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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thinner -- September 14, 2013

The prison remains on lockdown after a fist fight between men returning from religious services in the gym. Purportedly, a lieutenant or guards were struck during the incident and the administration is considering it a staff assault. Staff assaults are considered much more serious and prisoners will be collectively punished. All visitation, phone, and commissary privileges have been rescinded. Even health care passes were cancelled and it seems inmates will be locked in their cells till the end of the month. I have not been able to shop since July and the prospect of waiting until October is not welcome news. My property box is barren of food and the meals being served are worse than usual. Already, I have lost at least 10 pounds and if I am unable to barter the coffee I have for something edible I may begin to look emaciated.

On Monday, an assortment of Internal Affairs and guards some of whom were dressed in SORT attire entered the cell house. They conducted about 10 cell searches and found nothing of significance. It was not surprising considering the cell block was just recently ransacked by well over 100 guards from Pontiac and a couple of other penitentiaries. I do not know what they were hoping to find. The fist fight did not involve any weapons and rumors of another incident inside the tunnel did not either. Furthermore, the prisoners involved were from a different quarter unit which we have little to no contact with. Since convicts with violent institutional records and staff assaults were all moved to E House, the administration must have realized there would be more disturbances among those prisoners. Apparently, though, all prisoners at Stateville will continue to be collectively harassed and punished.

The warden entered the building while the searches were being conducted. Prisoners immediately began to shout at him to permit the cell house to shop. I am not the only person who has been unable to receive any commissary in 2 months and nearly everyone but the first gallery of men is in the same predicament. The issue of commissary has been a regular complaint of prisoners despite how new staff from Dwight and other closed facilities transferred to Stateville earlier in the year. The warden agreed to have commissary staff bag store orders to be brought to inmates' cells later in the week. However, he was limiting the spending to $25 and only purchases for hygienic and writing supplies would be processed. I was disappointed by the news. I cannot eat a tablet of paper or a bar of soap.

During level 1 lockdowns, prisoners from the nearby minimum security unit are brought into Stateville to do various work assignments including working in the kitchen. They do not have any experience and the food is always prepared with more simplicity. However, it seems kitchen supervisors were intentionally trying to punish inmates by having MSU workers make horrendous and meager meals. Repeatedly, this week rice, beans, processed turkey-soy drool, sausage, and what is called "slick meat" was served. I thought it was ironic that rice was made nearly every day after a news report came out about high levels of arsenic in the grain. Possibly they were attempting to send prisoners a message that they intend to slowly kill us. I told my cellmate that if that was their motive, they could dispense with the pretenses and just give me a suicide capsule.

Despite how hungry I may be, I will never eat certain foods. On the occasions imitation salami or sausage was served, I would dump it into my toilet. Also any food that looks or smells spoiled, I will discard. The best meal in most prisoners' opinion was the fish patty, however, even this I did not eat and gave it to my cellmate. The fish was excessively fried and saturated in grease. I tend to stay away from any trans fats or bad cholesterol in the foods I eat. My cellmate jokes because I live such a healthy lifestyle I may live to be 100 and will thus break the record for serving the most amount of time. Since I have no possibility of parole and was arrested as a teenager, the odds I will be incarcerated for well over a half century are high.

A few times this week, I have noticed guards watching me work out at the front of the cell. I do not know what to make of their interest. Maybe, they are simply bored and have nothing to do with the prison being on lockdown. Maybe, I catch their attention because my exercise regiment is weird or intense. Temperatures exceeded 90 degrees and I was drenched in sweat doing a myriad of different exercises without letting up. I asked my cellmate what he thought and he said those fat donut-eating guards may just be envious. After we heard more rumors of prisoners fighting with staff inside the tunnel, he suggested they may think I am preparing for battle. If so, I have been preparing since I was in junior high school. Being athletic and physically fit has been an obsession of mine long before I was arrested and I will continue to work out regardless if I lack adequate nutrition.

Occasionally, I will speak to a guard who is also interested in diet, fitness and training techniques. Lately, I have discussed with him ways to lose body fat without any loss of strength. I do not know why he has any trouble considering the freedom of being able to eat whatever he likes and the workout equipment available to him. I tend to think it is just a matter of will and the beer he enjoys drinking. When prisoners were served a paltry meal of just rice in tomato paste, I told him I have the solution to his troubles losing weight. It is called the "Stateville Diet". He did not like the idea of eating prison food and I do not blame him. I would also bring my own meals to the penitentiary if I worked here.

There is a lieutenant I will periodically exchange jokes with. The humor sometimes makes the misery of being in prison less apparent if only momentarily. During a lull in a previous lockdown I found the white shirt looking around for something to read. He was disappointed with the selection of books and magazines on top of a fire hose box and asked a prison worker who lives next to me what he had to read. Still unsatisfied I inquired what he was looking for: "Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham? Curious George, The Man in the Yellow Hat?" This week he joked with me asking if I was trying to tunnel my way out in the back of the cell. Too many people have watched the move "Shawshank Redemption." The only thing on the other side of my cell walls is other cells. For being a smart ass, I told him there is a reason medical personnel leave a stretcher just outside his office. When the prison was taken off a level 1 lockdown and I was able to go on a visit, he told a guard to go get the special miniature handcuffs for me because I was too thin. I will have to come up with some zingers for him when he returns from his vacation.

On Tuesday, commissary order forms were passed out as the warden had promised. All I wrote on my list was laundry detergent, paper, pens, and prestamped envelopes. In the IDOC, prisoners are not allowed to buy stamps, only envelopes which already are printed with domestic 1 oz. postage. My cellmate rarely writes any letters and debated turning in an order form. There was nothing he wanted but food. For dinner, prisoners were served tacos which consisted of a scoop of ground turkey-soy, lettuce, and two pita bread tortillas. The tortillas were good and must have been donated to the prison. Both my cellmate and I wished we had some better food to go on it or just more food. Although Anthony mostly just sits on his bunk watching TV, even he has lost weight over the last month. I mentioned this to him and told him I could no longer stick him in the stomach with my remote control stick and call him the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

The following evening prisoners were served beans and sausage. Since I do not eat sausage, all I had to eat while watching the sci-fi movie "Oblivion" was beans and overcooked carrots. "Oblivion" was one of the DVDs rented for the week which I had been looking forward to seeing. It had an interesting plot with a twist I did not catch until half way through the film. During the movie, however, I could not help but joke about similarities the DVD had with "Top Gun" which also starred actor Tom Cruise. His flying and riding a futuristic motorcycle seemed to copy the 1980's blockbuster. Unfortunate that the actress Kelly McGillis was missing and I did not have any popcorn.

During the lockdowns, my cellmate's schedule is inconsistent. He may sleep all day and stay up all night, vice versa, or some combination thereof. Generally, it depends on what is on television. On one day this week, he woke up at the same time as me which threw off my routine. In an 11 x 6 foot cell, it is difficult to coordinate activities. Eventually I did get on track and began my exercise regimen, albeit 15 minutes off schedule. When I finished, I asked him if he would mind climbing down off his bunk so he was not hovering over me as I washed up in the sink. Apparently, he was watching something interesting and made me wait until a commercial break. When I was about to become irritated, he jumped down and said, "What? Is it go time?" This is a common joke of his and I retorted, "Despite losing ten pounds, I can still go 'Matrix' on you" and I went into a jujitsu stance which amused him.

Since the lockdown I have been trying to barter for some peanut butter. A number of prisoners in C House are given snack bags with a couple of packs of peanut butter in them every evening. One of those men I regularly trade with but he had gone on a hospital writ. Thus, I yelled down to a biker whose cellmate is on dialysis and I thought may have a handful or more of these packs. His cellmate, however, was asleep and he did not want to wake him by yelling back to me. Later in the day he sent me a cassette tape and it was obvious there had been some miscommunication. I had not listened to the rock band "Ratt" in a long time, but I was looking for food.

Although the man who lives in a cell almost directly beneath me did not hear what I said, my neighbor did. He said he would give me two packages of tuna fish for a bag of coffee. This was worth about twice the cost of the coffee, but the tuna would only provide two meals. I could get 50 packets of peanut butter for only a half bag of coffee and this would last me a long time. Since I was friendly with my neighbor, I gave him a little bit of coffee for free along with a handful of tea bags. The next day when he was let out for work I asked him to see if he could find anyone with peanut butter who would barter with me.

Friday was the first day in over a week that anyone was let out of their cells except for emergency medical care. I surmised the administration only allowed out two cell house workers in the living units to help with much of the labor which was being done by guards. Both men worked two shifts similar to the prior lockdown. I not only asked my neighbor to see if he could find some food but the other worker too. He did not seem to want to help and probably was looking for food himself. He also told me that the men who received snack bags were definitely eating them during austere times like this. The only reason I knew Chino would have some is because he is allergic to peanuts. He always saves his peanut butter to sell to me or someone else.

