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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Fireworks Show -- August 10, 2014

Most of my week was spent in the confines of my cell. I read more about the growing conflicts in the world and their effect on the stock market. I wrote a few letters and continued to be unable to reach anyone by phone. In the evening, I looked for programs on television or turned in to talk radio. Occasionally, I left the cell to attend meals, yard, store, and a visit. From a prisoner's perspective, it was generally an average week with few highlights. Boredom set in and Saturday night, hyped up on caffeine and sugar, I was compelled to break the monotony with my own little cell party. I worked out and danced to a wide variety of music. Then I watched a dazzling fireworks display through the cell house windows. I never learned the cause for the celebration not far from the penitentiary. Possibly, they, as I, did not need an excuse to break the summertime blues.

Sunday morning I heard a prisoner yell, "Hooch! Hooch! Get your old Yiddish ass up!"  Not long thereafter I saw a rabbi dressed in his traditional attire walk by my cell to speak with my neighbor. There are no Jewish religious services at Stateville nor is there really any need. The prison has fewer than 5 prisoners who claim to be Jewish and of those I question if they are practicing Jews or have any Semitic descent. Thus, the rabbi will come to the prison only sporadically throughout the year and speak to a few in their cells.

Later I asked Hooch what the special occasion was. He told me that rabbi simply wanted to check up on him to see if he was having any problems due to the conflict between Hamas and Israel. CNN and other news agencies were counting the dead in the Gaza Strip and portraying Israel as an aggressor despite how rockets were being launched into their territory. Since the beginning of hostilities, I have spoken to a few people including my cellmate who believe Israel is retaliating excessively. While the state of Israel in the middle of Islam surrounded by enemies was a bad idea, they have no choice but to dominate or take over not only the Gaza Strip but the West Bank and Golan Heights. My view is a minority at the prison where many black convicts are Islamic. However, they care less about Hooch and do not give him any troubles. The rabbi's concerns were almost comical.

In the late afternoon, I was reading a newspaper with my headphones on and did not notice chow lines going out of the cell house until guards were already unlocking doors on my gallery. Quickly, I put on blue state issued pants and some shoes, but had yet to put on a shirt when the door to the cell was unlocked. My cellmate joked that I should just go to chow half dressed. He thinks I like to flaunt my upper body and compares me to Vladimir Putin who is regularly seen without a shirt. To one of the guards he said that I was just going to clip my ID card to one of my nipples. Out of boredom I assume, he will make jokes such as this to brighten dull days.

There are numerous groundhogs on the prison grounds and prisoners treat them almost like pets. They have become so domesticated that they will even approach people in the hopes they will give them something to eat. However, convicts thought it was odd when one put his front paws on my leg to beg for food. Once again this gave my cellmate a chance to joke and called me "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective". Later in the chow hall he continued for the benefit of those prisoners seated with us. When I dismissed the strange behavior of the groundhog as coincidence, he said the animal walked straight by the line of other prisoners to me as if we were friends. What could I say except that animals like me?

I never watched America's Most Wanted, but in the evening I turned on my TV to watch CNN's season premiere of "The Hunt". The show had the same theme of trying to solicit the aid of the public to capture wanted fugitives. It also had John Walsh as its host. There seemed to be a political agenda or narrative, however, by the liberal news station. Directors of the show sought to disparage the way of life and beliefs of people in western Montana. They focused on militia groups, rugged individualism, and disdain of big intrusive government. If there was a political slant to the program, it made me less likely to believe the accusations they made against the man who was accused of an attempted murder on a police officer. The media is already viewed by me with skepticism given the way I was portrayed after my arrest. Repeatedly, I was referred to as a nefarious character who committed a mass murder in Palatine.

The excitement for prisoners on Monday was being allowed to shop at the prison store. Personally, I was not eager to go and did not leave with most other men on my gallery who went directly from the chow hall. Rather I enjoyed some time alone in my cell and left with inmates on the gallery above me. While waiting in the holding cage, my watch just happened to stop. It was symbolic of how my life had abruptly come to an end. I played around with it and got it to start ticking again but very slowly. This was also similar to how much my life dragged on day after day in maximum security penitentiaries.

At the window, having my order filled was extremely slow. All the inmate workers had been fired and the few new hires were not up to speed. Regularly, the woman who scanned the merchandise was forced to go into the back herself to get items I purchased. She was friendly though, and permitted me to add a disposable watch to my order. I had never heard of a disposable watch before, but upon receiving it I saw why most people just threw them away rather than buying a new battery. The cheap, clear plastic watch made in China cost me $13, however, and I will be buying batteries until I at least recover its marked up price.

For dinner prisoners had another treat by being served a slice of pizza. Most everyone came out of their cells in my unit despite being able to buy alternative foods at store. Noticeably missing however was Leprechaun. According to men I ate with, he was pouting because numerous prisoners had been approved jobs and he believed he had been skipped over. My neighbor does not have any family or friends to send him money and he is dependent on the IDOC stipend of $10 a month. More so than the extra money he could earn with a job, I think he misses being preoccupied throughout the day and not confined to his cell. Like most leprechauns, he is an excitable and energetic person who likes to be busy.

The following day when I returned from the yard, I noticed that someone had left an assortment of Catholic relics on my cell table. While my cellmate bathed out of the sink, I looked at these items with curiosity. I did not understand why people believed in a god or why they thought a scapular necklace would have any power. The rosary also baffled me and even if there was a god, why would the deity want people to recite the same monotonous prayer over and over again? Leprechaun was lying on his bunk depressed and I threw the religious items at him. He rolled over and I said, "Wait there is more! Here are some butt beads for you to play with." Leprechaun did not need a job. He needed some Jesus or at least some attention to break him out of his funk.

Not long thereafter, his Jewish cellmate returned from his job of scraping paint. Apparently, he was not feeling well and complained to a guard of having chest pains. The sergeant radioed for a med-tech and he was brought to the Health Care Unit. A doctor saw him and gave him nitroglycerin tablets. He was told to stay at the infirmary at least as a precaution, but Hooch refused and came back to the quarter unit. Later, he told me he was experiencing all the classic signs of a heart attack before taking the medication and resting. I told him he should have put on the scapula because on the back it says whoever shall wear it will not burn in the fires of hell.

Tuesday evening I wrote a letter and reviewed information about a petition site called "Change.org" before watching some television news. Former General Petraeus gave an interview where he spoke of the imminent threat of a Russian full scale invasion of Ukraine. Already, Russia was fighting a proxy war and will do whatever is necessary to seize more territory. This was all very obvious to me for several months and I have become bored with the news as well as NATO's failure to act militarily. Later in the week a Russian news agency claimed the country was ending its military "exercises" in the west and withdrawing. However, I knew this was just a ruse. Vladimir Putin was just playing games to keep the U.S. and European allies indecisive. After finishing my snack of generic Cheerios, I went to sleep. My dreams were more lucid and sensible than the policy of the White House.

