You are reading a rare, detailed account of everyday life in Stateville Prison.

Click to read Paul's blog quoted on:
To contact Paul, please email: paulmodrowski@gmail.com
or write him at the address shown in the right column. He will get your message personally.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Hope Monster -- November 22, 2014

Sunday morning I woke up later than usual. My cellmate had already finished what he needed to do and was sitting on the table dressed in his jumpsuit waiting to be let out for work. During the night I had slept restlessly waking periodically with thoughts of dread. My mind churned over the possibility the governor had rejected the clemency petition I submitted 5 years ago. The petition was not the first one I had filed and there were four before it going all the way back to the Edgar administration. None of them ever notified me of their decisions and instead sent out brief letters to my family who misled me to believe they were still pending. My family wanted me to cling onto this glimmer of hope thinking it pulled me through these most difficult times. What they failed to realize, however, is that they are never ending and there was nothing worse than false hope. At least when there is no hope, there is finality even if that meant for me death in prison.

Typically I begin my day early and am exercising soon after my cellmate is gone. However, I continued to mull over the thoughts I had during my sleep. If the governor rejected my petition, it was basically the end of my life. Bruce Rauner was not going to grant me clemency and any appeal through the courts of Cook County would take numerous years. I may be 50 before there was any final adjudication. There was not much potential after 40 yet alone at 50. My thoughts drifted to a movie I watched the previous night. In the "Bucket List" actors Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are dying of cancer and are given less than a half year to live. Instead of lying in a hospital bed waiting for death, they decided to do everything they could to complete their lives. I wish I could do the same, however, I am trapped in this cell and there was nothing of meaning to do. I searched for one thing I could put on my bucket list, but came up empty.

Eventually I got on the hamster wheel, although without a clue as to why. I wonder even if the rodents know why they run in place never going anywhere when I was done working out. I went to bathe out of the water dish in my cage but was told by a guard I was being let out for flu and tuberculosis shots. Sweaty and with my hair slicked back I walked into the makeshift medical office on the lower floor. There were two nurses there I know fairly well. The one giving the flu inoculations asked me a series of questions and then gave me a form to sign. While going through these formalities, I inquired if she happened to have any pentobarbital. "But why?" she asked. "You have not done anything yet to deserve it." I told her it would be an act of mercy. I had not noticed but the child molester who lives in a cell next to mine had stepped into the room. In his whining, retarded speech he said, "I don't want a shot." The other nurse tried to explain to him he did not have to be given a flu vaccination but the TB test was mandatory. Again, John repeated himself as if he had heard nothing she said. Certainly there was something special the pedophile could be given I told the nurse giving the flu shots before I left and glared at John.

The melancholy I felt continued throughout the afternoon and evening. Even broadcast football failed to entertain me despite a couple of my favorite teams playing in marquee games. Green Bay Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 341 yards and 3 touchdowns. Linebacker Clay Mathews was also impressive causing havoc in the Philadelphia Eagles' offense. The Packers won 53 to 20, but I just yawned and thought about taking a nap as my cellmate was. The New England Patriots played in the night game and I only watched the first half before going to sleep.

I awoke in a better mood than the previous morning, but then I heard the cackle of an unpleasant female lieutenant. The hag occasionally substitutes for the regular lieutenant on his days off. Soon after operations began, her shrill laughter and loud conversation with staff became shouts at inmates. She scolded and threatened men for the most paltry reasons. Big Rick was even yelled at when he reached into his commissary bag to give me a couple pads of paper. Last week I had given him a summer sausage and he was repaying me. They call Rick "big" for a reason. He is about 6'4" and over 300 pounds. Rick could easily go "Donkey Kong" on the woman, but he just ignored her and said he will send the paper to my cell later. C House has a high proportion of older men who are less aggressive and apt to violently explode. I tend to believe she is assigned the unit because of this. Normally, she works with model or protective custody inmates in X House.

