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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Visitor from the Past -- August 23, 2014

A couple of months ago I was surprised to receive a letter from a girl I had not seen in nearly 25 years. "Cynthia" had gone to junior high school with me and I was elated she contacted me after all these years. For all practical purposes, my life abruptly ended at 18 and the years before my arrest consequently have an enormous significance. Her letter brought me back to a time that was not filled with ceaseless misery and emptiness. Quickly, I wrote her a reply and we have exchanged a few more letters since. In our correspondence she expressed how she would like to see me once again. Although I had some reservations, I filled out the necessary paperwork to have her approved as a visitor. Yesterday, she came to the penitentiary and despite the terrible circumstances, I was very happy to see her. The nostalgia I have for the distant past cannot be broken.

Cynthia's first letter was written with large round print and a few smiley faces. It reminded me of the notes girls in middle school wrote minus the looping cursive. Oddly, Cindy was not certain if I would remember her, and did not enclose any photos because she thought they may not be allowed. She did not have to send me a picture, however, for me to recall who she was or what she looked like. Simply recognizing her name on the envelope I imagined the friendly girl with long dark hair and slim figure. We did not date or even attend any of the same classes together, but the junior high school we went to was rather small. It had students from 6th to 8th grade who were basically from 3 grade schools in the west suburban town. There were fewer than 300 students and I remember most of them particularly those who were in my grade.

Over the decades that I have been incarcerated, family and friends faded away. At the Cook County Jail, my Sundays were filled with visitors and I spent much of the day talking with people through a mesh screen in Plexiglas. Immediate family drove into the inner city to see me every week. My extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins also visited regularly. Often Brian and other friends including a few girls I had dated in the past showed up. Remarkably, my first visitor was a girl I had not seen in a couple of years. However, after being convicted and sent to the penitentiary, people become disconnected as the years pass by. They realize my life was within these walls and theirs was outside them. Despite my conviction, one girl continued to visit me until she learned a life sentence literally meant life. The former statute where people were eligible for parole after 12 years ended in 1979. Life literally meant life. I never saw her again.

Since Sue created this blog forum in 2009, a few former classmates of mine have contacted me. The emails are far and few between and usually brief. Some have signed my petition for executive clemency which is still pending before Governor Quinn. However, rarely does anyone write and they are all aware of my arrest and conviction. The news media coverage was immense and I did not think there could be a classmate who missed it. Amazingly, though, Cindy was not aware until earlier this year. After high school, she moved out of state and only recently returned to the Chicago metro area. She reacquainted with classmates who mentioned what happened to me. From her letters she seemed to be shocked by the news and that is what compelled her to write.

I assume most of the students I went to school with believed I was guilty. The news media was incredibly negative and full of slanderous reporting. It may not have been until the Palatine Brown's Chicken murders were solved that they began to question my conviction. Cynthia did not ask but I knew I had to address the pink elephant in the room. In my letter to her I said that during my high school years I increasingly began to associate with men involved in criminal activity. I did so for various reasons but mostly to escape living at home. After my 18th birthday I moved in with Bob Faraci who only a couple of weeks later allegedly killed someone in the northern suburb of Barrington. She would probably have more questions but I left them for another time.

In junior high, as throughout most of my school years, I was on the honor roll. I was also an exceptional athlete and played on numerous sports teams both in private leagues and at school. The students I associated with during that period of time that Cindy knew me were also very clean cut and heavily engaged in sports. The exception may have been Tom and his older friends who were in higher grades than us. Tom had failed a grade or maybe two. He was probably considered a trouble maker, but he was fun to be around. He was also probably the only other student who could be my equal on the football and wrestling teams. We were also a good duo in other activities in junior high social life. Like Cindy, however, he moved away and I never saw him again after 8th grade.

This week it was entertaining for me to watch the Little League World Series. The televised games reminded me of when I played in junior high. Sunday was my favorite game because it was between Law Vegas, Nevada and Chicago's Jackie Robinson West. Numerous prisoners at Stateville were cheering for the all black team and thus I intentionally sought to antagonize them by rooting against J.R.W. Furthermore, I felt a little connection with the kids from Vegas. There was Austin Kryszczuk who teammates nicknamed "AK-47" apparently after his initials, size, and physical prowess. Also playing on the team was Brennan Holligan and he also reminded me of myself because of his pitching. Throughout nearly all my 7 years playing baseball, I played the position of pitcher. Coaches wanted me on the mound because by 8th grade I was able to regularly throw over 80 mph fast balls. On the small Little League diamond, 77 was the equivalent to a 100 mph pitch in professional baseball. It was very difficult for any middle schooler to hit and Holligan with almost similar speed kept Jackie Robinson West to only a few hits. Boasting, I said to my cellmate, "If I were there, it would have been a shut out." Anthony retorted that there also would be a few batters hit with wild pitches. I cannot deny that my fast ball was not as accurate and sometimes came with collateral damage.

