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Friday, May 30, 2014

Cell Moves, Transfers, and Night Yard -- April 12, 2014

In February, the Roundhouse was reclassified and beginning last week X House was also. The small isolated building formerly designated for Protective Custody and Administrative Detention is selectively being filled with men from general population. Inmates in PC have been transferred to Pontiac and those in AD were placed in the Roundhouse. In addition to these moves, counselors' directive to eliminate all men in maximum security with 20 years or less to serve is causing the disappearance of many senior convicts including those who have held coveted jobs in industries. My life has remained largely unchanged and I continue to regularly read, write, and listen to conservative talk radio within the confines of my cell. I also continue to exercise almost daily and yesterday I was able to attend "night yard" for the first time since   last year.

Last week, Sgt. Major and his cellmate were abruptly told to pack up their property. They were being moved to X House. Sgt. Major is an old Caucasian man in his 70's who had been assigned a cell on my gallery for many years. Despite this, it is rare that anyone ever sees him. He does not attend any rec lines, religious services, or meals except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Although Sgt. Major has a natural life sentence without the chance for parole, he is not the typical convict at Stateville. He was convicted for a D.U.I. which resulted in a car accident killing two people. Considering his conviction, along with his age and exemplary prison disciplinary record, he was probably handpicked to go to X House. From what I am told, the assignment officer is looking for the least aggressive and security risk inmates to move to that building.

There are only three buildings which house prisoners at Stateville. General population is one enormous rectangular building the size of a city block and holds well over 1,000 men. However, it has been divided four ways and thus is referred to as the quarter units. The Roundhouse is one gigantic domed building with about 250 cells that go around its outer perimeter on four floors. It is used for segregation and prisoners deemed staff assaulters, high aggressive, weapon violators, and now those in administrative detention. X House is the smallest building and has two short double stacked galleries as well as a center aisle which was formerly death row. It is quiet in X House and the death row cells are very spacious. I would not mind being celled there if I was able to keep my cellmate, but most prisoners do not like it because it is isolated.

As a practical joke, my neighbor led his cellmate to believe they were going to be moved to X House. The sergeant and a couple of guards were in on the ruse. One correctional officer who works on the movement team even told Hooch he would personally escort him over to the building when he was coming back from lunch. Hooch has a lot of property and spent hours packing. Towards the end, he began to give away various things and that is when Leprechaun had to tell him it was just a joke. Hooch yelled down to the sergeant to confirm and they all had a good laugh at his expense. Leprechaun I could hear laughing from my cell. I peeked over with my mirror to see him hunched over trying to contain himself. The short convict has been planning this prank since April Fool's Day and finally he was able to pull it off.

Hooch has been a cell house help worker since I was moved to C House. Typically these jobs are rotated every year, but his assignment has been repeatedly extended because there is no one to take his place. Cell house workers generally do manual   labor that can be filled by any convict, however, Hooch made his job almost non- expendable. Throughout the week, inmate workers and even a few guards have been coming to his cell to ask him what and how things are supposed to be done. It has been amusing to me and my cellmate to see how lost they are without him. Although he was finally laid off on Sunday, we seem to think it will be temporary.

Hooch's job assignment has not been the only one difficult to fill. Prisoners who have held jobs at industries for years and even decades were transferred to medium security penitentiaries. Their supervisors have been influential in keeping them despite their being under 20 years for a long time. However, counselors last month were ordered to fill out paperwork for transfers of anyone who met the criteria and Springfield has been quick to approve them. While speaking to Steve, I learned a clerk position at the soap factory was filled by an old, vagrant-looking black man. When he was moved to C House, I noticed Hooch and a couple of other inmate workers trying to shake all the cockroaches out of his property. My neighbor told me he even had roaches crawling on his clothing. I asked if he meant crawling from out of his property box and was astonished to hear he had the bugs crawling on his person as well.

Despite how disheveled and dirty the man is, he is known as "the dentist" and Steve seems to have some admiration for him. Supposedly, the prisoner was a dentist prior to his arrest. I have asked Steve if he was joking, after all I would not let him clean my cell floor let alone my teeth. No, he was not joking and he had his own practice at one time many years ago. Steve thinks anyone with a college degree at Stateville deserves some respect, although I tend to believe he acquaints with him because of his case. The dentist, like Steve, was convicted of killing his wife and he is helping him with his appeal and sharing notes. Steve was sick when I spoke to him in the chow hall and I told him to go sit by Dr. Smith and take his cold germs with him.

A job at the soap factory was probably appropriate and I wondered if the assignment officer had a sense of humor. Some soap would be good for the dirty, foul smelling old man. Leprechaun was not amused and was envious of all the people with new jobs. In addition to the Dentist, Fat Pat had been given a detail at the commissary. We saw him early in the week helping fill prisoners' orders. I told Leprechaun if he likes he can wash my dirty laundry and I will pay him double what the state would. Prisoners, except those who work at industries, are paid a measly $18.80 a month or roughly a little more than 10 cents an hour. Because I never send out my state blues and shorts, I will give him a Ramen Noodle weekly. This week I had to wash my gym shoes and will give him a bonus if he did those once a month. The moody, short Irishman did not like my terms, however, and said he will be back at the laundry department this summer making various money on the side.

My economic proposals to Leprechaun had as little effect as the sanctions the White House has put on Russia. On Tuesday, I listened to Secretary of State John Kerry once against chastise Vladimir Putin and exclaim to no one's surprise that the Russian leader was behind the unrest in Eastern Ukraine. It was obvious Russian Special Forces were in cities such as Luhantz and Donetsk. They were following similar tactics used in Crimea to justify an invasion. The reaction by Ukrainian police and military was pathetic and I wondered if they even deserved freedom when they were so easily coward by their neighbor. However, even worse has been the reaction of the U.S. which is purportedly the world's superpower. Nothing has been done militarily to dissuade Russia from seizing Eastern Europe or extracting them from Crimea. While listening to excerpts of Kerry's speech, I was struck by how this White House administration had the exact opposite foreign policy strategy as President Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt's motto was "Speak softly and carry a big stick." John Kerry and Barack Obama, however, seemed to believe in talking a lot but carrying a little or no stick at all. My impression was confirmed when I listened to radio talk show host Rick Savage coincidentally make this same comparison.

I have been listening to the "Savage Nation" more often since it has begun to be broadcast on WLS. WLS is a Chicago area AM radio station with a strong signal. I can easily pick it up in my cell despite all the concrete and steel which surrounds me. Most of the time when I tune into WLS it is to listen to Rush Limbaugh. On one day this week he was ridiculing a black former baseball player and member of the Hall of Fame for accusing the Republican Party of being full of Klansmen. Hank Aaron also said anyone who criticizes Barack Obama is a racist. Limbaugh correctly pointed out all congressmen who were in the Ku Klux Klan were Democrats and the loathing many Americans had for the president need not be because of his race but his socialist ideology or incompetence as Commander and Chief. In fact, Obama is often beyond reproach due to fear of critics being condemned as racist. Rush Limbaugh is one of my favorite political commentators because he is willing to tell truths many others will not dare to say.

