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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Doc and the Day of the Dead -- November 2, 2013

The week began with news that a prisoner died in the infirmary. "Doc" was a well known and liked convict in Illinois' maximum security prisons. Although he had served the majority of the last four decades in the federal system, classified an extreme escape risk until a few years ago, he was moved often between prisons and cells of those prisons. Doc was sentenced to an unlivable term of years for a string of bank robberies in the late 60's-early 70's. He was known by law enforcement as the Gentleman's Robber because he was so polite when stealing. In prison, he continued to be a friendly man and was called Doc after he saved an inmate's life. Doc's slow death was a solemn reminder of the grim future most of us at Stateville have to look forward to. On the week of Halloween, men tried to put his ghost and that of others behind us, however, it was mostly in vain.

The day Doc died, I went out to the chow hall for dinner. I sat with my neighbors and cellmate who all seemed to be glum. Bored with the bland food, small talk, and my existence in general, I had to do something to amuse myself. Prisoners during meals can turn in their ID cards to get a drinking cup. These rubber cups are red and reminded me of the miniature buckets that kids tossed ping pong balls in to win prizes at "The Bozo Show". Crumpling packets of pepper, I took shots into my neighbor's drinking cup, however, he kept on blocking them. Finally, I said, "What is your problem Cookie the Clown?! You keep stopping me from winning a prize!" The prisoner who is known as Leprechaun is bald on the top of his head but has orange hair on the sides and back. His hair looks very similar to the clown and my comment received some laughs. My joke also caused him to put his cup at the farthest distance from me after drinking the water in it. With some theatrics, I leaned back and lofted a packet of pepper directly into it. It was an incredible shot and I demanded Cookie the Clown to give me a bicycle. That was definitely bucket number 6 and deserved the grand prize.

Still feeling lucky back in the confines of my cell, I proclaimed to my cellmate that St. Louis was going to pull off a double upset, winning both their baseball and football games which were being played about a mile away from each other. This was more wishful thinking than reason. The Cardinals and Rams were underdogs. The latter were predicted to lose by two touch downs to the Seattle Seahawks which are considered a Superbowl favorite. My cellmate was watching other TV programming but at commercials he would change over to watch the two games. At one point, he dropped down off his bunk to razz me about the Cardinals being down by one run. I told him it was only the 4th inning and anything could still happen. Coincidentally, moments later, Holiday hit a home run to tie up the game. As the ball soared up and over the wall, I shouted, "It's going, going, and its gone! How do you like that?" I said, and waved my white towel in his face like the fans at Busch stadium were doing. He was not happy, although ultimately St. Louis would lose both games. The Cardinals were unable to score another run and the Rams failed to get in the end zone from the 6 yard line, losing 9 to 14.

Tuesday morning, I went to the dilapidated gymnasium to use the few remaining machine weights which work and run laps around the perimeter. Obnoxious prisoners ran to fill the tables along the wall and others took all the pins for the universal machines despite not using them. Apparently, they just wanted them to have in their possession or to work out later at their leisure. I was not waiting and went to tell one of these men to let me use their pin while they socialized. A biker I know, however, had procured one of the steel pegs and I worked out with him, although I was not much a fan of his company.

"Bone" is loud and can talk incessantly. Fortunately, a man named Horse was there for him to engage. For about a half hour I listened to the bikers talk about drugs and crackpot superstitions. Bone is a firm believer in numerology and has the most ridiculous theories of foretelling the future or summoning supernatural powers. He claims geomancy has been used by many ancient civilizations and I have no doubt this is true but this does not mean they were not totally wrong. Despite my occasional sarcastic comments and ridicule, Horse seemed to be buying into some of what he said. Possibly, with the approach of Halloween, more people are open to the most far fetched ideas.

Before I ran some laps, I asked the numerologist what Doc had died from. Doc had been suffering from many different health problems for years. Mainly, his problem was kidney failure. It became so bad that last year he was confined to the infirmary. He required dialysis daily and occasionally was sent to an outside hospital for blood transfusions. Bone told me he also had heart problems as well as cancer, but did not know exactly what caused his death. In his 70's, it could have been anything. He was in a lot of pain, his mind was slipping, and all he had to look forward to was more years in oppressive maximum security prisons. Bone expressed he was probably better off dead, although he may have liked to live to his birthday in November so he could have another "party".

When I returned from the chow hall and was waiting for a guard to open my cell door, I looked down from my 2nd floor gallery to see property scattered everywhere outside the sergeant's office. Two cell house workers were helping inventory the possessions of two prisoners who were sent to Segregation. My cellmate who had not gone to the gym informed me while I was gone they had been caught with hooch in their cell. Apparently, the fools were using their fans to blow the pungent odor out, but it was smelled easily by guards. This was the second time in a couple of weeks that prison wine has been found in the cell house. In mid-October, a huge garbage bag filled with fermenting juice was taken out of the building by Internal Affairs. The juice was made out of Chiquita Strawberry-Banana Smoothies which were donated to the prison. The juice drinks had been donated because the expiration date expired in September and the supplier could write it off their taxes as a charitable contribution. Prisoners for two weeks were allowed to take as many as they wanted at lunch as well as dinner. The vast majority of them were still good, but I heard a couple of prisoners complain of getting a sour one.

Before the game show Jeopardy came on television, I spoke to my cellmate about Doc. Apparently, the old man had somehow gotten drunk in the infirmary a couple of months ago. He was caught but there is little the administration can do to punish a prisoner who is on their death bed. From what I am told, he was simply confined to his cell in the HCU and lost his phone and commissary privileges. I mentioned how I had just seen him on the hospital yard a few weeks ago when I went on a visit. He seemed better than this time last year when prisoners had a pool based on how long he would live. I guessed before the end of the year and to others who bet longer, I said, "Can't you see that shadow which follows him around even on cloudy days? That is Death stalking him." Anthony says I jinxed him, but it was apparent the sands in the hour glass were running short.

I won another game of Jeopardy by answering the final question correctly. The answer was "Groundhog Day," a satiric comedy with Bill Murray I knew all too well. The movie was my life except I was not trapped in Punxatawny, but Stateville and I have aged greatly. I endure one day after another of oppression and misery. Doc did not seem to be affected as much as I with an indefinite prison sentence. Yet I think he is better off than the rest of us who continue to live in torment. It is not how long one lives,but how well and productive. I would gladly trade my first 40 years as a free man than live to 100 in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The following day, I received a visit from my frail albeit stubborn mother. It was not a pleasant visit and she as well as I almost left before a guard told us our time was up. For over 20 years, I have been receiving visits from my parents, mainly from my mother. I am very grateful she has stayed with me all this time, however, after two decades nothing has changed except how old we have become. I asked my mother, "Is this your plan?! Continue visiting me in prison until you are too senile, crippled, or die?" Ever since they traded my trial attorneys who I liked despite them being public defenders, for those at Jenner and Block, I have been very upset with their decisions and refusal to let me control my own destiny. In fact, they have sought to control my life since I was a child. I became fed up with it as a teenager and repeatedly while in prison.

In my cell, I slept for a couple of hours. Only in sleep can I escape the grim reality around me. If I could, I would sleep the rest of my life away. I awakened when showers were announced over the cell house loudspeaker. I did not care to take a shower under a shower head that dribbled out water surrounded by numerous men, some of whom were homosexuals. Nor did I care to go out for dinner to be around all the obnoxious and talkative convicts or eat the "slick meat" which was being served. Instead, I brooded about my life or lack thereof in my "coffin." Even the 6th game of the World Series did not grab my interest and when it became obvious the Red Sox would win and the people of Boston would celebrate how "brave" they were, I turned stations to watch the horror film "Halloween." I have seen this movie more times than the number of years I have been incarcerated and went back to sleep before Michael Myers was killed only to come back to life for another sequel.

Halloween day was overcast and dreary. Sunlight did not break through the cloud cover or the prison's dirty windows. After working out, I read mainly by the fluorescent lights on the outer wall of the cell house. I read case law which explained the distinction federal courts make between "free standing" actual innocence claims and "gateway" actual innocence claims. Then, I read an Internet article I was sent in the mail about Stateville's cemetery. According to it, there are two cites across from Caton Farm Road south of the prison walls where men are buried. These are men who died while incarcerated and no family claimed their bodies. I was surprised there were only 177 gravestones until I read that after 1974 the prison began to cremate the dead. Had Stateville continued to bury those who died within its walls, there may be a few thousand. Eventually, I imagined, all of the grounds around the penitentiary would be graves. There would be so many dead, corpses would have to be double stacked just as men now are in their cells. At the NRC and various minimum security prisons, inmates are sleeping in gyms, basements, and other groupings wherever space can be found. I suppose this is the equivalent of mass graves, although most of these men will not die before their release.

Since the large amount of strawberry-banana hooch was found, guards have been conducting more cell searches. Unless a prisoner is deemed an extreme escape risk, their cell will be searched about twice a month. For about ten minutes, guards will look through property boxes for any type of contraband. Lately, however, guards have been conducting compliance and hooch shakedowns as well. These are very quick and they are just seeing if an inmate has an excess of property or fermenting juice. On Halloween, a hefty guard simply walked in, peered in property boxes and took a look behind them. My cellmate joked if he was trick or treating and looking to confiscate any sweets or chips he found appealing.

Prisoners do not get anything special for Halloween, but in the evening I made burritos for my neighbors, cellmate, and myself. I used commissary foods to treat the three men. Making meals in maximum security penitentiaries in Illinois is difficult. First, inmates are not allowed any heating or cooking devices. Then, the Orange Crush took all our bowls with lids and I am limited to a thin plastic spork to stir ingredients together. Fortunately, I know how to improvise from all these and other shortcomings. Everyone was happy with their food including "Cookie the Clown" or his more scary counterpart Leprechaun. The nurse came by while I was making our meal and I joked with her asking where her costume was. She said she was wearing it. Dull gray scrubs were not my idea of a costume and I told her she could have at least been a candy striper.

