Saturday, March 30, 2013
The recent murder of the Colorado Department of Corrections chief by a suspected white supremacist gang member ex-con, and his subsequent shoot-out death in Texas brings to national attention a situation that has ramifications for the state of Florida.
Thousands of Florida prisoners are suspected or confirmed members of hundreds of gangs ranging from Hispanic and Latino, local and nationally-affiliated black gangs, to a number of white supremacist hate groups and biker gangs. When gang violence breaks out in one prison, in their wisdom the prison authorities lock up the suspects, then transfer them to scattered prisons across the state in an effort to split up their influence. What actually happens is that, in effect, by shipping gang members elsewhere, the prison officials inadvertently pollinate and seed gang gene pools that develop and grow new hotspots of gang activity in prisons that might not have previously experienced gang issues, to the chagrin of officials at those prisons.
What the public doesn’t realize is that not only are there white supremacist prisoners incarcerated in Florida, but there are an unknown number of prison guards, “correctional officers,” who are also either members of white supremacist groups or are sympathizers with them. The most infamous of these white supremacist groups is the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK, which has maintained a shadow presence in the prison system for decades.
According to Compton’s Encyclopedia, the FBI estimates KKK membership at between 6,000 and 12,000 people, most in the Deep South, although there are significant populations of KKK members and sympathizers in several Northern states, including Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. Anyone who has served lengthy time in Florida prisons, especially in the North Florida areas bordering Alabama and Georgia, is aware that KKK prison guards are not a well-kept secret. Many brag about their affiliations.
What should concern the governor, the Florida corrections chief, and the public are the ramifications of the influence of white supremacist groups with both prisoners and guards. With the huge amounts of money generated from sales of drugs, tobacco, and cell phones in prisons, associations between prison gang members and sympathetic correctional officers who share their ideology are perfect fits. Once the sympathetic guards cross the line, they are on the hook, and are unlikely to say no to their fellow conspirators, no matter what the request.
I have personal experience with retaliation by KKK prison guards at another North Florida prison over ten years ago, and the publication of my memoir of that retaliation resulted in more official retaliation in 2010, retaliation that has continued to this day. What is confounding to me is the apathy exhibited by several national associations that are supposedly against white supremacist groups, at least when it comes to responding to a complaint from a prisoner. Neither the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the First Amendment Foundation, and the Southern Center for Human Rights were the least bit interested in investigating retaliation by KKK prison guards, totally ignoring the First Amendment freedom of speech civil rights violations inherent in the retaliation. Neither the Florida governor’s office, the Chief Inspector General, nor Department of Corrections officials exhibited any concern that state employees were members of a hate group classified by the FBI as domestic terrorists. Strange, but true.
This current three-year retaliation odyssey actually began in 2008, when the “Anne Frank Center USA” invited me to join with 100 noted prison writers nationwide to participate in the “Anne Frank Prison Diary Project.” With the approval of the DOC officials, I agreed, and a packet of journal materials, including Anne Frank’s memoir, “Diary of a Young Girl,” (which was subsequently confiscated, stolen, and ostensibly destroyed by guards who ransacked my cell several months later), was sent to me to complete.
In the 200-plus pages of journal and diary entries that I sent to the Anne Frank Center a couple of months later, I wrote at length about my imprisonment from my 1978 arrest in Tampa for a murder I had not committed, until the present, including my run-in with KKK prison guards years before. Excerpts from my prison diary memoirs were widely published. A 2400-word excerpt titled, “To Protect the Guilty,” was nominated for a literary award and published in an anthology in late 2009. A copy of the anthology was mailed to me in January, 2010, and when I inquired of a mail clerk why I hadn’t received the book, she told me, “I read the article you wrote, and I felt it was a threat to security. I sent it to the assistant warden.”
Prison is full of rules, and the Florida law mandates that prison staff must follow the rules, too. There are rules pertaining to book confiscation, and when I asked the mail clerk why none of the required paperwork had been issued, she just stared at me. After I filed formal complaints to the assistant warden and mail room over the improper confiscation, I was notified that I would be issued a disciplinary report instead, for vague, inapplicable congregated mail violations. The investigating sergeant came to me a few days later, told me the prison warden had been “offended” by my article, and laughingly informed me, “The warden wants your ass in jail.” And that’s where I eventually wound up, in solitary confinement for thirty days, with loss of thirty days gain time. Meanwhile, the FDOC’s “Literature Review Committee,” which makes the final decision on what publications are approved or rejected for entry into prison, heard my appeal, overruled the confiscation, and ordered the assistant warden to give me the book, stating, “Simply because an article written by an inmate was published in a book does not make it a threat to security.” I got the book, but the false disciplinary report and resulting punishment stood, causing my parole release date to jump from 2014 to 2017. So much for the First Amendment and freedom of expression in Florida prisons.
