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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stomach Flu -- April 30, 2013

At a crowded penitentiary with close to 2,000 prisoners doubled celled and stacked on top of each other in mainly two enormous buildings, viruses spread quickly. Recently, a virulent strain of stomach flu has made a number of inmates very sick. It has not been as widespread as the food poisoning epidemic on Christmas Day, but in my opinion caused much worse symptoms. Last week, my cellmate, and then I soon thereafter became extremely ill. I was sick for three days and still continue to suffer from fatigue and loss of appetite. Since Friday, I have not left my cell and have largely slept or engaged in passive activities. Being so horribly ill has reminded me of how meaningless and miserable my existence is. On April 28, 1993, I was arrested and I have now spent 20 years in captivity. Despite my innocence, I see no end in sight.

My cellmate contracted the flu virus on Wednesday and within a few days I was sick as well. Because I tend to stay in the cell more, he is exposed to more germs and passes them on to me. There is little I can do to prevent contagion in the small 6 x 11 foot cell we share. I am already exceptionally clean and hygienic. I wash the floor and the common surfaces we may touch almost daily. Just as often I will disinfect the stainless steel sink and adjoined toilet. I also scrub the sink and floor rags vigorously with soap or disinfectant and wash my hands repeatedly throughout the day, particularly before I eat. However, much of this is done in vain. I cannot escape the airborne pathogens.

My cellmate generally sleeps until noon because he works the midnight kitchen shift. While he is sleeping, I will go about my day trying my best not to disturb him. The cell house is very loud with a cacophony of noises, but even so I will turn my fan on high to block out any noise I may create when I exercise. The fan also serves as an exhaust to dispel any body odor or perspiration. Oddly, Anthony woke up Wednesday norming to use the toilet. He was behind the privacy sheet for quite some time and I had to duck for cover to avoid being overwhelmed by the stench. Most people may complain, however, after sharing small confined spaces with various cellmates over the years, I knew it was just something I had to accept. No one's shit smells like roses.

Initially, I did not know my cellmate was sick. However, throughout the morning he continued to climb down off his bunk to use the toilet and eventually just stayed awake. Anthony has repeatedly made fun of me when I have become sick from eating bad prison food and this was my opportunity to turn the tables. After he told me he was getting dressed to see the dentist, I told him he needs to see the butt doctor instead. A dentist will be looking at the wrong end. My cellmate looked miserable and I advised him to skip his appointment and try to get some more sleep. However, he insisted on going because seeing the dentist at Stateville was very difficult. Even if rescheduled, he may not get another appointment for months. Some men wait over a year for basic dental care. Cleanings are only done once every other year as well as check ups. I have only had one cleaning in the seven years I have been at this prison.

I went on a visit Wednesday and when I returned my cellmate was sleeping. He stayed asleep until 8 p.m. when his show "Supernatural" came on TV. I tend to think even if Anthony was dying of bubonic plague, he would not miss his favorite television shows. Typically, he will have his face almost pressed to the screen, but now he watched TV lying down and peeking out from under a sheet. I told him he missed baked chicken for dinner and dangled a package of cookies in front of him which were passed out with the mail. He told me if he ate anything he may vomit. I sat back down on my bunk and tried to find the full moon I had seen in the twilight earlier when I went to the chow hall. It had moved beyond my vantage point in the cell, though.

The following day, I awakened my cellmate by knocking on the underside of his bunk. Prisoners on our gallery were being let out of their cells soon to be escorted to the commissary building. When my cellmate got down, he looked worse than he did Wednesday and I could tell he was reluctant to go. Once again, he used the toilet and although he formerly speculated he had become sick from food poisoning, he now believed it was something else. Inmates at Stateville commonly become ill from the unsanitary conditions in the kitchen, bad food, or poor food handling and hygiene of kitchen workers. I speculated he had the stomach flu based on his symptoms. On the way out of the cell I offered him a roll of toilet paper, but he refused. He would rather soil himself than use the filthy bathroom at the prison store which had little privacy.

I took a brief nap in the early afternoon and did not hear my cellmate return. However, when I stood up, I saw that he was in bed with a sheet wrapped around himself from head to toe like a mummy. Like the previous day, he slept until late in the evening. At about 9:30 he dressed in his white kitchen worker clothes and I was dumbfounded as to why he would go to work. I suggested he take the night off, and because he had Friday's off it would give him two consecutive days to try to recover. I tended to believe he had the flu and he would be passing his germs onto not only co-workers but the numerous men he made trays for. The previous night, he spent most of his time in the bathroom anyway. Again, however, Anthony refused to stay in but fortunately the kitchen supervisor seeing how ill he looked sent him back to the cell house.

I had gone to sleep and did not notice my cellmate had returned until I awoke in the middle of the night with an enormous thirst. I did not think it was unusual because I typically suffer from dry mouth in the night due to the antihistamine I am given to help me sleep. Wexford, the health care provider for the IDOC refuses to treat prisoners with sleeping problems. Therefore, instead of Ambien, Lunesta, or simply Melatonin, I am given Benadryl or Vistaril. I keep a bottle of water next to my bunk while I sleep, but even after drinking this I went to the sink to drink two more bottles. Little did I know my body had a purpose for all that water.

