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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Company You Keep -- Jan. 18, 2014

"All for one and one for all. The actions of one are the actions of all," the prosecutor theatrically told my jury while making references to the Three Musketeers. The state was unable to prove I killed or participated in killing Dean Fawcett. There was no evidence to show I was even at the crime scene so the assistant state's attorneys argued that I was guilty by a theory of accountability. Robert Faraci was my "friend, good pal, and partner in crime" and I lived with him and his wife before and after the murder. According to one of the detectives who interrogated me, I admitted knowing Faraci's plans and yet I let him use my car. While the prosecution and police were so intently focused on weaving this web to ensnare me, the actual killer's jury allowed him to escape unpunished. Faraci was acquitted of the murder and having rebuilt his life is unwilling to help me. Others connected to this case, including his former wife, also have moved on and apparently do not want to look back or get involved. For over 20 years I have languished in prison for the company I kept. I wish I also could move on with my life or what is left of it.

Last weekend, I enjoyed watching the NFL Playoff games. I did not watch them at home on a big television screen while eating good food or drink. Nor did I watch the games at an off track betting sports bar with plenty of friends like I imagine my former friend Bob did. I was as usual confined to a prison cell with the company of my cellmate. The 13" Secureview television set I have wedged between a bar and the bunk above me is so small the picture is cut off at the margins. My once co-defendant and part time bookmaker would have probably been impressed that I picked 3 of the 4 games against the spread and even predicted all of the over/unders. Bob was not here to congratulate me, but my cellmate paid homage to my feat. Yes, I was a big winner, I told him. This makes up for all the years I have spent in prison.

Monday morning, lunch lines were started at 9 a.m. I had not finished my cell workout and did not go to chow. As I exercised, I could see men walking down the staircase from the upper galleries. One of the prisoners was Juan Luna who I did not know was moved to C House the week prior. In January of 1993, a little over 21 years ago, Luna along with James Degorski, murdered 7 people at a Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine, Illinois. The mass murder stunned the Chicago area public and was the focus of intense media coverage. Months later with the crime still unsolved, Robert Faraci and his wife attempted to frame me of it to save themselves in the murder of Dean Fawcett. At the county jail, Robert told me he felt no pains of conscience for that or the other lies he made up because he had no intentions of testifying against me. The cop who claimed I lent him my car is who I should blame. Juan Luna also thinks he is not responsible for my conviction and has not given me discovery which may help in my exoneration.

Stateville has a new warden and after my workout he was walking around the cell house with the warden from Pontiac. Occasionally, wardens from other penitentiaries will discuss administrative issues and be given a tour. From what I was told, they stopped at the bottom of the stairs to look up where a prisoner had jumped to his death recently. It was probably just out of curiosity and I doubt they contemplated how some men would rather die than live under such conditions. In fact, they may have thought that more rules, security, and manpower were needed. The answer to any incident always seems to be more "cow bell".

Tuesday morning I went to the small yard to workout despite the cold weather and snow showers. The yard is essentially two concrete basketball courts surrounded by cyclone fencing and razor wire. A bench and a couple of barbells were put out there and about ten men waited for their turn to use the weights. Other men walked about on the ice and snow or just stood in place talking. The prison administration seeks to discourage inmates from being physically fit. In the gym, three universal machines have gone unrepaired for years until currently only a lat pull down bar and shoulder press unit work. The repairs would cost little and I have heard charity groups have even offered to donate new equipment but were rebuffed.

Before my arrest, I had a wide array of weight lifting equipment to use. At my home, the weights, bars, benches, and etc. were kept in immaculate condition. The steel even glistened like polished chrome. Occasionally, I would work out with a professional wrestler who had converted his entire garage into a gym which may have even impressed the likes of Hulk Hogan. When I lived with Bob and Rose in Florida, the club house had a nice workout room along with a large outdoor pool and hot tub. Those days are long over for me, but I am told Faraci is in good physical shape now and has membership at one of those fancy gyms which became popular after my imprisonment. While I was bench pressing a frigidly cold and rusted barbell with snow coming down on my face, I thought how nice that must be.

