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.


             Libby and Charlie  Sept. 4, 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 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.


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,