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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Another Terrible Cellmate -- January 13, 2012

Monday morning, the Sergeant told my cellmate it was time for him to move again. Ely told him, "Hell no! I won't go!" The Sergeant, accustomed to his antics, responded that he knew he could not refuse a level E move. It was security protocol that all designated extreme escape risk inmates be moved every 90 days. Ely asked where he was being moved and was informed 10 gallery, which is the fifth and top floor of the building. This was where he had been before he was moved into my cell, and he was glad to be returning to where his Islamic "brothers" were. I was also glad for him to be gone. For the last three months, he had been the source of much annoyance. Despite this, I was apprehensive of who my next cellmate would be.

Ely yelled upstairs from the bars in an attempt to learn who he was moving in with. The Sergeant had provided him with the cell number, but he did not know who lived there. When no one answered his shouts, he asked a cell house worker to find out, and he began to put his property together. Within a short time, the worker returned and told him the name of a man I never heard of but Ely did. Ely knows almost everyone and I was not surprised. I was also not surprised he had been celled with the man many years ago, considering how often Level E prisoners are moved. My cellmate has been incarcerated over 30 years and has had well over 100 different cellmates during this time. Such great regular transitions would be highly disturbing to me, but Ely is a very social and extroverted person who did not seem to mind.

The worker told him there was only one man in the cell he was moving into and there was no one trading places with him. This news was unwelcome to me because I knew my cell would be filled soon and probably from a man being released from F House kickout. There were many unruly, insane, or unstable men in the Roundhouse. Most of them were former segregation inmates, and if you ever were in the Roundhouse you knew how loud and crazy it was. I preferred to get a known person from within C House.

I was initially not going to chow because the kitchen workers were serving the Stateville special: "Sloppy Soy." Sloppy soy was the name I had given the imitation Sloppy Joes made with processed turkey-soy. However, I decided to leave my cell to see if there was any opportunity to request a specific inmate. On the gallery, I spoke to a Caucasian man a couple of cells down. He told me his cellmate was planning to transfer soon and it would be better if I moved in with him to be away from the holding cage. Later, on the walk to the chow hall, I spoke with Anthony. He also did not want to move into my cell but told me because his cellmate was also a Level E, he would be moving soon and I could request to replace him. The issue was most probably mute anyway. The Lieutenant rarely does someone the favor of calling the Placement Officer, and she was a difficult person to deal with, not only with inmates, but also staff. She does not care if inmates get along in the cell together and is unwilling to make accommodations.

On the return to the cell, Ely asked if I would assist him moving his property. I had been wanting him to be moved since he was assigned as my cellmate, and thus thought it appropriate that I help him leave. I also wanted to be walking the cell house for the chance I would be able to talk to the Lieutenant. My cellmate and I carried his large property box up the five flights of steel stairs. His box was not very heavy but it was awkward to carry. Arriving at his new cell, I saw who Ely's new cellmate would be. He was a fat black man about 40 years old. By the condition of his cell, I could tell he was a dirty and disorganized person, and this was after he yelled down to Ely that he was cleaning the cell before chow.

After helping Ely with his box, I went down the stairs to grab more of his property. I put his heavy workout bag filled with water bottles, books, and magazines over my back. The bag was three feet high and weighed well over a hundred pounds. As I went up the stairs, I felt the strain in my legs. I also felt the stares of numerous men from their cells. This may make those who have not been in prison before uncomfortable, but I knew it was common for convicts to size me up and be curious who I was. Many also are just bored and stare out their bars because they do not know how to occupy their time. Once again, I arrived at the dirty fat man's cell and he asked me what I carried. I told him it was Ely's workout bag and that exercising will now be mandatory as well as nonstop chatter. He said he didn't mind talking, but the only workout he did was feeding his face.

Ely gave me a fist bump as a goodbye when he took the last of his possessions upstairs. I closed the cell door behind him and wished I could prevent it from being unlocked. I did not want a cellmate. In maximum-security prisons where the vast majority of your time is spent trapped in a small space with another person, a cellmate can radically alter your life, and most often it is for the worse. I still had my gym shoes on and I tightened the laces. I also thought of strategies to combat a new cellmate if he was immediately hostile once the door was locked behind him and the guard was gone. I was not armed with a weapon, but the cell was a weapon in itself. The floor and walls were concrete, and the bunk bars, table and counter were steel. A prison cell is not like MMA Ultimate Fighting where men fought on a soft mat inside a fenced ring with cushioned top perimeters.

I thought about making use of my time alone to do some thoughtful writing or reading before my peace was disturbed. However, I was too concerned about what creature would be thrown into the cage with me. I was informed someone was already en route, and I just sat at my table waiting. It was not long before my cell door was opened and a stranger rushed in with his property, invading my space. The stranger was a black man about my age and height, but with a heavier less muscular physique. I quickly noticed that he had green stripes on his clothing, and could not believe I was being assigned another Level E inmate. As he arranged his property, I did not say a word. I was not happy and was not going to pretend to be. Finally, he asked me for my name, and told me he went by "DD." Later, I learned the letters DD were his initials.

