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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fiscal Prudence -- October 13, 2013

For weeks, the news media has inundated the public with doomsday scenarios if there is no agreement on a spending bill in Washington. First there was the government shutdown where federal workers would be furloughed causing widespread havoc and upheaval. Beginning on October 1st, national parks were closed, war memorials, and even tours of the White House ceased. There were slowdowns at a few airports, the bureau of labor statistics could not release their obscure job report numbers, and the FDA was unable to trace the source of some tainted beef. If this was not enough to horrify the masses, later this week bloated government will not be able to pay all its bills. The U.S. will actually have to live within its means and cease piling up trillions of debt. The idea is so terrifying that many people cannot fathom political leaders remaining in gridlock. The doomsday clock is ticking down and there is enormous pressure on Republicans to just give the president a blank check. Even from my prison cell, however, I can see through the delirium of economic apocalypse. America could use a lot less hysterics and more fiscal prudence.

Monday morning, prisoners were excited after an announcement was made for men to get ready for commissary. The cell house has not been allowed to shop in months and many were eager to spend their money on candy, cakes, coffee, and an assortment of other goods. The noise was unpleasant to me and I put my headphones on until a guard opened up my cell door. At the store building, I refused to splurge with the money sent to me and was very frugal in my purchases. I bought food to substitute or supplement prison meals and items which were being sold at a discount. When I was told the $3.75 clearance sweatpants were unavailable, I refused to buy the much more expensive counterpart. I knew very well the sweatpants were being saved for friends of commissary workers. Unlike the government, I keep to a budget and do not have a printing press.

One of my primary purposes in buying commissary food was to avoid the chow hall. I despise the crowds of obnoxious convicts, disruptions to my routines, and oppressive security. The Orange Crush continues to be present during movement lines, although only intermittently and they are not being as aggressive. Another reason to avoid the chow hall is simply because the food is often distasteful or paltry. Monday evening, despite stocking up on supplies, I went out for dinner. Four by six inch rectangles of pizza were being served. It was definitely not enough to fill my hunger and I put the thin slice of pizza in my back pocket to eat later. In my cell, I added sardines as a topping while I watched the TV show "Blacklist." Sardines are sold at the commissary in 3.5 oz. packages for 85 cents. They are not the tastiest food, but they are cheap and nutritious. Unfortunately many Americans have not learned how to shop more prudently and live off handouts by the government.

Before the television show came on, I read a newspaper article about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program otherwise known as SNAP. SNAP has grown to unprecedented levels during the administration of Barack Obama. Incredibly, nearly one out of every six Americans, or 50 million, is given food stamps. The statistics are extremely ironic when considering 1/3 of Americans are considered obese, the second highest in the world. These people are not starving, but lazy and taking advantage of the president's socialist programs. When I was growing up, I was taught if you do not work, you do not eat, yet today there is little work ethic. Despite how taxpayers are being forced to pay billions for other people's sloth or inability to shop wisely, there was an outcry when in budgetary talks it was said the program may be slightly diminished.

The Illinois Department of Corrections is increasingly using donated food to save money. The pizza on Monday, I believe, was purchased in bulk from a supplier. However, various other foods, snacks, and drinks are being sent to the penitentiary as tax write-offs. This week, prisoners have been served Chiquita strawberry/banana smoothies for both lunch and dinner. From what I am told, a large delivery of over 100 boxes of the self-serve juice drinks came in last week and is being stored in one of the kitchen's walk-in coolers. Incarcerated men greatly appreciate the donated food, but I think the cost savings are perpetuating bad policy within the IDOC. Money saved feeding, clothing, or meeting the health care needs of prisoners is money that can be spent for superfluous and oppressive security.

Tuesday morning, I went out to one of the penitentiary's two small yards. I rarely ever go to these, but I wanted to see what new equipment and weights had been placed on them. Each yard had two iron bars with welded weights of 50 and 200 pounds along with one bench. These things were not actually new but brought out of storage or from another yard. Too many prisoners crowded around the weights and I walked over to the basketball court. After my cellmate accepted a challenge of a one on one game, I was dismayed to pick up a ball that was lopsided. Nearly all of the workout equipment in the prison is either broken, bent, or in very poor condition. At the minimum I thought the prison could pay for new basketballs. Fortunately, there was another ball which was well worn but bounced straight.

While in the middle of our game, a Mexican asked if he could play. I told him he must find another player. He searched for a long time before returning to the court with a goofy and probably retarded bald black man. I call the man Fester after the character Uncle Fester in the Adams Family, however, others call him Kojak. Initially, I told Gordo he had to find someone else. I did not like this kook. Plus, he was not competitive and the game would be as lopsided as the other basketball. He did not care, however, and Anthony and I nearly shut them out in two consecutive games. Fester left flustered and delirious. Somehow I had collided with him head on and I was accused of a "helmet to helmet" NFL foul. Little Man took his place momentarily until my cellmate almost accidentally tore out his dialysis implant. With health care at Stateville so poor, he did not want to risk any problems.

After I returned to the cell, I bathed and then washed clothes out of my toilet while listening to President Barack Obama address the nation. His speech was filled with much deception and scaremongering. He attempted to lay blame on Republicans and justify his refusal to negotiate. The Affordable Health Care Act was law and was declared Constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The fact it was passed without the normal required votes and not a single Republican was mentioned. Nor did the president mention how it only narrowly won in the nation's highest court with a controversial interpretation that it was a tax and not a mandate to buy insurance. Regardless, it is a terrible socialist program which will add to other entitlement burdens of the country. While the president sought to frighten Americans about a looming default if Republicans did not give him a blank check, there is actually no threat and the real danger is the massive debt the U.S. continues to accumulate.

According to the Treasury Department, the debt ceiling will be reached this Wednesday. The law prohibits the government from borrowing any additional money. This is far from the end of times. The government will continue to rake in billions of dollars, plenty of money to pay for most bills. The maturity of Treasury bonds are not until the end of the month. This is an ample amount of time to reroute funds to pay all holders of debt and avoid default. America has more than enough cash without raising debt to remain solvent and keep its stellar triple A credit rating. Despite the doomsday clock on CNN, America will not implode, go through any economic catastrophe, or any other apocalyptic scenario. However, it will have to prioritize spending and make responsible cuts. These cuts, despite causing a hangover, will be good in the long term. The reckless spending of government cannot be sustained.

Currently, the U.S. debt is a staggering $16.7 trillion. This figure is well over the country's GDP, although government bean counters like to leave out money it owes itself. Democrats also like to point out that yearly deficits are trending downward. From $1.5 trillion in 2009, the Treasury Department predicts it will only be $400 billion in 2015. However, this is still an enormous sum and is only temporary. There will be a surge in the second half of the decade as baby boomers retire. In ten years, yearly deficits will be back to a trillion and the total national debt will have accumulated to $22 trillion dollars. As the working age population is projected to decline in numbers but also in skills and innovation, America faces enormous challenges. Entitlement spending must be reduced and not increased by other federal government programs like Obamacare. Despite the name "Affordable Health Care Act," it will not be affordable for many businesses, people, or the nation which will be subsidizing much of it.

Tuesday evening, I listened to the Sean Hannity and Mark Levine talk shows on WLS AM radio. I wanted to hear their perspectives of the impasse in Washington as well as any economic consequences of a failure to raise the debt ceiling. Television is largely dominated by liberal and sensationalistic news shows. As I listened to them talk I studied various stocks. The Dow Jones had not surprisingly dropped over 100 points for a second straight day. The fear of investors was beginning to show with the scary talk of the president and TV news media. I knew spending cuts would dampen the economy, however, the Federal Reserve Bank is most important. The printing of $85 billion a month to buy securities will continue to fuel the market despite what Washington does or does not do. At the table near my prison bars, I found stocks that would be good to own if they went on sale.