When the lieutenant was on a lunch break, a Hispanic prisoner stopped at my cell. He saw advertisements from the newspapers my cellmate and I were throwing away. Vargas wanted them to share with his wife. I said to him, "I thought you killed your wife." He claimed this was not true and then I remembered it was another woman he was dating after his divorce. Oddly, the prisoner pleaded not guilty and was half way through trial when he broke down admitting in open court that he killed her. I did not like the weasel, but told him he could have the trash.

For dinner, I joined prisoners going to the chow hall. Cubed pepperoni was donated to the penitentiary and it was being served in lieu of turkey-soy. Outside the cell house, inmates fought the bitter wind and cold. I have lived a brutal and harsh life and was not bothered by some frigid gusts of wind. I noticed the sergeant outside by himself supervising movement. He was formerly the cell house sergeant on the 2nd shift, but purportedly was reassigned because of sexually inappropriate behavior towards nurses. I am not certain of the rumor, however, I like to make subtle joking comments about it. Monday night I said, "Kind of lonely out here." To return the favor he patted me down for contraband on the way out of the chow hall. I was the only prisoner who was searched, although I was the only prisoner slowly walking while others were nearly running as if they were in a heavy storm.

Later one of the prettier nurses stopped by my cell to give me my medications. I was studying a corporate report of a large energy company that is selling cheaply due to the dive in oil prices. The nurse asked how I was and I did not know if she says this to everyone as a meaningless greeting or if she really gave a damn. In any event, I was busy and just replied "fine," as I stuck out my hand for the pills. Some sexually starved prisoners will seek out the most banal conversation from female staff, but I did not see the point. Not long thereafter, though, a man was strangely being escorted by a female guard and I had to ask her if male nurses required her protection. Amused, she said, "Some in fact do." My cellmate later commented the guard was a butter face which was a play on words meaning but for her face she was attractive. Sarcastically and in a foreign accent I told him to express himself and not let these inner thoughts stay trapped inside. How will she ever know your true feelings if you do not tell her?

The following morning my cellmate was watching the news with me. There was a segment about Charles Manson getting married in a California prison. Afton Burton was 26 years old while the crazy convict connected to the infamous slayings of 3 women including actress Sharon Tate was the ripe old age of 88. Anthony commented, "See, there is still hope for you." No, there was not, I thought to myself. What 20 year old woman would be interested in me? I was less than half Charles Manson's age, but unlike him I was not permitted conjugal visits in the IDOC. Even if I was released sometime in the near future, I doubted I had any chance of marrying the young princess idealized in my mind. All my hopes and dreams have been crushed over the time I have languished in prison.

Tuesdays were rec days for those in Charlie House, however, few men went out. A mass of cold Arctic air had moved into the upper Midwest bringing with it negative wind chills. Only 5 prisoners on the gallery left their cells to attend yard and those that did were told by a nurse she was not coming out to get them if they fell out. The lieutenant also chimed in prisoners can freeze to death. I did not go, but it was not due to the cold. My lower back was painful and the NSAID I take had yet to begin working. I moved about the cell like a crippled old man and periodically my cellmate stopped at the bars to make fun of me. It was not until close to 9 a.m. that I was able to do my workout routine.

While exercising, I heard prisoners shout, "Major in the cell house!" This was a warning to others who may be committing one of the myriad of infractions in the IDOC. She was only in the building, however, to take temperature readings. Drafts of cold air regularly blow in on blustery winter or near winter days. The central heating system was turned on last week, but it still was not adequate and often guards turned on the blowers. The hot air blower across from my cell is nice not only to keep the cell warm but to muffle the noise in the cell house.

