Thursday, November 13, 2014


PRISON DIARY: Thursday, October 16, 2014  9:35 AM

Crisscrossing long stretches of rural North Florida in a cramped prison bus, I see parallels with Russian prison camps described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago. The Russian prisons were like islands scattered across vast stretches of ocean, yet interconnected as an archipelago of hate, oppression, and violence.

Riding along bumpy backroads past miles of scrubby trees and thick underbrush, the monotony is broken only by occasional cow pastures, swamps, and boarded up buildings. Then a double row of razorwire-topped chain linked fences signals that we are approaching another prison.

They are all the same, yet different, like the other islands in the Florida Archipelago, gulags that operate as semi-independent fiefdoms that are only loosely controlled by the prison officials in Tallahassee, the state capital.

If Mike Crews don’t like the way I run this yard, I’d like to see him come out here and run it his damned self,” a guard said to me a couple of months ago. That is a common sentiment, characteristic of the scorn they have for their overseers.

This is supposed to be my last day at RMC, “Wild, Wild West,” before going to Columbia C.I. tomorrow, and all the abuses, harassments and indignities the transfer entails. Last night, on the phone with my dear wife, Libby, she sadly informed me that my aunt, Eloise Norman, had passed away. Aunt Eloise was my father’s youngest sister, and the last surviving Norman sibling. My grandparents, Robert Franklin Norman and Berta Lee West Norman, raised five sons and four daughters on a farm near Moultrie, Georgia. They are all gone, leaving behind  sons and daughters scattered across America, virtually out of touch with their cousins. Today, I mourn the passing of an extraordinary woman who I will greatly miss.

The last time I saw Aunt Eloise and her older sister, Frankie Lee Hatchell, was on Sunday, May 5, 1985, after my father, Eugene Norman’s funeral. I was at Zephyrhills C.I., and the warden had given my family permission to come in and visit me, four at a time. Both of them cried when they saw me, hugging and consoling me. They hadn’t seen me since my youth, and Aunt Frankie Lee said, “You’re the spitting image of our father when he was a young man.” I’d never even seen a photograph of my grandfather, who passed away before I was born. That unfortunate time led to a closeness with Aunt Eloise and Aunt Frankie Lee that continued until both their deaths.

When several cards and letters went unanswered, I knew something was wrong. Eloise always typed out her letters on an old typewriter, keeping me abreast of the lives of the few nephews and nieces she remained in touch with. Libby telephoned her a few months ago, and Eloise told her she had inoperable lung cancer. It was just a matter of time. Eloise’s daughter, Marilyn Brandenburg, called yesterday to let Libby know her mother was gone.

The passing of loved ones is especially hard for those of us in prison. We can only rarely attend funeral services, and contacting relatives is difficult. In my thirty-six –plus years in prison, outliving loved ones is a sad fact of life. I see many men older than I am, who are completely alone, having outlived everyone else in their family and awaiting their own lingering deaths. Hopefully, this wrongful imprisonment will end, and I won’t share those old men’s fates.

Meanwhile, I will continue sailing the Florida Gulag, and pray for a safe port free of the oppression and hate I’ve witnessed so many times. I ask that you share in my prayers for the happiness, health, and safety of our loved ones. Thanks.

Eloise Norman was born on November 15, 1934 in Moultrie, Georgia. She was the youngest of nine children born to the late Robert Franklin Norman and Berta Lee (West) Norman.

Eloise was a retired bookkeeper dedicating more than 53 years of service. She was an expert seamstress, often making her own clothes. Eloise was a devoted Christian with a deep appreciation of gospel music, especially singing quartets.

Eloise is survived by her sons, Rufus G. Carson of Columbia, Russell Lee (Arlee) Carson of Columbia; and a daughter, Marilyn Jeanette Brandenburg (Steve ) of Casey Il. She also leaves behind six grandchildren, eight great grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

She was preceded in death by a daughter, Nancy Jane Paul Bradley; and eight of her brothers and sisters, Theus Norman, Raymond (Buddy) Norman, Frankie Lee Norman Hatchell, Winifred Norman, James Thomas Norman, Thelma Norman Davis, Eugene Norman, and Rufus Norman. She will be greatly missed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

She's very beautiful, Charlie. Sorry for the loss to your family. A life well lived. Vp