Saturday, July 13, 2019

Norman Cousins Reunite After Over Sixty Years Apart


Dateline: Saturday, July 6, 2019


This has been the year for reuniting with long-lost relatives. After 41 years apart, my cousin, Linda Thornhill Willett, in Texarkana, my home town, talks with me every week now, fifteen minutes of laughter, usually about the foibles of our mutual Walker relatives. After almost two decades apart, my brother, Dan Norman, has visited us twice this year, driving my mother, Lucille Norman, Aunt Alice Walker, and niece Tammy Norman to Daytona Beach, Tomoka C.I., for a few hours together.

The record was set this past Saturday when my cousin, Sue Jones, from North Carolina, visited with Libby and me. It has been at least sixty years since Sue's sisters, Betty and Jane, spent time with our family one summer when we first moved to Florida from Texas. We had a great time together hitting it off and becoming acquainted. Sue came to Florida to visit her sisters, and the last-minute visitation approval scramble almost didn't coalesce.

Sue's mother, formerly Frankie Lee Norman, was my father Eugene Norman's eldest sister. She married Ed Hatchell, and they raised three daughters and a son, William, in North Carolina. They made many trips to Dade City, Florida, over the years, to visit with my grandmother, Berta Lee (West) Norman, my uncle, Rufus Norman, and other Norman relatives.

I never knew that Grandma Norman spent so much time staying with the Hatchells and Aunt Eloise Norman. I told Sue about the time Grandma spent a couple of weeks with us when I was fifteen, and she taught me how to play the card game, Canasta. "She taught us, too," Sue said. It was like we lived parallel lives, hundreds of miles apart, connected by our Grandmother Norman.

Sue told us stories about her family and our mutual aunts, uncles and cousins that I'd never known, and her two children and grandchildren that I've never met. We share a mutual love of chickens and dogs, we both majored in accounting in college (although she went much farther than I did), love photography, and love camping (something I haven't been able to partake of in prison). Libby shares the same interests, and sitting across the table from them, observing them smiling and laughing, I was struck by the almost instant connections the two of them shared.

I told Sue that my clearest memory of her father, my Uncle Ed, was the ever present fishing cap he always wore, and the time he and Uncle Rufus took me fishing with them to a local lake, where he showed me how to cast a spinning rod and reel. When I shared that with Sue, she smiled wistfully and said, "He taught us, too."

She'd never heard the story Grandma told me about the prisoner of war camp in South Georgia during World War II, or the German prisoner who worked on Grandpa Robert Franklin Norman's farm. The Army allowed local farmers to sign out German P.O.W.'s to work during the war, and their prisoner became like a member of the family. He was a skilled mechanic, and after he repaired all Grandpa Norman's broken farm equipment, neighbors lined up to get him to fix theirs. When the war ended and the German prisoners were repatriated, their German didn't want to leave, not only because Germany had been bombed into ruins, but for fear of Hitler's punishment for having been captured by the enemy. Hitler wanted all loyal Germans to fight to the death, and captured soldiers were considered traitors to Germany. Fortunately for the P.O.W.'s, Hitler committed suicide.

Sue told me I should write down that story, so here it is, Sue.

Sue told us stories I'd never heard, especially about Normans in Moultrie and Norman Park, Georgia, Norman Junior College, and the Norman Museum. Those places and Grandpa Norman's grave are on our list to one day visit. She also filled in her own family history, which was sad for me, since I had missed out on so much, being in prison most of my life, unable to maintain the family relationships she shared with relatives I only knew by names. Sue, you asked about Uncle Buddy's eldest daughter--I asked my mother on the phone--of course she remembers the names of all our generation's cousins-- Ann Norman.

We shared details of our aunts and uncles, Aunt Frankie Lee's and my father's brothers and sisters--I knew Uncle Buddy fought in WWII, but was surprised to learn that their oldest brother, Theus Norman, had been in the Army, too.

I reunited with Aunt Frankie Lee and Aunt Eloise in May, 1985, at Zephyrhills C.I., when they came for my father's funeral. When they entered the visiting area and saw me, they both began crying. We embraced, and I teared up, too. Aunt Frankie Lee told me, "When I saw you, you looked like our father as a young man." I'd never met my Norman grandfather. He'd died years before I was born. My father was sixteen, and convinced my grandmother to sign enlistment papers that he was seventeen, allowing him to go off to war in the Philippines, carrying a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and guarding Japanese Imperial Marine prisoners. He never drew his $70 a month pay, sending his allotment to Grandma, instead hustling other soldiers as the checkers champion for his own cash needs. When I told Sue my father met my mother while driving a cab after the war, she told me that her father had driven a cab, too. No wonder we got along so well. The similarities were almost spooky.

