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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Anthony's Birthday -- March 6, 2013

My cellmate did not work the midnight shift in the kitchen and was awake early Tuesday morning. He did not attend his job assignment because he was expecting a visitor. Furthermore, it was his birthday and I suspect he sought to make his day as pleasant as possible. For him this seemed to be watching extra television, being lazy, and indulging his appetite. I could also sense he was looking forward to seeing his sister. Anthony did not receive many visits and this was a special event for him. Otherwise, his day was much the same as any other in a maximum security penitentiary. For some prisoners, birthdays are a reason to celebrate and they go out of their way to make it enjoyable or unique. However, for men like Anthony and me, it was mainly only a reminder of a slow death in prison.

When I awoke, I could hear my cellmate sniffling and blowing his nose on occasion as he watched TV from his bunk. For the last few weeks, he has been sick with a cold or possibly a weak strain of the flu. Trapped in his close proximity during this time, I have blamed him for passing his germs along to me. Not long after he became ill, I began to have intermittent symptoms. Many men here have been sick and it is difficult to avoid contagion with 300 inmates stacked on top of each other in the cell house and a total population over 1,800. Germs can be spread quickly and I was surprised not to succumb earlier. When I began to make myself a hot cup of coffee to go with my breakfast, I asked "Sniffles" if he wanted some, or tea in the alternative.

Usually, my cellmate is asleep when I awake and I appreciate the time to myself. I do not like engaging in excessive conversation, particularly in the morning. Fortunately, my cellmate was absorbed in one television program or another with his face almost pressed against the TV screen like he wanted to meld with the surface. I can understand wanting to escape, if only mentally, the confines of prison but television has little allure for me. As I often do, I urinated with my back to him and from the side of the toilet so he would not have to break his Vulcan mind meld with the TV. However, later, he would jump down off his bunk to give me some privacy.

Tuesday morning, prisoners on the first and second galleries had gym and I prepared myself to leave. Typically, I do not go out for "recreation" periods. It is annoying for me to be around all the people and there is little for me to do. However, gym offered me a chance to use the machine weights or the few which were not broken. I could also run circles around the perimeter or flights of steps while dodging basketballs or various groupings of inmates. Another reason to leave the cell was to give my cellmate some time to himself. Because I rarely go out, Anthony is nearly always trapped in the cell with me except when he goes to work. Confined to a bathroom-sized room with another person becomes uncomfortable even if that person happens to be someone you get along with. Before I left to the gym, I told my cellmate the cell was his and be free to use my radio or do anything he likes. I even told him he could sit on my bunk so long as he was dressed. He responded by saying the first thing he intended to do was get naked and roll around on my bed sheets.

The gym was crowded and noisy as I anticipated. Prisoners rushed in to claim tables, telephones, and a full court basketball game. I waited around the guard's desk to get one of the pins to use the machine weights. There are only 5 pins and prisoners had to turn in their ID card to be given one. This was done mainly to prevent them from being lost but also as a security precaution. An inmate if he spent the effort could eventually sharpen the thick L-shaped iron pin into a weapon. A Mexican waiting for a pin was not able to get one and I told him not to worry. There were only 4 machines that worked anyways and he could work out with me or someone else if he wanted.

I made an extra potent cup of coffee earlier to prevent any cold symptoms from possibly slowing me down in the gym. The caffeine along with exercising made me more aggressive and assertive than normal. When I noticed Big John sitting on the seat for the broken leg press machine I went around his back and pretended to put him in a choke hold. Another prisoner joked he may pass out. I was just playing with Big John. He was one of the few prisoners in the cell house I speak to and get along with.

While doing some bow pulls on the lat machine, I listened to an obnoxious gym worker ramble about various complaints. He told me how the machine weights were intentionally neglected and never repaired. Many of them only needed new cables or other easy repairs. People outside the prison and charitable organizations have even offered to buy the prison new equipment but the generous offers have been refused. I was already aware of this and asked the worker why I have yet been able to watch the DVD "Skyfall." James Bond was one of my mentors and I have not seen the newest film. I was informed the LTS department (Leisure Time Services) was no longer renting new releases because they cost three times more than old films. Odd that the administration or LTS supervisor was concerned about money when it came from the Inmate Trust Fund and not any funding from the IDOC. I then heard about how the supervisor regularly steals or misappropriates funds and is rarely doing his job.

As I continued to work out, the gym worker continued to talk and on occasion do a set of exercises himself. His next subject was the 2014 gubernatorial election. Because I am interested in politics I tried paying attention to him despite how I was skeptical of some of the things he said. He began by saying how Governor Pat Quinn was not going to be able to win reelection. Many other politicians including from his own party wanted his job. With his public approval levels so low and an impending corruption investigation, it was his opinion the governor was doomed. I never heard of any investigation into his office and voiced my skepticism. However, he claimed to see something reported on TV about Quinn allotting funds to a Chicago neighborhood before the last election. I had seen or heard nothing and doubted if appropriating funds was even improper let alone illegal. The inmate worker had foolish daydreams of the Lieutenant Governor taking over. I told him that was preposterous and while he did a set of shoulder presses, I told him I should kick him in the head. It may have knocked some sense into him.

When the gym period was over, the gates of the building were opened and prisoners slowly filed out. On the concrete walk, a guard yelled at men to line up in two columns. For order and security reasons, prisoners are always deuced up during movement. The herd of inmates took their time assembling. In maximum-security penitentiaries of Illinois, men have little time out of their cells and they were rarely in a rush to be locked up again. I looked up and around myself to look at the wretched place in which I live. I noticed the two sections of sheet metal roofing that tore off during a storm over a year ago were still missing and probably would never be repaired. Apparently, I looked as if I was disconnected with my environment because I was not talking like most everyone else, and a man said, "Earth to Paul." I ignored his comment and asked rhetorically how so many people could become accustomed to living like this. He said with such foolish optimism, "We are only here temporarily. Things will change and we will go home." I had to bring him back to reality. "Most everyone in this line will die in prison and their lives are meaningless." There was the old power plant nearby with its high smokestack and I went on to say, "We may as well be gassed and cremated." I think it was not me who was off in outer space.

In the chow hall, prisoners were served some processed gritty meatballs which were made out of various scrap meat and soy. Recently I read about a scandal in Europe where horse meat had been found in a food manufacturer's product and I thought how I would prefer horse meat than what was usually served here at Stateville. I did not eat anything on my tray and gave away my pudding to Steve who I had sat next to. Steve asked me where my cellmate was, and I told him he was expecting a visit. The man stuffing his face with chocolate pudding expressed surprise whereupon I told him it was my cellmate's birthday. Apparently, Steve thought alot of birthdays, despite how we were aging men in prison, and he was mad at himself for forgetting. He commented how he would send something up to Anthony. I assumed it would be a gift or treat of some sort. While walking to the cell house from the chow hall, I remembered that Steve had written in big letters on a calendar he got me from the chaplain his birthday and how he expects a honey bun on his special day.

In front of my cell bars, I saw my cellmate sitting on his bunk in boxer shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt with his television still on. The day before, I had told him how a snow storm was being reported on the news to hit Chicago in the late afternoon and it may arrive sooner in the SW suburbs. Considering he watches much more TV than me, I am sure he was already aware of this. I was rather inferring to him that his sister may not drive in to visit him if the weather was bad. Thick heavy snow was already coming down in Crest Hill and outside the cell I brushed off the flakes which had accumulated on my jacket before they melted on my jacket. If my cellmate's sister had not already arrived, it was apparent she was not coming.

Although my cellmate did not say so, I knew he was disappointed not to have received a visit today. Anthony likes to eat, so I proposed making some beef burritos after I bathed. This seemed to brighten his mood so I got all the ingredients together on the counter to prepare quickly after I finished. Afterall, I was hungry as well not having eaten lunch and working out in the gym for a few hours. While Anthony was at the bars and I was washing up, an inmate worker brought us two deliveries from the ground floor. The first was for me and was a heavy metal tape I had been asking Big John to let me borrow for a month. Apparently, putting him in a choke hold had refreshed his memory. The second item was for Anthony and came from Steve. It was a Christmas card remade into a birthday card. Steve crossed out the word "Christmas" and replaced it with "Birthday," leaving the angel and other holiday decor in tact. My cellmate was not impressed by the gesture and crushed the card and tossed it on the gallery as garbage. I told him he could listen to my new "Godsmack" cassette tape if he wanted to.

