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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.

10 comments:

  1. Hey Paul, I write to someone at Stateville and I have never mentioned this blog to that person. I find it interesting that he has never mentioned it to me either. Perhaps not everyone knows about it although the cat is out of the bag. I compare what he tells me with what you write, and it's pretty much the same information except that you give A LOT more information than he does. No contradictions though, I was on alert to see if he was totally honest in his writings and it looks to be the case. Also, occasionally he has written some things I probably would not have believed if it had not been for your blog. I completely believe your blog and even though I know it's from your perspective I have total faith that you are truthful.

    Great blog. You are sounding discouraged in many recent posts. I so hope you are free one day.

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  2. You won't die in prison Paul. Be positive.

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  3. Does anything make you smile or laugh?

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  4. I think it's time that Anthony wrote a post as a "guest blogger."

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  5. How could that inmate have fathered 3 children while in prison if Illinois doesn't allow conjugal visits?

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    Replies
    1. Despite the fact the IDOC has never allowed conjugal visits, in the 1990's and earlier, guards would turn a blind eye to sex during visits. The bathroom was most often used and that is why the door is now kept locked and visitors are the only people permitted to use them. They are also escorted to the bathroom and frisked afterwards.

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    2. Artificial insemination

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  6. A belated happy birthday to Anthony.

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  7. Paul, I have noticed that during conversation with fellow inmates,whenever someone expresses the least bit of optimism or hope you seem to make it a point to shoot them down. Why do you feel the need to dump on others? I understand you are miserable and I can't imagine how it must feel to be in your situation but why must you try and make everyone else as miserable as you are? If you are unable to find any hope in your life why can't you leave well enough alone when others do?

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