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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.

3 comments:

  1. I truely love your blog! I'm going to school to be a counsler and want to work in a prison, jail. I enjoy reading. Keep it up! :D

    ReplyDelete
  2. I was able to figure out Wally's surname just from the small information that you gave in this post.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yep, Wally is still at Stateville. He does look a bit like Curly Howard.

    ReplyDelete

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