I spend a considerable amount of time in the cell even when given opportunities to come out. My hermit-like behavior apparently is not welcomed by my cellmate. As most often, he was eager for me to leave to go on a visit Wednesday. Before I left I told him to enjoy "naked day" but not to overdo it. I warned him not to go "Ted" squirting lotion on himself by the cell bars while a female guard watched. I thought it was horrendously funny and not much will make me laugh within these dreary prison walls. My cellmate tried to disguise his amusement and said, "At least you can entertain yourself." Coincidentally, later I learned about a black prisoner who was written a disciplinary ticket for masturbating to the same guard. He was about to be sent to Segregation immediately, but the lieutenant let East Side stay until his ticket was heard in front of the adjustment committee.

Although my visit left me very exhausted and wanting to avoid all social contact, I went to dinner. Baked chicken was being served and it is not often prisoners are given real meat. Incredibly, I listened to men, including Steve, say how they were looking forward to the CBS reality TV show "Big Brother." Despite how bored I became I was not going to tune in to it. Instead, I went over an investment newspaper called Barron's and tore out various articles to mail to my mother which had my notes on the margins. As my parents become older they seem to need ever greater investment advice. While writing my commentary, I listened to the radio talk show host Rick Savage. He was greatly annoying with his anti-interventionist babble and conspiracy theories including how Barack Obama wants to start a war with Russia so he can remain in power indefinitely. Contrarily, I think Obama is doing his utmost to avoid any conflict, even if his negligence leads to global disaster.

Thursday I spent most of the day reading ever more newspapers as well as a couple of corporate reports. There is a pipeline master limited partnership called Crestwood Midstream. It has had poor ratings recently and I sought to understand if this was temporary due to its merger with Inergy or if it was a long term problem. After some study, I came to the conclusion it was still a good investment particularly for income seekers, and given some time, its profits would grow steadily. The stock was trading at its 52 week low and offered a 7-1/2% yield. Analyzing all the minute details of companies can be an arduous and boring task, but I seem to have a knack for it. Possibly, if I was ever exonerated, I could be an investment consultant or manager. I have no idea whether I will ever be free or what opportunity will exist and rarely entertain any thoughts of a life outside these walls.

On the PBS News Hour was an interesting segment regarding how a pendulum seems to be swinging away from the extremes of draconian prison sentences. On the panel were both people on the left and right of the political spectrum including a former attorney general. They all agreed there were far too many people incarcerated and sought changes in the system. Pat Nolan from the American Conservative Union Foundation spoke about a Texas initiative to be "Right on Crime". The state has moved away from locking up low level offenders and was using the savings for rehabilitation and making sure convicts did not recidivate. Bill McCollum expressed that sentencing statutes also needed great restructuring. As the attorney general of Florida, he saw pervasive imbalances, but disagreed that not all non-violent offenses should be treated lightly such as drug traffickers. Despite how there is a shift in public opinion of locking every offender up and throwing away the key, I doubt it will matter in my circumstance. I need to get my case back into court to prove my innocence.

Friday was another day I languished in the cell. For a little while I attempted to preoccupy myself watching news. The president reluctantly gave the order for some limited air strikes in Iraq to prevent ISIS from butchering a group of Christians on a mountain as well as overrunning the U.S. consulate. He still does not understand that America must use the full power of the military to retake Iraq and this time set up an authoritarian, albeit benevolent, regime. Later, after reading a couple of magazines, I again turned on my television. There was nothing on of interest. Even my cellmate was somewhat at a loss as to what to watch. I told him the lack of good or even average programming was due to the fact that it was Friday night. Viewership is down and people outside have better things to do.

Saturday I began to make some notes for this post. My cellmate, bored but also nosy, asked what I was writing about. I told him this post was called, "A Whole Lot of None of Your Business". While I struggled to come up with a theme for my story, he struggled to find something to occupy his time. After watching some television, he stood at the bars waiting for a shower. When he returned, he brought the telephone back with him. He managed to get through to someone, however, when I tried to call my parents I received the same automated recording that I have been hearing for a month.

All religious services were cancelled in the morning and eventually I learned why. A charitable organization was at the penitentiary which sought to give children presents on Christmas who had a parent incarcerated. Angel Tree has good intentions, but I did not know how a doll or a small set of Lego's could make up for the loss of a father. They also were not helpful to me in any way. When a man from the organization asked me if I had any kids, I told him no and then added I was a kid when arrested. He did not know how to respond to this and went next door. Maybe the child molester had some kids he wanted to send toys to.

I missed dinner and in its stead I ate cookies smothered with peanut butter. To go along with the sweet snack, I had a large mug of instant coffee. The sugar and caffeine caused me to have a surge of pent up energy. Locked in my cell, there was little I could do and I began to do push-ups. Still, I was not satisfied and sought out greater stimulation. To gain radio reception, I put my Walkman on the table and weaved the headphone cord outside of the cell bars and back in. In between sets of push ups and other exercises, I searched for music on the FM bandwidth. I skipped around from station to station listening to the heavy metal of Danzig to the pop music of Justin Timberlake. My cellmate really thought I was going crazy when he noticed me dancing to "Go Heavy Go". Yes, it was greatly out of character, but I had so much energy and there was nothing to do.

As I did chin-ups off the bars, there was a boom and a flash of light. I looked around to where it came from and through the cell house windows I could see fireworks to the northeast. Initially, there were only a few lighting up the night sky. However, the fireworks increased in intensity with large colorful displays occurring one after the other and sometimes together. I was dripping in sweat from exercising but stopped to watch the performance. I also took off my head phones to hear the explosions which could actually be felt from inside the cell. For a few minutes my cellmate sat on the counter top to see the firework show and we speculated what the occasion could be. Anthony mentioned the Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago that he saw on television news earlier in the day but I did not think there were any similar celebrations in the far southwest suburbs.

The show ended at 10 p.m. and I bathed out of the sink before returning to the cell bars. The spike in energy I had was fading, but I knew I would not be able to sleep. Instead, I stared out into the night sky and listened to some slower songs I found on the radio. Eventually, I just took off my headphones. The cell house had become quiet and I could be left undistracted to my thoughts. After a brief respite, I was again glum and pondering the meaning of my existence. The fireworks show was the highlight of my week, however, it only served to contrast how empty and bleak my life in prison was.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Make-up Yard -- August 2, 2014

During the long days of summer and late spring, I will regularly awake to bright sunshine streaming into my cell. However, yesterday, it was dark and gloomy with only faint shadows being cast from a vertical fluorescent light some 30 feet away on the cell house wall. Despite many windows being tilted open, the concrete cell was dank and reminded me of a medieval dungeon. The 300 incarcerated men catacombed in the unit had yet to be stirred and I could hear periodic slow rolling thunder. In the relative quiet, I brooded about my bleak and empty existence. I attempted to grasp onto something during the day to look forward to and all that came to mind was a couple of hours outside on an austere prison yard. However, even this small excursion would be cancelled for another day due to the inclement weather.