Because I have continued to fight that bad decision through the courts, I have been punitively transferred twice in the past two years to harsher prisons far from my family and friends, edging closer and closer to Alabama and New Orleans, necessitating distant, expensive treks for my supporters to travel from Tampa and Jacksonville, and additional sojourns in solitary confinement. The Klan’s roots run deep, and everyone conversant with my travails agrees that my continuing targeting by prison officials tracks back to the KKK prison guard memoir.
Now we are horrified that a prison white supremacist gunned down the Colorado prison chief, and is suspected of being involved in another high profile murder weeks before, in Texas. What we should be concerned about are the secret memberships and associations of prisoners and guards closer to home, in Florida, and address official retaliation by prison officials against a prisoner who dared to write about what is not a very well-kept secret.
What I would like to ask is why these “watchdog groups” that monitor and fight against hate crimes have expressed no interest in this case.
“Something is wrong with this picture,” as an old Mafioso once said.
Posted by Charles P. Norman at 11:11 PM
Thursday, March 21, 2013
By Charles Patrick Norman
The day the tractors came to cut the hay
we stayed outside the pasture, barred
until sunset, when they went away,
and we walked, inhaling the fresh-cut smell
of tall brown grass now laid down in swirls.
Then loud machines came and gathered
the dry grass inside themselves, chugging,
ejecting neatly-bound bales of hay
behind them in lines, wire-wrapped
rectangles that we stacked into tunnels
and hay bale forts for fun.
A young brown rabbit, a wild cottontail,
had become entangled by the machine,
the bailing wire held it fast, cutting
into its thigh, its vain struggles, attempts
to free itself only worsening, Grandpa
freed it with his pliers, too weak to flee,
Grandma doctored it, but next day it was dead.
It’s nature’s way, son, she said,
helping me wrap its cold form and
prepare a grave. Wild things
must live free, you can’t keep them
in a cage for long, you must turn
them loose or they will die.
She did not say if the same
applied to people, too, or just me.
By Charles Patrick Norman
The bullfrog blinked
its bulbous eyes
seemed to stare
at me in surprise,
Then blinked again,
its white throat
In the full moonlight,
its fingerlike toes
on the creekbank,
Before launching itself
outward, lanky green
form extended, reaching
for the surface glinting,
Disappearing beneath the
black water, plop!
a splash, concentric
Water smoothing, settling,
as if it had never
felt the passing
of either of us.
Posted by Charles P. Norman at 9:24 PM
Thursday, March 14, 2013
The assistant warden took the above photo of Rick Nielsen, (left), myself, and Ron Kuntz, (right), inside Columbia C. I., outside Lake City, Florida, in 1999, when they came to the prison for the Bill Glass “Weekend of Champions” crusade. Ron focused his Nikon, then talked the assistant warden through centering the viewfinder, holding the camera steady, and slowly pressing the shutter button. Voila!
We are holding my copy of Rick’s and Ron’s book, “DOIN’ TIME,” that documents their many years of prison ministry work, filled with photos of famous Christian athletes and other dedicated men, along with the pen-and-ink drawing of Rick and Ron I created for them, that accompanied an essay Rick wrote about me.
Today I write about Ron Kuntz, a loyal, unrelenting friend and huge influence on me, who passed away in his sleep March 7, at home, at the age of 78.
Jack Murphy introduced me to Ron Kuntz at Zephyrhills C. I., in 1983, when the Bill Glass Crusade made a weekend stop there. Ron was an unassuming man wearing a beat up Australian bush hat with the side brim pinned up, and two or three Nikon 35 mm cameras hanging around his neck. I am an avid photographer before (and during) my imprisonment, and we made an immediate connection, and spent most of that day together talking about our lives, our faith, and cameras.
The Jaycee Photo Project was taking pictures for $1.50 each, and I asked Ron if he would pose for a photo with me. The photographer is rarely photographed. He smiled, glad to let me hold one of his cameras for the prop. I told him I would send him a copy when I got mine back in a week or so, and when I hadn’t sent his photo to him promptly, he wrote and reminded me that he was looking forward to his copy. I sent it. Over the years I sent him many photos, but he always sent me more, like this one.
