob, and Dean. I knew nothing about her except what was related to me. For instance, Brian told me she was a low life prostitute. Bob told me she was a friend of his wife's and she was going to join us at the mall. He did not elaborate on the friendship of Rose and Nadine nor did he tell me they had been using Dean Fawcett's checks. I did not know whether to believe Brian or not, but I got the impression Nadine was a grifter, transient, or going through some very difficult times. She was not unattractive or wearing shabby clothes, but her hair had not been treated with care and was bleached blonde. Later in the evening, I learned she was living out of a motel with a pet racoon. Nadine had Dean order over $200 in Chinese food takeout which I also found odd. How was she going to eat all that food? Bob and Brian joked about how she was probably going to eat Chinese all week. However, I felt bad for the apparently destitute and distressed woman who had no one to care for her.

Police did not know the identity of Dean Fawcett nor were they certain he was murdered when his body was found in the woods of Barrington. However, in the pocket of the dead man was a phone number to a motel and a room number which had been rented by a Nadine Lenarczak. Nadine was no longer staying at the Best Western but management still had her information along with her car license plate number. These were traced to a car rental company where she had leased a car under a false name. On the day the car was due to be returned, police were waiting and placed her under arrest. Driving towards the police station, police told Nadine they sought to question her in a suspected murder. Upon hearing this, Nadine began to thrash about and smash her face directly into the metal mesh divider of the squad car. With blood pouring down her face, police turned the car around and brought her to the emergency room of a local hospital.

I am not certain why Nadine freaked out, but if she thought she would evade interrogation she was wrong. After being treated, she was brought to the police station and grilled. Despite this, Nadine had no idea who the person found dead near some railroad tracks in Barrington with her phone number could be. This, of course, did not please her inquisitors and they persisted in questioning her. Nadine at this point began to ramble about the people she suspected killed her brother and then those involved in an insurance racket. Several insurance companies had been defrauded of several hundred thousands and Nadine along with a number of others were involved. After she was arrested in connection to the case, she agreed to cooperate with police to avoid criminal prosecution. While all this may have been interesting to police, it did not help them come any closer to solving the mystery in Barrington.

Police records are not clear, but eventually after hours of interrogation, they were able to jog Nadine's memory. Slowly, police were to help Nadine piece together events which occurred months earlier. In statements to police, Nadine said her friend Rose contacted her around Christmas of 1992. Rose informed her that she and her husband were in possession of some checks and sought her help using them. Nadine met with the Faraci's and they purchased various things with the checks but were not as successful as they had hoped. Bob told Nadine they would simply have to go shopping with the owner of the checks.

The owner of the checks was Dean Fawcett and he had opened up a checking account with $100 on December 1st.  Several days before Christmas, Dean deposited two fraudulent checks from American Video totaling about $8,000. Apparently he hoped to deceive the bank into believing he was flush with cash. Immediately thereafter, he went on a shopping spree buying everything and anything. I have copies of all the returned checks and learned that Dean bought jewelry, a vacuum cleaner, gym shoes, stereo equipment, food, and the list goes on and on. I was not aware of the scam nor its extensiveness. I merely thought he was bouncing some checks off his checking account before he relocated to California. I can only speculate to the scope of Nadine's knowledge, but she along with the Faraci's sought to take advantage of it.

Nadine correctly told police and testified to meeting Dean Fawcett along with Bob, Brian, and I at the mall. However, her statement that Dean was pressured to buy the group merchandise is completely false. On the contrary, Dean was more than happy to buy his friends gifts, especially his new friend, Nadine, who was paying considerable attention to him. If anyone cajoled Dean to buy merchandise at the mall that day, it was her. She pretended to like Dean so he would shower her with goodies. While Dean bought me a blazer and a pair of sun glasses, Nadine had so many bags of merchandise she was unable to carry them all back to her car by herself. The fiasco was ludicrous to me and at one point I put Nadine on my lap and rolled my hands over her thighs. I wanted to show Dean that he was being played and also make him look stupid. However, I do not think he cared if Nadine was being genuine. If Brian also told Dean she was a prostitute, possibly he thought he could buy her affection and more.

