Wednesday, June 3, 2020

PRISON PANDEMIC UPDATE # 25



Tuesday, June 2, 2020. 7:21 p.m., Tomoka C. I., Daytona Beach, FL

I'm tired. It has been a long, hot, exhausting, and expensive day. My name appeared on the ''call-out sheet'' last night for a D. R. hearing (disciplinary report) this morning at 7:00 a.m. in E-dorm (confinement), from the bogus D. R. they dropped on me last Wednesday.

I packed up all my property last night — a considerable chore. That's the normal procedure — most people go to solitary confinement from their D. R. hearings — and that saves the dorm officer from having to pack everything to be stored while the prisoner is in lockup, or from being stolen by his neighbors.

This morning I told the dorm sergeant I had a hearing in E-dorm at seven, and asked, could I leave my property in the dorm, rather than hauling it to the opposite end of the prison compound, a considerable distance.

''Do you expect to go to jail?'' she asked, raising her eyebrows.

''Not for a fabricated face mask violation. They usually hand out 30 days probation, but I'm trying for a dismissal,'' I said.

"Yes, leave it. Good luck.''

I trekked all the way to E-dorm, only to find that my hearing would be held in K-dorm. Another pandemic procedural change. They bring the hearing to you.

Three hours later, I finally had a stroke of luck. Many years ago, during my first stay at Tomoka, I was courteous and polite to a rookie officer who was dropped into the visiting park early in his career. My wife, Libby, was also polite and courteous to him, as she always is. We had numerous interesting conversations, mostly my telling him ''war stories,'' past prison incidents that served as caution points for what new officers should not do. Many years later, he'd risen through the ranks, and now was the security representative for my hearing.

''Charles Norman, I just can't get away from you,'' he said, smiling.

When you're a long-term prisoner, you see officers work many years, retire, and be replaced by their children. Oftentimes officers relate better to prisoners than their coworkers. He asked about my family. He remembered. I had already served almost 30 years in prison when he was a new recruit, and years later, it astounds many of these officers that I am still in prison. It astounds me, too.

The Jpay photos I'd requested clearly showed my facemask was on my face, not ''removed,'' as the D. R. alleged. He read my statement, and agreed that the D. R. never should have been written, but they were getting pressure from ''up top,'' the administration, to crack down on face mask violations.

So I was found guilty, and given 15 days probation, the lowest sentence they can issue. The unspoken policy in prison is find everyone guilty — let them overturn it on appeal, which I will do next. If the taxpayers knew how many millions of dollars the State spends on petty D. R.'s every year, there'd be a revolt.

Just as I unpacked my belongings, the K-dorm officer announced that everyone was moving out, pack up. Again.

I call it human checkers--moving people around from place to place, often with no rhyme or reason. My destination was J-2 dorm, a fairly decent place next to the chowhall and across from classification/medical. The only problem was that there were a number of other prisoners going to the same place, with only one laundry cart. Mattresses, bedrolls, large bags of personal property.

I was slow. My bunk was in the far corner of the dorm, and by the time I piled on my bags, the cart was precariously stacked close to seven feet high. Getting it out the door confirmed that several large bags had to come off, or they'd keep falling. Four guards were standing there smirking and offering unsolicited advice. I told them we had to leave behind several bags — was that all right? Sure. We'd get them on a second trip. Four of us left bags. When we came back, my bag was gone, as well as the officers.

That hurt. I lost personal clothing, some art materials, a few books, and the canteen food items I'd bought this week. My bad, as they say. I wasn't thinking. No recourse. I asked several officers, who shrugged. Tough luck.

At least my new accommodations are okay — a single bunk with a ceiling fan overhead. That's crucial during the sweltering Florida summer.

I've known many of these men for years. More than one said that their family members read these updates to them on the phone, and they enjoyed them. At supper, a younger prisoner Libby and I became acquainted with at visits sat next to me, told me his granny read the updates, and he wondered how ''Ant Man'' was doing. ''Fine,'' I said. ''We killed a bunch of ants this morning, before we got moved.''

The ''police'' — what many call the officers — are also readers — always have been. Over the years I've gotten compliments on certain essays that struck the officers hard enough that they wanted to ask me about them.

It is later now, almost time for ''master count.'' With all the moves today, it's a good bet that count time will be a challenge.

One more thing...overheard in the TV room, while I was trying to watch the news of New York City burning:

1st Guy: "I read something interesting in this magazine.''

2nd Guy: ''Yeah?''

1st Guy: "Did you know there are four different species of giraffes?''

2nd Guy: ''Yeah?''

1st Guy: ''Yeah. You can tell by the spots.''

2nd Guy: "Yeah? Uh, what's a giraffe?''