The following morning I awakened very cold despite sleeping under two blankets. Temperatures are regularly dropping into the low 40's at night and the prison has yet to turn on any heat. I warmed up quickly, though, after I began my cell workout. I was feeling fine until I went to wash up and noticed the water was ice cold. The hot water has been turned off 3 days this month. Apparently, a boiler is not working properly and maintenance has been unsuccessful in fixing it. The water has been tepid to cold for nearly a month and it was a complaint of many prisoners when the warden walked through earlier today. Amusingly, I overheard my neighbor complain not about the cold water, lack of heat, poor medical care, or other substantive issues but DVDs. The LTS supervisor is not playing any movies for prisoners.

The assistant warden while passing by my cell asked me if the mail has improved. I told him it was now only a couple of weeks behind rather than a month. He said he put more guards in the mail room to read mail, but under union contract they could not be forced to process mail. This was an odd peculiarity I thought but not altogether surprising. Correctional officers have a very powerful union which is able to negotiate favorable terms. Security personnel has been increased at the prison to the point of absurd levels, but other staff has not and spending is lacking.

The Orange Crush continues to monitor and pat down more men and lines, although it seems the prison has reduced its vigilance to Def Con 2. While on the large South Yard Thursday, I noticed a group of SORT on the walk leading into the chow hall tunnel. This was close to the spot where there was a fight in early September. Men returning from chapel services and elsewhere were loomed over and occasionally frisked. The extra security presence probably served to deter any prisoners from even considering any misbehavior. The SORT has mostly avoided C House inmates, but on Friday I saw them for both lunch and dinner. Strangely enough, despite all the new guards and security the following day did not begin until late due to a purported lack of staff. It is difficult to believe there were not enough guards to go around. Unemployment levels remain high nationally, but not for correctional officers in the State of Illinois.

On some liberal television news program, I heard complaints early in the month about the government shutdown preventing the Bureau of Labor Statistics from releasing their jobs report. This report, although widely broadcast since the recession, serves little function except for traders who gamble on the numbers to make a quick buck. It is like betting on the over and under on a football game. People fail to realize these reports can be off by 90,000 and are always adjusted repeatedly. Missing one report is meaningless. What is important is the big picture and long term trends. The unemployment figure is made up of only those who are seeking work and cannot find it. The percentage publicized does not factor in all those who have dropped out of the workforce or what type of jobs people are getting as well as their salaries. The employment rate is a stunningly low 58% and it is not likely to improve with so many people retiring. Furthermore, those people gaining jobs are increasingly having to accept lower wages and fewer hours. Barack Obama's emphasis on wealth redistribution is not creating the jobs or growth needed. His policies are only increasing debt burdens on future generations.

From watching Sunday morning political newscasts, it seems Republicans are on the verge of capitulating. The masses are terrified by the Chicken Little's who claim the sky is falling and conservatives are being blamed. RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only, do not want to hold the line with the likes of the Tea Party movement. It is unfortunate because they are the only ones who steadfastly oppose runaway government. Without a unified opposition party, Washington will be a lot like Springfield. In Illinois, Democrats control the legislature and executive branches. Debt continues to pile up and spending cuts are only made at the margins where the public does not notice or have an interest. Thus, why prisoners are not provided adequate health care, clothing, and are fed poorly or with donated food, yet the guards union is catered to lavishly. Fiscal prudence requires responsible and strong leadership. Both seem to be missing at the federal and state level.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Boredom and the Other Death Penalty -- August 2013

Except for a few days, the prison has been on lockdown for five consecutive weeks. From sources I am told the lockdown will continue until the end of the month. Locked in their cells 24/7, many prisoners are restless and have difficulty preoccupying their time. I tend to like the isolation and ability to schedule my days with little interruption. However, this week, even I have occasionally become bored in this 6 x 11 foot cubicle. Life in a maximum-security prison can drag by and without any possibility of parole I regularly am searching for meaning to my grim and empty existence. Even this blog is an attempt to fill a void. Hopefully, this post is not as boring as my time in this cell.

The week began with most prisoners occupying their time watching professional football. This was the second week of the NFL season and the Chicago Bears played a very close game with the Minnesota Vikings. Numerous men yelled, cursed, and cheered with excitement as the Bears won by a single point. I did not watch any of the game and was annoyed by all the shouting. During the afternoon, I reviewed a corporate report by ONEOK Partners, a publicly traded master limited partnership engaged in piping natural gas as well as gathering and processing the fossil fuel. Despite the resistance of President Barack Obama, drilling has grown immensely on privately held land, particularly in shale rock formations. Pipeline businesses such as ONEOK have grown immensely to meet demand for infrastructure. America has surpassed Russia to be the world's largest producer of natural gas and is increasingly becoming energy independent.

The end of the 3rd quarter has passed and I am preparing to give my assessment of hundreds of various companies to my family and a pen pal in Canada if he is interested. The Dow Jones Industrial average this week posted an all time high of 15,677 after Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke said he would not slow mortgage and security purchases. This I already knew and predict the Federal Reserve will continue to debase U.S. currency by printing $85 billion each month until sometime in 2014. Despite the huge stimulus, however, I believe stocks will make a correction next month when Democrats and Republicans refuse to come to an agreement over government funding and possibly increasing the nation's enormous debt. The impasse may create a buying opportunity.

Overnight temperatures have been falling into the 40's leaving the cell house like a refrigerator. I awakened repeatedly to put on more clothing until my cellmate gave me his state issued wool blanket. Now, I sleep with thermal underwear as well as two blankets over me. The hot water pipes which lead into the units' two blowers will not be turned on until mid-October and the central heating system not until November. Apparently, I will be chilly during the nights for some time. If I was former British Special Ops Bear Grylls, I would wake up to exercise and then go back to sleep to keep warm. However, I do not think I could get much rest doing this for several weeks and would be very distressed. I doubt my cellmate would be very happy living with me either and this may be in part why he gave me his blanket.

Cellmates have had a number of arguments with each other and have even fought over small matters during the lockdown. Late one night, my cellmate told me he heard two prisoners arguing loudly. They were about to become physical, but a guard on the midnight shift separated them by placing one inmate into the cell house's holding cage for a couple of hours to cool off. This did not work, however, and not long after they were reunited they began to fight. I asked my cellmate what the argument was about and he said one of the men insisted on sleeping with his head near the back wall. Nearly all prisoners at Stateville sleep the opposite direction just in case their cellmate may need to use the toilet. The bunk is only a couple of feet from the commode in the back of the cell.

Although temperatures were chilly at night, they rose to about 70 degrees during the day. Prison  workers were considering shutting the windows, but before they did I wanted to repaint the shelving unit in my cell. When the Orange Crush came through, they gouged the top counter and the mark greatly annoyed me. I spent a couple of hours painting the entire shelf with a wash cloth. Out of boredom, I also painted the cell door bars which were chipped, mottled and rusting. My cellmate asked me why I did not paint all the bars and I responded that we would not have a space to place our garbage or laundry bags. When the door dries, I intend to finish painting when I am able to get more paint.

The latex paint takes a long time to dry and to speed the process my cellmate and I used our fans. The breeze left me chilly and I dropped a wool blanket over myself occasionally to the amusement of Anthony. He asked me if I was pretending to be a Jedi. I told him I was a Sith Lord and he should not provoke me or I will use the dark side of The Force to snuff him out. This threat did not prevent him from pestering me on occasion, and while writing a letter to my sister he repeatedly interrupted with silly antics, talk or questions. For example, he asked, "Are you writing your fan club?" When I told him I was writing my sister, he asked if I had any naked photos of her and so on until I put the letter away for another time.

My cellmate asked me if I had seen the memorandums which were posted on the television. I had not, and he told me that beginning on November 1st, the IDOC would no longer process money orders. All money being sent to inmates' trust funds will thereafter have to go through Western Union or JPay. I never heard of JPay but assume it is another money transfer service. The prison administration made the change apparently to make it easier for the mail room staff to process mail and to avoid extra work by the business office. Staff in the mail room must go through all incoming mail looking for not only contraband but money orders. The money orders are taken out and then sent to those who work in the finance department. Oftentimes, these money orders took over a month to be processed and many prisoners complained about the delay. I commented that men will no longer have this problem to gripe about, however, Anthony replied that JPay would not do this service for free and people sending money will probably have to pay a service fee of $8 or more. (Update: There is no service fee if money is sent to their Florida address to be processed.)

