Sunday, May 31, 2009


Dateline: May 31, 2009


Don’t think that because I haven’t made any recent posts I haven’t been busy. Conditions in prison continue to deteriorate, making life very difficult for everyone. Despite the stress-filled, tense days, I try to spend three mornings a week in the prison law library, finishing work on a petition for a new parole hearing. Since the Governor and Cabinet are running for new offices in 2010, I am fairly well forced to prepare an application for executive clemency, seeking a September, 2010, hearing before Charlie Crist, Alex Sink, Charles Bronson, and Bill McCollum leave. We were “this close” to Gov. Lawton Chiles signing my clemency in December, 1998, before Jeb Bush took office, but Chiles’ sudden death nixed that. Good thing I’m not a conspiracy theorists.

I’ve also been busy writing short stories, memoirs, poems and essays these past months, for various submissions. Bell Chevigny in NYC, who edited Doing Time, the 1998 anthology of the best prison writing of the past twenty-five years (which included my essay, “Pearl Got Stabbed”), recently notified me that “Fighting The Ninja,” my memoir about AIDS in prison, will be included in a new publication, The Journal of Prisoners on Prisons.

I’m not sure if the harsh conditions fuel or hinder literary creativity. There is a school of thought that adversity provides a fertile ground for expression. Either way, I am compelled to write, so I do. I just wish I could test the hypothesis in freedom and see how the creativity flows then.


Saturday, May 9, 2009


Dateline: May 5, 2009


A year ago I had twenty-six flower gardens, ranging in size from small three foot by twelve plots to thirty foot diameter circles, and numerous other beds from one hundred to nine hundred square feet, all blooming inside the fences here at Tomoka C.I. in Daytona Beach. Thousands of flowers, from pansies and petunias and snapdragons, to calendulas, marigolds, zinnias, and sunflowers, and many more, bloomed everywhere. More than forty prisoners helped tend them.

Today there are virtually none. The only ones left are some surviving gaillardias that refuse to die, that keep poking their heads up and blooming in the now grassy beds until the lawnmower crews run over them and chop them down with their “Flintstones,” what they call the push mowers they’re allowed to use. One brick planter has eight gloriosa daisies plants still struggling to survive in the dry sand, and another planter has a lone Echinacea—coneflower—barely holding on. A few French marigolds have somehow sef-seeded and bloomed, but all these plants are endangered.

In the fenced-in area by the “psychology” trailer, an eccentric psychologist who was permitted to plant several rosebushes by previous administrations over the years jealously guards his babies, and some remnants of my plants still hold on in that restricted area, but even that situation is subject to change at any time.

How did this happen? How did such an abundance of natural beauty lovingly tended by a large platoon of dedicated prisoners selflessly working in the hot Florida sun all day suddenly disappear from view, leaving behind dry, dusty deserts of hot sand interspersed with weeds, looking like a vacant lot? It’s a sad tale.

When I came here on the bus seven years ago, I was pleased to see dozens of tall shade trees everywhere—sycamores, oaks, pines, red maples, sweet gums, and others, along with numerous specimen plants like junipers, cedars, and yews. Neatly trimmed hedges, many at least twenty years old, lined the streets and sidewalks. Virtually all of them are gone now, too. Only two severely hacked and pruned oaks in the cut-down “visiting park” and a lone pine in another fenced in area survive. Last of the Mohicans.

As a card-carrying member of the National Arbor Day Foundation, Audubon, and other environmental and nature-advocacy groups, it hurts me to see the trees and other plants go. The destruction came in stages, started by Mother Nature. We got hit by three hurricanes that intersected this area in 2004, which blew down and bent a number of trees, many that were over twenty years old. The people in charge decided to do a surgical strike and cut down otherwise healthy trees as a preventive measure, which eliminated much of the previously shady areas on the compound, raising the heat index precipitously, but the prison still had a modest population of tall greenery.

