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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Home Alone -- December 1, 2012

Since Wednesday I have been living without a cellmate. Bobby was taken to the prison Health Care Unit and then to an outside hospital after experiencing chest pains. It is wonderful not to share small quarters with anyone and I feel like I have been liberated from a Siamese twin who I had nothing in common with. I despise continually socially interacting with people and it is very taxing on me. It is a relief to have some privacy and solitude which is very rare at a maximum security prison. Yesterday was my birthday, and if it did not remind me of the vast amount of time I have spent incarcerated or how old I was, I may have actually considered the single-man cell a birthday gift. The time alone is a blessing but I know all good things cannot last. My cellmate will return, or I will be assigned a new one. The next convict I am forced to live with more than likely will be worse. Regardless, I will continue to serve my protracted death sentence, growing older and more despondent.

On Monday evening the prison was placed on lockdown. Prisoners returning from the Health Care Unit who take insulin informed me a guard and an inmate in cell house Bravo got into a fight when chow lines were being run. Apparently, a guard was being disrespectful and "talking shit". When the prisoner was let out of his cell for chow and was on his way out of the building he saw the guard. Without warning, he blasted the guard in the eye and continued to beat him. The inmate was quickly taken down by other staff, handcuffed, and taken away. The guard was seen at the H.C.U., bleeding heavily with a gash to the side of his eye socket. He was stitched up and given what inmates said was a ridiculously large eye patch. They speculated the big white man with spider web tattoos and an attitude was trying to exaggerate his injury so he will be compensated lavishly.

During the lockdown, my cellie continued to complain of chest pains. A black female medical technician spoke with him one evening and told him if he was not sweating there was nothing wrong with his heart. She refused to authorize him to be sent to the H.C.U. and said there was nothing that could be done. The guards, particularly one man, seemed sympathetic but they could not send him without the med tech saying it was a medical emergency. On a lockdown, there is no movement or it is restricted movement. Wednesday, the cell house was placed on a level 4 lockdown and hospital passes, visits, and phone calls were being allowed. When my cellmate complained to a guard, he let him go to the H.C.U. with other inmates going there in the morning. Guards may sometimes exaggerate their injuries, but inmates do also. The med tech may have thought Bobby was faking to get attention. I knew he was not faking, although I could not tell if he was exaggerating his pain or condition. Inmates regularly must exaggerate medical problems or they would not receive any treatment.

Around noon, I left the cell house to go on a visit. The guard who let me out of my cell told me not to expect my cellmate to return. I was not sure what he meant by this and I asked him if he died. He said no but he had a heart attack and was sent to an outside hospital. On my way to the visiting room, I thought about how all this time Bobby was not exaggerating his medical problems. A number of times, I had thought he was acting like Fred Sanford in the 70's comedy "Sanford and Son". I wondered how severe my cellmate's condition was and if he would be at the hospital long.

It was odd not having a cellmate. Unless a prisoner is at Tamms Supermax, the cells are nearly always doubled up. In many minimum security penitentiaries, inmates live in crowded dorms where bunks are so close together there is barely room to walk between them. Because of draconian sentencing legislation and the decrease in space in the IDOC, some dorms are placed in moldy basements or gymnasiums. At minimum security prisons, however, inmates are not confined to their sleeping quarters and have much more freedom and movement. Almost everyone has work details and there are various programs as well as recreational periods. There is also never any lockdowns, unlike maximum security prisons where men can be on lockdown more often than not. In penitentiaries like Stateville, Menard, and Pontiac, inmates are double bunked and spend the vast preponderance of their time in cells which are typically 5 by 10 feet. I am told some medium security prisons are keeping men in their cells almost all day as well.

During the past few days, guards when conducting count will regularly stop abruptly at my cell to inquire where my cellmate is. They are used to seeing two men in each cell and it is unusual for a prisoner to be alone. One guard asked me, "One time?" which seemed like a stupid question. Did the guard think my cellmate was hiding in his box or under the bunk? The cells are small rectangular areas and unless a man has a sheet up while using the toilet, it is obvious there is only one person in the cubicle. Some people ask redundant questions or do not word their question correctly. Possibly his question was rhetorical or he meant to say, "Where is your cellmate?" Regardless, I answered, "What you see is what you get." Guards who work in the unit regularly have become accustomed to seeing me alone and know my cellmate is at the hospital now, and therefore are no longer are puzzled why I am alone.

The majority of prisoners like the company of a cellmate. It gives them more opportunity to be social, play games, or share other activities. Personally, I prefer to be alone and would not mind being in solitary confinement. I am a nonsocial introverted person and furthermore do not like most of the convicts. I also have little to nothing in common with those around me. I rarely spoke to Bobby or the 3 cellmates preceding him. The last cellmate I conversed with or interacted with at any length was about 2 years ago when I was in the Roundhouse.

Although I am in an oppressive maximum security prison, the past few days I have felt liberated. Almost everything an inmate does in the cell must be done in coordination with their cellmate. Only one person can be bathing, washing clothes, exercising, changing sheets on their bunk, or various other activities. Even using the toilet often requires interaction between cellmates. Most people will want to be at the cell bars when their cellmate is defecating. When I urinate I also sometimes have to look up to my right to see if my cellmate is overhead on his bunk. I cannot even open up my property box all the way without blocking my cellmate's path. I try not to be on the floor when my cellmate is unless he is sitting at the bars preoccupied. So many things affect your cellmate who is always within feet from you in the cell. With my cellmate gone, I was free to do what I wanted, when I wanted.

It has been incredible how much life is easier and how productive I can be without being trapped in a small cage with someone else. Quickly, I was able to establish an efficient routine leaving me with time to complete numerous tasks. Even when the penitentiary came off lockdown (other than B House), I was amazed by how much I could do when not restricted by a cellmate. Since Bobby has been gone, I have been able to read 7 newspapers, several corporate reports, and 3 magazines. I have reordered by property boxes, made a new device to boil water, improved the drag on my cassette player, sewn the holes in a few pairs of socks, sharpened my collection of pencil stubs with nail clippers, wrote several letters, and much more.

Having a single man cell has not only allowed me to accomplish many more tasks but improved my energy and ability to deal with the mobs of people in the penitentiary. Continuous social interaction is an enormous strain on me. When I have a cellmate, I am trapped and cannot get away except to other more disturbing places. Even though I rarely spoke with Bobby, I still had to interact with him. Everything he did affected my focus, activities, and peace of mind. Cellmates can leave me very lethargic and ever more nonsocial. Possibly, it is because I have autism that I need down time. For a while, I have been taking midday naps to recover, but I found being alone in the cell that I no longer needed them. The crowds and regular screaming of prisoners is also more tolerable. I overheard an inmate this week say he spent 5 years in Tamms and it was horrible. However, the idea of isolation seems terrific to me and I wish I could maintain this single man cell indefinitely.

On Thursday, I went out to the prison yard and for the first time in probably years did not use the time to work out. I had already completed my exercise regimen early in the morning and I left the confines of my cage to enjoy the remaining part of autumn. I also spent part of the time talking with a few men. Mainly I spoke with Anthony and Steve while walking around the yard. For a little while I spoke with a short bald white prisoner who goes by the name "Little Man." Despite being small, Little Man has a mean appearance and from what I am told was very violent before he lost his health and became old. He approached me and asked, "What's up with that website of yours?" Apparently, prisoners are still talking about the posts which were passed around the cell house. I asked him what he meant, and he went on to say a lot of men do not like it. He also asked me why I wrote. I told him that I used to write political editorials when publications accepted mail-in freelance journalism. I thought now I would write about the criminal justice system and life in prison through my own blog. He said, "You don't write anything bad about the white man, do you?" "No," I replied. "You don't write anything bad about Little Man, do you?" he asked. "Not so far," I said. This was all he cared about and he walked away.

A couple of black inmates asked me about Bobby. They wanted to know what happened and if I knew anything since he has been gone. All I could tell them at the time was he was complaining of chest pain and was sent to an outside hospital. Later, the Polish nurse I sometimes speak with came by doing medication rounds in the evening. I asked her if she knew what happened to my cellmate. She was not sure who he was, so I had to describe what he looked like as well as give his full name. After some thought, she said he had a heart attack and was sent to St. Joe's Hospital. She did not have any other information but today someone told me they saw him being wheeled out of the Health Care Unit on a gurney and he was disoriented.

Yesterday morning, I wrote a note to the cell house sergeant and asked if he would call the placement officer on my behalf. If my cellmate had a heart attack, I thought he may be in the hospital and then the H.C.U. for a long time. He may even die and quickly his bunk would be filled randomly. I was concerned who may be assigned to my cell in Bobby's place, and I know a man who was at the point of exchanging blows with his cellmate. John seemed like he would make a decent cellmate for me, however, and I threw the note down to a cell house worker on the lower floor to give to the sergeant and was surprised he quickly returned with a message. He yelled up to the 2nd floor that the bunk was on medical hold. When I came out for chow the sergeant was standing by the door and I stepped out of line to speak to him. I asked him when he would know the hold is lifted, and how long do they usually last. He said he will know when they put another person in my cell, which was disappointing to hear. He continued, however, saying medical holds could sometimes extend 3 months. On the way out of the cell house, the sergeant told me to enjoy my time alone.

