“Studying century-old family photographs,
chipped, stained, faded memories
of grandparents — children held by great-grandparents —
silently staring at me, unblinking.
I feel they strive to speak to me,
to tell me stories of their childhoods,
lost and mostly forgotten.
Would that I could cross the ether barrier…to ask…”
So began 2016 for us, with the quote above from Charlie’s poem, “Chain Links,” a year of the family, perhaps. January began with the Norman family mourning the loss of Sandy Norman, our sister-in-law, brother Dan’s wife, who passed away the last week of 2015 from a long illness. Then again, in March, we dealt with the blow of the unexpected death of our youngest brother, Tom Norman, who died in his sleep. It has been a special blessing this year through all these heartaches that Charlie has been able to talk with family members by phone.
April marked Charlie’s 38th year of imprisonment, and in September, he turned 67 years old.
On Saturday, April 30, Charlie’s mother, Lucille, and Aunt Alice Walker, drove from Tampa to Lake City for a surprise visit, their first since our 2014 wedding. We shared a wonderful few hours together in the visiting park before tearful hugs and goodbyes.
On Sunday, June 26, Charlie’s long-time friend, Gary Smigiel, and two of his lovely, talented daughters, Adrianna and Daniella, made the long drive from South Florida to spend the day with us. Over the years, we have watched Adrianna and Daniella grow from darling little girls to delightful, poised young women before our eyes. Gary continues to be a source of strong encouragement and support for us. We are thankful every day for loved ones who make the effort to keep supporting and visiting us.
On the creative side, in May, for our second wedding anniversary, Libby, with the help of our cat, Suzy Q, put together a small book of photographs and collected quotes about love and gardening as a gift for Charlie. Charlie’s latest creative endeavor is a new pen-and-ink drawing series of cartoons called, “Cats In Prison.” The series is rather satirical, and very witty, on many levels. He also continues drawing his beautiful portraits and wildlife in colored pencil and graphite, which Libby pairs with his poems and prints as note/greeting cards to send to friends and family. We are both pleased with the results. These activities provided an enjoyable break from parole hearing preparations.
Charlie’s poem, “Sedimentary,” was published in the prestigious anthology, “PEN AMERICA, A Journal For Writers And Readers, #19 HAUNTINGS,” by the PEN America Center, New York, in June. We were honored in July when an excellent new publication from XfelonINK, by Suza Lambert Bowser in California, published a poem, “In The Prison Of My Rejection,” and essay, “Something Happened In Prison Yesterday,” and three drawings of Charlie’s in their Spring/Summer 2016 edition. www.xfelonink.com, Another published poem was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a highly-regarded literary award.
Loen Kelly, a renowned television producer in New York, featured several of Charlie’s essays on life in prison on the web site, www.prisonwriters.com, which stirred new worldwide interest in his writings. A Swedish documentary producer interested in Charlie’s essay, “The Gangs of Florida,” contacted us through Loen. The Florida Department of Corrections put Charlie’s photo and a link to his essay on their Facebook page, which went out to prison staff statewide. We received numerous positive comments from those readers.
Prominent Jacksonville attorneys, Bill Sheppard and Elizabeth White, continue to fight hard for Charlie’s release. Without their powerful advocacy over the last several years, we would not be in the position we are in, hopefully — prayerfully — planning for Charlie’s release.
Charlie’s current presumptive parole release date is July, 2017, which means a hearing will be held most likely sometime in April of 2017. We applied for an earlier hearing, but were inexplicably denied. This year has been occupied with preparations for the new hearing, and we sincerely thank all of our friends for their many letters of support sent on Charlie’s behalf. They remain in his file for consideration by the parole commissioners, all 3 of which are “new” to their jobs and have not been on the commission for any of Charlie’s previous hearings. We will keep you posted on this life-altering event.
Dr. Stephen McCoy, executive director of “Prisoners of Christ Ministry” in Jacksonville, wrote a letter of acceptance to the parole commissioners, offering Charlie a place in their transition release program upon his parole. Rev. Ken Cooper, a long-time friend and encourager, and founder of “Prisoners of Christ,” has also offered his endorsement and support for Charlie’s release. Prominent Jacksonville businessman and founder of “Operation New Hope,” Kevin Gay, has offered his resources in securing full-time employment for Charlie.
Two events during the last week of 2015 carried over to have significant impact on our lives. Early Christmas morning, 2015, Charlie saved the life of another prisoner in his dorm by stopping another man intent on murder from caving in the skull of the sleeping victim with a heavy pushbroom. Charlie’s actions were recorded by surveillance cameras. He distracted the attacker, effectively halting the assault, and called for help. Charlie’s bravery was acknowledged by prison staff. The incident has been reported by Charlie in the essay, “A Very Un-Merry Christmas In Prison,” published on his blog, “Free Charlie Norman Now” http://www.charlienorman.blogspot.com/. Unfortunately, Charlie was unable to help another young prisoner in his dorm who died of stab wounds as a result of ongoing gang violence. Charlie was conducting legal research in the law library the morning of the stabbing, and only saw the victim being taken to the medical department from a distance.
Four days after the attempted murder, Charlie agreed to provide sworn testimony in a deposition for the Florida Attorney General’s Office, in defense of the FDC in a federal employment discrimination lawsuit. The case involved a rogue prison official at Okaloosa C.I., who had targeted and retaliated against Charlie and Libby from 2012-2014, for Charlie’s prison writings. The employee was eventually fired for fabricating disciplinary reports, making false statements, and stealing stamps and mail. On September 26, 2016, federal judge Robert Hinkle dismissed the case, finding in favor of the FDC. Charlie’s testimony potentially saved the State of Florida a one-two million dollar judgment had the disgruntled former employee prevailed. A significant point — the Florida State Attorney General vouched for Charlie’s veracity over the former employee, and the judge agreed.
A disappointment resulted from an initially positive action on November 7th when Charlie was moved from the Annex to the newly-reopened work camp, a facility for prisoners whose “custody level” is medium-to-minimum. The work camp houses less than 300 “short-timers” who work outside the fences. Charlie’s custody level was reduced from “close” to “medium” in 2009, and he has been eligible for “minimum” custody for over two years. Being sent to the work camp indicated that authorities did not consider Charlie a risk; however, after arriving at the work camp, another officer reversed the move for unknown reasons and returned Charlie to his previous bunk at the Annex. All that packing up and lugging his stuff in a 2-minute bus ride away, only to be sent back after a few hours of standing around. Charlie’s “good-adjustment” transfer to Putnam C.I. has been approved for over a year, so hopefully, that will happen sooner rather than later.
As always, we continue to be each others’
rock of strength and support,
and strive to keep our hopes and faith alive
and growing,with the added support
of family and friends who stand by us.
We pray that 2017
will be a good year for each of you, too.
God Bless and Keep You,
Libby and Charlie