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Friday, June 1, 2012

The Spring Cold -- May 25, 2012

For a little over a week I have been sick with a cold and it is now just beginning to abate. I am not the only person ill, but many inmates and staff at the prison also have not been well. Germs spread very quickly in the large crowded penitentiaries of Illinois and I assume elsewhere. The immense building I am in some call "The Big House" has over 1,000 prisoners caged on 5 floors and is about a city block long. Various illnesses and diseases can sweep the prison and they are difficult to avoid even if a man rarely leaves his cell. Generally, viruses infect large amounts of people during the winter, especially during the flu season, and it is unusual this has occurred in the mid-spring with temperatures in the 70s and 80s. Being at Stateville serving a sentence of natural life without the possibility of parole is miserable in itself, but being ill only adds to my discomfort and general disdain.

A number of people are or have been experiencing a variety of cold and flu-like symptoms this May, but mainly I have only had a sore throat and great loss of energy. I have been very lethargic the last week and have only been able to combat this with large drinks of caffeinated beverages. Almost daily, I have made myself a mug of tea. Sometimes, I complement this with large mugs of instant coffee. Without the heavy doses of caffeine, fatigue would quickly set in and I will feel like doing nothing or lying down. Several times, I have taken long afternoon naps from 11 or noon till 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Because of my lack of energy, I have done less than usual, and have taken to doing some light reading. I read a couple of Smart Money and Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazines as well as a Men's Health and a National Geographic. I have also spent more time watching television.

Despite my inability to be very productive, I have not ceased the intensity of my work outs. Nearly every day despite how sick I feel or my back pain, I will exercise for one hour nonstop in my cell. I will do an assortment of cardio and calisthenic exercises. I will also use my small box which weighs almost 100 pounds to do some exercises like upright rows. This week, my gallery was only permitted to go to the small yard and I stayed in my cell to work out while my cellmate was gone. Even with the caffeine, I had to push myself through my "P90X"-like exercise routines. I often created mental images or music in my mind to keep me going at 100%. I thought of the Rocky Balboa theme song "Eye of the Tiger," or listened to heavy metal music. A few times, I caught myself thinking of the film "Conan the Barbarian" which was my favorite as a child and continues to be an inspiration. The movie which premiered 30 years ago in 1982, represents overcoming enormous hardship, struggle, pain, injustice, and captivity--all of which I can relate to.

While working out by the cell bars this week, a civilian stopped at my cell and asked me if I wanted any reading materials. On occasion, people are allowed to wander Stateville to preach and offer religious literature. I asked the young man who seemed naive if he had any pardons from the Governor in his large bag of papers. He told me he did not but he had the gift of life. I told him my life was taken a long time ago. Nearly 20 years ago I was sentenced to die in prison and there is nothing waiting for me in the hereafter. Hearing this, he asked if I would pray with him. I was sweating profusely and continuing to exercise as I spoke to him. I thought this man was very persistent. I told him, "No prayers will help me." The Christian said he would pray for me anyway and asked for my name and gave me his Aaron before he left. I must admire these zealots but if they truly wanted to help, they would do so in a more constructive manner.

I have lost part of my appetite but still found myself going out for meals. The cost of buying commissary foods has become too great and I must take advantage of days the prison serves semi-decent meals regardless of how I feel. On Sunday, lunch was lasagna, a meal prisoners have not been fed in half a year. It was made with processed soy-turkey instead of ground beef but still was enticing enough for me to leave my cell. I sat at a table with a disfigured and ugly man some inmates call "Quasi Modo." The man, however, looks more like an experiment that went awry on the Island of Dr. Moreau. The prisoner was angry that he was only given a tiny square of lasagna and expressed his jealousy that I and others at the table had large helpings. This made me tell him he was fortunate to have anything to eat at all. There was a large fat man sitting beside him and I commented the elephant could easily take his tray and leave him with nothing. The deformed prisoner looked around the table for support and was seemingly surprised to find none.

