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Monday, March 31, 2014

Two Dental Passes -- Feb. 8, 2014

In prison, convicts only receive the most rudimentary dental care. There is no orthodontist and procedures for any type of cosmetic purpose are never done. Cavities are occasionally drilled and filled, but the pulling of teeth is more often the preferred option of prison dentists. Many men at the maximum security prisons in Illinois are missing teeth or have none at all, however, this may in part be due to their poor hygiene. Convicts can wait months for dental problems to be treated even when they are in tremendous pain. Check-ups are perfunctorily done every other year when dentists may order dental work. This week, I spent two mornings at the Health Care Unit or in holding cages. The waiting before and after being in the dentist office was not pleasant, but I was glad to finally have my teeth cleaned.

In the mail last Saturday I was given a dental pass for early Monday morning. As usual, I awakened just before 7 a.m. and looked in my breakfast tray. Inside were some generic Cheerios and three small pancakes with syrup. It was one of the better breakfast meals served to prisoners and I made myself a cup of hot coffee. Hot coffee was not only a good compliment to the food but could be used to warm my syrup and pancakes. Breakfast trays are passed out around 1 a.m. and if they were ever warm, they were not by the time I woke up. With the CBS news reporting it was -15 degrees,   I was pleased to have a steaming cup of coffee in hand.  However, before I began to eat I noticed the carton of milk I was about to pour on my cereal was sour. Disappointed, I dumped it into the toilet and ate just my pancakes.

Every Monday morning, property lines are run and those men who are on the list have their names called out over the cell house loudspeaker. One of the prisoners on the list happened to be my cellmate. Minutes later, he jumped down off his bunk and ruined my preparations to get ready to leave. I needed to wash my face, shave, use the toilet, and brush my teeth among other things. To my displeasure, Anthony stood in the middle of the cell going through his property box much of the time. Even when I went to use the commode, he stood a few feet away. Fortunately, I was able to do everything I wanted before a guard opened the door.

Downstairs there were numerous prisoners waiting to leave the cell house. Men were going to the personal property warehouse, school building and other places. Everyone who had health care passes or visits was put in a small cage near the door including myself. I hate being packed in the cage where I rubbed shoulder to shoulder with other men. Prisoners were very talkative and yelled over each other to be heard. They also had bad body odor and/or foul breath. A few were sick and coughed or sneezed without any consideration of others next to them. A prisoner I have nicknamed Lunchbox was not annoying, but he had a catheter connected to a bag of urine. I could see it was nearly full and I avoided being near him.

In a corner of the cage I stood next to Steve and occasionally tried to talk to him despite the noise. Steve's father died the day before from a heart attack while shoveling snow. A counselor had notified him and Steve wanted to attend his funeral. The prison administration will sometimes authorize this from time to time, but to my knowledge, only for men who are classified low escape risks. The vast majority of convicts at Stateville are rated medium or high including Steve. I told him I doubted the warden would approve it and regardless he will be very disappointed. Prisoners are shackled, handcuffed on a waist chain, and led along like a dog on a leash. He will not be able to attend the funeral service with family but only before it begins and only for 15 minutes when he is alone except for his prison guard escorts. Their salaries along with all other expenses which can exceed a thousand dollars will have to be paid by him. Steve did not care. He wanted to see his father one last time.

I asked Steve why he was in the holding cage. Earlier I had heard his name called along with my cellmate's to go to the personal property building. Steve told me he was being forced to see a psychologist at the H.C.U. A couple of years ago when my cellmate's sister died, he was offered mental health care services but it was not mandatory. I speculated that after Angel committed suicide by jumping off the 5th floor, however, staff may be more insistent on prisoners being evaluated. Steve asked the sergeant's permission to attend Catholic services instead and see the shrink another day. I do not know if he was given this, but not soon thereafter he left to join prisoners going to the gymnasium.

Eventually, a guard escorted prisoners to the H.C.U. It was extremely crowded in there as well and I was glad the guard was using all the holding cages. There is one main cage for general population and across from it are two other smaller cages. These were primarily used to hold prisoners in segregation or protective custody but none of these groups kept isolated were there at the time. In the cage, I listened to the gripes of men about poor health care, food, mail, and a litany of other things. Joe Miller, a serial killer, complained about cold air drafts in his cell and others on the lower floor of the cell house. The windows do not close tightly and some are broken. A few have been taped, but apparently this was not working well. I do not like Miller and he could be made to sleep outside I thought.

