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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Pope, Pensions, Mandela and Marxism -- Dec. 6, 2013

Pope Francis is becoming the darling of the liberal mass media with his outreach to homosexuals and recently his rebuke of capitalism. He is even considered to be Time magazine's front runner for their person of the year. His speeches imploring political leaders around the world to address income inequality was embraced whole heartedly by U.S. President Barack Obama as well as low skilled workers in America demonstrating for higher minimum wages. Yesterday, Nelson Mandela died and immediately he was also held up as a saint. People forget the man was a militant Marxist and responsible for widespread terrorism in South Africa. His conciliatory post racial government is on the brink of collapse as is the country itself. In Illinois, lawmakers finally addressed the state's growing pension crises, however, not without much controversy. Unions, Democratic strongest supporters, are incensed by the narrowly passed legislation which reduces payments for current and future retirees. The breach of contract will be contested in the courts all the while the state continues to struggle paying bills with its irresponsible tax and spend policy.

Sunday and Monday morning news programs had plenty of coverage of Pope Francis. Unlike his predecessors, he has broken with traditional Church teachings that homosexuality is a sin. The new pope says he cannot judge, despite how both the Old and New Testaments condemn the perversion unequivocally. Two cities (Sodom and Gomorrah) were even directly obliterated by God in the book of Genesis for the inhabitants' sexual debauchery. The pope, however, will denounce the capitalist system which has made America one of the greatest nations on earth. The hypocrisy was not missed by me or one of my favorite talk radio show hosts.

After returning from the prison store, I listened to part of the Rush Limbaugh Show. He was as outraged as I over Pope Francis' call for government leaders to redistribute wealth. He was advocating for socialism, if not Marxism. These economic systems were the antithesis of American values. America was supposed to be a beacon of freedom and individualism. It was where men through their own merits were able to succeed unhindered by the government. Individual rights and a system of meritocracy were the reason for America's success and wealth. Look to communist, heavily socialist government controlled economies, or tyrannies and this is where one will find the most wretched poor. How well are those nearly bankrupt socialist countries in southern Europe doing? The communist dictatorship in North Korea? The despots in Africa and tribal warlords? There is also extreme poverty in South America where governments dominate the economy purportedly for the public good, including Argentina where Pope Francis is from.

Despite the results of other countries' economic systems, the President of the U.S. was one of the first to jump in condemning the free market. If he was to simply address the asinine free trade policies America has with China and other countries, I would agree. However, this was another opportunity for him to attack trickledown economics and bolster his pursuit of socialism. A more burdensome and progressive tax system was still on his agenda as well as implementing his mandatory government health care law. Continuing food stamps to over 40 million people and unemployment checks to many who have been on the government dole for years were also high priorities. Finally, he supported raising the minimum wage.

The minimum wage law has again been the subject of protesters this week in many cities of the U.S. Federally, the government currently mandates employers to pay $7.25 an hour, but 16 states have raised that. This is not enough for many low skilled laborers, however, and they are demanding more pay. In Chicago, I found it ridiculous men and women were picketing outside a McDonald's restaurant. They thought flipping burgers was worth $15 an hour. Despite how absurd I thought they were, many liberals supported them. They have no clue how wage and price controls disrupt the economy or they just do not care.

Minimum wage laws negatively affect the economy. They cause businesses to move away, shut down, or simply hire fewer workers. When possible, costs are passed on to the consumer. Imagine that $1 cup of coffee at McDonald's costing $5 instead. Aldermen in Chicago once sought to force big box stores like Wal-Mart to pay a minimum wage of $10, and the company simply said they would build out in the suburbs. The low prices they offered consumers were the key to their success and they could not keep their business model with higher wage expenses. The city lawmakers eventually caved and now Wal-Mart and other stores have created jobs as well as economic development even in some of the most blighted neighborhoods of Chicago.

The U.S. is increasingly losing its global competitiveness. Some of this is due to poor trade pacts with countries whose governments subsidize industries, steal intellectual property and conduct corporate espionage. They also will manipulate currency and wages to give them a trade advantage. Consumer protection laws are nearly nonexistent allowing them to dump cheap, dangerous and substandard foods and products on the U.S. markets. Finally, while U.S. markets are open to them, American companies are blocked or when let in they face enormous challenges and even harassment. Free market capitalism does not work on an international level unless the countries are on fair and friendly terms. America should seek out more open trade with Europe while slapping tariffs and trade sanctions on countries such as China.

The greatest internal threats to economic power in the U.S. are changing demographic values and skills. America is aging and more and more people are retiring. They are creating a burden on the young who are not as capable as former generations. Those entering the workforce do not have the same education, ingenuity, or drive. They are lazy and have been coddled by the nanny state. Government has also contributed to this decline by allowing millions of uneducated, low skilled foreigners to migrate to the U.S. The open door policy of letting the lowest productive elements in while impeding the brightest from within and without will be this country's downfall. Liberals blame income inequality on capitalism, however, you reap what you sow.

Late Tuesday night I heard a pension bill was finally passed by state legislators. However, it was not until the following days that I would learn the details. The annual 3% compounded cost of living increases of state union retirees were replaced with a much less costly system. For example, the rate will now be flat and those employees age 43 and younger will not receive any cost of living increases for five years after they retire. The retirement age itself was also pushed back on a sliding scale for workers age 45 and under. Governor Quinn was on the John Kass WLS talk radio show Wednesday, and he claimed the new law will save $160 billion over 30 years. He did not explain how these numbers added up, but I know even if the 67% tax hike in Illinois is extended, the state will have a fiscal budget deficit in 2015 of $1.5 billion. If the tax hike is allowed to expire, the deficit will be double or $3 billion. Currently, Illinois pays $2 billion annually just on the total accumulated debt it owes, roughly the budget of the IDOC.

The governor has for a long time been seeking to reduce Illinois' pension liabilities. Senate and House Democrats have been avoiding the problem due to the political fallout. AFSCME and other state unions are the main source of funding and support to the Democratic Party. They vehemently opposed any cuts to pensions. I was actually surprised Democrats even passed pension reform until I learned what occurred behind the scenes. In the House, the bill passed narrowly by a 62 to 57 vote and in the Senate it squeaked by with the exact 30 votes necessary. Democratic legislative leaders actually had a strategy to protect vulnerable politicians in their party and only those who were "safe" voted yes. Overall, Democratic majorities are safe given the clout of Chicago and gerrymandered districts. However, in the next 2014 election, their super majority over Republicans which gives them unbridled power could be in jeopardy, particularly if Governor Quinn loses to a Republican.

The day after Governor Quinn was on the John Kass talk radio show, one of his Republican opponents gave his opinion on the pension legislation. Dan Rutherford, currently Illinois Treasurer, spoke of how state spending was way out of control, but the pension contract with the unions could not be broken. Under the state constitution, the pension system is considered an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired. While Democrats believe they have solved a major fiscal problem to the state's finances, they have not and it will only give them the green light to continue to spend taxpayers' money without restraint. I agreed with the Republican candidate for governor, however, inside the IDOC spending cuts are still occurring, at least to the detriment of prisoners, and bills are going unpaid.

Although last week prisoners were given a good Thanksgiving Day meal, food abruptly went back to the usual meager and distasteful portions. Imitation salami has been served three times since and processed soy-turkey is used as filler in nearly every meal. On Monday, prisoners were given the treat of nachos, but before the likes of Nancy Grace think convicts in Illinois have it too good, let me explain what a meal of nachos consists of. Nachos are fried corn shells broken into chips by prison kitchen workers. On the serving line, men are literally given a handful of these, although the final cell house to be fed may get two if there are leftovers. The same grey soy-turkey blend product is offered to be placed onto the chips but most men refuse it. A ladle is used to pour a synthetic cheese which the penitentiary buys in gallon cans. Men get a small scoop of salsa but there was no dessert. There have been no desserts this entire week and small cartons of juice are used as a substitute.

