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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Invasion of Ukraine -- March 8, 2014

My week began by watching the political news programs on Sunday morning. From State of the Union on CNN to FOX network's conservative alternative and then to other stations, I searched for the most recent developments in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. As I suspected, Vladimir Putin was not going to allow the country to slip away from his sphere of power. Last week when unidentified masked soldiers took control of key positions in Crimea, there was no doubt in my mind they were Russian. The seizure of Crimea is only part of Putin's ambitions to restore the borders of the former Soviet Union. The opportunity for Russia to make land grabs has never been better while Europe and particularly the U.S. continues to demonstrate weakness. The naivety and aloofness of Barack Obama's administration to world affairs was bound to be taken advantage of. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quoted this week saying Vladimir Putin was living in an alternative reality. However, the Russian leader is very astute and it is the liberal daydreams of the White House that are delusional.

All this week my cellmate has awakened early. Typically, he will sleep late and I am glad he is not disrupting my routine or bothering me with conversation. Mornings are a time I am most unhappy and want to be left alone. I hate the transition from the bliss of dreams to the ugly reality of my imprisonment. However, occasionally while watching the news programs on Sunday, I would make comments to him. I ridiculed the president for reprimanding Vladimir Putin and threatening there would be "costs" for his invasion. I am sure the Russian leader is just trembling in fear of what those paltry and ambiguous repercussions may be. Some news pundits claimed there was nothing immediate or militarily the U.S. could do, but I was highly skeptical. I also doubted if Russia would have had the gumption to take Crimea if the Obama administration had quickly taken preemptive measures during the revolution or moved missile and defense bases into eastern NATO countries as planned by the Bush administration. My cellmate, like most prisoners at Stateville, could care less about the matter and seemed happy to leave the cell for chow.

I stayed in the confines of the cell the entire day. Mostly I read, but in the evening when I became tired I watched the movie ET  which I had not seen since childhood. The liberal film producer Steven Spielberg had almost the same naivety about galactic relations as the U.S. President had about international relations. It was ridiculous to me that space aliens could even travel the vast distances to reach earth, but even if they could, they would not come in peace. I found it comical how the extra terrestrial was portrayed to cause sympathy by viewers. The creature was not like those depicted in the movie Alien or its sequel both starring actress Sigorney Weaver where humans were harvested to be eaten by their young. It was a helpless, heart endearing, little gray and squat being who only wanted to be reunited with its parents and go home: "ET go home." The villains were mean government agents who sought to capture him. The world is a hostile place of clashing interests and it should be assumed the universe has even greater dangers. I expect my government leaders to be prepared and continuously vigilant to all foreign threats to the Republic whether they be in Eastern Europe or across the galaxy.

Monday morning, I went to the chow hall and then directly from it to the commissary building. Fortunately, I was quick to shop and return to my cell. Almost an hour later my cellmate returned and told me how his name was not called for a long time after mine, and then he had to wait for another group of prisoners to be escorted back to the unit. He commented that he bought some extra shampoo because like light bulbs and certain deodorants, it was going to be discontinued. Only packets or little bottles of shampoo were to be sold in the future. Large bottles were considered a security issue as were the glass from a light bulb and the thin plastic stick in most deodorant products. I asked him about the prisoner whose property was being inventoried for segregation and he said he was not certain what he did. The cell house lieutenant simply walked into the commissary building and handcuffed him. Later we learned "Freaky Ty" had flashed yet another nurse. The incident happened over a week earlier, but there was no priority to place him in Seg.

At 5:30, I turned on my television to watch CNN's Crossfire. I anticipated Newt Gingrich would have harsh criticism for the president's handling of the crisis in Ukraine and was not disappointed. However, more interesting were the old video clips of Sarah Palin and an exchange between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Palin was seen giving a speech warning that Ukraine would be the next country invaded by Russia after the White House did nothing when parts of Georgia were seized. The media has continuously portrayed the former governor of Alaska as a fool and she has been the butt of numerous jokes since she was chosen as a running mate by John McCain in 2008. Mitt Romney who challenged Obama in 2012 was also redeemed. During a political debate the president condescendingly ridiculed Romney for stating that Russia continued to be the U.S.'s greatest adversary. While watching Crossfire, I thought how much better the country and world would be if either John McCain or Mitt Romney had been elected president.

