Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Dateline Wednesday, November 26, 2008


“Inmate X” is a prisoner serving ten years in a Florida prison. He has mental health problems, and takes medication for his bipolar disorder. Sometimes the prison is locked down, and Inmate X doesn’t get his meds, causing him to become “disruptive.” He yells for the correctional officer to come to his cell, tells “Officer Y” he needs his meds NOW!
Officer Y doesn’t like Inmate X. He has never been trained to deal with prisoners with psychological disorders who are required to take psychotropic drugs to control their behavior, and he takes it personally that Inmate X is talking to him in a loud voice. He tells Inmate X to shut up, or he will pepper spray him. Inmate X’s bipolar disorder kicks in, and tells Officer Y where to put his pepper spray.
Rather than call the psychologist on duty to come deal with Inmate X’s “psychological emergency.” Officer Y carries through with his threat and douses Inmate X with pepper spray. He then calls for backup, a “cell extraction team” with a riot shield enters Inmate X’s cell, pounds on him for a few minutes, chains his hands and feet, throws him in a “strip cell” for a few days and writes him “disciplinary reports” for disorderly conduct, disobeying a direct order, and assault.
Inmate X is found guilty, is sentenced to several months in lockup, in “disciplinary confinement,” and loses all his accumulated “gain time.”
What do the taxpayers of Florida lose? An estimated $78,000 in the increased costs of keeping Inmate X in prison longer due to the lost gain time, about 1200 days, that he would have otherwise been awarded had the incident with Officer Y been handled differently! And that is a conservative estimate. With 100,000 prisoners requiring a $2.7 billion annual budget, $75 a day per prisoner is a minimum figure for the costs of incarceration. For the thousands of “psych threes,” mentally-ill prisoners requiring thousands of dollars each for medication costs, and the thousands of dollars each for medication costs, and the thousands of prisoners suffering from HIV infections, hepatitis, heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses that cost the taxpayers millions of extra tax dollars, the annual costs of incarcerating one prisoner can easily reach $100,000.
Surely we can agree that maintaining discipline and order in Florida’s prisons can be a difficult, yet crucial commandment. “Care, custody, and control” are the three legs of the prison mandate. Problems develop when a certain class of “correctional officers” take their desires for “control” beyond their legislated authority and abuse their power to write “disciplinary reports” that are unwarranted, undeserved, and even false.
Perhaps it doesn’t seem like a big deal for prison administrators to give their guards a free hand in controlling prisoners, and if that means allowing some guards to be overly strict in enforcing rules, overlooking questionable actions and issuing blanket denials of grievance appeals of purportly false “D.R.s,” then so be it. And if a sizeable portion of the “D.R.s” written by a minority of these guards were “personal,” satisfying their own urges to inflict punishment, to teach someone a lesson, to bring someone down a notch, or even to jam his time, to intentionally write a bogus D.R. that will cancel a prisoner’s release on parole, in effect adding years to his sentence, so what? What’s the harm? It’s a difficult job, it’s hard to keep good people, so let them run the compound however they see fit. Right? Wrong!
What if you, the taxpayer, discovered that the unfettered writing of unwarranted or unnecessary disciplinary reports was possibly costing Floridians as much as $48.5 million to $251 million in increased costs of incarceration every year! Would you want a closer look taken at what is going on in your prisons? You betcha’!
Let’s look at the numbers. These are estimates, ball park figures, gleaned from prison staff and newspaper accounts, but more accurate numbers could be obtained from official Department of Corrections and Florida Parole Commission sources. They know exactly how many disciplinary reports are written each year, exactly how many parole dates are suspended for how many years, at what cost. For the sake of argument and enlightenment, let’s go to the ballpark, check out the scoreboard.
Florida prisons hold about 100,000 inmates. Thousands more are on deck in the county jails, waiting their turns. Let’s say those 100,000 inmates receive 50,000 disciplinary reports in a year. Some prisoners can go a year or more without receiving a D.R. Others might receive three or four at once, go to lockup, become targeted by a vengeful guard, and receive a dozen in a week, causing them to spend additional months in solitary confinement, or even get sentenced to several years of “close management” (C.M.), where they stay in extremely restricted lockdown conditions for long terms.
I’m not saying that all these D.R.s are unwarranted. There are many bad people in prison who have no intentions of mending their ways, who continue criminal activities inside, such as drug dealing, loan sharking, gambling operations, gangs, and other hustles and scams, and when they are caught with drugs, weapons, and other serious contraband, they are written up, got to lockup, rightly so. Some examples:
Two prisoners argue over a debt or a football score, get into a fight, and get D.R.s. An inmate causes a disturbance, incites a riot, he goes to jail. Cuss out a guard, refuse a lawful order, refuse to work, get caught in an “unauthorized area,” run from a guard, assault a guard, attempt to escape,--the list goes on and on. Happens all the time. “Be twenty-one,” they say, take responsibility for your own actions. But what about when you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve broken no rules, but you draw the attention of a rogue guard who has a personal dislike for you, who abuses his authority, who writes a bogus D.R., who locks you up “on the house?” What can you do? Virtually nothing usually.
Get a D.R. for “verbal disrespect,” the guard locks you up, says you cursed him, it’s your word against his, no witnesses. Who are they going to believe? You have a parole date riding on this, you file the grievances, which are rubberstamped denied. “Based on an officer’s statement” is a good one. You can file in court, circuit court, state appellate court, federal court, up the ladder, filing fees, court costs, years of time and trouble, case dismissed. Nada.
Let’s say that twenty percent of the 50,000 disciplinary reports are bogus, false, unwarranted. That’s 10,000 D.R.s. Department of Corrections staff estimate that the paperwork costs, the costs of processing one D.R. is about
$ 1,100. That’s $ 11 million of taxpayers’ money squandered right there. But that is just the tip of a very large iceberg.
On a “minor D.R.” one can lose thirty days of gain time as a penalty, not counting the possible time spent in lockup. At a minimum, the inmate loses the twenty days usual monthly gain time award for any month that they receive a D.R. That’s fifty days minimum, at $ 75 a day, or $ 3,750, plus the $ 1,100 processing costs, or $ 4850 for a minor D.R.! That’s not chicken feed. Multiply that by 10,000 and you have a minimum of $ 48.5 million squandered on D.R.s that never should have been written. Add up the costs of “major” D.R.s, where prisoners can lose 180 days of gain time, up to all accumulated gain time, possibly thousands of days, we’re talking about over $ 25,000, and more, for a bogus D.R. That’s as much as $ 250 million in taxpayer money!
Recent news reports stated that the state budget shortfall was a billion dollars or more. The prison system is looking at $ 175 million budget deficit. One suggestion to recoup some of that money is to “restore lost gain time” that was taken for D.R.s. Ding, ding, ding—are the lights flickering on? That’s a good idea, restoring lost gain time, kick them out of prison a few months early to the same release date they were originally entitled to, save millions of dollars on the costs of incarceration, having to feed them, heal them, house them. Get them out of the system, get them jobs, support their families, pay taxes. But wouldn’t it be better if there was improved and better oversight of some of these rogue officers, so that a greater percentage of unwarranted disciplinary reports were never written at all?
There is a principle called “progressive discipline” that governs how prison guards are supposed to administer discipline and correct behavior. The first step in progressive discipline is the verbal warning. A correctional officer observes a prisoner committing an infraction and verbally warns him that his behavior is wrong, counseling him not to do it again. The second step is the “corrective consultation” or c.c., generally known as a written warning, still fairly informal, but logged on a “contact card.” So many c.c.s in a month can result in a D.R. The most drastic step, the D.R., is supposedly reserved for the worst cases, when the inmate has ignored repeated calls to adjust his behavior.
There are guards who brag that they haven’t written a D.R. in years. It’s not that they are lazy, or slackers, not doing their jobs, but the opposite—they know how to talk to prisoners, they are respected, and they are obeyed. They don’t have to run in, write D.R.s, and lock people up. They give orders, and the prisoners obey them. That method of carrying out your job is better for everyone. Think of the tax savings alone.
On the other hand, certain guards are so hateful and nasty that they try to lock up someone everyday, and if the person gets angry, resulting in a “use of force,” so they can beat them or gas them, so much the better. These guards brag about having written literally hundreds of D.R.s over the years, like it’s a badge of honor, rather than an incredible waste of millions of taxpayers’ dollars, notwithstanding the human costs their victims incurred and the increase in tension among the general inmate population, increasing the danger for all. There is nothing “progressive” about their discipline. Fire them, and save millions. We can’t afford them.
If you are shocked at how much you are paying to satisfy the punitive urges of guards who regularly write bad D.R.s, wait until you hear what happens at the parole commission as a result of their actions.
“Presumptive Parole Release Date” (PPRD) is the operating term for those thousands of prisoners who are still under the authority of the Florida Parole Commission. The PPRD refers to the calculated date for a prisoner’s release on parole. This release date can be altered for “reasons of institutional conduct,” or D.R.s.
Let’s say a prisoner has served twenty years and has a 2008 parole date. He gets a bogus D.R., loses gain time, costs the state an extra $ 5,000 or so, but it doesn’t stop there.
As a result of the D.R., his PPRD can be extended two years, four years, or more. Some have served an additional ten years imprisonment because of one D.R. At $ 25,000 or so a year for cost of incarceration, that hapless soul could cost the taxpayers an extra $ 250,000 because a wrathful prison guard doesn’t like him and decided to jam his time. That’s for only one person.
In years gone by, when virtually every prisoner was under the parole system, it was a common practice for certain guards to wait until a month or so before an inmate was scheduled to go home, then plant some contraband on him, write him up, lock him up, and cause him to spend additional years in prison. Is that right? Of course not. But it still happens. Besides the moral costs to a society that doesn’t prevent such abuses by “public servants,” the financial costs, in these tough times, are too great for our fragile economy to bear.
Something should be done about it, but where do we start? Right here, right now, let’s get to the bottom of this, put a stop to it, do the right thing. It makes dollars and cents.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Dateline: November 17, 2008


I am a loyal American. My mother’s and father’s families, my ancestors, have been in America for hundreds of years, since it was a colony. My people fought in the Revolutionary War and every war since, to the present day. I know what America stands for, I believe in the Constitution, and I am hopeful for a transformational wind of change to sweep across America and the world in the coming years, despite the dire straits our society presently finds itself in. I have faith in the inherent goodness of America and Americans.

