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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fat Jimmy and the Death of Punishment -- Nov. 30, 2013

Last week I was watching the movie "Ghostbusters," but during commercials I scanned through other stations. I happened to stop at HLN where Nancy Grace was ranting about how nice convicts have it in prison. A guest on the program, Prof. Robert Blecker, wrote a book entitled "The Death of Punishment" where he describes how America's prison system is no longer punitive. To corroborate his point of view, film footage of death row inmates playing heavy metal music was shown. These condemned prisoners were allowed to form a band due to their good behavior. More interesting to me was an interview of an Illinois inmate who looked very familiar. The prisoner spoke about how he worked in the kitchen and enjoyed being alone in a cell when he returned from his job assignment until his cellmate returned from his work detail. One of his favorite pastimes was watching the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." He generalized his life as fairly good. Nancy Grace was appalled. Why should men condemned to execution be allowed to have a heavy metal band? Why should a man who sexually assaulted and brutally killed a 14-year-old boy and then killed again after being released be allowed to live a good life?

The segment on Nancy Grace was only the final 5 minutes of the November 20th broadcast. During the half minute interview clip, I tried to discern if I knew who the Illinois prisoner was. I asked my cellmate to turn to HLN and tell me if he thought the man was "Fat Jimmy." James Perruquet was a person we both knew fairly well and lived on the lower floor of the cell house. Fat Jimmy, as he is known in prison, is an overweight Caucasian man with wavy gray hair. He is a friendly person with lazy, folksy speech. The way he spoke and his face was nearly identical to the man on TV. However, I was not certain because the prisoner giving the interview was much younger and still had color to his hair.

My cellmate was watching the final minutes of one of his TV shows and did not change stations. Later, however, he watched the Nancy Grace show re-telecast after I had gone to sleep. In the morning, he said it was definitely Fat Jimmy, and Grace had even said his full name. His crimes surprised us because he does not seem like a violent person or a pedophile. Since I became familiar with him, however, there did seem to be something a little off kilter. I had this impression of a hillbilly-type character out of the movie "Deliverance" playing the banjo. Thus, I confronted him about his case during the Spring. He told me he was in prison for stabbing to death his neighbor. The neighbor was an ex-con like him and was trying to put the moves on his wife. The neighbor called the police on Jimmy for a domestic dispute and then came over to his trailer. A few days after this, the man attempted to barge in and this is when Jimmy grabbed a knife and stabbed him. The story was detailed and very believable. I had no reason to doubt him and I still do not. What Jimmy did not mention, however, was why he was in prison previously.

The cell house was first to be fed and typically I will not bother going to the chow hall. However, I heard baked chicken was being served and this was one of the better meals served at Stateville. While in line, I spoke to Fat Jimmy's former cellmate who works behind the counter. I told him his cellmate was famous and was on the Nancy Grace show the previous night. He said he did not catch the program, but had heard about it from others. Regularly when I was their neighbor and thereafter I noticed they rarely spoke to each other. Many times a towel or clothes would be hung around the bunk as if the line worker was trying to block him out. Because Fat Jimmy was a friendly easy-going person, I tended to believe his cellmate was just trying to gain some privacy from him or from all the other people by the door, guards desk, or holding cage. Maybe I was mistaken though, and he knew about his case.

Few people had seen the 5 minute segment on Nancy Grace. Her program, not surprisingly, has low ratings by convicts. However, there were rumors quickly floating about which partly came back to Fat Jimmy. He was very concerned and trying to find out what prisoners had heard. On the way back from the chow hall he specifically asked me what I had seen. I am not a person to mince words and in fact relished the opportunity to tell him that Nancy Grace said he was a fag who raped and killed a 14-year-old boy. I began setting up the foundation for a good zinger, but unfortunately ran out of time. Guards were yelling for prisoners on my gallery to go inside to their cells. To stun and humiliate Fat Jimmy there needed to be the proper timing which I just did not have. Instead, I left him on the walk still apprehensive and in the dark about what I and others may know.

My cellmate must have seen me talking to Jimmy and asked if I set him out in front of other prisoners. No, I had not and was not going to until I had validation. Neither Nancy Grace nor the other tabloid journalists on Headline News were very accurate in their reporting. Oftentimes, they manipulate or distort facts to put their own spin on a story. I was not absolutely certain he sexually assaulted and killed a teenager. Upon saying this, Anthony asked if it was rape and murder or just the former. He must not have paid attention too well nor understood the criminal statutes in the 1960's. If it was only sexual molestation or rape, Fat Jimmy would have only served a few years time or less, and would not have been denied parole seven times. Sentencing statutes did not become draconian until the 1990's. That is when judges began giving 18-year-olds natural life sentences for purportedly lending their car.

