The Ku Klux Klan prison guards are still getting their punches in, for over ten years now, since I had my first run-in with them. They don’t all fit into the popular stereotype of the ignorant, tobacco juice-spitting rednecks with pick-up trucks. The most dangerous and treacherous of their breed got “eddicated,” majored in “criminal justice,” got good jobs at the prison, clawed their way up through the ranks, and now wear white shirts and ties in their higher ranks. When a guy like me comes along though, their masks slip and their slips show, and every now and then they will reveal themselves. Their power and influence extend far in the South.
Thursday morning, June 9th, at 11 AM, I got called up front to the classification office, ostensibly to have an interview with a secretary. I was sitting outside the offices on a stainless steel bench, when two people came through the gate from the outside: a thirties-something white male wearing a dress shirt and tie, and a much younger woman who might have just stepped out of “Cosmopolitan” magazine. Russ Gallogly and Alexandra Campbell from the Florida Parole Commission, here to conduct my “parole interview.” Thanks for giving me notice that you were coming, I said. I could have brought some paperwork I wanted them to consider. Didn’t matter. The verdict and decision had been predetermined before I showed up. Like jaded old married couples contemplating divorce, we were just going through the motions.
The man asked the secretary for my prison file. The secretary brought him a photocopy paper box filled with my files going back over thirty years, and added an inch-thick packet of documents consisting of my most recent paperwork, a summary of “new information” to be considered by the parole commission, my parole release plan, list of accomplishments, literary body of work, my PEN World Voices keynote speech from April, etc. When we sat down in the tiny “interview room,” the guy absently flipped through the pages (not even Elaine Powers could read that fast) while I talked, then opened one of the thick “inmate files,” left it lying there on the table. According to law and rules, the parole people are required to review and consider all information, new and old, before making an informal decision concerning what is best for the prisoner and society. R-I-G-H-T. As my New York friends say, Fuhgeddaboutit.
The law says that there are two things the parole people are supposed to consider in deciding when to release someone─can this person live a law-abiding life and can he support himself and not be a burden on society? If you compare my case with dozens of others who have been paroled, been out on the street for years, served much less time than I have (over 33 years now), and accomplished far less, the question is why? The opposition of the corrupt state attorney, in a few words.
This time, I had to deal with the specter of the KKK prison guards haunting me.
You know the story. I’ve told it all before. The Anne Frank Center USA Prison Diary Project in 2008. Associated Press interview by Jessica Gretsky and Suzette Laboy. 3,000 media outlets. Thousands of web sites republished excerpts. A 2400 word excerpt from a couple hundred handwritten pages title, “To Protect The Guilty,” recounted my experiences with retaliation by KKK prison guards at an unnamed North Florida prison years before. That was in 2008. That memoir, a short story, and a poem I wrote were published in a book. In January, 2010, a copy of the book was sent to me and confiscated by a vengeful prison mailroom clerk who held a great deal of personal animosity toward me. She declared it a “threat to security.” Three months later, the Literature Review Committee in Tallahassee, consisting of educated, intelligent library types, reviewed the book and said it was not a threat to security, and ordered them to give the book to me.
The mailroom clerk failed to follow the rules, failed to give me a confiscation form, just took the book. She’d sent it to the assistant warden, Hodgson, who wanted nothing to do with it. He didn’t file the confiscation paperwork, either. Finally, she and her boss lady took the book to the warden. “Look what that Norman’s sayin’ about yo’ kinfolks, warden. Let’s git that sumbitch.” And they did!
After I filed grievances seeking the delivery of my book, the book I’d never seen, the warden directed the other assistant warden to write a disciplinary violation for “mail regulations violations.” Since she must have come straight from her college basketball team to a good job in prison administration (it’s hard to find a white woman as tall as Shaq, especially in the piney woods), she didn’t have a lot of practice writing “D.R.’s” as they are called, and made enough mistakes to fill up several pages of grievance appeals. Didn’t matter. A sergeant told me, “The warden wants your ass in jail.”
When I went to the kangaroo court hearing, it was a “fait accompli.” Thirty days in solitary, thirty days loss of gaintime. All appeals summarily denied. Since last August, I’ve been fighting head-to-head against state lawyers and all their resources with a lawsuit I filed in court in Tallahassee.
It was all retaliation for pursuing my First Amendment rights, even though a guard once told me, “The Constitution ain’t in effect in Columbia County.”
Back to the “parole interview” on Thursday, the 9th. I covered all the bases, my parole plan, going to the “Prisoners of Christ” program in Jacksonville. Outstanding record of accomplishments. I told them the whole tawdry tale of the KKK prison guards and me that resulted in the retaliatory D.R., solitary, the punitive transfer from Tomoka.
I asked him to hold the D.R. penalty in abeyance, since it was in court, being appealed, unwarranted, and to penalize me for it by jacking up my date would be unfair, not allowing me to pursue my due process. Besides, I’d already been wrongly penalized with an incorrect and improper “death penalty aggravator” that tacked ten extra years to my parole date, anyway. Taking off that wrongful ten-year aggravation would have made my release date 2004, not 2014.
Didn’t matter. Gallogly smashed me with an extra “36 months” because of the KKK D.R. giving me a “July, 2017” release date, next hearing, April, 2017. Wrong, wrong, wrong. All I can do now is prepare the best I can for the actual parole commission hearing in Tallahassee in 90 days─sometime around September, for what it is worth.
I still need letters of support, and to find out who wants to attend the hearing, to make the arrangements for September. We are still working on putting documents together, like the updated photo exhibit. Expenses are mounting. Miracles do occasionally happen, though.
If the commissioners rubber-stamp the parole examiner’s adverse release date, I am preparing for a court appeal, on that issue. Meanwhile, I just hope all the KKK members take their sheets and crosses deep in the woods somewhere far away and leave me alone.