Although there may be an added expense to send money to prisoners, the rates of telephone calls have declined. According to a second memo, Securus Technologies will drop their fees from $4.05 to $3.55 for 30-minute calls. The change in rate is due to the FCC ordering all state prisons to no longer charge more than 12 cents a minute for interstate calls and 20 cents a minute within the country. This directive has come after prisons and phone companies have fleeced inmates' friends and families for decades with exorbitant fees. However, despite the lower rates, prisoners can no longer have the person they call make 3-way calls for them. In fact, the person you call cannot even answer another incoming call without being disconnected. The most problematic issue with Securus is that prisoners cannot set up their own accounts or accounts for people they wish to call. I sought to call a couple of private investigators and attorneys but found I could not. They had to set up a prepaid account with Securus in order for me to talk with them. This is a serious problem because my letters are so untimely and I cannot engage in conversation necessary to gain legal help. I wrote one private investigator that he had to create an account with Securus and I never heard from him thereafter.

While writing my current attorney to tell her how time is of the essence, my cellmate left me alone. In the evenings, he is preoccupied watching TV. Monday night was the season finale of "The Dome," a show based on a book by Stephen King where an entire town is mysteriously trapped in an electromagnetic field. I finished my letter to watch part of it. The show somewhat reminded me of prison. Everyone incarcerated at Stateville is essentially trapped here. Instead of a dome, we are held captive by walls, razor wire fencing, or bars. Given a choice, however, I would definitely choose the former. The people in the town may not be able to leave, but they still have their freedom within it. Unfortunately, Stateville cannot be like the movie "Escape from New York" where prisoners were free to do as they pleased but were trapped on New York Island.

My quest for peanut butter continued this week. Both my cellmate and I have lost over 10 pounds during the lockdown. While he asks guards occasionally for extra trays, I ask cell house workers to find me food in exchange for coffee or prestamped envelopes. Eventually, I found a coffee addict and he traded me packets of peanut butter for a half bag of instant coffee. I was immensely pleased to be able to supplement my diet or discard prison meals altogether. The food continues to be meager and terrible despite how Stateville kitchen workers are back to work. Before I was able to procure the peanut butter, I was eating very little. The extra cartons of skim milk I was able to get from those passing out trays did little to add to my caloric intake.

In my boredom, I thought it would be a good time to read one of the books I had received. A few weeks ago, my parents had brought me "Day of Reckoning," by one of my favorite political commentators, Patrick J. Buchanan. I have read all his other books and watch him weekly on the PBS program "The McLaughlin Group". Many of his political positions are aligned with my own and I was disappointed when he was unsuccessful winning the Republican primary for president years ago. Another book I was looking forward to reading was "The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum" by Temple Grandin. Like myself, Grandin seems to be on the high end of the autism spectrum and I was interested in her perspective. The book was just published earlier this year and apparently one of the readers of my blog thought I would like to read it. It was sent directly from the book vendor and thus I do not know who to thank.

I never got around to reading any of the books, however. Because of the dysfunction in the mail room, I received 3 newspapers and 2 magazines all on the same day. These publications I wanted to read first due to their time sensitivity and to remove clutter from my cell as soon as possible. Last week, my subscription to the USA Today began. It is a rag of a newspaper and I am disappointed how much the quality of the writing has deteriorated and is slanted to the left of the political spectrum. However, I was able to get the paper for a special 2 month trial price of $22 and my cellmate as well as a number of other prisoners seem to like it. Anthony enjoys reading the reviews of TV shows, movies, and pop music or other news in the Life Section, although most other men want to see it for its heavy coverage of sports. From my cell, the papers go to my neighbor and then to several prisoners on the lower floor.

The headlines in the USA Today have been about the shootings at the D.C. Naval Command Center. Initially, it was not known why the former Navy soldier went on a shooting spree, however, it soon became apparent he was another nut case. From what I read, he believed extreme low frequency radio waves were controlling his thoughts. The schizophrenic even scratched into his shotgun the acronym "ELF." Despite how the liberal media continues to press for more gun control, the Washington Yard Shooter only illustrates a failure by the military to give him security clearance or the mental health care system which allows many to fall through the cracks. Indeed, as I read one newspaper article, the cell house sounded like a medieval sanitarium with prisoners screaming over each other. The vast majority of these men are just obnoxious, blabbering fools bored after a month of being locked in their cells. However, some are mentally ill.

Along with my newspapers, I received a post card from The Other Death Penalty Project advertising their book "Too Cruel, Not Unusual Enough". I have never heard of this organization, but before reading the opposite side, I knew what their cause was. Life without the possibility of parole is becoming pervasive across the country and it is certainly the most torturesome form of punishment being used in the U.S. today. Over 40,000 people have been sentenced to protracted death sentences and while many of these convicts deserve swift executions, there is no purpose to keeping others incarcerated indefinitely. Not long ago Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General proclaimed the federal government would no longer uphold mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, however, excessive sentencing statutes exist across the criminal sentencing statutes. I have LWOP for purportedly lending my car to a roommate who then killed a man at a different location.

Nearly every week I watch an episode of the TV show "House," yet this week out of boredom, I watched two straight hours of reruns. The main character reminds me very much of myself and I enjoy his sardonic wit. During a commercial break I stood up and told my cellmate who was watching TV on the bunk above mine that I could have been a brilliant diagnostic doctor just like Gregory House. Just think of all the lives I could have saved but instead I am made to languish in prison all my life. Anthony seemed amused and said I definitely was smart and an ass, a smart-ass just like the doctor, but he could not see me as someone who cared much about people. I told him he missed the point. Dr. House did not save lives because he was a "people person" but due to the challenge of solving medical mysteries which stumped most of his peers. My cellmate told me to see how well this argument flies to some hypothetical parole board.

After the television shows, I stared into one of my plastic prison mirrors and brooded about how old I look. Not only did my age bother me but the color of my teeth. Despite brushing my teeth after every meal, they were almost yellow in color. On closer inspection, I found plaque buildup on the backside of some teeth around the gum line. This was unacceptable and I began to think of ways to scrape it off. Prisoners rarely ever get to see the dentist at Stateville particularly for a cleaning and I refused to wait a year or two. Using a sewing needle I carefully removed all the plaque after a couple of hours. Happy about my achievement, I told my cellmate who was watching me that not only could I be a diagnostic doctor but a dentist as well. "Just think of all the teeth I could have saved. The possibilities were endless," I jested.

Receiving a visit mid-week broke up some of the boredom of being on lockdown. However, although a few other prisoners were anxious, I was not particularly happy. My parents I knew had come to see me and it was difficult watching them deteriorate over time. I could not be Dr. House, a dentist, or anything. I could not even be a son from behind these walls. Before I went to the visiting room I was also told to expect "Inspector Gadget" to be in the strip search room. Not surprisingly upon entering the room I heard a prisoner complaining that he had felt raped. While they continued to exchange words, I asked the guard if he was looking at butt-holes again. The man began to defend himself saying words to the effect that he was just doing his job. Eventually, I asked him if he had ever heard of a prisoner smuggling contraband into a visit. He admitted the policy of strip searching men before visits was largely redundant, but once he had caught a prisoner who had forgotten he had some marijuana on him.

Normally, I work out in the morning, but because I was expecting a visit and my underclothes had yet to return from the laundry, I waited until I returned. While exercising, a strong thunderstorm passed over the penitentiary. After a loud clap of thunder, I jumped off the floor onto my cellmate's bunk and yelled, "Thunder Buddies!" I was mimicking parts from the movie "Ted" where a Teddy Bear comes to life and does such zany and hilarious antics. I was attempting to entertain my cellmate who seemed bored watching an episode of "Extra" with a glazed look on his face. I definitely surprised him and he did not expect such a radical departure from my normal solemn and nonsocial demeanor.

