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Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Last Day of Summer -- September 22, 2012

Yesterday was the last day of summer and it seems the season went by quickly. Three months ago there was scorching hot weather, and last night temperatures dropped into the low 30's. Despite being incarcerated, time has the perception of accelerating as I become older. When I think into the past, it is similar to an ever speeding time lapse camera which ultimately is crunching years into minutes. The sun rises and sets in quick succession, hot summer days turn frigid, green foliage turns brown and then disappears. The cycle repeats time and time again all the while I remain behind bars, aging, and becoming more distraught and miserable. I am no closer to freedom, only death. Typically, I look forward to the end of summer. However, this year it only reminds me of my own deterioration and oppressive existence.

Friday I spent most of the morning and afternoon reading newspapers. As I become older, I have less energy and today I drank some coffee to help me go through a fraction of the pile of corporate reports, papers, magazines and books in my box. I receive the Wall Street Journal every day but Sunday and these newspapers often take me a couple of hours to read. Then I am given more papers when I receive visits along with various other publications. Every week, I also receive letters with more news articles or packages of magazines. My family must think I have an abundance of time on my hands being in prison. They do not realize how difficult and time consuming prison life is.

I skipped lunch because the process can take over an hour. There is the waiting on the gallery and waiting in the line. There is also the need to put all my property away and then take it all out again when I return. The rules of cell compliance are now being strictly enforced. My cell usually is in good order, but even this is not enough to appease my captors. For lunch a fish pattie and macaroni and cheese was being served but it was not worth my time preparing and getting ready for. Later in the day, I made myself a meal of roast beef, cheese rice, and a pack of Ramen noodles (all commissary purchases).

The warden posted a long bulletin on the television for everyone to read detailing cell compliance and a litany of new rules. Cell compliance is not a new rule but it has not been strictly enforced and apparently this lack of enforcement has upset the warden or his supervisors in the state capital. I agree some prisoners make no effort to have their cell in a clean and orderly fashion, but the cell compliance rules should be a guideline and not applied to the letter. According to the bulletin, nearly everything a prisoner owns must be placed in his two boxes and they must be placed under the bunk before leaving the cell. Many bunks do not allow 4 boxes to fit underneath because they are not wide enough or have triangle wedges underneath. Furthermore, the exceptions to property allowed out are not accommodating for many practical needs of inmates.

A few times this week, guards have told my cellmate or me to put away certain things before leaving the cell. My cellmate is regularly washing clothes in the cell and he had an article of clothing hanging wet that he did not want to put in his box. To please the guard, he stuffed it underneath the bunk and out of sight. On another occasion, a guard told me to put away some of the various rags my cellmate has. A prisoner has a need to keep out a wet floor or sink rag but my cellmate has about 4 additional rags. According to the rules, only 2 wash cloths can be left out. Therefore, my cell had too many outside the boxes. I threw out a couple of his rags but folded the others for him to keep and put them in his laundry bag.

Prisoners are allowed to keep out their TV, fan, and radio. However, when I went out for chow yesterday a guard told me to put away my Walkman. A Walkman, in my opinion, is a radio, but I did not argue with him. I typically hold the view a guard is always right even when he is wrong. The problem with putting my Walkman in my box and taking it out again every time I leave the cell is the batteries no longer work and the adapter plug has a bad short. It is very sensitive to movement and this is why I had it wrapped with a rubber band around a post on my bunk.

The warden's bulletin states inmates cannot have any fixtures on the walls, antennas out the cell bars, disinfectant or liquid soap. The last rule does not make any sense because prisoners are sold liquid laundry detergent and disinfectant is passed out to us. The bulletin says disinfectant must be used immediately but what are inmates supposed to do throughout the day, week, or weeks in between? Some prisoners have roach infested cells or cellmates with communicable diseases. I took down a small mesh laundry bag I had hanging on the wall with some of my hygienic supplies near the sink for convenience, but I left a plastic mirror up and several hooks, pegs, or screws. I also kept my watch wrapped around a horizontal beam of my bunk. Like my Walkman, if moved, it loses power. Many inmates have wires protruding out of the cells to pick up radio or television reception. It is actually difficult walking down the narrow galleries dodging them along with other people. My cellmate initially took his TV antenna down but then put it back up. Apparently he is unwilling to live with just regular cable. I should have known this because he just recently bought the $250 15" flat screen TV and has never had digital reception before.

