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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Doc and the Day of the Dead -- November 2, 2013

The week began with news that a prisoner died in the infirmary. "Doc" was a well known and liked convict in Illinois' maximum security prisons. Although he had served the majority of the last four decades in the federal system, classified an extreme escape risk until a few years ago, he was moved often between prisons and cells of those prisons. Doc was sentenced to an unlivable term of years for a string of bank robberies in the late 60's-early 70's. He was known by law enforcement as the Gentleman's Robber because he was so polite when stealing. In prison, he continued to be a friendly man and was called Doc after he saved an inmate's life. Doc's slow death was a solemn reminder of the grim future most of us at Stateville have to look forward to. On the week of Halloween, men tried to put his ghost and that of others behind us, however, it was mostly in vain.

The day Doc died, I went out to the chow hall for dinner. I sat with my neighbors and cellmate who all seemed to be glum. Bored with the bland food, small talk, and my existence in general, I had to do something to amuse myself. Prisoners during meals can turn in their ID cards to get a drinking cup. These rubber cups are red and reminded me of the miniature buckets that kids tossed ping pong balls in to win prizes at "The Bozo Show". Crumpling packets of pepper, I took shots into my neighbor's drinking cup, however, he kept on blocking them. Finally, I said, "What is your problem Cookie the Clown?! You keep stopping me from winning a prize!" The prisoner who is known as Leprechaun is bald on the top of his head but has orange hair on the sides and back. His hair looks very similar to the clown and my comment received some laughs. My joke also caused him to put his cup at the farthest distance from me after drinking the water in it. With some theatrics, I leaned back and lofted a packet of pepper directly into it. It was an incredible shot and I demanded Cookie the Clown to give me a bicycle. That was definitely bucket number 6 and deserved the grand prize.

Still feeling lucky back in the confines of my cell, I proclaimed to my cellmate that St. Louis was going to pull off a double upset, winning both their baseball and football games which were being played about a mile away from each other. This was more wishful thinking than reason. The Cardinals and Rams were underdogs. The latter were predicted to lose by two touch downs to the Seattle Seahawks which are considered a Superbowl favorite. My cellmate was watching other TV programming but at commercials he would change over to watch the two games. At one point, he dropped down off his bunk to razz me about the Cardinals being down by one run. I told him it was only the 4th inning and anything could still happen. Coincidentally, moments later, Holiday hit a home run to tie up the game. As the ball soared up and over the wall, I shouted, "It's going, going, and its gone! How do you like that?" I said, and waved my white towel in his face like the fans at Busch stadium were doing. He was not happy, although ultimately St. Louis would lose both games. The Cardinals were unable to score another run and the Rams failed to get in the end zone from the 6 yard line, losing 9 to 14.

Tuesday morning, I went to the dilapidated gymnasium to use the few remaining machine weights which work and run laps around the perimeter. Obnoxious prisoners ran to fill the tables along the wall and others took all the pins for the universal machines despite not using them. Apparently, they just wanted them to have in their possession or to work out later at their leisure. I was not waiting and went to tell one of these men to let me use their pin while they socialized. A biker I know, however, had procured one of the steel pegs and I worked out with him, although I was not much a fan of his company.

"Bone" is loud and can talk incessantly. Fortunately, a man named Horse was there for him to engage. For about a half hour I listened to the bikers talk about drugs and crackpot superstitions. Bone is a firm believer in numerology and has the most ridiculous theories of foretelling the future or summoning supernatural powers. He claims geomancy has been used by many ancient civilizations and I have no doubt this is true but this does not mean they were not totally wrong. Despite my occasional sarcastic comments and ridicule, Horse seemed to be buying into some of what he said. Possibly, with the approach of Halloween, more people are open to the most far fetched ideas.

Before I ran some laps, I asked the numerologist what Doc had died from. Doc had been suffering from many different health problems for years. Mainly, his problem was kidney failure. It became so bad that last year he was confined to the infirmary. He required dialysis daily and occasionally was sent to an outside hospital for blood transfusions. Bone told me he also had heart problems as well as cancer, but did not know exactly what caused his death. In his 70's, it could have been anything. He was in a lot of pain, his mind was slipping, and all he had to look forward to was more years in oppressive maximum security prisons. Bone expressed he was probably better off dead, although he may have liked to live to his birthday in November so he could have another "party".

