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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Ill at Stateville -- May 24, 2014

A virulent strain of cold virus continues to spread amongst prisoners like a plague. Despite my greatest effort, by midweek I had become sick. It was inevitable I would catch the contagion particularly after my cellmate began to show symptoms. I could take all the precautions I wanted, but because we share the same air, it did not matter. Last week, in jest I boasted to him that similar to the prisoner in the Stephen King novel The Stand, I would be one of the extremely rare people who was immune to the pathogen and everyone would die off leaving me the sole survivor at Stateville. Trapped in the cell, eventually I would be forced to siphon water out of the toilet and eat his dead corpse until Mr. Flagg came to my rescue. Misery loves company, however, and I tend to think Anthony began to intentionally seek to overwhelm my immune system.

Sunday morning after eating breakfast and watching the top news stories, I exercised at the front of the cell. As soon as I did, my cellmate climbed down off his bunk to urinate, dress, and tidy up his mattress. I did not mind sharing the limited floor space with him and this is why I limit my work out area to what old timers here call the foyer. However, what I did mind was him coughing without even trying to contain some of the germs he was projecting. While I did arm curls using my small property box, I told him if he continues not to cover his mouth, I will do it for him. In fact, I will wrap an entire plastic bag over his head. My cellmate was not intimidated by my empty threat and reached into his box to grab a few cough drops before getting back on his bunk to watch pop music videos on VH1.

Last Saturday, the penitentiary had been taken off of lockdown or what I believe the administration was calling "restricted movement". The problems with radio communications seem to be resolved. Ironically, though, the intercom system in the cell house is now broken. Guards are unable to make announcements on the loud speakers by picking up the telephone and pressing a few buttons. Instead, they must yell from the ground floor or walk down galleries notifying prisoners of events, visits, or various lines. For lunch, a guard walked by telling men to get ready.

Prisoners are let out of their cells from the other side of the gallery first to attend chow and most other main events. Two guards will key open and close doors from the high end to the low. Before the turn of the millennium, a crank was used to unlock all the cells simultaneously, but administrators thought this was a security threat and now each door is opened manually, then closed, one after the other. While waiting for our cell to be unlocked my cellmate and I watched a black prisoner hang disorientated to the gallery bars in front of us. Guards eventually came to his aid and used their radio to call for a med tech when he collapsed to the floor. I never found out what was wrong with Baldhead. He may have been sick with the cold virus going around or had some other ailment. The nurse who was sent to the quarter unit, however, was in no hurry to get to him and on the way to the chow hall I saw her walking casually as well as stopping to chit chat with an inmate.

Despite many prisoners being sick, they watched the Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers game on television enthusiastically. Between coughs, I heard cheers and shouting. The NBA playoffs are very popular amongst black inmates. At the same time, the NHL playoffs were being conducted and were also on TV. Despite the Chicago Blackhawks competing for another national title, few prisoners watched them play the LA Kings. Hockey games are rarely broadcast at Stateville and there was little interest in the sport even amongst white prisoners. My neighbors watched it, but my cellmate preferred girls college softball and I chose to read.

As I suspected, the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi won the office of prime minister in India last week. The Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP not only got the most votes, but won by a landslide and will be able to rule the world's largest democracy without forming a coalition government. It was the most decisive victory the country had seen in decades and will cast out Gandhi's political dynasty which has dominated East Indian politics since the British relinquished control. With the corrupt and socialist regime gone, I expect prosperity will increase even if there is some friction with the Islamic minority. I also expect better business and political ties with the U.S. while those with Russia and China are waning.

Monday morning, I ate a couple of waffles with the peanut butter purchased and watched news pertaining to China's corporate and military espionage. China has been stealing U.S. intellectual property for many years and I was glad the president finally openly accused their government even if he does little to nothing about it. In contrast, the Russian and Chinese head of states were actively engaged in negotiating any changes in trade or economic sanctions. Vladimir Putin signed a 30 year contract to supply their Asian neighbor with natural gas. The deal is worth $400 billion for Russia's Gazprom which will in time lose customers in Europe. It is also greatly beneficial to China which has a growing need for energy.

Towards noon, I noticed gallery workers bring in a stack of new mattresses. For security reasons, they are now made with a clear plastic cover. I assume this is to dissuade prisoners from hiding contraband in them. My mattress is old and thin despite how I regularly pull it together to make it thicker. I have even put a couple of blankets underneath to add some padding. Although my lower back is feeling better, my hips have begun to hurt again from rolling over regularly in the night. Unfortunately that I could not get one of the new mattresses. Those were already going to be assigned to prisoners who had made a request months ago. When my cellmate awakened, he told me he has been waiting over a year.