Last month, my cellmate had told me in jest that he had better get a birthday present from me. I replied I already was working on it and knew just what to give him: a share of stock in the second largest natural gas fracking company in North America. I told him I had considered getting him a share of Exxon Mobile but it was currently priced at $90 and that was over my birthday present cost cap. The present would be a joke because of our opposing strong views on the subject. I thought shale rock fracking was great and would revolutionize America with abundant new cheap energy. In the past, I have even given him corporate reports of energy companies that are using the new technology and wrote on them "Frack the World!" This comment was a play on words to ridicule his concerns that fracking was bad for the environment. He greatly disliked the new technology for environmental reasons. I never was able to get him the stock, however, because nearly all companies have ceased issuing paper shares. What was the point of a gift I would have to have electronically transferred into an account he could never see? In lieu of the share of Chesapeake Energy, I simply made him some delicious fat burritos he devored happily, albeit while sick with a cold.

When I sat down to eat the two burritos I had made for myself, I noticed I had missed the Rush Limbaugh show. As an alternative I turned on my TV to find some news or entertainment while I ate. On Headline News, the Jodi Arias murder trial was being televised. Jodi Arias was a woman who had stabbed and then shot her boyfriend multiple times while he was in the shower but was claiming self defense. She had been on the witness stand nearly two weeks attempting to convince a jury she was the victim of sexual abuse and she was in fear for her life when she killed Alexander. All reason, evidence, and her multiple conflicting statements made me think her testimony was ludicrous. I was greatly interested to hear what questions the jury would have for her. Unlike Illinois and most other states, juries in Arizona can ask questions after witnesses testify including the defendant. I wish my co-defendant's absurd testimony could have been questioned by his jury. Possibly then they would not have been so easily duped.

The Placement Officer has continued to diligently do her job and has recently given a number of inmates work details. One of those men was Wally, and he now has a job at the prison store. Wally stopped by the cell after his assignment to talk about the computer system's failure to work, but how my cellmate and I should be able to shop the next day. For almost a week, staff has had problems accessing inmate's trust fund accounts and processing orders. Before he left to lock up in his cell, he told my cellmate he added a package of Kotex to his order.

Both my cellmate and I took a late afternoon nap. I did not wake up until about 5 p.m. when a cell house worker was at my bars with dinner trays. Only breakfast was served to prisoners at Stateville in their cells unless the prison was on lockdown. I looked out the cell house windows and could see nothing but snow. Apparently, meteorologists' predictions were correct. In fact, the SW suburbs may get a foot of snow. I assumed administrators put the prison on lockdown due to the lack of visibility or staff. Many guards who live in Chicago probably had challenges getting to work or simply did not want to come in now that they had a good excuse.

For dinner, fried chicken was served, a favorite amongst inmates here. I ate it while watching the world news. The news not only reported about the snow storm crossing the upper Midwest U.S., but the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the high rate of mentally ill in county jails, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average reaching a record high of 14,253. With the Federal Reserve printing $85 billion a month, I was not altogether surprised with the stock market doing well. There was little investors could do with their money with interest rates so low and the common person easily gets caught up in bull market rallies despite the increasing risk of a large correction. I also was not amazed by the number of people with mental conditions in jails. Being a prisoner for two decades I have noticed how many nut cases are in the DOC. I thought the numbers were inflated and I was curious what met the criteria for mental illness, but it is obvious America has radically reduced mental health facilities while radically increasing penitentiaries. As for Chavez, I was glad the socialist demagogue who ranted hatred toward the U.S. and allied himself with America's enemies was finally dead.

When my cellmate awoke, I gave him one of the little prison cakes which were served with our dinner trays. I told him I did not have any candles, but if he wanted, I could put some hair grease in the middle and light it on fire. He seemed mildly amused but asked why trays were brought to the cell hose and I explained to him the snow. Then I told him if he wanted me to try and give him a haircut, he needed to get up and wash his hair before 7 because at 8:00 I was watching "Dual Survivor." For a week, my cellmate has spoken to me about giving him a haircut because he was expecting to have his prison mugshot updated soon. Apparently, he trusted me more than the inmates who cut hair at the barber school.

I turned on the bright fluorescent cell light and had Anthony sit on a property box to cut his hair. I did not have any scissors and had to rely on beard trimmers. My cellmate basically wanted the sides and back of his hair very short, but the top long enough so he could comb it to the side. It was not complicated, but other than cutting my own hair, I had no experience. I thought I had done a decent job when finished, although my cellmate was disappointed I did not square the cut and had tapered it. I found the idea of cutting another man's hair disagreeable and only did so for Anthony as a favor on his birthday. He was sick as well making me not even want to be in his vicinity let alone close enough to be cutting his hair. If there ever is a next time, he may get a Mohawk.

The Discovery channel was not coming in and thus I was unable to watch Dual Survivor. Instead I turned to a station playing a rerun of the medical show "House".  My cellmate sat on the counter waiting for a detail shower to rinse all the hair off his body. An obnoxious prisoner came to the cell bars to brag about the 3 children he fathered while in prison. The fact the mothers were crack addicts did not bother him in the least. Often I have brooded about my misfortune never to have a family of my own. However, I would want to be present to be a father and husband. The idea of just having sex with a drug addict slut or as is known in prison speak "a hood rat," and her being the mother of my children was abhorrent. I do not care if I have a natural life sentence and die in prison celibate.

Before my cellmate went to work, I asked him if this was his best birthday ever. It was a sarcastic and rhetorical question. Birthdays are always miserable days commemorating not life but death. For prisoners who are condemned to die in prison there is nothing to celebrate. They are not closer to any out date only their demise. Furthermore, they are not growing any more in strength or virility but aging. Both my cellmate and I are middle aged men wasting away in prison. All our best years are behind us and the future is progressively grim. I asked my cellmate when was the last birthday he actually enjoyed. He said in his mid-20s. For me it was my 18th or more than likely my 17th. After my arrest, birthdays were meaningless and then only a source of sadness. The best birthday present I could imagine for Anthony is if the government reinstated his death sentence.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

No Hot Water -- February 28, 2013

On Monday, I was surprised when one of the plumbers came to my cell to fix the sink. Sinks are a low priority for the maintenance staff who work at the penitentiary. For over two months, I have complained about the low water pressure and broken timer on the hot water button. Last week, the hot water ceased to work altogether and nothing but cold water dribbled out of the faucet. Another component within the sink must have broken because the cold water ran nonstop and could not be turned off. Having only cold water in the cell has been an inconvenience for my cellmate and me, but mostly for myself. My cellmate rarely bathes, washes clothes or washes anything while in the cell. Because he works in the kitchen, he is allowed a daily shower and if he needs to scrub any of his clothes, he will do it in the shower room.

Nearly every morning, I will wash the floor and wipe off the table and counter before I exercise. With only cold water, I quickly noticed how difficult it was to get a lather with bar soap. The water was very cold from continuously running and despite how much I scrubbed the cloth together, there were no suds. After working out I had the luxury of bathing with this frigid water. A few times, I took the time to boil some water and dump it into the sink which I had prevented from draining with a piece of cardboard. The couple of mugs of hot water though only made my bath water warmer briefly as cold water continued to mix with it. Furthermore, I had to let this water drain to use clean water to rinse off. The time and effort to boil water was not worth it particularly when my body temperature was high if I quickly washed up.

Typically, I will clean the steel sink and toilet combination after bathing. Bathing in the cell always leaves the fixture a mess with soap and water all over it. Plus, I will sometimes need to wash the shorts I wore while exercising and I use the toilet to do so. The average person who has never been to a maximum security prison in Illinois probably would think I was crazy washing clothes out of my toilet, but this is commonly done by convicts behind the wall. It is the most efficient way to clean and rinse clothes without access to a washing machine or an ample supply of running water. However, without any hot water this is not the case. Boiling numerous cups or bowls of water to fill the toilet to scrub, disinfect, and then repeat the process to wash clothes would take hours of time. I had no intention of doing this and had to wait until bags of clothes were picked up. Clothes are washed in the laundry building once a week.

My neighbor works in the laundry building and I spoke to him about helping me out until my sink was repaired. He told me that they have been washing inmates clothes for over a month with cold water ever since some type of electrical coil which leads into the building broke. No wonder my clothes have been returning dingy, I said. I asked him why it hasn't been repaired. He said his supervisor was already skimping on laundry detergent and bleach to cut costs. A new hot water coil will be very expensive to replace and apparently no one has appropriated the money. I thought about how absurd and unsanitary it was to send inmates clothes back to them dirty. Many inmates have communicable diseases or bugs. I hoped the dryer was hot enough to kill any bed bugs, lice, or germs.

