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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Level E Ely -- October 21, 2011

When I returned from a visit on Wednesday earlier this week, I discovered I had a new cellmate. I did not notice the change of person immediately, but that the cell was rearranged. I always keep everything in the same spot, and when something is moved or out of order, it is immediately recognizable. After seeing the property moved, I scrutinized the person on the top bunk. The black man sitting there was not Cork. Cork had switched cells with a level E named Ely.

Ely is a 55-year-old man with a bald head. He is of average height and has a muscular physique for an old person. When I walked into the cell he introduced himself as "Ely," but I did not understand if that was a prison name or his real name. It happens to be his real last name which I thought was unusual until I heard his first name: Clifton. A black man would not want to be known as Clifton or Clifford in the penitentiary. I was surprised he had not been given a prison name, considering how long he has been incarcerated. Ely has been in prison for over 30 years. He was sent to the penitentiary in 1980. I told him I thought I had done a lot of time.

The reason why Ely was moved from a cell on the top floor and my cellmate was exchanged in his place was ostensibly because Ely is a level E. A level E is a person designated to be an extreme escape risk and they must be moved every 90 days. The administration believes by moving level Es, it prevents them from ever becoming situated long enough to plan and execute any escape. Numerous years of tunneling with a tiny rock hammer like in the movie "Shawshank Redemption" will not occur in Illinois. Level Es are not only moved within a cell house every 3 months, but every year they are transferred. Because there are currently only two general population maximum-security prisons, the high escape risk inmates are moved only between Menard and Stateville.

The day before I received a new cellmate, the sergeant asked me if I had a medical reason for being on the lower gallery. A long time ago when my lower back injury was bothering me considerably, the medical director ordered that I live on a lower gallery so I did not have to travel up and down multiple flights of stairs. I told the sergeant about the permit I have, but then regretted it. I wanted to leave this cell. This cell is situated at a place with a heavy amount of traffic moving outside of it. It is also very loud here and people almost continually are looking into it. I, furthermore, wanted to get away from Cork who was a loud and extremely social person. My new cellmate, I soon discovered, is even more social and has been almost continuously chattering. I just have the worst of fortune.

I greatly dislike having the cell not ordered properly and my routines disrupted. Every cellmate I am assigned is a major adjustment, even if I get along with that person. Ely had two huge laundry bags filled with clothes, books, and magazines. One of them had a rolled up magazine tied to the top as a handle. He uses this bag as a weight to do exercises. The other bag was his clothing bag. The administration has a rule that prisoners must keep the majority of their property in their two boxes when they leave the cell, but an exception to this is a dirty laundry bag. However, many prisoners have taken advantage of this to put their clean laundry in a bag to provide them more room in their boxes and for convenience. These two bags had to be moved and I was glad he did not mind putting them under the bunk.

Ely had a number of things in places I did not like. I noticed also my former cellmate had destroyed wall constructs I had made for wiring. I had to remake these things to accommodate the cable and electric cords my new cellmate and I had. Ely told me while I was doing this that he did not mind if I moved things so they were more convenient or out of my way. Possibly, he could sense how displeased I was with the change. I was glad he was willing to accommodate the way I liked the cell arranged. He may be more amicable due to how much time he has done, his age, and the numerous cellmates he must have had to deal with. I know that if I had to be moved regularly and was forced to continually readjust to new people and circumstances, however, I would be quite miserable.

While I was interested in reordering the cell, Ely was concerned with getting his digital TV and Walkman working. Fortunately, he did not have a radio or television with speakers. I had several confrontations with my former cellmate, Cork, playing his radio or TV without headphones. Because of this and other disagreements we had, he may have contacted the placement officer to be moved. I know I requested to be moved a few times, but was not accommodated. Possibly, placement was finally trying to move me earlier this week, but I foolishly told the sergeant about my medical permit.

Almost the entire second shift of cell house inmate workers were at my cell bars the first evening Ely was here. Like my former cellmate, he seemed to know everyone. The cell house help were trying to assist him with gaining digital TV reception. The prison commissary does not sell antennas and the cable system does not gain prisoners digital TV. Inmates, thus, design their own antennas, usually out of wires. However, on the first floor it is difficult getting any reception, whether that be radio or digital TV. My cellmate spent hours and possibly more hours after I fell asleep trying to get reception. The cell house help were not very helpful, and I was not going to assist. Already my cellmate's move and his ceaseless talking had annoyed and overwhelmed me. He was on his own, and I went to bed before 9 p.m.

I thought possibly I could not get a more talkative cellmate than Cork. However, I was wrong. Ely yelled and talked to numerous passersby. He seemed intent on declaring his presence to everyone and socially engaging them. When there was no one outside our bars, he began talking to me. It was an unrelenting talk and made me think he was nervous and his socialization was meant to somehow make him feel more secure. However, from my many years in prison, I knew that many incarcerated people had an insatiable need or desire to talk. It made me wish I had the deaf mute man on the gallery above me for a cellmate. I do not care to engage in chatter, nor did I want to listen to it.

While Ely talked endlessly, I thought I was fortunate he would only be my cellmate for 3 months, and possibly less. It was highly unusual for a level E to be placed in a cell on the ground floor, especially right next to the cell house door. The upper floors were generally where high escape risks were kept because it was believed it was more secure. Inmates on upper floors would have to go through two locked gates to make it downstairs. The lower floor is also where guards are more relaxed about movement, and a person intent on escaping could take advantage of this. My cellmate commented that as soon as someone of authority saw he was downstairs and by the door that he would be moved. However, he also speculated guards had become so lazy they did not want to go up 5 flights of stairs to check on him. Level E's are counted extra times throughout the day and night.

Ely told me the reason he was made a level E, however, I had my headphones on and was trying to ignore him. I believe he told me he had three prior escapes or attempted escapes. These occurred many years ago and eventually, he was allowed to go to a high medium-max penitentiary. It was at this institution that he was again designated an extreme escape risk and immediately transferred out. Ely complained that he did not try to escape there, but for reasons I did not hear, he was targeted by Internal Affairs.

Ely not only has tried to escape on a few occasions, but has a very bad disciplinary record. He told me about how he had been in numerous violent conflicts over the years. Inmates may make up such things to inflate their reputations, however, most anyone who was in maximum-security prisons during the 1980s and 90s has certainly been through brutal times. It was unavoidable back then when fights, rapes, and stabbings occurred regularly. Possibly, Ely's bad record including staff assaults helped cause him to be put back on a level E status.

