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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Invasion of Ukraine -- March 8, 2014

My week began by watching the political news programs on Sunday morning. From State of the Union on CNN to FOX network's conservative alternative and then to other stations, I searched for the most recent developments in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. As I suspected, Vladimir Putin was not going to allow the country to slip away from his sphere of power. Last week when unidentified masked soldiers took control of key positions in Crimea, there was no doubt in my mind they were Russian. The seizure of Crimea is only part of Putin's ambitions to restore the borders of the former Soviet Union. The opportunity for Russia to make land grabs has never been better while Europe and particularly the U.S. continues to demonstrate weakness. The naivety and aloofness of Barack Obama's administration to world affairs was bound to be taken advantage of. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quoted this week saying Vladimir Putin was living in an alternative reality. However, the Russian leader is very astute and it is the liberal daydreams of the White House that are delusional.

All this week my cellmate has awakened early. Typically, he will sleep late and I am glad he is not disrupting my routine or bothering me with conversation. Mornings are a time I am most unhappy and want to be left alone. I hate the transition from the bliss of dreams to the ugly reality of my imprisonment. However, occasionally while watching the news programs on Sunday, I would make comments to him. I ridiculed the president for reprimanding Vladimir Putin and threatening there would be "costs" for his invasion. I am sure the Russian leader is just trembling in fear of what those paltry and ambiguous repercussions may be. Some news pundits claimed there was nothing immediate or militarily the U.S. could do, but I was highly skeptical. I also doubted if Russia would have had the gumption to take Crimea if the Obama administration had quickly taken preemptive measures during the revolution or moved missile and defense bases into eastern NATO countries as planned by the Bush administration. My cellmate, like most prisoners at Stateville, could care less about the matter and seemed happy to leave the cell for chow.

I stayed in the confines of the cell the entire day. Mostly I read, but in the evening when I became tired I watched the movie ET  which I had not seen since childhood. The liberal film producer Steven Spielberg had almost the same naivety about galactic relations as the U.S. President had about international relations. It was ridiculous to me that space aliens could even travel the vast distances to reach earth, but even if they could, they would not come in peace. I found it comical how the extra terrestrial was portrayed to cause sympathy by viewers. The creature was not like those depicted in the movie Alien or its sequel both starring actress Sigorney Weaver where humans were harvested to be eaten by their young. It was a helpless, heart endearing, little gray and squat being who only wanted to be reunited with its parents and go home: "ET go home." The villains were mean government agents who sought to capture him. The world is a hostile place of clashing interests and it should be assumed the universe has even greater dangers. I expect my government leaders to be prepared and continuously vigilant to all foreign threats to the Republic whether they be in Eastern Europe or across the galaxy.

Monday morning, I went to the chow hall and then directly from it to the commissary building. Fortunately, I was quick to shop and return to my cell. Almost an hour later my cellmate returned and told me how his name was not called for a long time after mine, and then he had to wait for another group of prisoners to be escorted back to the unit. He commented that he bought some extra shampoo because like light bulbs and certain deodorants, it was going to be discontinued. Only packets or little bottles of shampoo were to be sold in the future. Large bottles were considered a security issue as were the glass from a light bulb and the thin plastic stick in most deodorant products. I asked him about the prisoner whose property was being inventoried for segregation and he said he was not certain what he did. The cell house lieutenant simply walked into the commissary building and handcuffed him. Later we learned "Freaky Ty" had flashed yet another nurse. The incident happened over a week earlier, but there was no priority to place him in Seg.

At 5:30, I turned on my television to watch CNN's Crossfire. I anticipated Newt Gingrich would have harsh criticism for the president's handling of the crisis in Ukraine and was not disappointed. However, more interesting were the old video clips of Sarah Palin and an exchange between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Palin was seen giving a speech warning that Ukraine would be the next country invaded by Russia after the White House did nothing when parts of Georgia were seized. The media has continuously portrayed the former governor of Alaska as a fool and she has been the butt of numerous jokes since she was chosen as a running mate by John McCain in 2008. Mitt Romney who challenged Obama in 2012 was also redeemed. During a political debate the president condescendingly ridiculed Romney for stating that Russia continued to be the U.S.'s greatest adversary. While watching Crossfire, I thought how much better the country and world would be if either John McCain or Mitt Romney had been elected president.

Later in the evening, I took out my ear buds to make myself a meal with commissary I had purchased earlier. There were many prisoners yelling but I could not fail to hear every word one man shouted. The black convict in his ghetto dialect and slang described his first purse snatching to the humor of his friends. According to his story, a white woman refused to let him take off with her purse. She stubbornly struggled with him until he knocked her over the head. Running down an alley way, he thought he had gotten away with some real money. However, all she had was a few dollars and angrily he threw the purse into the next dumpster he passed. I wondered if this was one of the prisoners who attended the program "Black Skills" last month and supported the presidency of Barack Obama simply because of his race.

As customary, I ate my breakfast while watching the first 20 minutes of the morning news. When I opened my tray, I was stunned to find a bagel inside. At first I did not know what it was and had to inspect it. I cannot recall the last time prisoners were served bagels and have not eaten one in years. More stunning than my bagel were reports the U.S. President was considering not attending the G8 summit being hosted in Russia. I was flabbergasted. Russia had invaded a country in Eastern Europe and Obama's only reaction was he may not attend an economic meeting?! Immediately, all Russian assets and trade should have been frozen unilaterally if the U.S. allies did not follow suit. While choking the Kremlin and its plutocracy financially, NATO should have swiftly moved into action. I expected a fleet of warships to be sent into the Black Sea to support the Ukrainian navy and another in the Baltic to not only support new NATO allies but to blockade the Russian base in Kaliningrad. The Bosporus Strait, furthermore, should have been made impassable by Russian ships, preventing their access to the Mediterranean and negating the seizure of Crimea. Divisions of ground forces then should have been assembled in the east to conduct joint maneuvers with Ukraine's dilapidated army. The U.S. also has the most deployaible and technologically advanced air force yet it remains grounded. Those billion dollar jets were not made to just sit in the hanger and be taken out for joy rides. When NATO guarantees to back up any further incursion into the Ukraine and threatens to seize Kaliningrad if Russian forces do not extradite themselves from Crimea, Vladimir Putin may think again about the wisdom of his territorial ambitions. Currently, he just laughs at Barack Obama and other cowardly Western leaders.

Later Tuesday morning about 50 bags of clothing for prisoners were brought into the cell house. Stateville has been very stingy with providing clothing to incarcerated men and I was surprised that both my cellmate and I received a brown bag. There was no guard to open the cell door and I had to pull the clothes out and into the cell through the bars. As I assembled them on the counter I noticed my cellmate's boxers were gigantic. They could fit the largest prisoner in C House and I imagined I could get two legs in just one leg opening. There had to be a mistake I thought, but then checked his order form to find that he did ask for a triple extra large. He was currently at the gym and I had to save my jokes for later.

After lunch, I tuned in to the Rush Limbaugh radio show. I had missed the beginning and the most important news. He spoke about controversy from the Oscars when Ellen Degeneres joked that anyone who did not vote for the movie 12 Years A Slave was a racist. I agreed it was ridiculous, but the focus of most social media was. During the Olympics, the media expressed great concern and outrage about the arrest of members of Pussy Riot and anti-gay restrictions in Russia, but little was said about the revolution occurring right next door. Now there is also little coverage of Russia's invasion and the possibility of a new cold war except on the more serious news networks. My cellmate was even more concerned about what was said on TMZ than on the world news. The priorities of Americans are twisted, although so is the thinking of our leaders.

Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech chastising Russian aggression as if Vladimir Putin was a little child who did not play well with others. Astonishingly, again, there was no mention of military or even significant economic repercussions. Instead, Kerry spoke about how Russia may not be ready to be a member of the G8 and international community. He compared the invasion of Crimea as a "19th century act" as if countries no longer used military force. It was a peek into the radical left wing mindset of a friendly international brotherhood of humankind where all disputes could be settled by talking. I live in the capsule of a maximum security prison, but even I knew Kerry and the rest of Barack Obama's cabinet were out of touch with reality. Instead of 30 foot walls, they were captive by fanciful liberal utopian politics.

The DVD for prisoners to watch on Tuesday night was Captain Phillips. It was based on a true story of a large cargo ship being seized by Somalian pirates and the captain being taken for ransom. I was impressed how the U.S. Navy quickly responded with multiple warships and Seals killed the ransomers and saved their hostage. Again, it made me question why Navy ships were not immediately sent into the Black Sea during Ukraine's revolution or when Russian forces began to take over the Crimean Peninsula. They are dispatched to save one man but not an entire nation?

At his request, I awakened my cellmate early Wednesday morning so he would not miss the shower line. Showers were formerly conducted for the lower three galleries during the evening, however, guards complained they were not able to get them all done timely due to a new policy of only allowing out seven prisoners at a time. Thus, the first shift has the responsibility and staff attempt to get them done ASAP on those two or occasionally three mornings. I still continue to avoid the shower room because, although it is now less crowded, the showers dribble out water and are done typically before I finish my exercise regimen or even begin.

When my cellmate returned he told me that before I awakened him he was dreaming he had missed chow. He asked me if that was strange and I said, "No, that makes perfect sense. A fat person probably would dream about missing a meal." The morning before, I went on to say he probably thought the bagel was a big donut when he got up in the night to get breakfast trays. It was my cellmate's birthday and I had to razz him. Later in the day, I hit him with a couple more zingers when he had the nerve to ask me where the marshmallows were when I made him a mug of hot chocolate. I quipped he was the marshmallow. He was like that enormous Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the movie Ghostbusters except instead of 230 tons of sugar he was just 230 pounds. "Stick your finger in the mug if you want marshmallows," I told him.

My cellmate was 38 years old and occasionally on his birthday he seemed to have this lost look upon his face. I am not the best person to interpret emotions, but he may have been sad. I know birthdays are no reason to be happy in my own circumstance and are simply another reminder of how much time I have lost in prison. Because it had snowed, his sister did not make the usual trip to see him on his birthday and this probably made him feel even more gloomy. The DVD Enders Game, however, was going to be played and I told him I would make some burritos to eat along with it. Ender's Game was a book Anthony had read and he had been looking forward to seeing the movie for some time.

The film was a good contrast to ET, although I did not like the cosmopolitan aspects of it. Earth had been attacked by aliens from a distant solar system. After the war, an international coalition had been formed to seek out the large ant-like extraterrestrials and destroy them. Teenagers from around the world were drafted not to fight in the counter attack but to command a fleet of warships in video game like simulations. The adolescent chosen to be the lead commander uses a newly developed weapon that breaks apart everything on a molecular level to obliterate not only the alien's military forces but their entire planet. I told my cellmate this is the ruthlessness the U.S. needs to use with its enemies. At lunch when I had run into the lieutenant in the chow hall I asked him about his cowardly idol Barack Obama, and he responded, "What do you think he should do?" I said, "War," and he claimed I was crazy. At the end of the DVD, my cellmate also said I was nuts, however, the pacifism and apathy demonstrated by Western leaders was greatly disturbing to me.