While my cellmate was waiting to go to the small yard, we were amused by a dumb prisoner who yelled out to the lieutenant to put in a work order for him. The lieutenant asked what the problem was and the inmate shouted back that his water was orange. The water at Stateville occasionally turns orange due to rust in the pipes. It is a problem which occurs everywhere and not just in one cell. The lieutenant sarcastically said, "Yeah, I will get right on that." The plumbers are not about to replace all the old and corroded pipes in the system. I question if they will even get around to fixing my cold water button before Christmas. It has been running nonstop for a couple of weeks.

I did not attend "recreation," dinner or the following day's lunch. Recreation, in my opinion, is not two concrete basketball courts surrounded by cyclone fencing and razor wire. The meals in prison I also tend to avoid because they often are more distasteful than canned dog food. However, my cellmate did attend yard as well as those meals. Sometimes I think he just goes "for the walk" or to get outside of the cage we share. On the return from one meal he told me he sat with Fat Jimmy. Jimmy still did not know what was said on the Nancy Grace show. My cellmate is a nicer man than I because all he said was the segment was about how prisoners purportedly are living the good life. He did not tell him nor the others sitting there that Jimmy did time for a sexual assault-murder on a 14-year-old. My cellmate speculated he was very grateful. Word that a prisoner is a pedophile can cause them a lot of trouble.

Last Saturday I had a pass to the Health Care Unit. The guard who unlocked my cell asked me if I wanted to go to chow first. By saying "no" I did not realize I would be in the cell house holding cage until after feed lines were completed. I hate being locked in the cage, but on this occasion I was able to talk with one of the exceptionally few women who work at Stateville that I find attractive. Over twenty years ago, I may have contemplated asking her on a date. Now I was a prisoner and both of us were old. I imagine she was very pretty when she was young.

When another prisoner was put in the holding cage with me, I stopped talking with the guard and I noticed Fat Jimmy was sitting on his stool near the bars. Generally, I will say hello or say a few words but I ignored him this time until he greeted me. I said, "Jimmy, I thought you would be in P.C. (protective custody) by now." He pretended like he did not know what I was talking about. I was toying with him. Other prisoners may not know your secret but I do, I thought. Eventually, however, word would get out. Prisoners love to gossip.

At the H.C.U. I waited in yet another holding cage. While there a prisoner I knew entered and greeted me happily as if I were some long lost friend. The man was always social, friendly, and overly optimistic. He must be taking prescribed "happy pills" from the psychiatrist. This time the prisoner was delighted about the possibility of a 25/50 law being passed. The law giving convicts the possibility of parole after they had served 25 years and were over the age of 50 has been a dream of prisoners languishing in maximum security for years. Just his mentioning the subject caught the attention of everyone waiting in the holding cage and they became upset when I began to ridicule it. The legislation is merely in committee and will never be voted upon. Furthermore, even if it were to be passed, what do I care if I am eligible for parole at age 50? All my life is gone and I may as well spend the rest of it in prison. It is something congressmen are considering simply because they do not want to pay for all the health care and geriatric expenses of incarcerating thousands of seniors. With the other prisoners listening, I continued saying if they let me out when I am 50 I will simply get a shotgun and blow my head off. They can take that 25/50 law and shove it. This was not well received by the dreamers in the holding cage. For them, I was crushing all their hope. They needed to cling onto a fantasy of one day being free and having a happy or meaningful life.

There was a shortage of staff at the H.C.U. and it seemed like I was going to be waiting for a long time. I leaned back on the wood bench I was sitting on and thereafter noticed a black Muslim eating a special tray of food. I could not see what was in his tray from my vantage point and playfully said, "What do you got there Slick?" while tilting down the side. A member of his gang belligerently told me that was a good way to get my head split. "Is that your bodyguard?" I asked Slick which is, by the way, the name he goes by in prison. Slick told the other man it was "cool" and he and I knew each other. This seemed to diffuse the situation, but never-the-less, I sat back up just in case the man tried to strike me.

During the evening, showers were run in the cell block. I was listening to the Larry Kudlow Report with my headphones on and nearly missed all the commotion. I asked my cellmate what was going on and he informed me there was an incident in the shower. For a moment, I speculated someone had KO'ed Fat Jimmy, but later learned there was a fight between two prisoners who were celled on the gallery above mine. They did not fight in the shower room, as most men who do not want to be interrupted do, but in the area just outside it. I assume it happened spontaneously or they really did not want to settle their dispute physically. Some prisoners will actually instigate a fight knowing guards will break it up because they are cowards.

