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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.