Being in a single man cell on my birthday was one of the best birthday presents I could receive. As the sergeant suggested, I attempted to enjoy my peace and solitude. I exercised to heavy metal music which I had not done in a long time. Since my cellmate did not listen to the same music, I had packed my radio in my box. I read a National Geographic and a hunting magazine casually with my feet up on my property box and pillows propping my back up against the wall. I read about the great outdoors without any of the distractions my cellmate usually will bring. In the evening, I watched Stanford defeat UCLA in the college divisional championship who will go on to play either Wisconsin or Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. As I watched the game, I ate my cellmate's breakfast of pancakes and bran flakes. The cell house workers have continued to leave two breakfast trays in the cell bars at night despite his absence. Throughout the day I felt comfortable and relatively free. I was reminded of the film "Home Alone" where a little kid was left behind during the holidays by his family. Instead of being terrified or miserable, the actor Macauley Culkin was jubilant to be free from his parents and siblings and left to his own devices.

Anthony stopped by my cell before he went to work in the kitchen. He was surprised I was still awake because I am usually asleep by 10 p.m. He asked me if I was partying through the night and I told him, yes, it is one big party. Can't he tell? He asked me where the booze and women were whereupon I replied, "They will not arrive until later." I went on to describe some absurdly wild birthday party to the entertainment of my visitor. Anthony was skeptical and said I did not seem like the partying type. I was not, and I always hated crowds, loud dance music, sleazy women and drugs. I did not even drink. The way I spoke in a flat somber tone probably also conflicted with my jubilent party fantasy. Celebrating my 20th birthday in prison in any fashion was absurd. I was 38 years old and slowly dying. Before Anthony stopped by I was actually looking in my little plastic mirror grimly brooding about how much I had aged. A few family members sent me birthday cards apparently to cheer me up, but I wish they had not. They were more like death cards from a Tarot deck.

After Anthony left, I listened to some ballads off the Pink Floyd album "The Wall." There is a song called "Hey You" which I readily identify with and sent to one of the girls I once wrote. I sent it as a part of a collage of goodbye songs burned onto a CD for her to remember me by. The song talks about a girl "out there beyond the wall" and tells her he is coming home to her. However, toward the end the lyrics say "but it was all just a fantasy. The wall was too high as you can see. No matter how he tried he could not break free and the worms ate into his brain." It was pleasant to have a cell to myself but ultimately I could not enjoy it. I am a prisoner until death, with or without a cellmate.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving Day is not a holiday I can appreciate in prison. What do I have to be thankful for? Nearly 20 years of my life has been taken from me for a crime I had nothing to do with or even knowledge of. The outlook for me ever being freed is looking not only less likely but less appealing. I have grown old in my years in the dungeons of the Illinois Department of Corrections. The family in my life is dwindling and I long ago ceased looking for my dream girl. I am a solitude person and being alone is not nearly as terrible as the loss of all my hopes and aspirations. Nor is it as bad as the misery I suffer being a captive in what my opinion is the worst maximum security prison in the state. It is rather ironic to me administrators despite what deplorable or oppressive living conditions inmates live in always try to make sure they are fed well on one day of the year. I am not sure how other prisoners feel who have a protracted death sentence as I do, but I think it is a rather paltry gesture.

On Thanksgiving Day, I awoke to find inmates were given crumb cake and rice cereal. Mertz calls the cereal generic Rice Crispies, however, to me they are more like puffed rice. There is no "snap, crackle, and pop" to the cereal prisoners are given here. Contrarily, the rice absorbs milk quickly making it soggy and clump together. The square crumb cake was a special treat for inmates, however, and we are rarely ever served it. The cake was good to eat especially with some peanut butter and a cup of coffee. My portion was rather meager, though, and I wondered if this was just by chance or a precursor to the main meal. I know the IDOC is trying to save money any where it can with an $8 billion debt and well over $100 billion in pension liabilities.

I ate my breakfast as I routinely do while watching the 7 a.m. news. I was disappointed the news reporting was very shallow and superficial this morning. I assumed the networks believed viewers did not care to hear about any serious issues on the holiday. The predominate story was retail sales and shopping. Apparently, this year stores were trying to lure people in a day early. I have always thought Christmas was over commercialized and yet now businesses were so greedy they have even spoiled Thanksgiving Day with their pursuit of a larger cut of consumer sales. I cannot blame capitalism, however, and truly the people at fault are those who partake in the buying sprees. The masses have debased the traditional holiday with their crude, fevered, and self-gratifying purchases.

At least some people still had an appreciation for family and early in the morning visits began being announced. Several names and cell numbers were called out about 8 a.m. These were proceeded by yet more and more inmates. The entire year, I do not recall a day where so many visits were announced. Because Stateville is closest to Chicago, it has many more visitors than any other penitentiary in Illinois. Despite how many people come to visit, the prison is the least hospitable. The visiting room is the most austere and uncomfortable. The rules are very strict and visits are limited to two hours except on holidays, weekends, and certain lockdowns when family and friends can only stay an hour. I am glad the warden this year finally opened up a second visiting room for inmates at the NRC and this has cut down the crowds and noise levels somewhat. However, many visitors still wait for hours.

My parents came to see me the day before, and never come on holidays or weekends. It is not worth the aggravation of processing or the long wait to see me for only an hour's time. On Wednesday, they expected to get a two hour visit but they were forced to wait two hours, limiting our visit to an hour anyway. Visitation ends at 2:30 p.m. regardless of when you arrive or actually get to see the person you've been waiting for. Fortunately, they do not have to drive too far to this prison.

Since October, my cellmate has been sick. Initially, he had a severe cold which almost seemed to have the markings of the flu. He had body aches, a cough, sneezes, and a running nose. The old man at times laid in bed with toilet paper stuffed in his nose much of the day. He looked miserable, and with the tissue jammed in his nose making it almost as wide as his face, looked ridiculous. One evening, a nurse laughed at him and a guard was to joke that he had a nosebleed from me hitting him. I mainly thought how I hoped I did not catch whatever he has. In confined quarters, it is almost impossible not to catch a virus from your cellmate. Mid this month, my cellmate's cold symptoms seemed to fade but he was still sick. This week, he went to the prison's Health Care Unit twice with chest pains and a general feeling of malaise. A doctor gave him an EKG and an injection of some kind of medication to his chest even he does not know what it was. Despite his ailments, however, at the announcement of chow, he sprightly came off his bunk and got ready to get his Thanksgiving meal.

Thanksgiving has virtually no meaning for prisoners. It has no religious, historical, cultural, or other significance. It is just "Turkey Day" or a day when they can stuff their faces with good food. All year round inmates are typically fed distasteful or meager servings of food. The menu usually consists of processed turkey-soy which is boiled and made into most meals. For example, spaghetti, sloppy joes, chili, stew, or cheeseburger macaroni is made with the product. On occasion when prisoners do not get soy-turkey, they often are served mystery meat cold cuts, sausage, turkey or chicken soy patties. Side dishes which go with the main meal are typically not very appetizing either. Some prisoners will go to chow simply to socialize, get out of their cells, or to eat the dessert, if it is cookies. On occasion, I will simply go to bring back some bread to make a couple of peanut butter sandwiches in my cell.

My cell house was the first to be fed in the penitentiary and chow lines began to go out before 9 a.m. Nearly everyone comes out of their cell for the Thanksgiving meal and it takes a long time for the entire prison to be fed. When I was let out of my cell, I quickly passed the guard keying open cell doors to avoid the congestion on the gallery. At the far end where there were a few people, I went to Mertz's cell and found him awake and dressed. I was not certain he would be going because I knew he worked the midnight shift in the kitchen and had to be tired. I complained to Mertz about my small square of crumb cake and told him I held him personally responsible. He told me he now only does diet trays and this was why he was one of the few people called to work. All the regular trays of cereal and cake were made the night before, leaving just the irregulars to do.

Mertz has a Mexican cell mate I like to razz on occasion. He seemed in a rather good mood standing by the bars waiting to be let out, and I asked him what he was so happy about. Thanksgiving was a holiday for Caucasians. What did the Indians give the Pilgrims but grief? "You think we could not have grown corn, potatoes, or other crops without your help?" I asked him. "Thanksgiving was a brief respite in the bloody hostilities between the colonists and Indians and this was why they cleared the land of all your kind, leaving you on reservations or south of the border. Yet you have the gall to cross the Rio Grande and give the white man more troubles?" He smiled during my caffeine-induced diatribe but finally interjected to tell me he was not an illegal alien and was given a green card. I said, "Show me your papers." He looked at me oddly and then laughed. Despite making fun of Mertz's cellmate, I get along with him well and he was once my neighbor before he had to swap cells with a high escape risk inmate.

