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Friday, May 30, 2014

Cell Moves, Transfers, and Night Yard -- April 12, 2014

In February, the Roundhouse was reclassified and beginning last week X House was also. The small isolated building formerly designated for Protective Custody and Administrative Detention is selectively being filled with men from general population. Inmates in PC have been transferred to Pontiac and those in AD were placed in the Roundhouse. In addition to these moves, counselors' directive to eliminate all men in maximum security with 20 years or less to serve is causing the disappearance of many senior convicts including those who have held coveted jobs in industries. My life has remained largely unchanged and I continue to regularly read, write, and listen to conservative talk radio within the confines of my cell. I also continue to exercise almost daily and yesterday I was able to attend "night yard" for the first time since   last year.

Last week, Sgt. Major and his cellmate were abruptly told to pack up their property. They were being moved to X House. Sgt. Major is an old Caucasian man in his 70's who had been assigned a cell on my gallery for many years. Despite this, it is rare that anyone ever sees him. He does not attend any rec lines, religious services, or meals except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Although Sgt. Major has a natural life sentence without the chance for parole, he is not the typical convict at Stateville. He was convicted for a D.U.I. which resulted in a car accident killing two people. Considering his conviction, along with his age and exemplary prison disciplinary record, he was probably handpicked to go to X House. From what I am told, the assignment officer is looking for the least aggressive and security risk inmates to move to that building.

There are only three buildings which house prisoners at Stateville. General population is one enormous rectangular building the size of a city block and holds well over 1,000 men. However, it has been divided four ways and thus is referred to as the quarter units. The Roundhouse is one gigantic domed building with about 250 cells that go around its outer perimeter on four floors. It is used for segregation and prisoners deemed staff assaulters, high aggressive, weapon violators, and now those in administrative detention. X House is the smallest building and has two short double stacked galleries as well as a center aisle which was formerly death row. It is quiet in X House and the death row cells are very spacious. I would not mind being celled there if I was able to keep my cellmate, but most prisoners do not like it because it is isolated.

As a practical joke, my neighbor led his cellmate to believe they were going to be moved to X House. The sergeant and a couple of guards were in on the ruse. One correctional officer who works on the movement team even told Hooch he would personally escort him over to the building when he was coming back from lunch. Hooch has a lot of property and spent hours packing. Towards the end, he began to give away various things and that is when Leprechaun had to tell him it was just a joke. Hooch yelled down to the sergeant to confirm and they all had a good laugh at his expense. Leprechaun I could hear laughing from my cell. I peeked over with my mirror to see him hunched over trying to contain himself. The short convict has been planning this prank since April Fool's Day and finally he was able to pull it off.

Hooch has been a cell house help worker since I was moved to C House. Typically these jobs are rotated every year, but his assignment has been repeatedly extended because there is no one to take his place. Cell house workers generally do manual   labor that can be filled by any convict, however, Hooch made his job almost non- expendable. Throughout the week, inmate workers and even a few guards have been coming to his cell to ask him what and how things are supposed to be done. It has been amusing to me and my cellmate to see how lost they are without him. Although he was finally laid off on Sunday, we seem to think it will be temporary.

Hooch's job assignment has not been the only one difficult to fill. Prisoners who have held jobs at industries for years and even decades were transferred to medium security penitentiaries. Their supervisors have been influential in keeping them despite their being under 20 years for a long time. However, counselors last month were ordered to fill out paperwork for transfers of anyone who met the criteria and Springfield has been quick to approve them. While speaking to Steve, I learned a clerk position at the soap factory was filled by an old, vagrant-looking black man. When he was moved to C House, I noticed Hooch and a couple of other inmate workers trying to shake all the cockroaches out of his property. My neighbor told me he even had roaches crawling on his clothing. I asked if he meant crawling from out of his property box and was astonished to hear he had the bugs crawling on his person as well.

Despite how disheveled and dirty the man is, he is known as "the dentist" and Steve seems to have some admiration for him. Supposedly, the prisoner was a dentist prior to his arrest. I have asked Steve if he was joking, after all I would not let him clean my cell floor let alone my teeth. No, he was not joking and he had his own practice at one time many years ago. Steve thinks anyone with a college degree at Stateville deserves some respect, although I tend to believe he acquaints with him because of his case. The dentist, like Steve, was convicted of killing his wife and he is helping him with his appeal and sharing notes. Steve was sick when I spoke to him in the chow hall and I told him to go sit by Dr. Smith and take his cold germs with him.

A job at the soap factory was probably appropriate and I wondered if the assignment officer had a sense of humor. Some soap would be good for the dirty, foul smelling old man. Leprechaun was not amused and was envious of all the people with new jobs. In addition to the Dentist, Fat Pat had been given a detail at the commissary. We saw him early in the week helping fill prisoners' orders. I told Leprechaun if he likes he can wash my dirty laundry and I will pay him double what the state would. Prisoners, except those who work at industries, are paid a measly $18.80 a month or roughly a little more than 10 cents an hour. Because I never send out my state blues and shorts, I will give him a Ramen Noodle weekly. This week I had to wash my gym shoes and will give him a bonus if he did those once a month. The moody, short Irishman did not like my terms, however, and said he will be back at the laundry department this summer making various money on the side.