You would never know it from the humble nature of the good man he was, but Ron Kuntz was a world-renowned photographer who documented many World Series, Superbowls, Olympics, championship boxing matches, Kentucky Derbies — if there was a sporting event or athlete he didn’t photograph, the subject didn’t warrant photographing. When Jack Murphy got out of prison, Ron Kuntz took him to the Kentucky Derby and let him snap the photo of the winner that appeared in newspapers worldwide. When the earthquake stopped the World Series in Candlestick Park, Ron was there. He sent me a postcard from the Sydney Olympics, where a lot of people wore bush hats like his.
If you were Ron’s friend, you had a friend for life. Ron wrote letters to governors and parole commissioners on my behalf, urging my release, for years, commiserated with me, encouraged me, and prayed for me. When Libby signed me up for e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org in 2001, Ron immediately began sending me nonstop messages as a member of an elite list of family and friends, sharing his Christian faith (and conservative Republican values), messages that ended only with his passing.
Ron dearly loved his family, and as an adopted member of that privileged group, I grieve for the passing of such a good man, but am secure in the belief that if they have cameras in Heaven, Ron will be telling God, “Say cheese!”
God bless you, old friend. We will miss you.
Rick Nielsen sent me a photo of Ron and him inside a building, and asked me to crate a pen-and-ink drawing based on the photo, but with a prison scene in the background. Okay. So I made an initial pencil sketch, and sent it to Rick for approval. He had on a plain shirt in the original photo, and asked if I could insert his “Blueprint For Life” logo. Okay. I was at Sumter C.
I. at the time, went out to the rec field and made a sketch for the drawing’s background. Thousands of tiny dots with my Rapidograph pen later, this drawing resulted. Ron was very pleased, said it made him look like a character. I told him, “Ron, you are a character!”
Posted by Charles P. Norman at 10:11 PM
Sunday, March 10, 2013
By Charles Patrick Norman
Guards tell me to wake,
Make my bunk, get dressed,
Wash my face,
Use the toilet now,
Sit still, on my bunk,
No listening to the radio
While they incessantly count,
Count, Count, Recount,
Hour after Hour,
Clear count, in an hour,
Count again, yet no one
Go to work, walk inside
The yellow line, tuck in
Your shirt, or I’ll lock you up,
Lock you up, always the threat,
The iron fist, no velvet glove,
You can kill me,
But you can’t eat me,
You can’t stop my thinking
Of lines of verse,
In my head the words
Flash on and off, in color,
Neon signs in my mind,
I am free
In my mind,
Free, free verse,
Write it down, now,
Before the lights go out.
Posted by Charles P. Norman at 5:09 PM
GOOD INTENTIONS, UNDONE
By Charles Patrick Norman
The boy followed the meandering dog,
A little red dog with pointed ears
and playful eyes, curled tail, trotting
away from the country house, beneath
a barbed wire fence across a field,
sniffing a rabbit trail through high grass,
pink tongue lolling, leading him away from home.
The child looked back once, expecting trouble
from his mother, get back in the yard, boy,
where do you think you’re going? Do you
want to get snakebit, or fall in the creek?
But the back porch was empty, just a gray cat
sleeping in a rocking chair, silently assenting,
go ahead, a sign, no one there to tell him no.
An abandoned barn beckoned, weathered wood
falling from rusted hinges, door planks sagging,
scant shelter from wind and rain, sheet metal roof
gapped open to the sky, shadows moving across
the haw-strewn dirt floor, corn cobs scattered,
gnawed by mice, immigrants claiming empty spaces
where Grandma once milked cows long gone and forgotten.
The cool woods called the red dog, sprinkling odd tree trunks
leading downward toward Nettles’ Creek, dark water
curving, little boy following, sitting on the grassy bank,
content to dangle bare feet, splashing, scattering minnows
as the dog tiptoed across wet clay preserving
tracks of birds and animals, a raccoon, lapping, thirst slaked,
child crossing, tracking, soft clay squishing, warm between his toes.
Above, amongst the leaves a blue jay scolded,
Warning off a fox squirrel wary of the dog
below, sniffing strange scents, unconcerned with
nervous chittering, satisfying olfactory cravings
while the boy discovered the blackberry patch,
Ripe berries waiting to be picked and eaten by little boys,
Juice staining lips, leaving telltale purple streaks.
Deeper into the woods, dog and boy encountered
an old cowpath, narrow, worn deep from years
of plodding bovines set in their ways and trails,
curving around long-dead trees fallen, returned to dust,
the red dog decided, turned left, continued through
sparse underbrush, trees thinning, sunlight shining
on the fallow pasture, quail covey startled into flight.
