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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cassette Tapes -- May 31, 2014

In the IDOC, other than radio, prisoners rely on cassette tapes for music. With tapes almost obsolete, there is a great demand to purchase, trade, or copy recordings. This week, I exchanged tapes with a few men and listened to a variety of music I have not heard in years. There are rumors that administrators are considering a transition to MP3 players as some states have already done, however, I am not holding my breath. Similarly, I am skeptical of inmates' optimism that sentencing reform is in the near future due to the failure of a legislative bill making the income tax increase permanent. Democrats will most likely wait until after the election to continue their squeeze of business and the working people of Illinois. Even if they lose the governor's office and their congressional super majority, the lame duck session provides them with an opportunity to needlessly tax and spend billions of dollars.

Last week, I received a long kite from Rob who recently was moved to the quarter unit. He expressed disappointment that I had not reached out to him and rambled on for four pages about what he has been up to since I last saw him in the Roundhouse. Being a skinhead I was not surprised he was in a couple more fights. Those lightning bolts tattooed on his neck were a source of much pride, but they also made him a target, particularly at a penitentiary with a 3/4th majority of black convicts. During one of the fights I was told guards used excessive force restraining him and even gouged his eyes after he was subdued. Ironically, for a period of time he was labeled as a staff assaulter and had to wear the black and white striped jumpsuits whenever he left the cell. However, his classification was dropped eventually as well as his aggression level allowing him to be moved to C House.

In addition to telling me about what has been going on in his life, Rob asked to borrow a cassette tape or two from my collection of heavy metal music. I have known the skinhead since he was taken off death row by then Governor George Ryan in 2003, however, over the years I have lost most of the tapes I once had. The tapes ordered from Resistance Records before the turn of the millennium were all gone except one. They were very popular amongst North Siders and other incarcerated men I associated with. When they borrowed a tape and unexpectantly went to Seg or were transferred and vice versa, I was unable to get my tapes back. Grudgingly, I sent Rob a tape by Bound for Glory but with strict orders. I told the cell house worker that was bringing it to him to give him a message that if he was planning to punch someone or had the smallest belief he may get into a fight, to send my tape back.

The following day I received another kite from Rob. He wrote that he did not think he was going to scrap with anyone, but it was always possible. Then he listed all the tapes he had and that he would send me any I wanted as collateral. I looked over the list, but it was mainly death or speed metal. A few tapes I never heard of and just by the name thought were exceptionally weird such as "Vagina Jesus". Finally, I settled on a couple of Pantera tapes, although I only like a few of their songs. Maybe, I was going to have to talk with Steve. I knew he had several classical music tapes that I would like to hear with my new Koss headphones.

On Sunday, I sat at the table in the cell and ate a package of sardines with uncooked Ramen noodles as a substitute for crackers. While I was eating, Bucky was on the sergeant's office duct taping plexiglass to the ceiling. The office is basically a cage of interwoven metal. The plexiglass on top is to prevent guards from being bombed by prisoners on the upper galleries throwing garbage or liquids like rotten milk cartons. The cell house worker was sealing the sheets so even dust or a little water did not make its way through when he cleaned the surface. As he worked, we talked and our conversation led to music. When I told him I had some rock and metal tapes, he expressed interest in sharing.

Despite not feeling well, I went to the chow hall for dinner. While in the inner circle where prisoners wait in line to be served, Rob tried talking to me from the dining room he was in. Because he is on a different gallery, we do not eat together. I do not like yelling over other prisoners even when I am not sick, but I hollered a few words back to him. I could tell he was lonely and wanted me to at least acknowledge his presence. Since he was moved to the cell house, I have barely said a word to him.

When I returned from the chow hall, my cellmate wanted to know how I knew the skinhead. I told him after he was taken off death row, me and another man befriended him. Rob was very young when he was arrested and like many skinheads not very bright. We tried to help him adjust to prison and educate him not only about politics but history and philosophy. Anthony has not been around many skinheads and I went on to say how many do not even understand their own ideology. In the Chicago area, I have met adolescents and young men who would occasionally flip from being skins to SHARPs (skin heads against racist people). Some I speculate just liked to belong to its clique, culture, dress, or for the fighting. Anthony was amused when I mentioned a skinhead who had a hammer and sickle tattooed on himself. He also thought it was humorous that I dated a skin girl and asked if she was a bald headed brute. Although she wore a fringe, Julie or Jewels as some people called her was contrarily very feminine and pretty.

