Monday, February 18, 2013


DAY TWENTY TWO: Prison Diary January 24, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL (coming to you from a dismal prison far, far away from civilization)

A Model of a Prison Retaliation

The end of February will mark the third anniversary of this series of retaliation against me by the Florida Dept. of Corrections (FDOC) for exercising my First Amendment rights, continuing to this day. As I write this in my suffocatingly hot cell, serving my 22nd day in solitary confinement, listening to the cacophony of screams from some miscreant who just got doused with “Liquid Jesus,” (pepper spray) for not cooperating, I feel the survivor’s mantra around me, loud in the otherwise silent confinement unit, “Better him than me.”

This particular experience actually began around April, 2008, when Professor William “Chip” Brantley, formerly of Massachusetts, now at University of Alabama School of Journalism, established the “FreeCharlieNow” blog, on my behalf, so I would have a place to say what I had to say. I’ve been saying it ever since, though not always to the FDOC’s liking. Such organizations, by their very nature, like to keep their “dirty secrets” behind the walls, and have a long history of retaliation against those who make their “enemies list.”

Prison officials and guards got wind of my essays fairly quickly, and I got mostly positive comments from staff. The Sword of Damocles always hung over my head, held by a thin string. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said that the public has a vested right to know what goes on behind the prison gates, and defended the rights of freedom of speech and expression of prisoners. That doesn’t mean that state prison systems nationwide aren’t going to slam the door and smash any exercises of free speech that displease or anger them, it means that those few prisoners with the strength of will to stand up to such powers face a long, frustrating campaign to get to a federal court who will reaffirm that our constitutional rights apply to prisoners, too. It was a federal judge who said that prison officials have a long history of retaliation against prisoners who criticized them.

Back here in “the hole,” subjected to a lot of sensory deprivation, locked behind a steel door in a little room no bigger than many small bathrooms, at least I’ve had a chance to study some legal decisions that apply to my case, and wanted to share what I came up with, if you are interested in that sort of thing.

A federal court in California, ruling on a prison retaliation case in a state prisoner’s favor in 2004, stated:

“Because purely retaliatory actions taken against a prisoner for having exercised his or her First Amendment rights to file prison grievances, and to pursue civil rights litigation in the courts, necessarily undermine these protections, such retaliatory actions violate the Constitution quite apart from any underlying misconduct they are designed to shield.”

If you are interested in reading the case in its entirety, you can ask Mister Google to look up “408 F. 3d 559” (Rhodes v. Robinson).

Compared to my case, Rhodes took a walk in the park. The federal courts say that for a prisoner to establish a retaliation claim, he must allege that five conditions are present, as follows:

“Plaintiff Charles P. Norman alleges that FDOC prison officials (1) arbitrarily delayed, hindered, intercepted, refused delivery, and destroyed his incoming and outgoing correspondence and subscription magazines, filed repeated fabricated false disciplinary charges against him, punitively transferred him twice to harsher, more distant prisons, denied him access to the prison law library digital/non-print legal research stations for months (ongoing), denied him access to inmate canteen purchases, suspended his mail privileges, locked him up three times in solitary confinement, twice for 30 days each, and once for 14 days, (2) because he (3) exercised his First Amendment rights to file prison grievances and otherwise seek access to the legal process, and that (4) beyond imposing these tangible harms, the prison officials’ actions chilled his First Amendment rights and (5) were not undertaken in narrowly tailored furtherance of legitimate penological purposes.”

That’s a mouthful, but every word is true and accurate, and actually understates the actual abuses. There is much more.

It is not supposed to happen. If all prison staff were adequately trained in the prison rules and laws, and they were properly supervised by superiors who made sure those who were enforcing rules were also obeying them, prison would operate much more smoothly and efficiently. The age-old question has been, “Who guards the guards?” And the answer has often been, no one, until it got so far out of hand that outside authorities had to intervene. It is a shame, but that is life in prison.

Where is the ACLU when you need them? Going all the way through courts to guarantee some guy’s right to blast his mega-powered boom box speakers from his car while stopped in traffic, damaging the hearing of anyone in range. Very big First Amendment case. That’s how it is in “free society,” too.

Reading my favorite book last night, I happened upon a verse written by Paul, the Apostle, to the Hebrews, almost two thousand years ago:

“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:3)

All I can say to that is, “AMEN,” and wish you happiness and success in all you do.


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