The plumbing for prisoners cells is behind the back wall in the quarter units. When the plumber came to fix my sink he banged on some pipes to get my attention from the corridors which run down the center of the building. I was at the front of the cell by the bars and my cellmate was at the sink getting a cup of water. I told him to answer the plumber, but he refused and wanted me to do so. Therefore I switched places with him and knelt down to yell into a vent in the back wall. The plumber wanted to know what the problems were and I told him. He fixed the cold water button but said he could do nothing about the low water pressure or timer. A timer is a device that keeps the water flowing after the button is pushed. Without it, pressure must be continually maintained. I asked him why he could not replace the timer and was informed they had run out of the part a long time ago. Many sinks in the penitentiary had broken timers and they could not be repaired. I asked if my neighbors timers were in order and if he could not just remove theirs. The plumber and my cellmate laughed, but of course he could not do this.

Not having a timer on the hot water button has been annoying me since I moved into this cell. Have you ever tried washing your hands with only one hand? My cellmate and I have devised various ways to keep the hot water flowing, but they are inconvenient and do not work all that well. The simplest thing to do is wedge a plastic bottle between the button and the edge of the sink basin. However, the bottle then blocks access into part of the sink. It also will slip out of place if not secured just right or if accidentally bumped. When I moved into the cell, Anthony had a shoe lace lassoed tautly to the button and a peg on the wall. The lasso was on precariously and it could slip off or not be pulled tight enough to keep the button in. The best solution is to place a cap over the button which is just the exact circumference of the outer ring, but again this can fail. Because the hot water pressure is so low, it will turn off all by itself requiring the cap to be taken off and put back on perfectly.

I tend to believe the plumber was lying when he claimed the pressure could not be adjusted any higher. An attempt is being made to reduce the amount of hot water being used in the cell houses. The boiler is not being used to its full capacity apparently to save money. Many prisoners complain about the luke warm to cold water during the day in the shower room and in their cells. In the middle of night, the water temperature will be hot, but as more inmates awake and use the hot water, temperatures will lower dramatically. Periodically, plumbers will adjust the thermostat on the boiler, but it is never raised to adequate levels. The boiler is capable of adjusting temperatures automatically to meet with demand, however, purportedly this is not working and a new regulator is needed. Inmates believe this is a ruse to save money and the low water pressure is to diminish the use of hot water and fluctuations of temperature.

Hot water is not just desired by inmates to bathe with but also to make food and drinks. A pack of Ramen noodles, instant rice, refried beans, or other commissary foods cannot be made without 100 degree or hotter water. Furthermore, nearly all prisoners are coffee drinkers and no one wants a cup of tepid coffee. Inmates will regularly turn to various means to heat water when tap water is cold. My cellmate regularly places a bottle of water on top of the incandescent light bulb in his lamp to make hot water for coffee, tea or an occasional noodle. Other prisoners will go "caveman" and burn milk cartons to heat a bottle of water or packages of food. Some will even fry food off the metal table or lower bunk in their cells. Personally, I prefer using electricity. An assortment of immersion heaters are used by inmates at Stateville. Most of them are improvised devices although some men have stingers.

During the week, I was speaking with my neighbor Leprechaun again about the dribble of luke warm water which commonly comes forth from my sink. He has this dream administrators will allow us to buy hot pots off the commissary. Hot pots are sold at medium and minimum security prisons but convicts in maximum security are not trusted to have them. Security personnel are worried they may toss boiling water onto guards. It is a rather dumb logic because prisoners with or without the hot pots or stingers which also used to be sold will devise ways to heat water. Men convicted of murder(s) or other serious felonies and will never be freed are not going to live out the rest of their lives drinking cold coffee and eating raw Ramen noodles. Leprechaun suggested the prison commissary could sell hot pots which were only capable of heating water to a certain temperature. However, I knew this would not satisfy security personnel and they would be concerned inmates would alter the thermostats so they could make hotter water or use it as a frier.

The prison was taken off lockdown on Monday as I expected. The Stateville SORT along with Internal Affairs was searching for shanks or materials that could be turned into shanks. Apparently after scrutinizing the common areas of the quarter units and ransacking most of the cells in B House, they were satisfied. Since the beginning of the week, I have left my cell to go on a visit, attend yard and several meals. The menu has not been so terrible and real chicken has been served a few times, and on Wednesday evening we had lasagna although it was made with turkey-soy. While in line or in the chow hall I inquired if other inmates had water dribbling out of their sinks. Most of them said they had the same problem, but a few had water pressure which was just fine. I have been incarcerated nearly 20 years and knew the pressure for every sink could be adjusted. Water can be turned up so high it flew past the sink basin and into the toilet or beyond. Apparently, plumbers were conspiring to keep the water pressure low. I miss the time when inmate workers did most of the plumbing work in the penitentiary. The sinks as well as the toilets, showers and laundry machines were always in proper working order.

To improvise for the dribble of water, my cellmate cut off a piece of a cable wire. He then removed the wire and plastic inside so all that was left was a two inch rubber tube. We regularly put this tube into the faucet to get water to lift up. Otherwise, it will dribble down the faucet and into the sink basin. Trying to wash your hands or anything else is incredibly difficult. When I moved into this cell, I asked Anthony how he got a drink and asked if he put his lips around the faucet and sucked the water out. No, he had this little tube which he kept to use when he wanted to increase water pressure. The tube not only lifts the water up but constricts it to create more force. It is very useful, although it still does not produce more water and washing takes much longer.

On a couple of occasions this week I spoke with a lieutenant I regularly debate politics with. I told him I predict there will be no deal to evade the sequester. Sequester is an automatic series of cuts to government spending Congress and the president agreed to if Democrats and Republicans were not able to pass a bill to slow the growing national debt which is now close to exceeding $16.5 trillion. I do not believe the cuts are the best way to shrink deficits, but the 2.4% reduction is a drop in the bucket when compared to a $3.55 trillion annual budget. In fact, I related to the lieutenant I agreed with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul the spending cuts should be much greater. Barack Obama's scare tactics were overblown and used solely to coerce Republicans into more reckless spending and taxes. The lieutenant said I would change my mind when the sequester begins to effect me. I have natural life without any possibility of parole, however, and spending cuts are not likely to minutely affect the general anguish, oppression, and austerity I already feel and have felt for all my adult life. Furthermore, the dysfunction of state government and this prison in particular is the cause of incompetent fiscal management, not the federal government.

Stateville is nearly 100 years old and the penitentiary is probably the most debilitated facility in the State of Illinois. Prisons are allotted large sums of money every year to cover their general expenses including proper maintenance. However, this funding is regularly squandered, misappropriated or even stolen. The culture of corruption, graft, neglect, or ineptitude has existed since the prison opened in the 1920's. Initially, it was mafia, then gangs, but now it is mainly staff who milk the system. Budget cuts are frequently cited for the poor conditions at the prison. However, I know very well that Stateville can be maintained, funded, and run much better and more efficiently. There is particularly no reason why inmates cannot have hot water.

UPDATE:  March 27
I have been informed the hot water coil in the laundry building was finally repaired.  My sink, however, continues to dribble out water and accessing hot water in the cell house can still be a problem. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Waiting for the Orange Crush -- February 22, 2013

Since knives were found in the prison last week, Stateville has been on lockdown. Due to incidents at other maximum security penitentiaries in Illinois, I have been expecting the Orange Crush to storm into the building to ransack every cell. The Special Operations Response Team, or SORT, has a notorious reputation for harshly treating inmates and leaving their property in complete disarray. They also oftentimes damage or confiscate property without reason in their reckless and irresponsible searches. In years past, SORT searches were mainly used to collectively punish prisoners and to demonstrate power. I was not looking forward to the event, but thought it was inevitable and like most happenings in prison, I had no control. While waiting for the Orange Crush, I attempted to enjoy my increased seclusion during the lockdown as well as use my time productively.

Lockdowns tend to reduce the noise and commotion in the cell house. There is no movement of inmates going to chow, job assignments, or religious services. In fact, there were no visitations or men going to the Health Care Unit except for dialysis patients. The only time there was movement on the gallery outside my cell bars was for guards passing out chow, collecting garbage, passing out mail, or conducting count. Because of the lack of inmate movement, it is much quieter. Guards are not yelling regularly or using the loudspeaker to announce various activities or events. Prisoners still will occasionally yell to one another between cells or galleries, but it is significantly lessened on lockdowns. Furthermore, many prisoners will stay up late watching television and sleep during the day. The lack of distractions has enabled me to do a lot more things I have put off for a lack of focus or time.