On the Rush Limbaugh show, the topic was the delay in health care for veterans. A huge scandal erupted when a retired doctor from Phoenix VA sent letters to CNN and the Arizona Republic claiming the facilities off-the-books waiting list may have led to the deaths of at least 40 patients. Veterans are supposed to receive treatment within a reasonable amount of time, however, across the country many are waiting months if not over a year to see a doctor. A caller on the talk show even claimed he has been waiting 2 years. An investigation has shown top officials altered medical appointment wait times in an effort to hide the vast problems within the government health care system. There was also a financial motive to cook the books because bonuses were given out to those administrators who met goals. Limbaugh made a link between VA health care and government incompetence across a broad spectrum of programs. The private sector was much more efficient and provided much better service. As a prisoner in the IDOC, I could not more readily agree.

Early Tuesday morning before I adjusted to my prison environment, I had Buckey at my bars happily greeting me. Buckey was an energetic new cell house help worker who took the place of Bob. When he said "Good morning," I asked him if that was a statement or a wish. He asked if it could be both and I told him no. My cellmate was up and despite being sick he seemed to be in a better mood than myself. In his coarse voice, he exchanged some trite pleasantries. Anthony, in fact, was getting ready to leave to the gym and planned to play basketball. I was not going to dissuade him because I would then have the cell to myself for a few hours.

In my cellmate's absence, I washed the floor and various other surfaces with soap and disinfectant. As I did this, the hot water button on the sink broke. It continuously dribbled out water and would not stop. This did not bother me greatly because it had no chance of overflowing the basin and I could still get cold water if I wanted. After cleaning the cell, I worked out happily thinking I had killed most of the germs and did not have my cellmate's virus to breathe in. However, what made me even happier was that I finally received a replacement for my Koss headphones. These were great and a vast improvement to the ear buds I had been using for months. They were even better than the former pair I had sent the company to repair. If Apple's managers were smart, they would not have squandered $3.2 billion to acquire Beats Electronics at over 3 times its valuation and instead bought Koss.

For dinner prisoners were supposed to be fed chicken-ala-king, but instead they got boiled chicken bones, skin, gristle and a little meat on top of noodles. It was a distasteful meal, however, while in the chow hall Bone gave me the name and address of a highly recommended private investigator. From what I was told, he has worked on a few prisoners' post conviction appeals and they were very pleased with his work. As soon as I returned to my cell, I wrote him a 2 page letter. After briefly describing my case, I told him what I was looking for and asked if he would be willing to work directly with me rather than through an attorney. Oddly, I have had a couple of private investigators write me back saying they only dealt with defense attorneys.

On Wednesday, guards had gotten ahold of a hand held loudspeaker and they used it to make a number of announcements in the morning including showers. That got my cellmate out of bed. When he returned, he asked me if I was going to request a work order on the sink or just let it keep running indefinitely. I told him I planned to just let it go unrepaired. To give it some pressure, I had cut out a rectangular piece from a Styrofoam tray and put it in a slot. This narrowed the passageway of the water and could be easily moved to change the force the water came out. It was much better than the little tube he had made out of a cable wire. Plus, the Styrofoam did not have a warning label on it saying it was made with lead and people who handle it should wash their hands afterwards. Sometimes I question my cellmate's intelligence, but when I left on a visit, I did ask a guard to put in a work order. Maybe it will be fixed by summer.

My mother was very ill over the winter and I was concerned she could get sick again by coming to the prison. The visiting room was crowded and many people were showing symptoms of having a cold. I even wondered if I was carrying the virus, although I had yet to have any outward signs. I tried not talking loud or towards her, but she could not hear me if I did not raise my voice. I considered pulling my T shirt over my mouth and nose like some prisoners were doing in the chow hall, however, other people may look at me suspiciously. Instead, I just let my mother do the majority of the talking while I listened. She probably did not notice because she usually talks much more than me.

I was glad I took the precaution on my visit because after I took a nap, I turned on the bright fluorescent cell light and looked down my throat while making the sound "aah" with my tongue held down. In a mirror, I could see the back was red and immediately I told my cellmate that he passed his germs to me. He denied it and claimed I was a carrier and had in fact made him sick. It was a ridiculous claim and instead I changed the subject to his bald head. For weeks, he has been trying to train his hair to lay down flat even using a do-rag much to my amusement. Only black men wear do-rags and it is to keep their hair from being excessively frizzy, unkempt, or to loosen the tight curls to make waves. I have been making fun of him for trying to tame his coarse porcupine-like hair. Apparently "Sonic Hedgehog" got tired of my razzing or lost patience and buzzed his head again while I was on my visit.

