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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Blog Exposed -- November 16, 2012

Since I began writing this blog, I have never spoken about it to other prisoners. I realized how they could react. Many have very little and what one has that another does not is often coveted. A second reason I have for keeping my writings to myself is that my life and experiences are personal. I am an introverted and private person despite how I share my journal with readers around the world. I break with my natural inclinations because I believed it was a purpose greater than myself. "On the Inside" is supposed to inform the public about various issues but mainly the criminal justice system and life in the penitentiary through my own experiences and perspective. The ability for me to give those on the outside the most real, revealing, and authentic vision is made considerably easier by keeping its existence away from those on the inside. Thus, the third and most important reason I have sought to keep it a secret is to fulfill my mission. In some ways, I am similar to a spy, but I do not work for the government, states attorney, prison security personnel or prisoners, but for you and the public at large. Although prison staff have been aware of my writings for some time, I have largely been successful remaining anonymous until this week.

Apparently, one of my readers sent a couple of posts to an inmate in the cell house. Rather than keeping the information to himself, he has been passing them out to nearly everyone. His intent seems to be to reveal the "spy" who lives amongst the convicts of Stateville and possibly cause me harm. The posts which he has, from what I am informed, relate to the Orange Crush searches that occurred during the summer. Parts are highlighted that he does not like or thinks others may not like. I never spoke to this prisoner before and only know him as a Hispanic man who is often yelling in a high pitched voice. The inmate lives on one of the galleries above me and was recently given a cell house help job. He has used his new assignment to spread the news of my blog on all five galleries and many of the 300 prisoners who reside here.

I was not aware my posts were being passed around until one evening an inmate I occasionally speak with said to me in a silly way mimicking a child, "You're in trouble." Despite his non-serious tone, he seemed to think I would care what he was talking about which I did not. I have a protracted death sentence. Can I possibly have any more trouble, legal or otherwise? I simply said to him, "More trouble than when I was convicted of 1st degree murder?" I kept walking toward the front of the chow line which was being assembled. After I left him, he began talking to Mertz who joined me in line and then I overheard him speaking.

I was stunned to learn he was aware of my blog, however, I did not say anything or act as if I was concerned. He was telling Mertz all about a couple of posts he was shown and how a certain gang or gangs did not appreciate me mentioning them by name. Mertz was totally unaware volunteers created a website for me and this was probably very surprising to him. I associate with Mertz more than anyone else in the penitentiary and I could imagine the wheels turning in his head. He may be thinking I may have hidden motives, I did not trust him, or I was not the person he thought I was. I have heard women say, "I don't know who are are" after learning something they thought a man was supposed to reveal. I did not explain myself to Mertz but I simply have a policy of never speaking about my writings with any convicts.

Wally, who was talking to Mertz, then began to address me while walking to the chow hall. He said a gang member asked him to approach me as an intermediary. I rarely speak to anyone outside of a few people and because I was so reclusive, he thought it was less confrontational if Wally spoke to me. There is probably some truth to this, however, I also thought he wanted to remain anonymous especially considering I have this blog, although I know very well who he is. The message I was given was they and other gangs did not want their specific mobs mentioned. They did not mind if I wrote about gangs, but just did not want to be identified specifically. They were concerned Internal Affairs monitored the blog, which they do. I.A. even intercepts my mail and on occasion will destroy my letters. Despite this, I told Wally that if I believed I was in any way compromising their identity or causing them any harm, I would not have published their names. At times I have, but security personnel were fully aware of the facts already. I.A. was similar to the federal government's N.S.A. and if those gangs thought I told I.A. anything they did not already know, they greatly underestimated their Intel ability. He agreed with me, but said he was just the messenger.

Sitting at the hexagonal steel table in the chow hall, I was glad neither Wally nor Mertz mentioned what was said in line. There were a few other people sitting with us and I did not want the topic brought up. Six people at a table could spread information to 600 within a week. At the time, I was not at all aware of how the posts were being disseminated about the cell house. Wally was not the most discreet person, but I thought it was possible the information could still be contained. This illusion was abruptly ended when I returned to my cell.