Along with the lieutenant, I spoke to Steve in the chow hall. Other than my cellmate, he was one of the few people with intelligence in the quarter unit where I reside. I expected him to agree with me that Obama's response to the invasion of Crimea was pathetic. While he thought lowly of most of the president's policy domestic and globally, he did not care about Ukraine. He thought it was none of the U.S.'s business and if Russia wanted to take the entire country, let them. "Blasphemy!" I said. "Get on your knees and repent!" We did not fight a cold war for 50 years just to allow Eastern Europe to be gobbled up again. It was imperative to strengthen the European Union to be a counterweight to Russia. Foolishly the U.S. left a huge power vacuum when destroying Germany in WWII as it did by obliterating the Empire of Japan. America should have stayed out of that war or as General Patton wanted, storm right through Berlin to Moscow. Steve said that I was just uneasy because Russia was getting closer to Poland. It had nothing to do, however, with my ancestral background.

Thursday I could not speak to any prisoner about world affairs or even state politics. News about the parole of Earl Bassett was all anyone wanted to talk about. Bassett was one of about a few dozen C numbers left in the IDOC. A C number was anyone convicted before statutes changed in 1969. They were given an indeterminate sentence and saw the parole board every year after serving 12 years. Bassett was convicted in the early 60's of an armed robbery, however, while incarcerated he killed a guard in Menard Correctional Center. From what I heard, he threw a Molotov Cocktail into a gun tower during a riot. No one ever thought he would be released even though he was now in his 70's and had served 51 consecutive years. But without any notice he was told to pack up his property and he was set free. It was a dream of many prisoners, particularly those in my cell house where many were old and had done decades of time.

Men were in a very good mood Thursday evening and laughed uncontrollably to a comedy called "Bad Grandpa." During commercials of an episode of the medical drama "House," I turned over to it and was not amused. The humor was crude and not very clever. The show House was much wittier and had story lines that caught my interest. At the time I had yet another reason to watch the medical drama. Earlier in the day I had been informed that one of my aunts had just left the hospital. Doctors tried numerous tests to figure out what was wrong with her but were baffled. Most likely the underlying problem was her heart, however, no doctor, not even the character played by Gregory House, was going to order surgery. At 70 years old and in poor health, a transplant would be wasted if she even survived. Like Earl Bassett, her life was over and the only solitude she took was to die at home.

After watching the medical drama, I turned off my television to listen to WLS talk radio. Mark Levine was a very passionate and serious conservative talk radio show host. He had only scathing criticism of the U.S. President. Apparently, earlier in the day, Obama had attended some event called "The Women of Soul." People had laughs that he spelled the word "respect" incorrectly. Possibly this was appropriate because he had no respect in the world. He was a weak leader and had little understanding or concern for international affairs. Yes, he loved the idea of internationalism but could not act boldly and unilaterally. Instead, he had fun at a black music festival while Russia tightened their grip on Crimea and made plans for taking the rest of Ukraine.

Yesterday, I heard about Crimea's regional government setting a referendum date to let voters decide if they want to become a part of Russia. The vote is obviously a ruse by the Kremlin to justify their seizure of the peninsula. It will certainly be rigged and even if a majority do want to succeed and join Russia, it is nonbinding legally or morally. The reason why Russians make up a large part of Crimea and other areas of Eastern Europe is due to ethnic cleansing by former communist leaders. Millions of Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, and others were forcibly moved or killed and then replaced with ethnic Russians.

The news of Earl Bassett's release was short lived as prisoners began to talk about another gruesome suicide at Stateville. When a man was hooked up to a dialysis machine at the Health Care Unit, he ripped out the blood lines. Guards and medical staff tried to reconnect them but he fought them off. Within minutes, the prisoner bled to death and blood was left splattered all over the dialysis room. Rumor has it the man was crazy, but I do not think a person has to be insane to prefer death over an existence such as this. Dialysis patients have it even worse because of their poor health, implants, and being connected to a machine for hours every day or every other day. The IDOC will not pay for a kidney transplant even if a prisoner has LWOP and they must suffer indefinitely.

Most prisoners are uneducated, selfish and base. They do not understand global politics nor do they care to. The freedom of Ukrainians means nothing when they have no freedom themselves. Some will even take their own lives to escape the misery of captivity. The disinterest of prisoners at Stateville for the plight of a nation half way across the world or geopolitics is not surprising. However, I can look past these oppressive prison walls and am outraged by the lack of action by U.S. leaders. Foreign affairs is a global chess match and one America is decisively losing under the Obama administration. The White House cannot always rely on diplomacy, tough rhetoric, or economic sanctions. Sometimes military force is essential. Regardless of the century there will always be matters worth fighting and dying for. America must stand with Ukraine.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Illinois Innocence Project -- March 1, 2014

Last November, I received a large envelope from the Illinois Innocence Project. I was not expecting any mail from them and curiously I opened it. Enclosed was an enormous questionnaire and several release forms as well as a letter. The letter said that years ago they received a request for legal assistance in regards to my criminal conviction. At the time, they only worked on downstate cases and therefore never responded. However, recently they were given a grant to help prisoners in northern Illinois. If I was still interested in their help, I was asked to fill out all the enclosed paperwork and return it to them. Lawyers from the IIP will then evaluate my case and decide whether or not to accept it.

I flipped through the questionnaire and it was the most comprehensive one I had ever seen. There were about 30 pages of questions ranging from the most basic to the most complex. At the end there was also space to give additional information which may not have been covered but was important. Completing this form I thought would take hours, and there were some questions I could not answer even if I dug through all the papers I had in my cell. For example, I do not know my social security number, contact information for all my previous attorneys, or whether the blood evidence found in my co-defendant's car was kept by police. The questionnaire attempted to be simplistic in design, but by doing so it made some questions difficult to explain. I was pleased the IIP was going to be so thorough in their review of my case, however, I will bbe damned if I went through all this trouble for nothing and contemplated just throwing everything I was sent into the garbage.

Since my federal appeal was tossed out due to being filed a day late, I have written dozens of law schools and firms across the country seeking legal assistance. My family as well as a pen pal also reached out to dozens more. To my knowledge, none of them received a response and less than a quarter of my letters were answered. The legal agencies who wrote me back told me they did not take accountability cases or those where DNA could not directly demonstrate innocence. A few said they did not do pro bono work or they currently had too many cases even after I filled out their questionnaires. When the University of Chicago began their innocence project, I quickly contacted them before they received a flood of letters. I met with Tara Thompson and a couple of their investigators. However, just as I became hopeful they may help me, I was told someone at the law firm of Loevy and Loevy black balled me. Their innocence project was backed by this firm and the father-son team had final say over the cases the university took.

For a couple of years, I was represented by Chicago-Kent Law School. I did not write them nor did I consider their law professor impressive despite how he was repeatedly on television. However, like most of my time incarcerated, the matter was not up to me. My parents, through a civil attorney my father knew well, lobbied Richard Kling to take my case. He had a large caseload and therefore dumped my case on a new law professor. Prof. Daniel Coyne was arrogant and stubborn. He did not like me reaching out to other attorneys for advice nor questioning and directing his work. Eventually, he quit and returned a small portion of the money my parents gave him as a retainer. I did not care. Never again was I going to be a mere passenger in my own legal defense. Tried that before and only helplessly witnessed my own car wreck time and again.

I grumbled to my cellmate who was watching me flip through all the pages of the questionnaire sent to me by the IIP. Why should I fill this out? I did not know any of the law professors there or their investigative team.  They may be incompetent fools or stubborn, controlling squares like Daniel Coyne. They may just review my case and reject it as the University of Chicago did after I put in a lot of effort getting them up to speed. They may get bombarded by numerous other prisoners with cases in Cook County and pursue an easier conviction to appeal. Worse, they could accept it and then sit on it for years because of all the other cases they accepted. Then there was the possibility they would not consider my case a DNA case because it is not the typical forensic based murder conviction. As these thoughts went through my mind, my cellmate said, "You know you have to fill it out." He was right, of course. My current attorney could not handle my appeal and had been working, or not working, on it for almost 5 years. I needed help and beggars could not be choosers.

I was not expecting a reply, but in late January, I received a letter from the IIP's case coordinator. She told me they had began to evaluate my case and wanted my direct appeal as well as any new information which had not been presented in court. The problem with this was I kept my legal briefs in storage and did not have any extra copies. Prisoners are only allowed to keep two property boxes in their cells. However, because of court rulings, the prison administration had to allow men to keep and have access to all their legal paperwork. Some prisoners have ten to twenty boxes of discovery, appeals, transcripts, etc. Initially, Stateville stored the additional legal property at the law library and prisoners could gain access to them while there. However, these boxes were all moved to a warehouse called the personal property building. Personal property lines were only run once a week and getting on the list was difficult. I wrote the case coordinator telling her they may not receive the documents they requested until spring.

As I suspected, getting to the personal property building was not easy. Every week, I wrote letters to the personal property officer and repeatedly did not make the list. In frustration, I asked the cell house sergeant to see if he could make an addition, yet the following Monday there were no lines run because of a lockdown. In the meantime, I thought I would give the IIP something to look at. I kept a copy of my clemency petition in my cell. The petition has a thorough statement of fact explaining the period of time I lived with my co-defendant and his wife along with events which led to my arrest, prosecution, conviction, and sentence of natural life without the possibility of parole. Thereafter, I made a number of pleadings to the governor to grant me a full pardon based on actual innocence or at the minimum a commutation of sentence. The end of the petition has about 100 exhibits including evidence never heard by my jury or any court. A number of attorneys and even the Prison Review Board have remarked how well written and compelling my petition is. I wish I could share it with the public at large, but I have yet to find someone who is willing to create a website to put it online.

Last Monday, my name was finally listed over the cell house loudspeaker amongst the men permitted to go to the personal property building. Two lines of about ten prisoners each were to go out. I was in the second line which goes out after lunch and therefore I quickly trimmed my beard, exercised, and then bathed. In the chow hall, turkey-soy burgers were served. They were not my favorite meal particularly when saturated in grease from being deep fried (the ovens at Stateville remain broken), however, I had to attend it. Guards refused to let men out of their cells after chow and they were expected to go into the holding cage upon returning from lunch.