I was glad to get out of the cell house not just to get away from the crowd but the heat. The Chicago metro area has been experiencing coincidentally an Indian Summer with temperatures greatly above normal for this time of year. Thanksgiving Day produced a 70 degree high in the south suburbs. While this was pleasant autumn weather, it made the building excessively hot. The penitentiary's heating system had been turned on and it was about 90 inside or more, depending on what floor a prisoner was celled on. Because heat rises, those on the 5th floor were most uncomfortable. The men on the upper galleries have fans on and spend most of their day in boxers or shorts. Even I did not put a shirt on until guards began to key open doors on the gallery. The coffee I drank with breakfast also did not help.

The chow hall was loud and crowded as I had anticipated. In the inner serving area, food was piled on styrofoam trays until they could almost not close. Prisoners were given sweet potatoes, collard greens, stuffing, gravy, and a choice of pork or turkey. When I passed my tray to the inmate serving meat I told him I wanted both. He gave me a look of disagreement and then put a tiny portion of turkey on my tray. I said, "That's it? Get into the spirit of the holiday." I think he was just toying with me but in any event he gave me a good portion of both turkey and pork. At the end of the line I was given another tray of salad, a couple of bread rolls, and a small prepackaged slice of pumpkin pie. Typically, at lunch prisoners are offered nothing but water, however, yesterday we were handed two small cartons of juice.

In a chow hall, I sat at a table to place my two trays into a clear plastic bag to carry back to the cell house. On Thanksgiving and Christmas inmates are given take out meals. While I was tying my bag up, an obese inmate told me to give him my pumpkin pie and said a fitness junkie did not need any dessert. I replied that a fat man especially does not, let alone two portions. Then I began to tell Mertz how in the National Geographic magazine I had just read a large segment about elephants. Most of it pertained to the ivory trade and slaughter of the animals simply just for their tusks. I asked the fat man where his tusks were, and before I could finish my line Mertz said, "Female elephants do not have any." The fat man was not happy but I told him I would make up for it at Christmas. In the magazine it said elephants like toys with food hidden inside them.

Prisoners were in the chow hall a long time waiting to go back. During the time, I brought up how yesterday on the news I heard the governor terminated the contract with the guards union. The contract had expired months ago and the union had been in extensive negotiations to have it renewed. The union believes they have so much clout they were unwilling to make any concessions and apparently overplayed their hand. I was surprised and impressed Governor Pat Quinn could display such leadership and independence. Typically, Democrats in Illinois live in fear of the powerful union organizations. I told Mertz I hope the IDOC will follow the same path as Hostess which is now liquidating its company because the bakers and Teamsters unions were unwilling to make sacrifices so the business could be profitable. However, I know the prison industrial complex cannot be disassembled so easily, if at all. With the contract being terminated, I did not know what this specifically meant for guards, prisons, and inmates alike. Mertz opined it will just mean guards will not have such lavish wages, benefits and job security. I agreed and thought also the governor's planned closures will now proceed without impediment. It was not going to be a happy Thanksgiving for guards, and I am sure they would strike if they were allowed to do so.

After dropping off my trays in my cell, I immediately went back out to go on my health care pass. Along with me came "the elephant" and we were both going to see the same doctor. The doctor was a very little Eastern Indian woman who was the prison's psychiatrist. The big man went into her office first and he was gone for a long time while I waited in the holding cage. Fortunately, it was not crowded or noisy there on the holiday. I was actually surprised anyone was at the Health Care Unit except for a small skeleton crew. As time ticked by I began to worry that I may miss the gym line and wondered what the fat man had to say to the psychiatrist. I knew he was on some "happy pills" for bipolar disorder and thought this could be why he seemed so sensitive to people's fat jokes or other put downs. When he came out, I asked him if he told the woman his entire life story.

The Eastern Indian woman is ugly but what she lacks in appearance she easily makes up for in personality. She is a very friendly and nice person which was probably refreshing to the prisoner who just left her office. I personally tend to think people who are excessively nice are superficial or misleading people. Possibly this is a reflection of my own negative and skeptical personality in part. The doctor began by wishing me a happy Thanksgiving, and immediately I questioned her whether Eastern Indians commemorated the America holiday. She assured me they did, but I do not know what she says is truth or fiction. We talked for about ten minutes mainly about my medications. As always, I told her I wanted Melatonin rather than an antihistamine to help me sleep. This always begets the same reply: Waxford, the prison's insurance company will not pay for it. I told her how hot and dry it was in the cell house giving me severe dry mouth and sinuses. She told me I should place a wet cloth over my face while sleeping and that would act like a humidifier. There is no way I could sleep with that on my face, and even if I could devise a way to prevent it from falling off I would feel like I was being water boarded. Then the doctor gave me some Eastern Indian meditation tips which I also thought were absurd. Bored, I asked if I could see one of her unique little shoes which seemed like they were crafted in India by some Keebler Elves. She seemed to be flattered by my comments and gave me her shoe to examine. I always think of Eastern Indian products as being cheap, but I was impressed by the craftsmanship. Before I went too autistic on her, I gave her back her shoe and left her office.

On the way back into the cell house, the sergeant told me to hurry up because the gym line was just about to be sent out. A guard quickly let me into my cell and I changed clothes and brought a bottle of water with me. I was glad Mertz came to the gym but he spent most of his time on the telephone and then talking on the bleachers rather than working out. Many prisoners waited to use the two of four phones which were working. Like Mertz, a lot of men wanted to call their families on Thanksgiving Day. I did not care to do so and was still in "Batman mode" preparing for battle against the Joker and other thugs of Gotham City. Unfortunately, nearly all the machine weights in the gym were broken and I had to use a lot of improvisation. I also spent time running in circles for my cardio exercise. The man who last week had told me my blog was "nefarious" largely avoided me until he wanted my attention to his "sprints." I would not want the inmate to think I was even more wicked and mean-spirited, but his sprints were as fast as my moderate jogging: he should be ashamed of himself.

The "Dark Knight" was exhausted, hungry, and his lower back felt like giving out after exercising 2-1/2 hours nonstop, but he still had to bathe and wash his clothes out of his toilet upon returning from the gym. My cellmate wanted to watch the Houston Texans - Detroit Lions football game while I did so, and I put the game on my television. Bobby has a larger flat screen digital television, but there are no speakers. All speakers are removed from TVs sold here since about 2003. Also by putting the game on my TV he could watch it more easily from sitting on his box by the bars. Bathing out of a sink and hand washing clothes out of a toilet are not the easiest or quickest tasks. I was not able to sit down and eat for a couple of hours.

I only ate half of my Thanksgiving Day meal and saved the rest for dinner. In the meantime, I wrote a letter to a pen pal and made out 3 Christmas cards. All of my mail had to be sent out with a money voucher which would delay it even further than normal. My mail typically takes a few weeks to reach its destination because it sits in the prison mail room or in one of the offices of Internal Affairs. Even with my sending out the cards and letter on Thanksgiving Day, there was a good chance they would arrive after Christmas. Readers may wonder why the posts, and replies to comments or emails are so late. It is because both my incoming and outgoing mail is tremendously delayed. I wish I had direct access to the Internet, but I must rely on snail mail, which almost literally moves at the pace of a snail.

I completed my writing around 7 p.m. and thought I would relax for the rest of the evening by eating and watching television. There was no point going out for supper on Thanksgiving. Not only did I have ample food leftover from lunch but kitchen workers were serving mystery meat cold cuts and a distasteful soup. I perused the television stations for a long time and could find nothing to interest me. Eventually like most men on the holiday, I watched football. Personally if I could, I would spend the time with family, a wife, or children, but I did not have any. Instead, it was Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Grankowski, Bill Bellichick and the rest of the New England Patriots I had to keep me company. They did not disappoint me either, crushing the New York Jets overwhelmingly. The Patriots are one of my favorite pro-football teams, and I thought about the coincidence that they were just outside of Boston, Massachusetts and not far from where the Pilgrims landed in the Mayflower in 1620 at Plymouth Rock.

On Thanksgiving, I had little to nothing to be thankful for. However, the holiday was not without meaning, and before I went to sleep I thought about the extreme hardship the pilgrims and other European settlers had. The early colonists did not find a welcoming new land in America. It was a very difficult life where food was scarce and hostilities with the natives were common. Austerity, strife, disease, pain, and death met the first English colonists. In fact, in the first year, half of the pilgrims died. Those who crossed the Atlantic and persevered were a rugged and determined people. Freedom in the new world meant everything to them and it is those values I can greatly admire. I have endured, struggled, and suffered as a prisoner for more than half my life. In fact, since I was 18, I have persevered and I continue onward because justice and freedom mean so much to me. I may have no thanks for my wretched existence, but I can in part appreciate the holiday of Thanksgiving.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Civil War -- November 9, 2012

At 6 p.m. on Election Day, I entered my imaginary war room. Both presidential candidates had a centralized location where information streamed in and they sought to increase their party's turnout. In the evening as polls closed, these so-called war rooms became simply election data centers. Exit polling and raw vote tallies were analyzed and collected state by state, county by county, and even by city districts. The candidate's campaign staff knew exactly what information and areas were important. For example, only 9 swing states were in play this election: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada. My war room was my prison cell and instead of phones and computers, all I had was my 10-year-old clear plastic RCA television. I had to rely on the network television stations but mainly CNN for information. With my battlefield map of America colored in pencil into red and blue states except for the 9 swing states, I was ready for war.