Nadine's testimony, of course, conflicted with other testimony and evidence presented at my trial. For example, Brian Palasz said exactly as I have: no one coerced Dean. Also the check receipts of the items Dean bought for me said "gift for Paul" on the memo line, hardly something someone would write if I was threatening them. Nadine's statements of who, how and even if Dean was pressured also changed and evolved while speaking to police all the way to trial. This also occurred in regards to her other testimony. A white car became a blue car, and the model changed to a Pontiac Firebird. One person, three people, two, no one pushes Dean, he is pushed forcefully by Brian, and then at trial she said that I lightly pushed him. I speculate that Nadine did not have the foggiest notion and much of her recollection was based on what police told her or wanted her to say.

The main reason Nadine was called by prosecutors to testify was to establish a motive for the murder. According to Nadine, while we were at her motel room she spoke to Dean privately. Nadine purportedly told him he could get in trouble whereupon Dean said he would be moving to California before he'd get caught. But if he did get apprehended by authorities she said he was going to tell on everyone. Nadine repeated this to Bob and Rose and told them to make sure Dean left the state. This scenario is highly skeptical to me. First, this was not Fawcett's first time fraudulently using checks. In the past, he had stolen checks from various people and had been arrested repeatedly. Although he was lightly punished he knew very well he could get in trouble and did not need to be warned by Nadine. Secondly, this was Dean's scam. He set it up and wrote all the checks except for some that were forged by Bob and Rose Faraci. Brian, Nadine and I faced no criminal liability for accepting gifts from Dean. There is no question Bob killed Dean, but I do question if this was his motive or at least primary motive.

I have spoken repeatedly to my attorney about investigative work. One person I think it is important to speak to is Nadine. After 20 years have passed, she may be willing to tell the truth and retract her prior statements. My attorney said gaining an affidavit from her to present to the court along with my appeal is worthless. I am told the reviewing court already will discount her testimony as the jury formerly did, and even if the judge does not, it does not address the basis of my conviction. I was convicted of 1st degree murder on an accountability theory that I lent my car to Bob with the knowledge he intended to kill Dean. Despite this, however, accountability is a vague and ambiguous theory which could be interpreted or weighed differently by another fact finder. With my life on the line, I do not want to take any chances and want to obliterate every aspect of the prosecutor's case.

My attorney has convinced my parents there is no need to pay the expenses of a private investigator to find and speak to Nadine. I have no money myself or ability to locate her from behind prison bars. I have thought the best way to find Nadine is through Rose, but I cannot even get assistance contacting her. She has remarried and no one knows her current last name. I refuse to file a narrow appeal and want to throw everything I have at the court. Time and again, attorneys have kept evidence or issues back claiming less is more. Apparently, less is not more because I was convicted and am still in prison 18 years later. This appeal is going to be done my way and readers can help.

Nadine was 31 years old when I met her in 1992. She should be 51 now. She is about 5'3" and her natural hair color is brown but she may still be a blonde. She was very thin, but could have gained weight. She has lived in the Chicago metropolitan area and southern California. I have heard a rumor she has passed away but she filed a lawsuit against the San Diego Police Department about five years ago. If anyone can help locate her or better yet contact her on my behalf, I will be most grateful.

I receive many emails with words of support and sympathy. I also have received over one thousand signatures in support of my Petition for Executive Clemency. I thank everyone for their kind words, thoughtful comments, advice, and letters sent to the governor on my behalf. However, what I need even more is assistance proving my innocence whether it be for presentation to Governor Pat Quinn or the court. Despite the volunteers who work on my blog, I have little to no help and feel I am all alone when it comes to securing my freedom. Even my family has been blinded by attorneys' advice over the years. Any readers who can provide investigative assistance would be most appreciated.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mertz Gets a Job -- October 17, 2012

Prisoners are randomly and selectively ordered to give urine samples for drug testing. If an inmate refuses to comply or cannot piss within two hours, they are sent to Segregation typically for half a year. Inmates who are targeted by Internal Affairs are usually suspected of using drugs. Sometimes, they will be surprised in the middle of night by security personnel to give a urine sample and are greatly scrutinized. However, there are some inmates who are "dropped" as a part of the vetting process for a job assignment. Apparently, it is important for guards to know inmate workers are clean of drugs. A few weeks ago, about ten prisoners from my cell house were taken to one of Internal Affairs offices to submit to drug tests. Although they were told it was to qualify them for jobs, a few were skeptical. However, since that time, several of them were given assignments. One of those inmates was Anthony Mertz.