At the crack of dawn, I woke with severe cramps. I felt horrible and all that sunshine beaming into my cell only made me feel worse. Currently, the sun rises directly across from the cell and despite the cell house windows being dirty, the light is annoying. I had as much appreciation for the sunrise as I suppose a vampire may have, and like a vampire I felt like I was going to die. No, I was not going to burst into flames but writhe in agony. Throughout the morning, I was repeatedly going back and forth to the toilet. Instead of using a bed sheet, I used a blanket to hide away from the sunlight while on the commode and also when I slept.

When I awakened, my cellmate greeted me and asked me how I was feeling. I thought for certain he was being sarcastic. It was almost as if he was happy I was sick and he was the cause of it. Misery loves company and I responded bitterly, "How the f--- do you think I feel?" I continued saying I had spent 20 years in hell holes like Stateville because my attorney did not put on a defense. Unlike some people, I did nothing wrong, but suffer nonetheless. My cellmate was quiet, and later I learned he was not aware that I had become sick. He was personally feeling better and apparently his merry greeting was simply a reflection of this. I do not know how he slept through the multiple times I flushed the industrial toilet.

I did not have much energy to do anything and spent a few hours reading before going back to sleep. Four hours later, I awakened and made some tea for my cellmate and me. The movie "Trouble with the Curve" was played on the prison's cable system and I watched it with him. In the movie, Clint Eastwood played a baseball scout at the end of his career. His character was a grumpy old man in declining health, but with strong convictions. My cellmate mentioned I was similar in disposition and I replied the actor will probably be me in 20 more years but instead of going blind, I will be crippled with back pain. To his amusement I told him how the female medical practitioner told me during a physical that I looked like Clint Eastwood and I was not sure if she meant that as a compliment.

On Saturday, I spent the morning reading and trying to prevent myself from hearing all the cell house noise. It became very loud when prisoners were let out for various religious services and detail yard. I questioned my cellmate if he was going outside to leave me in solitude whereupon I could suffer alone. However, of course, he was still not feeling completely healthy and has only once ever gone to the yard on the weekend. He asked me why I did not work out in the morning as I usually do. I told him I would, but I may shit on myself and while I did not care, he may. I put my earplugs in and then put headphones on to block out the prison noises with some classical music. I have Mozart's Requiem and as I listened to it I pondered my own existence. Being severely ill in a maximum security prison can make one wonder why they continue to live when their future is nothing but indefinite suffering.

I slept most of the afternoon and had little energy to do anything when I awoke. I missed The Larry Kudlow Report on WLS AM radio which I usually listen to for expert analysis of the economy as well as political commentary. I did not really care if on Friday the markets crashed, although I did tune in to the McLaughlin Group on the public broadcast station to see if North Korea ignited a hydrogen bomb or if there was any new news about the Boston bombings connection to Chechnya's Islamic radicals. Thereafter I watched "Dr. House" and then Britain's "Doc Martin." There was little that could be done about the flu, but I wondered if I could benefit from seeing a doctor myself.

A nurse with a distinct German name came to my cell to give me my sleeping medication. As customary she asked me how I was doing and normally I interpret this as just polite social protocol. However, since she asked I said, "Terrible. I believe I have the stomach flu." The majority of nurses or medical technicians at Stateville probably would not have cared, but she asked me a series of questions to determine if there was anything medically she could do or if there was any emergency. There was not, and she told me she would just have some acetaminophen sent up to my cell. The great joke at Stateville is no matter what your problem is the medical staff have the same treatment: Tylenol. Infection? Liver failure? Broken ankle? Cancer? All of these can be cured with Tylenol for a five dollar fee. I knew there was no treatment for the flu and the recommendation is plenty of rest and fluids. The Tylenol which was brought to me I reasoned was just to be nice and act as a placebo. The most it could do is reduce body aches. I was about to throw the tablets on my shelf and go back to sleep, but for some reason I did not and I swallowed a couple of them. Later that night I would be glad I did.

During the night, I developed a high fever. I had to change clothes. All my underclothes were drenched in sweat. While I took them off to replace with dry ones, I shivered with such intensity like I have never experienced before. It was the oddest phenomena. I was boiling over in fever but was freezing at the same time. I put on two more dry pairs of socks, T-shirts and some boxer briefs along with thermals, a sweat suit and a skull cap. I still shivered uncontrollably until I went under two wool blankets. Somehow I fell back asleep despite how cold and hot I was.

In the morning, I felt better and assumed the fever served to kill off the virus. However, I wondered at what cost. I was mildly delirious and wondered if I had not also fried some brain cells. I just read an article about how a fever of 101 was nothing to be concerned about but mine probably spiked to 106. I mentioned the matter to my cellmate and he said I should ask the nurse. Most of the nurses were just walking pez dispensers, however. What type of people did my cellmate think Wexford employed? Did he think Dr. Gregory House and his team of experts worked at Stateville? The incompetence and neglect of medical staff at the prison is widely known. There is currently a man who has been denied treatment of throat cancer on the gallery below me and has been left in his cell to die. Apparently, the costs are prohibitively expensive to attempt to save his life.

