Saturday, August 15, 2009


Dateline: August 2, 2009


Florida has a new law in effect banning prisoners from possessing cell phones. The penalty is up to five years in prison and a $5000 fine. Thursday, a Tomoka C.I. prisoner who’d been caught with a cell phone had a hearing in Volusia County Court. The judge must not have been too impressed with the law, levying only a six-month concurrent sentence.

I’ve never used a cell phone. I don’t want one. I don’t care for an additional five years in prison, and I couldn’t afford a $50 fine, let alone $5000. That’s not true for others. Texas and California have confiscated hundreds and thousands of phones. One man on Texas Death Row called a Texas state senator and threatened him. The Death Row prisoner claimed he bought it from a guard. Another guard was caught smuggling sixty cell phones inside a compressor into a Texas prison.

To combat the proliferation, the Florida DOC recently paid $6000 or so for a cell phone-sniffing dog. I forget his name, but we met last Friday.

A toilet burst and flooded a cell wing upstairs. A guard woke me up at 3:15 a.m. to mop up water. Another hapless soul and I mopped up twenty-two buckets of sewer water. The sergeant told us we could shower and sanitize ourselves, but suddenly all the water cut off. That’s never a good sign.

4:15 a.m. a large squad of prison guards rushed the building. Cell by cell, “out, out, out,” rousting sleeping prisoners out of their cells in their boxers. Strip searches. Sit on the benches and floor of the day room. Over 200 men sat for hours while several dogs were pointed in and out of the cells seeking drugs and cell phones.

I recognized the cell phone dog from a newspaper photo. He didn’t look like much—like a cross between an anorexic German Shepherd and a coyote. He trotted right by me as I sat on the floor, and I reached out and petted him. We don’t get much dog contact in here.

I wasn’t too impressed with his abilities, though. A Puerto Rican apparently slid a cell phone beneath a nearby laundry cart when he came out of his cell, and while we were being hustled back inside a few hours later, a guard moved the cart and found the phone on the floor near where the expensive sniffer dog had passed.

They knew the cell phone belonged to the Puerto Rican prisoner, “Flaco,” since he’d taken several photos of himself with the phone’s camera and left them in the memory. He’ll be a finalist in next season’s, “America’s Dumbest Prisoners.”

My roommate and I returned to our cell and found a scene out of the recent tornado damage videos—every meager possession trashed, dumped, tossed, scattered, mattresses overturned, cups dumped out. They must have missed that rule that says the guards must put everything back the way they found it afterwards.

Final tally: three cell phones, a knife, and five prisoners taken to lock-up. Considering the overtime, travel, (most of the guards were brought in from other prisons), and doggy treats, I wouldn’t be surprised if that exercise cost the state $10,000 per cell phone. No wonder the legislature instituted a $5000 fine—to offset the costs of the shakedowns!

Meanwhile, the ninety-eight percent of the prisoners in my building who are just trying to do their time and get along, who possess no cell phones, knives, or drugs, must endure the same dehumanizing humiliation as those who brought this down on themselves. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? But then, who said life was fair?

We are still preparing to file a petition for a new parole hearing. With the turnover in Tallahassee—Gov. Crist campaigning for the U.S. Senate and two other Cabinet members slugging it out to replace him, we are obligated to file a clemency application, too. We need a lot of help with this, possibly the first “on-line clemency application.” We’re also looking for a “Facebook” expert willing to volunteer some time to the cause. So, if you know of any possible candidates, please put them in contact with me.

And a P.S. from “Inmate”…as sometimes happens with the chain gang rumor mill, the initial reports of the beating death of the prisoner, “Dave,” were premature or wishful thinking. Like Lazarus, Dave apparently rose from the dead, made a remarkable comeback and is now recovering. Good for him. More later.


Monday, August 3, 2009


Dateline: July 17, 2009


“Everyone has the right to tell their story. That’s the American way.”

Over thirty-one years ago, Charles Norman pleaded not guilty to the murder of Steve Bluffstone. Despite a series of increasingly lenient plea bargains offered by then-assistant state attorney Mark Ober, offers of reduced charges that would have resulted in his freedom in three-to-five years in exchange for a guilty plea, Charles Norman maintained his innocence and demanded a jury trial. During jury deliberations, prosecutor Ober made a final plea to Charles Norman to cop out, promising “no minimum, no mandatory, no firearm, no opposition to parole” if he did so. If Norman refused Ober’s final offer, he promised to send Norman to Death Row and the electric chair.
Mark Ober was desperate for a conviction, whatever it took. The actual triggerman, Larry Wingate, and his puppetmaster, Keith Chee-A-Tow, both known drug dealers with histories of drug-related violence, were given “immunity from prosecution for first degree murder” for their perjured statements that Norman “told” them he’d shot someone. It is common knowledge that only the guilty are given immunity—the innocent don’t need it. Immunity acknowledges guilt.
Despite absolutely no physical or forensic evidence connecting Norman to the crime and an eyewitness’ uncontroverted testimony that Norman was not the person who shot Steve Bluffstone, that Norman did not even look similar to the man, Norman was convicted of first degree murder. And despite Mark Ober’s strident attempts to fulfill his threat to Norman and sentence him to death, the jury refused to go along with him, recommending “life,” with a mandatory- minimum sentence of twenty-five years in prison before becoming eligible for parole in a compromise verdict.
These are facts of the case that Mark Ober would just as soon forget. Over thirty-one years later, Ober—now state attorney—continues to extract his pounds of flesh by opposing Norman’s release on parole, despite his having completed the mandatory-minimum twenty-five years over six years ago.
Ober has manipulated the news media and the parole commission by arranging for WTVT Fox News Channel 13 Tampa to videotape Norman’s hearings, with the implied threat being that any decisions by the parole commissioners favorable to Norman’s release would result in adverse publicity for the politically-appointed commissioners. Ober has continued to make false, misleading, and malicious statements on the record in opposition to Norman’s parole in furtherance of his own political ambitions for higher office, most notably the Florida Attorney General post that comes open for the 2010 election for which he has been positioning himself.
Based on Mark Ober’s most recent statements on the record at Norman’s 2006 hearing, questions have arisen regarding the issue of rehabilitation—what is rehabilitation, and how is rehabilitation demonstrated?
Curiously, so-called “legal professionals” like Mark Ober are either confused, mistaken, or intentionally obscure as to the actual definitions of “rehabilitation,” choosing to obfuscate what the word means, how it is used, and applied. Examination of the facts is needed.