A year ago, Mertz requested a job through his counselor. He asked to be put in for grounds crew, commissary, kitchen and the print shop. The normal process for getting a job begins by the assignment officer placing an inmate on a list. As openings become available, an inmate's name moves up on the list. Prisoners who are sent to Seg or found guilty of major disciplinary tickets are taken off the list and cannot reapply for a year. Depending on the job requested, an inmate can wait from one to five years and sometimes indefinitely in the case of the furniture or soap factories. The vetting process is pretty simple with the assignment officer and a counselor briefly looking over a prisoner's master file and assessing it along with their personality. Once they approve, I.A. has veto power. The list and evaluation, however, can be disregarded if a high ranking supervisor wants a particular man to work for him.

Mertz was initially informed he had a job when a guard commented to him he was on the assignment list. He did not inquire what the assignment was or when he would begin working. Thus, for the next couple of days he could only speculate. He informed me he most wanted to work outside mowing grass, shoveling snow, and other grounds crew labor. A man who was standing with us told him he did too because then he could notify him of all the new products they had for sale and make sure his commissary order was complete. However, the following day a kitchen worker told him he was going to be working there instead. He was telling the truth. Later in the day, guards told him he had to be interviewed by the head kitchen supervisor and was escorted over to the kitchen.

Mertz met with the boss of the kitchen in his office which is just off the center circle of the chow hall. He did not want to really interview him but give him a talk about what was expected of him and the benefits of working there. First, Mertz was told how he had to obey the orders of supervisors but the type of work he did was adjustable and shared by inmates. Kitchen workers work 6 days a week but most want and are allowed to work every day. Most inmates, however, went to work every day. The head supervisor told him how many inmate workers are fired and sent to Seg for stealing. Recently, an inmate was caught taking back to the cell house an entire box of peanut butter. He did not mind if workers brought a little food back with them especially if given permission, but the mass pilfering of food would not be tolerated. Kitchen workers can eat as much food as they want during their shift and this should compensate them for their paltry salary of $28 a month. The best part of the job other than being able to eat anything while there was that he would never be rotated out, unlike all other jobs except industries. He had the work assignment for as long as he wanted. The only question the head supervisor had for Mertz was what shift he preferred. There were openings in all three shifts. Mertz chose the midnight shift which makes breakfast and this is what I would have chosen as well.

The midnight shift is the most pleasant in multiple respects from my perspective. It has the fewest workers and thus there is less need for social engagement. I tend to dislike crowds and the fewer convicts I need to deal with, the better. Because breakfast is brought to inmates in their cells at maximum-security penitentiaries in Illinois, there is also no need to interact with people other than co-workers. One of the worst jobs in the kitchen for me would be on the serving line. Scooping food onto over a thousand trays as well as having to deal with the mobs and noise in the inner feeding circle would be terrible. Not only are there fewer inmates to interact with but also supervisors, and they are less likely to be always looking over your shoulder or giving orders. Preparing breakfast trays is also the simpliest task and the working hours are shorter. Little cooking is done and kitchen workers need not deal with stifling hot boiling pots, ovens, or fryers too often. Even when they are in use, temperatures in the kitchen are lowest at night. Finally, there is something appealing with being a night owl and sleeping during the day when the penitentiary is most active.

On Friday, I asked Mertz if he was looking forward to his first night at the kitchen. He did not seem too enthusiastic or anxious, however, like me, he is not very expressive. Despite this, I sensed he was looking forward to his first shift. Mertz has spent most of his years incarcerated on death row where inmates were not permitted to have any jobs. They have very little movement and spend most of their time alone in their cells. Perfect for me, but the vast majority of inmates do not like the seclusion and do not know how to preoccupy their time. On death row, Mertz absorbed himself into television and at Pontiac there were a greater number of stations to watch. Stateville only has 12 cable stations, unlike other penitentiaries in Illinois which have a full compliment of 50 or more. I believe Mertz had become bored of the monotony in his life and the job offered him a change of pace.

