Saturday, May 31, 2008


Dateline: May 28, 2008


Don't tell me about that puny little twenty-six mile plus race you ran in Boston, New York, Athens, or wherever. So you covered the distance like a Kenyan in a scant two hours and a few minutes or four hours, or over six hours - I salute you. That's nice. So what?

I've never run one of those twenty-six mile races, or even the hundred-mile "extreme" marathons. Instead, I run the Florida Marathon in which time and distance are stretched beyond the limits of human endurance - this race is for life, and I've been running it for thirty years. Although several thousand people in Florida are also running this race, we aren't competing against each other. I'm running against a much more lethal opponent - I must outrun Death. He has come close to catching me several times, but so far I've managed to pull ahead each time. I can't let up for a minute, or he will finish me. My race will be over permanently.

The concept for the Florida Marathon occurred to me in the Hillsborough County jail in the 1970's, where I spent almost two years in a cramped, dark cage packed in with fifteen other "pretrial detainees." We were never allowed outside for exercise. In fact, the only times I saw daylight were the van trips to the courthouse, when I would emerge blinded and blinking like Punxatawny Phil, the groundhog who comes out of his burrow in Pennsylvania every year to make his prediction for the end of winter or not.

Doing pushups, situps, and jumping jacks was "de riguer," you must stay in shape to defend yourself against the ever-present threats of violence from your cell-mates, especially if you have a well-known background as an undercover cop in SEU, the elite Selective Enforcement Unit. you see those old prison movies where the condemned man paced the cell, three steps this way, four steps that way, until he walked grooves in the concrete. I finally gravitated toward that, although in a bigger cell, walking in my flip-flops, two and a half feet per step, a little over 2,100 steps to a mile, 21,000 steps for ten miles.

It was about fifteen miles from the jail in downtown Tampa to my parents' home in Thonotosassa, and to pass the time I decided to walk home. I kept track, block by block, mile by mile. I pretended I walked to the house my ex-wife, Chrissy, and I had shared in Ybor City on Seventeenth Avenue, then kept walking past my old school, Franklin Junior High, at 40th Street and I-4.

I made it home that first night, and the next morning I kept walking. No sense going back to jail, so I walked to Miami, pace by pace. That took quite a bit longer.

Some prisoners thought I was crazy, all that walking, while they stared at the TV all day watching the Beverly Hillbillies, Hawaii Five-O, and Big Valley reruns interspersed with Price Is Right and inane game shows. Who was crazier?

A few men would join me from time to time, but most had given up or gotten out before I made it to Key West.

In all I did over a thousand miles in jail, then went to the prison reception center at Lake Butler for five weeks, got outside in the fresh air for several hours a day, and my mileage really took off.

When I left the county jail I was white as a ghost, as they say, pallid with a black beard. When my father and girlfriend, Debbie, came for our first "live" visit after five weeks of quarantine they didn't recognize the darkly-tanned, cleanshaven, short haired person who greeted them. Taken aback is the best description. Debbie said I looked like a German.

In four years at Raiford I got in some quite lengthy walks. I went through a number of training partners who couldn't keep up. From 1983 to 1987, at Zephyrhills C.I., I came into my own. Two friends, Gary Toth and Rusty York, joined me for about three hours a day of power walking, about twelve miles, which was the distance to my mother's house.

I don't know how we decided to set the goal of walking to Seattle - I take that back - yes, I do - in the GOLAB program, I taught a course on goal-setting, and one of the examples was, let's say you were going to travel to Seattle, on the other side of the country. What would you need to accomplish that goal? A reliable car, the money for gas and food, and a map to plan your route, so you wouldn't get lost.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of maps in prison, the library is full of them, so I charted a course to walk to Seattle. Gary and Rusty were down with it. What else did we have to do? We were in prison.

I wanted to retrace the route my family took each year from Tampa to Texarkana, to visit family, so we avoided the interstate, walked to Dothan, Montgomery, Alabama, crossed the bridge at Selma, and kept going, a thousand miles to Texas. It took about three months. I'd mark our place every day. The dots got farther.