The day I arrived here, then-Colonel Ronnie Edwards approached me, smiling, and asked, “Charlie, are you going to do the same thing here that you did for me at Polk?”
“If I get the cooperation I got there, I will,” I told him.

“You will,” he said.

Between 1988 and 1992 at Polk C.I., I started off with three small plants in a tiny rose garden and ended up with a greenhouse, shade house, and large gardens of flowers and vegetables, with every seed and all the supplies donated by outside people, at no cost to the state.

In 1990 to 1992, I was actually assigned as a chapel clerk, printing memos, rosters, and Bible studies on a computer for the various programs, along with my artwork and writing, but I still maintained my horticulture project and beautified the chapel grounds with flowers raised from seeds in the greenhouse. One day the warden came over to me and said he was just amazed at how our area looked; he was so proud of it that he brought outside visitors in to look at it when we were locked inside for count.

One day then-Inside Grounds Sergeant Ronnie Edwards came up to me while I was watering, and told me he wanted to make lieutenant, and I could help him. How? Look at what you’ve done here, with one helper. It looks like Cypress Gardens. The rest of the compound is dead. You help me make my areas like yours, I’ll make lieutenant, he explained.

“Inside Grounds” isn’t a punishment job, per se, but it is something like “make work,” to keep the idle prisoners who otherwise had nothing to do, busy doing menial tasks such as picking up cigarette butts and trash, cutting grass, or raking. At Polk, they had numerous dry, empty flower beds that were ceaselessly raked over and over by squads of prisoners, with nothing growing. I agreed to help beautify the rest of the compound if he gave me free rein to instruct some of his interested workers in how to tend the flowers. It didn’t make sense to plant hundreds of flowers if no one tended or watered them. I already worked seven days a week and couldn’t possibly do it all. Okay.

Six months later, the sidewalks leading into the prison from the front gate were lined with beautiful colors: reds, yellows, oranges, white, pinks, purples and blues. The visitors admired overflowing flower beds in the visiting park. The flag pole in front of the colonel’s office was ringed in flowers. It looked like a botanical garden, someone said.

One of my friends who worked with processing “new arrivals” each week came to me one day and said some old guy who’d just gotten off the bus was talking about me up front. Talking about someone can be a serious infraction in prison, and one must be on guard against any threats. I asked my friend what he’d said.

He walked in, looked around, and said, “Charlie Norman is at this camp.” My friend told him he was right, but how did he know?

“The flowers,” he said. “As soon as I saw all these flowers, I knew Charlie Norman was here. He’s the only one who’d do this. He did it at Raiford years ago.” He was right.
When I saw the old man later and greeted him, he embraced me and said he knew he’d come to the right place when he saw the flowers.

The sergeant made lieutenant, went on his way, and I went on mine, a ten-year tour of five other prisons, ending up here in 2002. The lieutenant was now a colonel, and it didn’t take long before I was back on operation, expanding flower beds every year, training more workers, beautifying the grounds. Then came the hurricanes, the trees began coming down, new, harsher, flower-hating people came in and took charge, which ended in the widespread destruction of most every living, rooted thing. The loss of the trees hit hardest.

Do you know how easy it is to grow oak trees from acorns? I had a mini-nursery of oak trees I grew in recycled one gallon plastic peanut butter pots, along with rows of pines, sycamores and red maples. The last red maple had been cut down two years before, but not before its winged seeds had found their way into a number of potting soil filled trays in my little greenhouse operation. I even had a few apple trees growing from seeds from apples handed out in the chow hall.

I’d been steadily planting and re-planting little trees until a particularly hateful and onerous guard was put in charge and given the duty to destroy every tree and flower I had. He took his job seriously. You’d have thought locusts had come through.

Over the past year many prisoners have bemoaned the barrenness of the grounds, remembering how it had looked not so long ago. Numerous guards and other staff have whispered their sadness at how bad it looks, what a waste. I agreed with all of them, but what was I to do? No one listens to me. Someone thinks the place should look “more like a prison,” but what does a prison look like?