Later in the evening, I took out my ear buds to make myself a meal with commissary I had purchased earlier. There were many prisoners yelling but I could not fail to hear every word one man shouted. The black convict in his ghetto dialect and slang described his first purse snatching to the humor of his friends. According to his story, a white woman refused to let him take off with her purse. She stubbornly struggled with him until he knocked her over the head. Running down an alley way, he thought he had gotten away with some real money. However, all she had was a few dollars and angrily he threw the purse into the next dumpster he passed. I wondered if this was one of the prisoners who attended the program "Black Skills" last month and supported the presidency of Barack Obama simply because of his race.

As customary, I ate my breakfast while watching the first 20 minutes of the morning news. When I opened my tray, I was stunned to find a bagel inside. At first I did not know what it was and had to inspect it. I cannot recall the last time prisoners were served bagels and have not eaten one in years. More stunning than my bagel were reports the U.S. President was considering not attending the G8 summit being hosted in Russia. I was flabbergasted. Russia had invaded a country in Eastern Europe and Obama's only reaction was he may not attend an economic meeting?! Immediately, all Russian assets and trade should have been frozen unilaterally if the U.S. allies did not follow suit. While choking the Kremlin and its plutocracy financially, NATO should have swiftly moved into action. I expected a fleet of warships to be sent into the Black Sea to support the Ukrainian navy and another in the Baltic to not only support new NATO allies but to blockade the Russian base in Kaliningrad. The Bosporus Strait, furthermore, should have been made impassable by Russian ships, preventing their access to the Mediterranean and negating the seizure of Crimea. Divisions of ground forces then should have been assembled in the east to conduct joint maneuvers with Ukraine's dilapidated army. The U.S. also has the most deployaible and technologically advanced air force yet it remains grounded. Those billion dollar jets were not made to just sit in the hanger and be taken out for joy rides. When NATO guarantees to back up any further incursion into the Ukraine and threatens to seize Kaliningrad if Russian forces do not extradite themselves from Crimea, Vladimir Putin may think again about the wisdom of his territorial ambitions. Currently, he just laughs at Barack Obama and other cowardly Western leaders.

Later Tuesday morning about 50 bags of clothing for prisoners were brought into the cell house. Stateville has been very stingy with providing clothing to incarcerated men and I was surprised that both my cellmate and I received a brown bag. There was no guard to open the cell door and I had to pull the clothes out and into the cell through the bars. As I assembled them on the counter I noticed my cellmate's boxers were gigantic. They could fit the largest prisoner in C House and I imagined I could get two legs in just one leg opening. There had to be a mistake I thought, but then checked his order form to find that he did ask for a triple extra large. He was currently at the gym and I had to save my jokes for later.

After lunch, I tuned in to the Rush Limbaugh radio show. I had missed the beginning and the most important news. He spoke about controversy from the Oscars when Ellen Degeneres joked that anyone who did not vote for the movie 12 Years A Slave was a racist. I agreed it was ridiculous, but the focus of most social media was. During the Olympics, the media expressed great concern and outrage about the arrest of members of Pussy Riot and anti-gay restrictions in Russia, but little was said about the revolution occurring right next door. Now there is also little coverage of Russia's invasion and the possibility of a new cold war except on the more serious news networks. My cellmate was even more concerned about what was said on TMZ than on the world news. The priorities of Americans are twisted, although so is the thinking of our leaders.

Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech chastising Russian aggression as if Vladimir Putin was a little child who did not play well with others. Astonishingly, again, there was no mention of military or even significant economic repercussions. Instead, Kerry spoke about how Russia may not be ready to be a member of the G8 and international community. He compared the invasion of Crimea as a "19th century act" as if countries no longer used military force. It was a peek into the radical left wing mindset of a friendly international brotherhood of humankind where all disputes could be settled by talking. I live in the capsule of a maximum security prison, but even I knew Kerry and the rest of Barack Obama's cabinet were out of touch with reality. Instead of 30 foot walls, they were captive by fanciful liberal utopian politics.