In the 8 foot cubicle, I waited with other men going to the personal property building, including Juan Luna. Luna is celled on the 4th floor and since he has been in the cell house, I have not had an opportunity to talk with him. I asked him how his direct appeal was progressing and was told it was denied. He is now working on a post conviction or what is legally known as a collateral appeal. I was surprised to learn he was representing himself and thought some attorney even without payment would take his case simply because he was convicted of an infamous mass murder. However, I was glad none had because this meant the state had to give him copies of all the police discovery which was on some 15 compact disks. For a long time, I have wanted to review parts of the Palatine Massacre discovery because it may contain information valuable to me.

The warehouse where prisoners' personal property is stored is a long building that served multiple functions. Inside, I gave a guard my ID card and was directed to a large almost barren room. The room was empty except for a half dozen school desks and a bench. I took one of the chairs with a folding table to sit in by the wall and away from anyone else. Although some prisoners go to the personal property building to socialize, I did not want any company. I made a list of all the things I needed to get or wanted to look at and reviewed it while I waited.

Almost a half hour passed before workers brought into the room a few carts of boxes. I did not know how much time I would have and quickly grabbed my box and began searching through it. I easily found all my direct appeal documents and thought the IIP would appreciate it if I sent them not only my attorney's briefs but the prosecutor's rebuttals, despite how they were deceptive and portrayed me in the worst possible light. Finding my collateral appeal was much more difficult and all I was able to locate was the initial petition. The trial judge's dismissal due to my attorney's failure to attach affidavits was gone as well as consecutive documents filed to the appellate and supreme court. Eventually, I remembered I sent these to my current lawyer almost 5 years ago and never made copies.

While I was going through all my legal envelopes, I found one marked "Media: Brown's Chicken Murders." These were newspaper articles I had found or were sent to me after James Degorski and Juan Luna were arrested for the massacre. I thought Luna may like looking at them and walked over to where he was sitting and dropped it on his desk. I told him he may find these interesting and went back to my chair. When we went to leave, Luna told me "thanks" and said he would like a copy of one article which discussed the thoughts of his jury after a holdout refused to give him the death penalty. Since I wanted to see parts of his discovery when he received it, I thought I should reciprocate and agreed to make any copies he liked.

In the cell house, I took the phone and brought it to my cell. Instead of calling my attorney for the collateral appeal briefs and court rulings I sent her, I called my mother. She has nearly 40 boxes of discovery, appeals and various other legal documents related to my case. It is so immense, I never bothered having it brought to the prison. Included in this small truck load are copies of my post conviction appeals and I thought I would just have her search and then send them to the Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois in Springfield. However, after getting her on the phone, I was reminded of how sick and frail she was. I did not want to get her involved and would simply tell the case coordinator the most relevant parts of the appeal in writing. If they wanted the original which was forged by my direct appellate counsel, the court rulings, or subsequent briefs, I would direct my derelict current attorney to send them and failing this they will just have to order them from the county clerk's office.

By mid afternoon, I was exhausted and fell asleep for an hour. Upon waking, I made myself a hot cup of coffee to go along with some peanut butter sandwiches and state cakes. I do not often take in so much caffeine and sugar and got a jolt of energy I could not contain. Although I had exercised earlier, I did another 20 minutes. My cellmate told me to slow down and put my T-shirt back on. There were no female nurses to impress. Anthony occasionally jokes that I keep my shirt off to attract women that work in the cell house. His joke has no merit but for fun I told him I would call a female guard who was on the ground floor and do the Chip and Dale dance skit that we watched on an old episode of Saturday Night Live. The catch was, however, he had to strip down to his "spediums" (Speedo + medium sized briefs) and play the part by comedian Chris Farley. Apparently, he did not like this idea although he found it tremendously funny when I imitated some dance moves.

I slept terrible overnight not only because I drank the coffee, but because the nurse who passes out medications in the evening failed to stop by my cell. Anthony claimed she may not be a Patrick Swayze fan. Fortunately, yard was not run until late because Internal Affairs was conducting drops (urine drug tests) and I had plenty of time to get ready. Once on the small yard, however, I wished I had stayed in the cell. Nearly 20 prisoners were all trying to bench press with the same and only barbell. For much of the time I had to wait around for my turn and listened to dumb conversations or stories from "the hood." A black prisoner who simply goes by the name "Big" easily did 25 repetitions with the 220 pound weight making me look weak when I finally was able to do my set.

From the yard, prisoners were taken directly to the chow hall. I was disappointed men were being served "slick meat," but it was very rare to be given a slice of cheese. I bagged and then pocketed the cheese along with some bread to make a sardine sandwich when I returned to the cell before I spoke to Steve. Steve went to the law library every Thursday morning and I told him I had arranged it with one of the clerks to have copies made of all my appeals. He just had to be my mule. Steve complained about how he was always doing me favors but I did nothing for him. "What's in it for me?" he asked. I told him "protection". Did he actually think he could have survived so long with the likes of "Big" in the unit and what about "La La" and "Bad Scott"? I was only joking with him, though. Stateville was no where near as violent as it was in the 1990's when it was commonly referred to as the White Man's Graveyard. Steve told me to send him the papers the next day.

On Wednesday, I spoke to a couple of cell house workers about passing the large envelope of legal documents to Steve who was celled on the lower floor. My senile neighbor continued to forget to pick them up and I had to rely on someone else. The worker was busy packing a couple of prisoners' property for transfer. Apparently, Stateville was trying to rid itself of anyone who had less than 20 years remaining to do on their sentences. Generally, prisoners will quickly ask their counselors to put them in for a medium transfer even before they have reached eligibility. However, a few wanted to stay because they have friends here, family that live nearby, or good jobs. Six of the inmates transferred out this week had coveted jobs in industries: the soap or furniture factory.

In the evening, I wrote a letter to the case coordinator at the IIP to include with the package I was sending to them. Most of it explained my collateral appeal. The initial petition was filed without my knowledge by my direct appellate lawyer. He had forged my signature and even had a notary (Maribel Velasquez) lie and vouch for it. Richard Cunningham, who was accustomed to doing appeals for prisoners on death row, forgot that it was mandatory that convicts with LWOP or a term of years to include any affidavits. For this omission, the court summarily dismissed it. On appeal, a bum from the Cook County PD's Office was appointed to my case and filed a "Finley Brief" alleging I had no meritorious issues. A private lawyer my parents contacted quickly filed a response saying that was nonsense and listed numerous issues. However, the appellate court refused to entertain the brief he filed as did the Illinois Supreme Court.

After writing my letter, I tuned in to the season premiere of the CBS reality show "Survivor." The theme this time was brains versus brawn and beauty. Contestants were put on teams purportedly in these categories. However, those who were supposed to look beautiful, were only average in my opinion, and those who were supposed to be strong were not muscular. The group that was assembled to represent the most intelligent was the biggest disappointment. One black woman who claimed to be a nuclear engineer, I do not think could construct a square with Lego's. It was no surprise two members of the "Brain" group were sent packing.

Thursday morning, I watched the news as I typically do while eating my breakfast. Throughout the week, the LGBT community was in an uproar over a bill passed in Arizona that protected the religious rights of businesses to refuse service or employment to homosexuals. In a truly free country, businesses would be able to choose whomever they employed or conducted business with. However, once again, the principals of the nation were thwarted and the governor of Arizona buckled to pressure by vetoing the bill.

After watching national headlines, the local news of traffic and weather came on. It was only 5 degrees F and that was going to be the day's high temperature. Later an announcement in the cell house was made that yard would be cancelled and I wondered if law library was also. On Thursday, the law library line leaves at 6 a.m. if not earlier. My concern that the copies had not been made, however, was alleviated when an old black man who looks like he is a homeless vagrant handed me the package I gave Steve. Inside were the papers I sent him along with the duplicate copies.

At lunch I met with Steve. He said it was brutally cold when he went out to the library and I owed him one. He began to grill me about who I was sending all the legal briefs to. Steve was not dumb and knew I had found a new attorney or one willing to review my case. Although I get along well with him, I have avoided telling him about the correspondence I have had with the University of Illinois. All I needed was the word going around that they were now accepting cases from northern counties. It would cause a flood of prisoners at Stateville to write them. Finally, I told Steve but made him promise to keep it to himself.

Back in my cell, I put all the papers together to fit in a large envelope. Unlike ordinary correspondence, legal mail can be sealed. Personally, I did not care if anyone in the mail room read my appellate briefs. In fact, I would put them online if I could. However, I did not want anything falling out and I wanted to send the package out without a money voucher for postage which would delay the mail from being sent out till possibly some time in April.

At Stateville, all legal mail postage is free and paid by the inmate trust fund (money taken from prisoners in various ways). Unfortunately, the seal would not work and I had to search the cell house for a strip of wide tape or glue because I did not have another large envelope. Eventually, I found some glue and the package is finally on its way to the Illinois Innocence Project. Hopefully, I did not go through all these efforts for naught and they will help in my struggle for freedom.

Friday, April 25, 2014

March Madness -- March 22, 2014

The NCAA basketball tournament began this week to the excitement of many incarcerated men at Stateville. Basketball is their favorite sport and those who do not play it, greatly enjoy watching games on television. Not surprisingly, bracket sheets were abundant and many inmates filled them out in the hopes of winning commissary in organized pools or just for the mere entertainment value of it. There were 64 college teams excluding play-ins all competing to be the national champion. I watched a couple of games this week and will probably watch a few more in proceeding rounds, however, the tournament was only a minute preoccupation for me. There was other "March Madness" that caught my attention inside and outside the penitentiary.

On Sunday morning, I watched a few hours of political news programs. The main topic of discussion was Crimea's vote to split from the Ukraine or join Russia. The referendum was a ploy by the former to justify their seizure of the peninsula. During the Soviet era many Russians moved to the area and other ethnic groups were forcibly moved out or killed. Ethnic Russians currently make up a little over half the population, however, the numbers were irrelevant. Even if the people wanted to stay part of the Ukraine, this was not a ballot option and like many other elections, this one was rigged. The fate of Crimea was sealed and all people who wanted to stay under the governance of Kiev could do is flee. However, this was no guarantee with a Russian invasion of the entire country imminent.

Arizona Senator John McCain criticized the fraudulent election along with the negligence of the Obama administration. He spoke about how many actions could have been done before the crises in the Ukraine to deter Russian aggression. He also favored supplying the east European country with some meager assistance which would have no value if Russian forces invaded. I was humored by his comparison of Russia as a big gas station masquerading as an empirical power, however, it also trivialized the danger and America's obligation to protect Ukrainian territorial sovereignty. In 1994, the U.S. was a signature to the Budapest Convention which in exchange for the Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal, its borders including Crimea would be guaranteed.