Like my former cellmate, I had nothing in common with DD. Before his arrest, my new cellmate lived in the ghettos of Chicago. He is a gang member, although most men here are. He is currently serving time for attempted murder and a litany of other crimes he did not describe. He has been in and out of prison since about 1992. DD has very little education and I could quickly surmise his intelligence was below average. His speech is very rudimentary, crude, and vulgar. He also has a thuggish way of expressing himself which I suppose gains respect in his neighborhood or within gangs, but it means little to me. It may even be a sign of insecurity. Fortunately, my new cellmate does not have a radio, which would cause me to tell him how I refuse to listen to hip hop and gangster rap. He does, however, have a television with a speaker to annoy me with. The current assignment officer at Stateville does not consider cellmates' compatibility at all, whether this be social, cultural, racial, or otherwise.

The largest difference between the two cellmates is that DD is not as friendly as Ely, but this is made up by the fact that he is not as social, loud and annoying. In fact, initially I thought I may have a decent cellmate because he sleeps or lays in bed most of the day. For the first time in months, I had some quiet and peace. My former cellmate was continually talking or yelling to various people on the gallery. However, as my new cellmate becomes more comfortable, he is exhibiting more inconsiderate and obnoxious behavior. The only reason I think we have been able to get along so far is due to the heavy psychotropic medications he takes which sedate him and I believe, moderates his mood.

My cellmate receives a handful of pills, not only during the evening but in the morning as well. He takes Trazadone, Remeron, Prozac, and a couple of other medications. These drugs I have no doubt are meant to treat strong psychological problems, including violent mood swings. I do not think he is technically crazy but he certainly has psychopathic behaviors that are much more apparent when he does not take his pills. Another thing I noticed about him is how quickly he can become frustrated, or become angry even if at nothing in particular, or for any reason. DD has a broken fan that is now behind the bunk. He told me it was this way because he punched it. He also told me how he fractured his elbow hitting it against a cell wall. DD is a very hostile and volatile person when not medicated. This makes living with him uncomfortable because it is difficult to relax, even if I believe I can defend myself successfully. I wish he was not able to refuse his medications.

It was extremely unusual that I was assigned another Level E. In my entire incarceration, I have only had one cellmate classified an extreme escape risk, and this was by choice while in Pontiac in the 1990's. Now I have been assigned two Level E inmates consecutively, and this is actually a breach of security. There is a rule that prisoners who are escape risks are never to be moved into the same cell without an intermitting period of time. This is done under the belief that a cell can be compromised. Possibly, Internal Affairs wants an excuse to keep extra scrutiny on me due to my blog writings. However, my editors tell me that my outgoing mail is no longer being intercepted or delayed.

Another unusual aspect about my new cellmate being assigned a cell with me is that he was moved directly from X House to general population. DD was attempting to be approved for protective custody, and normal policy if a prisoner is rejected, is for them to be moved to the Roundhouse. Everyone released from segregation, transferred from another penitentiary, or denied protective custody is sent to F House kickout temporarily until placement is found in G.P. Prisoners can sometimes wait up to a year on the upper floors of the Roundhouse.

This week a few men asked me if my new cellmate was any improvement over the last one. I told them only insofar as he does not have as much clutter and does not continually talk. Anthony wanted me to score DD from zero to 10, with a zero being someone I would immediately be fighting with and a 10 being the best cellmate I could imagine. I told him this was not a good scale because I can imagine a gorgeous dream girl as my cellmate. "No," he said, "the cellmate cannot be female and must be in the realm of possibilities." I asked if that parameter meant Stateville inmates or any inmates throughout the IDOC. He said, "Only Stateville," which greatly reduced my standards and expectations. I said, "On this scale, he will be a 3 unless he takes all his medications so that he is sedated and lying on his bunk 20 hours a day. Then he may be a 5."

The evening I received the new cellmate, I was watching the ABC reality TV show "The Bachelor" when I heard someone yelling my name. I turned around and saw my former cellmate in the holding cage. His cell, along with several others on 10 gallery, was being searched. The man is not even my cellmate anymore, but he can still disrupt me. I went to the bars to see what he wanted. He just wanted to see how I was doing and talk, as always. I told him I was OK, but I was not happy to get another Level E. My former cellmate was incredulous that they had placed another escape risk in the same cell. He said if the Security Chief was aware of this, he would be moved unless they are intentionally keeping their eyes on me. With this comment, my new cellmate broke out in anger, shouting that he was not here to watch anyone. I then explained to DD that he did not mean him, but that staff may want a pretense to monitor me. The Bachelor came back on after a commercial break, and I told Ely that I would talk to him some other time. He immediately began talking to my neighbor.

Over the several days that DD has been in the cell, I have spoken rarely to him. We have nothing in common to discuss. A couple of days ago he noticed that I was reading a corporate report, and he asked me if I buy and sell stocks. I told him, "No, but I advise family and friends who have investments." He told me he knew a great opportunity to make some money, and said I should buy stock in Ramon Noodles because all prisoners buy them. At first I thought he was trying to be funny, but he was serious.

