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Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Rotten Christmas -- December 28, 2012

In the weeks preceeding Christmas, there have been a few special religious services select prisoners have been allowed to attend. There was a performance in the old chapel building as well as Kyros. Kyros is well liked by inmates not because of the sermon or Christians who attend to act as mentors, but because of the home baked cookies they are permitted to bring. Catholics had a special Christmas mass last Friday along with their regular rosary service the day after. Black Muslims and a handful of Jews were also recognized, although the latter were mostly mocked. Whether it is Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah, they are all phony holidays in my opinion mainly observed by hypocrites in prison. More men looked forward to visits with family members they do not regularly see or a holiday card accompanied with a money order. Simply a Western Union money transfer receipt is appreciated. For prisoners who did not receive visits or money, the Christmas meal was most anticipated. On Christmas, like Thanksgiving Day, men are served vastly better food. However, this year Christmas meal made me and hundreds of other prisoners at Stateville as well as the nearby Northern Receiving Center gravely ill. For the majority of incarcerated men here, Christmas will not be remembered for religion, family, or money, but the poisoning epidemic.

Christmas day began for me with a bowl of bran flakes and a couple of peanut butter sandwiches. In the middle of the night, doughnuts were tossed on the cell table next to the bars by inmate workers for breakfast, but these were taken by the time I awakened. My cellmate knows I do not eat doughnuts and greedily swipes them when he returns from work. He can eat as many doughnuts as he wants in the kitchen, but apparently he has an insatiable appetite for the high sugar, trans fat treat. There is a reason I occasionally call him the Doughboy or Gomer Pile when I repeat excerpts from the movie “Full Metal Jacket” mimicking the drill sergeant who finds a jelly doughnut in the lock box of a pudgy man going through basic training. Anthony is not nearly as overweight, but I like to make fun of the former marine with two Grim Reaper tattoos.

There were normal operations on Christmas and my gallery as well as the one below were scheduled for morning gym. The “doughboy” was going to miss the recreational period and I woke him up at 8 a.m. If I had a bugle, I may have used it, but I simply pounded on the underside of his bunk. Anthony does not exercise throughout the week in the cell as I do. His only workouts are at the gym and large South yard where there are a few weights and benches. On the small yard, he will occasionally play basketball. Since he was assigned the midnight shift in the kitchen and as the weather has become cold, however, he does not bother going to the small yard.

For a few weeks, the gym has been decorated with some tinsel on the upper floor where most religious services are held. I thought it was absurd given how miserable life in prison was and how debilitated the building was. I turned in my ID card to be given a steel pin to use the machine weights. There are three universal machines but one is completely inoperable and the only equipment which works on the other two are a lat pull, shoulder press, and pec deck. I made the most of these machines improvising so I could do other exercises such as tricep extensions, arm curls, and bow pulls. My cellmate worked out with me for most of the time except when I ran laps around the gym. The former Marine did not want to run and went AWOL.
We were given a little extra time in the gym because we were last to be fed and serving Christmas meal takes longer than other meals. I made use of every minute in part because I knew the lunch being served was to be heavy in protein and calories. Prisoners were given the identical meal they had on Thanksgiving: turkey, pork, or both, along with a helping of sweet potatoes, stuffing, and macaroni and cheese. Collard greens were also offered as a vegetable but many prisoners chose not to have it scooped on their styrofoam trays. A second premade cold tray was also given to inmates and it consisted of a small salad, a couple of rolls, and a thin slice of prepackaged pumpkin pie. The tiny dessert made many men angry and I had to listen to Wally complain for an extended period of time.

Before prisoners from the gym were fed, we had to wait in the chow hall for nearly an hour as other galleries in our cell house went through the two serving lines first. It was a waste of time and I would have preferred to continue to work out in the gym. However, most other inmates seemed happy to play games of chess and cards, or socialize. At my table, prisoners spoke of the ridiculous cosmopolitan holiday decorations on the walls behind the feed counters. There was a “Feliz Navidad” banner for all the Mexicans at Stateville as well as a picture of a black Santa Claus. Christmas decor and pictures were also mixed along with Kwanzaa, a Swahili celebration which has been adopted by Muslim African-Americans. A happy Hanukkah and menorah was displayed, although there are probably fewer than ten Jews in the entire penitentiary and I doubt any of them are Semitic. Oddly, the hand drawn pictures of candles for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa looked like phalluses and when I pointed this out to the men around me, it got a great deal of laughter. They did look like penises and Big John said this was probably done intentionally because of all the homosexuals in prison. What I thought was most amusing was, however, a Barack Obama Santa Claus. For weeks before Christmas, Rush Limbaugh has been calling the president “Santa Claus” because of all the presents he gave out to various constituents of the Democratic electorate to win reelection.

After getting our food, we again were forced to wait in the chow hall before a line was run back to the cell house. The crowds and noise were annoying and I could not get back to my cage soon enough. I sat in silence with a frown the Grinch probably could appreciate. I listened to prisoners yelling and talking, including Wally griping about the tiny wedge of pumpkin pie. A Muslim walked by shouting he had been given pork and wanted to trade it for the dessert, and a short, overweight man at my table quickly exchanged with him. I could not believe how much food Steve smashed onto his tray. He was unable to close the lid and transferred some of the food to his cold tray. I said to Anthony, “Gluttonous,” and he mentioned how the man actually asked him if he was given leftovers during his shift in the kitchen he would buy them.

Returning to the cell, I let my cellmate bathe in the sink first. While he was in the back with a privacy curtain up, I ate half of my Christmas meal at the table near the bars. The cell house was extremely loud and inmates yelled to each other about various things including the telephone. Many men wanted to call their families on the holiday and negotiated phone times. My aunt had told me to call while part of my family was at her home for Christmas, however, last year when I did this I was placed on speaker and did not have any substantive conversations with anyone. Over two decades, like many prisoners, I have become estranged from most of my extended family. Some of them who married into the family I have never met and their children were not even born before my arrest. What was there to say with these people but shallow words, particularly when they were preoccupied and my time on the phone was limited?
I ate the turkey and stuffing while saving the pork and macaroni and cheese for dinner. The meal was too large for me to eat in one serving and I even considered splitting it into three meals. The meat was good and I appreciated having unprocessed turkey for a rare change. Some people including my cellmate said the boiled meat was dry, but I thought it was fine and I elected not to have any gravy. Instead, I ate the cuts of turkey and stuffing while drinking the grapefruit juice passed out at breakfast. I commented to Anthony some cranberry sauce would have been nice, but the prison has not served it in many years. I used the sweet potatoes as a substitute.
I switched places with my cellmate so I could bathe and brush my teeth. He sat at the table and ate as I had just done. By the time I finished and began washing my shorts and boxer briefs, he was already climbing onto his bunk to go to sleep. I was not surprised because he only slept a few hours during the night. I considered taking a nap myself. My lower back was painful and I was tired from the workout as well as all the commotion during the morning. However, I stayed awake to go over stock reports. With the so called “fiscal cliff” looming a week away, I thought I should be prepared to advise my family on their investments. I tended to believe the president and congress would come to some partial or temporary deal to avert a market drop after New Year’s Day, but it was better to be safe than sorry. Plus, the real negotiations I assume will not come till later when the government has exceeded its borrowing limit and is incapable of shuffling funds around to pay debts without new money. President Santa Claus cannot continue to give out presents even if he robs successful professionals and entrepreneurs.