When I returned from the chow hall and was waiting for a guard to open my cell door, I looked down from my 2nd floor gallery to see property scattered everywhere outside the sergeant's office. Two cell house workers were helping inventory the possessions of two prisoners who were sent to Segregation. My cellmate who had not gone to the gym informed me while I was gone they had been caught with hooch in their cell. Apparently, the fools were using their fans to blow the pungent odor out, but it was smelled easily by guards. This was the second time in a couple of weeks that prison wine has been found in the cell house. In mid-October, a huge garbage bag filled with fermenting juice was taken out of the building by Internal Affairs. The juice was made out of Chiquita Strawberry-Banana Smoothies which were donated to the prison. The juice drinks had been donated because the expiration date expired in September and the supplier could write it off their taxes as a charitable contribution. Prisoners for two weeks were allowed to take as many as they wanted at lunch as well as dinner. The vast majority of them were still good, but I heard a couple of prisoners complain of getting a sour one.

Before the game show Jeopardy came on television, I spoke to my cellmate about Doc. Apparently, the old man had somehow gotten drunk in the infirmary a couple of months ago. He was caught but there is little the administration can do to punish a prisoner who is on their death bed. From what I am told, he was simply confined to his cell in the HCU and lost his phone and commissary privileges. I mentioned how I had just seen him on the hospital yard a few weeks ago when I went on a visit. He seemed better than this time last year when prisoners had a pool based on how long he would live. I guessed before the end of the year and to others who bet longer, I said, "Can't you see that shadow which follows him around even on cloudy days? That is Death stalking him." Anthony says I jinxed him, but it was apparent the sands in the hour glass were running short.

I won another game of Jeopardy by answering the final question correctly. The answer was "Groundhog Day," a satiric comedy with Bill Murray I knew all too well. The movie was my life except I was not trapped in Punxatawny, but Stateville and I have aged greatly. I endure one day after another of oppression and misery. Doc did not seem to be affected as much as I with an indefinite prison sentence. Yet I think he is better off than the rest of us who continue to live in torment. It is not how long one lives,but how well and productive. I would gladly trade my first 40 years as a free man than live to 100 in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The following day, I received a visit from my frail albeit stubborn mother. It was not a pleasant visit and she as well as I almost left before a guard told us our time was up. For over 20 years, I have been receiving visits from my parents, mainly from my mother. I am very grateful she has stayed with me all this time, however, after two decades nothing has changed except how old we have become. I asked my mother, "Is this your plan?! Continue visiting me in prison until you are too senile, crippled, or die?" Ever since they traded my trial attorneys who I liked despite them being public defenders, for those at Jenner and Block, I have been very upset with their decisions and refusal to let me control my own destiny. In fact, they have sought to control my life since I was a child. I became fed up with it as a teenager and repeatedly while in prison.

In my cell, I slept for a couple of hours. Only in sleep can I escape the grim reality around me. If I could, I would sleep the rest of my life away. I awakened when showers were announced over the cell house loudspeaker. I did not care to take a shower under a shower head that dribbled out water surrounded by numerous men, some of whom were homosexuals. Nor did I care to go out for dinner to be around all the obnoxious and talkative convicts or eat the "slick meat" which was being served. Instead, I brooded about my life or lack thereof in my "coffin." Even the 6th game of the World Series did not grab my interest and when it became obvious the Red Sox would win and the people of Boston would celebrate how "brave" they were, I turned stations to watch the horror film "Halloween." I have seen this movie more times than the number of years I have been incarcerated and went back to sleep before Michael Myers was killed only to come back to life for another sequel.

Halloween day was overcast and dreary. Sunlight did not break through the cloud cover or the prison's dirty windows. After working out, I read mainly by the fluorescent lights on the outer wall of the cell house. I read case law which explained the distinction federal courts make between "free standing" actual innocence claims and "gateway" actual innocence claims. Then, I read an Internet article I was sent in the mail about Stateville's cemetery. According to it, there are two cites across from Caton Farm Road south of the prison walls where men are buried. These are men who died while incarcerated and no family claimed their bodies. I was surprised there were only 177 gravestones until I read that after 1974 the prison began to cremate the dead. Had Stateville continued to bury those who died within its walls, there may be a few thousand. Eventually, I imagined, all of the grounds around the penitentiary would be graves. There would be so many dead, corpses would have to be double stacked just as men now are in their cells. At the NRC and various minimum security prisons, inmates are sleeping in gyms, basements, and other groupings wherever space can be found. I suppose this is the equivalent of mass graves, although most of these men will not die before their release.

