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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Preparing for War -- June 21, 2014

Sunday, blood was found splattered on the floor and wall of the shower room. There was speculation that someone was beat to a pulp or possibly bludgeoned with a weapon. No one was taken to the prison hospital that I am aware of. However, it was a reminder to me of how violent and brutal a maximum security prison can be. I was in the penitentiary when it was a gladiator school and fighting often with crude weapons was a regular part of life. Menard was nicknamed "The Pit", Stateville "The White Man's Graveyard", and Pontiac "Thunderdome" after the Mad Max movies popularized in the early 1980's. Fortunately, I was mentally and physically conditioned for the concrete jungles I was to enter. Times have greatly changed since then, but I continue to be vigilant. During the week when faced with a violent encounter, I was not taking any chances and prepared for war.

On Tuesday, prisoners on the lower galleries of the quarter unit were permitted to shop. At the commissary building, I sat by Bone in a holding room. He spoke almost incessantly about an appeal he filed which was dismissed by the state courts. The issue revolved around an improper criminal indictment. Certain procedures are supposed to be followed when the grand jury is impaneled which prosecutors regularly do not bother to strictly abide by. It is a technicality many desperate prisoners who have lost all their regular set of appeals are challenging. They hope some court will eventually overturn their conviction, however, I knew this was not going to happen. They were going to die in prison.

Before I was sentenced, I knew the judge was going to give me the maximum amount of time. Rather than spend decades suffering and languishing in prison, I attempted to kill myself in various ways. By fluke and a strong instinct to survive, these attempts failed. I ended up in a holding cage waiting to be transferred to the IDOC with a single black man. While I stood there sulking, he paced excitedly. He asked eventually how much time I was sentenced to and where I was headed. When I told him, he said I needed to own it and say it with pride: "You're going to the Thunderdome and when people ask you, tell them you have a natural ball!"Having not committed suicide, I chose a fate of never ending strife and hardship which I had to embrace.

When I returned from store, I noticed property boxes in front of the sergeant's cage. The prisoner who people simply called "Big" was being transferred to a medium security penitentiary. For a moment I wondered if he was not the same black man in the holding cage with me 19 years ago. However, that convict told me he was sentenced to 50 and under the old statute, he would still need to do another 6 years before he was eligible to leave maximum security. I also recall Big telling me he was arrested in the 1980's and would not have been in the Cook County Jail when I was there. Despite having a hulking muscular build, I doubted he would live to see freedom. Like Bone and many of us at Stateville, we were doomed to die in the penitentiary.

At night, I watched the brutal, vigilante movie Law Abiding Citizen. The main character played by Gerard Butler is the victim of a home invasion where his family is butchered and he is left for dead. An assistant states attorney concerned only with his conviction rate makes a deal with the killer to testify against his co-defendant. The result is lopsided with the man who merely committed a burglary getting the death penalty and the murderer getting a 3 year sentence. Incensed by the injustice, the sole survivor kills him along with his attorney, those in the prosecutor's office, and the judge. The actor Gerard Butler also stars in another violent film called 300 where he is a Spartan king who holds off a million man Persian army with only 300 soldiers. He knows it is a mission which will ultimately lead to his death, but not before all of Greece is united to defeat the eastern invasion.

The following day, the chow hall was packed for lunch. My cellmate and I ended up sitting at the only remaining table where an old deformed man sat. Adrian Vlot killed his daughter's ex-husband before putting a shotgun in his own mouth. Amazingly, he lived, but half his face is missing including an eye. I tried speaking to him, however, he is largely deaf and is unable to pronounce words. Later, I asked my cellmate, "What are the chances of surviving a shotgun blast at point blank range to the skull?" If guards gave me the weapon and just one slug after my conviction, I would have gotten the job done right.

Upon returning to the cell, I made myself a pair of shorts from sweatpants I had purchased the day before. The prison commissary sells shorts, but they are made for short fat people. I needed a pair with a smaller waist and longer legs. Cutting the fabric with toe nail clippers and hemming it with reused threads to a professional standard was not easy. I spent a few hours on the project and then another hour sewing fabric on my shoe which was tearing apart. After I finished, my cellmate told me I should sew up his torn gym shoes as well. Apparently, his needle was too small and thin. I replied that it sounded like a personal problem.

While watching the DVD 3 Days to Kill, I almost missed the male nurse who was passing out medications. When I yelled out to him, he kept on walking and ignored me. However, a guard told him he needed to come back to my cell. Later, he eventually returned. I asked him who was responsible for not filling my prescription. Other female nurses are usually friendly and will apologize for making an error, but this man gave me some attitude which upset me. I was thinking of grabbing him through the bars and yanking him into the cell bars, yet he moved away. Repeatedly, new hires in the H.C.U. were bungling prescriptions.

