Saturday, June 12, 2010


This is another installment from Charlie's Confinement Diary written from "solitary" where he was sent as a result of a retaliatory disciplinary report by officials of D.O.C.



As Day Three of my odyssey through the First Amendment and solitary confinement progresses, I should tell you first of the events that closed out Day Two.

I had the same conversation virtually verbatim, several times since I’ve been locked in “the Hole,” mostly with the “C.O.’s,” the correctional officers, and their immediate supervisors, the sergeants. Each would be passing by my cell, would glance in to make sure I was alive, not hanging from a sheet or sprawled in a pool of blood, would start to go by, then stop, step back, look again, recognition dawns, confusion wrinkles the brow, and after a few seconds would speak:

“What are you doing back here?” (astonishment)

“A story I wrote was published in a book, so the assistant warden wrote me up.”

“What was it about?”

“My experiences some years back with retaliation by KKK prison guards.”

“Why did they lock you up?”

“I suppose she took personal offense at my depiction of the KKK. I don’t know. I’ve never spoken to her.”

“Haven’t these people ever heard of the First Amendment?”

“Funny you should mention that. I’ve been told by a KKK prison guard that ‘the Constitution ain’t in effect in prison.’ ”

“That’s bullshit. You’re the last person I’d expect to see back here.”

“Me, too. You know how straight a line I walk.”

“Good luck. Keep fighting.”

“I will. Thanks.”

What has amazed me is the virtually universal understanding of the First Amendment trampling the lowest level guards possess, while the highest level “administrators,” college-educated and “trained” at endless taxpayer-funded “conferences on corrections,” have such a cavalier disregard for years and years of Constitutional law, state law, and prison rules that regulate both “them” and “us.” When you gain ultimate control and total power over the defenseless, oftentimes that absolute power corrupts what at other times are described as “good people.” I think the term is “totalitarianism.”

Where is the ACLU, the SCLC, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the defenders of the oppressed and powerless, when I really need them? Come on, folks! Let’s stop this lynching. The rope is getting tighter. How are they going to explain this to D.O.C. Secretary Walt McNeil?

About eight thirty PM on Day Two, when solitary confinement was just settling down for the evening, when the psych meds were beginning to hit the loud mouths who’d been screaming inanities all day lapsed into their drug-induced comas (they like prisoners in comas; it becomes more a “storage” issue than “care, custody, and control,” their bywords), I lay on my hard bunk reading a dog-eared twenty-year old paperback novel a fellow prisoner had slid down the hall to me.

At the end of the hall, where they can approach the wing from the back way, came a ruckus. Loud talking, laughing, joking—you ever see a pack of teenage boys walking through a mall, kidding around, elbowing each other, playing “grab ass?” That’s what it sounded like. It couldn’t be guards: cameras record everything in the hallways, and the guards are “under the gun” of the higher-ups in charge—any wrong moves on camera and they’re gone—they know they are under surveillance, so they keep themselves low-key.

I didn’t bother getting up. I didn’t care. But a moment later the obviously phony camaraderie reached my cell, and I saw the warden, the male assistant warden (both white), and the black colonel peering through the little grill of my cell door. They are required to make rounds every so often, and I suppose they stopped by after having a few beers, before returning to their trailer park across the street.

They did the same double-take—looked in, moved, stopped, looked in again, stared.

“Who’s that?” (There is a photo page print out by the door, the same one on the D.O.C. web site, with identifying information).




“That’s Norman?” (They crowd around the grill and stare again. I stare back, not moving).

They move on, quiet now, no “Kee-Kee-Keeing,” as prisoners call the immature posturing and grab ass. Then the black colonel came back, stopped, looked in and stared, by himself. If I’d expected him to say something like, “Hey, I’m not with this KKK shit, I’m not defending white racists, but this is over my head, and I can’t say anything, sorry,” I’d have been wrong. I didn’t. He didn’t.

Instead, he asked, “What’s the name of that book?”