A level E has a green colored identification card and they must keep it posted on the bars for guards to see. As I write this journal entry, it is clipped to a string tied to two bars at the front of the cell. My cellmate also has special clothing he must wear. On his blue pants are two green stripes, and on his shirts are a patch of green over the shoulders and across the upper back. He also has a green jacket while everyone else is given blue jackets. Whenever he leaves the cell house, guards notify staff in gun towers and on the movement team of his triple number by radio. A triple number is a unique set of three numbers, a designated high escape risk is given to identify him and is printed on the backside of their ID cards. My cellmate's triple number is 31-31-31, for example. Unfortunately for me, high escape risks have their cell searched every week, and guards do not make a distinction between his property and mine. I greatly dislike having my property ransacked and having to put it all back in order. Hopefully, the searching guards will not be as discourteous as the Orange Crush tactical squad.

Ely tells me he was sentenced to 60 years for a violent armed robbery. I am skeptical he is telling me the truth. In the 1980s, criminal statutes were not nearly as extremely draconian as they are now. Murder only carried a maximum sentence of 40 years and with good time, only 50% of the sentence had to be served. There was natural life without parole, but it was rarely used. Before 1979, there were no natural life sentences, and life was parolable after 12 years, although most men served 20 before being released. For Ely to get 60 years in 1980 for a robbery seemed highly unlikely. When I questioned this, he told me the court gave him such a severe sentence because the people he robbed were very affluent, and he came from the ghetto of St. Louis.

Ely would have been released next year if he had not lost so much good time over the years and also gained an extra 17 years for two escapes. Although under the old law, convicts only had to do 50% of their time, the prison administration could deduct good time credits for bad behavior. Over a decade ago, this was only done for very serious infractions such as stabbing another inmate. However, now good time is taken from prisoners who are eligible for almost any rule violation. Prisoners can try winning this good time back by applying for it after a period of time without a disciplinary ticket, and my new cellmate continues to do this when he is able. My cellmate tells me that his case is being heard in the Illinois Supreme Court which is highly unusual. The state Supreme Court does not hear many appeals. If I heard him correctly, the court is reviewing his appeal because the judge did not honor a plea agreement with the state's attorney. The prosecutor and Ely agreed that in exchange for him pleading guilty, he would be sentenced to 20 years. However, the judge refused and did not allow him to take back the guilty plea. If the ruling is favorable, Ely could be released. If he is unsuccessful, he will have to do 7 more years unless he gets back some more good time.

Ely tells me that during his 30 years of incarceration and before his arrest, he has never been a gang member. I do not know if he is being honest and almost all black and Mexican prisoners are, or were at one time or another, gang members. Gangs were not as prevalent in the 1970's, but Ely is a member of the Moorish Science Temple, which although an Islamic religion, is associated with Black Stones and certain other black gangs. In the 1970's, the Black Panthers were adherents of Islam. Later, followers of Louis Farrakhan were Islamic as well. If Ely is not a gang member, I assume he is from the same culture considering his conversion happened before his incarceration. Yesterday, he spoke at great length about the killing of Moammar Kadafi.

My gallery and the one above mine went to the large South yard in the afternoon yesterday. Ely lifted weights with a group of black men including Little Tim, who is a born again Christian. I exercised with two white inmates and did not pay much attention to the other group. However, every now and then I could catch words of Tim, Ely, and Jughead. It was apparent that Ely was not happy to hear Tim's Christian proselytizing. When we returned from the yard, I got an earful of complaints from my new cellmate. I am nonreligious and do not have a side, but I did think about how the areas in North Africa and the Middle East will ultimately be settled. With the numerous revolutions and Barack Obama's announcement to leave Iraq this year, there is a great probability of popular Islamic resurgence.

While I was trying to watch Piers Morgan's interview of Herman Cain, a Republican presidential candidate, my cellmate continued to interrupt me. He wanted to talk to me about stocks. My cellmate is in an investment class I tried to get in, but was unsuccessful. Stateville does not have any accredited schooling except a GED program. However, there is a man who volunteered to talk to inmates about investments. He was formerly an investment consultant, but now owns his own company called UBS. UBS is basically a small mutual fund that invests money for people. He intends to come to the prison 12 times over a period of three months. I am surprised administrators have permitted this and it is unusual, although he has helped out in a Christian service before.

The main assignment of the teacher is for students to pick one or two investments and track it until the end of the class. Students are given a hypothetical $10,000 and the person who is able to make the most money is to get a prize. I assume the prize will be something like a pen or pack of cookies. However the men in the class seem to be very competitive and my cellmate wants to win. He has been persistently asking me to pick an investment for him. I do not invest, however, for the short term. I usually am thinking at least several years out. Finally, after he would not let the issue go, I told him to invest in Greek bonds. Two year Greek bonds are paying an incredible 84% yield. Not including the 6.4 coupon, a $10,000 purchase of Greek bonds would accrue $16,800, or over the period of his class, $2,100. Greece will most likely default on their debt, but so long as they do not before his last class, he will probably win.

Ely has bombarded me with various conversations. Usually I just listen or I put my headphones on. He said to me once if he is talking too much to just tell him, so I immediately said he was talking too much. He was quiet for a while, but soon he was talking again. At least he does not want to blast hip hop music like Cork, although he is unable to do so. He also is very good about giving me my space. I do not like being in close proximity to someone in a closed area for a long time. Ely will jump on his bunk or stay on the other side of the cell, and if need be, switch places with me. He is also respectful, other than annoying me with his incessant chatter and yelling. A man told me Ely was "old school," and this means in prison lingo that he has the values of convicts decades ago. The values in prison, as have the values in society in general, have declined. I am glad he is not like the young prisoners I often see coming in on the new.

I was surprised to learn Ely was once a college athlete and played football for the University of Missouri. Although we do not have much in common, we do share an interest in sports. Both of us played football for a number of years before our arrest. He was a linebacker while I usually played defensive end. I learned that he also played on wrestling and baseball teams as I have. I did not even know there were private league baseball teams in the inner city. He played in what he called "Pony league" while I played on Little and Babe Ruth leagues. I am told he likes to gamble also, and possibly I will not only help him pick a winner in his class, but on NFL games.

As I write this journal entry, Ely is quiet for a change. I do not know if I could have written these pages had he been his usual extremely gregarious self. I believe he is sick with a cold, or possibly the flu. Many people in the prison are ill and viruses spread quickly. It is nice that he has been less talkative today. I want to believe this is due to him settling down and not just a temporary respite. When you spend the vast majority of your time in a cage and have no relief from a very miserable environment, it is important to have a good cellmate. Hopefully, a level E like Ely can understand my need for escape.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stateville Spiders -- October 13, 2011

As I begin this journal entry, rain water is falling from the ceiling not far from my cell. The front door and holding pens are flooded with water. Inmate workers have put buckets on top of the cages as well as on the floor in a futile attempt to catch the water. I am pleased when it rains because then I do not have all those people outside my bars. Currently, my cellmate is taking a mid afternoon nap and it is relatively quiet. At times like this, Stateville can remind me of an enormous crypt. It is cold, dank, and dark on rainy autumn days. The concrete building houses numerous inmates with protracted death sentences and spiders spin webs over their tombs.