Jobs in maximum-security prisons are highly prized by those inmates confined to their cells. I do not share their sentiment to do menial labor and socialize. However, not long after I was sent to the penitentiary, I almost accepted a job working in Pontiac's officers' kitchen. The job was appealing because the small number of men who worked on the shift I knew well and got along with. Furthermore, I liked the idea of being able to consort with staff rather than the vast number of convicts I generally disdained. Unlike Stateville, Pontiac has two separate kitchens: one where food for inmates was cooked and served and one where food for staff is cooked and served. Staff was particularly concerned about who made their food and supervisors in the kitchen were very picky about who they hired to work in the officers kitchen. At Stateville, I notice most guards bring their own food and it is not simply because of how bad it is. Those inmates they trusted and liked were offered the jobs and were treated well. They were given full access to all the best food and had other special perks. The only problem was I had to move to a certain area of the prison and there currently were only two bunks open. I did not like the inmates in those cells and those I got along with already had cellmates they liked. Thus, I would be stuck living with a person I did not like until a spot opened up. No job is worth giving up a good cellmate.

At Stateville, prisoners who take jobs are not moved, however, I believed I would rarely see Mertz once he began his job. The vast majority of kitchen workers only leave their cells to go to work. They do not go out for chow because they eat during their shift. They also do not shower with other prisoners on their gallery because they shower immediately after returning from work. Furthermore, they rarely ever go to recreation periods because they are at work, sleeping, or preoccupied. I figured Mertz would be sleeping until the afternoon and cease to go to yard and gym. However he told me one of the reasons he chose the midnight shift was so he did not have to miss rec. He is even going out to chow when it is run after noon. I am pleased he continues to come out because he is one of the rare few people I speak with.

Saturday was the first night of work for Mertz, and I was surprised to see him come out for lunch. The cell house was last to be fed, however, and I suppose he was able to get in seven or eight hours of sleep. I asked him what he thought of his new job. He told me it was boring and he spent a lot of time doing nothing or waiting to leave, come back, and in the shower holding area. At the kitchen there was nothing to do but count donuts and fill styrofoam trays with scoops of dry cereal. The donuts come prepackaged from another penitentiary. His co-workers told him Saturdays were the slowest work nights because there is little to do. He noticed one of his supervisors slept much of the time, and he did not notice the other one until she began to yell at an inmate for leaving open cans of peaches without cleaning it up. The worker had made peach cobbler for himself and some others. Mertz did not try any because he said the man was unsanitary and he did not trust to eat his food. Instead he ate cheeseburgers along with some french fries another prisoner worker had made.

The largest perk working in the kitchen is that inmates are allowed to make and eat any food they want while there. They eat much better than everyone else and also have little need to buy commissary food to supplement their diet. On the nights Mertz has worked, he has not only eaten cheeseburgers and fries but strips of breaded fried chicken and a full salad. Prisoners are sometimes served turkey burgers but almost never with cheese, tomato, onion, or green peppers. The salads served are typically just iceberg lettuce. There is no broccoli, cauliflower, shredded cheese, tomato, etc. Fried chicken is served occasionally but never is it stripped and breaded with a side of barbecue sauce. If you like to eat and eat well, a kitchen job is an ideal work assignment. GevAss, the nearly 400 pound elephant I mentioned in "Lieutenant Beaten," loved his job in the kitchen and is greatly upset he lost it.

No one who works in the kitchen or anywhere except industries takes the job for the salary. All jobs at Stateville pay $28 a month. While some men work regular hours Monday through Friday, many work 7 days a week. Because Mertz works nights, his shift is usually only about 5 hours. However, this still means he is being paid an hourly wage of about 20 cents. Furthermore, he actually is only making $18 a month because all prisoners are given a stipend of $10. The stipend is eliminated for workers and nonassigned prisoners alike when they are being collectively punished during a lockdown. The labor and inconvenience of a job definitely is not worth $18 a month. Mertz agrees and has told me prisoners work for the benefits such as food, to make a hustle, or simply to get out of their cells and socialize. Anyone who takes a job for the salary will be greatly disappointed.

Some kitchen workers will make extra money by serving those with special diets better food or bringing food back to the cell house to sell. Regularly, I will hear gallery workers selling off the various foodstuffs those in the kitchen bring back. They will sell virtually anything there is a demand for: green peppers, onions, peanut butter, cheese, flour tortillas, spices, and more.

