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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Simple Pleasantries -- July 26, 2014

Time that passes while at a maximum security prison is very difficult. Austere and oppressive living conditions suppress most happiness. For me, the loss of freedom and ability to accomplish anything significant drain nearly all of my vitality making me feel like the living dead. In addition, I am surrounded with the most loathsome and obnoxious people. These convicts are incredibly annoying and I regularly seek to escape the agitation they cause. Finally, the bleakness of any future outside these walls can crush the spirit of anyone. At Stateville, most men will die in prison even if they delude themselves otherwise. Despite the grim circumstances, some inmates will attempt to seek solace in the penitentiary. During the week, I took notice of the small pleasantries men embraced and struggled to do the same. After 21 years of hardship, it is increasingly rare for me to find any laughter, hope, or serenity.

Monday morning, I awakened yet again to the horror of being doomed to a life in prison without any chance of parole. In my dreams I was young and free, but now I was old and captive in a cell. Lethargically, I began my day by first peeking into the breakfast tray sitting on a shelf across from my metal bunk. Inside was hash browns and friend imitation bologna. I tossed the food into the toilet, saving the bread. The bread was not made by prisoners at the penitentiary in Illinois River Correctional Center, but was donated. Donated bread is almost always better than the bread made in Canton and trucked to Stateville and this time was no exception. A prisoner must appreciate the little perks even if it is simply sandwich bread.

I believe the men were much happier to see what was being served for lunch. Kitchen workers had made pizza and the slices served were larger than usual. It was still early for lunch, and in a plastic bag I took my portion back to the cell to eat later. The plain cheese pizza needed some toppings. On the return, I noticed prisoners seemed happy, even those who were "slow walkers". Slow walkers is a term given to crippled old convicts who had difficulty walking. The guards working the movement team allow them to get a head start and I saw Joe Miller, "Mold Head," and even the old man Adrian Vlot who shot gunned off part of his face walking with a little more pep in their steps.

Standing next to me in line was Fat Jimmy and he did not look as happy as the cripples. Last week, he had been fired from his job. Despite being overweight and sweating heavily doing the lightest work, he enjoyed being out of his cell and being able to move about the cell house freely. I asked Jimmy why he was fired and he said it was due to his first homicide conviction. In the late 1960's, Jimmy along with a friend brutally killed and sexually assaulted another teenager. Apparently, staff or the administration did not want him having a job because of that. Prisoners do not have a right to a job and they are actually considered privileges in maximum security penitentiaries. They therefore can be given and taken away with little justification.

Towards noon, I was unlocked out of my cage for a health care pass. In a holding cage, I sat by a prisoner who goes by the name "The Alchemist" although usually people just call him Alchy. I asked the Mexican what all the fury in B House was about earlier in the day. Around 7:15 a.m., I could hear yells and the banging of bars coming from the quarter unit adjacent to the one I am assigned to. Alchy just said the prisoners were riled up and anxious to be let out for yard. Despite how men in his cell house seemed restless, he was contrarily tranquil and I thought I detected even a bit of cheerfulness. It was not long thereafter Alchy told me his conviction had been reversed on appeal. If the prosecutor does not recharge him, he will be released from custody.

The psychologist I see once a month or every other seemed very casual during our meeting. She periodically sipped on a cold soda and made some brief small talk. I tend to believe the mental health care staff are simply reviewing patients rather than trying to help them. I considered that because I am introverted and do not cause trouble or express my inner turmoil, that psychologists see no need for me to be a patient. While I was in the office I noticed another psychologist look in through the open door. She was in her mid 20's and had long blond hair. Since the warden had made mental health care checkups mandatory and I was not receiving any treatment, I thought I may as well have small talk with a more attractive woman. Anyone can sip soda and make casual conversation.

Upon mentioning that pizza was being served, the psychologist left on her lunch break and I went back into a holding cage. Alchy was no longer present, but Spoon Cake gave me a fist bump. Spoon Cake was once in my cell house and I got to know him not only because he was a cell house worker, but because of his case. Adolfo Davis had been convicted of a double homicide and sentenced to LWOP despite only being 14 years old and not actively participating in the murders. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled mandatory natural life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional and states across the country have been trying to determine what to do. Spoon Cake told me Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez was stalling having him be re-sentenced to a term of years. The District Attorney is resisting the highest court's ruling until details of it are defined in appeals to federal circuit courts. He expects to be released with time served, however, anything could happen. Interestingly, he tells me that the court will not be allowed to consider any of his behavior while in prison for the last 24 years. I guess taking those creative writing classes and learning poetry will not matter.

