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Friday, July 26, 2013

Extra Invasive Security -- June 18, 2013

This post was originally written on May 10th, but was apparently destroyed by the prison's Internal Affairs unit. Security personnel periodically intercept my mail to scrutinize it before it leaves the penitentiary. When they do not like the content, the letter is thrown away. They have no right to do this and despite being a prisoner, I still have certain constitutional protections including the 1st Amendment. Unfortunately, any complaint I would make will be ignored or denied. There is no way to prove my mail was taken and Internal Affairs will never admit to doing so. Using my notes, I will attempt to recreate the post I wrote over a month ago. Hopefully, it will not also disappear and readers will still find it of interest.

On May 2nd, prisoners in my cell house were let out early for chow. It was only minutes past 9 a.m. when I was lined up outside the enormous city block long concrete building with other prisoners from the first and second floor. To our surprise, between 10 and 20 SORT guards were waiting just inside the chow hall. They were dressed in their bright orange jumpsuits which had led in part to their nickname Orange Crush. The men wore a full complement of black body armor and were also equipped with batons and mace. As prisoners filed into the building, many were pulled out of line to be thoroughly frisked.

Uninterrupted, I walked into the inner feed circle to get my meal and then sat at a table in one of the peripheral dining areas. A few inmates I customarily acquaint with joined me and spoke about the Orange Crush ambush as they ate their meals. It was unusual for the SORT unit to be used to pat down prisoners. They are outfitted and trained to deal with hostile situations such as cell extractions, mass inmate rebellions, riots, or during large scale cell house searches. The O.C. was basically the administration's battle battalions and yet they were searching prisoners who were simply going to eat.

For lunch men were served a chicken-soy pattie, bread, lettuce and instant potatoes. The dessert was an unripened banana and typically most prisoners would bring them back with them to eat later. However, with the Orange Crush conducting searches, the men wanted to avoid confrontation with the heavily armed guards. I was not eating a green banana and put mine in my front pants pocket. I told others at the table there was going to be trouble if anyone touched my banana, pun intended. Although many inmates were again frisked and some even were strip searched when leaving the chow hall, I managed to escape being groped.

In the early afternoon, I left the cell to go to the large prison yard. I mainly lifted weights with my cellmate during the recreation period. He even joined me at the chin-up bar which was on a slight hill near the handball court. While there, we watched the Orange Crush march around the penitentiary seemingly without purpose. Their aimless wandering amused us and we speculated the administration had them suited up simply to use the excess manpower which exists at Stateville. Since the closure of Dwight, Tamms, and a few juvenile detention centers, the prison has been the recipient of many personnel transfers. The surplus of guards has mainly been used to beef up an already superfluous security presence rather than to support operational activities.

The Orange Crush stopped their wanderings to enter the personal property building. They were in there for almost an hour before they came out to continue their march around the prison grounds. Later, I learned they searched through the legal boxes of inmates. Prisoners were resentful of the search because legal materials are supposed to be confidential. Guards are not permitted to read correspondence from attorneys, work product, or discovery. However, despite the rule, I do not know if this prohibits them from looking for contraband in the legal boxes. A guard can sift through papers without reading them.

After returning to my cell, I bathed out of my sink and then made myself a few peanut butter sandwiches. I was sitting on a property box at the table near the bars when I noticed inmate workers being locked in their cells. Workers are locked up at the end of their shift, but it was still early. I spoke with my neighbor who informed me the prison was placed on lockdown. Apparently, the Orange Crush was searching various buildings and inmates throughout the day. In the school, prison wine was found along with a cell phone. The man laughed when he said the phone was found in someone's ass.

The thought that a prisoner hid a cell phone in his butt and brought it to school was hilarious. For the next hour, my cellmate and I entertained ourselves speculating how the phone was found and why the man was carrying it around in his kiester. I told my cellmate facetiously that we were wrong and the Orange Crush was not aimlessly wandering the prison grounds. They were triangulating the electronic signals of the cell phone. I pretended as if I had a tracking device and made a series of escalating beeping sounds which pointed out the man with the nefarious contraband stuffed in his butt. I hypothesized another scenario where the prisoner got caught because his phone began to ring to some hip hop music when the Orange Crush was there. I commented the man was lucky cell phones had been miniaturized because before my arrest they were the size of a boot. Even if he brought his own KY like Jodi Arias, he was going to have problems.

I could not figure out why a prisoner would bring a cell phone with him to school. Did he have an important call he had to make or was he expecting one? Was he going to give the phone to someone else or did he always carry it around in his butt? My cellmate asked me if I ever saw the movie "Pulp Fiction" where actor Bruce Willis jeopardizes his life to go all the way back home after a clean get-a-way to get a gold watch. I did, but did not recall why and he explained the watch belonged to his father who was killed in the Vietnam War. A friend of his took the watch and had to keep it hidden in his ass because he was a captured P.O.W. I told him no watch or phone was worth keeping in your butt.

During the evening while I was watching closing arguments in the Jodi Arias murder trial, a large number of guards entered the cell house. Prisoners shouted "I.A. in the building!" but they were not all from the security unit. I went to my cell bars to see what all the commotion was about and saw the guards quickly going up the stairs. A couple of them exited on the gallery I am on and began to go in and out of cells. I was not concerned, only curious, and continued to eat a burrito I had made earlier when a guard opened my cell door. He said he just needed to check something and I did not have to leave. The guard checked a metal cap on the ceiling where a light bulb once hung to make sure it was secure. To this day I do not know what the emergency was. I assume I.A. thought they may find contraband hidden above the cap in the ceiling.