On the 2nd shift a few new guards were on duty and one happened to pass out dinner trays on my gallery. Occasionally, I will joke with guards about what is being served and this was one of those times I thought I would try some humor. Because I am in a cell house with many men who have special diet trays, guards on lockdown often ask if you get a special tray. When the guard asked me, I said, "Do you have DiGiorno's?" Apparently, she did not get the joke and I watched her for 5 minutes dig through trays for one marked with the name DiGiorno. Eventually, I told her I was only kidding and she became upset with me. Later, I said to my cellmate who was laughing, "How was I to know she was that dumb. Doesn't everyone know of DiGiorno's Pizza?" I have been in prison 20 years and never ate one but even I have seen their commercials.

Temperatures greatly decreased from the beginning of the week. Last night they dropped into the lower 40's and I was bitterly cold. Twice, I awakened to put on more clothing but these were still insufficient. My cellmate was watching music videos on VH2 this morning and asked how I was. I assumed he was being sarcastic and said, "How do you think? It is @#$% cold!"  He said he had only slept with a sheet over himself and was fine. That may be fine for someone with some body fat, but not for me. He told me I could use his state issued blanket tomorrow if I wanted and I immediately took it from him.

Throughout this week I was reminded of the Stephen King novel "Thinner." In it a lawyer accidentally runs over the daughter of a Gypsy who puts a curse on the man. The curse is simply thinner, but it was to waste him away until he was near death. After working out this morning, I looked in a plastic mirror without my shirt on. I must have less than 5% body fat and I can see all my muscle striations as well as many veins and tendons. I probably am down to 175 pounds and at this rate I will be below 170 sometime next week. If I believed in curses, I may contemplate whether one had been cast on me with all my misfortune. The latest of these would be "thinner."

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Overreaction to a Fist Fight -- September 7, 2013

The prison was taken off lockdown fleetingly Tuesday. During the morning, a few convicts threw batteries at the warden and B House was put back on lockdown. Two days later, all prisoners were confined to their cells 24/7 after a fight on a walkway. I was on the South Yard at the time and could see two inmates throwing punches at each other. A lieutenant sprayed the men multiple times with mace, but they continued. Two shotgun blasts from a distant gun tower not surprisingly also had no effect. Eventually, however, the prisoners were taken down, handcuffed, and taken to Segregation. Although I thought little of the fight which is a regular occurrence in prison, the administration overreacted. Numerous guards escorted inmates from around the penitentiary accompanied by high ranking staff. Later I heard rumors of a staff assault. I did not see any, but it is possible staff were clipped trying to break up the fight or other fights occurred inside a nearby tunnel.

Normally, I would not care about yet another lockdown because I do not like leaving my cell. However, both my cellmate and I have not been able to shop since mid-June. We were both entirely out of food and had to eat what was served us or go hungry. The warden had a memo posted on a cable station scheduling commissary dates for all units and galleries in the penitentiary. It was an attempt to create order and consistency from what was a very irregular pattern. Prisoners never knew when they were going to be allowed to shop. Unfortunately on Monday the prison was kept on lockdown and my cell block was unable to make any purchases. Many men were angry because Sunday night convicts had filled out commissary order forms and were expecting to be given their store the following day. Now, they had to wait two more weeks or possibly a month.

Prisoners in C House were, however, allowed to immediately have some time on the yard or gym. Tuesday morning, normal operations were announced on the loudspeaker and recreation lines followed an hour later. It was a nice day, but I knew nearly everyone in the unit would be going out after 2-1/2 weeks of lockdown. On the small yards, prisoners would be packed in areas which were a little larger than two basketball courts. Thanks, but no thanks, I preferred to stay in my cell. I could exercise there just as well and without any people except for my cellmate who stayed asleep on his bunk.

At chow, I basically had to leave my cell to eat. Already, I was losing weight and by October I thought I may be emaciated. A few prisoners in the line to the chow hall asked why my cellmate and I did not go to the yard considering how pleasant the weather was. We told them there was nothing to do but play basketball. A prisoner replied that a bench and two pieces of iron were placed on each small yard where a small walk led to the basketball courts. Even upon hearing this news, I did not feel as I missed anything. I imagined there was a long line to use the 2 iron bars and I did not want to be on the crowded little yard. In the future, however, when it becomes cold outside, I may begin to go. Fewer prisoners go to the yard on cold days or when they have regular movement.

Men on the walk going to chow spoke about how B House was on lockdown. From what they said, the warden was conducting rounds in the unit and prisoners began to yell insults at him. Double A batteries which prisoners are sold for their Walkmans and electric razors were also thrown. They were either thrown toward him or at the windows. To my left was the quarter unit which many years ago was divided from C House. I did not notice any broken windows. However, the cell houses are enormous and the two combined is a city block long.

In the chow hall I spoke with Steve who I had not seen for weeks because of the lockdown. He said he had been approved to attend an unaccredited humanities class. Occasionally, the administration has been permitting teachers to come into the penitentiary to teach subjects other than general high school studies. The class will meet once a week for a couple of months unless disrupted by a lockdown. In a maximum security prison, there is little reason to give prisoners an education, particularly above that necessary to pass a GED exam. Nearly all prisoners will never be released and they do not have the intelligence to comprehend advanced courses. In medium and minimum security penitentiaries, low level vocational skills are taught which will help prisoners to a limited degree get jobs when released. I assume at Stateville the administration is seeking to keep men preoccupied without spending any money. The teachers are volunteers and do not earn any money.

Tuesday evening, I did not want to join the cattle herd to the chow hall. The food being served was terrible and I preferred to go hungry. Fortunately, someone gave me a Styrofoam box tray full of salad from the officers' dining room. Staff basically eat the same food as prisoners here unless they bring their own to work, but they always have a salad bar. If prisoners are served salad with their meal, it is typically just iceberg lettuce. The tray I was given, however, had chopped cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, tomatoes and shredded cheese. I shared part of it with my cellmate because I knew he was hungry too.

The following day when I returned from my visit my cellmate asked me where his smoked ham and cheese sandwich was. Regularly when I go on visits he will jokingly ask me to bring him some vending machine food. Prisoners, however, are prohibited from doing so and are strip searched. Instead, I gave Anthony my lunch tray which had a rectangle of pizza on it along with some noodles in mayonnaise. Since I wrote the post "Prison Pizza," pizza has been oddly served nearly every week, sometimes twice in a week. The small thin slice of pizza was cold and not very filling, but my cellmate seemed happy to have it.

Thursday, my cellmate and I were looking forward to going to the South Yard. We had been confined to our cells virtually 24/7 for a few weeks and it was nice to be out in some open space. Unlike the yard on Tuesday, this one was well over 20 times the size. It also had several benches and about 15 barbells, albeit bent, rusted or broken. While I waited for yard lines to be run, I made myself a mug of tea and listened to a heavy metal band from the 1980's called Slayer. The tape "Seasons of the Abyss" was their best in my opinion and it seemed to resonate with my mood often while in prison. The music along with the lyrics was despondent but very aggressive. I felt like a zombie, although with a great amount of pent up energy.

It is difficult having any enthusiasm or motivation in a maximum security prison. Life is oppressive, austere and wretched. On the dilapidated prison yard, inmates often inquire how I could so over zealously work out. I tend to believe it is a force of will despite the hardship and hopelessness I endure. Most men on the yard socialized, walked laps around the quarter mile asphalt track, or simply sat around. Others played games at a group of steel tables bolted into concrete. My cellmate joked to me that in 20 more years I will be one of the old men sitting there playing dominoes. I told him I would rather be dead. In fact, I already wish I was because my life ended long ago.

While using the incline bench, we noticed a fight on a roofed walkway outside the perimeter of the yard. I have seen hundreds of fights in my lifetime and it was unremarkable. I continued to press iron and then spot my cellmate. When I stood above him, I watched the two black inmates throw punches at each other. A lieutenant moved from position to another making the prisoners. Then I heard the guard in the gun tower nearly directly above us pump a shotgun before firing it. Even as a warning, it was a foolish reaction. The gun tower was about 150 yards away and I doubt the rifle had the capacity to go half that distance. Even if it could, shotguns have no accuracy and the distance was transgressed by a light post and two layers of cyclone fence with razor wire. She would probably hit the lieutenant, other staff responding, or bystanders. Furthermore, the only time a guard should fire their rifle was when there was a risk of serious bodily injury or death. Two men fighting was not serious and I yelled up to the guard in the tower to stand down, but she took yet another shot. Possibly, she thought just the booming sound of the shot gun was enough to scare the two prisoners into surrendering.

Although I did not think the incident was serious, the administration seemed to think so. Not long after the prisoners were taken to Seg, a large contingent of guards came onto the yard yelling at men to leave. On the way out, I noticed a number of lieutenants and majors as well as the warden. It was odd they were acting with such urgency and force. They could have left prisoners from C House at the gym and the three yards. The men from our unit had nothing to do with the fight which occurred when prisoners from E House were returning from chapel services at the gym. It is customary for the penitentiary to be placed on lockdown for a couple of days any time a guard fires a rifle, but in this instance I did not see the purpose.