Most of my day was spent writing, however, at 6 p.m. I turned my television on again and like many other prisoners watched the NCAA tournament configuration. For the first time, the teams in the competition were announced along with who they would play. My cellmate had a blank bracket sheet and busily filled in the 64 outer lines. After he finished, I spoke to him about Warren Buffet's pool which awarded $1 billion to anyone who could fill out a perfect bracket. Strangely, he had taken out an insurance policy to cover half the cost of a winner. The "Oracle of Omaha" had to know the odds were astronomical and he will reap an enormous profit. Anthony was under the impression it was much easier and Buffet was allowing people to play for free. His thinking was preposterous and I ridiculed him for his stupidity.

It was chilly in the cell house on the morning of St. Patrick's Day. The waffles on my breakfast tray were cold and I boiled water to make a steaming cup of instant coffee to pore over them along with a package of syrup. Since I have been at Stateville, breakfast trays have been passed out between 1 and 2 a.m. However, recently a prisoner won a lawsuit against the IDOC and the meals are now arriving an hour or two later. The court ruled in the inmate's favor not because of the ridiculous time breakfast was served, but because he has diabetes and is not able to take his insulin until about 5 a.m. Regardless, breakfast is always cold when I eat. The thin Styrofoam boxes do not retain heat long.

During my cell workout, I noticed Internal Affairs had rushed in the building and frisked inmate workers before searching some cells on the gallery above mine. One worker had a bracket sheet on him and initially I thought the security unit wanted to put a damper on March Madness, but later I learned otherwise. According to what I was told, a snitch who had recently went to protective custody told on a prisoner who was fixing televisions and radios. He had a set of interchangeable screwdrivers to open the electronics. At Stateville, there is no repair shop and thus a few men will open up business themselves if they have the skills and tools. There is a lot of demand to repair broken TVs and radios and repairmen can make a good hustle. Security personnel, however, do not like prisoners being able to tamper with electronics and the man sent to Segregation may have been written a disciplinary ticket not only for dangerous contraband, but a weapons violation.

Later in the morning, I went to the chow hall to pocket some food to bring back to the cell to eat at yet again a more reasonable hour. There was nothing special being served for St. Patrick's Day but there were some holiday stickers up. I asked my cellmate who was standing beside me in line which of them our neighbor would most like for a tattoo. Our neighbor goes by the name Leprechaun and he is a short Irish man with balding orange hair. I mentioned he could not get the 4 leaf clover because it was a symbol used by the Aryan Brotherhood, but the pot of gold tattooed on his butt would be humorous and not potentially get him stabbed. Anthony thought any of the decals including "Irish Pride" would be funny if put on his ass. At the chow table, Leprechaun was not amused when we asked him his preference. He seemed grumpy and I inquired if it was because he did not have his Lucky Charms for breakfast. No, he was pouting about Stateville being the only penitentiary in Illinois without cable.

Although letters were still behind a month, I received my subscription to Barron's timely on Monday. The newspaper is rather thick and has an abundance of financial data that I sifted through for a few hours at a table near the cell bars. One article which caught my attention was that Russia dumped nearly a billion dollars worth of U.S. Treasuries. The writer concluded it was not meant to destabilize the dollar but to prevent the money from being frozen by economic sanctions. However, despite how this demonstrated Russia was not going to relinquish control over the Crimea and was contemplating a larger invasion, he insinuated this was unlikely due to economic repercussions. Oil and gas exports were over half of government revenue. Since troops were sent into the peninsula, the Ruble had plummeted and it had to be propped up with $28 billion in currency reserves and the central bank increased interest rates  1.5%. Furthermore, with Moscow's stock market falling, Putin's oligarchs had lost roughly $18 billion. I have news for the Barron's editorial board: The president of Russia has already fully calculated the cost of war and the addition of Crimea and the rest of the Ukraine was well worth it. Unlike the international business community, Putin places national interests first.

Worse than the reaction of international business was that of the U.S. President. For weeks, I have thought he lost his mind, but Monday night I heard news of his four minute statement in response to Crimea's referendum to join Russia which made me think he was literally mad. Barack Obama was placing 7 travel and asset restrictions on Russians who had no plans to come to America or any money in the country. This rightfully elicited laughter and mockery in Moscow. Some Russian leaders even wondered if the U.S. President's public statement was written by a prankster and the Duma to return the joke agreed in a vote that it should be sanctioned as well. Obama's minute and meaningless response to the seizure of Crimea and military forces about to roll over east Europe was true madness.

Tuesday morning another prisoner's property was packed up for Seg in front of the sergeant's office. I thought it may be connected with the small raid by I.A. the previous day but was mistaken. A prisoner was found in possession of hooch. Hooch is a disgusting wine made by inmates with fermented juice and or fruit. Later when I went out on my visit I learned that guards discovered it in a cell occupied by a "Level E". It was rather dumb of any convict deemed an extreme escape risk to have hooch in their cell. Their cells were searched once a week or sometimes even more often.

My visit was abruptly cut short when guards stormed into the room and yelled for everyone to leave. The only explanation was the penitentiary had been placed on lockdown. Inmates were quickly strip searched and then brought to gate 5 to be escorted back to their living units. There was a great amount of noise and chaos in the hallway and a usually very polite and soft spoken female guard began to blow a whistle in an attempt to restore some order. She was unable to get command of the situation, but there were about 50 other guards and 10 lieutenants who corralled prisoners. In the cell house I was expecting to learn something serious and requiring urgent lock-up had occurred. However, the prison was simply on lockdown due to the electric power being on the fritz and a backup system was being used.

Tuesday was election day and there were a few key primary races I was interested in. During the evening, I went back and forth from WGN, a local TV news station, to WLS news radio. Depending on the subject or a commercial, I simply switched my ear buds from an extension leading to my television or the Walkman I had beside me. At 7:30 p.m. the backup power went out for an hour and left me with just radio news. Although the electricity was out, I still had batteries for my cheap Chinese made radio-cassette player. In the darkness, my cellmate joked that possibly the Russians had taken out America's electric grid before a first strike. He was referring to a Russian news anchor who had bellicosely remarked on air that Russia was the only country which could make the U.S. a nuclear ash heap. Going along with Anthony's joke, I said, "If true, I bet Obama will continue to say it's not too late for diplomacy as Russia's nuclear missiles are minutes away from touching down." Mimicking the U.S. President's voice and pretending I was on the phone with Vladimir Putin I said, "You know we can still talk this out. This is not the way 21st century countries settle their disputes." In the war room, ICBMs were monitored on the big screen by nervous Pentagon officials and Obama changed his tone and said, "You realize there will be serious consequences to your actions. If you do not turn those missiles around, I am going to void your visa and there will be no G8 summit!"

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn won easily to Tio Hardiman and was announced the winner early in the night. However, the Republican primaries were more difficult. Unions had given millions of dollars to fund Kirk Dillard's campaign. They also had organized voters in Chicago who were Democrats to take Republican ballots. The money and crossover voting created a closer than expected race. Fortunately, Bruce Rauner still won and will attempt to unseat Quinn in the general election in November.

Before Rauner was even declared the victor, I watched an attack ad already out against him. Pat Quinn was setting the stage for a class warfare campaign. In the commercial, Rauner is quoted as saying he is against raising the minimum wage and then Quinn's new running mate Paul Vallas talked about the need for more funding of public education. The lieutenant governor was deliberately chosen because of his credentials for being the Chief of Chicago Public Schools. Personally, I thought this was a bad decision because of how terribly dysfunctional they were, however, there was this public perception that throwing more money at a problem will eventually fix it. This was a great misconception and the money will simply be wasted. There was also no need for pre-K schooling and it is just a government sponsored day care program.

The running mate for Bruce Rauner was also a calculated political decision. Evelyn Sanguinetti introduced him for his victory speech in Spanish to apparently court Chicago's growing Mexican population. She told the audience and television crews that Rauner was going to shake up Springfield and bring back Illinois. He sought term limits for career politicians, and to raise opportunities and prosperity in the state. Bruce Rauner then took the stage to chants of "Bruce, Bruce, Bruce!" He attacked the governor's record of increasing taxes, driving business out, and having the country's 2nd highest unemployment rate. He then went about undermining Vallas by stating numerous children were trapped in failing schools in Chicago.

The electric power at Stateville was fixed before I went to sleep and in the morning the prison was off lockdown. There were normal operations and school, library, and barbershop lines were run. I did not go to any of these nor did I go to the shower room or chow hall as my cellmate did. Later my neighbor returned from the barber school with a bald head. He must have become tired of the Leprechaun jokes but now he looked like Dr. Evil's Mini-Me in the movie Austin Powers. I told him to dance and sing "It's a hard knock life". His cellmate who is a foot taller than him and also sports a bald head came by and it made the joke even funnier. It was Dr. Evil and Mini-Me. Anthony said Hooch should carry Leprechaun on his shoulders.

For dinner the prison was serving pizza and I walked down the corridor of cyclone fencing and razor wire to get myself a slice. The lieutenant I commonly have political discussions with was standing just inside the chow hall. I asked him if he voted for Bruce Rauner which got a frown from him but caused a couple of other lieutenants nearby to start laughing. He probably was already complaining about the Republican candidate who was staunchly opposed by the guards' union, AFSCME. Rank and file state union members may not be so supportive of Governor Quinn's reelection, however. On election day, I asked a guard if he voted and he was apathetic. He did not care for either Rauner or Quinn who signed legislation cutting pension benefits.

When I returned to the cell, I turned on WLS expecting to hear Sean Hannity, however, his show had been replaced by Rick Savage. I have not formed an opinion about Savage, but I did like the heavy metal he played on his program. Sound bites off of Motley Crue's first album and Metallica were used regularly. On Wednesday he was making fun of Obama for seeking to defund the military after Russia just annexed the Crimea and was seeking to gobble up more of Europe. He also ridiculed Vice President Biden for saying America will protect its eastern allies. "With what?" he asked. "A water gun?"

Thursday morning, the SORT rushed into the cell house. Six were dressed in full tactical gear and bright orange jumpsuits, but two were in plain clothes. They went up the stairs to the 3rd and 4th galleries. Not long thereafter, I saw Juan Luna, Puppet, Moon, and a few other prisoners come down the stairs in handcuffs behind their backs. My cellmate speculated I.A. had received Intel that the Latin Kings may be up to some mischief. I did not think Luna was a King, but his cellmate Serianno may be. Later after questioning, they were all brought back except him. He was sent to Segregation or transferred, however, I am uncertain as to the reason. More important to me at the time was the Orange Crush had turned off the water and I could not use the toilet. Plumbing was not restored to the cell house until noon.