Then why, you may ask, am I getting so worked up about the abuses of power and mistreatment of a few hundred prisoners by prison authorities who seem to suffer from amnesia when it comes to the rules and laws that dictate how they conduct their jobs? Good question. Perhaps because it is happening to me. Perhaps I’ve spent so much time reading the rules, laws, cases, and statutes that set the boundaries for the treatment of prisoners that I expect them to obey those laws, just as we’re required to, but instead they have ventured far off the reservation.

Many veterans are in prison. Twenty years ago it was the Vietnam vets with PTSD. I had the honor and privilege in the 1980’s to help the vets at Zephyrhills C.I. establish Chapter 195 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, the first prison chapter. Many guards joined, outside POW/MIA groups became involved and good things happened. I wasn’t a Vietnam Vet, but I knew how to navigate the Byzantine prison rules to organize it, get it approved, work through the system, and I did.

No matter their war heroics or sacrifices for their country, however, the war vets got no special treatment. They suffered the same as the rest of us. Inside the fence all bets were off.

Years before, I knew a war hero who’d been captured by the Germans toward the end of World War II, who was held in a Nazi prison camp until liberation. We were in prison at Raiford, going through a rough patch. He’d told me about his P.O.W. experience. It was not “Hogan’s Heroes.”

I asked him how the Nazis treated them, compared with how we were treated by the guards at Raiford. He looked at me oddly, thought for a moment, and told me it was a shame to say it, but the Germans treated the American prisoners with more respect than the American prison guards treated their fellow Americans. I found that hard to believe, and asked him to explain.

Life in a German prison camp was not easy, he said. The Nazis were hard as nails, and if you tried the fence, they were very good shots. Their machine gunners did not miss. But they had clear cut rules, and they followed them to the letter, unlike over here, where the rules changed daily, with each officer and each shift.

He said that in the P.O.W. camp (which was not a concentration camp), when there was a beef, an issue, a complaint, or an order coming down from above, the highest-ranking German would meet face-to-face on the yard with the highest-ranking American officer. They would salute, and the message would be imparted. The American was treated with respect. They were enemies, the lines were drawn, but they conducted themselves professionally. You knew where you stood. There were no collaborators, who are blown as rats or snitches in our prisons, and where they thrive.

In contrast, the old man said, the American prison guards treated their American prisoners like dirt, lower life forms, subhuman, when it suited them. Other times, they became business partners when they needed someone to sell their drugs inside the prison. Big money, feeding addictions. The underground economy has always flourished. Still does, even with snitches and drug tests.

Other guards used snitches to set up busts, to make themselves look good, get promoted to sergeant, lieutenant, and higher, on the backs of the unfortunates they locked up.

Just like in free society, the parasitic relationship works both ways. The guards get what they want, and so do the snitches.

Years ago a guard advanced to captain, a very high rank in the prison hierarchy at the time. We had known that when he’d been a low-ranking guard and later a sergeant, that he’d been dirty, one of the main connections for the drug dealers, had made a lot of money “introducing contraband” (as they call it) over the years.

One of his old dealers approached him, congratulated him on his promotion, and asked when he was going to get back in the groove, start bringing in more drugs. The captain told him he didn’t do that any more, he’d gotten out of it, at his rank now, he couldn’t do it. The dealer told him that with his rank now, he could do anything he wanted. The implication was clear – you can’t quit. And he didn’t.

The biggest prison dealers are usually also the biggest snitches. Law of the jungle. They have to play both sides, compromise themselves, to stay in business, to put the heat on someone else, to eliminate the competition, to gain power, to “be somebody.’ Want a cell change? Don’t go to the guards. It won’t happen. Take a carton of cigarettes to the head snitch, and go pack your belongings— you’re moving.

Don’t get on their bad side, for Heaven’s sake, or you’re doomed. Your cell will be searched, and they will find a shank under your mattress, or reefer in your pillowcase. It was planted, you say? They all say that. Too bad. Go to jail. Your parole date just got jammed. Get comfortable— you’re going to be here for awhile, son.

So what happened here, in this prison, in the present day? At 3:30 AM the guards went into “D” Dorm, an “open” doom (a big room filled with bunks and prisoners) on the other end of the large compound, went right to the stash, found syringes and drugs, so the witnesses say. Then they woke up the dope dogs, brought them in, and found some crack cocaine and other drugs. They locked up several people, some with needle marks in their arms. Very specific information. America’s dumbest criminals.

Where did all those drugs come from, you ask? Could they have fallen from the sky? UPS delivery? Granny sneaked them in her purse through the visiting park? To hear them tell it, that’s where it all comes in at, but that’s not true. They have very tight security for prisoners and their visitors. Give up? The guards bring it in just like they always have, or the civilian kitchen workers or vendors or maintenance or any of dozens of other “free people” who come in and out the front, and back gates every day. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to crack this case. But how many guards got knocked off bringing in drugs, cell phones, and other contraband? Not many. When it happens, it’s hushed up.

What happened here next, after the big bust in “D” Dorm? Where did the shakedown crew go? “B” Dorm! Of course. Next thing we know, over 200 men are locked in their tiny cells, the water is cut off—no drinking water, no toilets flushed—all day, till after 7:00 PM.

Here they come, take their time, the goon squad, as we always called the faceless mob of guards on a mission, open each cell, take off your clothes, strip, expose yourself, bend over, spread your cheeks, put on your boxers, go to the day room while they ransack your cell. No recourse.

How many drugs did they find? None. How many shanks (homemade knives)? None. How much “escape paraphernalia?” None. What was the purpose? It could only be harassment or mass punishment—no “security goals” were accomplished.

As prisoners we are subject to “reasonable” searches at any time, but how do you define “reasonable?”

Years ago at Polk C.I. the midnight shift got into a groove of rousting prisoners from their sleep at two or three o’clock in the morning, cutting on the lights, and ransacking their cells. Rude awakening. What did they find? Usually nothing. These guards were enjoying themselves too much, laughing, ridiculing, trashing family photos, dumping out lockers, then leaving.

When so called “public servants” get to the point where they delight in humiliating people under their control, subjecting them to degrading and debasing treatment that would be considered a sex crime if they did it in “society,” there should be valid concerns about serious psychological disturbances dominating these people’s personalities. Wouldn’t you agree?

I complained to the warden that I had been subjected to an unreasonable search, and asked that it be stopped. I was expected to work hard all day, we only had a limited number of hours in which to sleep and rest, and unless the guards had compelling information and probable cause that I was in possession of a weapon or other serious contraband, their shakedowns should be restricted to a more reasonable hour, like after we’d been awakened in the morning. Since I wasn’t involved in any illegal activities, I wasn’t worried about them having any information that would give them cause to search me, anyway. But no one was safe from arbitrary, systemic harassment. To be subjected to ransacking and rousting by midnight marauders to satisfy their prurient urges was wrong.

The warden agreed with me, surprisingly, and stopped the practice. About seventeen years later, that warden is the regional director, with authority over a number of prisons, including this one, but the ransacking here continues. Times change.

This is my story—I walk a straight and narrow path in prison, and always have. I don’t find that difficult at all. That is who I am. I don’t use, sell, or hold drugs, no weapons, no contraband. Prisoners and guards, for the most part, show me a great deal of respect and many refer to me as, “Mr. Norman.” I think my friend, Libby, is amused when a guard in the visiting park passes us and greets me with, “How are you, Mr. Norman?” I’m fine, thank you,” I reply. Yet I’ve been subjected to search after search, ransacking, trashing my possessions, locked in a tiny cell for hours without access to drinking water or a functioning toilet, over and over again, for what reason? Yet I’m not the only one.

This is an estimate, but probably ninety to ninety-five percent of the prisoners only want to do their time, get by, not bother anyone, not be bothered. They are not involved in anything questionable. Most have few, if any resources, little or no money from home, little chance or opportunity to alter or improve their situation. They go to the chow hall three times a day and clean their trays. They may not like some of the bland food, but in thirty-one years in Florida prisons, I’ve never known anyone who starved to death in here. You can survive. Go to work, go to chow, come in, take a shower, spend idle hours getting counted, change clothes, watch TV, read a library book, get counted, go to sleep for a few hours, get up, do it all again, every day, exactly the same, forever, or till you die, whichever comes first.