Since the large amount of strawberry-banana hooch was found, guards have been conducting more cell searches. Unless a prisoner is deemed an extreme escape risk, their cell will be searched about twice a month. For about ten minutes, guards will look through property boxes for any type of contraband. Lately, however, guards have been conducting compliance and hooch shakedowns as well. These are very quick and they are just seeing if an inmate has an excess of property or fermenting juice. On Halloween, a hefty guard simply walked in, peered in property boxes and took a look behind them. My cellmate joked if he was trick or treating and looking to confiscate any sweets or chips he found appealing.

Prisoners do not get anything special for Halloween, but in the evening I made burritos for my neighbors, cellmate, and myself. I used commissary foods to treat the three men. Making meals in maximum security penitentiaries in Illinois is difficult. First, inmates are not allowed any heating or cooking devices. Then, the Orange Crush took all our bowls with lids and I am limited to a thin plastic spork to stir ingredients together. Fortunately, I know how to improvise from all these and other shortcomings. Everyone was happy with their food including "Cookie the Clown" or his more scary counterpart Leprechaun. The nurse came by while I was making our meal and I joked with her asking where her costume was. She said she was wearing it. Dull gray scrubs were not my idea of a costume and I told her she could have at least been a candy striper.

The DVD played on the prison's cable network was appropriately "World War Z". It is a movie where most of humankind is afflicted with a disease which makes them turn into zombies. The zombies take over most of the world until a Special Ops soldier discovers they do not attack people who are already sick with a fatal disease. Thus, people are given meningitis which is curable. Despite the acting of Brad Pitt, the theme was one already copied repeatedly by Hollywood. I thought of my own version where all the thousands of living dead in penitentiaries across America turned on their captors. Guards, their superiors, and everyone who worked within the walls were cannibalized or made into zombies themselves. The only cure was to make the entire country a prison. When no one had any freedom, the living dead were no longer envious of them.

Yesterday, I woke up early. Late at night and in these early hours is the only time the cell house can be quiet. The hot water pipes which feed the blowers have been turned on and I could hear them clanking. In some folklore there is a belief at this time of year the world of the living and the dead can transcend. I imagined how many prisoners have died within these walls and could roam about as ghosts. Before I join them, I gave my attorney a phone call. It was the first time I spoke to her in a couple of years. I asked her about the progress in my appeal and, of course, there was none, although she claimed to be working on it when I called. It seems I will be in here a long time, possibly indefinitely. Other prisoners, young and yet to arrive, may someday wonder if I still haunt the premises after I am gone. Hopefully, there is someone still alive to claim my ashes so I can finally escape this place.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sports at Stateville -- October 27, 2013

Watching sports is a major preoccupation of male prisoners in maximum security institutions. Confined to their cells most of the day, men will spend hours upon hours entertained by various televised athletic events. With broadcast and a dozen cable stations, convicts can watch auto racing, tennis, professional fighting, hockey, and soccer which is very popular amongst the Hispanic population. At Stateville, the most watched sport is basketball but until November, football is king. As the season has progressed the sport has also captured more of my attention. On Sundays I will watch a game or occasionally two. This week, the World Series began and baseball has now been added to my TV viewing. During my school years, I played many sports and won a number of awards. I sometimes wonder if I could have been successful at a college level had I never been arrested. However, now I can only watch sports from my prison cell.

The Chicago Bears are well liked in the penitentiary amongst both guards and inmates alike. Nearly every game has the potential of turning the cell house into a football stadium. There was an exceptional amount of cheering as well as cursing when they played the Washington Redskins last Sunday. Neither team has a defense and the scoring of touchdowns alternated throughout the game. Despite living in the Chicago suburbs most of my life, I do not have any fan loyalty to the Bears. Therefore, when they lost despite racking up 41 points, I did not share the disappointment expressed in the 300 man cell house. In fact, I tended to prefer a Washington victory because of the recent controversy about their name, The Redskins. Furthermore, my cellmate and I play a game of picking teams against the spread and he had taken "da Bears".

