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Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Week of Radio -- Dec. 20, 2013

Much of my time in the cell is spent listening to the radio. This week I did so more than usual in part because the prison's satellite TV was not working. Since early in the month, reception has progressively become worse until inmates are currently limited to several analogue stations. The loss of television has not greatly bothered me because I have other preoccupations including radio. I listen to radio for news, music, and to block out the nearly continuous noise in the cell house. Unfortunately, I cannot escape my prison environment entirely.

Sunday morning, nearly all television stations were out. Prisoners speculated it was due to the cold weather or the IDOC not paying the service fees. Many vendors have ceased to do business with Illinois because the state is late paying bills. My cellmate thought it was due to the satellite dishes in the front of the prison not being aligned correctly or the satellites themselves were out of position while orbiting the earth. This last idea I thought was amusing and asked Anthony if he believed there were some runaway TV satellites. I was not certain what the problem was, but I did know Stateville was the only penitentiary in Illinois with satellite TV. The rest have cable, including Menard and Pontiac Correctional Centers. Prisoners at these maximum security institutions have a full range of cable networks with the exception of premium stations. In contrast, Stateville has only a dozen stations in addition to broadcast.

This week was the controversial return of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler began the season until he was injured two months ago. Backup quarterback Luke McCown has been playing well and many fans questioned the coach's decision to bench him with only three regular season games remaining and the Bears being playoff contenders. One of the few stations with reception was the FOX network and prisoners were happy to be able to watch the game. I do not know if the coach made the correct decision, but the Bears defeated the Cleveland Browns 38 to 31. They will face much more difficult opponents in Philadelphia and the Green Bay Packers particularly if their star quarterback Aaron Rodgers returns.

For the first time this year, I went downstairs to take a shower. It did not take me long to remember why I have avoided doing so. I was locked in the holding area for 2 hours. While waiting for a shower to be available I noticed some prisoners on the lower gallery were watching the Carolina Panthers/New York Jets game. The football game was on CBS, a station they were only able to pick up by creating an antenna for digital TV reception. The game did not particularly interest me and I went to the back door where there is a little square window. Outside I could see the moon and I watched it until it moved out of sight despite the cold air drafts coming in. Other prisoners did not seem to mind waiting. They socialized, played cards, chess, and even craps, throwing dice up against a wall underneath the back stairs.

On Monday, I went out for lunch because I believed we were being served chicken stir fry. However, I was mistaken and on the feed line was a greasy mush of processed turkey-soy, rice and leftover vegetables. I picked out a few of the carrots and pieces of broccoli and listened to inmates complain about the cable. My neighbor was repeating a rumor that Stateville had not renewed their satellite TV contract and was going to switch to a cable provider next year. I was skeptical of any deal that would cost the penitentiary extra money. Many prisoners, however, who spend much of their days watching TV, were greatly seduced by the prospect.

The mail is greatly behind and delays seem to get worse as the holidays approach. I received a large bundle of letters all from mid-November, including a few birthday cards. I thought I had managed to largely avoid thinking about my birthday this year, but it seems a few of my family members are still intent on reminding me. My cellmate is envious of the amount of mail I receive and after noticing the birthday cards joked that if we had cable I could watch the movie "40 Year Old Virgin." I was not a virgin nor yet 40, but he will occasionally flout the 50 plus women he has "hooked up" with to the teenage girls I dated before my arrest. I am not impressed with the number of promiscuous women he has had sex with but I am bitter as to how my life was cut short.

In the evening, I read some of my letters while listening to Monday Night Football on the radio. ESPN network was not coming in on the television but I was able to get their radio station. Listening to football is not nearly as entertaining as watching it and I expressed disappointment to my cellie. He also wanted to see the Baltimore Ravens play the Detroit Lions. Possibly, it was better that he did not, I told him. During the last Monday Night Football game where the Chicago Bears trounced the Dallas Cowboys, he spilled his coffee all over the place. Because he watches TV from his bunk, the coffee soaked into his sheets and ran down the wall onto my mattress before I had time to pull it away. I spent an hour scrubbing my sheet, rinsing, and then drying it while I cleaned the puddles underneath the bunk. Accidents like this will occur living in such tight quarters, but I thought this was a good time to razz him about his clumsiness.

Tuesday morning I went to the prison's gymnasium. I was not particularly motivated in going and contemplated if I could not get a better workout in the cell. Yet another pulley had broken and there were only three exercise machines that worked. For the most part, my cellmate walked around listening to music on his Walkman while I tried to make the best of what I could with the weights. Waiting in line to use the Lat machine, a big black convict complimented me on my physique. Because of how many homosexuals there are in prison, I questioned his sexuality and thought this was yet another reason why I should have remained in my cell. I was not fearful, but I did not like exercising in public particularly with a crowd of unsavory people.

In the afternoon, I read a few newspapers while listening to the radio. I have a cheap clear plastic radio/cassette player, but very good Koss stereo headphones. The headphones I keep over my ears much of the day when in my cell. There are approximately 300 prisoners living on top of each other in the quarter unit and the noise can be very aggravating. They will yell in crude ghetto speech or "Spanglish" much of the day. With many TV stations out, the noise seems even greater as men have fewer alternatives to preoccupy themselves.

Radio reception is very difficult in the cell house. All of the concrete and steel blocks out the weak low band widths. Although AM is able to break through most of this interference, FM stations cannot. Except for a few music stations, I am left to cassettes unless I hang a wire outside my bars. Some prisoners have even strung wires outside of the gallery or even out of the cell house. Occasionally, I will listen to my neighbor's radio who listens to classic rock from the 80's. However, unless I am working out, I much prefer having my headphones on.