My neighbor Leprechaun passed over a jar of instant Folgers coffee for my cellmate and me to try. The prison store just began selling the brand last week. Since tobacco has been eliminated from the IDOC, prisoners appreciate their coffee even more. Some men including my cellmate will drink it excessively. Hyped on caffeine, Anthony argued with me that his eyes were not brown, but hazel. Hazel is actually light brown, although many people think it refers to eye color which is multi-colored. I told my cellmate that even if his eyes had a couple of non-blended colors, they were still colors which create the color brown. To settle the matter, I told him to stand underneath the bright fluorescent light. For about 5 minutes he held his slanty eyes wide so I could inspect them. There were no other colors and eventually after I thought he played a fool long enough I told  him, "As I already knew, your eyes are....shit brown!"

Mail was passed out and my cellmate received a stack of newspapers to read and preoccupy himself. He sat at the table going through them with the fan angled up from the floor blowing air on his balls. I told him not to sexually molest my fan like that, but he simply pushed the fan closer. While "Quagmire" read the News - Gazette, I sat at the other side of my bunk farthest away from him and went over blog commentary. Sometimes, I like to have fun with readers' comments particularly those I suspect have political views opposite to mine. I wrote a few witty replies to feminazis, although I suspect they will be considered mean spirited and may not be published. Blog handlers can take all the fun out of commentary. They do not know how little joy I have writing about my miserable existence and the zingers brighten up my day.

Tuesday morning, I went to the small yard to work out. There was not much to do, but I made the best of it as a few other prisoners did as well. In between sets of bench presses, I listened to black men talk about all the flagrant homosexuality on the CBS TV show "Big Brother". I knew better than to watch the program, but it was popular amongst many convicts. Apparently, there is not only a couple of gay men but a radical left wing woman with blue hair who can go either way. A prisoner I was lifting weights with said he had no respect for women who act like men and in "the hood" would beat a bull dike up if she ever crossed him. From there, the conversation went to the Juvie Hall at Joliet where many of the men once were before committing other more serious crimes as adults and being sent to the IDOC. They spoke and joked about a black teenager who was a homosexual and went by the name Kool-Aid, however, when he was released he flipped and was dating girls.

As the sun rose, the temperature greatly increased. The heat and humidity caused a number of men to cease lifting weights. It did not bother me and I was glad there were less people. With the 220 pound barbell, I did a few pull overs with Kid spotting me to make sure I did not crush my face. There is a reason why they call these "Skull crushers". Kid was mad about the female guard who passed out legal mail. "The bitch" had written him a disciplinary ticket for threats and intimidation. I knew the woman had an antagonistic attitude, although what caused him to exchange words with her was that she was reading his mail. All regular correspondence can be read by staff, however, legal mail can only be checked for contraband and for that reason it was opened in front of inmate's presence.

After yard, I was not looking forward to going into the chow hall. It was stifling hot and sweat rolled off my body as if I was in a hot box. The food being served was also very unappealing. What the prison kitchen supervisors called Chicken-Ala-King was just chicken bones, broth, and noodles. The only thing I had that was appetizing again was the donated bread and I stuffed it into a sock to make a tuna sandwich later. In the meantime, I drank a chilled bottle of Gatorade I had brought to the yard with me. Prison workers will bring a couple of buckets of ice out to the yards during the summer and men place bottles of water, soda, or Gatorade in one of them. The other bucket is used to drink from.

After eating my sandwich in the cell, I switched places with my cellmate and bathed out of the sink. Although the sink was fixed a couple of months ago, the water pressure had already dropped back down to a dribble. To wash my hair, I scrubbed out the toilet and then used the water in it to rinse. The water was cold and refreshing. I had dried off and dressed when the counselor made rounds in the quarter unit. The counselor was actually a guard who was temporarily assigned the task of being a liaison. Many prisoners thought she could not be objective and was worthless. Fortunately, I do not expect them to be of any assistance. My cellmate wanted me to inquire about Securus not allowing me to make any phone calls, however, I knew better than to ask. New to the job, she would not know and indifferent, she would not care to find out what the problem was. Prisoners in my cell house now greatly miss the former counselor who was reassigned to a different unit.

By midweek, the hot humid weather had passed and it was back to pleasant 75 degree days. Despite this, I was lethargic and greatly annoyed by prisoners who shouted from their cells. I stuffed some ear plugs in my ears and as noon approached I nodded off only to be awakened moments later by my cellmate. He told me a guard had just announced my name over the intercom system for a visit. I dressed in my state issued blue clothing as I tried to wake fully. As I did so, I could not miss how happy my cellmate was. I asked him what he was so happy about. I was the one with a visitor. "Naked day!" Anthony said. I should have known my cellmate was happy to be without my presence for a few hours. It is uncomfortable being locked in a cell with someone all the time. Guards in the visiting room even gave me extra time which they almost never do.