Because I felt short changed being forced off the yard early, I completed my workout while my cellmate bathed in the sink. Mostly, I did leg exercises using my correspondence box as extra weight. Prisoners are given two property boxes when they are sent to the IDOC. One is a large box about 2 x 3 feet and the other is roughly 1 x 2 feet. Both are almost a foot deep and are made of thick gray plastic with sliding lids. The smaller of the two boxes I have filled with books, magazines and papers. It weighs nearly a hundred pounds and I regularly use it for a variety of exercises in the cell in lieu of bar bells or other equipment.

My workout was not really finished and after bathing, I washed a set of underclothes, a pair of shorts and gym shoes along with my state blues. Washing clothes by hand out of a sink and a toilet is not easy or quick work. I spent a couple of hours, scrubbing out the commode with disinfectant and soap, refilling the toilet with hot water and laundry detergent, and agitating all the clothes and the shoes I had gotten dirty on the yard. Rinsing was just as laborious as I had to flush the toilet multiple times to get all the soap out. Not having a dryer, I finally had to hang all my clothes and use fans to evaporate the moisture. My family regularly asks me what I do with all my time in a cell. Often it is doing mundane tasks like washing laundry. They do not stop to consider I do not have many of the modern conveniences they enjoy which saves a lot of time.

In the evening, I heard many prisoners shouting to their "homies" to ask whether they had food to spare. Most of them were looking for coffee. Since tobacco has ceased to be sold in the IDOC, coffee has become the new addiction. Although I only drink it occasionally, I always buy the maximum amount at commissary to use as barter or on occasions like this where prisoners will trade for something worth much more. Currently, I was sitting on a couple of 3 oz. bags of instant coffee and was thinking of selling it for some food. However, I then spoke to my neighbor who told me information why my coffee may become even more valuable later in the month.

One of my neighbors is a cell house worker and his assignment requires him to continuously speak with guards and prisoners. From what he heard there was something more to the one-on-one fight we saw on the yard. Guards were claiming there was a staff assault. "A staff assault?!" I asked with bewilderment. Are they now considering staff who break up a fight and are clipped in the process to be assaulted? He said there may have been some other hostilities in the tunnel between guards responding to the fight and prisoners black marked as staff assaulters. Although I could not see into the tunnel the two men were fighting near, I tend to doubt there was any other incident involving other prisoners. Regardless, if the administration was going to classify this as a staff assault, the prison would be on lockdown for another couple of weeks. Men in C House would not be able to shop until October and this would make my coffee worth its weight in gold.

Yesterday, prisoners continued to yell out from their cells for coffee. One man began to offer "coffee balls" for sale. A ball of coffee is enough to make 3 large cups of coffee and is sold for a dollar. It is an outrageous mark-up, but he found a couple of suckers. The yelling of inmates trying to barter or find a handout was annoying. I was trying to understand the merger of two natural gas pipeline partnerships. The information I was sent in the mail was incomplete and complicated. It was like trying to make sense of an intricate jigsaw puzzle with half the puzzle pieces missing. Regardless, I gave the person who wrote me my take on the combination of Crestwood Energy Partners and Inergy Corporation along with their subsidiary.

When I finished, I looked up to see what my cellmate was watching on TV. Surprisingly, it was not on and he was reading a novel. It must be a very bad day for television if my cellmate prefers to read. I asked what he was reading and he said a Michael Crichton book called "State of Fear." I think Michael Crichton is a very good writer and appreciate how he mixes true science and history along with his stories. That novel was one I had wanted to read myself but never got a chance to do so. In it, Crichton debunks the myth of man-made global warming in the context of a well told story. I wish Barack Obama who continues to stall the Keystone Pipeline and is using the EPA to crush industries which emit carbon dioxide would read it.

Anthony mentioned that Steve wanted it ASAP so he could dispute his hippie, environmentalist humanities teacher. Apparently one of the first subjects they will discuss is global warming. I told my cellmate he can take his time because apparently we are going to be on lockdown for another couple of weeks. After I told him what my neighbor said, he was highly skeptical. There was a one on one fight and staff did not seem to be responding to any other incident inside the tunnel which goes around the chow hall. I agreed but mentioned how the line returning from the gym had a number of inmates with black stripes around their waists indicating that at one time in their past they had an incident with staff. It would not be unrealistic for guards or the administration to feign a staff assault to justify more money and personnel.

Tonight I plan to watch Bellator MMA fighting. I like these competitions much more than boxing, wrestling, or other sports because they are more authentic. However, even mixed martial arts leagues have toned down the sport and made many rules since its professional beginnings. I recall in the early 1990's that UFC pay-per-view fights when almost anything was allowed. The sport has become soft along with society. I am in a maximum-security prison where fist fights where no one is seriously injured causes major drama and lockdowns. This would have never occurred when I was initially sent to prison. How greatly times have changed.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Racism: Post Zimmerman Trial -- July 27, 2013

Two weeks ago today, George Zimmerman was acquitted of 2nd degree murder and manslaughter charges. However, despite how the shooting of Trayvon Martin was overwhelmingly proven to be justified, there continues to be a clamor for him to be punished. Crowds of black protesters in a number of major U.S. cities demand new federal charges be brought against him. Lawyers of Martin's family speak of filing a wrongful death lawsuit and join black antagonists pressuring federal prosecutors for civil rights charges. In a speech to the NAACP, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he was considering prosecuting Zimmerman and pressed for states to eliminate their "stand your ground" gun laws, although neither race nor the statute were relevant in the case. Even the president followed by addressing the nation, personalizing and politicizing the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Barack Obama continues to pander to minorities by perpetuating the myth of racial injustice. Lies, deception, and fraud abound in America while much needed frank discussion and truth are shunned.

After writing my last post "Justice Prevails for Zimmerman," I watched an interview of juror B37. Anderson Cooper did not reveal her name and questioned her in shadow. Despite how I thought the anonymity was cowardly, I was pleased by her honesty. Unwaveringly, she told a national audience how George Zimmerman was fully justified in shooting Trayvon Martin. After a string of burglaries, Martin's behavior was understandably suspicious. It had nothing to do with his race and race was not once a topic of discussion. George properly notified police and there was nothing wrong with him getting out of his car. The testimony of Rachel Jenteal was not believable and it was apparent Martin could have just walked away. Instead, he decided to brutally attack Zimmerman and there was no question whose cries for help were heard on 9-11 calls. She had a tremendous amount of sympathy for both George and Trayvon. However, she and the other jurors put everything they had into deliberations and it was clear George was innocent. One juror held out for manslaughter, but after reviewing the law she was in agreement with a full acquittal.

This case never should have gone to trial. From the beginning, it was obvious there was no proof Zimmerman was not acting in self-defense. Contrarily, from his wounds and the initial investigation the prosecutor was correct in not filing charges. It was only after the likes of Darryl Parks, Al Sharpton, and others stirred racial passions, that the states attorney was replaced with a new and less scrupulous public official. This woman is none other than Angela Corey. Corey does not care about truth, justice, or integrity. She, like many of those in the Cook County States Attorney's Office only cares about politics and securing convictions. Just after the acquittal of Zimmerman, she refused to admit error. Disrespecting the law, due process, and the jury, she told a Headline News reporter he was still guilty. Her lackey, Bernie de la Rionda who prosecuted the case, described Zimmerman as lucky, inferring he had gotten away with murder. If they would have said such things about my co-defendant, I would agree, but their continued accusations against Zimmerman only showed how corrupt and sour they are. Zimmerman's attorney, Don West, was correct to say the prosecution was disgraceful.

With the interview of the juror over, I turned channels to watch Bear Grills' new show "Get Out Alive." My cellmate asked me why I was not watching "Precious". Immediately following Anderson Cooper on CNN is Piers Morgan and he had Rachel Jenteal on his program. I was not surprised the British socialist who has always been critical of George Zimmerman sought to rehabilitate the prosecution's "star witness". During commercial breaks on NBC, I watched Jenteal try to rebuild her character and credibility. However, despite the friendly reception of Morgan and applause of the liberal minded audience, she was still a comical, fat and retarded, liar. She should have been featured on Anderson Cooper's "Ridiculist."

The following day, I tuned into the Rush Limbaugh talk show. The topic of discussion was the U.S. attorney general's speech to the NAACP. Pandering to the black audience, Eric Holder said he was considering civil rights charges against George Zimmerman. This was a farce meant to endear the organization and enthuse the African-American electorate to vote Democratic. Already, blacks vote 95% for the political party. However, their turnout may be lackluster without Barack Obama on the ticket for midterm elections.

Zimmerman need not worry about being re-prosecuted in a federal court. His attorneys had proven he was justified in shooting Trayvon Martin and there was no evidence he was racially motivated. Ironically, if anyone was charged with a civil rights violation, it would have been the black teenager. He was the one who attacked Zimmerman and smashed his head into concrete after purportedly telling Jenteal there was a creepy ass cracker following him. During Jenteal's interview with Piers Morgan she may claim it was merely ghetto slang and not a derogatory racial remark, however, I think most people would disagree. Interesting how after her testimony, Darryl Parks and other lawyers backed away from their claim race was an issue yet now again it is an issue, front and center.