The DVD played on the prison's cable network was appropriately "World War Z". It is a movie where most of humankind is afflicted with a disease which makes them turn into zombies. The zombies take over most of the world until a Special Ops soldier discovers they do not attack people who are already sick with a fatal disease. Thus, people are given meningitis which is curable. Despite the acting of Brad Pitt, the theme was one already copied repeatedly by Hollywood. I thought of my own version where all the thousands of living dead in penitentiaries across America turned on their captors. Guards, their superiors, and everyone who worked within the walls were cannibalized or made into zombies themselves. The only cure was to make the entire country a prison. When no one had any freedom, the living dead were no longer envious of them.

Yesterday, I woke up early. Late at night and in these early hours is the only time the cell house can be quiet. The hot water pipes which feed the blowers have been turned on and I could hear them clanking. In some folklore there is a belief at this time of year the world of the living and the dead can transcend. I imagined how many prisoners have died within these walls and could roam about as ghosts. Before I join them, I gave my attorney a phone call. It was the first time I spoke to her in a couple of years. I asked her about the progress in my appeal and, of course, there was none, although she claimed to be working on it when I called. It seems I will be in here a long time, possibly indefinitely. Other prisoners, young and yet to arrive, may someday wonder if I still haunt the premises after I am gone. Hopefully, there is someone still alive to claim my ashes so I can finally escape this place.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sports at Stateville -- October 27, 2013

Watching sports is a major preoccupation of male prisoners in maximum security institutions. Confined to their cells most of the day, men will spend hours upon hours entertained by various televised athletic events. With broadcast and a dozen cable stations, convicts can watch auto racing, tennis, professional fighting, hockey, and soccer which is very popular amongst the Hispanic population. At Stateville, the most watched sport is basketball but until November, football is king. As the season has progressed the sport has also captured more of my attention. On Sundays I will watch a game or occasionally two. This week, the World Series began and baseball has now been added to my TV viewing. During my school years, I played many sports and won a number of awards. I sometimes wonder if I could have been successful at a college level had I never been arrested. However, now I can only watch sports from my prison cell.

The Chicago Bears are well liked in the penitentiary amongst both guards and inmates alike. Nearly every game has the potential of turning the cell house into a football stadium. There was an exceptional amount of cheering as well as cursing when they played the Washington Redskins last Sunday. Neither team has a defense and the scoring of touchdowns alternated throughout the game. Despite living in the Chicago suburbs most of my life, I do not have any fan loyalty to the Bears. Therefore, when they lost despite racking up 41 points, I did not share the disappointment expressed in the 300 man cell house. In fact, I tended to prefer a Washington victory because of the recent controversy about their name, The Redskins. Furthermore, my cellmate and I play a game of picking teams against the spread and he had taken "da Bears".

In newspapers, the point spread of football games is shown in the sports section. My cellmate and I will pick all the NFL games to see who has the most winners. I do not wager any of my cellmates and the game is merely for bragging rights and to pass time on Sundays. Last week he lost but he is up for the month. He seems to relish picking more winners than I and part of this may be due to stories I have told him about my friend's small bookmaking operation before my arrest. Although I occasionally helped, he fails to understand that I never made bets myself except to hedge wagers through other Chicago area bookies or a person we knew in Reno, Nevada. A couple of the men I knew were gambling addicts and did not always make sound accounting or business decisions. Brian was so addicted that his parents actually had him committed to a mental hospital for compulsive gambling. Apparently the treatment he received did not help and when I first met him a few years later he casually wagered me $500. I easily bench pressed the weight he said I could not. However, I refused to take his money. After the party in Westmont, we became friends.

Prisoners were allowed to shop at the prison store Monday morning. It was the second time this month and I only went to pick up a few items. I was glad orders were filled quickly and a guard was escorting a line of prisoners back in 10 minutes. This did not completely upset my routine and I was able to do my cell workout before 11 a.m.  Monday was a day I did calisthenics and core muscles. My cellmate made fun of a few warm-up stretches I did including some hip flexors. He puzzled me later when he asked if I do kegel exercises as well. When I asked what those were, he said they were to keep the vagina tight. After my work out with my T-shirt off, I told him he was just jealous of my chiseled physique and rock hard abs. Then mimicking a yoga/fitness trainer in the comedy "Couples Retreat" I said, "boom" while flexing my muscles. That scene in the movie was probably the most amusing part and I was able to imitate the actor and his foreign accent almost flawlessly.

The following morning, recreation lines were run in the cell house. My gallery was scheduled to be sent to the small yard and I did not bother to go. The yard is basically two basketball courts surrounded by fencing and razor wire. Although a couple of iron bars were recently placed inside the perimeter, they were used by a crowd of men. Prisoners typically go to these yards to play basketball, but now that the weather is turning cold and C House is mostly older men, the sport is not played as often. If men are not working out, they will be playing cards, dominoes, or chess.  Some convicts just walk around in circles, socialize, or go out just to leave the confines of their cells.

The only sport other than basketball I see prisoners playing at Stateville is handball. While basketball is mainly a black sport, Caucasian men play handball on the South Yard. A couple of soccer nets were placed on this yard during the summer, however, there are only a handful of Mexicans on my gallery and I have never seen a game played. Once I sought to get a couple of teams together but was unable to find enough people. Years ago, there was a softball diamond and a cyclone fence backstop. However, the fence was taken down and the field grassed over. This is just as well because prisoners at Stateville have not been trusted with baseball bats since the turn of the century. Footballs have never been supplied by the LTS Department to my knowledge and I suspect the administration seeks to discourage inmates from playing that sport. Prisoners can play a very physical game of basketball let alone football. Over the years of my incarceration, though, I have seen men make their own footballs by sewing material from a towel around a water bottle. Prisoners always tried to persuade me to play, but I am no fool. Despite the hours they spend watching the sport on TV, they do not know the rules or chose not to abide by them. The game is chaotic and men are often injured. There are a lot of cheap shots and fights thereafter. The NFL has no idea what unnecessary roughness is.

Recently, my mother sent me some old photographs where I am seen playing sports or posing for team pictures. It reminded me of an era in my life long since past. From grade school to high school, I played various sports. For a few years, I was on hockey, wrestling, and basketball teams. In addition to weight lifting, however, football and baseball predominated my childhood years. I played on school and private league

   
teams in both sports for eight seasons. In baseball, I pitched and in football I played defensive end, although occasionally I was an offensive tight end or linebacker. I was very talented and could have gone on to play for a university. Two of my cousins had done so and played linemen for the Wisconsin Badgers and the Texas Longhorns. I liked the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the time but such notions were quickly blotted when I was arrested for a mass murder at age 18. Despite the 20 years I have since spent in
prison, I still will watch sports with nostalgia, disappointment, or from the perspective of a player.

Wednesday night I was looking forward to a good game of baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Boston Red Sox in game 1 of the World Series. These are purportedly the best two teams in the MLB, however, what I saw reminded me of blunders in Little League. The Cardinals particularly looked ridiculous. In one instance there was a pop up fly ball in the infield. It was an easy out yet the pitcher called off two other infielders and then incredibly stepped away at the last second to let the ball drop between them. The Cardinals deserved to lose 8 to 0.

The next two games were much more entertaining and competitive. Having pitched all my years except during T-ball, I regularly watched the game from the perspective of this position. I was impressed by some pitchers ability to consistently throw mid 90 MPH fast balls as well as their ability to target corners. The wide variety of pitches they used to confuse batters also was interesting for me to watch. Most coaches just wanted me to throw "heaters" right down the middle of the plate. They did not care for directed pitches, curve balls, sliders, change ups, etc.  With an 80 MPH fast ball most batters struck out no matter where or how the ball crossed the plate. Only in the Babe Ruth League did I need to get creative.
                                                                                              
My cellmate is rooting for the Boston Red Sox to win the series. He does not like the Cardinals simply because they compete with the Chicago Cubs in the same division. Contrarily, I prefer if the Red Sox lose because I do not want to see David Ortiz aka "Big Papi" win MVP. Furthermore, I know if Boston wins there will be boasting and celebrations in the city with the theme of "Boston Strong". I continue to find this absurd when after the Boston Bombing the people and city acted cowardly. Last night I stayed up late to watch St. Louis win by one run in extra innings with a controversial call at home plate. I waved my white towel and razzed my cellmate by saying, "Now that's Cardinal strong!" He claimed, however, the 3rd baseman did not interfere with the base runner and the Red Sox were cheated.

There are not many prisoners at Stateville who watch baseball. Even I did not begin to follow the sport until the playoffs. Playing baseball is much more entertaining than watching others do so. Hockey and NASCAR are also only popular among a few of the white prisoners. Tennis will be watched by black inmates if Venus or Sarina Williams are playing however. Every week, a group of men play a pool where they pick several drivers in NASCAR. Whoever has their drivers finish the highest wins. I am not sure what the ante is or how much they win. Given a choice between watching cars make left turns in circles for hours or football, I will choose the latter.

My cellmate watches much more television than I. He will not only watch professional but college football during the weekend as well as NASCAR. Earlier this month, I noticed him watching women's college volleyball on ESPN. How boring and a waste of time, I thought. At other times of the year, he will watch women's tennis, softball, basketball and even fitness games. A number of women who compete in the fitness games are masculine and I cannot understand how he can find them attractive. He does not watch the male counterpart, thus, I assume the sole purpose is to watch pretty women.

Rather than watch such dull programming, I prefer to read. Friday morning I went through three USA Today papers as well as a couple of my cellmates Champaign-Urbana newspapers. There was not much interesting in the News-Gazette except an article about how lawmakers were told it will cost the State of Illinois $400 thousand to convert two more prisons to a 2-meal system of brunch and dinner. They were perplexed at how less food equaled more money. Apparently the adoption of the new system will have costs, although will eventually reduce spending. Tom Shaer, a spokesman for the IDOC, said the conversion was not only about reducing costs in the long term but making prisons safer. Although maximum security penitentiaries like Stateville serve breakfast to inmates in their cells, all other facilities have men walk to and from the chow hall in the middle of the night. The $400,000 was only 1% of the additional money requested.  $40 million was sought for a variety of growing expenses and I tend to believe the annual budget has exceeded $2 billion again despite the closures of Tamms and Dwight. At least legislators did not pass the mandatory minimum sentences for unlawful possession of a firearm. The law was estimated to squeeze another 3,000 prisoners into the IDOC.

