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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 In a prison with nearly 2,000 inmates and about 300 just in my cell house alone, I need to be extra withdrawn from my environment.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.


  1. Mertz is officially a TV casualty. And he's the one who went to college. At least he isn't watching Glee.

  2. Hi there, just FYI, when I clicked on the link for this blog from the numbered list it redirected me to a spam page. I had to scroll through the archives to find this one.

    1. One of the EditorsAugust 29, 2013 at 10:36 PM

      Thanks again, YG, for bringing this to our attention! The link was repaired and now works!

  3. $250 for such a tiny TV is despicable. Shame on you, IDOC!

  4. How nice of you to share your TV.
    I hope you get out of jail someday.


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