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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunny Skies over Doomed Lives -- April 10, 2012

Today was a bright and sunny spring day which seemed to lift the spirits of many of the prisoners at Stateville. It was ironic to me how something as trivial as the weather could affect the mood of people who live such miserable and oppressive lives. The vast majority of inmates here are condemned to die in prison with natural life or have such lengthy sentences no mortal could serve. During the day, I pondered how these men could be cheerful under the wretched conditions they endure year after year without end. Possibly, some never accept reality and have faith they will be freed. Possibly, others adapt or do not feel the terrible anguish as I do. Regardless, I thought Stateville was an enormous mausoleum full of tombs of dead men and it did not matter if the sun was shining on its stone exterior. The stench of death and decay of over a thousand men, some innocent, most guilty, did not go away. If anything, it was more apparent.

Typically, I begin my day in a foul mood, although on days like today it can be exasperated. Every morning, I wake up to the harsh reality from a night of pleasant dreams or void of consciousness. This morning I also had to deal with severe lower back pain and stiffness. The medical staff has still not refilled my order for an NSAID medication and I have to rely on a nurse who comes by twice a day to dispense pills. I was given an Ultram which does little for my pain but most men were receiving psychotropics. Possibly, this was a reason for their warped sense of reality and irrational happiness. The angle of the sun has changed noticeably since the beginning of spring and now the light streams directly into my cell. The bright light is a great irritation upon waking and I wished the dead of Stateville were buried or kept in a crypt, including myself. Ironic how society thinks making convicts suffer indefinitely is more humane than executing them.

My normal routine is to watch the morning news while eating my breakfast. However, in my channel surfing, I noticed the James Bond movie "Casino Royale" was on the USA network. Casino Royale was probably my favorite Bond film and I decided it was worth watching. Possibly, the movie could help me escape the miserable reality which often pervades my thoughts. Daniel Craig is my most liked James Bond actor because I can more readily identify with the character he plays. The last couple of movies in the film franchise portray a more real, unrefined, and masculine man without the pretentious charm and humor. While watching the film I entertained the thought that I and the movie character had similarities including the same hair cut. If my brown hair was to get some sun, it may also be the same color. Being an intelligence agent always intrigued me since childhood, although I know possibly I could have learned the skills, I doubt I have the social qualities that make for a good spy. I probably would be much more suited for Special Ops than a secret agent. In Casino Royale, however, Bond is quite straightforward.

While I was watching the movie, a prisoner who goes by the name "Doc" stopped by my cell. He was initially speaking to my cellmate, Bobby, who was sitting on his box next to the bars until there was a commercial break and I turned around to address him. Doc has been in federal and state prisons since the early 80s, and is now 70 years old. Recently, he was given a cell house help job which basically consists of picking up garbage, sweeping and mopping floors, or passing out supplies. On the second day of his detail, he had to be taken to the hospital. I asked him about his health and he told me doctors found various enlarged blood vessels which are a result of being on dialysis too long. Doc has various medical problems and I expect he will die soon. Despite his imminent death, he continues to be a cheerful person. He is celled nearly underneath my cell and I often hear him laughing uncontrollably. Earlier today, he was also in a good mood.

Chow lines were run early in C House, but I was able to see Bond kill the villain at the end of the movie before I left the cell. Going to chow is a disturbing event for me usually because of all the noise, crowds and undesirable people I must deal with. Just leaving the building is annoying because I must dodge various inmates on the narrow gallery who stop to talk to others or are preoccupied in some other way. A fat man I have come to call the "elephant" blocked my path and I had to wait for him to move forward. Finally at the stairs, there was a crowd waiting and instead of being cramped within the herd, I walked past the stairs where Mertz was standing and there were fewer people waiting to go to the chow hall.