This week was boring not only for my cellmate but me as well. Jokingly, I asked him if he wanted to play a game of chess. I knew he was not interested because I can so easily defeat him. Later, however, he accepted my challenge to play the game show Jeopardy with me. Unlike chess, Anthony is pretty good with trivia and at the end of the show we were essentially tied for points. However, there was still the Final Jeopardy question to answer. The subject was pop music albums and my cellmate thought he had me beat because I know very little about pop music or any pop trivia for that matter. However, thanks to my mother having once been a fan of the Beatles I was able to name the album "Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club". Smugly, I touted my victory as if it mattered in my life. I only played the game to engage my cellmate and break a tedium of boredom.

I have been incarcerated over two decades and have spent nearly a quarter of this time on lockdown. Being confined to a cell for long periods of time is common in maximum security prisons. Generally, I have found numerous ways to preoccupy myself, however, this week I have fought off boredom. Increasingly, I am cognizant of how meaningless my life is despite what I do. As I grow older in captivity, I see opportunities and dreams fade away. All that is left is a downward slow spiral. I can only hope it will end before I reach the bottom or come so near that it does not matter. Lockdown or no lockdown, natural life without parole is indeed "the Other Death Penalty".

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Orange Crush Security -- October 5, 2013

Since the penitentiary was taken off lockdown, there has been a great increase in security during movement lines. Additional guards were hired and the SORT is positioned along walkways, outside the chow hall, and other places. Dressed in full tactical gear, they are conducting pat downs and strip searches but their presence is mainly to respond to any fight or disturbance. When prisoners on an upper gallery in my cell house refused to leave the chow hall, the Orange Crush quickly assembled in the inner chamber. However, the warden diffused the situation and inmates went back to their cells without incident. Since then, everyone in the quarter unit has been fed in their cells and this is just fine with me. Had I any food in my cell, I would not have gone out for any meals at all. After I was given a flu shot, I became sick with a cold and regardless I preferred "room service" to avoid the loud crowds in the chow hall. Avoiding the harassment of the SORT was an extra bonus. Although most of the guards acted professionally and a few were even friendly, their presence in itself was oppressive and unnecessary.

On the first day C House was off lockdown, I was stunned to see all the extra manpower when I stepped out of the building to go to chow. The movement team had been quadrupled and there were groups of Orange Crush along the walkway. Never during my incarceration has the SORT been used in this manner. In their bright orange jumpsuits, black body armor, helmets and boots, they held batons in their hands to beat any man or group of men who did not behave. The chow lines were stopped repeatedly to reconfigure them in tight formation. On the other side of the general population building, prisoners were randomly frisked. The chow lines were supervised by the major, warden, and the assistant warden of security. Due to all the additional security measures, it took over 2 hours for C House to be fed lunch.

This week, manpower on the movement team has remained heavy and they have been accompanied by small groups of guards in tactical gear. A group of 4 may stand on the walkway parallel to the quarter units building, on the segway leading into the chow hall or just outside it in the tunnel. Their cans of mace and billy clubs are holstered. Generally, they have been acting as extra security, however, they will sometimes assist other guards in patting down inmates. Occasionally, I have seen them pull men out of line in the tunnel to be strip searched. Although I have not had to undress, a few times I was frisked. The Orange Crush can be very thorough when they pat down and one guard noticed I had a packet of ketchup in my pocket. He asked me what it was and after I told him he let me go back in line.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to miss too many meals. Other than peanut butter, I do not have any food in my cell. Prisoners in C House have not shopped at the prison store for over 2 months. On Monday, many men were angry and shouted from their cells that commissary lines be run. Every Monday, half of the quarter unit is supposed to be permitted to shop according to a warden memorandum. However, the last week is designated as inventory. Commissary staff and prison workers need a few days to make an account of what is left, what needs to be ordered, and how much has been stolen or been thrown out because of food going past expiration dates. Due to the lockdown, prisoners thought there was no need to do inventory on the last day of the month. Inventory could have been done any time earlier in September. Despite the noise and complaints of prisoners, they were ignored.

I thought there was a possibility of some incident occurring. Prisoners with no hope of parole being fed slop regularly can lead to trouble even in the "old man's house" which many people nick-named quarter unit C. However, the only disturbance in the penitentiary Monday was on a segregation yard. Apparently, men began fighting and were not dissuaded by a couple of rifle shots. The brawl was not broken up until guards ran to the scene. A rumor circulated that the fight was a diversion so inmates on another Seg yard could unravel metal off a cyclone fence. There are clasps and short pieces of fencing used to hold the fence to its steel supports. The latter can be unwound and made into classic ice pick like stabbing weapons. Security is continuously scrutinizing fences and has even painted all the connections blue to make them more visible.

On a number of occasions, I have overheard prisoners expressing a great amount of animosity toward the groups of Orange Crush. Much of this is due to the fact the bright orange jumpsuits have come to symbolize brutality, oppression, and large scale theft. The Orange Crush is notorious through the IDOC's 50,000 prisoners, although mainly in maximum and medium security prisons. I do not believe the SORT is used much if at all at places like East Moline or Vienna. The weapons the Orange Crush have on their belts are also a source of anger. No one wants to be under the continuous threat of being beaten with a bat or maced. Many prisoners I know thought about taking these weapons and using them against their captors. Scenes from the horror movie "Silence of the Lambs," when Hannibal Lector beat to death one of his guards, came to mind.

A man next to me in line mentioned how easy it would be to disarm a guard and break a knee cap, strike the throat, or crack their skull after pulling off their helmet. I also did not like the display of force, but I tried to look at the guards individually and not as a group. I knew and got along with some of these guards when they were not in orange jumpsuits. The fact they had changed clothing and carried a club should not change this. To lighten the tension, I joked with one man who usually works in the cell house when I came out for dinner. I asked him if it was not a bit early to be dressed like the Great Pumpkin and then what he had in his man-purse. My cellmate who was walking behind me chimed in asking if his mother packed his lunch. The bag he was carrying was actually to carry a gas mask. How these guards are to be able to fit themselves with a gas mask quickly, and be able to respond, is unknown to me. However, much of their gear is unnecessary as is the excessive security.

From what I am told, guards get an extra $15 per shift to wear the tactical gear. I do not know if it is optional or if they are told to dress in the orange jumpsuit at roll call. I speculate going through tactical training is optional, but they have no choice after they are a part of the SORT what their assignment may be. I saw a little woman in one of the groups of Orange Crush and thought I would prefer to give her $15 so she would not be putting herself in harm's way. I do not like to see women working at Stateville let alone as one of the administration's goons. Some women who work in corrections are manly or unattractive and this does not bother me as much. However, the prettier and more lady-like a woman, the more I find it disagreeable. Is there not some other job they can find? Is there not some man they can marry to take care of them?

Tuesday evening, the entire cell house was given flu shots. Six to ten men were let out at a time to come downstairs to the sergeant's office where two nurses were. It took almost the entire 2nd shift to inoculate about 300 men, although some people elected not to get a shot. I was eating a peanut butter sandwich at the time a guard unlocked my cell door. I took a mug of water with me and the guard said something indiscernible. It sounded like she said I could not bring the water with me. I asked her to repeat herself and was annoyed that was indeed what she had said. Why cannot I bring a cup of water with me so I do not choke on this peanut butter? Was it some security risk? What can I do with water? Later while waiting in line, I watched the female guard. I think she was just being moody. It may be stressful for some women to work here, particularly those who are new hires.

The nurses in an adjoining room to the sergeant's office were women I know. I was somewhat playful but as my cellmate would say "a smart ass". For my attitude, the Polish nurse stuck me hard with the needle. I did not flinch or show any discomfort. She was not going to get any satisfaction from me. The following night, however, she asked me how my arm was. After she left, my cellmate said I had mastered the art of the "flirt-dis" which apparently is being flirtatious while at the same time being disparaging. He thought the nurse was just responding in kind. Sometimes, I am unaware how I come across and am not cognizant of other people's emotions. However, I can also be intentionally provoking.