In addition to listening to talk radio, I read several newspapers and magazines. My cellmate was given an issue of Scientific America which surprised me. How many prisoners at Stateville would be interested in such topics as brain cell development, dwarf galaxies, and gene therapy let alone be able to understand the articles? I asked Anthony who had the subscription to the magazine and in a flat sarcasm said, "The Dentist"? before he could reply. No, it did not come from Dr. Smith, but Mr. Lewis. Mr. Lewis was another old black convict except he did not give the impression of being a homeless man. Rather, he seemed a little pretentious and was one of a very few prisoners at Stateville who wore a pair of dress shoes. I asked why my cellmate addressed him as Mr. Lewis rather than just Lewis, his first name, or a gang nickname. He said that is what everyone calls him and what he introduces himself as. I told Anthony from now on I want him to address me as "Pontifex Maximus Modrowski."

The section in the Scientific America about designer genetic medical therapies was interesting to me especially in light that many biotech stocks had dropped in price over the last week. Investors were fleeing these high beta stocks for safer assets. Companies like Celgene, Biogen Idec, and Gilead Science I thought still had awesome growth potential and may now be reasonably priced after the drop. As I went over their corporate reports, a prisoner a few cells away began to argue with a man upstairs about a chess game. Shaky routinely plays chess from his cell with other men far away by screaming out moves. If this was not annoying enough, he frequently argued about where pieces on the board were. My cellmate mentioned that he wished Shaky or any of these other loud, obnoxious prisoners were transferred. Instead a quiet prisoner named Little Frank was being sent to Galesburg, a level 2 high medium security prison.

Little Frank was a black inmate with neatly trimmed salt and pepper hair. He was even shorter than my neighbor Leprechaun and spoke so softly people oftentimes had difficulty hearing what he said. Frankie was first sent to the penitentiary for stabbing to death his gay lover, however, he is very good at law and was able to get his conviction overturned on a technicality. I believe he was released on bond and while staying at his parents' home got into a heated argument with his father. Little Frank using a weapon almost bludgeoned him to death and was quickly back in prison. Despite being a homosexual, his tiny size, and mouse-like demeanor, he managed to stay in general population without many problems. Little Frank was smart and although he kept a low profile, he helped many convicts with their appeals. The day before he was transferred, a number of prisoners said goodbye to him. In the chow hall, I was surprised a couple of men even gave him hugs.

My cellmate was not there to witness the affectionate farewells given to the homosexual openly. He had actually missed pizza and chips to call a former girlfriend. When galleries of men were being sent out of the quarter unit above us, I was baffled he was not getting dressed in his state blues. Anthony almost never missed a meal and never pizza. I asked him what seismic event had happened for him to miss chow simply to make a call. He said he told the woman he would call at 5:30. "She could not wait until 6?" I inquired. My cellmate said he was a man of his word which caused me to razz him. When I returned from chow, I asked him if it was worth missing pizza and Little Frank's farewell party. Albeit I was joking with him, I changed my mind when I heard she was living with a man. I am always interested in receiving contact from former girls I dated, however, there is no urgent priority or excitement if they are in a sexual relationship. In fact, just thinking about the possible numerous men they have slept with since we went out over two decades ago is an abhorrent thought.

I am not fond of speaking on the telephone and rarely use it. However, this week I called my sister who I have not spoken to in months. For most of our half hour call she talked about her numerous health problems. Possibly, this is what I have to look forward to when I am her age, I thought as I listened. Then she mentioned that my father was flying in. Apparently, he is going to spend some time with my mother or at different ends of the house before going back to So. Carolina. Two cripples are probably better than one, although both my sister and I think they will soon need some nursing or living assistance.

"Night yard" began this week for prisoners at Stateville. I place night yard in quotations because it is actually in the evening generally between the hours of 4:30 and 7 p.m. Convicts call it night yard because over a decade ago the time period extended into the night. I can still recall times in the 1990's when I would watch the sun drop under the wall, twilight, and then black skies with only the moon or stars as light. In the penitentiaries of central or southern Illinois, the display of stars was even more impressive and I could make out all the constellations in the Milky Way. At Stateville, the light of the city and vast metro area dulls, if not completely negates their luminosity. In any event, because many convicts from the previous millennium are still in maximum security, they continue to call the recreation period "night yard."

Despite the shortened time which could be squeezed to a mere two hours, most prisoners looked forward to it. The long cold winter may have made it even more appealing. Yesterday, it was mostly sunny and mid-60 degrees. Although I like to work out, I was not as excited or happy as others. It was just another day of thousands I have spent in the penitentiary. While in line to the chow hall, my cellmate and a couple of other men were discussing or debating the attractiveness of various actresses on TV shows. I was not going to comment until I saw child molester Malinowski standing nearby. Breaking into their conversation, I said all those women were far too old and what they should be talking about is prepubescent girls. In fact, I thought there was nothing sexier than a 10-year-old retarded child who drools on herself and wears Strawberry Shortcake panties. Leprechaun gave me a strange look because he did not realize I was saying this for the benefit of the pedophile behind him, but my cellmate started laughing. Although John never goes to yard, possibly I was going to enjoy myself.

Prisoners had to go to the chow hall before yard and it was very crowded. Nearly everyone on the 1st and 2nd floors left their cells to attend their first night yard. I sat with several other men including Fat Pat who talked the entire time about his new job at the prison store. I was happy to get out of there and into the open space of the South Yard. Most prisoners went to the steel tables underneath the gun tower to play cards, chess, or dominoes. However, other men walked the asphalt track in small groups talking to each other. Hooch and a handful of Caucasian inmates played handball. After taking off my sweatpants where I had a pair of shorts underneath, I went to the weight pile. I intended to lift weights and run the entire time.

Initially, I was concerned that my routine would be dragged out because of the law of supply and demand. There were too few weights and too many prisoners who wanted to lift them. However, all the fat or heavy men quit after a short time and went to play table games or talk. Apparently, they burned themselves out quickly or just wanted to enjoy the evening. Furthermore, the day before they may have worked out on the small yard and saw no need to duplicate their efforts. For example, the Elephant only lifted weights for a half hour and thereafter he was just useful for blocking the sun. There is a reason why other prisoners call him The Eclipse rather than the big gregarious animal I refer to him as.

For a little while I lifted weights with my cellmate and a black man with a long beard and no mustache. I asked Jughead if he was going for that Amish Mafia look. The "Amish Mafia" was a goofy, purportedly reality based TV show on the Discovery Channel. I never watched it, but oftentimes saw commercials for it while watching other programs like "Naked and Afraid" or "Survivorman". In between sets, we spoke about some of the silliness on the shows. Generally, I like watching Les Stroud, but this Wednesday he was searching for Big Foot in northern Canada.

I asked my cellmate if he was up for a rematch on the basketball court. On Tuesday, he had defeated me 9 to 11 despite me using Fat Jimmy as a pick to get an easy lay-up. Anthony liked keeping his victory, however, and for my cardio workout I ran laps instead. Unlike on April Fool's Day, I was not wearing his moon boots and there was little wind. It was a perfect evening to see how much time I could run a mile in after the winter months. I went around the track four times in 5 minutes 50 seconds, and although it will be my goal to break a 5 minute mile, I was content to be under 6.