The IDOC has failed to pay many vendors which serve the prison system. This week, I was told Waste Management was fed up with delays in payment and finally picked up their large metal garbage bins. I asked then what was going to happen with all the trash. Apparently, some other company made a contract with IDOC and would be taking over. Later in the week, I noticed the green Waste Management dumpsters had indeed been replaced by blue ones. The blue dumpsters are owned by Patriot and they are probably more desperate for the business.

Garbage cans inside the cell house on the staircase at every level were removed as well and I watched prison laborers lift them up onto the roof of the sergeant's office. All five cans were placed against the wall where no one can have access to them. Initially I thought there may be some correlation with a suspension in garbage service. However, the true purpose is to prevent prisoners from hiding things in them. Inmates in maximum security are trapped in their cells much of the time and therefore will typically place garbage on their cell bars. This garbage is then picked up by cell house workers. When not on lockdown, many prisoners will bring trash out with them to put in the trash cans. Since the cans have been taken away, however, prisoners will just pile it anywhere. A few days ago this led to an exchange of words between an inmate and the cell house worker who had to pick up his mess. My cellmate thought it was amusing, but the true amusement is the ridiculous lengths penny pinchers and security personnel will go to.

The warden had two memorandums posted on inmates' televisions this week. The first was about all the new restrictions and loss of privileges classified staff assaulters and weapons violators will now have which is posted as an update on my post, "Retro Prison Garb." The second went into extensive and graphic detail about what types of photographs are not permitted including sodomy, bestiality, and necrophilia. There already are bans on certain pornographic magazines, but apparently the warden wanted to make the policy on photos crystal clear. Many times I am astounded by the perversions which have become normalized in society whether it is gay marriage, the Pope reaching out to homosexuals, or some of the interracial and homosexual programming on TV. The memo happened to be the last of these and once again it seemed appropriate to quote Bill Murray from the movie Ghostbusters to my cellmate: "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria"!

Thursday evening there was breaking news that Nelson Mandela had died and ever since there has been nonstop coverage. The praise heaped upon him is unbelievable. If the public truly knew his history, they would not be exclaiming him to be a saint. Nelson Mandela's true name was Rolihlahle Mandela, which is probably too difficult for most Westerners to pronounce, just like the nuances of his life are too difficult to understand. In 1943, as a young man he joined the black power African National Congress where he eventually became a leader in the resistance to the South Afrikaner apartheid government. In 1956, he was charged with treason but those charges were dropped until the police could link him directly to numerous bombings, murders, and other brutal terrorist acts. After serving 23 years in prison, he was offered parole if he would renounce violence. Mandela refused, but was released anyway in 1990. The South African government was under considerable political and economic pressures. The sanctions imposed on it were ironically worse than that put on Iran or North Korea who threaten the world with nuclear warheads. Possibly, though, peacenik John Kerry or "The Worm" can smooth things out.

F.W. de Klerk betrayed his white countrymen who built South Africa into the most advanced, prosperous and powerful country on the continent. Universal elections were allowed and Rolihlahle Mandela was elected president. During his time in office he struck a conciliatory political and racial approach to his white and capitalist enemies. However, since his presidency, the ANC has increasingly sought communist and black control. The political party is corrupt and operates with Soviet style democratic centralism. In alliance with the Cosatu and Communist parties, most of the country lives in squalor and segments of the population have a 50% unemployment rate. Despite this, unions with government backing strike demanding higher wages causing businesses to leave en mass. There is an AIDs epidemic afflicting at least 1 in every 5 people. Crime is 3 times as great as in the U.S. and lawlessness is pervasive even in neighborhoods once crime free. Although Jacob Zuma, a former member of the Communist Party, is the current president, Julius Malema is trying to wrest control of the ANC. He is not only communist, but seeks to strip white people of all their property. Already, there are increasing murders and assaults of Caucasian farmers by mobs of his followers. South Africa once was the most promising country on the continent, but now it is on the brink of economic, political, and racial upheaval.

Despite the allure Marxism has to many poor and other groups, the political system has never worked out well. Social and economic equality is only a Utopian illusion which has never been achieved. When governments have tried, it has always had disastrous results. Marxism requires oppressive regimes to crush everyone down to the same lowest common denominator. Government is the exclusive winner while everyone else suffers. Rather than empowering government, Western Civilization needs to restore conservative values. When individual merit is rewarded rather than collectivism, all boats are lifted. Unfortunately, the Pope, many pension systems, and Mandela seek to sink these ships.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fat Jimmy and the Death of Punishment -- Nov. 30, 2013

Last week I was watching the movie "Ghostbusters," but during commercials I scanned through other stations. I happened to stop at HLN where Nancy Grace was ranting about how nice convicts have it in prison. A guest on the program, Prof. Robert Blecker, wrote a book entitled "The Death of Punishment" where he describes how America's prison system is no longer punitive. To corroborate his point of view, film footage of death row inmates playing heavy metal music was shown. These condemned prisoners were allowed to form a band due to their good behavior. More interesting to me was an interview of an Illinois inmate who looked very familiar. The prisoner spoke about how he worked in the kitchen and enjoyed being alone in a cell when he returned from his job assignment until his cellmate returned from his work detail. One of his favorite pastimes was watching the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." He generalized his life as fairly good. Nancy Grace was appalled. Why should men condemned to execution be allowed to have a heavy metal band? Why should a man who sexually assaulted and brutally killed a 14-year-old boy and then killed again after being released be allowed to live a good life?

The segment on Nancy Grace was only the final 5 minutes of the November 20th broadcast. During the half minute interview clip, I tried to discern if I knew who the Illinois prisoner was. I asked my cellmate to turn to HLN and tell me if he thought the man was "Fat Jimmy." James Perruquet was a person we both knew fairly well and lived on the lower floor of the cell house. Fat Jimmy, as he is known in prison, is an overweight Caucasian man with wavy gray hair. He is a friendly person with lazy, folksy speech. The way he spoke and his face was nearly identical to the man on TV. However, I was not certain because the prisoner giving the interview was much younger and still had color to his hair.

My cellmate was watching the final minutes of one of his TV shows and did not change stations. Later, however, he watched the Nancy Grace show re-telecast after I had gone to sleep. In the morning, he said it was definitely Fat Jimmy, and Grace had even said his full name. His crimes surprised us because he does not seem like a violent person or a pedophile. Since I became familiar with him, however, there did seem to be something a little off kilter. I had this impression of a hillbilly-type character out of the movie "Deliverance" playing the banjo. Thus, I confronted him about his case during the Spring. He told me he was in prison for stabbing to death his neighbor. The neighbor was an ex-con like him and was trying to put the moves on his wife. The neighbor called the police on Jimmy for a domestic dispute and then came over to his trailer. A few days after this, the man attempted to barge in and this is when Jimmy grabbed a knife and stabbed him. The story was detailed and very believable. I had no reason to doubt him and I still do not. What Jimmy did not mention, however, was why he was in prison previously.

The cell house was first to be fed and typically I will not bother going to the chow hall. However, I heard baked chicken was being served and this was one of the better meals served at Stateville. While in line, I spoke to Fat Jimmy's former cellmate who works behind the counter. I told him his cellmate was famous and was on the Nancy Grace show the previous night. He said he did not catch the program, but had heard about it from others. Regularly when I was their neighbor and thereafter I noticed they rarely spoke to each other. Many times a towel or clothes would be hung around the bunk as if the line worker was trying to block him out. Because Fat Jimmy was a friendly easy-going person, I tended to believe his cellmate was just trying to gain some privacy from him or from all the other people by the door, guards desk, or holding cage. Maybe I was mistaken though, and he knew about his case.

