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Monday, August 11, 2014

Potatoes and Paranoia -- June 28, 2014

Prisoners at Stateville have been served potatoes for breakfast every day for the last two weeks. Storage rooms must be stacked to the ceiling from truckloads of the tuber. In addition to the excess of potatoes, there has also been an excess of paranoia at the penitentiary. Administrators from Springfield are snooping around and reviewing various operations. Their presence has put greater pressure on staff to over react to potential dangers. Prisoners in D House are on lockdown for dubious suspicions and mass pat downs during large movement lines are occurring. Guards have also been instructed not to go onto the yards to lessen the likelihood of an assault. Inmates, for their part, are spreading rumors about the cause of the lockdown and the new security measures. There is an abundance of paranoia and oddly potatoes at the prison, but I am trying to keep both in moderation.

Last Saturday, I began to notice an increased attention to security when at the Health Care Unit. All protective custody inmates were seen by doctors before those in general population. Prisoners in PC are kept separate, but it was odd they halted operations altogether at the H.C.U. While I was waiting for nearly two hours, a few prisoners had property taken from them at the door including a Walkman, a novel and a water bottle. A prisoner with a deformed face (caused from shooting himself after he committed a murder) complained about the matter. Thomas Miles said men can be locked in holding cages for long periods of time and may not come directly from their housing units. The guard working up front replied that prisoners are supposed to be sent back to their cell house and then brought to the H.C.U. despite how impractical this may be. Also, men should not have any property on them even if left with nothing to pass their time. He did return the items prisoners had brought with them, however, not until they were leaving.

I was at the H.C.U. for a regularly scheduled appointment to see the psychiatrist. I will usually meet with the doctor once every other month and she evaluates how prescribed medications are working. I was going to thank her for prescribing the melatonin which was helping me sleep much better, but nurses have chronically been failing to stop by my cell at night or do not have the pill. She brought me over to the nurses' station in the E.R. to inquire what the problem was. Nurses said there was no melatonin and possibly she had to renew the order every month because it was "non-formula". Non-formula simply meant it had to be specially ordered through the pharmacy.

On Sunday, I did not leave the confines of my cell; however, my neighbor told me an interesting story when he returned from lunch. Prisoners are sporadically patted down to and from the chow hall, but on this occasion, everyone was. The movement team, along with guards who work in the cell house, had the entire line of men stand facing the cyclone fences which follow the walkway. Prisoners with their arms and legs spread were then frisked. Initially, I thought the guards were looking for men who had brought juice back with them. Recently, the administration has been trying to stop the making of hooch in the cell houses. However, I was told that staff confiscated everything prisoners had. When they left, water bottles, napkins, cookies, and various other harmless items littered the concrete walk.

My neighbor's cellmate was given a special work detail to tide him over until he was permitted to have his cell house help job again. Many work details at the prison had a year on year off rotation to give other prisoners a chance to have a job. The intermittent job Hooch was given was not very pleasant, in my opinion, and consisted of scraping off peeling or chipped paint around the penitentiary. While he was gone, the sergeant as a practical joke sent him 10 trays of meat balls. Hooch hated the turkey-soy balls containing chips of bone and gristle. When he returned from work he was not very happy to find all the balls, but his mood changed when he won the NASCAR pool. The race at Watkins Glen New York was one of the few I watched because it was a winding road course rather than a track where cars went in circles.

Monday morning, I awakened to find yet again potatoes in my breakfast tray. It seems the prison has a never ending supply of them and they are now served daily in combination with some other food such as sausage, a waffle, or a pastry. Initially, some men liked the miniature potatoes that are sliced in half with part of the insides cut out. However, after two weeks, they are now complaining. My cellmate gives me his portion because the tubers are regularly undercooked. I will save them for later in the day or toss them in the toilet. The potato skins if prepared properly can make a good lunch. I happened to fill a bowl of potatoes with sardines in hot sauce and a little cheese when the director and the warden were touring the unit. A prisoner shouted out, "Director on 4 gallery!" and I thought I may joke with Tony Godinez and ask if he wanted some hors d'oeuvres, however, he never passed by my cell.

For dinner, I went to the chow hall to see what Stateville's version of mostaccioli was. When I returned to the cell house, the sergeant spoke to me about my medications. Recently, nurses have repeatedly failed to bring my medications. He seemed to be under the impression they were intentionally singling me out and spoke to health care staff. Some of them believed I was to go out with medical lines and he informed them they were mistaken. There were a number of new nurses filling in for those on vacation and I tended to think this was the cause of the problem. I thanked the sergeant and he said if they continue to skip me to let him know. Since my conversation with him, nurses have come to my cell, but they did not have any melatonin until later in the week.