More later. All the best to you and yours, and be safe.

Charlie

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

PRISON PANDEMIC UPDATE # 24


Monday, June 1, 2020, 12:09 p.m. Tomoka C. I., Daytona Beach, FL

I haven't written any updates since I told you about the false D. R. on Wednesday. I've been busy, and so has Libby. I wrote and printed a ''Written Statement'' to submit at my hearing, listing all the actual facts and why the D. R. should be withdrawn. We've been in touch with my lawyer, and are hoping he will file a rebuttal to the warden before my hearing. I'm praying that we won't have to go any further. If by some chance I am retaliated against and go to solitary, I won't have access to my tablet or emails. Hopefully it won't come to that.

I talked to my mother on the phone over the weekend. They removed the pins in her hip, and the painful, but necessary rehab continues. She expects to go home in a week or so, depending on her insurance coverage. She hopes to get a hospital bed and walker for her home.

Heard from my first cousin, Sue, from North Carolina. Her eldest sister, Jane, had surgery to replace her pacemaker a few days ago, and Sue is staying with her at home in Georgia. Both Sue and Jane visited us here last year. Middle sister/cousin Betty was recovering from surgery at the time, and couldn't join us. She makes up for it with her inspirational emails and prayers. Reconnecting with such warm and loving relatives has been good for Libby and me. Please keep my mother and cousins in your thoughts and prayers.

So far it has been a quiet day in prison. They posted a schedule for each dorm to get outside for canteen and rec, either a morning or afternoon. Dorm K-1 went to the canteen Sunday morning, and is scheduled to go again Wednesday. One major problem--the canteens are restocked every Wednesday morning, and they remain closed. It seems that the schedule-maker delights in disappointment, knowing that anyone listed for Wednesday canteen effectively is denied access.

The pandemic economic collapse trickles down to the prison population, just as it has affected free society. Loved ones who have lost their jobs, haven't received stimulus checks, are facing home foreclosures and eviction, are standing in line at food banks with crying, hungry children, are ill-equipped to send money to their family members in prison. In this dorm, at least half the men have no money in their canteen accounts, with no prospects to get any.

We have two pay phones on a wall in this dorm, and at two feet apart, it's impossible not to overhear the person next to you. Yesterday morning, while dialing Libby's number, I was struck and saddened by what I heard. It went something like this:

''I hate to bring it up, but I never got that money order I asked about last month.''

"I understand. Do you think you could send something, anything, this month? I'm dead broke. I really need soap and deodorant, shampoo, lotion. You know. I got some soups on credit, need to pay back the guy. Please, it's bad, I need help.''

''I know. I appreciate it. I hate to ask you, but you're the only hope I have.''

''Okay. I understand, but if you could do anything...please. Okay, I'll call you next month. Take care. I love you. Bye.''

I felt bad for the guy, but what could I do? The need is too great. I am blessed that Libby looks out for me as best she can. I always buy extra coffee packs. and soups to share with a few needy friends, but no one can look out for 20 or 30 broke prisoners. Once some new guy I'd never seen before approached me wanting to borrow a quantity of food I did not have. He had that ''look''--a druggie--and I figured he actually wanted to buy drugs. When I told him no, he copped an attitude, accusing me of letting a hungry man starve.

I told him, ''I've been in prison a long time, and I've never heard of anyone starving to death in a Florida prison. You may not like it, but you eat three meals a day in the chowhall, you'll have a full belly.''

Conversation over.

Although I didn't know the man on the phone, later I offered him a soup and coffee. He took it. ''Thanks.''

Prison news from USA TODAY—

Washington, D. C.—The Supreme Court refused the Trump administration's request Tuesday to block a lower court order requiring stepped--up efforts against the spread of the coronavirus at a low-security federal prison in Ohio.

The high court's action represented its most significant intervention to date related to the deadly impact of COVID-19 inside federal prisons.

The low-security Elkton Federal C. I. in N.E. Ohio faces a potential large-scale transfer of elderly, medically vulnerable inmates to less dangerous types of custody, including home confinement, under a federal court order. As many as 837 inmates could be affected out of a total prison population of some 2,500.

Juneau, Alaska—Prosecutors have accused an Alaska man of violating a federal judge's order and breaking his quarantine after securing early release from prison amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Terre Haute, Indiana—Three inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, according to the federal government.

Helena, Montana—Montana reported two more cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, including an inmate at the Yellowstone County Jail in Billings. The inmate, who is in his 30's, tested positive on Tuesday, said RiverStone Health spokesperson Barbara Schneeman. He is being cared for at a Billings hospital.