At the end of the yard period, a guard in the gun tower used a siren on her megaphone. It sounded just like the siren police used in their squad cars. Prisoners yelled to her she was just waiting to use the siren and griped they had already been arrested a long time ago. The Palatine Task Force had silently surrounded me for a murder or murders I never committed or was even peripherally involved in, but none-the-less I began my trek to my cage like all the other convicts. It was nice to feel the low sun on my back as I left yard. However, I only wish I could get this conviction behind me as well.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

April Fool's Day -- April 4, 2014

I awakened just before 7 a.m. and considered going back to sleep. I was dreaming about a time before my arrest when I was a teenager and still had a promising future ahead. The reality that over 2 decades passed and I had an indefinite stay in maximum security prisons slowly filled me with dread. I hated my existence, but there was no escaping it. Grudgingly, I rose to get ready for another day in the penitentiary and noticed a health care pass I left intentionally on the shelf across from my bunk as a reminder of the appointment. I looked at it to confirm the time and day. It was for 11 a.m. 4/1/2014 and I was reminded it was April Fool's Day. Most of my life seemed like some horrible practical joke. However, it was decidedly not and instead I tried to make it through my day with the sardonic humor of myself and others.

Peeking in my breakfast tray, I found some bran cereal and 2 small square crumb cakes. Hot coffee would go well with this meal and possibly break the doldrums. While I boiled water for instant coffee, I wrapped a state issued wool blanket around my 2-1/2 x 6 foot mattress and then washed my face. Taped near the sink was a small rectangular plastic mirror and I looked at my reflection: I was old, and the face I saw was almost unrecognizable to the one I had before my arrest. I was reminded of the "Dr. Drew" show I watched briefly the day before. Time elapsed mugshots of various prisoners were displayed. The panel commented how quickly those incarcerated people fell apart and aged.

An hour after I had awakened to a life in prison, I was dressed and ready for yard lines to be run. With my fist, I hit the underside of the upper bunk a few times to awaken my cellmate. Sometimes, I will accompany my knocks with "Wake up, it is time to die," however, on this occasion I did not say anything. While he got ready to go, I sat on a property box next to the bars and stared blankly at a wall while listening to music. I had ear buds jammed in my ears with toilet paper and the 1980's heavy metal music of Slayer played "Reign in Blood".

The South Yard was the largest in the penitentiary. Cyclone fencing topped with razor wire encompassed approximately 3 football fields in area. A locked gate was opened on the far end for prisoners to enter and I began my trek around the 1/4 mile track to the other side where weights and a few benches sat on the basketball court. It was cold and strong winds whipped against me. Fortunately, I had dressed for winter-like weather and had on thermals, grey sweat clothes, and a dark blue state issued jacket as well as a skull cap. I even wore my cellmate's old, black boots instead of my mostly vinyl running shoes.

I began my workout bench pressing with a few other prisoners including two very fat men. The first of these was a Mexican who goes by the name Gordo which literally means fat in Spanish. The second man was Greek and he is called many disparaging names, but I generally just call him "The Elephant". The Elephant had a waist so wide his body hung over the sides of the bench. I tended to think he was the heavier of the two men and debated the matter with Anthony. Eventually, I proposed a Sumo match in the middle of the basketball court where there was a yellow painted circle on the asphalt. From opposite sides they could launch themselves at each other and the first man to be bounced out would be dethroned as the fattest prisoner in C House. Gordo was not insecure about his weight and even seemed to take pride in it. He exclaimed he would make quick work of the Elephant.

Half of the prisoners who went to the yard began their time lifting weights. I did not like mingling with all the convicts and after completing my bench presses walked up a small incline where a chin-up bar had been set into the ground. The best part about going to the South Yard was the space which was a rare luxury in prison. I did 6 sets of chin-ups by myself and then ran around the quarter mile track. It was not a perfect oval track that one may see at a high school or college campus but irregular in shape and elevation. I did not mind this nearly as much as the gusts of wind which at times made me feel like I was running in place. Then the heavy boots I borrowed from my cellmate were akin to moon boots meant to help astronauts stay planted in near zero gravity. Typically, I will time myself but I did not bother on April Fool's Day. I doubt I ran the 4 laps within 6 minutes.

Returning to the basketball court, a few men had ceased working out and had left or were just sitting or standing about talking. The Elephant was one of them and I told him to get up so I could do some pull overs. He did so but then complained when I asked him to hand me a barbell which was close to 200 pounds. To shut him up I told him to quit whining. It was only half his body weight which was an exaggeration but motivated him to hand me the bar, albeit with his jacket and huge belly hanging over my face as he did so. While I did my sets of pull overs, I listened to The Elephant talk to a black man about filing a lawsuit. Apparently, staff at the Health Care Unit did not treat him for pneumonia until he became extremely sick.

Later, I had the company of Bone who talked more than he exercised. At one point a tour of college aged men and women got the attention of prisoners on the yard. When they walked into the barbershop school building, Bone shouted to them there was no gun tower inside the place to protect them. The students did not have anything to fear, however, because Stateville is not nearly as violent as it once was and the convicts approved for the program were vetted. Although they may have committed murders and violent armed robberies or rapes, their prison records were good. After Bone had fun trying to scare the touring students, he told me a story about another group of young men and women that had passed by him the previous year. To one of the attractive females he said, "Hey, sweet thing" whereupon they all turned around. Bone then joked he was not addressing any of them but some effeminate looking man in the group.

Prisoners were let off the yard close to 11 a.m. and I attempted to go back to the cell house, but guards were forcing everyone to enter the chow hall. On the feed line a scoop of overcooked "cheeseburger" macaroni was slopped on my tray. Cheeseburger was a misnomer because the cheese was synthetic and processed turkey-soy was substituted for ground beef. Leprechaun joined my cellmate and me at a table and began to talk about the "25/50 law" which was being considered by state legislators according to a newspaper Anthony had given him. The short convict was excited about the legislation and said he would only have to serve an additional 8 years. Apparently, he did not read the article carefully or he would have known that not only had the bill yet to be even set for a vote but would only make a prisoner eligible for parole after he or she completed 25 years and was 50 years old or older. I told Leprechaun that he was delusional to think he would be immediately paroled. The Prison Review Board probably would wait until he had a terminal disease and was costing the state millions in medical bills. I asked him if he had cancer, Lou Gehrig's, or multiple sclerosis. Of course he had none of these and I said in that case he better work on his "Mini-Me" dance to the song "It's a Hard Knock Life" to entertain the board.

Prisoners stood outside the cell house waiting for guards to secure the previous group that had just returned from the chow hall. Through the cyclone fence I could see that on the lawn nearby was an old faded basketball which had sat outside in the same spot throughout most of the winter. Someone had comically made a happy face on it and wrote "Wilson". Readers that have seen the movie Castaway will know Wilson was a volleyball that a man stranded on a Pacific island named as a friend. He was so lonely he spoke to the ball for hours. I was near the front of the line where a sociable guard was standing. He was once assigned to the cell house but after a prisoner jumped to his death was put on the movement team. During the last several months, the guard seemed lonely at times outside on the walk with few people to talk to while enduring the brutally cold weather. I asked him if he had put Wilson out there to keep him company. He said, "No, its a joke they do every year." However, I do not recall seeing Wilson out there before.