The DVD for prisoners to watch on Tuesday night was Captain Phillips. It was based on a true story of a large cargo ship being seized by Somalian pirates and the captain being taken for ransom. I was impressed how the U.S. Navy quickly responded with multiple warships and Seals killed the ransomers and saved their hostage. Again, it made me question why Navy ships were not immediately sent into the Black Sea during Ukraine's revolution or when Russian forces began to take over the Crimean Peninsula. They are dispatched to save one man but not an entire nation?

At his request, I awakened my cellmate early Wednesday morning so he would not miss the shower line. Showers were formerly conducted for the lower three galleries during the evening, however, guards complained they were not able to get them all done timely due to a new policy of only allowing out seven prisoners at a time. Thus, the first shift has the responsibility and staff attempt to get them done ASAP on those two or occasionally three mornings. I still continue to avoid the shower room because, although it is now less crowded, the showers dribble out water and are done typically before I finish my exercise regimen or even begin.

When my cellmate returned he told me that before I awakened him he was dreaming he had missed chow. He asked me if that was strange and I said, "No, that makes perfect sense. A fat person probably would dream about missing a meal." The morning before, I went on to say he probably thought the bagel was a big donut when he got up in the night to get breakfast trays. It was my cellmate's birthday and I had to razz him. Later in the day, I hit him with a couple more zingers when he had the nerve to ask me where the marshmallows were when I made him a mug of hot chocolate. I quipped he was the marshmallow. He was like that enormous Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the movie Ghostbusters except instead of 230 tons of sugar he was just 230 pounds. "Stick your finger in the mug if you want marshmallows," I told him.

My cellmate was 38 years old and occasionally on his birthday he seemed to have this lost look upon his face. I am not the best person to interpret emotions, but he may have been sad. I know birthdays are no reason to be happy in my own circumstance and are simply another reminder of how much time I have lost in prison. Because it had snowed, his sister did not make the usual trip to see him on his birthday and this probably made him feel even more gloomy. The DVD Enders Game, however, was going to be played and I told him I would make some burritos to eat along with it. Ender's Game was a book Anthony had read and he had been looking forward to seeing the movie for some time.

The film was a good contrast to ET, although I did not like the cosmopolitan aspects of it. Earth had been attacked by aliens from a distant solar system. After the war, an international coalition had been formed to seek out the large ant-like extraterrestrials and destroy them. Teenagers from around the world were drafted not to fight in the counter attack but to command a fleet of warships in video game like simulations. The adolescent chosen to be the lead commander uses a newly developed weapon that breaks apart everything on a molecular level to obliterate not only the alien's military forces but their entire planet. I told my cellmate this is the ruthlessness the U.S. needs to use with its enemies. At lunch when I had run into the lieutenant in the chow hall I asked him about his cowardly idol Barack Obama, and he responded, "What do you think he should do?" I said, "War," and he claimed I was crazy. At the end of the DVD, my cellmate also said I was nuts, however, the pacifism and apathy demonstrated by Western leaders was greatly disturbing to me.

Along with the lieutenant, I spoke to Steve in the chow hall. Other than my cellmate, he was one of the few people with intelligence in the quarter unit where I reside. I expected him to agree with me that Obama's response to the invasion of Crimea was pathetic. While he thought lowly of most of the president's policy domestic and globally, he did not care about Ukraine. He thought it was none of the U.S.'s business and if Russia wanted to take the entire country, let them. "Blasphemy!" I said. "Get on your knees and repent!" We did not fight a cold war for 50 years just to allow Eastern Europe to be gobbled up again. It was imperative to strengthen the European Union to be a counterweight to Russia. Foolishly the U.S. left a huge power vacuum when destroying Germany in WWII as it did by obliterating the Empire of Japan. America should have stayed out of that war or as General Patton wanted, storm right through Berlin to Moscow. Steve said that I was just uneasy because Russia was getting closer to Poland. It had nothing to do, however, with my ancestral background.