Earlier this week some news agencies described the world as being on fire because of the various wars being waged in the Middle East and Ukraine. As I suspected, Russian President Vladimir Putin was preparing for a full invasion after semi-covert support to insurgents was failing. In the Gaza strip, Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel and cease fires were largely ignored. Syria and Iraq were in chaos with ISIS seizing ever more territory. While I ate breakfast sitting on my bunk, I listened to the latest developments on television.

The cell house was the first quarter unit to be fed in the penitentiary and doors on the 5th floor began to be opened and slammed shut at 9 a.m. The prisoners who walked down the flights of stairs were very noisy and yelled to others in their cells. I was not going to disturb my day so early by going to chow nor was I even hungry. Once again, I put on my headphones, but this time to listen to music. Reception was difficult to get in the cell and therefore I played a cassette tape.

Usually at this time of day, I would be just finishing my workout and preparing to bathe out of the sink. However, because the 2 lower galleries of prisoners in the quarter unit were scheduled for yard in the evening, I altered my routine. For most of my day I intended on reading with an emphasis on exchange traded and mutual funds. On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial average plunged 300 points and ended the week at 16,493. This was the largest weekly decline in the stock market since January and much of it was due to international conflicts. When there is an array of global risks, investors generally flee to safety, including gold. Late last year, I had advised my parents to purchase shares in a gold mining company or mutual fund. The prices of these equities were undervalued and due for a significant recovery in 2014. They already had a gold fund, but there was a better one offered by Fidelity. In addition to gold funds, I read about biotechnology and pipelines. Both of these were overpriced, however, if they corrected 10 to 20%, they would be good investments.

While I was studying, Bucky came to my cell bars and handed me a birthday card to sign for Hooch. Upon opening the envelope I wondered what type of crazy card Lunch Box had made him. It was silly, but I was amused by the cartoon characters. The lieutenant was depicted with an exaggerated Monopoly Man mustache and a tear drop rolling down his cheek. In a bubble above his head were words expressing how he missed Little Frank, a black homosexual who was transferred earlier in the year. Standing beside him was the sergeant with his trademark dark sunglasses, beard, and pony tail. He had a big grin on his face and told an old decrepit Hooch to at least roll his balls up which were hanging out of his boxers as he headed into the shower.

Not long after I was handed the birthday card, prisoners began yelling, "I.A. coming to the cell house!" followed by "I.A. in the building!" The warnings were largely unnecessary and I knew the security unit was simply conducting "drops". Drops are prison slang for urine drug tests and they were not easy to cheat. Regardless, the drops were to vet men for jobs and were probably clean. During the week, all inmate commissary workers were fired for suspected theft and new help needed to be found quickly. There was only a handful of civilian staff and they could not possibly fill the orders for not only Stateville prisoners, but those in the Northern Receiving Center.

As soon as the purpose of I.A.'s presence was clear, Hooch began playing his radio. The entire afternoon he was listening to this favorite radio station, 104.3 K-Hits. I thought he may be celebrating his birthday until Bucky came by to collect his birthday card. He told me his birthday was not till tomorrow and then asked if I knew anyone else that Hooch would appreciate signing his card. The card already had many comments and signatures and I could not think of any other prisoners. Finally, I told him he should have the lieutenant and sergeant sign, but they had Friday's off.

At the desk near the bars, I listened to the classic rock music while I went through mutual fund reports. My cellmate interrupted me occasionally, including telling me what he heard on his favorite TV show, TMZ. According to the gossip, the last man rejected on the Bachelorette had sex with the woman and wanted to know why she chose someone else. I did not follow the reality show and found it disgusting how one woman will have various sexual contacts with numerous men. The reason why the bachelorette slept with different men during the show was obvious to me. She was a slut and any man who did not realize this was a fool. My cellmate speculated he may just be "outing her" on national television.

As 4 o'clock approached, I got ready for yard. I had been looking forward to the Rec period most of the day. It was not simply because I like to lift weights, but because I wanted to be in the open space. Inmates in maximum security penitentiaries are largely confined to the small perimeters of their cells which are shared with another person. Even if you happen to get along with your cellmate, it is still very cramped and uncomfortable. Lately, Anthony has been awaking at nearly the same time as me and due to this he is more disruptive than when he slept till noon. Furthermore, leaving the cell to attend health care passes, chow, or visits brings me in contact with ever more people and aggravations. In contrast, the South Yard is a large open area where, if I choose, I can get away from people. If not for the gun tower and cyclone fencing topped with razor wire, I could almost imagine being free.

I walked along the long stretch of the South Yard with Bone who was moving very slowly. He almost had what prisoners call the "Thorazine Shuffle". The formerly robust biker was sickly and weak. He had a slight yellow complexion and was gaunt except for his gut which was bloated. Bone was dying of liver failure and was heavily medicated. Doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital in Joliet had told him they would put him on the transplant list, however, IDOC forbid it. Organ transplants were too costly and all doctors could do is give him a myriad of medications. At the prison Health Care Unit, Bone told me he was present Wednesday when a convict from the NRC died in the bathroom. I could tell it weighed on his thoughts. It was probably only a matter of time before he keeled over and was sent out in a body bag.

The rain had ceased falling earlier in the day, however, the skies around Stateville were still dark. After only completing 5 sets of bench presses, a guard in the gun tower said yard was cancelled. Prisoners balked at grouping up at the gate to be sent back to their cells. The administration has an obligation to protect inmates from any threat of lightning strikes, but none could be seen except far in the distance. Ironic how they care about the minute chance of someone being struck by lightning but will not provide medical treatment which without will almost certainly kill incarcerated men. Lieutenants seemed undecided whether to demand prisoners to come off the yard and men continued to play table games and workout. Eventually, though, I assume the shift commander gave the order and prisoners including myself were disappointed but stopped what they were doing and headed for the gate.

When I returned to the cell, I understood why yard was cancelled. On the television news was talk of apocalyptic weather. On one weather map was a dramatized depiction of lightning strikes. The large thunderbolts covering almost the entire Chicago area made it appear like the world was coming to an end. Television news will do anything to sensationalize the most trivial news including the weather for better ratings. Despite the dire warnings, not a single drop of rain fell on prison grounds or any lightning bolts.

