Sunday, November 2, 2008


Dateline: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 1:00 PM

Thanks to Jackson Taylor at the Pen American Center in New York City, the Anne Frank Center asked me to participate in their Prison Diary Project, which I did.

Jessica Gresko of the Associated Press in Miami wrote in September and asked if I would answer some questions for an article she wanted to do. We exchanged e-mail, I answered her questions on paper, then she asked if I’d do a “live” interview here at Tomoka. Why couldn’t I go to Miami?

After much ado with permission from the D.C.C., they got the interview scheduled for 1 PM.

At 9:00 AM on the day of the interview, a sergeant came to me in my building, told me the colonel had assigned him to “presidential duty,” to to handle the details on this end, make sure everything looked right.

He took my best prison uniform and my jacket to have them pressed, and my state “work boots” to get them shined. I don’t shine my work boots, “brogans,” they’re called, because usually as soon as they get newly polished, someone steals them to resell. My regular boots were “retreads,” old boots with thick “Frankenstein” soles on them, hard to walk in, no support, painful, but what do you expect in prison—no Florsheims.

Three hours later the sergeant came back with a new set of blues (prisoner uniform), freshly-pressed, jacket pressed, new web belt, new photo I.D. card, and brand new brogans, no retreads, that the staff shoeshine boy had spent a couple of hours polishing to a high spit shine. Colonel’s orders. Must be done.

Video camera coming in—no way did they want the public to see anything but spit and polish. No old, ragged outfits.

Jessica Gresko, the print reporter, came in with Suzette Laboy, the video producer, promptly at 1 PM, after a fast, four-hour drive from Miami, “just for you,” she said.

Everyone in authority above lieutenant made themselves scarce. The gatehouse/visiting area was a ghost town. They certainly didn’t want to be asked any questions about the events here over the past few months, so I understand their strategy. Can’t blame them.

And they were quite worried about what I might say. I reassured them. I told them this was about my writing, the prison diary project, Anne Frank, not an exposé of abuses of power. They were relieved.

Jessica had asked me to bring my copy of “Diary of a Young Girl” with me, but in the mass lockdown/shakedown of October 10th, when a hundred or so guards from across the state came in to cut off our drinking water and toilets, then ransacked, trashed, and took much of our personal property, the Anne Frank book was one of three personal books thrown away by the guards. Before I went in for the interview, one female guard came to me and asked, “You aren’t going to tell them about the book, are you?”

I told her to reassure her bosses that I was not going to embarrass or offend anyone during this interview, that this was a “positive” story, and I was going to stick to the theme. It wouldn’t do for me to air the prison’s dirty laundry at this time, I was trying to get out of prison, not get buried deeper by vindictive officials. She was relieved.

When you’re surrounded by harshness and negativity 24/7, in an environment where hostile eyes watch you like goldfish in a bowl, waiting for the slightest slip or deviation to write a “disciplinary report” (D.R.), or lock you in confinement, it is a strange relief to meet and talk with two intelligent young women who mean you no harm, who are actually interested in what you say, and treat you as a fellow human being, not a lower life form. That’s the feeling I got when I met Jessica Gresko and Suzette Laboy. Which is it—are they so young, or have I grown so old? You know.

We had a pleasant hour to talk about Anne Frank, her diary, my diary, and writing. I had a passage I’d written in May, and a couple of passages from Anne Frank. The prison was hardly mentioned. They filmed me leaving the room three times, we shook hands, they headed for I-95, I went back to my cell. I kept the new boots and uniform. They haven’t asked for any of it back yet.

Suzette said a two-minute video slip will be posted on the web site. The print story will appear wherever it is picked up. Jessica will let me know.

Things are still bad here. They would be no better had I trashed them to the media like they trashed my cell, several times. I would just suffer more. I am following the administrative grievance process, as fruitless as that is. I can only hope that I will be freed before much longer, the ransom paid. Perhaps the Anne Frank story will be a down payment.

During the interview, the sergeant who’d gotten my new uniform and boots and escorted me to the gatehouse, stood right there with the door cracked, listening the entire time. I knew what he was doing—what he was told—monitor the conversation, let them know if I went negative, against the prison. I didn’t mind. I had no intention of getting on a soapbox and railing against prison abuses. Different topic, different time. Let him listen and report back. I knew that they would see the finished video clip and print article anyway.

After the reporters left, the sergeant walked me back to my building. It was just a little past two PM, but the yard was closed. He wanted to talk about the interview.

Jessica had asked me to read a couple of passages from Anne Frank’s diary, and talk about why I chose them. In one, Anne said that she had changed drastically since going into hiding for years, but that despite the bad parts, she had become a better person, her changes were positive. That entry was made just a short time before they were snitched out, reported to the Nazis, captured, sent to their deaths.

This particular passage had a profound effect on me because I felt such close parallels to Anne, even over a sixty-four year gap in time and place. I had been in prison over thirty years, I explained on camera, under very harsh conditions, and I had also changed drastically. I wasn’t the same person as that twenty-eight year old who’d been arrested so long ago. And despite all the negativity, I had changed in better, more positive ways.

That’s what the sergeant wanted to comment on. What I’d said had affected him. First, he couldn’t comprehend how long I’d been in prison, close to thirty-one years, still had a positive attitude, and yes, had changed drastically. He said that I wasn’t the same person, that they weren’t punishing the man who’d come to prison all those years ago, but someone entirely different. He knew that to be true because in the fourteen years he’d worked for the state, he had also changed, was a better man, was not the man he’d been before, knew so much more about himself and others.

I thought that insightful comment showed a shared point of view between two men on opposite sides of the table, often at odds over what one considered his job, and the other considered oppression. Perhaps there’s hope for us yet. Thank you, Anne.

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