While I was quietly reading the newspapers and my cellmate was asleep, a lieutenant stopped at my cell bars to harass me. He told me my cell was not in compliance. I asked what he meant. Prisoners are supposed to put away their belongings when they leave their cells yet I was in mine. Furthermore, my cell is one of the most ordered, clean, and uncluttered in the quarter unit. The lieutenant continued to view my cell for some kind of fault and pointed at my remote control stick. He said the rolled up magazine papers I use to change stations on my TV was contraband. I gave him a look meant to convey, "Are you serious?" and he left to pick on the occupants in the next cell. I will be glad when the regular cell house lieutenant returns from vacation.

Stateville only has about a dozen cable stations unlike other prisons in Illinois that have 60 or more. I do not watch a lot of television but when I do, I would prefer more choices. Fox News and even their sports channel, for example, would be nice to have. Then I would not be limited to liberal newscasts or Bellater MMA instead of UFC. I tend to think the UFC has better fights, but Friday night I was pleased with the matchups. I noticed other prisoners seem to be as well when a man was KO'ed with an upper cut. There was a lot of excitement expressed in the cell house. Mixed martial arts as well as boxing is very popular in the penitentiary. Fighting period is popular in prison.

While writing this post a prisoner came to my cell bars stalking for bets on NFL games. He seemed to have the same gleam in his eyes as I have noticed with other gambling addicts. I did not really care to make him a wager, but knew he would not go away easily without something. So I told him I liked Detroit to win. He asked me for 3 points and I said no. He can take it or leave it. He took it, of course, and now I get ready for another day of football. The Detroit Lions play the Dallas Cowboys in a few minutes. I suspect it will be a good game and add $10 of store to my property box.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Retro Prison Garb -- October 19, 2013

During the week, the administration has ceased to use guards in tactical gear for extra security during movement lines. However, while they have taken off their bright orange jumpsuits, prisoners with staff assaults on their record are now dressed in bold black and white striped jumpsuits. The clothes are almost as striking as the Orange Crush and I have never seen such attire in the IDOC. Convicts in Illinois have worn blues for probably a century and the only exception made over the years at some penitentiaries has been for those in Segregation or who are leaving on court or hospital writs. Other than to make the men stand out to be scrutinized more thoroughly by security personnel, some people believe the purpose is simply to punish them. I question if it will have this effect or reduce any violence.

I first noticed the black and white striped clothing while in the chow hall. No memorandum had been passed out or posted on the television about the change in dress code nor had I been told by any other prisoners. To my knowledge, no one in my cell block knew and therefore it was a surprise to see them. The jumpsuits were a great contrast to a crowd of other men dressed in state blues. Regardless, I took a second look to be sure. No, I was not mistaken. The men had wide black and white stripes from head to toe, although some wore a blue jacket covering the upper part of their body. I suppose new matching jackets were too much of an expense.

At the chow table, a few prisoners spoke about the jumpsuits. Some thought they looked   ridiculous and my cellmate mentioned it brought images of the Three Stooges to mind. Another man said it reminded him of the old prison attire depicted in films like "O Brother Who Art Thou" where convicts were in chain gangs smashing rocks. Personally, I like the retro look except that I think it would look better with a black jacket. Furthermore, pants and striped T-shirts would be preferable. Jumpsuits are not practical and are bothersome to wear.

On Columbus Day, there was renewed talk about the NFL team named the Washington Redskins. Apparently, some tiny Indian tribe I never heard of until his month thinks the name is offensive. The Oneida Indian Nation is pressuring the league to change the name and has found support amongst a few liberal groups as well as the president of the U.S.  The team owner refuses to kowtow to the vocal minority and I was glad the NFL commissioner will not force him to do so. Team owners should have the freedom to name their teams whatever they wish. When talking about the subject with my cellmate, I mentioned how the Oneida Tribe is probably trying to shakedown the owner for some money and it has little to do with being offended. Recently, the NFL settled a lawsuit with former players claiming brain injuries for $765 million despite how injuries in the sport should be obvious.

I watched the first half of the Monday night football game before going to sleep. The number of penalties called in the NFL has gotten to a point of absurdity. There are too many flags thrown for unnecessary roughness. The sport has been diminished by the petty foul callings and over sensitivity to players possibly becoming injured or even their feelings getting hurt. I am astounded a lineman named Richie Incognito is being criticized in the media for being a bully. If his teammate Jonathan Martin at well over 300 pounds cannot handle some razing, he definitely does need to find a new sport to play. As I ridiculed the big sissy who left the Miami Dolphins, my cellmate who was watching the game with me brought up the pink adornment players were forced to wear for breast cancer awareness. This had to be demeaning I thought, and considered if the IDOC made those prisoners wear pink instead of black and white stripes. In maximum security prisons such as Stateville, men would refuse if not riot. Even in Arizona where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has jail detainees in pink, it is only done in minimum security.

Somehow the month of October has become a rallying cry for the liberal media to denounce bullying. The crusade to make American children even softer, more sensitive, and coddled is repugnant to me. It had reached new levels of absurdity when I read about the arrest of two girls ages 12 and 14 for aggravated stalking. Purportedly, the girls bullied Rebecca Sedwick to such an extent it drove her to commit suicide. Sheriff Judd Grady of Polk County Florida ordered the arrest after one of them sent the Facebook message: "Yes jk I bullied REBECCA and she killed herself but...IDGAF". Neither indifference nor bullying should be criminal. The true focus of this story should be how troubled or emotionally fragile Sedwick must have been. Bullying is pervasive in society from schools, the NFL, or the workplace. It is a part of life. If people cannot handle a little razzing, they definitely will not be able to handle the truly hard times in life. If I had a soft upbringing or attended schools where teasing was criminal, I may have been continually victimized at the Cook County Jail or the penitentiary.

No one who resides in my cell block was given a black and white striped jumpsuit to wear. The clothes are solely for prisoners who have committed a staff assault during their incarceration or are considered "weapons violators". These men are all confined to the upper two galleries of E House which was where prisoners from the now closed supermax Tamms were initially placed. E House has for some time been designated for the most violent offenders and those galleries are across from the catwalk. Going around the perimeter of the general population building is a balcony that guards stand on who are armed with rifles. Because of the angle, they cannot shoot into or monitor lower galleries except for the ground floor.

Although prisoners in C House did not receive any jumpsuits, they did surprisingly receive new clothes. Approximately a hundred brown bags were brought to the unit from the clothing warehouse. It was the first time the orders of prisoners were filled this year. My clothes are falling apart and I was looking forward to receiving a bag, but none ever came to my cell bars. I asked a guard about the matter and he said many men who had put in an order did not have it filled. My cellmate thought it was amusing and told me he would sell me a T-shirt for $10. My cellmate did not get a bag either, but because he wears store bought tank tops, he has kept IDOC T shirts for over a year in his property box. He knows very well I refuse to pay for clothes which the prison is supposed to provide us for free. Twice a year at other penitentiaries men are given three pairs of socks, boxers, and T-shirts as well as blue pants and button collar shirts. Once a year, boots, sheets, and a thin wash cloth and towel are also supposed to be provided. Stateville attempts to force prisoners to buy such items from commissary, although this may be occurring elsewhere now in the IDOC. I have been here for over six years.

My cellmate, not finished having his fun, told me at least I got my new Walkman in record time. The previous week, I ordered a new stereo/cassette player to replace the one which had been damaged by the Orange Crush over the summer. The cheap Sentry Walkman made in China was defective, however. It only played cassette tapes in fast forward. Numerous other prisoners who had purchased the item had the same or similar problem. The counselor I have is very helpful, and he took the Walkman back and exchanged it for another one that worked. I thanked him yesterday, but wonder if this model will last long enough to be worth its $15 cost.

On my way to the visiting room, I was forced to wait until prisoners from E House moved off the walk. They had just come from the small yard across from my quarter unit and were in two lines at the end of the building. Nearly all of the men were dressed in black and white striped jumpsuits and together they looked like a herd of zebras. The stripes seemed to blend together and I recalled the Serengetti zebras were mostly prey, but in Stateville they are thought of as predators. I asked the escorting guard if we could just go around the double line of men and he seemed to be alarmed by just the idea. Possibly, the administration has told staff to keep us separated, but regardless I thought it was silly that they were thought of as some dangerous species different from the rest of the convicts at Stateville.

At Gate 5 and in the visiting room, I noticed a color poster of about 50 prisoners. On the top it read "Staff Assaulters" and warned personnel that they should not have any tools. What types of tools did they believe they may be given? A mop, a kitchen spoon, a stapler? The only jobs I could think of which required the use of tools or machinery were at the soap or cabinet factories, but they only employed about 20 people and even the most well behaved prisoners have a difficult time getting assignments there. Furthermore, all job assignments had to be vetted by Internal Affairs. The posters seemed like a redundant most wanted fugitive display. However, I have since heard they were posted in other places in the penitentiary.

After my visit, I was forced to wait in a holding cage at Gate 5 for a half hour and then another half hour in the cell house before I was allowed to go up to my cell. I had the added misfortune of being trapped in there with a most obnoxious man. He would not cease rambling on and on about how everyone at Stateville had the potential of being free again. He seemed like he was manic and had drank one too many sodas in the visiting room. Eventually, I told him he was wrong and nearly everyone here would die in prison, possibly even myself. This was a prisoner, however, who lived off of false hope and there was no reasoning with him. Before I was able to escape his presence, he gave me the U.S. Supreme Court site for Allen Ryan Alleyne. He claimed it made Apprendi vs. New Jersey retroactive. Apprendi is well known in the prison because it forbids people from being sentenced beyond the maximum unless the aggravating factors are in the charging instrument, and proved by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. If made retroactive, it would release thousands of prisoners in Illinois alone. Even my life without parole sentence would become void.

During the evening I made beef burritos for my cellmate and I. On television was a repeat of a PBS Nova special called "Secrets of the Viking Sword". I had previously watched it a few weeks prior, but did so again because I found the subject so interesting. Archaeologists have found a popular sword that was used during the Viking era from 700 to 1100 AD. The sword was unprecedented in its strength, quality, and killing potential. The Ulfberht sword was such a masterful design that the makers took great lengths to engrave their brand on it and owners typically passed it down for generations or were buried with it. What made the sword so unique was that all the carbon was melted out of the iron making it the strongest steel ever. When the secrets of the blacksmiths disappeared so did the swords and the world would not see it again for hundreds of years.

