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Monday, March 31, 2014

Two Dental Passes -- Feb. 8, 2014

In prison, convicts only receive the most rudimentary dental care. There is no orthodontist and procedures for any type of cosmetic purpose are never done. Cavities are occasionally drilled and filled, but the pulling of teeth is more often the preferred option of prison dentists. Many men at the maximum security prisons in Illinois are missing teeth or have none at all, however, this may in part be due to their poor hygiene. Convicts can wait months for dental problems to be treated even when they are in tremendous pain. Check-ups are perfunctorily done every other year when dentists may order dental work. This week, I spent two mornings at the Health Care Unit or in holding cages. The waiting before and after being in the dentist office was not pleasant, but I was glad to finally have my teeth cleaned.

In the mail last Saturday I was given a dental pass for early Monday morning. As usual, I awakened just before 7 a.m. and looked in my breakfast tray. Inside were some generic Cheerios and three small pancakes with syrup. It was one of the better breakfast meals served to prisoners and I made myself a cup of hot coffee. Hot coffee was not only a good compliment to the food but could be used to warm my syrup and pancakes. Breakfast trays are passed out around 1 a.m. and if they were ever warm, they were not by the time I woke up. With the CBS news reporting it was -15 degrees,   I was pleased to have a steaming cup of coffee in hand.  However, before I began to eat I noticed the carton of milk I was about to pour on my cereal was sour. Disappointed, I dumped it into the toilet and ate just my pancakes.

Every Monday morning, property lines are run and those men who are on the list have their names called out over the cell house loudspeaker. One of the prisoners on the list happened to be my cellmate. Minutes later, he jumped down off his bunk and ruined my preparations to get ready to leave. I needed to wash my face, shave, use the toilet, and brush my teeth among other things. To my displeasure, Anthony stood in the middle of the cell going through his property box much of the time. Even when I went to use the commode, he stood a few feet away. Fortunately, I was able to do everything I wanted before a guard opened the door.

Downstairs there were numerous prisoners waiting to leave the cell house. Men were going to the personal property warehouse, school building and other places. Everyone who had health care passes or visits was put in a small cage near the door including myself. I hate being packed in the cage where I rubbed shoulder to shoulder with other men. Prisoners were very talkative and yelled over each other to be heard. They also had bad body odor and/or foul breath. A few were sick and coughed or sneezed without any consideration of others next to them. A prisoner I have nicknamed Lunchbox was not annoying, but he had a catheter connected to a bag of urine. I could see it was nearly full and I avoided being near him.

In a corner of the cage I stood next to Steve and occasionally tried to talk to him despite the noise. Steve's father died the day before from a heart attack while shoveling snow. A counselor had notified him and Steve wanted to attend his funeral. The prison administration will sometimes authorize this from time to time, but to my knowledge, only for men who are classified low escape risks. The vast majority of convicts at Stateville are rated medium or high including Steve. I told him I doubted the warden would approve it and regardless he will be very disappointed. Prisoners are shackled, handcuffed on a waist chain, and led along like a dog on a leash. He will not be able to attend the funeral service with family but only before it begins and only for 15 minutes when he is alone except for his prison guard escorts. Their salaries along with all other expenses which can exceed a thousand dollars will have to be paid by him. Steve did not care. He wanted to see his father one last time.

I asked Steve why he was in the holding cage. Earlier I had heard his name called along with my cellmate's to go to the personal property building. Steve told me he was being forced to see a psychologist at the H.C.U. A couple of years ago when my cellmate's sister died, he was offered mental health care services but it was not mandatory. I speculated that after Angel committed suicide by jumping off the 5th floor, however, staff may be more insistent on prisoners being evaluated. Steve asked the sergeant's permission to attend Catholic services instead and see the shrink another day. I do not know if he was given this, but not soon thereafter he left to join prisoners going to the gymnasium.

Eventually, a guard escorted prisoners to the H.C.U. It was extremely crowded in there as well and I was glad the guard was using all the holding cages. There is one main cage for general population and across from it are two other smaller cages. These were primarily used to hold prisoners in segregation or protective custody but none of these groups kept isolated were there at the time. In the cage, I listened to the gripes of men about poor health care, food, mail, and a litany of other things. Joe Miller, a serial killer, complained about cold air drafts in his cell and others on the lower floor of the cell house. The windows do not close tightly and some are broken. A few have been taped, but apparently this was not working well. I do not like Miller and he could be made to sleep outside I thought.

After my name was called a guard came to the cage and asked if I wanted to see the dentist or not. I told him it would help if someone unlocked the door. Acknowledging his stupidity, he had the guard in control of the gates let me out. I walked down the corridor to where the dentist office was and met a woman who told me to have a seat at one of the reclining chairs. Several minutes passed when a dentist with a file in her hand approached me and said I was there to have my teeth drilled. I replied, "No, I am not! I am scheduled for a cleaning." Puzzled, she looked back at her paperwork and then at my pass. At the top of the pass was scribbled "procedure" and she pointed this out to me. A procedure meant anything in my opinion, but I was told it did not include cleanings. I was given a "refuse treatment form" which I quickly signed and then angrily left. I had gone through all this aggravation and my morning was ruined for nothing.

Since my day had already been lost, I went to the chow hall despite the unappealing meal being served. Sliced turkey ham may not sound too bad, but the meat given to prisoners was mottled with various processed parts of the bird including organs, veins, gristle, and occasionally bone chips. A prisoner must be careful not to bite too hard or he may break a tooth, and a cracked tooth would most certainly be pulled in the dentist's office if and when they were given an appointment. Typically, no drinks other than water are offered at lunch, but on this day kitchen supervisors were trying to get rid of the spoiled milk and prisoners could take as many as they wanted. Surprisingly at the end of the line was a box of salt packets. The prison has not offered salt to us for almost a year.

The prisoners at the table I sat at were all talking about the Superbowl. They all thought it was the worst NFL Championship game they had ever seen. I was also disappointed and was looking forward to a titanic struggle between the league's most explosive offense and its most dominating defense. My neighbor asked me if I lost any money because he knew I liked the Denver Broncos who were crushed 8 to 43. It was true I personally like the players on the Broncos more, but from previous Superbowl's I knew defenses typically won the big game. Thus, I only wagered and lost a honey bun which I do not even eat due to the high fat and sugar content.