In the U.S. attorney general's speech he said he had to have a troubling talk with his son about how he could be racially profiled or a victim of racism. Ignored is how many white children are subject to prejudice, intimidation, bullying and violence. There is a reason why white parents in large U.S. cities send their kids to private schools and it is not simply to receive a better education. My cousins who grew up in Chicago were subject to racism at school and in black or Hispanic neighborhoods. During my incarceration in Cook County Jail and the IDOC I have repeatedly seen white men attacked, robbed, or stabbed based on their skin color. Stateville at one time was called "The White Man's Graveyard" and in the 80's or 90's I would have never been in general population. Not only did you need to be concerned about convicts but staff as well.

For the U.S. attorney general to be so racially divisive was appalling, but I was also annoyed by his condemnation of state's gun laws. The "stand your ground" law was not even relevant in George Zimmerman's trial. His lawyers chose not to invoke the statute which merely provides for a hearing to be conducted. The hearing is simply to preempt the prosecution of registered firearm owners who justifiably use their weapon. They do not have to retreat from an assault, robbery, rape, or other crime which threatens serious bodily injury or death. It is a good law and does not give people a license to kill. Crime would probably be reduced if more states adopted broader conceal and carry laws. Statistics support conclusions that where gun rights are strongest, crime rates are lowest. However, this may also be due to liberal and urban areas having the most crime. Chicago, for example, has one of the most strict gun ordinances, liberal politics, and highest crime.

Major protests by black people have occurred in the last couple of weeks in Atlanta, Oakland, L.A., Philadelphia, and other cities. From television news, I have heard over a million people have signed an online petition for Zimmerman to be federally prosecuted. Unfortunate Eric Holder did not want to point out to the NAACP that these same cities are the ones with the highest rates of gun crimes in the black community. In Chicago last year there were over 500 murders and this year there is already over 200. Most of the victims are black as are their perpetrators, however, there are no mass demonstrations. Apparently black on black crime is OK. Black on white crime is also fine just not the reverse. When a white person is even suspected of being racist or committing a crime on a black person, it is a horrendous evil and intolerable. Just look at how Paula Dean was vilified for simply admitting to saying the word nigger.

Since the Zimmerman verdict, most black prisoners have been mum. Because Martin was black they sided with him but those who followed the case knew the state did not come close to proving the charges. Furthermore, a great majority of African American men at Stateville have shot and killed people. They are in prison for the rest of their lives for rape and robbery, but mainly murder. It is difficult to become riled up over a man who shot someone in self defense. There are more important issues and injustices on convicts' minds including not being able to shop. This Wednesday my visit was delayed an hour while inmates refused to leave the chow hall. The warden eventually addressed their protest by agreeing to allow them to go to the prison store. Personally I think the issue was minor compared to other problems in the IDOC. However, being able to buy overpriced commissary regularly is a priority to many prisoners.

Multitudes of lawyers representing Trayvon Martin's parents have spoken publicly about not only pressuring federal prosecutors for renewed charges, but a wrongful death lawsuit. Possibly, this was their motivation from the beginning. It is unheard of that a victim's family had so many attorneys. Actually, I cannot recall a victim or his/her family ever being represented by counsel before or during a prosecution. This is the job of prosecutors. Darryl Parks will say that if it were not for lawyers like him, there would have never been a prosecution. Regardless, I tend to believe all these mouth pieces are looking to enhance their own names or pocket books. However, they will be going empty handed because although the burden of proof is less in a civil suit, there is no proof. This is not an OJ Simpson case where a retrial or a lower burden of proof will change the result. Zimmerman's attorneys actually proved his innocence. If anything, he should be paid for wrongful prosecution and defamation of character. At the minimum, he should be reimbursed for legal expenses.

It is stunning how the media, public, and many authorities continue to not accept the jury's verdict. This was a good man just trying to be of service to his community. He volunteered to be a neighborhood watchman and sought to prevent crime. Yet he was accused of a crime and despite his exoneration, people still seek to do him harm. On the day of his arrest, I was convinced he did not harbor any malicious intent. During his trial, I became convinced he had good intentions and days after his acquittal these were only reinforced. The liberal media did not give it much attention but he came to the rescue of a family who had run off a freeway. Many drivers may have just kept going or made a phone call for help. Yet, Zimmerman abruptly stopped, jumped out of his car and pulled the occupants out of their crashed vehicle to safety. This demonstrates the nature of the man. Possibly, he rushes into things or gets in over his head, but he wants to be heroic. His motives are honorable and this is more than I can say about the president more often than not.

About a week after Zimmerman was acquitted, Barack Obama addressed the nation. Rather than being a uniter, he was a divider. Rather than supporting the rule of law, he undermined it. Rather than saying justice prevailed, he insinuated it failed. Rather than speaking boldly and truthfully, he was deceptive. The president always in campaign mode sought to even politicize the death of Trayvon Martin. The tragedy was a political opportunity to oppose 2nd Amendment rights and to gather support for the Democratic Party in 2014. Obama cannot run for reelection again, but if his liberal allies fail to take the House or worse yet lose the Senate, he is a lame duck president.

Appealing to the emotions of the black electorate, Barack Obama empathized and personalized his own life with that of them and specifically Trayvon Martin. Last year, Martin could have been his son. This year, Martin was him as a young black man. How so I wondered. Did he also drive his fist into people's faces and then slam their skull into concrete when they went down? No, the president said. He was like Trayvon Martin because he also has been racially profiled. Before he was a senator, white women would grip their purses if he entered the elevator with them. When he walked down the street, people locked their car doors. Seriously? His comparison was ridiculous and only stokes the myth of racism in the Zimmerman trial.

I have some news for the president. I have been profiled as well. Yes, decades ago when I was only 16 years old someone thought I was up to no good. It was probably some paranoid creepy ass cracker too. Was I meandering in the rain at night with a hoodie on my head, maybe crossing over peoples property? No, I was merely walking down the sidewalk, nicely dressed on a bright sunny day. Because my parents did not approve of my friends, I stopped at the corner a few blocks away from my home to wait their arrival. I am white, in an all white neighborhood, and yet a homeowner thought I was suspicious for loitering. Maybe it was my long hair I had pulled back in a pony tail or my black leather jacket. Whatever the reason a squad car pulled over to the curb and asked me what I was doing. Now if I had been black, I may complain of racism, however, it is not always racism and instead of reaching through the window and punching that cop in the nose, I simply answered his question. And guess what? He told me to have a nice day and went on his business. If Trayvon Martin had not gone ballistic, maybe, the result with Zimmerman would have been different.

The jury did not think race was an issue and neither do I. However, for argument's sake let's assume Zimmerman was suspicious of Martin because he was black. Is this so unreasonable considering prior burglaries and a home invasion had been committed earlier in the neighborhood by black men? Is the suspicion of young black men unwarranted by society at large? Visit Stateville and notice how 70% of the prison population is black. Review crime statistics as well. In my almanac, in 2008 African-Americans were 12% of the population of the U.S. yet they committed 40% of all violent crimes. This data does not take into account how the vast portion of these violent offenders are male. Are people racist or unreasonable to be more suspicious of black men? Was it not entirely possible for Trayvon Martin to have just walked home instead of assaulting Zimmerman even if he racially profiled him?

Yesterday another member of the Zimmerman jury gave an interview. She was the lone holdout for a few hours who wanted to convict him of manslaughter. As I had wagered my cellmate correctly, she was the sole black juror. If the entire jury was black, I have no doubt their racial prejudices would have affected their ability to follow the law. Zimmerman would have been convicted of manslaughter or 2nd degree murder. He would be in prison until he was an old man or until he died. It is ironic how many black people cry of racial injustice and yet are so willing to do so themselves.

Another Week of SORT and Lockdown -- August 31, 2013

The multi-institutional SORT returned to Stateville after the weekend. Prison workers who thought they may escape the ransacking battalion of Orange Crush were mistaken, and the Roundhouse was invaded early Monday morning. On following days, the grounds of the penitentiary were searched as well as buildings which did not house inmates. The administration also responded to the fight by firing all prisoners with work assignments who are known to be Latin Disciples. Furthermore, only two non-gang affiliated men are being allowed to work in the cell houses. While these two men have been extremely busy, other prisoners were restless in their cells. Even my cellmate has been annoying and television has failed to preoccupy him on the lockdown. I could care little about being confined in my cell 24/7 without anyone to speak with. However, I grow increasingly impatient for my appeal to be filed. Dreaming about my years as a teenager is becoming absurd as I approach my 40's.

Last Saturday, two cell house workers were let out of their cells. Every day they have worked laboriously from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with only an hour or two break between shifts. According to rumor, other cell houses only have two prisoners working and they have been vetted for gang affiliation. Only non-gang members will work in the housing units until after there are normal operations. In my cell house, my neighbor was one of the two convicts to be let out. Hooch has been incarcerated since the mid-1980s and during this time never joined the ranks of any gang. My neighbor is in his late 40s and working over 10 hours a day leaves him exhausted and in significant pain. He has several physical ailments including sciatica which goes through one of his legs. On Monday, I was surprised to see that on top of all the work the two cell house workers do, they were scrubbing the lower floor with a powerful chemical to clean and strip it of any wax. Between shifts I will occasionally peek over to look into his cell to see him bedridden. I will yell out, "Hooch, get ready for work!" mimicking a guard. He will roll over to give me "the finger," but I know he likes his job and being busy.