Since the beginning of the Republican primary, I have paid close attention to the race for the White House. I have been greatly interested in politics since my late teens and I knew this was going to be a historic struggle. Although during the end game both candidates ran to the center and used rhetoric they believed appealed to swing voters, I knew this was misleading. Barack Obama was anything but a moderate. Since the beginning of his political career as a community organizer in Chicago, he was a left wing radical. He believed whole-heartedly in liberal social democracy. The motto "Forward" is not new to politics and has been used for decades by social democrats and communists in Europe. The divisive racial, gender, cultural, and class warfare tactics used by Obama was not simply strategy. He believed in the propaganda he and his campaign spewed forth. Barack Obama wanted to change America from its founding principles and ideals into some warped socialist monstrosity. Obama did not believe in the America set up by Franklin, Jefferson, or Adams. He contrarily looked to the ideals of Trotsky, Lenin, and Marx.

Some people were uncertain exactly who Mitt Romney was. Was he the left of center Republican governor of Massachusetts or the "extreme conservative"? In truth, he was neither. At heart, Mitt Romney believed in conservative principles but he was also a pragmatist in message and in his deeds. Unlike Obama, Romney was raised by two parents in a large conservative Mormon family. He never used drugs and does not smoke or drink. He even abstains from caffeinated beverages. Although both candidates went to elite universities, there could not be a greater contrast in their performance, values, and personal lives. Romney excelled in his studies and while most of the school were hippies who opposed the Vietnam War, he stood out as one of the few conservatives. This is a man with strong moral principles, intelligence, ambition, and work ethic. He is also an acute businessman and did not make millions because of luck or a fluke. His success was due to skill and hard work and because of this I knew it was absurd for liberals to accuse him of being a plutocrat. He believed in individual achievement and merit. His ability to govern in a liberal state and turn around the fortunes of many businesses as well as the Olympic games, would enable him to turn around America even with a Democratic senate. Mitt Romney was a person who could fix the economy and restore American values.

As a prisoner, I could not support Romney's campaign or even vote. I could only hope for his victory. The election coverage completely engrossed me and I tuned out my cellmate as well as the cell house which had just recently come off lockdown. For the next four hours, I stayed glued to my television. This was more riveting to me than any sporting event or movie. This was real and its outcome affected the entire U.S., if not the world. With my headphones on, I switched from station to station attempting to get the best coverage. I had in fact, eliminated all the stations on my TV except those with election coverage so I need not squander time going between them. Before I turned on my TV, I brought out my dinner. I snacked on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and granola cereal nervously while the news was reported. I also had my map of the U.S. in front of me to fill in swing states with red and blue colored pencils. Unfortunately, I only used the red pencil once.

All the political pundits claimed Mitt Romney had to carry the state of Ohio to win. No Republican had ever won without it and supposedly it was essential. Personally, I did not believe them and thought it was most important for Romney to secure the south. If he had Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, he could easily out navigate the Buckeye state. Initially, I was very pleased because North Carolina was quickly called for Romney and in Virginia he was out in a far lead. Florida was close but I was not worried because of the heavy senior vote and the Republicans enormous confidence in winning it. However, as time passed, I saw the counties which were left to be counted. They were all urban Democratic strongholds. In Miami-Dade County, there were lines of people extending entire city blocks still and they were all going to be allowed to vote despite how polling hours had ended. This was not a good sign.

States were being called in the West and still there was no proclaimed victor in Florida or Virginia where the race had narrowed. As the evening proceeded, Romney lost New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Iowa. The outlook was grimmer and grimmer. I thought the political pundits were correct and it all came down to Ohio afterall. Why did Romney not choose Ohio Governor Kasich or Ohio Senator Rob Portman as his running mate I began to think. Even if Romney won the entire south as I anticipated, he needed Ohio because Colorado and Nevada would not get him past the threshold of 270 electoral votes. Not long after, Ohio was called for the president and he was simultaneously declared the victor. This was stunning and catastrophic. The loss I felt was for the entire country which was doomed. Yet in my sorrow, unbelievably the prisoners of Stateville cheered.

It was incredible how a president could win reelection with such an abysmal economic record. Even with the Fed printing billions of dollars, an interest rate of zero, and Obama increasing the deficit from $9 to over $16 trillion dollars, the sum of the nation's entire G.D.P., the economy was still headed for disaster. Unemployment has been at near 8% or worse his entire term and this number is very misleading because it does not account for all those who left the workforce or have been forced to take lower paying jobs or part time work. More people have been on various types of public aid than at any other time in U.S. history. The reckless spending by the White House and short sighted stimulus and aid gimmicks to prop up the economy will not prevent a double dip recession. Since Obama's victory the Dow Jones has plunged over 400 points or 3-1/2% and the worst is yet to come. One of the best TV political ads I saw was made by a man from Hungary who escaped Communism. Somberly he said, "Yes, under socialism the rich will be made poorer but so will the poor." Apparently, this did not sink into all the Obama supporters or they did not care. In the last couple of days the mass media has focused on the huge margins the president won amongst non-white voters, single women, and those between 18 and 28 years old.

The Hispanic population has been rising by millions and is predicted to overtake Caucasians if current immigration policy is not altered. In the 2012 election, they represented 10% of the national vote but was exceedingly higher in specific states. Over 70% of Mexicans voted for Obama giving him victories in the swing states of Colorado, Nevada, and Florida. It was perplexing the Hispanic vote was so enthusiastic and pro-Obama when the president's economic policies caused them great financial hardship. The unemployment rate in Nevada, for example, is the highest in the nation. Furthermore, on social issues, the Republicans seemed to have values which correlated more with them. However, the White House was crafty to give the illusion the Republican party was anti-Hispanic and hammered away at the wedge issue of immigration. While Romney was often quoted as pledging not to grant amnesty and attempt to cause illegal immigrants to "self-deport," Obama in the months leading up to the election decreed he was undermining U.S. law and granting residency status to all immigrants who were brought to America as children.

Mitt Romney and Republicans have tried to reach out to not only Hispanics but African-Americans as well. However, despite this outreach effort, black people voted for Obama by 93%. In some black urban districts Obama won the entire vote. I noticed in Illinois two black Democrat state House members were reelected despite being indicted on corruption charges. Derrick Smith and Jessie Jackson, Jr. won their Chicago districts overwhelmingly. Jackson did not even campaign and was largely confined to a mental hospital for severe bipolar disorder. Blacks subserviently vote Democratic and the Republican challengers never had a chance. Mitt Romney also never had a chance against the black president who is thought of as Moses to his people although he has not delivered the Promised Land and never will. Black unemployment is twice the national average and they continued to suffer under government dependency and serfdom.

The youth vote went decidedly for Obama 60 to 40% in direct contrast to seniors who voted 60 to 40% for Romney. Why were young people so attracted to the radical liberal politics of the president? A few political scientists attributed the phenomena to young people being inclined to be more liberal and attracted to rebellious ideological movements. For example, they pointed out many former hippies of the late 1960s became conservatives as they grew older. This seems plausable although I have always supported the right of the political spectrum. As a child, I thought well of Ronald Reagan and when 17, I helped with Pat Buchanan's Republican primary campaign. After he lost, I supported Ross Perot in the general election. I never considered voting for "Slick Willy" Bill Clinton and in fact was enormously pleased by Newt Gingrich's House leadership which opposed and obstructed the liberal Democrat.

There is more to the 18 to 28 year old vote, however. Homosexuality, casual sex, abortions on demand, and other behaviors long held to be deviant in America have become normalized. The liberal media has increasingly brainwashed young minds to reject traditional social norms. A "square" like Mitt Romney does not have the appeal of a hip, mixed race president who used drugs in college. Furthermore, because of the low fertility rate of Caucasians, more of the youth are non-white or of mixed race like Obama. Demographically and culturally, America is changing. The Obama's campaign was very astute to target this energetic generation with a movement that touted "change". There was certainly a lot of change in America, but no hope. Despite the president's college debt breaks and parental medical care, young adults' future was bleaker than ever before.

