Thursday, October 27, 2016

HURRICANE FORCES MASS PRISON EVACUATIONS IN FLORIDA



Sunday, October 16, 2016

    Notes From The Prison Diary


Hurricane Matthew made his presence known here last weekend, even though this prison [Columbia Annex in Lake City] is a fair distance inland from the Atlantic coast at Jacksonville. On Wednesday evening, October 5th, an official came into our housing area and told us about 200 prisoners from Tomoka C.I. (Daytona Beach) would be evacuated to this prison, near Lake City the next day, but it would have no effect on our dorm. Visits on Saturday would be cancelled, and possibly also on Sunday. Emergency conditions. Sorry.

The next day, Thursday, October 6th, guards came in and announced we had 15 minutes to pack all our property and bedrolls, we were moving across the compound to T-Dorm. So much for being unaffected by limited evacuees. Now the figure was 1,000 prisoners from Tomoka were en route. The only problem was that T-Dorm was already full, it’s two-man cells housing “close custody” prisoners, those facing lengthy imprisonments, disciplinary problems, and gang memberships, requiring them to be locked behind steel cell doors at night, in contrast to the “open dorm” I live in, medium/minimum custody, mostly short-timers on good behavior.

Upon arrival at T-Dorm, we found out that we would be joining the two-man cells, making them three-man cells. I dumped my narrow mattress on the floor by the toilet/sink combo. The two residents weren’t happy about it, and neither was I, but it was an emergency situation in which you adapt, get along, or go to lockup.

Later on the guards moved out the previous cell residents and moved in two of my fellow medium custody residents from Q-Dorm. It seems that “close custody” prisoners are not supposed to be in the same cells as “medium custody.” It didn’t matter to me. After 38 years in 20 prisons, I  can live with grixxly bears and rattlesnakes and get along. The reason they emptied the medium custody dorms on the east side of the compound was so they could keep all the Tomoka prisoners together, to avoid more conflicts.

Friday came, and Saturday ushered in Hurricane Matthew to Florida, after hitting the Bahamas hard. The TV was “All Matthew, All The Time.”

In 2004, I was at Tomoka C.I. during the period when three powerful hurricanes criss-crossed Florida in a six-week period, each one hitting Daytona Beach. I watched trees get blown down from my cell window. Power off, no showers, toilets wouldn’t flush, we ate cold cut sandwiches and peanut butter three times a day, but we stayed put. No evacuation. This time, the FDC erred on the side of caution and evacuated  a number of prisons near the Atlantic coast of Florida to interior prisons, like Columbia C.I.

I’m not a cheerleader for the prison system, but in this case, I must give the FDC due credit. Faced with a massive evacuation of thousands of prisoners, they did it, packing rickety prison buses full of coastal prison inmates and rushing them to interior prisons hours inland. It was an amazing transfer feat. No one missing. Also amazing, here at Columbia Annex and Main Unit, everyone got fed hot meals three times a day and were allowed to make canteen purchases. And they got them all back a few days later, to their proper prisons.

Negatives — besides being cramped in three-to-a-cell, a few weak elderly and younger prisoners were robbed by the supposedly more dangerous close custody inmates in T-Dorm, threatening them with violence if they turned them in to the  guards. I had no problems — when you’ve served this much time, and experienced so much, younger predators keep their distance in most cases. Those who don’t, I growl at and they go away. One old man had just gotten a package from home and lost everything, even down to his last pair of socks. You have to toughen up if you want to survive imprisonment. The elderly are preyed upon by the merciless young.

On Saturday, we heard that we’d be stuck in the crowded, loud T-Dorm possibly until Thursday, October 13th. Daytona Beach had power failures and flooding. Great! People get crazy in crowded confinement, and I dreaded to think what might happen in the days ahead. A few days we could deal with. A week — frayed nerves and mentally-challenged prisoners boded ill for a peaceful outcome. High winds and rain continued through Saturday and into Sunday. Men nervously watched the TV weather reports and worried about family members in Matthew’s path. St. Augustine, St. John’s County, and Atlantic Beach looked hard hit. At least the phones worked, and we were reassured by loved ones’ reports.

Early Monday morning a confinement orderly came in and told us the guards had ordered the Tomoka prisoners there to pack up. Two wings of solitary were filled with visitors who’d been confinement at their prison. Despite the “inmate dot com” rumors that we weren’t moving back, I rolled up my mattress and bagged my property, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. My two fellow cellmates, inexperienced short-timers, followed my lead and rolled up their bedrolls, too.

Other men looked in our cell and asked if we’d heard anything. I told them, “No, we’re stepping out on faith, with the belief that we’re moving back to Q-Dorm soon.”

What if we don’t move?” one asked.

Then we’ll unroll our mattresses until tomorrow.”

Follow the leader — some got ready, some didn’t. After lunch, the guards announced that we were leaving, to pack up. I was the first one out the door.
Charlie

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

ANOTHER MILESTONE — Charlie’s 39th Birthday Remembrance In Prison



Little did I ever imagine, sitting in the dungeon-like Hillsborough County Jail on Morgan Street in Tampa ( a facility that was shut down long ago), awaiting trial and celebrating my 29th birthday on September 4, 1978, that I would still be imprisoned on September 4, 2016.