The food over the last couple of weeks has been horrible. At times, I have considered if the administration has been attempting to collectively punish prisoners for a fight 3 men had with a guard from the Internal Affairs Unit. Nearly every day convicts have been fed imitation salami, sausage, turkey gristle-soy meatballs, or some very distasteful meal made of processed turkey-soy. The food on trays has been skimpy and on a few occasions spoiled. I never eat what prisoners call "slick meat" but I have noticed it has turned color and has a foul odor. State cakes continue to be served which have mold on them and on Tuesday I almost drank a carton of milk which had gone bad. While I poured it out into the toilet, part of it was lumpy and looked like cottage cheese. Typically, I would not be so disappointed, but I have not gone to store in over a month and I ate my last bit of commissary food while watching the season finale of "Get Out Alive". The reality TV show was not a true test of surviving in the wilderness and the food they ate provided by Bear Grills was often better than that served at Stateville.

The assistant warden did rounds in the cell block this week. Although I spoke to him about the delay in my mail, I tend to believe most prisoners complained about the food and not being able to shop. Over the lockdown, a memorandum was posted on one of the prison's cable stations. It said inmates would no longer shop on an irregular basis and set up a specific schedule. According to the schedule, prisoners on my gallery will attend commissary every 1st and 3rd Monday of the month. Men are hoping they will be able to shop a couple of days from now, however, I am uncertain if the prison will be off lockdown by then. To tide me over to possibly the 16th of September, I bartered with an inmate for 25 packets of peanut butter.

The assistant warden may have also heard complaints from men who were given pink slips this week. Although all workers except cell house help have been moved to the Roundhouse, a few men with health problems remain. All dialysis patients, for example, are in C House. During the week, one of these prisoners who works in the commissary building received a brief letter informing him he no longer had the work assignment. "Little Man" as he is called was furious. He does not have any money being sent to him by family or friends and is dependent on the pittance of money given to him for working. I heard him shouting to a prisoner on an upper floor about being fired and inferring it was due to gang affiliation. All prisoners who are believed to be Latin Disciples have lost their jobs. The gang is being targeted because three of their members fought with a guard from Internal Affairs. During my 20 years of incarceration, I have never heard of an entire gang being denied work assignments and it is unusual. The vast majority of prisoners here and at many other facilities in the IDOC are former or present gang members. If the administration fired all of these convicts, the prison would not be able to function without laborers from the minimum security unit.

Yesterday, a few prison workers from the Roundhouse were moved into C House. They were all men who were fired due to their gang affiliation. I was surprised to learn one of them was Flacko. The white convict was a lackey in the Hispanic gang during the early years of his incarceration. However, he no longer colluded with them even if he may have retained some friendships. He has been a model inmate for over a decade and tries to do what he can to impress any future parole board despite how absurd these dreams may be. Flacko also has one of the most coveted jobs in the penitentiary working as a clerk in the industry building. I highly doubt he would do anything to jeopardize his work assignment. Hopefully, the administration will reconsider the universal job layoffs which are based in part on old information.

On Wednesday, I was one of the rare few prisoners who were able to leave the confines of their cell. Visitation had just been allowed to resume and my parents came to the penitentiary to see me. My father is now a crippled old man with many handicaps. Despite sophisticated hearing aids, his ability to hear is very limited. Furthermore, severe arthritis has gnarled his hands, hunched his back and made movement difficult and painful. His worst physical ailment is the disintegration of his spine and a neck surgery which went terribly awry. Metal rods drilled into his spine damaged nerves leading into his right arm and eventually the steel posts snapped a vertebrae. He now must wear a neck brace and has the movement and appearance of an old turtle. Recently, he went to his 50th high school reunion and I was informed how over a hundred people he graduated with have already died. It will not be long until my father is also in the grave.

Visits are limited to one hour and I was disappointed I could not spend more time with my parents. A significant reason why I have not requested a transfer to Menard or some other downstate prison is to stay near them. Before my arrest, I had a poor relationship with my mother but more so my father. We rarely spoke in the late teens and an argument with him was the reason I moved in with my co-defendant and his wife. A few weeks later, the roommate killed a man in Barrington and the following year I was arrested. For 20 years I have attempted to have some semblance of a relationship with my father, but it is extraordinarily difficult from prison. Our lives are totally different and separated by a 30 foot wall. Occasionally my father will entertain the idea he will once again have his son back. However, I think he has finally accepted the fact it will never occur, at least not while he is alive.

After my brief visit, I was forced to wait in a holding cage for an hour and a half before a guard escorted me back to the cell block. A former cellmate of mine was there and I spoke to him for most of the time. "Snowman" told me how ruthless the Orange Crush had been in the Roundhouse. Apparently, the SORT had pillaged prisoners' property in all the cell houses they searched. They took a wide spectrum of things including bowls, cups, pens, headphones, adult magazines, toilet paper, soap and even commissary food. Snowman said when he returned to his cell he felt like he had been robbed. He also told me a humorous story about how when guards in the evening passed out ice on the hot and humid day, he did not have anything to put it in. From his cell bars he held out his hands.

Mostly, I spoke to Snowman about his appeal. The Innocence Project at the University of Chicago took his case and filed a successive post conviction petition on his behalf. The appeal was denied and my former cellmate was still angry about the ruling. A police officer along with several jail house snitches had recanted their testimony, but this was not enough to convince the judge to grant him a new trial. I asked him what evidence was left and he initially claimed nothing. However, I know his case well and skeptically I said, "Nothing?" He then conceded there were still a couple more snitches and some very scant circumstantial evidence. At trial, the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. After a conviction, the tables are turned and a defendant must prove their innocence and evidence is looked at in the light most favorable to the state. Claims of innocence are thus very difficult to win unless there is DNA evidence.

My issues including actual innocence are much better than Snowman's. Unfortunately, however, I have an attorney who is dragging her feet. Next month she will have officially been working, or not as the case may be, on my appeal for 4 years. It is incredibly upsetting to watch my parents inch closer to the grave and see myself rapidly age. I realize that even when my appeal is finally submitted because it will be in a Cook County court, 5 years will probably pass before there is a final adjudication. Very soon the prosecution may argue to have my appeal dismissed due to lack of due diligence. Prisoners cannot just sit on issues forever and although a petition based on actual innocence can be submitted at any time, the last affidavit I procured was in October of 2011. Had the Innocence Project taken my case, my appeal would have been filed long ago.

When I returned to the cell, I was exhausted and fell asleep quickly despite the noise in the cell house. As I almost always do, I dreamed of a time when I was a teenager. Apparently, my subconscious mind still has yet to accept the fact I am an old man or does not want to. In my dream, I was at a baseball tournament and after winning my game I went to watch others. I noticed a very pretty blond haired girl on the other side of a baseball diamond and went to speak with her. When I turned the corner, she was gone and I looked around to see where she could have gone so quickly. Beyond the bleachers I spotted her and she giggled before beckoning me to chase her into some nearby woods. Initially, I pretended I was not going to play games, but then raced toward her. However, when I was just about to catch her she disappeared magically into a tree like a portal into another universe like in a Harry Potter film. I was not going to give up so easily and followed only to find myself in an enormous castle. She was nowhere in sight and I awakened from my dream sad. There were so many girls I had held and let get away before my arrest. Now, I am an old prisoner and I will never have another chance.

My cellmate noticing I was up began to insist I engage him in conversation. I did not want to talk, however, and told him I would be wasting my time communicating with him because it served no function. Furthermore, he was going to die in prison and everything I said would die with him. I did not mean to upset him with my blunt speech, but he has been rather annoying lately. Out of boredom, he will do various things to get my attention. For example, on one occasion this week, he sat on my bunk next to me and asked the redundant question of what I was doing. "I was reading. What did it look like? Don't you have TMZ or some other TV show to watch?" Apparently, TMZ did not come on for another hour and all he had to do in the meantime was pester me. I told him to go bother the midget next door. He is lonely and bored with Hooch working all day.

My cellmate was not nearly as disruptive as the convicts in the cell house. Throughout the day they are screaming, talking over one another, or playing various games. Chess is popular in prison and those who do not have cellmates who want to play will play with men across the cell house. They will shout out moves according to a synchronized number system on their boards and then argue about where their pieces are located. Others will carry conversations for hours that are of the most stupid and meaningless kind. Occasionally I will mock their ghetto speech, slang and unintelligent ramblings. However, usually I will just put my headphones on. Fortunately, the Orange Crush did not take my thick padded Koss headphones which can block out most of the noise.

Despite wearing my headphones on Thursday, I was still able to hear some prisoner shouting and banging his cell door. Initially, I went to turn the volume up on my Walkman but my curiosity got the best of me. Using a plastic prison mirror, I looked down the gallery. A quarter way down I could see miscellaneous items being thrown out of a cell. When the cell house worker walked by, I asked him what the prisoner's problem was. Hooch just told me he was "bugging up." I could not understand how men could so easily be driven mad. We had only been on lockdown two weeks. What if he had to do a year in Segregation or years at Tamms Supermax? My cellmate mentioned that he spent over a year on death row as the only man there. He spent his time reading and watching television without ever having a mental breakdown.