I encouraged my cellmate to watch the program, but he had other shows he did not want to miss. Disappointed, I got up from bunk and asked him if he did not want to learn the riddle of steel. I then took my stick of rolled up magazines that I use to change channels on my TV and moved it around like it was a sword. My imitation of Conan the Barbarian caused my cellmate to say, "I think we're going to have to stop letting you watch these programs" as if he was one of my parents. Changing movies I shouted, "What?! Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained!?" And mimicking Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator, I tossed my "sword" at him. He laughed and said he was entertained. Anthony has seemed to rebound since the federal district court rejected his appeal, but occasionally I have to amuse him as well as myself. The grim, austere and oppressive existence in prison needs to be broken by some humor on occasion.

Yesterday I was trapped in the Health Care Unit for a few hours. First there was an incident in the infirmary where about 20 guards, the major, and two wardens responded. I never found out what happened, but a plain clothes tactical unit guard left without his shirt on. The second incident I learned what occurred from my cellmate when I finally returned. A prisoner in our cell block started a fist fight in the chow hall. He was being released next week and was seeking out some conflict before he left. The IDOC cannot hold a prisoner after their out date, but from what I am told he was maced up and down by a female guard working in the building. The guard in the central gun tower also fired two shots into the ceiling. I asked Anthony if the fight was entertaining. He said that although numerous prisoners went up to the cyclone fencing to watch, the action was lame. Neither came anywhere close to being Gladiators.

I spoke to a prisoner in black and white striped clothing while at the HCU. He was labeled a staff assaulter after he had an argument with a guard and tossed his flimsy headphones at him. A number of these convicts are not nearly as dangerous as they have been made out to be. Staff assaults can be anything in the past decade in the IDOC from bludgeoning a guard to bumping into one. I noticed on the most wanted posters a 70+ year old Polish man who merely flung his underwear in a guard's face when he was being strip searched. He can barely move and runs out of breath just walking to and from the chow hall. Just like outside of these walls, the prison system in Illinois had become absurdly sensitive and overly reactionary. Much of it I suspect is to simply justify the excessive security measures and costs.

Update - December 1, 2014:

The warden of Stateville finally posted a memorandum for prisoners to read on their televisions regarding staff assault and weapons violators. Convicts who are found guilty of either offense will not only be forced to wear black & white horizontal striped jumpsuits, but will suffer other punishments. Shopping will be limited to once a month, $30, and hygiene, clothes, or writing supplies (no food). Visitation will be limited to two visits per month in the non-contact visiting area where men speak through a mesh screen in plexiglass. They also cannot attend any religious services or programs except for federally mandated grade and high school classes. They will also not be permitted on the large South yard and all their "recreation" will be on one of the prison's two small yards. They will be permitted to go to chow and to keep their TVs and radios. The new punishments for these inmates basically condemns them to segregation status without being in Segregation. It probably violates the law and the equal treatment clause in IDOC's own rule book.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fiscal Prudence -- October 13, 2013

For weeks, the news media has inundated the public with doomsday scenarios if there is no agreement on a spending bill in Washington. First there was the government shutdown where federal workers would be furloughed causing widespread havoc and upheaval. Beginning on October 1st, national parks were closed, war memorials, and even tours of the White House ceased. There were slowdowns at a few airports, the bureau of labor statistics could not release their obscure job report numbers, and the FDA was unable to trace the source of some tainted beef. If this was not enough to horrify the masses, later this week bloated government will not be able to pay all its bills. The U.S. will actually have to live within its means and cease piling up trillions of debt. The idea is so terrifying that many people cannot fathom political leaders remaining in gridlock. The doomsday clock is ticking down and there is enormous pressure on Republicans to just give the president a blank check. Even from my prison cell, however, I can see through the delirium of economic apocalypse. America could use a lot less hysterics and more fiscal prudence.

Monday morning, prisoners were excited after an announcement was made for men to get ready for commissary. The cell house has not been allowed to shop in months and many were eager to spend their money on candy, cakes, coffee, and an assortment of other goods. The noise was unpleasant to me and I put my headphones on until a guard opened up my cell door. At the store building, I refused to splurge with the money sent to me and was very frugal in my purchases. I bought food to substitute or supplement prison meals and items which were being sold at a discount. When I was told the $3.75 clearance sweatpants were unavailable, I refused to buy the much more expensive counterpart. I knew very well the sweatpants were being saved for friends of commissary workers. Unlike the government, I keep to a budget and do not have a printing press.

One of my primary purposes in buying commissary food was to avoid the chow hall. I despise the crowds of obnoxious convicts, disruptions to my routines, and oppressive security. The Orange Crush continues to be present during movement lines, although only intermittently and they are not being as aggressive. Another reason to avoid the chow hall is simply because the food is often distasteful or paltry. Monday evening, despite stocking up on supplies, I went out for dinner. Four by six inch rectangles of pizza were being served. It was definitely not enough to fill my hunger and I put the thin slice of pizza in my back pocket to eat later. In my cell, I added sardines as a topping while I watched the TV show "Blacklist." Sardines are sold at the commissary in 3.5 oz. packages for 85 cents. They are not the tastiest food, but they are cheap and nutritious. Unfortunately many Americans have not learned how to shop more prudently and live off handouts by the government.

Before the television show came on, I read a newspaper article about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program otherwise known as SNAP. SNAP has grown to unprecedented levels during the administration of Barack Obama. Incredibly, nearly one out of every six Americans, or 50 million, is given food stamps. The statistics are extremely ironic when considering 1/3 of Americans are considered obese, the second highest in the world. These people are not starving, but lazy and taking advantage of the president's socialist programs. When I was growing up, I was taught if you do not work, you do not eat, yet today there is little work ethic. Despite how taxpayers are being forced to pay billions for other people's sloth or inability to shop wisely, there was an outcry when in budgetary talks it was said the program may be slightly diminished.

The Illinois Department of Corrections is increasingly using donated food to save money. The pizza on Monday, I believe, was purchased in bulk from a supplier. However, various other foods, snacks, and drinks are being sent to the penitentiary as tax write-offs. This week, prisoners have been served Chiquita strawberry/banana smoothies for both lunch and dinner. From what I am told, a large delivery of over 100 boxes of the self-serve juice drinks came in last week and is being stored in one of the kitchen's walk-in coolers. Incarcerated men greatly appreciate the donated food, but I think the cost savings are perpetuating bad policy within the IDOC. Money saved feeding, clothing, or meeting the health care needs of prisoners is money that can be spent for superfluous and oppressive security.

Tuesday morning, I went out to one of the penitentiary's two small yards. I rarely ever go to these, but I wanted to see what new equipment and weights had been placed on them. Each yard had two iron bars with welded weights of 50 and 200 pounds along with one bench. These things were not actually new but brought out of storage or from another yard. Too many prisoners crowded around the weights and I walked over to the basketball court. After my cellmate accepted a challenge of a one on one game, I was dismayed to pick up a ball that was lopsided. Nearly all of the workout equipment in the prison is either broken, bent, or in very poor condition. At the minimum I thought the prison could pay for new basketballs. Fortunately, there was another ball which was well worn but bounced straight.

While in the middle of our game, a Mexican asked if he could play. I told him he must find another player. He searched for a long time before returning to the court with a goofy and probably retarded bald black man. I call the man Fester after the character Uncle Fester in the Adams Family, however, others call him Kojak. Initially, I told Gordo he had to find someone else. I did not like this kook. Plus, he was not competitive and the game would be as lopsided as the other basketball. He did not care, however, and Anthony and I nearly shut them out in two consecutive games. Fester left flustered and delirious. Somehow I had collided with him head on and I was accused of a "helmet to helmet" NFL foul. Little Man took his place momentarily until my cellmate almost accidentally tore out his dialysis implant. With health care at Stateville so poor, he did not want to risk any problems.

After I returned to the cell, I bathed and then washed clothes out of my toilet while listening to President Barack Obama address the nation. His speech was filled with much deception and scaremongering. He attempted to lay blame on Republicans and justify his refusal to negotiate. The Affordable Health Care Act was law and was declared Constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The fact it was passed without the normal required votes and not a single Republican was mentioned. Nor did the president mention how it only narrowly won in the nation's highest court with a controversial interpretation that it was a tax and not a mandate to buy insurance. Regardless, it is a terrible socialist program which will add to other entitlement burdens of the country. While the president sought to frighten Americans about a looming default if Republicans did not give him a blank check, there is actually no threat and the real danger is the massive debt the U.S. continues to accumulate.

According to the Treasury Department, the debt ceiling will be reached this Wednesday. The law prohibits the government from borrowing any additional money. This is far from the end of times. The government will continue to rake in billions of dollars, plenty of money to pay for most bills. The maturity of Treasury bonds are not until the end of the month. This is an ample amount of time to reroute funds to pay all holders of debt and avoid default. America has more than enough cash without raising debt to remain solvent and keep its stellar triple A credit rating. Despite the doomsday clock on CNN, America will not implode, go through any economic catastrophe, or any other apocalyptic scenario. However, it will have to prioritize spending and make responsible cuts. These cuts, despite causing a hangover, will be good in the long term. The reckless spending of government cannot be sustained.

Currently, the U.S. debt is a staggering $16.7 trillion. This figure is well over the country's GDP, although government bean counters like to leave out money it owes itself. Democrats also like to point out that yearly deficits are trending downward. From $1.5 trillion in 2009, the Treasury Department predicts it will only be $400 billion in 2015. However, this is still an enormous sum and is only temporary. There will be a surge in the second half of the decade as baby boomers retire. In ten years, yearly deficits will be back to a trillion and the total national debt will have accumulated to $22 trillion dollars. As the working age population is projected to decline in numbers but also in skills and innovation, America faces enormous challenges. Entitlement spending must be reduced and not increased by other federal government programs like Obamacare. Despite the name "Affordable Health Care Act," it will not be affordable for many businesses, people, or the nation which will be subsidizing much of it.