More amusing than the comments between my cellmate and I was my exaggerated cheers for the benefit of convicts in the building. Early in the game, Las Vegas had the bases loaded and I was just waiting to burst with applause. When Brad Stone hit it out of the park for a grand slam, I shouted, "It's going, it's going, it's gone!" and then clapped loudly. The cell house went quiet except for a few disgruntled mutterings. Vegas went on to win by slaughter rule in the 4th inning, 12 to 2, and I was very pleased. The news media has been heaping praise on the all black Jackie Robinson West team. I knew it was simply due to their race. Later, the black Little League girl, Mone Davis, would become the darling of liberals and even placed on the cover of ESPN magazine.

After the game, a biker asked me if it was I who was making "the natives" unhappy. I could not deny my fun, but quickly changed the subject. Bone looked very sickly and moved almost like the living-dead. He said he felt like he had one foot in the grave and this was ironic because the following day he was to break his foot. Early Monday morning I heard him telling the sergeant that he fell out of bed and needed to go to the Health Care Unit. The sergeant seemed unmoved and Bone then added that there was blood all over his mattress, sheets, and the floor. Despite trying to bandage the wound, he continued to bleed. A few hours later when I went to commissary, I noticed a trail of blood on the concrete and knew it had to have come from the biker.

I do not think my cellmate was a jock during his school years, however, on Tuesday he went to the gym to play full contact basketball. The black inmates he plays with have begun to call him "Hatchet," apparently due to his physical defensive play and flagrant fouls. It was a humid day and inside the unventilated gym the building was like a hot house. Anthony returned almost soaked in sweat and hung up his soiled under and outer clothes to dry. Unfortunately while he was gone I washed my blues after working out and the cell had wet clothes draped everywhere. Although we used our fans, a heat index near 100 prevented them from drying until well after midnight.

The hot weather continued into the week and when my mother visited on Wednesday, it was very uncomfortable. A fan was placed near an open door in the back of the room but this did not help. The visiting room was filled with a crowd of people, many of whom were fat. In addition to the heat, it was very loud and my mother could only hear me if I spoke loudly or leaned forward. At Stateville prisoners must visit with friends and family at specially designed tables. The tables are lower than the stools and the stools are intentionally set far apart to prevent the passing of contraband or touching. A prisoner sits on one side of the table and up to 3 people can sit on the other side.

In contrast to the visiting room, the strip search room was cooled with air conditioning. Visits in summers past were also but purportedly the A/C unit was broken. I did not believe this was true and most likely administrators were trying to save money or intentionally make visits unpleasant to discourage them. Typically, prisoners were in a hurry to be done with a strip search but on this occasion me and the other men undressed and dressed slowly while conversing with guards. Everyone was making fun of the guard who passed out legal mail. She had a lot of attitude and could greatly annoy men. I was not aware but she also is on the "crisis team" which is staff meant to help prisoners deal with trauma or some other psychologically upsetting event. Men in the strip search room joked that she could be the source of distress and when an inmate asks to see the crisis team, she would only leave and come back to give him more grief.

In the evening I watched the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It was an amusing 80's film about high schoolers. My cellmate tried to make character connections with me. Initially he said I was ticket scalper who tried to be cool and left the girl hanging when she needed a drive to the hospital for an abortion. He knew this was not true however because it was impossible for me not to be myself. Furthermore, I wanted children and was opposed to abortion. Then I was the black football player who goes ballistic when his younger brother crashes his car. I told him I was always a brute when I played football and did not need a reason to blast the quarterback or some other offensive player. His last comparison was to the stoner played by Sean Penn. This was ridiculous but I had to agree that I did attend classes other than my own and while I never thought of ordering pizza delivery to class, I may miss a class to leave for lunch. During high school there was no stereotypical clique or student Anthony could compare to me. I was a rogue and did not fit into any square.

Thursday, the penitentiary was placed on a low level lockdown. Thunderstorms had rolled through and purportedly disrupted guards' radio transmissions. I spent the day in the cell doing what I commonly do. Occasionally, I would reminisce about my years in high school and even to the time period I knew Cindy. In my last letter to her I wrote that she had been approved to visit and she could drop by the penitentiary any time she wanted. I was a little hesitant to put her on my visitor list, however. In my mind, I had an idealized image of her I did not want altered. I knew it was foolish but I wanted her to be the exact same girl I remembered from 8th grade. Also weighing on my thoughts was how much I had aged or may be disappointing to her. I had fallen in so many respects from my years in high school. The prison visiting room was definitely not going to help any impression I wanted to make. In fact, it was the last place I would like to meet a classmate I had not seen in 25 years.