Across the U.S., people who regularly visit prisons rave about those facilities where the grounds are well-tended and beautified, where smiling prisoners ceaselessly weed and trim neat flower beds, learn skills useful “outside,” and rehabilitate themselves with productive work. There are lessons to be learned there, as there are lessons to be learned here. As they said in the song, asking where have all the flowers gone, when will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Dateline: Friday, April 24, 2009


I want to tell you about an egregious abuse of authority, how a public official manipulated both the media and a state agency to keep his lies alive and to keep me in prison. I have some letters and documents to include, to better illustrate how Mark Ober intimidated the Florida Parole Commission and made inadvertent liars out of Fox 13 WTVT news anchors and reporter, Warren Elly.

I wrote Warren Elly a letter laying out how he was used, with the supporting documents, but he never responded.

This is what happened: on Wednesday, December 13, 2006, Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober and his faithful sidekick, Pam Bondi, accompanied by a Fox News camera crew, appeared at my Florida Parole Commission hearing in Tallahassee. The news camera was set up only a few feet away from Commissioners Fred Dunphy, Monica David, and Tena Pate, and focused directly at them. The 800 pound gorilla.

The message was clear: “I am the state attorney. I command the news media. They are here at my bidding. We are recording your actions in the Charles Norman case. If you oppose me and parole this guy, I am going to publicly denounce you on television. If you do what I want, I will praise you. The risk/reward ratio is high. If you want me to be your enemy, I will come after you, criticize you, call for your removal. I am raising the stakes. Be my co-conspirators in keeping Norman locked away, and your job is safe for now. Don’t sacrifice your politically-appointed position for that guy. It’s not worth it.”

And what is the message to Fox 13 News and reporter, Warren Elly? “I am the state attorney. I need a favor. This is important to me. I want to put pressure on the parole commissioners to keep Charles Norman in prison. I want you to help me intimidate them and to broadcast a short clip of defamatory statements on the 10 P.M. news, but I don’t want you to look too closely at this stuff, just take my word for it. In exchange, I will give you first access to any stories coming out of our office, you’ll get the scoops, we’ll work together, and all it will cost you is your journalistic integrity. I assure you that is no big deal. I lost my integrity years ago, and look where I am now! I could be the attorney general one day!”

Warren Elly, Channel 13, and the parole commissioners aren’t the only ones deceived by Mark Ober. He has deceived many well-meaning, wealthy and influential citizens, also, who have steadily contributed thousands of dollars to his campaign. I have been examining Ober’s campaign contributions for the 2008 state attorney’s election, in which he ran unopposed, and have discovered numerous discrepancies and questions. That is fodder for a future blog, but in the meantime, I will offer you three letters I wrote to Pam Bondi, George Steinbrenner, III, and Roche Security and Casualty, none of whom has responded. When I get more postage stamps I will send out more letters to some of the 492 contributors, including thirty-five assistant prosecutors who listed only their home addresses for contributions to their boss, withholding their business address and affiliation with Mark. Naughty, naughty.

When you have a behemoth like Ober playing Goliath against a paralyzed, shrunken, chained David, such as myself, dodging giant boulders of lies continually tossed by Mark and his minions, it makes for a very one-sided, unfair battle. If you want to know more, or offer help, I would be pleased to tell you more.

Read the following letters and DVD transcript of the Fox News broadcast item and ask yourself if something is rotten in Denmark. The ethics complaint, which goes into much more analysis and detail, is long, so if you want to read it, let me know, and I’ll forward it, rather than clogging the blog worse than it is.

