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Thursday, February 16, 2012

3 Cellmates in 3 Months -- February 2, 2012

A cellmate has the most significant impact on a prisoner's life in Illinois' maximum security penitentiaries. Men who are cellmates spend almost every hour of every day together, confined within less than a 60 square foot space. They eat, sleep, use the toilet, read, watch TV, exercise, bathe, talk on the phone and almost everything else a person can imagine within feet of one another. Unless a prisoner has a job, he is trapped in a cell with someone else except for chow lines or an occasional visit or religious service. Prisoners can request to be moved through the Placement Officer, but at Stateville these requests are typically ignored. Throughout my posts, my cellmates are often mentioned because despite how I may not like them or try to ignore them, I cannot escape their imposing presence. This week, I was assigned yet another cellmate, and he, like the others, has radically altered my life.

On Sunday, my cellmate requested protective custody. I was not surprised because he told me from the day he moved in that he was not going to stay long. DD was scheduled to be transferred to Menard in a few months due to being classified a Level E. According to him, the guards at the maximum security prison in southern Illinois harassed and assaulted him, and he did not want to return. He debated going on a hunger strike or resubmitting himself into Protective Custody to avoid the penitentiary. Last week, as news that X House was being emptied, my cellmate made up his mind. If he requested P.C. when the unit was being moved to Pontiac, there was a possibility that he may also go.

Initially when my cellmate requested P.C., he was told he must wait until the following day. DD assumed the X House lieutenant wanted to move inmates around in the unit before he arrived. Apparently, other prisoners had listed my cellmate as an enemy, and it is policy to keep declared enemies separated, especially in P.C. However, the guard returned later to tell him he could be moved today and to pack up his property. While DD got ready to leave, I did not say a word to him. I did not like the man and had rarely spoken to him in the past. There was now even less reason to waste words. The guard did not return for him for a few hours and DD sat in silence until he became restless and reconnected his TV.

As soon as DD was gone, I felt like throwing a party. I had the cell to myself and it was "wunderbar". People outside of prison possibly cannot understand my joy and feeling of freedom. Afterall, I was still locked in a cage in the worst prison in Illinois, possibly for the rest of my life. However, at least momentarily, I was no longer cramped, excessively uncomfortable, and greatly inconvenienced living in a tiny space with a stranger who I did not like. With my cellmate gone, I was able to go about my day unimpeded. I also did not have to listen to the man yell, talk, listen to his television, belch, or fart. I no longer had to think about interacting, conversing, or dealing with this dumb, volatile man I had nothing in common with. The prison was still on lockdown from the hostage incident, and although I was in "the big house" with over 500 convicts, I was happily in my cage alone.

Despite having the cell to myself Sunday evening, I did nothing uniquely special. I exercised a little longer and used the entire cell rather than confining myself to the outer corner. I listened to my radio while I did so, and for the first time in months, I did not use my headphones. Afterwards, I washed clothes by hand in my toilet and then bathed out of my sink. It was nice to have the freedom to move around the cell without needing to coordinate activities with another person. It was also nice to have a little more privacy as well and not have to talk to anyone, although I did converse a short time with a guard, and before going to bed I called my parents.

In some of my more recent posts, I have written about a growing hostility between guards and inmates, but commonly the groups get along. Some prisoners have a hatred for all security staff, and I am certain some guards have animosity towards all the men incarcerated here. Despite this, there is a significant middle ground as well as a facade of amicability. I am not a deceptive person and I act towards people with the same sentiments I have for them. I also do not judge security staff merely as my captors, but on an individual and personal basis. The guard I spoke with Sunday has a friendly demeanor and spoke to me a little about my cellmate requesting P.C. I told him I was glad he was gone, but now I had to worry about the next cellmate I was assigned. I was thinking of asking him in jest if he needed a place to stay. I would certainly prefer him as a cellie than the vast majority of prisoners here.

On Monday, I knew my happy hours of isolation would come to an end. Empty bunks are filled within a day in general population due to the severe overcrowding. Possibly, having autism makes me all the more apprehensive of new cellmates. I am an introverted person who develops meticulous routines and order in my life. A new cellmate can cause enormous disruption. Being highly nonsocial also makes it very difficult for me to get along with new people. I tend to be very selective about the few people I speak with and there are extremely few prisoners at Stateville who share the same background, interests, values, and disposition as me. Someone in my family said I reminded them of the character Sheldon in the TV sitcom "The Big Bang Theory." We may share a few similarities, but our overall demeanor and appearance are greatly different.