Walking into the building, I showed the guard at the front desk of the cell house my health care pass and then went into the holding cage. Inmate workers were sorting laundry bags nearby and I spoke to Bob.  Bob was sentenced to over 30 years for the statutory rape of a 17 year old girl. The punishment was outrageous as was his placement in a maximum security prison. For half a decade he has been trying to be transferred to Galesburg which is a high medium security penitentiary not far from Western University where both of his kids lived on campus. Ironically, now that they recently graduated, he has been approved to go there. He is just waiting on final authorization from Springfield which should come soon. The IDOC is kicking out all prisoners from maximum security who have 20 years or less to do.

The Health Care Unit was so crowded that prisoners were put in two holding cages in the hallway. Convicts seemed to prefer being locked in these cubicles because they could see all the people passing by. Many of them gawked or tried to initiate conversation with female staff. A muscular black prisoner by the name "Big" yelled out to a nicely dressed woman, "I see that you still shop at Marshall Field's." The counselor sometimes temporarily assigned as a kitchen supervisor responded amusingly by telling the prisoner that Marshall Field's does not exist anymore. I do not know if Big caught the subtle insult and it even took me a moment to catch on to her insinuation. Most prisoners at Stateville have been locked up for decades and are often oblivious to the changes that have occurred outside the prison walls.

Eventually, a guard from the door of the H.C.U. shouted to the holding cages, "Modrowski! Modrowski!" Despite waving my hand, he continued to yell my name. Where did he think I was and how did he expect me to come out? I yelled back to him, "I don't have a key!" and then, "You need to unlock the door!" This he did after some hesitation and I walked into the unit to be greeted by a crowd of prisoners. There were almost 40 men tightly packed in the holding cages inside and it had a zoo-like atmosphere. I quickly walked passed them and then down a corridor to an office in the back to meet my new psychologist.

Dr. Hart is an older Caucasian woman with wavy shoulder length hair. She was not attractive but seemed more competent and ordered. Furthermore, I was pleased to learn she had a 10 year old son with Aspergers. Why was I not put on her caseload a long time ago?! The reason was prisoners were assigned psychologists at Stateville not according to their skills or experience but by the first letter of the inmate's last name. If it had not been for two new doctors being hired and cases reassigned, I would still be seeing someone who had little to no understanding of ASD.

The doctor went over my basic background information initially. I was diagnosed with autism as a toddler and did not speak until I was 5 years old. I went to a unique kindergarten but thereafter attended regular schools with only very limited special education or therapy. She was surprised how involved in sports I was and also inquired how I coped with high school and prison. Young children with autism can have severe problems, but many who are intelligent overcome them or adapt. Prisoners at Stateville do not associate me with autism only as being anti-social and eccentric.

In the cell, I quickly took a "bird bath" and then went to sleep. A major problem with many people with autism is sensory overload. Too much information is collected without being screened and it can cause agitation, impairment of cognitive function, or just exhaustion. Taking a nap is a good way for me to take a time out and allow my mind to order all the detailed sensory data, most of which is junk I suspect other people do not even process. I slept until past 3:00 and then ate a snack of peanut butter sandwiches while watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN.

The news station continues to baffle me with their never ending coverage of Malaysian Flight 370. It has been over a month since the Boeing 777 went missing and still CNN reports almost non-stop about it. To my cellmate I asked if I was the only one who thought the story was unimportant. The plane was at the bottom of the ocean and everyone was dead. There were no survivors, conspiracy, or April Fool's prank. I have heard the most ridiculous and wild speculations including Islamic terrorists, extra terrestrials, and my favorite, the passengers are all on a new ABC series of "Lost". The attention given to Malaysian Flight 370 is taking attention away from more important news like the crisis in Ukraine. Unbelievably, the U.S. has more planes, ships, and other resources searching for the airliner than repulsing or dissuading further Russian invasions.

When I finished eating, I turned off my TV and sat at the desk by the cell bars and read the 3/31/14 issue of Barron's. The cover story was $75 Oil and was apparently written by a fool. In depth, it talks about how Russian fossil fuel sales can be radically reduced with the insinuation that this is all that is needed to prevent Putin from taking over Eastern Europe. Many of the facts are correct such as Russia deriving half its income from oil and gas exports and how the U.S. could undercut its market. However, it is based on yet to be built liquid natural gas terminals, the U.S. transitioning to gas as a transportation fuel, increased drilling, and an energy friendly White House administration. Barack Obama resisted the Keystone Pipeline for years and continues to block other infrastructure and production. Even if the U.S. had a president who accelerated the approval of all these projects, it would take several years to be able to begin supplying Europe and it is highly unlikely the price of a barrel of oil on the international market will fall to $75. Russia could be on the borders of Poland in weeks let alone years.

At dinner, Steve sought me out in the chow line. I could tell he had some information he was anxious to share with me. He would not talk in front of other prisoners, however, and I had to wait until we were in the chow hall. Steve in his legal research had found out a prisoner we knew was a former Cook County Jail guard. Apparently, he along with a couple of co-workers was hired by a drug dealer to help him collect money owed by a distributor. The guards went to his house wearing their badges and armed with pistols. However, this did not persuade the distributor to pay and instead he pulled a gun whereupon a shoot out occurred. The guards left unharmed, but the man they went to collect from was shot and later died. This explained the suspicions we had including why he acted alarmed when I asked him if he knew anyone with a law enforcement background. I was and still am looking for a private investigator. While on the way out of the chow hall, we thought of good practical jokes to play on him.

We were not the only prisoners thinking of April Fool's pranks. My neighbor Leprechaun was scheming to put one over on his cellmate. Hooch is regularly feeding him disinformation to play games on him. Now, "Mini-Me" is planning to turn the tables on "Dr. Evil". Recently, prisoners in administrative detention and protective custody have been moved out of X House. The assignment officer is currently looking for elderly, low aggressive inmates who cause no trouble to take their places. With the assistance of some guards, Leprechaun is going to trick Hooch into thinking he is being moved to the unit and not tell him it is a practical joke until he has packed up all his property. Hooch will not be laid off from his cell house help job though until next week and I will have to wait until then to see how the prank goes over.

There was nothing to entertain me on television Tuesday night and I completed reading the Barron's newspaper. While I was at the front table, Little Johnny came to my cell bars complaining of pain. At first I could not understand what he was saying because his speech was garbled. Eventually, however, I was able to make out that he had some teeth pulled. In fact, the dentist pulled all of his upper right teeth except for one. I asked what he was supposed to do with the one tooth. He did not know and I told him to lean closer to the bars and I would take care of it for him. Little Johnny did not want to see what I had in mind and ran down the gallery.