The five-to-ten percent who are up to no good, who are scheming, scamming, hustling, getting drugs to use and sell, making and hiding knives, gambling, running football pools, robbing other prisoners, breaking into lockers, involved in gangs, you know who you are, and so do the guards. It’s easy to figure out. So why don’t the guards focus their effortsd on this troublesome minority, and leave the 90-95 % of the otherwise well-behaved prison population alone? You ask such good questions!

Perhaps it is because they like it—the guards, that is. Although most people who seek jobs as prison guards are just people seeking jobs, there is a percentage of sadists who are drawn to the prison environment, a harsh place of dominance and submission, of cruelty, violence, and degradation, where those with personality disorders and psycho-sexual deviance are able to act out their sick fantasies and bully those under their control in ways they could never do at Home Depot or Walmart. Remember Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison in Iraq where the prisoners were sexually abused and humiliated, which cost many American lives later when the insurgents retaliated? It was not a coincidence that the major players in that scandal were prison guards enlisted in the West Virginia National Guard, pulling prison duty in Baghdad.

An aside—I took a short break and read the above paragraph to several fellow prisoners. Each one smiled, laughed, and nodded his head in agreement as I finished reading it. I asked each one, “Can you name anyone you know here who that describes?” And each one came up with quickly, without taking any time to think about it—the same five guards who fit the criteria, reviled and detested men who delight in harassing, provoking, tormenting, lying on, locking up, and occasionally brutalizing hapless prisoners who they target.

Draw your own conclusions. I’ve drawn mine.

If this is so, why do their superiors, the prison administrators locally and in the Tallahassee headquarters, go to so much trouble to cover for them, to suppress complaints, to let them get away with their immoral, unethical, and often illegal activities, sometimes for years? Another good question that bears discussion.

I’ve said it before, if this were a zoo, the SPCA would shut it down, but it’s not. No cute animals, no pandas, no endangered species. Just humans, your fellow Americans, as flawed and hapless as they may be.

Is this any way to run a prison? I say no. If they treat war veterans so badly, with such little respect or concern, how could you expect them to treat “common criminals,” many with serious mental illnesses, any better? They don’t. But perhaps if people discover the truth, and demand their public servants getting paid all those taxpayer dollars, perform their duties to a higher standard, as the law requires, at some point, in time, a new wind will blow through the razorwire fences and a transformation will take place here.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Dateline: October 20, 2008


When I’d served about seven years in prison I was addressing a group of “outside” Christian volunteers, telling them about life in prison. I did a lot of that in those early years, speaking to numerous groups of college students, professors, juvenile delinquents, reporters, legislators, volunteers, government officials, and many others. Seven years seemed like an awfully long time to spend in prison in those days, since previous to the “minimum – mandatory 25 – year” sentences, a “life” sentence was considered about seven years. Little did I know that seven years in prison wasn’t even a warm-up for the thirty-plus years I’ve served in continuous imprisonment so far.

After I’d made my statement to that group of men from Tampa, we had a question and answer session. I told them they could ask me anything.

One man seemed especially uncomfortable and bothered. We were about the same age and size, he was bright and well-spoken, and side by side, we could have been mistaken for brothers. He was married, with a beautiful wife and child, had a well-paying job and a nice home in an exclusive neighborhood, was active in his church, living out the American Dream.

I had seen it before. I wasn’t the illiterate, drug-addled junkie-dropout from the projects, the image many “citizens” had of the typical prisoner who they could feel sorry for, who’d been deprived and victimized by society, but instead was an educated white man who bore too close a resemblance to themselves. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

On this day my troubled new friend – his name was Denny – asked me what I’ve been asked many times over the years. He shook his head, told me that he could never do this, serve time, and asked, “How do you do it? How do you do all this time?”

I answered him, “Like a man. You do it like a man, Denny.” I couldn’t describe it any more briefly than that. It seemed to satisfy him. And that was true. You do it like a man. Be strong. Be forthright and resolute, maintain your moral values, never compromise with evil, never take the first bite from the apple, for when you do, you are lost.

The years fluttered by like a calendar in one of those old movies where the dates flash across the years in a blur. Seven years became ten, ten became twenty, twenty became thirty. It seemed like forever, a lifetime. It was. It still is.

It’s curious how people react differently to you when they learn how incredibly long you’ve been in prison. People expect you to be scarred, toothless, diseased, covered in tattoos, broken down, a mere husk of a man. It is beyond their comprehension that I have survived this long, seemingly unscathed. I’ve heard it countless times from other prisoners, staff, and free people – “Why are you still in prison? You don’t belong here.” Amen. I agree. But here I am.

I’ve asked that question myself many times, and the preacher-types I’ve asked have usually said something along line of “God has a plan for your life.” And when God’s plan for me is fulfilled, I’ll be released. Not to be so bold as to second-guess God, but I’ve also asked several times why couldn’t God in His infinites wisdom have a plan for my life in freedom? No answer.

It took me a long time, but after years and years of trying to do the right thing, as some singer once said, I realized why I am here, in prison. It became so clear.

I am here to bear witness. I am here to pay attention, observe, document, record, and bear witness to what happens inside prison. I know no one else here who is able or willing to do it, so the task falls to me. I’d been doing it for years already, but I didn’t realize why. I’ve been locked up, deprived, threatened, and transferred to distant prisons far from home for bearing witness, and still I didn’t stop. I slowed down and licked my wounds a few times, but I never quit. And I won’t quit now. I will keep bearing witness to this evil place until they run me out, then I’ll do it “out there.” I’ll keep telling the world how it is, so perhaps one day this will change for the better. It is a small sacrifice to endure.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Dateline: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 1:00 PM

Thanks to Jackson Taylor at the Pen American Center in New York City, the Anne Frank Center asked me to participate in their Prison Diary Project, which I did.

Jessica Gresko of the Associated Press in Miami wrote in September and asked if I would answer some questions for an article she wanted to do. We exchanged e-mail, I answered her questions on paper, then she asked if I’d do a “live” interview here at Tomoka. Why couldn’t I go to Miami?

After much ado with permission from the D.C.C., they got the interview scheduled for 1 PM.

At 9:00 AM on the day of the interview, a sergeant came to me in my building, told me the colonel had assigned him to “presidential duty,” to to handle the details on this end, make sure everything looked right.

He took my best prison uniform and my jacket to have them pressed, and my state “work boots” to get them shined. I don’t shine my work boots, “brogans,” they’re called, because usually as soon as they get newly polished, someone steals them to resell. My regular boots were “retreads,” old boots with thick “Frankenstein” soles on them, hard to walk in, no support, painful, but what do you expect in prison—no Florsheims.

Three hours later the sergeant came back with a new set of blues (prisoner uniform), freshly-pressed, jacket pressed, new web belt, new photo I.D. card, and brand new brogans, no retreads, that the staff shoeshine boy had spent a couple of hours polishing to a high spit shine. Colonel’s orders. Must be done.

Video camera coming in—no way did they want the public to see anything but spit and polish. No old, ragged outfits.

Jessica Gresko, the print reporter, came in with Suzette Laboy, the video producer, promptly at 1 PM, after a fast, four-hour drive from Miami, “just for you,” she said.

Everyone in authority above lieutenant made themselves scarce. The gatehouse/visiting area was a ghost town. They certainly didn’t want to be asked any questions about the events here over the past few months, so I understand their strategy. Can’t blame them.

And they were quite worried about what I might say. I reassured them. I told them this was about my writing, the prison diary project, Anne Frank, not an exposé of abuses of power. They were relieved.

Jessica had asked me to bring my copy of “Diary of a Young Girl” with me, but in the mass lockdown/shakedown of October 10th, when a hundred or so guards from across the state came in to cut off our drinking water and toilets, then ransacked, trashed, and took much of our personal property, the Anne Frank book was one of three personal books thrown away by the guards. Before I went in for the interview, one female guard came to me and asked, “You aren’t going to tell them about the book, are you?”

I told her to reassure her bosses that I was not going to embarrass or offend anyone during this interview, that this was a “positive” story, and I was going to stick to the theme. It wouldn’t do for me to air the prison’s dirty laundry at this time, I was trying to get out of prison, not get buried deeper by vindictive officials. She was relieved.

When you’re surrounded by harshness and negativity 24/7, in an environment where hostile eyes watch you like goldfish in a bowl, waiting for the slightest slip or deviation to write a “disciplinary report” (D.R.), or lock you in confinement, it is a strange relief to meet and talk with two intelligent young women who mean you no harm, who are actually interested in what you say, and treat you as a fellow human being, not a lower life form. That’s the feeling I got when I met Jessica Gresko and Suzette Laboy. Which is it—are they so young, or have I grown so old? You know.

We had a pleasant hour to talk about Anne Frank, her diary, my diary, and writing. I had a passage I’d written in May, and a couple of passages from Anne Frank. The prison was hardly mentioned. They filmed me leaving the room three times, we shook hands, they headed for I-95, I went back to my cell. I kept the new boots and uniform. They haven’t asked for any of it back yet.