My mother also seemed happy when I saw her. She had been contacted by the Illinois Innocence Project. The woman who spoke to her said the reason why they have not been in contact with me was because it was summer. Nearly all the students and faculty left the university. She assured my mother that they had yet to make a decision about accepting my case. In fact, a student has taken special interest in it and was reviewing it even during summer break. She wanted to know if I needed the copies of my appeals to be sent back or if she could keep them. She was also interested in what work Northwestern University had done and why they quit. My mother explained that the students investigating my case were threatened and therefore Professor David Protess dropped it. Hopefully, the IIP will eventually take over as counsel and hire private investigators because I am having great trouble just contacting people.

When I returned from my visit, there was a stack of magazines on the counter. My cellmate said they were all from Steve. I looked through them with disbelief. "Is Steve in fantasy land?" I asked. He had subscriptions to Esquire, Cruise Travel, Vanity Fair, Bon Appetite, Forbes and Oprah. "Steve does realize he has two natural life sentences and is at Stateville Correctional Center?" I asked again rhetorically. I knew the prisoner continued to try to pamper himself and fantasize, but I did not know the extent of his delusion. I told my cellmate I was going to toss all the magazines. Even if I were free, I would not waste my time with such pretentious garbage. Anthony did not care to read them either, although he did want to look at the women in Vanity Fair.

Later in the evening, I was somewhat regretting my decision to throw out all the magazines. For a third straight night, there was nothing on TV. I had some interesting books to read, but they were several hundred pages long and required deep thought. I just wanted something to preoccupy my time for an hour or two before I went to sleep. Turning stations on my television, I stopped at CNN to watch the funeral procession in Holland. Finally, some of the dead from Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 had been brought back home. The Dutch solemnly commemorated their lost citizens and even I was saddened by the event. More so, I was angered the U.S. and its NATO allies were not responding to Russian aggression. Russia was now barraging Ukrainian forces from across the border. They had also again amassed their army to invade their neighbor at a moment's notice. Nearly 20,000 troops with heavy weaponry had been assembled by week's end and all European leaders could do is reach an agreement to step up sanctions.

Thursday morning, prisoners were treated to shredded pork for lunch. Nearly everyone came out of their cells for the meal even those Muslims who were purportedly participating in Ramadan. I sat at a full table of men including Lunch Box, Otis, Bratcher, and Steve. Bratcher I called the "Gunslinger" because he walks with his elbows out like he is going to pull 2 six shooters out. He has a bad back injury but while this may cause someone to walk hunched over, there is no reason for his arms to bow. After making fun of the Gunslinger, he defected and spoke about how his cellmate is the biggest "bug." Purportedly, Jesus collects a myriad of insects. The Mexican was at Tamms for a number of years and prisoners believe he lost some of his marbles there. I do not know why, and would love the isolation.

Pork is rarely served in prison or for that matter any unprocessed meat. The IDOC is intent on feeding prisoners in the least expensive way. Steve who was sitting next to me tried to savor the food while at the same time eating it quickly. There was no way to tell how much time guards would allow us to eat before yelling for men to get out. I told Steve to stop pretending he was at a 4 star restaurant and just shove the food in his mouth like the common convict. To help him, out, I lifted his tray towards his face and said, "Let's go, piggy! Bon appetit!" Then I went on to sarcastically thank him for sending me all the magazines. Finally, Steve stopped eating to say that he saw how much I appreciated them when he saw them in the garbage.

I worked out for almost 3 hours on the yard Thursday. Guards usually only give us 2 hour Rec periods, but possibly they were feeling generous. It was a pleasant 70 degree day with sunny skies and slight breezes. While most other prisoners played basketball, table games, or just lounged around, I was determined to take full advantage of the time to exercise. Later, I was exhausted and with my cellmate sitting at the table wearing my Koss headphones, I jumped up onto his bunk. Anthony had just been given a new mattress and it was thick and fluffy. Compared to my old mattress, where I could feel the steel underneath, it was like lying on a cloud. I said to him, "This is the Serta pedic mattress I asked the prosecutor to give me," making a joke from the movie "Law Abiding Citizen". Anthony was even more amused when I said I was getting a T-bone steak next time and would share a little with him while he checks out my iPod. Personally, I suggest he plays Bach "Air on the G String".

I did not awaken until 6 p.m., long after dinner was served. I asked my cellmate where my T-bone steak was. He said the warden is never going to allow me to have the bone in the center so I could stab him in the throat. However, he did find some packets of peanut butter. Both Little Man and Leprechaun sent me a bag. After eating prison food for 21 years, peanut butter has become a favorite snack of mine and earlier I had complained of being completely out. With the sun setting in the west casting an orange glow on the prison wall, I ate a couple of peanut butter sandwiches on good donated bread and listened to one of Steve's cassette tapes. It had Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata", Edward Greig's "Morning", and, of course, Bach's "Air on the G String". With my plush Koss headphones on, I did not hear the yells of convicts, and almost felt a bit of tranquility.