I didn’t expect him to want a book review, so I just held up the title where he could see it. Most prisoners in solitary, when “officials” pass by, “get on the door” and beg for an audience, seeking conversation, mercy, whatever. I had nothing to say to them. “You have the right to remain silent” are optimum words, since anything you say will be used to justify pepper spraying and “use of force.” I let my pen do the talking, that is, until it runs out of ink, which could be any time. Then I really will be silenced. Perhaps that’s their plan.

Thirty minutes later the guard came by and told me to pack up my meager laundry bag of limited possessions, I was moving to “E” Dorm, the larger confinement area far on the south end of the compound. Why? Orders. Okay, I get it. The KKK’s roots run deep in prison, like those stunted trees in parched lands.

You may recall they took my shoes, and gave me flip flops. They cuff your hands behind your back, put on short leg irons, so you take shuffling baby steps, and have to carry your bag behind your back. The weight pulls down on your shoulders, and if you are a big man with big shoulders, it’s a form of torture. I refused. I told them I’ve had back injuries, and I couldn’t do that. Sometimes, if you have a choice, you must not submit to torture. I knew if I even tried to carry that bag—my Bible and two large envelopes of legal papers made it heavy—I’d be suffering later. Just the handcuffs behind the back cut into and bruise your wrists and arms.

One of the “decent” guards said fine, use a “waist chain,” hands at the front, which was better, but still an ordeal. Try wearing flip flops with your ankles chained together and walk down a very long sidewalk. It’s not easy. Neither is climbing stairs.

Before I leave “Y Dorm” behind, I want to give you a brief rundown of how that term evolved.

Up until 1999 or so, all the main solitary confinements, “disciplinary,” at most Florida prisons were designated as “X Wing,” as in, “X-ed out,” crossed off, no longer in “X-istence.” Things happened on “X-Wing.” Run your mouth to the guards, they yell, “Pop the door,” and a crowd piles in the cell and beats you down, which is different from “beating someone up.”

Then “Valdez” came along, a notorious prisoner who was involved in a guard’s death. They housed him on “X-Wing” at “FSP,” Florida State Prison, and everyone knew it was just a matter of time. He was a dead man.

One day they came in there and kicked and beat Valdez to death. Most bones in his body were broken. Ribs punctured his heart and lungs. The guards said either it was an accident, he’d fallen off his bunk and died, or he did it on purpose, did a swan dive to take himself out. What about those deep boot impressions on his chest and back? Oh, they were trying to revive him! So emerged the joking (to them) term, “FSP CPR” —he’s not breathing? —step on his chest with your boot and give him FSP-CPR. Perhaps a couple of kicks will jumpstart his heart. Nope, he didn’t make it.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigates prisoner deaths, and they called it murder. A crew of guards were charged, went on trial, and were acquitted. What did you expect? Bradford County is composed mostly of prison guards, retired prison guards, and their relatives. North Florida justice.

There were national TV shows about “X-Wing,” the state of Florida, and the prison system took some P.R. hits, so the biggest change came in abolishing all “X-Wings” and making them “Y’s.” Now it is “Y-Dorm,” sounds like a place curious college students might live, but it is the same old X-Wing, whitewashed with new labels. Spray paint silver onto a rotten mullet, it still stinks. Even so, I was glad to get out of “Y Dorm,” even at nine o’clock at night, mysteriously hobbling in the dark, trying not to fall on my face.

Later I’ll tell you more about Day Three and “E” Dorm, my new cell, with a 21-year old “bug” on the top bunk, who’s served less than a year in prison and gets out Saturday, returning to Tampa. I’d been in prison eleven years already when he was born.

The sergeant put me in his cell to watch out for him—“Talk some sense to the kid, please.” The kid—that’s what he is—small, slightly built white boy, looks about sixteen, scared to death they were going to put a “booty bandit” in the cell. He’s relieved. He’s safe for a few days.

Now I must deal with a host of new challenges, including being stuck in a cell dirty as a pig sty. First thing we’re doing is cleaning this place up. I have to babysit. See you later.


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