When I returned to my cell, I was surprised Anthony was still gone. I quickly began my workout so we would not again be in each other's way. It was well past noon when my cellmate came back and I inquired where he had been. He said movement lines were halted twice. First for a fist fight on the walk and second for an extraction in the Roundhouse. An extraction is a forcible removal of a prisoner from a cell usually conducted by the SORT. While I bathed in the back of the cell, he put away the legal papers he had taken out of storage. He is planning to file a successive post conviction appeal pro se.

I did not speak to my cellmate about the specifics of the appeal he intends to file, but later after watching the news, I spoke to him about the Amanda Knox case. Last week, an Italian appellate court astonishingly reversed the reversal of her conviction. She has been free and living in the U.S. for a couple of years, but now may face extradition. The reason why the reviewing court overturned her acquittal was not given and the judges do not have to release their opinions to the public for a few months. Most Americans think this could never occur in the U.S., but I know a man who was released on a sentencing error only for this ruling to be overturned by a higher court.  A warrant was issued for his arrest and foolishly Larry Mack turned himself in. He currently resides in a cell above mine and will die in prison.  Hopefully, Amanda Knox is smart enough not to trust the legal system or the American government's power to refuse extradition.

It was an exhausting morning for me and I took a nap in the mid afternoon. I was abruptly awakened when a guard began beating bars. At the beginning of the 2nd shift staff have been running a steel stick across all the bars in the cell house. It is incredibly noisy and irritating, as well as stupid. No prisoner during my incarceration has ever cut through the bars of their cell and escaped. Even if they were to get out, there would be no where for them to go because the galleries are locked and so is the cell house. I was too mad to say anything to the automaton who was banging bars when he came to my cell. However, later in the week I joked with a different guard. As he was going across the bars, I said, "Wait! Don't hit that one" as I pointed to a bar at the bottom.  "I have been working on it for months!"  This got a laugh from the guard and he went to the next cell.

In the evening, mail was passed out. I received a Barron's newspaper and ironically another dental pass. This one was identified in large letters "CLEANING".  The only thing I could think of that led to the confusion was that about four months ago I had a check-up.  The dentist recommended that I should probably have a couple of small shallow cavities filled.  Although they were not a problem currently, they could get worse.  I told him no, and that I preferred if my teeth were just cleaned, treated with fluoride, and then a sealant put over my molars.  Possibly there was a miscommuni- cation, but then again, it could just be a mix-up.

The Dow Jones dropped another 260 points on Monday bringing the index down to about 15,300. Since the beginning of the year, it was down nearly 6%. The huge run in 2013 I thought was due for a correction. With the Federal Reserve tapering security purchases by $10 billion a month, it seemed the froth in the market would inevitably be blown off. I had already sent a few family members my evaluations and advice on their investments, but now I went over all energy stocks. I have had little to no contact with my family and did not know if they even appreciated the work I did. However, there is little purpose to my existence and I do it anyway albeit with less motivation.

I took a break from my work to eat a snack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The prison had received donated bread and I used these slices to make them. The bread is made of whole wheat sprouts and was much more textured and richer than the stale IDOC bread commonly given inmates. It made for good sandwiches, although my snack was interrupted by a cockroach crawling on the back wall. I quickly got up to smack it with my bare hand. In the past week, I have killed three and I hope they are not breeding en mass in the plumbing area behind the cells. In the Roundhouse, there is a pervasive infestation, but the general population cell houses have largely remained free of them.

Tuesday morning I was able to get ready for my dental pass without any disruption by my cellmate. He was awake but waited for me to leave before getting down off his bunk. Once again, I was put in the crowded holding cage for nearly an hour. Steve waited with me as well as Lunch Box just like the day before. This time the former was going to the H.C.U. to see the shrink. He did not have anything to say except that he was OK and not going to kill himself. He thought he would be in and out of the H.C.U. quickly but I knew this would not occur. While I was talking with him, Lunch Box approached me fortunately with his urine line and bag under his clothes. In a whisper, he asked me if I could find out if a Caucasian prisoner on the gallery he acquainted with was a pedophile. He had heard a rumor the man had numerous counts of aggravated sexual assaults against a minor or multiple children. John M  was standing just a few feet away from us and I just said I will see what I could do, but I had the desire just to confront him right on the spot. I have been in prison over 20 years and he has the characteristics of a child molester.

The bubble camera in the H.C.U. had been activated and the guard working the door wanded all the prisoners who entered. This was done the prior morning as well. It seems staff are self conscious of everything they do now that they may be monitored. The cameras will just lead to more redundant security and have no practical effect. I noticed in the cell house only 7 prisoners at a time are let out to take a shower now. This will probably end the crowds and waiting as well as prisoners playing various games. It may even decrease fights in the shower room or holding area. However, running three galleries of inmates now takes three times the amount of time. Once this week my cellmate did not leave for a shower until 10 p.m.

Waiting in the H.C.U. holding cage, I spoke again with Steve. He asked me if I got walloped betting on the Superbowl. Sometimes I will bet up to $100 in commissary on the game but not this year. He told me how his cellmate had a bet with a man for $50 but this other prisoner had "chickened out" the day of the game. After the Seahawks scored a touchback on the first snap, however, the man had yelled down to him "game on." Chubby was not going for it though and said the bet was off. He cannot renege on a wager and then change his mind after his team scores. I told Steve the same person had spoken to me about betting, but I knew he was a "shady" or untrustworthy person.

In the dentist office, I met an older white woman with graying hair. She was friendly and very personable. In fact, she spoke to me almost the entire time she cleaned and polished my teeth. It was basically a monologue though because I could not often respond. A few times, I pulled out a suction tube so I could speak or comment. She was greatly looking forward to the Olympic games. I did not say so or was not able, but I thought the majority of the events were not even sports. I probably would watch the opening ceremony to see what message Vladimir Putin wanted to display to the world as well as to his own country. I may also watch the biathlon, ice hockey, and some figure skating if the women were attractive. In fact, after I wrote this post, I watched the pretty Russian girl, Yulia Lipnitskaya, skate. I do not think any of the women can compete with her for the individual gold metal competition.