At the barbed wire fence the dog looked back,
as if to say, hurry up, boy, we made it home,
undiscovered by your mom, I’ll lie on my back
while you scratch my belly, like we’ve been here all along.
Good plans go awry, sometimes, even good intentions
of little boys and dogs, undone by little things
Like blackberry stains and red clay dried between bare toes.
Posted by Charles P. Norman at 4:55 PM
Saturday, March 2, 2013
For over three years now, since my memoir excerpt, “To Protect The Guilty,” about retaliation against me by Ku Klux Klan (KKK) member prison guards was published in “Wordsmith 2010,” I have been fighting continued acts of official retaliation by Florida prison officials at three prisons. Even though I have paid a heavy price for standing up and fighting against the illegal actions of state officials, I’ve worked hard to document virtually every instance, hoping that at some point, higher authorities would step in and intervene against these people.
Even though prison officials have tried to block and hinder my efforts at every step, with the help of attorney, William J. Sheppard, and his staff, I have been able to research state and federal laws that forbid what has been done to me. There is nothing new under the sun, as has been said. Prisoners have been punished and retaliated against by their keepers for many years for exercising their First Amendment constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression, and there is a large body of law that defines what prison officials can and cannot do. Even so, in Florida, they do what they please and “damn the torpedoes,” knowing that most prisoners don’t have the legal knowledge or resolve to fight the prison Goliath. Every time a prisoner fights against a retaliation act, he or she is subject to even more retaliation, despite state and federal rules and laws against it. Following “administrative rules and remedies” is a frustrating task, since those state officials charged with reviewing and investigating the illegal acts of prison staff generally rubber-stamp complaints with “boiler-plate denials,” such as, “the response you received at the institutional level adequately addresses your concern. Denied.” In plain English that means, “Go to Hell.”
The federal courts have specified what comprises illegal retaliation in First Amendment freedom of speech cases, and although the following statement does not list every one of the dozens of acts of retaliation taken against me in the past three years, the allegations establish a damning pattern of official misconduct:
“Petitioner Charles P. Norman alleges that FDOC prison officials (1.) arbitrarily and intentionally delayed, hindered, intercepted, confiscated, refused delivery, and destroyed his incoming and outgoing correspondence and subscription magazines, repeatedly filed fabricated and 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 computer stations, denied him access to inmate canteen purchases, suspended his mail privileges, locked him up three times in solitary confinement, twice for 30 days and another 14 days , denying due process, (2.) because he (3.) exercised his First Amendment rights of free expression, to file grievances and otherwise seek access to the legal process, and that (4.) beyond imposing those tangible harms, the prison officials’ actions chilled his First Amendment rights and (5.) were not undertaken in narrowly tailored furtherance of legitimate penological purposes.” U.S.C.A. Constitutional Amendment 1.
What is not mentioned in the above statement is the role of two corrupt politicians in encouraging Florida prison officials to continue pressing me with retaliatory acts trying to make my life in prison more difficult and miserable than it ordinarily is. When a prisoner has two powerful politicians pulling strings and manipulating the system for personal reasons of their own, demanding and receiving the collusion of prison officials eager to please such people and more than willing to wield bullying tactics with impunity to satisfy their arrogance of power, fighting against such a stacked deck is virtually impossible. Those officials, Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober and his protégé, now Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, made a rare and unusual appearance at my March 21, 2012, parole hearing in Tallahassee where in their zeal to improperly influence the decision of the parole commissioners, made several false statements opposing my release. Since Pam Bondi is a member of the Florida Cabinet, and has veto power over the appointments of parole commissioners, her improper influence over their decision is especially egregious and unethical. Does anyone believe that a parole commissioner who owes his or her job to the approval of a powerful politician standing before them would dare make a decision contrary to that politician’s express desire to deny my parole release? Of course not. The next time those commissioners came up for reappointment, they know they would be subject to dismissal. Such tampering and interference destroys any semblance of an impartial independent body , making the parole commissioners into puppets manipulated by politicians out of fear of their own job security.
That’s what I am up against. I am still fighting the forces of evil , and as I have learned, the spiritual battle is even more daunting than the legal one. Sadly, many people who could help me stand to the side, unwilling to challenge politicians scrambling for some political advantage, not willing to risk the disapproval and wrath of such corrupt people. For those willing to help and support my efforts, I am grateful. God bless you. More later.
Posted by Charles P. Norman at 2:32 PM