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 ...you 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.