Monday, June 23, 2008


Dateline: June 17, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida


One beneficial side effect of all this focus on my writing, short stories, poems, memoirs, prison diary project, and the recent internet interview by my new friend, Hettie Jones, is there has been a sort of "literary cross-pollination," in which one topic or study has spun-off into others. For me it is a productive process - I can't seem to write fast enough - which may be driving my dear friend, Libby, to distraction, since she types all this output and translates it into legible English.

The Anne Frank diary project makes me think about my day, my thoughts, actions, and the thought and actions of those around me. Documenting all that - and I can only scratch the surface - spawns more ideas for stories and plays and brings back remembrances of prison experiences that I want to document and not allow to be lost in the ether.

This morning I wrote one of the few studies of what being "institutionalized" means, how it affects prisoners and the prison system, which will (hopefully) lead to discussion on how it negatively impacts society, and what to do about it.

Many people in prison are institutionalized, which to me means becoming so broken in spirit that they are unable to function on their own, that they accept and obey whatever the "authorities" tell them, right or wrong. They become like domesticated farm animals, neutered automatons who have no will of their own, part of the prison machine, content to absolve themselves of hopes and dreams for the future.

The shame for America is that is the way the system has been set up, to break people's wills. so they can more easily control them. One problem is that when they take a person's free will, their ability to think and make independent decisions and break their spirit, they are left as empty husks. They don't replace what has been removed with anything. It might make prisoners more docile and easier to control, especially with the wide-spread dispensing of psychotropic drugs that dope them up, but what does this say about how our fellow Americans are treated?

The vast majority of prisoners will be released one day. Who do you want as your neighbor? Institutionalized, drugged out prisoners who've spent decades in cages are not going to rejoin society and become productive, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. They will most likely become homeless bums or commit more crimes and return to prison, where they fit in and can function in a fashion.

When I first came to prison, I was the clerk to the prison laundry manager, C.D. Connor. He asked an older black prisoner who'd been in and out of prison several times in his life what he was going to do when he got out this next time. I'll never forget what he said.

"Mr. Connor, I don't do too good on the street. I can't get a job. I eat out of the garbage cans behind McDonald's. I'll find me a cardboard box, maybe sleep under a bridge. In prison, it's different. I'm somebody in here. I've got a good job, I got money, a hustle, pressed clothes, a white boy, good food, cigarettes and coffee. What do I want to go out on the street for?"

No doubt that man was institutionalized. He was the product of the system. There are thousands.

I am not one of them. Many people are amazed when they talk to me, and I tell them I have been continuously incarcerated for over thirty years. How is that possible, all that time in prison, yet not be like most everyone else who has had a similar experience?

They say I don't act like I've been in prison that long, and I say, how am I supposed to act? I can only be myself.

The state offers little "paper programs," transitory programs, pre-release, etc., which are of little value in actually preparing long-term prisoners for release. I asked one man who attended a year-long pre-release program what he learned, and he said how to hold a fork, how to eat properly. Heaven help us if that's all he came away with.

No one ever expected me to make it this far. They figured I'd be long-dead. But, they didn't account for my strength of will and resolve. I am not institutionalized, and I never will be. I will continue to fight for my freedom, or die trying. Watch this space for more details on how.
Good night.


Dateline: June 16, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida


I feel bad that it has been about six days since I wrote my daily blog, but sometimes it just can't be helped. Even in prison, often there's not enough time. Working in the chow hall is a six day-a-week, 48-hour chore that is more than exhausting. I come in, get out of my wet clothes, shower, and fall out. The mornings are so crazy that the time before work is complete chaos. Prison is bedlam.

I've been busy writing, at least, as fast as I can. I started and finished a new prison memoir, "They Kidnapped Thurgood!" about racist guards confiscating a sculpture I was working on, and I've been steadily making entries in the "Anne Frank Center USA" prison diary project. I'm really getting into it, and wanted to share an excerpt from the first entry, since it might be awhile before the project is unveiled.

"Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My friends call me Charlie. Others call me a convicted murderer,
but that is only half-true. I am convicted, but I am not a murderer.
I have been in jail and prison for over thirty years for a crime I did
not commit. If I do not get out soon, I am liable to die in here.

When I got the letter at mail call from the Anne Frank Center USA
asking me to write a prison diary, it affected me deeply. When I first
read the Diary of a Young Girl so many years ago, it had a great
impact on me. I was in the county jail in Tampa, Florida, facing a
murder charge, going through great emotional turmoil. I was drawn
to books about people who had suffered imprisonment. I read a couple
about American P.O.W.'s held captive by the North Vietnamese, and
one about Nelson Mandela. I couldn't imagine how long he'd been wrongly imprisoned in South Africa. Little did I know that I would surpass
the twenty-seven years he would spend in captivity."

Already, I've filled the little 90-page journal they sent me to write in, and I still have 2 1/2 months to go! Interesting dilemma.

on a more personal level, my sister-in-law, Sandy Norman, was stricken by a very serious stroke several weeks ago, and was not expected to survive. Many people prayed for her (thanks!), and she has been making a miraculous recovery. No paralysis, and she can speak a little.

I'm very excited about the prospective visit of my old friend, Dan Faulkner, from Seattle, this week. I haven't seen him in over 30 years. We went to the University of South Florida at the same time, and were involved in tae kwon do at Martial Arts Institute, Inc., in Tampa, in the mid-1970's. Dan has put a lot of time and expertise into the "FreeCharlieNow" web site, and has strived to help me on my ride toward freedom. Recently, he revamped the "photo exhibit," adding more family photos. Check it out.

Back to work. The chow hall beckons!

Friday, June 20, 2008


Dateline: June 11, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida


"Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, nobody knows but Jesus..."

One of many things I've learned in prison - a "Revelation," you might say, is that the words of all those songs we sang in church so many years ago float back to the top of my consciousness with a particular relevance to my captivity. Perhaps it is the the recurrence of themes of damnation and salvation, death and rebirth, the battle for dominance of good versus evil, the struggle of hope and faith over surrender and despair, the natural desire to live free, the urge to give voice and express one's feelings, no matter the repression.

So many times I hear a "church song" on the radio in the prison chapel, or in my head, my memories ignite with images, feelings, recollections of times past when we sang those songs ourselves, with the attendant emotions of longing and a sense of loss. Virtually all the faces I see are gone now, long dead and buried, hopefully onward to their just rewards. The angels I hear singing, "I once was lost, but now I'm found,..." which has a particular relevance for many prisoners whose lives were once hopelessly entangled in disorder, but have achieved a focus with a return to religious faith, are not faceless masses, but the ghostly images of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, school mates, friends, and neighbors who impacted my life.

When asked how I imagine Heaven to be, I don't hesitate. I don't see St. Peter or some long-bearded Jehovah on a gold throne with a scepter. I see my grandmother, "Memaw," standing inside the gate patiently waiting for me, two of her beloved dogs, Butterball and Gomez, milling around her feet, holding a fresh-baked blackberry cobbler and saying, "Where have you been, boy? We've been waiting for you for a long time."

I've missed over thirty family reunions, which get progressively smaller each year as more family patriarchs and matriarchs pass on, but the assurance that "one day we'll be together, yes we will,' as Diana Ross sings, (not normally considered a religious inspiration), gives me the additional strength to resist evil and continue to live a forthright life, even in prison.

I've learned it's okay to be weak sometimes, even in prison, to allow the shield to lower, to expose one's self to humanity. In a recent TV show, a group of children singing, "Jesus loves me, this I know, "cause the Bible tells me so...we are weak, but He is strong,..." brought tears to my eyes as thoughts of innocence lost, but hope restored, jolted loose childhood images and recollections. Wiping my eyes, I looked around and saw several hard men wiping theirs, a shared experience not unique under the harshest conditions of imprisonment.