Inmates are already pestering Mertz to get them special food. One man told him to hook him up with an egg, bacon and cheese biscuit for Sunday's breakfast. The prisoner was rubbing his hands together in anticipation or in thought of the meal, but Mertz had no intention of doing so. The inmate receives a special diet tray with his number on it because he has no teeth. He can only be served soft foods. Mertz told him instead of the designer biscuit or other foods he sought, he will begin to blend up all his food so it is mush.

I have not asked Mertz to bring me back any special food and I have no intention of doing so. I do not want him to risk his job or worse to be sent to Seg. The only favor I asked of him is to find me a real spoon and fork. Prisoners are now only given sporks to eat with and I assume the kitchen has other kitchenware. I also asked Mertz to find out what our food is made of. All too often inmates are served mystery meat or other unrecognizable food. Most of our food is processed soy and it is used in nearly everything from the biscuits and gravy to spaghetti. Mertz has ripped off the label on a few packages or boxes already. I have learned the fish patties served are a mixture of whiting, perch and cod. The burgers are of various conglomerations of soy, turkey and/or beef. The best are the turkey burgers which can be distinguished because they shrink and turn brown when cooked. Soy patties are grey and have no fat to sizzle. I read the label on pre-made pancakes served and was surprised they had eggs and other healthy ingredients.

While going to chow I have noticed how envious other prisoners are of Mertz's job and how many new prisoners wanted to be his friend. Some of these people are just other kitchen workers who will acknowledge him on the serving line and give him extra food. However, most are people looking to befriend him hoping he may do them a favor. GevAss and some other former kitchen workers are almost resentful. One man who was recently fired said Mertz took his job. I could also notice their jealousy when after given extra portions and passing them on to me like he had given me something of value rather than just a piece of chicken. Incredible how petty and low their lives must be. I know how wretched a meaningless life can be in prison but cannot understand how it is significantly improved by a menial $18 a month job or some extra chicken.

Since Mertz began his job I have asked him about his work. He seems to like the assignment but already I perceive it as very tedious and menial. If he is bored now what will he think in a year? Basically, all Mertz does is take huge bags of cereal and scoop it onto small styrofoam trays. The prison once purchased packaged singles but changed thinking they would save money. The savings are largely negated by all the trays which must be used. For about 3 hours straight all Mertz will do is stand at a counter preparing 420 trays with several other men who also must make hundreds of trays. On some nights, nearly 4,000 styrofoam trays are used. Other than make trays, Mertz will help bring out the cartons of milk and juice, clean up and eat. He is back in the cell house around 3 a.m. but is caught in the shower area for some time. Most of his co-workers like to use this time to socialize more, but Mertz just wants to get back in his cell. He has nothing in common with them except their job and he would rather be sleeping than hearing them talk and yell up to galleries above.

Yesterday, Mertz prepared trays with turkey burgers rather than cereal. Once a week, prisoners will usually get a soy patty or turkey burger for breakfast. The meat comes pre-shaped but are heated at Stateville. Mertz's job was merely to put the burger along with two slices of bread and two jellies onto the trays. Mertz bragged to me about his efficient system and how quickly he was able to complete his task. He also told me how he separated the jelly packets so everyone got two jellies of the same flavor. Other kitchen workers never bother to do this and just put whatever two jellies they happen to pull out of the box onto the tray. Mertz seemed rather proud of himself till I told him that he forgot to put a burger on my tray. He initially thought I was joking until I convinced him I was serious. He said that was impossible. He was very diligent and systematic making the trays. I said, "Well, you missed one," and he seemed bothered he could make an error but then began to joke that someone in the cell house had to have lifted my burger. "Nobody wants that cold turkey-soy burger," I told him. "In fact, my cellmate and two other people offered me theirs." I continued saying he should take responsibility for his crime and throw himself at the mercy of the court. Possibly, I will be lenient and only give him probation and restitution. He said he did not make much money but I told him I will accept a spoon and a fork.