The prison was kept on lockdown the entire day making a number of inmates unhappy. Many had waited to the last minute to turn in their NCAA Tournament brackets. I suspected pools in other cell houses were also short and those who made their picks early will only receive a small reward if they win. Barack Obama, however, made his bracket a priority. Even with Russia threatening east Europe, there was always time for basketball. On one news program I heard the President beat 75% of those who submitted brackets. Unfortunate that he was not as good or interested in global affairs. This was amusingly portrayed in a political cartoon I saw recently where Obama is making out his picks and an adviser has to tell him he may want to take Crimea off.

Yesterday, Stateville was taken off lockdown and towards the end of the first shift the warden as well as an assistant made rounds in the cell house. The assistant listened to my neighbor "Mini-Me" complain about the cable for 5 to 10 minutes. Later I asked him if he made the argument that he was being racially discriminated against. My silly neighbor had filed a grievance saying the satellite stations selected were racist because administrators chose Black Entertainment Television and he could not watch ice hockey anywhere. No, he did not make this argument to the assistant warden in person, but he ranted on and on to me about it. Why do all the black prisoners get to watch game after game of basketball and he cannot see a single Black Hawks game? I told him he was nuts. Over 3/4's of prisoners are African-American and he thought the administration should cater to his desire to watch hockey?

Prisoners were rather rambunctious earlier today before I began writing this post. Throughout the morning, they shouted obscenities at staff to fix the water. The building had no hot water and in fact a guard told me the entire prison was without it due to a "situation" in X House. He never explained what the situation was but the lieutenant yelled up to convicts that he was working on the water. To this he was told to "work on these nuts!" which got some laughter from the peanut gallery. In the chow hall, a tour of college students walked through the outer hallway. Some were young attractive women and a big black man with a crazy beard slammed himself up against a clear Plexiglas door as they walked by. I could not see their expressions, but they may have thought he was looney.

To end off a week of March Madness, I was just recently told a prisoner died a day before his release. In December, he was taken to an outside hospital after doctors at the penitentiary's Health Care Unit discovered he had gangrene in his feet. On Christmas Day, his feet were amputated, however, apparently it had spread. Thursday, he finally succumbed to the disease, one day before his out date 3/21/14. With my appeal yet to be brought into court and it being far from a slam dunk, I wonder if I may ultimately die before I can prove my innocence. Just like the NCAA basketball tournament, there are many games to be played and even the top seeded teams are not guaranteed to win.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Editor Note to Blog Readers:

The prison mail room is delaying Paul's outgoing mail again for some unknown reason. Keep checking this site--we publish Paul's writings as we receive them.  He told me he has written and mailed 6 new posts since March 1st.  Hopefully, a new one will be up soon.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Transition at Stateville & Revolution Abroad -- Feb. 22, 2014

The penitentiary was on lockdown for part of the week to conduct a massive move of inmates. All prisoners with jobs that had been sent to the Roundhouse last summer were reassigned cells in the quarter units. The upper galleries in the large domed building were then filled with convicts deemed by administrators as staff assaulters, highly aggressive, or weapons violators. They joined those in Segregation to be collectively punished and isolated from general population. The moves could not be done easily and required a shuffling of prisoners across the living units of the penitentiary. Stateville's SORT was used to escort the movement of men and was done slowly in small groups. I was not able to watch the major transition from the confines of my cell and instead was preoccupied with the revolutions occurring in Venezuela and more so the Ukraine. Over the week, I paid attention to the coverage on television and radio. I hoped they were successful in overthrowing their corrupt and oppressive regimes.

The prison administration rarely informs prisoners of changes in policy or even radical shifts in placement. Thus, on Monday morning I had no clue why the penitentiary was on lockdown. I considered there may be fewer staff than usual because it was a holiday and there was snow. However, not many guards would take a day off work for President's Day and the snow was light from what I could see outside the dingy cell house windows. Later in the morning, I heard a prisoner shouting to another man that he regretted telling the assignment officer to take him off the waiting list for a job. Like many prisoners, he did not want to be sent to the Roundhouse, but would gladly go to E House. He wondered if he could get his name back on the list without it going to the bottom.

When my cellmate awakened, he asked me why we were on lockdown. I told him I did not know but some obnoxious loudmouth upstairs was rambling about trying to resubmit for a work assignment and was under the impression he would be moved to E House rather than F House. For a couple of months, there have been rumors the administration was reconsidering the move of prisoners with jobs to the Roundhouse and instead filling all the cells in quarter unit E with them. Several times, Internal Affairs has found segregation inmates in possession of food and other items they could have only received from workers. If these men were moved to a quarter unit, they would be unable to intermingle with Seg and be isolated. The main purpose of moving prisoners with jobs to the Roundhouse was so they could function separately from the rest of the penitentiary particularly during lockdowns. My cellmate dismissed the rumors as well as the prisoner I told him about, at least until the evening.

On the 2nd shift, a few workers were let out to help with the labor in the cell house. When one of these prisoners gave me a couple of food trays, I asked him about the lockdown. Little Johnny told me workers from F House were being swapped for those inmates in E House. When he left, I speculated the prison was placed on lockdown not only because of the enormity of the task but because two galleries in E House held men designated as staff assaulters and weapons violators. Although many of these men were no more dangerous than others at Stateville, the administration treated them almost as if they were Hannibal Lectors or at the minimum deserving of super-max security precautions. They had been given special black and white striped jumpsuits to wear and were greatly limited in movement. Many of their privileges also had been stripped away. They were basically prisoners in segregation, although not in Seg. However, this week they were all put together in the same building.

Confined to my cell, I watched and listened to the unfolding unrest in Venezuela and the Ukraine on various TV and radio stations. After Hugo Chavez died last year, I was hopeful the South American country could regain its freedom. Chavez had seized power in 2002 and sought to reign indefinitely. He claimed to be a populist with his welfare state, nationalization of industries, labor and price controls. Oil revenue largely helped subsidize the poor and gain their favor. However, the corrupt and heavy handed socialist government increasingly caused more poverty and discontent. His successor, Nicholas Maduro, was struggling to keep the left wing totalitarian state bound together. He lacked the clout and cult of personality and I was hopeful his regime would finally be toppled.

The events in the Ukraine were of greater interest to me. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia continues to exert enormous control over its neighbors. Repeatedly, elections in the Ukraine were rigged to keep a puppet government in power. Vladimir Putin even had a popular presidential candidate who sought independence poisoned with dioxin. Along with these villainous tactics, the Russian government used economic and trade extortion including shutting off the flow of natural gas in the midst of winter. The growing animosity in the Ukraine boiled over when pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign legislation increasing trade with the European Union which would give the country greater autonomy. Another revolution was in progress and I was riveted to news reports covering it.

On Tuesday, I sought out more discussion and commentary on the Rush Limbaugh show. However, during the half hour I listened, he spoke about the fraud of global warming. Researchers had a self interest in perpetuating the myth and even when they were unswayed by benefactors, the data was manipulated for public consumption. Liberal and international organizations such as the IPCC wanted to deceive and scare people to advance their goals of greater government intervention. These facts were all well known to me, but Limbaugh occasionally had to speak to the "low informed voter".

Later in the day mail was passed out and I was handed five letters. They were all marked with post dates from early January and I spent most of the evening reading them. However, because I did not want to be a low informed voter or simply a political ignorant (prisoners cannot vote), I momentarily turned on my TV to see if a Republican gubernatorial debate was going to be broadcast. Last week, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford was the subject of a blitz of local news when a former member of his staff accused him of sexual harassment. The claim stirred much controversy because the person was a man. Rumors that Rutherford was bisexual have been around for some time but now that the Republican base was made aware of them, his campaign was doomed. The debate was not telecast and I was unable to see how he squirmed and dodged the issue while denying the accusation.

Although Stateville remained on lockdown midweek, prisoners were permitted visits. They were limited to one hour and I spent three times this amount of time waiting in holding cages. During those hours, I listened to other inmates speak about the moves occurring in the penitentiary. According to what I heard, workers in F House were not simply being swapped with prisoners in E House. They were being assigned cells in all of the quarter units. Instead of isolating and confining inmates with jobs, the administration sought to do this with all the purported bad apples. Convicts labeled as staff assaulters and weapons violators were going to be housed with those in Segregation. Furthermore, those men considered the most likely to act hostilely were also being sent to the Roundhouse.

The transition at Stateville was taking a long time not merely because of all the juggling of prisoners to different cells, but because the SORT was conducting the moves. Guards dressed up in full tactical gear moved a handful of men at a time. There was an excessive concern about security as well as prisoners not having extra property. For example, the Orange Crush demanded that men being moved were able to fit all their property in their two state-issued boxes except for a TV, radio, and/or fan. Numerous prisoners had excess property and tried various tricks to fool the SORT. One man put on several pairs of pants, shirts, thermals, and sweat shirts. Despite already being puffed out like the Michelin Man, he tucked other property into his pockets and under his layers of clothes. The Orange Crush team pulled him out of line and after strip searching him they took all his extra clothing and property he was carrying.

My cellmate immediately awakened when he heard my name called for a visit and eagerly waited for me to leave. Even when the prison is not on lockdown, I rarely leave the cell and he has little time to himself. It is liberating not to be trapped in a small cubicle with another person. Anthony has been calling the days I am gone on a visit "naked days" insinuating he strips naked and does whatever he wants. I do not concern myself with what "Quagmire" does while I am away, but on my return I could not but noticed he had shaved his head. The day before I had told him one of my blog readers commented that his hair cut looked ridiculous and apparently it got under his skin. I made fun of his sensitivity and told him he looked worse now.

Anthony was interested in what I had learned in the holding cages about the moves. Not long ago, he requested a cell house help job because it did not require being moved to the Roundhouse. Last year, he had quit his detail in the kitchen to avoid the unpleasant and dilapidated building. The Roundhouse had smaller cells that commonly had electric, plumbing, and cable problems. The circular domed building also was extremely loud throughout the day and night and was infested with cockroaches. My cellmate, like many inmates, thought it was a form of punishment to be celled there and the extra $18.80 earned each month was not worth it. However, if he can stay in C House, he will ask if he can regain his job in the kitchen. Already supervisors there were trying to persuade him to come back.

Contrary to my cellmate, I care little about the transition in the prison as long as it does not affect me. My interest continued to be the growing upheaval in Venezuela and the Ukraine. Massive demonstrations had changed to violent clashes with the police. In Caracas, there were many casualties and a few deaths including a popular beauty queen who was shot dead by Maduro's police. Her bloody body was seen on television being dragged across a street. The violence was little to what was occurring in the Ukraine. Forces loyal to the puppet government of Viktor Yanukovych stormed areas occupied by those demanding his removal. Assault vehicles and police were bombed with Molotov cocktails, fireworks, and various crude explosives or weapons. They in turn fired into the crowds and beat others with clubs.