After yard, prisoners were brought to the chow hall. A kitchen worker grabbed a couple of slices of what inmates call "slick meat" and slapped it on my tray. Slick meat is a slimy off-color imitation bologna. What a great post-workout meal I thought. I brought the stale bread, however, back with me to the cell to make a tuna sandwich. While I was eating by the cell bars, my neighbor complained of food poisoning. Last night he said he was up late vomiting and had diarrhea. Regularly, prisoners become ill due to bad or poorly handled food. The kitchen also has a roach and rodent problem and if this was not enough to make you think twice about eating the food, trays are not washed properly. In line, I go through tray after tray with food still stuck on them. Convicts have all sorts of communicable diseases and germs. In fact, the Minimum Security Unit was put on lockdown this week due to a flu epidemic.

In the evening, my cellmate filled his meaningless existence by watching TV as usual. While watching an episode of "Supernatural" a lieutenant walked by and jokingly asked if he needed a pair of glasses. My cellmate sits a foot away from his TV almost as if he is trying to get into the picture. I tried to fill the void in my life studying some corporate reports. I am still missing many essential fundamentals but I tried to do my best. Later, I wrote the Willow Creek Church in South Barrington. Despite being a nonbeliever, I thought they deserved a thank you letter for their Christmas donation.

The last Christmas I celebrated before my arrest was in 1992 while I lived with Bob Faraci and his wife. I remember buying a tree with them and tying it precariously to the roof of their Pontiac Firebird. Later, I helped Rose with decorations and presents. It was nice to share the holiday with them and in my prison cell I wondered how Rose celebrated Christmas last month. She has since remarried and her new name is Zerillo. She still lives in the Chicago area but is now in her mid-40s and has children. One of them is as old as the number of years I have been in the IDOC. I never received a Christmas card or anything from her all this time. In fact, when contacted, she does not even want to talk about the past.

Christmas cards are just beginning to be received by prisoners. The mail is so delayed that even letters post dated mid-December have yet to be processed. A prisoner nicknamed Chub (short for chubby) told me both his outgoing and incoming mail is a month behind. He also mentioned how he thinks emails forwarded to him are being taken by mail room staff. Later in the week, I spoke with my neighbor Leprechaun again while in the chow hall. He was feeling better now but complained about how he just received a Christmas card and a Catholic Calendar from a priest. With news of the pope just recently defrocking 400 priests, I had to joke with him that possibly the calendar was held up because of questionably lewd content. I asked, "Did the calendar have pictures of fat naked boys or babies disguised in Michelangelo style paintings?"

Leprechaun, like many of the men incarcerated at Stateville for numerous years, rarely ever receives any mail. He also has never received a visit, to my knowledge. Prisoners often become estranged from family and friends. I can imagine that being my circumstance in the not too distant future. Midweek, I received a visit from my mother, however, she continues to be very sick and frail. It seems I should be the one visiting her and trying to take care of her needs. Earlier today, I called home and was surprised to have my sister answer. She and my brother-in-law had stopped by to see how my mother was doing. I have not spoken to my brother-in-law in over a decade and was glad to hear he was fixing a water pump and a couple of other things in need of repair. I told him he should stop by the prison and although he said he would, I doubt he will. I rarely see anyone lately and soon I may be like Leprechaun receiving only a card for Christmas in late January. Oddly, I have not received any cards yet, but possibly they will arrive next week or in February.

In the visiting room I noticed the new vending machines prisoners were talking about. The prices were indeed double what they were previously. I told my mother not to buy a debit card and she said she could not even if she had wanted to. Apparently, the machine in the waiting room only accepted $5 bills which she did not have. The reason the vending machine service provider was changed was to give the contract to a government owned business which will pass along profits to the IDOC. It amazes me how the state continues to squeeze prisoners, their families, or the public in general while recklessly blowing away enormous amounts of money.

