You are reading a rare, detailed account of everyday life in Stateville Prison.

Click to read Paul's blog quoted on:
To contact Paul, please email: paulmodrowski@gmail.com
or write him at the address shown in the right column. He will get your message personally.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Week of Games -- May 25, 2013

Many prisoners tend to be very social and play various games to occupy their time. They regularly converse with their cellmates or shout from their cell bars to others. The cell house with over 300 inmates can be maddening loud during parts of the day. Men will also often leave their cells to interact further not only talking but playing basketball, card games, chess, or dominoes. Some men will design their own games to play with other inmates. Contrary to the preponderance of prisoners at Stateville, I am nonsocial and very introverted. The people incarcerated with me oftentimes annoy me and I care to have nothing to do with them. The more distressing my environment, furthermore, the more I seek to withdraw into my autistic shell. However, the past week I have sought to be more engaging particularly in respect to my cellmate.

Getting along well with your cellmate is important in maximum security prisons. It is this person who you are confined with for long periods of time. Regularly men are forced to live with strangers they have nothing in common with or do not like. Hostilities between cellmates are a common occurrence and this year there has even been several murders at Menard Correctional Center. Anthony is one of the most compatible cellmates I have had at Stateville and I feel very fortunate. Despite this, I will occasionally get the impression he wants me to be more socially engaging. I can spend vast amounts of time preoccupied without ever saying a word. My cellmate is not overly social himself, but he can become bored and want conversation or play.

On Sunday, I was glad he received a visit. His family lives in the Danville area and he does not see them often. While he was gone, I exercised and bathed out of the sink. Because he worked the midnight shift he was tired when he returned. I did not bother him with  much conversation, although I did talk about a documentary I saw the night before about Dwight Eisenhower. My cellmate had planned to become a history teacher before he was arrested while attending East Illinois University and thus I knew the subject may interest him. Largely, I spoke about how I disagreed with the president's pacifist dealings with the Soviet Union and China. Eisenhower missed an opportunity to defeat both U.S. enemies. Anthony had the same opinion and was intrigued to learn my mother as a child happened to meet President Eisenhower.

My cellmate and I have different television programs we watch. However, in the evening, we watched a documentary narrated by Tom Selleck about the nature of the North American continent. Trapped in our concrete confines, I think we both have a love of the great outdoors. During the program, I kept one ear uncovered by my headphones to hear his comments and I believe he did the same with his ear buds. Typically, when I watch TV I want to block out all the cell house noise to not be distracted and as an escape from my prison environment. I regularly do this whether I am watching television, reading, or writing.

Monday the prison was on lockdown. The Orange Crush went into every cell house to grab a few men to question. The only man to be escorted by the SORT on my gallery was an older black man who goes by the name "Finney." Finney has told me he spent 10 years at Tamms Supermax and security may still perceive him as a gang leader. Other than the prisoners the Orange Crush came for, no one left their cells and meals were brought into the cell houses to be passed out by guards.

If my cellmate is awake, he will usually watch the game show Jeopardy. He is very good at the game and has a great knowledge of trivia. It is believed people with autism are vast reservoirs of data like the character played by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man. However, Anthony is regularly able to beat me in Jeopardy. Although I know select topics very well, he has a broader range of knowledge. Certain categories I will be able to answer every question but others not a one. The day we were on lockdown, he had twice my score until Final Jeopardy. Because he wagered zero and I everything on a correct answer, we ended the game tied.

I did not know what the purpose of the lockdown was or how long the prison would be on it. The administration does not notify convicts their intentions. Contrarily, security personnel will generally try to keep what they are doing a secret. However, the following day there were normal operations. Yard and chow lines were run and men were also allowed to attend their assignments. In the morning, I went to the large South yard to lift weights and run laps on the quarter mile asphalt track. Many other men sat at the steel tables below the gun tower to play dominoes, card games, and chess. While working out, I noticed Steve and Stewie playing Scrabble. Scrabble is not sold at the prison store and Stewie had made his own board and pieces out of cardboard. The welded iron bars are not far from the tables and in between exercises, I went over to them to see how competitive their game was. The two men were not stupid, but they had filled the board with a number of small words I would expect from children. To help Steve out, I rearranged his cardboard letter pieces to spell a word which could earn him 50 points. He used it but he seemed not to care if he won. Possibly, they were just playing to be social but I thought it was very boring as I walked back to the weights.