Despite not sleeping well, the following day I went to the yard in the morning. Oddly, the lieutenant and guards on the movement team ordered everyone to put their hands up against one of the two cyclone fences. They then went about frisking everyone. Prisoners are permitted to take water bottles, a Walkman, and various table games with them to the yard or gym. The guards did not take any of these items and this time seemed to be just looking for weapons or contraband. None of this was found and prisoners were permitted to go on the small mostly concrete yard. Within its premises, I heard men speculate about the extra concern for security.

The previous evening, prisoners in D House were placed on lockdown just after their yard period. In fact, it was purportedly cut short leading inmates to think something happened. They speculated there was a fight and or a weapon was found. This seemed to be corroborated by the fact that blood was seen on the walk leading to the two small yards. The stains looked recent, but I could not tell how long they had been there.

While lifting weights, I occasionally spoke with Trigger. Trigger was a white inmate who I knew from the distant past at a different penitentiary. Just last week, he was moved into a cell with "KY". He knew about me telling other prisoners that KY was a homosexual and asked me to not say anything regarding him being in PC at one time. I did not know why he wanted to keep that a secret or even if it was one. It was not like he was in PC for being afraid or some other issue that I was aware of. Despite this, I said I would keep the information to myself.

On the other parallel yard was Rob and he wanted some advice on a pen pal. He was writing a woman from Oregon and they had developed some type of behind the wall, long distance relationship. The woman seemed to have many financial and emotional issues. She was contemplating moving to the area so she could visit Rob, but was also writing another prisoner in a different state. The skinhead had ceased writing other women and was angry that she was still corresponding as well as sending money to someone else. What should he do? I felt like I was some "Dear Abby" columnist giving relationship advice. I told him to grow a pair, and cease living in a fantasy world. A pen pal was not a real relationship.

The last time I had been at a prison with Rob, I had posted a few personal ads. I was writing a number of women romantically, although what he failed to realize was that I ceased writing them after a period of time when I thought they could no longer be faithful or before the correspondence became too serious. I was searching for a wife or long term committed relationship if I happened to win an appeal or a clemency petition. When these failed, I cut off all my courtship except for one Scandinavian  girl who was exceptionally pretty and promised to be faithful until I was released, whenever that may be. I held onto her for over four years until I realized I was being delusional. The next step was for her to move to the U.S. and complete her masters at a nearby university while living with my parents. However, where was this ultimately going to lead if I remained in prison as I have?

Rob asked if I was currently writing anyone and I mentioned a girl I went to junior high school with had recently contacted me. He asked if she was pretty. I told him I did not know because I had not seen her in about 25 years. At the time she had long dark hair, brown eyes, and a slender figure. She reminded me of the part American Indian girl in the move "Pale Rider" with Clint Eastwood. The skinhead disapproved and I said, no, she was not the Nordic-type of girl I was attracted to, but this did not matter. She was special to me because she came from the distant past, a time period I greatly value. I wish more people I knew from before my arrest contacted me.

Prisoners were taken from the yard directly to the chow hall where meat balls were being served again. It was a humid day and in my sweaty clothes I wanted to return to the cell to bathe. However, inmates were left in the chow hall for a long time and then stopped on the way back to the cell house. Once again, we were all frisked. Guards had a small pile of cookies and even a bag of meat balls. I thought it was odd and amusing that a prisoner would want to take back a bag of balls. To my cellmate I said, "They (guards) took someone's balls. That was cruel and unusual punishment."

Wednesday there were few people in the visiting room. I assume this was due to prisoners in D House not being allowed visits and it being the end of the month. Inmates are only allowed 5 visits per month at Stateville. Despite being able to converse easily without the noise, I did not enjoy talking with my mother. She brought up how she learned online that Robert Mueller was in his late 30's when he had sexual relations with not one but two girls at Hinsdale Central High School. She was under the impression he was in his 20's and there was only one 17-year-old. I told her Bob disputed when that relationship turned sexual and never mentioned a second girl to me. As for his age, it may come as a surprise to her but I am now in my late 30's and still find girls in their late teens to be attractive. Regardless, 8 counts of criminal sexual assault run concurrent for a total of 32 years was ridiculous. At least my mother agreed the punishment in no way fit the crime.

When I returned to the cell, I was exhausted and lay down with a cloth over my eyes to take a nap. Not long after, my cellmate put his knee on my chest and his hand around my throat. I could not see him, but reached out to poke him in the eye and when I failed, I punched him in the balls with my other hand. Cringing in pain, I was able to take off my blind fold and kick him off me. We were just play fighting. After the incident with KY, I told Anthony I still could not put my guard down. Realizing he could not square off with me, KY may wait so he or someone else can attack me while unprepared. I must be continually vigilant and I told him about the movie "The Pink Panther" where comedian Peter Sellers has an Asian man attack him periodically when he least expected it to keep him on his toes. After rough housing with my cellmate, I told him it serves no function to attack me in my sleep. Even the goofy eccentric detective played by Sellers had some ground rules.