Last year I was sent a rough draft by my attorney of the first part of my successive post conviction petition. I was so disappointed, I nearly threw it in the trash. It was written so poorly, I thought one of the incompetent "jail house lawyers" at Stateville could have done a better job. I have grown so frustrated and disgusted with my attorney, I have since ceased to communicate with her. She was hired years ago and has yet to do the vast amount of work necessary. This rough draft was supposed to show me she was actually making progress, but it was missing all the legal issues. Furthermore, the introduction lacked structure, purpose, and was full of errors, both factual and grammatical.

This week, I spent the time to systematically note all the errors and problems with the draft. Originally, I had planned to write them on a separate piece of paper and refer to them by page number. However, I noticed all the pages had the number 12 on the bottom and this would be impossible to do. Thus, I underlined or circled parts of the draft and placed a number by it which I then addressed on the opposite side of the paper which was blank. This took me a couple of days to complete and when I was finished, I thought I may as well just write it myself. I am a good writer and who else knows my case better than me? However, the introduction to an appeal is like the foundation to a house, and I am not certain exactly what issues are going to be raised or how they will be legally argued. Issues to my appeal are still not known or defined due to investigative matters not being resolved. It is actually backwards to write the foundation of an appeal without knowing the type of house one intends to build on top of it.

My cellmate is either sleeping or watching television as I write, but occasionally when there is a lull in his TV programming, he will inquire what I am doing. For hours, I will be completely silent and focused on tasks. Sometimes, I imagine I could go the entire day or days without saying a word. However, while I am thinking about or working on my appeal and he interrupts me with an inquiry, I can go into a long diatribe. I have been incarcerated for nearly 20 years for a crime I had no involvement with let alone knowledge of. My defense attorneys and the justice system in general can make me incredibly angry or frustrated. It will take me sometimes a while to realize my cellmate was bored or trying to be social and does not care. Some prisoners can be not only bored but annoyed or envious. Nearly everyone incarcerated at Stateville is guilty and has no chance of being released.

Since my cellmate was made aware of my blog, he has been very guarded about discussing his case. However, he has slowly been opening up to me again especially when I go at length about my own. I have known for some time one of his issues on appeal was taking a psychotropic medication which at the time was not known to cause severe interactions with alcohol. What I was not aware of was a second issue regarding an inoculation he was given in the Marine Corps called Larium. Larium has been used by the military to prevent troops from catching malaria but has become under increasing scrutiny since the Iraq war. A number of soldiers who took the drug developed intense depression, mood swings, psychosis, and even had extreme outbursts of violence. There is a suspected correlation between a number of suicides, men who killed their spouses, or committed other violent acts. Sgt. Bales who massacred a number of Afghan civilians, for example, was also given the inoculation. My cellmate's lawyer has raised the issue of "involuntary intoxication" in his federal appeal which if successful would lead to a new trial, reduced charges, or a sentence reduction. I was glad to hear this because I do not want my cellmate to die in prison. Furthermore, because he has some chance, albeit very slim, of having his case remanded, he will not be bothered by my legal troubles and innocence.

Over the holiday weekend, I did not believe the SORT team would be assembled. Monday was President's Day and I knew guards were paid double time on holidays. IDOC administrators who are attempting to cut costs probably would be adverse to bringing a few hundred guards from various prisons to search the penitentiary. Despite this, I took the time to contemplate if I had anything which may be construed as contraband. Technically, anything which cannot be bought at the prison store or was given to prisoners through normal procedures can be contraband. In my boxes, I found some petty items such as rubber bands, non-commissary pens, and Tupperware-like bowls. Orange Crush will also take extra containers, cardboard, laundry lines, and hooks or other fixtures on the walls or bunks. I thought if they did take these things it would not be a great loss and I would just have to get new ones. What I did not want to lose were the packs of prison peanut butter I had, so I spent the time to squeeze them out into peanut butter jars which are sold on commissary. My cellmate asked me if he should discard some glue and I told him, "Definitely not. We will need it after the SORT tears off or scrapes off all our hooks and twister ties on the wall."

Every morning after Monday, I have been anticipating the Orange Crush to storm the cell house. Water is usually turned off and I look over to the sink to see if the dribble ceases. The sink has been broken for a long time and recently it just continuously dribbles out cold water. I also try to listen to the guards radio traffic. Since I am in a cell near the sergeant's office where many guards congregate in the morning, I can sometimes hear their radios. SORT may use a different frequency but I thought nevertheless I may get a "heads up" or clue. Although I have no real contraband, I do not like to be surprised and be disrupted. Thus, throughout the week, I have been waking up a little earlier to eat my breakfast, use the toilet, wash my face, brush my teeth, and do other things. My cellmate apparently does not care and will sleep late as usual. Anthony does not seem to be perturbed about the mayhem an Orange Crush invasion can bring.

On a few mornings, I could tell guards in the cell house were preparing for the SORT. However, it seemed when they came to work, they did not even know what the Orange Crush's plans were. I tended to get the impression they would only be informed a short time in advance. After 8 a.m., I knew the cell house would not be searched but there was still the possibility the tactical team could come at noon if they split their work between two cell houses as they have done before when there was a massive contingent of guards. On Wednesday morning, I knew the Orange Crush was in the cell house next door and thought they could be in C House later in the day. They never came, but various inmates told my cellmate and I to expect them Thursday, bright and early. Showers were surprisingly allowed for prisoners Wednesday evening and these men stopped by to tell us what they had heard.

According to rumor, shanks were found in other cell houses. In B House a stash was discovered, not in someones cell but in the cell house somewhere. Like the knife found last week in this unit's shower drain, guards seemed to know exactly where to look. Also, interestingly a cell phone was found inside a dialysis patient's cell. A nurse was immediately suspected of bringing it into the prison because apparently these phones can store photographs and one of the photos was of the nurse giving oral sex to the prisoner. My cellmate said he might have to consider intentionally causing his kidneys to fail. I knew he was joking but thought about how ugly most of the nurses were. Ever since a couple of nurses I talked with on occasion quit, there is maybe only one or two who are above average looking.

During the evening, I could relax. There was no chance of SORT coming on the second or midnight shift. I watched a couple of movies and television programs sometimes with my cellmate, although fortunately he now has his own TV. The film "Basic Instinct" was on Sunday, and "Gladiator" on Wednesday. I nearly always watch Gladiator when it is shown on TV despite how many times I've seen it already. Basic Instinct with Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas was made in the 80's, and I had not seen it in awhile. In the movie the character played by Stone is suspected of killing someone with an ice pick. Later in the week when my cellmate made a joke about how easy it would be to kill me in my sleep, I told him as a precaution I may have to keep an ice pick-like shank under my mattress like in the film. My cellmate and I regularly exchange dark humor to amuse ourselves. We even had plenty of jokes for the double Bachelor shows and another reality TV program called "Survivor".

Yesterday, Drew Peterson, an ex-cop from Bolingbrook who was convicted of killing one of his three wives was sentenced to 38 years.The media reported falsely that he was quickly transferred to Stateville. Oftentimes, people misconstrue the NRC as a part of Stateville. NRC is the Northern Receiving Center next to Stateville which is where inmates are processed before being sent to a penitentiary. Typically, men are there weeks if not months before being transferred. However, apparently, because of Peterson's notoriety and former employment as a police officer, he was only there for a day before being sent to Pontiac's protective custody unit. My cellmate commented the IDOC would be held responsible if any harm came to him. Despite this, we both thought it would be amusing if the entertaining ex-cop with a confident swagger was actually sent to Stateville. Hopefully, he will sign out of P.C. before he wins his appeal and is remanded for a new trial.

After the guards realize the SORT is not coming to the cell house, they will oftentimes have a good time joking amongst themselves or occasionally with inmates. I had the lieutenant making fun of my exercising which I do at the front bars. Another lieutenant came to my cell to joust with me about political discord in Washington, D.C. A guard in the cell house regularly jokes with my neighbor by telling him to get ready for work. My neighbor is a cell house worker and the guard does not want to pass out food trays, supplies, or pick up garbage. Another inmate yelled to him the gallery floor was dirty and needed to be swept and mopped. The guard just laughed at him. There was no chance he was going to do more work. An inmate who lives on one of the galleries above mine is regularly razzed by guards. They pretend he has to pay extortion or protection fees. The cell house lieutenant told me that one needs to keep a sense of humor in a miserable place like this. Possibly, this is true to lift the spirits of not only the condemned who live here but those who work here as well.

It has been very cold outside and snowing on some days. I thought of how uncomfortable this will be if prisoners are made to go to the chow hall to wait while their cells are ransacked without adequate clothing. The Orange Crush will always limit the clothes an inmate can wear. During their last search, prisoners could not wear any underclothes or socks. Men were dressed barefoot in slippers with only a thin pair of blue state pants and a blue state shirt. It was about 100 degrees that day, but this week it has been in the 20's with wind as well as snow.