Tuesday evening, I listened to the Sean Hannity and Mark Levine talk shows on WLS AM radio. I wanted to hear their perspectives of the impasse in Washington as well as any economic consequences of a failure to raise the debt ceiling. Television is largely dominated by liberal and sensationalistic news shows. As I listened to them talk I studied various stocks. The Dow Jones had not surprisingly dropped over 100 points for a second straight day. The fear of investors was beginning to show with the scary talk of the president and TV news media. I knew spending cuts would dampen the economy, however, the Federal Reserve Bank is most important. The printing of $85 billion a month to buy securities will continue to fuel the market despite what Washington does or does not do. At the table near my prison bars, I found stocks that would be good to own if they went on sale.

The following morning I awakened very cold despite sleeping under two blankets. Temperatures are regularly dropping into the low 40's at night and the prison has yet to turn on any heat. I warmed up quickly, though, after I began my cell workout. I was feeling fine until I went to wash up and noticed the water was ice cold. The hot water has been turned off 3 days this month. Apparently, a boiler is not working properly and maintenance has been unsuccessful in fixing it. The water has been tepid to cold for nearly a month and it was a complaint of many prisoners when the warden walked through earlier today. Amusingly, I overheard my neighbor complain not about the cold water, lack of heat, poor medical care, or other substantive issues but DVDs. The LTS supervisor is not playing any movies for prisoners.

The assistant warden while passing by my cell asked me if the mail has improved. I told him it was now only a couple of weeks behind rather than a month. He said he put more guards in the mail room to read mail, but under union contract they could not be forced to process mail. This was an odd peculiarity I thought but not altogether surprising. Correctional officers have a very powerful union which is able to negotiate favorable terms. Security personnel has been increased at the prison to the point of absurd levels, but other staff has not and spending is lacking.

The Orange Crush continues to monitor and pat down more men and lines, although it seems the prison has reduced its vigilance to Def Con 2. While on the large South Yard Thursday, I noticed a group of SORT on the walk leading into the chow hall tunnel. This was close to the spot where there was a fight in early September. Men returning from chapel services and elsewhere were loomed over and occasionally frisked. The extra security presence probably served to deter any prisoners from even considering any misbehavior. The SORT has mostly avoided C House inmates, but on Friday I saw them for both lunch and dinner. Strangely enough, despite all the new guards and security the following day did not begin until late due to a purported lack of staff. It is difficult to believe there were not enough guards to go around. Unemployment levels remain high nationally, but not for correctional officers in the State of Illinois.

On some liberal television news program, I heard complaints early in the month about the government shutdown preventing the Bureau of Labor Statistics from releasing their jobs report. This report, although widely broadcast since the recession, serves little function except for traders who gamble on the numbers to make a quick buck. It is like betting on the over and under on a football game. People fail to realize these reports can be off by 90,000 and are always adjusted repeatedly. Missing one report is meaningless. What is important is the big picture and long term trends. The unemployment figure is made up of only those who are seeking work and cannot find it. The percentage publicized does not factor in all those who have dropped out of the workforce or what type of jobs people are getting as well as their salaries. The employment rate is a stunningly low 58% and it is not likely to improve with so many people retiring. Furthermore, those people gaining jobs are increasingly having to accept lower wages and fewer hours. Barack Obama's emphasis on wealth redistribution is not creating the jobs or growth needed. His policies are only increasing debt burdens on future generations.

From watching Sunday morning political newscasts, it seems Republicans are on the verge of capitulating. The masses are terrified by the Chicken Little's who claim the sky is falling and conservatives are being blamed. RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only, do not want to hold the line with the likes of the Tea Party movement. It is unfortunate because they are the only ones who steadfastly oppose runaway government. Without a unified opposition party, Washington will be a lot like Springfield. In Illinois, Democrats control the legislature and executive branches. Debt continues to pile up and spending cuts are only made at the margins where the public does not notice or have an interest. Thus, why prisoners are not provided adequate health care, clothing, and are fed poorly or with donated food, yet the guards union is catered to lavishly. Fiscal prudence requires responsible and strong leadership. Both seem to be missing at the federal and state level.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Boredom and the Other Death Penalty -- August 2013

Except for a few days, the prison has been on lockdown for five consecutive weeks. From sources I am told the lockdown will continue until the end of the month. Locked in their cells 24/7, many prisoners are restless and have difficulty preoccupying their time. I tend to like the isolation and ability to schedule my days with little interruption. However, this week, even I have occasionally become bored in this 6 x 11 foot cubicle. Life in a maximum-security prison can drag by and without any possibility of parole I regularly am searching for meaning to my grim and empty existence. Even this blog is an attempt to fill a void. Hopefully, this post is not as boring as my time in this cell.

The week began with most prisoners occupying their time watching professional football. This was the second week of the NFL season and the Chicago Bears played a very close game with the Minnesota Vikings. Numerous men yelled, cursed, and cheered with excitement as the Bears won by a single point. I did not watch any of the game and was annoyed by all the shouting. During the afternoon, I reviewed a corporate report by ONEOK Partners, a publicly traded master limited partnership engaged in piping natural gas as well as gathering and processing the fossil fuel. Despite the resistance of President Barack Obama, drilling has grown immensely on privately held land, particularly in shale rock formations. Pipeline businesses such as ONEOK have grown immensely to meet demand for infrastructure. America has surpassed Russia to be the world's largest producer of natural gas and is increasingly becoming energy independent.

The end of the 3rd quarter has passed and I am preparing to give my assessment of hundreds of various companies to my family and a pen pal in Canada if he is interested. The Dow Jones Industrial average this week posted an all time high of 15,677 after Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke said he would not slow mortgage and security purchases. This I already knew and predict the Federal Reserve will continue to debase U.S. currency by printing $85 billion each month until sometime in 2014. Despite the huge stimulus, however, I believe stocks will make a correction next month when Democrats and Republicans refuse to come to an agreement over government funding and possibly increasing the nation's enormous debt. The impasse may create a buying opportunity.

Overnight temperatures have been falling into the 40's leaving the cell house like a refrigerator. I awakened repeatedly to put on more clothing until my cellmate gave me his state issued wool blanket. Now, I sleep with thermal underwear as well as two blankets over me. The hot water pipes which lead into the units' two blowers will not be turned on until mid-October and the central heating system not until November. Apparently, I will be chilly during the nights for some time. If I was former British Special Ops Bear Grylls, I would wake up to exercise and then go back to sleep to keep warm. However, I do not think I could get much rest doing this for several weeks and would be very distressed. I doubt my cellmate would be very happy living with me either and this may be in part why he gave me his blanket.

Cellmates have had a number of arguments with each other and have even fought over small matters during the lockdown. Late one night, my cellmate told me he heard two prisoners arguing loudly. They were about to become physical, but a guard on the midnight shift separated them by placing one inmate into the cell house's holding cage for a couple of hours to cool off. This did not work, however, and not long after they were reunited they began to fight. I asked my cellmate what the argument was about and he said one of the men insisted on sleeping with his head near the back wall. Nearly all prisoners at Stateville sleep the opposite direction just in case their cellmate may need to use the toilet. The bunk is only a couple of feet from the commode in the back of the cell.

Although temperatures were chilly at night, they rose to about 70 degrees during the day. Prison  workers were considering shutting the windows, but before they did I wanted to repaint the shelving unit in my cell. When the Orange Crush came through, they gouged the top counter and the mark greatly annoyed me. I spent a couple of hours painting the entire shelf with a wash cloth. Out of boredom, I also painted the cell door bars which were chipped, mottled and rusting. My cellmate asked me why I did not paint all the bars and I responded that we would not have a space to place our garbage or laundry bags. When the door dries, I intend to finish painting when I am able to get more paint.

The latex paint takes a long time to dry and to speed the process my cellmate and I used our fans. The breeze left me chilly and I dropped a wool blanket over myself occasionally to the amusement of Anthony. He asked me if I was pretending to be a Jedi. I told him I was a Sith Lord and he should not provoke me or I will use the dark side of The Force to snuff him out. This threat did not prevent him from pestering me on occasion, and while writing a letter to my sister he repeatedly interrupted with silly antics, talk or questions. For example, he asked, "Are you writing your fan club?" When I told him I was writing my sister, he asked if I had any naked photos of her and so on until I put the letter away for another time.

My cellmate asked me if I had seen the memorandums which were posted on the television. I had not, and he told me that beginning on November 1st, the IDOC would no longer process money orders. All money being sent to inmates' trust funds will thereafter have to go through Western Union or JPay. I never heard of JPay but assume it is another money transfer service. The prison administration made the change apparently to make it easier for the mail room staff to process mail and to avoid extra work by the business office. Staff in the mail room must go through all incoming mail looking for not only contraband but money orders. The money orders are taken out and then sent to those who work in the finance department. Oftentimes, these money orders took over a month to be processed and many prisoners complained about the delay. I commented that men will no longer have this problem to gripe about, however, Anthony replied that JPay would not do this service for free and people sending money will probably have to pay a service fee of $8 or more. (Update: There is no service fee if money is sent to their Florida address to be processed.)

Although there may be an added expense to send money to prisoners, the rates of telephone calls have declined. According to a second memo, Securus Technologies will drop their fees from $4.05 to $3.55 for 30-minute calls. The change in rate is due to the FCC ordering all state prisons to no longer charge more than 12 cents a minute for interstate calls and 20 cents a minute within the country. This directive has come after prisons and phone companies have fleeced inmates' friends and families for decades with exorbitant fees. However, despite the lower rates, prisoners can no longer have the person they call make 3-way calls for them. In fact, the person you call cannot even answer another incoming call without being disconnected. The most problematic issue with Securus is that prisoners cannot set up their own accounts or accounts for people they wish to call. I sought to call a couple of private investigators and attorneys but found I could not. They had to set up a prepaid account with Securus in order for me to talk with them. This is a serious problem because my letters are so untimely and I cannot engage in conversation necessary to gain legal help. I wrote one private investigator that he had to create an account with Securus and I never heard from him thereafter.

While writing my current attorney to tell her how time is of the essence, my cellmate left me alone. In the evenings, he is preoccupied watching TV. Monday night was the season finale of "The Dome," a show based on a book by Stephen King where an entire town is mysteriously trapped in an electromagnetic field. I finished my letter to watch part of it. The show somewhat reminded me of prison. Everyone incarcerated at Stateville is essentially trapped here. Instead of a dome, we are held captive by walls, razor wire fencing, or bars. Given a choice, however, I would definitely choose the former. The people in the town may not be able to leave, but they still have their freedom within it. Unfortunately, Stateville cannot be like the movie "Escape from New York" where prisoners were free to do as they pleased but were trapped on New York Island.