Suzette said a two-minute video slip will be posted on the web site. The print story will appear wherever it is picked up. Jessica will let me know.

Things are still bad here. They would be no better had I trashed them to the media like they trashed my cell, several times. I would just suffer more. I am following the administrative grievance process, as fruitless as that is. I can only hope that I will be freed before much longer, the ransom paid. Perhaps the Anne Frank story will be a down payment.

During the interview, the sergeant who’d gotten my new uniform and boots and escorted me to the gatehouse, stood right there with the door cracked, listening the entire time. I knew what he was doing—what he was told—monitor the conversation, let them know if I went negative, against the prison. I didn’t mind. I had no intention of getting on a soapbox and railing against prison abuses. Different topic, different time. Let him listen and report back. I knew that they would see the finished video clip and print article anyway.

After the reporters left, the sergeant walked me back to my building. It was just a little past two PM, but the yard was closed. He wanted to talk about the interview.

Jessica had asked me to read a couple of passages from Anne Frank’s diary, and talk about why I chose them. In one, Anne said that she had changed drastically since going into hiding for years, but that despite the bad parts, she had become a better person, her changes were positive. That entry was made just a short time before they were snitched out, reported to the Nazis, captured, sent to their deaths.

This particular passage had a profound effect on me because I felt such close parallels to Anne, even over a sixty-four year gap in time and place. I had been in prison over thirty years, I explained on camera, under very harsh conditions, and I had also changed drastically. I wasn’t the same person as that twenty-eight year old who’d been arrested so long ago. And despite all the negativity, I had changed in better, more positive ways.

That’s what the sergeant wanted to comment on. What I’d said had affected him. First, he couldn’t comprehend how long I’d been in prison, close to thirty-one years, still had a positive attitude, and yes, had changed drastically. He said that I wasn’t the same person, that they weren’t punishing the man who’d come to prison all those years ago, but someone entirely different. He knew that to be true because in the fourteen years he’d worked for the state, he had also changed, was a better man, was not the man he’d been before, knew so much more about himself and others.

I thought that insightful comment showed a shared point of view between two men on opposite sides of the table, often at odds over what one considered his job, and the other considered oppression. Perhaps there’s hope for us yet. Thank you, Anne.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Dateline: October 20, 2008


When I’d served about seven years in prison I was addressing a group of “outside” Christian volunteers, telling them about life in prison. I did a lot of that in those early years, speaking to numerous groups of college students, professors, juvenile delinquents, reporters, legislators, volunteers, government officials, and many others. Seven years seemed like an awfully long time to spend in prison in those days, since previous to the “minimum – mandatory 25 – year” sentences, a “life” sentence was considered about seven years. Little did I know that seven years in prison wasn’t even a warm-up for the thirty-plus years I’ve served in continuous imprisonment so far.

After I’d made my statement to that group of men from Tampa, we had a question and answer session. I told them they could ask me anything.

One man seemed especially uncomfortable and bothered. We were about the same age and size, he was bright and well-spoken, and side by side, we could have been mistaken for brothers. He was married, with a beautiful wife and child, had a well-paying job and a nice home in an exclusive neighborhood, was active in his church, living out the American Dream.

I had seen it before. I wasn’t the illiterate, drug-addled junkie-dropout from the projects, the image many “citizens” had of the typical prisoner who they could feel sorry for, who’d been deprived and victimized by society, but instead was an educated white man who bore too close a resemblance to themselves. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

On this day my troubled new friend – his name was Denny – asked me what I’ve been asked many times over the years. He shook his head, told me that he could never do this, serve time, and asked, “How do you do it? How do you do all this time?”

I answered him, “Like a man. You do it like a man, Denny.” I couldn’t describe it any more briefly than that. It seemed to satisfy him. And that was true. You do it like a man. Be strong. Be forthright and resolute, maintain your moral values, never compromise with evil, never take the first bite from the apple, for when you do, you are lost.

The years fluttered by like a calendar in one of those old movies where the dates flash across the years in a blur. Seven years became ten, ten became twenty, twenty became thirty. It seemed like forever, a lifetime. It was. It still is.

It’s curious how people react differently to you when they learn how incredibly long you’ve been in prison. People expect you to be scarred, toothless, diseased, covered in tattoos, broken down, a mere husk of a man. It is beyond their comprehension that I have survived this long, seemingly unscathed. I’ve heard it countless times from other prisoners, staff, and free people – “Why are you still in prison? You don’t belong here.” Amen. I agree. But here I am.

I’ve asked that question myself many times, and the preacher-types I’ve asked have usually said something along line of “God has a plan for your life.” And when God’s plan for me is fulfilled, I’ll be released. Not to be so bold as to second-guess God, but I’ve also asked several times why couldn’t God in His infinites wisdom have a plan for my life in freedom? No answer.

It took me a long time, but after years and years of trying to do the right thing, as some singer once said, I realized why I am here, in prison. It became so clear.

I am here to bear witness. I am here to pay attention, observe, document, record, and bear witness to what happens inside prison. I know no one else here who is able or willing to do it, so the task falls to me. I’d been doing it for years already, but I didn’t realize why. I’ve been locked up, deprived, threatened, and transferred to distant prisons far from home for bearing witness, and still I didn’t stop. I slowed down and licked my wounds a few times, but I never quit. And I won’t quit now. I will keep bearing witness to this evil place until they run me out, then I’ll do it “out there.” I’ll keep telling the world how it is, so perhaps one day this will change for the better. It is a small sacrifice to endure.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Dateline October 20, 2008


Imagine for a moment that you live in an area where the U.S. Constitution is no longer in effect. You speak or write words critical of the people ruling your life, and suddenly you find yourself handcuffed, blinded by a shot of pepper spray, and thrown into an isolation cell, unable to call a lawyer for help or bond out, left incommunicado, your loved ones having no idea where you are or what happened to you. Can't happen in America? Think again. Happens all the time. In America. To Americans.

Imagine you wake up one morning, and you are locked inside your living quarters. You sit on the toilet, try to flush it, and discover the water has been cut off without notice. You are thirsty, you go to the sink, try the tap - no water. Cut off. All your neighbors' toilets and taps are also cut off, everyone is locked in their bathrooms, and after a few hours, the stench of human waste becomes overpowering. Cruel and unusual?

Suddenly a hundred or so men in uniforms and jack boots rush into your building, open each door, one by one, order you to strip out of all your clothing, butt naked, bend over, spread your cheeks, squat and cough. You are allowed to put on your boxers, then you and your neighbors are paraded to a holding area for a couple of hours while the anonymous uniformed men ransack and trash your quarters. They arbitrarily confiscate items of property. They pocket packs of cigarettes, candy, and food. They rip open your mattresses. They bring in drug dogs to sniff everything. No drugs, but one dog does locate an onion. An onion! Good dog!

Did they have a warrant? No, of course not. Did they find any knives, weapons, or other contraband? No. Did they completely violate and trample on several points of the Bill of Rights and other amendments? Absolutely. Did they care? Absolutely not. If you complain, try to obtain your missing property, will you become a target for reprisal, retaliation, and retribution? Of course you will. How dare you question their actions? You must be an enemy of the people. And if by some miracle a higher authority intervenes and questions their actions, will they lie? With a straight face they will. And if they are put in a spot, they will say they were just following orders. We heard those same excuses at Nuremburg sixty years ago.

Don't say it can't happen to you. It can. It has happened to me over and over again. Of course, I am in a state prison, so I can't expect much sympathy from anyone on the "outside." But rest assured that if it happens "in here," it is only a small leap to happening "out there."

The highest courts have ruled that the Constitution's rights and protections do not stop at the prison walls, but you can't tell that sometimes. My favorite quote from a prison guard is, "The Constitution ain't in effect in Columbia County." And he was dead serious, he wasn't joking.

That scenario I described above happened to me and hundreds of others prisoners on Friday, October 10th, and I assure you it was not fun. We are allowed to go to the prison canteen when we can make it, usually once a week or less, where we can buy food to augment the prison meals, deodorant, shampoo, soap, etc. I had just gone a couple of days before, but when I was allowed back into my trashed and ransacked room, my canteen purchases were gone, along with books, magazines, my work boots, and worst of all, my legal work and papers had disappeared. Gone. No receipts. No recourse. Shut up or go to jail. I wasn't the only one.

Hours later they turned the water back on, and we could flush the overflowing toilets and drink tap water. It was scary. Later on the phones came back on, I called my loved ones, and they called a wonderful lawyer who made calls to "higher ups," complaining of the treatment, demanding a return of the stolen property. When their own rulers came down on them, the local prison authorities jump, or try to appear to jump, and comply with their orders. Have I gotten my legal documents back? Some of them. Hundreds of pages of research, transcripts, motions, and legal mail are gone. Carts of "trash" were hustled out the back gate and to the dump scant hours after the major shakedown and ransacking, and whatever personal property went out that way is long gone.