Mertz is not going to be able to pay his restitution, at least any time soon. Today, a little after noon the prison went on lockdown. I am told a prisoner and yet another lieutenant fought each other. However, this time they fought on the yard and it was a minor scrap. However, because there have been two incidents within a short period of time between high ranking staff and convicts, the administration will probably keep Stateville on a longer lockdown. Supposedly, IDOC personnel from Springfield, the state capital, were here today and this may affect repercussions. In the meantime, prisoners from the minimum security unit will be brought over to work in the kitchen. They have less experience than Mertz, and as always, food will be worse than normal. I was able to shop at the prison store and stocked up on provisions. However, it will be nice if Stateville kitchen workers are back on the job in the not too distant future.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Photographs -- October 21, 2012

I was expecting a long lockdown after a lieutenant was beaten in the chow hall last week by several Mexican inmates. However, surprisingly normal operations were announced yesterday morning for every cell house except F house. Prisoners were allowed out for chow, yard, details, and today commissary. Cell house workers quickly returned to their hustles including selling various items. One inmate went down my gallery going from cell to cell selling pictures. He had a cart with him and displayed across it were about fifty. "A dollar a photo," he said, "or five for $4." I had my headphones on listening to WLS talk radio and did not understand what he said initially. When I took them off, he repeated himself and I just looked at him with puzzlement before saying I was not interested.

When I went to dinner, I sat with a few Caucasian men I typically do. There was talk about the rumble between inmates and guards in the chow hall last Saturday, but mostly I discussed with Mertz the vice presidential debate which was going to be televised at 8 p.m. Both of us expected Joe Biden to be very aggressive and flamboyant to make up for the lackluster performance of the president in his debate with Mitt Romney. We also expected Paul Ryan to come across as very intelligent, articulate, and in command of the facts, particularly on fiscal issues. In retrospect, our assumptions were correct, although I did not anticipate the vice president to act so melodramatic and obnoxious. I thought it was funny when Paul Ryan told Biden he knew how distressed he was but the American public would be better served if he did not continue to interrupt. Although the vice president was very passionate and this probably was well received by liberals, I thought Ryan presented himself better and that he and Romney are much better men to deal with America's economic crisis.

After talking about the debate, I mentioned the cell house worker who was selling photographs on the gallery. It was odd to me and I cannot ever recall someone doing so. Mertz asked me, "How many did you buy?" and "Did you take the five for $4 deal?" I said I did not even move from my bunk to see what kind of photos they were. Mertz then told me they were all pictures of nude fat black women, and that brought on a couple of chuckles at the table. I asked, "What would make him think I would be interested in fat black women?" He did not know and then commented they were disgustingly ugly. Another man at the table said there was actually a big demand for them at Stateville and he speculated he sold the majority. Although Mexicans and Caucasian prisoners may not want the photos, most of the prison is black and they typically like overweight women.

Wally is typically called by his last name which I will not disclose. He is an older man, although he acts immature and obnoxious sometimes. He shaves his head bald and reminds me of one of the Three Stooges especially when he does the hand gestures to distract attention to poke someone in the eye. Wally has been in prison since the 1980s for killing a banker and his wife in Blue Island, Illinois. The banker apparently owed him money but refused to pay him. Thus, he kidnapped his wife until he forked over $10,000. Despite the banker finally getting the money, he shot and killed them both. Wally will readily admit to the crime and others. He does not care and will never be released from prison. I tend to believe he exaggerates his stories and there is probably a reason why he got along with Jimmy Files who claims he killed President John F. Kennedy before the man was moved to another cell house.

Wally's passion in the penitentiary is not only telling stories or acting similar to Joe Biden but collecting photographs. He has over 1,000 pictures of various women taken from magazines, television, or the movies. He is mostly obsessed with celebrities and is always trying to gain their photos. Surprisingly, there are businesses that cater to prisoners selling nude or semi-nude photographs. Many years ago, I became aware of these catalog businesses which sell photos of indiscriminate women based on race, body type, or a select fetish. However, since then I have learned they have become much more sophisticated and specialized. From Wally, I have learned they will even scan magazines to produce a picture of a certain woman or search their databases.

Regularly I must listen to Wally talk about the new celebrity photos he received or is trying to procure. He does not talk to me about the matter but to Mertz and some other men. Mertz is also a "celebrity stalker". He will often discuss with other prisoners numerous women on TV or in films. I have even caught him discussing at great length women who simply tell people the weather forecast on a news program. He would definitely appreciate the weather girls I have heard undress as they talk in Russia, and I doubt he will care if he cannot understand a word that they say. Prisoners are deprived of sex and female company, but even I who have been incarcerated nearly 20 years, cannot understand men's obsession with talking about pretty women. It is a very boring topic for me and I usually do not know who they are talking about. When the princess of England was photographed partially nude on a beach in France, I asked if he had Kate Middleton's photo. He said no, he is more interested in TV celebrities.