After my name was called a guard came to the cage and asked if I wanted to see the dentist or not. I told him it would help if someone unlocked the door. Acknowledging his stupidity, he had the guard in control of the gates let me out. I walked down the corridor to where the dentist office was and met a woman who told me to have a seat at one of the reclining chairs. Several minutes passed when a dentist with a file in her hand approached me and said I was there to have my teeth drilled. I replied, "No, I am not! I am scheduled for a cleaning." Puzzled, she looked back at her paperwork and then at my pass. At the top of the pass was scribbled "procedure" and she pointed this out to me. A procedure meant anything in my opinion, but I was told it did not include cleanings. I was given a "refuse treatment form" which I quickly signed and then angrily left. I had gone through all this aggravation and my morning was ruined for nothing.

Since my day had already been lost, I went to the chow hall despite the unappealing meal being served. Sliced turkey ham may not sound too bad, but the meat given to prisoners was mottled with various processed parts of the bird including organs, veins, gristle, and occasionally bone chips. A prisoner must be careful not to bite too hard or he may break a tooth, and a cracked tooth would most certainly be pulled in the dentist's office if and when they were given an appointment. Typically, no drinks other than water are offered at lunch, but on this day kitchen supervisors were trying to get rid of the spoiled milk and prisoners could take as many as they wanted. Surprisingly at the end of the line was a box of salt packets. The prison has not offered salt to us for almost a year.

The prisoners at the table I sat at were all talking about the Superbowl. They all thought it was the worst NFL Championship game they had ever seen. I was also disappointed and was looking forward to a titanic struggle between the league's most explosive offense and its most dominating defense. My neighbor asked me if I lost any money because he knew I liked the Denver Broncos who were crushed 8 to 43. It was true I personally like the players on the Broncos more, but from previous Superbowl's I knew defenses typically won the big game. Thus, I only wagered and lost a honey bun which I do not even eat due to the high fat and sugar content.

When I returned to my cell, I was surprised Anthony was still gone. I quickly began my workout so we would not again be in each other's way. It was well past noon when my cellmate came back and I inquired where he had been. He said movement lines were halted twice. First for a fist fight on the walk and second for an extraction in the Roundhouse. An extraction is a forcible removal of a prisoner from a cell usually conducted by the SORT. While I bathed in the back of the cell, he put away the legal papers he had taken out of storage. He is planning to file a successive post conviction appeal pro se.

I did not speak to my cellmate about the specifics of the appeal he intends to file, but later after watching the news, I spoke to him about the Amanda Knox case. Last week, an Italian appellate court astonishingly reversed the reversal of her conviction. She has been free and living in the U.S. for a couple of years, but now may face extradition. The reason why the reviewing court overturned her acquittal was not given and the judges do not have to release their opinions to the public for a few months. Most Americans think this could never occur in the U.S., but I know a man who was released on a sentencing error only for this ruling to be overturned by a higher court.  A warrant was issued for his arrest and foolishly Larry Mack turned himself in. He currently resides in a cell above mine and will die in prison.  Hopefully, Amanda Knox is smart enough not to trust the legal system or the American government's power to refuse extradition.

It was an exhausting morning for me and I took a nap in the mid afternoon. I was abruptly awakened when a guard began beating bars. At the beginning of the 2nd shift staff have been running a steel stick across all the bars in the cell house. It is incredibly noisy and irritating, as well as stupid. No prisoner during my incarceration has ever cut through the bars of their cell and escaped. Even if they were to get out, there would be no where for them to go because the galleries are locked and so is the cell house. I was too mad to say anything to the automaton who was banging bars when he came to my cell. However, later in the week I joked with a different guard. As he was going across the bars, I said, "Wait! Don't hit that one" as I pointed to a bar at the bottom.  "I have been working on it for months!"  This got a laugh from the guard and he went to the next cell.

In the evening, mail was passed out. I received a Barron's newspaper and ironically another dental pass. This one was identified in large letters "CLEANING".  The only thing I could think of that led to the confusion was that about four months ago I had a check-up.  The dentist recommended that I should probably have a couple of small shallow cavities filled.  Although they were not a problem currently, they could get worse.  I told him no, and that I preferred if my teeth were just cleaned, treated with fluoride, and then a sealant put over my molars.  Possibly there was a miscommuni- cation, but then again, it could just be a mix-up.