Word of the cell phone traveled quickly around the penitentiary and by the weekend it was the joke of guards as well as inmates. Guards in my cell house joked with a prisoner who is celled on a gallery above mine. They shouted to him they were about to shake-down his cell and he better have that phone hidden before they climbed the stairs. Later they would tease him and say if he did not turn over the phone, they were calling the proctologist. The prisoner cried out he did not have a phone. "Too late," the guards said. "I.A. is already here and they have some extra thick rubber gloves." The exchanges received a number of laughs in the cell house.

I had to resolve my curiosity and eventually asked a guard how they discovered the cell phone if it was hidden in the convict's body. He told me the Orange Crush found a cell phone recharger on the man when searching prisoners at the school. The man tried to claim it was just a Walkman adapter, but the guards knew better. During a strip search, they thoroughly scrutinized him and saw the contraband partly sticking out when he was ordered to bend over and spread his cheeks. No one on the SORT wanted to pull it out so they called the Health Care Unit. While some lucky nurse was en route, the phone just happened to come out. I assume the prisoner, to save himself further embarrassment or violation, made sure it did not come down to extraction. The cell phone was not your typical model but a watch phone which I did not even know existed. Hearing that the phone was a watch my cellmate exclaimed he was right. It was just like the movie Pulp Fiction.

Cell phones have been found before without the prison being placed on lockdown and some prisoners speculated it was done because it was Officer Appreciation Week. They believe the administration put the Orange Crush on a mission to justify the closure of the facility to make the guards happy. Without normal operations, guards have less work to do and have a more carefree and easy shift. I am not buying the conspiracy theory, although I do know that despite the level one lockdown kitchen workers were allowed to work to prepare and cook the guards' special meals. Officer Appreciation Week is mainly about the food. Most of the year, guards will bring their own meals with them to work and many refuse to eat the garbage prisoners are fed. This week, they were served pizza, grilled BBQ chicken, bratwurst and burgers, deep fried breaded catfish, and sliced cheese and ham sandwiches. On one day, Subway takeout was brought into the prison for staff to eat.

During the lockdown, B House was searched by SORT and Internal Affairs. The entire upper gallery was ransacked as well as random cells throughout the unit. From what I am told, some cash and drugs were found. Just the month prior, about 1/4 oz. of marijuana was discovered. My cellmate happened to see the lieutenant bring the bag to the offices of I.A. across from the kitchen. I had been meaning to joke with the lieutenant about his big pot bust and also accuse him of skimming some for himself. I know how left-wing socialists like to smoke weed. It is probably how they are able to maintain their ridiculous ideology.

My subscription to the Wall Street Journal expired and occasionally I will read my cellmate's central Illinois newspaper, The News-Gazette. There was an interesting article about how on the day Stateville went on lockdown a female guard at Danville was assaulted. According to the paper, a prisoner lured her from a day room into an adjacent laundry room. Once there, he beat the guard and then sought to rape her but another prisoner came to her rescue. A union representative was quoted complaining the incident illustrates how unsafe the IDOC is and how more staff is needed. The accusations and conclusions of the union representative were absurd. The IDOC has the least amount of violence and the highest number of guards ever in my 20 years of incarceration. My cellmate agreed the complaints were nonsense, but said because of them prisoners will no longer be allowed to work the midnight shift in living units.

The administration's response will certainly not be appreciated by guards who work from 11 to 7. Now they will have to do all the work once done by inmates including passing out breakfast trays, picking up garbage and soiled laundry bags. Every week at Stateville, hundreds of dirty mesh laundry bags from each cell house must be collected, bagged, and brought over to the laundry building. It is a lot of unpleasant work and already the 3rd shift guards attempted to get out of doing it, but superiors have ordered them to do so. Apparently, midnight shift guards will not be sitting on their butts all night anymore, and they have their own union to thank.

Also not well received by staff were searches conducted by I.A. on them. It is a well known secret that much of the contraband in the penitentiary is brought in by guards and various other staff who work here. Normally, they come and go without any scrutiny, but over the week security personnel randomly frisked and looked through the belongings of these men and women. They were not strip searched or treated like prisoners but nonetheless they did not like having their privacy invaded. Ironic how some staff have no problem with the excessive and invasive security until they get a taste of it.

On Tuesday evening, an announcement was made over the cell house loudspeaker that all prison jackets were being collected. The following day the major was in the building and threatened inmates who did not turn in their coats that they would be subject to disciplinary action. Angry prisoners yelled out complaints and obscenities. It was still cold outside and they knew the administration sought to recycle their jackets. The next winter they would get someone's old and possibly torn up clothing. I turned in my coat the first day without protest, but I knew the idea to reuse the cheap coats was stupid. Although some jackets are lost or discarded in the summer, the amount of money saved will be minuscule to the amount squandered on redundant security. The cheap windbreakers are made by prison laborers for under $20. However, the costs of unnecessary staff and security is in the millions.

The closure of Tamms, Dwight, and a few juvenile detention centers was supposed to save the State of Illinois a significant amount of money. However, the greatest expense of those facilities is not their maintenance, but the salaries of staff. Originally there was going to be layoffs for non senior guards, but this did not occur. What occurred was simply jamming more people in less space with little cost savings. The extra guards at Stateville are not needed. They have only allowed the administration to impose more rules, regulations, oversight, and most of all, security. While little manpower has been used for operations, a great amount has been used to increase already absurd levels of SORT, I.A., and other security personnel. It is little wonder the IDOC continues to squander vast sums of money.      