Periodically, I will receive letters from people who read my blog. I like receiving the mail, but on April Fool's I was given a very odd, loony, and disturbing letter. A person using a fake name and address ranted for pages about my cellmate. He did not believe Anthony was affected by the side effects of a controversial inoculation for malaria the military uses or being wasted on alcohol in combination with a psychotropic drug. He thought he was just an evil serial killer who deserved execution. The letter enclosed a photo of the victim and the coroner's report as related in my cellmate's direct appellate ruling. Despite some serious and gruesome accusations, it also had some goofy and satirical humor. For example, he claimed Anthony was insinuating to people that he was in some type of homosexual relationship with me. He enclosed some gay porn writing as well which I had the misfortune of reading the first few sentences before I figured out what it was.

This was the most zany and hate filled letter I have ever received. As I read it I did not know whether to think this man was serious, a prankster, or a nut-case. I had to read parts to my cellmate to see what he made of it. He said the same person wrote him a year ago but he had not told me because he assumed it was in response to my blog. I asked him if he regularly got hate mail of this sort and he said not since he was on death row. "What a way to end April Fool's Day," I said. "I guess the last laugh is on us."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Reducing Spending and Prison Population -- March 29, 2014

My attorney spoke with lawyers at the Illinois Innocence Project. According to what I was informed, they were primarily interested in the DNA aspect of my case. Blood was found in my friend's car with whom I shared an apartment. Before my trial in 1995, it was unable to be identified. If it is the victim's blood, it will provide additional proof I did not lend him my car. Requesting the evidence to be retested with new technology is very simple and I will be greatly disappointed if this is the only assistance they are willing to provide. Without comprehensive legal and investigative help, my appeal is doomed to be delayed many more years. Ironically, it may be the state's enormous and growing debt that will cause my release rather than any court adjudication. However, waiting for politicians to have the courage to make necessary budgetary cuts is little consolation. Already I have lost the best decades of my life and Democrats prefer to raise taxes than prevent financial ruin.

Over the weekend, I spoke to my mother. There are telephones on each of the cell house galleries that prisoners can use from 9 a.m. to a little after 9 p.m. My first call was dropped and because she does not have a cell phone, I assume it was due to old prison lines or the new telephone service "Securus". During the 2nd call, I did not have any problems and spoke to my mother about my first post conviction appeal which was dismissed because the lawyer failed to attach affidavits of witnesses who were present to testify that my car was 50 miles away from the crime scene, but were never called to the stand. An issue I plan to raise on a successive post conviction petition is ineffective assistance of trial counsel. However, I must raise it in combination with ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Unfortunately, my mother was unable to find the original document where Richard Cunningham had forged my signature.

Sunday, I brooded most of the day about my legal struggles. The attorney I have seems terribly unmotivated or lacking the skills to put together my appeal. The IIP and others seem unwilling to give the help and resources I need. I have become estranged to most of my family over two decades and those few I still have contact with are largely apathetic. Despite this blog, I am basically on my own. It may be up to me to gain the additional affidavits I require, write, and file my petition myself. From inside a maximum security penitentiary, this will be exceptionally difficult to do. At night, I watched a reality TV show on the Discovery channel called "Naked and Afraid". It is where a man and woman are released into the wilderness with no clothes and basically no supplies to fend for themselves 21 days. This reminded me of myself except I do not have a naked female to keep me company and instead of 21 days, it has been 21 years.

The following morning after exercising I bathed and then sewed some of my clothes which were falling apart. The water which dribbled from my sink was cold and I cannot remember the last time I had a nice, hot shower. Prisoners at Stateville are permitted to shower two or three times a week if there is no lockdown. However, the water typically is tepid and has such low pressure a person must almost stand against the slimy walls to get wet. Despite getting a couple of new pairs of socks and boxers earlier in the month, I continue to have underclothes with holes in them or where the seams are coming undone. While sewing these tears, I thought I was probably fortunate to have any clothes with the IDOC trying to save money.

Towards noon, I heard prisoners yell "I.A. in the building!" Men always warn others in the cell house when the security unit enters despite what their purpose is. Later, I was surprised when one member of Internal Affairs came to my cell. He asked me if I could take a piss. I.A. regularly conducts drug tests to vet prisoners for jobs or to keep drug use under control. In my opinion, it is a much better tactic than ransacking cells and I do not mind taking the test. However, I had just a moment earlier urinated. The corrections officer was understanding and said he would just come back later. An hour passed and I began to doze off before he returned. Recently, I have been very lethargic and it may be due to fighting off cold viruses. My cellmate and other prisoners have been sniffling, sneezing, and coughing. Groggily, I got up off my bunk where I had been laying down and managed to fill the cup a third of the way. This was sufficient to conduct the test and after it showed I was clean, I covered myself in a blanket and went to sleep.

In the late afternoon, mail was passed out to prisoners. My cellmate received a few newspapers that I later perused. The March 20th News Gazette had an article that will be of interest to about a hundred men in the IDOC. The IL Supreme Court ruled the U.S. Supreme Court decision barring juvenile offenders from receiving mandatory LWOP was retroactive and required them to have new sentencing hearings. The decision was interestingly brought to the court by a prisoner I know at Stateville who goes by the name "Spooncake". Spooncake is 37 years old and was convicted of a 1990 robbery and double homicide. At the time, he was only 14 and despite only being a look-out was tried as an adult and automatically given LWOP. Prisoners seem to believe he will be released next month, however, many others may not be as fortunate. The Illinois Supreme Court ruling permits judges to re-sentence juvenile offenders to life without parole as long as they consider their culpability, mitigation, and their conduct in prison.

Even if all the juveniles given a mandatory LWOP sentence were released, it would not put a dent in the growing number of prisoners in the IDOC. There are about 50,000 people incarcerated in the state and approximately 10% will never be released. In the past three decades, a vast array of draconian criminal statutes has been made law. This expansive web ensnares more and more of the public and there is little to nothing being proposed by state legislators to retract it. Thus, I found it greatly ironic when I read in another newspaper that IDOC Director Tony Godinez warned of dire consequences if the 2011 tax hike was allowed to expire. According to him, a 20% cut to the Department of Corrections will be "nothing short of disastrous" and force the closure of 11 prisons and the release of 15, 500 convicts. I think the director is using scare tactics and exaggerating, however, even if true, it should have been done long ago.

Tuesday morning, I went to one of the penitentiary's small yards. It was partly sunny, but breezy with a 20 degree wind chill. The cold did not bother me unlike the small perimeter and crowd of prisoners. To bench press I had to wait in a long line and thus began to do chin ups and run narrow circles between sets. Occasionally while running, I bumped into Fat Jimmy so he would bounce off the cyclone fence. I do not know what to make of him since I learned about his first murder conviction. Generally, I just pick on him. Prisoners were kept on the yard for 2 hours and I worked out the entire time except to briefly talk with Bone. The biker has extreme liver damage and told me he was going back to the Health Care Unit after the rec period.

Many prisoners at Stateville are old and have numerous health problems. It is probably why the Illinois legislature continues to contemplate a "25/50 law". If this legislation would ever be voted upon and passed, prisoners who are 50 years or older and have done a minimum of 25 years would be eligible for parole. A number of convicts are excited by the possibility and I like bursting their bubbles. I tell them that even if the law were passed, the Prisoner Review Board will never let them out until they are close to death and their health care costs are through the roof. Furthermore, the law is mostly intended to give inmates the illusion of hope so they will behave despite having a protracted death sentence.