A number of prisoners in E House were immediately sent to segregation when they left their cells out of compliance. However, guards in my cell house are writing disciplinary tickets or informing inmates what they must put away before they allow them to leave the cell. I tend to believe those given tickets will simply be given the punishment of commissary denial. There is no room in Segregation to send everyone out of cell compliance there and they are not going to bus men down to Pontiac or the soon-to-close Tamms Supermax for not putting property away. A strict enforcement of these rules will not be possible at a prison where nearly everyone has protracted death sentences. These petty rules are absurd to men with natural life w/o parole or the equivalent. Many guards also see them as trivial compared to other real concerns at maximum security penitentiaries.

During the day, I heard shouts of prisoners that Internal Affairs was in the building. I.A. is not concerned with cell compliance and they are generally present to conduct a search or get someone for questioning. When I first came to the penitentiary, I rarely ever heard of I.A. They were a very discreet and tiny unit. This has changed radically and now they have enormous resources and a large number of members. They also make themselves known and become involved in petty investigations of both guards and inmates, but mostly the latter. No longer are they investigating just murders, stabbings, or gang wars, but pilfered kitchen food, gambling, tattoos, and other things. For a moment I considered flushing the remaining bit of onion I had left over from my lunch, but I cannot be worried about all these minuscule rule infractions. All this week, I.A. has been in the cell house and if they want to put a prisoner in Seg they will, regardless if they have a legitimate reason or not.

At about mid afternoon, I became tired. I was tired of all the screaming, obnoxious and annoying convicts. I was tired of all the petty rules being enforced like I was in boot camp. I was tired of my miserable and meaningless life. I wish I could just throw myself in a giant wood chopper and be done with the ceaseless torment. Since I could not, I thought I would try to sleep, but as soon as I lay down, I heard the rap of bars. On every gallery, a guard was taking a metal stick and running it across the front bars of cells. The noise was loud and reverberated throughout the entire cell house. To my surprise, the lieutenant was rapping bars on my gallery and when I made eye contact with him he quickly said he did not want to hear about it. Despite what he said, angrily I asked him what he was doing?! He replied, "Believe me, it was not my idea." I then asked if he did not have some grunt to redundantly beat bars. He did not want to be doing the work and it was obvious some superior ordered him to do so. Never in my 20 years of incarceration has an inmate escaped by cutting through bars. It was just yet another dumb superfluous security measure. With my ear plugs in, I threw a pillow over my head.

I awakened in time to go to dinner which was being run early because we were thereafter going to yard. Every other week during the summer, prisoners at Stateville are given an extra recreation period in the evening. I looked outside the dirty cell house windows and saw dark cloud cover. I suspected it may rain and thus dressed warmly in sweats, jacket, skull cap and gloves. Outside, I was glad I did because not only was rain threatening but it was very windy.

Walking into the chow hall I was greeted by one of the lieutenants. He called me and the person I was walking with "Romney and Ryan." I asked him if that was tea he was drinking in anticipation of the great Tea Party which will be celebrated in November. He said he had to stay alert and vigilant for right wing extremists. I responded that if there was an extremist candidate it was Obama and his Marxist agenda. Later while I ate my meal of soy spaghetti I discussed Romney's purported blunder speaking about the 47% of Americans who do not pay any federal income taxes. The few I spoke with all agreed that there are far too many grasshoppers and not enough ants supporting the nation. However, at Stateville amongst criminals I am sure our sentiment was a small minority.

Out on the yard, I walked to the debilitated and rusted pile of weights. Benches were broken, bars of iron were bent, and there was not much equipment to work out with. It was not very inspiring but I made the best of the junk. I was accompanied by some other prisoners but most of them worked their mouths more so than their muscles. I listened to the various griping about cell compliance and the new rules. I also listened to conversations about the activities of I.A.  A piece of metal was discovered early in the week in a hot air vent near the sergeant's office. The investigative unit came by to take pictures of it and the vent like it was a crime scene. They have also been conducting searches of various inmate workers' cells. In one of them they found kitchen food and in another an immersion heater. Stingers used to be allowed in prison but now they are contraband and the cell house worker was taken to Segregation. Men said he had some words with I.A. when they were harassing him about some trays he was bringing into the cell house and this was payback. It is not wise to have an attitude with I.A. staff whether or not you are a model inmate.