Update -- July 9, 2013
Midnight shift guards have convinced the administration to have laundry picked up on the 2nd shift. Prison workers are now once again doing the work.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Accreditation of Wexford -- June 29, 2013

Wexford, the health care provider for the IDOC, is attempting to gain accreditation. The approval of whom and how this is being overseen is uncertain to me. What is certain is that nurses are following some redundant and stupid rules which have greatly annoyed me over the past couple of weeks. It seems procedure and appearances matter more  than the quality of health care. Although I have noticed some improvements this year, many men continue to be denied or delayed treatment for serious medical problems.

Last month a nurse passing out medications during the evening brought me Gabapentin. When I saw the two large capsules, I asked her what they were for. I was told there is a new policy and the medication can no longer be kept by prisoners in their cells. It must be delivered to them and taken on the spot. I said, "In that case, I do not want it," and gave her back the pills. She asked me if I had any in my cell because she had to confiscate them. I told her I did not. This was a lie, however, I was not going to cease taking the medication abruptly nor was I going to give her pills I had been prescribed by the doctor to help with my back pain.

Gabapentin is the generic drug for Neurontin. Its initial use was to help people with seizures, but it was discovered it also had the benefit of helping those with nerve damage. The two injured disks in my spine have crushed some nerves leading outward and I suffer with sciatic pain. Gabapentin helps reduce this pain, however, it has bad side effects. The medication causes drowsiness and disorientation. Because of this, I have never taken the full dose prescribed me and I am very particular when I take it. I will only take it before going to sleep or when I plan to take a mid-day nap.

Medications are not passed out at the same time every day. In the evening, I can be given pills anywhere from 6 to 11 p.m. In the mornings, medications can be brought from 8 a.m. until noon, but typically nurses come very early on the first shift. Usually mornings are my busiest time of the day. It is when I will exercise, write, and read. After awaking, I do not want to be made sleepy, lose my concentration, or have my reflexes dulled. Gabapentin has very little benefit for me and is definitely not worth having my routine disrupted by the side effects. Because the drug affects the neurons, I know it cannot be stopped suddenly. There is even a warning I have read from an Internet pharmaceutical website not to do so. I take a small dose, but slowly tapered off my use and now I do not take any. The remaining pills I had were thrown away.

Despite telling the first nurse I did not want to take the medication under those circumstances, nurses continue to bring it to me twice a day. Every time I will refuse it. Most nurses just continue to do their rounds, but a couple have inquired. I explained to them why and they said they understood my dilemma. A guard escorting one of the nurses also spoke about how he takes allergy medications and those have similar effects. He also would not want to be forced to take the pills at times not convenient for him. The nurse explained though, that their administrators have told them to cease giving prisoners bubble packets of Gabapentin and pass them out instead.

After repeatedly telling one nurse I did not want the medication, she said she was obligated to continue asking me until a doctor changed my chart. I am regularly preoccupied when she stops by my cell bars in the morning and she apologized for being disruptive. On one occasion she asked if she was annoying me and I thought it was kind of her to be concerned about my feelings. Typically, I am very aggravated by disruptions and I am very nonsocial, particularly in the morning. However, I told her she was not upsetting and she can continue to greet me despite how I will never change my mind about the Gabapentin. She has pretty blue eyes and those were worth being distracted for.

Other nurses have not been so friendly and one who formerly worked at Dwight C.C. told me they never allowed the women there to have the medications in their cells. She was critical of Stateville's former policy, and said she believes all the penitentiaries in Illinois pass out Gabapentin. In the last few months, there has been a large influx of staff from Dwight and juvenile detention centers which were closed. I get the impression that these new people are bringing their own policies with them to be adopted here. Unfortunate that they only seem to bring new security measures, rules, and regulations rather than all the nicer qualities of where they came from. At Dwight, the women were treated much better and had much better living conditions. It was a stark contrast to the environment at Stateville from what I am told.

Yet another nurse from Dwight expressed disagreement with Stateville policy when she saw that I was prescribed Klonopin. She told me at Dwight prisoners never were dispensed the drug unless they came to the health care unit. She was even hesitant to give me the packet of pills until I took it from her hand and told her she was not in Dwight anymore. The only men who must go to the H.C.U. for medications are those taking narcotics such as Tylenol #3 or Norco. I have been receiving Klonopin for years since I came to this miserable place and it has always been delivered to my cell. For my back pain I have been offered pain relievers with codeine, but I have refused. I do not need the additional aggravation and stress of going back and forth to the prison hospital. The reason I am prescribed Klonopin is mainly to relieve the tremendous amount of anxiety I experience.

I expressed my disappointment that I was no longer trusted to keep Gabapentin in my cell to my cellmate. He asked why I cared since I rarely took it anyway and throw out most of the bubble pack of pills. I said it was the principle of the matter. What if I did use the entire dose twice a day? Then I would be forced to take the medication at various inconsistent times and it would disrupt my schedule. Furthermore, they may begin to force me to go the H.C.U. for the medicines I take every evening.

My cellmate was curious about the side effects of Gabapentin and asked what would happen if I took 20 or even 50 of the pills. I said I didn't know. I have never taken more than the prescribed dose. I speculated it would make you feel extremely disorientated, dizzy and one would be unable to think. A person may stare at the wall and drool on themselves until they fell asleep. What kind of retard would want to experience that? Then we both said at the same time, "Lunchbox," a man who once huffed various toxic chemicals for a high. There are a lot of idiots and drug abusers in prison. Regardless, I commented, "I am not Lunchbox and they can limit prisoners to a week's worth of the drug."