While in the chow line, I spoke to Anthony about the incredible stupidity of my new cellmate. We were earlier talking about Mitt Romney, a Republican Presidential candidate who has oddly come under attack by conservative competitors for being "out of touch with average Americans" and being an alleged "corporate raider." I told him that I only expected such attacks from the likes of Barack Obama and his Marxist ilk, and this line of criticism only made me like Romney more. To make a spoof on our former conversation, I told Anthony I will best him $10,000 that my new cellmate had an IQ under 80. Anthony said he did not know if he could accept and will have to count how many Ramen Noodles he has in his box.

A large topic of discussion amongst prisoners this week was the retiring governor of Mississippi who pardoned over 200 people. The news media quickly condemned the use of executive power and focused on a few murder convicts, despite how the vast number of pardons went to people of less serious crimes and who had already completed their prison sentences. Haley Barbour was coming under enormous attack for this decision, despite how he has not been soft on crime and gave only a select few men a second chance that had life sentences. If anything, I thought the governor should be criticized for not granting more commutations or pardons to the prison population across the entire State of Mississippi. The criticism by the media will now make other governors think twice about using their authority to fix injustices or lessen the sentences of people given draconian punishments. I thought about discussing the issue with my new cellmate, but after a moment realized it would not be worth my time or breath. I could get better conversation talking to a sock puppet.

Later at the chow table, I spoke about the pardons with Anthony, Steve, his cellmate, and a kitchen worker I know. They agreed that there was no controversy, and if anything, the governor's powers should be used more often to commute the sentences made incredibly harsh by legislators and past governors, as well as to pardon the innocent wrongfully convicted who the justice system has failed. The controversy concerned the reasons why only convicted murderers who held assignments in the governor's mansion were pardoned at the exclusion of others. Also raised was the state requirement to have the request for clemency published in a newspaper, however, this was a ridiculous technicality being used by Mississippi's Attorney General to obstruct the wishes of the governor. Men thought it was funny that the man was calling for those already released to voluntarily turn themselves in, although the law prevented the state from arresting them. Only a complete moron would do such. I thought not even my cellmate would be so foolish.

On Wednesday, the Major made a tour of C House along with the Lieutenant. They stopped at my cell to praise how orderly and clean it was. Since Ely left, I have been able to keep the cell almost in impeccable order. Possibly, I have OCD as well as Aspergers, but I like everything put away and in a specific order. My volatile cellmate has yet to go ballistic on me for moving his things, and hopefully he will continue to let me keep the cell neat. The Lieutenant and Major after excessively complimenting my cell then joking said, "The floor needs to be waxed and buffed, and the walls painted." I told the Major that if I were given the supplies I would do so. The cells in C House have not been painted in years, and the dingy gray paint is cracked, peeling, or discolored. Before they left, I asked the Lieutenant if I got a gold star for the day, and he said, "Absolutely." After they left I thought I would like to trade that gold star in for a new cellmate.

My cellmate refused his medications today, and has been acting very unsettled. He is clearly disturbed mentally and is being loud, as well as obnoxious, although not as excessively as my former cellmate. I assume this is close to DD's natural self when he is not sedated or has his volatile mood moderated. To make matters worse, he drank some coffee. All I need is an unmedicated psychopath geeked on caffeine trapped in the cell with me. As I write this, I have my gym shoes on, just as a precaution. I wonder if DD stays off his meds if he will turn into a Dr. Jeckle type of personality or worse. Fortunately, he tells me his stay is not permanent.

DD plans to go on a hunger strike after he is able to receive his commissary order. Prisoners who declare hunger strikes are typically sent to F House and placed in a single man cell without any of their foodstuffs. After a few days, he will be interviewed by the psychiatrist and an administrator. They will determine if he is sane, and if his grievance can be resolved. If it cannot, the protesting inmate will be kept in the Roundhouse until he becomes ill or too weak, whereupon he will be put in the infirmary. Prisoners will eventually be given an IV, or even force fed. For some reason, the courts have ruled that wards of the state cannot be allowed to kill themselves. Oddly, this applies to men on death row, or who have life without parole sentences.

My cellmate has mentioned to me how he does not want to go back to Menard C.C., and thinks his Level E status should be changed. The last time DD was in Menard, he claims he was severely beaten by guards while in handcuffs. He believes he will be assaulted again if he returns, regardless if he provokes it or not. From how he has been acting without his medication, I can see how he could get easily into trouble, especially in Menard which is stricter. Despite this, DD has no choice but to be transferred back after his one year is up at Stateville due to his escape risk classification. This is probably why he was trying to be approved for protective custody because those inmates go to Pontiac C.C.

Whether or not DD succeeds, I believe he would rather be in F House. From what he tells me, some of his "homies" are there. Also awaiting him in the Roundhouse are commissary goods, including a new fan he is unable to transit to C House. I hope my cellmate does go on a hunger strike so I can be rid of him and take my chances with someone new. How many times can the Placement Officer roll me snake eyes? The odds are clearly stacked against me at Stateville. It is probably best that I try to transfer, even if it is a long way from home. I noticed today is Friday the 13th, a day considered unlucky by some superstitious people. However, almost every day at Stateville is an unlucky one for me.