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Thursday, October 17, 2013

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.

12 comments:

  1. It seems as if you are becoming perturbed with your Celli Paul. Being in a miserable place surrounded by hundreds of loud, annoying bugs can get to you if you let it. Its better to have a celli that you can tolerate 50% of the time, than one you are 0% compatible with. Its hard to see past others idiosyncrasies, but they may feel the same way about you. Been there, done that and have the #. Keep your head up.

    We knew each other growing up and attended the same schools.
    Keep your head up, Paul.

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    1. It is not pleasant to be confined in a small space with anyone for a couple of months. However, I do realize Anthony is one of the most compatible cellmates I could have at Stateville. Possibly, it comes across that he annoys me continuously, but we get along well the majority of the time.

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  2. Cool dream description. Some day you will catch that girl in real life.

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  3. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Paul. Molly Ringwald was very cute and did her job as an actress very well. I can't think of any teen who didn't see that movie! And as for all those "wall flower" girls you knew, bet they're all married today to someone who thinks they're beautiful. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is seriously true!

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    1. Phoebe Cates was a hot chick from the 80's

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    2. Phoebe Cates? I had to ask my cellmate who she is. Anthony is an encyclopedia of actresses, past and present. Despite what he relayed to me, all I recall is the movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Her most memorable scene was coming out of the backyard swimming pool. Unlike the character played by Judge Reinhold, I do not find her to be fantasy material, but she is significantly better looking than Molly Ringwald.

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    3. My husband and I were both wall decorations in our respective high schools and we're happily married today. Never underestimate!

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  4. Catherine Bach aka Daisy Duke was a pretty hot 80's chick too.

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  5. Has anyone heard from Paul recently? There haven't been any updates in a long while. I am getting concerned. LB.

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  6. Anthony Michael Hall

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  7. I have fun with, cause I found just what I used to be having a look for.
    You have ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day.
    Bye

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