Fortunately, the prison was placed on a level 4 lockdown yesterday and the rumors of inmates were false. C House was not searched nor will it be searched. The Orange Crush did rush the cell house next door, but only about half of the cells were entered. No outside assistance from other penitentiaries was used and it seems the search was more focused with fewer resources. I tend to believe the Intel of I.A. is much greater than commonly thought. Full sweeps of the entire prison are typically wasteful, redundant, and unnecessary. The penitentiary should be off lockdown completely by Monday and my respite from the noise and discord of regular operations will be over. Apparently, my anticipation of the Orange Crush creating havoc was unwarranted.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Statewide Max-Security Lockdown -- February 15, 2013

An inmate was beaten to death purportedly by his cellmate last month at Menard Correctional Center. However, due to the questionable circumstances of his murder, many prisoners suspect foul play at that prison where there is great tension between captives and their captors. Earlier this week, a group of inmates attacked two guards and a chaplain who apparently happened to get caught up in the melee. The prison at Pontiac also had a staff assault although this was an isolated incident. I suspect this occurred in one of the segregation units but cannot be for certain. Stateville guards have been hyper security conscious and after some suspicious activity, the penitentiary has been placed on lockdown as well. Prison officials seem paranoid about losing their tight control of the IDOC. They continue to exaggerate dangers and lobby for a reversal of prison closures as well as for more superfluous staff. However, they choose to ignore the root of the potential for increased violence.

Menard C.C. is located in southern Illinois and is adjacent to the Mississippi River just south of St. Louis. It is a much cleaner, efficient, and competently run facility which is not nearly as dilapidated as Stateville. However, guards are pettier about rules and there is greater friction between staff and inmates. In the West and East cell houses, there is regular conflict where most of the more aggressive prisoners are housed. From transfers, I am told about many hostilities and how guards will retaliate. According to rumor, the inmate who was killed was the victim of such retaliation. Rumors within a penitentiary can often be false or distorted let alone between prisons even if inmates are regularly transferred between them.

The man rumored to be killed by staff was a gang member and there is speculation of a correlation between his death and the fight during religious services. According to a downstate newspaper, approximately 15 inmates at Menard beat up the two guards and the chaplain. The newspapers did not mention the race of those involved in the melee, but it is largely speculated they were Mexican. There are two large Hispanic gangs in the IDOC and when they believe one of their own is mistreated, they often seek revenge. Security personnel perceive the gangs to be the most dangerous due to the unity and growing strength in numbers. The only significant Caucasian gang was disbanded long ago because of a lack of purpose. Unlike other gangs, the North Siders were never a street gang brought into the prison system. It was a gang created on the inside for the protection of white inmates. Danger has greatly receded and white men are expected to stand on their own. Black gangs are largely fractured and unorganized although they continue to make up the vast population of inmates.

Stateville was placed on lockdown Wednesday afternoon. According to what I was informed, there was a large group of Mexican inmates congregating on the yard. There was no violence or even the violation of a minor prison rule. However, a guard in a gun tower reported the group and the Internal Affairs Unit became paranoid possibly in part due to the happenings at Menard CC. All inmates were ordered to leave the yard and were locked in their cells. Stateville has a new warden since the beginning of the year and he is said to be extra security precautious. He ordered the entire penitentiary to be placed on a level 4 lockdown.

A level 4 lockdown is not as strict as a level 1. Inmates are allowed to attend health care passes, some work details are permitted, and visitation is not interrupted. I was on a visit at the time the prisoners in E House were ordered off the yard. Guards in the visiting room did not even mention the lockdown and visits continued until their customary time. However, due to a stop all movement order, I had to wait in the visiting room afterwards and then again in a holding cage in the cell house. Steve, a prisoner I am acquainted with, had returned from some religious service and was stuck in the holding cage with me. It was Ash Wednesday and he had a dark cross ash mark on his forehead. I asked him if extra ashes were put on the heads of more prolific sinners. He told me he was just given preferential treatment which puzzled me. I told him if he likes I can put an even bigger and darker cross on his forehead with a thick black magic marker.

Later in the day, inmates in their cells were brought their dinner meals in styrofoam trays by cell house workers. I did not mind the room service or the lack of showers. Typically, showers are run in C House on Wednesdays, but I have not gone to the shower room all this year. Earlier, I had bathed out of my sink and I prefer doing this rather than going downstairs. My cellmate went to work in the kitchen as usual at 10 p.m., although he did not want to go. He was hoping the lockdown would give him some time off.

Thursday, prisoners were kept in their cells for another day except for men with job assignments. I spoke with my cellmate as well as other workers about the strange lockdown. Never before has the prison been locked down simply because there was a large group of men talking on the yard. My cellmate reminded me that two weeks ago, he along with all other midnight shift kitchen workers were questioned by I.A.  A few pieces of steel were found in the handlebar of a cart. The pieces of steel were not sharpened, although security personnel believed they were intended to be made into shanks. No one in the kitchen knew anything about the metal and any number of people could be responsible. Other workers mentioned how about 30 mostly Hispanic inmates in segregation were transferred to Pontiac and swapped with prisoners from that institution. Apparently, administrators were trying to shuffle the deck a little believing this disrupted any organized gang activity.

Early this week, Hooch returned from segregation and was placed in the cell next door to me. The Assignment Officer had assigned him to the cell before the incident with Snake put him under investigation for fighting. After two weeks, Internal Affairs determined there was no reason to justify a disciplinary ticket to be written. Despite the accusations of Snake, guards did not see anything but Hooch dodging a swing and moving away. I asked Hooch what he knew about the transfers. He had been released from Seg, however, before the lockdown and did not know anything about the Latinos who were sent to Pontiac. He was aware a few Hispanics were taken to the offices of IA to be questioned though and more were spoken to in other cell houses. I assume all those who were on the yard from E House were brought in for questioning as well.

Unlike most prisoners, I could care less about lockdown and in fact usually prefer it. Lately, I care less and less about anything. People ask me occasionally how I am doing which is a broad and stupid question in my opinion. What exactly do they want to hear? Is it merely social protocol, a greeting, or do they really want to know and to what degree? I am in prison serving a protracted death sentence for a crime I did not commit and am usually miserable or bitter. However, I tend to think people do not want to hear this. Yesterday, I had more reason to be in a sour and melancholic mood because it was Valentine's Day. To add to my unhappiness my mother was nice enough to mention a woman I wrote romantically for several years until I knew it was pointless. I was never being released and could never have a real relationship with her. I do not know why my mother and her continue to occasionally write, but I do not want to hear about it.

Throughout the day in my cell, I periodically thought about girls I had written in the past or dated before my arrest. During the evening, I took a break from rewriting a post that my blog helpers did not like to watch television. There was nothing on that captured my attention, however, and I ended up looking at a Charlie Brown Valentine's Day cartoon. It reminded me of a girl I liked throughout grade school. On Valentine's Day while in the 5th grade, I made Kris a very nice Valentine's Day card, however, I signed it "anonymous". I think she knew it was from me but regardless she and all the other girls got handwriting samples from all the boys. Apparently, I have unique penmanship and they laughed and giggled at me. I told my story to my cellmate because I have no one to share it with. He thought it was mildly amusing, but he was in his own fantasy world thinking about celebrity women on television at least until there was a commercial break. By chance while I was telling my story there was an ad for the David Letterman Show and one of his Top 10 Lists said, "Since you're my cellmate, you may as well be my Valentine." This was disturbing to both of us and I sat back down to dwell about my life being over.

Today the prison began the day off lockdown and there were normal operations. However, in the mid afternoon I heard shouts of prisoners yelling "I.A. in the building!" I had just awakened from a nap and looked down to see a handful of the investigative unit looking around on the ground floor. They seemed to be searching for something small. I wondered if cell house help or a guard lost an item until they began to go through the pages of books left on a fire hose box and then mop rags hanging on a pipe. One man took a small flashlight and looked inside the hot air vents where last year a shank or prison-made knife was found. The silly randomness of their search made me think it was an act. About a half hour later a guard claimed he found a shank in the shower drain. I highly doubt he found anything. Either I.A. planted the piece of steel or they had a snitch tell them where to look. In another cell house I.A. just happened to find other knives by coincidence.

It is late Friday evening as I write and the prison is now on a strict level 1 lockdown. Everyone is locked in their cells and the telephones have been collected. Guards passed out dinner trays and later picked up trash. I sense that a full lockdown was what prison authorities wanted. In my cellmate's newspaper there is an article about how the union is still complaining about the closure of Tamms Supermax. They contend that there is overcrowding and lack of staff which has led to an increase in violence and danger in the IDOC. The loss of isolating confinement at Tamms is exasperating the problems. This is a farce as much as I believe the lockdown is.