Around 8 p.m., I had finished a couple of charts and letters. I unwrapped the rest of my Christmas meal and sought something of interest to watch on TV. Using my remote control stick I have nicknamed the “Spear of Destiny,” I scanned the channels. There were a few Christmas shows or movies on, but I cared less to watch them. The holiday was twisted from its original pagan Yule traditions and had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. Furthermore, as a prisoner with a wretched protracted death sentence, there was nothing to be joyous about. I would rather watch the film “Faces of Death” than some sappy and sentimental Christmas program. I briefly stopped at a station playing “It’s a Wonderful Life” when Jimmy Stewart was contemplating jumping off a bridge. I thought his problems were minute compared to mine. If he lived at Stateville, he may have valid reason to end his life.
Not long after I ate the pork and macaroni, I had an upset stomach. I did not think much of it because it was a lot of food. Nothing tasted odd, and in fact the pork tasted good. It was very rare prisoners were served pork and I was glad the meat was served to us sometimes. I went to bed and it was not a couple hours later that I awoke with sharp pains to the gut and cramps. I got up to use the toilet but all I had was noxious gas. I was glad my cellmate had left to the kitchen because the smell was worse than sulfur dioxide. Anthony would be trapped inhaling fumes less appealing than emitted from a refinery or chemical plant. I turned on my fan to air out the cell and then curled up in a ball on my bunk with a thick wool blanket over me. Surprisingly, I fell asleep but was again awakened later in the night to use the toilet. Typically, I hate living in such small quarters where the commode is a few feet from my bunk. However, I was glad it was there the night after Christmas and into the morning. I have had five bouts of food poisoning this year, but this was the worst case.
About 9 a.m., a guard came to my cell and told me I had a lab pass. I did not want to go because I was ill. If I needed to use the toilet again, I may not be able to do so. There was a toilet at the H.C.U., but I could be captive in a holding cage or en route. The lab appointment was unusual because I had just given my blood to be analyzed in November. Possibly, there was something wrong with my blood work and I was being retested. I also pondered if I was not suffering from food poisoning but some other ailment. Prisoners are sometimes found to have failing kidneys or livers and considering how long I have been using NSAIDs, I could have a problem. My curiosity got the best of me and I dressed in my state blues to leave. Fortunately, I was not in the cell house holding cage for long and I left quickly.
A number of people were at the prison’s health care unit to give a blood or urine sample. It seemed like medical staff intentionally scheduled many men for lab work at the same time to increase efficiency and replicate an assembly line. I was not going to be at the back of this line, however, and made sure I was one of the first few people to be stuck with a hypodermic needle. The brunette nurse was friendly and playfully flirtatious. If I were not ill, I may have responded more enthusiastically. I asked the nurse if there was something wrong with my last test and she said, "No, everything was fine." I asked, "I am not suffering from ulcers, kidney or liver failure?" "No, no, no," she assured me. I then semi playfully asked if I was dying of cancer. No, I was told. What was I doing back up here, I wondered. My guess was the doctor wanted to see if the new NSAID I was taking, Mobic, was having a detrimental effect. Medical care is so terrible here, though, what prison doctor would ever order a precautionary test? Before I left, the nurse said, "Happy belated birthday," which made me reply, "Happy belated Christmas," even though neither day was nice.

In the H.C.U. holding cage was a prisoner I know who goes by the nickname Wild Bill. Bill was my neighbor in a different cell house and although he is obnoxious and talkative, I get along with him or at least in small dosages. Bill, as always, was very social and talking my ear off. He wanted to know who I liked to win in the college football bowl games as well as the NFL playoffs. I told him I had not been paying as much attention to the sport as I used to, but I had a wager for Alabama to defeat Notre Dame by more than a touchdown, and as usual I was hoping the New England Patriots won the Superbowl. Wild Bill who is Irish wanted Notre Dame to win and thought the Denver Broncos would be victorious in the NFL. Bill knows I am quiet but apparently I was being even less talkative than usual and he asked what was wrong. I asked him if he got sick from eating the Christmas meal. He said no, and then I told him how all night and into the morning I had cramps, gas, and diarrhea. Even at that moment, I did not feel well and I was glad the bathroom was close by. He asked me why I did not tell the nurse I had just seen. I said there was no way I was going to tell a nice looking younger woman that, and regardless, she was a lab technician, not a doctor. Bill said he did not care if the nurse was gorgeous if he was sick, he would tell her. I believed him. Wild Bill had no restraint or compunction.

When I returned from the H.C.U., I again had to use the toilet. My cellmate was awake and from behind the privacy sheet, I asked him if he became ill. He said "no," and I told him how I was up much of the night. He told me he thought there was something wrong with me when he returned from work. Anthony went on to say the cell smelled like death, and I told him how I attempted to blow the stench out of the cell by turning on the fan. He said he noticed, along with the female guard who unlocked the cell door to let him in. I replied that he was fortunate he was not locked in the cell the entire night. Again I asked him if he did not get ill at all from the food, and he steadfastly said "not at all," but went on to say he has an iron stomach, and like a lion, can eat rotten flesh. Despite how Bill and "Anthony the Lion" did not get sick, when we went to the prison store many people spoke about getting diarrhea. Prisoners attempted to figure out if the food was rotten or contaminated and which food it was. My guess was the pork because my symptoms began almost immediately after eating it.

Anthony was called in to work the 2nd shift which has never occurred before. He told me afterwards that two units in the NRC were on quarantine. I asked him why prisoners were being kept isolated for food poisoning. He speculated the administration was just being cautious. A kitchen supervisor informed him a few hundred inmates at the Receiving Center were gravely ill with chills, fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Food was being made at Stateville and then trucked over to them. The norovirus was suspected but a virulent strain of the flu could not be ruled out. I thought speculation of the flu was moronic and it was obviously from the food served. Norovirus was a better guess because I knew it was typically spread by poor hygiene and food handling. I spoke to Steve later and he told me when he worked on cruise ships, they routinely had outbreaks of norovirus from food contamination. Coincidentally, I noticed on the television news two cruise ships were reported to have norovirus epidemics causing them to port on the coast of South America until passengers and crew recovered.

The kitchen at the NRC as well as at Stateville is filthy. Occasionally, I will see cockroaches on the feed counter and plastic trays are often not washed properly. Food from previous meals will be stuck on the trays and they are always dripping wet because they are not dried. Kitchen workers tell me what I do not see is even worse. In the back, mice run rampantly eating through food, defecating or urinating on it. Food is also not rotated correctly or left out of the freezer too long causing it to go bad. I noticed workers used gloves but they do not take them off and put new ones on after touching other things. I am told this is regularly done behind the scenes, and many surfaces let alone just their gloves become contaminated. It is no wonder most guards bring their own meals from home. If I did not have to, I would not eat the food here either.

Yesterday, I was sent to the University of Illinois for another MRI on my lower spine. When I returned, I was supposed to see the medical director. However, he was too busy seeing numerous Stateville inmates who were still sick from the Christmas meal. They looked very ill and looked at the floor silent unlike most other inmates who were talking to one another. For some reason, some men did not get ill at all, others became mildly ill for a short duration, and yet others became very sick for a couple of days. I never did get to see the doctor and my appointment was rescheduled. Back in my cell, I was just able to catch the 6:00 Chicago news report that Stateville had an outbreak of norovirus and part of the penitentiary was on quarantine. Although norovirus may have initially been suspected to be the cause of the epidemic, it was false.

From speaking to medical staff and prisoners who work in the kitchen, norovirus was not to blame. None of the stool samples taken and analyzed had the virus in it. The symptoms exhibited by men being treated were completely consistent with food poisoning. Kitchen workers told me how the meat had been left out to thaw in the prep room for days. The prep room is not kept cool enough to prevent meat from spoiling. Bacteria can grow on pork quicker than turkey and this probably explains why I and others became sick from it rather than the turkey. The holidays are a ridiculous facade in prison and it was ironic the one thing I looked forward to was spoiled. This year was literally a rotten Christmas.