For some reason there is a tremendous amount of spiders on the grounds of Stateville. I see webs out on the yard, in the gymnasium, along the walks, throughout the cell houses, and in my cell. Lately, it is as though someone took a can of fake spider web spray and canvassed the prison for Halloween decor. There has always been a large presence of spiders here, however, and I have noticed them since arriving here six years ago. There are many common house spiders, but it is the more unusual or poisonous spiders that get my attention and that of other prisoners as well. Stateville has a broad range of spiders including boxer spiders, black widows, and the most startling spider, the brown recluse.

The brown recluse looks like a mini-tarantula. It is about two inches in diameter and has a thick harry dark brown body. Unlike most other spiders, it is fast and aggressive. It does not move slowly and with stealth. I do not think it relies on webs to catch prey but on its own quickness and relative strength. It also has pincers and a venom that can be deadly.

Throughout the years here, I have heard stories about men who have been bitten by the brown recluse. I have also seen the scars of prisoner's bites. One man, who goes by the name Slim, showed me his calf where there was an ugly crater that disfigured the tattoo he had to the point it was unrecognizable. The venom of a brown recluse immediately begins to eat away the surrounding tissue. By the time Slim was able to get to the Health Care Unit, doctors had to cut out almost a hockey puck's worth of flesh, and said he was fortunate not to lose his calf or be dead.

This week, I also heard from two other men who have been bitten by spiders in the last year. A 70-year-old white man who people call Doc was bitten in the butt. I asked him if the doctors had to cut out the surrounding tissue. He said that because he goes to the Health Care Unit regularly for dialysis, he was able to be administered an anti-venom within a few hours. The spider bit him in his sleep, and the bite quickly caused spreading inflammation. He said he still has a scar, but I did not care to look at his ass. I asked him how he knew it was a brown recluse, and was told that doctors were able to recognize the bite by its bullseye mark and quickly spreading venom. I was surprised doctors at Stateville were so competent.

My cellmate was bitten by a spider in the first few months of being here. Unlike Doc and Slim, he did not know what type of spider bit him. He told me the bite mark swelled up with puss. Doctors gave him regular antibiotics and those worked. Because he did not have a scar, I doubted it was a brown recluse.

A prior cellmate of mine, Cracker, once told me he saw a brown recluse in the cell while I was sleeping. Instead of killing it, however, he swept it out of the cell. I asked him why the hell he would do that. That deadly spider could have just come right back in. Cracker replied that to kill it would have been bad karma. He had this ridiculous religious and pacifist conversion where he would not even eat any meat. It was odd the former gang member who once had a total disregard for limb, life, and most laws, now cared about a dangerous insect. I wondered if Cracker was released back into the gang elements of Elgin, Illinois where he was from, if he would continue to live like a monk. Cracker, however, will not get out of prison until his mid-60s, and by then I doubt he will return to being a member of the Latin Disciples.

On Tuesday afternoon, I saw the mini-tarantula dart on the floor along the wall. Its size and rapid movement quickly caught my attention. When I turned toward it, the recluse stopped, possibly thinking it was camouflaged. The cell floor is a mottled brown concrete with specks of black and beige. However, the walls are painted grey, and because painters here do not care about precision, there is a strip of paint along the floor. The large brown spider was easily seen. In my hand I had a copy of my trial judge's new book "John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster" that a reader of my blog was nice enough to send to me. My initial thought was to splat the spider with the hard bound book. However, after I saw it stop, I slowly reached for my shower sandal and smacked it with tremendous force. I could not risk this little monster getting away.

Samual Amirante should be pleased his new book "Defending a Monster" may get more attention than it deserves due to renewed interest in the serial murders of John Wayne Gacy. Television news this week has been reporting that Gacy may have killed more people than initially thought. Police are reviewing old files to determine if other murders during that time period are attributable to him. They are also using DNA evidence not available in the 1970's to identify some of the remains found in his crawl space. John Wayne Gacy confessed to raping and torturing to death over 30 boys and young men. He spoke openly to police and others enjoying the attention given to him before and after his conviction. He also was on Stateville's death row for almost two decades before being executed in 1994. Although people now question if his confessions were complete or entirely accurate, I doubt there is anything new to be learned of the old case. I will be reading "Defending a Monster" in the coming weeks, but I do so more to learn about my former trial judge than the serial killer.

Last week, I went to the large south yard. For the first time in a month I lifted weights. My lower back, as I suspected, was the same, although my shoulder and knee injuries seemed to be better. While working out, I noticed streams of cobwebs glistening in the sunshine. There were webs between posts on the monkey bars, the benches, steel tables, and even one long strand coming off a basketball hoop beam. On top of the monkey bars, I noticed a stocky little black spider. He moved down a pipe to the end and hovered there. I imagined the spider was waiting for a bug, possibly, even a wasp, to fly in whereupon he would grab it. A man I do not know grabbed the bar where the spider was sitting to do some chin ups. I wondered if the spider would think of a finger as prey, but he did not move. I was amused, however, when another man asked me to spot him while he did bench presses, and cobwebs flew into his face.

Nearly every day, I clean the floor of my cell. Earlier this week, when I was cleaning underneath the bunk, I noticed a cobweb in the corner with a spider on it. Before I grabbed it, I took a good look. I did not want to be grabbing any venomous spider. I have seen black widows with their distinct bulbous black bodies and red hourglass shape. I have also seen similar looking spiders with red or orange dots on them. I do not know if those are dangerous as well, but from watching survivalist reality TV I have learned many creatures with bold coloration have poison. Most species have pigment to camouflage themselves from predators. The exceptions are those that want to attract a mate or detract a predator with a warning. This spider was harmless, though, and I grabbed it along with its web to toss into the toilet bowl. I thought about saying to my cellmate, "Look what I found," and then opening up my fist so the spider jumped out on him, but I had squished it.

