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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Fireworks Show -- August 10, 2014

Most of my week was spent in the confines of my cell. I read more about the growing conflicts in the world and their effect on the stock market. I wrote a few letters and continued to be unable to reach anyone by phone. In the evening, I looked for programs on television or turned in to talk radio. Occasionally, I left the cell to attend meals, yard, store, and a visit. From a prisoner's perspective, it was generally an average week with few highlights. Boredom set in and Saturday night, hyped up on caffeine and sugar, I was compelled to break the monotony with my own little cell party. I worked out and danced to a wide variety of music. Then I watched a dazzling fireworks display through the cell house windows. I never learned the cause for the celebration not far from the penitentiary. Possibly, they, as I, did not need an excuse to break the summertime blues.

Sunday morning I heard a prisoner yell, "Hooch! Hooch! Get your old Yiddish ass up!"  Not long thereafter I saw a rabbi dressed in his traditional attire walk by my cell to speak with my neighbor. There are no Jewish religious services at Stateville nor is there really any need. The prison has fewer than 5 prisoners who claim to be Jewish and of those I question if they are practicing Jews or have any Semitic descent. Thus, the rabbi will come to the prison only sporadically throughout the year and speak to a few in their cells.

Later I asked Hooch what the special occasion was. He told me that rabbi simply wanted to check up on him to see if he was having any problems due to the conflict between Hamas and Israel. CNN and other news agencies were counting the dead in the Gaza Strip and portraying Israel as an aggressor despite how rockets were being launched into their territory. Since the beginning of hostilities, I have spoken to a few people including my cellmate who believe Israel is retaliating excessively. While the state of Israel in the middle of Islam surrounded by enemies was a bad idea, they have no choice but to dominate or take over not only the Gaza Strip but the West Bank and Golan Heights. My view is a minority at the prison where many black convicts are Islamic. However, they care less about Hooch and do not give him any troubles. The rabbi's concerns were almost comical.

In the late afternoon, I was reading a newspaper with my headphones on and did not notice chow lines going out of the cell house until guards were already unlocking doors on my gallery. Quickly, I put on blue state issued pants and some shoes, but had yet to put on a shirt when the door to the cell was unlocked. My cellmate joked that I should just go to chow half dressed. He thinks I like to flaunt my upper body and compares me to Vladimir Putin who is regularly seen without a shirt. To one of the guards he said that I was just going to clip my ID card to one of my nipples. Out of boredom I assume, he will make jokes such as this to brighten dull days.

There are numerous groundhogs on the prison grounds and prisoners treat them almost like pets. They have become so domesticated that they will even approach people in the hopes they will give them something to eat. However, convicts thought it was odd when one put his front paws on my leg to beg for food. Once again this gave my cellmate a chance to joke and called me "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective". Later in the chow hall he continued for the benefit of those prisoners seated with us. When I dismissed the strange behavior of the groundhog as coincidence, he said the animal walked straight by the line of other prisoners to me as if we were friends. What could I say except that animals like me?

I never watched America's Most Wanted, but in the evening I turned on my TV to watch CNN's season premiere of "The Hunt". The show had the same theme of trying to solicit the aid of the public to capture wanted fugitives. It also had John Walsh as its host. There seemed to be a political agenda or narrative, however, by the liberal news station. Directors of the show sought to disparage the way of life and beliefs of people in western Montana. They focused on militia groups, rugged individualism, and disdain of big intrusive government. If there was a political slant to the program, it made me less likely to believe the accusations they made against the man who was accused of an attempted murder on a police officer. The media is already viewed by me with skepticism given the way I was portrayed after my arrest. Repeatedly, I was referred to as a nefarious character who committed a mass murder in Palatine.

The excitement for prisoners on Monday was being allowed to shop at the prison store. Personally, I was not eager to go and did not leave with most other men on my gallery who went directly from the chow hall. Rather I enjoyed some time alone in my cell and left with inmates on the gallery above me. While waiting in the holding cage, my watch just happened to stop. It was symbolic of how my life had abruptly come to an end. I played around with it and got it to start ticking again but very slowly. This was also similar to how much my life dragged on day after day in maximum security penitentiaries.

At the window, having my order filled was extremely slow. All the inmate workers had been fired and the few new hires were not up to speed. Regularly, the woman who scanned the merchandise was forced to go into the back herself to get items I purchased. She was friendly though, and permitted me to add a disposable watch to my order. I had never heard of a disposable watch before, but upon receiving it I saw why most people just threw them away rather than buying a new battery. The cheap, clear plastic watch made in China cost me $13, however, and I will be buying batteries until I at least recover its marked up price.