Stepping outside the building, I was hit with blaring sunlight and was envious of the prisoner I stood by in line who had sunshades. I would have taken them from him but they are only a thin strip of plastic which go with his eyeglasses. The man who goes by the name Chase commented that it was a wonderful day and asked me if I was going to the yard. I said, "Doubtful. Why do you ask?" He said, "It's sunny and nice outside." I told him that is precisely why I probably would not go. Plus, we were scheduled to be put on the small yard which reminds me of a crowded dog run. Mertz was standing next to me and I asked him if he was going outside. He said he had a health care pass but was planning on skipping it. "If Mertz goes out, I will," I told Chase.

In the chow hall, I was disappointed to see the menu had been changed from burgers to meatballs. I would not have come out if I had known that. The meatballs served at Stateville are made with gristle, chips of bone, veins, organ meat and soy filler. I offered my tray to those I sat with but there were no takers. To not make a total waste of my trip, I placed some bread in a bag and stuck it in my sock. I also pocketed the apple. When I was walking back to the cell house, a fat guard had the nerve to demand that I give him my apple. Inmates are not supposed to bring food back to their cells. I cannot understand the policy except that it may prevent theft of food not served from the kitchen. The guard was being incredibly petty confiscating my apple. Do those automatons who work here realize inmates are going to die in here and have nothing to lose? Yet they still want to enforce the dumbest of rules. I pondered walking up to the guard and crushing the apple onto his head, but I just simply tossed it to him without breaking stride. Inside the cell house, I had one of the cell house workers give me an apple off of one of the lay-in trays which no one wanted.

Standing outside my cell waiting for the door to be opened, the biker who lives next to me commented it was a beautiful day. "The sun is shining and the birds are chirping," he continued. If I had not known better, I would think I was standing next to a peace loving hippie and not a life long biker who has multiple stab wound scars from numerous fights. He then asked me, as Chase did, if I was going out to the yard, whereupon I asked him why he thought I was predisposed to like sunshine. He said, "Everyone loves sunshine, and it has tremendous mental and physical benefits." I asked him if he recalls the cassette tape I loaned him by the band Soundgarden. On the tape was a song called "Black Hole Sun," and I said I would be much more inclined to enjoy the eclipse of the sun and the glow of its corona than all this bright beautiful sunshine you talk about. My neighbor has spent three decades in prison and has stage 4 liver cancer. Possibly, with death knocking at his door, he is apt to enjoy such small things despite living as a captive.

In my cell, I worked on a top 50 stock list for a friend. I had finally analyzed all of the stocks on the NYSE and came up with 50 of my favorites. The list had purchase prices well under what the shares were selling for today because of my belief the U.S. will eventually go into a double-dip recession. Tomorrow, I will write him a letter explaining the chart and my opinion that this is not a wise time to buy into the market. As the election approaches, the economy's descent will be more apparent.

While I created the stock chart, I listened to Dan Proft and Bruce Wolf on WLS talk radio. The news recently has been focused on President Obama's public endorsement of same sex marriage. This has been met with huge praise by the liberal dominated mass media and I found it detestable how warped the coverage was on television yesterday. For years, Hollywood has tried to normalize homosexuality and make it more acceptable to the public. However, there is nothing normal about homosexuals. They are an abomination to nature, and if I were a religious person, to God. Obama has a new campaign slogan called "Forward." Forward to where? I must ask. Into the abyss of decadence and fiscal bankruptcy? Interesting that the Communists and radical left use the same slogan in Europe.

After Obama announced his support of gay marriage, coincidentally, the media the following day attacked Mitt Romney as being a bully in high school and cutting the hair of another student who was a homosexual. The liberals must be very desperate to go back decades to the Republican presidential candidate's high school years. What high school boy has not bullied, razzed, or got into fights with other students? I notice there has been a campaign by the liberals to end bullying and they have even made October "anti-bully month". However, bullying is a part of childhood. Unlike homosexuality, it is normal. There is a saying "boys will be boys," but I have yet to hear "boys will be girls," or vice versa. Ironic how Obama supporters throw these attacks at such a squeaky clean upright Mormon when their own candidate has a very shady past. The President has even admitted to smoking dope regularly in his youth. Given a choice between a bully and a stoner, I would definitely take the former, though there is much more to these candidates than what they did back in the 60's.