There is a man I know who goes by the name Spider. Since I was in the county jail with him, I have always known him as Steve. While at Stateville many years later, I noticed people were calling him Spider. I asked him how he became known as Spider. He told me he used to collect various spiders and have them fight, or feed them flies or other insects. That reminded me of the character in the movie "Bram Stoker's Dracula" who was in the insane asylum. The man collected and fed spiders before eventually eating the spiders himself. The crazy man thought he was gaining power by consuming life that had consumed so many other lives. I asked Steve if he also ate his spiders, but he said no. Knowing his Michael Myers-like case, however, I would not have been surprised if he said yes.

On Tuesday, I went to the prison gymnasium and was not surprised to find numerous spider webs there. I do not know why, but gym workers never clean the networks of webs along the walls. Throughout the year there are vast clusters of cobwebs with numerous insects caught in them or wrapped up like cocoon presents for later appetites. I mentioned it to Doc, and he said they were good for eliminating all the mosquitoes or other bugs. Not long after he said this, I found a fly that was trapped and trying to get away. The fly buzzed and buzzed while a spider nearby seemed not in any hurry. The spider had plenty of wrapped up food already, but I sensed that if annoyed enough he would come and kill the pesky fly. I was reminded of the original black and white movie "The Fly," with Vincent Price. At the end of the film, the man who had turned into a fly was pleading, "Help me. Help me," but no one could hear him. A spider was approaching as the movie ended. Like Doc, however, flies were annoying bugs that I despised, and I only wished the spider would not be so lazy.

For dinner the day I went to the gym, prisoners were being served baked chicken. It was one of the better meals considering how often processed soy turkey or other distasteful hybrids were made into meals for us. Because of the number of prisoners that came out to eat, chow lines in my cell house were not run until late. F House Kickout is also now being fed in the chow hall, and the prisoners there would also come out in mass after just being taken off lockdown. On Saturday, guards found a few shanks on their yard and apparently they needed time to search to see if they could find any more. By the time I was returning to the cell house, night had descended upon the prison. I noticed just over the cell house wall in the distance a full Hunter's Moon. This picturesque Halloween scene was complete with spider webs hanging from the cyclone fence that followed the walk.

Yesterday, I was notified that I had a visitor and my barred door was opened. I thought I would quickly have an escort to gate 5, however, I was put in the cage directly across from my cell. While waiting in the holding cage, I was surrounded by a group of sparrows. Some sat on top of the cage and looked down at me. Others flew to the side and perched there to chirp. They flew about the cage, hopped around, and chirped some more. I felt odd to have all these little birds flocking around me and hoped no other prisoners noticed. I might be nicknamed The Bird Man of Stateville or Ace Ventura Pet Detective.

The sparrows have keen eyesight and are able to recognize me as the person who feeds them bread in the morning on occasion. They must be incredibly hungry to get so close. I could have even hand fed them. Although I was impressed by their ability to distinguish me outside my cell and amongst the hundreds of other prisoners, I thought they were not so smart to think I was a Pez dispenser of bread and kept food on me at all times to feed them. I also thought when almost backing up into a cobweb, why these birds did not eat all the insects that seem to be about. I suppose bread is better than spiders or flies though.

After my visitation, I came across a man I know who has tattoos of spider webs on his elbows. Spider web tattoos are common among white prisoners, particularly those who are or were in the Aryan Brotherhood or Northsiders. Some may think they represent stabbings or even killings, but they just usually represent time spent in prison. For every so many years another web is added. As my 19th year in prison nears, I thought about how many webs I would have. By the time I die, much of my body would be tattooed with cob webs.

Recently I read a newspaper article by Clarence Page addressing the need for alternative forms of punishment other than imprisonment. I almost always dislike what he has to say whether he is writing for the Chicago Tribune, the freelancing for the Wall Street Journal, or is a guest on the McLaughlin Report. However, on this occasion, I had to agree with him. The soaring rates of incarceration is as foolhardy as it is unjust, cruel, and unAmerican. Over 3 million people are caught in spider webs of U.S. prisons and jails. It is here that many of them die a slow death. Many people may think it is great to eradicate society of these loathsome criminals just like the spiders capture and kill many pesky bugs. At Stateville, I am certain many prisoners deserve incarceration and even death, especially the likes of John Wayne Gacy. However, many people are caught in the net who are innocent, or do not need to be incarcerated for decades. There are also many alternatives to incarceration that are overlooked and far more constructive, less costly, and appropriate. Clarence Page seems to joke about caning as a substitute at the end of his editorial, but even corporal punishment is oftentimes better than the human fly.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Amanda Knox Released from Prison -- October 4, 2011

For the past week, I have been paying close attention to the appeal of Amanda Knox. As a person also wrongfully convicted of murder, I was interested in the aspects of her case that compared to my own and the numerous other cases I have become aware of over my years of incarceration. I was also interested in the Italian justice system as compared to that in the U.S., and specifically in Illinois. It was extremely difficult, however, sifting through all the melodrama, spin, and selective television reporting. I was amazed how enormously favorable and sympathetic the American news media was towards Amanda Knox. This is very rare and because of my own personal experience, I was bitter and envious. I nor many other murder defendants receive such preferential treatment. Despite this, I believe the American exchange student studying in Italy was not guilty, and I am glad she and her Italian co-defendant were released from prison yesterday.

I had woken up just before 7 a.m. and in time to watch ABC's morning news program. It was called "Judgement Day," and most of the first hour of reporting was about Amanda Knox. Reporters knew there would be a verdict in the appeal later in the day. The show went over many details of the murder case over the last several years. There was a discussion of the trial and appeal from the studio in New York and from reporters in Italy. There was also Amanda's father, Curt Knox, who has been his daughter's ceaseless P.R. spokesman. I was interested in how the appellate court would rule, but not enough to stay tuned to television all day. I had other things to do and at noon when there still was no verdict, I took a nap. When I awoke it was 4 p.m. and I turned on CNN's Wolf Blitzer's "The Situation Room" to see Amanda Knox being driven out of Campanne Prison in a van with dark tinted windows. Since then, I have continued to watch hours of television news coverage.

Amanda Knox was arrested in 2007 along with Rafaele Sollecito and Rudy Guede who had fled to Germany. The prosecution accused the trio of the brutal rape and murder of Knox's roommate who was also a foreign exchange student studying in Italy. Meredith Kircher, a 21-year-old from Britain, was found naked and stabbed more than 40 times, including a slash across her throat, in the cottage she rented with Amanda. In the small university town of Perugia, Italy. Rudy Guede was the first to be tried and he was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years, however, this was dropped to 16 years when he agreed to testify against his co-defendants. In 2009, Amanda Knox was tried jointly with her boyfriend Sollecito. Both were found guilty and sentenced to 26 and 25 years. The Knox family with the help of a very friendly U.S. media thereafter began a two year campaign to free Amanda that culminated in the appellate jury's acquittal yesterday. Within 8 hours, the jury found Knox not guilty of all charges except defamation of character.