For dinner prisoners had another treat by being served a slice of pizza. Most everyone came out of their cells in my unit despite being able to buy alternative foods at store. Noticeably missing however was Leprechaun. According to men I ate with, he was pouting because numerous prisoners had been approved jobs and he believed he had been skipped over. My neighbor does not have any family or friends to send him money and he is dependent on the IDOC stipend of $10 a month. More so than the extra money he could earn with a job, I think he misses being preoccupied throughout the day and not confined to his cell. Like most leprechauns, he is an excitable and energetic person who likes to be busy.

The following day when I returned from the yard, I noticed that someone had left an assortment of Catholic relics on my cell table. While my cellmate bathed out of the sink, I looked at these items with curiosity. I did not understand why people believed in a god or why they thought a scapular necklace would have any power. The rosary also baffled me and even if there was a god, why would the deity want people to recite the same monotonous prayer over and over again? Leprechaun was lying on his bunk depressed and I threw the religious items at him. He rolled over and I said, "Wait there is more! Here are some butt beads for you to play with." Leprechaun did not need a job. He needed some Jesus or at least some attention to break him out of his funk.

Not long thereafter, his Jewish cellmate returned from his job of scraping paint. Apparently, he was not feeling well and complained to a guard of having chest pains. The sergeant radioed for a med-tech and he was brought to the Health Care Unit. A doctor saw him and gave him nitroglycerin tablets. He was told to stay at the infirmary at least as a precaution, but Hooch refused and came back to the quarter unit. Later, he told me he was experiencing all the classic signs of a heart attack before taking the medication and resting. I told him he should have put on the scapula because on the back it says whoever shall wear it will not burn in the fires of hell.

Tuesday evening I wrote a letter and reviewed information about a petition site called "Change.org" before watching some television news. Former General Petraeus gave an interview where he spoke of the imminent threat of a Russian full scale invasion of Ukraine. Already, Russia was fighting a proxy war and will do whatever is necessary to seize more territory. This was all very obvious to me for several months and I have become bored with the news as well as NATO's failure to act militarily. Later in the week a Russian news agency claimed the country was ending its military "exercises" in the west and withdrawing. However, I knew this was just a ruse. Vladimir Putin was just playing games to keep the U.S. and European allies indecisive. After finishing my snack of generic Cheerios, I went to sleep. My dreams were more lucid and sensible than the policy of the White House.

I spend a considerable amount of time in the cell even when given opportunities to come out. My hermit-like behavior apparently is not welcomed by my cellmate. As most often, he was eager for me to leave to go on a visit Wednesday. Before I left I told him to enjoy "naked day" but not to overdo it. I warned him not to go "Ted" squirting lotion on himself by the cell bars while a female guard watched. I thought it was horrendously funny and not much will make me laugh within these dreary prison walls. My cellmate tried to disguise his amusement and said, "At least you can entertain yourself." Coincidentally, later I learned about a black prisoner who was written a disciplinary ticket for masturbating to the same guard. He was about to be sent to Segregation immediately, but the lieutenant let East Side stay until his ticket was heard in front of the adjustment committee.

Although my visit left me very exhausted and wanting to avoid all social contact, I went to dinner. Baked chicken was being served and it is not often prisoners are given real meat. Incredibly, I listened to men, including Steve, say how they were looking forward to the CBS reality TV show "Big Brother." Despite how bored I became I was not going to tune in to it. Instead, I went over an investment newspaper called Barron's and tore out various articles to mail to my mother which had my notes on the margins. As my parents become older they seem to need ever greater investment advice. While writing my commentary, I listened to the radio talk show host Rick Savage. He was greatly annoying with his anti-interventionist babble and conspiracy theories including how Barack Obama wants to start a war with Russia so he can remain in power indefinitely. Contrarily, I think Obama is doing his utmost to avoid any conflict, even if his negligence leads to global disaster.

Thursday I spent most of the day reading ever more newspapers as well as a couple of corporate reports. There is a pipeline master limited partnership called Crestwood Midstream. It has had poor ratings recently and I sought to understand if this was temporary due to its merger with Inergy or if it was a long term problem. After some study, I came to the conclusion it was still a good investment particularly for income seekers, and given some time, its profits would grow steadily. The stock was trading at its 52 week low and offered a 7-1/2% yield. Analyzing all the minute details of companies can be an arduous and boring task, but I seem to have a knack for it. Possibly, if I was ever exonerated, I could be an investment consultant or manager. I have no idea whether I will ever be free or what opportunity will exist and rarely entertain any thoughts of a life outside these walls.