Although the White House had intervened meekly in other revolutions, there were no steps taken to help those in the Ukraine and Venezuela. Barack Obama merely admonished Yanukoych not to escalate violence or use military forces to crush the popular uprising. The Ukrainian military was never going to support their corrupt leader who was a Russian stooge anyways. Barack Obama and the people he delegated authority to in the State Dept. were weak and abhorred the use of force. The military was largely disdained by him and his inner circle of liberals. Furthermore, I speculate he was sympathetic to the socialist government in Venezuela despite how repressive it was to its people and antagonistic towards the U.S. In the Ukraine, Obama continued to want to reset relations with Russia and appease Vladimir Putin. If he thought the ruler of Russia was going to be happy simply winning the Olympics, he was greatly mistaken. Losing sway over the Ukraine meant a lot more than gold medal count.

On Thursday morning, I heard a "10-10" called over guards' radios. Generally these were given when a brawl erupted and they were seeking immediate assistance. I was not certain if it was associated with the move of prisoners, but later the penitentiary was briefly let off lockdown. A couple of programs were run along with chow lines. Yard was initially announced but then was cancelled and in its stead I exercised in the cell. While working out, my cellmate watched the gold medal match in women's ice hockey. Earlier in the week, I had watched the Finns defeat Russia and take them out of contention for a medal in the men's tournament. It was a grudge match worthy of the cold war and it was obvious animosity still existed between the two countries. Although I watched a couple of male hockey games and will do so tomorrow when the Swedes play the Canadians, female hockey was yet another event the Olympics could eliminate. I cared less that the U.S. women's team lost to Canada 3 to 2.

In the evening, prisoners were fed in their cells due to the fog. Looking outside the cell house windows, all I could see was a hazy white. While eating my prison meal, I watched the CBS evening news. Viktor Yanukovych was attempting to pacify the mobs demanding his immediate removal from office. He claimed he would allow early elections and made other conciliatory concessions. However, the people of the Ukraine had been tricked before and there was no peace. I was glad to see their resolve. Freedom as I personally knew was not easily won.

Yesterday, the prison returned to full normal operations. Commissary and yard make up lines were even surprisingly run in C House. I speculated most of the moves had been completed and this was confirmed when I went to dinner. Briefly, I spoke with a kitchen worker who said he and the rest of the prisoners he worked with had been moved. Big John was pleased to be out of the Roundhouse but seemed to be annoyed by the way the move had been carried out. At least he was able to keep his cellmate. For me this was most important unless I did not get along with the person, then it was a blessing.

Earlier today, I was pleased when a religious volunteer who I have spoken to in the past stopped by my cell. I did not seek any spiritual discussion but political. The 70+ year old man had ties to both the Ukraine and Venezuela. He had been born in the Ukraine but was eventually able to flee the oppression of the Soviet Union. He then lived about 20 years in the South American country before gaining citizenship in the U.S. I was intrigued by his insight in the underlying conflicts in the countries which has led to their uprisings and I could only learn about through news programs. I also was impressed by his difficult journey towards ever greater freedom and opportunity: from communism to socialism and then finally to America. However, ironically, once arriving in "the land of the free" it was regressing in similar order. At the end of his life he was walking the galleries of one of about a hundred maximum security prisons in the U.S.  America has more people incarcerated than any other country in the world, nearly 1% if jail populations are counted.

Before writing this, I learned the Ukrainians had taken back their country and puppet President Yanukovych had fled. In his abandoned palace people were finding lavish riches and paperwork proving his corruption and graft. Parliament has voted to put the House majority leader in power until elections can be held. Arseni Yatsenyuk seems like a wimpy person to hold power in the interim, but he was a part of Ukraine United which backed the revolution. Ukrainians were happy and I was as well. Despite being behind bars, I felt in some part I had been liberated as well. Certainly it is fleeting, but hopefully it is not for Ukraine. They have won independence time and again before only to be taken. Freedom is precarious and must be vigilantly fought for and defended whether one is in America, Venezuela, Ukraine, or elsewhere.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Question of Happiness -- Feb. 15, 2014

I am often confounded by how many prisoners at Stateville can be happy. They live under very austere and oppressive conditions. There is no meaning to their existence and the vast majority have sentences of LWOP or the equivalent. It is a slow, protracted, and miserable death sentence. Yet often I notice these condemned men appear to be content or even joyful. There is even plenty of humor and laughter. How can this be when I am so gloomy and bitter? A psychologist brought this to my attention this week, but it is something I have increasingly pondered for years.

On Monday, half of C House was permitted to shop. My gallery was the first to be sent to the prison store and we left before 8 a.m. Inmates were excited to spend the money family or friends sent to them on various items, but particularly coffee, sweets, and other snacks. How much joy could some honey buns or potato chips give a man? The food served in the penitentiary is distasteful and regularly unhealthy. I also prefer not to go to chow if possible. However, despite this, I was not jubilant to be at the store. I limited myself to meals I could substitute for those served in the chow hall and were not overly priced. Although some men spent a hundred or more dollars, I bought a mere twenty and left the commissary building as soon as possible.

Close to 10 a.m., chow was announced over the cell house loudspeaker. Prisoners once again were very loud and excited. They shouted to one another from their cells and when walking down the stairs. On the menu was burgers, but I did not see any reason to be happy about it. It was not ground round nor were they even made with any beef. They were turkey-soy burgers fried in grease. The huge oven in the kitchen was broken and all food was being boiled or fried this week. The thin burger did not come with cheese, tomato, onion, or any condiments. It was just plain with bread and if I recall correctly there was some lettuce. I brought my processed turkey-soy burger back to the cell to run water over it and attempt to wring out as much grease as possible before eating it.

On days commissary lines are run, the noise in the cell house is much greater. As I read about master limited partnerships in a Barron's  newspaper, I listened to cassette tapes on my Walkman. The headphones I typically use were taken by the counselor this week to be shipped back to the company to be repaired. In their stead, I had to use ear buds which continually slipped out of my ears. Eventually, I crushed some toilet paper to stuff in my ears to not only keep them from falling out, but to muffle the noise in the building. Despite this, I still occasionally heard shouts including from one obnoxious prisoner yelling, "Send me something!" Every commissary day, he will shout to his fellow gang members for charitable contributions. His demands can be amusing if I am not attempting to focus on anything because they remind me of all the free loaders on government aide who expect "something" for nothing. However, on this day he was quite annoying and I turned up the volume on my radio.

At night the clamor in the unit began to fade as men increasingly were preoccupied by television programming. Television can be the greatest source of entertainment for prisoners at maximum security institutions. My cellmate will watch numerous hours of TV every day and even has a subscription to not one but two TV guides, despite how men at Stateville do not get even one fifth of the listings. Guards made him and about ten other prisoners very unhappy when they decided to search some cells during prime time television. While standing in the cell house holding cage for nearly a half hour, I overheard a few men complain they were going to miss the ending of a TV show called "The Following".

Overnight temperatures dropped to -20 and I did not expect yard lines to be run in the morning. It was sunny, but news stations still reported negative temperatures across the Chicago metro area. Because I had turned in my sweat shirt, pants, and thermals to be washed I did not go outside. The thin jacket prisoners are supplied was not nearly adequate for the brutal cold and therefore I exercised as usual in the cell. Later a biker was to ask me why I did not go outside. He was the only white person on the yard and I suspect he was lonely. Bone is very talkative to the point of being annoying. He did not as much want someone to lift weights with but to talk to.

At noon I had a pass to see the psychologist and as usual I waited a long time in the cell house as well as at the Health Care Unit's holding cage. The cage in the H.C.U. was packed and numerous men spoke over each other to be heard. I went to the back where I planned to stare out one of the narrow windows, but was addressed by a prisoner who said he recognized me from 20 years ago at a different penitentiary. I was skeptical at first because of how much older and different I now look, but he remembered details no one could have known. He recalled how my hair was lighter and I was much more muscular. He also spoke about my cellmate at the time in great detail as well as his own. I remembered his cellmate Motorhead and was surprised to learn he was in prison for the brutal beating and rape of an 8-year-old girl. He had told me he had a murder case, but almost all prisoners with child offenses will lie.

In the psychologist's office, the subject of my own conviction was brought up. Like many people she could not understand how my co-defendant could be acquitted of the murder but I was held accountable for his actions and on top of that given the most severe criminal penalty. I had to explain to her that we had separate juries and my jury was not aware Faraci was let go two days earlier. I also had to explain how at the time the media and state's attorneys office depicted me to the public as the prime suspect of a mass murder at a Brown's Chicken and Pasta Restaurant in Palatine, Illinois.

I assume the psychologist was interested in the subject because this was probably our last meeting. The provider of health care for prisoners at Stateville was hiring a couple of extra mental health care staff and the case loads of the two current psychologists will be shuffled. The new staff will not be technically psychologists but LPNs. These employees have less education and clinical experience, but they are of course cheaper to hire. Wexford is increasingly relying on LPNs to do more work in the IDOC. I did not like the idea of having a psychologist with less capability or authority. Already, the current staff has little to no understanding of autism and they generally are not helpful.

Before I left the psychologist's office, she asked me about the prisoner who committed suicide and how I felt about it. It was an ambiguous question and I asked her to be more specific. I was told just to begin talking about it and she will direct my monologue. I made the mistake of saying that I believed he made a rational decision based on his circumstances. Given a choice between being miserable for an untold number of years and a quick death, the latter was preferable. In fact, I would have killed myself a long time ago if I believed in a hereafter as Garcia did. This was not something you admitted to a prison psychologist because they have the power to put you in the "butt naked room." However, unlike most people, I have little deceptive ability and tend to speak with brutal honesty.

I was not isolated in a barren cell without any clothes, but the psychologist definitely wanted to probe my thoughts. One of the more interesting questions I was asked is why many other incarcerated men at Stateville did not share my view that it was better to be dead than to suffer in prison indefinitely. As a follow-up question, she asked if I had not noticed how most prisoners seemed much less despondent and unhappy as me. I am not the best person to interpret feelings, but I had to admit I saw a disparity. At the time I mentioned that a great deal of this is probably correlated to our backgrounds. Those middle and particularly upper class people who are condemned to prison for the rest of their lives have lost a lot more and thus their grief is greater as well. Most of the population at Stateville came from the ghetto or other poor neighborhoods. However, I had just scratched the surface of the matter and throughout this week I continued to dwell on the matter.

For dinner, prisoners were fed barbecued friend chicken and if readers thought turkey-soy burgers excited the men at Stateville, they would be astonished by the reaction to BBQ bird. As chow lines were about to be run, I mentioned to my cellmate we should be careful not to get in the way of the African-Americans and their fried chicken. It was ridiculous and one may think the kitchen was serving steak and lobster. Even if men were regularly served good meals, I did not see how this could make prisoners not only complacent but happy.