Although more married women supported Romney, in the election single females overwhelmingly voted for Obama. The president, liberal media, and feminists repeatedly tried to scare women that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan sought to take away control of their reproduction. Rush Limbaugh compared the attack as reducing women solely to their vagina's as if no other issue mattered to them. The attacks, despite being crude, narrow, and deceptive, were effective at creating another wedge. Romney only sought to stop government mandates to provide abortion and contraception, but liberals were able to make many single women turn away from voting Republican. Issues of the economy, unemployment, mounting debt and other failures of the Obama administration were lost or deprioritized. However, I think Obama won single women less on the reproductive issue than the nanny state. Unlike married women, single women tended to favor socialism with its public programs, aid, and assistance. Married women were less insecure and tended to have more conservative values, furthermore.

Since the election, the media and Democrats have been using the exit polling results to pounce on Republicans. They claim the Republican party is dead unless they change their platform to be more inclusive. The changing demographics and culture of America will soon make them go extinct as Caucasians continue to disappear. In 1992, the last election I was free to vote, 87% of voters were white, but 20 years later, they were only 72% of the electorate. With time, white people will decline further and be replaced by those of color. Mitt Romney won 60% of the white vote, more than any other candidate since Reagan in 1984. However, while this contributed to a landslide victory for the "Gipper," it was insignificant today. America has become a cosmopolitan state since my childhood without any racial, cultural, or moral homogeneity.

These people who decree the death of the Republican Party are premature. Despite how Barack Obama won the electoral college overwhelmingly 332 to 206, his victory was sealed by less than 1% of the U.S. population. Several swing states could have easily went the other way if the Republicans ran a better campaign and were as effective in voter turnout. For example, Florida was finally declared today to send its 30 electoral votes to Obama. However, the president won only by 70,000 out of 9 million votes cast, less than 1%. The liberal media and Democrats have a political motive to attribute the Republican's defeat to its platform. The Republicans who agree are still stunned by the loss after they had overly high expectations. There were Republicans boldly making predictions Romney would win in a landslide despite polling numbers showing a tight race or Obama advantage. Some even ridiculously thought Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania would be won. They were living in a fantasy world and now that their illusion was shattered, they are dazed and confused.

It is the liberal Democrats who use race, gender, and class to divide Americans, not the Republicans. The conservative message transcends these divisions and it does not need to be altered only communicated and organized more effectively. Obama's campaign decisively defeated Romney's campaign. The Democrats were able to define their opponent early and this slanderous and misleading characterization was not able to be changed once formed. In fact, Obama has been in campaign mode nearly his entire term. While Romney was in a slug fest with other Republicans, he was also being hit by the White House. Obama was a community organizer and has always been a specialist at public relations. His campaign team was greatly more effective creating perceptions, strategy, and voter turnout. Democrats had an enormous ground operation especially in coordination with the unions. It was also far more technologically advanced with sophisticated data mining computers to find voters. The social media outreach was overwhelmingly better using the Internet and having allies on popular television shows and not just news programs. Communism won in Eastern Europe not simply on their propaganda but because they fought in the streets. Conservatives must match Democrats ruthless total war tactics to win.

The Republican Party need not tone down the conservative ideals but reinforce and focus them. The party should embrace the Republic's initial values which made America the greatest and most powerful nation on earth. I thought this was happening with the Tea Party movement but those with religious motives co-opted the movement. The spirit of the Revolution was captured in the Constitution. The new Republic was based on the premise of limited government, rugged individualism and freedom. These were actually radical thoughts in the 1700's with societies based not on merit but aristocracy with a divisive class system of power or theocracy with a religious order. The monarchies of Europe were believed to have God-given authority. The founding fathers of America reversed this and gave inalienable God-given rights to the people. The people were now responsible for their success or failure. The government no longer controlled and dominated society. This is what created the American dream where millions of Europeans left their homelands, including my ancestors. However, America no longer is a 13 state colony with only several million people and vast uninhabited land. America has over 300 million people now and can and must be meticulous with its immigration policy. Allowing the country to be invaded from the southern border is not acceptable.

In Barack Obama's victory speech he declared there was no more red or blue state, only the United States. However, the country is more divided by the smallest margins than ever before. The federal legislature remained virtually the same except moderate congress members were weeded out. The state governments were even more red or blue than before the election as well. The Republicans controlled both houses in 27 states and Democrats in 19. Of these 46 states, nearly all had politically corresponding governors. In Illinois, for example, Pat Quinn will be chief executive over a legislature where the Democrats have a super majority in the House and Senate. Republicans will be completely impotent in Illinois come January.

Earlier this week, I was listening to the Rush Limbaugh show and he proposed a solution. Simply divide the nation in half with Republicans on one side and Democrats on the other. In time, Limbaugh speculated, the border would be like the Berlin Wall with millions of defecting Democrats trying to escape. This made me think about the secession movements in Scotland, Catalonia, Quebec and Flemish Belgium. I also thought about the secession movement already on its way in Texas, although it is not taken seriously. All of the red states could seceed from the union. Obama could rule with an iron fist like Stalin on his side of the wall. The president would not have to deal with obstruction from the Republican controlled House or virtually any opposition. He could set up the social democracy or Marxist state he always dreamed of and the people who elected him could be jubilantly happy at least temporarily until the utopian illusions fade. However, I know the president who thinks of himself as greater than Lincoln would never let the country be divided. America would be plunged into another Civil War. Yet this sounds more appealing than moving "forward". I have been in prison over half my life and for Americans who do not know what it is like, freedom is worth fighting, and even dying, for.

Friday, December 7, 2012

My Trip to the UIC with Jerry -- October 23, 2012

In the middle of the night I was awakened by a guard who informed me I was going on a hospital writ. He told me to be ready to leave at 5 a.m. I attempted to fall back asleep but soon thereafter the breakfast trays were passed out. It was only 3:30 a.m. but I ate, dressed, and shaved with my electric razor in the dim fluorescent lighting from the cell house wall lights. I was done with a half hour of time to spare. I knew it was going to be a very long day and tried to catch some more sleep.

The prison has been on a level 1 lockdown since Wednesday when a lieutenant and inmate fought on the yard. Prisoners have not been allowed to use telephones, go on visits, or have any movement except for medical reasons. I imagine most inmates would be pleased to get out of their cells, let alone the prison, but I preferred to stay in my cell. I hate writs because it derails my routine and I am in heavy restraints all day while hungry and exhausted. I do not care to be outside the walls, see new things, or meet new people, especially when it is all irrelevant. I have natural life without a chance for parole and do not like to expand my horizons. Drifting off into sleep, I considered refusing the medical appointment. However, speaking with the doctors at the hospital I may be able to alter my pain medication and receive a cortisone injection.

At 5 a.m. a guard let me out of my cell and I walked downstairs to the cell house door to wait for an escort. The cell house was eerily quiet and it was uncommon for 300 convicts to be silent. In handcuffs, I was led out in the night, through a tunnel, and to the holding cage typically used for visitation. There were a few inmates going on court writs and one with a crutch going to the hospital with me. I did not say anything and laid down on the hard wood bench. About an hour later, a guard sought my attention to sign a redundant furlough form. Illinois has not had furloughs since the 1970s, to my knowledge. The form listed a number of rules I must obey such as refraining from alcohol while I was away from the prison. I signed the stupid paper and my unhappiness must have been apparent because the guard asked me if I was all right. I told him I was lacking about 5 hours of sleep and he should ask me again later in the day. To my surprise he did, and I think he did so to be funny and brighten my spirits.

In the strip search room, me and the man I was going to the hospital with were given yellow jumpsuits and some thin shoes to wear. I put on my pair but the other inmate said there was no way he could fit into a size 11 because he needed a 14. The guard told him sorry, but they do not have any clown shoes, which I thought was funny. The inmate pushed down the backs of the shoes and wore them like slippers with part of his heels exposed. Both of us were given bright yellow jumpsuits which I normally refer to as banana suits. However, with the President making a trivial issue of his opponent's mention of Big Bird in the last debate, I mulled over the idea of looking like the Sesame Street character.

From the strip search room we were brought to one of the legal visiting rooms to wait until all the writ officers were ready to go. Inside the room was an old Caucasian inmate in a wheelchair who I recognized despite how greatly his appearance had changed. The man who I knew when he was in his 50's was now in his 70's. He was very gaunt and had thin white hair combed back. He looked sickly and before he mentioned it, I knew he was being treated for cancer with chemotherapy. Despite how much older and different he looked, he had the same penchant for complaining. He complained about how terrible Stateville and the medical care at its Health Care Unit was. He said he was locked in a room with no property and doctors were not giving him any pain medication. He could not even get any cartons of Ensure which is a thick shake given to patients with cancer or AIDS to gain weight and help meet their nutritional needs. When I asked him if he was able to eat any of the food served, he began to rant about how disgusting Stateville food was.