Since I could not workout on the yard, I did so in the cell. For the first half hour I did a cycle of strength exercises including where I put my feet up on a horizontal beam and grabbed the upper bunk to pull myself upward. A young guard happened to notice and later commented how he does the same exercise at the gym. With all the sophisticated equipment that was available at gyms outside the penitentiary I wondered why he would bother with any of the improvised exercises I did in the cell. I also went on to ask him what gym he went to simply out of curiosity. Guards and other staff are instructed not to reveal any personal information and he was hesitant to answer. Finally I said, "Do you go to Bally's or Gold's gym?" He laughed at the latter and said there have not been any Gold's gyms in many years.

This morning, the sun was there to greet me at the crack of dawn and I grabbed a towel to drape over the same bar I had put my feet on to do back pulls. Later when I got up for the day, I took it down and noticed the great contrast in weather. Not only was there not a cloud in the sky, but all the dampness in the air had gone. It was a cool, dry summer day with an expected high temperature of 80 degrees. A day such as this would be nice to have time outside on the yard and my cellmate asked me what I thought the chances of us being given make-up yard was. I put the odds at 4 to 1.

Anthony was again up early this time to shower. Shower lines were once run in the evening for the lower galleries, however, this was changed to the morning due to complaints by staff working the 2nd shift. Apparently, they thought they had too much work to do. My cellmate upon returning told me he noticed Malinowski had fresh sutures and speculated his cancer had spread to other lymph nodes. The child molester who was celled next door recently returned from another trip to an outside hospital. I did not miss his presence.

Saturday detail yard is run. All the prisoners who have jobs are permitted to attend. It is meant not only as a perk of working for long hours at a monthly salary of $18, but to give those workers who cannot attend weekday recreation periods time outside. Hooch was 60 years old today and he spent his birthday on the detail yard playing game after game of handball. For an old man, he is still a relatively good handball player. He returned in the early afternoon with a heavy sunburn. I told him if meat balls were served for lunch, I would have made him a foot long meat ball sandwich for his birthday with all the trimmings. Hooch hated the meat balls served at Stateville and that was a part of the joke in the card drawn by Lunch Box.

After conversing with Hooch, I lay down on my mattress to rest. I almost fell asleep with my headphones on, when I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker for prisoners to get ready for yard. I was surprised the administration was making up for the Rec period cancelled the previous evening. Generally, this does not occur and I assumed inmates on the lower galleries would not see the South Yard for a couple of weeks. Quickly, I got up to dress, stretch, and put on some sun block. I did not want to sport the cooked lobster look my neighbor Hooch had.

Despite the near perfect weather, not many people went to the yard. Several tables were filled with convicts playing cards, dominoes, or chess underneath the gun tower. A handful of men were on the hill including Hooch playing handball. Bone sat on the grass with Horse and KY. My cellmate who wanted to play basketball was unable to get a game going and instead ran off to jog laps around the track. He has lost nearly 20 pounds since the winter and seems determined to keep it off. Amusingly, I noticed him disappear into one of the porti-pods when he thought no one was looking. The portable toilets are rarely used by prisoners because they reek of chemicals and waste. They also only have 4 foot walls and no doors to give a man any privacy. I assume Anthony got the runs from drinking a large quantity of grapefruit juice at dinner just before yard. I considered running over to the porti-pod to tip it over or just mess with him, but I had a workout to do.

I was glad the yard had fewer prisoners on it. This meant more space and weights for me. Already, the South Yard was down to 7 barbells, one of which was 450 pounds and I did not dare to lift it with my bad back. Another barbell was crooked and was missing the end. Despite its condition, The Elephant insisted on doing shoulder presses with it. Earlier in the week prisoners were giving him a hard time when he tried doing cleans with a lighter weight. They yelled at him it was lighter than the two babies he picked up and threw into a wall.

Along with The Elephant was a black man who went by the name Kid, although he was nearly 50 years old. While lifting weights, he told me about his hearing in front of the "adjustment committee". The lieutenant hearing the disciplinary tickets sent two men to segregation. One of them became so angry he seemed as if he would strike the white shirt. A number of guards rushed in, however, after the lieutenant pressed an emergency button on his radio. Kid believes he was found guilty because almost everyone is regardless of the ticket's merits. He will probably be given C grade or commissary denial for 3 months. Most people at the prison know the woman who passes out legal mail is difficult to get along with.

After my cellmate used the porti-pod, he seemed to lose his motivation to jog and walked over to the weights where Kid and I were. Kid asked him what the tattoo on his chest meant. Anthony may have been ill, but he did not lose his sense of humor and told him USMC stood for the University of Southern Mississippi and the devil dog was their mascot. The letters actually represented the United States Marine Corps, but Kid would never be the wiser. In fact, I tend to believe he initially thought it may be a gang tattoo. Most prisoners at Stateville are covered with gang related ink.

In jest I asked the "Devil Dog" if he wanted to run some laps with me. No, he said, he had done enough for the day. I pressed further telling him we could have a mile race and I would give him a quarter lap lead. Again, he said no and never mentioned his visit to the porti-pod. By myself I hit the asphalt track and had Anthony time me on his watch. I was trying for a 5:30, but was told my run was 10 seconds shy. It seems like I will not be breaking a 5 minute mile this year. Maybe, in my old age it is not possible anymore.

Trigger had ceased playing handball with Hooch and was at the weight pile casually doing a few repetitions. I told him if I ever get to the age of 60 to kill me. He said, "Hell, no! I get out when I'm 67." Initially, I thought he was joking. Who wants to be released in their 60's? However, he was serious and told me his out date was 2047. Unlike Trigger, the longer I languish in prison, the less I care about having a life outside these walls. Already, the state has taken most of it and the remnants are not very appealing. What could I even do with freedom as an old man? I cannot envision anything productive or meaningful. The sun was waning in the western sky and it reminded me of my own existence. Before I could dwell on it too long, a guard in the gun tower set off a siren on his loudspeaker. Make-up yard was over and I morosely headed towards the gate.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Simple Pleasantries -- July 26, 2014

Time that passes while at a maximum security prison is very difficult. Austere and oppressive living conditions suppress most happiness. For me, the loss of freedom and ability to accomplish anything significant drain nearly all of my vitality making me feel like the living dead. In addition, I am surrounded with the most loathsome and obnoxious people. These convicts are incredibly annoying and I regularly seek to escape the agitation they cause. Finally, the bleakness of any future outside these walls can crush the spirit of anyone. At Stateville, most men will die in prison even if they delude themselves otherwise. Despite the grim circumstances, some inmates will attempt to seek solace in the penitentiary. During the week, I took notice of the small pleasantries men embraced and struggled to do the same. After 21 years of hardship, it is increasingly rare for me to find any laughter, hope, or serenity.