After the verdict, there was a clear distinction in the reaction between the victim's family and supporters of Amanda Knox. Family and friends of Amanda erupted in cheers from the courtroom to Seattle, Washington, her home town in the U.S. At the same time, the Kircher family was shocked by the reversal. They wept and were very upset that two people they had been led to believe killed Meredith were being set free. This is a common occurrence in courtrooms throughout America in murder verdicts. There is almost always one family jubilant and another despondent. What was odd is how the media in the countries were divided.

In the U.S., all people seen was Amanda crumpled over crying and then being led out of the courtroom along with the cheers of supporters. The reaction of the victim's family and the crowds outside were not shown and only briefly mentioned. Americans may not even be aware how most Italians were angry and believed the court buckled under to international media pressure. A scene similar to that when Casey Anthony was acquitted existed outside the courtroom. People brandishing loudspeakers led mobs of Perugians in protest. Few people were happy by the verdict, although many expressed uncertainty and questioned their court system. The prosecutor gave a public address vehemently disagreeing and vowing to appeal, but this also was not shown on American TV. Instead, he was ridiculed as a superstitious zealot madman. Since the verdict, the news coverage of Amanda Knox's acquittal has continued to be one sided in the U.S. and it has only been by a determined effort I have learned of not only the reaction overseas, but what caused Knox and Sollecito to be convicted in the first place.

Certainly the Italian media has been most unfair in their reporting as well, especially in the beginning. Tabloid journalism in both England and Italy was terribly slanted against Amanda Knox. In their countries, she has been portrayed as a very sordid, promiscuous party woman. The labels of "Foxy Knoxy" and the "Devil with an Angel's Face" are weak compared to the thoroughly vicious and defamatory character assassinations. Much credence has been given to the prosecutor's theory of a Satanic sex orgy where Knox was to slay her roommate a night after Halloween, also considered a day when witches convene. There was almost a seething hatred created by the media calling for a witch burning. This type of malicious reporting reminded me of the press the West Memphis 3 received in their Christian town that demanded justice for three boys who were brutally raped and murdered in what was thought to be a Satanic ritual. As a person who has also come under the assault of massive prejudicial media coverage, I can relate to all of these defendants. The media can be a force to try and convict innocent people before a shred of evidence is ever submitted in court.

The Italian media was not completely off base in their portrait of Amanda Knox. She was certainly a promiscuous party woman, although I am not certain if she was as loathsome as Casey Anthony. Knox had only been in Italy for a short time before she met and was having sexual relations with Raffeale Sollecito. In a foreign country, she did not waste any time hooking up and finding drugs. Indeed, she admits to smoking marijuana and having sex with Sollecito on the night of the murder. While the U.S. media portrays Amanda as this very innocent, chaste, and angelic person deserving of her prison nickname "Bambi," I do not get this impression. She was at the very least a slutty, pot smoking hippie or stoner. However, this of course does not make her guilty of stabbing her roommate to death.

The Italian Paparazzi would capture photos of Knox kissing and being held by Sollecito as well as her buying some underwear after the murder. These, along with her going out for pizza were made out to be a big deal by tabloid news media which is, by the way, far more popular there than in the U.S. These sources seemed to suggest Amanda was making out, buying sexy lingerie, and having a good time, not at all concerned about the brutal rape and slaying of her roommate. Once again, I am reminded of perceptions of Casey Anthony. However, in Amanda's case, I do not see how the photos are meaningful in the same way. To me, she seemed to be being consoled by Sollecito, and I cannot say if the underwear she purchased was of Victoria Secret quality or just plain undergarments she needed to buy due to her apartment being a crime scene. Even if she was having lascivious sex and having a good time going out for pizza, I do not make a conclusion that she is a cold blooded killer. For all I know, she did not know or even like her roommate. It would be odd, however, if rumors she was doing cartwheels in the police station were true.

Curt Knox and supporters of Amanda that were televised would like people to believe there was absolutely no evidence, and the conviction was based solely on enormous media slander and an overzealous prosecutor. However, this is false. The most damning evidence came from her own signed statements to the police. In them, she stated she and Sollecito were at the cottage when Meredith Kircher was killed. Amanda even said she heard her roommate's screams in the room next door as she was stabbed to death. When police asked her who killed Kircher, Knox lied and said it was her former employer, Patrick Lumumba. Police immediately arrested the bar owner, but he had a solid alibi. He was at the bar the entire time and seen by numerous people. Many Americans may have missed this, but Amanda Knox was not acquitted of all counts. Her conviction for defamation of character for accusing an innocent man of murder was sustained. The court gave her time served, and unlike in the Casey Anthony case, the judge immediately set her free.

Supporters of Amanda Knox argue that her statements were due to Amanda being a young 20-year-old in a foreign country who was coerced and intimidated by police who were accustomed to interrogating the mafia. She was not given any water or food, and her Italian language skills were poor. She was a scared little girl interrogated for 14 hours. To this I say I was arrested by numerous gun wielding police, and whisked off to a secret location to be grilled for two days in connection with a mass murder where 7 people were shot and stabbed to death. My Miranda rights were ignored and I was not only threatened and intimidated, but struck and kicked by police intent on getting me to confess. I was 18 years old and not permitted to see or talk with an attorney, family, or anyone but them. The mafia? I highly doubt the little college town of Perugia has any mafia or any serious crime. However, those on the Palatine Task Force included FBI, Chicago Police, and many other seasoned law enforcement who dealt with murder cases on a regular basis. John Robertson, my main interrogator, was working for the Cook County States Attorney's Office and one must know he had a mission. Despite all this, I never made an incriminating statement or pointed the finger at an innocent man.

I do not know if true, but supporters of Amanda Knox say her words were manipulated. Police asked her to imagine what happened to her roommate. I do not put it beyond police to manipulate or fabricate statements. After all, John Robertson falsely claimed that I told him my co-defendant said to me he was going to kill the victim and then asked if he could borrow my car. However, unlike Amanda Knox, Robertson's claims were total fabrications and there is no signed statement because I never said this. Even had police asked me to imagine what happened if I did not continue in stoic silence, I would have said, "Imagine?! You are the police. You imagine what happened!"