Wednesday, I had to wait an hour in the cell house holding cage before I was escorted to my visit. The reason for the delay was feed lines were being run very slowly. It was surprising lunch was being served so late and I asked a guard about the matter. He said D and E Houses were let off lockdown and the latter quarter unit was being fed one gallery at a time. The extra security precautions being taken for C House were absurd, but to only allow one gallery of men in the chow hall at one time was even more ridiculous. Even if E House had the most violent prisoners and a few of them had fought with guards early last month, there was no need to drag out feed lines. Administrators were going overboard.

The guard escorting prisoners to visits and other destinations was new. She had just been hired a few weeks prior while the prison was on lockdown. It was amusing that she did not know where anything was or how to use the radio to gain clearance or notify a cell house that men were returning to their unit. On the way back to the quarter units she became mad that some inmates walked passed her and did not want to wait. I did not like seeing her frustrated and gave her some advice while trying to be sensitive to her feelings which can be difficult for me. When I finally returned to the cell, I mentioned the new guard as well as others I had seen to my cellmate. He was not surprised and asked me if I did not notice them when they toured the unit. No, I had not noticed, however, the last thing Stateville needs is even more manpower. Incredible how the IDOC squanders money and lawmakers continue to give it to them with the state teetering on bankruptcy.

Also when I returned to the cell, my cellmate spoke about how 8 gallery refused to leave the chow hall. It was passive resistance, but from what I was told a small army of guards, many dressed in tactical gear, rushed in the building. They were ready to storm the dining room with mace grenades and then busting men's skulls with batons. All the prisoners wanted was to shop, however, and the warden spoke to some of them and cooler heads prevailed. Everyone returned to their cells without any violence. Either this Monday or the next, 8 gallery will be allowed to buy commissary. To avoid any more disruptions, though, the gallery was placed on lockdown and the rest of the cell house has been fed in their cells until today. While writing this post, prisoners have gone out and returned. Rather than the tamales served I will eat a couple more peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. I care less for the obnoxious loud convicts I must be in line and eat with. I care even less to be under the threat of force or harassment of the Orange Crush.

Since Wednesday, I have stayed in my cell. I am happier when left alone. Furthermore, I developed a cold after the nurse stabbed me with the hypodermic needle and have not felt like going out even to attend yard. Thursday afternoon everyone except 8 gallery was permitted recreation time. I do not know if it is punishment or to prevent the men from refusing yet again to leave.In any event, I do not feel well and have a sore throat along with other cold symptoms. I tend to believe I am fighting off this germ when by body's immune system has been stressed with the flu virus. The strain was dead, of course, but it still causes T-cells to respond. Now they are juggling two threats: one real and one imaginary.

Along with the extra security during movement lines, there is a continued effort to split up or shuffle men considered to be in "security threat groups". A number of moves were made in the cell house where men were swapped with men in other quarter units. Even if the number of gang members stays the same, shuffling them purportedly takes away their unity. Unity within convicts is something the administration seeks to weaken. The overwhelming use of force is only part of their strategy to keep a tight stranglehold on the prison.

I noticed this week that all guards as well as staff have been given new radios. These radios have more bells and whistles than the former ones. They also have the convenience of being able to speak into a separate handset which can be clipped on the collar or epaulet of a shirt. The IDOC probably spent a lot of money exchanging the old radios for the new. The new hires were even more expensive, although they do not have all the pension benefits as the older employees. The Orange Crush groups are most likely manageable if they are only paid an extra $15 per shift. However, again, I am struck by all the money spent on security which is unnecessary while prisoners continue to lack essentials such as medical care, clothing, and decent food. Yesterday, used jackets were passed out to men to save a few bucks. The jacket I received was ripped down the front and I had to have a prison worker exchange it. This jacket has no tears but the zipper does not work well.

I took a break from writing to call home. I caught my father in the middle of having some furniture and other belongings packed into a POD which will be picked up on Monday. He is fed up with living in Illinois and is leaving to another state. I will rarely ever see him now, however, I do not blame him for leaving. If I could, I would leave this state as well. Unfortunately I am trapped in the IDOC. I can only assume things will become progressively more oppressive even if the Orange Crush on the walks is only temporary.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Lynched but Alive -- September 26, 2013

My cellmate recently learned his federal appeal was denied. This ruling can be appealed to the 7th circuit, however, most likely any hope he had of ever being released has been blotted out. The last few days he has been lying on his bunk for long periods of time. Being taken off lockdown has done little to change his mood and even television does not seem to capture his interest as before. From my own experience, little can be done to lift his spirits. Only time can lessen the horror of having nails being driven into your coffin. I feel much sorrow for Anthony who has been my cellmate for almost a year. During this time, I have come to know him well and had hoped his sentence would be reduced. Despite his crime, he has many redeemable qualities. There are also mitigating circumstances the courts continue to dismiss. A protracted death sentence makes no sense in any circumstance, but even more so for prisoners who possess greater aptitude and are unlikely to ever commit another crime. Swift execution is more preferable than to be buried alive.

During the lockdown, prisoners were gradually given more movement and privileges. Telephones and visitation began and workers in the Roundhouse went to their assignments. Until last Friday, only two non-gang affiliated workers were allowed to come out of their cells during the first and second shift. These men were exhausted doing much of the labor in the cell house. Guards on the midnight shift even had the nerve to ask them to come out to pass out trays and pick up garbage and laundry bags. My neighbor was furious to be awakened in the middle of the night and told the guard he could find someone else. There was a short list of cell house help workers who had been vetted by Internal Affairs. Since the lockdown, this has been expanded, but no one with a sexual assault on their record is being permitted to work late at night in the quarter units. This is the policy to address an attempted rape of a female guard at Danville earlier in the year.

Health care passes are beginning to be resumed, although men who require dialysis or other essential care always were treated. For a week or two, prisoners who have diabetes were brought their insulin, but now they go to the Health Care Unit in two lines (early morning and evening). On the last day of the lockdown, "Little Johnny" stopped at my cell in the evening. Johnny is a very easy going and friendly black man in his mid-40s. He is often silly or a bit disorientated possibly due to low blood sugar levels. Although I will make fun of him, my cellmate seems to like that he is almost always in a good mood. Last week, however, he was not his typical self.

Little Johnny told me a prisoner we know was diagnosed with terminal Lou Gehrig's disease. He is being kept at the prison's Health Care Unit infirmary where he will die most likely before the end of next year. Chino was a neighbor of mine before my previous cellmate died of a heart attack. I regularly noticed he was sick and lethargic. He rarely left his cell and had difficulty walking. On a few occasions, prisoners had to shout for guards to radio a medical technician when he was having trouble breathing. Not long after my cellmate died, he was moved to the lower floor in a cell near the door. I periodically kept in touch with him mainly because I bought his snack bags of peanut butter. I did not know whether or not to be sad for him. He had a sentence of natural life without the possibility of parole and he may be better off dying sooner rather than later.

Not long after the prisoners in the med line were locked in their cells, the guard who passes out legal mail stopped at the cell and said, "Mertz." My cellmate jumped down off his bunk to sign a receipt for the mail while it was opened. At the moment, I was channel surfing to see if there was anything worth watching on television while I ate a couple of peanut butter sandwiches. When I saw there was not, I began to change my headphones to my Walkman so I could listen to the Sean Hannity show. There was a commercial break and I asked my cellmate offhandedly if his attorney finally told him he could go kill himself. Anthony said, "More or less," and did not elaborate. Therefore, I thought he was just responding to my joke and I put my headphones back on.

After I finished eating, I went to the sink to wash my bowl and brush my teeth. I was standing a few feet from my cellmate and again inquired about the legal mail he received. He told me his federal appeal was denied and his attorney had sent him a copy of the ruling along with a brief letter. I asked him about the court's specific reasoning and he said he did not know. He simply read the conclusion and the letter. Later in the night he would go over it in its entirety. The fact it was denied was all he cared to know. Prisoners have three levels of federal courts to appeal their convictions and sentences. There is the district court judge, the circuit court, and finally the U.S. Supreme Court. It is exceptionally rare anyone has their appeal heard by the highest court and therefore prisoners only have two chances on federal appeal. I told Anthony before he contemplates suicide, he should at least wait until the panel of judges in the 7th circuit review his case.