UPDATE:  April 1, 2013
I filed a grievance about the spoiled meat served on Christmas day which caused hundreds of inmates at the NRC and Stateville to become sick. The counselor responded she cannot verify if I actually became sick, and noted that she had not received any other grievances about the matter. Today, I finally received a response from the grievance officer. She claims the medical director who works in the state capital as an administrator has concluded the outbreak was due to stomach flu and not food poisoning. (Odd that the head doctor at Stateville told me otherwise.) I suspect the IDOC is attempting to deny any culpability.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Compatible Cellmate -- December 15, 2012

On the 11th, I was moved to another cell. The cell is different in many ways and it took me a while to adjust. It is located near the front of the gallery and because the stairs are on the other side, there is very little traffic. This is a blessing, but the sergeant's office is almost directly below and the guards and cell house workers can be noisy on occasion. Another trade off is that I now have a table and shelf but they take up space in the small rectangular cell. Exercising is difficult and I must be careful not to hit any of the steel edges. The cell sink dribbles out water and only for a second which is extremely annoying. I asked Anthony how he could live with the sink operating like this for so long. He says it doesn't bother him, but I asked a guard to put in a work order. Possibly it will be fixed in a couple of months.

Initially, it was difficult acclimating to the new cell and yet another cellmate. Even if you get along very well with someone, it is not easy living in a closet with anyone. Anthony has an odd schedule due to working the midnight shift in the kitchen. Although he told me to keep my same routine and not worry about waking him while he is sleeping during the day, there are various things like exercising that I do not want to do when he is resting. I attempted to synchronize my schedule to his, but I have been unable to keep his hours.

It has been odd to have a cellmate who shares similar interests and I can interact with. At Stateville, I have typically been celled with men I have nothing in common with, are obnoxious, hostile, or like James, insane. With Anthony I can have intelligent conversations about politics, history, science, or various other subjects. He is also not overly social, though, and we can keep a proper balance. Prison can be immensely stressful and Anthony gives me time to myself. He is rarely distracting and has his own preoccupations. He does not need a cellmate to share his time with, although sometimes we will.

Anthony Mertz is the first compatible cellmate I have been assigned in years. Initially it was difficult adjusting to a new cell and cellmate after being with Bobby for nearly a year. However, having known and interacted with him since the autumn of 2011, it was much easier and comfortable acclimating to the change. Despite his murder conviction of a young college woman which put him on death row for about a decade, I get along well with him and we share a number of common interests. It is a relief not to be trapped in the small confines of hostile, disruptive, or mildly insane man. In the maxium-security prisons of Illinois, a compatible cellmate can make a world of difference. I prefer to have a single man cell where I can be by myself, but at a place like Stateville, Anthony is one of the best men I could be celled with.

He is a Caucasian man roughly the same age as me. He is also nearly the same height and build, although I will sometimes call him the Pillsbury doughboy because he is pudgy. He has extra body fat and lacks the chiseled physique I expect men to have. Every now and then I will poke him with my remote control TV stick half expecting him to make a giggle like the biscuit company's cartoon character. He keeps his dark hair very short as if he was still in the Marine Corps. Like me, he keeps a well ordered property box and cell. I greatly dislike cellmates who are sloppy and collect clutter, thus, I am happy by his organization. Some prisoners have commented that we could be brothers. However, I believe this impression is in part due to the fact most of Stateville's inmates are black or Hispanic.

The cell I was moved into is located on the other side of the long gallery. It is actually the third cell from the wall and because of this there is little traffic. However, this benefit is negated by being almost directly above the sergeant's office. Guards will sometimes be noisy as well as inmate workers. Cell house workers have all their supplies on the ground floor on this side of the building. There also seems to be louder prisoners in this area and I will hear radios, televisions, and shouting more often, particularly from a Cuban inmate who goes by the name "Smiley." Smiley is generally a friendly person as his nickname implies, but he is very social. He was my cellmate years ago in another cell house for a few months. He asked to be moved to be with another Hispanic inmate and also because I was so quiet. We have almost polar opposite personalities.

Miguel who swapped bunks with me was not happy with the move. He did not want to live with the crazy disheveled old man who looked like a homeless person. When he was told about the move, he ripped off all the hooks and pegs on the wall to take with him. Thus, one of the first things I had to do after ordering my property and unpacking was to make new fixtures. With cardboard squares, paper clips and glue, I adhered five hooks to the back cell walls so my cellmate and I had somewhere to hang our wet bath towels, wash clothes, and clothes. I also made a new hook for a privacy sheet when we wash up in the sink or use the toilet. Finally, I made several cardboard squares with twister ties to tie up cable and electric cords along with one for my Walkman. This way I can take down and move the Walkman easily if I want to.

I use my Walkman regularly throughout the day and was glad I was able to fix it last month. Cassette tapes, especially the longer ones I own, were dragging and the power jack as well as the batteries were intermittenly not working. Anthony is a TV junkie and spends nearly all his waking hours watching it when he is in the cell. I have offered him the use of my Walkman or radio on occasion since he has neither, but he has yet to do so. I recently bought a new heavy metal tape for a bag of coffee. He listened to the first side and then gave my headphones back to watch some more TV. I do not know why television is so entertaining for him.

Prisoners in maximum-security often spend huge amounts of time watching TV, but I think my new cellmate takes it to a new level. The man has an entire regimen of shows he watches and will even shape his routine around them. A few times, he woke up in the middle of his sleep to watch programs. Anthony likes not only sitcoms, dramas, action, and mystery shows, but movies and some special shows about shows and the actors or actresses in them. He does not have a subscription to one TV guide but two, and goes through the weekly magazine marking every show he wants or may want to watch. Occasionally, he will watch programming despite how boring or stupid it is because there is an attractive woman or women in it. Contrarily, I seldom watch television and prefer to listen to music or WLS talk radio while I do other things. For example, I am currently listening to a cassette tape as I write this post.

I do enjoy watching good movies and sometimes I will watch them along with Anthony. In the last couple of weeks, several new DVDs have been played for prisoners to watch. Two of them we watched together and I made special meals for us to eat during them. Typically, when I cook I make two servings and eat just one portion, saving the other for later. However, now I just split it with him. For the movie "Lawless," a film about moonshiners during prohibition, I made two burritos. While watching "The Dark Knight Rises," I made a better theater treat of two large bowls of tortilla chips with hot melted jalapino cheese poured on top along with refried beans, salsa, and shredded beef. "The Dark Knight Rises" was probably the best new movie I have seen in a year.

A few times I have watched the TV game show "Jeopardy" with Anthony. He boasted how he was a fountain of knowledge and I would never beat him at the game. I was skeptical but he does have a wide collection of trivia facts stored in that jar head of his. My knowledge is focused on select categories while I am totally ignorant of other subject matter like pop trivia. As my new cellmate bragged, he defeated me the first two times we competed. The last time we played, however, I had a come from behind victory. Anthony was winning by about double my score until the final Jeopardy question which pertained to British statesmen. I know a lot about history and politics and thus wagered all my points. Although my cellmate was stumped, I was certain the answer was "the British naval admiral Horatio Nelsen" who crushed both the Spanish and French fleets in decisive battles during the late 1700s. I celebrated my victory as if I had just scored an ending football touchdown.

It is refreshing to have an intelligent cellmate. Anthony is one of the smartest and most educated people I have lived with while incarcerated. The vast majority of prisoners in maximum security prisons are morons and very few have much education. Many men never completed high school. My last cellmate did not know how to read, write, or multiply numbers. The average intelligence quotient at Stateville is at least 15 points below normal. I am not a social person but when I do converse, it is nice to have someone who can speak with intelligence. Many times I did not even bother to talk with other cellmates because I knew they were oblivious to the subject matter and could add nothing. With Anthony I can discuss history, politics, science, philosophy, classic art, and even stocks to a limited degree.

Earlier this week, I received all the earnings per share and other fundamentals of over 1,000 stocks. Every quarter, I will assess most of the publicly traded companies on the New York Stock Exchange as well as the NASDAQ. It can take me a week to narrow these down to a few hundred, record the valuable statistics of each and then compute their value using my own algerbraic equation. I showed Anthony how to read my comprehensive charts and data of about a fifth of the stocks I was interested in. His assistance allowed me to assess energy, chemical, agricultural, mining, and machine manufacturing companies in a couple of days. It was a very tedious process and I fell asleep in the mid afternoon on the two days after making thousands of calculations.