Monday morning, I awakened yet again to the horror of being doomed to a life in prison without any chance of parole. In my dreams I was young and free, but now I was old and captive in a cell. Lethargically, I began my day by first peeking into the breakfast tray sitting on a shelf across from my metal bunk. Inside was hash browns and friend imitation bologna. I tossed the food into the toilet, saving the bread. The bread was not made by prisoners at the penitentiary in Illinois River Correctional Center, but was donated. Donated bread is almost always better than the bread made in Canton and trucked to Stateville and this time was no exception. A prisoner must appreciate the little perks even if it is simply sandwich bread.

I believe the men were much happier to see what was being served for lunch. Kitchen workers had made pizza and the slices served were larger than usual. It was still early for lunch, and in a plastic bag I took my portion back to the cell to eat later. The plain cheese pizza needed some toppings. On the return, I noticed prisoners seemed happy, even those who were "slow walkers". Slow walkers is a term given to crippled old convicts who had difficulty walking. The guards working the movement team allow them to get a head start and I saw Joe Miller, "Mold Head," and even the old man Adrian Vlot who shot gunned off part of his face walking with a little more pep in their steps.

Standing next to me in line was Fat Jimmy and he did not look as happy as the cripples. Last week, he had been fired from his job. Despite being overweight and sweating heavily doing the lightest work, he enjoyed being out of his cell and being able to move about the cell house freely. I asked Jimmy why he was fired and he said it was due to his first homicide conviction. In the late 1960's, Jimmy along with a friend brutally killed and sexually assaulted another teenager. Apparently, staff or the administration did not want him having a job because of that. Prisoners do not have a right to a job and they are actually considered privileges in maximum security penitentiaries. They therefore can be given and taken away with little justification.

Towards noon, I was unlocked out of my cage for a health care pass. In a holding cage, I sat by a prisoner who goes by the name "The Alchemist" although usually people just call him Alchy. I asked the Mexican what all the fury in B House was about earlier in the day. Around 7:15 a.m., I could hear yells and the banging of bars coming from the quarter unit adjacent to the one I am assigned to. Alchy just said the prisoners were riled up and anxious to be let out for yard. Despite how men in his cell house seemed restless, he was contrarily tranquil and I thought I detected even a bit of cheerfulness. It was not long thereafter Alchy told me his conviction had been reversed on appeal. If the prosecutor does not recharge him, he will be released from custody.

The psychologist I see once a month or every other seemed very casual during our meeting. She periodically sipped on a cold soda and made some brief small talk. I tend to believe the mental health care staff are simply reviewing patients rather than trying to help them. I considered that because I am introverted and do not cause trouble or express my inner turmoil, that psychologists see no need for me to be a patient. While I was in the office I noticed another psychologist look in through the open door. She was in her mid 20's and had long blond hair. Since the warden had made mental health care checkups mandatory and I was not receiving any treatment, I thought I may as well have small talk with a more attractive woman. Anyone can sip soda and make casual conversation.

Upon mentioning that pizza was being served, the psychologist left on her lunch break and I went back into a holding cage. Alchy was no longer present, but Spoon Cake gave me a fist bump. Spoon Cake was once in my cell house and I got to know him not only because he was a cell house worker, but because of his case. Adolfo Davis had been convicted of a double homicide and sentenced to LWOP despite only being 14 years old and not actively participating in the murders. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled mandatory natural life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional and states across the country have been trying to determine what to do. Spoon Cake told me Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez was stalling having him be re-sentenced to a term of years. The District Attorney is resisting the highest court's ruling until details of it are defined in appeals to federal circuit courts. He expects to be released with time served, however, anything could happen. Interestingly, he tells me that the court will not be allowed to consider any of his behavior while in prison for the last 24 years. I guess taking those creative writing classes and learning poetry will not matter.

My neighbor Leprechaun passed over a jar of instant Folgers coffee for my cellmate and me to try. The prison store just began selling the brand last week. Since tobacco has been eliminated from the IDOC, prisoners appreciate their coffee even more. Some men including my cellmate will drink it excessively. Hyped on caffeine, Anthony argued with me that his eyes were not brown, but hazel. Hazel is actually light brown, although many people think it refers to eye color which is multi-colored. I told my cellmate that even if his eyes had a couple of non-blended colors, they were still colors which create the color brown. To settle the matter, I told him to stand underneath the bright fluorescent light. For about 5 minutes he held his slanty eyes wide so I could inspect them. There were no other colors and eventually after I thought he played a fool long enough I told  him, "As I already knew, your eyes are....shit brown!"

Mail was passed out and my cellmate received a stack of newspapers to read and preoccupy himself. He sat at the table going through them with the fan angled up from the floor blowing air on his balls. I told him not to sexually molest my fan like that, but he simply pushed the fan closer. While "Quagmire" read the News - Gazette, I sat at the other side of my bunk farthest away from him and went over blog commentary. Sometimes, I like to have fun with readers' comments particularly those I suspect have political views opposite to mine. I wrote a few witty replies to feminazis, although I suspect they will be considered mean spirited and may not be published. Blog handlers can take all the fun out of commentary. They do not know how little joy I have writing about my miserable existence and the zingers brighten up my day.

Tuesday morning, I went to the small yard to work out. There was not much to do, but I made the best of it as a few other prisoners did as well. In between sets of bench presses, I listened to black men talk about all the flagrant homosexuality on the CBS TV show "Big Brother". I knew better than to watch the program, but it was popular amongst many convicts. Apparently, there is not only a couple of gay men but a radical left wing woman with blue hair who can go either way. A prisoner I was lifting weights with said he had no respect for women who act like men and in "the hood" would beat a bull dike up if she ever crossed him. From there, the conversation went to the Juvie Hall at Joliet where many of the men once were before committing other more serious crimes as adults and being sent to the IDOC. They spoke and joked about a black teenager who was a homosexual and went by the name Kool-Aid, however, when he was released he flipped and was dating girls.

As the sun rose, the temperature greatly increased. The heat and humidity caused a number of men to cease lifting weights. It did not bother me and I was glad there were less people. With the 220 pound barbell, I did a few pull overs with Kid spotting me to make sure I did not crush my face. There is a reason why they call these "Skull crushers". Kid was mad about the female guard who passed out legal mail. "The bitch" had written him a disciplinary ticket for threats and intimidation. I knew the woman had an antagonistic attitude, although what caused him to exchange words with her was that she was reading his mail. All regular correspondence can be read by staff, however, legal mail can only be checked for contraband and for that reason it was opened in front of inmate's presence.