Thursday lunch lines were run at 9 a.m. I was not hungry, but because I heard kitchen workers made the spaghetti with sliced pepperoni instead of turkey-soy, I went out. Although I am not a fan of pepperoni, the meal was an improvement. Upon my return to the unit I noticed Big John had been moved in the cell vacated by Big. He waved and gave me a happy greeting. He had been moved out of the cell house a year ago and seemed glad to be back. My cellmate made fun of all the prisoners who went by the name "Big", but we both got along with John. By happenstance, I encountered him again later in the day.

While I was waiting to gain an escort to the visiting room, John was placed into the holding cage with me. He acknowledged how he had repeatedly requested to be moved back to the unit. Now, he was hoping he could regain his former cellmate from F House. Puzzled, I said I did not think he would get along with KY. Stunningly, he claimed KY was the best cellmate he ever had. I asked him if he knew he was a homosexual whereupon he looked like the one shocked. Immediately, he said I did not know what I was talking about and should keep my mouth shut. A couple of other prisoners in the cage who were nearby also defended KY and scolded me. For a moment, I thought a 3 on 1 brawl was going to erupt in the crowded holding cage. A guard opened the locked gate, however, to let me out for my visit. Before leaving I told John that I had known his former cellmate for two decades and he was definitely as I said.

On my visit, I did not want to mention the subject with my mother, but I had to tell her I may be in segregation or transferred to Pontiac in the near future. Of course, she wanted to know why. I told her I may have caused a chain of dominoes to fall that inevitably would lead to a fight or worse. This was not an adequate explanation for her and thus I explained what happened. What I had said was eventually going to get back to KY and with his reputation at stake he would have no choice but to retaliate. The odd thing was that I was telling the truth and thought most everyone already knew. My mother wanted to know why the matter had to lead to violence. She did not understand prison and this was not something I could explain to her.

After my visit, I took a nap and refreshed I exercised for an hour. My workout regimen was even more intense and deliberate than usual. I emphasized speed and explosive force with mixed martial arts keeping in mind my most likely opponent. KY was a large stature Caucasian man who was once very violent in the 80's and early 90's. He had wicked tattoos over his entire body, even over his bald dome. However, he was now in his 50's. Muscle had turned to fat and he was slow. Without a weapon, I would quickly overtake him. Despite this, I was not taking any chances and pretended he was the UFC's heavyweight champion. I also trained for having more than one attacker.

My cellmate came back from the chow hall saying Big John had said, "What's up with your cellie?!" Anthony told him I had known KY for years, yet he only knew him for one. He also commented that he saw no reason for me to lie about the matter. I had no axe to grind and am always brutally honest with him, maybe a little too honest for my own good. When my cellmate related his conversation, I was in the back of the cell bathing out of the sink. It was humid and after my workout, my sweat actually rinsed off the suds before I filled the basin again with water. I kept on hitting the cold water button, but it only momentarily changed the temperature. For over a month, the sink has been broken and slowly dribbles hot water.

When KY was moved to the cell house, I had told Anthony about him. In the 80's and 90's, prisoners were largely judged by how violent and powerful they were. It did not matter if one of these men had sex with a sissy or was a sexual predator. Convicts did not abide by any traditional ethical codes and the gangs had a Lord of the Flies mentality. I always thought KY was a sexual deviant as I am sure others did, but in this environment particularly when white prisoners were outnumbered 10 to 1, he was accepted if not respected. There was only one time when I had a problem with KY and that was when he got blitzed on moonshine and psychotropic drugs. He lost his marbles and tried attacking me. When he sobered up, he barely remembered the psychotic episode, but strongly apologized. To Anthony I said with emphasis, "Never trust someone drunk and on psychotropic drugs. They are capable of doing anything." I was being serious, but also making fun of his own criminal conviction.

Friday morning, I ate a makeshift breakfast while watching the news. The president was finally sending 300 Special Forces into Iraq. They were to assess the situation on the ground and possibly help assist the Al-Maliki government. Barack Obama was continually too late and too little when it came to using military force. Did he not realize he left a huge power vacuum in Iraq when he pulled U.S. troops out? All of Iraq was in chaos due to him being aloof or asleep at the wheel. It is always better to be continually vigilant and prepared for war than to let it sneak up on you.

After the news, I wrote a "kite" to Big John. A kite is prison slang for a brief letter. In it I told him I was glad he was back in the unit and looked forward to making him look foolish again on the basketball court. Then I repeated what I said to him in the holding cage and if he wanted to talk further about it he should come out for lunch. Big John did go to the meal and sat next to me. Speaking lowly, I told him how I knew KY was a homosexual. He never made a secret of it 20 years ago and had a sissy as a cellmate. I was about to tell him a story when he stopped me and said he heard enough. He asked why I had to announce to the entire bull pen that he was gay. Had I told him privately there would not be a problem, but now the word was already repeated back to KY and he would be forced to respond.