In newspapers, the point spread of football games is shown in the sports section. My cellmate and I will pick all the NFL games to see who has the most winners. I do not wager any of my cellmates and the game is merely for bragging rights and to pass time on Sundays. Last week he lost but he is up for the month. He seems to relish picking more winners than I and part of this may be due to stories I have told him about my friend's small bookmaking operation before my arrest. Although I occasionally helped, he fails to understand that I never made bets myself except to hedge wagers through other Chicago area bookies or a person we knew in Reno, Nevada. A couple of the men I knew were gambling addicts and did not always make sound accounting or business decisions. Brian was so addicted that his parents actually had him committed to a mental hospital for compulsive gambling. Apparently the treatment he received did not help and when I first met him a few years later he casually wagered me $500. I easily bench pressed the weight he said I could not. However, I refused to take his money. After the party in Westmont, we became friends.

Prisoners were allowed to shop at the prison store Monday morning. It was the second time this month and I only went to pick up a few items. I was glad orders were filled quickly and a guard was escorting a line of prisoners back in 10 minutes. This did not completely upset my routine and I was able to do my cell workout before 11 a.m.  Monday was a day I did calisthenics and core muscles. My cellmate made fun of a few warm-up stretches I did including some hip flexors. He puzzled me later when he asked if I do kegel exercises as well. When I asked what those were, he said they were to keep the vagina tight. After my work out with my T-shirt off, I told him he was just jealous of my chiseled physique and rock hard abs. Then mimicking a yoga/fitness trainer in the comedy "Couples Retreat" I said, "boom" while flexing my muscles. That scene in the movie was probably the most amusing part and I was able to imitate the actor and his foreign accent almost flawlessly.

The following morning, recreation lines were run in the cell house. My gallery was scheduled to be sent to the small yard and I did not bother to go. The yard is basically two basketball courts surrounded by fencing and razor wire. Although a couple of iron bars were recently placed inside the perimeter, they were used by a crowd of men. Prisoners typically go to these yards to play basketball, but now that the weather is turning cold and C House is mostly older men, the sport is not played as often. If men are not working out, they will be playing cards, dominoes, or chess.  Some convicts just walk around in circles, socialize, or go out just to leave the confines of their cells.

The only sport other than basketball I see prisoners playing at Stateville is handball. While basketball is mainly a black sport, Caucasian men play handball on the South Yard. A couple of soccer nets were placed on this yard during the summer, however, there are only a handful of Mexicans on my gallery and I have never seen a game played. Once I sought to get a couple of teams together but was unable to find enough people. Years ago, there was a softball diamond and a cyclone fence backstop. However, the fence was taken down and the field grassed over. This is just as well because prisoners at Stateville have not been trusted with baseball bats since the turn of the century. Footballs have never been supplied by the LTS Department to my knowledge and I suspect the administration seeks to discourage inmates from playing that sport. Prisoners can play a very physical game of basketball let alone football. Over the years of my incarceration, though, I have seen men make their own footballs by sewing material from a towel around a water bottle. Prisoners always tried to persuade me to play, but I am no fool. Despite the hours they spend watching the sport on TV, they do not know the rules or chose not to abide by them. The game is chaotic and men are often injured. There are a lot of cheap shots and fights thereafter. The NFL has no idea what unnecessary roughness is.

Recently, my mother sent me some old photographs where I am seen playing sports or posing for team pictures. It reminded me of an era in my life long since past. From grade school to high school, I played various sports. For a few years, I was on hockey, wrestling, and basketball teams. In addition to weight lifting, however, football and baseball predominated my childhood years. I played on school and private league

teams in both sports for eight seasons. In baseball, I pitched and in football I played defensive end, although occasionally I was an offensive tight end or linebacker. I was very talented and could have gone on to play for a university. Two of my cousins had done so and played linemen for the Wisconsin Badgers and the Texas Longhorns. I liked the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the time but such notions were quickly blotted when I was arrested for a mass murder at age 18. Despite the 20 years I have since spent in
prison, I still will watch sports with nostalgia, disappointment, or from the perspective of a player.