I cannot do the "Vulcan mind meld" with my TV as my cellmate often does most of the hours he is awake, but I did periodically watch programming with him during the lockdown. On Monday I heard prisoners cheering loudly and asked Anthony if Serena Williams was playing in the U.S. Open. The professional tennis player was very popular amongst black prisoners at Stateville. Prisoners, however, were rooting for a different U.S. tennis player named Vicky Duval. Neither my cellmate nor I liked her and were pleased to see Slovakian Danielle Hantuchova win the quarter final. Wednesday there was a documentary about Koala bears which emphasized how they were an endangered species. My cellmate is an environmentalist and I had to comment that any animal that can only survive eating eucalyptus leaves, and lots of them, was going to have survival problems. When he began to debate me, I said, "Did you see their butts? The fur is stained green!" The following evening Anthony told me Aaryn Gries, my favorite contestant in the show Big Brother, was about to be voted out and therefore I tuned in to the reality TV show like most men in the cell house. My cellmate was correct and I doubt I will watch another episode.

Yesterday, I found myself watching the silly movie "16 Candles." The teen actress Molly Ringwald was homely and I never understood how she was so popular in the 1980's. I speculate other unattractive girls identified with her and the movies she starred in. They were like fairy tales for unnoticed wallpaper girls I recall, or more often do not, from high school. I assume Michael Anthony Hall was a similar counterpart appealing to boys who were nerds. Although neither characters appealed to me, I miss my years as a teenager. Those were the best years of my life and they abruptly ended when I was 18. Soon I will be in my 40's and being 16 again would be my fairy tale.

The Orange Crush has finished sweeping the penitentiary and normal operations should begin next week. However, what is normal for me is more of the same wretched existence. In fact, I tend to believe administrators are intent on ever more oppressive measures. With my appeal not filed and Governor Quinn unlikely to grant my clemency petition, I am doomed to years more of captivity, if not indefinite. With a future so bleak, it is no wonder I look to the distant past. With my appeal yet to be filed, I have years of misery in my future.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

3 Days on Lockdown -- August 10, 2013

On Tuesday afternoon, the penitentiary was placed on lockdown. I was not certain why and speculated it may be due to a protective custody inmate who died the previous day. The man was in his 20's and was not known to have any health problems. The suspicious death, however, was not the cause of the lockdown and on Wednesday I learned B and E quarter units were being searched by SORT after a shank and a small quantity of drugs were found. Fortunately, C House had normal operations and I was able to attend a visit. Thursday, my unit was back on lockdown, although cell house workers were let out to perform their normal duties. The following morning, however, they were abruptly locked in their cells and the Orange Crush rushed into the unit. About 10 prisoners were taken to the offices of Internal Affairs while their cells were thoroughly searched. Nothing of any consequence was discovered and in the evening prisoners were allowed to go to the yard after dinner. The day ended appropriately with a DVD called "Snitch" being played.

On Monday,  I did not go to lunch, however, a couple of prisoners stopped at my cell bars when they returned. One of the men was a commissary worker and I asked why he had yet to be moved to the Roundhouse. Wally was an obnoxious convict and the sooner he was gone the better. After threatening to lose my subsequent store orders, he told me all the moves were put on pause. A man who was classified protective custody died in X House. There was no apparent cause for his death and it was being investigated. The previous week all PC inmates were moved in a group from the Roundhouse to X House. The space in the former building was needed to accommodate prison workers.

I skipped dinner as well as lunch and stayed in the cell the entire day. There was nothing good being served in the chow hall and I did not want to be disrupted. In the morning, I exercised, bathed out of my sink, and then shaved with my electric Norelco razor. I then put a second coat of paint on the shelving unit before taking an early afternoon nap. I awakened when a guard came to the cell with mail. I was given 5 letters and all of them were post-dated in early July. The delay in my mail was upsetting and I considered writing a letter to the assistant warden. All prisoners' incoming mail at Stateville was behind weeks, but my outgoing mail was as well unlike others I had spoken to. While watching the season finale of "The Bachelorette," I went over my snail mail. I did not know what was more absurd: a woman who changed who she loved in one week or reading month old mail.

Tuesday morning, I left the confines of my cell to lift weights and run laps on Stateville's large south yard. My cellmate joined me for part of my routine, however, he lacks motivation and I found myself working out with a black man who recently was moved from the Roundhouse. He was very strong and shoulder pressed with over 200 pounds. Later I passed by Anthony on the quarter mile track still trying to break a 5 minute mile. He was strolling along listening probably to some soft rock music. Recently, I have been comparing him to a fat and lazy shark in a comic strip called "Sherman's Lagoon." In the last one I read to him, the shark commented how he could smell blood miles away. His friend, a crab, tells him that was very impressive. Sherman the shark however says that is just too far away to get a meal. Why go all that distance when there is closer unmotivated prey? I then made a joke about his victim being a weak female who lived in an apartment building next door. Apparently, she was a victim of convenience.

On the 2nd shift, the cell house was placed on a level 4 lockdown. Lockdowns are classified by four levels of severity with a 1 being the highest. The numbers are not greatly relevant, however, because the warden can modify a lockdown as he sees fit. During the evening there is very little movement in maximum security prisons of Illinois other than chow lines which were cancelled. Instead, dinner trays were passed out in the cell house to men in their cells by prison workers. On my tray was a very greasy chicken-soy patty and I gave it to "Sherman" while I prepared myself a meal with pink salmon. Later, I responded to a couple of letters I received the previous day from blog readers and wondered if they still cared to receive a reply.

On Wednesday, I awakened an hour earlier than I normally do and was done with my calisthenic exercises by 8 a.m. The sergeant then announced showers, library, barbershop and other movement in lines. The announcement of normal operations led me to believe the low level lockdown was connected to the protective custody prisoner's death. There may have been some question of foul play. However, later when I went on a visit I discovered otherwise. From what I heard, a snitch notified security of some hidden shank material and a small quantity of drugs. Thereafter, quarter units B and E were searched by SORT. Both cell houses were on a strict level 1 lockdown while prisoners' cells were being ransacked and some men were questioned. I thought the visiting room was strangely uncrowded. I could actually talk with my visitor without having to raise my voice or yell.

My attorney has been in greater contact with me recently and I received a letter from her. Legal correspondence is brought to an inmate's cell and opened in his presence. Unlike my other mail, it is usually delivered within a week of the prison mail room receiving it. However, I learned my outgoing legal mail was being delayed 3 weeks or longer. My attorney commented to me how it was strange all her other clients at Stateville did not have this problem. In a grievance I wrote, the counselor who replied there were only two people working in the mail room and all mail was uniformly behind. The reply also said there was no malicious or specific intent to delay my mail. This is why I rarely bother filing a grievance because it is such a farce. In my response to my attorney, I asked her about threatening the prison with a lawsuit. I prefer not to distract my attorney with matters other than my post conviction appeal, but I am fed up with my mail being delayed and/or "lost."

Thursday morning I put my breakfast to the side because I thought lunch lines in the cell house would be run early. From my menu, barbecue shredded chicken was going to be served and this, in my opinion, is one of the penitentiary's better meals. I would eat my breakfast after gym in the afternoon. It is not like it can get any colder when the trays are passed out by guards on the midnight shift around 2 a.m. However, after waiting and waiting, I learned the cell house was back on a level 4 lockdown. What now could have occurred? Later, a cell house worker told me a cell phone was found in the searches the prior day. It seems like a cell phone is being found every month. God forbid a prisoner from having an unmonitored or recorded phone call. He may even be able to access the Internet and set up a blog. The nefarious possibilities are endless.

With my cellmate I discussed how productive I could be with a smart phone. The blog I have could be directly designed and written by me without the help of any intermediary. My posts and answers to emails would not be delayed one to two months. I mentioned to him how surprised I am to receive any letters considering how letter writing has become almost an obsolete mode of communication and how long people must wait. A smart phone would also allow me to write editorials for newspapers or magazines once again. My cellmate asked me if I had kept any of the articles I wrote and were published for Soldier of Fortune. I do not even keep any of my posts, I told him, let alone editorials I wrote two decades ago. Lastly, I spoke about how I could indulge my interest in stocks by being able to buy and sell through electronic trading websites. I may actually be able to earn a substantial amount of money not only trading stocks for myself but others and charging a percentage for my service. In the middle of my talk my cellmate chimed in that I could also text nude photos of myself like the New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Wiener. Since he wanted to joke, I said, "Wiener can still turn this scandal around. Just think, he can ride around in a 'Wiener mobile' selling hot dogs. Instead of getting combative, he can own the sexting controversy by going on late night comedy shows including Saturday Night Live. The people of New York City need a man like Wiener if nothing else to be the butt of American comedy. How much worse can he be than Michael Bloomberg who sought to ban The Big Gulp?"