When the dentist finished polishing my teeth, I asked her if it was possible that I be given a fluoride treatment. She said they do not do these but there was some in the paste she used. Then I said, "I suppose sealant is also out of the question". Again, I was told the prison does not do this and she seemed amused. Just having my teeth cleaned was probably a service the IDOC did not want to provide. I reasoned the dentist I saw four months ago was naive being new, and I was correct. Various treatments available to the public were inaccessible to prisoners despite their $5 fee. I imagine with the way the State of Illinois is racking up debt, prisoners are fortunate to get any dental care at all.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Riddle of Steel -- Feb. 1, 2014

From copper to bronze and then into the Iron Age, the quest for the strongest metal has captivated man. It is believed the riddle of steel was first solved in China some 2,500 years ago, although small groups across Eurasia also learned its secret. Steel was so coveted, tribes would go to war for it. Entire villages were slaughtered just for the metal which could wield more power than gold. This is the era where the fantasy adventure Conan the Barbarian begins, however, the movie is mainly not about the forging of iron but of men. The character, Conan, played by a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, endures through captivity, great hardship, brutality, and sorrow. His tribulations rather than weakening him only made him stronger and more resolute. During my struggles I have learned the riddle of steel and I think society at large could as well.

Sunday, I did not leave the confines of my cage. Over the two decades I have spent in prison I know how to constructively preoccupy my time without any outside stimuli. In fact, at Stateville, I prefer the solitude. However, at about 9 p.m., I turned on my television just in time to see the band Metallica take the stage at the Grammy's. It was not the same group I remember as a child, but they played a song I knew all too well from their satirically labeled album "And Justice for All." The song is called "One" and it greatly resonates with how I feel:

   I can't remember anything
   Can't tell if this is true or dream
   Deep down inside I feel to scream
   this terrible silence stops me

    Now that the war is through with me
   I'm waking up I can not see
   That there's not much left of me
   Nothing is real but pain now

    Hold my breath as I wish for death
   Oh please God, wake me!

    Back to the world that's much too real
   in pumps life that I must feel
   but can't look forward to reveal
   Look to the time when I'll live
   fed through the tube that sticks in me
   Just like a wartime novelty
   Tied to machines that make me be
   Cut this life off from me

    Hold my breath as I wish for death
   Oh please God, wake me!

    Darkness imprisoning me
   All that I see
   Absolute Horror
   I cannot live, I cannot die
   Trapped in myself
   Body my holding cell

Often I have thought of killing myself and have even sought out death rather than living in prison. The brutality and physical pain I have been subjected to has been only a small part of my suffering. The real horror was being condemned to a slow death in captivity and the increasing oppression which followed. Similar to the soldier in this song, it is life after the war that I loathe and that torments me. After a land mine had blown away most of his body, he finds himself paralyzed. His injuries and the pain from them are extreme but what is worse is being fully cognizant and realizing he was doomed to suffer a wretched and miserable existence void of all meaning and joy indefinitely.

There is little difference to me from being behind the wall of a maximum security penitentiary and being bed bound. However, over two decades of incarceration has only made me more bitter, angry, and callous. In the lakes of fire, I have burned until there only remains a hot ingot of metal. Most of the soft carbon has been seared away and then hammered out on an anvil. My prosecutor described me to the jury as being cold and unfeeling. Purportedly, I let the victim go to his death and he sought to impress upon them my indifference to gain a conviction unsupported by criminal statute or law. I was never told Dean Fawcett was going to be killed, however, if the assistant states attorney thought my eyes looked soul less then, he should peer into them now. Indeed in another 20 years, he may only see the black hollow sockets of a skull.

Before I went to sleep Sunday night, I stared out into the blackness outside the cell house. Through the dingy windows, I could see snow blowing. A light off the side of the monolith prison building where over a thousand men were entombed alive reflected off the gusting white flakes. In the morning, there was not only a significant amount of snow built up but temperatures below zero. The prison was placed on lockdown and there was an announcement that there would be no movement. Even an inmate who yelled to guards that he needed to take a blood test before going out for a procedure at an outside hospital was told "no."

Later in the day I was surprised to be told to get ready for an in-house sick call appointment. Apparently, although there was no movement outside, prisoners could see a visiting nurse inside. Despite this, I was put in handcuffs and locked in the cell house holding cage for an hour. Being handcuffed and confined is a regular part of prison, however, I have never been accustomed to the bondage and loss of freedom. Fortunately, I was not crammed in the cage with numerous other convicts and waited alone, although cells of men were only feet away. I heard their complaints of being cold and could see them bundled up from head to toe. There was a draft of frigid air on the lower floor, but cold with a sentence of LWOP seemed insignificant.

A counselor stopped by the cage and asked how I was doing. I do not like these broad questions but appreciated his thoughtfulness and or possible concern. I am not used to kindness in prison and am generally skeptical of motives or sincerity. The nurse was also friendly and spoke to me as if I was just any other patient in society rather than another condemned prisoner. Reality quickly was reinforced, however, when I noticed the multitude of cameras installed last year had been connected with cables. The administration now can have almost omnipresent power. How Americans can acquiesce to Big Brother developments outside these walls I will never understand. I have been repressed for over two decades yet it is society that has forgotten what liberty is.

For lunch, I ate a tuna fish sandwich while listening to the Rush Limbaugh show. I cared less about the Grammy's and after listening to the Metallica song "One" had again turned off my TV. However, the talk show host informed me of some of the decadence which occurred on the program that I had missed. Apparently, the Grammy's were not just about music but promoting degenerate values. Homosexual weddings were presided over by Queen Latifa and Madonna. Incredible how much American culture has been debased since I was a child. Russia may still be fiscally and politically repressed from its years under communism, but kudos to Vladimir Putin for not allowing homosexuality to be glorified in his country even as it is about to host the Olympics.

Another day went by without me watching any television until the evening. Yet again I was disappointed to find another disagreeable program. This season's Bachelor on ABC features a man I cannot relate to. Although he was purported to say there should never be a homosexual bachelor, Juan Pablo has backtracked from his position. Furthermore, he does not seem to be very masculine but a rather average person with few admirable attributes. Despite this, the women on the program appear to like him and in this episode eagerly sought out kisses. The bachelor mostly rebuffed them except for a mongrel with disjointed Picassoesque features. I told my cellmate if the producers were so set upon a Hispanic bachelor, they could have at least picked the man who does commercials for Dos Equis and is proclaimed to be the world's most interesting man amongst other things. He replied that the man is not real and only an actor. I said I tend to think this show is fake anyway and went on to imitate the voice of the man in the commercials, "I don't always drink, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis."