I knew the new policy on Gabapentin was just the beginning and I was correct in my assumption. On the first of the month, nurses began to ask all prisoners who are brought medications for their ID card and to have water with them. The ID card is to make sure the nurse passing out the pills is giving them to the correct person. The water is so prisoners will swallow the medications in their presence. Both are stupid rules and only serve to delay nurses rounds and annoy prisoners.

On the evening of June 1st, I was eating a snack and watching "The Empire Strikes Back" when the nurse came to my bars with my medications. I know nurses are in a hurry to pass out all the packets of pills they have to hundreds of prisoners and I quickly got up off my bunk to come to the bars. I also moved quickly because this was one of my favorite scenes in the movie where Luke Skywalker faces off against Darth Vader and is told his nemesis is in fact his father. The nurse, however, wanted to see my prison ID card and for me to bring a cup of water to the bars. This nurse knows who I am from bringing my meds numerous times before and even engages me in small talk on occasion. I asked her why she needed to see my card. Did she forget who I was? She told me it was a new policy and Wexford was trying to gain accreditation.

Asking a prisoner whose identity you already know for his identification card was idiotic. I was about to ask the nurse if she was Polish, which I knew she was, but a lieutenant was hovering over her. He chimed in saying this was the new policy and all inmates had to follow the procedure. I was not going to argue or joke about the stupidity of the rule with the lieutenant and went looking for my ID card. After showing the nurse my card, I then went to the sink to fill up my water bottle so I could take the pills in their presence. Needless to say, I missed Darth Vader say, "Luke, I am your father".

The following day I asked a prisoner who is given an allergy medication which is sold over the counter if he was also asked to show his ID card. He told me he was and agreed with me it was a dumb and redundant policy. If a nurse knows who you are, there is no point having you prove your identity. Furthermore, what great harm would it cause if a nurse gave medications to the wrong person? What prisoner would want someone else's medications and pretend to be someone they are not? Finally, if a nurse was not sure of the prisoner's identity despite the envelope being marked with the cell number, she could simply then ask for his identification number. As for the water, this in no way proves a prisoner takes his medication immediately. A prisoner can simply gum the pill while swallowing the water. Nurses do not ask men to open up their mouths and peel their lips up or down or pull the sides of their mouths outward. The prisoner I spoke with speculated the new policy will only last for a short time. The formality was simply for appearances and made no sense like a lot of the policies here.

My cellmate wanted to know who Wexford was trying to gain accreditation from. I have not bothered to ask any of the nurses. It was clear no one was overseeing that the policy was implemented. The declaration that Wexford nurses were asking for IDs and for prisoners to take water to the bars with them was proof enough. Regularly, watchdog groups will simply take the word of prison officials or medical supervisors.

Earlier this week, a different nurse brought my medications during the evening. She also knows me very well and greeted me by name. However, when I put my hand out the bars, she asked me for my ID card. I asked, "Now what is the point of verifying who I am if you already know?" She said there were eyes and ears watching and eavesdropping. As I glanced to the left and right on the gallery, I asked "Where are those eyes and ears?"  No one was around and I asked if she was concerned about me. Some nurses are aware I have a blog. However, the nurse did not have me in mind and simply had a general opinion that word would get around if she did not follow the asinine protocols.

Fortunately, not all the nurses are paranoid automatons, and on one occasion when I was busy, one stopped by my bars. I asked if she also wanted to see my ID card. She said, "What for? I know who you are." Finally, a woman with some common sense. She went on to say the new nurses must be asking for ID but she has been here a long time. After she left, I complimented her attitude to my cellmate who had previously argued that policy had to be universally applied. I told him only a person without any independent thought would apply all the numerous, redundant and stupid rules of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Generally, I will see two mental health care doctors a month, or every other month. The psychiatrist is basically just interested in how the medications I am given are working, and the psychologist simply wants to monitor my state of mind. Neither have any expertise treating or helping those with autism and are not very helpful. The last time I saw the psychologist, she gave me a very rudimentary anxiety management and social etiquette workbook made by Wexford. They seemed to have been written for children and I thought she should have also given me a set of thick crayons to go with it. Ironic how much Wexford is concerned with ID verification and convicts possibly abusing their medications rather than on giving quality treatment or care.

Stateville has more nurses since the closure of Dwight C.C., however, the extra staff is mainly being used for more superfluous security or protocol. Furthermore, although there are more nurses, no additional doctors have been hired. In fact, to my knowledge, the only full time doctor at the prison is the Medical Director. Dr. Obaisi seems intelligent and competent, but he cannot tend to the needs of nearly 2,000 men. Prisoners often complain about the delay in medical appointments or not receiving any treatment at all. I also regularly hear about how poor the health care is and how some medical personnel are incompetent. All of this I can relate to because I have experienced the same. I am certain many readers could care less if convicted murderers receive proper or even perfunctory medical care. However, it is absurd Wexford is seeking accreditation based on some stupid and redundant procedures rather than what should be the focus and primary concern of their business. The State of Illinois has health care providers bid for contracts with the DOC and the lowest bidder wins. Apparently, the saying "You get what you pay for" is true.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Clear Tech Watch -- June 23, 2013

Nearly ten years ago, I bought a cheap plastic watch from the prison store. I paid $17 for it, although it was probably worth less than a quarter of that amount. The low quality Casio time piece is the type of trinket I would expect to be sold for a few dollars at the check-out counter or be given away free with another purchase. Before my arrest, I would never have considered buying it, however, in prison you have little choice. It was the only watch being sold and if I wanted to know what time it was, I had to buy it. The watch served its function adequately until a few years ago when it became temperamental and simply moving it caused it to cease ticking. Thus, I never wear it on my wrist anymore and it simply stays wrapped around a bar on my bunk. I have thought of buying a new watch, but those being sold now are of even less quality and are disposable. I never heard of a disposable watch before. Apparently when the battery dies a prisoner must pay another $15 for a new one.