I do not watch much television and know little to nothing about pop culture. The publications I read are mostly about science, economics, politics, or physical fitness. Celebrities are almost never mentioned. When I do watch television, there are attractive women I can appreciate but I never dwell on them. Actresses are phony people who play roles in movies or TV programs. The parts they play often have no resemblance to who they are in reality. I cannot even tell if their physical appearance is real anymore due to not only makeup, Botox, and cosmetic surgery but computer animation. Furthermore, some actresses have substitutes take their place during nude scenes. None of those women do I know or will I ever know. Many people who gravitate towards show business are superficial people and the values of Hollywood are very different if not opposite of my own. Odd how men can connect or fascinate about any of these women. I tell Mertz he watches too much TV and is caught in an alternative universe. However, he is not the only prisoner who is enthralled by television and specific women filmed. Many prisoners spend half or more of their day watching TV in maximum security penitentiaries where they spend the vast majority of their time in their cells. Television can also be a great escape from a bleak existence.

I sometimes become annoyed with Wally's continual talk about celebrity photos. I ask him why he does not just get some pornographic magazines. There is even an adult magazine devoted to celebrities. Wally tells me that magazine went out of business because the pictures are now available on the Internet for free. He also tells me he once collected porn but the prison has greatly restricted the magazines allowed in and furthermore he wants only select photos. Those are the kind of photos he can collect like baseball cards or use to fashion his own photo albums. I told him he could assemble his own adult magazine taking pages from an assortment of magazines. However, he told me recently an inmate went to Segregation for this. I was very skeptical anyone would be sent to Seg for making their own porn magazine and asked what rule was violated. He did not know but he mentioned Internal Affairs was involved. I.A. is not interested in a prisoner having a designer porn magazine but they may see it as an excuse. I.A. can do what they want and interpret rules any way they see fit. Later, I learned this is exactly what occurred. The man was under investigation for another matter which they were unable to substantiate.

The IDOC allows men to receive pornographic magazines and they must due to the U.S. Constitution. However, the court rulings permit penitentiaries to restrict publications if they are a danger to security or are grossly obscene and have no aesthetic value. What is grossly obscene and without value is a matter of interpretation as is what is an imminent threat to security. The IDOC has lately been narrowing its interpretation and more and more publications have been placed on the banned list despite the public's greater acceptance and access via the Internet. Even publications which are not on the banned list may be rejected by mail room staff due to their own opinion of what is offensive to them. Sometimes the publication will be sent to the publication review committee which at Stateville is just another prison employee to decide the matter. Even if a magazine or other publication is let through, they can still sometimes be confiscated by guards who have their own opinions. It is very much a subjective perspective. Wally has sued Stateville over the rejection of some of his magazines or photos and won, but most prisoners will not bother to do so.

Ironically while pornographic magazines are permitted as well as photos from distributors, personal photos which show genitalia are not. A prisoner can get a very sexually explicit centerfold from Playboy magazine but not a nude photo of his wife. The IDOC has said the latter is an imminent threat to security because there is a risk the photo may be stolen or somehow procured by another inmate and this will lead to violence. The prison administration's policy and arguments are greatly exaggerated and make little sense. Any theft can lead to violence and while in decades past fights or violent assaults have occurred due to a man stealing another prisoner's intimate photos, it was a very rare occurrence. Furthermore, now that photos from distributors have become so prolific, there is little ability to distinguish them. Some prisoners even pretend photos of women they purchase are their girlfriends, wives, or "baby-mommas".

In years past when I used to correspond with girls, I treasured the photographs they sent me. I care less about women on television or in movies and magazines who are not mine and never will be. However, those women I wrote romantically were dear to me. With them living far away and visits uncommon, their pictures were sometimes invaluable. Most of them offered to send me nude photos and although this was greatly tantalizing, I told them not to. There are ways to get around the rules, but I did not want the responsibility. Their unclothed bodies were for my eyes only and I did not want to risk anyone else ever seeing them. Guards search through my property and a cellmate may be nosey enough to go into my boxes when I am not in the cell. When being transferred or sent to Segregation, an inmate also loses possession of his belongings, at least temporarily. Even the photos I received of the girls I corresponded with in lingerie or that are in some way intimate, I am meticulous about safe keeping or have sent home and have had my father place in a lockbox.