I waited until noon for my new cellmate to arrive and then fell asleep. I was very tired and there was nothing I could do about who was assigned to my cell. My nap was interrupted when my cell door was slammed open and an intruder began to set property onto the counter top. The intruder was a dark complected black man almost my height, but much heavier in weight. I estimated him to be several years older than me, and he had a bald head and short beard. There was something slightly odd about his appearance and it went beyond the nerdish thick black IDOC eye glasses that contrasted with a mildly thugish look. His neck stretched forward bringing his head even with his shoulders, and there was an almost imperceptible disfigurement to his face. He gave me the impression of a black man mixed with a trace of DNA from Steven Spielberg's "E.T."

My new cellmate apologized for waking me up, and after bringing in all his property he introduced himself as "Thad," which was short for Thadeusz. I was pleasantly surprised by his polite gesture and that he used his real name rather than a prison or gang alias. Thad has served 18 years of an 85-year sentence for murder, all of them at Stateville. Almost half of this time he has spent in E House, and I was told once his aggression level was reduced, he requested to be moved to C House. My new cellmate went on to say he was tired of being in the same unit with the same younger prisoners who were immature and violent. He also added that his previous cellmate was incredibly stupid and took psychotropic medications, yet another reason he asked to be moved. Normally when assigned a new cellmate I would be prepared for battle, yet I sat on my bunk cross legged with my dark grey blanket over myself as he spoke. I tended to believe although the man was once a violent Gangster Disciple, I did not have any reason to believe I was in danger.

My new cellmate seemed very considerate and accommodating. As we spoke, he told me if there was anything which greatly bothered me, to just let him know. He did not want to have a cellmate with pent up anger over a matter which could be easily resolved. I was asked if I had any "pet peeves" and instead of giving him a litany, I just told him I am greatly annoyed by cellmates who regularly yell, listen to their radio without headphones, or continuously disrupt me. He told me he was not a person who yelled onto the gallery and he did not even have a radio. However, he did sometimes listen to his TV without headphones, but if it bothers me he said just tell him. Thad watches a lot of CNN news which I do not mind hearing, and I even watched an interview of Ron Paul with him. Before my cellmate began to place his property in the cell, he was also considerate enough to ask me if there was any way I liked to keep it. I told him how I dislike clutter and wanted to keep the counter and table cleared. Thad did not have a problem with this.

Thad seemed like a decent cellmate, but I quickly learned he was a very social person who wanted to interact on a regular basis. In fact, on the very first day he wanted to show me his photo album and introduce his entire family. I never let anyone look at my photos until I have known them a long time and have begun to like them. It was odd to look at Thad's photos. I felt as if I was invading his personal life. I also did not care to see the people who were important to him. However, my new cellmate was eager to share and tell me all about them.

Looking through the stranger's photo album, I was struck by how all his pictures were of people. In my collection of photos, the majority were of scenic landscapes, buildings, sculptures, paintings, and etc. For example, I have photos of my family home, my dog, Northern Lights, and my Ford Mustang which I purportedly lent to my co-defendant on the day he supposedly killed Fawcett. I have well over 100 pictures, but less than a quarter of them are of people. Also strange to me was that he had a few pictures of Caucasians. One was of a boy, and I said to him, "I know he cannot possibly be yours." Surprisingly, he said, "Yes and no." He had gone out with a white woman who had a son whose father wanted nothing to do with him. Thad said in a way he became like a son to him, however, I noticed the pictures of him were very old, unlike that of his real daughters.

My cellmate was very proud of his three daughters and claimed two had basketball scholarships. I am not sure if Thad appreciated this, but I told him I thought subsidies for female sports should be eliminated. I also added that public schools which are forced to have equal athletic programs for women as men deprived colleges of money which would be better spent otherwise. Thad was also proud of his mother who has went back to school to graduate in multiple subjects. From what he told me, I was impressed by her accomplishments but I was skeptical that he was telling the truth and not exaggerating. I noticed in the photos Thad and his family grew up in the ghettos of Chicago before moving to Ottawa where the single mother had a shack for a home. His brothers, however, displayed a lot of "bling" and had on hundred dollar gym shoes.

While Thad was organizing his box, he put a large stack of medications onto the shelf. Before I said anything, he began to tell me a long story about how one day he awakened terrified that his eye and surrounding tissue had swelled up to the size of a softball. Immediately he yelled for guards to let him go to the Health Care Unit. Doctors there thought it was an allergic reaction, but had enough sense to send him to an outside hospital. At the hospital, he was diagnosed with Wengener's Disease. Thad explained the disease initially causes disfigurement, but if left untreated begins to destroy internal organs and ultimately kills a person. Thad told me the extremely deformed looking man on our gallery also has Wengener's. He was just fortunate to receive treatment before it progressed so far. As I looked at his face, I thought this was the reason he looked like E.T. Thad thought my scrutiny was of worry or revulsion, and quickly told me it was not contagious.

