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Sunday, May 25, 2014

April Fool's Day -- April 4, 2014

I awakened just before 7 a.m. and considered going back to sleep. I was dreaming about a time before my arrest when I was a teenager and still had a promising future ahead. The reality that over 2 decades passed and I had an indefinite stay in maximum security prisons slowly filled me with dread. I hated my existence, but there was no escaping it. Grudgingly, I rose to get ready for another day in the penitentiary and noticed a health care pass I left intentionally on the shelf across from my bunk as a reminder of the appointment. I looked at it to confirm the time and day. It was for 11 a.m. 4/1/2014 and I was reminded it was April Fool's Day. Most of my life seemed like some horrible practical joke. However, it was decidedly not and instead I tried to make it through my day with the sardonic humor of myself and others.

Peeking in my breakfast tray, I found some bran cereal and 2 small square crumb cakes. Hot coffee would go well with this meal and possibly break the doldrums. While I boiled water for instant coffee, I wrapped a state issued wool blanket around my 2-1/2 x 6 foot mattress and then washed my face. Taped near the sink was a small rectangular plastic mirror and I looked at my reflection: I was old, and the face I saw was almost unrecognizable to the one I had before my arrest. I was reminded of the "Dr. Drew" show I watched briefly the day before. Time elapsed mugshots of various prisoners were displayed. The panel commented how quickly those incarcerated people fell apart and aged.

An hour after I had awakened to a life in prison, I was dressed and ready for yard lines to be run. With my fist, I hit the underside of the upper bunk a few times to awaken my cellmate. Sometimes, I will accompany my knocks with "Wake up, it is time to die," however, on this occasion I did not say anything. While he got ready to go, I sat on a property box next to the bars and stared blankly at a wall while listening to music. I had ear buds jammed in my ears with toilet paper and the 1980's heavy metal music of Slayer played "Reign in Blood".

The South Yard was the largest in the penitentiary. Cyclone fencing topped with razor wire encompassed approximately 3 football fields in area. A locked gate was opened on the far end for prisoners to enter and I began my trek around the 1/4 mile track to the other side where weights and a few benches sat on the basketball court. It was cold and strong winds whipped against me. Fortunately, I had dressed for winter-like weather and had on thermals, grey sweat clothes, and a dark blue state issued jacket as well as a skull cap. I even wore my cellmate's old, black boots instead of my mostly vinyl running shoes.

I began my workout bench pressing with a few other prisoners including two very fat men. The first of these was a Mexican who goes by the name Gordo which literally means fat in Spanish. The second man was Greek and he is called many disparaging names, but I generally just call him "The Elephant". The Elephant had a waist so wide his body hung over the sides of the bench. I tended to think he was the heavier of the two men and debated the matter with Anthony. Eventually, I proposed a Sumo match in the middle of the basketball court where there was a yellow painted circle on the asphalt. From opposite sides they could launch themselves at each other and the first man to be bounced out would be dethroned as the fattest prisoner in C House. Gordo was not insecure about his weight and even seemed to take pride in it. He exclaimed he would make quick work of the Elephant.

Half of the prisoners who went to the yard began their time lifting weights. I did not like mingling with all the convicts and after completing my bench presses walked up a small incline where a chin-up bar had been set into the ground. The best part about going to the South Yard was the space which was a rare luxury in prison. I did 6 sets of chin-ups by myself and then ran around the quarter mile track. It was not a perfect oval track that one may see at a high school or college campus but irregular in shape and elevation. I did not mind this nearly as much as the gusts of wind which at times made me feel like I was running in place. Then the heavy boots I borrowed from my cellmate were akin to moon boots meant to help astronauts stay planted in near zero gravity. Typically, I will time myself but I did not bother on April Fool's Day. I doubt I ran the 4 laps within 6 minutes.

Returning to the basketball court, a few men had ceased working out and had left or were just sitting or standing about talking. The Elephant was one of them and I told him to get up so I could do some pull overs. He did so but then complained when I asked him to hand me a barbell which was close to 200 pounds. To shut him up I told him to quit whining. It was only half his body weight which was an exaggeration but motivated him to hand me the bar, albeit with his jacket and huge belly hanging over my face as he did so. While I did my sets of pull overs, I listened to The Elephant talk to a black man about filing a lawsuit. Apparently, staff at the Health Care Unit did not treat him for pneumonia until he became extremely sick.

Later, I had the company of Bone who talked more than he exercised. At one point a tour of college aged men and women got the attention of prisoners on the yard. When they walked into the barbershop school building, Bone shouted to them there was no gun tower inside the place to protect them. The students did not have anything to fear, however, because Stateville is not nearly as violent as it once was and the convicts approved for the program were vetted. Although they may have committed murders and violent armed robberies or rapes, their prison records were good. After Bone had fun trying to scare the touring students, he told me a story about another group of young men and women that had passed by him the previous year. To one of the attractive females he said, "Hey, sweet thing" whereupon they all turned around. Bone then joked he was not addressing any of them but some effeminate looking man in the group.