I am not aware of all the issues my cellmate presented in federal court. Since he learned about my blog, he has been restrained in talking about his case. Before he was my cellmate, however, I did read his direct appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. Unlike prisoners who are not sentenced to death, everyone on death row has their first state appeal heard by the state's highest court. His issues were almost exclusively limited to sentencing errors. Procedural errors during trial are what direct appeals consist of while collateral appeals deal with evidence and issues which are not on the record. If I had been able to read both, I would have a better understanding of his case as well as his federal appeal. A prisoner cannot raise any issue in federal court unless it was already raised in the state's appellate system.

Despite not reading my cellmate's post conviction appeal, I know a prominent issue was a psychotropic drug he was taking which was discovered to radically affect behavior, particularly when mixed with alcohol. The pharmaceutical company did not learn of the adverse reaction until years after it was marketed. Furthermore, the military has been inoculating many soldiers with a drug to prevent them from contracting malaria. Since Larium began to be used, anecdotal evidence has suggested it causes psychological problems in a percentage of people. Anthony's argument on collateral appeal was that the inoculation caused him to have problems which was sought to be treated with the psychotropic drug. The drug had no warning to never use alcohol and on the night of the murder, he was "hammered." I do not believe this should absolve him of any wrong doing, but it certainly should have been a significant mitigating factor.

When I told my cellmate he still had a chance on appeal, he expressed pessimism. The district court had refused to grant a certificate of appealability on mental incapacity. This meant the 7th Circuit could not even review his strongest argument. It also meant even if his sentence of natural life without parole for the murder was reduced due to other mitigating factors, he was still stuck with 60 years for home invasion. I was not even aware home invasion could carry more than 30 years, but Anthony told me the maximum can be doubled under aggravating circumstances. Extended term sentencing statutes have become pervasive in the U.S.  The general public may be unaware, but nearly any felony conviction has the potential to send a person to prison for the rest of their life.

Before mail was picked up in the cell house, I wrote a quick letter to my attorney. I questioned whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McQuiggen vs. Perkins would permit me to proceed on issues other than actual innocence. The new evidence I have been able to procure may not be sufficient to convince a court. Unlike at trials, the burden is on the defendant to prove his innocence. I have extensive proof but only using evidence which was available at trial and never used. Actual innocence claims cannot rely on what the court considers old evidence. Thus, it is either extremely important that I be permitted to raise other issues such as ineffective assistance of trial counsel to bring in past evidence or to find additional proof. From my prison cell, it is nearly impossible to seek out additional evidence without outside assistance.

With the exception of D and E cell blocks, the penitentiary was taken off lockdown Friday morning. After eating breakfast and watching the news, I felt no reason to stay awake and lay back down. Like my cellmate, I was probably doomed to die in prison. While other prisoners in the unit were excited and yelled out to one another, I was lethargic and despondent. I stuffed some ear plugs in my ears and put a pillow over my head. I did not want to hear them. I did not want to be in prison. I did not even want to be alive. Chino was fortunate to have a terminal disease and die within months. My cellmate and I were doomed to suffer years, possibly decades. I drifted in and out of sleep contemplating the various ways I could kill myself.

When chow lines began to be run, I folded my blanket and got dressed. I did not want to go out, but I had nothing in my cell to eat except peanut butter. Outside the cell house, I was stunned to see an enormous security presence. The movement team had been tripled and a number of guards were suited up in tactical gear. These guards, dressed in bright orange jumpsuits and black body armor, carried batons in their hands. They seemed ready to crack skulls at any sign of disobedience. At certain points along the route to the chow hall, prisoners were pulled out of line to be frisked. High ranked personnel were present including the warden and his top assistant. The overwhelming security seemed ridiculous particularly in contrast to the number of old and crippled men who lived on the lower galleries of C House.

Due to the extra security, pat downs, and repeated halts in movement, I did not return to my cell for almost two hours. I felt like kicking myself for going through such aggravation for some turkey-soy meat balls. Why did I not just stay in bed like my cellmate? Anthony lay in bed all morning and most of the afternoon. I assume he also was brooding his existence and was unmotivated to do anything including going out for chow. For a little while, I listened to talk radio and went over some stocks. I had finally received all the information I needed to evaluate corporations' performance in the 3rd quarter along with their projected growth rates. Eventually, though, I lost interest and lay back down on my bunk. I stared out blankly at my austere and captive surroundings. This was my life. I will live in a cage and endure extreme oppression until the end of time. There will be no meaning or joy, only a long protracted miserable death.

Later in the afternoon, I finally decided to get up. I made myself a large mug of coffee to shake off my melancholy. I noticed my cellmate had awakened and although he had his television on was not paying attention to it. I mentioned that he missed the massive display of force at lunch, but he seemed disinterested. What does the live-undead care about? To be productive in some way I set up my work shop at the front table and made a stock chart.

In the evening, a couple of nurses went cell to cell asking everyone in the cell house if they wanted a flu shot. Never before had this been done during my time in the IDOC. Only prisoners who were very old and sickly were offered an inoculation. My cellmate and I said yes, but I thought it was odd. On one hand, the IDOC wanted to make prisoners suffer and on the other hand we were being offered preventive health care. It reminded me of an episode of the TV show "House," where a prisoner who had an execution date was given medical treatment to prevent him from dying. This is the irony of the criminal justice system. Instead of offering us flu shots, they should be offering us euthanasia. What is the point of keeping prisoners who have death sentences, or the equivalent, healthy? I assume the flu shots are being offered this year to everyone due to the epidemic last year which made not only many prisoners very ill, but many people who work here at Stateville.

Another irony I thought about this week was the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Atkins vs. Virginia which prohibits the execution of the mentally retarded. The ruling was made in 2002, but is being revisited in Hall vs. Florida, #12-10882. Freddie Lee Hall was sentenced to death for the 1978 murder of Karol Hurst, a pregnant 21-year-old woman. Hall and his co-defendant Mack Ruffin kidnapped Hurst and forced her to drive to a wooded area where she was brutally raped and then shot. Later the pair also killed a sheriff deputy. Hall's defense lawyers have for decades argued he should not be executed because his I.Q. is tested between 71 and 80. The State of Florida sets the standard of retardation at 70 and this is the issue before the court. Personally, other than people who cannot understand their criminality, the dumber a murder defendent, the more the reason to give them the death penalty. On the contrary, those who are very intelligent and can be assets to society should be given lesser sentences. My cellmate is not a genius, but is intelligent and has much more potential than most of the prisoners at Stateville.

After I finished my stock chart, I asked my cellmate if he would come down off his bunk and sit by the bars where I was so I could bathe out of the sink with some privacy. He was surprised I had not already done so because I typically wash up after exercising in the morning. I told him I was not motivated to exercise and had stayed in bed much of the day as he had. I continued saying I thought the court ruling he received the night before was upsetting and took away most of my energy. He admitted being very disappointed and was even more glum after reading the court's ruling in its entirety. It seemed the judge was just looking for excuses to deny his appeal. I commented that is what they often do and is why I was concerned the court will agree to dismiss my appeal on any technicality or lapse in affidavits.

Over the weekend, my cellmate continued to lie in bed all morning and most of the afternoon except for chow. Because he is out of commissary food, he wakes up for meals only to go back to sleep. For dinner, yesterday, I went out simply to get some bread and milk, and I skipped lunch today altogether. The Orange Crush continues to be used for additional security during feed lines and I was told while writing this post that they were even conducting strip searches. I will attempt to avoid the oppressive presence as much as possible even if I continue to lose weight. It is miserable enough knowing I may share the same fate as my cellmate than to be harassed by excessive security as well.

