Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Small Norman Family Reunion

left to right---Libby, Charlie, Lucille, Dan and Alice

 Dateline February 10, 2019

Sunday, February 10, 2019, Libby and I were pleased that my mother, Lucille Norman, my aunt, Alice Walker, and my brother, Dan Norman, made the trek from Tampa to Daytona Beach to visit us at Tomoka C. I. It has been many years since all of us were together at the same time, and our mini-reunion was emotional. Dan drove his truck, and the big question was whether my mother would be able to climb into the big Dodge. With a little boost, she made it just fine.

It was a bittersweet reunion, sadly missing our lost loved ones, our brother, Tom, and Dan's wife, Sandy, who passed away in the past years. Dan and I told stories about Tom, a memorable family character, that brought thoughts to mind of our grandfather, Floyd "Bebaw" Walker, my mother's and Alice's father.

Growing up in Florida, the big family event was our annual vacation return to Texas, staying with Bebaw, our grandmother, Memaw, and youngest aunt, Cherry, who was more like my little sister, along with visiting our large extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. The low point came when it was time to return home to Florida.

Bebaw was the physically toughest person I knew. In his old age, he would still win any push-up challenge from younger relatives, and few were foolish enough to wrestle him. But for all his physical toughness, when it came to his loved ones, his emotions took over. He'd help load suitcases into the car, tears streaming down his cheeks, then when everybody hugged, embraced, and promised to return next year, Bebaw would be crying, telling each of us he loved us, worried that this visit would be the last one. My father greatly respected Bebaw, but he was uncomfortable when Bebaw's emotions spread to the rest of us, and we'd all be crying. Dan and Tom were too young to understand what was happening, but they'd join in and start crying, too.

Daddy always wanted to get an early start on the twenty-hour drive back to Tampa, and used to plan leaving at six a.m., but Bebaw would be waiting on the porch early for our tearful departure. The following year, Daddy quietly awakened us at four a.m., in a vain effort to slip away without waking Bebaw. It didn't work. Bebaw was waiting for us, tears streaming down his cheeks.

The next year, Daddy had us up at midnight, sneaking out like thieves to avoid the tearful farewells, which didn't please my mother, who was concerned Daddy would not have rested enough to drive straight through.

It didn't matter. No one was leaving that house without Bebaw hugging, crying, and telling everyone he loved them. Daddy gave up. He couldn't get around Bebaw. He was very tired, though, and that night we spent the night in a Dothan, Alabama, motel, resting up, and making a more leisurely return home the next day.

It wasn't like Bebaw's goodbyes when my mother, Alice, and Dan left Sunday, but I had to wipe away tears as I stood in the line for the shakedown room and inevitable strip search upon leaving the visiting park, thinking about my family, how we have all aged over the almost forty-one years of this imprisonment that my family and loved ones have served with me. I could better understand and relate to Bebaw's emotions, his fear that it would be his last visit with us. He was right. Eventually, he was gone, and our last goodbye was the last goodbye.

Writing these words, I acknowledge Bebaw's legacy to me with more tears, and am grateful for the love he bequeathed me. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, but we can at least enjoy this day, together, and remember. My brother said he wants to come back in a month. We have a lot of catching up to do.



Thursday, December 27, 2018

Our Holiday Wish for Every One

"Peace on Earth, goodwill to women and men. God is not dead, nor doth He sleep."
"God bless us, every one"   -- Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
and our wishes to you for a bright and shiny New Year,

Charlie and Libby Norman 


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christmas Blessings to You

Dateline: Wednesday, December 19, 2018

I learned a new word Monday as I lay on a gurney in the RMC prison hospital surgical unit--"preauricular," which is the area on your neck right below the ear lobe. Dr. M. Solano, an outside contract dermatologist, had identified a small lump below my right earlobe as basal cell carcinoma, and scheduled me for surgery after I finished six weeks of Efudex chemotherapy cream to combat the squamous cell carcinoma on my forearms and scalp. The Efudex treatment left incredible scabs that took weeks to heal up, which freaked out one little boy at the visiting park, who asked, "What happened to your head?"

When it all healed, though, people were amazed at the results of several layers of skin that were chemically peeled. Children, carefully apply your sunscreen every time, and avoid sunburns. It will save you years of cancer complications decades later.

Each night around ten p.m. every Florida prison conducts a "master roster count," in which the officers check off every prisoner to ensure no one is missing. Sunday night after the master roster count, the officer told me to get dressed, I had to spend the night in the infirmary. I knew what that meant. My long-awaited cancer surgery would be Monday morning, and they wanted me isolated in the infirmary overnight so I wouldn't eat or drink anything before the surgery. Fine. It was to my benefit. I wasn't going to cheat anyway, but I went along with the program.