Thanks. Charlie

1. Warren Elly
c/o WTVT – Fox 13
3213 West Kennedy Boulevard
Tampa, FL 33609

Dear Mr. Elly:
How do you feel when you discover that someone has lied to you, not about some minor thing, but something serious and important? Has that ever happened to you?
As a result of someone lying to you, have you ever found yourself to have been manipulated and duped, and (possibly) unknowingly made out to be a liar yourself? On TV?
Mr. Elly, if your answer is “no,” I have some bad news for you. Mark Ober lied, manipulated, and duped you, on December 13, 2006, when he made false statements about me, and you repeated them on the ten o’clock news broadcast without verifying their veracity.
I am preparing complaints to the Florida Commission on Ethics and the Florida Bar against Mark Ober for abusing his authority to pursue a personal vendetta and secure political enhancement for himself. A complaint to the Florida Election Commission for campaign finance violations is also being prepared.
I am surprised that you took Ober at his word and didn’t even attempt to contact my lawyers or me for the opposing view. The slightest verification would have put the lie to one of the most damning falsehoods in your story, the tale that when Steve Bluffstone was ten years old, Charles Norman was a cop and used to come by the Bluffstones’ gas station in his police car to “rest and cool off,” befriended the sick child recuperating from cancer, who wanted to be a cop, like his “mentor.”
Of course, you neglected to mention that at the time, 1965, Charles Norman was a 15 year old junior high school student.
If the same person who befriended Steve in 1965 killed him ten years later, as Ober and others have stated, obviously it wasn’t Charles Norman.
There is much, much more. Perhaps you should call in Doug Smith and his investigative team to find the truth. Perhaps you’ll talk to Mark Ober’s state witness who recanted and stated it was all a fabrication, or Ober’s other witness, who now says she knows Charles Norman was twenty miles away when the crime occurred, could not have been in two places at once, that Ober knew it, and withheld that information.
Or perhaps you can talk to the only true eyewitness, Albert McKinley, who said it was not Charles Norman who was in the Pantry Pride store on the night of the crime.
Try it again, Warren. Get it right this time. Tell the world Mark Ober is a liar and a cheat, like Mike Nifong, and has kept an innocent man in prison for over 30 years. Let’s see some journalistic integrity at work. If you want more, you can e-mail me through my friend at
Make a difference. Don’t be Ober’s dupe.

Charles Norman

2. Warren Elly
c/o WTVT – Fox 13
3213 West Kennedy Boulevard
Tampa, FL 33609

Dear Mr. Elly:

This is a follow-up to the letter dated February 4, 2009, that I sent to you last week. I have enclosed for your use, a transcript of the broadcast piece you had on TV on December 13, 2006, on the 10:00 News in Tampa and a copy of the complaint I have filed with the Florida State Commission On Ethics.
These two documents will serve to further delineate the lies, distortions, and complete disregard for facts that are being continually represented as truth by those who ignore the real story, refuse to check the facts, and deliberately strive to portray me in the worst possible light through slander and libel.

Charles Norman


From the Fox Channel 13 10:00 [PM] News

Female news anchor: Thirty years ago, a Tampa cop was fired after the suspicious death of his girlfriend.

Male news anchor: And shortly after that, the man murdered a security guard in a supermarket robbery in South Tampa. But as Fox 13's Warren Elly reports, he’s trying to get out of jail, & the victim’s family is furious.

Elly: At ten years old, Steven Bluffstone wanted to be a police officer. He got the idea hanging out at his dad’s Tampa gas station, hanging out with a Tampa police officer, named Charlie Norman. Steven’s mother remembers the police officer the little boy idolized.

Phillis Bluffstone: He used to come in & cool off, rest. How could he do this? To someone he knows? How could he do it?

Elly: What Charles Norman did ten years later was to murder Steven Bluffstone. It happened at a supermarket that used to be here on Gandy Boulevard. Norman, a fired TPD cop, was inside after closing, hiding, wanted to rob the supermarket. What he didn’t know was Steven, now 20 years old, was working as an armed security guard nearby.

Ober: After being confronted by young Mr. Bluffstone, Mr. Norman shot him in the head & stomach & killed him.

Elly: It was the state attorney’s first murder case as a young prosecutor. Norman was convicted, but the jury spared him the death penalty. He’s served 29 years of a life sentence, & he’s now fighting for parole with some unlikely supporters.

John Grant: I’m a tough law & order person. I also believe in redemption & rehabilitation & compassion.

