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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Cellhouse Worker -- November 1, 2014

After much confusion, my cellmate finally began a job as cellhouse help. The assignment is not difficult and requires him to do miscellaneous menial labor in the quarter unit. In addition to his official duties, he also assists prisoners who are trapped in their cells in a variety of ways. For working 7 days a week generally between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., he is given an extra $18 a month in state pay. No one accepts a job at Stateville for the money, but for the small perks which come along with it. Cellhouse workers are often able to walk the galleries of the quarter unit and occasionally go outside when escorted. The movement allows them to socialize and barter with a large group of men. Furthermore, they have access to state supplies, extra food trays, and a shower at the end of their shift. There is nothing appealing to me about the detail and I would never accept it, but I am glad my cellmate has. It conveys a few benefits, none better than not having a cellmate for part of the day.

Anthony was first made aware he was going to be offered a job when Internal Affairs had him submit to a drug test a few weeks ago. It is common procedure for prisoners to be tested before being allowed to work. Immediately upon returning from the chow hall, two members of the security unit were at the cell bars and gave my cellmate a cup to urinate in. They thought this was going to be a simple task for him and they could move on to other prisoners on their list to be dropped, however, I knew better. Anthony has trouble pissing in the presence of others even me despite us being confined to the same cell for almost 2 years. I grabbed a newspaper and sat on the table next to one of the men from I.A. and then told him, "This may take awhile. My cellmate has a shy bladder."

Prisoners have 2 hours to give a urine sample. If they fail to do so, they are immediately handcuffed and taken to Segregation. Typically, Internal Affairs will first ask the inmate whether they can go before handing them a cup. After giving them the cup, however, they must watch to make sure the prisoner does not cheat in some fashion. Anthony stood there trying to urinate for 5 minutes before giving up and putting the cup down. The security guard allowed him to drink some water, but I knew that was not the problem. He had a large mug of coffee before chow and at dinner drank 6 or more small cartons of grapefruit juice. His bladder was full. At other times I would make jokes such as "What are you doing back there? Are you playing with yourself, Giggitty, Giggitty? How long are you going to hold your pecker?" and so forth. Occasionally, I will even poke him with my remote control stick or give him a kick. However, on this occasion, I did not know if I should attempt to lighten the mood or allow him to concentrate. Thus, I just read the paper and made a little chit chat with the guard while Anthony repeatedly tried to give a urine sample. Almost an hour passed before he was successful. The cup tests for 5 different drugs and they all indicated negative.

In the week following my cellmate's drug test, he was informed that he was approved for a cell house help job. However, there was much debate about which shift he was going to work. Several prisoners were jockeying for openings including those who already had assignments in the quarter unit. Anthony was ill and did not aggressively lobby the sergeant like others. In fact, he only spoke to her once and with the encouragement of a guard who got along with him. The sergeant was noncommittal and I speculated this was because either she was recently assigned to the quarter unit or was uncertain if she would retain the post. With the indecision, Anthony wrote the assignment officer asking if he could have his kitchen job back but if not possible he preferred to work the 1st shift in the cell house.

It was not until last Saturday that Anthony learned where or when he would work. Just before 8 a.m., a guard yelled from the lower floor for him to get ready to come out. My cellmate was recovering from a bad cold, but immediately jumped down off his bunk eager to begin his first day. He was not at work very long when he was notified he had a visitor. Prisoners and staff alike razzed him that he was already taking time off, however, later he told me there was not much to do. He was assigned 10 gallery (the 5th floor) and he basically just swept, mopped, and picked up trash on the bars of cells. For a period of time, he stood at the far end of the narrow aisle and stared out over the penitentiary wall. I asked him what was the best part of his day at work and other than the view he replied "being able to take a shower." Cellhouse help workers are permitted to shower every day after their shifts.

On Sunday, I awakened my cellmate at a quarter past 7. He told me the previous night to wake him up sooner, however, I did not want him in my way. I have a routine in the morning that I do not like disrupted. He could sleep a little longer until I settled in to eat breakfast and watch the news. Furthermore, I am not a social person and this is particularly true when it is very early. I hate my life and it takes me a while just to adjust to the ugly realities of it. Cellhouse workers can be let out of their cells any time between 7 and 9 a.m. On this occasion, he had plenty of time to get ready and even sat on the front table watching VH1 music videos for a half hour while he waited.