Rusty wanted to see Tijuana, so we walked all the way west to San Diego, went south, then back north, past L.A., San Francisco, and the redwoods. It took close to a year to finally make it to Seattle. Gary and Rusty finally got out, left me there, so I kept walking on my own. I didn't want to return to Florida, so I headed north to Alaska, and kept going. Over the years I made it across the Bering Strait, down to the Kamchatka Penninsula, Vladivostok, over to Beijing - they still called it Peking then, I think.

I know a man who escaped from Russian prison camps three times. Each of the first two times he was recaptured, he was shipped to a forced labor camp farther and farther out into Siberia. This was during and after WWII. The third time he followed the railroad track an incredible distance west, and finally made it home to Hungary. As a displaced person, he chose to emigrate to Canada and start s new life, having had enough of Russians. I'd always admired his determination, so I decided to continue my walk across Siberia, then head south to the Middle East and Africa..

In the past few years I have slowed up with more obligations for my time, but I still try to get at least two or three miles a day in, even on Saturdays and Sundays with Libby in the visiting park, walking at least half an hour or an hour in two or three installments.

Overall, I figure I've covered close to 20,000 miles in the Florida Marathon, and I pray that the finish line, the open front gate to freedom, will appear before me soon.

I apologize for the gap in my commitment to daily entries for this blog. Life in prison has been very challenging the past month, and I've been going through some serious travails with a certain couple of very bad guards. It got so bad that I requested a job change from my long time job in the garden, and now I am serving food in the chow hall. At least I'm not enduring daily threats to be locked up "on the house," for no reason, or to be written up for strictly harassment purposes.

I am also working diligently on this prison diary project for the Anne Frank Center USA, which has parallels to the blog. I will try to reconcile the two projects and accomplish both goals.

Also, I am committed to completing several short stories, poems, and at least two plays in the coming months, so I've set some demanding tasks for myself. I am grateful to Libby for doing her best to keep up with the typing, which has become backlogged. I'll try to do better.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Dateline; Friday, April 25, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida


Oh, no, Mark! You can't get away that easily. I took a couple of days to write about the PEN Literary award and the Anne Frank Center USA, but we can't let you slide by without much-needed scrutiny for too long.

If you read the "Tampa Tribune," you'll have heard about Mr. Kuhn, the car dealer who made $18,000 in illegal campaign contributions in a failed attempt to toss out a city council candidate who wouldn't make a zoning change for him. Mark Ober, the Hillsborough State Attorney and grand poobah who decides who gets charged and who doesn't declined to prosecute the car dealer, saying he was ignorant of the law, so he shouldn't suffer any legal impediments.

Columnist Daniel Ruth and others wondered why Ober would do this, since Mr. Kuhn has a couple of law degrees, and is probably more knowledgeable about the law than Mark is.

You'd be surprised what interesting reading campaign contribution lists can be. You learn some amazing facts. I've been reading Mark Ober's campaign contribution lists for close to eight years, and after studying the campaign finance laws (they do have a small prison law library with up-to-date books), I discovered all sorts of facts.

It is clear why Mark Ober is hesitant to prosecute anyone for campaign finance law violations since a sharp defense lawyer might follow my tracks and discover that Mark is guilty of the same thing! Shame on you, Mark!

And this is the guy who no one else is running against because he is unbeatable? Come on, folks! Perhaps if he played by the rules, it would be more of a contest, and some opponents would surface. Of course, if he played by the rules, he would never suborn perjury, threaten witnesses with prison unless they lied under oath, withhold evidence, or convict an innocent man of murder and send him to prison for life. Or would you, Mark?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Dateline: April 24, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida

More Good News, I Hope

Yesterday I wrote about the PEN literary award for Continued Outstanding Excellence, and how much it means to me, to have the affirmation of such good people. I must be on a roll, since the latest mail call brought a letter from the "Anne Frank Center USA," also based in New York City.

The people at the Anne Frank Center sent me a very nice letter as a result of winning the PEN prize, asking me to write my version of a prison diary, a daily journal in the spirit of Anne Frank, from now until September 1st. How could I say no? They will send me a copy of the book, The Diary of Anne Frank, to re-read, a blank journal, and guidelines, and the rest is up to me.

This is not a difficult task, since I've been writing about my imprisonment and other subjects for over thirty years. But there are pitfalls.this morning at our twice-monthly communion service, my friend, Rev. Bob Anderson, offered his caveats when I told him about it.