Most of the day, I read various economic and investment publications. I began with a Kiplinger's and then I read The Economist before finishing off with an Investment Business Daily. Initially, I did not have to use my headphones, but the cell house became very noisy and I had to put them on. Since the moves of prison workers and others, the unit has become much louder. Although C House was supposed to become a cell block for older inmates, many people under the age of 40 have been sent here. Some of them came from the Roundhouse and all they seem to want to do is yell and talk. When a guard let me out of my cell for a visit on Wednesday, he commented about the riff raff. My cellmate responded that along with older convicts, the cell house received a number of ghetto vermin and circus freaks.

Yesterday morning the day began with the cell house on a level 4 lockdown like the previous day. However, not long after inmate workers were let out, they were locked back in their cells abruptly. I thought that was odd, but continued to wash the floor. Moments later, I heard prisoners yelling "Orange Crush in the building!" About 20 SORT guards in full body armor hurriedly rushed up the stairs. Later prisoners were brought back down in handcuffs. My cellmate commented that was probably some of the riff raff the guard had mentioned earlier in the week. However, then we noticed a short bald man on the concrete walk outside the cell house. Numerous prisoners shave their heads but this man looked like Steve. Steve was a person both my cellmate and I spoke to. He was not a gang member or trouble maker other than his pompous attitude and penchant for filing lawsuits. He currently has a lawsuit in regarding medical negligence that was close to being settled and we wondered if that was why he was singled out.

The prisoners taken out of the cell house were gone for a long time while SORT searched their cells. I was glad they did not take the entire unit of men and were selective. I did not want to spend the day in the chow hall handcuffed and then the entire evening putting my possessions back in order. Typically, mass searches turn up little serious contraband. Drugs, cell phones, and knives are often found due to internal affairs' network of snitches. There are numerous prisoners who will tell on someone else to be forgiven for some rule violation on their part or for a special favor. I have heard of men who snitched on someone who had a cell phone being given transfers to nice medium-security prisons despite having poor records and boat loads of time to do on their sentences.

I expected the cell block to remain on lockdown the entire day if not over the weekend, however, I was surprised when on the 2nd shift guards yelled for prisoners to get ready for chow and yard. I did not care to eat tamales, but I got dressed because the yard line was run directly from the chow hall. In line outside the cell house, I sought Steve out to ask him what happened and if he knew why. He did not want to talk amongst other prisoners and I had to wait until we were seated in one of the dining areas. He then whispered to me that he and his cellmate along with the rest of the prisoners were taken to the offices of Internal Affairs and grilled. "They did not put you on the rack?" I asked jokingly. "Because if they did, you are still no taller," I added to make fun of the short man. Steve, I think, was exaggerating by using the word "grilled" and he toned down his language. Basically, I.A. wanted to know if he knew anyone who could get things into the prison. There are always inmates who have connections to procure contraband. Steve told them "no," and also was cocky telling I.A. he also did not know anything about what was found in the other cell houses.

Why, I asked, did he think Internal Affairs targeted him? Steve speculated there was a prisoner who they connected to him that was able to get all types of hard core porn into the institution. Pornography is allowed to be sent in via the mail or visitors, however, certain magazines are on a banned list. Because they are banned there is a huge black market for them and prisoners who can get them are able to sell them for double or more their market value. Anyway, Steve thought I.A. believed if a prisoner he knows can get hard core porn, he may be able to get other things that they are more concerned about. The fact is this inmate cannot nor would he want to get the contraband security personnel were hunting for.

Other than being able to talk to Steve, I wasted my time going out for chow. Guards told us we were being put on the small yard because no one was sent to man the central gun tower. Prisoners in maximum security prisons must always be "under the gun" during their recreation periods. I cared less to be on twin basketball courts surrounded by fencing topped by razor wire for two hours. Instead, I went back into the cell house and exercised in my cell. I can get a better workout in the confines of my 11 x 6 foot cubicle than on the small yard. I can also avoid the crowd of prisoners in the dog run.

At night, I watched a DVD called "Snitch" with the actor Dwayne Johnson. I am not a fan of "The Rock," but it was Friday and nothing was on television so I thought I would give the movie a chance. It was not a bad film and addressed a political issue about mandatory minimum sentences as well as problems created by police using snitches. In the movie, a high school senior is arrested for selling drugs. To escape a mandatory decade in prison, he frames his friend. The friend's father is "The Rock," and he tries to persuade the police and D.A. that his son is innocent, but they do not care or believe him. He is told the only way his son can get a reduced sentence is by snitching on someone. Other than the person who set him up, he does not know anyone and therefore "The Rock" makes a deal he will find someone they can bust. He ends up getting in way over his head with a Mexican drug cartel. Ultimately, his son is freed, however, the movie reminded me of how loathsome the use of snitches can be.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Stateville in Transition -- August 3, 2013

Since the beginning of summer there has been rumors of industry and kitchen workers being moved to X House. Then in July, prisoners heard about a much broader idea to move all workers to the Roundhouse and reclassify the quarter units. The administration never notified men about their plan which would shuffle hundreds of inmates throughout the penitentiary. Prisoners were left to guess the authenticity of rumors until a few weeks ago when work supervisors confirmed them. This caused a great amount of anxiety and a wave of prisoners quit their jobs including my cellmate. They did not want to be uprooted and take a chance of being assigned someone they could not live with. The Roundhouse was also considered a punishment rather than a reward for menial low paying labor. The great move was not done abruptly as initially thought, but over a period of weeks and there is still more to do. It is yet to be seen if the transition was a success.

The first I was to learn about administrators contemplating reordering Stateville was from an industry worker who lives on my gallery. Flaco is a white man about my age and in my opinion looks similar to the rap music singer Eminem. He was arrested around the same time as I was and has spent most of his years at Stateville. Although most prisoners here are from Chicago, Flaco grew up in the suburb of Addison, a town in DuPage county I know fairly well. He has a natural life sentence like me and his only hope of being freed is a dream state legislators will return the parole board. I do not see him often because his job is basically his life. Periodically, he will leave his cell in the summer to attend evening yard to play handball. Otherwise, I do not see him unless I go to his cell bars after a visit or if he stops by after his work assignment.

Flaco is the clerk at the industry building and because of this he regularly talks with his work supervisor. The administration is under the belief the prison will become more violent and rebellious as more men are packed in who have nothing to lose. The Supermax Tamms was closed and Pontiac may need to be opened to general population leaving segregation space limited. Lockdowns may be used to confine men in their cells most of the year. If industry and kitchen workers were moved to X House, they could continue to have movement and work. These two job assignments are most important to the penitentiary. Industry makes bar soap for the IDOC and periodically fills furniture orders. The kitchen workers are needed to make all the meals for nearly 2,000 prisoners as well as some staff who eat in the officers dining room. Typically, prisoners from the minimum security unit will be brought inside the wall to do this work during lockdowns. However, if people think the food is bad when prepared by experienced labor, they should try eating it when made by MSU inmates.

X House is an isolated building from the rest of general population. Due to this, it can easily be operated independently. At one time, X House was simply death row. It was basically one aisle with about 10 spacious one-man cells on both sides. For people who saw the movie "The Green Mile," it looked similar but there are no bars and the execution chamber was below in the basement. Stateville ceased to do executions in the mid 90s and an addition was made to the building. Two double tiered wings of cells were added and it functioned as a reception unit for new arrivals. For a period time it housed protective custody, but those men were either transferred to Pontiac or placed in F House. In their place inmates who were deemed no security risk and or were eligible for medium security transfers were celled there.

In July, rumors began to circulate that the administration was considering moving all workers to F House a/k/a the Roundhouse. While X House can only hold a little over 100 prisoners, the large circular domed building can hold about 450. This is plenty of room to accommodate one floor of segregation and 3 floors of workers. However, F House is the last place men with work assignments would want to be. Crazy and bored prisoners in Seg scream and bang all hours of the day. A few of them smear feces on their walls or spray passersby with urine. The entire building is infested with roaches so fierce they may survive a MOAB ("Mother of All Bombs"). There are also numerous electrical and plumbing problems sometimes leaving prisoners without both. Electrical timers control the sink and toilet water allowing men to only flush once every 10 minutes. Furthermore, the cable television outlets in many cells do not work and because of the circular structure of the building, there is no privacy. At any given time a few hundred prisoners can be staring in your cell. I lived in the roundhouse for a couple of years and even with good cellmates it was unpleasant.

My cellmate nor I knew whether to believe the rumors. No memorandum had been put out by the warden and the guards were unsure. Nothing had been said to them during roll call and thus prisoners were left to guess what to expect. The uncertainty of the future made many men concerned, including myself. I did not want to lose a cellmate I got along with well and had adapted to. Anthony also did not want to be uprooted especially to be placed in the Roundhouse. It was not worth the $18 a month he made working 6 nights a week. The perks of being a kitchen worker also did not compensate for taking a chance with a new cellmate or the worse living conditions. He not only thought about the roaches, echoing continuous noise, and lack of privacy but cable TV. Without television, my cellmate would go through withdrawals.