Prisoners were let off the yard close to 11 a.m. and I attempted to go back to the cell house, but guards were forcing everyone to enter the chow hall. On the feed line a scoop of overcooked "cheeseburger" macaroni was slopped on my tray. Cheeseburger was a misnomer because the cheese was synthetic and processed turkey-soy was substituted for ground beef. Leprechaun joined my cellmate and me at a table and began to talk about the "25/50 law" which was being considered by state legislators according to a newspaper Anthony had given him. The short convict was excited about the legislation and said he would only have to serve an additional 8 years. Apparently, he did not read the article carefully or he would have known that not only had the bill yet to be even set for a vote but would only make a prisoner eligible for parole after he or she completed 25 years and was 50 years old or older. I told Leprechaun that he was delusional to think he would be immediately paroled. The Prison Review Board probably would wait until he had a terminal disease and was costing the state millions in medical bills. I asked him if he had cancer, Lou Gehrig's, or multiple sclerosis. Of course he had none of these and I said in that case he better work on his "Mini-Me" dance to the song "It's a Hard Knock Life" to entertain the board.

Prisoners stood outside the cell house waiting for guards to secure the previous group that had just returned from the chow hall. Through the cyclone fence I could see that on the lawn nearby was an old faded basketball which had sat outside in the same spot throughout most of the winter. Someone had comically made a happy face on it and wrote "Wilson". Readers that have seen the movie Castaway will know Wilson was a volleyball that a man stranded on a Pacific island named as a friend. He was so lonely he spoke to the ball for hours. I was near the front of the line where a sociable guard was standing. He was once assigned to the cell house but after a prisoner jumped to his death was put on the movement team. During the last several months, the guard seemed lonely at times outside on the walk with few people to talk to while enduring the brutally cold weather. I asked him if he had put Wilson out there to keep him company. He said, "No, its a joke they do every year." However, I do not recall seeing Wilson out there before.

Walking into the building, I showed the guard at the front desk of the cell house my health care pass and then went into the holding cage. Inmate workers were sorting laundry bags nearby and I spoke to Bob.  Bob was sentenced to over 30 years for the statutory rape of a 17 year old girl. The punishment was outrageous as was his placement in a maximum security prison. For half a decade he has been trying to be transferred to Galesburg which is a high medium security penitentiary not far from Western University where both of his kids lived on campus. Ironically, now that they recently graduated, he has been approved to go there. He is just waiting on final authorization from Springfield which should come soon. The IDOC is kicking out all prisoners from maximum security who have 20 years or less to do.

The Health Care Unit was so crowded that prisoners were put in two holding cages in the hallway. Convicts seemed to prefer being locked in these cubicles because they could see all the people passing by. Many of them gawked or tried to initiate conversation with female staff. A muscular black prisoner by the name "Big" yelled out to a nicely dressed woman, "I see that you still shop at Marshall Field's." The counselor sometimes temporarily assigned as a kitchen supervisor responded amusingly by telling the prisoner that Marshall Field's does not exist anymore. I do not know if Big caught the subtle insult and it even took me a moment to catch on to her insinuation. Most prisoners at Stateville have been locked up for decades and are often oblivious to the changes that have occurred outside the prison walls.

Eventually, a guard from the door of the H.C.U. shouted to the holding cages, "Modrowski! Modrowski!" Despite waving my hand, he continued to yell my name. Where did he think I was and how did he expect me to come out? I yelled back to him, "I don't have a key!" and then, "You need to unlock the door!" This he did after some hesitation and I walked into the unit to be greeted by a crowd of prisoners. There were almost 40 men tightly packed in the holding cages inside and it had a zoo-like atmosphere. I quickly walked passed them and then down a corridor to an office in the back to meet my new psychologist.

Dr. Hart is an older Caucasian woman with wavy shoulder length hair. She was not attractive but seemed more competent and ordered. Furthermore, I was pleased to learn she had a 10 year old son with Aspergers. Why was I not put on her caseload a long time ago?! The reason was prisoners were assigned psychologists at Stateville not according to their skills or experience but by the first letter of the inmate's last name. If it had not been for two new doctors being hired and cases reassigned, I would still be seeing someone who had little to no understanding of ASD.

The doctor went over my basic background information initially. I was diagnosed with autism as a toddler and did not speak until I was 5 years old. I went to a unique kindergarten but thereafter attended regular schools with only very limited special education or therapy. She was surprised how involved in sports I was and also inquired how I coped with high school and prison. Young children with autism can have severe problems, but many who are intelligent overcome them or adapt. Prisoners at Stateville do not associate me with autism only as being anti-social and eccentric.

In the cell, I quickly took a "bird bath" and then went to sleep. A major problem with many people with autism is sensory overload. Too much information is collected without being screened and it can cause agitation, impairment of cognitive function, or just exhaustion. Taking a nap is a good way for me to take a time out and allow my mind to order all the detailed sensory data, most of which is junk I suspect other people do not even process. I slept until past 3:00 and then ate a snack of peanut butter sandwiches while watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN.