Few people had seen the 5 minute segment on Nancy Grace. Her program, not surprisingly, has low ratings by convicts. However, there were rumors quickly floating about which partly came back to Fat Jimmy. He was very concerned and trying to find out what prisoners had heard. On the way back from the chow hall he specifically asked me what I had seen. I am not a person to mince words and in fact relished the opportunity to tell him that Nancy Grace said he was a fag who raped and killed a 14-year-old boy. I began setting up the foundation for a good zinger, but unfortunately ran out of time. Guards were yelling for prisoners on my gallery to go inside to their cells. To stun and humiliate Fat Jimmy there needed to be the proper timing which I just did not have. Instead, I left him on the walk still apprehensive and in the dark about what I and others may know.

My cellmate must have seen me talking to Jimmy and asked if I set him out in front of other prisoners. No, I had not and was not going to until I had validation. Neither Nancy Grace nor the other tabloid journalists on Headline News were very accurate in their reporting. Oftentimes, they manipulate or distort facts to put their own spin on a story. I was not absolutely certain he sexually assaulted and killed a teenager. Upon saying this, Anthony asked if it was rape and murder or just the former. He must not have paid attention too well nor understood the criminal statutes in the 1960's. If it was only sexual molestation or rape, Fat Jimmy would have only served a few years time or less, and would not have been denied parole seven times. Sentencing statutes did not become draconian until the 1990's. That is when judges began giving 18-year-olds natural life sentences for purportedly lending their car.

While my cellmate was waiting to go to the small yard, we were amused by a dumb prisoner who yelled out to the lieutenant to put in a work order for him. The lieutenant asked what the problem was and the inmate shouted back that his water was orange. The water at Stateville occasionally turns orange due to rust in the pipes. It is a problem which occurs everywhere and not just in one cell. The lieutenant sarcastically said, "Yeah, I will get right on that." The plumbers are not about to replace all the old and corroded pipes in the system. I question if they will even get around to fixing my cold water button before Christmas. It has been running nonstop for a couple of weeks.

I did not attend "recreation," dinner or the following day's lunch. Recreation, in my opinion, is not two concrete basketball courts surrounded by cyclone fencing and razor wire. The meals in prison I also tend to avoid because they often are more distasteful than canned dog food. However, my cellmate did attend yard as well as those meals. Sometimes I think he just goes "for the walk" or to get outside of the cage we share. On the return from one meal he told me he sat with Fat Jimmy. Jimmy still did not know what was said on the Nancy Grace show. My cellmate is a nicer man than I because all he said was the segment was about how prisoners purportedly are living the good life. He did not tell him nor the others sitting there that Jimmy did time for a sexual assault-murder on a 14-year-old. My cellmate speculated he was very grateful. Word that a prisoner is a pedophile can cause them a lot of trouble.

Last Saturday I had a pass to the Health Care Unit. The guard who unlocked my cell asked me if I wanted to go to chow first. By saying "no" I did not realize I would be in the cell house holding cage until after feed lines were completed. I hate being locked in the cage, but on this occasion I was able to talk with one of the exceptionally few women who work at Stateville that I find attractive. Over twenty years ago, I may have contemplated asking her on a date. Now I was a prisoner and both of us were old. I imagine she was very pretty when she was young.

When another prisoner was put in the holding cage with me, I stopped talking with the guard and I noticed Fat Jimmy was sitting on his stool near the bars. Generally, I will say hello or say a few words but I ignored him this time until he greeted me. I said, "Jimmy, I thought you would be in P.C. (protective custody) by now." He pretended like he did not know what I was talking about. I was toying with him. Other prisoners may not know your secret but I do, I thought. Eventually, however, word would get out. Prisoners love to gossip.

At the H.C.U. I waited in yet another holding cage. While there a prisoner I knew entered and greeted me happily as if I were some long lost friend. The man was always social, friendly, and overly optimistic. He must be taking prescribed "happy pills" from the psychiatrist. This time the prisoner was delighted about the possibility of a 25/50 law being passed. The law giving convicts the possibility of parole after they had served 25 years and were over the age of 50 has been a dream of prisoners languishing in maximum security for years. Just his mentioning the subject caught the attention of everyone waiting in the holding cage and they became upset when I began to ridicule it. The legislation is merely in committee and will never be voted upon. Furthermore, even if it were to be passed, what do I care if I am eligible for parole at age 50? All my life is gone and I may as well spend the rest of it in prison. It is something congressmen are considering simply because they do not want to pay for all the health care and geriatric expenses of incarcerating thousands of seniors. With the other prisoners listening, I continued saying if they let me out when I am 50 I will simply get a shotgun and blow my head off. They can take that 25/50 law and shove it. This was not well received by the dreamers in the holding cage. For them, I was crushing all their hope. They needed to cling onto a fantasy of one day being free and having a happy or meaningful life.

There was a shortage of staff at the H.C.U. and it seemed like I was going to be waiting for a long time. I leaned back on the wood bench I was sitting on and thereafter noticed a black Muslim eating a special tray of food. I could not see what was in his tray from my vantage point and playfully said, "What do you got there Slick?" while tilting down the side. A member of his gang belligerently told me that was a good way to get my head split. "Is that your bodyguard?" I asked Slick which is, by the way, the name he goes by in prison. Slick told the other man it was "cool" and he and I knew each other. This seemed to diffuse the situation, but never-the-less, I sat back up just in case the man tried to strike me.

During the evening, showers were run in the cell block. I was listening to the Larry Kudlow Report with my headphones on and nearly missed all the commotion. I asked my cellmate what was going on and he informed me there was an incident in the shower. For a moment, I speculated someone had KO'ed Fat Jimmy, but later learned there was a fight between two prisoners who were celled on the gallery above mine. They did not fight in the shower room, as most men who do not want to be interrupted do, but in the area just outside it. I assume it happened spontaneously or they really did not want to settle their dispute physically. Some prisoners will actually instigate a fight knowing guards will break it up because they are cowards.

The cell house was not placed on lockdown and I went out for dinner. In the movement line, I was approached by a prisoner I acquaint with. He asked me what I had seen on TV about Fat Jimmy. He heard rumors but wanted to know the truth. I told him that according to Nancy Grace, Jimmy was first incarcerated for the sexual assault and murder of a 14-year-old boy. Within the year of his parole he was arrested again for another murder. The man I spoke to hated pedophiles and said he was going to cease talking to him. I asked him why, since he spoke with Stewie and he must be aware Little Frank was a flaming homosexual. I went on to say that before he makes any conclusions it would be wise to get the facts from another source other than Nancy Grace. My acquaintance mentioned that if he did not appeal his case it would not be in the law books. However, there are other ways to get information.

I mentioned to a guard that Fat Jimmy was on the Nancy Grace show. He said he was already aware that he had done time before. The murder was particularly heinous and there was even a book written about it. I inquired what the title was, but he did not know. (Later I was told "14-The Murder of David Stukel" by Bill O'Connell.) His wife, though, keeps up with all the high profile cases. Interestingly he claimed the murder occurred not far from the prison in Joliet. It was apparently big news in the SW suburbs a few decades ago.

On Thanksgiving, meals were delayed because the ovens were not working properly. Although C House was first to be fed, we did not enter the chow hall until 10 a.m. and then we waited nearly another hour. While waiting I spoke to Bob who had just come from a visit. I asked how his kids were and his ugly wife. Bob was given 40 years for statutory rape, an absurd sentence especially considering the girl was 17 years old and his wife's appearance was definitely a mitigating factor. After talking with Bob, I noticed Fat Jimmy sitting all alone. He appeared to be ostracized from prison society which did not matter to me and could be a good thing in my opinion. However, the chubby, usually happy man, seemed sad. I went over to the table where he was sitting.