Going out for chow was a great inconvenience when ill and I wanted to avoid all the vile and aggravating convicts that I could. Unfortunately, this was impossible whether walking the narrow gallery, being corralled into movement lines, or the crowds at the chow hall, including the hexagonal 6 stool tables. To avoid the crowd of inmates waiting to be released off the gallery and stairway to go outside, I often walk to the far side where I know two inmates. Since learning I was sick, however, Matt has been giving me the sign of the crucifix and stepping back from the bars. He is just being silly because he cannot avoid all the airborne germs in the cell house. Many prisoners and staff as well are coughing, sneezing, and sniffling. Even his cellmate had the cold earlier this month and I told him if he was going to catch the virus, he would have already. I may have been largely exposed to the germs when my cellmate had a cold a few weeks ago. He denied it but the toilet paper had had shoved in his nose with Vaseline and his cough told me otherwise.

I am a quiet person who is rather particular about who I speak with. While I was ill, I was even more introverted and mime-like. For a few days I almost lost my voice and could only speak in a low raspy tone. Sometimes, I ignored prisoners who have addressed me not only because I cared not to engage them but because my throat hurt. Being fatigued, I furthermore did not want to waste energy being social, even if it meant being rude. Leaving the chow hall I often stop to say a few words with a lieutenant who shares a passion for politics although usually the opposite of mine. On one evening, I had to tell him I lost my voice and could not talk to him. He quipped, "No, you lost the vote," inferring I was Rick Santorum, the former Republican candidate for president. I suppose he equates me with Santorum because earlier I agreed with him and Rush Limbaugh that contraception should not be a government mandate for health insurance companies.

On another day I went out for chow Steve offered me some cold tablets. I refused them because my sinuses are fine and they would have only made my throat worse. I noticed at the table he was sniffling and wiping his nose. I asked if he had a cold but he blamed allergies. Steve does have heavy allergies, but I suspected he was sick. My suspicions were seemingly confirmed when he turned from the table to sneeze. I told Mertz the virus is spreading and soon the plague will have killed everyone. I will be trapped in my cage alone starving in the post apocalypse until "Mr. Flagg" comes to save me. I was referring to the Stephen King book "The Stand" which I spoke to him about earlier where a government designed biological weapon is accidentally released decimating almost the entire human species. Mertz asked me if I will eat my cellmate like in the novel. I told him the old disheveled black man did not seem so appealing to cannibalize, but possibly after roasting over a fire and adding some barbecue sauce, it will not be so bad. I tend to think I will die of thirst first, however.

The cell house windows were tilted open on Tuesday. A prison worker went by on a ladder wedging the windows open with plastic bottles. He was only able to reach so high, but guards on the cat walk, a balcony which circumvents the outer wall, opened up windows across from the 4th floor. It was nice to have fresh air in the cell house which was incubating germs and the body odor of hundreds of inmates. I also liked being able to see outside the wretched prison a little better. However, the windows should have remained closed one more day because during the night the temperature dropped to a chilly 40 degrees. I was very cold as I slept and woke up numerous times despite being underneath a wool blanket until I finally got up to put on a sweater. I am not certain if true but there is a belief sharp fluctuations in the weather can contribute to colds. This spring has been unusual in that respect, and in the Chicago area there has been temperatures ranging from freezing to the upper 80's. This Memorial Day weekend, weather forecasters are predicting upper 90's, possibly even 100 degrees.

Wednesday was a particularly long and miserable day for me. I was caught amongst crowds nearly the entire day and was unable to rest or relax. In the morning, I waited in a holding cage at the Health Care Unit with many sick men almost shoulder to shoulder. Finally, when I was called by the psychologist I was told she was sick as well and this was why she cancelled my pass a few days prior. She asked me if I had requested to see a physician about my cold, and I said there was no point. I would not be seen by anyone for a month or two and there was nothing that can be done for a cold except to try to lessen the symptoms. The psychologist told me that is exactly what her doctor told her and was very impressed that I knew this. Oftentimes, I believe she has a perception of me as being retarded or having a severe autism disability. I tend to think my intelligence is far greater than hers, and I wondered if my knowledge of psychology was even greater, as well as what the purpose was in meeting her once or every other month.