My new cellmate reads regularly as I do. He has newspaper subscriptions to three central Illinois newspapers. He will also read my Wall Street Journal or other magazines when I am done with them. Oftentimes, he will read while listening to television. I do not know how great his comprehension or focus can be, but occasionally he will talk about a specific article. The Newtown Connecticut grade school shooting is one topic we discussed. Both of us thought the media was over sensationalizing the story and gun rights should not be curbed. In fact, due to our strong beliefs in limited government and the U.S. Constitution, we thought many gun laws should be abolished. I went into a long discussion about how America was once an elite Republic where the ignorant, emotional masses did not have universal voting rights and those who were educated and allowed to vote often voted directly through representatives. America was never meant to be a country where the mob ruled. It was a constitutional Republic which upheld the values of freedom and bravery, not fear and a police state.

A lieutenant I debate politics with came to my cell while working overtime in the cell house to see how I was doing after my cellmate died. He noticed Mertz was now my cellmate or as he says "my Tea Party colleague," and remarked that I need an opposing political figure to moderate my alleged right wing extremism. He mentioned my former cellmate in B House who was a socialist (and thought the Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara was a hero) was a better fit for me. Although I got along well with Cracker, it was like the marriage of Mary Matelin to James Carville. The lieutenant just liked the arrangement because when he would stop by my cell to talk politics, Cracker, AKA Carville and beloved Che supporter, would assist him in debates. It takes at least two liberals to combat the ideas of a conservative.

The new cell I am in does not have working plumbing. The toilet works fine but both the hot and cold water buttons on the sink dribble out water. In order to get a drink, my cellmate has taken a short rubber tube and placed it into the faucet. It is still bothersome because it takes an extraordinary amount of time to bathe or wash clothes. The hot water button also shuts off after only a half second and thus my cellmate devised yet another device to keep it running. He has a shoelace tied around the peg in the back wall and lassoed tautly to the button to keep it pressed. I have made fun of Anthony for his ridiculous ingenuity and asked why he just did not ask a guard to place a work order. Yes, a plumber will not fix the problem for probably a month or two, but it was better than living with his makeshift solutions.

The cell does have the benefit of a table and shelf. The stainless steel table does not have a stool, but I can sit at or write there. Because I have become so accustomed to writing on my property box lid while sitting on my bunk, I have rarely used it. Eventually, I assume I will change my habits.The shelf along the wall opposite the double bunk I rarely use also. Prisoners must put away nearly all their property when leaving the cell and it has little use as permanent storage. All that I have put in it is my radio and a roll of toilet paper. The shelf and table mostly serve to cramp the space in the cell. I feel more claustrophobic and it makes exercising difficult. I no longer have the first 3 feet of the cell to work out in and must be very careful not to hit the sharp steel corners.

Anthony keeps some weird hours because he works the midnight shift in the kitchen.  He leaves the cell about 10 p.m. and returns in the middle of the night. He can be back anywhere between 2 to 5 a.m. Thus, he will be sleeping usually most of the morning and many times will take afternoon or evening naps. I can never tell when he will be sleeping because he does not have a regular routine. Contrarily, I do nearly everything in a consistent order. He has told me to continue to do so, but I do not want to wake him. I have attempted to stay awake during the hours he is gone so I could workout, wash clothes, and do other things while he is gone and also just to enjoy have not been  able to. Sleeping during the day is nearly impossible even with earplugs. The cell house is very noisy and there is a lot of commotion throughout the first and second shifts. The only time it is quiet is from 10 to 7 a.m. and sometimes there is a brief respite for an hour around 2 p.m. Since I have been unable to alter my routine, I simply just try to be as quiet as possible when Anthony is sleeping. I will do part of my workout without wearing shoes and will turn my fan on high to muffle any noise I make.

Initially, I thought being celled with Anthony would be a bad idea because we already shared time outside the cell. It may be annoying being around the same person all the time. Even if a person has a best friend outside of prison, I do not think they realize what it would be like to be trapped with that person in a small cage for endless hours of time. However, the situation between Anthony and me has seemed to work out well.Neither of us are social and we have our preoccupations to keep us busy without interacting. Regularly he is watching TV on his bunk and I am on mine listening to my radio and reading or writing. Sometimes we will both read newspapers for hours without saying a word. Plus, part of the day he is asleep or at work. I am pleased to have a cellmate I get along with and who is not disruptive or obnoxious.

Big John has expressed some disappointment he was not able to have his cellmate move in with me. He readily hates the person he is in the cell with. I told him he was the person I specifically spoke to staff about but for reasons I am unaware of, I was moved in with Mertz. Some prisoners are jealous about the move because they also have tried to get assigned to another cell. "The Elephant" asked me how I am able to get special treatment and not him. I told him when his cellmate abruptly dies from a heart attack, he may be given an accommodation. This shut him up and he began to talk about what kind of food my new cellmate could get him from the kitchen. However, on another occasion a prisoner who goes by the name of  "Leprechaun" has vented his frustration with getting a cell change and from what I was told continues to pester the sergeant.

Leprechaun is not your cute, friendly, sprite leprechaun such as illustrated on a box of Lucky Charms cereal but the ugly troll-like creature from the goofy horror film "Leprechaun." He looks so similar to the latter character, that I sometimes half expect him to say some crude quips like "If I don't get my schilling there will be another killing."  Leprechaun lives a couple of cells down from me now and I must see his ugly Irish mug regularly when he comes and goes to work or to chow and the shower. I do not know him very well except for the notorious gossip that he put a large turd in the pea salad of the officers' kitchen salad bar while at Menard C.C. He is now assigned to work in the laundry department and I believe guards and inmates alike trust him more washing clothes than making our food.

Some readers have sent me emails or posted comments critical of Mertz. I have even heard an earful from my mother, and just this week I received an email from a friend of the victim in his case. How can I explain how I can be friendly with the man who killed someone he cared deeply about? For nearly two decades I have lived amongst men who have committed the most serious and terrible crimes. Nearly everyone at Stateville has been convicted of murder and very few are innocent. People who live beyond these walls have the liberty to choose where they live and who they interact with. I do not. Furthermore, many times the crimes of men are not reflections of who they really are. I tend to believe society, particularly in the U.S., does not appreciate the totality of a person and fixates on their offense.

When Mertz left the Marine Corps, he suffered from some post traumatic stress and was given a psychotropic medication. He partied a lot when he attended Eastern Illinois University and was unaware of how the drug would interact with alcohol. Even the pharmaceutical company was unaware at the time and did not put warning labels on the bottles until much later. Shannon's murder was terrible and her family and friends have my deepest sympathy. However, the man I know in prison as not the same man they knew. Anthony is an intelligent and educated man. He can sometimes be lazy and unambitious, but he has more potential and worth than the vast majority of inmates at Stateville. He is a loyal and honest person with many other virtues which are readily lacking in prison. Anthony also has a personality that I like and I hardly like anyone in this despicable place. He may never be my "BFF"  but he is a good cellmate and I am content to share this cage with him.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Big John & Crazy James -- December 9, 2012

Since my cellmate died, I have continued to go through difficult transitions. Immediately after the traumatic day, I was assigned a new cellmate. The man was mildly insane and was greatly disturbing to live with. For better or worse, I had been confined to a cell with Bobby for nearly a year and had become accustomed to living with him. Any new cellmate would have been an abrupt and upsetting change, but the disheveled crazy man was the last thing I needed in my life at the time. By chance, I was sent to the mental health care unit and spoke to staff there about my troubles. They were sympathetic and arranged for me to be moved into a cell with a man I was comfortable with. Although I appreciated the accommodation, it was not easy acclimating to the new cell and cellmate. I am only now beginning to settle in.