In the artificial prison camp environment of captors and captives, where the captors eagerly slip on the mantels of institutionalized hatred and domination, where sadism rules over weakness, love is often in short supply, a dwindling resource. It becomes difficult to feel and express love in an "appropriate" manner, but one discards the yearning for love at his own risk. When guards threaten to lock up a prisoner or terminate his visit for kissing and embracing his wife or loved one for more than a few seconds, watching the clock's second hand moving as they meet in the visiting park on Saturday, questions inevitably arise. One does not need to be accused of being homophobic to ask why hundreds of high risk prison sex acts are virtually ignored, if not encouraged, while surveillance cameras and a dozen eagle-eyed guards pace the visiting area trying to catch someone touching their loved ones' shoulder or stealing a surreptitious kiss.

"Looking for love in all the wrong places" could be a prison theme song. I am deeply fortunate to feel and experience "the right kind of love," even in prison, and am saddened that so many others are deprived of it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


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


I want to recap some more of the prison roller coaster ride I've been on lately and add that I'm so fortunate to be a strong-minded person. If I were weak, I would have freaked out a long time ago. When I'd been in prison about seven years, while speaking to a group of "free people," one asked me, "How in the world have you been able to do all that time in prison?"

After spending over thirty years in prison, someones amazement that I had been able to successfully serve over seven years of imprisonment might seem laughable, but it's not, and the answer remains the same: "Like a man." you must be a man in prison, withstand all the challenges and travails, or not. The "not" is unacceptable.

After being subjected to threats and harassment by a verbally-abusive sergeant whose personality disorder requires all the unfortunate prisoners under his flawed "command" to be subservient snitches and sycophants, which I am not, I realized I had to get out from under his evil authority or see his threats of unwarranted lockup and writeups reach fruition. I requested a job change, and quickly found myself in food service, the chow hall, their version of punitive action.

"Please don't throw me in the briar patch!" That cry is especially relevant in prison, when dealing with hateful, angry, spiteful people. Racism is alive and well in prison, but every few years, when I'm at loggerheads with some hateful guard who deems it his role in life to make life miserable for prisoners, and in particular to teach me a lesson, invariably it is a "white" guard, usually of the "redneck" persuasion, whose attitudes, speech, and manner make it very easy to visualize him in his peaked hat and robes, at night, dancing around a fire, burning a cross with his cohorts. Guards like that just don't like me, and do everything their little pea brains can concoct to vex me, provoke me to respond in a way that will justify the escalation of their negative actions.

So when they found themselves supposedly spiting me by sticking me in the kitchen, it became a "briarpatch moment" for me, and I vowed to make the very best of it, to be the MVP in the kitchen, even though I am by far the oldest prisoner working in the kitchen, a job dominated by young, strong black prisoners.

Now that I've been there almost a month, it is time to pack up my sore back, neck, and aching feet, and to move on to a less strenuous line of work than the six day, 48-hour work week in the kitchen.

I keep saying that the people running the prisons have no idea what they're doing, but if the goal is to provoke already psychologically-challenged prisoners to flip out, "go psych," or commit acts of violence against themselves or others, they are doing a good job.

Every day there are fights, the stress levels and tensions have been pumped so high. As many as nineteen prisoners have been under suicide watch at one time in recent days, requiring a separate guard to sit and watch each one, virtually crippling prison operations. Yesterday, one prisoner in a wheelchair cut the throat of another wheelchair-bound prisoner, and reports are mixed as to whether he lived or died.

Every day it gets worse. They reassign the worst harassers to be in charge of the housing area with the worst "psych three's," prisoners with the shakiest mental problems, on the most medication, asking for incidents, and I live right in the middle of all that. It is very tough.