Seemingly to answer my thoughts, the psychologist handed me a form outlining my treatment plan in a few sentences. It basically said I was to be treated for Aspergers and the anxiety and poor social skills which accompanies it. However, this was a ruse in my opinion. There is no treatment for someone with autism spectrum disorder just as there is no cure for the common cold. The only thing which can be done to help a person such as me is mostly to make their environment more amicable, but the psychologist has no authority to make my living conditions any better. Stateville is probably the worst prison I could be incarcerated at for my mental health and I am never given any accommodation.

The true purpose I gathered from the form and having to sign it was to pretend the IDOC was not negligent in failing to address my psychological distress. There has been a major class action lawsuit filed against the IDOC for not meeting the needs of all the mentally disturbed inmates in their custody. This is probably a general concern of the administration, but a secondary purpose of the document was to waive my privilege of patient-client confidentiality in the event I mentioned anything demonstrating a danger to myself, others, or the security of the institution. The wording "security of the institution" was very vague and could be interpreted numerous of ways. However, I am less open with the psychologist than I am in my blog writings which are monitored by Internal Affairs, so I signed it.

On the return to the cell house, inmates from the Health Care Unit were brought to the chow hall. I had thought we would be given styrofoam trays to carry back to our cells but we were made to eat there. At the beginning of the feed counter, I went through 7 plastic trays before I found one without any food stuck to it. The trays are not cleaned properly and prisoners must always scrutinize their trays before allowing food to be scooped onto them. I regularly think about catching Hepatitis C or some other serious disease men carry at the prison, but on that day I thought about the possibility of colds or other viruses being spread. Not only are the trays not cleaned adequately, but they are never dried. The stack of trays are always dripping with water and are taken straight from the dish washer to be stacked on the line. I took some toilet paper I had brought in my pocket and wiped off the tray which appeared to be clean otherwise.

The chow hall I ate in was full of prisoners from various job assignments. I sat next to Bob who is a teacher's assistant. Bob was my cellmate for a short period of time when I lived in B House. He currently resides in X House which is secluded from general population and currently holds non-aggressive prisoners who tend to be near to being transferred to a lower security prison. I asked Bob if his transfer to Galesburg was approved at the institutional level yet. He told me he was just recently denied and will be at Stateville until at least the end of the year. I thought it was foolish for someone like Bob to be at a maximum-security prison. I also thought his sentence of 40 years was incredibly harsh for being convicted of the statutory rape of a 17-year-old, even if she was one of his students at Hinsdale High School.

After completing my meal of soy spaghetti, I dumped the remnants of my tray in a garbage bin and sat by the gate away from the crowd and with the hope the lieutenant would let me out so I could go back to my cell. A number of feed lines went past me and in one of them was another former cellmate of mine from B House. From the group of inmates he was with he began to yell to me. He said he had spoken with the placement officer and the cell house lieutenant about having me replace his current cellmate he did not like. He said he was still in the same cell and there were a number of people I knew on the gallery, including Tattoo. I had not said anything back to him, and just listened. Finally, he asked me if I was "cool" being his cellmate again and moving back to B House. I knew my voice would not carry over the noise and so I just nodded my head. I was not really enthusiastic about being around Tattoo again but I definitely wanted to have a cellmate I had more in common with and liked. However, I very much doubt his lobbying efforts will be successful. Simply being moved within a cell house was difficult let alone to a different one and to a specific location.