While Bobby was at St. Joe's Hospital and I was unaware if he was going to return, I asked the cell house sergeant if he would call the assignment officer and request a prisoner nicknamed "Big John" to be assigned to the cell with me. The assignment officer almost never grants specific requests and it is a reason for the great tension and hostility cellmates experience at Stateville. I almost never ask for anything from staff and mainly just want to be left alone. However, a cellmate has an enormous impact on my life and I thought I had nothing to lose by making the request. If I did not ask, I certainly would be assigned a cellmate by random selection. At Stateville, the odds of being assigned a compatible cellmate was definitely not in my favor.

Big John is a Caucasian inmate who was transferred from Menard C.C. to Stateville not long ago. However, during this time I have gotten to know him fairly well. He has been in prison for about a decade after being convicted for 1st degree murder. More interesting to me is that before his arrest, he lived in the SW suburb of Tinley Park, not far from where I lived in my late teens. He has been through Frankfort, Mokena, and New Lenox on many occasions. I was surprised to learn we both frequented a German restaurant in Frankfort called Chef Klaus' Bier Stube, and a few other places. Big John has spoken about being a part owner in Pole Cats, a strip club in Bridgeport and a bar across from the mall in Midlothian. I have never frequented either place but I have been to the mall. Inmates speculate he is inflating his past which is not uncommon here and most think he was a truck driver and a bouncer. Big John is in his early 40s and has a shaved head, thick goatee, and sideburns. Although he has lost an incredible amount of weight and people comment his nickname should be changed, I can imagine him throwing people out of bars. Loose skin on his body hangs down in folds and he looks like a successful contestant on the TV show "The Biggest Loser," where obese people compete to lose weight.

Big John does not get along with his cellmate and he has been trying to move since he was put in the cell. From what I am told, they rarely speak except to argue or exchange threats. It is possible they are on the verge of serious physical aggression, although I tend to believe his cellmate will not cross that line. His cellmate is a good sized black man, but he has a back injury much more severe than my own. Unlike me, he underwent surgery and is not the better for doing so. He moves around clumsily and I have seen him stumble or fall several times, sometimes in great pain. Furthermore, he has a kitchen job and most prisoners who have assignments in maximum security penitentiaries of Illinois tend to avoid trouble because of fear of losing the job. Big John may now be Small John, or at least Smaller John, but he would make quick work out of his cellmate, particularly if he once threw violent drunks out the doors of bars and clubs.

The night I returned from Seg, John sarcastically asked the sergeant if there was still a medical hold on Bobby's bunk. My cellmate was dead and there was definitely no possibility of him returning. His question may have been insensitive but he was anxious to get out of the cell he was in and knew bunks were quickly filled. The sergeant said in the morning he would call to clear the move with the assignment officer. Apparently though, the assignment officer already had other plans and early in the morning I was greeted by an old disheveled Caucasian man with long grey straggly hair and a beard. The man introduced himself as James, but to others in the cell house he was known as a nutcase and called various derogatory names.

James looked like a homeless man who lived in a cardboard box under some city viaduct. When spoken to it was obvious he was deranged and one can or possibly two cans short of a 6-pack. The person lived on the gallery for about a month and was the subject of much gossip. I also had spoken to him directly on several occasions when he walked by my cell or when I went to see Anthony. The vagrant lived next door and would often try to engage me in conversation. I thought I was a "bug magnet" until I learned he tried talking with everyone. His cellmate worked much of the day and was gone leaving James alone. Furthermore, when he returned, he refused to engage the crazy old man and would put his headphones on to block out his incessant, incoherent chatter. Later, I learned his cellmate repeatedly complained about the man and when his old cellmate returned from Seg, James was being given the boot.

Although I did not know James very long and only spoke to him on a few occasions before he was moved into my cell, he basically told me his entire life story. James was in prison for committing an arson double homicide. The disheveled, gaunt, old man muttered at length about how he liked to light fires and one day he just happened to light a fire to someone's home. He did not mean to kill anyone, he just got a thrill from fire and the bigger it was the more exciting it was to him. James plead guilty and admitted this all to the presiding judge who, of course, sentenced him to natural life without the possibility of parole. In Illinois, sentencing statutes mandate LWOP for double homicides, but I doubt the judge would have given him a more lenient sentence even if the law did not exist. James was clearly deranged and was a danger to society even if he had no intention to harm anyone. Possibly, a mental hospital would have been more appropriate, however the State of Illinois, along with most states of the union, prefer to simply lock up crazy people. The vast prison industrial complex is the cure all for all of society's problems.

I learned not only about James' criminal case but his health problems he was more than happy to share to strangers. When showers were available to inmates on my gallery he would always come out. He did not bathe but went downstairs to socialize or wander the gallery looking for someone to talk to. I rarely went to shower and he would find me alone in the cell reading or writing. Abruptly, he told me on one occasion how he defecates blood and had liver disease. Before his arrest, he was a heavy drinker and the mass quantity of alcohol he drank destroyed his liver. Why does this man tell me these things? Why does he even talk to me at all? As the man continued to ramble on in a low but quick pace, I began to imagine him as a homeless man in some shabby clothes wandering the streets of Chicago with a masked bottle of whiskey or wine, occasionally lighting fires not only for warmth but because it gave him some type of psychotic thrill. The guard finally came by and I told him to chase the homeless man away from my cell bars. The guard just laughed but James got the hint and went to bother someone else.

When James was at my cell with his property the morning after my cellmate died, I was not pleased. For a moment I thought it was a practical joke. However it was not and the insane man was here to torment me. James was very restless when moving into my cell and chattered, almost nonstop. He mumbled and I did not always hear what he said but what I did hear largely did not make any sense or was repetitive. Like his crime, he was not directly violent in my opinion. This man may light the cell on fire but I did not feel any sense of danger from him. He was actually very friendly and offered me various things in his box including a bottle of dandruff shampoo the staff at the H.C.U. had given him for his dirty long gray hair and beard. The man may be harmless, but he was deranged. His psychotic or erratic behavior and incessant rambling was disturbing. I was glad when a guard told me I had to go to the H.C.U. and I left with great speed.

I do not know if it was coincidence or the psychiatrist made me an appointment to assess my mindset after my cellmate had died, but it was good timing. Since the prison became aware I had autism, I am given appointments to see the psychiatrist once every other month. The meetings are usually unproductive and worthless because what I need most are living accommodations, not talk. Sometimes I wonder if the psychiatrists are mainly there just to monitor people with psychotic or other mental issues to make sure they are not about to snap. However, I was pleased this time to see staff were actually concerned and willing to try and help me be moved. They have no authority over the placement officer, though, and I was skeptical if anything could be done.

On my return from the H.C.U., the lieutenant got my attention. No, he did not have a new cellmate for me but some new state clothes. For over a year, I have been requesting new clothes from the clothing room. Stateville is trying to save money by not processing any clothing requests from inmates. Instead, they have put IDOC-made clothes on the commissary and expect prisoners to buy them. This is outrageous in my opinion and I refuse to do so. My socks may have lost elasticity and have holes in them, my boxer shorts and T-shirts may also be falling apart as well as my state blues, but I am not paying for new ones. Prices have skyrocketed at the prison store and the reason was not simply inflation, but their desire to make a large profit at inmates' expense. When the lieutenant gave me the brown bag of clothes, he said something like how he knew I had been through a rough time, but at least I now had some new drawers. Yes, I was glad to finally get some clothes, but I was headed upstairs to be locked in a cage with a dirty, diseased, and insane man with epilepsy who was probably going to make me go bonkers.

My new cellmate did not know how to tie his television to the air vent above his bunk. There is no table or counter in my cell and James did not know what to do. Thus, it fell on me to do the work for him and it was a priority. I thought the quicker I could tie his TV up, the quicker he would stop pacing the cell and bothering me. The TV is the ultimate babysitter for children and adult prisoners alike. Indeed, the mounted television fulfilled its design of mindless entertainment, and my cellmate finally jumped onto his bunk and left me alone. I thought about how distracting James would be if he did not have some way to occupy his time and was glad this homeless man even had a TV. He did not have any money and I noticed the TV was a state loan. Once upon a time, the IDOC gave televisions to indigent convicts which were left behind by freed men or had been confiscated. It was uncommon and I reasoned the guards at Menard made sure he got one for the same reason I was eager to tie the television up for him.