The other evidence against Amanda Knox came from her co-defendant Rudy Guede. He testified he was present with Knox and Sollecito when Kircher was murdered. In detail, he told a story how Amanda stabbed her roommate during a drug fueled sex orgy. However, Guede's testimony is hardly credible. It was only after he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years that he made a deal with the prosecution to testify against his co-defendants for a reduced 16 year sentence. Rudy Guede, a black immigrant from the Ivory Coast with a considerable criminal record, was clearly only trying to help himself. His semen was found in the victim and a bloody fingerprint of his was also discovered at the crime scene. There was no denying he was present for the murder, and I tend to believe he and he alone was there, much like my co-defendant.

Much of the news media centered upon the DNA evidence used to convict Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. The prosecutor claimed a bra clasp of Kircher's had Raffaele's skin cells on it, and a knife found in his kitchen was said to have both Amanda and the victim's DNA on it. The problem with this evidence, however, was it was improperly collected, analyzed, and presented to the first jury. The minute amount of DNA found on the bra clasp was so small it could have easily been transferred by CSI technicians who left it on the ground for weeks and handled various evidence with the same gloves. The DNA off the knife said to be Kircher's actually turned out to be yeast from cutting bread. Knox and Sollecito were fortunate to have the state's DNA results retested by another lab.

The last bit of evidence I was able to discover against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito was probably missed by most American viewers. In fact, I would not have become aware of it if it was not slipped out by one person on a news media program. Apparently, the two both conspicuously turned off their cell phones at the time of the murder, and a homeless Italian man told police and later testified that he saw the couple just outside the apartment on the night of the murder arguing. However, this evidence was also very suspect. I do not think a wino vagabond who claims he saw the two in the dark from a far distance where he was sitting or sleeping on a park bench is very credible. As for the cell phones, I do not know.

There are large differences between the court system in Italy and the U.S. One major distinction is the appellate process. Under Italian law all criminal defendants are entitled to a full review of their trial. Everyone is allowed to have an entire retrial and submit any new evidence. New trials in the U.S., contrarily, are very rare, and the appellate court only reviews errors. For example, in a case such as my own, I could raise as error the prosecutor lying about the law of accountability during closing arguments to my jury, or that my attorneys were at error for failing to provide an adequate defense. However, only if the appellate court agrees with these issues, finds them so egregious, and they were properly preserved and raised on appeal, will the court remand the case back to a lower court for a new trial. In Italy, I could have presented all of my issues and the evidence of my innocence not used by my trial attorneys or even new evidence. I would have had an entire new trial and the only drawback for a defendant is that he or she could be given a more severe sentence. However, because natural life without parole is now the most severe punishment in Illinois, there would be little to lose. Even if there was a death sentence, in my opinion, that would be more lenient, if not a blessing. Any time the state is willing to offer me a new trial with the threat of immediate execution if I lose, I will take it without hesitation.

Repeatedly, the news media spoke about how Amanda Knox faced the prospect of a life sentence by appealing. I suppose this was to add further drama. There is no life without parole in Italy or any European country that I am aware of. The U.S. is the only country in all of Western Civilization to have a prison sentence that is to death and not eligible for parole. Even the 26 years Amanda was sentenced to would not have had to be served in full and she may have been freed after a decade. Contrasted to Illinois law where all murder convicts must serve 100% of their time and are usually sentenced to 40 years or longer.

Another major difference between the two judicial systems is at trial the judge in Italy does not act as merely a referee between the prosecution and defense, but is actively involved. The judge in Italy can ask questions of witnesses and subpoena evidence or people. The Italian court system is considered "inquisitional" while the American system is "adversarial." A U.S. judge is allegedly impartial and rules on matters of law. I write "allegedly" because many judges, like the one at my trial, are not impartial, and are able to affect rulings by their interpretations of law or objections by the defense or prosecution. Many trials in the U.S. are not fairly adjudicated because of how judges become personally involved and are politically elected.

American viewers may have been surprised to learn that Italy has two judges on the panel of 8 jurors. This, again, is not a bad system in my opinion. Often jurors selected randomly from the community do not know the law, or even the Constitution. They are also not trained to sift through evidence and evaluate its probative value. Citizenship in the U.S. is given to any Tom, Dick, or Josey, and regardless of background, education, or intelligence, they can serve on juries and decide matters of life and death. Personally, I would like to see the status of citizenship changed. However, considering this is highly unlikely, I would not mind a couple of judges to serve on juries. I also think the Italian jury system of a majority vote where a split tie goes in favor of the defendant may be a good idea.

The last difference I noticed between American and Italian judicial systems is that evidence is sifted through and ruled upon before trial in the U.S., while in Italy, it is done on appeal. If Amanda Knox had been tried in the U.S., the unsound DNA evidence and, more than likely, the testimony of the homeless man would have been discarded. The defense would have also tried to suppress Amanda's statements, but this would have never occurred. As for the testimony of Rudy Guede, he would have also been allowed to testify, and on appeal it would not have been suppressed either. More than likely, just on her statements and Guede's testimony, Amanda would have been convicted and there would have been no hope on appeal. She would have been sentenced to possibly 60 years, life without parole, or even death. Italians and Americans questioned the due process Amanda received in Italy, but I think the Italians have more to be proud of than ashamed of. At least the system worked there eventually, and in record time. An innocent person in the U.S. can spend decades in prison if he or she is ever exonerated.

After watching Wolf Blitzer's "Situation Room," Anderson Cooper, Jane Valez, Piers Morgan, Dr. Drew, today's morning news as well as the countless guests on their programs, including OJ Simpson's prosecutor Marsha Clark who is touting her new book "Guilty by Association," I became fed up with all of the super nice and sympathetic news coverage that Amanda Knox aka Bambi was getting. I was actually hoping Nancy Grace would be on to give her usual universal condemnation and bitch attitude toward all defendants, guilty and innocent. However, the pig missed her show to be on "Dancing with the Stars." I do not know when she ever became a star or why anyone would want to see her body stuffed in a dress trying to dance nimbly except for a laugh. However, I notice the producers did not really pick any stars and there are a number of unattractive people.

The last couple of weeks I have heard almost nothing but overwhelmingly positive news coverage dripping with sympathy and support for Amanda Knox. Time and again I have heard how there is zero evidence, and how poor Amanda has suffered 4 years in hell for a crime she did not commit. The courtroom she attended is described as medieval and the Italian prison Campanne is made out to be a monstrously scary and cruel place because it only allows visits once a week and has 13 x 13 foot cells. Campanne is also rumored to be a place where Amanda faced unwanted sexual advances or harassment. Over and over again I heard about an overzealous prosecutor who will not admit fault, and relies on a psychic or his intuition to try cases. Then I hear how the poor 24-year-old has been away from family since she was 20, and all she wants to do when she gets out is lie in some grass. As Charlie Brown would say, "Good grief!"