In my Barron's newspapers, I have been following a biotech company called Gilead Science. It is a stock I recommended that my family buy several years ago before the price skyrocketed. The company was the first to discover a cure for hepatitis C and is selling its designer drug Sovaldi for a high premium. I was wondering if the IDOC will be forced to buy it to treat its nearly 4,000 prisoners who have the disease. The cost of treating one person is between $60,000 and $120,000. The health care provider, Wexford, is going to balk at paying some $350 million and where is Illinois which is wallowing in debt going to get the money?

For dinner, fried chicken was being served. The meal brought many prisoners out of their cells including myself. Over a decade ago, men were given a choice of a breast and a wing or a thigh and a leg. However, this was ended due to the cost of white meat and prisoners only get dark meat now. While eating, my neighbor mentioned that the DVD being played in the evening was "Long Kiss Goodnight". He was disappointed it was an old movie and there was no nudity. My cellmate chimed in that if he could not see Geena Davis naked, there was no reason to watch it. After writing a letter, however, I watched the movie. My favorite part of the film is where Davis tells her young daughter: "Quit crying and toughen up. Life is nothing but pain."

On Wednesday, I received a visit from my mother. She had yet to find the post conviction appeal that I needed to prove my attorney forged my signature as well as other documents I wanted to give the IIP if they decided to help and do more than file a forensic evidence test. Also during the visit I was told my attorney lied to my mother about sending me segments of the appeal she completed. I questioned if they even existed. Although I ridicule prisoners for waiting on a 25/50 law, it may be me that it will apply to in 11 years.

Although I returned from my visit at 2:30, I remained in the cell house holding cage until 3:30. I was bored and began to razz the prisoners in the cells across from me. I began by telling Chub that he reminded me of the cartoon character "Cleveland" in Family Guy. He did not like being the butt of my jokes and went to the back of his cell whereupon his cellmate Steve came to the bars. I told "Zipperhead" he needs some new hair implants or a wig. Possibly he could get a donation from "Locks of Love" or his neighbor Fat Jimmy. Jimmy is growing his hair out and now looks a bit like New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan. Still not entertained, I asked a guard if he needed help sorting the mail and then made fun of him for bringing a bar of Dove soap to work.

A semi-insane Hispanic man with a bald head was in the holding cage with me. He seemed unstable and occasionally made twitching movements. I asked him if he came from the Psych ward, but was told the Roundhouse. When I was finally locked in my cell, Anthony told me a half dozen people were sent to gate 5 to hear disciplinary tickets written in the last week for things ranging from having medically ordered shower shoes to an electric razor missing its motor. Most of the tickets were dismissed but two prisoners were sent to Segregation. I speculated the nut case in the holding cage was going to fill one of these 2 bunks. With the IDOC bursting out at the seams, bunk space was immediately filled.

Because I had been on a visit, I missed Governor Pat Quinn's state budget address. On the PBS broadcast "Chicago Tonight" I had to get news clips and commentary about it. As I suspected, the governor intends on keeping the income tax hike and in fact making it permanent although it was only supposed to be temporary. He claims not maintaining the tax would be irresponsible and cause "cuts that will starve our schools and result in mass teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, and higher property taxes." Despite the growing debt and liabilities the state faces, he proposes to yet again increase the budget by 4% to $37 billion. (Update: May 2014-- House Democrats are seeking a $38 billion budget.) Of course, fellow Democrat and House majority leader Michael Madigan praised the plan and will quickly bring it to a vote before the general election in November when his party may lose its super majority in congress and the governor's office.

The Republican response to the governor's budget proposal was highly critical. Bruce Rauner made a strongly worded statement rebuking the budget and Quinn's 5 years of "failed leadership". He called attention to the fact that despite increased taxes and government spending, the state continues to have outrageously high unemployment and debt. Furthermore, massive cuts to education have occurred under his administration without using any of the new money at his disposal. Four years ago, the state spent $27 billion annually and it has grown exponentially while Democrats have been in control. Illinois has nothing to show for this except the second highest unemployment rate and lowest credit rating thanks to billions in unpaid bills. Medicaid continues to drain revenues due to extensive fraud and inefficiencies. Pension liabilities also continue to weigh on the state's finances and if the state supreme court rules last year's curtailment of benefits is unconstitutional, Illinois will face financial collapse.

For breakfast Thursday, prisoners were served pineapple yogurt, generic Cheerios, and a croissant. I was stunned to see a croissant on my Styrofoam tray and in my 21 years of incarceration I cannot recall the rich crescent shaped bread roll being given to inmates. Breakfast has been considerably better recently with not only yogurt and croissants but French toast and crumb cake. A few of prisoner's lunch and dinner meals have also been improved. Most of this food was donated to the penitentiary, but I wondered if I had Huffington Post writer Kristin Hunt to thank for bringing attention to the horrendous food served inmates. In January, she printed an article entitled "Everything You Never Wanted to Know about Prison Food."

The founder of the online newspaper Arianna Huffington was once very active in politics and appeared on many programs including "The McLaughlin Group" which I watch weekly. However, she abruptly disappeared from news media forums. I did not know why until last week when my cellmate told me she was on the Ellen Degeneres Show. I never watch Degeneres, but did so to see what her guest had to say. Arianna Huffington was promoting her new book "Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well Being, Wisdom and Wonder." Apparently, although she continues to lead meetings at her Internet news agency, she has re-prioritized her ambitions.

Thursday, prisoners in C House had another "recreation" period. Once again, I went out and was hoping the bad weather would dissuade others from going to the yard. The temperature had increased from earlier in the week, but there were strong winds and freezing rain. To deal with these elements, I put a large, clear plastic garbage bag over my body by tearing holes for my head and arms. Only about 15 prisoners went to the yard including The Elephant who occasionally talked to me. I was told about an inmate he met named Carl Moss who was beaten up at Joliet Correctional Center because he filed a complaint against a guard who was stealing from the personal property building. The guard asked the Latin Kings to retaliate on his behalf and they gave the task to a muscular Caucasian prisoner. While in the shower room, he attacked Moss and his injuries were so great he spent a little time in the infirmary. What the Elephant did not know was that I already knew the entire story. I was at that prison at the time and the man who beat up Carl was someone I regularly lifted weights with. I scolded him for being a tool for the Kings, but he told me it was because the old man was a pedophile. Later, he conceded it was a bonus. He wanted to pummel the child molester anyway and the Kings gave him an extra incentive.

In the evening, I watched the Wisconsin Badgers defeat the Baylor Bears in the NCAA basketball tournament. I am hoping they go to the finals and are crowned national champions. While watching the game, a gallery worker stopped by my cell and dispirited my mood. He told me Chino had died the night prior in the Health Care Unit. Chino was my neighbor for a period of time and I had gotten to know him fairly well. Last year, he was diagnosed with ALS and he quickly deteriorated thereafter. Word from the H.C.U. was towards the end he was in great pain and died from suffocation when he lost lung function. In the last year, 10 prisoners have died at Stateville from health issues or suicide.