At night, I watched the last season episode of "Dual Survivor" with my cellmate. During commercial breaks, we questioned how real the program was. In a previous episode, Matt Graham caught a wild turkey with his bare hands after sneaking up on it. In this episode filmed in New Zealand, Joe Teti killed a buck with one shot through the heart. I am certain the former Special Ops soldier could do this, but he was using a rifle that had purportedly fallen down a rocky embankment and because he only had one bullet was unable to align the scope. I doubted the scenario presented in the show and assume Teti was given a perfectly aligned rifle and the camera crew may have done retakes or editing.

Thursday morning I awakened to another breakfast of miniature potatoes sliced in half. I noticed my cellmate had dumped his onto my tray also. I put them in a zip lock bag and thought I may eat them later. Along with the potatoes, there was something unfamiliar in the breakfast tray. Upon closer inspection, it was a cinnamon pastry. Prisoners at Stateville have not been served one of these in numerous years and I wondered what the occasion was. Perhaps the donated food was being served this week because IDOC administrators from Springfield were present. I did not know but was going to eat it until I discovered the carton of milk was spoiled. Since the cell house was going to be fed first for lunch, I just went without breakfast.

Later in the day I left my cell to attend a health care pass. While waiting in the holding cage for an escort, I spoke with Fat Pat whose cell is across from the cage. Ironically, Fat Pat shares a cell with Fat Jimmy. Jimmy had gone to yard, but Pat stayed inside to enjoy some time alone and draw. Usually, Pat would be at his work assignment, but during the week the prison store was closed for inventory and to be scrutinized by Springfield auditors. There was a great deal of theft at the commissary and their books never add up. Fat Pat seemed to think auditors would have a lot of questions but ultimately nothing will change. Stateville is and always has been the most corrupt and dysfunctional penitentiary in Illinois.

At the Health Care Unit, I waited almost an hour before I was told my pass had been cancelled. In fact, my doctor had not even come in for work. I told the guard I had just seen the medical director walk by whereupon I was told my appointment was not for the doctor but a medical practitioner. This news puzzled me because my pass clearly had a check mark next to the letters "M.D."  I came to the conclusion my appointment was not to address my lower back injury, but the requests I had made over a month ago when I was sick with a cold. Whoever filled out the pass made an error. I was able to return to the cell house quickly, however, I missed a pleasant sunny day on the South Yard.

My cellmate had gone to the Rec period and informed me of a new rule. Prisoners, before being let onto the yard, were told by a sergeant that guards will no longer come out on the premises to gather them to the gate. The guard in the gun tower will notify convicts when their time is up and they will have a certain amount of time to leave or will be given a disciplinary ticket. One prisoner yelled out, "That's bullshit, sergeant!" and later various men talked about why there was a change in policy. Some people speculated a weapon was found on the yard that D House was on earlier in the week and administrators did not want guards wandering about on the yard where they may be attacked. I told my cellmate the policy was not actually new and before the turn of the millennium, guards never went out on the prison yards.

At 4 p.m., I made some hot coffee to go with my breakfast cinnamon pastry while watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN. On the show was the IRS chief defending the government agency from targeting Tea Party and other groups. Congress was conducting an investigation and it seemed apparent there was a coverup. Emails and servers important to the investigation had been "lost" and six IRS computers just happened to all go down at the same time. Paul Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin, did not believe the coincidence and called the IRS chief a liar. In a secondary story, Republican Chris McDaniel accused Thad Cochran of intentionally undermining the senate primary. Cochran who has held the Mississippi senate seat since 1978 was going to lose the election to the Tea Party candidate, but had his campaign target black Democrats to submit Republican ballots for him. It reminded me of how the union sought to defeat Bruce Rauner for the Republican nominee for Illinois governor by having many Chicago Democrats vote for Kirk Dillard. The union was unsuccessful, but Cochran won by a slim margin.

Yesterday and early today, I watched Wimbledon tennis while eating breakfast potatoes with fish and some trimmings. Two matches were of interest to Stateville prisoners. Venus Williams played Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and then her sister, Serena, played Alize Cornet of France. Black convicts cheered loudly for the two black female tennis players. They were very unhappy both of them lost. Contrarily, my cellmate and I were pleased by the outcome. Possibly, it is the end of the Williams sisters' dominance in professional tennis.

I recently spoke with Psycho who works in the kitchen. According to him, potatoes are likely to be served for breakfast daily. There are still enough spuds piled up in storage to feed 2,000 prisoners for a couple more weeks, if not longer. He also mentioned that there were now two quarter units on lockdown. Earlier today, kitchen workers prepared Styrofoam lunch trays to be brought to both D and B Houses. There were various rumors floating about to explain the expanded lockdown of the institution, however he could not be certain of their validity. It seems the only certainty is that potatoes and paranoia will continue for some time.