The nurse who I ignored the previous night certainly got my attention Tuesday. I was watching television when I heard her say my name. I was simply going to get the pills and then go back to the program, however, when I turned around I was startled to see her in a zany green hat with her hair curled. I almost thought she was Alice in Wonderland. I exclaimed, "Nice hat! Where did you get that?" She said perplexed, "At a store." "The Dr. Seuss store," I said and my cellmate began laughing. She had left but I went on talking about her tall, fluffy green hat. I said to Anthony, "How did she get into Stateville with that? That was a threat to the security of the institution. Just think of all the contraband she could have hidden underneath it." My ridicule and jokes were not meant to hurt her feelings. I just happen to say what I am thinking and was caught by surprise. Normally, her long hair is tied in a bun and she is dressed in nothing but gray attire. After my cellmate ceased cracking up he told me whatever shot I had at a date were over. What did it matter? I was condemned to prison indefinitely.

The next day I tried calling Cynthia. She knew me from junior high school and liked me despite my frankness or disparaging humor. The collect call provider had apparently put her number into the system, but she was not answering. She may have thought the call was from a telemarketer. For some reason when prisoners call out, they are identified with a phone number associated with salesmen. I was nothing but a salesman, I thought. If I worked at a car dealership I would have to point out to customers all the flaws and possibly make fun of them while doing so.

 This is how I looked back when I met Cynthia. Only one of my cousins pictured here has seen me within the last 15 years. They're all married now and live in other states.

The prison administration refuses to spend the money to buy a DVD player which can be programmed or for that matter accept one that has been donated. Thus, movies must be played manually by the LTS supervisor. He is only here for part of the day resulting in only 2 playings, the second being at 4 p.m. when he leaves for the day. I have not watched a DVD in some time because of the early times. These hours I am busy doing various other things and typically do not watch television for any length of time until the evening when I am too tired to do much else. However, I made an exception Wednesday to see "Edge of Tomorrow." The actor Tom Cruise, a Scientologist, once again stars in a film where aliens attack the earth. He is killed time and time again only to start from the beginning. Apparently, drippings of alien blood mixed with his own caused him to have the power of reliving events and time travel. The plot is ridiculous but it is both sad and heroic watching him die thousands of times and yet still not able to save the planet. I said to my cellmate who was also watching the movie, "I wonder how many times I would have to die in order to change my plight. If it was before my arrest I think I could change my future in one trip, but if after my conviction, the system is so rigged against a prisoner the futility was probably as great as Tom Cruise experienced."

After the film ended, Anthony told me about "Mold Head". Mold Head was an old black prisoner with some type of green growth on the side of his cranium. He was released on parole last month, but was back in a cell on the lower floor. The man did nothing to violate his parole, but because he can barely walk and has so many health issues, he had no where to stay. Over the years, he lost any relationships with family members. He also could not stay at a half-way house because of all the special needs and nursing care he requires. My cellmate overheard him talking to a counselor about his dilemma. The counselor did not seem too eager to assist. I told Anthony that before the turn of the century, prisoners were required to go through a program which prepared them to live on the outside. I then added, "Although in the 1990s there were not nearly as many geriatric old men in the penitentiary."

Thursday morning Anthony got ready for work and then sat on the table by the bars waiting to be let out. He waited for an hour and then took off his jumpsuit. After reading a couple of newspapers, he climbed onto his bunk. No announcements were forthcoming from the cell house loudspeaker. Finally a guard walked by escorting a nurse and said we were on a level 1 lockdown. I wondered what could have occurred overnight to place the penitentiary on a strict, no movement lockdown. Breakfast trays had been passed out at 3 a.m. by inmate workers as usual. The only thing I could think of is the early school and library lines which are run around 6. However, then I noticed a group of prisoners walking outside and was truly puzzled when they were from the adjacent quarter unit and were going to yard.

With my plastic prison mirror, I tapped on the cell of my neighbor and asked Hooch what was going on. He said Jack Bruce had died in the night and C House was the only unit on lockdown. I asked, "Who is Bruce?" Bruce was an old Caucasian man with white hair who lived on the lower gallery. The prisoner did not come out of his cell much recently, but I remembered who he was. Occasionally, I saw him when going to chow. He used a crutch to walk and tired easily. He also made little trinkets which he traded to other convicts for commissary. Hooch speculated he died of health related problems and seemed a tad depressed, although he rarely acquainted with him.

