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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Blagojevich Goes to Prison -- March 15, 2012

Yesterday, I watched former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich give a speech outside his home. It seemed odd a person convicted of numerous counts of political corruption was in front of the cameras giving a semi-pompous speech the day before he went to prison. I might imagine he may be pummeled with tomatoes or at least receive a pie to the face, yet the audience received him like he was a hero of the people rather than a malfeasant derelict politician. I noticed a few people even draped an American flag over his shoulders which he only slightly objected to, although it was apparent he was enormously gratified to be so honored and adored by the public. He still seemed to have illusions of becoming President rather than being in prison the next 12 years. Indeed, the tone of his speech was similar to that of the real presidential candidates who were in Illinois campaigning for the state's Republican primary. At the end of his rhetoric, he answered questions and I thought the news media had given him his last day in the sun yet I was wrong. Even before daybreak today, there was a crowd of media to watch the former governor go to prison.

I began my day as I typically do eating breakfast and watching the news. I knew today my cell house would be the first to be sent to the chow hall for lunch and therefore only ate a small bowl of branflakes. Before I peeled off the top of my 25 gram self-serve container of cereal, I turned on my television. I discovered the national and world news programs I usually watch were supplanted with local news, and all I saw was the front of the Blagojevich residence. No, I had enough of the egomaniac and with my remote control stick I switched from station to station. However, except for CNN which was at a commercial break, CBS, FOX, NBC, ABC, and WGN were all camped out in front of the ex-governor's Ravenswood Manor home in Chicago. What possibly more was there to cover with this story I thought. Did they come for another bizarre speech? Did they intend to follow the man all the way to Colorado? In fact the local news media did have intentions to follow him from the front door of his house to the front door of Englewood Penitentiary. The man apparently was Chicago's own dysfunctional, dethroned Hollywood celebrity.

I did not have to wait long before seeing a taped replay of Blagojevich leaving his home. He was dressed casually in blue jeans and a black collared shirt. His Donald Trump/Elvis Presley hair style and his demeanor seemed more subdued. Initially, I thought he may actually just go into the car awaiting him without a word. But, of course, with the sight of the camera crews, there was a sparkle in his eyes. The former governor could not resist the opportunity to have the attention of the media again. Although with a plane to catch there was not enough time for another speech.

Most of what Blagojevich said I missed because of an argument with my cellmate. "Old Gangster Bobby" was mad that I had left the inside of the sink with a slight film of soap residue. The sink in my cell does not drain well, and if it is not wiped out after using it may leave some particle matter behind or even water droplets. I refuse to wait a few minutes to see if any residue is left behind. I also refuse to scrub the sink out with soap 30 or more times a day, nor will I merely wipe it off to remove water. I wash the floor, sink, and toilet once a day, sometimes more. I also scrub and disinfect the bacteria infested sink and toilet rags he uses daily. Everytime I use the sink, I wipe the sides or top of any splashed water or soap, but I will not wipe out the basin. Ironic the desheveled, unclean old man with maybe five teeth in his mouth has a fixation with the sink.

After the argument with my cellmate, I wondered who former governor Rod Blagojevich would be celled with, or if he would even have a cellmate. The Englewood prison in Littleton, Colorado was a minimum-security federal prison and I imagine the inmates there are predominately Caucasian and have non-violent convictions. Most I assume have been convicted of white collar crimes. The prisoners there will be a stark contrast to those here at Stateville. There will be few, if any, inner city ghetto gangbangers with little education and long rap sheets of brutal crimes. No, I doubt Blagojevich will be celled with a Vice Lord, Gangster Disciple, or Latin King, nor a cellmate like O.G. Bobby who served over a decade on death row for his second murder. Interestingly, I have heard there is a possibility the former governor may not only have one cellmate but three. Some of the cells at Englewood have 4 bunks. I imagine how Blagojevich would respond to being assigned my last three cellmates, although the extroverted social politician may like the company until they abused or took advantage of him. Fortunately for Rod, he will not be locked up nearly 24/7 with his cellmate or cellmates, and for the most part he will be free to come and go as he chooses.

The media followed the former governor by helicopter to Chicago's O'Hare Airport. At the airport, the man began palm pressing, posing for photos, and signing autographs. Once again, he was in campaign mode. Strange the politician who had broken the public's trust and abused his office was still so popular. I believe I even saw Blagojevich give some people hugs and kisses. What was more odd--the public who still adores him or the convict who believes he is running for office? I speculate some people were only intrigued by the Chicago celebrity despite what he may have done. Even O.J. Simpson had his fans and onlookers in public. As for Blagojevich, it was obvious he loved the lime light and still clung on to hopes that his stay in prison would be brief.

