Wednesday, January 16, 2013


DAY TWO: Prison Diary January 4, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL

Today is Friday, and I woke early as my second day of solitary, for exercising my First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and expression. An interesting sidenote: every state employee (including prison) must swear an oath to obey the Florida Constitution, state and federal laws, and the U. S. Constitution, which includes the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment.

We don't talk much about the Florida Constitution, but it is in effect, and its Declaration of Human Rights mirrors much of the Bill of Rights. Article I, Section 4 of that document, Freedom of Speech, states that every person shall have the right to speak, write, and publish their thoughts. Look it up! If you don't have a copy of the Florida Constitution lying around the house, ask "Mister Google," and he will take you right to it.

You can also view the correctional officer's "Code of Ethics" on the Florida D.O.C. web site, but who ever let something like sworn oaths to maintain ethics get in the way of committing reprisals against prisoners who weren't properly subservient and sycophantic toward those who trample on the law?

Day Two in solitary confinement began with cell lights blasting on around 4:00 AM, then it was the long wait until the food cart came around with breakfast - potatoes, grits, two hard biscuits, a small, dry disk of what they claim is "turkey sausage," but try as I might, I couldn't sniff a single gobble from it. I ate it, along with every other bland tasteless bite on the tray. I am in "survival mode" now, and must preserve my strength. It wasn't much, but it is a long time to lunch, and there is no canteen run in "disciplinary confinement." I am grateful that I am in solitary in America and not Colombia, Haiti, Pakistan, or Russia, where they do starve their prisoners. At least the food is reasonably warm.

About 7:00 AM, I was told to pack up my meager belongings again, I was moving to another wing, "DC Confinement," filled with those already found guilty and serving their disciplinary confinement time. (NOTE: everyone is found guilty in Kangaroo court. Like the song says, "There's no exception to the rule."). I'd spent the first night in "AC," administrative confinement, filled with those locked up for "investigation" or awaiting their fate in Kangaroo court. We desperados serving "DC" time aren't supposed to be around the "AC" guys, but as I said yesterday, there was no room at the DC Inn at the time.

So I moved to another wing, another identical cell in a far corner, trashed and filthy from the previous occupant. Did I tell you that most of the mentally ill prisoners spend most of the time in lockup? And they do funky things to their cells. Heck, they do funky things to themselves!

The guard asked me, "Are you going to clean this mess up?" And I answered, "Of course. I don't live like this."

It could have been worse.

Some years back, I had a Cuban "Marielito" cell mate who was one of the thousands Castro released from prisons and mental hospitals, freeing them to join other thousands of Cubans who came to Florida on the "boat lift" from Mariel, Cuba. No one ever said Castro was stupid. In a matter of weeks, he dumped the worst criminals and psychopaths onto Florida shores where many came quickly to prison.

My cellmate wasn't one of the worst, just a petty criminal who couldn't make it "on the street," but he had many horror stories about Cuban prisons that made me count my blessings to be where I was, despite the injustice and inhumanity. Since I spoke Spanish, it was a revelation to hear the stories of an illiterate man who spoke no English.

There is a large, thriving criminal element in Cuba, despite the totalitarian police state, and the criminals organize themselves in gangs of mostly geographic breakdowns. When the authorities transferred a group of Western Cuba prisoners to a prison filled with mostly Eastern Cuba prisoners, bloody battles broke out until they separated them. The guards maintain their own geographic loyalties, too.

A "big man," a powerful Havana gangster and his bodyguard were sent to a distant prison where the guards had animosity toward him before he even arrived, disdaining his "elite" status as a well-off, powerful Havana criminal.

Guards took them to a cell where two prisoners lay dead, butchered by a psychopath, the cell covered in blood. The guards pointed to a mop and bucket, told them that was their cell, to drag the corpses outside and scrub down all the blood.

The gangster was a bigshot, told the guards they weren't doing it, and to give them another cell.

The guards told him they had a choice - to clean the cell, or they were going to lock them in the cell with the dead bodies and the crazy guy who'd killed them.

They scrubbed the cell.

This cell wasn't anywhere near that bad, but it was filthy with brown steaks and boogers stuck to the wall. No cleaning supplies, but I used much of a bottle of my shampoo (what do I need it for? They shaved my head) and a piece of rag, along with the dribble of water out of the steel sink, to thoroughly wash the walls and floor. The cell seems bigger when you're cleaning it! It smelled a lot better, too. Now I'm not afraid to touch anything.

In "AC" they take showers Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. In "DC" it is Monday, Wednesday, Friday. For once I got lucky - took a shower in AC on Thursday night, and doubled back for another one in DC tonight, Friday. I'm not complaining. Otherwise I'd be taking a "bird bath" in the dribbling sink.

Since the mail grinch disapproves of my poetry and literary efforts so vehemently, I figured my best revenge would be to use this 30 day period to write a poem every day, along with this prison diary, to show you what it is like, and to keep my brain functioning at a high level. Hettie Jones says that writing is the best activity a person in prison can do, to keep themselves sane and make sense of the world. I agree. I am already behind, but I am catching up.

My friend and mentor, Stephanie Riggio, challenged me to write a sestina a year or so ago, and sent me the rules and some examples. Sestinas are particularly challenging poems that must be meticulously constructed using six non-rhyming end words that are repeated in a varying order in six stanzas of six verses that use all six words. What a challenge! Awell-crafted sestina that tells a story is quite an accomplishment, and my skills weren't up to it until recently, when I wrote my first one, fittingly titled, "A Sestina For Stephanie."

I found the second one several degrees more difficult and struggled to complete it. But complete it I did, today. I will share it with you here tomorrow, if you care to read it.

Meanwhile, I will attempt to sleep on this rock-hard narrow bunk, and see you tomorrow. Good night.

EDITOR'S  NOTE: I never fail to be amazed at how Charlie maintains a positive attitude and his unique creativity under the most adverse conditions, as evidenced by this latest edition of his ongoing prison diary. But he needs the moral support of friends during this trying time. Charlie has battled hard against corrupt politicians who've abused their power and generated lie after lie to keep him imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. It is shameful.

If you have any comments about this prison diary you can make them to me by e-mail, and I will forward them to Charlie, or you can make your comments and send words of encouragement directly to him at Charles P. Norman, #881834, Okaloosa Correctional Institution, 3189 Colonel Greg Malloy Road, Crestview, FL  32539.

Be sure to use "Charles." According to the mail grinch, "Charlie" is NOT "Charles," so any mail addressed to "Charlie" will be unceremoniously returned to sender.

Please feel free to pass on Charlie's story to any friends you think would be interested. Thanks.

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