Elly: Former state senator John Grant led the charge for tougher prison sentences. As a prosecutor, he put people on death row. But now...

John Grant: I have no hesitation about driving to the prison & picking up Charlie & taking him into my home.

Elly: Also backing Norman’s release, high-profile jewel thief turned prison minister, Jack ‘Murf the Surf’ Murphy.

Phillis Bluffstone: And I’m just thinking this time he’s going to get out. I really did.

Elly: But celebrities & ex-state senators couldn’t stop Mark Ober.

Ober: It’s interesting to me how Norman can be rehabilitated from a crime he proclaims he never committed.

Elly: After that, the Parole Commission voted to keep Norman behind bars , at least until 2014. But there’s more to this story of Steven Bluffstone. He had bone cancer as a young child, suffered through eleven operations, ended up in a body cast. He was newly-married, & had survived nearly 5 years without the cancer coming back, when Norman killed him.

Phillis Bluffstone: Every day I light candles for my son. Every day. To know what the child went through, & to end up like this. Not right.

Elly: At least, she says, her son’s killer will stay where he is, for now. Warren Elly, Fox 13 News.

Male news anchor: Among the issues that could interfere with Norman’s bid for early release, he’s had disciplinary problems in prison, & back when he was arrested, he was still wearing a bullet-proof vest & carrying a Tampa police radio.


4. Roche Surety and Casualty Company, Inc.
1910 Orient Road
Tampa, FL 33619

RE: Mark Ober Campaign Contributions

Dear Sir:
Since the Florida state elections of the year 2000, I have been studying the campaign contributions of State Attorney Mark Alan Ober, Hillsborough County. Most recently, I have been examining documents from the Division of Elections, Florida Department of State, of 492 contributors of $138,517.80 to the 2008 General Election campaign of Mr. Ober, and I continue to discover anomalies that raise questions.
These public records from the Campaign Finance Data Base reveal that on December 17, 2007, eight checks were written from your address of 1910 Orient Road, for a total of #2350.00. Please tell me whether the following information is correct:
1) Roche Surety & Casualty Co., Inc. $ 500.00
2) Roche Suriety & Casualty Co., Inc. $ 100.00
3) Roche Surety, Inc. $ 500.00
4) RS & CCO As Trustee For T. Anthony Sands $ 500.00
5) RS & CCO As Trustee For Al Arenal Bail Bon $ 500.00
6) Danielle Miller $ 50.00
7) Tim Myers $ 100.00
8) Zavolas, Mike $ 100.00
$ 2350.00

December 17, 2007, was a very profitable campaign finance day for Mr. Ober, according to the records. He also collected $500.00 from Aaron’s Bail Bonds down the street from your business, and a total of $10,200 from 24 other contributors, plus your 8.
I request that you please advise me of the name(s) of the actual person or persons who signed/authorized the five company/business/corporation campaign contributions to Mark Ober from your 1910 Orient Road address listed above. If you would also advise me of the relationships of the three individuals listed above to the businesses listed, I would greatly appreciate it.
Perhaps you are wondering why I am asking these questions. In February, 1980, Mark Ober was the young assistant state attorney who prosecuted me for a 1975 murder I did not commit. There was absolutely no physical or forensic evidence that connected me to the crime, and an eyewitness stated in court that I was not the person who committed the crime. The actual killer was given immunity from prosecution for first degree murder to falsely testify that I told him I’d shot someone. Other convicted felons were coerced by Ober to commit perjury, resulting in my being convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a crime Mark Ober knew I did not commit, for his political ambitions.
In 2002 and 2006 Mark Ober went to my parole hearings, made false, misleading, and malicious statements opposing my parole, among other unethical acts, resulting in my continued imprisonment, a travesty of justice.
If a man can continue such wrongful prosecution for thirty years, I believe such lack of integrity could very well spill over into campaign finance irregularities. If you have any questions or comments about this man you have so strongly supported, I would be happy to answer them.