The news Monday morning was mostly dominated by a mass shooting which occurred a few days earlier on a college campus next to Santa Barbara, California. However, I was much more interested in the outcome of the presidential election in Ukraine. Despite saboteurs in a couple of eastern cities preventing people from voting, observers concluded the results were fair and decisive. Petro Poroshenko won overwhelmingly and immediately took over the powers of president. I was not certain the "chocolate barron" would be a strong enough leader to unite Ukraine and crush Russian insurgents. Vladimir Putin was certainly going to continue stoking unrest in the east providing solders, military equipment, and other support to small enclaves which had more loyalty to Moscow than Kiev. Almost immediately these rebels armed with automatic weapons, rocket launchers and assault vehicles took over the Donetsk airport testing the resolve of Poroshenko. I was pleased after giving the insurgents time to withdraw, that he ordered a military air strike with helicopters and fighter jets. Later in the week while reading about the event in a newspaper, I listened to Richard Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman" which is a powerful classical music composition often used as a backdrop to film footage of military air power.

After finishing all his work assignments, Bucky came to my cell bars and handed me a list of all his tapes. He had over 30 rock, grunge, and heavy metal albums, but only a few appealed to me. My favorite on the list was Iron Maiden's "Live After Death" and I told him I was definitely interested in listening to it. He did not want to let me borrow the tape just yet, however, because he just got it back and asked if I wanted anything else. I gave the list to my cellmate and he wanted an "Alice in Chains" tape. He also suggested that Bucky bring me "Skid Row" because it had "my song" on it: "18 and Life to go". My cassette tapes were all in an instant oatmeal box and I took it out to show the cell house help worker. He picked out "Seasons in the Abyss" by Slayer. "Good choice," I told him.

Prisoners are permitted to take their Walkmans with them to the yard or gym, but I never do. I cannot work out with the cord and because of the cardio exercises, the radio or headphone would quickly fall off. My cellmate, however, brought his and listened to the "Alice in Chains" tape as he bench pressed. There was a long time between sets with all the prisoners waiting to use it and a lot of conversation took place. The Elephant was as usual very talkative and attempted teasing Anthony about how weak he was. The fat man boasted he can kick my cellmate's ass on the bench press whereupon Anthony retorted he could kick his ass in real life. The group of convicts standing around thought this was hilarious and broke out in laughter.

With a bad cold kicking my ass, I did not work out nearly as intensely as I normally would. In fact, I ceased exercising toward the end of the Rec period and walked over to where Bone was talking to Rob through the two separating cyclone fences. Behind his back, I used my hand to mock the Biker's incessant talking. Every so often, I would also repeat some of his crude speech and slang. Eventually, Bone stopped talking and Rob asked me what happened to my "Cult of the Holy War" cassette tape. The album by RAHOWA was one of my favorites, but it, like the other tapes, was lost over the years.

In the evening, I received 5 letters along with 3 corporate reports my mother had left me when she visited last week. I went over the letters while listening to Skid Row. I did not like the band, however, I did listen to the song "18 and Life to go" several times. There were similarities in the lyrics with my own circumstances but I did not grow up on the wrong side of town and was innocent. In my letters, I received a new list of comments including a few readers who quoted the Daily Herald and asked about my juvenile record as well as testimony at my sentencing hearing. Blog editors may choose not to publish these or my answers including one where my reply is 2 pages long. I may need to write an entire post to address the lies, although I think the matters are trivial and irrelevant to my wrongful conviction and sentence of natural life without the chance of parole. By the way, I was sent an array of photos of angry cat memes to show me what they were. I had no idea, but thought they were amusing.

Midweek, I had a pass to the Health Care Unit. It was not to see a doctor about my cold and I doubt that will occur for weeks, but to see the prison psychologist. For a half hour I waited in the cell house holding cage for an escort. While in the 8 by 8 foot enclosure, I spoke to a prisoner who was on the same gallery as Rob. I asked if he acquainted with him and he said, "Not often." When I inquired why, he said that Rob was an Odinist and racist while he was a Buddhist who got along with everyone. Later when he complained how numerous prisoners were bothering him for extra breakfast trays when he worked the midnight shift, I told him maybe that would not occur if he was a racist who was not friendly with everyone.

The H.C.U. was very crowded and the sergeant working the front door would not accept any passes. He had me and some other prisoners packed into a holding cage in the hallway. There I listened to a black inmate attempt to talk to every female who passed by. He also complained incessantly about the need to urinate. Annoyed by him, I turned the other direction and listened to a conversation about a rumor that IDOC administrators were going to soon allow prisoners to purchase MP3 players. Apparently, in Minnesota and several other states, this had already occurred. It would be nice if true because in Illinois convicts were only allowed to buy cassette tapes and only from one vendor. The mail order company, Pack Central, had an extremely limited amount of tapes for sale and those they did have were very expensive. Some popular tapes were priced at $100. I refused to pay such exorbitant amounts and the last time I bought any tapes was over a decade ago.

