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.
Libby and Charlie Sept. 4, 2016