Charles Norman

5. Pamela J. Bondi
Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office
800 East Kennedy Boulevard, 5th Floor
Tampa, FL 33602-4147

RE: Campaign Contributions: 2008 General Election—Mark Ober

Dear Ms. Bondi:
I see from the public records of the Division of Elections, Florida Department of State, that on November 9, 2007, you contributed $ 500.00 to Mark Ober’s campaign for Hillsborough State Attorney.
Cross-indexing 492 contributions of $ 138,517.80 to Mark’s campaign with the 2008 Florida Bar Journal, I discovered that thirty-five lawyers who listed their employment as the SAO—13th Circuit made contributions of $ 11,250.00 to their boss. I’m sure that is perfectly legal.
What attracted my attention was the fact that not a single contributor from the Hillsborough SAO, including yourself, listed an address of 800 E. Kennedy Boulevard, instead, listing home addresses only.
I have been reading the campaign finance laws in an attempt to understand the intricacies. My question to you is: is it mere coincidence that all thirty-five SAO contributors/lawyers listed only their home addresses, or was there instruction/order/memorandum that directed them not to use their business address?
While perhaps not a campaign finance law violation on its face, it seems that such concerted actions give the appearance of deception, to mislead the public as to the true source of Mark’s campaign financing.
If you have any comments, I’d like to hear them.

Charles Norman

6. George M. Steinbrenner, III
1 Steinbrenner Drive
Tampa, FL 33614-7064

Dear Mr. Steinbrenner:
A study of public records obtained from the Florida Department of State, Division of Elections, the Campaign Finance Data Base, for Mark Ober’s 2008 General Election campaign for Hillsborough State Attorney has revealed some interesting information. Although Mark was unopposed, he still collected 492 contributions for $138,517.80. That’s not bad for someone whose net worth was $1,686,019.25 as of April, 2008.
From these public records I discovered that you contributed $1400.00 personally and through two Kinsman Properties accounts to Mark on 11/21/2007.
I’m sure that the reason you were so generous to Mark was because you believe in our system of justice and good government; however, I’ve seen a side of Mark Ober that I hope you never see. I’d like to tell you about his dark side.
In February, 1980, as a young assistant state attorney and protégé of E.J. Salcines and Norman Cannella, his mentor, Mark Ober wrongfully prosecuted and convicted me of first degree murder, a crime I did not commit. He gave the actual killer and other convicted felons “immunity from prosecution” (two for murder) to falsely testify that I told them I shot someone. As you may know, only the guilty are given immunity—the innocent don’t need it. An eyewitness said I was not the shooter.
This crime occurred February 17, 1975. I was cleared of the crime by the original homicide detective nine months later. Three years later, crooked cops arrested me for the crime. After I repeatedly refused Mark’s offers of plea bargains and reduced charges, Mark coerced witnesses to commit perjury, knowingly used false testimony, and withheld evidence that would have cleared me. He did his best to strap me into the electric chair. His budding political ambitions and personal vendetta against me blinded him to the point where he sold his soul. I hope he got a good price.
When Mark decided to go for the big bucks in private practice, his favorite, most infamous client, whose case gave him front page headlines, was Oscar Ray Bolin, the most notoriously brutal rapist and serial killer in Hillsborough County history. Mark did his very best to free Oscar Ray Bolin, fought hard for him, and got him off Death Row multiple times, but, alas, that’s where he resides today.
Despite his wrongful prosecution of me, I have survived over thirty-one years of imprisonment, to Mark’s eternal chagrin. That wasn’t enough for him, though. Since my conviction, Mark Ober has appeared at my two parole hearings, repeatedly making false, misleading, and malicious statements against my release. He staked his political career on lies, and perhaps feels he must continue to ride that horse to the end. I continue to fight for justice and my release, against all odds, which are great.
If you’d like to know more about this, let me know, and I’ll be happy to provide you the information.
I pray that the next time Mark Ober asks you for money you think long and hard about supporting the blind ambitions of such a man.

Charles P. Norman