The truth is the Illinois Department of Corrections has never been safer since I was sent to the penitentiary in 1995. Furthermore, there is more than double and possibly triple the amount of staff there was in the 1990's. Maximum security prisons have always had weapons and violence has always been common. Before the turn of the century, nearly everyone had a shank on their being and security personnel should be satisfied now that there are only comparatively few and they are hidden away. The diminished amount of violence is a radical departure from the past. Convicts who have been incarcerated a couple of decades or more joke how Stateville is a protective custody unit. In fact, protective custody in the 90's was extremely violent compared to general population in 2013.  Drew Peterson, an ex-cop with a very high profile murder conviction, can probably be housed at Stateville without much problem, if any, I told my cellmate. I hope Peterson refuses P.C. and is transferred to Stateville because I think he would be an amusing character. Plus, I may be able to get an interview for my blog.

Logan C.C is being cleared out to make room for female prisoners from Dwight. This, of course, is going to cause overcrowding in the system. From what I have read, prisons that are medium security now are being set up with dormitories in their gymnasiums just as in minimum security prisons. The IDOC is well beyond its capacity, but this has been true for a decade. Illinois could not build enough prisons to keep the number of inmates coming in confined as designed. Maximum-security is not supposed to have cells doubled up and yet even Segregation is doubled. The solution to this is not more guards or prisons. It is fewer inmates.

If the guards union and the IDOC were not self-serving, they would be lobbying for sentencing reform. Any potential increase in the danger within prisons is due to men increasingly being sentenced to natural life without parole or other similar sentences that mean they will die in prison. The prison system in Illinois is being filled with thousands of convicts who have no hope of ever being released. What type of control can guards have when the majority of inmates have nothing to lose? Possibly, if sentences were reasonable and inmates had incentives to behave, the violence prison officials portend would rarely occur. Nonviolent offenders only have to do half their time if they do not misbehave. They can also earn good time credits to reduce their sentences. This, if applied universally, would greatly influence prisoners' behavior as well as solve the problem of overcrowding.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sharing My Television -- February 8, 2013

This week, I finally have my television to myself. For most of the month of January, my cellmate had taken control of it. His TV burned out the weekend after New Year's Day. I knew how much television was Anthony's life and told him he could use it until he was able to buy a new one. I rarely watch TV and did not mind sharing. However, since I moved the television so we could both have access to it, I have had to witness the countless shows he watches, many of which I think are stupid, repugnant, or just a waste of time. I have not only been bewildered by his obsession with TV, but periodically annoyed. Sharing the television can be distracting, disruptive, and inconvenient. Furthermore, although Anthony is one of the few people I can enjoy interacting with, I am a solitary person. In a prison with nearly 2,000 inmates and about 300 just in my cell house alone, I need to be extra withdrawn from my environment.

On Saturday over a month ago, I noticed my cellmate's TV was not on. This was unusual because if Anthony is awake, his TV is almost always tuned into one program or another. When the NFL playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings was being broadcast and he was not watching the event, I knew something was wrong. I asked him why he was not watching the Packers clobber their competition. He said his TV seemed to be overheating and was turning off on its own. Anthony had a clear plastic, 13 inch RCA television like my own and I peered inside it. The TV was filthy inside and I recommended using his fan to blow air through the vents to get the dust off the circuit board. I sat back down on my bunk to watch the game and could hear him trying everything to solve the problem. Nothing worked and every time he turned on his TV, it stayed on for shorter and shorter periods of time until it did not come on at all.

The following day after my cellmate had come down off his bunk, I asked him if his TV was working. He told me it was dead and I was not surprised his television had burned out considering how much he watches it. I told him not to despair and I would untie my TV and place it on the counter so we could both watch it. At the moment, I had my TV at the end of my bunk against the back wall of the cell. From this position, he could not see it while he was in bed and he would have a poor viewing angle even if he sat on a box unless he was right next to or behind me. I rarely watch TV but to give him better access to the controls and be more comfortable, the counter on the opposing wall of the bunk beds was best. The main problem was bringing the cable and extension cord to it. I had plenty of cable wire and extra cords, but I did not want them laying on the floor to trip over or be electrocuted when bathing in the sink. Thus, I had to affix a number of twister ties to the wall so they would go above the sink and around the corner to the counter.

Untying my television did not take long, however, running the wires along the wall took a couple of hours. We did not have any glue and thus I had to melt plastic toothbrushes to adhere the twister ties. The prison provides inmates with little 3" toothbrushes. Full size toothbrushes are not allowed in maximum-security prisons because they are deemed a security threat. Any type of plastic will burn and I considered using pieces of sporks for the task. As I worked, I told my environmentalist cellmate who is opposed to fracking and the drilling for oil in many areas about the wonders and pervasiveness of petroleum made products in modern society. Oil was not only used as a fuel but also to make paint, plastics, rubber, and almost everything people use in everyday life. Oil and other fossil fuels are essential to the U.S. economy.

I finished in time to make burritos to eat with my cellmate while watching the Indianapolis Colts/Baltimore Ravens' NFL playoff game. Although I have not been paying much attention to the regular season, the playoffs have been something my cellmate and I have been able to watch together. Sports do not require any focus to watch and I did not mind listening to the games with the typically distracting noises of the cell house. I always use my headphones when listening to the radio or watching TV to block out the prison noise. However, I have not been able to do this for a month because only one cord can be placed into the headphone jack of the TV. Eventually, we were able to find a "Y", but we rarely used it because I watch so little television and the programs Anthony watches I care less to hear.

Anthony watches a litany of garbage I find not only annoying but abhorrent. During the day, he will watch programs such as Entertainment Tonight, The Talk, Ellen Degeneres, and his favorite, TMZ. I never even heard of TMZ and asked him what it stood for. He told me years ago all Hollywood celebrities were within a "Thirty Mile Zone." The Hollywood and celebrity scene in my opinion was a vile and repulsive cesspool. Even those within the scope of the show who had values, I cared little to learn about. However, Anthony thinks it is hilarious and he likes to watch the celebrity women as well as learn all the gossip about them.

During the day, I am working out, reading, writing, or studying stocks. I do not want to be distracted by the TV and my cellmate has been courteous to use his headphones. To attempt to keep the TV out of my field of vision, I have propped it up on one of his property boxes. The counter top is almost directly across my line of sight when I am sitting on my bunk. Elevating the TV brings it parallel to the upper bunk. If I am still bothered, I will sit at the table with my back to the picture tube. If Anthony is awake when I exercise, I will move the TV to the other side of the shelf. This I do more for him than myself because I do not want my workout to distract his immensely entertaining or important television viewing. Sometimes, the headphone wire going across the cell will be in my way and I gave my cellmate a hook to attach it to the ceiling.

Anthony has a subscription for two TV guides. Why he needs more than one I do not know and I have not bothered to ask. However, when he gets them in the mail he will go through them circling, or placing stars or check marks by all the shows he wants to watch in the evening. At Stateville, there are only 13 stations in addition to network television. It is not difficult to find out what is being broadcast. However, I believe my cellmate has such an extensive array of programs he watches, it must be itemized and prioritized. A few weeks ago, I heard a rumor the new warden plans to negotiate a new cable contract when the current one expires later this year. Purportedly, he is going to have the cable operators bid to give this penitentiary a full range of stations like all the other facilities in the IDOC have. I told the prisoner who told me this, "If true, my cellmate may never leave the cell again". Other men listening chimed in. "He will quit his job," or "He won't go out for chow or yard". "He may not even bathe or if he does, he will do so out of the sink while watching TV."

My cellmate does seem to be addicted to TV. I told men at the chow hall who know him he may have gone through withdrawal if I had not let him use my TV. I went on to tell Steve that the other night I caught him at 3 or 4 a.m. with his face to the TV. Steve asked where Anthony was sitting, and I believe he had the impression he was directly in front of me where I was sleeping. I told Steve he was sitting on the toilet and had turned the TV around to face him. He thought this was incredibly amusing and I continued with how he will wake himself up after only a few hours of sleep to watch a TV show and then lay back down. He even refused to go to work one night because I wanted to watch something that made him miss his show and he had to catch it on repeat later in the night. Anthony said he missed work because he knew his sister was going to visit in the morning and he wanted more than a few hours of sleep, but we were skeptical.