There is more, but it is late, and I must return to the requirements of life in prison. I don't know how our visit affected my cousin Sue Jones, but it had a tremendously positive impact on me. I felt that a lost treasure had been found. Thanks, Sue.

Charlie Norman





Thursday, July 4, 2019

Freedom Date + 2 Years


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

I Need Your Help--Letters of Support

The Florida Parole Commission changed their name to the Florida Commission on Offender Review (FCOR), removing "Parole," perhaps because only fourteen people were paroled last year, out of over 4,300 people in prison under the authority of FCOR. At that rate, it will take over 200 years to release us all. I don't think we will make it.

Where we are right now: At my April, 2017, prison interview with parole examiner Mr. Z. C. Rowan, he recommended a July 4, 2017, parole release date, based on my excellent parole release plan and acceptance to the "Prisoners of Christ" faith-based residential transition program in Jacksonville, Florida. My trial judge's letter to FCOR approving my parole played a large role. FCOR administrators in Tallahassee also accepted my parole release plan. My wife, Libby, and I were ecstatic, as you can imagine, with the upcoming Independence Day being my first day of freedom after 39 years of wrongful captivity.

It was not to be. Due to the political tampering and conflicts of interest of two corrupt politicians with a personal vendetta against me (another long story), at the May 24, 2017, Tallahassee hearing, the parole commissioners, who owed their cushy jobs to those politicians, refused to sign my parole papers, for vague, contradictory reasons. We went to another hearing on July 19, 2017. Before the hearing, my then-lawyer, Bill Sheppard, was given a copy of FCOR'S "Final Order" denying my release and suspending my July 4, 2017, parole date for seven years. The Final Order was signed and pre-dated, "August 1, 2017," and we got a copy thirteen days BEFORE the final order was supposedly signed, effective August 31, 2017. Obviously, the decision had been made prior to that day's hearing, and nothing we could say that day would have any effect. When attorney Sheppard stated on the record that the decision had been predetermined, Commissioner Davison, who had skipped the previous hearing, denied it.

Although FCOR suspended my date seven years (an "ex post facto" violation), we do have options. Lawyer Sheppard bailed out when the money ran out, although he'd vowed to fight my wrongful imprisonment as a "good cause," leaving us to continue the fight on our own. It took us a year to get all my legal documents from the lawyer.

We are preparing a new parole release plan, in accordance with Florida parole law, seeking a "subsequent hearing" based on new information. As part of that effort, we need letters of support from friends and family, showing that there are reputable, law-abiding citizens (voters) aware of my case, and urging FCOR to right the wrong, grant me a new hearing, and release me on parole. If no one cares if I am not released, why should FCOR care if I am?

It's a numbers game. If only one person wrote a letter of support, they wouldn't feel sorry for me. If a thousand people wrote letters, that would get their attention.

I teach a weekly Parole Planning Workshop for old-timers like myself, most of whom are clueless about the parole process. I asked for a show of hands: "How many of you have no person in free society who would write a letter on your behalf?" Half the class raised their hands. Most of them have outlived their families and supporters. They have no resources or any place to go. They are "The Forgotten Ones."

I don't want to be forgotten. It has been over 41 years of imprisonment in some of Florida's worst, most dangerous prisons, yet I have survived, by the Grace of God. If you want to help, and will write a letter of support, I would greatly appreciate it. If you reach out to others, tell them about my case, refer them to the website and blog, ask them to write letters of their own, that would be great. If you need more information, or help with your letter, please contact Libby, and she will send you the information needed. She has copies of previous letters that might be helpful.

You can email your letter to FCOR Chairman Melinda Coonrod, melindacoonrod@fcor.state.fl.us
 or write a letter to:
Melinda Coonrod, Chairman
Florida Commission on Offender Review
4070 Esplanade Way
Tallahassee, FL  32399-2450

RE: Charles P. Norman, DC#881834

### Important---please copy your email or letter to Libby---we have to have a copy to include with the new parole release plan:

Libby Norman
11475 Americana Ln.
Jacksonville, FL. 32218

email: freecharlie2001@yahoo.com...ph.: 904/269-0966...website: www.freecharlienow.com. blog: http://charlienorman.blogspot.com

I am grateful for any help you can offer. Please keep in touch. We should be celebrating two years of freedom on July 4th. Instead, Libby and I will be together in the prison visiting park inside Tomoka C.I., Daytona Beach.

Sincerely,

Charlie Norman

Saturday, June 1, 2019

"Prisoners of Christ" Visits Parole Planning Workshop At Tomoka C. I.