One of the birthday cards I received was from my aunt and I was glad she spent the time to write several pages along with it. On a steel table which comes out of the concrete wall at the front of my cell, I wrote her a letter back. Because I was next to the bars, I placed my Walkman on them and dangled the headphone wire outside to gain better reception. Periodically, I dialed or tried to dial in different FM stations. A couple of Mexican stations came in crystal clear, but to get any music I liked took determination. Eventually, I just took a cassette tape out of my property box to listen to. I have 11 cassettes. Most of them are heavy metal tapes but I have a few rock and classical music recordings. Outside I could see a full moon rising through the dingy cell house windows and wished I was somewhere other than in prison. Even death was more preferable and occasionally I thought of the man who killed himself a week ago.

Since the suicide I was able to talk to a prisoner who lives next to the 5th floor staircase landing. He told me just before Angel jumped he said to no one in particular he was going home. For many of the thousands of prisoners in the IDOC, it is only in death they will ever be free. While the governor has permitted those with nonviolent convictions to earn good time credits to reduce Illinois' bloated prison population, others are not afforded this opportunity. Over a decade ago, legislators even passed truth in sentencing laws where convicted murderers must do 100% of their time and any violent offender 85%. This leaves nearly 10,000 prisoners who are doomed to spend the rest of their lives incarcerated including myself, although I was not technically convicted of any violent act, but was found guilty via a theory of accountability.

Midweek what the prison calls nachos were served for lunch. Not a fan of the greasy chips and synthetic cheese, I gave my food away to my cellmate and instead ate a package of beef stew with Ramen Noodles when I returned to the cell. While I ate, I listened to WLS talk radio. WLS is a local conservative news station which carries the programs of John Kass, Rush Limbaugh, Roe and Roeper, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levine at night. Throughout their shows, there will be news updates. One of the subjects mentioned was the largest Powerball Jackpot Lottery in history: $636 million. While this may sound like an incredible sum, people fail to realize how much the lottery takes out if a winner wants a lump sum. Furthermore, federal and state taxes are enormous. There were two winners and the ticket sold in Georgia will get about $120 million, yet the California winner only a little over $100 million due to the state's 16% tax. When the odds of over 200 million to 1 are factored in, the lottery is one of the biggest state rackets. I told my cellmate that it is no surprise most players are poor and uneducated. People have a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the lottery.

More important news that I listened to on talk radio was a federal budget compromise and Ben Bernanke's announcement there will be a decrease of $10 billion in security purchases next month. I anticipated that when the Fed began to taper its stimulus the stock market would also fade. However, the Dow Jones went up 300 points surprising me. I could not understand the market's reaction and can only speculate investors continue to have little other place to invest their money. Banks, treasury bills, and municipal bonds continue to pay very little interest and this will continue well into 2015.

I have not missed CNN or other liberal news that prisoners at Stateville normally have access to. In fact, it has been refreshing to be without their liberal propaganda ad programming. I much rather listen to blunt straight talk like that which is needed for fiscal responsibility and to chop a growing $17 trillion debt. Like the conservative talk show hosts I listened to, I was disappointed with congressman Paul Ryan's federal budget deal which will increase spending until some distant date in the future. Previously, the former vice presidential candidate had impressed me with his tough economic reforms. I can only speculate his compromise with Democrats was a political strategy. A government shutdown more than likely would have again been blamed on Republicans. It may have been better to lose this battle to win the war. Republicans have a good chance to win the senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016. With control of both congressional chambers, conservatives can enact spending cuts so desperately needed. Currently, they are at the mercy of Barack Obama and his socialist colleagues in the senate.

On Thursday, I did not leave the confines of my cell the entire day. In the morning, I read a few papers while listening to John Kass. Kass is a very witty editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune and I am glad he now has a couple of hours on WLS. Not all good writers can make good radio talk show hosts, but he seems to have a knack for both. After his show, my cellmate went out to the yard and I immediately began my workout. I have learned how to do a high intensity exercise regimen in a small area of space, however, it is better if I can use the entire cell. I am sure my cellmate also appreciates it if I wait until he leaves. During my workout my neighbor played classic rock. Songs such as "Don't Fear the Reaper" by the Blue Oyster Cult reminded me of Angel's suicide.

When my cellmate returned, I was already back on my bunk and once again reading with headphones over my ears. The USA Today had an article about executions that caught my attention. In 2013, there were only 38 and this was the second time in 20 years there has been less than 40 in America. The newspaper writer seemed to approve of this development along with the drop in the number of new death sentences and those on death row. It cited the decline in executions due to more opportunity for prosecutors to seek life without parole. This is what I despise about death penalty abolitionists. The alternative of life in prison is not better, more humane, or more just than execution. What would be a cause of celebration is more executions and fewer sentences of natural life without parole or the equivalent.

Yet again today before I began writing this post, I was listening to WLS talk radio. Rush Limbaugh had taken the day off and in his stead was Eric Erickson, author of "Red State Dot Com." The subject of conversation was Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty. I had never heard of the show until this week. Prisoners do not have the TV station Arts & Entertainment even when the satellite dish is working. Apparently, though, it is a popular show with an average viewing audience of 12 million and is the center of much controversy due to what the main character, Phil Robertson, said in an interview. I have no idea why condemning homosexuality or comparing it with bestiality has made such a fuss except for it ruffling the feathers of the LGBT community and those of liberals who only like tolerance and freedom of expression when it suits their propaganda agenda. Already produced programming is distorted and corrupted, yet these same influences want control over reality TV as well. This is yet another reason I care little if the prison's satellite TV is repaired. I have radio and this blog which I seek to be as unfiltered and real as possible.