Last year when I was in the shower holding area, a black man with a gold tooth offered to sell me a digital sports watch. He was in his cell and both him and his cellmate seemed to use their location to sell all types of merchandise. Although the frequency of prisoners being able to shop at the prison store has improved since new staff have been added, at that time inmates waited up to two months. Furthermore, there are limits on the amount of a certain product prisoners can buy. Therefore, to make extra money, some men in the cell house will have their own stores and sell commissary for twice its cost. They will also occasionally sell a variety of things not sold at the prison store.

A few convicts around the cell looked at pornographic magazines, Tupperware and a pair of new sweat pants. Sweat pants are sold at the commissary and I assume the pawn shop dealer just wanted to trade them for some other merchandise. I was not interested in any of these items, but I did look over the watch carefully. It was a durable brand name sports watch with various features. It not only displayed the time, day and date, but had a pulse rate, alarm, and multiple stop watch functions. As a person who times their workouts, I was very inclined to buy the watch especially when I was told it ran on the same batteries sold at the commissary. However, the price he asked was high considering it could be taken by guards as contraband at any time. The $50 investment would not be worth it if I only had it for a year or less.

Digital watches were once sold in maximum security prisons in the 1990s. Medium and minimum security prisons continued to sell them, but I am uncertain if any do currently. While I was at Pontiac C.C. I purchased one of them. They were not very impressive and only read the time and day. Eventually I was able to procure a sports watch similar to the type which was offered me last year with various features. However, during a shake-down of my cell while I was at Joliet, a guard confiscated it. I considered complaining or writing a grievance, but the watch was probably not purchased legitimately through the prison store. I also had no proof of purchase and therefore let the issue go.

All electronic items sold in maximum security prisons are now made of clear plastic. Televisions, Walkmans, fans, headphones, adapters, and even watches are now see through. The administration of the IDOC has an obsession with security. Many other commissary items are also made with clear packaging such as the deodorants, pens, cups, electric razors and various food products. I noticed the company which makes Ramon Noodles has even made their packaging more see through to please the security concerns of prisons. Prisoners joke that eventually our clothing will be made of clear fabric. Possibly, the IDOC will seek out a contract with Lululemon yoga apparel to buy all their extra sheer fabrics.

Recently, the National Football League announced a new policy. Anyone who attends one of their games cannot bring a bag unless it is a small pouch or made of see through plastic. Apparently, this was in response to the pressure cooker bombs used in the Boston bombing which were concealed in backpacks. It is odd to see how the excessive security measures that have been taken in the U.S. prison system are being applied to the public at large. For years now, guards and other people who work at the penitentiary have been forced to buy clear plastic bags to hold their lunches or various other personal property. It has done nothing to improve security at Stateville and only serves as an inconvenience, but it is enforced rigorously anyway. The same is being done outside these prison walls and eventually I imagine there will be no difference. All Americans will get to enjoy the security measures of Stateville.

While my cellmate was reordering his property box, I noticed he had a spare watch. I inquired why he had two and was told he traded a few pieces of fried chicken for it simply to have the band. The wrist band on his watch had broken and he needed a new one. The watches sold in prison are very cheap and all the bands are made of a thin plastic which easily tears. The band on my watch had snapped long ago and I made a replacement for it. Many prisoners have done the same using various materials or asked others to do so for them. I have made a few wrist bands for people and would have made one for Anthony had he asked.

My cellmate gave me the watch he was not using and I put a new battery in it. It was more durable than the watch I currently had and did not stop ticking when I shook it. The only problem was it was made out of clear plastic and I could barely read the time because the hands of the watch matched the mechanics inside. Both were a silver color. I thought I could easily remedy this problem by opening up the watch and placing a dark blue background in it or by coloring the clock's hands. However, after spending an hour meddling with the watch, I learned nothing could be done. Although the back could be taken off to exchange the battery, a piece of paper could not be placed between the silver mechanics and the watch hands. The watch hands also could not be painted because they were sealed in a plastic chamber.

Despite how the watch was difficult to read from a distance, I asked my cellmate what he wanted for it. He told me $30. This was a ridiculous price, so I simply ignored him and continued to play around with the watch attempting to add contrast. Later he told me to pick up a new mirror from commissary for him. I asked him what he had done with his other mirror and he told me he cracked it. I said that is what he gets for looking at it too long.

I was not going to buy my cellmate a new mirror when I had plenty in my property box that he could have. I took out a mirror from the bottom of my box that I had rarely handled and asked him if it was sufficient. He scrutinized it and commented the reflection was not as perfect as a brand new one. I told him this was probably for the best. In fact, his self esteem may be uplifted if he used an old dull mirror. The mirror was perfect and I snatched it from his hand and began to put a magnet on the back. Prison mirrors once were sold with magnets, but this was discontinued. The magnet I used was from an older mirror he broke. It will allow him to attach it to any of the metal surfaces in the cell including the cell bars where he usually shaves.