Yesterday I spent the day in the cell quietly reading and writing. I did not speak to anyone until mid-afternoon. After taking a nap, I was still in an anti-social mood. Many times it takes me a little while to adjust to my prison environment and the stark reality. My cellmate, however, was apparently feeling better and sought to annoy me. He jumped off the upper bunk and said, "What's up douche bag?!"  I was folding up a blanket at the time and I undid it to toss over his head and punch him. I did not mean to hit him hard, but I used more force than I had intended to. Later, Anthony was asking me questions like how much do I hate him, although I think mostly in jest. I do not hate my cellmate. I hate the system and the people who have sent me here to suffer and slowly die.

The State of Illinois is billions of dollars in debt and eventually politicians are going to be forced to make cuts. The question is not "if" but "when". Democrats would like to continue down the same path to financial ruin for as long as possible. Their motto is tax & spend. Under their leadership, I do not see the prison industrial complex ever being dismantled. Fiscal conservatives, however, have made it their first priority to solve the state's budgetary crisis. Bruce Rauner has run on a campaign of shaking up Springfield and I believe he will attempt to do so. Growing the economy and all types of yet unnamed spending cuts to make Illinois financially sound will be on his agenda including the DOC. Every dime has already been squeezed from prisoners and their rehabilitation. All that is left is the bloated guards' union and prison population. Contrary to the opinion of Director Godinez, I think the sooner this is done the better. I am not getting any younger.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Spring Forward -- March 15, 2014

Daylight Savings Time began this week moving clocks forward and leaving me behind. Despite spring being a week away, it still felt like mid-winter with temperatures below freezing and a snow storm. I received a dozen letters yet all were post dated from early February except for a letter from my attorney. She asked me about inquiries from the Illinois Innocence Project and why I have not written in some time although my appeal has languished in her hands for 5 years. James Degorski was in the news after winning nearly half a million dollars for being beaten by guards at the Cook County Jail which reminded me of my time there and when I was reported to be the mass murderer. The Soviet Union which broke apart about a year before my arrest seemed set to retake east Europe under a new belligerent regime recreating the cold war I knew as a child. People have sprung forward an hour in time, however, within these prison walls it seems I have been left in the past weeks, months, or numerous years.

Sunday morning I slept late forgetting to change my watch the night before. I only watched ten minutes of television news, however, I did notice on a ticker tape that James Degorski was awarded $451,000 from a lawsuit against Cook County Jail guards who broke his jaw when beating him. In 2002, Degorski along with Juan Luna were charged with the murder of 7 people at a Brown's Chicken restaurant in Palatine, Illinois. I am not surprised that one of them was assaulted at the jail where some staff seek to administer their own retributive justice. When I was arrested in 1993 in connection to the mass murder, I was roughed up by interrogators for two days and then greeted by a few guards at the Cook County Jail with hostility. After my conviction in the Fawcett murder, I recall yet another guard saying he hoped I was executed. I did not understand his animosity, but thought I could only wish to get the death penalty.

For the most part, staff at the jail were sympathetic, however, and I was not singled out for any vigilantism. I can only speculate that despite receiving ten times the amount of negative publicity, guards could see through the sensationalistic reporting.   I may have been oddly quiet, but this was a far cry from the horrifying monster commonly depicted in the media. The Cook County Jail has over 10,000 detainees mostly from the inner city of Chicago. Although I was on TV almost every day, I tend to believe I stood out more for being a clean cut white teenager than a mass murderer. The violence I dealt with in the jail was mainly from gangs and various other hoodlums awaiting trial rather than guards.

On the heels of Degorski's half million dollar award was a class action suit filed by Northwestern University's legal department. The lawsuit accuses guards at the Cook County Jail of pervasive brutality and abuse. Although Sheriff Tom Dart vehemently denies the claims, I am inclined to believe them. In the early 1990's, conditions were poor and detainees could be the victim of excessive force or even unprovoked brutality. The vast amount of violence encountered in the jail was from those being held there, however, as in the IDOC this has probably changed. Thousands of new guards have been hired and security has grown exponentially. The relative freedom inmates once had is gone and the oppression men live under is greater than at any time I have been incarcerated.

Other prisoners heard about James Degorski winning his lawsuit and it was repeatedly brought to my attention. At the chow hall, Steve predicted he would receive little of the money. First, his attorneys would take a third for their salaries. Then the remaining $200,000 would be seized by the IDOC for "room and board". It was preposterous but the courts are allowing the state to take prisoners' money and assets for the costs of their own incarceration. The same attorneys who represented the guards in the civil suit have said they will also represent the victim's families in gaining some of the award money. Steve believes there will be little if nothing left.

Later in the week I was talking with "The Elephant" on the yard. Since he was moved to the quarter unit again, he has been searching for a friend. I did not particularly like the fat man and he was annoying me while I did headstand pushups off a steel table. Initially, he was asking me about his leg pain. It was almost certainly sciatic pain from a herniated disk, but the hypochondriac thought it could be a myriad of serious health problems including bone cancer. Eventually, he brought up the lawsuit he had won against the IDOC for keeping him in a cell without any working plumbing for over a week. Unlike Degorski, the state could not touch any of the money because it was punitive damages. The court was punishing the IDOC for their actions and to allow them to just retake the money would not serve any purpose. The Elephant inquired if I would help him invest the $10,000 in stocks, however, I knew he had no intention of doing so. That money would be quickly spent on commissary food.

Some family members continue to seek out my advice on stock market investments despite not caring to help me financially with attorney or private investigator expenses. Possibly, they think I have nothing better to do with my time and studying corporate reports keeps my mind preoccupied. I went over one person's portfolio and discovered they had a large amount of money invested in British Petroleum. The energy major may be a British company, but it has significant ties with Russia. About a quarter of their oil production comes through their minority ownership in Rosneft. When or if NATO responds to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there will be an exchange of economic sanctions and BP will be a big loser. I advised selling the stock at $50 a share and moving the money from the sale to Shell or Chevron.

The White House continues to astound me with their naivety and lack of action. It is now certainly known that Vladimir Putin was making plans to seize Crimea during the Olympic Games and it was not a spontaneous use of the military. The Pentagon also must be fully aware the buildup of Russian forces on the land bordering Ukraine is a prelude to an invasion which could advance to the Dnieper or all the way to the Carpathian Mountains. I almost laugh when I hear Putin say the troop movements inside Russia are nothing the West should be concerned with. When tens of thousands of soldiers are assembled on a border with supply lines it is not just for military practices. It reminds me of the movie Star Wars where Obi Won Kenobi tells storm troopers, "These are not the droids you are looking for" and waves his hand hypnotizing them. Does Vladimir Putin know the mind tricks of "The Force" or is the president of the U.S. that stupid?

During the week I sat down at a table in the chow hall with Lunchbox, a real mental midget. Last month he asked me to find out about a prisoner who is rumored to be a child molester. I do not usually sit with him nor the people he acquaints with and he was interested in my motives. I told him I had the information he requested, but was not going to let everyone at the table listen. This made the other four convicts uneasy, however, I did not care. In fact, if they were made uncomfortable it may demonstrate they also had skeletons to hide. Later when a guard yelled for prisoners to exit and I was alone with Lunchbox, I told him that Malinowski was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a minor under 13 who was mentally retarded even more so than himself.