Anthony's kitchen supervisor could not or would not tell him if he was going to the Roundhouse. However, a kitchen worker who worked the first shift with the boss left him a note. The note said all workers with the exception of cell house help were to be moved. Furthermore, the entire housing of prisoners were going to be transitioned. X House was going to return to being protective custody. E House was to hold all the most violent prisoners, including staff assaulters. B House was designated for those perceived to be moderately aggressive. D and C Houses were for men deemed the least troublesome but the latter unit was for those 40 years old or older. C House was also to have all the cripples and men with severe health problems. I said to my cellmate after reading the note that it was basically what the policy at Stateville has been for years except for making F House a worker-Seg building. He wondered if he quit his job we would still be moved to D House and I told him I thought it was unlikely. I was going to be 39 this year and he was only a year younger.

On the day he received the note, he wrote a letter to the placement officer informing him he was quitting his job in the kitchen and not to move him to the Roundhouse. However, he continued to go in to work the next few nights. His supervisor told him the plan had been put on hold and may not occur at all. After a quarter of the midnight shift ceased coming into work, she implored him to stay. Most of the prison workers who quit were lazy, irresponsible, and could easily be replaced. However, she greatly depended on him to do a lot of the work. My cellmate got along well with his kitchen supervisor, and I thought possibly she had convinced him to stay. However, when she did not come in to work, he told a different supervisor he was quitting and he never returned.

On the week Anthony ceased working, over 20 other prisoners in the cell house did so as well. Most of them quit for the same reasons as my cellmate. However, others quit because they had jobs which only lasted a year. To increase turnover rates, nearly all jobs except kitchen and industry had a one year limit. Prisoners were automatically laid off and could not be reassigned until another year had passed. This policy was created to address men's complaints of not being able to get a job and it also was favorably looked upon by security to prevent inmates from creating close relationships with staff. Most of the jobs at Stateville are unskilled labor which can be easily rotated. However, when men know their jobs are temporary, they are less likely to value it. I spoke with a prisoner who worked at the law library and he quit the week before my cellmate because his assignment expired in less than a couple of months. He did not want to go through the transition of moving twice in a short period of time. It is unfortunate because he is very knowledgeable about the law and helps many prisoners. Most of the law library jobs require a lot of experience and should not be temporarily assigned.

Neither Flaco nor any of the industry workers quit their jobs. Industry jobs are the most coveted in the penitentiary. Men are paid by output and typically make between $100 and $200 a month. Most of the inmates have worked there for over a decade. There has been no new hiring for years and the workforce has dwindled to about 20 prisoners. My cellmate speculated none of the kitchen workers who continue to make $80 a month will quit either. There was a wage freeze placed on all prison jobs about 5 years ago, limiting men to $30 a month, but $2 is always taken for rent and they would regardless be given a $10 stipend even if they were unassigned.

Despite how my cellmate ceased working, he was kept on the assignment list. From others who quit, we learned they were also. This led us to believe the Placement Officer planned to still move all these men to the Roundhouse and they would be given the option of going to Seg or retaining their jobs. Last week, we noticed a prisoner's property box being inventoried and thought he may have possibly refused to work and was being sent to Seg. However, the man had flashed a nurse two months ago and nearly everyone had forgotten about the incident. He was not punished for so long because there was no room in segregation which now only consisted of one and a half gallery in the Roundhouse. Apparently, there would be no space to take over 100 prisoners who had ceased working to Seg, however, I continued semi-joking with my cellmate and last weekend I made what I called "The Last Supper".  "This is the last meal we may share together," I told him.

Our neighbor, Leprechaun, had ceased going in to work, however, earlier in the month he told us how the laundry building had been brought a couple hundred black striped shirts to be washed. Anyone who had ever assaulted a guard or any employee in the IDOC would be forced to wear these shirts. From what he said, it was just a regular blue state shirt but a wide black stripe had been stitched around it. Apparently, the administration wanted guards to be able to identify them in movement lines or make them feel bad, but I thought many prisoners may regard it as a mark of honor. More prisoners may want to be given the black stripe. As well as the new shirt, these men were all moved to E House.

Throughout the second half of July, many prisoners were shuffled in the penitentiary based on security, health and age. All prisoners are evaluated periodically to determine their escape risk and aggression level. Those men thought to be highly aggressive were moved to E House along with those who had staff assaults on their records. All of the "level E's" or designated very high escape risks were also originally planned to be moved there as well, but the administration had second thoughts about putting all 50 in one cell house and some were kept in other quarter units. A number of cripples were sent to C House and the unit is beginning to look like a geriatric ward. One fat slob who can barely walk was placed on the lower floor across from the shower holding area. Prisoners loathe the cripple not because he is disabled but because he is a homosexual and a pedophile. He is rumored to watch men getting undressed to take a shower from his cell or while in the shower area. A prisoner who goes by the name "Farmer" refused to live with him and walked himself to segregation.

Prison workers did not begin to be moved to the Roundhouse until this week. Unlike some rumors, they did not occur in one massive move. Plus, the Placement Officer seemed to be thoughtful in coordinating the cell assignments. Every day this week, several prisoners from my unit have been moved. No one who did not want to go was forced but they lost their assignments if they had not already resigned. Furthermore, most prison workers were moved in with compatible cellmates sometimes of their choosing. Flaco and his cellmate have yet to be moved but apparently they are going to remain cellmates and simply be assigned a cell in F House together later next week.

The only mass move to be done was on Tuesday. During the evening, the prison was placed on lockdown and inmates were fed dinner in their cells. Initially, I did not know what the cause of the lockdown was, but when trays were passed out a prison worker told me protective custody was being moved to X House. All of the inmates were moved at the same time and they were put in one of the dining areas in the chow hall until those in X House were cleared out. Most of protective custody was transferred to Pontiac, however, I believe about 40 men remain. X House also will hold men in administrative detention, from what I am told. Prisoners are placed in A.D. for various reasons but mostly because the administration believes they can be a security threat.

After it became apparent me and my cellmate were going to be moved, we decided to paint parts of our cell. The week has been pleasant with high temperatures in the 70s. The extended forecast is for more of the same weather without any rain. Therefore, we thought it was good timing and received a bottle of industrial gray paint from a cell house worker. My cellmate first scrubbed the rusty table by the cell bars. He even used toothpaste and a scratch pad before washing and then painting it. We did not have a paint brush and he used a sock. I made fun of him for only applying paint to the topside and said that was tantamount to painting one side of a fence. Grudgingly, he did the side underneath. Later, when I painted the counter top and shelves beneath I understood his reluctance. The latex paint was incredibly thick and difficult to work with, especially without a brush. I spent a couple of hours working with the noxious paint which had the consistency of oil.

At night I searched for some programming to watch on television before I went to sleep. PBS often has these live music concerts, however, they are nearly always terrible. I often ask myself how the public broadcast station believes they can raise money playing this garbage. However, yesterday the station had the Vienna Philharmonic Symphony performing from the Austrian capital and I was glad a number of compositions by Richard Wagner were played. Unfortunately, paint fumes continued to annoy me as well as the noise from the cell house. I thought older, crippled men would be quieter, however, they were not. This may be due to them just settling in as arrivals from F House or the displacement of workers. Men with assignments do not need to occupy their time shouting and are generally less obnoxious. Furthermore, it seems a number of prisoners under 40 were moved to the cell house on the upper galleries.

Earlier in the year, wardens from Menard Correctional Center and the director were at Stateville. Possibly, they visited the penitentiary to discuss how things were operated there and this gave fruit to the plan to move inmate workers. At Menard, all workers are in one cell house. It is more efficient and orderly having everyone assigned in one place. It also diminishes the contact prisoners have and their ability to transfer contraband. The North Cell House in Menard has tiny cells and prisoners think of them as coffins, but workers do not spend much of their time in them. They are at their assignments and have access to yard regularly even when the rest of the prison is on lockdown. The building, furthermore, is not shared with Segregation but with model prisoners. The four floors of the North House are divided in half and are not stacked on top of each other reducing noise as well as contact with those who are unassigned. Unlike the huge dilapidated dome building, it is in good working order and has no roach infestation. Menard has a full complement of cable stations and prison workers are treated more favorably. Guards are also not as strict about enforcing petty rules and security is more relaxed in the North House. Such conditions would probably be incentives for prisoners to work, contrary to what the Roundhouse offers.

Making general population quarter units distinct can have benefits as well as disadvantages from both prisoners and administrative perspectives. By putting most of the dangerous prisoners in E House, security can focus its attention and resources on it. Nonviolent or well behaved prisoners may be less oppressed or harassed. Isolating cell houses also gives the administration more control and the ability to try and confine some bad apples from rotting the entire batch. Furthermore, specific units can be locked down while others continue to have normal operations. In Menard, the East and West Cell Houses have the most dangerous convicts and those cell houses are typically on lockdown half the year. The North and South Cell Houses contrarily have less violent men and are rarely locked down.

Today I watched a DVD played for prisoners called "Warm Bodies." It is a silly movie about a zombie falling in love with a girl and becoming human again. Other undead also had their affliction reversed. The film reminds me how despondent thousands of prisoners in the IDOC are. Draconian sentencing laws have taken away any hope of redemption in these doomed men. With legislators and the governor not acting, it is left to the IDOC administrators to tame the live undead before they begin eating the brains of their captors. IDOC has tight control over the prison system currently, but brains are looking more appealing every day.