Close to noon on Friday my name and cell number was announced over the loudspeaker for a visit. I told a guard to give me 10 minutes to get ready. I was not expecting anyone and if it was not my sister, I assumed it was Cynthia. As I brushed my teeth and looked myself over in the small plastic mirror taped to the wall, my cellmate began razzing me that I was preparing for my big date. Going on a visit at a maximum security prison was hardly a date and his insinuations that I had a girlfriend were silly. Despite this, I did want to make a good impression if this was even possible in my circumstances. For me it was like the class reunion I never had the opportunity to attend.

From the air conditioned strip search room, I walked down the stairs into the visiting room. The heat was even greater than that on Wednesday and what I would expect in a Brazilian rain forest. The place was also mobbed with over a hundred people all talking and yelling at once. It was a zoo and the worst possible circumstances. However then through the crowd I saw Cynthia and I could not help but smile as I approached her. For a moment all the noise, people, and other unpleasantries disappeared and there was just the girl I remembered from junior high.

After so much time had passed, a person may expect a disconnect, but I felt the opposite. Conversation was easy and there was alot to talk about. We spoke about school, classmates we both knew, and our lives since 8th grade. For me there was little to say regarding the latter. Just out of high school I had been arrested and charged with murder. My attorney failed to contest a lying cop and I have been in prison ever since. Unlike me, she has lived a very full life. She had married, had children, and divorced before my first appeal was heard. Thereafter, she was employed in various lines of work in various different states. Eventually, Cindy earned a bachelor's degree in education and was now a school teacher. I must have expressed disappointment that most of my life was a great empty void and she said it was not what one does but who they are. Contrarily, I thought all meaning and value came from accomplishments and I was a pathetic failure.

I asked what classmates she met earlier in the year. I expected to know most of them but only remembered Kristen. I had several classes with her and inquired how she was. I was told she was well and was married with 2 children. She could not say the same about a punk skateboarder who I came close to putting into some shop machinery. Troy was shot and killed in a mugging. I said, "How terrible," but in my flat sarcasm I wondered if some students thought the same about my wrongful conviction and sentence to life, a fate comparable to death. In fact, I would have preferred to be shot dead. I asked what the other students she had met thought about my plight. I was told they just talked about what occurred and did not express an opinion. Possibly, that was Cindy's way of being nice.

I then asked her what she thought about my conviction. She said it was incredibly bizarre. "How could you be convicted for someone elses actions when that person was acquitted?" she asked. As I have done countless times before, I explained that the courts look at the cases separately. They do not consider the killer was set free while I was made to languish in prison indefinitely for purportedly lending my car. Cindy asked if I had a public defender or a bad attorney representing me. "No, Bill Von Hoene was actually a prominent attorney from the prestigious law firm of Jenner and Block, and he is now on the board of Exelon Corporation. However, because he lacked experience in criminal law and was primarily a civil attorney, he made a horrendous blunder in trial strategy," I replied. I went on to describe the arguments we had when he failed to contest the testimony of the police officer who interrogated me and again when he refused to allow me and my alibi witnesses to testify.

At times I gave her long looks. It was like peering into a portal to the distant past. I was also scrutinizing her appearance and every slight movement. She was the same in many ways but also different. It was the differences that I quickly picked up on and disliked including her eyebrows which were trimmed excessively. Girls could often be unnerved by my steady gaze and I suspect she also, even as an adult, became uncomfortable. "Would you prefer if I were sullen and disengaging?" I asked. No, she did not want that and said she was glad I was happy to see her again. I told her I have probably not smiled so much in months. Prison was the most miserable and soul draining place to live.

At 2:30 sharp a guard yelled for everyone to get out. Cindy asked if we could hug. On the walls are signs that no touching is allowed. These rules applied during visits and not upon greeting or leaving. I did not particularly like hugs, but I gave her one and then grabbed her belt buckle to pull towards me. She said she will come again to see me and I wondered as I let her go. Sitting at the table, I watched her walk out of the visiting room and up the short flight of stairs. She looked back a few times and I tried to imprint a mental picture of her in my mind. I may never see her again or revisit the past. Those times were over, and no matter how much I would like to, there is no going back.