My economic proposals to Leprechaun had as little effect as the sanctions the White House has put on Russia. On Tuesday, I listened to Secretary of State John Kerry once against chastise Vladimir Putin and exclaim to no one's surprise that the Russian leader was behind the unrest in Eastern Ukraine. It was obvious Russian Special Forces were in cities such as Luhantz and Donetsk. They were following similar tactics used in Crimea to justify an invasion. The reaction by Ukrainian police and military was pathetic and I wondered if they even deserved freedom when they were so easily coward by their neighbor. However, even worse has been the reaction of the U.S. which is purportedly the world's superpower. Nothing has been done militarily to dissuade Russia from seizing Eastern Europe or extracting them from Crimea. While listening to excerpts of Kerry's speech, I was struck by how this White House administration had the exact opposite foreign policy strategy as President Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt's motto was "Speak softly and carry a big stick." John Kerry and Barack Obama, however, seemed to believe in talking a lot but carrying a little or no stick at all. My impression was confirmed when I listened to radio talk show host Rick Savage coincidentally make this same comparison.

I have been listening to the "Savage Nation" more often since it has begun to be broadcast on WLS. WLS is a Chicago area AM radio station with a strong signal. I can easily pick it up in my cell despite all the concrete and steel which surrounds me. Most of the time when I tune into WLS it is to listen to Rush Limbaugh. On one day this week he was ridiculing a black former baseball player and member of the Hall of Fame for accusing the Republican Party of being full of Klansmen. Hank Aaron also said anyone who criticizes Barack Obama is a racist. Limbaugh correctly pointed out all congressmen who were in the Ku Klux Klan were Democrats and the loathing many Americans had for the president need not be because of his race but his socialist ideology or incompetence as Commander and Chief. In fact, Obama is often beyond reproach due to fear of critics being condemned as racist. Rush Limbaugh is one of my favorite political commentators because he is willing to tell truths many others will not dare to say.

In addition to listening to talk radio, I read several newspapers and magazines. My cellmate was given an issue of Scientific America which surprised me. How many prisoners at Stateville would be interested in such topics as brain cell development, dwarf galaxies, and gene therapy let alone be able to understand the articles? I asked Anthony who had the subscription to the magazine and in a flat sarcasm said, "The Dentist"? before he could reply. No, it did not come from Dr. Smith, but Mr. Lewis. Mr. Lewis was another old black convict except he did not give the impression of being a homeless man. Rather, he seemed a little pretentious and was one of a very few prisoners at Stateville who wore a pair of dress shoes. I asked why my cellmate addressed him as Mr. Lewis rather than just Lewis, his first name, or a gang nickname. He said that is what everyone calls him and what he introduces himself as. I told Anthony from now on I want him to address me as "Pontifex Maximus Modrowski."

The section in the Scientific America about designer genetic medical therapies was interesting to me especially in light that many biotech stocks had dropped in price over the last week. Investors were fleeing these high beta stocks for safer assets. Companies like Celgene, Biogen Idec, and Gilead Science I thought still had awesome growth potential and may now be reasonably priced after the drop. As I went over their corporate reports, a prisoner a few cells away began to argue with a man upstairs about a chess game. Shaky routinely plays chess from his cell with other men far away by screaming out moves. If this was not annoying enough, he frequently argued about where pieces on the board were. My cellmate mentioned that he wished Shaky or any of these other loud, obnoxious prisoners were transferred. Instead a quiet prisoner named Little Frank was being sent to Galesburg, a level 2 high medium security prison.

Little Frank was a black inmate with neatly trimmed salt and pepper hair. He was even shorter than my neighbor Leprechaun and spoke so softly people oftentimes had difficulty hearing what he said. Frankie was first sent to the penitentiary for stabbing to death his gay lover, however, he is very good at law and was able to get his conviction overturned on a technicality. I believe he was released on bond and while staying at his parents' home got into a heated argument with his father. Little Frank using a weapon almost bludgeoned him to death and was quickly back in prison. Despite being a homosexual, his tiny size, and mouse-like demeanor, he managed to stay in general population without many problems. Little Frank was smart and although he kept a low profile, he helped many convicts with their appeals. The day before he was transferred, a number of prisoners said goodbye to him. In the chow hall, I was surprised a couple of men even gave him hugs.

My cellmate was not there to witness the affectionate farewells given to the homosexual openly. He had actually missed pizza and chips to call a former girlfriend. When galleries of men were being sent out of the quarter unit above us, I was baffled he was not getting dressed in his state blues. Anthony almost never missed a meal and never pizza. I asked him what seismic event had happened for him to miss chow simply to make a call. He said he told the woman he would call at 5:30. "She could not wait until 6?" I inquired. My cellmate said he was a man of his word which caused me to razz him. When I returned from chow, I asked him if it was worth missing pizza and Little Frank's farewell party. Albeit I was joking with him, I changed my mind when I heard she was living with a man. I am always interested in receiving contact from former girls I dated, however, there is no urgent priority or excitement if they are in a sexual relationship. In fact, just thinking about the possible numerous men they have slept with since we went out over two decades ago is an abhorrent thought.