During "prime time" is typically when I will disrupt my cellmate's routine of TV watching. In the morning when I watch the news and eat breakfast, Anthony is asleep. During the day, I rarely watch anything. However, in the evening I will usually look for something of interest on the TV. The investment, political, or news programs I watch are not appealing to my cellmate. For example, I watch Wealth Track, The McLaughlin Group, Nova, Frontline, and occasionally I will want to see what is on Chicago Tonight or Piers Morgan. Piers Morgan is a liberal from Britain who has a talk show on CNN. Lately, he has been very annoying with his incessant campaign to convince Americans they do not need a 2nd Amendment. When I turned to his show one evening, my cellmate had a little tantrum that I thought was amusing and gave me an opening to attack many of his stupid, shallow, or degenerate shows. I named off some such as Supernatural, Two Broke Girls, and Modern Family.

Generally, I would not share my television with a cellmate. Most of the men incarcerated at Stateville I try to avoid and even in the cell, I want as little social interaction as possible. Sharing a TV means more communication and disruption. Furthermore, I have no shared interests with the vast majority of prisoners. Some of Anthony's shows may be annoying but others would be far worse. Lastly, I could not trust the preponderance of inmates to use my TV with care or consideration. On one occasion, I happened to get into a physical confrontation with a cellmate because I refused to let him use my TV. He became angry that I would not share and lashed out at me. Few people realize how reclusive I am and need to be. Anthony is unique to most other prisoners that I have been assigned a cell with at Stateville. On occasion, I can even enjoy his company.

One show I watched regularly with my cellmate was The Bachelor. Since its season premiere on January 7th, we have been watching the show every Monday. It has been very amusing to make fun of the women and the bachelor himself. On the first show, it was absurd to what extent the producers went to make it diverse. There were five black women, a Mexican, a Filipino, an Iraqi, and even a woman with only one arm I began to call "Flipper." The show TMZ even joked about the odd selection and speculated it had to be because of a lawsuit filed by a black man claiming he was prejudicially not chosen to be a suitor on The Bachelorette. They gave odds that the women with one arm had to be kept at least four shows to be P.C. My cellmate and I also gave predictions on all the other colored women. On the next episode of The Bachelor the director of the show must have foreseen how strange it would look to set up a blond, fair complected man with so many non-white women. An explanation was given that the man actually requested a diverse set of women. I do not know if this is true and all the women except the Filipino have been kicked off. The Bachelor is not someone I can readily identify with, however, and who knows his preference in women. My cellmate calls him a "douche bag." I think he is a weird metrosexual who wears pink, aqua blue clothes and possibly pink lip gloss. He is not masculine and acts superficial as well as excessively nice to the point of absurdity. Every week the show is a blast to watch with Anthony, and I think I have convinced him to nominate me for the next show.

We have also been entertained watching Dual Survivor, mixed martial arts fighting, and a few movies. Dual Survivor has an amusing mix between Kody Lundine, a hippie survivalist and a former special operations U.S. soldier named Joe Teti. The move "Conan the Barbarian" I made my cellmate watch twice, not just because I like the film so much but because Anthony had the nerve to say Conan was not a hero. I had to have Steve talk some sense into him. Steve properly told my cellmate about Conan's numerous virtues, and how he overcame enormous adversary to vanquish the villain in the end. After the second viewing, I asked Anthony if he could tell me "the riddle of steel" and was satisfied by his answer.

Usually my cellmate has watched my TV from his bunk and this was the point of my setting it up on the shelf. I did not want him continually distracting or invading my space. It is bad enough we are forced to live in a small cage and I did not need him conjoined to my hip. Occasionally, however, he will watch TV on a box next to me if we are both watching the program. There is a table next to the bars he can lean against and if he moves another box over, he has a foot rest. While waiting to go to his work detail, he will sit or stand by the bars. The noise from the cell house is very loud and louder still towards the front of the cell. It has been annoying trying to hear over the hundreds of yelling inmates or their TVs and radios. Television can often be a form of escape for prisoners and it is very difficult to do with all the noise. I not only regularly use headphones, but normally have my TV positioned on the back wall so I do not see the bars and movement outside of them.

Two weeks ago, prisoners in my cell house were able to shop at the prison store. I accompanied my cellmate there early in the morning. Initially, I was concerned Anthony was not going to be able to buy a new TV. The staff at commissary claimed they did not have his order form and then told him he did not have any money. As soon as my cellmate's TV burned out, he called a family member to wire via Western Union a few hundred dollars. He had received the receipt and had an audit of his inmate trust fund conducted just to make sure he had the money. When I left the commissary building, Anthony was still waiting to have the issue resolved. However, much to my relief and probably his also, he came back to the cell not long after with his purchases. He did not have the TV he ordered, but this is because all electronic purchases were delayed until a prisoner's name and ID number could be ingrained in the item. Also a contract had to be processed and filled out.

Earlier this week, Anthony's TV was finally brought to the cell house and it was amusing to me that for a few mornings he woke up to look downstairs to see if contract items had been delivered. He was like a little kid waiting in anticipation of presents from Santa Claus. I played a good joke on him when he saw the boxes near the sergeant's office. I told him I hoped he also purchased a 3-prong extension cord because the new flat screen televisions required them. Of course, Anthony had not and I could see the glow leave his face. Finding a 3-prong extension cord in the cell house someone was willing to sell would be a difficult feat, if not impossible. My cellmate would have to wait until the next time C House was allowed to shop which may not be until March or April. The first thing he did after bringing the box back to the cell was to check the cord. He showed it to me like I did not know it was a 2-prong cord. I said, "You think I would have let you order the TV without a cord to make it work?" Finally, he realized that I had been toying with him.

Anthony spent the day setting up his new flat screen TV in various ways. I told him I thought the best way was to take the base off and tie it flat against the back wall where there was a small vent. This is what he did initially, but then he changed his mind. Since the time his TV broke and this week, he had procured some glue. Using the glue he made himself a little cardboard stand to adhere to the wall. He placed the TV on it, but also kept it tied to prevent it from ever falling. The 15" flat screen TV cost about $250, well over double the cost outside the IDOC. In fact, I have seen 30" flat screens of much better quality and with a remote as well as speakers for less money advertised in a newspaper. I asked my cellmate why he bothered with the stand and he told me he wanted it at exactly the right angle and apparently a 90 degree angle was not satisfactory.

Once Anthony received his television, I retied mine to the back of my bunk. It has been nice not to be bothered by my cellmate and go back to my reclusive routine. Sharing a TV has been distracting and inconvenient. In prison, inmates have very little time to themselves and almost no privacy. Television can be an escape from a wretched existence. Although I watch little of it, I am glad to tune out my environment from time to time.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Violent Neighbor -- January 30, 2013

Last week, someone new took over the responsibilities of the placement officer. At Stateville, the placement officer is in charge of all inmate housing and job details. For the last couple of years the position has been held by a woman who has a poor work ethic and attitude. Job assignments were regularly not filled timely or properly leaving many men who wanted to work and were approved to do so left in their cells. While bunks were quickly filled, the placement officer thought little or nothing about cellmates compatibility. She also did not care about the medical permits of men who were supposed to be assigned a low gallery or lower bunk due to their age, injury, or disability. When inmates wrote her about job or cell assignments, they were often ignored. The new woman who has taken over as placement officer is much friendlier and competent. She has worked at the prison many years as a counselor and is very diligent in her duties. I was therefore not surprised when she began to quickly address the backlog of problems.

Before the weekend, about ten men in the cell house were notified they would be moving on Monday. Some of these men were old or crippled and were moved to lower galleries. For example, an old black man who could barely walk and rarely left his cell was told he was being assigned a low bunk on the ground floor near the exit of the building. Chino had been waiting a long time for the accommodation and was repeatedly ignored by the former placement officer. A few of the men told they were being moved did not get along with their cellmates and had asked to be assigned another cell. I spoke with Big John on Saturday and he was not happy to not make the list. He and his cellmate continue to be very hostile towards each other. The sergeant, however, told him to be patient and the new assignment officer will probably get to him soon.

Also over the weekend, I spoke with Steve who was disappointed to be losing his cellmate. Steve has spoken in the past about how blessed he was to have an industry worker to live with. Industry workers are gone from early morning to late afternoon. For Steve it was almost like not having a cellmate. The industry worker, however, was an older man with a low bunk permit like him. I told Steve to just share bunks together and he said he likes his cellmate but not that much. He complained about how he no longer will have all the cell time to himself and that his new cellmate was excessively social. I inquired who was exchanging cells with his current cellmate. When he told me Chubby, I thought less of his complaints. Chubby or Chub as most inmates call him, was indeed social, but he was not obnoxious and was friendly. Almost everyone gets along with Chub and Steve will too.