On Memorial Day, I had some free time and I spent it making myself another watch band. The other band fit perfectly with the watch I received from my cellmate, but it was faded and worn. I had worked out with it on my wrist for years before it became too sensitive to do so. The dark blue color turned to a mottled gray-blue and the fabric had worn away at the clasp. I saved a Velcro band from the back of a baseball cap just in case I would have a need for it in the future. With a minimal amount of sewing and cutting I was able to make a new watch band for myself. A more difficult project was sewing the new state pants I received. About 10" of the waist band had separated from the rest of the fabric. Apparently, the female inmate workers at Dwight C.C. cared little about the quality of clothing they made just before they lost their jobs and were transferred to Logan.

My cellmate was impressed by all the sewing I had done and made a joke about how one day I would make a good housewife. I retorted that in exchange for some commissary I could probably sew him a woman's suit so he would not have to tuck his genitals in anymore. Lately, I have been causing Anthony to crack up with laughter mimicking the serial killer "Buffalo Bill" in the classic horror film "Silence of the Lambs." My cellmate has been regularly opening himself up to such jokes when he slathers lotion on his skin or applies chap stick. Anthony's chap stick reminds me of lip gloss and I have asked him if that is why he wants the new mirror so he can pucker up in it. I also ask if he would like to hear some light 80's techno music so he can dance pretending he is a woman like in the film. Over the weekend, I was imitating the voice of Darth Vader while watching Star Wars and although I have the actor James Earl Jones' voice down perfectly, it does not seem to amuse my cellmate "Giggity, Giggity" nearly as much.

The TV show "Hannibal" comes on every Thursday night at 9 p.m. Hannibal is based on the film "Silence of the Lambs" and I usually watch it with my cellmate if I am not too tired. This week I was at the sink getting a drink of water when he asked me what time it was. He wanted to know if the program would be on soon. He has his watch fastened to a clip on the wall next to his TV, however, he was currently at the steel table by the bars. I told him I didn't know. It is difficult telling time on the invisible Clear Tech watch he gave me. The watch was wrapped around my bunk bar where I usually sit. From five feet away in a very little light telling time on it was impossible.

I have begun to wear the watch on my wrist and it has drawn the interest of other prisoners. Mainly they want to scrutinize the design. The top band is just a dark blue cloth with a steel clasp on the end of it. The bottom is a strip of two types of Velcro which is thread through the ring and back to adhere onto itself. A white prisoner who is intellectually dull and drugged on medications was particularly impressed by my craftsmanship. He claimed to have a black leather watch band he had made. There are a couple of men who have taken the time and have the skill to cut the leather out of a pair of boots, but I doubt he was one of them. Lunchbox, as prisoners have been jokingly calling him, said he would later send it up to my cell and if I wanted, I could keep it. During the evening, a cell house worker dropped it off and I showed the band to my cellmate so he could get a laugh. It was garbage and I flushed it down the toilet.

On another day, I spoke to Big John about Lunchbox's watch band. Big John has been helping the man out by giving him commissary on occasion. He does not have any family or anyone else sending him money and must rely on his monthly state stipend of $10. Big John was not surprised by the haphazardly stitched and unusable band Lunchbox sent to me. He told me during the month he gave him two watches. The first one he took apart to paint with Harley Davidson colors and a decal. However, it never worked again afterwards. Thus, he sent him another watch with instructions not to tinker with it. The dumb man who sometimes acts like a big retarded kid was recently assigned a job and this will give him an additional $20 a month. Big John was pleased because now he can be more self sufficient.

Yesterday, prisoners on my gallery and below were allowed to go out to the yard after dinner. I razzed Lunchbox about where his Harley Davidson watch was. I told him he should have tried to paint himself a Mickey Mouse or Scooby Doo watch instead. Despite the teasing inmates gave him, he takes it with good humor. I tried to have John lure him out into the middle of the yard where I could quickly come from behind and capture him in a soccer net. John thought it was amusing, but would not be my accomplice. Although Lunchbox was the butt of our jokes, we did not want him to lose respect amongst other prisoners who may take it as a sign of weakness.

According to my new Clear Tech generic watch, it is 8 p.m. and "The Empire Strikes Back" is just about to come on TV. I know my cellmate is looking forward to my mocking criticisms of the film which is less science and mostly preposterous fiction, as well as my Darth Vader impersonations. Actually, he is probably annoyed by them by now, but I cannot always entertain "Gigitty, Gigitty" despite his generosity in giving me this Cracker Jack trinket. My parents tell me they still have my expensive Swiss made Movado watch waiting for me at home. Hopefully, I will be able to wear it someday soon.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Week of Games -- May 25, 2013

Many prisoners tend to be very social and play various games to occupy their time. They regularly converse with their cellmates or shout from their cell bars to others. The cell house with over 300 inmates can be maddening loud during parts of the day. Men will also often leave their cells to interact further not only talking but playing basketball, card games, chess, or dominoes. Some men will design their own games to play with other inmates. Contrary to the preponderance of prisoners at Stateville, I am nonsocial and very introverted. The people incarcerated with me oftentimes annoy me and I care to have nothing to do with them. The more distressing my environment, furthermore, the more I seek to withdraw into my autistic shell. However, the past week I have sought to be more engaging particularly in respect to my cellmate.