At my suggestion, Anthony chose to take up another cellhouse worker's offer to switch galleries. The view from the 5th floor may be nice, but it was much more practical to work the gallery you also lived on. While I was exercising, I had the opportunity to watch my cellmate at work. First he picked up all the trash prisoners left on their cell bars including many Styrofoam breakfast trays. Then he swept and mopped the gallery. I told him he was pretty good with the push broom and he mused it was due to his four years of training in the Marine Corps. Later he rolled a crate by with a bucket of disinfectant. Every Sunday morning prisoners are given a watered-down solution of disinfectant to clean their cells. When Anthony pored some into a container for me, he commented it was 9 out of 10 parts water.

At noon I turned on my television to watch the New England Patriots crush the Chicago Bears. Stateville prisoners were upset to see the home football team be so completely dominated but I was happy. I had no loyalty to the Bears and the Patriots, due to their personnel, were my favorite group of players. I particularly liked watching tight end Rob Gronkowski manhandle Chicago's defense and make 9 for 9 receptions and score on three occasions. The Patriots went on to win 51 to 23, but the cellhouse went quiet by half time. As I watched the game, I ate a tray of baked chicken brought to me by my cellmate. Every cellhouse is sent a rack or two of trays for prisoners who have doctor ordered lay-ins or were not present during feed lines. When there are leftovers, they are given to cellhouse help. I disdain going to the chow hall and intend to take advantage of Anthony's benefits on the job.

In the evening, I called home using one of the two phones on the gallery. Since my cellmate was already locked in the cell, I was dependent on another worker to bring it to me. Initially, I was in a fair mood, but my mother was to quickly anger me. She told me about a litany of petty problems various family members had. I was railroaded for murder and had spent 21 years in a cage. Most likely, I was going to die in prison and none of them cared. Not one was willing to pay for a private investigator or a new attorney. Exasperated, I told my mother to let me speak to my father. I wanted to talk to him before he left to South Carolina.

The following day, I awakened to find a couple of small croissants in my breakfast tray and thought they would go well with coffee. Since my cellmate was now waking up near the same time as me, I also made him a cup. He appreciated the gesture but was again in my way before he left the cell. He even wanted to use the toilet at the most inconvenient time for me. I told him to shit downstairs in the lieutenant's office. The office is actually a cell directly below ours. There is no bunk bed but it has bars, a sink and a toilet. My cellmate grumbled something disagreeable and claimed he would be sent to Seg. I replied no staff would walk him for having to use the toilet. When you got to go, you have to go. Just walk straight in there, pull your pants down, and have a squat. If anything, they will be too stunned or amused to send you to Seg.

Later while on the job my cellmate asked me to hand him his electric razor and a mirror. From the gallery, he shaved to look clean cut for his photo. The prison was again taking annual mugshots and his name was on the list. He did not return for a long time and I asked him if he broke the camera. He said while he was at Gate 5 a fight occurred in the Roundhouse and there was a hold on all movement. I asked to see his new identification card and when I saw he was smiling I remarked, "Creepy." In fact, I told him he reminded me of "Creepy Rob Lowe" in his commercials for Directv. My cellmate told me numerous men were complaining of the yellow tint. I did not notice it in his photo, but I am certain with my pale complexion, I will soon have a new ID where I appear to have jaundice.

Visitors are permitted to leave publications for the person they are seeing. I had too many newspapers to read and only quickly perused the Mokena Messenger my mother had left. I noticed the Lincoln Way Knights were ranked below all the other Lincoln Way schools and took solace that because of the new schools since my arrest, I would have attended LW East, rather than Central. The Griffins had just beat Bolingbrook and were going to win the SWSC Blue Title. I was going to throw out the newspapers but then thought my neighbor may like to look at them because he was also from that area. Not long after I did, Leprechaun was excitedly tapping his mirror on my cell and proceeded to tell me his brother was spoken about at length in one of the articles. His brother was a long time developer in the SW suburbs and was soon to be half owner and manager at an enormous new indoor gun range. Live Fire Gun Shop and Club was to open next year in Mokena. I asked Leprechaun how close of a relationship he had with his brother. He said he had not had any contact with him in well over a decade.