Later in the evening while I was watching television my cellmate sat on the toilet and said he wanted to talk to me. Usually, people just talk rather than stating they want to talk before doing so. Thus, I quickly deduced he also had seen my writings and had a gripe. I was correct, and he had more than one gripe. He had a litany of them. He began by saying he would have never believed it unless someone had shown him I have a blog where I not only discuss prison activities but him personally. He said when he talks to or writes people outside the prison he never says anything about me even if asked yet here I was telling the world about him. Some prisoners believe there is a social protocol never to speak about their cellmate or his business to anyone. I suppose it is similar to the travel TV commercial that says "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." I do not tend to be a person who gossips or even talks much at all. However, I thought readers are interested in knowing details of prison life which in my opinion are largely not personal.

My cellmate was most bothered that I identified him in a post as O.G. Bobby. First, he did not want to be identified, and second, he did not want to be known as a gang member. "O.G." stands for Old Gangster and many in the penitentiary still call him this despite how he does not like it. The nickname was given to him many years ago when he was an affiliated gang member and once a person has a prison name it often sticks with him forever. Bobby stressed to me he was attempting to have his conviction overturned and the prosecutor used his gang affiliation as a motive for the murder he was convicted of. By my identifying him as O.G. Bobby, I was giving weight to the prosecutor's case. I did not understand how he could believe the state's attorney would use my blog posts as evidence against him in any appellate proceeding. The prosecutor obviously had much greater evidence and motive than a prison nickname. Despite my skepticism, I agreed to only refer to him as Bobby and set the record straight that he does not currently associate with any gang and has not for many years. From my observation, he does seem to be telling the truth, for whatever this is worth.

Highlighted also on one of the posts in yellow marker was not only his name but that he gave me some tape to use which was given to him by the medical department. My cellmate was angry that I mentioned this because he said now "they" know he was not using the tape for its intended purpose. This I also thought was a ruse. "They," whoever those people are, do not care. What I speculate bothered my non-affiliated cellmate was that I mentioned why the tape was given to him. I am just guessing, but this may be part of what is supposed to "stay in Vegas."

I was not so much concerned about what my cellmate thought or others for that matter except for a few people I associate with, most importantly Mertz. I have mentioned him quite often and even used his name in the title of a recent post. At the next opportunity I was able to speak to him alone, I asked him what he thought of what I had written. He said he thought they were very well written, interesting, and he did not see what others were mad about, but he ended by saying I probably should not have used any names. When he said this, I had to notify him I had used his name in several posts although I did not think he would mind. I also told him about the post that was all about his new assignment. He was interested in what I wrote and I gave him a quick synopsis. It was probably boring to him and other prisoners, but to people outside of prison it seemed to be rather interesting. The only aspect he may find amusing is how I told readers about his conversation with an inmate who was pestering him to make him a special diet tray. In lieu of soy-drool gravy and a biscuit, he wanted an egg, bacon and cheese biscuit. Mertz told him because he had no teeth and was on a soft diet, he would blend all his food together into mush. Mertz recalled this event and did find it amusing that I repeated it.

In the past, I have told Mertz how my mother had asked me how I could associate with him considering the brutal murder charges he was convicted of. I informed him it was not only my mother but readers who had left comments or emails. He was, of course, interested in what they said and I told him of a couple of specific exchanges I had. Mertz was not surprised and reasoned there would be people who would dislike him, especially considering how his case was presented in the news media and on appeal. He asked me if any of the victim's family contacted me and I told him nearly everyone comments anonymously. Possibly, I should have made him anonymous as well and asked him if he wanted to be known as an alias or just by the first letter of his last name. Upon my mentioning "M" as his name, he said "M.C. Hammer" and did a small dance like he was the rapper. Yes, I highly doubt anyone would figure out who he was with this alias.