Getting along well with your cellmate is important in maximum security prisons. It is this person who you are confined with for long periods of time. Regularly men are forced to live with strangers they have nothing in common with or do not like. Hostilities between cellmates are a common occurrence and this year there has even been several murders at Menard Correctional Center. Anthony is one of the most compatible cellmates I have had at Stateville and I feel very fortunate. Despite this, I will occasionally get the impression he wants me to be more socially engaging. I can spend vast amounts of time preoccupied without ever saying a word. My cellmate is not overly social himself, but he can become bored and want conversation or play.

On Sunday, I was glad he received a visit. His family lives in the Danville area and he does not see them often. While he was gone, I exercised and bathed out of the sink. Because he worked the midnight shift he was tired when he returned. I did not bother him with  much conversation, although I did talk about a documentary I saw the night before about Dwight Eisenhower. My cellmate had planned to become a history teacher before he was arrested while attending East Illinois University and thus I knew the subject may interest him. Largely, I spoke about how I disagreed with the president's pacifist dealings with the Soviet Union and China. Eisenhower missed an opportunity to defeat both U.S. enemies. Anthony had the same opinion and was intrigued to learn my mother as a child happened to meet President Eisenhower.

My cellmate and I have different television programs we watch. However, in the evening, we watched a documentary narrated by Tom Selleck about the nature of the North American continent. Trapped in our concrete confines, I think we both have a love of the great outdoors. During the program, I kept one ear uncovered by my headphones to hear his comments and I believe he did the same with his ear buds. Typically, when I watch TV I want to block out all the cell house noise to not be distracted and as an escape from my prison environment. I regularly do this whether I am watching television, reading, or writing.

Monday the prison was on lockdown. The Orange Crush went into every cell house to grab a few men to question. The only man to be escorted by the SORT on my gallery was an older black man who goes by the name "Finney." Finney has told me he spent 10 years at Tamms Supermax and security may still perceive him as a gang leader. Other than the prisoners the Orange Crush came for, no one left their cells and meals were brought into the cell houses to be passed out by guards.

If my cellmate is awake, he will usually watch the game show Jeopardy. He is very good at the game and has a great knowledge of trivia. It is believed people with autism are vast reservoirs of data like the character played by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man. However, Anthony is regularly able to beat me in Jeopardy. Although I know select topics very well, he has a broader range of knowledge. Certain categories I will be able to answer every question but others not a one. The day we were on lockdown, he had twice my score until Final Jeopardy. Because he wagered zero and I everything on a correct answer, we ended the game tied.

I did not know what the purpose of the lockdown was or how long the prison would be on it. The administration does not notify convicts their intentions. Contrarily, security personnel will generally try to keep what they are doing a secret. However, the following day there were normal operations. Yard and chow lines were run and men were also allowed to attend their assignments. In the morning, I went to the large South yard to lift weights and run laps on the quarter mile asphalt track. Many other men sat at the steel tables below the gun tower to play dominoes, card games, and chess. While working out, I noticed Steve and Stewie playing Scrabble. Scrabble is not sold at the prison store and Stewie had made his own board and pieces out of cardboard. The welded iron bars are not far from the tables and in between exercises, I went over to them to see how competitive their game was. The two men were not stupid, but they had filled the board with a number of small words I would expect from children. To help Steve out, I rearranged his cardboard letter pieces to spell a word which could earn him 50 points. He used it but he seemed not to care if he won. Possibly, they were just playing to be social but I thought it was very boring as I walked back to the weights.

A group of fat older white men were playing handball on the hill. It was amusing watching these big undexterous men play. They even had The Eclipse who is well over 300 pounds on the cracked concrete court. Earlier the man who could purportedly blot out the sun had asked me tips on how to lose weight. I had told him simply fewer calories in and more calories out. For about a month he has been making an effort to lose weight, but he looked foolish playing handball. For a moment I thought of the mermaid romance-comedy movie "Splash" where Tom Hanks plays his fat brother John Candy in a game of racket ball. Actor Tom Hanks hits the ball so hard off the wall John Candy is unable to respond and is smacked directly in the forehead. At least The Eclipse was playing with other overweight men in their 40's.

After returning from the yard, bathing out of the sink, and washing some clothes out of my toilet, I wanted to take a nap. However, I stayed up to watch Jodi Arias give her allocution to the jury. To my surprise, she did not ask for the death penalty and gave a nearly 20 minute power point presentation as to why the jury should not impose capital punishment. Some of her reasons were ridiculous and I was not certain if she was being serious or not. When she told the jury she wanted to be an advocate for domestic abuse, I thought she had to be kidding. Without laughing, however, she held up a T-shirt that said "SURVIVOR" on it. The T-shirts she claimed she would sell online to donate the profits to victims of abusive boyfriends or husbands. The message "survivor," though, in my mind made me think of her killing Trevis Alexander and she was alive while he was dead. I was also reminded of what my co-defendant who was acquitted of killing Dean Fawcett but later convicted in a check fraud scheme said to the judge before sentencing. According to the Daily Herald staff writer Stacey St. Clair, he claimed he wanted to "become a chef so he could feed the world's hungry children". I did not know which allocution was more comical.

Wednesday, I went to the Health Care Unit directly from my visit. Although my pass was to see the doctor about the stomach flu I had recovered from nearly a month ago, I knew appointments were extremely difficult to get. Instead of talking about the flu, I intended to address my lower back injury. I waited for about an hour in a crowded holding cage until a nurse told me I was being rescheduled. It was not unusual for prisoners to have their appointments rescheduled at the Health Care Unit and sometimes they will be waiting for longer periods of time. Fortunately, I was not sick anymore and a guard was able to escort me back to the cell house before the afternoon count. During count there is no movement and I would have been trapped at the HCU for at least an hour longer.