A group of fat older white men were playing handball on the hill. It was amusing watching these big undexterous men play. They even had The Eclipse who is well over 300 pounds on the cracked concrete court. Earlier the man who could purportedly blot out the sun had asked me tips on how to lose weight. I had told him simply fewer calories in and more calories out. For about a month he has been making an effort to lose weight, but he looked foolish playing handball. For a moment I thought of the mermaid romance-comedy movie "Splash" where Tom Hanks plays his fat brother John Candy in a game of racket ball. Actor Tom Hanks hits the ball so hard off the wall John Candy is unable to respond and is smacked directly in the forehead. At least The Eclipse was playing with other overweight men in their 40's.

After returning from the yard, bathing out of the sink, and washing some clothes out of my toilet, I wanted to take a nap. However, I stayed up to watch Jodi Arias give her allocution to the jury. To my surprise, she did not ask for the death penalty and gave a nearly 20 minute power point presentation as to why the jury should not impose capital punishment. Some of her reasons were ridiculous and I was not certain if she was being serious or not. When she told the jury she wanted to be an advocate for domestic abuse, I thought she had to be kidding. Without laughing, however, she held up a T-shirt that said "SURVIVOR" on it. The T-shirts she claimed she would sell online to donate the profits to victims of abusive boyfriends or husbands. The message "survivor," though, in my mind made me think of her killing Trevis Alexander and she was alive while he was dead. I was also reminded of what my co-defendant who was acquitted of killing Dean Fawcett but later convicted in a check fraud scheme said to the judge before sentencing. According to the Daily Herald staff writer Stacey St. Clair, he claimed he wanted to "become a chef so he could feed the world's hungry children". I did not know which allocution was more comical.

Wednesday, I went to the Health Care Unit directly from my visit. Although my pass was to see the doctor about the stomach flu I had recovered from nearly a month ago, I knew appointments were extremely difficult to get. Instead of talking about the flu, I intended to address my lower back injury. I waited for about an hour in a crowded holding cage until a nurse told me I was being rescheduled. It was not unusual for prisoners to have their appointments rescheduled at the Health Care Unit and sometimes they will be waiting for longer periods of time. Fortunately, I was not sick anymore and a guard was able to escort me back to the cell house before the afternoon count. During count there is no movement and I would have been trapped at the HCU for at least an hour longer.

I was tired when I returned to the cell and began to dress to take a nap. My cellmate was awake and asked me if I knew what actress won an academy award in a science fiction movie in the 1980's. I tried recalling all the best sci-fi movies of the time period where a woman played a leading role. The only one I could think of was "Alien" so I answered Sigorney Weaver. He told me I was correct but because I missed the show, I automatically forfeited. I was not even aware Anthony had given me a Final Jeopardy question. I rarely watched the game show and prefer to spend my time otherwise even if just to sleep a couple of hours in the mid afternoon. However, it seemed apparent my cellmate liked to play the game with me and I told him I would give him some competition on another day.

Thursday, my cellmate and I went to the prison store. Upon entering the waiting room, I grabbed two plastic chairs and head for the corner. I hate crowds and knew it would be noisy with all the other prisoners filing in after me. As expected, once everyone was locked inside, they began to talk all at once. They even had brought games with them to play while waiting. There were a couple of card games and two men played chess. I sat there in silence occasionally darting looks at my cellmate expressing my unhappiness. We were fortunate not to have to wait long, however, and his name and then mine were called within an hour. The prison store has twice the staff it had a few months ago. A number of people who formerly worked at juvenile detention centers and Dwight CC had been transferred to Stateville.