It was very odd talking to Mertz about the blog. I had never discussed it with any other prisoner. The cat was out of the bag, however, and it was interesting to get his perspective. I gave him the web address so he could have his sister look at it and then I would have her opinion as well. It was also so Mertz would not be paranoid about what I may or may not have said. He told me various prisoners continue to express complaints about the posts and ask if he knows or talks to me. Mertz thought their complaints were petty and they did not recognize the greater good I was doing by exposing the ongoings in the penitentiary as well as some criminal justice issues.

A few prisoners I have on occasion spoke with have come to me directly rather than through an intermediary to ask me about the blog. One inmate thought my writings were "nefarious". Mertz was present at the time and I gave him a look. The majority of convicts at Stateville did not know what nefarious meant, let alone had it in their vocabulary. I repeated the word and then playing along I said, "Well I tend to be a nefarious person, so I imagine my writings reflect my evil nature". However, after a moment, I asked him what he tended to believe those inmates really meant. He said the writing was mean spirited and malicious toward convicts. When the inmate turned around I made a biting gesture with my hand so Mertz could see. It was ironic that the prisoner who bit off a chunk of his girlfriend's face and later brutally killed her was insinuating I was nefarious. The man claims to be innocent but he was tried and convicted twice. There is also no question the man did a Hannibal Lector on his girlfriend while at a dance club.

Later in the day, I was warned by an inmate that "I should watch my back." Brown said this to me not as a threat but as a genuine warning. Apparently, there was growing expressed hostility towards me. It was impossible to calculate just how many enemies I had and if they would attack me. The vast majority of convicts are just talk and gossip without any action. Despite this, I increased my preparedness for battle. In my cell, I focused more on fighting skills and intensified my workouts. I imagined myself as Batman taking on all the miscreants and Jokers of Gotham. When I came out of my cell for dinner, I looked up into the night sky half expecting the light beacon from the caped crusader to be seen. There was none, of course, but the Dark Knight remained vigilant nevertheless.

Occasionally, I will make fun of Steve as looking like the Penguin from the Batman series. He is a short, squat Danny DeVito look alike. He also can have a mischievous criminal grin but the characteristic that completes the Batman villain is his swagger. He walks with a wobble just like the Penguin. On the night I was fantasizing myself as the caped crusader, Steve was walking in front of Mertz and I to the chow hall. I began to talk literally behind Steve's back about his Penguin gait and that all he needed was an umbrella. Steve could overhear me talking about him and countered if he had an umbrella he would poke me in the eye, and then he began to laugh like the Danny DeVito character.

While in the chow hall, yet another person asked me about the blog. "Are you the person who everyone is talking about who has a website?" the big man asked. I told him yes, and he was interested in what I write about. The entire blog, I said, was about him and his life as an elephant. I was telling his autobiography. He said he wished I was and he could use the media publicity. I am not aware of the details of his criminal conviction only his enormous weight. However, I told him if he has an interesting case and is willing to supply me with legal documents, I may write about it. This made the man very happy.

Some inmates I am told are just simply resentful I have a blog and they do not. I knew this type of jealousy was possible and is yet another reason why I did not tell anyone. A lot of prisoners, guilty and innocent alike, although mostly the former, want a website. I do not think they care about reporting about the criminal justice system, life in the penitentiary, or other serious commentary. They want to simply profess their innocence and attempt to gain legal assistance or money. Some merely just want the attention. There are many lonely prisoners who do not have anyone or anything of worth in their lives. There are also prisoners who like the once popular rap song "All Eyes on Me" crave to be noticed.

The Hispanic man who began passing around my posts has received the assistance of a few other cell house help workers. Apparently, some of them are angry that I mentioned how they peddle various things to make a hustle. Workers are paid a measly $18 a month to do much of the hard work necessary to keep the prison operational. Thus, jobs are not only an opportunity for them to get out of the confines of their cells and socialize but to gain some extra commissary goods. This is well known by guards, supervisors, and security personnel. I am not giving away any secrets. However, some cell house help or other workers believe I am betraying them.