In his farewell address I heard him say he had a "heavy heart, clear conscience, and high hopes for the future." I have seen numerous prisoners with a delusional absolute belief they will win their direct appeal and their prison stay will be only temporary. The odds of winning a state appeal are statistically much less than 5%, and the federal courts are not much better. The issues Blagojevich has, such as the jury not being allowed to hear a tape recording of his brother say on the telephone they are not for sale, are legally poor. Men who come to prison oftentimes must lie to themselves because they cannot accept reality. People new to the "justice" system are particularly naive, even when evidence against them is insurmountable or they have no significant trial errors. Even after losing all their regular set of appeals some men cannot give up hope. I knew an old man convicted of murder who blindly believed he was going home, even after two decades in prison. Despite my ridicule and telling him he lived in a fantasy world, he would not think otherwise and died in prison still clinging to hope. Blagojevich may be one of those people, although I tend to believe he will see his out date in 2024.

Unlike these men, I had no illusions. I am a pessimistic person to begin with and I have never believed life was fair. My natural skeptical predisposition, along with my realization the prosecutor would use the full resources of the state to convict me by hook or by crook, always kept me realistically grounded. When my trial attorneys failed to contest the prosecutor's theory of accountability, I knew it was over. On appeal, I knew the odds and how much slimmer they were with the Palatine Massacre still hanging over my head. Incompetent counsel also did not help. I believe my realism has made me a stronger person, albeit more somber, unhappy, and grim.

It may be unfathomable for a man such as Blagojevich to be realistic. His life has seemed to always have been on an upward trajectory. From the time he obtained a job at a law firm through the powerful Chicago alderman Vrdolyak to his marriage to the daughter of another city heavyweight, Dick Mell, who catapulted him through the ranks of the Democratic Party to the Governor's office. I am almost certain Blagojevich had dreams on the White House and to go from seeing yourself as President of the US to a lowly, impotent nobody in prison was a great fall. One news reporter said the worst thing for the former governor with a huge ego, dreams, power, and fame was to become just another number in the prison industrial complex.

While waiting for chow lines to be run, I turned on my Walkman to listen to Bruce Wolf and Dan Proft on WLS talk radio. I was interested to hear their perspective on the media-Blago fiasco. As I suspected, they thought he was a nut case going into campaign mode before he went to prison. During his speech yesterday he rambled on about free mammograms and pap smears for women, free rides for senior citizens on Chicago's public transport, and various other special interest perks. Even with his little daughter tugging at him to go, he could not resist pretending he was a man of the people and not the selfish, self absorbed, corrupt politician with no work ethic. During his 6 years in office, Blagojevich rarely even went to Springfield, the state capital, to work with the legislature or make any diligent efforts. Rather he preferred to do what he did best: talk.

Wolf and Proft were as amazed as me at how people in Chicago continued to support the former governor. However, they were to note how friendly and personable he was, even if it was ingenuous. They also noted how people in Chicago probably became accustomed to the political corruption and patronism which was commonplace. Half of all governors in the state since the 1960's have been sent to prison, including Blagojevich's predecessor, George Ryan. Numerous politicians in Illinois have been investigated or convicted of corruption and it is probably the tip of the iceberg. Jesse Jackson Jr. is currently under investigation for seeking to buy Barack Obama's open senate seat and yet still has the President's endorsement. Derrick Smith, a state legislator, was arrested earlier this week for taking bribes. It is nearly expected politicians use their power to enrich themselves, family, or friends.

This may explain part of the public's sympathy, but what of the media? The media has clearly portrayed Blagojevich in a positive light and continues to give him all the publicity he seeks. Possibly, this was due to him being the first Democratic Governor in many years, and liberal bias. However, it was more than his politics. Blagojevich was a very friendly, social, and personable person to his constituents and to members of the media. Bruce Wolf brought out how the only reporter with the gall to ask a sharp below-the-belt question was Chuck Goudie. He asked Patti Blagojevich if she was going to stay with her husband. Considering most prisoners' wives or girlfriends leave them or are unfaithful, especially over a decade's time, I thought it was a good question. However, of course, Patti would never say she would not remain with him and as expected she ignored Goudie as if his question was unthinkable. I wonder if she will feel the same in 2020.

Chuck Goudie has been a news reporter in Chicago for a long time. He is known for his big breaking news stories and hard hitting questions . Only minutes after my arrest, he was at my home asking my mother if she knew her son had just been arrested for the Palatine Brown's Chicken Massacre. He barraged my stunned mother with a litany of questions. No other reporter was so quick on the story and I assume he has inside connections. Interesting how Chuck Goudie knew I was arrested but when my parents called numerous police agencies and the FBI, they all said they never heard of a Paul Modrowski. The police and prosecutor's office while leaking information and slander out one door were discreetly controlling it otherwise. They did not want to be seen vilifying their suspect nor did they want this suspect to access a lawyer before they were done with their abusive, illegal, incommunicado interrogation.