Toward the back of the line, I walked with Mertz to the two small yards. Other inmates had quickly walked or even ran to the yard. Although the average age on 2 and 4 galleries was probably over 40, the men acted like children running out to recess during grade school. Amazingly they seemed to forget about their natural life sentences and the misery of their incarceration. One may think they were going to the playground but there was a vast difference between the playgrounds that I remember from childhood and the virtually vacant small yard surrounded by cyclone fencing and razor wire. The yard was basically two concrete basketball courts with a short walkway to them. On the walkway were two rusted steel tables with connected stools. To the sides of the walkway were two little square patches of grass, one of which had a chin-up bar. At the far corner of the yard was a portipod cut in half and without a door to permit the guard in the gun tower to see inside it.

Men sat the two tables to play cards and dominoes. A couple of people sat on the concrete nearby to play chess. Other inmates just talked to each other at the perimeters, and to those on the identical yard nearby which is separated by about 10 feet. Most of the men went to the basketball court to play a game. Mertz also joined them, although he was the only Caucasian to do so. Chase challenged me to a game of one-on-one on the other court. He knew I was in a lot of pain and my back was stiff. I think he believed because of this I would not play, or if I did, he could make me look foolish. However, I accepted his challenge and forced myself to be competitive despite my back and sciatic pain.

Basketball is the worst sport for a person to play with a low back injury. The continual abrupt pivoting and jumping jars and twists the spine. Plus, in prison the inmates play a very physical game which can catch a person with a spinal injury at the wrong time, sending them to the floor immobile and in excruciating pain. Fortunately, Chase did not play with continuous flagrant fouls and only elbowed me once into the lip. Accidentally, I hit him in the groin with a knee while going up for a shot and he folded in pain. Thus, I figure we were equal. Basketball is my least liked and least skilled sport. However, for the cardio exercise, I played for half an hour. This was all my back could take, and I was fortunate to play a close game and lose only by a basket.

Chase was surprised when I went to do a core exercise routine afterwards. He did not realize these and other exercises I could do with much less pain and greater skill and agility. For my lower abdominals I jumped to hold onto the pull up bar and pulled my legs upward. I was easily able to do sets of 50, and for fun, lifted myself up and around the bar. Chase dared me to do a full sweep around the bar with my legs straight out. I did so, and landed perfectly on the lawn like I was a competitor on the parallel bars in the Olympics. He was impressed and I asked for a score of 10, although I could only get a 9.9. A white prisoner named Scott was walking around the perimeter of the fence listening to his Walkman and he stopped by after my performance. Scott was a schmoozer and had a manipulative sociopath type personality I did not like. When he excessively complimented me, I told him to quit blowing smoke up my ass. He asked me why he would lie, and I said flatly, "Because you are a pathological liar." Scott said maybe when he was on drugs, but not anymore. Scott was heavily into drugs before his arrest and for part of his incarceration. Although there may not be any easily obtained meth or other hard drugs for him to smoke or inject, I do not think he has changed. Just like some of these anti drug commercials, I can see him selling out his friends, family, or anyone for another fix.

When Mertz finished his game of basketball, he came to sit with me in the corner of the yard on the grass. We spoke about his cellmate's futile attempts to appeal his guilty plea. If a defendant pleads guilty, he basically waives all of his appeals. There are very few issues a person can raise and most deal with technicalities. Incredibly, he pled guilty in an open plea and was given a natural life without parole sentence. Only a fool, in our opinion, would throw himself at the mercy of the court. Mertz also ridiculed him for gang banging in prison for the last couple of decades before reviewing the law to see if he could rescind his guilty plea. I asked if the evidence against him was insurmountable and I was told there was no question of his quilt. He broke into someone's home and killed someone with a knife. Due to the home invasion and murder, he was automatically eligible for the death penalty just like Mertz, although Mertz took his case to trial.