Tuesday was another frigidly cold day to again make global warming believers scratch their heads. Yard was subsequently cancelled as were all activities. Confined to my cell for a third straight day, I began my routine as I regularly do. After a vigorous workout, I bathed from the sink and then washed clothes in the toilet. I had many more clothes to wash this time because laundry bags had not been picked up and apparently will not for some time. I was initially told a pipe in the laundry building broke and thereafter the washing machines were not working.

Prisoners were excited earlier when they heard chicken dumplings were going to be served. However, I think they changed their minds when it was brought to their cells. I have eaten chicken dumplings before my arrest and this was nothing close. It appeared kitchen workers just dumped entire chickens into large cauldrons to be boiled. After the bones, gristle, meat and skin separated, it was all scooped out for prisoners to enjoy. The meal was disgusting and later when I watched Conan the Barbarian, I remarked to my cellmate that it was the same green soup of boiled human bodies served to the followers of Thulsa Doom except it was made of chickens.

President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union Address and I watched it despite how repugnant I find his Marxist rhetoric. He continues to pitch his snake oil to the American public with the hopes they will all succumb to it eventually. Obama does not have the imposing physical presence or voice James Earl Jones had, however, he does have a sorcery of words. Like Thulsa Doom, his oratory skills have had a hypnotic effect on the masses. Many fervent followers are misled by his illusive utopian visions, ideas, and dreams which are laced with poison. Many of his goals are meant to undermine the Constitutional Republic and the values of its forefathers. Limited government, rugged individualism, and freedom are to be replaced with socialism and a ruling class similar to the politburo. Rather than a meritocracy which promotes self independence and strength, he seeks a nanny state with people dependent on government. President Barack Obama does not believe in the riddle of steel. He believes in seducing the public so they can be his servants at his "Temple of Doom" where they can partake in debauchery and eat his green head soup.

After the president spoke I listened to Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers give the Republicans' response. I was disappointed that she was chosen simply because she was a woman and not her ability to deliver a powerful message of opposition. Not only did I dislike the gender politics but the catering to the people who believed in "the right to live." I too oppose abortion in most circumstances, however, to exalt yourself for having a child with Downs Syndrome was despicable. For the rest of that child's life, he or she will have to be tended to and suffer. In ancient Sparta, the righteous thing to have done would be to immediately crush its skull or toss it off a cliff. However, in today's twisted modern society that would be considered murder, although nearly a million healthy babies are killed within the U.S. every year in utero and this is just fine.

Wednesday, I got to listen to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn give his state of the state speech. It was mainly a campaign opportunity for him to rally his Democratic base and paint a very rosy picture. Like Obama, he called for a minimum wage hike to $10 an hour, although he lacked the president's oratory skills in deception. Increases to the minimum wage may sound nice to low income earners, but it only distorts the free market causing prices of goods and services to rise while reducing employment or moving business out altogether. Quinn failed to mention that Illinois has the 2nd highest unemployment rate in the country and there is expected to be a shortfall of state revenue of between $1.5 and $3 billion at the end of the fiscal year. Nothing also was said if the governor plans to continue the 67% tax increase which was claimed to be temporary so the state could clean up its massive debt, although this never occurred. Clearly, Illinois has a spending problem, but it would be unwise for any Democratic governor to talk about cuts before an election. Explaining the riddle of steel to constituents does not go over well particularly amongst liberals and dependents on government.

Thursday morning, my neighbor Leprechaun began tapping on the side of my cell with a plastic mirror. He was interrupting me, but I went to see what he wanted. He told me the movie Conan the Barbarian was on the weekly DVD list and would be played later that day. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the LTS supervisor asking him to rent the film. The midget next door seemed envious that he responded to my request, however, unlike him and many other prisoners I have never written him before and I probably never will again. To watch Conan the Barbarian uncut with all its brutality was all I wanted.

Close to noon for the first time in the week I left my cell to go to the gym. I happened to notice the lieutenant on the way out the door and briefly stopped to ask him if he could call the laundry department to get the clothes prisoners turned in two weeks ago. He said he was already way ahead of me but thanks for telling him how to do his job. He went on to say if I ever needed advice about how to be an inmate just let him know. I tend to think he was just trying to be funny. I did not know and did not have any words for him at the time.

The gym is on the other side of the penitentiary grounds. It was a long frigidly cold walk particularly without my jacket. Gusts of wind also picked up snow which lashed against me. At the gym, I improvised to use the broken machine weights. I was determined to work out regardless of my circumstances. After I did all I could with the equipment, I did calisthenics and ran. My cellmate joined me doing push-ups and although I did sets of 50 with my feet elevated, he struggled with regular ones. I put my foot on his back and pushed him down to the floor. I needed to teach him the riddle of steel. He was getting too soft. Throughout the gym period, I thought about the struggles and adversary of Conan the Barbarian. I knew the movie and every scene by heart.

Laundry bags had been returned when recreation lines came back to the cell house. After dusting the snow off my sweatshirt, I yelled down to the lieutenant, "Good job on the laundry" and gave him the thumbs up sign. I was trying to be patronizing after what he had said earlier. His sarcastic mood seemed to have abated and he was to eventually ask if I was staying out of trouble. I do not know what kind of trouble I could get into being in my cell most of the time or how it could be any worse than being damned to a protracted death in prison. If I were to kill ten people, I would still have LWOP and be in a cage.

After a brief mid afternoon nap, I waited anxiously for the DVD to be played on the prison's cable system. Conan the Barbarian was one of my favorite films, and I still recall when I first watched it as a child with my father in the mid 1980s. The film was to have a strong impact on me and continues this day to be inspiring. When the movie began, I was riveted to my television screen. Friedrich Nietzsche was quoted, "What does not kill me, only makes me stronger," and then the forging of a sword was dramatically depicted. It was the tribe's ability to make quality steel and weapons which made it a target of Thulsa Doom and his army. They butchered everyone and sold off Conan who was a boy to toil in slavery. He was shown pushing a mill in circles until all the other slaves perished.