One big difference in writing a diary from prison is that the prison staff reads your mail. Fortunately for mankind, the Nazis never got a hand on Anne Frank's diary, and it would have been really bad had they intercepted anything coming out of that concentration camp, though the end was just as inevitable.

Father Bob's advice, which I do my best to follow, is not to provoke the prison authorities by criticizing them in print. Do not throw rocks at sleeping lions. I walk a narrow path in here, a shaky tightrope, and one little slip either way, and I must pay. So, I will do my best to maintain my literary integrity along with submitting a daily journal of some validity.

I just wrote a new prison memoir, which my friend, Libby, is the first to read. In these memoirs, I've been mostly dwelling into the past, my early years in prison, and some of the horrible events I witnessed there at Raiford. Libby told me that had she not known me, and hadn't listened to me talking about these things, she would not have believed they could have possibly happened. I understand completely. That's why I am compelled to write these memoirs - "normal" people have no concept how it really is in prison, or how it was, what so many thousands of people endured.

I am a witness, and I must document and recount some of these experiences, so the knowledge won't be lost, so the world will know the truth. What do you think?



Dateline: April 23, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida

"Good News Amongst the Bad"
In prison no news isn't good news, it's often bad news, since it could mean the court didn't rule on your appeal, or your wife and kids are no longer writing you, or your lawyer is no longer answering your pleas for help.
This week, though, I got some good news, and amidst all the bad things we are subjected to on a daily basis, it's nice to get some positive feedback from years of hard work and deprivation. A few weeks ago the good folks at PEN, the literary group based in New York City, awarded me first place for my prison memoir, "Fighting The Ninja." I've been sending in articles, essays, memoirs, poems, short stories, and plays to their annual Prison Writing Contest since around 1986. It has amazed me how many times they've awarded my works over the years, that they actually like it.
Now, Jackson Taylor, Director of the Prison Writing Program, tells me that the PEN Prison Writing Committee is making a special award for "Continued Outstanding Excellence," and will be handing out copies of a recent work at the PEN International Literary Festival in New York on May 1st. That definitely blows me away, and provides a much-needed boost to my self-esteem.
In prison you are put down every day. If I'm not threatened with lockup at least a couple of times a week, I'm lucky. That is the nature of the prison beast. To have such talented, intelligent, decent people telling me that my thoughts are worthy and respected in the "real world" makes me stronger, more able to resist the negative forces of hate, to maintain my resolve to survive and be vindicated. It provides a welcome balance, and when that guard insults me, speaks condescendingly, tries to push my buttons and get a hostile reaction from me, I just stare at him, "look stupid," say nothing, and watch them walk away. Forget about intellectual conversations or discussions. I'm not trying to impress any of them. I just want to get out of this place alive. Thanks, PEN, for throwing me a life jacket in extremely rough water, far from shore.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Dateline: April 22, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida

"To be wrongly accused, wrongly convicted, and wrongly imprisoned
is unimaginable."
Florida Governor Charlie Crist
in the Tampa Tribune, Friday, April 14, 2008
Check out the "Tampa Tribune" web site, to read the complete article, excerpted above, titled, "Senate Votes to Compensate Crotzer," another story about Alan Crotzer, who wrongly served 24 years, six months, 13 days, and 4 hours, wrongly convicted and imprisoned. After serving over thirty years myself, 24 years seems almost like "short time."
The Tribune article sounds almost exactly like my story, except for the charges. Substitute my murder case and my name, and it could be the same: (excerpted)
1. A lengthy list of evidence seemed to show Charlie could not have committed the crime he was convicted of.
2. There were enormous discrepancies between the description of the perpetrator and Charlie. (witnesses described someone 5'5" - 5'8" tall, 150 pounds, slim, blond hair, blond mustache, possibly Hispanic. Charlie is a much larger man than the person described by eyewitness, Albert McKinley, who spent over an hour with him, as shorter and thinner than his own 5'10" tall, 170 pound size.
3. Several witnesses placed him elsewhere at the time of the crime. Charlie's ineffective public defender would not call any of those witnesses, alleging they were unnecessary, the state had no case anyway, with convicted felon state witnesses who were given "immunity from prosecution for first degree murder" in exchange for their perjured testimony that Charlie told them he shot someone.
NOTE: Only the guilty are given immunity - the innocent don't need it.
4. Charlie's fingerprints weren't anywhere at the scene of the crime - and the prints of others were. FACT: prosecutor Mark Ober withheld the results of an FBI National Laboratory report that clearly stated that the fingerprints found at the scene of the 1975 shooting "did NOT match" Charlie Norman's fingerprints. Never revealed evidence.
5. Twenty-eight suspects were quickly ignored when Charlie's name was dropped by career criminal, James Grayes, Ober's pet informant and one of the biggest liars in Hillsborough County courthouse history.
6. Absolutely no physical or forensic evidence linked Charlie to the crime scene. Several handguns provided to detectives by Grayes, purportedly belonging to Charlie, were tested and examined by the ATF and FBI - not the murder weapon.
And there is much, much more. Check out the "Case Facts" at the web site, to find out more.
Hurray for Alan Crotzer, Gov. Crist, the Florida legislature, and others involved in his vindication. All we ask is the same consideration.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Dateline: April 21, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida

Check out these wrongful conviction and innocence resources

Getting involved in the mechanisms of wrongful convictions, innocence projects, and prosecutorial misconduct issues has opened my eyes to the widespread problems that are repeated over and over, everywhere, it seems, innocent people are in prison.

I've also been exposed to some excellent resources on the internet, and if you're interested in this, or have friends or loved ones trapped in the tar pit of wrongful imprisonment, I urge you to check out these web sites, and share this information with others.

One of the best is - Law and Technology resources for legal professionals - "Wrongful Conviction and Innocence Resources on the Internet."

Ken Struttin (JD MLS) is my hero. He has it going on, and if you can't find enough material on this site to keep you fueled for days, I don't know what to tell you. I wish I had a computer!

Another good site is, "an educational non-profit organized to educate the public regarding the vulnerabilities in the U.S. criminal justice system that make the criminal conviction of wholly innocent persons possible." They have over 1,500 pages of information and resources. Check them out.

The third site is, part of the mid-Atlantic Innocence Project. I don't know much about them, but I'd like to.

If you know about other resources and web sites that focus on these issues, please e-mail us or use the "comments" button on this blog to share your knowledge. One of the goals and missions of the "FreeCharlieNow" web site and the Norman Partnership, Inc., is to educate the public. I hope this will become a valuable forum for this work, but it will only become with the cooperation and support of many people. Add a link to our sites, please.

Right now, we are only a few. We need thousands of people to get involved, and would like to have a million! I guarantee you that if thousands of people petitioned the Florida Governor and Cabinet, who comprise the Clemency Board, they would open the prison gates and throw me out! Don't believe me? Let's try it and see!


Dateline: April 20, 2008 Passover
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida

What a Great Hustle!

Everyone saw the horrible video a few weeks ago, the Hillsborough County jail guard upending and dumping the paralyzed prisoner on the floor in Central Booking. In less time than it takes you to say, "huge lawsuit, huge lawsuit," Sheriff David Gee had fired the offending guard, immediately followed by Mark Ober charging her with a felony. Sounds like she's going to get her just desserts, right? Wrong! No way in the world will she ever get convicted, let alone go to prison. Why? Because she hired Norman Cannella, Mark Ober's partner, to put in the fix!

If John Gotti was "The Teflon Don," Norman Cannella has to be the "Pam," the non-stick aerosol oil, he's so slippery. He slipped out of the federal charges of bribery, conspiracy, and being a member of an international drug cartel, and became a law partner with Mark Ober. And guess who two of his top clients were? Vincent Lo Scalzo, the former driver for infamous Mafia boss, Santo Trafficante, the purported successor as head of the Tampa mob, and Bernie Holder, Tampa chief of police! They never went to jail.

Then along came "Bubba, the Love Sponge," who was charged with felony animal cruelty for broadcasting the castration and butchering of a live pig on his tasteless radio show. Nationwide outrage ensued. Freshly-crowned state attorney, Mark Ober, milked it for all it was worth, but the fix was in. Who you gonna call? Norman Cannella!

Cannella got a fat fee and a fortune in free publicity (and subsequent fat fee clients), and his partner, Mark Ober, shoved it all under the rug when the furor died down. Smart choice, Mr. Love Sponge.