My quest for peanut butter continued this week. Both my cellmate and I have lost over 10 pounds during the lockdown. While he asks guards occasionally for extra trays, I ask cell house workers to find me food in exchange for coffee or prestamped envelopes. Eventually, I found a coffee addict and he traded me packets of peanut butter for a half bag of instant coffee. I was immensely pleased to be able to supplement my diet or discard prison meals altogether. The food continues to be meager and terrible despite how Stateville kitchen workers are back to work. Before I was able to procure the peanut butter, I was eating very little. The extra cartons of skim milk I was able to get from those passing out trays did little to add to my caloric intake.

In my boredom, I thought it would be a good time to read one of the books I had received. A few weeks ago, my parents had brought me "Day of Reckoning," by one of my favorite political commentators, Patrick J. Buchanan. I have read all his other books and watch him weekly on the PBS program "The McLaughlin Group". Many of his political positions are aligned with my own and I was disappointed when he was unsuccessful winning the Republican primary for president years ago. Another book I was looking forward to reading was "The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum" by Temple Grandin. Like myself, Grandin seems to be on the high end of the autism spectrum and I was interested in her perspective. The book was just published earlier this year and apparently one of the readers of my blog thought I would like to read it. It was sent directly from the book vendor and thus I do not know who to thank.

I never got around to reading any of the books, however. Because of the dysfunction in the mail room, I received 3 newspapers and 2 magazines all on the same day. These publications I wanted to read first due to their time sensitivity and to remove clutter from my cell as soon as possible. Last week, my subscription to the USA Today began. It is a rag of a newspaper and I am disappointed how much the quality of the writing has deteriorated and is slanted to the left of the political spectrum. However, I was able to get the paper for a special 2 month trial price of $22 and my cellmate as well as a number of other prisoners seem to like it. Anthony enjoys reading the reviews of TV shows, movies, and pop music or other news in the Life Section, although most other men want to see it for its heavy coverage of sports. From my cell, the papers go to my neighbor and then to several prisoners on the lower floor.

The headlines in the USA Today have been about the shootings at the D.C. Naval Command Center. Initially, it was not known why the former Navy soldier went on a shooting spree, however, it soon became apparent he was another nut case. From what I read, he believed extreme low frequency radio waves were controlling his thoughts. The schizophrenic even scratched into his shotgun the acronym "ELF." Despite how the liberal media continues to press for more gun control, the Washington Yard Shooter only illustrates a failure by the military to give him security clearance or the mental health care system which allows many to fall through the cracks. Indeed, as I read one newspaper article, the cell house sounded like a medieval sanitarium with prisoners screaming over each other. The vast majority of these men are just obnoxious, blabbering fools bored after a month of being locked in their cells. However, some are mentally ill.

Along with my newspapers, I received a post card from The Other Death Penalty Project advertising their book "Too Cruel, Not Unusual Enough". I have never heard of this organization, but before reading the opposite side, I knew what their cause was. Life without the possibility of parole is becoming pervasive across the country and it is certainly the most torturesome form of punishment being used in the U.S. today. Over 40,000 people have been sentenced to protracted death sentences and while many of these convicts deserve swift executions, there is no purpose to keeping others incarcerated indefinitely. Not long ago Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General proclaimed the federal government would no longer uphold mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, however, excessive sentencing statutes exist across the criminal sentencing statutes. I have LWOP for purportedly lending my car to a roommate who then killed a man at a different location.

Nearly every week I watch an episode of the TV show "House," yet this week out of boredom, I watched two straight hours of reruns. The main character reminds me very much of myself and I enjoy his sardonic wit. During a commercial break I stood up and told my cellmate who was watching TV on the bunk above mine that I could have been a brilliant diagnostic doctor just like Gregory House. Just think of all the lives I could have saved but instead I am made to languish in prison all my life. Anthony seemed amused and said I definitely was smart and an ass, a smart-ass just like the doctor, but he could not see me as someone who cared much about people. I told him he missed the point. Dr. House did not save lives because he was a "people person" but due to the challenge of solving medical mysteries which stumped most of his peers. My cellmate told me to see how well this argument flies to some hypothetical parole board.

After the television shows, I stared into one of my plastic prison mirrors and brooded about how old I look. Not only did my age bother me but the color of my teeth. Despite brushing my teeth after every meal, they were almost yellow in color. On closer inspection, I found plaque buildup on the backside of some teeth around the gum line. This was unacceptable and I began to think of ways to scrape it off. Prisoners rarely ever get to see the dentist at Stateville particularly for a cleaning and I refused to wait a year or two. Using a sewing needle I carefully removed all the plaque after a couple of hours. Happy about my achievement, I told my cellmate who was watching me that not only could I be a diagnostic doctor but a dentist as well. "Just think of all the teeth I could have saved. The possibilities were endless," I jested.

Receiving a visit mid-week broke up some of the boredom of being on lockdown. However, although a few other prisoners were anxious, I was not particularly happy. My parents I knew had come to see me and it was difficult watching them deteriorate over time. I could not be Dr. House, a dentist, or anything. I could not even be a son from behind these walls. Before I went to the visiting room I was also told to expect "Inspector Gadget" to be in the strip search room. Not surprisingly upon entering the room I heard a prisoner complaining that he had felt raped. While they continued to exchange words, I asked the guard if he was looking at butt-holes again. The man began to defend himself saying words to the effect that he was just doing his job. Eventually, I asked him if he had ever heard of a prisoner smuggling contraband into a visit. He admitted the policy of strip searching men before visits was largely redundant, but once he had caught a prisoner who had forgotten he had some marijuana on him.

Normally, I work out in the morning, but because I was expecting a visit and my underclothes had yet to return from the laundry, I waited until I returned. While exercising, a strong thunderstorm passed over the penitentiary. After a loud clap of thunder, I jumped off the floor onto my cellmate's bunk and yelled, "Thunder Buddies!" I was mimicking parts from the movie "Ted" where a Teddy Bear comes to life and does such zany and hilarious antics. I was attempting to entertain my cellmate who seemed bored watching an episode of "Extra" with a glazed look on his face. I definitely surprised him and he did not expect such a radical departure from my normal solemn and nonsocial demeanor.

This week was boring not only for my cellmate but me as well. Jokingly, I asked him if he wanted to play a game of chess. I knew he was not interested because I can so easily defeat him. Later, however, he accepted my challenge to play the game show Jeopardy with me. Unlike chess, Anthony is pretty good with trivia and at the end of the show we were essentially tied for points. However, there was still the Final Jeopardy question to answer. The subject was pop music albums and my cellmate thought he had me beat because I know very little about pop music or any pop trivia for that matter. However, thanks to my mother having once been a fan of the Beatles I was able to name the album "Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club". Smugly, I touted my victory as if it mattered in my life. I only played the game to engage my cellmate and break a tedium of boredom.

I have been incarcerated over two decades and have spent nearly a quarter of this time on lockdown. Being confined to a cell for long periods of time is common in maximum security prisons. Generally, I have found numerous ways to preoccupy myself, however, this week I have fought off boredom. Increasingly, I am cognizant of how meaningless my life is despite what I do. As I grow older in captivity, I see opportunities and dreams fade away. All that is left is a downward slow spiral. I can only hope it will end before I reach the bottom or come so near that it does not matter. Lockdown or no lockdown, natural life without parole is indeed "the Other Death Penalty".

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Orange Crush Security -- October 5, 2013

Since the penitentiary was taken off lockdown, there has been a great increase in security during movement lines. Additional guards were hired and the SORT is positioned along walkways, outside the chow hall, and other places. Dressed in full tactical gear, they are conducting pat downs and strip searches but their presence is mainly to respond to any fight or disturbance. When prisoners on an upper gallery in my cell house refused to leave the chow hall, the Orange Crush quickly assembled in the inner chamber. However, the warden diffused the situation and inmates went back to their cells without incident. Since then, everyone in the quarter unit has been fed in their cells and this is just fine with me. Had I any food in my cell, I would not have gone out for any meals at all. After I was given a flu shot, I became sick with a cold and regardless I preferred "room service" to avoid the loud crowds in the chow hall. Avoiding the harassment of the SORT was an extra bonus. Although most of the guards acted professionally and a few were even friendly, their presence in itself was oppressive and unnecessary.

On the first day C House was off lockdown, I was stunned to see all the extra manpower when I stepped out of the building to go to chow. The movement team had been quadrupled and there were groups of Orange Crush along the walkway. Never during my incarceration has the SORT been used in this manner. In their bright orange jumpsuits, black body armor, helmets and boots, they held batons in their hands to beat any man or group of men who did not behave. The chow lines were stopped repeatedly to reconfigure them in tight formation. On the other side of the general population building, prisoners were randomly frisked. The chow lines were supervised by the major, warden, and the assistant warden of security. Due to all the additional security measures, it took over 2 hours for C House to be fed lunch.

This week, manpower on the movement team has remained heavy and they have been accompanied by small groups of guards in tactical gear. A group of 4 may stand on the walkway parallel to the quarter units building, on the segway leading into the chow hall or just outside it in the tunnel. Their cans of mace and billy clubs are holstered. Generally, they have been acting as extra security, however, they will sometimes assist other guards in patting down inmates. Occasionally, I have seen them pull men out of line in the tunnel to be strip searched. Although I have not had to undress, a few times I was frisked. The Orange Crush can be very thorough when they pat down and one guard noticed I had a packet of ketchup in my pocket. He asked me what it was and after I told him he let me go back in line.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to miss too many meals. Other than peanut butter, I do not have any food in my cell. Prisoners in C House have not shopped at the prison store for over 2 months. On Monday, many men were angry and shouted from their cells that commissary lines be run. Every Monday, half of the quarter unit is supposed to be permitted to shop according to a warden memorandum. However, the last week is designated as inventory. Commissary staff and prison workers need a few days to make an account of what is left, what needs to be ordered, and how much has been stolen or been thrown out because of food going past expiration dates. Due to the lockdown, prisoners thought there was no need to do inventory on the last day of the month. Inventory could have been done any time earlier in September. Despite the noise and complaints of prisoners, they were ignored.