Instead of grilling Fat Jimmy, I just thought I would let him talk. He told me he gave the interview nearly two decades ago and did not realize it would be used as fodder on the Nancy Grace show. The John Howard Association, a prisoner rights group, made the video and he thought it was discarded a long time ago. Jimmy admitted to being a part of a brutal murder in the late 1960's, however, what the TV show failed to mention was that he was also 14 years old and had a co-defendant. He alluded that the other person committed most of the offense and he was not a part of any sex crime. When he was paroled, he was arrested for a burglary and it was while at Shawnee C.C. that the JHA made the video. The burglary conviction was overturned on appeal, but not long after his release he was rearrested for the murder of his neighbor. The jury did not believe he was acting in self defense and this time he was given life without parole, a sentence which did not exist in Illinois until the 1980's.

After my chat with Fat Jimmy, the gate was unlocked and prisoners were served their Thanksgiving Day meal. On the line, kitchen workers placed turkey or pork on men's take-out Styrofoam trays as well as sweet potatoes, collard greens, stuffing, and macaroni and cheese. In addition, a prepared cold tray was passed out. Inside it was a salad, a couple of bread rolls, and a tiny triangle of pumpkin pie. This food and the quantity will be the best inmates will receive the entire year. I was able to divide it into two servings and savored my morsel of dessert until yesterday. Despite the good meal though, most prisoners at Stateville have little to be thankful for. I know I do not.

Nancy Grace and the author of "The Death of Punishment" distorted the truth to manipulate the public to believe prisoners have it too nice. Despite the crimes Fat Jimmy committed, he does not live a "fairly good life" anymore. His interview occurred not at Stateville but a medium security prison. However, most importantly, it occurred over two decades ago when the IDOC was radically different. In the 80's and early 90's, the prison system was very violent, but I agree convicts enjoyed much more freedom and privileges. Funding for programs, better food, clothing, and overall living conditions were better as well. However, now life in prison is extremely austere and oppressive. Furthermore, sentencing statutes have gone from reasonable indeterminate ranges with a parole board to draconian excessive fixed terms of years. The parole board ended in 1980 and the vast majority of prisoners at Stateville must do 100% of their time. Although life without parole did not exist then, go forward a few decades and thousands of people in Illinois will never be released and are warehoused in maximum and many medium security penitentiaries.

Today I turned 39 years old. This is the 21st birthday I have been in captivity and more than likely I will die in prison. The judge sentenced me to natural life without the possibility of parole based on false testimony that I knew my roommate intended to kill a man and I let him use my car without warning the victim. Although he knew it was not true, my attorney did not contest the testimony and only argued that under the law it did not make me accountable for my co-defendant's actions. Contrary to the title of the book "The Death of Punishment," for many people, including myself, the punishment is never ending.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Out of the Ordinary -- Nov. 9, 2013

Life in a maximum security prison can be rather monotonous. I spend most of my time in my cell writing, reading, and exercising. I listen to my radio and watch some television. This week was different because I went to the dentist for a checkup. Prisoners rarely see the dentist and I do not recall having my teeth looked at in over a year or possibly two. A prisoner on my gallery went unconscious and there was a stir to revive him. Initially, I thought he was dead, but he only fell out due to a low blood sugar level. Midweek there was a fight between two inmates in the chow hall and the guard in the gun tower fired three shots. The last one hit a few innocent bystanders and they were sent to the Health Care Unit. The following day the prison was placed on a level 1 lockdown. It had nothing to do with the fist fight and members of the Orange Crush gathered a number of convicts to place in administrative detention. The lockdown only lasted for the day shift and as I write this post there are normal operations. After 20 years, I do not know what is normal anymore. Possibly, I should read someone else's blog who lives outside these walls.

Daylight savings time ended and now there is once again daylight in my cell when I awaken. I tend to believe there is no cost savings anymore in millions of Americans changing their clocks twice a year and it is more of a nuisance. Furthermore, I do not like the sun's rays beaming into my cage at the early hours of the day. From dreams of freedom, I open my eyes to grim surroundings and existence. Fortunately, the windows on the prison walls are dirty and opaque, dulling outside light. The sun also rises at a point further south in mid-autumn. Light only passes through the front of the cell and hits the side of one wall where my table is located. Some people suffer from depression in the darker days of the year. However, there is no difference to me. Every day in prison is an unhappy one. I actually prefer the fall much more than the spring.

For lunch Sunday, prisoners were given pork. This is rare and was a nice change from the typical meals served here. Some inmates speculated the food was donated to the penitentiary. With kitchen workers celled in the Roundhouse, I was unable to inquire. Ever since prisoners with job details were moved out of the quarter units, I have very little contact with them. According to rumor, the administration is considering moving them yet again to E House. Apparently, Internal Affairs wants to isolate them further. In the Roundhouse, workers live with men who are in segregation and they have been found in possession of kitchen food and other things that only inmates with assignments have access to. If workers were moved to a quarter unit, they would have the entire cell house to themselves. Wardens and security personnel are always thinking of ways to further control the penitentiary.

After my meal of shredded pork, I watched football. As I wrote in an earlier post, the sport has become a greater part of my time in the cell. The game which most interested me was the San Diego Chargers vs. the Washington Redskins. San Diego was losing in the final minutes by 6 points, but the quarterback Philip Rivers threw the ball to a favorite receiver of mine, Danny Woodhead, who remarkably ran down the field and brought the ball over the end zone pylon. The Chargers had tied the game up and with the proceeding field goal would win. Incredibly though, referees refused to give him the touchdown and the ball was placed on the one yard line. After repeated attempts the Chargers were unable to go the short distance and to my dismay, the Redskins won 30 to 24.

Monday morning, I had an early pass to see the dentist. Every other year around the time of an inmate's birthday, men will be given an appointment. It is just a routine check-up and I was not looking forward to it. I have a low opinion of the competency of the medical personnel who work at the penitentiary. I also do not think the instruments the dentist uses are sterilized properly, although more than likely I assumed the appointment would be just for a few x-rays and to have some doctor look at my teeth. Despite this, I brushed my teeth extra well and then shaved with my Norelco razor. My cellmate was asleep so I did not turn on the overhead light. I shaved at the cell bars with some slight sunlight peering into the cage.

The Health Care Unit was crowded with about 30 prisoners packed into a holding area. I stood in the back looking out a long thin window. Outside there was a small strip of grass between the hallway leading to the front gates of the prison and the hospital. I watched a few sparrows and tried not to think about the noise and crowd behind me. A semi-retarded prisoner I call "Lunchbox," however, interrupted my thoughts. He just wanted to say hello and give me a fist bump. Lunchbox was at the H.C.U. to see the medical director about his numerous health problems. Not only does he have a catheter because of some growths in his urethra which were removed, but some type of nervous system disorder. Cowboy was sitting crunched over at the end of a bench not far from me and also wanted to give his greetings. The old man was in a cheerful mood despite how crippled he is. He can barely walk anymore and I think he was pushed over to the H.C.U. in a wheelchair. I did not inquire why he had a doctor's appointment and had already heard enough health problems from Lunchbox.

Eventually, a guard called my name and unlocked the gate so I could walk to the dentist's office. There were several people in the room including one prisoner who was leaned back on a recliner. A black man was looking at his teeth while cracking jokes. Initially, I thought the prison had a new dentist that is a goofy idiot. However, after having my teeth x-rayed by an assistant, I met the dentist and I was pleasantly surprised. The man was not dumb and his humor was simply a part of his friendly disposition. He seemed to actually care about people and his work. He may still be naive about the prison and health care administration, however, many people who came to work in the IDOC are.