From years of hard labor, Conan became a muscular young man. He was sold yet again to a person who wanted him to be a gladiator. Initially, he did not know how to fight, yet he was forced to learn. After many victories, his owner paid for him to be taught by experts making him even more lethal. Eventually, the man who bought him had made more money than he could ever spend and he could not even find other opponents. Out of pity, he released Conan who had been a captive most of his life.

The skilled warrior and former slave did not know what to do with his freedom and he wandered until chased into a tomb by wolves. Inside, he found a sword amongst the dead. The sword gave him purpose and he sought out those who killed his entire clan. Over the years, Thulsa Doom had created a huge cult following. His followers traveled hundreds of miles to serve him. They were a lost, delusioned people spellbound by the sorcerer. The hippies had been misled to believe in a nihilistic, utopia and followed him blindly. Conan almost single handedly killed his entire army before going to Thulsa Doom's temple and beheading him. The masses were finally free from their spell and Conan had his revenge.

Learning the riddle of steel has served me well all these years. I do not know if I could have persevered all this time without it. I have lived a cruel, brutal, and austere existence and will most likely continue to do so for some time, if not until my death. It is doubtful the governor will ever take pity on me and a successful legal challenge of my conviction in the courts is probably almost as unlikely particularly without a good attorney. Nations, empires, and entire civilizations can remain powerful for thousands of years forged in steel. However, time will eventually bend and break the strongest men.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Week of Back Pain -- Jan. 27, 2014

Since December, I have been requesting that my prescriptions be renewed. One of the medications I take is Indomethacin which is an NSAID similar to ibuprofen, but more potent. The drug helps relieve the sciatic and lower back pain I experience from two crushed lumbar disks. Not surprisingly the requests I submitted were ignored and I went through my supply of pills despite rationing them. For the last couple of weeks I struggled to exercise and occasionally moved about like a cripple. I have endured over 20 years of imprisonment yet the physical pain added to my misery. My already unhappy life is made worse and the bitterness I feel being wrongfully convicted deepens.

In the IDOC, most medications are given to prisoners in cardboard sheets rather than little pill bottles. The sheets have clear plastic bubbles where the pills are contained and can be popped out from the back side. On the top is information such as the name of the prescribing doctor, inmate's name, and when the prescription expires. Noticing my prescription expired the first week of January, I began to fill out medical request forms in December to see a doctor. From prior experience, I knew how slow the Health Care Unit was to make appointments. By mid-January, I had turned in 5 requests and still had yet to receive a pass to the HCU. I was considering filing a complaint, but prison grievances are a joke.

Before the NFC and AFC championship games the Sunday before last, I was determined to work out despite how my back felt upon waking. I began by stretching for ten minutes but this did not help much without an anti-inflammatory. The intense callisthenic and cardio routine I do nearly every day I expected to be a particularly grueling challenge, and it was. I had to push myself past periods of great pain and the muscles around my spine constricting. A few times I almost lost my balance and cracked my head on the steel and concrete surfaces which surrounded me. It is difficult when not in any pain to do a P90X type workout without hitting any objects let alone when your back feels like seizing up.

After exercising, I again stretched my spine to loosen it up and reduce the pain. I still had many activities to do before being able to sit back and watch the big games. The first of these were bathing and washing clothes. For most people, this meant just taking a shower and tossing some clothes into a washing machine. However, for me it meant a 2-3 hour ordeal. I had to bathe out of a sink which dribbles out water and then after scrubbing out my toilet with soap and disinfectant, using it as a basin to wash clothes by hand. Occasionally, I will use my small property box but the toilet still had to be cleaned because this was the quickest way to rinse clothes.

Throughout the playoffs, I have done amazingly well picking teams with the spread, but my luck was at an end. A gambling addict who has repeatedly pestered me throughout the football season gave me 6 points to take the New England Patriots. I thought the team had a chance to win the game outright let alone for them to lose by a touchdown or greater. Unfortunately, their offense sputtered and they lost by 10. Part way through the second game, the same prisoner offered me another wager. He liked the Seattle Seahawks and was willing to give me a field goal to take the opposing team. The San Francisco 49ers were already up 10 to 0 and thus I agreed. "Double or nothing" I told a prison cell house worker to relay back to him. The 49ers gave up their lead ultimately and lost 17 to 23 and I thus lost double. I sent him a bag of commissary goods and then went to sleep. I did not mind losing a little store and was pleased to lay down taking pressure off my spine.

Monday, I waited for my cellmate to leave before exercising. With him gone, I had the entire cell to workout in rather than just a small space near the bars. Furthermore, I thought it was considerate of me so he did not have to be bothered with the noise I made or any body odor. I use a deodorant but I doubt this is 100% effective particularly in a little cubicle. Cellmates continually have to deal with not only each other's body odors but the smell of their shit and gas. Unlike in medium security prisons where men can leave into a day room, prisoners are trapped with their cellmate nearly 24 hours a day unless one or both have job details. Even prisoners with jobs will complain of their cellmates and this week I heard my neighbor, Hooch, gripe that his cellmate's gas was bad enough to peal the paint off the walls.

When my cellmate returned from chow and the prison store, he was disappointed I had not finished washing up. However, after working out, I shaved and then gave myself a haircut. Pushing myself through my exercise regimen was not easy nor was tapering my hair with beard trimmers and only a couple of small plastic mirrors to use. I have given up trying to find a prisoner at the barber school who can cut my hair properly. They sometimes are not even able to do a bald fade. My cellmate just had to wait by the bars to put his store away and go back to sleep. I took a nap myself after eating a lunch of salmon and uncooked Ramen noodles which were a substitute for crackers.

Monday night my choice of television shows was a Republican debate on PBS. This April, a primary will be held to choose a candidate to run against current Democratic Governor Pat Quinn. The election will have significant impact on the residents of the state but even more so on prisoners in the IDOC. Bruce Rauner is the current Republican front runner with his millions of dollars to spend on the campaign and message of breaking up politics as usual. However I do not know how effectual he will be in Springfield. Congressman Bill Brady may be a better choice, although he lost narrowly to Quinn four years ago.

