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Monday, September 22, 2014

Make-up Yard -- August 2, 2014

During the long days of summer and late spring, I will regularly awake to bright sunshine streaming into my cell. However, yesterday, it was dark and gloomy with only faint shadows being cast from a vertical fluorescent light some 30 feet away on the cell house wall. Despite many windows being tilted open, the concrete cell was dank and reminded me of a medieval dungeon. The 300 incarcerated men catacombed in the unit had yet to be stirred and I could hear periodic slow rolling thunder. In the relative quiet, I brooded about my bleak and empty existence. I attempted to grasp onto something during the day to look forward to and all that came to mind was a couple of hours outside on an austere prison yard. However, even this small excursion would be cancelled for another day due to the inclement weather.

Earlier this week some news agencies described the world as being on fire because of the various wars being waged in the Middle East and Ukraine. As I suspected, Russian President Vladimir Putin was preparing for a full invasion after semi-covert support to insurgents was failing. In the Gaza strip, Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel and cease fires were largely ignored. Syria and Iraq were in chaos with ISIS seizing ever more territory. While I ate breakfast sitting on my bunk, I listened to the latest developments on television.

The cell house was the first quarter unit to be fed in the penitentiary and doors on the 5th floor began to be opened and slammed shut at 9 a.m. The prisoners who walked down the flights of stairs were very noisy and yelled to others in their cells. I was not going to disturb my day so early by going to chow nor was I even hungry. Once again, I put on my headphones, but this time to listen to music. Reception was difficult to get in the cell and therefore I played a cassette tape.

Usually at this time of day, I would be just finishing my workout and preparing to bathe out of the sink. However, because the 2 lower galleries of prisoners in the quarter unit were scheduled for yard in the evening, I altered my routine. For most of my day I intended on reading with an emphasis on exchange traded and mutual funds. On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial average plunged 300 points and ended the week at 16,493. This was the largest weekly decline in the stock market since January and much of it was due to international conflicts. When there is an array of global risks, investors generally flee to safety, including gold. Late last year, I had advised my parents to purchase shares in a gold mining company or mutual fund. The prices of these equities were undervalued and due for a significant recovery in 2014. They already had a gold fund, but there was a better one offered by Fidelity. In addition to gold funds, I read about biotechnology and pipelines. Both of these were overpriced, however, if they corrected 10 to 20%, they would be good investments.

While I was studying, Bucky came to my cell bars and handed me a birthday card to sign for Hooch. Upon opening the envelope I wondered what type of crazy card Lunch Box had made him. It was silly, but I was amused by the cartoon characters. The lieutenant was depicted with an exaggerated Monopoly Man mustache and a tear drop rolling down his cheek. In a bubble above his head were words expressing how he missed Little Frank, a black homosexual who was transferred earlier in the year. Standing beside him was the sergeant with his trademark dark sunglasses, beard, and pony tail. He had a big grin on his face and told an old decrepit Hooch to at least roll his balls up which were hanging out of his boxers as he headed into the shower.

Not long after I was handed the birthday card, prisoners began yelling, "I.A. coming to the cell house!" followed by "I.A. in the building!" The warnings were largely unnecessary and I knew the security unit was simply conducting "drops". Drops are prison slang for urine drug tests and they were not easy to cheat. Regardless, the drops were to vet men for jobs and were probably clean. During the week, all inmate commissary workers were fired for suspected theft and new help needed to be found quickly. There was only a handful of civilian staff and they could not possibly fill the orders for not only Stateville prisoners, but those in the Northern Receiving Center.

As soon as the purpose of I.A.'s presence was clear, Hooch began playing his radio. The entire afternoon he was listening to this favorite radio station, 104.3 K-Hits. I thought he may be celebrating his birthday until Bucky came by to collect his birthday card. He told me his birthday was not till tomorrow and then asked if I knew anyone else that Hooch would appreciate signing his card. The card already had many comments and signatures and I could not think of any other prisoners. Finally, I told him he should have the lieutenant and sergeant sign, but they had Friday's off.

At the desk near the bars, I listened to the classic rock music while I went through mutual fund reports. My cellmate interrupted me occasionally, including telling me what he heard on his favorite TV show, TMZ. According to the gossip, the last man rejected on the Bachelorette had sex with the woman and wanted to know why she chose someone else. I did not follow the reality show and found it disgusting how one woman will have various sexual contacts with numerous men. The reason why the bachelorette slept with different men during the show was obvious to me. She was a slut and any man who did not realize this was a fool. My cellmate speculated he may just be "outing her" on national television.