Before I went to sleep I was delivered more mail. After 5 years my attorney had sent me a rough draft of my appeal. I briefly looked at the issues raised before putting it away in my property box to read some other day, week, or month. As I anticipated, she only raised a quarter of my issues and still had yet to get the affidavits I required. Even if the appeal was done properly, I had lost all faith in my attorney. Filing the appeal was the easiest part. How could I trust her to represent me in the 2nd and 3rd stage of a post conviction proceeding? I will probably just wait for the Illinois Innocence Project to file for DNA testing and decide if they want to represent in entirety, although this will take 2 years.

On Tuesday, my cellmate asked permission to attend the gym. Cellhouse help and other workers have a special yard day on Saturdays, but sometimes are allowed to go to other recreation periods. The sergeant gave Anthony the go ahead and after picking trash off the cell bars of the gallery, he went to play basketball. While he was gone, other workers swept and mopped the floors. They also passed out supplies. One of the workers returned to my cell to give me an extra roll of toilet paper as well as an extra bar of soap. Apparently, the extra supplies were a perk of the job.

Since Anthony was at the gym, I did not know if I could rely on him to give me an extra lunch tray. At the chow hall, a couple of black prisoners oddly sat with Leprechaun and me. One of the men is referred to as Big Jr. because he is a sizable man, although not as muscle bound as Big. Big Jr. had the audacity to take my two juice cartons. Occasionally, I will lift weights with him and I did not know what to think of what he did. Was he testing or playing with me? Maybe, he simply thought I did not want them because they were not close to my tray. Then I considered if he was just delirious because he was a diabetic and his blood sugar levels drop greatly when he works out. Dubious to his intent, I simply said, "So, you are just going to gangster my juices?" He did not reply, but placed them back.

In the afternoon, my cellmate seemed to be trying to make up for his absence earlier. He sorted and passed out the majority of the laundry bags and sheets which had been returned to the quarter unit. After his shift, he was very tired and was about to take a nap when the sergeant who works from 3 to 11 p.m. yelled to him. The sergeant said he had pulled some strings so Anthony could work for him. My cellmate got along with the staff on the 2nd shift, but he had sought working the 1st shift so he would not miss all his television shows during prime time. Later, the sergeant as well as a guard came to the cell to further persuade him. Anthony was trying to be tactful, but finally I blurted out that he cannot work the 3 to 11 shift. His life was watching TV at night. Not happy, they went away and my cellmate worried that he may face retaliation.

Again on Wednesday, I was anxious for Anthony to leave the cell. His new job assignment was great because it provided me time during the day without his presence, however, in the mornings he was very disruptive and annoying. Before my medications begin to work, I am regularly suffering from back pain and stiffness. I do not like engaging my cellmate just after waking, let alone playing a game of Twister in the small confines of our cell. Eventually, he was let out at 8:30 and I immediately washed the floor and then worked out. I expected to receive a visitor and had a lot of things to do before my name was announced.

After arguing with my mother for most of our visit, I returned to the cell and took a long mid-afternoon nap. When I awakened, I noticed my cellmate had glued a couple of hooks on the wall to hold his two jumpsuits. All prison workers must wear a baby blue jumpsuit while on their assignments. This is largely done to differentiate them from other convicts. My cellmate was too lazy to fold and put away the jumpsuits. Furthermore, he did not want them in his property box because they could only be washed once a week. I told Anthony I did not like his placement of the hooks and the jumpsuits would be in my way when I used the table or worked out in the cell. Later, the issue would become moot because the hooks fell off the wall.

For dinner I went out to the chow hall. It was a beautiful autumn evening. A navy blue sky was mottled with dark grey clouds which passed over a bright crescent moon. Over the 33 foot high prison wall, I could also see the tops of some trees. Their leaves had turned orange and I briefly imagined what it was like outside the penitentiary. Walking into the chow hall, I was brought back to my ugly reality with mobs of yelling prisoners. In the feed line, the Snowman asked me if I wanted a job working with him in the kitchen. Although my cellmate did, I had no such desire. He told me if I change my mind to let him know. On the way out of the building, I stopped momentarily to talk with a lieutenant. I jested for him to make sure he voted for Bruce (Rauner) and went on to tell him it was soon going to be very lonely for his favorite president when Republicans take over the Senate.