As I write this post there are dark skies outside the barred windows of the cell house. The rain is falling and I recall a song which became popularized by the 80's movie The Breakfast Club. I believe it is called "Don't You Forget about Me" (by Simple Minds) and the lyrics repeat in my thoughts. The Breakfast Club was about a group of students who had to serve a Saturday detention. All of them came from divergent cliques or paths in life until they converged on that day. At the end of the film, a person is left uncertain whether they will ever meet again and this is how I feel. Regardless, I am glad to have had this one visit from the past. Even the dead like to be remembered by the living on occasion.

50 comments:

  1. Paul I really enjoyed this post and I am glad you enjoyed the visit for your friend from your childhood.So often it seems like you don't enjoy your visits.I can imagine you smiling during this one as you said you did in this post. Keep the faith and stay strong.

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  2. Whoa dude. Grabbing the belt buckle of a married woman?

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    1. Cindy has been divorced for about 20 years.

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  3. I'm sorry that people abandoned you when the found out that you were not eligible for parole. I was also glad to hear that you are antiabortion.

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  4. "she said it was not what one does but who they are. Contrarily, I thought all meaning and value came from accomplishments and I was a pathetic failure."

    Listen to your classmate, Mr Modrowski. She's right.

    But from your "accomplishments" perspective: you are making the best of the terrible hand of cards that you were dealt. That IS accomplishment.

    Amirite?

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    1. Men tend to view themselves as what they do, and not so much who they are. They seem to identify their accomplishments as being where they stand in their careers, and if there is a problem they are all about fixing it-with action- and not just listening or writing. Men seem to really need action. Paul you are an accomplished writer, something you perfected while in prison. Many highly educated people are not great writers. They may be good at other things,but they cannot write and edit their own papers for publications even as well respected professionals. Many hire people to help them write their books. Yes, all these books out there by all these highly educated people are not the work of a sole writer. So Paul you have definately made great accomplishments. This blog is well written, and you have a group of regular readers. There is a reason we are regulars and it's the quality of your writing. You are extremely accomplished, so when your inner voice laments what could have been try to take comfort in what you have done with what you had. Your friend from the past was right, and I hope you will be able to stay in touch with her. Also, if I were a better writer this comment would have been much more eloquent.

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    2. Thank you....but I believe there is no valor slowly dying in a prison.

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    3. I am glad there are so many people who find my stories interesting or entertaining. However, writing about my life does not seem to be an accomplishment. Contrarily, it often reminds me how meaningless my existence is.

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    4. You have heard of the now-deceased IDOC prisoner Bill Heirens? Most likely innocent but look at what a difference he made. YOUR LIFE IS NOT MEANINGLESS. NO LIFE IS MEANINGLESS. Darn it, you make me wanna cry.

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    5. http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/200805/william-heirens-lipstick-killer-chicago

      I saw this article about Bill Heirens in GQ a few years ago. That guy was railroaded big time.

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    6. Someone needs to send you articles about Heirens.

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    7. Yeah, hope a reader will send you the GQ article on Heirens. Maybe it will inspire you. Bill Heirens spent his life in IDOC from age 17 until his death at 83. Yet his life was not wasted. Neither is your life , Paul. You are valuable too.

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  5. Too bad about the Roe Conn show being canceled, right Paul?

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    1. During the last year, I listened to Roe Conn less often. I felt the show was waning and was not surprised it was cancelled. Only the first hour was devoted to important news and thereafter it was chit chat filler. Regularly, it was interrupted for traffic and weather reports which annoyed me. For a little while, Roe and Roeper tried covering sports for the final hour, however, there are much better radio and TV shows that do this. The 2 to 6 p.m. time slot is difficult to fill and after 25 years Roe Conn may have lost his edge. I do not know if I will be a listener of Steve Dahl who has taken over, but there are several good talk radio show hosts on WLS AM 890 including Rush Limbaugh, John Kass, and Mark Levine.

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    2. Agree that Roe Conn lost his edge, as you said. His show was much better in the 1990s/early 2000s. In fact, I think that the entire WLS 890 lineup was better 15-20 years ago. Or maybe I'm just becoming nostalgic as I age!
      Mark Levin is excellent. I like him better than Limbaugh.

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  6. Great writer. Very honest. People care. Strangers care, not many but the ones who do are exceptional people. Keep putting yourself out there Paul. Wear your heart on your sleeve. It is you.

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  7. You got a bachelors degree in prison with a straight A average and you say you haven't accomplished anything?

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    1. Even if I were pardoned by the governor, my degree is worthless. Who wants to hire someone with an empty 20 year resume and is 40 years old? What practical skills do I have to offer other than being very knowledgeable about history, politics and government? Learning is not an accomplishment. It is a means to an end.

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    2. Well I disagree Paul. It IS an accomplishment.