The evidence presented in my case was less than that against Amanda Knox, however, the only publicity I ever received was the type Nancy Grace dishes out. After I was smitten with a protracted death sentence, I was then forgotten by the mass media, even after the Palatine Massacre was solved. I have spent almost two decades as a captive in truly violent and oppressive maximum security institutions where there are no piano lessons or spacious 13 x 13 foot cells with their own private connecting bathrooms and bidets. Sexual advances? That is just life in prison. If there was a man nicknamed "Angel Face" or "Bambi" at Stateville, he would be raped. Medieval courtroom? I rather like the Italian ambiance. It is better than a medieval judicial system or sentence. An overzealous prosecutor? I will swap James "Mad Dog" McKay any time for Guiliano Mignini, even if he shuffles tarot cards to figure out what happened. Being away from family since 20? Try 18. Longing to lie in grass? I guess she got me there. I can flop around on the Big Yard's lawn until my heart is content, at least during the 2 hour time period once or twice a month that I can go there.

As I was finishing this journal entry, prisoners are applauding the television news that showed my former neighbor, Jacques Rivera, being released from Cook County Jail. The man we called Jacob was wrongfully convicted of a 1988 gang murder. He spent over 22 years in captivity and his once 4 month old daughter and two toddler sons are now grown adults. If it was not for the eyewitness finally coming forward to say the prosecutor coerced his testimony and the 10 years that the Northwestern University Innocence Project spent fighting for him, he would still be rotting away in prison in the cell next to mine. Jacob is an old Mexican and no "Angel Face." He, like numerous innocent people in prison in the U.S. almost never get overwhelmingly good press or a new trial to prove their innocence. Although I am envious of Amanda Knox, I am glad she is home today. I hope she enjoys her freedom for the many of us who never will.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Visit With My Sister -- September 30, 2011





This morning I was expecting my sister, Bernadette, to visit me. As noon approached, I increasingly hoped she would not show up. I felt like putting my ear plugs in and lying in bed for several hours. I would rather fall asleep or continue daydreaming about a time before my arrest. Yesterday, I thought about my time as a student at Lincoln-Way High School and was eager to continue doing so. My current life was miserable and it would be even more apparent if I left my cell. The last few weeks, I have holed up in my cell, rarely ever going out even for chow lines. The less of prison and prisoners I see, the better. Unfortunate that I cannot escape it altogether.

I was sitting at the steel table next to the bars reading an investment newspaper when a guard approached me. I took off my headphones to hear what he had to say, although I was practically certain it was to notify me that I had a visit. I was correct, and I told him to give me 5 minutes to change my clothes. Other than when prisoners go to yard, we must be dressed in state blues to leave our cells. One benefit of being only about 20 feet from the guard's front door desk is that I did not have to wait to be let out of the cell for visits. Many people shout out their cells for a half hour or longer before a guard unlocks their door.

I was sent out without an escort. The guard told me there was someone waiting at the end of the building to walk me the rest of the way. The building that houses prisoners in general population is a huge stone structure that is the length of city block. There was little chance of me escaping or going off route. Along side the building is a concrete walk with tall fencing on both sides topped with razor wire. A sergeant and a few prisoners were waiting at the end of it. They were going to the Health Care Unit which is on the way to the visiting room. One of the inmates who I did not recognize asked me if I was still a workout machine. I told him I haven't exercised in about a month because of a shoulder injury. The sergeant asked if I got it from all the headstand push ups he used to see me do on property boxes when I was in unit Bravo. I told him I did not know how I injured myself, but I think I tore a ligament.

At gate 5, I saw there was a crowd of inmates not only in the holding cages but outside in the adjoining hallway. I thought this is why I did not want to go on a visit. I did not want to be in a large crowd of loud, obnoxious prisoners. I also thought I may be waiting for an hour or longer, and my visit would be greatly curtailed. Fridays are usually extremely crowded. However today was the last day of the month and I did not anticipate it being so bad. Prisoners at Stateville are only allowed five visits a month, and most that receive them have used them up by the last week.

The guard at gate 5 took my ID and locked me in the hallway, but fortunately not in one of the cages. In the hallway I noticed Bob, who was my cellmate for a short period of time several years ago. He asked me how I was doing and who was here to see me. I told him his first question was stupid. I am at Stateville, and he knows I have a protracted death sentence. He is forever the optimist and overly friendly. He said that I was going to go home some day. I told him he was right, but in a pine box. Bob was a good cellmate, but I do not like people that are always rays of sunshine.

I asked Bob how his case was going after telling him my sister was here to see me. He told me he was still waiting for the prosecutor to respond to his post conviction appeal from the circuit court. The trial judge, not surprisingly, dismissed his claims as frivolous and without merit. This is usually what the trial judge does, despite what errors you bring to their attention. My trial judge, Sam Amirante, dismissed my appeal also. He ruled my claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was without merit. In his opinion, the lawyers who put on no defense at all, and even told the jury to believe the lying interrogating officer were exceptional, and even if that claim and others filed in my petition had merit, because the appeal failed to attach affidavits, it was a procedural default.

Robert Mueller was convicted for the statutory rape of a 17-year-old, and sentenced to an incredible 40 years in prison. The sentence went way beyond what statutory rape allows, but the judge gave him a consecutive sentence for every time he had sex with the girl. Bob was a high school teacher in Hinsdale, and probably had something to do with the severity of his sentence. I personally think he should not have been given 4 years, let alone 40. I do not consider Bob a pedophile by any means. For Bob's birthday, I sent him a cassette tape with recordings of nothing but the song "Hot for Teacher," by David Lee Roth. The next time I saw Bob, he had a big grin on his face and told me "Thanks for the tape," but I do not know how amused he was. He may end up dying in prison for having sex with the high school student.

I was waiting for a half hour before I was strip searched and then allowed into the visiting room. As I walked down the short flight of steps, I looked to see if my sister was there. She was not. There are about 40 tables in the visiting room, and almost all of them were filled. The sergeant at the front desk assigned me to one of the few empty tables. The table was against the wall and directly in front of me was the table Bob sat at. His ugly wife was not there, but two men he told me earlier were friends.

I did not wait too long before I saw my sister in a line of people coming down the stairs. She waved to me before checking in, and I gave her a brief hug when she got to the table. My sister and I have always had a good relationship that has persisted despite the nearly two decades I have been incarcerated. As a child, my sister and I got along well, although our age differences did not give us much in common and she left home when I was very young. I did not see her again until years later when I was a teen. She soon thereafter got married, and bought a home with her husband that was not too far away. I went to visit them from time to time, even after I moved in with my co-defendant who lived in Schiller Park. In fact, I was at their home on the day the prosecution speculates that Dean Fawcett was murdered.