Recently I watched a movie on the prison's DVD system called "Last Nice Words."  It was about a teenage boy who falls in love with a ghost. The girl had been dead for many years but continued to be able to take physical form. Her brother had hung her on a tree which apparently had magical properties. As long as her corpse remained hanging, she continued to exist. When her brother learned of their love affair, he threatened to cut her down, but instead hangs himself on the same rope. In the rural backwoods of Kentucky, he stalks and torments her and the boy is eventually forced to cut them both down when he tries to rape her. It is a sad film which in some respects resembles my own existence except I am trapped in Stateville and the only way I can be freed from this miserable place is in death. Thousands of men in the IDOC have been lynched and they just do not know it yet. I see dead people every day and occasionally when I look into my own mirror.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Crushing Rebellion -- August 24, 2013

Last Saturday, Hispanic prisoners entering the chow hall were accosted by Internal Affairs. A member of the security unit who is also Hispanic provoked a fight and was mildly injured before other guards trampled his combatants. The penitentiary was immediately placed on a strict level 1 lockdown and over the weekend SORT and I.A. from a few prisons were assembled. The small army invaded Stateville on Monday and they continue to wreak havoc. Midweek, my cell block was ransacked and plundered by the Orange Crush. I was also questioned by I.A. if I knew about the fight or any conspiracy. Later, I learned there were a few other incidents in other penitentiaries in the days prior, including Pontiac Correctional Center where several guards were hospitalized. The administration suspects there is a connection, however, I tend to believe it was a coincidence. The more oppressive the IDOC becomes, the more likely there will be rebellion.

The evening of the incident, I did not bother going to the chow hall. Some distasteful form of salami was being served for dinner. Prisoners call it "slick meat" amongst other names. Furthermore, I did not want to miss the political commentary and news on the PBS program "The McLaughlin Group". Feed lines from C House went out and returned without incident. However, at about 7 p.m. I noticed cell house workers were being locked in their cells. One of them mentioned something happened during D House chow lines and the prison was on lockdown. Later, I overheard a guard say there was a staff assault in the chow hall. I assumed the assault was rather minor as is most often the case at Stateville. The guard did not elaborate and said it casually. There was also no hurry to lock men in their cells. In maximum-security prisons, scrapes between men are nothing out of the ordinary.

Monday I had no clue a battalion of Orange Crush and Internal Affairs had descended upon the penitentiary and I went about my day as I customarily do. I ate breakfast while watching the news, exercised for an hour, and then bathed out of my sink. Afterwards I began the laborious process of washing clothes by hand using the toilet as a basin. Monday evening, laundry bags were scheduled to be picked up, however, due to the lockdown I was uncertain if guards would do so. They are very work averse and even if the clothes were sent to the laundry building, there was no discerning if they would be washed or passed back to inmates in a timely fashion. It may not be days until the laundry would be returned.

In the evening, baked chicken was passed out by guards for dinner. Oddly, the Styrofoam box trays had two state cakes in them. Prisoners are only given one dessert and I knew there had to be a catch. Scrutinizing them under the bright fluorescent light in my cell, I noticed blue spots of mold growing on them. My cellmate was looking at me and I told him those are not blueberries, and he had better not eat his. The chicken leg and thigh looked as if they were properly cooked and not long after I began to eat a neighbor tapped on the side of my cell. I was annoyed to be disturbed, but after rinsing the grease off my hands, I went to the cell bars to see what he wanted. He passed me a note that read Orange Crush from Menard Correctional Center had been at the prison today tossing cells in D House and to expect them bright and early the following day.

I thought the days of massive multi-institutional SORT raids were over. Stateville has plenty of manpower to conduct its own cell house searches without the assistance of other prisons since an abundance of new staff was added earlier in the year. Furthermore, the busing of guards from the southern Illinois penitentiary near East St. Louis did not make any logistic or economic sense. My cellmate agreed, however, we both spent part of the night before going to sleep preparing. Neither of us had any real contraband, but what the Orange Crush deems legitimate property is something a prisoner can never tell. Oftentimes I believe they do not care and pillaging is done just out of malice.

I went to sleep and awakened an hour earlier than I normally do. Before the Orange Crush shut off the water and rushed into the building, I wanted to get ready for a long day. Sometimes, prisoners can be in handcuffs 5 or more hours without being able to eat or use the bathroom. Therefore, I ate a large breakfast and then quickly used the toilet, washed my face, and brushed my teeth. I also tried to listen to guards' radio traffic to learn any information about the tactical unit's plans for the day. Repeatedly, I overheard the name of Stateville's SORT commander as well as some movement orders. From what I could discern, the Orange Crush was raiding another quarter unit. Depending on how many men they had, SORT could search two cell houses in a day. However, I doubted this was their intention and went about my day as I customarily would.

On a level 1 lockdown, guards must do all of the work in the cell house. Generally, they keep it to a minimum and sit around all day until the end of their shifts. However, on Tuesday, they must not only pass out food trays and collect the garbage but distribute supplies. Once a week prisoners are given a roll of toilet paper and a bar of soap or two which is made at the penitentiary's soap factory. Occasionally, a little tube of generic toothpaste and a 3 inch toothbrush is also given to inmates. I told my cellmate the guards should have waited to pass out supplies because the Orange Crush generally takes them. Later we thought it was amusing that guards had to ask inmate workers where certain things were, including garbage bags without many holes in them. A couple of months ago, the administration came up with a brilliant idea to prevent prisoners from using garbage bags to ferment hooch by having holes drilled through the rolls. Of course, fluids now leak out of the trash bags and guards hate to use them. The cell house, however, has a special stash of garbage bags which have not been drilled and guards sought them out.

Wednesday, I awakened at the crack of dawn. For a moment I watched the orange orb rise above the prison wall through cell house windows. The sun cast an eerie red glow and it reminded me of the saying "Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor's delight." I was no sailor, nor did I think there was any correlation to red skies and weather. However, I did believe there was about a 50/50 chance the Orange Crush would storm the cell house and make my entire day miserable. About an hour later the odds became 100% when I noticed the water was turned off. The loss of plumbing also did not escape the attention of prisoners and they began to shout from their cells warning others of the imminent arrival of SORT.

The Orange Crush marched in formation on the concrete walk before they rushed into the cell house. I did not count them, but I estimate they were about 100 strong. As always, they were wearing their notorious bright orange jumpsuits with black body armor and boots. On their belts were canisters of mace and more menacingly wood batons that reminded me of baseball bats. The SORT ran up the flights of stairs to the 5th floor and I watched them while sitting on a steel table next to the cell bars. They were almost all Caucasian men and I commented to my cellmate that they must have come from another penitentiary. Stateville has a more racially diverse staff and I was unable to recognize any faces. However, because Stateville had recently added new personnel to their SORT, it was possible some of the prison's own manpower was being used and in fact later I did see several I knew.

When prisoners saw the Orange Crush, a few began to throw garbage and low level contraband out of their cells. None of it was serious, but they were apparently concerned a disciplinary ticket could be written. One prisoner on my gallery had the nerve to toss a piece of a device used to boil water in front of my cell. I reached out my bars and flung it back from where I believe it originated. A moment later, someone from an upper gallery threw out a cut extension cord and it landed on the sergeant's office with a thud. The noise was heard by a member of the SORT and he began to climb up the wall to retrieve it. He was having a difficult time and jokingly I told the sergeant to give him a boost and I gestured. The sergeant was not about to help him out let alone push his ass and said he would unlock my cell so I could assist him.

After rushing upstairs, about a half hour passed before the Orange Crush led prisoners down from the fifth gallery. Inmates did not look happy as they walked down the staircase single file, handcuffed behind their backs. Two guards accompanied every other prisoner in the line until they went out the cell house door. The fourth floor of prisoners were taken out in the same way and I expected them to continue until everyone had been removed from their cells. However, the SORT stopped moving men and began to search cells. I was disappointed that I had to wait because I knew there would be wreckage to clean up later which would take untold hours, although at the same time I was glad not to be bound the entire day. I laid down on my bunk and incredibly fell asleep. Orange Crush raids can cause a lot of anxiety, but there was nothing I could do about it. I have been at the mercy of my captors for over 20 years and Wednesday was no exception.