The Tampa Tribune editorial recently charged Mark Ober with sweeping an election law violation under the rug. What a rug that must be by now! It probably took 500 Taliban weavers a couple of years to make Mark Ober's rug, one that would cover the Tampa Bay Lightning's hockey rink!

What a great hustle these guys have! How long will it last? Maybe forever, if past history is any indicator. I know from personal experience what unethical liars these twins are. And they only get bolder the older they get. How much justice can you afford?


Dateline: April 19, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida

Most weekends, my friend, Libby Dobbin, drives 100 miles from Jacksonville to visit me in prison. It makes a tremendous difference in one's attitude and mental health to have people from "the street" care enough to brave the red tape of the prison gates to come inside and spend a few hours with you. I am especially fortunate that I have a core support group of people who have come inside in the past few months.

On the second and fourth Thursdays of each month, retired Episcopal priest, Father Bob Anderson, comes in to the chapel to visit with five or six of us and to conduct Communion Service. Father Bob was in the USMC in Vietnam, flew F4 Phantoms, and is a cancer survivor. He is a good man who feels it's his Christian duty to come in here, and he has done so as a Kairos volunteer for many years.

My friend, Marlin Johnson, from Savannah and L.A., a.k.a. "Big Mo," has driven down twice to visit in the past year. We were in prison together at Zephyrhills from 1983 to 1987. I was there when God changed his life, and now that he has been free for years, the father of triplet boys, he tries to help me.

Bob Cole, the famous gambler who Robert Redford portrayed in the movie, "The Sting," came here April 11th with a prison ministry group, along with another group of Christians who visit prisons across the country.

My lawyer, Gary Smigiel, got his entire family - wife, Marcella, son, George, daughters, Angelina, Adriana, and Daniela, added to my visiting list, so they could all come in together. What a blessing that is!

Paul Flory, head of the Bill Glass Prison Ministry in Orlando, came March 14th, hadn't seen him since 19999, and it was a real pleasure.

When they "count" at 11:30 A.M. each Saturday and Sunday, it's usually around 50 or 60 prisoners lined up, with perhaps 100 visitors, wives, children, girlfriends, parents, brothers, sisters, a few friends. But every week it's mostly the same prisoners and the same family members. With 1200 prisoners in one camp, that's barely 5% of the inmate population with people who care about them enough to visit. 95% of the prisoners don't have anyone to visit, for various reasons, economic, can't afford the gas expense, too far to travel, or there are hard feelings, or they just don't care anymore.

These are the forgotten ones. Most of them will be returning to a neighborhood or a bridge near you some day, sooner or later, and it would be better for everyone if these fellows had a support group of family and/or friends who could ease their transition to a free society. Think about it.


Dateline: April 18, 2008

Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida

Yesterday, I wrote about the 1974 photo of the young Charlie and Chrissy Norman in Atlanta, and all that I'd lost. Not just myself, though, my family lost much, too. When you come to prison for life, you take your family with you, and they suffer through your imprisonment. Chrissy came out better, she remarried some sort of doctor, and had the one son she always wanted, and I hope she is happy. She was one of the innocents, and paid a painful price for loving me.

I'll be mentioning Chrissy in the future, she'll be in the book, for sure, and her late brother, Bruce Wilkinson, who plays a prominent role in my case. A more in-depth account of Bruce Wilkinson can be found on the web site, under the "Case Facts" tab.

I wanted to mention Ron Slinker, who died March 28, 2008, my former partner and associate in TPD and Martial Arts Institute, a true one-of-a-kind, one of the baddest boys who ever walked the streets of Tampa. We went back to 1971, at the TPD Academy, and went forward to 1978, when both our lives had been irrevocably changed.

I am writing about Ron in some of my non-fiction accounts, one of them is "Killer Cops," where I tell the story of watching the young black teenager bleed to death in the Tampa General Hospital emergency room, who Ron had shot in the back of the head while running from Jesse Harp's Gun Store on Cass Street. That incident had a great effect on Ron Slinker and me both, and it needs to be told.

He's dead now, too, and I am still alive, against all odds. May I live long enough to breathe the air of freedom. I hope you will help me. Thanks.