I thought there was a possibility of some incident occurring. Prisoners with no hope of parole being fed slop regularly can lead to trouble even in the "old man's house" which many people nick-named quarter unit C. However, the only disturbance in the penitentiary Monday was on a segregation yard. Apparently, men began fighting and were not dissuaded by a couple of rifle shots. The brawl was not broken up until guards ran to the scene. A rumor circulated that the fight was a diversion so inmates on another Seg yard could unravel metal off a cyclone fence. There are clasps and short pieces of fencing used to hold the fence to its steel supports. The latter can be unwound and made into classic ice pick like stabbing weapons. Security is continuously scrutinizing fences and has even painted all the connections blue to make them more visible.

On a number of occasions, I have overheard prisoners expressing a great amount of animosity toward the groups of Orange Crush. Much of this is due to the fact the bright orange jumpsuits have come to symbolize brutality, oppression, and large scale theft. The Orange Crush is notorious through the IDOC's 50,000 prisoners, although mainly in maximum and medium security prisons. I do not believe the SORT is used much if at all at places like East Moline or Vienna. The weapons the Orange Crush have on their belts are also a source of anger. No one wants to be under the continuous threat of being beaten with a bat or maced. Many prisoners I know thought about taking these weapons and using them against their captors. Scenes from the horror movie "Silence of the Lambs," when Hannibal Lector beat to death one of his guards, came to mind.

A man next to me in line mentioned how easy it would be to disarm a guard and break a knee cap, strike the throat, or crack their skull after pulling off their helmet. I also did not like the display of force, but I tried to look at the guards individually and not as a group. I knew and got along with some of these guards when they were not in orange jumpsuits. The fact they had changed clothing and carried a club should not change this. To lighten the tension, I joked with one man who usually works in the cell house when I came out for dinner. I asked him if it was not a bit early to be dressed like the Great Pumpkin and then what he had in his man-purse. My cellmate who was walking behind me chimed in asking if his mother packed his lunch. The bag he was carrying was actually to carry a gas mask. How these guards are to be able to fit themselves with a gas mask quickly, and be able to respond, is unknown to me. However, much of their gear is unnecessary as is the excessive security.

From what I am told, guards get an extra $15 per shift to wear the tactical gear. I do not know if it is optional or if they are told to dress in the orange jumpsuit at roll call. I speculate going through tactical training is optional, but they have no choice after they are a part of the SORT what their assignment may be. I saw a little woman in one of the groups of Orange Crush and thought I would prefer to give her $15 so she would not be putting herself in harm's way. I do not like to see women working at Stateville let alone as one of the administration's goons. Some women who work in corrections are manly or unattractive and this does not bother me as much. However, the prettier and more lady-like a woman, the more I find it disagreeable. Is there not some other job they can find? Is there not some man they can marry to take care of them?

Tuesday evening, the entire cell house was given flu shots. Six to ten men were let out at a time to come downstairs to the sergeant's office where two nurses were. It took almost the entire 2nd shift to inoculate about 300 men, although some people elected not to get a shot. I was eating a peanut butter sandwich at the time a guard unlocked my cell door. I took a mug of water with me and the guard said something indiscernible. It sounded like she said I could not bring the water with me. I asked her to repeat herself and was annoyed that was indeed what she had said. Why cannot I bring a cup of water with me so I do not choke on this peanut butter? Was it some security risk? What can I do with water? Later while waiting in line, I watched the female guard. I think she was just being moody. It may be stressful for some women to work here, particularly those who are new hires.

The nurses in an adjoining room to the sergeant's office were women I know. I was somewhat playful but as my cellmate would say "a smart ass". For my attitude, the Polish nurse stuck me hard with the needle. I did not flinch or show any discomfort. She was not going to get any satisfaction from me. The following night, however, she asked me how my arm was. After she left, my cellmate said I had mastered the art of the "flirt-dis" which apparently is being flirtatious while at the same time being disparaging. He thought the nurse was just responding in kind. Sometimes, I am unaware how I come across and am not cognizant of other people's emotions. However, I can also be intentionally provoking.

Wednesday, I had to wait an hour in the cell house holding cage before I was escorted to my visit. The reason for the delay was feed lines were being run very slowly. It was surprising lunch was being served so late and I asked a guard about the matter. He said D and E Houses were let off lockdown and the latter quarter unit was being fed one gallery at a time. The extra security precautions being taken for C House were absurd, but to only allow one gallery of men in the chow hall at one time was even more ridiculous. Even if E House had the most violent prisoners and a few of them had fought with guards early last month, there was no need to drag out feed lines. Administrators were going overboard.

The guard escorting prisoners to visits and other destinations was new. She had just been hired a few weeks prior while the prison was on lockdown. It was amusing that she did not know where anything was or how to use the radio to gain clearance or notify a cell house that men were returning to their unit. On the way back to the quarter units she became mad that some inmates walked passed her and did not want to wait. I did not like seeing her frustrated and gave her some advice while trying to be sensitive to her feelings which can be difficult for me. When I finally returned to the cell, I mentioned the new guard as well as others I had seen to my cellmate. He was not surprised and asked me if I did not notice them when they toured the unit. No, I had not noticed, however, the last thing Stateville needs is even more manpower. Incredible how the IDOC squanders money and lawmakers continue to give it to them with the state teetering on bankruptcy.

Also when I returned to the cell, my cellmate spoke about how 8 gallery refused to leave the chow hall. It was passive resistance, but from what I was told a small army of guards, many dressed in tactical gear, rushed in the building. They were ready to storm the dining room with mace grenades and then busting men's skulls with batons. All the prisoners wanted was to shop, however, and the warden spoke to some of them and cooler heads prevailed. Everyone returned to their cells without any violence. Either this Monday or the next, 8 gallery will be allowed to buy commissary. To avoid any more disruptions, though, the gallery was placed on lockdown and the rest of the cell house has been fed in their cells until today. While writing this post, prisoners have gone out and returned. Rather than the tamales served I will eat a couple more peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. I care less for the obnoxious loud convicts I must be in line and eat with. I care even less to be under the threat of force or harassment of the Orange Crush.

Since Wednesday, I have stayed in my cell. I am happier when left alone. Furthermore, I developed a cold after the nurse stabbed me with the hypodermic needle and have not felt like going out even to attend yard. Thursday afternoon everyone except 8 gallery was permitted recreation time. I do not know if it is punishment or to prevent the men from refusing yet again to leave.In any event, I do not feel well and have a sore throat along with other cold symptoms. I tend to believe I am fighting off this germ when by body's immune system has been stressed with the flu virus. The strain was dead, of course, but it still causes T-cells to respond. Now they are juggling two threats: one real and one imaginary.

Along with the extra security during movement lines, there is a continued effort to split up or shuffle men considered to be in "security threat groups". A number of moves were made in the cell house where men were swapped with men in other quarter units. Even if the number of gang members stays the same, shuffling them purportedly takes away their unity. Unity within convicts is something the administration seeks to weaken. The overwhelming use of force is only part of their strategy to keep a tight stranglehold on the prison.

I noticed this week that all guards as well as staff have been given new radios. These radios have more bells and whistles than the former ones. They also have the convenience of being able to speak into a separate handset which can be clipped on the collar or epaulet of a shirt. The IDOC probably spent a lot of money exchanging the old radios for the new. The new hires were even more expensive, although they do not have all the pension benefits as the older employees. The Orange Crush groups are most likely manageable if they are only paid an extra $15 per shift. However, again, I am struck by all the money spent on security which is unnecessary while prisoners continue to lack essentials such as medical care, clothing, and decent food. Yesterday, used jackets were passed out to men to save a few bucks. The jacket I received was ripped down the front and I had to have a prison worker exchange it. This jacket has no tears but the zipper does not work well.

I took a break from writing to call home. I caught my father in the middle of having some furniture and other belongings packed into a POD which will be picked up on Monday. He is fed up with living in Illinois and is leaving to another state. I will rarely ever see him now, however, I do not blame him for leaving. If I could, I would leave this state as well. Unfortunately I am trapped in the IDOC. I can only assume things will become progressively more oppressive even if the Orange Crush on the walks is only temporary.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Lynched but Alive -- September 26, 2013

My cellmate recently learned his federal appeal was denied. This ruling can be appealed to the 7th circuit, however, most likely any hope he had of ever being released has been blotted out. The last few days he has been lying on his bunk for long periods of time. Being taken off lockdown has done little to change his mood and even television does not seem to capture his interest as before. From my own experience, little can be done to lift his spirits. Only time can lessen the horror of having nails being driven into your coffin. I feel much sorrow for Anthony who has been my cellmate for almost a year. During this time, I have come to know him well and had hoped his sentence would be reduced. Despite his crime, he has many redeemable qualities. There are also mitigating circumstances the courts continue to dismiss. A protracted death sentence makes no sense in any circumstance, but even more so for prisoners who possess greater aptitude and are unlikely to ever commit another crime. Swift execution is more preferable than to be buried alive.

During the lockdown, prisoners were gradually given more movement and privileges. Telephones and visitation began and workers in the Roundhouse went to their assignments. Until last Friday, only two non-gang affiliated workers were allowed to come out of their cells during the first and second shift. These men were exhausted doing much of the labor in the cell house. Guards on the midnight shift even had the nerve to ask them to come out to pass out trays and pick up garbage and laundry bags. My neighbor was furious to be awakened in the middle of the night and told the guard he could find someone else. There was a short list of cell house help workers who had been vetted by Internal Affairs. Since the lockdown, this has been expanded, but no one with a sexual assault on their record is being permitted to work late at night in the quarter units. This is the policy to address an attempted rape of a female guard at Danville earlier in the year.

Health care passes are beginning to be resumed, although men who require dialysis or other essential care always were treated. For a week or two, prisoners who have diabetes were brought their insulin, but now they go to the Health Care Unit in two lines (early morning and evening). On the last day of the lockdown, "Little Johnny" stopped at my cell in the evening. Johnny is a very easy going and friendly black man in his mid-40s. He is often silly or a bit disorientated possibly due to low blood sugar levels. Although I will make fun of him, my cellmate seems to like that he is almost always in a good mood. Last week, however, he was not his typical self.