Since Thad has been my cellmate, he has repeatedly asked or hinted if I wanted to play cards, dominoes, or especially chess. One day I even turned around to discover he was playing a game of chess by himself. I had not even noticed him until a prisoner in the holding cage yelled out to him, "Your cellie must be a grandmaster to be playing you without even looking at the board and while reading a book." After the man stopped making fun of my cellmate, I told him if I have time later I will play him a game, but I never did. I have, however, played him in a couple of games of Jeopardy. My cellmate had bragged how he was easily able to defeat his former cellmate at all games, especially Jeopardy. However, this was before I found out how much an imbecile his prior cellmate was. I do not think Thad will dominate the games anymore as my cellmate, if I do choose to engage him. At Jeopardy, I was able to answer about four questions to every one he answered. I am glad, however, my new cellmate is not as stupid as my last one, and I can actually talk to him about certain subjects. It is unfortunate though he does not know about germs.

Thad has tried to be clean, wiping off the floor every time he returns to the cell. However, I noticed he will dunk the rag straight into the toilet and then add some disinfectant, thinking the germs will just magically disappear. He also wipes out the sink every time he uses it with the same cloth. Thad fails to realize although the sink may look cleaner, he is spreading germs all over the fixture. I was going to tell him to scrub the rags with soap, or do not put them inside the toilet or sink, but so far I have not bothered. However, I am not going to trust him to make a special Superbowl meal with his concept of hygiene, despite how he brags he makes the best nachos in Stateville.

The prison has been off lockdown since Monday and many people have recognized Thad. Fortunately, Thad unlike Ely, does not have a need to say hello to everyone and engage them in conversation. He has talked with a number of prisoners, but he does so usually in a normal tone, and not excessively. This may change, however, as he realizes I will not be engaging him regularly and there will be hours I do not say a word and keep my headphones on. Already, Thad has begun to talk about trying to move upstairs where his buddies are. He says he wants to move because of the proximity of the cell to the guard's front desk and holding cage, but I believe my nonsocial nature is the reason.

Fortunately, the warden's new rule prohibiting privacy sheets is not being enforced. I tended to believe guards did not want to see naked men bathing and using the toilet. Years ago, a former warden tried to stand on the issue, threatening staff and initially a number of prisoners were written tickets. However, gradually guards ceased writing them and things went back to usual. I am glad no one has said anything to my cellmate and me about the matter because I do not want to be disrespectful to him or staff walking outside the cell. I also care not to be on display in front of the holding cage or the masses of prisoners regularly passing by. Many of the prisoners at Stateville are perverts or homosexuals.

The homosexual, Franky, asked me how I was getting along with my new cellmate. He knew that I have been unhappy with the previous ones I have had in C House. Before I could answer, he told me his cellmate had gone on a court writ and may not return. He inferred he could have me moved down into his cell. Most prisoners are unable to have cell moves done at their request, but because Franky is a snitch, he is sometimes granted special favors. Franky is a quiet and polite person, and his cell is away from a lot of commotion. He also is at the law library all day working as a clerk. However, there was no way I was going to be the cellmate of a homosexual I despise, even if he was gone half the time and was a mime.

I spoke to Thad about Franky the queer, and he has the same thoughts as I about homosexuality. My cellmate stated that homosexuality was an abomination to nature and Allah, which reminded me of Thad's unique religion. Thad is a Black Hebrew Israelite which basically believe the Jews are a mix of different races and ethnicities, including Eurasian Khazars, Caucasians, Mediterraneans, and Semites. The land of Israel does not have any historic connection to them, despite how the British and Americans ceded this territory after WWII. This is not controversial, in my opinion, and many educated people including Jews will admit this. What I do think is absurd is Thad's belief the Jews are not only impostors but that Africans are the true Israelites. The Torah, including all the prophesies and covenants in it from God, are directed toward them. Black Hebrew Israelites also believe in many other conspiracies and farfetched beliefs. However, despite how I think his religion is off the wall in many respects, it means that once a week my cellmate will be gone for a few hours to attend religious services and I will have the cell happily to myself.

Today is Groundhog Day and as usual I will watch the movie with Bill Murray after I finish writing this journal entry. I always watch the comedy which in ways reminds me of my own monotonous and miserable trapped existence. Just like the character Phil in the movie, I look down with disdain at most of the people around me and just want to get away. This is my third cellmate in three months, and I am hoping he will be the best of these. Regardless, though, I tend to believe my natural life sentence without a possibility of parole will continue to indefinitely torment me.