Some good news, though - my friend, Dan Faulkner in Seattle, continues to add material to the "FreeeCharlieNow" web site, most recently, "pre-prison" photos to the photo gallery, and he will be visiting Florida soon. I successfully completed my e-mail interview with Hettie Jones in New York, a singularly amazing woman in her own right, great poet and writer, who performed a "literary MRI" on my brain with her incisive questions. Her interview will appear on the "PEN" international literary group's web site soon (July) at

Even with all the trials and attacks, or perhaps ignited by them, in part, I have been going through a remarkably productive period of creativity, the past couple of months. I've sent out for typing and editing several short stories, poems, essays, and memoirs, including my latest prison account, "They Kidnapped Thurgood," of how and why redneck guards confiscated a sculpture I was doing of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and how I got it back.

The "Anne Frank Center USA" prison diary project I'm participating in has been particularly thought-provoking and insightful, resulting in a creative cross-pollination with the blogs and stories. If you haven't read Anne Frank's "Diary of a Young Girl," or it has been a long time, you should. She was an amazing writer who I admire greatly.

Time for work. Keep in touch, and let freedom ring for all.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


Dateline: Thursday, June 5, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida


Greetings once more from the Land that Forgot Time. So much has been happening, mostly hostile and negative, that I don't even want to talk about it right now, it might drop me down a depression well. I will say I've been absorbing their best shots of harassment and retaliation, taken a few hits, but I'm still standing. One I call the Grand Dragon, or the Imperial Lizard, got my job changed to the kitchen - punitive action - six-day, 48 hour work week - very harsh, exhausting conditions, but I'm making the most of it. I'm the oldest person working in the chow hall and one of the few Caucasians. The crew I work with has now been organized, we work together, get the food served in record time and eat well.

The above title, "If I Only Had a Gun," refers to the title of my next play, a prison musical I'm outlining and blocking out. I'm going to need some outside research help with this, though, to make it work effectively. The play involves prisoners performing the Wizard of Oz, in a fractured way, with apologies to Judy Garland, a drag queen plays her part, a weird dude who thinks he's a dog plays Toto, and maniacs play the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow.

I'm going to parody the song lyrics, "Somewhere over the Barb Wire," and perhaps "If I only Had a Brain," turned into a gun. I need to find the actual lyrics - I remember most of them - how many times did we watch that movie growing up? - but to get it right, I'd like to review the correct originals. If you know how to find them (Google?) let me know by e-mail.

This will be a musical comedy. I've done other comedies, but not in musical format.

At least some things are going right. My friend and web guy, Dan, in Seattle, has been adding family photos and other things to the web site,, and I understand they look great, and have added much to the web site. Since I don't have a computer in my cell and can't access the internet, I have to get the news by word of mouth.

For those family photos, I had to conduct a telephone interview with my mother to get some first-hand memories of two photos, one made at Redwater High School when I was one year old, and the other at four, in my cowboy outfit, which she had some comment about that I never knew.

I've been very busy with words this past week. Hettie Jones of the PEN American Center in New York City, a very interesting woman, sent me a list of difficult, thought-provoking questions for one to answer an "e-mail interview," to put on their www.pen,org web site in July. Hettie would have been a good prosecutor, with her penetrating questions. I spent a lot of time writing out lengthy responses, which I sent to Libby to type and e-mail.

My friend, Dan, is making a Southern tour in less than two weeks, with stops in Tampa and Daytona Beach, and I had to write a list of some potential questions for him to ask a few people who might be able to help my case.

And I've been focusing a lot of attention on this "Anne Frank Center USA" prison diary project, rambling on and on about life in prison. I can't imagine anyone being interested in my life in prison accounts beyond Libby and a few friends, but the project has sparked my interest, and I am burning up pens and paper.

As I've read and re-read Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank's story, I am struck by what a great writer she was, how powerful her words, how I could never hope to emulate her. I can only tell my story, for what it's worth.

I appreciate your comments, observations, and feedback. Keep in touch.