Little Johnny told me a prisoner we know was diagnosed with terminal Lou Gehrig's disease. He is being kept at the prison's Health Care Unit infirmary where he will die most likely before the end of next year. Chino was a neighbor of mine before my previous cellmate died of a heart attack. I regularly noticed he was sick and lethargic. He rarely left his cell and had difficulty walking. On a few occasions, prisoners had to shout for guards to radio a medical technician when he was having trouble breathing. Not long after my cellmate died, he was moved to the lower floor in a cell near the door. I periodically kept in touch with him mainly because I bought his snack bags of peanut butter. I did not know whether or not to be sad for him. He had a sentence of natural life without the possibility of parole and he may be better off dying sooner rather than later.

Not long after the prisoners in the med line were locked in their cells, the guard who passes out legal mail stopped at the cell and said, "Mertz." My cellmate jumped down off his bunk to sign a receipt for the mail while it was opened. At the moment, I was channel surfing to see if there was anything worth watching on television while I ate a couple of peanut butter sandwiches. When I saw there was not, I began to change my headphones to my Walkman so I could listen to the Sean Hannity show. There was a commercial break and I asked my cellmate offhandedly if his attorney finally told him he could go kill himself. Anthony said, "More or less," and did not elaborate. Therefore, I thought he was just responding to my joke and I put my headphones back on.

After I finished eating, I went to the sink to wash my bowl and brush my teeth. I was standing a few feet from my cellmate and again inquired about the legal mail he received. He told me his federal appeal was denied and his attorney had sent him a copy of the ruling along with a brief letter. I asked him about the court's specific reasoning and he said he did not know. He simply read the conclusion and the letter. Later in the night he would go over it in its entirety. The fact it was denied was all he cared to know. Prisoners have three levels of federal courts to appeal their convictions and sentences. There is the district court judge, the circuit court, and finally the U.S. Supreme Court. It is exceptionally rare anyone has their appeal heard by the highest court and therefore prisoners only have two chances on federal appeal. I told Anthony before he contemplates suicide, he should at least wait until the panel of judges in the 7th circuit review his case.

I am not aware of all the issues my cellmate presented in federal court. Since he learned about my blog, he has been restrained in talking about his case. Before he was my cellmate, however, I did read his direct appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. Unlike prisoners who are not sentenced to death, everyone on death row has their first state appeal heard by the state's highest court. His issues were almost exclusively limited to sentencing errors. Procedural errors during trial are what direct appeals consist of while collateral appeals deal with evidence and issues which are not on the record. If I had been able to read both, I would have a better understanding of his case as well as his federal appeal. A prisoner cannot raise any issue in federal court unless it was already raised in the state's appellate system.

Despite not reading my cellmate's post conviction appeal, I know a prominent issue was a psychotropic drug he was taking which was discovered to radically affect behavior, particularly when mixed with alcohol. The pharmaceutical company did not learn of the adverse reaction until years after it was marketed. Furthermore, the military has been inoculating many soldiers with a drug to prevent them from contracting malaria. Since Larium began to be used, anecdotal evidence has suggested it causes psychological problems in a percentage of people. Anthony's argument on collateral appeal was that the inoculation caused him to have problems which was sought to be treated with the psychotropic drug. The drug had no warning to never use alcohol and on the night of the murder, he was "hammered." I do not believe this should absolve him of any wrong doing, but it certainly should have been a significant mitigating factor.

When I told my cellmate he still had a chance on appeal, he expressed pessimism. The district court had refused to grant a certificate of appealability on mental incapacity. This meant the 7th Circuit could not even review his strongest argument. It also meant even if his sentence of natural life without parole for the murder was reduced due to other mitigating factors, he was still stuck with 60 years for home invasion. I was not even aware home invasion could carry more than 30 years, but Anthony told me the maximum can be doubled under aggravating circumstances. Extended term sentencing statutes have become pervasive in the U.S.  The general public may be unaware, but nearly any felony conviction has the potential to send a person to prison for the rest of their life.

Before mail was picked up in the cell house, I wrote a quick letter to my attorney. I questioned whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McQuiggen vs. Perkins would permit me to proceed on issues other than actual innocence. The new evidence I have been able to procure may not be sufficient to convince a court. Unlike at trials, the burden is on the defendant to prove his innocence. I have extensive proof but only using evidence which was available at trial and never used. Actual innocence claims cannot rely on what the court considers old evidence. Thus, it is either extremely important that I be permitted to raise other issues such as ineffective assistance of trial counsel to bring in past evidence or to find additional proof. From my prison cell, it is nearly impossible to seek out additional evidence without outside assistance.

With the exception of D and E cell blocks, the penitentiary was taken off lockdown Friday morning. After eating breakfast and watching the news, I felt no reason to stay awake and lay back down. Like my cellmate, I was probably doomed to die in prison. While other prisoners in the unit were excited and yelled out to one another, I was lethargic and despondent. I stuffed some ear plugs in my ears and put a pillow over my head. I did not want to hear them. I did not want to be in prison. I did not even want to be alive. Chino was fortunate to have a terminal disease and die within months. My cellmate and I were doomed to suffer years, possibly decades. I drifted in and out of sleep contemplating the various ways I could kill myself.

When chow lines began to be run, I folded my blanket and got dressed. I did not want to go out, but I had nothing in my cell to eat except peanut butter. Outside the cell house, I was stunned to see an enormous security presence. The movement team had been tripled and a number of guards were suited up in tactical gear. These guards, dressed in bright orange jumpsuits and black body armor, carried batons in their hands. They seemed ready to crack skulls at any sign of disobedience. At certain points along the route to the chow hall, prisoners were pulled out of line to be frisked. High ranked personnel were present including the warden and his top assistant. The overwhelming security seemed ridiculous particularly in contrast to the number of old and crippled men who lived on the lower galleries of C House.

Due to the extra security, pat downs, and repeated halts in movement, I did not return to my cell for almost two hours. I felt like kicking myself for going through such aggravation for some turkey-soy meat balls. Why did I not just stay in bed like my cellmate? Anthony lay in bed all morning and most of the afternoon. I assume he also was brooding his existence and was unmotivated to do anything including going out for chow. For a little while, I listened to talk radio and went over some stocks. I had finally received all the information I needed to evaluate corporations' performance in the 3rd quarter along with their projected growth rates. Eventually, though, I lost interest and lay back down on my bunk. I stared out blankly at my austere and captive surroundings. This was my life. I will live in a cage and endure extreme oppression until the end of time. There will be no meaning or joy, only a long protracted miserable death.

Later in the afternoon, I finally decided to get up. I made myself a large mug of coffee to shake off my melancholy. I noticed my cellmate had awakened and although he had his television on was not paying attention to it. I mentioned that he missed the massive display of force at lunch, but he seemed disinterested. What does the live-undead care about? To be productive in some way I set up my work shop at the front table and made a stock chart.

In the evening, a couple of nurses went cell to cell asking everyone in the cell house if they wanted a flu shot. Never before had this been done during my time in the IDOC. Only prisoners who were very old and sickly were offered an inoculation. My cellmate and I said yes, but I thought it was odd. On one hand, the IDOC wanted to make prisoners suffer and on the other hand we were being offered preventive health care. It reminded me of an episode of the TV show "House," where a prisoner who had an execution date was given medical treatment to prevent him from dying. This is the irony of the criminal justice system. Instead of offering us flu shots, they should be offering us euthanasia. What is the point of keeping prisoners who have death sentences, or the equivalent, healthy? I assume the flu shots are being offered this year to everyone due to the epidemic last year which made not only many prisoners very ill, but many people who work here at Stateville.

Another irony I thought about this week was the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Atkins vs. Virginia which prohibits the execution of the mentally retarded. The ruling was made in 2002, but is being revisited in Hall vs. Florida, #12-10882. Freddie Lee Hall was sentenced to death for the 1978 murder of Karol Hurst, a pregnant 21-year-old woman. Hall and his co-defendant Mack Ruffin kidnapped Hurst and forced her to drive to a wooded area where she was brutally raped and then shot. Later the pair also killed a sheriff deputy. Hall's defense lawyers have for decades argued he should not be executed because his I.Q. is tested between 71 and 80. The State of Florida sets the standard of retardation at 70 and this is the issue before the court. Personally, other than people who cannot understand their criminality, the dumber a murder defendent, the more the reason to give them the death penalty. On the contrary, those who are very intelligent and can be assets to society should be given lesser sentences. My cellmate is not a genius, but is intelligent and has much more potential than most of the prisoners at Stateville.

After I finished my stock chart, I asked my cellmate if he would come down off his bunk and sit by the bars where I was so I could bathe out of the sink with some privacy. He was surprised I had not already done so because I typically wash up after exercising in the morning. I told him I was not motivated to exercise and had stayed in bed much of the day as he had. I continued saying I thought the court ruling he received the night before was upsetting and took away most of my energy. He admitted being very disappointed and was even more glum after reading the court's ruling in its entirety. It seemed the judge was just looking for excuses to deny his appeal. I commented that is what they often do and is why I was concerned the court will agree to dismiss my appeal on any technicality or lapse in affidavits.

Over the weekend, my cellmate continued to lie in bed all morning and most of the afternoon except for chow. Because he is out of commissary food, he wakes up for meals only to go back to sleep. For dinner, yesterday, I went out simply to get some bread and milk, and I skipped lunch today altogether. The Orange Crush continues to be used for additional security during feed lines and I was told while writing this post that they were even conducting strip searches. I will attempt to avoid the oppressive presence as much as possible even if I continue to lose weight. It is miserable enough knowing I may share the same fate as my cellmate than to be harassed by excessive security as well.

Recently I watched a movie on the prison's DVD system called "Last Nice Words."  It was about a teenage boy who falls in love with a ghost. The girl had been dead for many years but continued to be able to take physical form. Her brother had hung her on a tree which apparently had magical properties. As long as her corpse remained hanging, she continued to exist. When her brother learned of their love affair, he threatened to cut her down, but instead hangs himself on the same rope. In the rural backwoods of Kentucky, he stalks and torments her and the boy is eventually forced to cut them both down when he tries to rape her. It is a sad film which in some respects resembles my own existence except I am trapped in Stateville and the only way I can be freed from this miserable place is in death. Thousands of men in the IDOC have been lynched and they just do not know it yet. I see dead people every day and occasionally when I look into my own mirror.