Big John hated homosexuals and regularly would express this to KY when they were cellmates. Oddly, I told John that KY does not think of himself as gay. He thinks that only the man who is playing the role of a woman is queer. Even if he realizes his conduct is homosexual, he believes it is acceptable, or not sexually perverse. Numerous times when I would be with KY on the yard or elsewhere and he would comment that since he cannot have a woman, he had the next best alternative: a man who acted like one. Of course, while this reasoning may have been overlooked decades ago in the Thunderdome or other maximum security penitentiaries, it did not have any merit today. Homosexuality may be more tolerated in society outside these walls, but inside almost a reversal has occurred  particularly amongst certain segments of the inmate population which KY belongs to.

Back in the confines of my cell, the plumber finally came to the cell to fix the sink. He was in the tunnel behind the cell and made his presence known by hitting some pipes with a wrench or other tool. Anthony ducked down to the vent to talk to him. After a moment, the hot water stopped dribbling out and he yelled to push the button. The water ran briefly and still had little pressure. I told my cellmate to tell him to raise the pressure and extend the timer. When he did, the plumber remarked, "You're asking for steak on a hamburger budget." However, he did as we asked him to.

It was nice to have both sink buttons working properly for a change, though I did not know if I would be able to enjoy it. Friday evening, the lower galleries of the cell house had yard and I knew KY would be there to confront me. I packed up a Seg bag which is basically a few things prisoners are sometimes allowed to take with them immediately to segregation. It included a bar of soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, towel, wash cloth, and some underwear. I told Anthony that I did not know if they would do so, but to ask a guard if he would bring the bag to me. They had no obligation and many prisoners will be in Seg a week or longer without any property. I also told Anthony that if I happened to be transferred he should keep various things of mine I knew would be taken. KY, knowing he cannot take me one on one, may attack with a weapon or with the help of others. In prison, the administration does not make a distinction between aggressors and those simply defending themselves. Regardless, whatever KY starts, I planned to finish.

Before going out to the yard, I practiced various strikes and self defense techniques. It was important they became instinct and not requiring any forethought. Furthermore, I went over specific movements which were meant to inflict the most bodily injury in the least amount of time. Unlike a boxing match or the UFC, points were irrelevant. Also, there were no rules and rendering your opponent incapacitated with strikes to the knee caps, genitals, and throat were all fair game. We both had protracted death sentences, and although I hoped one day to have justice, I had to own this life without parole. As the black convict told me before I was sent to the Thunderdome, I had a "natural ball"!

I was one of the first prisoners to go through the gate onto the yard. I rushed to the other side where I undressed until I was only wearing my gym shoes and shorts. I tied my t-shirt around my forehead tightly like a bandanna. In a brawl, a fighter wants the least loose fabric. They also want their body slippery, and along with sun block, I glazed Vaseline on parts of my skin. Then, I grabbed a handful of sand which was going into the eyes of my first attacker. If I had wanted, I could have secured or crafted a weapon. However, this was unnecessary. I had faith in my physical abilities unless I was caught off guard.

KY approached me directly while I was on the basketball court. I was thinking sand to the eyes and then take down or a kick to the balls. Actually, he left himself open to numerous attacks. However, I was going to wait until he made the first move and he started by saying, "Hey, Paul, let me talk to you for a moment." I walked back with him whereupon he asked, "What is this about you calling me a homosexual?" "Are you telling me you are not?" I replied, and thus began the most ridiculous conversation I have had in some time.

I noticed a lot of eyes upon us as well as some convicts who may want to get involved and thus I told KY to walk the track with me. Many people walk around the track and it is inconspicuous as well as private. KY tried convincing me he was not a homosexual despite living with a sissy and telling me he had both anal and oral sex with various men. He even had the gall to ask, "Did you ever see me?" and of course I had to say no. "Well, there you go then," KY replied. I said, "Just not long ago you told me a man sucked your dick." "No," KY said. "I said I saw that man suck dick." Finally, I said to him that I did not care if he wanted to be in the closet. I will agree not to speak of it again to anyone in the prison. However, it will be his task to try to put the cat back in the bag.

Later, I spoke to Big John and told him we came to an agreement. I see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Oddly, John seemed happy about this arrangement. He told me when we were on the basketball court he really thought I was going to romper stomp KY and was concerned when we went out on the quarter mile track. There was no one to break up a brutal beating and the gun tower did not have the range to be dissuasive. I said that was in part why I did this, but I also wanted to diffuse the situation. There was no need for the matter to go beyond me and KY and hopefully this is the end of it.

For the rest of the yard period, I worked out while KY and his cronies stood talking by the showers. KY is respected and well liked in the prison. He has many more friends than I have or probably ever will. It was much more important for him to preserve his reputation than for me to impugn it. Actually, I never cared. Almost two decades have passed and I have been largely indifferent if prisoners knew he was a homosexual. The problem is I am not the only one who knows and there are no secrets in prison. Indeed, at the end of the Rec period, a worker came out on the yard to collect the ice buckets. He was totally oblivious to what had occurred earlier and yelled out to prisoners, "I'm surprised you let KY stand by the showers!"