While he was talking, I was thinking about the man I knew in the early years of my incarceration and eventually remembered his name: Jerry McCallen. The Jerry I knew had thick gray hair and was at least 50 pounds heavier. He worked at Pontiac's commissary and liked to play cards with other "old timers" on the yard. Jerry was for the most part a friendly person but was cranky, satirical, and regularly complaining. He did have some reason to be bitter considering his sentence and the time he has done in prison. Jerry has been in prison since the 70's and has the same protracted death sentence as me. He did not kill anyone nor was he convicted under a theory of accountability. He was one of the first men to be given life without parole under the "habitual criminal act". Anyone who commits three felonies can be sent to prison indefinitely. Jerry was an armed robber and when caught for the third time, the court threw away the key.

I asked Jerry if he remembered who I was, and squinting across the room he was unable to. Thus, I played the name game with him for a little while. The name game is where I mention all the names of prisoners I knew and thought he may remember to draw a connection to me. He knew everyone I named in detail, however, he still could not figure out who I was. I suppose that is because I was quiet and kept a low profile. I have always been nonsocial but still it was odd he remembered my cellmate very well along with other men I was acquainted with, but not me. Possibly, it was our difference in age or that he was simply going senile.

Eventually, the guards were ready to leave and we were taken to Gate 2. Gate 2 is where all inmates are scrutinized before leaving the institution. Despite all the numerous safeguards, writ guards were told we could not leave. The lieutenant wanted to see the medical permit for Jerry's wheelchair which must be obtained from the Health Care Unit. The man looked half dead and was shackled and handcuffed, but the white shirt was concerned if he was authorized to be in a wheelchair. I noticed even his wheelchair had a lead chain locked to it as if the 72-year-old man may try to wheel himself away. His wheelchair did not even have large wheels for him to use and he had to be pushed. Everyone thought it was ridiculous but the writ guards must follow their orders.

It was about 8 a.m. before we were allowed to pass through the double gates and down the marble staircase to the front door where a van waited for us outside. Jerry had to take an alternative route down an elevator because of his wheelchair. At the van, guards basically had to lift him up onto the bench seat. The van was over a foot off the ground and it was precarious for even me with my shackles on to get in the seat behind Jerry. Stateville has a van where inmates wheelchair-bound can be lifted on a platform and wheeled in without leaving their seat. However, these vans do not have the capacity to fit other people and so two vans instead of one would have been required. We also would have missed Jerry's satirical humor and complaints.

In the van, despite how he looked like he was dying, Jerry had many quips to the amusement of everyone on board. He made fun of how backwards Stateville was, the ludicrous rules guards as well as inmates were told to follow, and various staff. One of the funnier moments came when a lieutenant at the front gate asked the guard driving if he had his driver's license. This opened him up to a litany of jokes. Occasionally, Jerry seemed delirious and even this was humorous. He accused a guard of trying to suffocate him by pulling a seat belt over him. The strap went across his neck and in his feebleness he was not able to move it or unfasten himself. Neither I nor the prisoner next to me could help him out because of our restraints. However, eventually, I was able to direct him to push the red button on the buckle to release the strap. I told him he needed to worry more about Alzheimer's than lung cancer.

Jerry finally put on his glasses to look at me. He now recalled who I was. He was surprised how differently I looked having less hair but especially a lot less muscle. I replied that I was still strong enough to pick him up in his wheelchair over my head and my hair was bountiful compared to "Gollum" and I mimicked the character from the film Lord of the Rings by saying "My precious." However, I thereafter had to admit I was only half the man I once was. I told Jerry how others upon seeing me for the first time after 20 or even 10 years will ask if I contracted cancer or AIDS. He said he remembered how I was one of the strongest men in the penitentiary and was regularly lifting weights. He also remembered how I was one of the few prisoners who did not smoke and how I used to sell him cartons of cigarettes. Cigarettes were once used in the IDOC as currency and I was regularly collecting a lot of them. I did not smoke so I often sold them to Jerry in exchange for commissary goods. Ironically, I may have contributed to his lung cancer.

Jerry complained of feeling very sick from the chemotherapy and how at Stateville's infirmary he was not cared for at all. Neither doctors nor nurses came to see him and he felt like he was left to die in the empty cell. A female guard said there was nothing they could do whereupon Jerry replied they could at least give him something for the pain. Jerry contemplated refusing treatment so he could return to Pontiac, and I told him to man-up. He was already half way through the chemotherapy and he did not need any pampering or morphine.

On the trip to and from the UIC, I mostly looked out the window of the van. I was not as curious as during prior trips and was bored of all the plastic bubble cars, cell phones, and other pervasive modern developments which took place during the last 20 years. I was more interested in the scenes of nature like the autumn foliage. The sky was dark gray with rain threatening and it contrasted with the trees which were red, orange, and gold. I also liked to look at the remaining undeveloped wooded areas and harvested farmland in the far southwestern suburbs. I was also intrigued by the fervent support displayed for presidential running mates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Romney had no chance of winning Illinois because of Chicago but the rest of the state was Republican. The signs, stickers, and postings I saw reminded me I somehow had to stay awake to watch the final debate which was to be televised at 8 p.m.

At one of the hospital buildings, we went to the basement where there is a holding room for the UIC's incarcerated clientele and their escorting guards. The hospital has contracts with several IDOC institutions but there was only one inmate there from somewhere other than Stateville. The prisoner was from Pontiac and was very talkative. One of the many things he spoke about was how guards there wrote up prisoners for talking and I was not surprised that he received one of those tickets. I doubt guards wrote up men for conversing at normal tones and imagined he and others were screaming to men many cells or galleries away. I was considering telling him to shut up but then he said something which interested me.

The penitentiary of Pontiac was now not mainly holding prisoners in segregation. There was an entire cell house of protective custody inmates and another of NRC inmates. I began speaking with a guard from the prison and he said there was no room to keep everyone coming into the system at the Northern Receiving Center next to Stateville and these inmates were being bused to Pontiac. He claimed there were 5,000 more prisoners at Cook County Jail who have been sentenced but were being kept there until space opened up. I was very skeptical of this last piece of information because 5,000 was nearly half of the jail's population. Regardless, though, there seemed to be a huge logjam in the system. Personally, I wish the legislature would change criminal and sentencing statutes but I tend to think they would prefer to jam more prisoners in or put the state further in debt defying the governor's plan to close Tamms and Dwight.

I was the first inmate to leave for my doctor appointment at the pain clinic. Two guards escorted me to the building next door and on the way we crossed paths with a number of civilians. One woman shared an elevator with us and I told her she did not have anything to fear. I was not dangerous. She smiled and did not seem uncomfortable or scared, but I sometimes wonder what people think of me being led around wearing shackles, handcuffs and chains. Possibly, my Big Bird suit makes people less apprehensive. Again, I thought of Obama's silly campaign rhetoric and mused those at the hospital believed Romney finally got their feathered friend.

In one of the offices, a nurse took my vitals and asked me to rate my pain level today. They always ask me this using an ambiguous pain scale between 1 and 10. I said I didn't know and the faces on the chart do not help me decide. I said, "Explain to me what a 10 is," and she said, "The most incredible pain you can imagine." I told her I could imagine a lot and this was not useful. Was it like being burned in a lake of fire and stabbed with pitch forks? Was it being tormented at Stateville for the rest of my existence? She was not attractive enough to play with so I just said, "Seven".

I then met two interns who were more specific in their questions of what type of pain I experienced and how the medications worked. One of them was an Asian man studying to be a pharmacist and I asked him about the differences in NSAID medications. He said they were all the same but had different results in different people, which defied logic in my opinion. Possibly, he did not want to go into the molecular distinctions. The female Caucasian woman was more helpful but she began to say she will order that I come back for a cortisone shot and I finished her sentence "in 2014". The prison health care was terrible and very slow. I asked her if it could be done today. She said, "Yes, but we would have to wait an hour."

The two guards I was with were friendly and I ended up talking to them for most of the time. I was not surprised they were interested in my case and I told them about some of the peculiarities of my trial and conviction. When I mentioned how I had just recently turned 18 when my roommate killed the victim, we began to talk about a mentorship program one of the guards worked with. I sensed the guard was not happy just being at the butt end of the criminal justice system and wanted to help prevent adolescents from coming to prison in the first place. It was an honorable goal, but I did not know how effective a mentor could be in the gang ridden ghetto areas of Chicago.

One of the first things I asked the female intern when the subject of a cortisone injection came up is if their supply came from the same pharmacy in Massachusetts causing the meningitis outbreak. She assured me the UIC had a different supplier. I then asked her why she was giving me this waiver to sign. She told me, "There can be other complications such as infection, hitting a nerve, or ..." and I finished for her by saying "or paralysis." "No," she said, and began to explain further but I did not need her to continue because I had read the waiver a number of times before. The procedure went very well and there will be no need for me to sue. In fact, I would like to thank them for being so nice and professional. Nearly all the doctors and interns I have met there except for one queer doctor have been competent and treat me like I was just another patient, and not one from Stateville C.C.

