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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 All visitation, phone, and commissary privileges have been rescinded.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."


  1. "The prison remains on lockdown after a fist fight between men returning from religious services in the gym." Hilarious opening statement to one of your better blog postings. Love the irony. The biker sending you a Ratt tape when you asked him for food? Too funny. I can just imagine your confusion when you received the tape. The DiGiorno's debacle is great too - next time ask the guard if she has any Grey Poupon mustard. Paul, I am sorry you are suffering but I am glad you still have a sense of humour. It's a good coping mechanism. Hang in there.

  2. Paul, I find it interestng that you have gone so long without commisary. I have not heard this from my person there. Could it be only from your cellblock, or do you think I am being sheilded from the truth by the person I know. Is this prison wide?

    I hope you are able to shop soon.

    1. Commissary delays can be prison wide, but C House was not allowed to shop for about 3 months out of happenstance.

  3. Kari Wuhrer was the gypsy girl in Thinner. Smoking hot.

  4. I love reading you because of the facts but I have to ask you something: you sure guards are allowed to bring their own meals? I remember well we were not allowed to do that in 1995'ish...they must have changed the rules or guards play games on you hahahhha. One time I told an inmate I hate today because they serve us pork chops again and 30 minutes later the whole gallery was bitching about guards eating pork chops for lunch today hahahahhah. It was too check around, maybe they play you guys...In prison all contraband is brought in and what better way thn cover it with "lunch?" If they indeed changed the rules and let guards bring their own food then IDOC is losing is mind...

    1. No games are being played on me. All staff who work at Stateville are allowed to bring their own meals from home or elsewhere. The only rule they must abide by is using a see-through container or bag.

    2. The same rules apply for bringing food in at The Cell and Toyota Park. Clear plastic bags. Not too hard to take liberties.

  5. Anthony needs penpals.

  6. They should allow you to shop more often.

    1. They should allow Paul to go home!

  7. That sucks that you aren't fed properly. They should at least hand out more snacks such as granola bars or protein shakes. Or something healthy.


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