Although Sunday I felt significantly better, I still did not exercise, bathe, or eat. I kept on a full set of clothes that made me look like the Michelon Man and drank water or tea. When my cellmate made some Ramen noodles and beef stew, I told him to hide it from me. I did not like the sight or smell of food. For my pudgy doughboy cellmate, the stomach flu had the benefit of forcing him to lose some weight. However, for me I knew eventually I would have to force myself to eat or I would quickly look emaciated. Eventually, I would also have to bathe but the thought of taking off all my layers of clothing was not appealing when I was still very cold with them on. Plus, the water would only make me feel colder while bathing out of the sink. Shower lines were run on the weekend, but this too I did not want to do. I told my cellmate if I smell of body odor he will just have to deal with it until the following day.

The only TV I watched on Sunday evening was a show on the Discovery channel called "Naked Survivor." It was a reality TV show where a man was left on a deserted island with nothing, not even clothing. I did not know what the reason was for this. Anyone in a survival situation would have some type of clothing. If it was an attractive woman I could see the entertainment value but not a man. This man also was not very skilled, resourceful, or intelligent. Watching Bear Grills or some other special ops in the wilderness was interesting but this man was pathetic. No wonder the show had been edited down to only 5 episodes. While watching the finale, though, I thought it was similar to me trying to survive at Stateville while sick with the flu. It was 20 years ago that I was arrested on that day and I recalled some of my near death experiences in the Cook County Jail and maximum-security prisons over the years.

Yesterday, I exercised as I normally do in the mornings at the front of the cell. My cellmate awakened briefly to tell me I was moving slow. I told him he needed to go back to sleep before I gave him a kick to the head. It took a lot to push myself through my workout and I was greatly exhausted afterwards, but quickly washed up before my body temperature dropped and I was cold again. I spent most of the rest of my day reading, but stopped to watch a defense expert in the Jodi Arias murder trial in Maricopa County, Arizona. It seemed absurd to me that she had an excuse to butcher her boyfriend, Travis Alexander. Even if I believed she was in some way abused, it did not justify a brutal premeditated murder. Later, I listened to all the "talking heads" on the tabloid journalism TV shows Nancy Grace and Dr. Drew. I did not like their reporting, but had to agree the woman was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Today I was glad the temperature rose to 70 degrees to take some of the chill out of my cold concrete cubicle. A cell house worker opened a few windows to let in some fresh air. Yard lines were run but the air from the windows was enough for me. I did not plan to leave my cell except if I was called for a visit. Over the weekend, I failed to call my family because I was feeling so ill. I am regularly in a foul or nonsocial mood. Lately, I have been attempting to be less unpleasant to my parents. This weekend would have been a futile effort while sick and brooding about my injustice. I did give my cellmate an earful after watching an ABC news interview of Amanda Knox.

Amanda Knox was recently re-indicted for the murder of Meredith Kercher despite the appellate court finding she was innocent. Unlike in the U.S., the supreme court in Italy can overturn an exoneration based on technical reasons. What those trial errors were has not been released by the country's highest court yet and one can only speculate. Knox is currently free in the U.S. but could face the prospect of extradition. Despite how the Kercher family continues to believe she is guilty in their daughter's death in some way, I am convinced she is totally innocent. It is apparent to me the African immigrant who plead guilty and testified against Knox and Sollecito for a reduced sentence killed Meredith. Ironic how the actual killer will serve less than 10 years and the prosecution continues to go after those he implicated, but then my co-defendant was acquitted and I continue to rot in prison two decades later. Amanda Knox complains of having to serve over 1,400 days in an Italian prison which was like a Ramada Inn compared to where I have been for 7,306 days (including two days at the police station). I hope Knox is not sent back to Italy to serve any more time and I am glad she was given $4 million for her book, however, there are far greater injustices in the U.S. that never gain any media attention or are ever resolved.

My cellmate has gone off to work and does not have to listen to me rant about the injustice of my conviction or how disparate the situations are between Knox and me. Apparently, I am feeling better to be so revved up. While I was ill I rarely said a word and I would not have been able to stay awake to write this post. I finally ate my first bit of food while watching the Amanda Knox interview: a piece of bread and a banana. The bread was donated by a charity and was very good. I am not certain the source but my cellmate tells me Costco is printed on the boxes. The bread the IDOC makes is usually stale and is always regular wheat or white sliced bread. Tomorrow I will eat a full meal. I believe I am quickly recovering from what was a powerful strain of flu.


  1. So sad to be away from family when you really could have used some tender loving care. On the other hand, when I had the flu I just wanted to be left alone and near the bathroom!

    Why don't these prisons offer flu vaccinations? With thousands of men living in confined quarters, germs spread rapidly among them. IDOC really is "penny wise and dollar foolish." They should at least consider the health of the guards who walk among all these sick men.

  2. I can't speak to Stateville,but Centralia did offer flu shots although most men turned them down.


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