Back then, I truly expected to be freed in a matter of weeks, or, at worst, months, so I tried to be positive and optimistic, not depressed and down-in-the-dumps like so many other unfortunates sharing the dark, sixteen-man cell with me. I had to be cheerful. I couldn’t let my worried family and loved ones see any crack in my armor, lest they fret and worry even more. It couldn’t get much worse for them, their eldest son arrested and charged with a three-year old murder, enduring chilly looks from neighbors and so-called friends in the grocery store, shame and humiliation heaped upon them.

Surely I would be acquitted at trial. It seemed simple to me — I had shot no one. I was twenty miles away from the crime scene. No physical or forensic evidence, no fingerprints, no gun, no witnesses connected me to the shooting death. The speedy trial deadline had passed — twice.

Nevertheless, here we are, my dear wife and I, celebrating my 39th consecutive birthday in prison. Looking at photos from the first few years of my imprisonment, the young man is still putting forth a happy face for family and friends. You’d have to look closely to  discern that young man now in the 67-year old man in the birthday photo taken in the Columbia Annex visiting park.

How could this be? How could corrupt detectives and prosecutors fabricate a murder case with no evidence, and only convicted felon “straw-men” contradicting themselves result in a first degree murder conviction and over 38 years in prison, when obviously guilty murderers convicted of heinous, premeditated crimes have been walking the streets, free, for years? We’ve been asking this pointed question for many years, and have yet to receive an answer.

Corrupt prosecutor Mark Ober, angered that the compromised jury recommended “life” rather than the death penalty, was quoted as saying, “Norman will never survive a life sentence.”

I’ve done my best to prove him a liar. Resigned to having to serve a “bucket of time” after appeals proved unavailing, I resolved to spend my life sentence studying, keeping strong my Christian faith, and helping others become better people, as I became a better person, too. While reading over 4900 books over 38 years, hundreds of college textbooks on a variety of subjects, classics, literature, poetry, fiction and non-fiction, I educated myself far beyond what I could have ever imagined in 1978. I’ve taught literally thousands of prisoners, and helped hundreds obtain their freedom, when I couldn’t help myself.

Meanwhile, a small group of family, friends, and loved ones have stood by me throughout these decades. I am blessed with an incredible wife who has become my life partner. Thousands of people in 100 countries, including prison personnel, have read my prison essays.

I still need the help of those who care about me. The long battle for freedom isn’t over. Thanks to those who sent birthday wishes. I am grateful, and still fighting.

Charlie

             Libby and Charlie  Sept. 4, 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

CHARLIE’S POEM PUBLISHED IN PRESTIGIOUS LITERARY JOURNAL



06/18/2016

It has been awhile since Laura Swearingen-Steadwell e-mailed my wife, Libby, asking permission to publish my poem, “Sedimentary,” in a literary journal. Of course I said yes. It is an honor to be considered for publication by PEN America, whose august members have encouraged and mentored my writing career for over 30 years.

This week I received a copy of the book, “PEN AMERICA, A Journal For Writers And Readers, #19 HAUNTINGS,” and I’m taking my time slowly reading all the selections of poetry, fiction, memoirs and essays, enjoying the works of internationally-known writers and poets.

I was intrigued by the journal’s theme, “Hauntings,” and how my poem fit in. I wrote “Sedimentary” a couple of years ago (March, 2014), and had to re-read the poem a few times to refresh my memory. And I could see some connections, subtle, not overt, memories of childhood, which I’ve been writing about for years.

Some of the writers talked about ghosts, and their experiences with ghosts, a topic I’ve explored, still feeling close to so many of the dead who affected me in life, and continue to affect me in death. I’ve written about them in my poems, perhaps the only way I can express my feelings of loss, and desire to keep their memories alive, not to be forgotten. Thinking of those other poems, I realize that there are probably better ones, more applicable to PEN’s theme, but “Sedimentary” is the one that made the cut, I’m proud to say.

                SEDIMENTARY

Years before we moved into the little white house
on the hill a road construction crew sliced off
the hillside edge to make way for the highway
as easily as Mama cut a loaf of sourdough bread.
Rains washed down the hillside and flowed into
a drainage ditch beside the road, revealing layers
of soil, sand, clay and limestone rock that provided
endless hours of fascination for three little boys.

Standing back and taking in the colored layers before me,
digging into interesting hues with a teaspoon, I uncovered
a broken chipped flint arrowhead crafted by
some hunter forgotten and long-dead, transporting me back
to a prehistoric Florida wilderness untamed by the
white man’s machinery, imagined hunting with the Creek
ghosts for deer and squirrel, leaving behind no evidence
of their passing except for that sharpened arrow tip.

Another day I dug into a deeper orange clay and
found fragments of petrified wood lying where the
tree fell onto the forest floor eons before men came.
Then came ancient seashells embedded in a
mysterious layer of sand that tasted salt on my
tongue, tiny white periwinkles, clams and scallops
still perfect in their symmetry, sleeping
next to a darkened, stained sharkstooth I saved.

Our miniature Grand Canyon never failed
to reveal hidden treasures to my digging,
mementos I saved in a cigar box with old coins.
One day as I silently pondered my life and events
from childhood, digging deeply for lost memories,
I realized that my life was like that hillside, composed
of layer upon layer of sedimentary experiences
waiting for me to scrape away the sand with my spoon.
 



$10.00 per copy; also available for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks

Hope you enjoy the read,
Charlie