My new cellmate did not have much of anything. Both of his boxes were unusually bare. Typically, prisoners at least have some books, magazines, or writing supplies, but he had none of these. Later, I discovered why. The man could not read or write. He asked me if I would send out a Christmas card to his estranged sister for him. I was not sure what to say and neither did he, ironically. Thus, I had to ask him some questions about their relationship so I could write a brief paragraph to her. I also had to fill out the money voucher to go with his card for postage as well as his commissary order form. The IDOC gives inmates a stipend of $10 a month but deducts from it for any days the prison is on lockdown. James was very upset the prison had not given him the full $10 and continuously told me the reduced amount of state pay. I had a pair of gym shoes I was planning to throw out at the end of the year. However, I gave them to him. He wore the same size shoe and was very happy.

Other prisoners, including Big John, thought it was funny that I was helping out the old crazy man. They have this perception I am a cold and uncaring person. Since Bobby died, some men I occasionally talk with have made crude jokes insinuating I killed my cellmate or was aloof to his dying. Anthony, who is aware of the reason for my conviction, albeit false, said just like I left the victim to go off to his death, I simply went back to sleep and rolled over when my cellmate was dying of a heart attack. Other prisoners chimed in that I was probably knowingly in the cell with a dead man for hours until I went out to yard. I was not in the mood for their jokes but did respond when Anthony made a gesture as if I was smothering my cellmate with a pillow and telling him to shut up. Anthony was convicted of strangling a woman, so I wrapped my right arm around my neck and pushed up with the left hand while making a choking sound to mock him.

A few inmates are serious and think I should have been nicer to my cellmate. The rumor that came back to me was that rigor mortis had already set in when his body was found, inferring he was dead before I left to yard in the morning. I do not know when my cellmate died and I do not care to speculate. A few people have asked me when I think he died and I refuse to guess. If he died when I was still in the cell, I do not want to know. Anthony seems to believe he died in the middle of the night when I heard him having a nightmare. This may be true, however, I do not want to encourage any more gossip or jokes.

On Friday last week, a guard came to my cell and told me to pack up my property. I was being moved to the other side of the gallery with Mertz. I was surprised not only because I did not expect the assignment officer to make any accommodation for me but because I had spoken to the sergeant specifically about Big John. Regardless, I was relieved to get away from the nutcase and quickly packed up my belongings. Oddly, James was upset I was leaving him, despite how I frequently tried to ignore him. Stranger still was how he pleaded with me to ask guards to let me stay. No, I was not staying and as soon as the guard opened my cell door, I quickly moved my property. Although moving to a different cell with yet another different person took a little while to adjust to, I am much more comfortable with Mertz than Crazy James.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Death of My Cellmate -- December 7, 2012

Tuesday morning I went to the small yard to exercise. The yard is basically a dog run for prisoners to run back and forth on. It consists of two concrete basketball courts surrounded by cyclone fencing topped with wound razor wire. If men are not playing basketball, there is little else to do. A couple of steel tables were added to the yard and some men will play dominos, cards, or chess on them. Others simply go to get out of their cells, stand around or walk in circles. They socialize amongst themselves or yell to the men on the other small yard which is nearby. Typically, I avoid the small yard because there is nothing for me to do and I dislike being confined in  small spaces with people. However, I made an exception because I thought few people would go outside on the chilly December morning and I sought to change up my workout program.

No more than 20 prisoners went out to the small yard, but it was more than I expected. Despite this, I was not going to alter my plans. For the first half hour, I was going to do a high intensity cardiovascular workout which included court sprints as well as various other exercises. The next half hour I planned to do strength exercises using my own body weight. When I finished, I would walk in circles by myself or with Steve who had come out with the line. While I was doing chin ups, I heard two thunderous rifle shots. Jug Head and a few other inmates near me speculated where the shots came from. In my opinion, they did not originate from the cell house or from a gun range which is a few blocks away from Stateville. I guessed the shots were from the F House yard.

Not long thereafter, I saw the sergeant charging down the walk towards the yard gate. Prisoners were assuming the penitentiary was being placed on lockdown for whatever occurred to cause the rifle to be shot. However, the sergeant yelled, "Modrowski! Modrowski! Come to the gate." A black inmate commented, "Something must have happened to Bobby," referring to my cellmate who had just returned from the hospital. I met with the sergeant at the gate and he told me to come with him. He then asked for my ID card and asked about my cellmate. I told him that he was sleeping when I left, and then I asked if he had died. The sergeant did not reply.

In the cell house, I was locked in the holding cage with several other inmates. They were all cell house workers except for my neighbor who was leaving on a health care pass. From the cage, I could see a lot of medical and security staff around my cell on the 2nd floor. Guards, white shirts, nurses, the medical director, a major and others were present. My neighbor told me that Bobby was found unresponsive and may be dead. He said that earlier they were trying to revive him, but they were just going through redundant protocol.

While in the cage observing all the commotion, I thought about how my cellmate seemed fine when I went to sleep the night before. Bobby was not awake when I left for yard, but I just assumed he was sleeping late. On Sunday, he had returned from the hospital after having a stent implanted in a blocked artery. He seemed to have gone through a great deal and moved about slowly, obviously weak and exhausted. However, after having a heart attack and going through the medical procedure, I thought this was normal. Thus, I was stunned when I saw Bobby pulled out on a gurney and covered with a cloth.

Bobby's body was slowly carted down the gallery and stairs. All the inmates on 4 gallery watched with many using their plastic mirrors to follow him. The men in the cage with me also watched and the typically noisy building was quiet. It was like a funeral procession and even people who did not know him paid their respects to the fellow prisoner. Inmates at Stateville may come from various walks in life but they are all united in captivity. Considering nearly every prisoner has natural life or its equivalent, I tend to believe they are even more united in death. All of us were going to die in prison and be wheeled off some day.

After his body was gone, the lieutenant escorted me to Internal Affair's main offices. Any time a prisoner's cellmate dies, they are questioned by the penitentiary's investigative unit. I did not have to ask the lieutenant where we were headed. I have been incarcerated nearly 2 decades and knew standard procedures. I was not at any fault, but in my mind I was thinking I should have checked on my cellmate before leaving the cell. I always try to be considerate and quiet, however, when my cellmate is sleeping. Furthermore, I thought he needed the extra rest while recovering. The best thing I could do was to be especially courteous.

On the way to the security offices, I talked with the lieutenant. I expressed some of my thoughts while walking. He told me I should not have any regrets. Sometimes, he said, it is just time for someone to go. He commented that he thought my cellmate should have stayed in the prison infirmary for a little while after returning from the hospital. Possibly, he  would have been more closely monitored. I questioned whether that would have happened at the H.C.U. The infirmary is notorious amongst prisoners for its neglect and inhospitable environment. Many inmates think it is very unpleasant and a place of disease, decay, and death.

I was surprised the lieutenant mentioned concern he or some of his staff would be held accountable. I told him if anyone was to blame it was medical staff who did not treat his ailments seriously. None of the guards did anything wrong in my opinion. In fact, one guard was concerned enough to ask me how my cellmate was doing after his return and said he would be extra vigilant and try to look out for him. Later, I learned this same correctional officer was to discover my cellmate after a nurse walked right by his cell with his medications claiming he refused them. The lieutenant said, regardless, there is always a scapegoat even when shit just happens.

At the offices of I.A., I sat on a hard wood bench in the waiting room. For some reason, I.A. always keeps a radio on in there. Some prisoners speculate the intelligence unit has eavesdropping equipment that can separate background noise from conversation. The radio noise may dupe inmates into thinking they can talk without being overheard. Possibly, however, the radio has a less devious role. It may simply be to put prisoners at ease before being questioned. If that was the case, they should make the waiting room less austere. Currently, the radio was not dialed in properly and was emitting static. I did not care, however. My cellmate had just died and I was at the mercy of my captors. I was numb and despondent.