Wednesday night I was looking forward to a good game of baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Boston Red Sox in game 1 of the World Series. These are purportedly the best two teams in the MLB, however, what I saw reminded me of blunders in Little League. The Cardinals particularly looked ridiculous. In one instance there was a pop up fly ball in the infield. It was an easy out yet the pitcher called off two other infielders and then incredibly stepped away at the last second to let the ball drop between them. The Cardinals deserved to lose 8 to 0.

The next two games were much more entertaining and competitive. Having pitched all my years except during T-ball, I regularly watched the game from the perspective of this position. I was impressed by some pitchers ability to consistently throw mid 90 MPH fast balls as well as their ability to target corners. The wide variety of pitches they used to confuse batters also was interesting for me to watch. Most coaches just wanted me to throw "heaters" right down the middle of the plate. They did not care for directed pitches, curve balls, sliders, change ups, etc.  With an 80 MPH fast ball most batters struck out no matter where or how the ball crossed the plate. Only in the Babe Ruth League did I need to get creative.
My cellmate is rooting for the Boston Red Sox to win the series. He does not like the Cardinals simply because they compete with the Chicago Cubs in the same division. Contrarily, I prefer if the Red Sox lose because I do not want to see David Ortiz aka "Big Papi" win MVP. Furthermore, I know if Boston wins there will be boasting and celebrations in the city with the theme of "Boston Strong". I continue to find this absurd when after the Boston Bombing the people and city acted cowardly. Last night I stayed up late to watch St. Louis win by one run in extra innings with a controversial call at home plate. I waved my white towel and razzed my cellmate by saying, "Now that's Cardinal strong!" He claimed, however, the 3rd baseman did not interfere with the base runner and the Red Sox were cheated.

There are not many prisoners at Stateville who watch baseball. Even I did not begin to follow the sport until the playoffs. Playing baseball is much more entertaining than watching others do so. Hockey and NASCAR are also only popular among a few of the white prisoners. Tennis will be watched by black inmates if Venus or Sarina Williams are playing however. Every week, a group of men play a pool where they pick several drivers in NASCAR. Whoever has their drivers finish the highest wins. I am not sure what the ante is or how much they win. Given a choice between watching cars make left turns in circles for hours or football, I will choose the latter.

My cellmate watches much more television than I. He will not only watch professional but college football during the weekend as well as NASCAR. Earlier this month, I noticed him watching women's college volleyball on ESPN. How boring and a waste of time, I thought. At other times of the year, he will watch women's tennis, softball, basketball and even fitness games. A number of women who compete in the fitness games are masculine and I cannot understand how he can find them attractive. He does not watch the male counterpart, thus, I assume the sole purpose is to watch pretty women.

Rather than watch such dull programming, I prefer to read. Friday morning I went through three USA Today papers as well as a couple of my cellmates Champaign-Urbana newspapers. There was not much interesting in the News-Gazette except an article about how lawmakers were told it will cost the State of Illinois $400 thousand to convert two more prisons to a 2-meal system of brunch and dinner. They were perplexed at how less food equaled more money. Apparently the adoption of the new system will have costs, although will eventually reduce spending. Tom Shaer, a spokesman for the IDOC, said the conversion was not only about reducing costs in the long term but making prisons safer. Although maximum security penitentiaries like Stateville serve breakfast to inmates in their cells, all other facilities have men walk to and from the chow hall in the middle of the night. The $400,000 was only 1% of the additional money requested.  $40 million was sought for a variety of growing expenses and I tend to believe the annual budget has exceeded $2 billion again despite the closures of Tamms and Dwight. At least legislators did not pass the mandatory minimum sentences for unlawful possession of a firearm. The law was estimated to squeeze another 3,000 prisoners into the IDOC.

While I was quietly reading the newspapers and my cellmate was asleep, a lieutenant stopped at my cell bars to harass me. He told me my cell was not in compliance. I asked what he meant. Prisoners are supposed to put away their belongings when they leave their cells yet I was in mine. Furthermore, my cell is one of the most ordered, clean, and uncluttered in the quarter unit. The lieutenant continued to view my cell for some kind of fault and pointed at my remote control stick. He said the rolled up magazine papers I use to change stations on my TV was contraband. I gave him a look meant to convey, "Are you serious?" and he left to pick on the occupants in the next cell. I will be glad when the regular cell house lieutenant returns from vacation.