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    3. A degree is an accomplishment. Period. Especially getting one in the environment that you live in. I'm impressed, even if you are not.

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    4. The baby boomers are starting to retire. A lot of companies would love to hire 40 year olds with 20 plus productive work years ahead of them.

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    5. If Paul thinks he hasn't accomplished anything....then I believe he is wrong. Sorry to disagree, Paul.

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    6. I'll hire you to be a nanny/tutor to our four sons and two daughters.

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    7. Yup, I'm sure Paul is hoping for a pardon from the governor, just so he can be a nanny....or a "manny" as they call the male nannies.

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    8. If available, I could have earned several masters degrees during my 2 decades in prison, however, they would have no value. I have natural life without parole. But I do appreciate everyone's kind comments.....

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    9. Anon. 12/7/14: Governor Quinn made no decision on my clemency petition, apparently leaving it for the newly elected Gov. Rauner. Now my only recourse is through the courts which will probably take a decade. How many companies are interested in hiring a 50 year old ex-convict?

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    10. You'd be surprised...

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    11. Paul, if you think your degree is worthless, why did you get it in the first place?

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    12. In the 1990s, I still had delusions that I may be released in the near future. Note I was 25 years old when I graduated and if my direct appeal had been successful, I could have gone back to school to earn a degree in STEM which would have been valuable. Today I am 40 and my life is over.

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    13. Paul I'm impressed.

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  8. "a punk skateboarder who I came close to putting into some shop machinery." AAAAHH, The 80's. Things were so different then. They're all punk skateboarders now.

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  9. Several years ago, Andy was sentenced to prison. During his stay, he got along well with the guards and all his fellow inmates. The warden saw that deep down, Andy was a good person and made arrangements for Andy to learn a trade while doing his time.

    After 3 years, Andy was recognized as one of the best carpenters in the local area. Often he would be given a weekend pass to do odd jobs for the citizens of the community, and he always reported back to prison before Sunday night was over.

    The warden was thinking of remodeling his kitchen and in fact had done much of the work himself. But he lacked the skills to build a set of kitchen cupboards and a large counter top which he had promised his wife. So he called Andy into his office and asked him to complete the job for him. But, alas, Andy refused. He told the warden, "Gosh, I'd really like to help you but counter fitting is what got me into prison in the first place."

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    Replies
    1. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk,....

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  10. A question for the blog moderators,
    Can we submit Paul's name and blog site to some prayer chains?

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    1. Of course you can! I'm not sure whether I believe Paul when he says he's a nonbeliever because growing up he sure was! He studied the Bible on Fridays, and attended church services regularly. I remember when he made his first holy communion because I attended the family party.

      Somehow, with all he's been through, perhaps he lost his faith. But I believe God has not forgotten him. I pray for him often and appreciate all the blog readers who are also praying and supporting him.

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    2. Really? Paul was raised Catholic?!

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    3. First Communion? Paul, were you brought up Catholic?

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    4. People lose their faith. It happens.

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    5. one who has submitted this info to dozens of sites and chainsDecember 14, 2014 at 9:41 PM

      You can submit anonymous prayer requests to church websites. (You can even create an anonymous email just for this purpose on yahoo or gmail, if the church site requires an email address) For example, you can try the websites of churches in your city or of your denomination. Make sure to tell about this blog. Especiay churches in Illinois need to hear about this.

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  11. Glad to read another post.

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  12. I hope more friends from your past will visit you or at least write.

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  13. " The visiting room was filled with a crowd of people, many of whom were fat"

    Why does their weight matter at all?

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    1. I am reporting my observations. Descriptions are important to give readers a better picture of what I see and experience. Had the crowd of people been strikingly thin, I would have written that. Furthermore, fat people take up more space, sweat more, and give off more heat all of which added to the unpleasant conditions in the visiting room.

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  14. Paul was not raised Catholic... His parents were Jehovah's Witnesses. Anytime we had any kind of holiday functions/classroom parties... Paul was never there & I often wondered why!! Paul & I grew up from 1st grade thru 10th when he left our school system.

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    1. Paul was basically raised as a Catholic. While taking a class in theology, Paul's mother studied many different religions. She would attend services at many different churches, and Paul often went with her. He probably knows the Bible better than most of us! No one in the family was ever a Jehovah's Witness to my knowledge.

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    2. Feb. 14 Anonymous: Who are you? Send me a letter. I would like to reconnect with former classmates.

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    3. What is full contact basketball?

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  15. You're a non religious person who's against abortion? That's got to be rare.

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If you choose Name / URL, you can write any name and you don't need a URL. Or you can choose Anonymous. Paul loves getting your Comments. They are all mailed to him.