The dentist told me my x-rays looked fine but a couple of my teeth had small pit cavities. This I was already aware of. They cause me no trouble and are shallow. In his opinion, he thought I should have them drilled out and filled because they could get worse. He did not realize I brush my teeth after nearly every meal or snack and am careful to always go over those cavities so no particles stick in the molars. I preferred to just have them cleaned and then a sealant put over all my back teeth. Before my arrest, this is what dentists have done because of how jagged they are. The dentist surprised me by saying he will set up another appointment for this to be done. I asked, "Wexford will actually pay for a sealant?" He said he cannot make any promises, but maybe it can be done. He also mentioned during my cleaning that I should ask for a fluoride treatment. I highly doubt any of this will be done and many years ago I asked for these things at a different prison. The dentist just laughed. Before I left, I was given some tips about cleaning my teeth despite being limited to 3" toothbrushes and dental loops instead of floss.

The following morning, my cellmate got up early to attend "Rec." I did not know why he was interested in leaving the cell to walk in small circles on one of the prison's two small yards. Possibly, he just wanted to get out of the confines of our cubicle or listen to the radio. Reception is very difficult to get inside the cell surrounded by so much steel and concrete. While he was dressing, prisoners began yelling for a med tech. A prisoner at the far end of my gallery had apparently fell out or was not conscious. The screaming continued until a guard ran up the stairs to the cell and then called on his radio. Over the radio of another guard in the sergeant's office I heard "Code 9 - Cold man down". Doc had just died last week and I considered if the prison would have its second casualty. However, later I learned the man had lost consciousness only temporarily due to having low blood sugar. Many prisoners at Stateville have diabetes and they are not able to manage it well under these high security conditions.

Medical personnel took their time responding, but eventually he was treated and taken to the H.C.U. As planned, my cellmate went to the yard about an hour later. While he was gone, I exercised and bathed before turning on my Walkman to find out if I could gain any pre-election coverage. Tuesday was election day and there were some political offices in other parts of the country I was interested in. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey was running for reelection and there was going to be a new mayor of New York City. Most important to me was the outcome of the race in Virginia. Virginia has historically been a conservative state, but recently has been changing demographically as well as politically. I did not know if Ken Cuccinelli could win the governor's office with the massive spending of his Democratic challenger. Terry McAuliffe was the former national Democratic chairman and fundraiser and had twice the money, thanks to his connections and his party's willingness to do anything to make Virginia a blue state. Before lunch lines were run, I was not able to catch any news about the election, but I heard an earful about how Illinois Democratic legislators had passed the "Defense of Same Sex Marriage". On June 1, 2014, Illinois will become the 16th state to legalize gay marriage. Despite being Catholic, Governor Quinn will definitely sign it into law with as much hurrah as possible to please his liberal base in Chicago and some surrounding areas. Unfortunate, I thought that Illinois does not have a conservative like Cuccinelli as its chief executive, although later I learned he lost to McAuliffe.

Tuesday evening, I watched Piers Morgan and other liberal political pundits talk about what the election of Chris Christie and the defeat of Cuccinelli means. They claim the Tea Party movement is dead and only moderates in the Republican Party have a chance. I think this is not a fair assessment. There are still many people who believe in liberty, personal responsibility, and limited government. The Democratic Party was able to define the movement as extreme in Virginia. Furthermore, the state has changed greatly from its Confederate roots. Chris Christie is popular in New Jersey due to his personality that transcends party affiliation and the favorable coverage he receives from the media. From television, I went to conservative talk radio and listened to their perspective while writing a letter.

Wednesday morning chow lines were held up. I did not learn why until I returned from a visit. My cellmate told me there was a fight and purportedly several prisoners were shot. He was not in the chow hall at the time and did not know any of the details. Later, I went to dinner and spoke to another inmate who happened to be in the H.C.U. He saw three men come in with pellet wounds to their faces and bodies. The guard in the gun tower should not be shooting for a fist fight which did not seriously endanger anyone. However, worse still, he had managed to shoot innocent bystanders. After the prisoners were bandaged up, Steve was able to talk to them and they had actually tried to get out of harm's way but the guard was a bad shot and bb's went everywhere. One man suspected that a pellet had ricocheted off something before hitting him. The previous director of the IDOC was considering removing all rifles from the medium and maximum security penitentiaries. They generally serve no function or cause more harm than good. He was replaced, however, after he took the weight for an early release program which was reinstated a couple of years later.

Spaghetti, or what Stateville calls spaghetti, was served for dinner. Like many of the meals in the IDOC, it was made out of processed turkey-soy instead of more expensive beef. I did not leave my cell for the meal or to learn more details about the fight. I wanted to be out in the autumn night air and look into the sky. Since I was a child, astronomy has interested me. With the clocks set back an hour, it is darker during dinner feed lines. The dry chilly air also makes stars more visible. I pointed out a couple of constellations as well as two planets. Angel thought I was joking about the latter. However, Mercury and Venus were easily seen. Venus stood out brightly next to a crescent moon low in the western sky.

Looking at the heavens was a brief respite from life in prison. The following day, I was awakened by inmates shouting the cold water had been turned off. This was almost always a sign the Orange Crush was about to storm and ransack the cell house. Sure enough, about 5 minutes later the SORT entered the building. There were only about 10 to 15 of them and it was apparent they had a limited purpose. Despite this, a neighbor of mine threw some contraband in front of my cell. He even had the nerve to ask for it back after he realized the Crush team was not conducting a massive cell search. I played stupid and told him I did not know what he was talking about. "Where exactly did you throw the contraband?" I asked. I wanted him to admit to what he had done, but he would not. I had no use for what he tossed out of his cell and later threw it out.

The Orange Crush came to escort several prisoners to X House and I did not notice them conducting any searches. The isolated building is presently being used to hold men in protective custody, but a part of it is reserved for those in administrative detention. If the administration has a notion anyone is a security threat, they can be taken out of general population. Usually, it is gang leaders, but it can be a wide net of people for some of the most ambiguous reasons. Men placed in A.D. are isolated, but continue to receive their privileges. They are allowed to keep all their property including TVs and radios, buy commissary, use the phone, go on visits, and to the yard, albeit by themselves. Most prisoners think of A.D. as similar to Seg, however, because they view the isolation as the worst punishment.

After a few hours, prisoners began to shout for their plumbing to be restored. Many men, including myself, needed to use the toilet. Some prisoners threatened they were going to start throwing shit out of their cells if the water was not turned back on. This never occurred and about noon, men throughout the quarter units had plumbing. The O.C. just did not come to take prisoners from C House but all around the institution. I am not sure, though, of the number of them. On the 2nd shift, there were normal operations and men were allowed to go to chow. I stayed in my cell and made a meal for my cellmate and me to eat for the college football game Stanford vs. the Oregon Ducks. Stanford, I am hoping, will go to the BSC Championship or at least the Rose Bowl.

As usual today, I exercised early in the morning. My cellmate was up to watch VH1 music videos and I did not have to try being quiet. At the moment, I sit on my overturned property box and write by the bars on a steel table bolted into the wall. An old black man is playing jazz music, but fortunately, Leprechaun, who lives next door is drowning him out with classic rock. At 3, I intend to listen to the Larry Kudlow Report on my Walkman and then watch The McLaughlin Group on television at 6:30. It is just another typical day in prison and I do not expect anything out of the ordinary, but I do not know what is normal anymore.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

November Twisters -- Nov. 22, 2013

November is not a month known for turbulent weather in the upper Midwest. It is typically a time of autumn when the last brown leaves of deciduous trees fall to the ground and winter slowly moves in. However, on Sunday, a fast moving cold front collided with unusually warm moist air pressing upward from the gulf. The rare seasonal convergence of air masses produced a diagonal chain of intense storms and tornadoes across the state. Since the 1800s, there have only been about a dozen tornadoes reported in Illinois during the month of November and these have all been downstate with low wind speeds. Within a span of a couple of hours, 7 strong tornadoes tore through towns from north central Illinois to the SW suburbs of Chicago. While there was only modest damage in the southern outskirts of Frankfort, both Washington and Diamond were devastated. Those towns were leveled and only a few buildings were left standing. The path of destruction just missed the homes of my sister and mother. From Stateville, I was not aware of the twisters until I turned on my television. Unfortunate, I thought in retrospect, they did not obliterate this penitentiary rather than those small residential towns.