The last time I saw Bernadette was when I was still caged in the Roundhouse, so she was interested in my new location. I told her about being moved to general population and being assigned an obnoxious cellmate. I also told her about where my cell was located and the great amount of traffic and noise just outside my cell. I used some napkins on the table to illustrate where my cell was in relation to the holding cage, guard's desk, and front door. She asked me if the noise was as loud as it was now in the visiting room, and I said it was. The only time that is quiet was between 10 p.m. and 7 in the morning. She said she felt sorry for me.

My sister asked if I had eaten lunch, and if I wanted some food from the vending machines. I told her I was not particularly hungry even though I did not go to lunch. She was thirsty and got herself something to drink. She returned with a couple bottles of green tea, and informed me there were only cheeseburgers and snack products available. Again I told her I was not hungry, but she said I was too skinny and brought back two cheeseburgers and a bag of Doritos. Dorritos has been her favorite snack since I could remember when I was a small child.

As we ate the cheeseburgers, I told her I was expecting her to be fat. Our mother had commented a few times on her expanding size, and I was led to believe she would be enormous. She said she only put on a few pounds and wondered why this would be said. I told her I did not know but I was glad she did not roll in like The Great Pumpkin, in reference to her choice of clothes. She was wearing black shoes, pants, and a jacket but had on an orange shirt. My sister mentioned how she thought she was dressed for Halloween, a month early. I noticed she did not eat her chips after opening the bag, although there were only about 10 chips in it. Women are incredibly sensitive about their weight, I thought.

Bernadette asked me what happened to "Lisa," a woman I had been in contact with for a couple of months. I said I didn't know. Possibly, I had hurt her feelings and was too insensitive to her problems. From the beginning, I told my sister, I thought she was too emotional. I also thought it was very odd that she spent so much time with my parents.

My sister and I shared a laugh after I told her how I spoke to "Lisa" about sharing finances. I told "Lisa" that I did not believe in marriage, and if by chance I ever married I would without question have a prenuptial agreement. Plus, we would never share any bank accounts or credit cards. All of this made her very upset, especially when I told her that if I ever bought her a ring, the stone would be a fake. My sister thought I was just playing with the woman, but I told her I was not. A lab created diamond is just as good as a real one. In fact, the only way an expert can tell the difference is a lab created stone is perfect whereas a real diamond has flaws. It is the diamond cartels that hoard the abundant rock, greedy stone cutters, and manipulative marketing that give diamonds their value. My sister said she wished she knew this before her husband spent so much money.

I was asked how I knew "Lisa" lost interest in me. I said it was readily apparent how she went from great infatuation to nothing. It was a night and day difference. The long letters I received regularly stopped. She also went from continually wanting me to call her to ceasing to add money to her phone card so I could not call her at all. She wanted me to call so often that I was regularly bored and had to make provocative comments to keep my interest. Finally, as my sister already knew, she always wanted to visit me, which meant my family could not visit. Then suddenly, she did not want to come to see me at all. She disappeared from my life seemingly overnight.

My sister expressed how it was not only odd, but in poor taste for her to abruptly cease contact without explanation. I told her that was OK because she was not close to the type of woman I liked. Even my parents noticed how radically different she was from Susanna, my last girlfriend. Regardless of how I thought, I did not blame any woman for not wanting to be with me. I am a prisoner who will probably die in prison. She was smart to so quickly make an about face.

We then talked about why my appeal was so delayed. It is extremely difficult to get a court to look at your case once you have lost all your regular set of appeals. My attorney believes the only way I may be successful is by offering the court new evidence that was not available at trial, and by making a strong actual innocence claim. All the evidence my trial attorneys had at their disposal and did not use cannot be submitted, however. I hope my attorney is busy collecting new evidence that can be used.

I then went on to tell Bernadette how incredibly slow the court system was in Cook County. Even if my appeal was filed today, and it was to ultimately be successful in gaining me a new trial, the odds are I will not see another jury until 2020. I know a few men in my cell house who have successive post conviction appeals based on actual innocence still pending 7 years after they were filed. I expressed my hope that Governor Quinn would grant my request for clemency because this would immediately set me free. The last I heard, however, this administration was still reviewing petitions from the last governor.

News from family members comes to me quicker than the mail. My sister told me a childhood friend of mine, Jeffrey, had made contact somehow via the Internet, and she asked if I remembered him. I do remember him, as well as his two brothers. She did not know anything specific, but I was glad to hear someone from my past had emailed me or posted something on the blogsite. Another man who said he worked with me at a cabinet business in Frankfort also made some contact. Unfortunately, his comment was posted as "anonymous," so she could not give me a name or a way to respond to him.

The noise in the visiting room was so loud that I often had to lean forward to hear my sister. Sometimes I noticed we were almost yelling at each other. The noise was irritating, and for a moment I stopped talking and just looked about the zoo. My sister noticed that we were the only white people in this crowd, so I pointed out Bob who was at a table behind her, and then spotted an old white woman near the back who was visiting a younger black man. My sister remarked that she was probably being used for her money. Probably so, I agreed. A Social Security check will go a long way in prison.

We talked about a CNN Piers Morgan interview that I watched last night. On the show, he had Damien Echols, his wife, and Jason Baldwin. The alleged near-retarded Jessie Misskelly who told police he witnessed his two friends torture and kill three boys in West Memphis was conspicuously absent. I am still intrigued by the case that in some respects reminds me of my own, although mine did not receive nearly the attention after my conviction. I told my sister I wish the judge had given me the death penalty so my case may have been scrutinized more on appeal. However, I doubt I would have garnered the support of capital punishment opponents or Hollywood liberals. I think the death penalty should be used much more often. The problem, in my opinion, is with the judicial process, the draconian sentencing, and vast criminal statutes.

Before the visiting room was closed, I told my sister I did not fail to remember her birthday earlier this month. I simply did not want to mention the subject in my last letter because of how old we are. There was nothing but sadness in my 30's, and I assumed the 40's would be even more depressing. She said that I am not that old and still have a baby face. I told her she was being ludicrous because I have creases throughout my face, pains throughout my body, and frequent thoughts of withering away. She told me everyone in their 30's has the lines and pains I have. I don't want to be in my 30's. I want to be 18 again. I want the life that has been stolen from me.

Although I was not very eager to go on my visit earlier today, I was glad my sister came to see me. Often I am left more unhappy than I was before a visit, and aggravated due to the prison conditions I must endure. However, it was nice to see my sister and I hope to see her again soon. Hopefully she does not visit again on my birthday.