A biker complained about being told not to talk about a pedophile in the cell house. Pedophiles are not liked by inmates, and most staff for that matter. I assume the guard who spoke to him told him to tone it down for his own benefit because if something happened to the child molester, Internal Affairs may put him in Seg even if he had nothing to do with it. The biker is a very loud and outspoken person. He was particularly outraged with this pedophile because he pretends to be a devout Christian and has a smug attitude. Years ago, the man would not be so smug. He would be a victim and guards would turn the other way. Well before the biker found out about the child molester, I knew about his case. In fact, I knew just upon seeing him. After two decades of imprisonment, I have developed a sense for what convicts are locked up for. I told my parents not long ago on a visit that I not only have "fagdar" but "pedodar." My mother asked, "What is that?" I explained to her it was a type of radar which made me aware of any homosexual or pedophile who comes within my vicinity.

A purported pedophile was recently convicted in DeKalb County, Illinois of murder, kidnapping and child abduction in the death of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph. The case is over 50 years old and was based on very flimsy evidence. However, because of his charges and suspicion in other crimes, Jack McCulough is despised by inmates. On the yard, my neighbor was suspected of testifying against him. He claimed he slapped the 72-year-old man when he bragged about the crime. My neighbor regularly goes on court writs to the county jail and by coincidence he was placed in the same cell. This seems highly suspicious to me as well as the man admitting any guilt to a stranger. My neighbor has been trying to get rid of his natural life sentence for a long time. He was so desperate that I would not doubt if he made up a story to gain a deal with the prosecutor.

While I was lifting weights, it began to rain. It was a drizzle initially but then it began to pour. The rain was made worse by the strong gusts of wind and dropping temperatures. Most of the people working out or gossiping dashed off in a futile attempt to find shelter. I noticed a line of men standing up against one side of the handball court wall where apparently they were protected from the sheets of rain which came down at an angle. I was glad to be rid of the men around me and I then had all the broken weights and benches to myself. Rain or no rain, I was going to work out and even considered my plan to mimic the "Fitness Games" which are being telecast on ESPN. The Fitness Games combine various speed, agility, endurance, and strength exercises. However, I thought they would be no fun all by myself.

After my clothes were nearly drenched, the rain stopped. To keep myself from freezing, I began to run laps around the quarter mile track. I expected a lot of energy but I doubt I made any good times with the wind pummeling me and dodging or jumping over puddles of water on the asphalt. I also slowed down every time I passed an inmate named Brown to throw a condescending word or two his way. Earlier he had interrupted me while I was explaining to another inmate about how a corporation functions. He made some ridiculous claims which I made fun of. Brown is an obnoxious, loud, convict who believes he knows most everything but knows very little. Typically, I could care less how ignorant he is, however, the temptation to make him look foolish was too great. Brown did not take my zingers that well and he continued to rant long after I ran past him. Even a hundred meters away I could still hear him.

The last exercise I was to do were squat presses. I should not do these at all because it is what caused me to crush two lumbar disks in my spine. However, I used light weights and endured the pain. My life is nothing but pain anymore whether it be physical or mental. Prison has become just one long protracted series of sufferings. The pain in my lower back was trivial compared to the 20 years of oppressive hardship, slow death, and continuous misery that I have lived.

Toward the end of the yard period, I ceased to exercise and peered out into the sky. Various shades of gray clouds moved swiftly overhead. At times, they briefly let the sunlight stream in some distant place. From my vantage point, the sun was mostly blotted out but occasionally I could see it opaquely through the clouds and it reminded me of a full moon on a foggy night. It was a picturesque scene to end the last day of summer.

Mertz came to join me and noticed I was looking up into the sky. I brought to his attention how the upper clouds were traveling fast from the north but the lower clouds oddly went in the opposite direction. It seemed like they were spinning around us. I asked him if he ever saw the movie "The Philadelphia Experiment" where a U.S. battleship goes back in time to WWII. I said I wish we were in a similar time-space vortex where I could go back into the past. Guards not long thereafter came out to corral prisoners back into their cages for the night. I took one last look at the obscure setting sun before it was blotted out by darkness.