Around noon, prisoners were brought back to the upper floors and I once again waited for the tactical unit to take me away. Eventually guards assembled in front of the cells on the 2nd floor. Two SORT members seemed to be assigned to every one of them. One of the men addressed me and my cellmate. He told us to come to the bars to be handcuffed which confused me. Normally, prisoners are strip searched before they are taken out. I began to put on my gym shoes, but the man told me not to bother. After handcuffing us behind our backs, I was told to stand facing the back wall while my cellmate was strip searched. The cell doors were opened and my cellmate's handcuffs were removed so he could undress. When they finished searching him, he was handcuffed again and we switched places in the cell. I underwent the same thorough strip search and was only permitted to wear my state issued blue pants and shirt: no boxers, undershirts, or socks. Instead of gym shoes, I had to wear sandals.

After all prisoners on the gallery were strip searched, one of the Orange Crush guards in front of my cell gave an order for everyone to step out. It was only then I realized he was a sergeant. This probably did not bode well for my cellmate and me. A sergeant was more likely to thoroughly toss a cell unless he was going in and out of other cells supervising. I considered if the sergeant was intentionally assigned my cell or if it was just coincidence. I do not know how much planning goes into a cell house search, however, I tended to doubt it was so meticulously planned or I would be specifically targeted. Later, I would again have to speculate if I was not being singled out.

Outside the cell house, inmates were ordered to form a double line and face away from the tactical unit. This was a security precaution to dissuade prisoners from becoming rebellious as well as to further incapacitate us. They probably have considered putting hoods over everyone's heads to prevent us from seeing at all, but then how could we walk in formation to the chow hall? Despite prisoners obediently obeying all the orders, a guard continued to shout there was no talking in line. I did not hear a whisper and in silence looked out across the prison grounds to the wall. The sun no longer hovered above it, but was directly overhead. It was a hot summer day without a cloud in the sky. Again, I wondered why any sailors should be warned of any turbulent weather.

As I suspected, prisoners were escorted to the chow hall. There were three dining rooms and the men on my gallery were sent into the middle one. Lined up against the wall, guards reversed handcuffs so our arms were in front and then we were told to come forward to be handed a tray and a juice carton. The dining area was filled 3 men to a table but by the time I received a lunch tray, I had to sit with 3 other men because there was not enough room. One of the black men was very obnoxious and babbled stupidly about various topics. I ignored him while I ate my chicken-soy pattie and mashed instant potatoes until he began to talk about Cook County's Conviction Integrity Unit. I told him the unit created by State's Attorney Anita Alvarez was a fraud and all the prisoners they had dropped charges against would have been eventually released by the courts anyway. They just preempted a few acquittals or reversals.

Briefly I spoke with an older prisoner who was at the table with me. Charlie was in prison for an  armed robbery he committed 20 years ago. He was sentenced to life without a possibility of parole because of the Habitual Criminal Act. If a person is convicted of 3 class X felonies, he or she must spend the rest of their lives in prison. The younger man at the table jumped into our conversation to comment he would never come back to prison. I was amused when Charlie said he would be right back in Stateville if he was ever released. The man asked how did he know and Charlie's reply was because that is the same thing he said when he was his age.

A man from Stateville's Internal Affairs unit was let into the locked dining area and he shouted for the following men to come forward. To my surprise, the first name he called was my own. Initially, I thought I was going to be tested for drugs as is commonly done during Orange Crush searches. However, when I stood next to him, I noticed he had copies of inmates' ID cards and certain ones were highlighted. Also, oddly, my cellmate was called as well. We were the only two men to share a cell together. What were the odds that we would be among 6 randomly chosen prisoners on a gallery with over 60 men?

The man from I.A. led me and my cellmate along with the four other inmates out of the chow hall. He stopped at the offices of the security unit across from the kitchen and told two of the group to take a seat inside. Then the rest of us were led down a corridor to the front of the penitentiary. My cellmate was told to go into the NRC visiting room and another man into Stateville's G.P. visiting room, leaving just me and a black prisoner. Two people came out of the legal visit rooms and a black man dressed in plain clothes told me to come with him. He sat at a large table and invited me to do the same across from him.

I assumed some outside agency wanted to question me and I was correct. The black man was from Pontiac's Internal Affairs division and was seeking any information I knew about the incident which occurred on Saturday. I told him all I had heard was that there was a staff assault in the chow hall when prisoners from D House were being fed. He wanted to know where I heard that and I answered "from the gallery." In retrospect, I figure he wanted a name but even if I had understood that I would not have told him. He asked if I was aware of any plot against staff or anger shared by convicts. I did not know of any plots and as for anger, prisoners have plenty of animosity about a wide array of things. Apparently, he was seeking something specific or unique. No, I could not assist him and recommended trying to get information from prisoners in D House. He wrote a few sentences on a form and then asked if I would sign it. I am very cautious about signing statements since I've been in prison because a detective lied about what I said. I read what he wrote carefully and had him add a word he had accidentally left out which reversed the meaning of the sentence.

In the chow hall, I sat with my cellmate and exchanged notes. He was asked basically the same things. I asked him to speculate why we were both chosen to speak with IA. He believed they wanted a racially diverse selection and there were only 5 Caucasian people on our gallery, one of whom went on a court writ and was not available. I was skeptical, but before I could give my opinion a black prisoner who was selected sat at the table and began to explain to us why only he and another man were spoken to by Stateville I.A.  He seemed to be concerned we would think he was a snitch. Neither Anthony nor I had these concerns and in fact my cellmate was glad to be singled out so he could spend time in the air conditioned room.

Prisoners were taken back to the cell house between 2 and 3 p.m. My cellmate and I found all our property in disarray. It appeared that the tactical guard and sergeant went through everything with great haste. I was angry by the mess and immediately went to work reordering my possessions once I had put on some underwear and changed my clothes. The SORT, I was to discover, had taken a number of my possessions including cardboard dividers, a Tupperware bowl, a salt shaker, a plastic ware set I had so I did not have to eat with a spork, all my extra sets of shoelaces, and a year old but never used pair of ear buds. My cellmate was missing his hair brush, cup, 10 packages of peanut butter along with the jar he had them in, as well as all his condiments, bottles, salt packets, and eating utensils. From other prisoners, I heard we fared much better.

My cellmate spent a few hours reordering his property and retying his television to a vent in the wall. Both of us had taken our TVs down so guards would not break them cutting them loose. Although I saved my TV from damage, my Walkman seemed to have been dropped and the cassette door does not work properly anymore. I was more meticulous about assembling my two property boxes and did not finish until 7 p.m. My cellmate wanted me to glue new hooks to the wall as well as make him a new ledge for his TV and a little cardboard shelf for him to put his coffee cup on, all of which was scraped off the walls. I told him he will have to wait until the following day. I was exhausted and after bathing I watched a DVD called "Dead Man Down" before going to sleep.

On Thursday morning, a psychologist escorted by a guard made rounds in the cell house to ask prisoners if they were OK. No, I was not OK. I was wrongfully convicted and must spend the rest of my life in prison dealing with such things as senseless Orange Crush raids. The woman looked at me with a dumb look and asked if I needed any mental health services. Later, the lieutenant tried to be more productive by telling men if any valuable legitimate property was taken to send him a note. Neither my ear buds nor my Tupperware bowl were probably thought of as valuable, but I tossed a note down to a guard. Today, I learned the Orange Crush threw away everything they took except contract items like fans, radios and TVs. I also learned several disciplinary reports were written but these were for some very petty things some of which I do not even think of as contraband. For example, Little Johnny was written up for having fantasy football papers.

Since the Orange Crush searched C House, all the other units were searched as well except for the Roundhouse. I assume after the weekend, the multi-institution SORT will be back to ransack and pillage it, although I doubt they will find anything of consequence. The Orange Crush raid seemed to be about retaliation more than anything. A couple of cell house workers were let out today for the first time in a week. I heard a number of Hispanic inmates from D House were transferred. In a central Illinois newspaper, I read about guards being attacked at Pontiac C.C. and this explains why SORT and I.A. from the penitentiary were here. However, the race of the assaulting inmates was not mentioned. Even if they were Hispanic, I see no correlation with what occurred at Stateville. As the screws are tightened in the IDOC, convicts are going to rebel. The men may be black, white, or brown, but they all share an eternity in prison.