I was hungry when I returned to the holding room after receiving the cortisone injection and began to cautiously open up one of the brown bags holding mystery meat sandwiches. The guard said she was told they taste much better when hot and offered to microwave it for me. I looked at her quizzically and peeled off the green meat to eat only the bread. I noticed the prisoner from Pontiac had some carrot sticks and I asked him for them. Stateville never gives writs anything other than imitation bologna sandwiches. Even the cookies they used to have or juice cartons were gone. It was bread and water just like in the old days. Perhaps they will go back to the black and white prison attire so I will not have to look like Big Bird or a banana anymore.

Jerry returned from his chemo treatment and I told him to wheel himself to the corner of the room. I did not want to be exposed to his radiation. In fact, on the way back I told one of the guards they needed to chain him to the back bumper. The guard said exposure to him cannot be any worse than the water we drink every day, and he may have a point. The water was often orange with what I believed to be rust in the old pipes. There are also rumors of radon at very high levels and all guards I noticed drank bottled water. Despite this I said, "Do you not see that luminescent glow coming off of him? We may as well be sitting next to enriched uranium." Jerry did not have much to say. He was happy to have his Ensure at least until he began to get cramps. I told him to have the guards take off his restraints and put him on the toilet before we left, but he refused. He was going to hold it until he got back to his cell.

In the van leaving back to Stateville, Jerry asked the guard if he had his driver's license which got a number of laughs. However, the last laughs were going to be on him as he complained of needing to shit and for the guard to drive faster. I asked him if the doctors did not give him some adult diapers, but he did not think it was very funny. At the front gate, they would not let us back into the penitentiary because it was shift change time. I do not know why that would matter, but Jerry was furious and cussing out various guards at the gate house. Eventually, the gate was opened and the writ guards quickly tried to get us to the Health Care Unit. The HCU was packed with inmates waiting to see the doctor or to be sent back to their cell houses. In the crowd, I lost sight of Jerry. He apparently had someone wheel him through the chaos to his cell without saying goodbye.

While at the UIC, the talkative prisoner from Pontiac had told Jerry he may have some case law which would release him immediately. According to what he said, if one of the robberies was committed before a certain date, the courts could not find he was a habitual criminal. Jerry was not at all interested and I knew why. He was already 72 years old and was dying of cancer. Even if he lives he had nothing outside of prison of value: no money, no family, no home. He did not even have his health and would need to live in some government funded nursing home which smelled like urine. It is incredible the State of Illinois is even paying for his cancer treatments. It would be more humane if they euthanized him. I was glad to see Jerry again, but I hope soon he is done with this miserable existence.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Blog Exposed -- November 16, 2012

Since I began writing this blog, I have never spoken about it to other prisoners. I realized how they could react. Many have very little and what one has that another does not is often coveted. A second reason I have for keeping my writings to myself is that my life and experiences are personal. I am an introverted and private person despite how I share my journal with readers around the world. I break with my natural inclinations because I believed it was a purpose greater than myself. "On the Inside" is supposed to inform the public about various issues but mainly the criminal justice system and life in the penitentiary through my own experiences and perspective. The ability for me to give those on the outside the most real, revealing, and authentic vision is made considerably easier by keeping its existence away from those on the inside. Thus, the third and most important reason I have sought to keep it a secret is to fulfill my mission. In some ways, I am similar to a spy, but I do not work for the government, states attorney, prison security personnel or prisoners, but for you and the public at large. Although prison staff have been aware of my writings for some time, I have largely been successful remaining anonymous until this week.

Apparently, one of my readers sent a couple of posts to an inmate in the cell house. Rather than keeping the information to himself, he has been passing them out to nearly everyone. His intent seems to be to reveal the "spy" who lives amongst the convicts of Stateville and possibly cause me harm. The posts which he has, from what I am informed, relate to the Orange Crush searches that occurred during the summer. Parts are highlighted that he does not like or thinks others may not like. I never spoke to this prisoner before and only know him as a Hispanic man who is often yelling in a high pitched voice. The inmate lives on one of the galleries above me and was recently given a cell house help job. He has used his new assignment to spread the news of my blog on all five galleries and many of the 300 prisoners who reside here.

I was not aware my posts were being passed around until one evening an inmate I occasionally speak with said to me in a silly way mimicking a child, "You're in trouble." Despite his non-serious tone, he seemed to think I would care what he was talking about which I did not. I have a protracted death sentence. Can I possibly have any more trouble, legal or otherwise? I simply said to him, "More trouble than when I was convicted of 1st degree murder?" I kept walking toward the front of the chow line which was being assembled. After I left him, he began talking to Mertz who joined me in line and then I overheard him speaking.

I was stunned to learn he was aware of my blog, however, I did not say anything or act as if I was concerned. He was telling Mertz all about a couple of posts he was shown and how a certain gang or gangs did not appreciate me mentioning them by name. Mertz was totally unaware volunteers created a website for me and this was probably very surprising to him. I associate with Mertz more than anyone else in the penitentiary and I could imagine the wheels turning in his head. He may be thinking I may have hidden motives, I did not trust him, or I was not the person he thought I was. I have heard women say, "I don't know who are are" after learning something they thought a man was supposed to reveal. I did not explain myself to Mertz but I simply have a policy of never speaking about my writings with any convicts.

Wally, who was talking to Mertz, then began to address me while walking to the chow hall. He said a gang member asked him to approach me as an intermediary. I rarely speak to anyone outside of a few people and because I was so reclusive, he thought it was less confrontational if Wally spoke to me. There is probably some truth to this, however, I also thought he wanted to remain anonymous especially considering I have this blog, although I know very well who he is. The message I was given was they and other gangs did not want their specific mobs mentioned. They did not mind if I wrote about gangs, but just did not want to be identified specifically. They were concerned Internal Affairs monitored the blog, which they do. I.A. even intercepts my mail and on occasion will destroy my letters. Despite this, I told Wally that if I believed I was in any way compromising their identity or causing them any harm, I would not have published their names. At times I have, but security personnel were fully aware of the facts already. I.A. was similar to the federal government's N.S.A. and if those gangs thought I told I.A. anything they did not already know, they greatly underestimated their Intel ability. He agreed with me, but said he was just the messenger.

Sitting at the hexagonal steel table in the chow hall, I was glad neither Wally nor Mertz mentioned what was said in line. There were a few other people sitting with us and I did not want the topic brought up. Six people at a table could spread information to 600 within a week. At the time, I was not at all aware of how the posts were being disseminated about the cell house. Wally was not the most discreet person, but I thought it was possible the information could still be contained. This illusion was abruptly ended when I returned to my cell.

Later in the evening while I was watching television my cellmate sat on the toilet and said he wanted to talk to me. Usually, people just talk rather than stating they want to talk before doing so. Thus, I quickly deduced he also had seen my writings and had a gripe. I was correct, and he had more than one gripe. He had a litany of them. He began by saying he would have never believed it unless someone had shown him I have a blog where I not only discuss prison activities but him personally. He said when he talks to or writes people outside the prison he never says anything about me even if asked yet here I was telling the world about him. Some prisoners believe there is a social protocol never to speak about their cellmate or his business to anyone. I suppose it is similar to the travel TV commercial that says "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." I do not tend to be a person who gossips or even talks much at all. However, I thought readers are interested in knowing details of prison life which in my opinion are largely not personal.

My cellmate was most bothered that I identified him in a post as O.G. Bobby. First, he did not want to be identified, and second, he did not want to be known as a gang member. "O.G." stands for Old Gangster and many in the penitentiary still call him this despite how he does not like it. The nickname was given to him many years ago when he was an affiliated gang member and once a person has a prison name it often sticks with him forever. Bobby stressed to me he was attempting to have his conviction overturned and the prosecutor used his gang affiliation as a motive for the murder he was convicted of. By my identifying him as O.G. Bobby, I was giving weight to the prosecutor's case. I did not understand how he could believe the state's attorney would use my blog posts as evidence against him in any appellate proceeding. The prosecutor obviously had much greater evidence and motive than a prison nickname. Despite my skepticism, I agreed to only refer to him as Bobby and set the record straight that he does not currently associate with any gang and has not for many years. From my observation, he does seem to be telling the truth, for whatever this is worth.

Highlighted also on one of the posts in yellow marker was not only his name but that he gave me some tape to use which was given to him by the medical department. My cellmate was angry that I mentioned this because he said now "they" know he was not using the tape for its intended purpose. This I also thought was a ruse. "They," whoever those people are, do not care. What I speculate bothered my non-affiliated cellmate was that I mentioned why the tape was given to him. I am just guessing, but this may be part of what is supposed to "stay in Vegas."