During the summer, I asked a prisoner who I have come to know who goes by the name Chase to show me photos of himself before his arrest. I am often curious about what observations I can make of people outside the prison environment. Chase has been in prison about as long as I have and was in his mid-20s when he pled guilty to two counts of 1st degree murder to avoid the death penalty. I told him he was a fool to cop out for natural life but he said there was no way he could beat the charges and life was the only sentence the prosecutor offered. Interestingly, his wife was charged also with the crime but for murder conspiracy. Conspiracy carries nearly the same amount of time as actually committing the offense and she was sentenced to 50 years, an extremely, excessive punishment I thought from what I was told was her peripheral involvement.

One day, Chase brought out to the chow hall a small envelope of photographs. He not only had photos of himself in his 20s but those of his wife. I asked if he has kept in contact with her over the years and was told no. They had separated before trial for legal reasons and he was denied permission to write to her. He was interested in what she looked like now after two decades and asked me if I could get her information and mugshot off the Internet. I was sad to hear about his story and was more than happy to try to help him. I asked a friend to see what was posted on the IDOC website. She was incarcerated at Lincoln C.C. and will be paroled in 4 years. She was in her 40s, had brown hair and eyes, all of which Chase already knew, but the surprise was when I said 5'5" and 205 pounds. She was a "plumper" and I made fun of the stats by gesturing with my fingers and emphasizing the numbers. Later, however, I received her mug shot and she was not fat. The stats on the IDOC website are often not updated or accurate despite photos being renewed annually. I gave him the photo and he was happy to have it even if it was a mug shot and probably not the best depiction of her.

The person I associate with most is Mertz, and I also asked to see his pre-arrest pictures. He brought out an envelope when we went out to evening yard, and towards the end of the recreation period I ceased to workout to see his photos. Like Chase, he brought out pictures of people other than himself including some family members and ex-girlfriends. I was surprised by how extraordinarily young both the men appeared. Mertz still had a baby face while he was in the Marines during his mid-20s. I asked him how a jury could sentence a baby face like that to death. The prosecutor apparently did a good job demonizing him and accusing him of another brutal rape and murder. The two grim reaper tattoos which cannot be seen with his shirt on were also photographed and enlarged for his jury to see.

Two of the photos of Mertz were while he was stationed in S.E. Asia and on leave. They depicted him with a friend at some club with Asian girls. I commented in my best Asian accent, "Love you long time," from the movie "Full Metal Jacket" and inferred they were prostitutes. Although those girls seemed to look like whores, his ex-girlfriends looked nice and respectable. Mertz was most fond of a woman named Summer he had a long relationship with. I did not say so but I was envious the two men had pictures of women in their prior lives. I have a few photos of girls I dated but they are from 2 decades after I knew them. I rarely took photos in my teens and when I did, the girls always took them. While I may not have appreciated the pictures then, I certainly would now.

The men who shared photos with me expected me to reciprocate. Initially, I brought out photos of buildings, paintings, and scenary which make up most of my picture collection. However, they wanted to see people. On an evening yard I brought some photos of myself, family, and girls I once dated or wrote. My teen photos look like I am in my mid-20s. I was told I looked like a hit man. One man who was found guilty of solicitation and 1st degree murder was told he should have hired me instead. My favorite photo of a girl I wrote also was the subject of razzing. If she was not a blond, they said, she appeared like the woman from the film "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," despite the fact she had no tattoos. Another said, "No wonder why the hit man corresponded with her so long." "They were soul mates," someone said to laughter. I do not think I will be sharing any more photos.

Many of the men at Stateville have been incarcerated numerous years. Girlfriends, wives, or "baby mommas" have gone their separate ways. Prisoners in Illinois do not have conjugal visits and are lucky to get any visits by women. Although I think it is odd male prisoners obsess about females they do not know or have no contact with, I can understand it much more than the public at large. From what I hear, men and some women spend countless hours looking at pornography or fantasizing about various celebrities. They squander their time instead of investing it in real relationships. Possibly, they would have greater appreciation if held captive in a place like Stateville.