Tuesday morning there were wind chills of -10 and yard was cancelled. Apparently, administrators did not want to be liable for any prisoners afflicted with frost bite. Ironically, though, they care little about men under their authority receiving adequate medical care. Health care passes were backlogged and grievances filed by prisoners for lack of medical treatment or mistreatment were systematically dismissed by the warden. Recently, I received a reply to a grievance I filed last year about yet another delay in prescribed medications. According to the warden and review board, my grievance was without merit because I finally did get the pills even if a month later.

At noon, my cell along with five others adjacent were searched. My cellmate was sleeping and I woke him up to walk downstairs into the cell house holding cage. In the cage were other prisoners whose cells were being searched along with a man I knew who lived on an upper gallery. I asked what he was there for and he explained he was just informed his grandmother died. The counselor had also offered him the use of a telephone to make a call. All my grandparents had passed away long ago and now I wondered when I would get news a parent had died.

For dinner I put these ruminations behind me. Actually, it was difficult having any deep thoughts during chow lines because of the crowds and noise. For pizza, nearly everyone in the cell house came out and they were louder and more rambunctious than usual. At a table in the chow hall, I pocketed my small slice of pizza and was bored listening to everyone talking over one another and about nothing of importance. I turned around to notice a long shoe lace dangling from the back of a cell house worker's jumpsuit. The shoe lace which went through a loop on his waist I tied around the underside of the stool he was sitting on. When guards shouted for prisoners to leave, he tried to get up but was stuck. I said to him, "Come on Little Johnny. It is time to go." Walking away with a stiff gait my cellmate told me I may not want to play around with my back in bad shape. I replied, "That's why I tied him down. He will be lucky to get out of that knot before we are back in our cells."

After returning from the chow hall, mail was passed out. I received 5 letters and 2 Christmas cards. All of the mail was post marked from mid-December. I looked at the cards but then put the other mail away to boil some chicken breast meat to use as a topping on my slice of pizza. While I ate my dinner, I watched the female Australian Open quarterfinals. Most prisoners at Stateville had ceased to watch the tennis tournament after Venus Williams and then her sister Serena lost. However, I did not care for either player and hoped Agnieszka Radwanska would contend for the win. I was pleased to see her smart and finesse play defeat Victoria Azaranka who was an ugly butch from Belarus.

My cellmate, as customary, slept through my morning workout on Wednesday. I have told him I will wait until later in the day if I am disturbing him, however, it seems he prefers to lay in his bed while I exercise and do other things. There is only so much space in the cell to share. Even when he sleeps late, we will oftentimes get in each other's way. I do not like playing the game Twister and can get annoyed or angry when he is intentionally crowding me. Before lunch, he was getting ready to go out and repeatedly invaded my space before I punched him in the gut. I did not hit him hard, just enough to express that I had enough of his antics. He said, "Listen old man. You are in no condition to fight" referring to my back pain and the way I have been hobbling around the cell. He is a fan of the movie Rambo and so I quoted a part of the film saying, "I was trained to ignore pain."

Outside the cell on the gallery waiting for the chow line to leave, a guard recognized me. He asked if I was the same person he once took out on hospital writs to get cortisone injections. Yes, that was me but I had not had one in a couple of years. He went on to say I had to look friendlier and show some emotion. It was no wonder the jury found me guilty despite how there was no connection to me and the crime. If I ever get another trial, he advised faking some emotion just so I looked more human. Another guard who is a regular in the cell house commented that maybe I did not have anything to be happy about. There was probably some truth in what both of them said.

I was reading over some of the mail I received the following day when a nurse dropped off a couple of sheets of pills. I told her I was surprised the doctor finally wrote out a new prescription. She replied that they were behind due to the holidays and winter weather. Lockdowns and many medical personnel not coming to work were causing delays. I thought this may slow my prescription to an extent but not well over a month.

Oddly, later I was given an in-house sick call pass for Friday. I assumed it was in response to the repeated Health Care request forms I filled out despite having finally had my medications renewed. Periodically, nurses will come to the cell houses and act as intermediaries for doctors. Stateville only has a couple of doctors and they spend time both at the N.R.C. Unit and maximum-security prison. The nurses do not get paid nearly as much and can address many health issues themselves. If they cannot, they will schedule an appointment with a doctor.

Friday afternoon I spent an hour in the cell house holding cage waiting to see the nurse. While in there, men in the shower area began to yell the water had been turned off. They were furious because it had stopped abruptly and they still had soap on themselves. Guards said they would look into the matter, but I heard someone say a pipe burst. There was no hot water in the cell house and even the central heating system seemed to not be working. Cool air was blowing out a vent I was standing by.

Eventually, my name was called and I walked through the sergeant's office to the first cell on the ground floor which served as a makeshift medical office. A friendly nurse greeted me and asked what she could do for me. I already had been re-prescribed my medications, but I wondered if the Zantac could be switched to Prilosec. The Zantac did not work well and I was concerned the NSAIDs I took were eating away at my stomach lining. Furthermore, Zantac seemed to have undesirable side effects the Prilosec did not. She said she would see what could be done but Prilosec was no longer on Wexford's pharmaceutical list.

Earlier today I spent another hour in the cell house holding cage in handcuffs this time. The prison was on lockdown due to the extreme cold and purported lack of staff. While in the cage, I spoke with Fat Pat who was in a cell directly across from me. He and all his neighbors were dressed heavily and some even wore jackets and insulated hats. The heat had been fixed as well as whatever hot water pipe broke, but temperatures outside were below zero and a draft of cold air was rushing in. A major came by to take temperature readings and I do not know what the thermometer read but it felt like it was in the 40's on the lower floor.

In the sergeant's office talking to the nurse was "Lunchbox," an intellectually challenged prisoner with a litany of other problems. I said to him, "I have been waiting all this time for you?" Before he replied I told him there was no cure for his ailments. To the nurse I joked and asked if the retard was giving her any problems. She assured me no and we walked back to the quasi-medical office. The nurse had done some research on the types of stomach acid inhibitors. Prilosec was a blocker while Zantac just reduced some acid. A drug which was on Wexford's list called Protonix was much stronger and apparently they all had the same side effects. She asked if I was willing to try it. I agreed and thanked her for her time.