The news station continues to baffle me with their never ending coverage of Malaysian Flight 370. It has been over a month since the Boeing 777 went missing and still CNN reports almost non-stop about it. To my cellmate I asked if I was the only one who thought the story was unimportant. The plane was at the bottom of the ocean and everyone was dead. There were no survivors, conspiracy, or April Fool's prank. I have heard the most ridiculous and wild speculations including Islamic terrorists, extra terrestrials, and my favorite, the passengers are all on a new ABC series of "Lost". The attention given to Malaysian Flight 370 is taking attention away from more important news like the crisis in Ukraine. Unbelievably, the U.S. has more planes, ships, and other resources searching for the airliner than repulsing or dissuading further Russian invasions.

When I finished eating, I turned off my TV and sat at the desk by the cell bars and read the 3/31/14 issue of Barron's. The cover story was $75 Oil and was apparently written by a fool. In depth, it talks about how Russian fossil fuel sales can be radically reduced with the insinuation that this is all that is needed to prevent Putin from taking over Eastern Europe. Many of the facts are correct such as Russia deriving half its income from oil and gas exports and how the U.S. could undercut its market. However, it is based on yet to be built liquid natural gas terminals, the U.S. transitioning to gas as a transportation fuel, increased drilling, and an energy friendly White House administration. Barack Obama resisted the Keystone Pipeline for years and continues to block other infrastructure and production. Even if the U.S. had a president who accelerated the approval of all these projects, it would take several years to be able to begin supplying Europe and it is highly unlikely the price of a barrel of oil on the international market will fall to $75. Russia could be on the borders of Poland in weeks let alone years.

At dinner, Steve sought me out in the chow line. I could tell he had some information he was anxious to share with me. He would not talk in front of other prisoners, however, and I had to wait until we were in the chow hall. Steve in his legal research had found out a prisoner we knew was a former Cook County Jail guard. Apparently, he along with a couple of co-workers was hired by a drug dealer to help him collect money owed by a distributor. The guards went to his house wearing their badges and armed with pistols. However, this did not persuade the distributor to pay and instead he pulled a gun whereupon a shoot out occurred. The guards left unharmed, but the man they went to collect from was shot and later died. This explained the suspicions we had including why he acted alarmed when I asked him if he knew anyone with a law enforcement background. I was and still am looking for a private investigator. While on the way out of the chow hall, we thought of good practical jokes to play on him.

We were not the only prisoners thinking of April Fool's pranks. My neighbor Leprechaun was scheming to put one over on his cellmate. Hooch is regularly feeding him disinformation to play games on him. Now, "Mini-Me" is planning to turn the tables on "Dr. Evil". Recently, prisoners in administrative detention and protective custody have been moved out of X House. The assignment officer is currently looking for elderly, low aggressive inmates who cause no trouble to take their places. With the assistance of some guards, Leprechaun is going to trick Hooch into thinking he is being moved to the unit and not tell him it is a practical joke until he has packed up all his property. Hooch will not be laid off from his cell house help job though until next week and I will have to wait until then to see how the prank goes over.

There was nothing to entertain me on television Tuesday night and I completed reading the Barron's newspaper. While I was at the front table, Little Johnny came to my cell bars complaining of pain. At first I could not understand what he was saying because his speech was garbled. Eventually, however, I was able to make out that he had some teeth pulled. In fact, the dentist pulled all of his upper right teeth except for one. I asked what he was supposed to do with the one tooth. He did not know and I told him to lean closer to the bars and I would take care of it for him. Little Johnny did not want to see what I had in mind and ran down the gallery.

Periodically, I will receive letters from people who read my blog. I like receiving the mail, but on April Fool's I was given a very odd, loony, and disturbing letter. A person using a fake name and address ranted for pages about my cellmate. He did not believe Anthony was affected by the side effects of a controversial inoculation for malaria the military uses or being wasted on alcohol in combination with a psychotropic drug. He thought he was just an evil serial killer who deserved execution. The letter enclosed a photo of the victim and the coroner's report as related in my cellmate's direct appellate ruling. Despite some serious and gruesome accusations, it also had some goofy and satirical humor. For example, he claimed Anthony was insinuating to people that he was in some type of homosexual relationship with me. He enclosed some gay porn writing as well which I had the misfortune of reading the first few sentences before I figured out what it was.

This was the most zany and hate filled letter I have ever received. As I read it I did not know whether to think this man was serious, a prankster, or a nut-case. I had to read parts to my cellmate to see what he made of it. He said the same person wrote him a year ago but he had not told me because he assumed it was in response to my blog. I asked him if he regularly got hate mail of this sort and he said not since he was on death row. "What a way to end April Fool's Day," I said. "I guess the last laugh is on us."