When I was a teenager I read a book on psychology that went over Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs". According to the psychologist, there was a pyramid of needs all people strive for. At the bottom were the basic necessities like food, shelter, and safety. When those were met, people sought out higher needs although not everyone was motivated to reach the pinnacle of their abilities. The majority of convicts at the prison were probably satisfied with having the lowest strata of these needs met whereas others needed to reach higher levels of achievement to be happy. Often I attempt to be productive and to having a meaningful existence in prison. I am highly goal orientated and speculated that because I could never attain "self actualization" in captivity, I would always be incredibly unhappy.

In the chow hall I sat with a full table of prisoners.  The main topic of discussion was "Colonel Bill". Colonel Bill was an old black man whose property was packed up on Monday.  After serving 40 years in prison, he was finally being released.  I asked my cellmate if he knew who he was and he said that he had seen him a few times in the cell house.  He rarely left his cell because he could not walk and was always moved around in a wheel chair.  At one time he was a robust soldier who served in the Vietnam War,  but now he was a cripple in his 70's who had major health problems. He doubted he would live another 3 years to serve out his parole.

The release of Colonel Bill spread like wild fire in the penitentiary. The following day when I went on a visit, I met various other men, staff and inmates included, from other cell houses who knew about it. While I thought being released in my 70's as a cripple was horrific, this brought great hope to many prisoners. I came to the realization that what made a lot of inmates more optimistic and cheerful was their belief that eventually one day they also would be released. They still had appeals yet to be filed or decided upon and even those that did not have any legal avenue dreamed of changes in the sentencing statutes which would be applied retroactively to them. The vast majority of these hopes were fanciful, however, they clung onto them. Contrarily, I am a realist. Despite my innocence, I know very well that most likely I will die in prison.

It was a state holiday limiting visits to one hour and my mother was still sick but she came to see me anyway. She wanted to tell me that hundreds of people were writing about my case on a website called "Reddit". Furthermore, my attorney recently sent her a message that she will soon be sending me a copy of the appeal she has been working on. I was very impressed by the number of people who were moved enough to discuss my prosecution at length on that website and I told my mother to send me a copy. I was told it would take almost a hundred pages to print the thousands of comments and because my mail is so slow I would not receive it until March. She was very happy about these developments, however, I was skeptical. I hope that many people sent letters to Governor Quinn in support of my request for executive clemency, but I knew it would be a very risky decision for him unless he waited until after the election and lost to a Republican opponent. As for my attorney, she has repeatedly told me "the check is in the mail". I have little faith in her and for the most part I think of myself as being without counsel. Even if she was not crying wolf yet again, a post conviction petition takes 5 years or longer to be adjudicated in Cook County. I may even be near my 50th birthday before I am released if my case must go through all the legal proceedings and continuances.

My cellmate was sleeping when I returned and this was just as well. I was in a sour mood and may have ranted about my conviction for an hour or longer. In retrospect, another reason that I am so angry and bitter is because I am innocent. When you have not committed any crime and yet are convicted anyway, you have an enormous amount of hate built up. The longer I languish in prison and grow older, the more this hatred grows. Many prisoners have been over sentenced, however, there are only a few who are innocent. Guilty prisoners do not feel the injustice and their time is generally easier to bear.

My cellmate eventually awakened to go out for dinner. When he inquired if I was going as well, I curtly told him no, and then made fun of him for waking up out of a sound sleep to get a meal. He regularly did this and I told him a fat dough boy like himself could afford to miss a chow line. He claimed that he was emotionally hurt by my mean spirited words, although I could tell he was playing. He then went on to say maybe I was not so unhappy because of being unable to fulfill Maslow's hierarchy of needs but because I was just simply an unhappy, grumpy person. I contemplated this and that may be true to some extent. Even before my arrest, I tend to believe most people probably thought I was serious and melancholic. Other teenagers seemed very immature to me. They seemed goofy, unfocused, and generally took life casually. Even men in their mid-20's could strike me as having the same attributes.

The following morning I was enjoying the relative peace and quiet before prisoners were stirred. It was abruptly ended when a man began yelling for a med tech. When guards did not respond about twenty other prisoners began shouting. This went on for about 10 minutes and I said to my cellmate, "Just let the man die." I could not understand why anyone at this prison would want to be resuscitated. I went on to tell Anthony that if I ever fallout from low blood sugar, a heart attack, or just accidentally splitting my skull when exercising because my back gives out, not to say anything until he knew I was dead. He said, "Like how you left Little Bobby?"  Bobby was my former cellmate who died in his sleep from a heart attack. I was not aware he was dead and may have been on the yard at the time. Regardless, my cellmate had jokes.

Humor is often a way people deal with a grim reality. Joking in prison can be akin to comic relief. Sometimes, I will engage in the same morbid or satirical humor myself, although people may not always recognize it. My jokes are often said or expressed flatly. I recall once a prisoner saying a minute after I made a joke that he finally got it and began chuckling before he went on to joke about how uncommon or imperceptible my humor was. Occasionally, my jokes are just for my own amusement and I care less if others recognize it. My prison psychologist may sometimes misinterpret the laughter and jokes of prisoners as demonstrating they are happy. However, this as well as how most people wear masks to conceal their true feelings, I suspect distorts perceptions. Not many people are as transparent and truthful as me.

Thursday, while in line at the chow hall, I could not help but make fun of all the drawings posted on the wall in support of Black history month, regardless of who was listening. To one prison worker I inquired if any of them were his masterpieces of art. Most of the drawings were ridiculous in their message or poorly drawn. I assume they were made during one of the volunteer programs they have at Stateville. Last week when I heard "black skills" announced over the loudspeaker, I had to ask my cellmate what that was. We came to the agreement it must be how to teach black people how to make crack, conduct stick-ups, and braid hair. Apparently, though, they also draw things as well.

Above the rudimentary needs at the base of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is social interaction and relationships. I was a nonsocial person and could do without any friendships. In fact, while many prisoners would be greatly disturbed to be in solitary confinement, I would enjoy it. I could go years without speaking to anyone and not be bothered. What bothers me is being in a cell house with over 300 people stacked on top of each other. However, it seems many prisoners like this. African-Americans make up over 3/4's the population at Stateville. Because many know each other from neighborhoods in Chicago and have the same cultural background, it helps them form friendships and makes life much more comfortable for them. This may in part explain why they can be so happy or more content than a Caucasian who is a tiny minority and has little appreciation for socialization.

This week I finally read the book "The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum" by Temple Grandin. Most of what she wrote I already knew or suspected. However, it once again reminded me of the problems many people with autism have and how these are made incredibly worse in prison. Most men will agree life in a maximum security penitentiary is miserable, but for those with ASD it can be torturous at times. I do not just dislike prison, I hate it. Physical pain is nothing compared to the mental anguish I experience due to having autism.

Like most Thursday nights, I will watch an episode of the TV show "House". Despite being reruns, I still greatly enjoy the program. In this episode a patient was found to be using cough syrup to dull his intelligence. The man was extremely brilliant, but apparently it made him depressed. Ironically, he would rather be dumb than a genius. Sometimes I wonder if instead of having autism I could simply be an idiot. If I were retarded, I could just be oblivious to how wretched my existence was and drool on myself with a smile. Retards do not dwell on all their hopes and dreams being crushed or their inability to attain self actualization. They are not even aware of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Ignorance is bliss and (ending removed by editor).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

State of Fear -- Jan. 10, 2014

A mass of arctic air has dropped into the U.S. causing frigid temperatures across a great swath of the country. On Sunday, the cold front brought snow followed by extreme wind chills that had the potential to cause frost bite within 10 minutes on exposed skin. The penitentiary was once again placed on lockdown and only recently have normal operations resumed. Confined to my cell, I spent time watching the NFL Playoffs. Mostly, however, I read a novel by Michael Crichton which debunked the theory of global warming. Reading State of Fear seemed very timely after I heard a few news reports that seemed to attempt to attribute the brutally cold temperatures to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. All types of inclement weather are commonly used to manipulate and scare the public to serve a political agenda. Ironically, the only truth is that climate change exists, but it has existed for millions of years and a warmer world is probably a better world.

Saturday afternoon, I watched the Kansas City Chiefs play the Indianapolis Colts in the first NFL Playoff game of the year. At the end of the first half the Chiefs led by 28 points. Most prisoners including myself thought the game was over and went to the chow hall for dinner. Outside the cell house snow was already falling, but the Arctic blast of cold air behind it had yet to arrive. Over a tray of soy-spaghetti, I listened to men talk about the blowout football game as well as a new vending machine service company. The visiting room's vending machines had been replaced last week with new ones that charged double the previous prices. To some prisoners the soda, snacks, and other food offered was a big treat and they were angry that family or friends who came to see them would be forced to pay much more. With a natural life sentence, however, I had greater concerns. If the prices were too high, I would simply not eat anything.

Upon returning to my cell, shower lines were immediately run. Although my cellmate left, I turned on my TV to watch the rest of the game even if it was going to be a lopsided victory for the Chiefs. To my surprise, the Colts were catching up. The game reminded me of some college football bowl games where there were many turnovers, little defense, and offenses racked up points with reckless abandon. In the end, there were over 1,000 yards of offense and an almost record breaking 89 points were scored. The Colts in the second largest comeback victory in playoff history won by a single point. Only inside a dome and on artificial turf did I think such an outcome was possible. Quarterback Andrew Luck was very lucky to overcome such a deficit. Tomorrow, he plays outdoors against the New England Patriots and he should not expect to do the same.

When I awakened Sunday morning, the cell house was quiet except for the whir of the hot air blower across from my cell. Through the dirty, opaque windows I could not determine how much snow had fallen during the night, but news programs reported over a foot. They also spoke of a "polar vortex" which was moving down from Canada and causing temperatures to plummet. Currently, it was 10 degrees but the lows Monday through Wednesday were expected to be between -15 and -20. Weather news reporters warned people of the dangers of frostbite and even hypothermia. I was not surprised later when an announcement was made over the cell house loudspeaker that there would be no movement for the day. All programs, religious services, health care passes, etc. were cancelled. I did not mind the lockdown. There was no where I wanted to go within these walls and I had another day of football to look forward to.

I watched all the playoff games over the weekend, but none were more anticipated than the last. The great media attention was mostly due to the brutally cold weather expected. The sports event was being held at Lambaugh Field nicknamed "the frozen tundra" and for good reason. The open stadium in northern Wisconsin was the coldest place professional football players in America competed at. At kickoff the temperature was a mere 5 degrees and it slowly dropped to just above zero. Wind chills were -10 to -20. The San Francisco 49ers had a formidable defense, but more than anything it seemed the frigid temperatures were constricting the explosive offense of the Green Bay Packers. Players on both sides regularly ran off field to huddle around heaters and assistants threw heavily insulated jackets over them. In the second half, however, the Packers began to overcome the cold and began moving the ball down field. They took the lead and seemed poised to win. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and other Packers looked confident on and off the field. Some did not even bother to warm themselves and were focused completely on the game. Unfortunately some lapses in defense caused them to lose the game by a field goal.