The health care at Stateville is deplorable. Wexford and the IDOC continue to be more concerned with costs than providing rudimentary care to a growing elderly and sick population of prisoners. My inability to get a simple prescription in a timely fashion is only a microcosm of the pervasive problems in the prison's health care system. I can understand to a degree the neglect to treat convicts particularly in max security. However, many prisoners are vastly over sentenced or prosecuted. Some are even innocent. Fortunately, there are also some intelligent and caring medical staff who try to do their best in a less than ideal place.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Company You Keep -- Jan. 18, 2014

"All for one and one for all. The actions of one are the actions of all," the prosecutor theatrically told my jury while making references to the Three Musketeers. The state was unable to prove I killed or participated in killing Dean Fawcett. There was no evidence to show I was even at the crime scene so the assistant state's attorneys argued that I was guilty by a theory of accountability. Robert Faraci was my "friend, good pal, and partner in crime" and I lived with him and his wife before and after the murder. According to one of the detectives who interrogated me, I admitted knowing Faraci's plans and yet I let him use my car. While the prosecution and police were so intently focused on weaving this web to ensnare me, the actual killer's jury allowed him to escape unpunished. Faraci was acquitted of the murder and having rebuilt his life is unwilling to help me. Others connected to this case, including his former wife, also have moved on and apparently do not want to look back or get involved. For over 20 years I have languished in prison for the company I kept. I wish I also could move on with my life or what is left of it.

Last weekend, I enjoyed watching the NFL Playoff games. I did not watch them at home on a big television screen while eating good food or drink. Nor did I watch the games at an off track betting sports bar with plenty of friends like I imagine my former friend Bob did. I was as usual confined to a prison cell with the company of my cellmate. The 13" Secureview television set I have wedged between a bar and the bunk above me is so small the picture is cut off at the margins. My once co-defendant and part time bookmaker would have probably been impressed that I picked 3 of the 4 games against the spread and even predicted all of the over/unders. Bob was not here to congratulate me, but my cellmate paid homage to my feat. Yes, I was a big winner, I told him. This makes up for all the years I have spent in prison.

Monday morning, lunch lines were started at 9 a.m. I had not finished my cell workout and did not go to chow. As I exercised, I could see men walking down the staircase from the upper galleries. One of the prisoners was Juan Luna who I did not know was moved to C House the week prior. In January of 1993, a little over 21 years ago, Luna along with James Degorski, murdered 7 people at a Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine, Illinois. The mass murder stunned the Chicago area public and was the focus of intense media coverage. Months later with the crime still unsolved, Robert Faraci and his wife attempted to frame me of it to save themselves in the murder of Dean Fawcett. At the county jail, Robert told me he felt no pains of conscience for that or the other lies he made up because he had no intentions of testifying against me. The cop who claimed I lent him my car is who I should blame. Juan Luna also thinks he is not responsible for my conviction and has not given me discovery which may help in my exoneration.

Stateville has a new warden and after my workout he was walking around the cell house with the warden from Pontiac. Occasionally, wardens from other penitentiaries will discuss administrative issues and be given a tour. From what I was told, they stopped at the bottom of the stairs to look up where a prisoner had jumped to his death recently. It was probably just out of curiosity and I doubt they contemplated how some men would rather die than live under such conditions. In fact, they may have thought that more rules, security, and manpower were needed. The answer to any incident always seems to be more "cow bell".

Tuesday morning I went to the small yard to workout despite the cold weather and snow showers. The yard is essentially two concrete basketball courts surrounded by cyclone fencing and razor wire. A bench and a couple of barbells were put out there and about ten men waited for their turn to use the weights. Other men walked about on the ice and snow or just stood in place talking. The prison administration seeks to discourage inmates from being physically fit. In the gym, three universal machines have gone unrepaired for years until currently only a lat pull down bar and shoulder press unit work. The repairs would cost little and I have heard charity groups have even offered to donate new equipment but were rebuffed.

Before my arrest, I had a wide array of weight lifting equipment to use. At my home, the weights, bars, benches, and etc. were kept in immaculate condition. The steel even glistened like polished chrome. Occasionally, I would work out with a professional wrestler who had converted his entire garage into a gym which may have even impressed the likes of Hulk Hogan. When I lived with Bob and Rose in Florida, the club house had a nice workout room along with a large outdoor pool and hot tub. Those days are long over for me, but I am told Faraci is in good physical shape now and has membership at one of those fancy gyms which became popular after my imprisonment. While I was bench pressing a frigidly cold and rusted barbell with snow coming down on my face, I thought how nice that must be.

After yard, prisoners were brought to the chow hall. A kitchen worker grabbed a couple of slices of what inmates call "slick meat" and slapped it on my tray. Slick meat is a slimy off-color imitation bologna. What a great post-workout meal I thought. I brought the stale bread, however, back with me to the cell to make a tuna sandwich. While I was eating by the cell bars, my neighbor complained of food poisoning. Last night he said he was up late vomiting and had diarrhea. Regularly, prisoners become ill due to bad or poorly handled food. The kitchen also has a roach and rodent problem and if this was not enough to make you think twice about eating the food, trays are not washed properly. In line, I go through tray after tray with food still stuck on them. Convicts have all sorts of communicable diseases and germs. In fact, the Minimum Security Unit was put on lockdown this week due to a flu epidemic.

In the evening, my cellmate filled his meaningless existence by watching TV as usual. While watching an episode of "Supernatural" a lieutenant walked by and jokingly asked if he needed a pair of glasses. My cellmate sits a foot away from his TV almost as if he is trying to get into the picture. I tried to fill the void in my life studying some corporate reports. I am still missing many essential fundamentals but I tried to do my best. Later, I wrote the Willow Creek Church in South Barrington. Despite being a nonbeliever, I thought they deserved a thank you letter for their Christmas donation.

The last Christmas I celebrated before my arrest was in 1992 while I lived with Bob Faraci and his wife. I remember buying a tree with them and tying it precariously to the roof of their Pontiac Firebird. Later, I helped Rose with decorations and presents. It was nice to share the holiday with them and in my prison cell I wondered how Rose celebrated Christmas last month. She has since remarried and her new name is Zerillo. She still lives in the Chicago area but is now in her mid-40s and has children. One of them is as old as the number of years I have been in the IDOC. I never received a Christmas card or anything from her all this time. In fact, when contacted, she does not even want to talk about the past.