The following Monday and Tuesday, the remaining property was sifted and sorted out by a crew of prisoners who discarded several more bags of trash, put some items to the side, conducted their own ransacking, and pocketed various trinkets, art materials, books, magazines, and anything else that caught their eyes. Of course, there are strict rules that any confiscated property will be protected and preserved, and no inmate will ever be allowed any access to anothers belongings, but know how it is.

Besides my legal papers, I was especially disgusted that they stole the bestseller, The Steel Wave, by Jeff Shaara, that a generous friend sent me. I was halfway through the book - the American paratroopers had landed in Normandy, the horizon was filled with ships, and Operation Overlord caught the Nazis napping. I hope they enjoy it. Don't you hate it when that happens?

Among the legal papers I got back were the ones that I was working on, but the others are gone. Is that against the law, for prison guards to confiscate and trash your legal documents? Of course it is. Why would they do that? Good question. Perhaps someone suggested it, to hinder any access to the courts, to damage my freedom efforts. Will anyone suffer consequences? Besides myself, probably not.

At the very least, the punishment is cruel and unusual, the searched were not reasonable, as the law allows, and the third leg of the "...not be deprived of life, liberty, or property..." without due process of law, is definitely trashed and broken, like my meager belongings.

Treasure your Constitution, and the rights it guarantees to all Americans. It is too easy to lose them, and all that entails. I can attest to that.


Thursday, October 23, 2008


Dateline October 19, 2008


I am a leper. I have been declared unclean. Along with 1200 of my fellow lepers, I have been exiled from society. We live in a leper colony encaged by two high fences encircled by spools of razor wire and perimeter alarms. Guards armed with high-powered rifles stand atop tall towers watching us, prepared to kill anyone foolish enough to flee. I will remain exiled until I am declared clean again, after the priests conduct ritual sacrifices, and I can return to society.

I didn't realize I was a leper until I read the Book of Leviticus in the Holy Bible one day. Chapters 13 and 14 explained it all to me, why I must be exiled, live outside the camp, and what must happen before I can return.

Silly me. I thought I was in jail, under arrest for murder, but that didn't make sense. I hadn't murdered anyone. Surely I would have remembered. So it must have been something else. Little did I know I was a leper, surrounded by other lepers, awaiting the ceremony that would direct me to the leper colony.

I thought he was a judge, but he was actually a priest, the only one qualified to decide whether I stay inside the tribe or must go out into the wilderness, calling out, "Unclean, unclean," to whomever approaches me. That must be true, since the priests' helpers (we call them guards) put on rubber gloves before they run their hands over us and examine us quite frequently. They aren't quite as stringent now as they were 3000 years ago. We are allowed visitors, but before we go to the special area set aside for us, we must strip off our clothes so the priests' helpers can examine us. They are particularly interested in looking at our private parts, and we have to perform a ceremonial dance where we turn our backs on them in unison, spread our "cheeks," as they call them (this is very embarrassing, but after they've made you do this dance several hundred times, you can blot it out), alternately lift our feet, squat down, and cough. They must be checking our lung function.

After the ceremony, we enter the special area where our family members await. They've already been through a similar ritual, but they leave their clothes on. We have very limited touching, an embrace and a kiss, and can only hold hands. I suppose that's to prevent them from catching anything from us. We don't want to spread our disease to loved ones.

When we return to our exile area, we go through a similar exit ritual, with the ceremonial dance without clothing.

I've been in exile for a long time - a lifetime, it seems, and twice I've been before a triumvirate of high priests who determine whether I am still unclean, or can return to my tribe. I didn't realize they were high priests - we called them parole commissioners, and I didn't realize what we were doing wrong until I reread the rules in the Bible. We don't have any doves or pigeons for the sacrifices, or the bucket of fresh water, the quantity of flour and oil, or the male and female lambs. No wonder they wouldn't release me!

This next time I'm going to ask my countrymen to bring the offerings and sacrifices to the high priests' temple in Tallahassee, ask a priest to sacrifice the birds, drip their blood in the fresh water, dip the dove into it, then free it to fly into the desert. After he sacrifices the male lamb, rubs the blood, flour and oil on me, cleansing me, then, cooks the sacrifice, there's a good chance I'll be declared clean, free of the leprosy, and allowed to return to my people. It is worth a try. What do I have to lose?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"I Won't Lie To You, But I'll Lie On You"

"I Won't Lie To You, But I'll Lie On You"
Dateline October 8, 2008

Winston Churchill, I believe it was, said something to the effect that you can tell what kind of government it is by how it treats its prisoners. Some people don't think it matters how badly prisoners are treated, espousing the view that since they broke laws, they don't deserve the law's protection or guarantees any more. That view is fairly common with people who are employed in the "corrections industry," another neutral euphemism designed to take the "humanity" out of the imprisonment process and turn it into a faceless factory of numbered objects, like an assembly line of coke bottles racing along, getting filled, capped, and packaged, then loaded onto trucks for delivery to the warehouses and stores.

Fortunately, not everyone in the prison system feels that way, or things would be much worse than they are.

Years ago D.O.C. Secretary Louie Wainwright brought in David Brierton from Illinois as an educated, enlightened (translation in Southspeak: YANKEE!) corrections professional to straighten out some serious problems at Florida State Prison (FSP), home to some of the most notorious and dangerous prisoners, and also the residence of the electric chair, "Old Sparky," and Death Row. He went on to become the Inspector General in Tallahassee.

I'll never forget something David Brierton said in an interview, referring to changing the mindset of the prison guards - "People are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment."

That greatly impressed me, the philosophy, at the time, and I had high hopes that in all their training sessions, that message would take root and grow in the behaviors of the guards. Alas, that message has apparently been lost in translation somewhere, or the papyrus roll it was written on got eaten by bugs, like those lost books of the Bible.

In the past two weeks we have seen imprisonment at some of its worst. I mentioned before about the ill-fated and poorly-executed so-called escape attempt discovered Sunday morning, Sept. 28th, a ragged, braided sheet rope thrown over the inner perimeter fence near my housing area by an alert woman sergeant. (Promotion to lieutenant a given - you heard it hear first). How it got out there, and who put it on the fence has been a subject of conjecture. Life for the rest of us has been miserable ever since.

I don't know how tight Dick's hatband is, but the security in your 21st century Florida close custody prisons is indeed tighter. Unless Spiderman, Harry Houdini, or some ninjas show up, nobody's leaving here until the push the button and let you out the front gate. Forget about climbing fences - that is so passe, like the 1980's and '90's. You should have invested in the razorwire stocks about twenty years ago - you'd be hanging out with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett now.

During the shakedowns and ransackings that were suffered through by over 200 prisoners that Sunday morning, a number of men were cuffed and carried off to confinement. The consensus is that most likely none of them were involved, but that doesn't matter. When this happens lots of people are going to jail. Makes it look like those in charge are getting to the bottom of it. "We locked up twenty!" Good job. That wasn't the end of it.

Monday lockdown again. Everybody. Over 200 prisoners. This isn't "Hogan's Heroes," is it? When they came to ransack your cell, as they did yesterday and today, they weren't really "searching" so much as "getting back," getting even, teaching everyone a lesson, exercising authority, whatever you might call it. But don't call it reasonable or justifiable.

Open your locker. Step outside your cell. Strip search. Bend over, spread your cheeks. Find anything? No. Dump out every article in the locker. Rummage through it. Throw some things in the hallway, for the garbage bags. Dump out every legal envelope. Mix them up with you cellmate's papers. This is fun. Legal vandalism. All that's missing is a can of spray paint. Find anything? No. Nothing good. Strip off the bed sheets, toss things around. You don't like it? Hands behind your back. You're going to jail. What for? Doesn't matter. I heard one say, "I won't lie to you, but I'll lie on you." At least he's honest.

Tuesday - locked down again, all day. What's curious to many is that when the woman guard was murdered that Wednesday night in June, we were only locked down all the next day, Thursday. Friday everything was back to "normal." Now extreme measures, and no one is missing.

Wednesday - lock down again, all day.

Thursday morning - lockdown over, for the time being.

Wait! Now it's Friday! At lunch they locked up at least three more suspects, skinhead types who lived on the second floor, all on one wing. Next thing you know, a little later, the guards are on the roof, and we are locked down for the night. They got the right ones this time, they say. The suspects are all snitching on each other, so it must be true. At least we're allowed our visits on Saturday and Sunday, scant respite for what is to come.

Monday, October 6th, after the 6:45 AM breakfast, the water is cut off, Uh Oh. Bad sign. Definite indication of an impending mass shakedown. No water in the sink, toilets won't flush. You can't flush your gun.

A few months ago we suffered through weeks of the water and sewer lines broken, toilets foul and overflowing, finally we could flush once or twice a day, then the water was cut off again. They finally brought in coolers of water. Not this week.

This building I live in is fundamentally 114 small bathrooms with a steel window, steel door, and steel bunkbeds, a toilet and a sink. Your smallest guest 1/2 bath in a modest home on the street is about the same size, except it doesn't have two grown men living in it, locked in together for long stretches of time.

When 114 little bathrooms holding over 200 grown men have the water supply cut off, it gets funky = fast. Nature calls - and calls - and calls, over and over again. The toilets fill up - all 114 of them, and the odors become overwhelming. No water to drink. All day. Let you out to go to chow, come back, dump another hundred loads or more into the already filled toilet bowls. The stench hangs in the air and stifles you. There must be some law against this, the health department, the feds, the laws of human decency.