Thursday I could not speak to any prisoner about world affairs or even state politics. News about the parole of Earl Bassett was all anyone wanted to talk about. Bassett was one of about a few dozen C numbers left in the IDOC. A C number was anyone convicted before statutes changed in 1969. They were given an indeterminate sentence and saw the parole board every year after serving 12 years. Bassett was convicted in the early 60's of an armed robbery, however, while incarcerated he killed a guard in Menard Correctional Center. From what I heard, he threw a Molotov Cocktail into a gun tower during a riot. No one ever thought he would be released even though he was now in his 70's and had served 51 consecutive years. But without any notice he was told to pack up his property and he was set free. It was a dream of many prisoners, particularly those in my cell house where many were old and had done decades of time.

Men were in a very good mood Thursday evening and laughed uncontrollably to a comedy called "Bad Grandpa." During commercials of an episode of the medical drama "House," I turned over to it and was not amused. The humor was crude and not very clever. The show House was much wittier and had story lines that caught my interest. At the time I had yet another reason to watch the medical drama. Earlier in the day I had been informed that one of my aunts had just left the hospital. Doctors tried numerous tests to figure out what was wrong with her but were baffled. Most likely the underlying problem was her heart, however, no doctor, not even the character played by Gregory House, was going to order surgery. At 70 years old and in poor health, a transplant would be wasted if she even survived. Like Earl Bassett, her life was over and the only solitude she took was to die at home.

After watching the medical drama, I turned off my television to listen to WLS talk radio. Mark Levine was a very passionate and serious conservative talk radio show host. He had only scathing criticism of the U.S. President. Apparently, earlier in the day, Obama had attended some event called "The Women of Soul." People had laughs that he spelled the word "respect" incorrectly. Possibly this was appropriate because he had no respect in the world. He was a weak leader and had little understanding or concern for international affairs. Yes, he loved the idea of internationalism but could not act boldly and unilaterally. Instead, he had fun at a black music festival while Russia tightened their grip on Crimea and made plans for taking the rest of Ukraine.

Yesterday, I heard about Crimea's regional government setting a referendum date to let voters decide if they want to become a part of Russia. The vote is obviously a ruse by the Kremlin to justify their seizure of the peninsula. It will certainly be rigged and even if a majority do want to succeed and join Russia, it is nonbinding legally or morally. The reason why Russians make up a large part of Crimea and other areas of Eastern Europe is due to ethnic cleansing by former communist leaders. Millions of Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, and others were forcibly moved or killed and then replaced with ethnic Russians.

The news of Earl Bassett's release was short lived as prisoners began to talk about another gruesome suicide at Stateville. When a man was hooked up to a dialysis machine at the Health Care Unit, he ripped out the blood lines. Guards and medical staff tried to reconnect them but he fought them off. Within minutes, the prisoner bled to death and blood was left splattered all over the dialysis room. Rumor has it the man was crazy, but I do not think a person has to be insane to prefer death over an existence such as this. Dialysis patients have it even worse because of their poor health, implants, and being connected to a machine for hours every day or every other day. The IDOC will not pay for a kidney transplant even if a prisoner has LWOP and they must suffer indefinitely.

Most prisoners are uneducated, selfish and base. They do not understand global politics nor do they care to. The freedom of Ukrainians means nothing when they have no freedom themselves. Some will even take their own lives to escape the misery of captivity. The disinterest of prisoners at Stateville for the plight of a nation half way across the world or geopolitics is not surprising. However, I can look past these oppressive prison walls and am outraged by the lack of action by U.S. leaders. Foreign affairs is a global chess match and one America is decisively losing under the Obama administration. The White House cannot always rely on diplomacy, tough rhetoric, or economic sanctions. Sometimes military force is essential. Regardless of the century there will always be matters worth fighting and dying for. America must stand with Ukraine.