I was tired when I returned to the cell and began to dress to take a nap. My cellmate was awake and asked me if I knew what actress won an academy award in a science fiction movie in the 1980's. I tried recalling all the best sci-fi movies of the time period where a woman played a leading role. The only one I could think of was "Alien" so I answered Sigorney Weaver. He told me I was correct but because I missed the show, I automatically forfeited. I was not even aware Anthony had given me a Final Jeopardy question. I rarely watched the game show and prefer to spend my time otherwise even if just to sleep a couple of hours in the mid afternoon. However, it seemed apparent my cellmate liked to play the game with me and I told him I would give him some competition on another day.

Thursday, my cellmate and I went to the prison store. Upon entering the waiting room, I grabbed two plastic chairs and head for the corner. I hate crowds and knew it would be noisy with all the other prisoners filing in after me. As expected, once everyone was locked inside, they began to talk all at once. They even had brought games with them to play while waiting. There were a couple of card games and two men played chess. I sat there in silence occasionally darting looks at my cellmate expressing my unhappiness. We were fortunate not to have to wait long, however, and his name and then mine were called within an hour. The prison store has twice the staff it had a few months ago. A number of people who formerly worked at juvenile detention centers and Dwight CC had been transferred to Stateville.

After my cellmate and I had returned from the prison store and were waiting for the gym line to be run, inmates in the cell house began yelling the major and warden were in the building. Prisoners will always announce the presence of I.A. or someone of authority. They will even yell out their location which sometimes amuses the guards. Lately, the guards will mockingly announce the presence of various inmates and where they are which I think most people think is funny. For example, this week they shouted "Rome on 4 gallery!" a couple of times. Rome is the name of a cell house worker.

When the major and warden entered the cell house, some inmates yelled "Put them in the bull pen." This was another play with guards who often tell inmates to go into the holding cage. Other prisoners joked by shouting to the administrators to give them that jacket. A couple of weeks ago, the major had demanded men to turn in their coats although it was still unseasonably cold. When one of them was wearing a coat it seemed ironic. The major just happened to be a couple of cells away when my cellmate accidentally dropped his water bottle and it went bouncing out onto the gallery. The major picked it up for him and jested he intentionally threw it out. Anthony thanked her for retrieving the bottle and then asked about the jackets. She said the warden was considering returning them, but most likely men will just have to wait for warmer weather.

At the gym, prisoners nearly ran to get tables along the wall. There were only a limited number and not enough for everyone who wanted to play dominoes, chess, or various card games. I was not interested in securing a table and after receiving a pin, I walked over to the machine weights. I used the four working pulleys to do a number of exercises and intermittently ran 10 laps around the perimeter of the gym. Inmates were given an extra hour and I began to repeat exercises I had already done until The Eclipse and Big John asked me to play a game of basketball with them. Oddly they suggested my cellmate and I compete against them in a game of "21." I thought that despite my bad back and muscles being all stiff from working out over two hours, the game would be ludicrously lopsided. I suggested they get a third player but Big John was cocky and said we were the ones who needed an extra man.

The combined weight of Big John and The Eclipse was probably around 600 pounds. They had no speed or agility and were of course encumbered by all their excess body mass. I will given them an "A" for effort, but Anthony and I were able to run circles around them. We easily passed the ball off to one another to score consecutive points. The Eclipse could not cover my cellmate at all and he was able to make many open shots. I even sent a ball flying over the fat man's head for Anthony to catch it in the air and make a basket. The few times the plus 300 pound man went to make a shot, it was batted away. My cellmate and I were like the Harlem Globe Trotters and I thought the game was going to be a blowout. However because we began to see no need for defense, the fat men were able to make two baskets. The game ended 22 to 4.

Later in the day, I watched coverage on Headline News of the Jodi Arias death penalty proceedings. Amazingly, the jury was deadlocked and a new jury would have to be impaneled to decide her fate. Like the media commentators, I thought she would be certainly put on death row. However, I did not agree with many of their expressed outrage and opinions. Execution is not the worse punishment and the victim's family was not going to get "closure" any time soon. Even had Arias been sent to death row, she would have remained there for a decade at the minimum with appeal after appeal being heard. The appellate process for those sentenced to execution is much more rigorous than those with life without parole sentences. There are only three women on Arizona's death row and one already has won a new trial. Nancy Grace seemed upset also that Jodi Arias gave a number of television interviews to various networks but rejected HLN. Considering how negative the coverage has been on the station, did she really expect Arias to be on the Nancy Grace Show?

Earlier today, I asked my cellmate if he wanted to play a few games of chess. For the next two hours, I made him look foolish. He had virtually no strategy or skill, and I could out think him easily. While Anthony seemed to have smoke coming out of his ears trying to match wits with me. I grew increasingly bored. After check-mating him in consecutive games, I asked him if he would rather play checkers or "Chutes and Ladders." He asked if this was revenge for yesterday when he won at Jeopardy. Then remarked I am always going to want to play chess. No, it was a waste of time. I simply had wanted to be social because I know how nonsocial I am and people seem to like passing the time talking or playing games together. In retrospect, I should have allowed Anthony to win a few games. I will make it up to him later tonight by making some cheesy beef burritos. Already, I had asked another kitchen worker if he was able to bring me a couple slices of pizza. My cellmate was easily placated with food and this should make him fat and happy.