Christmas cards are just beginning to be received by prisoners. The mail is so delayed that even letters post dated mid-December have yet to be processed. A prisoner nicknamed Chub (short for chubby) told me both his outgoing and incoming mail is a month behind. He also mentioned how he thinks emails forwarded to him are being taken by mail room staff. Later in the week, I spoke with my neighbor Leprechaun again while in the chow hall. He was feeling better now but complained about how he just received a Christmas card and a Catholic Calendar from a priest. With news of the pope just recently defrocking 400 priests, I had to joke with him that possibly the calendar was held up because of questionably lewd content. I asked, "Did the calendar have pictures of fat naked boys or babies disguised in Michelangelo style paintings?"

Leprechaun, like many of the men incarcerated at Stateville for numerous years, rarely ever receives any mail. He also has never received a visit, to my knowledge. Prisoners often become estranged from family and friends. I can imagine that being my circumstance in the not too distant future. Midweek, I received a visit from my mother, however, she continues to be very sick and frail. It seems I should be the one visiting her and trying to take care of her needs. Earlier today, I called home and was surprised to have my sister answer. She and my brother-in-law had stopped by to see how my mother was doing. I have not spoken to my brother-in-law in over a decade and was glad to hear he was fixing a water pump and a couple of other things in need of repair. I told him he should stop by the prison and although he said he would, I doubt he will. I rarely see anyone lately and soon I may be like Leprechaun receiving only a card for Christmas in late January. Oddly, I have not received any cards yet, but possibly they will arrive next week or in February.

In the visiting room I noticed the new vending machines prisoners were talking about. The prices were indeed double what they were previously. I told my mother not to buy a debit card and she said she could not even if she had wanted to. Apparently, the machine in the waiting room only accepted $5 bills which she did not have. The reason the vending machine service provider was changed was to give the contract to a government owned business which will pass along profits to the IDOC. It amazes me how the state continues to squeeze prisoners, their families, or the public in general while recklessly blowing away enormous amounts of money.

When I returned to the cell, I discovered a prison worker had saved me a lunch tray. On it was a small wedge of cheese pizza. Since I wrote my post "Prison Pizza" it seems kitchen supervisors are having the meal made more often. It does not cost much money and prisoners like it despite how unfilling it is. I added some commissary bought sardines in tomato sauce as a topping and was still hungry. However, later when watching Survivorman I made myself some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

My friend Brian Palasz, the last I heard went by the name Briante Palazaeno, loved Italian food. Actually, he loved most any food, but I wonder if he would love the food served at Stateville. Readers may not be aware of this, but Brian and not I could have been in prison these last 20 years. Bob Faraci initially told police that Brian had planned and was an active participant in Fawcett's murder. A woman named Nadine Lenarczak also claimed it was Brian who bullied the victim at a mall the day before, and that it was him who forced Fawcett into a car. However, when police told Bob that Brian had an alibi, he recanted his story. Nadine also changed her statements and testified that I was the bully. At trial, Brian admitted knowing Bob Faraci desired to kill Fawcett but denied being involved. For years he has been paranoid of being charged with the murder. Bob and Brian even threatened students from Northwestern's Investigative Journalism class led by Professor David Protess to stay away. Although I believe Bob alone or with the assistance or conspiracy of his wife killed Fawcett, I also know Brian has information beneficial to my exoneration. No one has been able to locate him in years.

Thursday, I once again went outside to the yard to lift weights. While I was standing around waiting for my turn prisoners spoke about a news segment on TV the previous day. Apparently, the local Fox news reported the Illinois legislature was finally drafting a bill to address a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year which forbid the states from giving juveniles sentences of life without parole. I did not pay much attention to the talk because it does not apply to me. I was 18 years old by 28 days and the state only considers those under 18 to be juveniles. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling only applies to juveniles where the judge did not have discretion to give any punishment but LWOP. Trial judge Sam Amirante could have sentenced me to 20 years under the statute.

Yesterday a prisoner in Missouri was executed for a rape and murder. He had been on death row for 25 years and interestingly it took 25 minutes to kill him. Apparently, something went wrong with the lethal injection process. I told my cellmate who was watching the news that I would prefer immediate firing squad and just be done with it. The appellate system was largely a facade and there was no point suffering in prison until I died of natural causes. I doubted my conviction would ever be overturned despite being able to prove I did not lend my car. Even if the court entertained my case, the prosecutor would still argue I was guilty by association.

Later we watched a DVD movie shown on the prison cable system produced and starred in by Robert Redford. It was called "The Company You Keep" and was about the Weather Underground. The Weather Underground was a radical left-wing group in the early 1970s which promoted revolution. They were similar to the SLA or Symbionese Liberation Army which had committed bombings, bank robberies, and murders. Most people probably remember the SLA for kidnapping Patty Hearst and brainwashing her to become a member. Similar to the Weather Underground, those that were not arrested changed their names and lived as fugitives for decades sometimes. James Kilgore who currently works at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana was not arrested until 2002, for example.

The film "The Company You Keep" is mainly about a man who was once a part of the Weather Underground but after being falsely accused in a bank robbery changed his name and over the years rebuilt his life. He currently was a successful defense lawyer and father when a reporter caught onto his real identity. While eluding the police, he tried to reconnect with the person who actually committed the crime and to convince her to turn herself in. The woman was in hiding and was not easy to locate. He went to the co-founder of the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers, who now works at the University of Chicago and who interestingly was a colleague of fellow socialist and now president, Barack Obama. Ayers gave him some help grudgingly. He did not want to be discovered helping a fugitive or for his past to be reexamined. Finally, the character played by Robert Redford was able to meet and persuade the former girlfriend to surrender to police and clear his name.

Unlike Robert Redford, I have no sympathy for radical left wing groups like the SLA or the Weather Underground. In fact, our politics are at the opposite sides of the spectrum. However, I do sympathize with those who are wrongfully accused of crimes largely in part due to their past associations. For over 20 years I have been in prison for a murder I was not even aware took place simply because of the people I was around. Over this time, I have tried to get various people to help me out, but unlike in the movie, I am in prison. I have no way to reach out to them except through intermediaries. Some of the people have moved away, changed their names, or rebuilt their lives. They have families, friends, jobs, and reputations at stake or simply just do not care. They have moved on and do not want to look back even if it is to save me from continuing to languish in prison. Hopefully, the courts will eventually overturn my conviction despite the company I kept when I was a teenager.