A few members of I.A. came and went through the doors while I was waiting. One of them was a female guard I had known since she began working at Stateville. Upon seeing me on the bench, she came over to talk to me. I was surprised to see her in the I.A.'s office and asked if she was now working for them. I was informed she just began last month and I amusingly inquired if she was going to be my interrogator. She smiled and said no, another person would be. I continued to engage her in a little banter which I am usually unable to do because she is rarely seen. I thought this was probably for best because even though she had gained some weight, she was still a cute woman. I never liked seeing her working in the zoo and was initially concerned about her safety or being continually harassed. The assignment at I.A. would probably be a good way for her to use her intelligence rather than brawn and stay away from convicts. Before she left, she asked me what my preference of music was. I really did not care at the moment, so she turned to a country music station which probably was what she liked. I thought she was a country girl.

Eventually, a large Hispanic man told me to come with him. We went up a flight of stairs to what was a large partially renovated room. In the far corner was what seemed to be a mock prison cell. It had a property box next to a mattress with a dummy under a blanket. I looked at it quizzically attempting to discern what its purpose was and concluded it was used as an exercise program. I sat at the other side of the room beside a personalized desk while the man typed on a computer. On a file cabinet behind me was yet another radio, and oddly, gospel music was playing. The man commented how he hated it and I said I was wondering if it was his taste in music. Apparently, the desk and room were used by many people.

My interrogation was more like a casual routine questioning than an intense strategic grilling. The man began by saying, "Obviously you know why you are here," and he made some basic inquiries which I expected. "Where were you when the body was found? When did you go to sleep, awake, and what was your cellmate doing at those times? How long were you cellmates? What was your relationship like?" The main focus of his questioning, however, pertained to Bobby's health problems and his medical treatment or lack thereof. The man from I.A. sought specific information on this subject and I attempted to provide it, even giving him specific dates or time frames. A couple of phone calls broke up the Q and A and although I could not hear what the caller was saying, it seemed apparent that preliminary information was being reported back to him. Sometimes, there were other pauses as he typed on the computer a summary of what I had told him.

The summary of my statements was printed and he asked if I would sign it.  I am always very suspicious, if not fearful, of police fabricating or twisting my statements since the interrogating officer in my criminal case did so. I read over what was printed very carefully and pointed out several spelling errors, but most importantly a sentence which was ambiguous about when my cellmate was complaining of chest pains. In pen, he crossed out the sentence and reworded it. Satisfied, I then signed the statement. Every defense lawyer will tell a client never to speak to police and that everything said will only be used against them. However, in this circumstance, I did not foresee how I was a suspect in any crime. The man conducting the interview thanked me for my cooperation, but told me I still must be sent to Segregation until the investigation was complete. He went on to say, "Hopefully, it will only be for a few days."

I knew I was going to Seg as soon as I saw my cellmate wheeled away. It is standard procedure for all inmates whose cellmates died to be placed in Seg under investigation status, regardless of circumstances. Prisoners remain in Seg anywhere from 3 to 30 days until they are cleared of any foul play. An autopsy is typically performed and the coroner must give his report. The state police as well as Internal Affairs had to conduct their investigations and come to a conclusion. In some cases it is a redundant and absurd formality. Lately, the platitude "it is what it is" has become popular and although I think it is a stupid comment, it seemed to apply.

The cell house lieutenant after my questioning placed me in handcuffs and took me to the Roundhouse. The Roundhouse is a huge round domed building which houses about 500 inmates. They yell, scream, bang bars and doors, and make a cacophony of other noises which echo around the circular structure nearly around the clock. The building is also filthy, debilitated, and roach infested. Being trapped with the hordes of roaches reminded me of the horror movie "Creepshow" where a meticulously clean scientist is overrun by roaches and eaten alive. However, what I dreaded the most was being trapped in a cell with one of the violent, mentally disturbed or deplorably filthy men who are known to reside in F House. All the cell houses have these types of convicts, but the Roundhouse and particularly Seg had more of them.

Just outside of the Roundhouse, I was locked in one of two small holding cages. I was kept there for a few hours while staff tried to figure out where to put me and a couple of other inmates. Apparently, Seg was filled to capacity and men had to be released to make room for new arrivals. Stateville has decreased its segregation capacity and F House is mostly general population now. Still, I tend to believe the approximately 150 bunks are more than adequate to fill the penitentiary's needs. Many prisoners who are not a threat and have committed minor rule violations are sent to Seg. There are other punishments inmates can be given in lieu of confinement. A rumor is afloat that administrators are considering confining some rule violators in their cell without moving them as space becomes a premium in the IDOC, and I think this is a practical solution.

In the cage next to me was a Hispanic prisoner and I inquired why he was being placed in segregation. He told me it was for a fist fight and I immediately deduced the fight was the cause for the two gun shots heard on the small yard outside of C House. The man confirmed my suspicion, so I asked what the fight was about. He told me it was over a basketball game they were playing on the yard. I scrutinized his face and it was a little red. I told him that by the look of it he seemed to have won, for whatever that was worth. Fighting over a basketball game was rather immature, in my opinion, but I kept that to myself.

Guards working in the Roundhouse were curious about my cellmate who had died and several came to talk to me. They asked me how he died, his age, what his general health was, as well as who he was. My cellmate has the very common last name of Johnson, and this did no good in guessing so they asked for a physical description to figure out if they ever had met him before. The guards expressed how stupid it was that I had been sent to Seg under the circumstances. Amongst themselves they debated the mandatory segregation of all prisoners whose cellmates died, and speculated that I could be in the unit for three days.

A couple of hours passed when the shift commander came to see me and return my ID card. The white woman with short auburn hair seemed empathetic to my situation. However, she repeated what I already knew: it was procedure to place men whose cellmates died in Seg for investigation. When I heard her say "investigation," I remembered that prisoners are allowed to have all their property. I asked her if I could be sent at least some of my things while I was in Seg so I would not be left in a barren cell with nothing but the clothes on my back. She told me a lock had been placed on my cell and no one was allowed to go in there except the police, but she said she'd get me a "start up bag". The guards in the interlock were not too enthused about getting one for me and the major had to strongly insist it be done. The guards were lazy and they were already looking forward to going home, their shift being almost over.

Eventually prisoners were moved to create bunk space in segregation. I was apprehensive walking toward the cell and did not know who or what type of cellmate I was assigned. I imagined the worst, but was surprised when the door opened and I knew the inmate inside. His name is Al Oliver and he is the same man I wrote about in "Defending the Damned." Oliver was represented by Marijane Placek, a public defender in the former capital litigation unit at the Cook County Public Defender's Office for a cop killing in Chicago. Unfortunately, I knew more about Oliver's case than I did him. I only spoke to him on a few occasions prior and he was a stranger for the most part.

Oliver seemed pleased I was to be his cellmate and possibly we both worried about who we would be trapped with in a box. Almost immediately, Al asked me why I was in Seg, and I repeated everything I had told everyone before. Since Tuesday, I have had to talk about Bobby numerous times to various people, and I do not care to do so anymore. Even this journal entry has been a task I have had to motivate myself to complete. However, I know how people, especially in the penitentiary, were interested in hearing every detail and more. Bobby's death was big news at Stateville.

As I talked to Oliver, he interrupted to yell down to other prisoners what had occurred. He yelled through a crack in the sliding door because in F House there were no bars on the cell doors. Prisoners in Seg also had plexiglass up against the perforated steel fronts of their cells. Oliver and a couple of other men in the Roundhouse knew my former cellmate from before all of their sentences were commuted to life without parole by ex-governor George Ryan. Men who had been on death row had a unique solidarity amongst themselves.