The "squad" came in, and spent all day ransacking the 57 cells on the second floor. All day. How long can it take to ransack men's meager belongings, time and time again? I told them, the fruit from this tree was picked a long time ago, then the leaves, and all that's left are bare branches. But there's really nothing to find, it's just meanness and "get back.' Keep pushing until some of these mentally deficient, pitiful cases snap, then they can pull out the industrial size pepper sprayers.

Tuesday - early - water off again. Here they come - lockdown. The stench overwhelms again. We're locked in for hours before they get to our wing. Chow time. Everybody out. Come back to find all our meager belongings scattered and co-mingled. Some can't take it. "Psych emergency!" Take them away.

Wednesday - Oct. 8th - no lockdown. Get out, got to work, out, out, out. The building next door has the honors today. Their turn to get ransacked. Heard a couple guys had plastic bags of fermenting prison wine in their lockers, got spilled, stunk the place up. Rumor has it they will be shipping men out Thursday, then Friday a large squad of shakedown specialists are coming in to really tear the place up! Can't wait. The innocent are punished over and over again.

That's life in prison. Take my word for it - you don't want to be here. neither do I.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Secret Life In Prison...

Dateline: Monday, September 30, 2008
The Secret Life In Prison...
...You Don't Hear About On TV

Years ago I worked for a warden, doing artwork, graphic arts, special projects, and he told me in all seriousness that he hated to go home at night, he was afraid he might miss something. He loved the "excitement" of prison.

I don't find it exciting - way too much stress - give me boring any day. But this past week has been filled with so much pressure and stress that lesser men crack, flip out, have what they call a"psych emergencies."

Out of the clear blue, without notice, last Monday morning they began telling men to pack up their property for transfer. Thursdays are the regular transfer days, and if you're not in trouble, you had to have requested it to be transferred. But suddenly thirty to forty prisoners were packed up and shipped out.

Turns out they had a big caper at a prison south of Miami, drugs and cell phones, big corruption, they fired some guards and cleaned the place out, sent 800 men to prisons all over the state, swapped out new ones to send back south.

It's a lot like slavery times. You could be "sold down the river," as they used to say, never see your family or fellow slaves again. There is so little concern or consideration for prisoners and their life situations that arbitrary acts are done with impunity. I've known many men whose wives and families uprooted their lives, moved near the prison that their husband was sent to, got settled in only to have him shipped hundreds of miles away. That worry and nagging stress eats away at people, with no recourse.

The next few days seemed almost "normal," if life in prison can be considered normal. I'm spending three mornings a week in the law library on a legal deadline, researching the law, seeking a new parole hearing, and that went well. Progress.

Friday was an excellent day, one of those times when you feel all is right in the world, even for a man wrongfully serving life in prison.

My friend, Paul Flory, from Orlando, came in to see me on a spiritual advisor visit, which means a great deal to me. Paul is a retired businessman who directs the Bill Glass Weekend of Champions prison ministry in Florida, in which a variety of athletes, celebrities, and ex-cons go into several prisons over a long weekend, sharing their Christian faith. Jack Murphy introduced us in 1999 at Columbia C.I. in North Florida, and Paul has been an important voice in my spiritual life ever since. He is a very wise man, well-respected, intelligent, and perspective, and is a committed Christian. I tell him what's going on in my life, and he gives me the benefit of his knowledge, wisdom, and insight. I've learned to listen and pay attention and take heed of what he tells me.

Before he left we prayed together, asking the Lord to take notice, His will be done in my life.

Things kept getting better, as good as it gets under the circumstances. My dear friend, Libby, came to see me in the visiting park on Saturday, and we had a nice, relaxed time together. Saturday evening I got a chance to play tennis, read a book, and rested up for a nice Sunday I expected in the visiting park again. It was not to be.

They unlock our cells around 5:15 AM. The diabetes and HIV patients go out early for their medications. I use that time before 8 AM for reading and writing. One of the men who went out early for medication came back with some tragic news.

Shorty was a little guy (no doubt) who'd worked near me for a couple of years, he was in the "caustics" department, taking cleaning supplies around to the dorms. He was an aspiring writer, having written a couple of thousand pages of very small print, both sides of notebook paper, of his life adventure. Sorry to say he was never going to win the Pulitzer, but he was prolific.

Shorty had a wife and a little curly-haired son, maybe four years old, who terrorized the visiting park when he was there. But Shorty hadn't seen his family for awhile. It seems his wife got pregnant "out there," and wouldn't come back, wanting to avoid arguments.

Shorty became depressed, was taking a strong psych drug called Wellbutrin, and while in the dorm bathroom had a seizure, fell to the tile floor, cracked open his skull and bled to death before the nurse got there.

I'd just spoken with him Friday, and it was a terrible shock to hear that. His "boss lady" was the officer who was murdered in June, and now people are saying there is a curse on caustics.

Just when you think it couldn't get any worse, it does. 8:50 AM - I am dressed for visit, waiting to be called, talking on the phone with my Aunt Alice when the dorm sergeant comes in the fire door with a wooden handle attached to some sort of braided rope ladder that she found out back hanging on the perimeter fence. Immediate lockdown. Back in your cells. Visits cancelled. All that driving from Jacksonville, hours of waiting to naught.

They brought in a bloodhound, locked up two men in the next cell for putting an onion out in the hallway. Then they took us out of our cells, stripsearched us, then ransacked our belongings. It took all day. We went to lunch around 4 PM, and when we got back, they hadn't even started on the second floor.

There was absolutely nothing we could say or do. Anything indicating an escape attempt cancels out everything else. They examined everyone for scratches or marks, to see if they'd tried to climb the fence, which would not only be stupid, but also foolhardy, given the fortune in razorwire they've invested on the fences.

Thirteen people got locked up under suspicion, and they aren't done. We could be locked down for days. Some say they are going to transfer everyone, to be on the safe side. That makes no sense, since Houdini couldn't get out of this place without being slashed to ribbons. Prison is extremely secure.

Meanwhile, as long as I don't run out of paper, I have time to write, at least. Lemonade out of lemons. The last few months I've been extremely focused on writing, and just this weekend, Libby sent in several entries for me to the 2009 Tampa Writers Alliance literary contest. It's a good rehabilitative tool, putting my work up against the professionals "on the street."

This blog helps, too, and as long as my friends don't give up on me, I'll keep at it.

Monday, September 15, 2008


September 11, 2008
You'd be amazed at how many famous prisoners I've met over the past thirty years or so, many of them presidents, or at least named the same.
George Washington was a young black guy from Fort Lauderdale. He'd never seen a cherry tree. John Adams was both an old white dude and an old black dude. Thomas Jefferson was a disappointment, a semi-hippie who got thirty years for cocaine. He got out years ago, never looked back at all those who helped him, kept not one promise, but that's to be expected.
Andrew Jackson ran football pools and other betting games, a solid middle-aged black man from Miami, strictly business. If you didn't have cash, see you later. No credit.
Just a couple of weeks ago Richard Nixon came here to Tomoka C.I. off the bus. No, we didn't have a seance. Richard Nixon is alive and well and in a prison near you, if you live in Daytona Beach. Don't believe me-- go to the DOC web site and check him out, and any of the other 100,000 or so poor souls serving time in Florida. You can find most anybody you're looking for there.
Stevie Wonder is not blind, nor can he play the piano and sing. He's a blond-haired white guy best known for escaping from Polk C.I. in the early 1990's. "Stevie Wonder Escapes From Prison!" Sounds like a "National Enquirer" headline. Michael Jackson also white, born that way, not bleached, was once a friend of mine. Michael Jordan couldn't play a lick of basketball, though.
I met Ted Bundy the day I came to prison at the Lake Butler Reception Center. He really was the serial killer, not any impostor, although there are several Bundys in prison, no relation.
A dozen of us rode in a sheriff's van from Tampa to prison a few days after I was sentenced to life. We joined a crowd of "newcocks," what they call new arrivals, seated on folding chairs waiting for initial processing, sort of like steers in a pen at the slaughterhouse. We still had on our "street clothes," and hadn't had our heads shaved yet.
All heads turned when a couple of deputies brought in Ted Bundy, handcuffs, leg irons and chains, still wearing his trial suit. Unlike us, they locked him in a small holding cell with a barred door and concrete bunk, no mattress, and a stainless steel toilet.
Nothing else was happening, so I went over to check him out, one convicted murderer to another.
He asked me if I had a cigarette.
"I don't smoke, Ted. Don't you know cigarettes are bad for your health?"
"I just got the death penalty. Lung cancer's the least of my worries." He grinned.
At least he hadn't lost his sense of humor.
I went over to the crowd and bummed a cigarette and a book of matches from a homeboy from Tampa. I knew he had some, since he'd kept lighting up in the van. I took the cigarette and matches back to Ted. He was grateful, fired up, inhaled, and blew out a plume of smoke.
I had to ask. "Why did you kill a twelve-year old girl, Ted? That's messed up."
He laughed, not a "funny, ha-ha" laugh, but a "can you believe it?" laugh.
"That's what's so messed up," he said.
"How's that?"
"I had nothing to do with that one."
"No. Not my type. They got the wrong guy. He's still out there."
"Yeah, I've heard that one before, too." I'd said it myself. But I just couldn't summon any sympathy for Ted Bundy. He'd done plenty of others.
The guards came in and got him then, took his clothes, head shaved, fingerprints, photo, sign some forms, some shots, new set of prison blues, and he was out of there, off to Death Row, start to finish, forty-five minutes. We stayed there five weeks getting processed. That's the prison way. They can move like lightning when they want to. Otherwise, it's hurry up and wait.
Little known fact - men on Death Row get contact visits. A woman hooked up with Ted, came to see him for awhile. One day she turned up pregnant, got bigger and bigger. It has been done, the guards get busy over here, over there - well, you know how people are.
Some people didn't believe it, but others who were there said Ted loved that little girl, and she looked just like him. You make the call. The mother quit coming to visit Ted after awhile. A man facing electrocution doesn't have a bright future, except in those last few seconds when they pull down the breaker, and he goes to the sweet by and by. When they fried Ted I wondered about that little girl, if she knew, if her mother told her who her daddy was, what effect it had on her later. She'd be grown by now, possibly a mother herself.
Mercury Morris was a "real person," too, the original running back for the 1972 Miami Dolphins football team, got a taste for cocaine, came to Raiford, lived next door to me. He was always in debt, borrowed money and paid it back every week, still owes me $35.00, said he'd send it, never did. But that's another story.
There are many, many more famous people in prison - I knew George Bush - he was good at horseshoes. I don't think the famous monikers did them any good, though. This is one of those places where anonymous is best.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008



Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. It has been 47 days since I last blogged. They have been consequential days, though, and much has happened while I continue to spend my life in prison. Much I can't talk about at this moment, but I will, I will.

When my friend, Dan Faulkner, visited in June from Seattle, he obtained a video tape of the infamous rapist/liar/state witness, Rudolph Harris, Jr.'s confession, in which he admitted that he and fellow liar, James Edward Grayes, perjured themselves at my trial. John Middleton, Esquire, made the original video tape at Florida State Prison in 1982, shortly after Harris went to prison for brutally raping eight women in Tampa.

When Harris' partner, Grayes, refused to make a corroborative statement unless the attorney "did something" for him, the confession of Harris languished for years, waiting for an audience. The James Grayes interview is something beyond belief, and one day soon I'll recount for you what revelations he made about committing perjury for the state attorney's office.

Dan had the original tape digitized and converted to a DVD, and put the first five minutes of the seventeen minute confession onto "YouTube." You can see it for yourself at

Dan is quickly mastering tech stuff he has never worked with, to my great benefit and thanks, and as soon as he gets the YouTube logistics figured out, the entire seventeen minutes will be available for viewing. I will talk more about this, too, in the near future.

Since I last blogged, we had the state funeral of the murdered correctional officer, Donna Fitzgerald, which drew close to 2,000 mourners at the local Catholic church. Virtually every guard at Tomoka attended, which resulted in volunteer guards coming in to fill in for the day from prisons across the state. You can't close down a prison, not even for a day.

The local guards prepared us, told us that the entire prison would most likely be locked down that day, we'd be confined to quarters, but that wasn't what happened at all. Instead, the replacement guards came in and ran the place like it hasn't been run in a long time - correctly!

The day went without a hitch, telephones and TV's on, canteens open, rec yard open, tennis and handball courts open, chow hall ran in record time, everyone fed, no hassles, only one person went to lockup, no screaming or threats. It was amazing. Then four PM came, they left and were replaced by the regular crew, and things went back to abnormal.

We just finished dealing with Tropical Storm Fay, who moseyed up the Florida peninsula and parked over Melbourne and Daytona Beach for a few days, causing widespread flooding. We were locked in Tuesday through Friday, work cancelled and weekend visits also cancelled, which was especially disturbing.

The days of steady rain brought thousands of frogs out of their holes and hibernation, and we were rewarded with extremely loud day and night concerts. It was particularly hard on the prisoners from New York, New Jersey, Chicago, and other northern locales who've never been serenaded by thousands of rainfrogs, who were driven to distraction and couldn't sleep for the distraction. One guy from the Bronx asked me, "What are they DOING?" And I told them, "They are breeding!" He added, "Do they have to do it so loud?" Nature's way. Frogs are screamers, male and female.

For the inspired occasion, I wrote a Haiku -
Rain frogs sing all night,
Country music symphony
Drives city boys nuts.

Another prisoner asked, "How can you sleep through all that racket? I was awake all night." I told him when you grow up in the rural South, the sounds of frogs, of rain on a tin roof, of crickets buzzing, becomes the perfect sleep aid.

Meanwhile, check out the confession of Rudolph Harris, Jr., and let me know your thoughts.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Dateline: Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Location: Deep inside a prison cell in Florida


Life in prison is like living in "The Twilight Zone," only without the spooky music, "Da da DAH da, da da DAH da, - da Doom!" The normal rules don't apply. Trapped in the Twilight Zone - the only thing missing is Rod Serling's mellifluous voice. Weird things happen. The hero is an anti-hero. There is an invisible dome, like a giant soap bubble that shimmers occasionally when the sunlight hits it at a certain angle, extending beyond the razorwire fences, that "normal" people can't see as they pop through, in and out. For those of us who are trapped in the Twilight Zone the dome is an impenetrable exit, and we are doomed to spend our lives inside it.

Right now it is "count time," when everyone is locked behind steel doors waiting for the count to "clear," meaning all the chicks are in their roosts, not one is missing, and if they can add up the numbers correctly, the guards will soon let us loose to go to "chow," lunch consisting of a slice of turkey ham, one cup of boiled, bland black-eyed peas, four ounces of canned greens, a smidgen of coleslaw, and two slices of white bread. Umm, Umm good.

We are supposed to be quiet right now, but a heated conversation is going on down the hall with Bean, Heather, Halle Barry, and Slim Jim. Two of those are female names, but I assure you that the bearers are not female, except in the twisted world of the Twilight Zone.

Pity the real Halle Barry were she to cast her eyes on her prison namesake. She would either start screaming or laughing, at what the horrid grotesqueness has spawned, or at the sheer lunacy that anyone could ever attribute the beauty, talent, and grace of the real Halle Berry to such a caricature.

Imagine a nightmare filled with monsters, each monster with a stick-on name tag on its chest, "Hello - I'm _____ " Clark Gable, Brad Pitt, Sophia Loren, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Heather Locklear, or any other handsome or beautiful sex symbol you can think of. Visualize, these misnamed monsters strutting around their cages, noses in the air, pretending they are the real owners of the identities they have stolen. It's like everyone's insane, and they're each living in the other's fantasy world.

Many years ago I saw a movie - was it "King of Hearts?" Something like that. World War II, a deserter wandered into a French town where all the citizens had fled, and the inmates at the insane asylum had gotten loose, come down to the town, moved in, took over, and were leading the lives of the townspeople. It was pretty confusing for the deserter, trying to figure out what was going on. That's how it is in prison. Confusing. Like the Twilight Zone.

Bean is a huge, fat, shaved-headed white guy who grew up in the black inner city projects of Miami. That has a particularly warping effect on some people, and they tend to suffer from an identity crisis. He looks white, like a red-neck, but he sounds and acts like an inner city project kid. So who is he?

He's arguing with Heather - you figure it out - about slinging his/her pack of "Rip" under the door and across the hall to Bean's cell, so he can roll a couple of RIP's for them to smoke. "RIP" is tobacco, the small boxes of loose tobacco called "Top," and stands for "rolled in prison." RIP. Rest in peace. Smoke RIP's for so long, and you will rest in peace, on Boot Hill or Gopher Ridge, the interchangeable names for the prison cemetery in Union County.

Many years ago the Florida Department of Corrections packaged their own brand of cigarettes to issue to prisoners. The county sheriffs bought them, too, and passed them out in the jails. You were given so many packs of RIP's a week, and the nonsmokers either sold their allotments to the heavily-addicted or gave them away.

When I was in the county jail in the 1970's, they were still passing them out. White packaging with an orange state of Florida logo and "DC" (Department of Corrections) overlay. They looked like Camels. I never smoked, so I don't know what they tasted like, but the secondary smoke was rank.

The prison had five tobacco barns next to Florida State Prison at Starke where they made the RIP's. As the prison population boomed in the late 1970's, they closed the cigarette operations and converted the five tobacco barns into crude prison housing, high-ceiling warehouses filled with bunks, called "BTU," Butler Transit Unit. You could still smell the tobacco.

I spent a week there on my way to Raiford, and we called it "Wild Kingdom," for all the huge moths, weird flying insects, bats, and birds that wandered through the cracks, roof, and ventilation gaps at night. It was already scary, fresh in prison, in a huge room in the dark, filled with weird people, trying to sleep, and have a giant, buzzing, flying cockroach land on your face. The nights were punctuated by screams as bugs and other vermin freaked out the prisoners.