I finally made it into the Tomoka C. I. infirmary, a glassed-in unit with six beds, which were all filled with sick old men. A very nice nurse directed me to a recliner chair that would be my bed. I didn't mind. The recliner was more comfortable than the thin mattress and narrow steel bunk I normally slept in.

I knew two of the infirmary residents. One man was enrolled in my Parole Planning Workshop. Now I knew why he'd missed the last three weeks of classes. The other man was someone I knew almost forty years ago, when I had run the GOLAB Program at Union C. I., "The Rock," at Raiford, Florida. We called him "Las Vegas Joe" LaRocca, since he'd bragged about running a carwash with showgirl workers in Vegas before he came to Florida and got life in prison. Joe was a personable and funny man whose small stature brought to mind a thoroughbred racing jockey, although he claimed to be afraid of horses.

I had previously seen Joe sitting in a wheelchair getting some sun at lunch in front of the chowhall, but I'd never been able to try talking with him, since we were forbidden to stop and talk with anyone. I'd been told that Joe suffered from senility and didn't communicate, so I was surprised when one of the infirmary patients asked him a question that he immediately answered. He sounded fine to me, so I spoke to him.

He hobbled over to my recliner, and I introduced myself, talked about our time working together in GOLAB all those years ago. I could tell he didn't remember me, but he did remember mutual friends I named, including the free man who supervised us, Rodney Hansen. Joe told me he was eighty-five years old, and didn't think he would ever get out. That shows you how screwed up are the parole commission policies that keep men like Joe in prison forever, at incredible taxpayer expense. How many thousands are in the same limbo?

Monday morning the transport officers came to chain my hands, waist and ankles securely before loading me into the prison van. I was joined by a diminutive Guatemalan brought from lockup for his trip to Lake Butler RMC. He was already thoroughly chained, and explained that he was the one who had stabbed and slashed another man's face during a melee in B Dorm the previous week. We got along fine. He had no beef with me.

The surgical unit at RMC is a well-equipped portable building that brings to mind a military MASH unit. Three very competent nurses filled out and witnessed release forms that documented my agreement that whatever happened to me was my own fault, and Dr. Solano was blameless. Fine. I'd risk it. They hooked me up to several monitors before the doctor came in, anesthetized the area, and took out his scalpel.

The surgery went quickly. Dr. Solano excised a bean-sized chunk from my preauricular region and carefully sewed me up. See you in four to six weeks for a followup. The next three hours were spent sitting on a hard bench until the Slasher's appointment was completed. Then we endured the long trek through heavy traffic back to Daytona Beach.

Back in the dorm, one prisoner said that he wouldn't let anyone cut on him, he'd rather deal with the cancer. I didn't bother explaining my position to him, that I wanted to survive this life sentence, and addressing medical issues was crucial to prison survival. I spared him my view that you can't be rational with an irrational person, else you risk being irrational as well. And it's doubtful that two irrational people can arrive at a rational conclusion.

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas. May God bless you and yours throughout the year. Thanks for your concern and support.

Charlie Norman

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


My wife Libby and I will spend our Thanksgiving in the visiting park at Tomoka Correctional Institution, Daytona Beach, Florida, miles from the "World's Most Famous Beach," (they claim) and the race track. We can walk outside and watch the sparrows eating bread, hear the "chee-chee" of Red-shouldered hawks scanning the grounds for meals, and count the shadows of the dozens of turkey vultures swirling overhead. They put a prison smack-dab in the middle of a bird sanctuary, then spent the next twenty years cutting down every tree growing inside the fences.

We can watch birds of a different kind as huge passenger jets pass low overhead coming in for landings at Daytona International Airport, and smaller, older, slower vintage airplanes crisscross the sky. I wonder if any of those people wonder about those people inside that fenced square below with the gun towers. Probably not. Life goes on.

No turkey, ham, stuffing or cranberry sauce for our Thanksgiving dinner. The prison canteen window has a sparse selection of sandwiches and other junk food snacks, but it's not the food, it is the fellowship.

We've endured and overcome multiple challenges this momentous year of 2018, but our love continues to be strong, and we ready ourselves for more challenges in 2019. Despite setbacks, we have much to be thankful for, and pray that you and yours have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving, enveloped in the love of family and friends.

Charlie and Libby Norman. November 2018.