After my cellmate and I had returned from the prison store and were waiting for the gym line to be run, inmates in the cell house began yelling the major and warden were in the building. Prisoners will always announce the presence of I.A. or someone of authority. They will even yell out their location which sometimes amuses the guards. Lately, the guards will mockingly announce the presence of various inmates and where they are which I think most people think is funny. For example, this week they shouted "Rome on 4 gallery!" a couple of times. Rome is the name of a cell house worker.

When the major and warden entered the cell house, some inmates yelled "Put them in the bull pen." This was another play with guards who often tell inmates to go into the holding cage. Other prisoners joked by shouting to the administrators to give them that jacket. A couple of weeks ago, the major had demanded men to turn in their coats although it was still unseasonably cold. When one of them was wearing a coat it seemed ironic. The major just happened to be a couple of cells away when my cellmate accidentally dropped his water bottle and it went bouncing out onto the gallery. The major picked it up for him and jested he intentionally threw it out. Anthony thanked her for retrieving the bottle and then asked about the jackets. She said the warden was considering returning them, but most likely men will just have to wait for warmer weather.

At the gym, prisoners nearly ran to get tables along the wall. There were only a limited number and not enough for everyone who wanted to play dominoes, chess, or various card games. I was not interested in securing a table and after receiving a pin, I walked over to the machine weights. I used the four working pulleys to do a number of exercises and intermittently ran 10 laps around the perimeter of the gym. Inmates were given an extra hour and I began to repeat exercises I had already done until The Eclipse and Big John asked me to play a game of basketball with them. Oddly they suggested my cellmate and I compete against them in a game of "21." I thought that despite my bad back and muscles being all stiff from working out over two hours, the game would be ludicrously lopsided. I suggested they get a third player but Big John was cocky and said we were the ones who needed an extra man.

The combined weight of Big John and The Eclipse was probably around 600 pounds. They had no speed or agility and were of course encumbered by all their excess body mass. I will given them an "A" for effort, but Anthony and I were able to run circles around them. We easily passed the ball off to one another to score consecutive points. The Eclipse could not cover my cellmate at all and he was able to make many open shots. I even sent a ball flying over the fat man's head for Anthony to catch it in the air and make a basket. The few times the plus 300 pound man went to make a shot, it was batted away. My cellmate and I were like the Harlem Globe Trotters and I thought the game was going to be a blowout. However because we began to see no need for defense, the fat men were able to make two baskets. The game ended 22 to 4.

Later in the day, I watched coverage on Headline News of the Jodi Arias death penalty proceedings. Amazingly, the jury was deadlocked and a new jury would have to be impaneled to decide her fate. Like the media commentators, I thought she would be certainly put on death row. However, I did not agree with many of their expressed outrage and opinions. Execution is not the worse punishment and the victim's family was not going to get "closure" any time soon. Even had Arias been sent to death row, she would have remained there for a decade at the minimum with appeal after appeal being heard. The appellate process for those sentenced to execution is much more rigorous than those with life without parole sentences. There are only three women on Arizona's death row and one already has won a new trial. Nancy Grace seemed upset also that Jodi Arias gave a number of television interviews to various networks but rejected HLN. Considering how negative the coverage has been on the station, did she really expect Arias to be on the Nancy Grace Show?

Earlier today, I asked my cellmate if he wanted to play a few games of chess. For the next two hours, I made him look foolish. He had virtually no strategy or skill, and I could out think him easily. While Anthony seemed to have smoke coming out of his ears trying to match wits with me. I grew increasingly bored. After check-mating him in consecutive games, I asked him if he would rather play checkers or "Chutes and Ladders." He asked if this was revenge for yesterday when he won at Jeopardy. Then remarked I am always going to want to play chess. No, it was a waste of time. I simply had wanted to be social because I know how nonsocial I am and people seem to like passing the time talking or playing games together. In retrospect, I should have allowed Anthony to win a few games. I will make it up to him later tonight by making some cheesy beef burritos. Already, I had asked another kitchen worker if he was able to bring me a couple slices of pizza. My cellmate was easily placated with food and this should make him fat and happy.