The tobacco barns have been gone for thirty years, but men who weren't even born then are still arguing about RIP's, which became the generic name for any tobacco in prison. What's stupid is that ten minutes before the argument, the cell doors were open, men walked up and down the hall, and Bean could have taken three steps and been in Heather's cell, to burn the tobacco directly rather than get angry because he/she didn't want to slide it across the hall on the floor.

Yesterday morning, an older white prisoner named Paul went to the canteen, bought a laundry bag full of food, tobacco, and toiletries, and was attacked, knocked down, and robbed of his purchases by two young black prisoners. Paul had been waiting for weeks to receive the $65 he could spend at one time, but he didn't even get a cold soda out of the deal. Word is that the two robbers were also from the Miami projects, and Bean put them up to it to help pay off his huge debts.

Right now he is arguing with another prisoner down the hall, known as "Diamond Head," who is not Hawaiian. I won't even go there. So much for life in the Twilight Zone.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Dateline: June 27, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida


This is one I surely wish I didn't have to write, a terrible crime committed here at Tomoka C.I. Wednesday, June 25, 2008. A prisoner serving two life sentences for kidnapping and rape, Enoch Hall, raped and murdered a female prison guard inside the PRIDE prison industries building. I'm not going to mention her name yet - you can find out about it on the local TV web sites, or, or the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

This has deeply affected most everyone here, staff, guards, and prisoners, touched so closely by such a heinous, calculated act. up until about six weeks ago, I worked with this officer for several hours a day, Monday through Friday, for three years. Needless to say, we'd had long conversations on a variety of topics, and though we had our differences, she saw things from the guards' perspective, I saw them from the prisoners,' there was mutual respect.

She had gone through many difficulties in her personal life in the past three years, and was often stretched thin emotionally, and subject to strong outbursts when she was irritated or aggravated, which was often. She was much more educated than most of the guards, having once been an English teacher, and a couple of years ago I first offered one of my writings to her to read, "Fighting the Ninja," about AIDS in prison. When I asked her if she wanted to read a manuscript of something I'd written, that I'd like her opinion of it from a "correctional" point of view, she almost snatched it out of my hand.

I went back outside to work in the garden, pulling weeds in the hot sun in the area behind her "caustic office," where all the cleaning supplies for the prison are kept and dispensed daily.

I was busily bent over and sweating when she came running out of her office shouting my name several times, my papers clutched in her hand. She seemed in such a tizzy that I knew I must be in serious trouble, but couldn't imagine what I'd done, unless she was offended by my writing. that has happened in the past.

I stood up and walked toward her wondering what it could be. She got right in my face, held up the papers, and asked, "You wrote this?" the thought went through my head that perhaps she was going to accuse me of plagiarizing, of copying someone else's words, but I didn't see how that could be it, because the essay was so personally my own, that no one else could make any claim on it.

"Yes, ma'am, I wrote it. Why? Is something wrong with it?"

She took a deep breath. "Wrong with it? It's unbelievable. I've never read anything like this. I couldn't stop. It fucked me up."

Yes, she was known for "earthy" language at times, and wouldn't hesitate to use profanity to get her point across. I suppose part of that was her extra-duty job, working as a bartender in a biker bar in Daytona to pay her mortgage. She was a study in contradiction.
"This is the most powerful thing I've ever read. this is all true?"
"Can I borrow this, or make a copy of it? I want some of my friends to read this."

I knew then that perhaps I'd written something pertinent, to get a reaction like that from a tough prison guard.She asked me to let her read whatever else I wrote, and I did. I asked her for her feedback, and it was generally praiseworthy. "You're a great writer." Well, in her opinion.

I gave her a copy of my poem, "Remembrances of Five," and she brought it back to me with tears in her eyes. "It must be good - it made me cry. I can't stop thinking about it."

Months later I told her it had won first place in the Tampa Writers Alliance poetry contest, she embraced herself, shivered, and said, "I just got goosebumps thinking about that poem. My hair stood up on the back of my neck. Can I get a copy of it?"

I'm not going to go into all her struggles with life, the recent brain cancer death of her father, the jailing of her 19 year-old son on drug charges a few months ago, her frustrations with how she was treated at the nearby county jail every day at lunch when she went to visit him ("Now you know how our families feel when they get a hard time trying to visit us," I said.), having to tell her son that her ex-husband, his father, had died, dealing with the infidelities of her most recent ex-husband, struggling with part-time jobs to pay her bills. Maybe later.

The PRIDE prison industry here refurbishes school buses and fire trucks, along with other large government vehicles. Guards who work security there get a separate check from PRIDE. She had been working there a couple of afternoons a week to fill in, and wasn't even supposed to work Wednesday. She got a call a little after three PM that the guard there had a family emergency, could she fill-in for a few hours? Yes. Her fate was sealed.All the PRIDE "free people" left, and she was in effect supervising 15 prisoners alone from a little after three until six PM or so.

That would seem like a serious security failure, a woman alone with prisoners who had a variety of rape convictions, even though she had a tiny pepper spray canteen and a so-called "body alarm" panic button, to call for help.The details aren't clear yet. They will come out. Apparently, Enoch Hall hid in a shed when everyone else left, she went looking for him, he ambushed her, raped her, and stabbed her to death with a knife he made from sheet metal.

Terrible, terrible crime, and we all now suffer from his actions.

Twenty five years ago at Raiford a guard was murdered, and I saw a similar response. The entire prison was put in lockdown. We all suffer for one person's crime. Now, as then, this changes the atmosphere at a prison. Where before certain guards are friendly, easy-going, suddenly they are grim and serious, realizing that this is a prison, there are dangerous people here for a reason, this is not a game (although many are playing games), and your life is on the line every day.

I've always realized that, and behaved accordingly. I know I am deep in enemy territory, with no back-up, and I watch behind myself, keep my radar on, and stay in survival mode. one slip is all it takes. you never see it coming.

I've told men to be on their "P's and Q's," not to make a fuss, keep a low profile, that when this happens, the guards are angry, looking to retaliate, to strike back. Run your mouth and suffer the consequences.

Yesterday lunch was delayed because "EVAC" (the ambulance) was called to take a prisoner to the local hospital. Something happened, and he "got his ass whipped" by several guards, as another guard bragged, bad enough to be hospitalized.Yesterday, the day after, I went to work in the chow hall at eleven AM and didn't get back to my building till about 9:30 PM. Long day. They were in "not mode," one wing of each housing area slowly escorted to the chow hall, single file, served their trays, then sat there for awhile, escorted back, half hour of dead time, escort the next group.

We're usually finished serving lunch no later than one PM. Yesterday it was after 4 PM. Then we turned right around to serve supper, and got the last group fed by 8:30 PM.The guards on the four to twelve shift come in about 3:30 PM, and hang around the captain's office for instructions before they relieve the day shift.

Yesterday the two prison chaplains hung around doing their "grief counseling," I suppose they'd call it, hugging a couple of the female guards, talking to the men.When I saw that, it struck me that it is doubtful if any of those people even knew the victim beyond the most superficial of relationships, working at the same prison, but having little contact or conversation.

It seems odd, perhaps, to think that some of her closest relationships were with the prisoners who worked under her supervision for hours every day. About seven of them either delivered cleaning supplies for her or worked as clerks in her office. The delivery guys only worked one or two hours, early and late, and spent the rest of the time in her office, "jawboning," drinking coffee and sucking up the air conditioning. She spent a lot of time talking on the telephone to girlfriends, sharing virtually every detail of her private life, who she liked, who she despised - on more than one occasion some arrogant male guard who deluded himself into thinking he was God's gift to women would come in and "chat her up." She would do all the appropriate grins and giggles, then when he would leave, she'd walk over to where I was working - I emphasize, working - I wasn't one to sit there and be one of her sycophants - and tell me, "He is such as asshole. I despise that creep. He makes me sick." She would snarl this out.

I asked her once why she acted so friendly to those creeps if she felt that way. She just tossed her head like the answer was obvious, and dialed another number on her cordless phone as she walked back to her office.

The point I was making is that there is no consideration whatsoever for offering any type of grief counseling to the prisoners who knew her better than most of the guards, who no doubt are going through the grieving process more acutely than most others. I've only had a chance to speak with one of them so far, and only briefly, but I'll do my best to make the rounds, talk to as many as I can.

I want to talk about this some more in another blog perhaps, but want to mention that this incident will most likely result in many changes here.

First, heads will roll. The top dogs - warden, assistant warden, colonel, and captain will be required to fall on their swords. Scapegoats. Fact - it is their fault. They are responsible.

Two things that graphically illustrate a failure in prison security - first, an escape, obviously. The whole purpose of security is to keep the prisoners inside the fence. If someone gets out, someone else has to bite the bullet. Second - the murder of a prison guard. That is definitely a no-no. The system failed. While these geniuses were having all the trees cut down and hedges pulled out and building more steel doors and caging in the wings in "B" dorm in the name of security, a lone woman was raped and murdered in the shadow of a gun tower by a convicted kidnapper/rapist, and no one even knew about it for who knows how long, at least an hour. Most likely those guys are out of here, demoted. Huge wrongful death lawsuit potential for her son. Get a lawyer now, Kyle.

Enough of that. The phones are back on and visits are scheduled for Saturday. Life in prison goes on. See you later.