I am not fond of speaking on the telephone and rarely use it. However, this week I called my sister who I have not spoken to in months. For most of our half hour call she talked about her numerous health problems. Possibly, this is what I have to look forward to when I am her age, I thought as I listened. Then she mentioned that my father was flying in. Apparently, he is going to spend some time with my mother or at different ends of the house before going back to So. Carolina. Two cripples are probably better than one, although both my sister and I think they will soon need some nursing or living assistance.

"Night yard" began this week for prisoners at Stateville. I place night yard in quotations because it is actually in the evening generally between the hours of 4:30 and 7 p.m. Convicts call it night yard because over a decade ago the time period extended into the night. I can still recall times in the 1990's when I would watch the sun drop under the wall, twilight, and then black skies with only the moon or stars as light. In the penitentiaries of central or southern Illinois, the display of stars was even more impressive and I could make out all the constellations in the Milky Way. At Stateville, the light of the city and vast metro area dulls, if not completely negates their luminosity. In any event, because many convicts from the previous millennium are still in maximum security, they continue to call the recreation period "night yard."

Despite the shortened time which could be squeezed to a mere two hours, most prisoners looked forward to it. The long cold winter may have made it even more appealing. Yesterday, it was mostly sunny and mid-60 degrees. Although I like to work out, I was not as excited or happy as others. It was just another day of thousands I have spent in the penitentiary. While in line to the chow hall, my cellmate and a couple of other men were discussing or debating the attractiveness of various actresses on TV shows. I was not going to comment until I saw child molester Malinowski standing nearby. Breaking into their conversation, I said all those women were far too old and what they should be talking about is prepubescent girls. In fact, I thought there was nothing sexier than a 10-year-old retarded child who drools on herself and wears Strawberry Shortcake panties. Leprechaun gave me a strange look because he did not realize I was saying this for the benefit of the pedophile behind him, but my cellmate started laughing. Although John never goes to yard, possibly I was going to enjoy myself.

Prisoners had to go to the chow hall before yard and it was very crowded. Nearly everyone on the 1st and 2nd floors left their cells to attend their first night yard. I sat with several other men including Fat Pat who talked the entire time about his new job at the prison store. I was happy to get out of there and into the open space of the South Yard. Most prisoners went to the steel tables underneath the gun tower to play cards, chess, or dominoes. However, other men walked the asphalt track in small groups talking to each other. Hooch and a handful of Caucasian inmates played handball. After taking off my sweatpants where I had a pair of shorts underneath, I went to the weight pile. I intended to lift weights and run the entire time.

Initially, I was concerned that my routine would be dragged out because of the law of supply and demand. There were too few weights and too many prisoners who wanted to lift them. However, all the fat or heavy men quit after a short time and went to play table games or talk. Apparently, they burned themselves out quickly or just wanted to enjoy the evening. Furthermore, the day before they may have worked out on the small yard and saw no need to duplicate their efforts. For example, the Elephant only lifted weights for a half hour and thereafter he was just useful for blocking the sun. There is a reason why other prisoners call him The Eclipse rather than the big gregarious animal I refer to him as.

For a little while I lifted weights with my cellmate and a black man with a long beard and no mustache. I asked Jughead if he was going for that Amish Mafia look. The "Amish Mafia" was a goofy, purportedly reality based TV show on the Discovery Channel. I never watched it, but oftentimes saw commercials for it while watching other programs like "Naked and Afraid" or "Survivorman". In between sets, we spoke about some of the silliness on the shows. Generally, I like watching Les Stroud, but this Wednesday he was searching for Big Foot in northern Canada.

I asked my cellmate if he was up for a rematch on the basketball court. On Tuesday, he had defeated me 9 to 11 despite me using Fat Jimmy as a pick to get an easy lay-up. Anthony liked keeping his victory, however, and for my cardio workout I ran laps instead. Unlike on April Fool's Day, I was not wearing his moon boots and there was little wind. It was a perfect evening to see how much time I could run a mile in after the winter months. I went around the track four times in 5 minutes 50 seconds, and although it will be my goal to break a 5 minute mile, I was content to be under 6.

At the end of the yard period, a guard in the gun tower used a siren on her megaphone. It sounded just like the siren police used in their squad cars. Prisoners yelled to her she was just waiting to use the siren and griped they had already been arrested a long time ago. The Palatine Task Force had silently surrounded me for a murder or murders I never committed or was even peripherally involved in, but none-the-less I began my trek to my cage like all the other convicts. It was nice to feel the low sun on my back as I left yard. However, I only wish I could get this conviction behind me as well.