Thursday morning, I listened to the talk radio show hosted by Dan Proft and Bruce Wolf. The topic of discussion was Edward Snowden and if he was a whistle blower or traitor. According to a poll, 60% thought the former and I tend to agree. The NSA was pervasively violating the 4th Amendment of the Constitution which forbids unreasonable search and seizures. I was disappointed that I missed the Snowden interview broadcast on NBC the day before. Dual Survivor was on and I wanted to see Joe Teti's new partner. Matt Graham was impressively able to adopt to the jungles of Panama. In fact, it seemed he was so comfortable, he did not want to leave.

The intercom system in the quarter unit was finally fixed and prisoners were told over the loudspeaker to be on standby for yard. While I waited, I listened to the Iron Maiden tape borrowed from Bucky. The tape like many in the penitentiary was a copy. Original tapes were hard to come by and those who had them did not want to sell. Instead, prisoners often made copies and they were usually of poor quality because staff removed all the recording mechanisms out of cassette player/recorders. In fact, cassette players have ceased to be sold and only radio Walkmans are available on commissary. The Iron Maiden tape was in bad condition, but I was still glad to hear the music. These songs I have not heard in years if not over a decade. Every now and then I would repeat a line to my cellmate who could not hear the music and had little appreciation for classic heavy metal.

With the music of Iron Maiden reverberating in my thoughts and caffeine coursing through my blood (large mug of tea), I was amped on the yard. I lifted weights pushing myself past illness and back pain. Occasionally, I refused to wait my turn and blocked out other prisoners. I did this to Jug Head a few times just before he went to position himself which caused him to laugh at my intentionally comical antics. With another black man who began to complain, I told him this was a new affirmative action policy. Since white prisoners were a tiny minority at Stateville, we had special rights and entitlements including more access to the iron. When I finished bullying convicts using the weights, I ran laps around the 1/4 mile track burning up any traces of energy I had left. Later I paid for my exuberance. Exhausted, I slept for two hours in the mid afternoon and thereafter had a hacking cough.

Yesterday morning, the cold symptoms extended into my sinuses. Strangely, when I awakened, I could almost not open my eyes. It was as if they were glued shut. Looking in the mirror, I saw that my eyes were covered in a sticky residue and they were extremely red around the edges as if I had pink eye. Despite this, I spent my morning and afternoon reading newspapers. The first of these was Barron's which I had received late in the week due to the Memorial Day holiday. The Dow Jones was at another high, breaking 16,700 for the first time. It was odd considering GDP for the first quarter had been revised to -1%. However, investors probably discounted this as an aberration due to the extremely cold winter and were expecting a bounce. In the paper, I noticed BP was at a new high as well and wondered if the family member I told to sell it was now angry. He should not be, however, because there is still risk the energy major may lose its Russian assets. Furthermore, I told him to move the money into Royal Dutch Shell or Chevron which had performed even better.

Steve had not only sent me a cassette tape of music by Richard Wagner but Mozart, and I listened to this while I read. They were light compositions, but due to the quality of my new Koss stereo headphones, the noise of the shouting convicts in the cell house was muffled. They were excited that the television news was reporting the Illinois legislature had adjourned without being able to pass a bill maintaining the tax increase of 2010. It meant that there would be $3 to $4 billion less for the government to spend. The funding to the IDOC could even be curtailed with more pressure on it to release inmates. Prisoners, however, fail to realize keeping them locked up was a priority even if it was unpractical or unreasonable. Also, the Democrats still had a lot of tricks up their sleeves to continue their reckless spending binge.

For over a week, I have been paying close attention to the budget and tax issues in Springfield. Governor Quinn and most Democrats wanted to increase government spending to a whopping $38 billion. This will give them plenty of money to play with including increasing appropriations to the IDOC. However, because it is an election year, many Democrats are afraid of raising taxes which will be tremendously unpopular. Thus, they passed a budget of $34 billion and will borrow or shuffle money around to make ends meet if necessary. After the election, they will be free to hit the people of Illinois with a permanent tax increase. This can be done even if Democrats lose the governor's office or their super majorities in both chambers of congress. This is because incumbents stay in power for an additional two months. The lame duck session is often when politicians do all their dirty work. So unless prisoners are expecting the governor to whip out his pen to grant them a pardon or a commutation of sentence, they should look forward to listening to cassette tapes for many more years.