The morning news mentioned the possibility of strong thunderstorms passing through the area. However, I did not take the weather forecast seriously. It was November and the news media regularly over hypes events, even the most mundane. Furthermore, I was a prisoner caged within layers of steel and concrete. What did a threat of severe weather mean to me? The only time I left the building was to walk to and from the chow hall. In the morning, I did not notice any ominous weather approaching and in fact it was quite nice outside. Although it was breezy, I enjoyed the wind and mild 60 degree temperatures.

Typically, I work out in the cell early in the morning, however on this day, I waited until noon. Facing the outer wall of the cell house during part of my exercises, I was able to see out the plexiglass windows. The skies quickly darkened until most of the light was coming from the dim interior cell house lights that occasionally flickered. Then I noticed sheets of rain falling at an angle with men periodically running on the concrete walk which is the length of the building. Over a guard's radio I heard a beeping followed by a "stop all movement" order and they were the last people I saw outside until shift change. I enjoy fierce storms and they have the effect of invigorating my oppressive and dead to the world existence. For an hour I work out at a fast pace nearly every day, but on Sunday I exercised with an even greater intensity.

In the chow hall earlier, I had stripped baked chicken from the leg and thigh bones to place in a zip lock bag. I also took the rice and broccoli stems to go. My plan was to eat my lunch while watching the second half of the Chicago Bears/Baltimore Ravens football game. However, after washing up, I turned on my television to discover the game had been delayed. Torrents of rain were coming down at Soldier's Field and most of the stadium was void of people. I was incredulous. Football games were never called off due to adverse weather. Players were on the field regardless of sub-zero temperatures, snow, rain, or high winds. These were our modern day gladiators and I expected them to battle come what may. Even after hearing reports of tornado citings, I still thought they should be on the field. Yet another example of how Western society was soft and angrily I turned off my TV.

I ate my food at the table near the cell bars without any entertainment. A couple of times a cell house worker stopped by to ask me what if the game was cancelled. I thought this was a stupid question. Other than for hurricanes and when a stadium roof collapsed,  I had never heard of a football game being cancelled. I told him to rest assured all the Chicago Bear fans or haters in the unit, the game would eventually resume. I was correct, and later my cellmate who was watching TV told me the game was back on. I watched the two teams battle it out in the mud and rain during the final quarter. The Bears won by a field goal upsetting the Ravens who were favored. That is what I call home field advantage.

After the game, I was going to read until the late game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos.  Kansas City was undefeated and had one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Denver Broncos contrarily had the most explosive offenses with quarterback Peyton Manning and a receiving Corps with the likes of Wes Welker and Eric Decker. My interest in the clash of football teams, however, preceded my interest in the clash of weather. All of the local television stations were reporting news of the tornadoes that touched down in a series of villages from north central Illinois to the southwest suburbs of Chicago. I never heard of the town of Washington, but was very familiar with Coal City and Frankfort. I turned from station to station to see if I could recognize anything familiar or learn any details.

News reporters were having a difficult time getting to the devastated areas. Apparently, downed power lines, debris, and police barricades blocked roads into the worst hit parts of these towns. Furthermore, although the storms had passed, darkness was quickly descending and camera crews were limited in the film footage they could get. Live video and still shots were broadcast on the news networks and I skipped around seeking those which were closest to where my mother, but mainly my sister, lived. Coal City was repeatedly described as being wiped off the map. Photos from Interstate 55 showed a residential area flattened in the distance. Later this was reported as Diamond Estates.

In Frankfort, Illinois, a news crew was outside a farmer's house. The owner of the home spoke about the damage to his property including a tree that fell through the roof. I was surprised there was any farm land left in the town. From what my parents had told me the area I used to live in has radically changed. Homes and businesses apparently filled all the woods, farmland, and vacant areas. However, the news reporter then said they were on the far south end of town near Steger and Route 45.     I reasoned this area was probably still mainly countryside. I also reasoned that if the tornado was this far out, my mother did not face any danger.

Normally, I do not watch local news. It usually focused on Chicago and not the suburbs where I had grown up. However, the following day I tuned in for the late afternoon broadcasts. Now that some time had passed, news networks had more specific news to report. Also, because it was daylight, they were able to show plenty of footage of the wreckage left by the twisters. The town of Washington was almost entirely destroyed and there were large swaths of Diamond or Coal City missing. My sister moved to that area after my arrest and I did not know if her home was still standing. I did know, however, the only fatalities were in Washington and there was surprisingly only several injuries reported from Diamond Estates. With this news I could make jokes with my cellmate. All of the homes leveled were wood frame houses and I commented they apparently never were told the children's story of the Three Little Pigs. This is why my parents always built brick homes. I also noticed how nearly everyone in Diamond and Coal City had above ground pools and even the homes which survived had the pools in their back yards flattened. I told Anthony how my sister loved her pool and must certainly be unhappy.

I went to dinner after watching the news. It was a crisp cold night without a cloud in the sky. A large full moon hovered over the prison wall. The weather was a great contrast from that in the morning before the storm. Over the weekend it was overcast and in the 60s. Now it was below freezing. At the chow table I sat with Fat Pat and some other men I acquaint with. They seemed incredulous that I did not bother to call my mother or sister to see if they were alright. There was nothing I could do if my mother needed help or if my sister's house had blown away. Furthermore, I told Fat Pat neither of them was dead. "Are you not the least bit interested in what happened?" he asked. I said, "I will find out soon enough." Regardless, I thought, whatever their problems were they could be fixed, and were minute compared to my own.

Later I watched Monday night football without any concern for my family. It was after all the New England Patriots playing the Carolina Panthers. The Patriots were still a team I favored despite their decision to let go a number of players I liked such as Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, and others. I hated the loss of dynasties to the free agency system where players were traded regularly as if they were baseball cards. It ruined the loyalty within and without franchises. The Patriots still had clutch tight end Rob Gronkowski, however, and with only seconds on the clock he went to catch the game winning touchdown. Unfortunately, he was held in the end zone and unbelievably the flag which was thrown was picked back up. I am very critical of referees regularly intervening in the game, but this was a blatant foul. One of Carolina's defense players actually had his arms entirely around Gronkowski. If that is not a hold, nothing is.

It was prison as usual on Tuesday. After coming off the yard, the sergeant told me to step into the bull pen. Earlier prisoners had commented about Internal Affairs in the unit. When I saw other men sent into the holding cage with me, it was obvious the security unit was conducting drug tests at random. I preferred the random drug tests rather than the ransacking of cells and was glad the guard asked me first to give a urine sample. While I waited for the cup to give results, I made some small talk with the man from I.A. He was a guard I have known for several years and I get along with. Some guards may hover over you while you take a piss and make you want to ask them if they want to hold it, but not him.

After returning to my cell,  I bathed out of the sink and then went straight to bed, or prison bunk. I was tired from working out and was asleep until well past 3 p.m. For the rest of my day I read and although I listened a little to the Sean Hannity show on the radio, I did not turn on my TV once. I had taken in enough coverage of the tornadoes and there was nothing else which interested me on TV. Including a few newspapers, I read November's National Geographic. Coincidentally, the magazine's main story was called "The Last Chase" and was about a storm chaser who died following one of the country's largest and most deadly tornado cluster. On the cover was a photo of the monster twister which claimed 22 lives in El Reno, Oklahoma earlier this year.