Chase came to sit with us and we took turns ridiculing him for also copping out to avoid the death penalty. His guilty plea was even more foolish because he agreed to life in prison. Then Mertz began to give Chase the 3rd degree about his case and various details. Chase shot two men with a 22 caliber rifle and then dumped their bodies in a large pit of hog manure. I told him he is supposed to dump the bodies in the hog feed similar to the horror movie "Hannibal" where some men tried to get the serial killer eaten alive. He told me this was a misnomer and pigs will not eat humans unless they are starving. Regardless, it did not matter, he said, because his co-defendant went to a bar, and while drunk told various people about what they did. He then testified against him in exchange for 115 years. His wife was sentenced to some 50 years for merely being a look-out of some sort. She will actually be freed soon because the former law mandated a person only serve half their sentence. Chase's wife divorced him before the trial, apparently for legal reasons and to distance herself from him. The plan did not seem to work that well. My co-defendant's wife told someone that she disposed of her husband's bloody clothing and she was never charged with anything, although she denied doing so later at my trial. She was smart to deny destroying the clothes because she could have been charged with concealment of a homicide. The prosecutor still had her on tape and the man's testimony but it was apparent the prosecutor did not care about prosecuting her although she repeatedly lied to the police when her husband was arrested.

I complained that I was condemned to die in prison with the likes of the two people I was sitting with and numerous others at Stateville when Chase mentioned my glum mood. Mertz jokingly said I should not have then killed all those people at the Brown's Chicken restaurant. Upon hearing about the mass murder, Chase told me he got along well with Juan Luna. I said, "If that is so, would you tell him to release to me the discovery he has so I can investigate my case further?" I am looking for staff who worked at the police station where I was interrogated and any names of those on the Palatine Task Force who may be helpful. Chase said he rarely sees Luna anymore. Mertz was surprised I was never given the Palatine files, but my judge ruled that since he was not allowing any of the investigation or even the mention of those murders in my trial, the files were not pertinent to my defense. I have witnesses who place my car 50 miles away from the crime scene, however, since the evidence was available at my trial, I cannot use it on an actual innocence appeal. I have procured additional evidence, however, I am uncertain if it is enough to convince a judge to grant me a new trial. The bar is set exceedingly high.

For 19 years I have watched hopes and dreams slip away from me. I was curious what the doomed men I sat with would do if they were given their freedom back. Chase told me he watched the show "The Most Dangerous Catch," and would like to be a fisherman on the high seas. Then he said he might be a lumberjack like his father. He knew he could get a job working with his father. I told him that was pathetic. "You spent two decades in prison and all you want to do with your life is fish or chop down trees? How uninspiring. You can remain in prison," I told Chase. Then I asked Mertz, but he would not answer. He said he does not entertain such flights of fantasy. I asked, "All those years you were on death row, you never thought about what you may do with your life if give back to you?" Finally, he said he would get a factory job through a family member at some hot dog packaging plant. Then after he was financially secure he would move on to better things. I said to him, "I'm glad the Marines prepared you 'to be all you can be.'" He told me that was the slogan of the Army. I was very disappointed and told him his homework assignment tonight was to write a 6 page essay.

As I write this journal entry, the cell house is very loud. The Bulls are playing in the NBA Playoffs and it is on most of the television screens of the inmates here. Someone just began yelling, "Bulls lose! Bulls lose!" to a chorus of "boos" and "shut ups". I am happy the game is over and possibly the cell house will quiet down. The sunlight is fading outside, but unfortunately the fluorescent lights across from my cell are never turned off. I look forward to going to sleep tonight and dreaming about a life I could have had. Even if it is a dreamless sleep, the darkness is better than the light of day here at Stateville. I despise the miserable doomed existence I have here and will be blessed if I never awaken to another day behind these walls.