The Dow Jones dropped another 260 points on Monday bringing the index down to about 15,300. Since the beginning of the year, it was down nearly 6%. The huge run in 2013 I thought was due for a correction. With the Federal Reserve tapering security purchases by $10 billion a month, it seemed the froth in the market would inevitably be blown off. I had already sent a few family members my evaluations and advice on their investments, but now I went over all energy stocks. I have had little to no contact with my family and did not know if they even appreciated the work I did. However, there is little purpose to my existence and I do it anyway albeit with less motivation.

I took a break from my work to eat a snack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The prison had received donated bread and I used these slices to make them. The bread is made of whole wheat sprouts and was much more textured and richer than the stale IDOC bread commonly given inmates. It made for good sandwiches, although my snack was interrupted by a cockroach crawling on the back wall. I quickly got up to smack it with my bare hand. In the past week, I have killed three and I hope they are not breeding en mass in the plumbing area behind the cells. In the Roundhouse, there is a pervasive infestation, but the general population cell houses have largely remained free of them.

Tuesday morning I was able to get ready for my dental pass without any disruption by my cellmate. He was awake but waited for me to leave before getting down off his bunk. Once again, I was put in the crowded holding cage for nearly an hour. Steve waited with me as well as Lunch Box just like the day before. This time the former was going to the H.C.U. to see the shrink. He did not have anything to say except that he was OK and not going to kill himself. He thought he would be in and out of the H.C.U. quickly but I knew this would not occur. While I was talking with him, Lunch Box approached me fortunately with his urine line and bag under his clothes. In a whisper, he asked me if I could find out if a Caucasian prisoner on the gallery he acquainted with was a pedophile. He had heard a rumor the man had numerous counts of aggravated sexual assaults against a minor or multiple children. John M  was standing just a few feet away from us and I just said I will see what I could do, but I had the desire just to confront him right on the spot. I have been in prison over 20 years and he has the characteristics of a child molester.

The bubble camera in the H.C.U. had been activated and the guard working the door wanded all the prisoners who entered. This was done the prior morning as well. It seems staff are self conscious of everything they do now that they may be monitored. The cameras will just lead to more redundant security and have no practical effect. I noticed in the cell house only 7 prisoners at a time are let out to take a shower now. This will probably end the crowds and waiting as well as prisoners playing various games. It may even decrease fights in the shower room or holding area. However, running three galleries of inmates now takes three times the amount of time. Once this week my cellmate did not leave for a shower until 10 p.m.

Waiting in the H.C.U. holding cage, I spoke again with Steve. He asked me if I got walloped betting on the Superbowl. Sometimes I will bet up to $100 in commissary on the game but not this year. He told me how his cellmate had a bet with a man for $50 but this other prisoner had "chickened out" the day of the game. After the Seahawks scored a touchback on the first snap, however, the man had yelled down to him "game on." Chubby was not going for it though and said the bet was off. He cannot renege on a wager and then change his mind after his team scores. I told Steve the same person had spoken to me about betting, but I knew he was a "shady" or untrustworthy person.

In the dentist office, I met an older white woman with graying hair. She was friendly and very personable. In fact, she spoke to me almost the entire time she cleaned and polished my teeth. It was basically a monologue though because I could not often respond. A few times, I pulled out a suction tube so I could speak or comment. She was greatly looking forward to the Olympic games. I did not say so or was not able, but I thought the majority of the events were not even sports. I probably would watch the opening ceremony to see what message Vladimir Putin wanted to display to the world as well as to his own country. I may also watch the biathlon, ice hockey, and some figure skating if the women were attractive. In fact, after I wrote this post, I watched the pretty Russian girl, Yulia Lipnitskaya, skate. I do not think any of the women can compete with her for the individual gold metal competition.

When the dentist finished polishing my teeth, I asked her if it was possible that I be given a fluoride treatment. She said they do not do these but there was some in the paste she used. Then I said, "I suppose sealant is also out of the question". Again, I was told the prison does not do this and she seemed amused. Just having my teeth cleaned was probably a service the IDOC did not want to provide. I reasoned the dentist I saw four months ago was naive being new, and I was correct. Various treatments available to the public were inaccessible to prisoners despite their $5 fee. I imagine with the way the State of Illinois is racking up debt, prisoners are fortunate to get any dental care at all.