More than the story, I was interested in the facts about tornadoes. Much of it was information I already knew, but I wanted to review and understand the phenomena better. Tornadoes can occur in the UK, India, and Australia, however there was no place in the world where they are nearly as prolific as in this country. The U.S. has a unique topography that produces more than 1,000 tornadoes annually and most of these occur in the plains or what is called "Tornado Alley." The Midwestern plains are where warm moist gulf air hits the cool dry air moving over the Rocky Mountains in the west. This convergence of contrasting air masses generally occurs in the spring and thus why November tornadoes are so rare. Modern Doppler technology can measure the intensity of rotating storms known as super cells but it is impossible to predict if they will create tornadoes and the odds are 20 to 1. Tornadoes are ranked by wind speed with an EF5 being the highest and usually most destructive. I have learned about the EF scales, but did not know they were named after a Japanese meteorologist who began his career measuring the destruction of the nuclear bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The tornadoes which crossed Illinois last Sunday were Enhanced Fujita, or EF 4 and EF2.

After the story by Robert Draper, I read a long segment about Nigeria. My cellmate noticed me taking notes and asked why I was so interested in the African country. I have been in prison over 20 years, and isolated as I am, I like to learn about other parts of the world. This is a reason why I like reading and looking at the photographs in National Geographic. I did, however, also have an ulterior motive. A lieutenant, who I occasionally converse with, emigrated from Nigeria and I wanted to learn more about his background. The article covered the civil unrest and carnage created by the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram. Nigeria has little peace, law, and security ever since the British and emir left in 1960. The most populous country in Africa is greatly divided between the Islamic north and Christian south, as well as between the rich and the poor. According to the article, 1% are very wealthy in large part due to the country's oil resources, but two thirds live in squalor. From reading the corporate reports of Shell, I have learned about the oil and the corruption, theft, and graft which comes of it. The situation is so bad the Dutch energy major is divesting itself of interests there. In any event, this probably explains the lieutenant's love of Barack Obama and socialism.

Recently, the lieutenant has been obsessed with Obamacare and how the website is being ridiculed. The problem, however, is not the site, but what the government mandated program will do to the country. In order to insure a relatively small number of people, many millions more will lose their private insurance and preferred doctors. They will also pay more and be treated at lower quality medical facilities. The young, wealthy and healthy will be forced to pay for the old, poor and sickly in classic Obama redistribution and socialist ideology. If the system does not pick up enough of the strong to pull the weak, government will step in to pay for it, spreading costs to all taxpayers. Last week, the lieutenant from Nigeria came to my cell while prisoners were gone to chow seemingly just to once again try and convince me of the merits of the Affordable Care Act, but he soon realized he was wasting his time. Unfortunately, he cannot be convinced in free market reform and how despite the president being a black Kenyan his policies are not in his or the country's best interests.

I received a visit earlier this week and ultimately learned the experiences of my mother and sister. My mother was at home when she heard the tornado sirens for the first time since she moved there. She did not seem terribly upset and said she simply went into the basement with the dog. There was no damage to the house and the twister as reported was several miles to the south in what is now still predominantly farm land. My sister and her husband just happened to go to lunch at a restaurant in Joliet. They did not even know about the tornadoes until people began calling them on their cell phones and asking if they were alright. After waiting for the storm to pass, they had an anxious drive back not knowing if their house was still standing. As usual, they exited I-55, but were met by a multitude of police, firefighters, and emergency personnel from all over the area. The police had the road into town barricaded and adamantly refused to let anyone go through. For the next hour they traveled all the way to the other side using back roads. Once again they found police were there stopping traffic and turning people around. My bother-in-law was fed up and argued with one of the officers. He yelled at him that his house was right there, and pointed in the distance. Finally, the cop let him through after telling him if he was electrocuted by a fallen power line, he was warned. There was debris everywhere, but the tornado had ravaged a subdivision further to the east. The only damage their home incurred was some roofing and gutters which were torn off. No, my sister's pool was not swept away although many others in Diamond and Coal City did not survive.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Prison Photos -- Nov. 16, 2013

Before the turn of the century, prisoners were allowed to have photos taken of themselves, their families and also friends. The Polaroids were taken by inmates who worked for the Leisure Time Service Dept. during inmate visits and on special occasions for a small fee. The money earned was put in the inmate trust fund. This practice was phased out at maximum and then many medium security prisons. The only photos now taken at these institutions are yearly mugshots. For several months, the Bureau of Identification ceased taking pictures and there were rumors the IDOC was going to discontinue updates. Afterall, the other information kept on prisoners is outdated and the photos that security personnel most cared about were those of men who are considered extreme escape risks. Last week, those prisoners finally had their pictures updated and I thought there would be no more for the rest of the year. However, this week everyone in C House was sent to the B of I. Because of various problems with the digital camera, the process took nearly the entire week.

In the 1990's, pictures were taken in the visiting room unless the penitentiary was on lockdown. Men who went on a visit could have their picture taken with family, friends, or anyone who came to see them. Most prisons had a backdrop where photos could be taken, although it did not have to be used. Prisoners taking the photos were not photographers and the Polaroids generally did not come out too well. If a photo was really bad, the inmate worker would take another without further payment. The photos were not paid for in cash but with coupons. Cash has never been allowed in the IDOC that I am aware of. Coupons were purchased by visitors in the waiting room or inmates bought them at the prison store. Coupons could be used to buy not only photos but various other things offered by Jaycees such as microwave popcorn, pizza, or soda pop. A few "old timers" will still occasionally mention how it was nice to be able to buy a cold soda from the Jaycee shack on a hot day on the yard.

In modern times, photo taking has seemed to greatly increase with the advent of smart phones and social networking. Many people will even take what is called "selfies" at any time or for any occasion. I have never liked photo taking because I do not know how to pose for a picture or I do not want to. It seems artificial for me to pose and I am not good at faking expressions. What you see is generally what you get. This is why there are few photos of me in my teens before my arrest. I did not even bother taking a picture for my high school yearbook. After my conviction it was also rare for me to have Polaroids taken with family or the few former girl friends who came to see me. Unfortunate because now I do not have that opportunity and without a present or future, I regularly reminisce about the past. Mugshots do not have any context except to show how I have aged throughout the years.

Last week when being escorted back to the cell house, I noticed a line of "Level E's." A Level E is a prisoner deemed an extreme escape risk. The letter "E" stands for escape. These men are identifiable because of the green stripe on their pants or jacket. They also have blue state shirts with patches of green on the shoulders and upper back. There are only a few assigned cells in my cell house, but there are about 40 at this penitentiary. For the most part, those prisoners are no more an escape risk than others in maximum security and are used to justify more funding. For example, "Doc" who died the week of Halloween was in his mid-70's. He was a Level E until just a couple of years ago. He could barely walk let alone run from the police. I recall just after they reduced his security classification that he tried playing a game of basketball. Prisoners joked that if Internal Affairs saw him on the cameras they would rescind the reclassification. However, after a few minutes of very slow play, he almost fainted. Then men joked that if he died they would take his gym shoes, watch and newly issued clothing.

I assumed the Bureau of Identification would not be closed completely. Prisoners occasionally lost their ID cards and new ones had to be printed. Furthermore, those considered extreme escape risks by security personnel would need to have their photos updated occasionally. For the rest of general population, however, there did not seem to be any purpose in regular annual updates. Most men looked the same from year to year and I noticed the physical description of convicts never changes on master files or is inaccurate. For example, when I was 20 my hair was dark blond but is now brown. My master file says oddly that I have strawberry blond hair and green eyes. My hair has never had any tint of red and my eye color is blue. I may be 180 pounds currently, but at the time I was sent to the penitentiary I was probably about 200. Prisoners can be in the IDOC for decades, however, the information about them never changes even if it was inaccurate to begin with.