I already suspected John was a child molester based on his demeanor, however, I had to be certain. I never want to pass on false information or rumor about other prisoners particularly of this sort. Like James Degorski, it could make him the target of vigilante justice. I do not think pedophiles should be executed or even receive decades of prison time like some inmates or those in the general public believe. However, if some corporal punishment came his way, I would not be terribly upset. There are a lot of loathsome creatures in the IDOC, yet I have a little extra disdain for this man because he is apparently of Polish descent. I have higher standards of character for people who share my ethnic background, and because there are few of us incarcerated, it has the propensity to make us all look bad.

Monday evening I watched Venezuelan Juan Pablo Galavis give out his final rose in the season finale of The Bachelor. The media and show's producers did not like him not proposing or even saying the words "I love you". However, I had renewed respect for the South American. Out of the last group of women, he picked Nikki, the same girl I would have chosen to continue dating and not marrying. It was ingenuous and unrealistic to believe a man could develop such strong feelings over a short period of time. Some men may never have them and to choose a wife during a TV show was unwise. If a person is smart they will continue courtship off camera and see what this leads to. It may not be dramatic television, but it is the sensible thing to do.

I only watched half a dozen of the Bachelor episodes this season. Not only was I disappointed in the choice of the bachelor but the women. On the first show, I told my cellmate I would have immediately eliminated all of them except for maybe five. Just out of the limousine on the first episode, I would have told them to turn around and go back home. Anthony thinks I am too finicky particularly when I am no longer the man I was two decades ago. Later this year I will be 40, and even if I was not a prisoner, how many young attractive women would be interested in a relationship with me? If I had been smart, I would have married one of the girls I knew in high school and lived with them while I attended studies at a university. Instead, I moved in with my co-defendant and his wife who later framed me for murder.

I have not only greatly aged, but so have my parents. Mid-week, I called my mother to be stunned by some of her stories. First, she tells me two feet of snow fell overnight and some spruce trees on her property are weighted so heavily they are bent over nearly touching the ground. This had to be an exaggeration because although the prison was placed on lockdown due to the snow storm, only half a foot came down at Stateville which is only about 20 miles away from her. Furthermore, the trees had to be at least 20 feet tall now, and regardless of how wet the snow was, it would not cause such big trees to fold over. They were not Charlie Brown Christmas trees. My mother insisted, however, they were about to snap and I said, "Well then get out there and shake the snow off or use a broom!" Any type of physical labor for my frail, old mother seemed like a herculean task and I had to encourage her. Weather news was forecasting 10 degree temperatures for the next couple of days and she could not wait for the snow to freeze on the tree branches.

After listening to the snow "catastrophe," I was told about their dog's medical emergency. He had become extremely ill and my mother had rushed him to the veterinarian. The dog I learned had eaten some indigestible item(s) and this apparently is something he commonly does out of boredom. My parents bought a high energy and rather large breed of dog that requires a lot of exercise. However, because they are old and crippled, the Hungarian hunting dog was a poor choice. The vet gave him medication, but it was obvious to me that my mother needed some help and could not live on her own. As a prisoner with no out date, I was greatly upset that I could do nothing.

Typically, I will get the mail when it is passed out by guards on the 2nd shift because I am sitting on the lower bunk or a box to read and write on the table by the bars. However, on an occasion this week I was using the toilet and Anthony was at the front of the cell. I had a privacy sheet up but could hear the guard joke "and there is one for you." I did not know what she was talking about until I saw my cellmate with a stack of letters. They were all mine and I snatched then out of his hands. I can trust Anthony, but he is a nosy person and I suspected he was reading the names on the return addresses. He claimed he was simply looking at the post dates and putting them in chronological order. They were dated between February 3rd and 7th, over a month ago.

One of the letters was from my father and mentioned the Superbowl along with his troubles rehabbing the log cabin he bought in South Carolina. The house was a foreclosure and because of this needed a number of repairs. My father likes doing this type of work but nearing the age of 70 he is not as physically capable as he once was. Furthermore, instead of buying a small cabin with one or two bedrooms, he bought an enormous one in the countryside with a couple acres of land. He was not going to be able to maintain the place alone. Last year, he said to me when I get out I could come to live with him and have the entire 2nd floor to myself. The problem is my father is living in fantasy land and I will not be released any time soon if at all.

Director Godinez was at the prison this week and I happened to see him on the way back from the personal property warehouse. The director oversees the entire IDOC and is appointed by the governor. He usually is at his offices in the state capital but occasionally tours prisons. Years ago he was the warden at Stateville and he knows some of the staff and even some inmates who have been in the system a long time. As we passed him by, he told the lieutenant to stop for a moment so he could briefly talk with an older prisoner. I may have contemplated requesting to talk with him also, but he could not grant me a pardon only a transfer to a different prison.

Because the director was in town along with other Springfield administrators, there were rumors of the Orange Crush conducting compliance checks. A compliance check is when a prisoner is ordered to put all his property away as if he is going to be transferred. Everything an inmate owns except for a TV and radio must fit in their two plastic boxes. The purpose of this is to see if a prisoner has any extra property. It is a lot easier for guards to search a cell when inmates are limited in how much property they can have. This is more practical at minimum or some medium security penitentiaries where prisoners are only serving ten or fewer years. However, at Stateville many men have been incarcerated for decades and have collected a lot of stuff. They also are reluctant to throw away things they may need in the future. Furthermore, due to lockdowns, prisoners like to stock up on commissary. My neighbor for this reason gave my cellmate about 20 novels he has yet to read, although rumors the SORT was going to conduct compliance checks were not true.

CNN has been advertising a new series of documentaries about prisoners who were exonerated after being sentenced to death. The program was produced by Robert Redford and entitled "The Death Row Stories." The first of these was finally telecast this week and I was greatly disappointed because of the political spin. I suppose I should have known anything produced by Robert Redford and narrated by Susan Sarandon would have a liberal tilt. However, I am tired of the repeated perception they give to the public that it is only the poor, intellectually challenged, or people of color that are denied justice. Injustice cuts across all social and racial lines in the U.S. It is not just one or select groups that are victims. All Americans should know of the dangers they face of being stripped of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Last Saturday I received a letter from my attorney. She asked how I was doing and why I have not written in so long. Although my attorney was not officially hired until the fall of 2009, she has been working or not working as the case may be on my appeal for 5 years. Generally, I do not even think of myself as having any representation. I do not bother to write because it apparently serves no function. However, I needed her to cooperate with the Illinois Innocence Project's inquiries. Hopefully, they will help in some substantial capacity.

Last night, a guard stopped at the cell bars to chit chat when picking up mail. He asked me why I was not coming out. My cellmate sought to be funny and said this was my cocoon. Eventually, when I am ready, I will emerge as a beautiful butterfly. The truth is the penitentiary is very disturbing to me and the more I can disassociate myself with it, the better. Most of my life has passed me by and is gone. The prison cell is not a cocoon but more akin to a life draining sarcophagus. No butterflies emerge from inside the walls of Stateville after 20 or more years. If I am ever permitted to spring forward I will be fortunate to be a well preserved mummy.