One of the cell house workers who has come to my attention passing out my posts and complaining is a man I have on occasion spoken to. It seemed odd to me this prisoner would be griping to various different inmates rather than coming to me with his complaints. Thus, while he was walking around I got his attention and he came to my cell. The spineless man denied ever distributing my writings and gossiping about them. He said he was simply shown a couple of the posts by another cell house worker which he indeed griped about. The prisoner said he never sells extra toilet paper, soap, trays, or various other things. He just gives them away. This is true, and I asked him why he was upset about it. In none of my posts did I mention a specific worker by name. He basically told me it looked bad on all of them. Was he such a simpleton to believe I have tarnished the image of convict workers I asked? This he would not answer, but said there was a conspiracy afloat to have him fired. Other cell house help workers coveted his specific assignment and sought to take it away from him. This may indeed be true, but I did not know how it pertained to my blog posts.

Although I have never spoken about the "On the Inside" blog to any prisoners, I have occasionally spoken to several guards and a couple of nurses about it. Once I even briefly discussed the blog with a member of Internal Affairs. He told me his favorite was "Tattoo," but also he really liked "I.A. in the Cell House" for obvious reasons probably. The nurses I once was cordial with have ceased to work at Stateville and I have not seen them in months. I was interested in getting the perspective of staff and thus talked to a guard while showers were being run and my cellmate was away. In the past, I have never received negative feedback by staff and several people told me they really liked it. However, this did not mean everyone felt this way. When I spoke to the guard, I was hoping he would not only give me his own genuine opinion but the sentiments of co-workers.

The guard told me he thought my writings were interesting and he rather enjoyed reading them. Nothing at all bothered him and some were very amusing. He began to tell me about a post I wrote a couple of years ago which he said had him laughing uncontrollably. I asked him what he thought the opinions of other guards were. He said he only spoke to one person at any length about it and he thought I was weird. I did not inquire how so, but I got the impression it was because I was abnormal compared to other prisoners or possibly people in general. The guard went on to say how he did not realize how disturbing it was for me to live on the ground floor next to the door where there was considerable traffic and commotion. This reminded me that one of the people who set up this blogsite had a column on the side which she wrote on her own and begins by identifying me as having autism.

Autism is something I have hidden, or tried to hide from people all my life. I want people to judge or relate to me as myself and not stereotype me with some broad spectrum neurological diagnosis which is largely misunderstood. To find out if other prisoners were aware that I had ASD, I spoke to Mertz. He confirmed that on the posts being passed around, they identified me as having autism. Just great, I thought. People already think I am odd and now this will be reinforced. I asked Mertz what he thought others would think of this. He said what I already knew. Autism was not well understood by the public at large, let alone the uneducated convicts at Stateville. He went on to say most people will think I am retarded but after reading the posts and observing me they will know differently. Prisoners will probably just think this is the reason I come across as so anti-social and quiet. I asked him if they will think I am weird. He answered, "Everyone already knows you are weird." I could not tell if he was joking or not, but I tend to think so.

From one prisoner, news of my blog has spread across much of the penitentiary. I was always aware people who accessed the site on the outside could inform those on the inside or send someone a copy. However, I did not anticipate how much gossip it would create. What is so interesting to a prisoner about life in prison? I also know I am not the only prisoner in the penitentiary to have a website. Apparently though, mine is unique in that I tell the personal stories of myself and others. I also do not create rosy, nice, or pretty pictures. I tell the good, the bad, and the ugly in all its detail. It is my nature to be brutally honest but I also have a reason to give the public full disclosure. I want readers to know what the criminal justice system is really like, along with living in prison. Some inmates may not like this, but I hope it is appreciated by readers.