Stateville only has about a dozen cable stations unlike other prisons in Illinois that have 60 or more. I do not watch a lot of television but when I do, I would prefer more choices. Fox News and even their sports channel, for example, would be nice to have. Then I would not be limited to liberal newscasts or Bellater MMA instead of UFC. I tend to think the UFC has better fights, but Friday night I was pleased with the matchups. I noticed other prisoners seem to be as well when a man was KO'ed with an upper cut. There was a lot of excitement expressed in the cell house. Mixed martial arts as well as boxing is very popular in the penitentiary. Fighting period is popular in prison.

While writing this post a prisoner came to my cell bars stalking for bets on NFL games. He seemed to have the same gleam in his eyes as I have noticed with other gambling addicts. I did not really care to make him a wager, but knew he would not go away easily without something. So I told him I liked Detroit to win. He asked me for 3 points and I said no. He can take it or leave it. He took it, of course, and now I get ready for another day of football. The Detroit Lions play the Dallas Cowboys in a few minutes. I suspect it will be a good game and add $10 of store to my property box.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Retro Prison Garb -- October 19, 2013

During the week, the administration has ceased to use guards in tactical gear for extra security during movement lines. However, while they have taken off their bright orange jumpsuits, prisoners with staff assaults on their record are now dressed in bold black and white striped jumpsuits. The clothes are almost as striking as the Orange Crush and I have never seen such attire in the IDOC. Convicts in Illinois have worn blues for probably a century and the only exception made over the years at some penitentiaries has been for those in Segregation or who are leaving on court or hospital writs. Other than to make the men stand out to be scrutinized more thoroughly by security personnel, some people believe the purpose is simply to punish them. I question if it will have this effect or reduce any violence.

I first noticed the black and white striped clothing while in the chow hall. No memorandum had been passed out or posted on the television about the change in dress code nor had I been told by any other prisoners. To my knowledge, no one in my cell block knew and therefore it was a surprise to see them. The jumpsuits were a great contrast to a crowd of other men dressed in state blues. Regardless, I took a second look to be sure. No, I was not mistaken. The men had wide black and white stripes from head to toe, although some wore a blue jacket covering the upper part of their body. I suppose new matching jackets were too much of an expense.

At the chow table, a few prisoners spoke about the jumpsuits. Some thought they looked   ridiculous and my cellmate mentioned it brought images of the Three Stooges to mind. Another man said it reminded him of the old prison attire depicted in films like "O Brother Who Art Thou" where convicts were in chain gangs smashing rocks. Personally, I like the retro look except that I think it would look better with a black jacket. Furthermore, pants and striped T-shirts would be preferable. Jumpsuits are not practical and are bothersome to wear.

On Columbus Day, there was renewed talk about the NFL team named the Washington Redskins. Apparently, some tiny Indian tribe I never heard of until his month thinks the name is offensive. The Oneida Indian Nation is pressuring the league to change the name and has found support amongst a few liberal groups as well as the president of the U.S.  The team owner refuses to kowtow to the vocal minority and I was glad the NFL commissioner will not force him to do so. Team owners should have the freedom to name their teams whatever they wish. When talking about the subject with my cellmate, I mentioned how the Oneida Tribe is probably trying to shakedown the owner for some money and it has little to do with being offended. Recently, the NFL settled a lawsuit with former players claiming brain injuries for $765 million despite how injuries in the sport should be obvious.

I watched the first half of the Monday night football game before going to sleep. The number of penalties called in the NFL has gotten to a point of absurdity. There are too many flags thrown for unnecessary roughness. The sport has been diminished by the petty foul callings and over sensitivity to players possibly becoming injured or even their feelings getting hurt. I am astounded a lineman named Richie Incognito is being criticized in the media for being a bully. If his teammate Jonathan Martin at well over 300 pounds cannot handle some razing, he definitely does need to find a new sport to play. As I ridiculed the big sissy who left the Miami Dolphins, my cellmate who was watching the game with me brought up the pink adornment players were forced to wear for breast cancer awareness. This had to be demeaning I thought, and considered if the IDOC made those prisoners wear pink instead of black and white stripes. In maximum security prisons such as Stateville, men would refuse if not riot. Even in Arizona where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has jail detainees in pink, it is only done in minimum security.