I was not so much concerned about what my cellmate thought or others for that matter except for a few people I associate with, most importantly Mertz. I have mentioned him quite often and even used his name in the title of a recent post. At the next opportunity I was able to speak to him alone, I asked him what he thought of what I had written. He said he thought they were very well written, interesting, and he did not see what others were mad about, but he ended by saying I probably should not have used any names. When he said this, I had to notify him I had used his name in several posts although I did not think he would mind. I also told him about the post that was all about his new assignment. He was interested in what I wrote and I gave him a quick synopsis. It was probably boring to him and other prisoners, but to people outside of prison it seemed to be rather interesting. The only aspect he may find amusing is how I told readers about his conversation with an inmate who was pestering him to make him a special diet tray. In lieu of soy-drool gravy and a biscuit, he wanted an egg, bacon and cheese biscuit. Mertz told him because he had no teeth and was on a soft diet, he would blend all his food together into mush. Mertz recalled this event and did find it amusing that I repeated it.

In the past, I have told Mertz how my mother had asked me how I could associate with him considering the brutal murder charges he was convicted of. I informed him it was not only my mother but readers who had left comments or emails. He was, of course, interested in what they said and I told him of a couple of specific exchanges I had. Mertz was not surprised and reasoned there would be people who would dislike him, especially considering how his case was presented in the news media and on appeal. He asked me if any of the victim's family contacted me and I told him nearly everyone comments anonymously. Possibly, I should have made him anonymous as well and asked him if he wanted to be known as an alias or just by the first letter of his last name. Upon my mentioning "M" as his name, he said "M.C. Hammer" and did a small dance like he was the rapper. Yes, I highly doubt anyone would figure out who he was with this alias.

It was very odd talking to Mertz about the blog. I had never discussed it with any other prisoner. The cat was out of the bag, however, and it was interesting to get his perspective. I gave him the web address so he could have his sister look at it and then I would have her opinion as well. It was also so Mertz would not be paranoid about what I may or may not have said. He told me various prisoners continue to express complaints about the posts and ask if he knows or talks to me. Mertz thought their complaints were petty and they did not recognize the greater good I was doing by exposing the ongoings in the penitentiary as well as some criminal justice issues.

A few prisoners I have on occasion spoke with have come to me directly rather than through an intermediary to ask me about the blog. One inmate thought my writings were "nefarious". Mertz was present at the time and I gave him a look. The majority of convicts at Stateville did not know what nefarious meant, let alone had it in their vocabulary. I repeated the word and then playing along I said, "Well I tend to be a nefarious person, so I imagine my writings reflect my evil nature". However, after a moment, I asked him what he tended to believe those inmates really meant. He said the writing was mean spirited and malicious toward convicts. When the inmate turned around I made a biting gesture with my hand so Mertz could see. It was ironic that the prisoner who bit off a chunk of his girlfriend's face and later brutally killed her was insinuating I was nefarious. The man claims to be innocent but he was tried and convicted twice. There is also no question the man did a Hannibal Lector on his girlfriend while at a dance club.

Later in the day, I was warned by an inmate that "I should watch my back." Brown said this to me not as a threat but as a genuine warning. Apparently, there was growing expressed hostility towards me. It was impossible to calculate just how many enemies I had and if they would attack me. The vast majority of convicts are just talk and gossip without any action. Despite this, I increased my preparedness for battle. In my cell, I focused more on fighting skills and intensified my workouts. I imagined myself as Batman taking on all the miscreants and Jokers of Gotham. When I came out of my cell for dinner, I looked up into the night sky half expecting the light beacon from the caped crusader to be seen. There was none, of course, but the Dark Knight remained vigilant nevertheless.

Occasionally, I will make fun of Steve as looking like the Penguin from the Batman series. He is a short, squat Danny DeVito look alike. He also can have a mischievous criminal grin but the characteristic that completes the Batman villain is his swagger. He walks with a wobble just like the Penguin. On the night I was fantasizing myself as the caped crusader, Steve was walking in front of Mertz and I to the chow hall. I began to talk literally behind Steve's back about his Penguin gait and that all he needed was an umbrella. Steve could overhear me talking about him and countered if he had an umbrella he would poke me in the eye, and then he began to laugh like the Danny DeVito character.

While in the chow hall, yet another person asked me about the blog. "Are you the person who everyone is talking about who has a website?" the big man asked. I told him yes, and he was interested in what I write about. The entire blog, I said, was about him and his life as an elephant. I was telling his autobiography. He said he wished I was and he could use the media publicity. I am not aware of the details of his criminal conviction only his enormous weight. However, I told him if he has an interesting case and is willing to supply me with legal documents, I may write about it. This made the man very happy.

Some inmates I am told are just simply resentful I have a blog and they do not. I knew this type of jealousy was possible and is yet another reason why I did not tell anyone. A lot of prisoners, guilty and innocent alike, although mostly the former, want a website. I do not think they care about reporting about the criminal justice system, life in the penitentiary, or other serious commentary. They want to simply profess their innocence and attempt to gain legal assistance or money. Some merely just want the attention. There are many lonely prisoners who do not have anyone or anything of worth in their lives. There are also prisoners who like the once popular rap song "All Eyes on Me" crave to be noticed.

The Hispanic man who began passing around my posts has received the assistance of a few other cell house help workers. Apparently, some of them are angry that I mentioned how they peddle various things to make a hustle. Workers are paid a measly $18 a month to do much of the hard work necessary to keep the prison operational. Thus, jobs are not only an opportunity for them to get out of the confines of their cells and socialize but to gain some extra commissary goods. This is well known by guards, supervisors, and security personnel. I am not giving away any secrets. However, some cell house help or other workers believe I am betraying them.

One of the cell house workers who has come to my attention passing out my posts and complaining is a man I have on occasion spoken to. It seemed odd to me this prisoner would be griping to various different inmates rather than coming to me with his complaints. Thus, while he was walking around I got his attention and he came to my cell. The spineless man denied ever distributing my writings and gossiping about them. He said he was simply shown a couple of the posts by another cell house worker which he indeed griped about. The prisoner said he never sells extra toilet paper, soap, trays, or various other things. He just gives them away. This is true, and I asked him why he was upset about it. In none of my posts did I mention a specific worker by name. He basically told me it looked bad on all of them. Was he such a simpleton to believe I have tarnished the image of convict workers I asked? This he would not answer, but said there was a conspiracy afloat to have him fired. Other cell house help workers coveted his specific assignment and sought to take it away from him. This may indeed be true, but I did not know how it pertained to my blog posts.

Although I have never spoken about the "On the Inside" blog to any prisoners, I have occasionally spoken to several guards and a couple of nurses about it. Once I even briefly discussed the blog with a member of Internal Affairs. He told me his favorite was "Tattoo," but also he really liked "I.A. in the Cell House" for obvious reasons probably. The nurses I once was cordial with have ceased to work at Stateville and I have not seen them in months. I was interested in getting the perspective of staff and thus talked to a guard while showers were being run and my cellmate was away. In the past, I have never received negative feedback by staff and several people told me they really liked it. However, this did not mean everyone felt this way. When I spoke to the guard, I was hoping he would not only give me his own genuine opinion but the sentiments of co-workers.

The guard told me he thought my writings were interesting and he rather enjoyed reading them. Nothing at all bothered him and some were very amusing. He began to tell me about a post I wrote a couple of years ago which he said had him laughing uncontrollably. I asked him what he thought the opinions of other guards were. He said he only spoke to one person at any length about it and he thought I was weird. I did not inquire how so, but I got the impression it was because I was abnormal compared to other prisoners or possibly people in general. The guard went on to say how he did not realize how disturbing it was for me to live on the ground floor next to the door where there was considerable traffic and commotion. This reminded me that one of the people who set up this blogsite had a column on the side which she wrote on her own and begins by identifying me as having autism.

Autism is something I have hidden, or tried to hide from people all my life. I want people to judge or relate to me as myself and not stereotype me with some broad spectrum neurological diagnosis which is largely misunderstood. To find out if other prisoners were aware that I had ASD, I spoke to Mertz. He confirmed that on the posts being passed around, they identified me as having autism. Just great, I thought. People already think I am odd and now this will be reinforced. I asked Mertz what he thought others would think of this. He said what I already knew. Autism was not well understood by the public at large, let alone the uneducated convicts at Stateville. He went on to say most people will think I am retarded but after reading the posts and observing me they will know differently. Prisoners will probably just think this is the reason I come across as so anti-social and quiet. I asked him if they will think I am weird. He answered, "Everyone already knows you are weird." I could not tell if he was joking or not, but I tend to think so.

From one prisoner, news of my blog has spread across much of the penitentiary. I was always aware people who accessed the site on the outside could inform those on the inside or send someone a copy. However, I did not anticipate how much gossip it would create. What is so interesting to a prisoner about life in prison? I also know I am not the only prisoner in the penitentiary to have a website. Apparently though, mine is unique in that I tell the personal stories of myself and others. I also do not create rosy, nice, or pretty pictures. I tell the good, the bad, and the ugly in all its detail. It is my nature to be brutally honest but I also have a reason to give the public full disclosure. I want readers to know what the criminal justice system is really like, along with living in prison. Some inmates may not like this, but I hope it is appreciated by readers.