Anthony did not request to have time off work to attend another rec period, and I went to yard without him. I lifted weights with Suave, D-Boy, and a couple of other black prisoners. Conspicuously absent was The Elephant and I inquired about him. Prisoners laughed and said the prior day he went on a hunger strike. From what I was informed, his lawyer had arranged for a legal call, but the counselor was a couple of hours late and when he dialed the number, no one answered. Repeatedly, counselors have been late for his calls and to make a stand, he declared he was no longer eating until the problem was addressed administratively. Prisoners thought our counselors were negligent and had a conflict of interest being guards temporarily assigned the jobs as liaisons. However, their amusement was in a 350 pound man who was continuously eating, declaring a hunger strike. They placed bets on how long he could go.

At night, I watched the beginning of the movie "Lost Boys" until the local Chicago news came on. WGN broadcast Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez telling a crowded room of news reporters that Alstory Simon was innocent and being released immediately from prison. She claimed Northwestern University's investigators pressured the man into confessing which exonerated their client, Anthony Porter. The Porter case captured national media coverage because he was hours away from being executed when he was granted a stay. Later, Illinois Governor George Ryan would commute all the death sentences in 2003 just before leaving office based in part because of Porter. The announcement by Alvarez struck me as nothing but political. She wanted to discredit the law school while simultaneously adding integrity to the states attorney's office. I knew very well cops and prosecutors used various unscrupulous tactics to gain convictions and what Paul Ciolino was accused of doing was nothing comparable, even if true. Furthermore, Simon repeatedly confessed to the murders of Marilyn Green and John Hillard as well as in open court. There was no one I can recall ever who did this and was innocent. Regardless, there was more to Anthony Porter's exoneration than Simon's confession. Students under the tutelage of Professor David Protess discovered the witnesses to the August 1982 double murder in Washington Park could not even see what happened from their vantage point. Make no mistake, the criminal justice system is broken and politics does and will continue to play a factor.

On Halloween I watched the ESPN sports show, Mike and Mike, while eating breakfast. The two goof balls were dressed as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. I did not like their humor, but Belichick was a guest and I thought highly of the Patriot's coach. Afterwards, I asked Anthony if he was going to wear a costume or do any trick-or-treating. With the lieutenant already screaming at the cell house help for "trading and trafficking," he doubted he could do any of the latter, but in his light blue jumpsuit he may appear to be a giant Smurf.

For part of the day, the female lieutenant sat against the outer cellhouse wall like a gargoyle watching workers for the most trifle infraction. Cellhouse help were weary of leaving their assigned gallery or even passing a book to another prisoner. However, while getting cleaning supplies, Anthony was able to get a little bleach to pass to me. I used it to scrub my white gym shoes to eliminate the rust stains. Later when my cellmate passed by again, I inquired if the lieutenant had shut down Halloween festivities. He said there were definitely no treats while she was working, but he was repeatedly tricked while walking by Killer Ray's cell. Apparently, the man had a centerfold open at the front of his cell of a black woman with her legs spread. "Giggitty, Giggitty" could not help himself but to look at the vagina, although every time he did, he was disgusted by the dark and disfigured genitalia. My cellmate said he had to get off the gallery and escape the purple vagina, both the one in the porn magazine and in the cell house. He volunteered to haul the quarter unit's garbage to the dumpsters on the other side of the building. I noticed him through the windows pushing a crate soon thereafter and could tell it was a blustery, cold Halloween. In fact, the penitentiary was placed on a low level lockdown on the 2nd shift.

This morning, the regular lieutenant was back from his extended vacation. There was talk he would be reassigned to another unit but this proved false. Both staff and prisoners were pleased to see him, although they expressed it in their own ways. A guard seemed like she wanted to give him a hug while Horse yelled from his cell, "Lieutenant! Lieutenant!" and when he replied I heard the convict shout "F**k you!" For his part, the lieutenant said, "On these nuts, Horse!" In similar spirit, I told Anthony to show the lieutenant how much we appreciate him by taking a dump in his toilet. Then I shoved the cellhouse worker out of the cell.