When I returned to the cell, I discovered a prison worker had saved me a lunch tray. On it was a small wedge of cheese pizza. Since I wrote my post "Prison Pizza" it seems kitchen supervisors are having the meal made more often. It does not cost much money and prisoners like it despite how unfilling it is. I added some commissary bought sardines in tomato sauce as a topping and was still hungry. However, later when watching Survivorman I made myself some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

My friend Brian Palasz, the last I heard went by the name Briante Palazaeno, loved Italian food. Actually, he loved most any food, but I wonder if he would love the food served at Stateville. Readers may not be aware of this, but Brian and not I could have been in prison these last 20 years. Bob Faraci initially told police that Brian had planned and was an active participant in Fawcett's murder. A woman named Nadine Lenarczak also claimed it was Brian who bullied the victim at a mall the day before, and that it was him who forced Fawcett into a car. However, when police told Bob that Brian had an alibi, he recanted his story. Nadine also changed her statements and testified that I was the bully. At trial, Brian admitted knowing Bob Faraci desired to kill Fawcett but denied being involved. For years he has been paranoid of being charged with the murder. Bob and Brian even threatened students from Northwestern's Investigative Journalism class led by Professor David Protess to stay away. Although I believe Bob alone or with the assistance or conspiracy of his wife killed Fawcett, I also know Brian has information beneficial to my exoneration. No one has been able to locate him in years.

Thursday, I once again went outside to the yard to lift weights. While I was standing around waiting for my turn prisoners spoke about a news segment on TV the previous day. Apparently, the local Fox news reported the Illinois legislature was finally drafting a bill to address a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year which forbid the states from giving juveniles sentences of life without parole. I did not pay much attention to the talk because it does not apply to me. I was 18 years old by 28 days and the state only considers those under 18 to be juveniles. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling only applies to juveniles where the judge did not have discretion to give any punishment but LWOP. Trial judge Sam Amirante could have sentenced me to 20 years under the statute.

Yesterday a prisoner in Missouri was executed for a rape and murder. He had been on death row for 25 years and interestingly it took 25 minutes to kill him. Apparently, something went wrong with the lethal injection process. I told my cellmate who was watching the news that I would prefer immediate firing squad and just be done with it. The appellate system was largely a facade and there was no point suffering in prison until I died of natural causes. I doubted my conviction would ever be overturned despite being able to prove I did not lend my car. Even if the court entertained my case, the prosecutor would still argue I was guilty by association.

Later we watched a DVD movie shown on the prison cable system produced and starred in by Robert Redford. It was called "The Company You Keep" and was about the Weather Underground. The Weather Underground was a radical left-wing group in the early 1970s which promoted revolution. They were similar to the SLA or Symbionese Liberation Army which had committed bombings, bank robberies, and murders. Most people probably remember the SLA for kidnapping Patty Hearst and brainwashing her to become a member. Similar to the Weather Underground, those that were not arrested changed their names and lived as fugitives for decades sometimes. James Kilgore who currently works at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana was not arrested until 2002, for example.

The film "The Company You Keep" is mainly about a man who was once a part of the Weather Underground but after being falsely accused in a bank robbery changed his name and over the years rebuilt his life. He currently was a successful defense lawyer and father when a reporter caught onto his real identity. While eluding the police, he tried to reconnect with the person who actually committed the crime and to convince her to turn herself in. The woman was in hiding and was not easy to locate. He went to the co-founder of the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers, who now works at the University of Chicago and who interestingly was a colleague of fellow socialist and now president, Barack Obama. Ayers gave him some help grudgingly. He did not want to be discovered helping a fugitive or for his past to be reexamined. Finally, the character played by Robert Redford was able to meet and persuade the former girlfriend to surrender to police and clear his name.

Unlike Robert Redford, I have no sympathy for radical left wing groups like the SLA or the Weather Underground. In fact, our politics are at the opposite sides of the spectrum. However, I do sympathize with those who are wrongfully accused of crimes largely in part due to their past associations. For over 20 years I have been in prison for a murder I was not even aware took place simply because of the people I was around. Over this time, I have tried to get various people to help me out, but unlike in the movie, I am in prison. I have no way to reach out to them except through intermediaries. Some of the people have moved away, changed their names, or rebuilt their lives. They have families, friends, jobs, and reputations at stake or simply just do not care. They have moved on and do not want to look back even if it is to save me from continuing to languish in prison. Hopefully, the courts will eventually overturn my conviction despite the company I kept when I was a teenager.