On the PBS News Hour was an interesting segment regarding how a pendulum seems to be swinging away from the extremes of draconian prison sentences. On the panel were both people on the left and right of the political spectrum including a former attorney general. They all agreed there were far too many people incarcerated and sought changes in the system. Pat Nolan from the American Conservative Union Foundation spoke about a Texas initiative to be "Right on Crime". The state has moved away from locking up low level offenders and was using the savings for rehabilitation and making sure convicts did not recidivate. Bill McCollum expressed that sentencing statutes also needed great restructuring. As the attorney general of Florida, he saw pervasive imbalances, but disagreed that not all non-violent offenses should be treated lightly such as drug traffickers. Despite how there is a shift in public opinion of locking every offender up and throwing away the key, I doubt it will matter in my circumstance. I need to get my case back into court to prove my innocence.

Friday was another day I languished in the cell. For a little while I attempted to preoccupy myself watching news. The president reluctantly gave the order for some limited air strikes in Iraq to prevent ISIS from butchering a group of Christians on a mountain as well as overrunning the U.S. consulate. He still does not understand that America must use the full power of the military to retake Iraq and this time set up an authoritarian, albeit benevolent, regime. Later, after reading a couple of magazines, I again turned on my television. There was nothing on of interest. Even my cellmate was somewhat at a loss as to what to watch. I told him the lack of good or even average programming was due to the fact that it was Friday night. Viewership is down and people outside have better things to do.

Saturday I began to make some notes for this post. My cellmate, bored but also nosy, asked what I was writing about. I told him this post was called, "A Whole Lot of None of Your Business". While I struggled to come up with a theme for my story, he struggled to find something to occupy his time. After watching some television, he stood at the bars waiting for a shower. When he returned, he brought the telephone back with him. He managed to get through to someone, however, when I tried to call my parents I received the same automated recording that I have been hearing for a month.

All religious services were cancelled in the morning and eventually I learned why. A charitable organization was at the penitentiary which sought to give children presents on Christmas who had a parent incarcerated. Angel Tree has good intentions, but I did not know how a doll or a small set of Lego's could make up for the loss of a father. They also were not helpful to me in any way. When a man from the organization asked me if I had any kids, I told him no and then added I was a kid when arrested. He did not know how to respond to this and went next door. Maybe the child molester had some kids he wanted to send toys to.

I missed dinner and in its stead I ate cookies smothered with peanut butter. To go along with the sweet snack, I had a large mug of instant coffee. The sugar and caffeine caused me to have a surge of pent up energy. Locked in my cell, there was little I could do and I began to do push-ups. Still, I was not satisfied and sought out greater stimulation. To gain radio reception, I put my Walkman on the table and weaved the headphone cord outside of the cell bars and back in. In between sets of push ups and other exercises, I searched for music on the FM bandwidth. I skipped around from station to station listening to the heavy metal of Danzig to the pop music of Justin Timberlake. My cellmate really thought I was going crazy when he noticed me dancing to "Go Heavy Go". Yes, it was greatly out of character, but I had so much energy and there was nothing to do.

As I did chin-ups off the bars, there was a boom and a flash of light. I looked around to where it came from and through the cell house windows I could see fireworks to the northeast. Initially, there were only a few lighting up the night sky. However, the fireworks increased in intensity with large colorful displays occurring one after the other and sometimes together. I was dripping in sweat from exercising but stopped to watch the performance. I also took off my head phones to hear the explosions which could actually be felt from inside the cell. For a few minutes my cellmate sat on the counter top to see the firework show and we speculated what the occasion could be. Anthony mentioned the Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago that he saw on television news earlier in the day but I did not think there were any similar celebrations in the far southwest suburbs.

The show ended at 10 p.m. and I bathed out of the sink before returning to the cell bars. The spike in energy I had was fading, but I knew I would not be able to sleep. Instead, I stared out into the night sky and listened to some slower songs I found on the radio. Eventually, I just took off my headphones. The cell house had become quiet and I could be left undistracted to my thoughts. After a brief respite, I was again glum and pondering the meaning of my existence. The fireworks show was the highlight of my week, however, it only served to contrast how empty and bleak my life in prison was.