Dateline: Thursday, May 23, 2019
  
             After months of false starts and failed attempts to address our Parole Planning Workshop, Greg Seymour, Re-Entry Director for the "Prisoners of Christ" faith-based residential transition program in Jacksonville,, Florida, finally returned to his roots as a free man. Decades before, Greg had been a prisoner at Tomoka C.I., Daytona Beach, Florida, working as a chapel clerk before attending the F. I. U. Lifers Program at Everglades C. I., eventually being released on parole.
             Originally scheduled to make the trek to Tomoka on March, 16, 2019, Greg had made it as far as Highway 92, right down the road, when his car was rear-ended by one of our Florida drivers, resulting in having to deal with Florida Highway Patrol officers for hours. Such are the complications parolees must deal with. Thankfully, everything turned out all right. Wellness Supervisor Officer C. Johnson made the calls and obtained the approvals needed for our speaker to try again.
             Before turning the floor over to Greg, I asked each of the men to stand up, introduce themselves: their names, where they were from, how many years they'd been in prison, what their parole dates were, starting with myself.
             "My name is Charlie Norman, this past April 5th marked my forty-first year of imprisonment on a murder conviction from Tampa. My parole release date remains July 4, 2017, although the parole commissioners refused to sign my papers, suspending my date."
             As we went around the room, it was a humbling experience to hear each man's story, as brief as it was. A few of the men had known Greg Seymour when he'd been here as a prisoner, albeit now they were much older, grayer, balder, and bent by the time they'd served.
             On this day that Greg had accepted our invitation to return to speak to twenty-two parole-eligible prisoners gathered in the Wellness Program building, looking out at the seated men, one could tell that he had been affected by the short testimonies. Patting the concrete block wall behind him, Greg explained why he didn't need directions from the front gate to the Wellness building, in the shadow of the gun tower overseeing the prison recreation yard, even after all these years.
             "Another inmate and I laid these blocks over twenty years ago. We built this building and the library," he said, smiling, patting his handiwork again. "We must have done a pretty good job. It's still standing. It's holding up pretty well." He could have said the same thing about himself.
             Greg Seymour has a strong Christian background, and his advice to men seeking parole is infused with his faith.
             "What is parole?" he asked. "Grace, man. Grace is when God gives us what we don't deserve. Mercy is when God doesn't give us what we deserve. That's what happened to me when I got paroled. I didn't deserve it."
             On the subject of parole, talking to a number of men whose parole dates had already passed, in legal limbo with arbitrary parole "suspensions" delaying their earned releases, Greg had some advice.
             "It may seem like a hopeless situation. You may be listening to that man whispering in your ear, but you better make sure he's telling you the right thing.
             "What's behind you is behind you. You can't dig it up.
             "I learned to think for myself.
             "Prior to God I was a mess. I had a bad mindset."
             Greg shared more examples and analogies from his life experiences to illustrate to the men how to prepare for parole, for when they are finally released into free society.
             "Prepare for parole now. You gotta get your eyes off the next man, and look in the mirror.
             "Keep your heart seasoned. Do you know what that means? My daddy was a Bahamian. He was a great cook. It all came down to the seasonings he used. You gotta season your heart. Hatred, bitterness, murder, bad seasonings, come from the heart. Like a garden you gotta pluck out the weeds.
             "Prepare--make your preparations now--for parole. It's easy to violate. Some of ya'll can't wait to get outa here and get you a woman. You gotta get the right woman.
             "I'm just like you--I make mistakes. But God doesn't make mistakes. Some of us, we're harboring all kinds of stuff in our hearts, negative thoughts, hatred. Keep your heart seasoned with the right thoughts.
             "Pick the people you associate with. Watch out for those smiling in your faces. Prison does give you a lot of advantages. You can see those types of people coming before they get there. You gotta avoid them.
             "There was a man on my job--he was a hater. Back in the day, we would have handled it differently-break his jaw. I'm not gonna harbor any ill will. I have not reverted back to my old ways. God took care of it. He doesn't need my help."
             Greg talked about what he's doing right now, besides his job as re-entry director at Prisoners of Christ, working with other parolees.
             "Prepare to be successful while on parole. Give back. Joe Miller and I work in a juvenile program. Don't quit, just because you have setbacks. I'm sharing with you what worked for me. God saw into my heart."
             The time went quickly. After a question-and-answer session, handshakes and a few hugs ended the session. I watched Greg walk up the road toward the front gate and freedom, like most of the other men, wondering when we'd follow him to freedom.
             Thanks, Greg.

Charlie