At night, I watched the season finale of Survivor on CBS until Tess lost. I did not care for either Woo or Tony to win. In fact, I was disappointed last week when Spencer was voted out of tribal council. This season's Survivor reality show seemed better than most, but at 8 p.m. Dual Survivor came on. Looking behind the scenes at the growing tension between former Special Ops soldier Joe Teti and the hippie survivalist Code Lundine was a greater priority. Apparently, the straw which broke the camel's back occurred in Norway. They were in a gusting snow blizzard and Lundine refused to wear any shoes. He also was dressed in shorts. I thought it was pushing the limit but Lundine never wears any shoes and goes barefoot. At least in Norway, he did have on some very heavy wool socks.

Thursday, I was awakened by bright sunshine and worse still a sore throat. I knew it was just the beginning. Other prisoners have had various cold and sinus problems for weeks. I could hear the hacking coughs and the blowing of noses throughout the cell house during the morning. It made me think of what I had to look forward to. Steve has been sick for a month and my cellmate for at least a week. Bone had been ill with pneumonia and had to take antibiotics to get better. He was not the only one whose cold dropped down into his lungs or bronchial tubes. Instead of working out, I decided to take a day off. I listened to Dan Proft and Bruce Wolf on WLS talk radio. As a guest they had Larry Kudlow speak about the Democrat's class warfare campaign and how it was unfortunate that Republicans such as Mitt Romney and Tim Palenty endorsed a higher minimum wage. The Rick Savage show I listened to earlier in the week was even more incinerary comparing Hillary Clinton's rhetoric to that of Pol Pot, the communist who killed millions of Cambodians in the name of equality.

My cellmate seems committed to spreading his germs and went out to lunch and then the small yard. Considering numerous other prisoners are sick, they are probably just sharing. While men were gone, the quarter unit was relatively quiet and I made use of this time to write a couple of letters. One was to my attorney who claimed she has a 100 page appeal in the making. She just had to put on the finishing touches and did not want me to see it because of how critical I can be. While writing her, I began to hear cell doors opened and slammed shut. Eventually, I discovered a couple of guards from Internal Affairs were conducting a hooch run. They just go in a cell, open up the property boxes, smell, and then look around very quickly. Hooch has a very pungent smell and it is easy to locate. To my knowledge, none was found in my quarter unit.

When Anthony returned, he told me a black prisoner was inquiring about my blog. He wanted to know what I wrote about and insinuated he may have some issues for me to publish. Inmates occasionally get the wrong idea about my writing. I am not a prisoner rights advocate despite being a prisoner. I write a story of what it is like to live at a maximum security penitentiary. I write my story and from my perspective. It is called Paul Modrowski -- On the Inside for a reason. Anyway, I am told this prisoner plans on having a family member send him some of my posts to read which I am not pleased to hear. The blog is for people on the outside of these walls, not those within them.

Amazingly, my prescriptions for my back pain were filled before I had run out of pills. Even the prescription my psychiatrist ordered weeks ago was finally received by the Health Care Unit. Oddly, however, I am not trusted to keep melatonin in the cell and a nurse must bring me one 5 mg. tablet at a time. I have not complained and am just pleased that after years of requesting the natural sleeping supplement, I am finally getting it. Despite being ill, I have slept better than I have in years.

Yesterday, I could barely talk and communicated with my cellmate during the morning using sign language. Generally, I would simply ignore him. It is very easy to do now with my new headphones. I do not even hear what he is saying. When he realized I was intentionally not speaking because my voice was gone, he offered me some cough drops whereupon I gave him "the bird".  No, I do not want any lozenges. I just want to be left alone. Even when I went out to evening yard I avoided people and rarely spoke. Jug Head was working out nearby me for a moment and questioned where I had been. I just put my hand to my throat and he knew I was sick. He mentioned that he had been ill for a few weeks and it just lingers without ever going away. There were only a handful of prisoners exercising and I tend to believe it was because they also were sick.

This morning, I put in a request to see a doctor. Usually, nothing can be done for a cold, but I will not see anyone for a month. The only reason I was able to see a nurse pertaining to my back within a couple of weeks was because I put in requests earlier regarding my medical permits and prescriptions. Hopefully, I am better by summer, but if I am not, then I may be able to get an appointment in the HCU. There is nothing like being ill at Stateville.