Because of the time I spent at the HCU and the chow hall, I missed my gallery movement line to the prison store and had to go with 6 gallery. In the commissary holding room I sat against the back wall next to the only window. Other prisoners crowded into the room in clusters. To my left in the corner, Hispanics played a loud game of cards regularly laughing and yelling in their bastardized Spanish. To my right a mob of Black Gangster Disciples grouped, also being obnoxious, although a few played games of chess. Toward the front some of the older black prisoners sat together and although they were 50 or older, they often acted liked children. A couple of bikers stood by the gate along with a solo deaf man. There were only about 30 prisoners in the room but it sounded like 300. I was very aggravated by all the raucous, but also incredibly tired. A Puerto Rican who goes by the name Smiley asked me if I was OK and remarked that I looked like I was going to kill someone. I told him I was just very tired and not feeling well. For 3 hours I was stuck at the prison store and sometimes I turned around to look out the barred window and wished I was somewhere else far away.

My mother was supposed to visit me on Wednesday and when no one informed me she was here I thought she may be too sick to come. On the weekend, I spoke to her and she told me she had a horrible cold. As the years go by, I increasingly am concerned with my parents' health. It bothers me a great deal that not only has the state taken away the best years of my life but years I could have spent with my family. Even if I were miraculously released some time in the near future, both my parents are very old and suffer from many ailments or infirmities for us to have any good times together.

The main delay at the commissary building was because the unionized workers had left for over an hour for their lunch break. When they returned, it was not long before I was called to a "window" where a playful black woman was the cashier. The lieutenant questioned her why they were still dilly dallying and the cashier told me to make a fist. I was interested in where she was going with this, so I did. She then reached through the window and grabbing my wrist told the lieutenant to come a little closer. The lieutenant was amused by this and she stood around making small talk while my order was completed. I was disappointed not to receive any jars of peanut butter or mixed nuts I knew they had but the workers had not yet unpacked them. Later, I had to barter for some prison peanut butter but this was probably just as well. I was given a better price. My cellmate also spent the evening bartering for cookies, chips and coffee.

Yesterday, I tried to make up for the day prior and did not leave my cell. Feeling better, I went over some mutual funds offered by Fidelity, assessing the quality of their investments. I had to put on my headphones when someone began blasting mariachi music. Often I am bothered by the various music played by inmates. Usually it is hip hop, but lately it has been a lot of old Motown and the disco of Donna Summers who died recently. I tried to relax and envelope myself into my own world. I did not speak a word to anyone until that evening when the nurse came by. The nurse has recently began to work at Stateville and is an immigrant from Poland. Since I met her, I have tried to be playful. Initially I made fun of her for coming to America only to work at a place like Stateville. That was not the American dream I told her, and went on to say life was probably better in her home country. Some of the nurses at Stateville have quit or are only working part-time, including the doctors. In fact, there are no doctors currently working at the prison, only medical practitioners.

Today the prison was almost put on lockdown. From what I am told, an inmate from the NRC brutally beat his visitor. The inmate was maced to such a great extent that the entire visiting room had to be evacuated because no one could breathe. I imagine a frightened guard overreacted to the situation he or she was startled by, and did not know how to respond. As for why a man would assault his visitor, I can only guess. He may have been given a life sentence or the equivalent and was angry with whoever came to see him, possibly a girlfriend. I am informed an ambulance was called and this is only done when someone is seriously injured. Customarily, people are taken to the HCU inside the prison.

A few weeks ago, a lockdown may have prevented the cold germs from spreading so extensively at the penitentiary. I know I certainly would have preferred being quarantined in my cell the time period I have been sick. Instead of eating in the unpleasant chow hall, I could have had "room service." Seeing the psychologist as usual was a waste of time, and the time I spent waiting for my commissary I could have also done without. Considering no one came to visit me this week, I would not have missed the company of any family or friends. I am naturally a nonsocial introverted person, but when ill, I like to retract further even if it is into my cage in prison. The spring cold has made my already unpleasant existence at Stateville worse, and I can only hope by next week I am better.