The cell house was not placed on lockdown and I went out for dinner. In the movement line, I was approached by a prisoner I acquaint with. He asked me what I had seen on TV about Fat Jimmy. He heard rumors but wanted to know the truth. I told him that according to Nancy Grace, Jimmy was first incarcerated for the sexual assault and murder of a 14-year-old boy. Within the year of his parole he was arrested again for another murder. The man I spoke to hated pedophiles and said he was going to cease talking to him. I asked him why, since he spoke with Stewie and he must be aware Little Frank was a flaming homosexual. I went on to say that before he makes any conclusions it would be wise to get the facts from another source other than Nancy Grace. My acquaintance mentioned that if he did not appeal his case it would not be in the law books. However, there are other ways to get information.

I mentioned to a guard that Fat Jimmy was on the Nancy Grace show. He said he was already aware that he had done time before. The murder was particularly heinous and there was even a book written about it. I inquired what the title was, but he did not know. (Later I was told "14-The Murder of David Stukel" by Bill O'Connell.) His wife, though, keeps up with all the high profile cases. Interestingly he claimed the murder occurred not far from the prison in Joliet. It was apparently big news in the SW suburbs a few decades ago.

On Thanksgiving, meals were delayed because the ovens were not working properly. Although C House was first to be fed, we did not enter the chow hall until 10 a.m. and then we waited nearly another hour. While waiting I spoke to Bob who had just come from a visit. I asked how his kids were and his ugly wife. Bob was given 40 years for statutory rape, an absurd sentence especially considering the girl was 17 years old and his wife's appearance was definitely a mitigating factor. After talking with Bob, I noticed Fat Jimmy sitting all alone. He appeared to be ostracized from prison society which did not matter to me and could be a good thing in my opinion. However, the chubby, usually happy man, seemed sad. I went over to the table where he was sitting.

Instead of grilling Fat Jimmy, I just thought I would let him talk. He told me he gave the interview nearly two decades ago and did not realize it would be used as fodder on the Nancy Grace show. The John Howard Association, a prisoner rights group, made the video and he thought it was discarded a long time ago. Jimmy admitted to being a part of a brutal murder in the late 1960's, however, what the TV show failed to mention was that he was also 14 years old and had a co-defendant. He alluded that the other person committed most of the offense and he was not a part of any sex crime. When he was paroled, he was arrested for a burglary and it was while at Shawnee C.C. that the JHA made the video. The burglary conviction was overturned on appeal, but not long after his release he was rearrested for the murder of his neighbor. The jury did not believe he was acting in self defense and this time he was given life without parole, a sentence which did not exist in Illinois until the 1980's.

After my chat with Fat Jimmy, the gate was unlocked and prisoners were served their Thanksgiving Day meal. On the line, kitchen workers placed turkey or pork on men's take-out Styrofoam trays as well as sweet potatoes, collard greens, stuffing, and macaroni and cheese. In addition, a prepared cold tray was passed out. Inside it was a salad, a couple of bread rolls, and a tiny triangle of pumpkin pie. This food and the quantity will be the best inmates will receive the entire year. I was able to divide it into two servings and savored my morsel of dessert until yesterday. Despite the good meal though, most prisoners at Stateville have little to be thankful for. I know I do not.

Nancy Grace and the author of "The Death of Punishment" distorted the truth to manipulate the public to believe prisoners have it too nice. Despite the crimes Fat Jimmy committed, he does not live a "fairly good life" anymore. His interview occurred not at Stateville but a medium security prison. However, most importantly, it occurred over two decades ago when the IDOC was radically different. In the 80's and early 90's, the prison system was very violent, but I agree convicts enjoyed much more freedom and privileges. Funding for programs, better food, clothing, and overall living conditions were better as well. However, now life in prison is extremely austere and oppressive. Furthermore, sentencing statutes have gone from reasonable indeterminate ranges with a parole board to draconian excessive fixed terms of years. The parole board ended in 1980 and the vast majority of prisoners at Stateville must do 100% of their time. Although life without parole did not exist then, go forward a few decades and thousands of people in Illinois will never be released and are warehoused in maximum and many medium security penitentiaries.

Today I turned 39 years old. This is the 21st birthday I have been in captivity and more than likely I will die in prison. The judge sentenced me to natural life without the possibility of parole based on false testimony that I knew my roommate intended to kill a man and I let him use my car without warning the victim. Although he knew it was not true, my attorney did not contest the testimony and only argued that under the law it did not make me accountable for my co-defendant's actions. Contrary to the title of the book "The Death of Punishment," for many people, including myself, the punishment is never ending.