Since spring, I have noticed a sign on the B of I office saying "closed." To my knowledge, no mugshots were being taken during this time period. I recall a few prisoners losing their ID or having an ID which did not have an opening to pull a clip through. Guards going on their lunch break or at other times of convenience when at gate 5 would stop by the office to have a new ID printed up or their current ID punched. Prisoners who have their IDs made at Stateville's NRC continued to be made, but they had no hole in them. Wearing IDs at Stateville is now mandatory. All prisoners must have them clipped to their collars or some other visible area. The closure of the B of I led some prisoners to believe photos would no longer be made yearly.

In the beginning of the week, I was surprised to hear an announcement for all convicts on 10 gallery to get ready to leave their cells for photo updates. I was going to wait to shave until after yard on Tuesday because of the below freezing temperatures, but decided to do so before photos. It is not often I have a picture taken and thought I should attempt to look nice. The mug shots are the only pictures my family has of me since Polaroids ceased to be taken well over a decade ago. When the prison is not on lockdown, razors are passed out on Saturday evenings and then collected an hour later. The razors have become cheaper and smaller every year and I cease to use them anymore. The last time I used one was on a humid and hot summer day and I nicked myself numerous times. While rinsing off my face, I had a sink of blood tinted water. Thus, I use my electric triple head Norelco razor which is much friendlier to my face and neck. In the winter, I will usually keep a light beard and trim it once or every other week with a rechargeable Panasonic beard trimmer.

After shaving, I read a Barron's newspaper while I waited and listened to the Rush Limbaugh Show. I was waiting not only for the B of I line, but commissary. Monday was scheduled to be 6, 4, and 2 galleries turn to shop. All of 6 gallery was run and then most of 4. Close to 2:00, my cellmate and I were finally let out to go. We joined the remaining men who had not been to the commissary and even left the building before staff at the prison store called the cell house to say they were finished for the day. We were turned back and locked into our cells again. It was annoying to me because my entire day had been wasted or altered. Despite being a powerless prisoner, I try to plan my days and am bothered when things do not go the way I anticipated.

Overnight temperatures again dropped into the 20's and it was very cold in the cell house. Hot air blowers were activated in October, but on Sunday the one by my cell went out. The blowers are basically like radiators. They have coils of hot water pipes and a fan blows air through them. There was something apparently wrong with the pipe that either leads into or out of it. Plumbers on Wednesday came and repaired it, but in the days in between I was sleeping under two blankets and with plenty of clothes on. The main wall heat should be turned on next week and prisoners will then gripe about how hot it is. Without proper ventilation, hot air rises to the top of the large building roasting prisoners on the 5th floor. These men who were wearing thermals and sweat shirts will soon be in just their boxers and have their fans on.

Early Tuesday morning, prisoners who had not shopped were told to get ready. I was gone for 3 hours simply to pick up $30 of store. I would not have gone at all had I known that my entire morning would be lost and the irritations I would endure. Prisoners are obnoxious and loud almost always and the commissary holding rooms were no exception. I did not enjoy shopping before my arrest in crowded stores or malls in suburban towns where people acted civilized let alone with ghetto hoodlums at Stateville. The cashier at the window was polite and friendly, but for most of the time I just wanted to leave. At maximum security prisons, however, men have little freedom and I was trapped even after I received my purchases.

A prisoner geeked up on caffeine told a few men he had been able to buy discount sweatpants for only $3. This was a deal I had tried to get the last time I was at the prison store. However, I had already shopped and I could not go back to the window. I spoke to an old white man who had yet to get his order and tried to negotiate a trade if he would buy me the sweat pants. Pete is very slow physically and mentally but the man surprised me by telling me I had to give him a little something extra. Generally, this may make me angry particularly when I was already agitated by the noise and obnoxious people who had been around me a few hours. But, because it was Pete and I did not think he received any money from friends or family, I agreed. The trade never happened, though, because the only people getting those sweat pants were gang members or those who had connections at the commissary.

When I finally returned to my cell, I asked the guard about yard. My gallery was scheduled to go to the big yard Tuesday morning. He told me yard was already over with and those prisoners should be on their way back from the chow hall shortly. Unfortunate, I thought. After being locked in a couple of crowded rooms for hours, I wanted some space. I would have been happy to walk around the quarter mile track alone just for several laps. I then asked about the B of I lines. I was told the camera was not working properly. The tint was making some people look yellow. I mentioned how this did not seem to matter the last couple of times I had my photo taken. I almost had the complexion of Bart Simpson, a cartoon character from The Simpson's.

Once again my day was off kilter. After eating the chicken-soy patty in the lunch tray that was passed out to the men who went to commissary, I went to sleep. I napped until the shift change. With the renewed energy, I washed the floor, worked out, and then bathed out of the cell sink. I also washed a few articles of clothing and then wrote a letter until the DVD "Numbers Game" came on. John Cusack played a former CIA hit man until he began to have a conscience or just became burned out. He then was sent to a post in England which sent out codes for a network of spies and assassins. While he was there, a group of former government assassins tried to take it over to send out codes to kill the administrators who gave the orders. The film was far-fetched but entertaining enough to keep me awake until 10 p.m. when I prepared for another cold night of sleep.

Wednesday was mainly a day of writing and reading. I read a few newspapers and a mutual fund report put out by Fidelity. At night when I became tired, I looked for something to watch on television. There was a new DVD put on the prison's cable network but I only watched a few minutes. The Star Trek movie was a bad prequel and the degenerate morals of the original producer Gene Rodenberry were surpassed. In one of the first scenes a young Captain Kirk is in bed with some space aliens. Possibly, I should be glad they were at least female. However, instead, I watched an hour program of Bear Grylls. Except for lunch when I went to the chow hall to take my square of thin crust pizza to go, I did not leave the cell. The Bureau of Identification was still having problems fixing glitches with the digital camera and no one was sent to have their photo ID updated. A guard I spoke with implied there may not be any more photos until next week.

Thursday morning, however, I was one of about 100 prisoners in the hallway leading to the B of I. I took a spot near the door thinking those first in line would be first to leave. This was a false assumption as was my belief the process would go quickly. For over a half hour no names were shouted out and when photos began to be taken, it was not done with any speed. Usually, prisoners walked in and were out in less than a half minute. Not this time, and I waited and waited all the while wishing I had my ear plugs or was deaf. While other convicts jabbered loudly, I stood silent becoming more miserable and unhappy by the minute.

Eventually, my name was called and I quickly opened the door and sat down. Impatiently, I waited for the camera operator to click a button on the computer and tell me to turn to the left. The woman taking the photos, however, was on the phone and chit chatted casually for several minutes before taking my two mugshots.

Back in the crowded hallway, I worked my way towards the gate. There was no guard to escort a group of prisoners back to the cell house and I was trapped. I considered hiding in the bathroom despite how dirty and how much it stank until I was able to leave. Prisoners could not lock the bathroom and the door not only did not have a clasp but was only a frame from the waist upward providing little escape from the people outside. While waiting a former cellmate of mine from Joliet C.C. greeted me and began to tell me how much muscle mass I had lost over the years. Before he was able to continue to say the obvious, I was fortunate to join a group of other prisoners being escorted to the quarter unit.

Earlier today, I called my mother and mentioned how new mugshots were taken in the cell house. While we spoke, she went on the IDOC website to see my new photo. New IDs were passed out to prisoners upon their return from the B of I and thus, I already knew what I looked like. I also had the commentary of my cellmate who said I had an angry serial killer look. He jested that I could be a government assassin like in the John Cusack film "Numbers Game." "Didn't Cusack's character say he had Aspergers?" he asked, trying to make further similarities. My mother had my photo on her computer screen quicker than it was taken. From what she said, I do not think this mug shot is going in any family photo albums.