As 4 o'clock approached, I got ready for yard. I had been looking forward to the Rec period most of the day. It was not simply because I like to lift weights, but because I wanted to be in the open space. Inmates in maximum security penitentiaries are largely confined to the small perimeters of their cells which are shared with another person. Even if you happen to get along with your cellmate, it is still very cramped and uncomfortable. Lately, Anthony has been awaking at nearly the same time as me and due to this he is more disruptive than when he slept till noon. Furthermore, leaving the cell to attend health care passes, chow, or visits brings me in contact with ever more people and aggravations. In contrast, the South Yard is a large open area where, if I choose, I can get away from people. If not for the gun tower and cyclone fencing topped with razor wire, I could almost imagine being free.

I walked along the long stretch of the South Yard with Bone who was moving very slowly. He almost had what prisoners call the "Thorazine Shuffle". The formerly robust biker was sickly and weak. He had a slight yellow complexion and was gaunt except for his gut which was bloated. Bone was dying of liver failure and was heavily medicated. Doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital in Joliet had told him they would put him on the transplant list, however, IDOC forbid it. Organ transplants were too costly and all doctors could do is give him a myriad of medications. At the prison Health Care Unit, Bone told me he was present Wednesday when a convict from the NRC died in the bathroom. I could tell it weighed on his thoughts. It was probably only a matter of time before he keeled over and was sent out in a body bag.

The rain had ceased falling earlier in the day, however, the skies around Stateville were still dark. After only completing 5 sets of bench presses, a guard in the gun tower said yard was cancelled. Prisoners balked at grouping up at the gate to be sent back to their cells. The administration has an obligation to protect inmates from any threat of lightning strikes, but none could be seen except far in the distance. Ironic how they care about the minute chance of someone being struck by lightning but will not provide medical treatment which without will almost certainly kill incarcerated men. Lieutenants seemed undecided whether to demand prisoners to come off the yard and men continued to play table games and workout. Eventually, though, I assume the shift commander gave the order and prisoners including myself were disappointed but stopped what they were doing and headed for the gate.

When I returned to the cell, I understood why yard was cancelled. On the television news was talk of apocalyptic weather. On one weather map was a dramatized depiction of lightning strikes. The large thunderbolts covering almost the entire Chicago area made it appear like the world was coming to an end. Television news will do anything to sensationalize the most trivial news including the weather for better ratings. Despite the dire warnings, not a single drop of rain fell on prison grounds or any lightning bolts.

Since I could not workout on the yard, I did so in the cell. For the first half hour I did a cycle of strength exercises including where I put my feet up on a horizontal beam and grabbed the upper bunk to pull myself upward. A young guard happened to notice and later commented how he does the same exercise at the gym. With all the sophisticated equipment that was available at gyms outside the penitentiary I wondered why he would bother with any of the improvised exercises I did in the cell. I also went on to ask him what gym he went to simply out of curiosity. Guards and other staff are instructed not to reveal any personal information and he was hesitant to answer. Finally I said, "Do you go to Bally's or Gold's gym?" He laughed at the latter and said there have not been any Gold's gyms in many years.

This morning, the sun was there to greet me at the crack of dawn and I grabbed a towel to drape over the same bar I had put my feet on to do back pulls. Later when I got up for the day, I took it down and noticed the great contrast in weather. Not only was there not a cloud in the sky, but all the dampness in the air had gone. It was a cool, dry summer day with an expected high temperature of 80 degrees. A day such as this would be nice to have time outside on the yard and my cellmate asked me what I thought the chances of us being given make-up yard was. I put the odds at 4 to 1.

Anthony was again up early this time to shower. Shower lines were once run in the evening for the lower galleries, however, this was changed to the morning due to complaints by staff working the 2nd shift. Apparently, they thought they had too much work to do. My cellmate upon returning told me he noticed Malinowski had fresh sutures and speculated his cancer had spread to other lymph nodes. The child molester who was celled next door recently returned from another trip to an outside hospital. I did not miss his presence.

