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Friday, January 17, 2014

Out of the Ordinary -- Nov. 9, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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