Somehow the month of October has become a rallying cry for the liberal media to denounce bullying. The crusade to make American children even softer, more sensitive, and coddled is repugnant to me. It had reached new levels of absurdity when I read about the arrest of two girls ages 12 and 14 for aggravated stalking. Purportedly, the girls bullied Rebecca Sedwick to such an extent it drove her to commit suicide. Sheriff Judd Grady of Polk County Florida ordered the arrest after one of them sent the Facebook message: "Yes jk I bullied REBECCA and she killed herself but...IDGAF". Neither indifference nor bullying should be criminal. The true focus of this story should be how troubled or emotionally fragile Sedwick must have been. Bullying is pervasive in society from schools, the NFL, or the workplace. It is a part of life. If people cannot handle a little razzing, they definitely will not be able to handle the truly hard times in life. If I had a soft upbringing or attended schools where teasing was criminal, I may have been continually victimized at the Cook County Jail or the penitentiary.

No one who resides in my cell block was given a black and white striped jumpsuit to wear. The clothes are solely for prisoners who have committed a staff assault during their incarceration or are considered "weapons violators". These men are all confined to the upper two galleries of E House which was where prisoners from the now closed supermax Tamms were initially placed. E House has for some time been designated for the most violent offenders and those galleries are across from the catwalk. Going around the perimeter of the general population building is a balcony that guards stand on who are armed with rifles. Because of the angle, they cannot shoot into or monitor lower galleries except for the ground floor.

Although prisoners in C House did not receive any jumpsuits, they did surprisingly receive new clothes. Approximately a hundred brown bags were brought to the unit from the clothing warehouse. It was the first time the orders of prisoners were filled this year. My clothes are falling apart and I was looking forward to receiving a bag, but none ever came to my cell bars. I asked a guard about the matter and he said many men who had put in an order did not have it filled. My cellmate thought it was amusing and told me he would sell me a T-shirt for $10. My cellmate did not get a bag either, but because he wears store bought tank tops, he has kept IDOC T shirts for over a year in his property box. He knows very well I refuse to pay for clothes which the prison is supposed to provide us for free. Twice a year at other penitentiaries men are given three pairs of socks, boxers, and T-shirts as well as blue pants and button collar shirts. Once a year, boots, sheets, and a thin wash cloth and towel are also supposed to be provided. Stateville attempts to force prisoners to buy such items from commissary, although this may be occurring elsewhere now in the IDOC. I have been here for over six years.

My cellmate, not finished having his fun, told me at least I got my new Walkman in record time. The previous week, I ordered a new stereo/cassette player to replace the one which had been damaged by the Orange Crush over the summer. The cheap Sentry Walkman made in China was defective, however. It only played cassette tapes in fast forward. Numerous other prisoners who had purchased the item had the same or similar problem. The counselor I have is very helpful, and he took the Walkman back and exchanged it for another one that worked. I thanked him yesterday, but wonder if this model will last long enough to be worth its $15 cost.

On my way to the visiting room, I was forced to wait until prisoners from E House moved off the walk. They had just come from the small yard across from my quarter unit and were in two lines at the end of the building. Nearly all of the men were dressed in black and white striped jumpsuits and together they looked like a herd of zebras. The stripes seemed to blend together and I recalled the Serengetti zebras were mostly prey, but in Stateville they are thought of as predators. I asked the escorting guard if we could just go around the double line of men and he seemed to be alarmed by just the idea. Possibly, the administration has told staff to keep us separated, but regardless I thought it was silly that they were thought of as some dangerous species different from the rest of the convicts at Stateville.

At Gate 5 and in the visiting room, I noticed a color poster of about 50 prisoners. On the top it read "Staff Assaulters" and warned personnel that they should not have any tools. What types of tools did they believe they may be given? A mop, a kitchen spoon, a stapler? The only jobs I could think of which required the use of tools or machinery were at the soap or cabinet factories, but they only employed about 20 people and even the most well behaved prisoners have a difficult time getting assignments there. Furthermore, all job assignments had to be vetted by Internal Affairs. The posters seemed like a redundant most wanted fugitive display. However, I have since heard they were posted in other places in the penitentiary.