Oliver was a small black man with short graying hair. He was well groomed and the cell appeared clean and orderly, although it did not look like he had much property. I did not know how he managed it but I did not see any roaches. When I asked he said he had sealed up many of their hiding places to keep them at a minimum. He warned me, however, they will be crawling about at night and I should never leave food out. Oliver seemed restless and he talked incessantly. While listening to him, I got the impression he was not mentally sound and I recalled from years ago seeing him at the psychiatrist's office. He claimed it was a ploy to get himself to Dixon Psych which was a medium-security prison most prized by prisoners in maximum-security facilities, but I am now skeptical.

Oliver told me he was in Seg because of a conspiracy. He rambled on about a chain of events I did not quite follow, although I was distracted by my own circumstances and experiences during the day. I did catch that the disciplinary report he was given stated he had an extra fan which was not his own or was unmarked. There may be some legitimacy to his claims of retaliation. For one, he was continually writing grievances and letters to various authorities about staff and a myriad of other things. He also was widely known to file lawsuits and I do not know if they are frivolous or not but no one likes to be served with a complaint. Finally, Oliver was a convicted cop killer and I am sure this does not go over well with correctional officers.

While Oliver spoke, I looked in my start up bag. Inside was a thin towel, toothbrush, a small bar of soap and toothpaste. There was also one set of clothes but apparently some guard had a sense of humor and gave me a size 6XL T-shirt and boxers. The boxers were so huge that I could fit both my legs down one leg opening. I thought these may even be too big for "the elephant" who was an obese man who lived on my gallery.

I brushed my teeth and then washed up in the sink with my little bar of soap. I had not been able to bathe since I had worked out early in the morning and I could not tell if I had body odor or not but I wanted to clean up regardless and then lay down. Unfortunately, I still did not have a mattress, sheets, blanket or even a roll of toilet paper. Oliver reminded me the toilets only flushed once every 10 minutes and I could pester the sergeant about some bedding that night hopefully before I went to sleep. To my astonishment, however, I did not spend the night in the Roundhouse.

Sometime during the evening, the F House sergeant told me I was being released from Seg. I was in disbelief until he had the door opened and gestured for me to quickly follow him. He led me into the basement where my general population clothes were thrown in a pile. While I undressed and changed into state blues, the sergeant said it was just retarded I was sent to the hole. My cellmate had a heart attack and there was no reason to suspect foul play. I knew the sergeant was not able to authorize my release and only someone high up the chain of command could do so. Whoever it was, I was glad they broke with traditional procedure. As I walked out of the Roundhouse, prisoners were screaming and I heard one of them shout out my name. However, I was not looking back. I was glad to get out of the madhouse as soon as possible.

The padlock on my cell had been taken off when I returned. Some property was shifted around and I noticed that Bobby's mattress was bare. The guard told me to pack up my cellmate's property and it was not a duty I was looking forward to. Putting his belongings into his two boxes made me dwell about his death and death in general. Several prisoners had the nerve to ask me to give them certain valuables of his. For example, his flat screen TV, razor, headphones, and brand new gym shoes were coveted. Convicts joke about when someone dies they take all his property even the shoes off their feet, but I did not expect the vultures to be circling in reality. One man was angry that I refused to give him anything and claimed Bobby had no family anyway. According to him, Internal Affairs would just give away his stuff to their snitches. I did not know if Bobby had any family who cared about him or having any of his possessions for sentimental reasons. However, I did not like the idea of robbing the dead.

Prisoners customarily give away their belongings when they are released. Some will even say a particular person or persons can have their property when they die. However, I did not think the people who approached me were Bobby's friends. Chubby, who I mostly seen him talk with, did not ask me for anything. I asked a cell house worker who I trust what he thought was proper. He told me I was right to pack away his property and not give any of it away. He went on to say he would go downstairs and watch when guards inventoried his boxes so no one stole anything.

Going through my cellmate's boxes I discovered a lot of junk he had been hoarding. I knew he was a clutterbug but not to this extent until I had to make room for his TV, fan, and other possessions. I could not fit everything in and I threw miscellaneous garbage in a pile against the wall. If Bobby had any family, they did not want extra rolls of toilet paper, spoons, pieces of cardboard, rags, stripped wires, empty bottles, etc. I also took out or did not pack all the state issued clothes, sheets, and blankets he had. One thing I thought his family was certain to want was a large leather bound Bible he often read.

While I was solemnly packing away Bobby's property, my neighbor kept trying to get my attention. He was obnoxious, and I told him to wait until I finished. Later when I spoke with him he told me what happened earlier. According to him, the nurse who passes out medications in the morning was in a hurry. When she stopped at my cell and did not see my cellmate get up right away for his pills, she kept on going. She told the guard escorting her that he had refused. Not long thereafter, my neighbor was let out for his health care pass and found it odd that Bobby was still in bed. He began to yell his name, but when he did not stir he went and got the sergeant who opened up the door to find my cellmate dead.

Since Tuesday, some prisoners are looking for someone to blame. They believe there is a lawsuit which can be filed by Bobby's family for gross medical negligence. My cellmate complained of chest pains for two weeks before he was sent out to St. Joe's Hospital. On the week of Thanksgiving, Bobby was at the H.C.U. a few times and was given an EKG test. I recall him saying that he did not think the doctor even knew how to conduct the test let alone read the results, and it was done twice. He was given a shot and a nitroglycerin pill at least once but this only alleviated his symptoms temporarily. During the lockdown, a black female med tech refused to authorize him to be taken to the H.C.U. She claimed there was nothing wrong with him and if he was having a heart attack, he would be sweating profusely. I cannot say if Bobby would be alive today had he been treated earlier and better by prison medical staff. However, there is a great deal of incompetency, negligence, and malpractice which occurs by medical staff at Stateville on a regular basis.

When prisoners are doomed to die in prison, I often believe sooner is better than later. Medical staff may have ironically did Bobby a favor. In retrospect, I wish the Palatine Task Force which surrounded me at gunpoint during my arrest had shot me dead. I knew they wanted to, and I should have given them an excuse to do so. It would have prevented the misery my family and I have endured the past 20 years. As I become older the prospect of freedom looks ever the less appealing to me. Some prisoners are gossiping about a rumor that state legislators may pass a bill that will make inmates eligible for parole if they have served 25 years or more and are over the age of 50. I care less to get out when I am 50, yet alone 60, which my cellmate was. At that point, my life is for all practical purposes over. Am I supposed to be happy about getting out when I am an old crippled and feeble man? The only thing I will care about at such an age is justice, and after I am exonerated I can then kill myself.

This was Bobby's 2nd murder conviction, and I have doubts he was innocent. He claimed to be so but his signed confession and other evidence, I believe, was overwhelming. I asked other prisoners and ironically there is some opinion that his confession was possibly a reason he would be released. Many inmates at Stateville claim abuse by the infamous cop Jon Burge or his co-workers, including my cellmate. Rather than retrying him for the gang murder, prosecutors may have simply offered him a plea bargain where he would receive time served. Bobby had already done about 30 years which was over the maximum amount of time he could have done under the law in the 1980s, had he avoided the death penalty and not had any of his good time revoked. However, I question what type of existence he would have had even if he hung in there longer.

In one of my favorite movies "Gladiator," the illegitimate emperor of Rome asks Maximus why he does not fear death. He replies "Death smiles at us all and all a man can do is smile back." The emperor wondered if his friend smiled at his own death whereupon Maximus answered, "You should know. You were there." During my sleep, Bobby had a nightmare which briefly awakened me. It is possible this is when he met Death. Few can live without fear of their demise and smile at Death. However, there was also a deeper meaning of what Maximus, the former lead general of Rome, turned slave and then gladiator was saying. It is not how or when we die, but how we live. Life in prison is meaningless, oppressive, and miserable. Some may want to, or believe they can enjoy life outside these walls after serving decades. I have no such illusions. In death, Bobby is free from prison and false hope which deceives and torments many captive men.