Omaha, Nebraska—Nebraska's prisons, jails and detention centers continue to see staff infected with the new coronavirus, as the state's death toll and positive COVID-19 cases climbed Tuesday.

Montpelier, Vermont—The Vermont Department of Corrections said Thursday it has completed testing of inmates and staff at the Rutland prison for the virus that causes COVID-19 and no cases were detected.

Be safe.
Charlie

Thursday, May 28, 2020

PRISON PANDEMIC UPDATE # 23



Thursday, May 27, 2020, 1:00 p.m., Tomoka C. I., Daytona Beach, FL

You won't believe what just happened. I was served with a disciplinary report (D.R.), for disobeying a verbal or written order. A finding of guilty could result in solitary confinement, loss of gain-time, and an extension of my parole release date. I am not guilty, and will fight it at a hearing. Following is the text of the D.R.:

''Inmate Norman, Charles #881834 is in direct violation of 6-1, disobeying verbal or written order - any order given to an inmate or inmates by a staff member or other authorized person. At approximately 2100 hours on 26 May 2020 I was assigned as the control room officer. I was advised via email of a Jpay video visit violation committed by inmate Norman. On 5/25/20 at approximately 0930 hours inmate Norman was conducting a video visitation. During the video visit inmate Norman removed his mask. Inmate Norman is in violation of written order from the warden, requiring all inmates to be wearing a mask. Inmate Norman will remain in general population pending the outcome of this report. The O.I.C. was notified and approved the writing of this report. By: ATL29 - Allen, T.''

Additional text: ''An impartial investigation will be conducted on this disciplinary report. During the investigation of the disciplinary report, you will be advised of the charges against you and you may request staff assistance. During the investigation you should make known any witnesses to the investigating officer. The testimony of witnesses shall be presented by written statements. See Rule 33-601.307 (3) for complete information regarding witnesses. You will have the opportunity to make a statement in writing regarding the charge and to provide information relating to the investigation.''

Actual facts -- The video visit consisted of me sitting in front of the Jpay kiosk at the assigned time, facing the camera, waiting for Libby to appear on the screen. This is a very primitive system, the image and voices are out of sync and delayed, the bandwidth weakness results in a blank screen for most of the assigned 15 minutes, the image freezes up for several minutes, and if we can talk for 30 seconds without interruption, it's a surprise. We keep trying, in hopes the program will eventually perform as advertised. On this day, same problems. No signals for most of seven minutes. I have severe allergies (lots of pollen in the open windows), and when my sinuses drain it causes me to cough and clear my throat. Warden Duncan has the same problem. I've had a persistent cough for years.

While we were waiting in front of blank screens hoping the signal would return, I had to cough and clear my throat. I never ''removed'' my ill-fitting mask. It remained on my face, secured around my head. It may have slipped down a little as a brief signal returned, but was never removed.

More on this later.

We aren't receiving any new coronavirus information from the authorities, so the men stay glued to the TV news. That can be good or bad. Like many ''free'' citizens, prisoners are affected by events near and far away.

One hot-button issue that stirs up the men is the latest federal court decision regarding the constitutionality of voting rights for ex-felons. Florida voters passed a state constitutional amendment giving ex-felons the right to vote, with the exceptions of sex offenders and murder convictions. The wording is straightforward, but the Florida Legislature passed a state law exemption denying the right to vote to any ex-felon who owes court costs, penalties, fines, or fees. Since most ex-felons are indigent, with little ability to pay court fees incurred perhaps decades ago, that law effectively denies the right to vote to a large percentage of the ex-felons.

Activists argued that the state law was effectively an unconstitutional poll tax that denied voting rights to the poor. U. S. District Court Judge Richard Hinkle agreed, and struck down the law. Many prisoners are offended that Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is appealing the federal judge's decision, denying the vote to potentially hundreds of thousands of ex-felon voters, playing politics.

Many states permit ex-felons to register to vote upon their release from prison, without exception, while a few states allow them to vote while still in prison.

Another touchy subject that is creating tension inside prison is the recent death of Gerald Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis policemen who were subsequently fired. The network news shows repeatedly broadcast the cell phone video of the cop with his knee on Gerald Floyd's neck, juxtaposed with scenes of thousands of protesters demanding justice.

It's not a black/white issue. Everyone is offended. But in prison, such actions create racial tensions, with white prisoners taking the heat for the actions of white cops on the street. In the early 1990's, the Rodney King videos ignited widespread assaults against white prisoners when the cops on trial were acquitted. When the O. J. Simpson trial a few years later resulted in his acquittal, FDC officials breathed collective sighs of relief that he was acquitted. No riots, cheering instead. So far, this latest incident has not resulted in any overt actions within the prison, to my knowledge.

Out of time and space. Later.

Charlie