Guards let out prisoners who were being moved early Monday morning before assignment and library lines were run out of the cell house. I noticed the two prisoners in the cell next door were being moved out. In their place, a man with a low bunk permit and "Leprechaun" were moving in. Leprechaun is an ugly troll-like man and earlier when he told my cellmate he may be our neighbor, my cellmate told him the "new laws" of having this privilege. No bothering us to pass items when the prison is not on lockdown, no yelling needlessly, and he must wash all our laundry. Leprechaun works in the prison's laundry department and is able to take extra clothes with him to work to be washed. I added that even if he is not called to his assignment, he still must do our clothes by hand. While he was disagreeing with this last part, I told him to furthermore never sneak up on our cell bars to scare me with his hideous appearance.

While property boxes, televisions, and fans were being moved, I overheard "Snake" our current neighbor complaining to the troll laundry worker about moving. I was not paying attention to his griping much because during the morning I have a regimented routine and I always try to block out most everything going on outside my cell bars. Apparently, though, Snake was not happy switching cells with Leprechaun. Personally, I thought the cell was ideal because it is the last cell on the gallery and has no traffic going by it except for an occasional guard or cell house worker cleaning the floor. Yet, the idea of just being inconvenienced to move seemed to bother him. He even argued with the other man who was also moving in the cell from an upper gallery about the matter. Hooch was sick with a bad cold and I could tell he did not want the aggravation. He told him if he did not like it, he should speak with the sergeant or lieutenant. Snake accused the cell house worker of using his influence to have the move done.

Snake is a dark skinned black man probably in his mid or early 20's. He is about my height and build but not as physically fit. He tends to have an aggressive and disagreeable character with the appearance of your typical ghetto gang banger thug. Snake has been in a couple of physical confrontations according to rumor and does not seem to get along with too many people. A couple of his prior cellmates asked to get away from him and I would not be surprised if his current cellmate did also. Snake probably has a high inmate aggression level and I am not certain why he was even assigned to C House where many older laid back prisoners live. His complaints about moving 2 cells seemed petty when he probably should have been moved to a different cell house.

Not long after the argument with Hooch, I heard a commotion outside my cell. I quickly turned around to look and saw Snake throw a wild hay maker punch. The old man easily dodged it and then backed away out of my sight. At the time, I was facing the back wall of my cell scrubbing a rag with bar soap to wash the floor. The incident happened so quickly, it was only a blur to me. I was not even certain what I witnessed until others confirmed it. Guards immediately came to the scene and approached Snake. They sought to know what transpired and initially he denied anything until guards said they saw him throw a punch. Even my cellmate who was asleep woke up to the loud disturbance and saw him attempt to hit the cell house worker.

Fights in maximum or high medium security prisons are common. There regularly are disputes which will lead to the throwing of punches. Many times they will be minor scraps and years ago these would be ignored by guards unless they had to break it up. Fighting even today is considered a minor rule violation only punishable by one month in Segregation. I could sense the sergeant assessing how best to handle the situation. A prisoner threw a punch and there was no further engagement. The situation was under control and the two men were divided with the cell house worker downstairs. The sergeant finally told Snake and Leprechaun to finish moving their property whereupon they were locked in their cells. I thought that was going to be the end of the matter, but apparently after contemplation, Snake was told to pack a Seg bag. Although throwing a punch is not technically fighting, rule violation #601 covers attempted violations of rules, including fighting.

When Snake was informed he was being sent to segregation, he was furious and initially refused to be handcuffed. He shouted at the sergeant and other guards they were racist and he was being treated unfairly. The "race card" is deployed often in prison, even at Stateville where most staff are non-white. His rants of conspiracy and prejudice seemed absurd to me particularly when I tended to believe Snake was a racist himself. It did not matter to me and I have respect for blacks who have pride in their background, but I did not appreciate it when he attempted to make a racial issue out of my prior cellmate dying. He spoke to various black prisoners attempting to incite them against me. Every issue seemed to have a racial angle to Snake, even a man who died of a heart attack. After arguing with guards for awhile, he finally settled down. The sergeant is a big man but also calm and knows how to diffuse a situation. The prisoner was handcuffed before his cell door was opened and he was led to the Roundhouse.

Not to appear impartial, Hooch was sent to Segregation also, but for investigation. Even if a prisoner does not start a fight, was only defending himself, or did not even fight back, he can be sent to Seg.  I remember an even more ridiculous situation where a prisoner came down the stairs going to chow threatening a cell house worker. The cell house worker ran behind a guard and then a staircase to avoid the man who was trying to hit him. Both of the prisoners were also taken to Seg for fighting despite no contact actually occurring. Internal Affairs sent Hooch back to the cell house not long after he left. However, on the 2nd shift, he was again sent to Seg and has not returned since. I assume the cell house worker was initially cleared by the investigative unit until Snake made some accusations or there simply was no room in Seg to hold someone for being swung at. In the evening, Leprechaun was given a new cellmate who came from the Roundhouse and I speculate space was made in Seg.

In the days since the incident, I have heard various rumors amongst prisoners. Purportedly, I missed some of the action before witnessing the wild swing. Although I heard Snake griping to Leprechaun, I did not go to my cell bars to see what was happening. Snake, congruent to his prison nickname, allegedly struck the little man without warning with a quick left right combination to the face. He must not have hit him too hard if the stories are true because he has no marks. Leprechaun, according to what I heard, just took his two licks and did not attempt to retaliate. He may have been afraid to engage the much bigger man. The horror film Leprechaun would not have been a pacifist and probably would have jumped on his back to gouge his eyes out or stab him in the throat. This Leprechaun may look like the character, but seemingly does not have his tendency for vicious violence. Despite his appearance, he seems to be a friendly person.

Rumor also has it that the punch I saw thrown by Snake was the last of a salvo. What made me turn around was a loud commotion of sorts and possibly there is some credibility to these stories. Despite the gallery worker being a slightly senile old man, he apparently got the best of the young thug. This infuriated Snake and is what caused him to throw wild punches attempting to make up for his bruising and possibly cause a knock out blow. The old man is known to have served in the Navy many years ago and has claimed to be a Navy Seal. Prisoners joke that possibly he has not lost his touch over the decades. Hooch has bad hearing and sometimes seems senile forgetting much of what you tell him. I also noticed he is sometimes clumsy and once slipped on the gallery last year in front of my previous cell. He flew off the floor and landed hard on his back. I thought he had seriously injured himself and asked if I should call for help. He took a long time getting up and was somewhat delirious, but he said he was fine. If Hooch was a Navy Seal in his youth, I doubt he still has those refined instincts.

My current cellmate was in the Marines for four years before attending Illinois Eastern University and then being arrested. He may have been in good shape a decade ago, but is now a slightly pudgy doughboy. Every now and then he will say, "That's it! It's go time," implying he had enough of my razing and he wanted to fight. To counter his jest, I will say, "I eat Green Berets for breakfast" after a punchline in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "Commando," and then add "Doughboys like you will be like Girl Scout cookies." I do not have any military training, but I have been in training most of my life. Unlike many prisoners who have been locked away for decades, I also have not let myself go. I have aged greatly in the last 20 years and am probably not half the man I once was, however, I still try to fight my physical deterioration for myself and for a possible confrontation with a convict like Snake.

I am told after Snake was escorted to F House, he was placed in a cell with a weak old Caucasian man. Like many of his previous cell mates, they did not get along. Apparently, my former neighbor attacked him, beating him severely, including shattering his eye socket. Then Snake allegedly raped him. I was skeptical upon hearing this last bit of news. Snake did not give me the impression of being a homosexual. In prison, there is a lot of gossip and it is sometimes difficult sorting fact from fiction. However, the information I have been told about Snake was corroborated by staff. He was written a disciplinary ticket for violent assault and rape. Soon he will be transferred to Pontiac segregation and will probably face new criminal charges.

I tend to doubt Snake cares if he is prosecuted for the crimes. He is already going to spend the rest of his life in prison. Being transferred to Pontiac Seg is also probably not a huge punishment. He may miss his radio, TV, and not being able to socialize. However, there is little difference between Seg and general population at maximum security prisons. Stateville, and particularly Menard, are regularly on lockdown and even when not there is little movement. These prisons are called correctional centers, but they are really punitive. Pontiac will be much of the same but he will be served better food and after 3 months can request to have his television back. Pontiac, unlike Stateville, has a full complement of cable stations. It is also cleaner and run more competently. The last remaining violent and some mentally unstable prisoners from Tamms were transferred to Pontiac last month. It seems my violent neighbor will be in good company.