Afterwards, I wrote my father a letter. He had relocated to South Carolina for various reasons, but one was because he never wanted to deal with freezing weather again. I thought it was ironic that the first winter he was there the state was expecting snow showers. The polar vortex which was currently approaching Green Bay, Wisconsin was to continue to drop south and to the east. My father was physically impaired, but I doubted the weather would be much trouble for him. I was more concerned about my mother who continued to be very ill. Before I went to sleep, I gave her a call. She told me a neighbor had shoveled a clearing on the walkway and my brother-in-law stopped by to do the driveway. Despite this, she was very weak and did not intend to go anywhere.

Monday morning I awakened to discover the temperature outside was minus 16 degrees and there were -40 degree wind chills. Once again the penitentiary was on lockdown and except for a few workers, prisoners were kept confined to their cells. Unexpectedly, though, my cellmate was allowed out to make an unmonitored legal call with his attorney. Apparently, the lawyer had set up the call in advance and the administration generally tried to accommodate them. Anthony had the call placed through the counselor in the sergeant's office and was not gone long. Afterwards I asked him what his attorney had to say. The lawyer planned to file an appeal to the 7th Circuit, but as for his most important issue of involuntary intoxication, he would have to file a successive post conviction appeal himself. More than likely, I will have to do the same. My attorney has made little to no progress in over 4 years.

The cell house had a totally different group of staff working due to how many guards did not show up for work. A lieutenant who typically works a different shift and quarter unit was also present. I was not surprised the man I occasionally will debate politics with called up to my cell. He joked about my beard and asked if I was protesting something. I retorted I was protesting the removal of Phil Robertson from the reality TV show "Duck Dynasty." Until he was re-contracted, I was not going to shave. In reality, however, I grow a beard every winter. Usually, I keep it trimmed short, but due to the unusual cold, I was keeping it a little longer.

After talking to my political antagonist, I tuned into the Rush Limbaugh show. One of the subjects of discussion was the research vessel which was on its way to measure the thickness of ice on the Antarctic continent. Due to heavy ice in the waters, it became trapped and two other ships were sent to rescue the team only to be trapped themselves. An American icebreaker was now on its way to free all of the ships and environmentalists were complaining about all of the fossil fuels burned. They claimed 5,000 trees needed to be planted to compensate for the carbon dioxide emissions. This was just ridiculous but even more so was a theory they presented about why the U.S. was experiencing one of its coldest winters in many years.

According to their theory, strong winds circle the Arctic and generally contain the extremely cold air at the North Pole. Because of the warming of waters, however, the "polar vortex" has been weakened. Slower wind speeds permit Arctic air to escape and reach lower latitudes such as in the contiguous U.S. This conjecture of warmer temperatures causing colder temperatures reminded me of an absurd movie which has been being repeatedly broadcast on the USA network recently. The Day After Tomorrow is based on another theory that if too much fresh water empties into the Atlantic Ocean it will stop its clockwise current bringing warm air from the equator to the east coast of the U.S. and northwestern Europe. The idea is extremely farfetched, but the movie spins it even further. Scenarios of New York City and the U.K. being abruptly hit by air so cold people are frozen in place is preposterous.

After taking a nap, I decided I was going to finally read a 500-page novel that has remained in my property box for months. Michael Crichton's book State of Fear was a work of fiction, but it incorporated many facts exposing the myth of global warming. What I like most about the author is that he does comprehensive research before writing a novel. At the end of State of Fear is a long bibliography of sources he used to create his story. Crichton often studies a fascinating although usually obscure or complicated bit of science, history, or other topic to be the basis of a book. He has done it repeatedly in other novels of his I have read including Andromeda Strain, Eaters of the Dead, Sphere, and Rising Sun. His most famous work was probably Jurassic Park. While all of these books were made into movies, I doubt State of Fear will be. Not because it is any less entertaining but because Hollywood fully embraces the environmentalist movement and the theory of global warming, despite how much of a farce it is. Politics always outweighs truth.

With a hot mug of tea by my side I read the first chapter, Akami, which was 180 pages before I realized the premiere of the TV show "The Bachelor" was on. The novel was captivating and I may have continued reading but I wanted to learn more about Juan Pablo Galadis. If he was not a man I could relate to in some fashion, I did not plan to watch the show at all. The fact that he was Venezuelan made me think I may not. Furthermore, I had suspicions the producers did not seek reality but wanted to promote diversity. They seemed very pleased the last bachelor gave his last rose to a Filipino woman and were hyping their marriage which will be broadcast. Juan Pablo Galadis seemed to be of European lineage without black or aborigine heritage. However, he gave his first impression rose to a mulatto woman which made me question if I would watch any other episodes.

Tuesday morning, sunshine was streaming into my cell from a southeast angle, but from television news I learned it was still extremely cold outside. A town adjacent to Cresthill where Stateville is located was reporting minus 15 degrees. Temperatures were expected to stay below zero again the entire day. News reporters were in various locations, even outside the Chicago metro area, bearing the frigid conditions which had moved deeper into the U.S. and to the east. It made me think how news programs hyped extreme weather for ratings as well as how much more interconnected the world was. News was no longer local but national and even global. Even without liberal or other influence groups, this type of reporting was going to skew peoples perceptions of reality or their values. Fears of global warming, terrorism, or crime can be inflated along with the acceptance of homosexuality, miscegenation, and other foreign or valueless ways of life.

With the penitentiary on lockdown a third day, I intended to complete the rest of Crichton's novel. Lockdowns presented an opportunity to have fewer distractions. The day began quiet, but gradually became louder. By the time lunch trays were passed out, I had put on my headphones. This did not prevent me, however, from hearing prisoners screaming for toilet paper. Once a week, supplies are passed out. Inmates are given a roll of toilet paper and two small bars of soap. Sometimes, a little tube of toothpaste and a 3" toothbrush are also handed out. When prisoners continued to yell for their toilet paper, the lieutenant jokingly shouted back that a cell house worker was selling rolls for a dollar. After some jeering, he said they better pay up now because tomorrow the price goes up to $2. My cellmate and I never understood the urgency and always had extra toilet paper. I told Anthony that even if I ran out there were plenty of things I could use to wipe my butt with, including his wash cloth.

With only a few breaks and distractions, I read almost nonstop. As the novel progressed it became increasingly more informative and I highlighted facts I found interesting or important. For example, Antarctica is 1-1/2 times the size of Europe and holds 90% of all the ice on the planet. Greenland, in contrast, has only 4% and if current trends continue it may lose its glacier mass albeit in a thousand years. Ice levels all the while on the South Pole are growing and are well over a mile thick. Carbon dioxide which many environmentalists believe contribute the most to the "greenhouse effect" represent less than a half of 1% of the atmosphere, or 375 parts per million. Records of carbon dioxide in the air do not correlate with temperatures. Furthermore, trends of temperature readings going back to the 1800s vary greatly globally and even between cities and their suburbs with some going up and others down. The most important fact to take away from the book, however, is that for millions of years, long before industrialization or even humankind, climate change has occurred. Scientists still do not understand all the factors which cause it and any long term projection is purely speculative. In fact, in the 1970s, there were worries of another ice age.

For fun, I boldly highlighted a sentence that read: "The American Indians were responsible for the extinction of the mammoth and other large mammals." The issue has been a matter of contention between my cellmate and me. Like many people, he has this misconception of the aborigines being peaceful, environmentally symbiotic people. Upon my showing him the highlighted area, he exclaimed it was a lie. The entire book was a lie to support the energy industry and my Lex Luther plan to destroy the planet while buying up oceanfront property in Alaska. Going along with his joke, I sinisterly laughed as if I was "Dr. Evil" in an Austin Powers movie. However, the truth is just the opposite and there are many groups which are trying to manipulate the public to believe in global warming even in the midst of what may be the coldest winter in decades. In the novel State of Fear, the villain with the diabolical plan is a radical environmental group, similar to the Earth Liberation Front.

I was glad to finish my reading before I went to sleep because the following day the penitentiary began most normal operations. The relative peace and quiet I had enjoyed was gone. Furthermore, I no longer had the benefit of room service and had to go out for my meals. Outside temperatures were just above zero and snow was piled up two feet on both sides of the walk bordered on both sides by cyclone fencing topped with razor wire. The path left only a small clearing wide enough for a double line of men to pass through. It made me wonder if I was not better off skipping meals. However, even in my cell I could not get away from annoying prisoners. One man stopped by my cell bars to ask me if I had been given any of his newspapers by mistake. The question insinuated I was keeping his mail, although he denied it. After he left I said to my cellmate, "Yes, they always give me your mail and I have been writing your mother for months. She hasn't told you?" The mail at Stateville is even more behind due to the holidays and winter weather.

In the evening, I watched the reality TV program "Survivorman." In this episode Les Stroud was in Grenada, an island in the Caribbean I did not think was much of a challenge to survive on. During commercials, I skipped through Crichton's novel reviewing segments. A part where an environmental group strategizes how to spread propaganda and move the public was interesting because it corresponded with what these groups do. All types of inclement weather is linked with global warming, even frigidly cold temperatures, so it is thought of as pervasive and so it is repeatedly reinforced in people's minds. Furthermore, it must be seen as catastrophic and imminent to instill fear. The fact that carbon dioxide emissions could increase to 500 parts per million and temperatures may go up a global average of a few degrees over the course of a century was not very frightening. It did not take an expert survivalist like Les Stroud to make it through any infinitesimally small gradual warming. In fact, it was like him taking a vacation in the Caribbean.

Finally, yesterday, the ominous "polar vortex" was beginning to recede back to its northern lair. Despite this, though, temperatures remained very cold and the day began at zero degrees. On the news, I learned parts of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie were beginning to freeze over. Meteorologists speculated that if the frigid weather persisted through the winter, most of the Great Lakes could ice causing shipping and other problems. The news made me think about the Pleistocene Epoch (last ice age) when a quarter of the Earth was covered in glaciers including most of North America and Europe. This was a very harsh and desolate time period unless one lived along the equator or the Fertile Crescent. Many plant and animal life died. It was not until 12,000 years ago when the glaciers retreated, leaving the Great Lakes they had carved out, that humans began to populate the northern latitudes. A greener, warmer world has been a benefit to not only mankind but to all life on this planet. Even if all ice melted as has happened before multiple times, there would be no catastrophe and more than likely the world would be a better place. Climate change is nothing to be feared. What people should fear are groups which try to manipulate public opinion to support their destructive political agendas.