Bruce's cellmate was sent to Segregation. It is a common prison procedure until an investigation is conducted even if the cause of death was readily apparent. When my cellmate, O.G. Bobby, died of a heart attack a couple of years ago I was also sent to the Roundhouse. I overheard the lieutenant say there was no room in Seg for Mark and they had him in a holding cage in the hallway leading to the building. He went on to tell another guard he would not be surprised if they threw a mattress in there for him to sleep on overnight. The guard asked about his belongings and if anything could be sent to him. The lieutenant informed him that Internal Affairs had placed a padlock on the cell and nothing could be taken out until after the investigation was completed.

In the evening I considered asking the nurse if she knew what the prisoner died from with or without her Green Dr. Seuss hat. However, I got caught up in the audacious actions of the president. On national television, he said he was going to use his executive power to nullify the laws set by Congress and permit millions of illegal aliens to stay in the U.S. In 2012, Barack Obama usurped the legislature by enacting DACA which gave residence status of all children (or those purporting to be under age 18) brought to the country by parents and now these parents along with others were allowed to stay. Most of his speech was dedicated to justifying his unconstitutional breach of power. He claimed he was bringing Hispanics "out of the shadows" and those that were criminals would be deported along with new illegal arrivals. However, the illegal immigrants were never in the shadows and were criminals simply by being in the U.S. without authorization. Furthermore, more waves of people would not be dissuaded from coming only encouraged. A political pundit said that a new president could simply reverse the policy, but the problem was any children born in the U.S. were automatically given citizenship. In fact, like Obama whose birth in Hawaii is dubious (and even if not should never have been created into a state) could become president. U.S. immigration laws were absurd and the president was making them even worse. As Mark Levine would say on his radio talk show later that night, Obama was a radical socialist attempting to transform America into a vile cosmopolitan state.

Friday morning the cell house was taken off lockdown and my cellmate was let out to work. During the course of his detail he happened to speak to several prisoners about Bruce. A cell house worker who is on the midnight shift said he was passing out breakfast trays when he and all the others were told to go into the holding cage. From there, he saw guards grouped outside the cell. A med tech went in and checked for a pulse. Later paramedics from an outside hospital arrived and tried to revive Bruce despite being dead for a great amount of time. Then they took his body out on a stretcher. Anthony said the cell had red tape across it like it was a crime scene and inside everything was a wreck. However, he then added the two men were slobs and much of the disarray may have been coincidental.

The dead prisoner's cellmate was let out of Segregation and various people spoke to him. He said Bruce had a heart attack, but some questioned if it was induced. The night of the incident, Mark had said his cellmate committed suicide. Prisoners also noticed Bruce mailed out various sentimental property recently. He never sent out letters let alone a package. Furthermore, guards discovered all his sheets of medication were emptied. Most likely, I reckon Bruce had enough misery of living in prison. He already languished in maximum security penitentiaries nearly three decades and there was no hope of him ever being released. Even if he had an out date which was obtainable, death was preferable.

Today I spent most of my time writing this post, however in the evening I left the confines of my cell to go to the chow hall. There I was greeted by my former cellmate, The Snowman. Over the years I have watched him rot away in the penitentiary. Since coming to the IDOC he has stressed greatly about having a sentence of life without parole. A few years ago, his spirits were lifted when the University of Chicago took on his case. Unfortunately, they were only lifted to be crushed. The courts denied his successive post conviction appeal and he now has no judicial remedies. He calls the optimism of prisoners "The Hope Monster" and I have seen many men succumb to it. Even I fleetingly entertain thoughts of the governor granting my clemency petition and I know my subconscious does as well in my dreams. However, no hope is sometimes better than having false hope.