I went to chow and thought some prisoners may be talking about the ex-governor considering he was plastered all over the news this morning. However, there was not a word about the man who once had an enormous control over the IDOC. When he was first at trial, there was a lot of interest and even some during his second as well as his sentencing on December 7, 2011, but his media hyped trip to prison was a nonevent to prisoners at Stateville. A man complained at the table about his special diet tray of rice and lean cuts of turkey. I traded him my regular tray of fried chicken-soy pattie with gravy. Even when I went to the gym, no one cared about Blagojevich. I bet there would be more interest if he was coming to Stateville.

During my argument with my cellmate earlier, he said he was through with me. I had taken this to mean I need not exchange the few words I spoke to him daily. However, when he returned from a visit apparently he changed his mind and was his usual self. After I washed up in the sink, I scrubbed it out as well as the toilet. I mentioned to him if he wants I will wipe out the sink with toilet paper, but not with the rag. He told me that was not necessary and I was right about the germs. Unfortunately, I see my cellmate still does not see a problem keeping a bottle of drink mix in the toilet to keep it cool, even after he just defecated in it.

When I was at chow and the gym, I missed the media following Blagojevich onto the airplane, driving around Littleton, Colorado, and his final steps into Englewood just before noon. However, it did not matter because all this news coverage was repeated by the local networks at 4, 4:30, 5 and 6 p.m. I suspect there will be even more coverage after I finish writing at 9 and 10 p.m. Like in Chicago, a helicopter followed Blagojevich and his two trial lawyers Aaron Goldstein and Sheldon Sorosky. It reminded me of watching OJ Simpson travel along California highways before finally surrendering. Apparently the former governor wanted to do some site seeing or was just not ready to turn himself in yet. He stopped at a local restaurant called Freddies Burgers and the owner seemed quite pleased to have the media attention, even if it was for a corrupt politician on his way to prison. The patrons also seemed to enjoy the media publicity and Blagojevich himself who was still campaigning and went from table to table shaking hands and talking.

While watching the media spectacle I could not notice how the former governor had a personality almost my polar opposite. Blagojevich is a very extroverted, social person who loves the crowds and limelight. He cared very much what others thought of him and he at least pretended to care about everyone he met. He was also a very shallow, superficial, manipulative person who was an opportunist with little honesty, integrity, virtue, or work ethic. Such people make friends easily, but after those learn who he really is, I tend to think he is less likeable. I could see how the public could be duped by such a man and why there was a lot of sympathy for him.

Despite how I think poorly of Blagojevich's character or job as governor, I agree with popular opinion that his 14-year sentence was excessive, although he will only serve 12 and be in a nice minimum-security prison. Other politicians convicted of corruption like George Ryan were given less time. Also, the prosecutor failed to prove Blagojevich actually received benefits from his attempts to shake down people and businesses or use his power for illegal quid pro quos. Although the law does not require this, I would have liked to have seen more than talk, even if the governor used such blatant and colorful language such as "I have this thing (senate office) and it is fucking golden." For Blagojevich I would think he deserved much less time and much more appropriate retribution and restitution. The man with the big ego could be on a work crew to clean up trash at city parks or along the highways that once had his name on them. He wants to help senior citizens? He could work at geriatric wards cleaning adult diapers. Even having President Elvis in a stockade outside the state capital building where people could spit on him or peg him with tomatoes is a good idea, although people may rather get their picture taken with the man. I watch Americans eaten up by the costly prison industrial complex every day and it needs to be scaled back for more alternative or productive purposes.

The media seemed to infer the former governor was going to do some hard time. Much video of the outside of the stone penitentiary and its surrounding double fencing with razor was shown on TV. On PBS, Chicago Tonight, Scott Fawell, another person convicted and sent to the penitentiary for corruption, was interviewed and he spoke ominously about the conditions inside. This type of reporting was ridiculous, in my opinion. There are no murders, rapes, hostage taking, stabbings, or brutal assaults occurring at these minimum federal prisons. I doubt there is much violence at all except for a rare fist fight. The rooms at Englewood are freshly painted, clean, without infestation, and in good working order. Blagojevich will even have air conditioning and be given new bedding and clothing upon arrival. As for austerity and oppressive living conditions, this is absurd as well. Englewood will have plenty of unregulated movement, programs, recreation, pleasant visitation conditions, and overall privileges. Through, or over that purported "suffocating double fence," Blagojevich will be able to view the majestic Rocky Mountains from his cell window or while wandering prison grounds. The former governor remarked he will "persevere and suffer for his children," however, he will never know what real suffering is.

While writing this post, I received a letter from a man I knew in prison over a decade ago. He thanked me for helping him make it through the tough times. I guarantee Blagojevich would not have made it back in those days, especially at Stateville. Even today, I imagine the ex-governor would request protective custody. Interestingly, the governor could have shut this miserable, debilitated, violent prison down during his term in office. However, because he was facing the prospect of the legislature signing a bill to remove him, he made deals with certain congressmen and the prison's union to keep it open. There are consequences to political corruption and lack of integrity, even when the public does not readily see it. Maybe it would be just deserts if Blagojevich spent a few years at Stateville along with some community service rather than 12 years in Englewood.