Saturday detail yard is run. All the prisoners who have jobs are permitted to attend. It is meant not only as a perk of working for long hours at a monthly salary of $18, but to give those workers who cannot attend weekday recreation periods time outside. Hooch was 60 years old today and he spent his birthday on the detail yard playing game after game of handball. For an old man, he is still a relatively good handball player. He returned in the early afternoon with a heavy sunburn. I told him if meat balls were served for lunch, I would have made him a foot long meat ball sandwich for his birthday with all the trimmings. Hooch hated the meat balls served at Stateville and that was a part of the joke in the card drawn by Lunch Box.

After conversing with Hooch, I lay down on my mattress to rest. I almost fell asleep with my headphones on, when I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker for prisoners to get ready for yard. I was surprised the administration was making up for the Rec period cancelled the previous evening. Generally, this does not occur and I assumed inmates on the lower galleries would not see the South Yard for a couple of weeks. Quickly, I got up to dress, stretch, and put on some sun block. I did not want to sport the cooked lobster look my neighbor Hooch had.

Despite the near perfect weather, not many people went to the yard. Several tables were filled with convicts playing cards, dominoes, or chess underneath the gun tower. A handful of men were on the hill including Hooch playing handball. Bone sat on the grass with Horse and KY. My cellmate who wanted to play basketball was unable to get a game going and instead ran off to jog laps around the track. He has lost nearly 20 pounds since the winter and seems determined to keep it off. Amusingly, I noticed him disappear into one of the porti-pods when he thought no one was looking. The portable toilets are rarely used by prisoners because they reek of chemicals and waste. They also only have 4 foot walls and no doors to give a man any privacy. I assume Anthony got the runs from drinking a large quantity of grapefruit juice at dinner just before yard. I considered running over to the porti-pod to tip it over or just mess with him, but I had a workout to do.

I was glad the yard had fewer prisoners on it. This meant more space and weights for me. Already, the South Yard was down to 7 barbells, one of which was 450 pounds and I did not dare to lift it with my bad back. Another barbell was crooked and was missing the end. Despite its condition, The Elephant insisted on doing shoulder presses with it. Earlier in the week prisoners were giving him a hard time when he tried doing cleans with a lighter weight. They yelled at him it was lighter than the two babies he picked up and threw into a wall.

Along with The Elephant was a black man who went by the name Kid, although he was nearly 50 years old. While lifting weights, he told me about his hearing in front of the "adjustment committee". The lieutenant hearing the disciplinary tickets sent two men to segregation. One of them became so angry he seemed as if he would strike the white shirt. A number of guards rushed in, however, after the lieutenant pressed an emergency button on his radio. Kid believes he was found guilty because almost everyone is regardless of the ticket's merits. He will probably be given C grade or commissary denial for 3 months. Most people at the prison know the woman who passes out legal mail is difficult to get along with.

After my cellmate used the porti-pod, he seemed to lose his motivation to jog and walked over to the weights where Kid and I were. Kid asked him what the tattoo on his chest meant. Anthony may have been ill, but he did not lose his sense of humor and told him USMC stood for the University of Southern Mississippi and the devil dog was their mascot. The letters actually represented the United States Marine Corps, but Kid would never be the wiser. In fact, I tend to believe he initially thought it may be a gang tattoo. Most prisoners at Stateville are covered with gang related ink.

In jest I asked the "Devil Dog" if he wanted to run some laps with me. No, he said, he had done enough for the day. I pressed further telling him we could have a mile race and I would give him a quarter lap lead. Again, he said no and never mentioned his visit to the porti-pod. By myself I hit the asphalt track and had Anthony time me on his watch. I was trying for a 5:30, but was told my run was 10 seconds shy. It seems like I will not be breaking a 5 minute mile this year. Maybe, in my old age it is not possible anymore.

Trigger had ceased playing handball with Hooch and was at the weight pile casually doing a few repetitions. I told him if I ever get to the age of 60 to kill me. He said, "Hell, no! I get out when I'm 67." Initially, I thought he was joking. Who wants to be released in their 60's? However, he was serious and told me his out date was 2047. Unlike Trigger, the longer I languish in prison, the less I care about having a life outside these walls. Already, the state has taken most of it and the remnants are not very appealing. What could I even do with freedom as an old man? I cannot envision anything productive or meaningful. The sun was waning in the western sky and it reminded me of my own existence. Before I could dwell on it too long, a guard in the gun tower set off a siren on his loudspeaker. Make-up yard was over and I morosely headed towards the gate.