After my visit, I was forced to wait in a holding cage at Gate 5 for a half hour and then another half hour in the cell house before I was allowed to go up to my cell. I had the added misfortune of being trapped in there with a most obnoxious man. He would not cease rambling on and on about how everyone at Stateville had the potential of being free again. He seemed like he was manic and had drank one too many sodas in the visiting room. Eventually, I told him he was wrong and nearly everyone here would die in prison, possibly even myself. This was a prisoner, however, who lived off of false hope and there was no reasoning with him. Before I was able to escape his presence, he gave me the U.S. Supreme Court site for Allen Ryan Alleyne. He claimed it made Apprendi vs. New Jersey retroactive. Apprendi is well known in the prison because it forbids people from being sentenced beyond the maximum unless the aggravating factors are in the charging instrument, and proved by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. If made retroactive, it would release thousands of prisoners in Illinois alone. Even my life without parole sentence would become void.

During the evening I made beef burritos for my cellmate and I. On television was a repeat of a PBS Nova special called "Secrets of the Viking Sword". I had previously watched it a few weeks prior, but did so again because I found the subject so interesting. Archaeologists have found a popular sword that was used during the Viking era from 700 to 1100 AD. The sword was unprecedented in its strength, quality, and killing potential. The Ulfberht sword was such a masterful design that the makers took great lengths to engrave their brand on it and owners typically passed it down for generations or were buried with it. What made the sword so unique was that all the carbon was melted out of the iron making it the strongest steel ever. When the secrets of the blacksmiths disappeared so did the swords and the world would not see it again for hundreds of years.

I encouraged my cellmate to watch the program, but he had other shows he did not want to miss. Disappointed, I got up from bunk and asked him if he did not want to learn the riddle of steel. I then took my stick of rolled up magazines that I use to change channels on my TV and moved it around like it was a sword. My imitation of Conan the Barbarian caused my cellmate to say, "I think we're going to have to stop letting you watch these programs" as if he was one of my parents. Changing movies I shouted, "What?! Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained!?" And mimicking Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator, I tossed my "sword" at him. He laughed and said he was entertained. Anthony has seemed to rebound since the federal district court rejected his appeal, but occasionally I have to amuse him as well as myself. The grim, austere and oppressive existence in prison needs to be broken by some humor on occasion.

Yesterday I was trapped in the Health Care Unit for a few hours. First there was an incident in the infirmary where about 20 guards, the major, and two wardens responded. I never found out what happened, but a plain clothes tactical unit guard left without his shirt on. The second incident I learned what occurred from my cellmate when I finally returned. A prisoner in our cell block started a fist fight in the chow hall. He was being released next week and was seeking out some conflict before he left. The IDOC cannot hold a prisoner after their out date, but from what I am told he was maced up and down by a female guard working in the building. The guard in the central gun tower also fired two shots into the ceiling. I asked Anthony if the fight was entertaining. He said that although numerous prisoners went up to the cyclone fencing to watch, the action was lame. Neither came anywhere close to being Gladiators.

I spoke to a prisoner in black and white striped clothing while at the HCU. He was labeled a staff assaulter after he had an argument with a guard and tossed his flimsy headphones at him. A number of these convicts are not nearly as dangerous as they have been made out to be. Staff assaults can be anything in the past decade in the IDOC from bludgeoning a guard to bumping into one. I noticed on the most wanted posters a 70+ year old Polish man who merely flung his underwear in a guard's face when he was being strip searched. He can barely move and runs out of breath just walking to and from the chow hall. Just like outside of these walls, the prison system in Illinois had become absurdly sensitive and overly reactionary. Much of it I suspect is to simply justify the excessive security measures and costs.

Update - December 1, 2014:

The warden of Stateville finally posted a memorandum for prisoners to read on their televisions regarding staff assault and weapons violators. Convicts who are found guilty of either offense will not only be forced to wear black & white horizontal striped jumpsuits, but will suffer other punishments. Shopping will be limited to once a month, $30, and hygiene, clothes, or writing supplies (no food). Visitation will be limited to two visits per month in the non-contact visiting area where men speak through a mesh screen in plexiglass. They also cannot attend any religious services or programs except for federally mandated grade and high school classes. They will also not be permitted on the large South yard and all their "recreation" will be on one of the prison's two small yards. They will be permitted to go to chow and to keep their TVs and radios. The new punishments for these inmates basically condemns them to segregation status without being in Segregation. It probably violates the law and the equal treatment clause in IDOC's own rule book.