After yard, I was not looking forward to going into the chow hall. It was stifling hot and sweat rolled off my body as if I was in a hot box. The food being served was also very unappealing. What the prison kitchen supervisors called Chicken-Ala-King was just chicken bones, broth, and noodles. The only thing I had that was appetizing again was the donated bread and I stuffed it into a sock to make a tuna sandwich later. In the meantime, I drank a chilled bottle of Gatorade I had brought to the yard with me. Prison workers will bring a couple of buckets of ice out to the yards during the summer and men place bottles of water, soda, or Gatorade in one of them. The other bucket is used to drink from.

After eating my sandwich in the cell, I switched places with my cellmate and bathed out of the sink. Although the sink was fixed a couple of months ago, the water pressure had already dropped back down to a dribble. To wash my hair, I scrubbed out the toilet and then used the water in it to rinse. The water was cold and refreshing. I had dried off and dressed when the counselor made rounds in the quarter unit. The counselor was actually a guard who was temporarily assigned the task of being a liaison. Many prisoners thought she could not be objective and was worthless. Fortunately, I do not expect them to be of any assistance. My cellmate wanted me to inquire about Securus not allowing me to make any phone calls, however, I knew better than to ask. New to the job, she would not know and indifferent, she would not care to find out what the problem was. Prisoners in my cell house now greatly miss the former counselor who was reassigned to a different unit.

By midweek, the hot humid weather had passed and it was back to pleasant 75 degree days. Despite this, I was lethargic and greatly annoyed by prisoners who shouted from their cells. I stuffed some ear plugs in my ears and as noon approached I nodded off only to be awakened moments later by my cellmate. He told me a guard had just announced my name over the intercom system for a visit. I dressed in my state issued blue clothing as I tried to wake fully. As I did so, I could not miss how happy my cellmate was. I asked him what he was so happy about. I was the one with a visitor. "Naked day!" Anthony said. I should have known my cellmate was happy to be without my presence for a few hours. It is uncomfortable being locked in a cell with someone all the time. Guards in the visiting room even gave me extra time which they almost never do.

My mother also seemed happy when I saw her. She had been contacted by the Illinois Innocence Project. The woman who spoke to her said the reason why they have not been in contact with me was because it was summer. Nearly all the students and faculty left the university. She assured my mother that they had yet to make a decision about accepting my case. In fact, a student has taken special interest in it and was reviewing it even during summer break. She wanted to know if I needed the copies of my appeals to be sent back or if she could keep them. She was also interested in what work Northwestern University had done and why they quit. My mother explained that the students investigating my case were threatened and therefore Professor David Protess dropped it. Hopefully, the IIP will eventually take over as counsel and hire private investigators because I am having great trouble just contacting people.

When I returned from my visit, there was a stack of magazines on the counter. My cellmate said they were all from Steve. I looked through them with disbelief. "Is Steve in fantasy land?" I asked. He had subscriptions to Esquire, Cruise Travel, Vanity Fair, Bon Appetite, Forbes and Oprah. "Steve does realize he has two natural life sentences and is at Stateville Correctional Center?" I asked again rhetorically. I knew the prisoner continued to try to pamper himself and fantasize, but I did not know the extent of his delusion. I told my cellmate I was going to toss all the magazines. Even if I were free, I would not waste my time with such pretentious garbage. Anthony did not care to read them either, although he did want to look at the women in Vanity Fair.

Later in the evening, I was somewhat regretting my decision to throw out all the magazines. For a third straight night, there was nothing on TV. I had some interesting books to read, but they were several hundred pages long and required deep thought. I just wanted something to preoccupy my time for an hour or two before I went to sleep. Turning stations on my television, I stopped at CNN to watch the funeral procession in Holland. Finally, some of the dead from Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 had been brought back home. The Dutch solemnly commemorated their lost citizens and even I was saddened by the event. More so, I was angered the U.S. and its NATO allies were not responding to Russian aggression. Russia was now barraging Ukrainian forces from across the border. They had also again amassed their army to invade their neighbor at a moment's notice. Nearly 20,000 troops with heavy weaponry had been assembled by week's end and all European leaders could do is reach an agreement to step up sanctions.

Thursday morning, prisoners were treated to shredded pork for lunch. Nearly everyone came out of their cells for the meal even those Muslims who were purportedly participating in Ramadan. I sat at a full table of men including Lunch Box, Otis, Bratcher, and Steve. Bratcher I called the "Gunslinger" because he walks with his elbows out like he is going to pull 2 six shooters out. He has a bad back injury but while this may cause someone to walk hunched over, there is no reason for his arms to bow. After making fun of the Gunslinger, he defected and spoke about how his cellmate is the biggest "bug." Purportedly, Jesus collects a myriad of insects. The Mexican was at Tamms for a number of years and prisoners believe he lost some of his marbles there. I do not know why, and would love the isolation.

Pork is rarely served in prison or for that matter any unprocessed meat. The IDOC is intent on feeding prisoners in the least expensive way. Steve who was sitting next to me tried to savor the food while at the same time eating it quickly. There was no way to tell how much time guards would allow us to eat before yelling for men to get out. I told Steve to stop pretending he was at a 4 star restaurant and just shove the food in his mouth like the common convict. To help him, out, I lifted his tray towards his face and said, "Let's go, piggy! Bon appetit!" Then I went on to sarcastically thank him for sending me all the magazines. Finally, Steve stopped eating to say that he saw how much I appreciated them when he saw them in the garbage.

I worked out for almost 3 hours on the yard Thursday. Guards usually only give us 2 hour Rec periods, but possibly they were feeling generous. It was a pleasant 70 degree day with sunny skies and slight breezes. While most other prisoners played basketball, table games, or just lounged around, I was determined to take full advantage of the time to exercise. Later, I was exhausted and with my cellmate sitting at the table wearing my Koss headphones, I jumped up onto his bunk. Anthony had just been given a new mattress and it was thick and fluffy. Compared to my old mattress, where I could feel the steel underneath, it was like lying on a cloud. I said to him, "This is the Serta pedic mattress I asked the prosecutor to give me," making a joke from the movie "Law Abiding Citizen". Anthony was even more amused when I said I was getting a T-bone steak next time and would share a little with him while he checks out my iPod. Personally, I suggest he plays Bach "Air on the G String".

I did not awaken until 6 p.m., long after dinner was served. I asked my cellmate where my T-bone steak was. He said the warden is never going to allow me to have the bone in the center so I could stab him in the throat. However, he did find some packets of peanut butter. Both Little Man and Leprechaun sent me a bag. After eating prison food for 21 years, peanut butter has become a favorite snack of mine and earlier I had complained of being completely out. With the sun setting in the west casting an orange glow on the prison wall, I ate a couple of peanut butter sandwiches on good donated bread and listened to one of Steve's cassette tapes. It had Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata", Edward Greig's "Morning", and, of course, Bach's "Air on the G String". With my plush Koss headphones on, I did not hear the yells of convicts, and almost felt a bit of tranquility.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Malaysia Flight 17 -- July 20, 2014

On Thursday, Malaysian Flight MH17 crashed to the ground in Eastern Ukraine killing all passengers aboard. Deloris and nearly 300 mangled bodies were strewn across the countryside where Russian rebels are fighting government forces. The tragedy brought international grief and a demand for answers despite how the culprits were unmistakable. The Russian military has been providing the separatists in Ukraine with ever greater manpower, training, and weapons including surface to air missile systems. A Soviet made BUK obviously took down the Boeing 777 with separatists mistaking it for a Ukrainian military aircraft. The only question is how the West will respond. Russia seized Crimea and virtually nothing was done except verbal condemnation. After Russia continued to incite civil war to tear apart another chunk of the nation, Europe and the U.S. finally galvanized the courage to impose economic sanctions. The threat to increase them will not deter the Kremlin nor are they the least bit commiserate with the massacre of a few hundred innocent civilians. Western nations must commit full heartedly to Russian aggression even if it means the use of military forces.

Since Petro Poreshenko was elected president of Ukraine in May, the military has stepped up its offensive against Russian separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. However, government forces have been using great restraint to avoid civilian casualties. The enemy is not the people living there peaceably, but armed separatists and Russian forces which are fighting a proxy war with Ukraine. Russia is the true source of the unrest in the east and is seeking to annex more territory. The Kremlin is looking for any justification to invade and in the meantime is providing massive covert support to the rebels. This support has increased as the Ukrainian military isolates separatists to a few enclaves and pushes them to the border. The rebels have grown increasingly desperate and it should not have been a great surprise they were to mistakenly shoot down a passenger jet. Incredibly, though, the denial of responsibility and subterfuge has caused some skepticism.

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 left Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Four hours after take off, it suddenly burst into flames and crashed in the fields outside of Hrabove, Ukraine. Despite the airline losing a plane earlier this year, passenger jets just do not usually fall from the sky. On CNN, various theories were tossed about including terrorism and technical failure while the first images of the wreckage and plumes of smoke came in to the network. Initially, I was willing to entertain them until I saw the travel path of the airplane went over the war zone in Eastern Ukraine. The world media and public may have forgotten about the cauldron of fierce fighting in the area, but I did not. Nor for a second did I believe the Ukrainian military was to blame and that just left one suspect.

On the Rick Savage radio show, I was hoping to get more decisive indictment and commentary, but was greatly disappointed. Savage was actually accusing the government in Kiev of a conspiracy to frame Russia or their puppet insurgency. I can agree whole heartedly with some of the radio talk show host's opinions, however, occasionally he is just wacko. Furthermore, there is a divide between us on the use of America's military and influence abroad. Libertarians have excellent values when it comes to increasing individual freedom and reducing the size of government including the dismantling of the police and nanny state. However, they fail to understand these domestic laissez-faire tenets cannot be applied to foreign policy. Kentucky Senator and possible GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul also shares this same fundamental flaw in ideology which unfortunately buttresses the current president's disengagement with the world.

Largely ignored by the liberal mass media is Barack Obama's connection to radical left wing activists and ideas before his political career. The president's mindset can be gleaned from reading his article "Breaking the War" which was published for the student newspaper at Columbia University where he gained his Bachelor's degree in 1983. In the article, he blames Ronald Reagan for the Cold War. From his twisted perspective, Reagan was the antagonist fighting communism around the world as well as setting up nuclear missiles in Britain and seeking to add more in continental Europe. Interestingly, part of the reason Reagan sought to deploy tactical nukes in Europe was to counter the BUK surface to air missiles the Soviet Union introduced in the east in 1980. John Kerry who is now Barack Obama's Secretary of State also agreed Reagan was the problem and not the U.S.'s arch nemesis. The two were sympathetic to Marxist ideology and shared a belief there needs to be a bipolar world. They were horrified by the idea of a single global superpower much like the Rosenbergs who were tried for treason and executed for giving the Soviet Union assistance in creating the atom bomb. President Barack Obama's radical political beliefs did not change over time and this is readily apparent by his friendship with Bill Ayers, a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, at the University of Chicago in the early 1990's. Even now with the powers of the White House, he continues to press for socialism and to weaken the U.S. at home and abroad.

After 298 people were murdered above the skies of eastern Ukraine, I thought the U.S. President would be compelled to act strongly. Yet, I was again disappointed and reminded of his global world view where America is not a leader but just another partner in the international community. The president simply called the crash a tragedy and expressed empathy with the victims' families. Vice President Joe Biden was not much more reassuring when he said a team of U.S. experts was being sent at the Ukrainian government's request to help "determine what happened". To determine what happened?! The Pentagon knows exactly what happened. They eavesdrop on U.S. citizens pervasively and I know they have massive surveillance over war torn eastern Ukraine. Were top American officials not immediately given Intel or were they just stalling for time? The White House administration would not want to or even talk without all their peacenik thinking heads coordinating a plan to do nothing.

While the U.S. officials waited to respond to the crash, propaganda was quickly spewing forth from the Kremlin and Russian rebels to warp world opinion. A pro-Russian separatist commander even had the audacity not only to deny responsibility but to claim the Malaysian jetliner was stuffed with dead bodies and then taken down by the Ukrainian military. Igor Girkin AKA Strelkov gave his ludicrous version of events to Russian media and the pro-rebel news website "Russkava Vesna" which ran with the story. According to Girkin, soldiers under his command had notified him that numerous bodies found on the ground were drained of blood and had signs of lengthy decomposition. To cover up the ruse, Ukrainian authorities had planted large amount of blood serum into the plane. How Ukrainians carried out this conspiracy with the collaboration or without the knowledge of Malaysian Airlines, the Dutch, and various other officials was not explained, nor do I think it could be with any semblance of sanity. The former Russian military intelligence agent was apparently an idiot, nutcase, drunk, or all of the above.

Russian government controlled news outlets were better at deception, although not much more. Reporters from Russia claimed the separatists did not have the capability to take down the passenger jet which was flying at an altitude of 33,000 feet or over 6 miles and therefore only the Ukrainian military could have done it. However, this deduction was contradicted by evidence the rebels were equipped with the SA-11 or Soviet-era BUK mobile anti-aircraft missile system. The BUK has a range of 72,000 feet and Ukrainian police surveillance already provided proof of it being in the hands of pro-Russian insurgents before the plane's explosion. On Friday, one truck was also recorded fleeing into Russia with only 3 of its 4 missiles aboard. The Ukrainian government had even intercepted communications between rebel commander Igor Bezler and a Russian intelligence officer that his men had just shot down a passenger jet. He goes on to describe to Colonel Vasily Geranin the immense wreckage and human carnage. It is extraordinary Russian separatists would even attempt to deny responsibility when immediately after the Boeing 777 was obliterated at 2:15 GMT, rebels bragged of shooting down what they believed was a military transport plane on social media. These messages and film footage was quickly deleted after they learned their mistake, but were still stored online.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attempt to deny separatists struck down Malaysian Flight MH17, but astonishingly placed blame squarely on the Ukrainian government. They were responsible because it occurred over their territory and if they had not pursued taking back control of their own land, the death of 298 people would not have happened. This Orwellian double speak was difficult to comprehend and I had to take a moment to follow his words. Russia had wrested control of another part of Ukraine and because they fought to gain it back and it was still technically their territory, they were the guilty party. This was the most absurd, backwards logic I had heard in some time. Contrarily, it was Russia which was to blame and I was glad when U.S. and other national leaders officially condemned the Kremlin.

British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote an Op-ed in England's Sunday Times stating the growing weight of evidence suggests the separatists shot down the plane and if so it was a direct result of Russia destabilizing a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, and providing militias with training and armaments. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also finally weighed in saying the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine destroyed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 and the Kremlin was complicit. Russia was supporting the insurgents with training and equipment including heavy weaponry like the BUK anti-aircraft missile system. All of the world leaders, however, parsed their words including Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans who demanded the culprits be found. "Once we have the proof, we will not stop until the people are brought to justice," he exclaimed. Proof? What more proof does the world particularly the Netherlands need? One would think that after an atrocity such as this where 192 of their citizens were massacred, the Dutch would be prepared to drop their tulips and pick up some rifles.

Although Vladimir Putin was to give the most insincere condolences, the Russian rebels who shot down the Boeing 777 were much more forthcoming with their ambivalence. These soldiers saw Holland as much of an enemy as the government in Kiev. Newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poreshenko sought closer ties with the West and Europe was more than welcoming them into the fold from Russian nationalists' point of view. At the very least, dead Dutch civilians were simply collateral damage. The bodies were allowed to rot under the hot summer sun and periodic bursts of rain. Birds pecked at their eyes and other animals gnawed on their flesh. The personal effects were plundered or treated without concern. On CNN, I saw film footage of an insurgent twirling a child's doll before tossing it on the ground. When the bodies were finally collected, they were not treated much differently. Drunken separatists stacked bodies on the backs of trucks which were then loaded on cars of freight trains which I was surprised were refrigerated. Karlijn Keijzer, a pretty 25-year-old Dutch graduate was shown on television and I wondered if her decomposing corpse was on one of those first trains that left the rebel held town of Torez where the BUK missile was fired killing her and another 297 passengers.

A day before Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was blown up over the skies of eastern Ukraine, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions against Russia. For months, the Pentagon and other intelligence agencies have known Russia has been behind the insurgency and it is not a domestic uprising as the Kremlin would have the world believe. While Russian news outlets churn out propaganda, their military does little to hide their operations in Ukraine. Russian special Ops, technical advisers, and other soldiers are across the border leading separatists. Along with them is a free flow of military equipment, trucks, and heavy weaponry. Because of Barack Obama's opposition to engaging Russia like Ronald Reagan did in the 1980's, he instead is seeking the least confrontational approach.

The sanctions against Russia included its largest oil producer Rosneft and 3rd largest bank as well as some armaments manufacturers. Gazprom was also targeted and its stock share price fell 6% before rebounding partly the day after the airline disaster. The U.S. stock market seemed unperturbed by the sanctions and rose to record highs. The Dow Jones Industrial Avg. ended the week at 17,100. Interest rates are causing investors to pour into the market and the fear of a trade war with Russia is not daunting. The sanctions are not very tough and trade between the two countries only accounts for 2%. For Russia to be hurt economically, it will require Europeans to join the U.S. in totally shutting off trade with their menacing eastern neighbor. Russia is heavily dependent on selling the oil and natural gas to the West as well as their technology and finance. London banks and other financial institutions could squeeze billions of dollars in savings, capital, and equities in an instant. On Tuesday, European leaders will meet to consider further economic sanctions, however, I doubt they are willing to make the sacrifices necessary. I also believe more sanctions are not enough and military forces must be used.

Vladimir Putin strongly believes in restoring the former Soviet Union's territory and influence. These ambitions were encouraged by Barack Obama who wanted to "reset relations" and displaying weakness. Because of his radical liberal ideology, the U.S. president repeatedly missed opportunities to dissuade the Russian leader long before the Ukrainian revolution began. Now with his jaws clenched on another piece of Eastern Europe, it will be difficult to dislodge them. However, the Malaysian Airlines catastrophe gives Obama a chance to galvanize European support for not only economic sanctions but military actions. If Russia is going to aid the insurgents in Ukraine, the West can aid the legitimate government with all the heavy weaponry and manpower they need. The corrupt and precarious puppet government Russia has in Belarus can also be unhinged. If Putin fails to release Crimea, the little piece of Russia around Kalingrad can be seized. It should have been returned to Poland anyway a couple of decades ago. Finally, the Bosperus Straight which Russia's naval fleet in Crimea is dependent upon to get out of the Black Sea can be closed. If the U.S. had real leadership like Reagan who Obama so liked to criticize, there is no limit to what could be done, although America would have never been put in this situation to begin with.

Some Americans probably believe the U.S. does not have a duty to defend Europe. However, when Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed the Soviet Union to swallow up half the continent, there became one and it has never ceased. When Germany was crushed, it left a huge power vacuum that needed to be filled. Harry Truman recognized this and heavily supported the Marshal Plan and NATO. Over the years, the Truman Doctrine was wisely kept by succeeding presidents, most notably Ronald Reagan who saw his mission as destroying a malevolent communist empire. With its collapse this did not mean America could afford to walk away and NATO was expanded eastward. Furthermore, a treaty was signed with Russia guaranteeing Ukraine's sovereignty if it gave up its nuclear arsenal. Barack Obama has turned his back on this commitment and for that matter those around the world.

The geopolitical significance of Ukraine cannot be understated. It is the breadbasket of Europe and has vast undervalued national resources. However, more importantly, its inclusion into the European Union will create a balance of power. Having Ukraine as an ally or simply independent is a counterweight and check to possible Russian aggression. The country is pivotal and acts as a doorway to the European peninsula. Various Asiatic invaders have entered the continent going through the flat prairie Steppe from the Huns to Genghis Khan. Locking this gateway is vital to the national security needs of the U.S. and its European allies. Hopefully, the deaths of nearly 300 people on Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was not in vain and galvanizes the West's resolve to prevent a far greater tragedy.