The following direct quote is from the 2006 parole hearing transcript:

(Excerpt) “Ober…Mr. Norman has never admitted his guilt. Another purpose of our criminal justice system is to protect our society. It is interesting to me how Mr. Norman can be rehabilitated from a crime he claims he never committed. Consequently, Mr. Norman is not entitled to further consideration…”

According to Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1983, the root word “rehabilitate” comes from the Latin words for, to restore again, and make suitable again. Webster lists four definitions for rehabilitate:
1. to restore to rank, privileges or property which one has lost.
2. to restore the good name or reputation of; to reinstate in good repute.
3. to put back in good condition; to reestablish on a firm, sound basis.
4. in sociology, to restore (a dependent, defective, or criminal) to a state of physical, mental, and moral health through treatment and training.

“rehabilitation”—the act of rehabilitating or the state of being rehabilitated.

These definitions seem very clear, precise and understandable. Taking one step further, Black’s Law Dictionary lists the following legal definition:

“rehabilitation, n. 1. Criminal Law. The process of seeking to improve a criminal’s character and outlook so he or she can function in society without committing other crimes .”

“deterrence, n. the act or process of discouraging certain behaviors, particularly by fear; esp., as a goal of criminal law, the prevention of criminal behavior by fear of punishment.”

“retribution, n. 1. Criminal Law. Punishment imposed as repayment or revenge for the offense committed; requittal.”

Those are Webster’s and Black’s definitions of rehabilitate, definitions that are in direct opposition to Mark Ober’s erroneous opinion as to the ramifications of rehabilitation. In Ober’s view, a person must be “rehabilitated from a crime,” and if that person did not commit that crime, the person “is not entitled to further consideration.”
Does this make sense? A guilty person is given consideration while an innocent person is not. Ober also believes that “Another purpose of our criminal justice system is to protect our society.” With his flawed logic, it appears that Ober believes that society is better protected by freeing a guilty man back into its ranks while keeping an innocent man imprisoned. A guilty person can be “rehabilitated,” while an innocent man cannot. Surely this cannot be correct.

In Mark Ober’s view, no matter how heinous the crime, no matter the evidence or lack of evidence or the circumstances, obtaining a guilty plea is all that matters. Charles norman was punished for refusing to take Ober's plea deal, for demanding a jury trial, for standing on his Constitutional rights to maintain his innocence and not be forced to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit, and he paid a high price for it. For making Mark Ober try the case, to compromise his legal ethics and oath by calling perjured witnesses, withholding evidence, and using every dirty trick he'd been taught, for refusing to just fold up and go away, Ober became fixated on destroying Charles Norman, whatever it took. Norman refused to plead guilty, an unforgivable sin.
No matter what Charles Norman says, no matter the travesty of justice he has proclaimed for over thirty-one years, no matter what Mark Ober says, there is one statement of fact that all parties will agree upon: Charles Norman was found guilty of murder at jury trial and sentenced to life in prison for a minimum-mandatory twenty-five years before becoming eligible for parole. He has been continuously imprisoned for over 11,400 days (as of July 1, 2009) since his arrest on April 5, 1978, the state of Florida says (at this time) that he is guilty, and he is serving time with over 100,000 men who have also been adjudicated guilty.

Can Charles Norman be rehabilitated? Can he be restored to a state of physical, mental, and moral health through treatment and training, as Webster’s defines it? Can his character and outlook be improved so he can function in society without committing other crimes, as Black’s defines the process of rehabilitation? How does one determine when a person has been rehabilitated, and it is safe for him to be free to go? How does one found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment demonstrate that he has been rehabilitated?
The Florida Parole Commission’s own guidelines state that “positive parole prognosis” is indicated by past conduct. You can tell what a person most likely will do in the future by what he has been doing in the past. For example, a person who has been released from prison several times and repeatedly arrested and convicted of committing more crimes, been sent back to prison each time, only to be released, arrested, and imprisoned yet again, should not be considered a likely candidate for “positive parole prognosis.”
Are there many examples of prisoners who fit in this category? Yes, the prison system is full of them.
Another example: a person has spent his entire lengthy imprisonment in trouble, has received dozens of disciplinary reports, and served several years in confinement and “close management” for violent acts, stabbings, assaults, drug use and possession, escape attempts, refusing to work, lying to staff, contraband and other charges. He has not participated in any self-improvement programs, educational or vocational programs, has no marketable skills, has been diagnosed with serious mental disorders, is prescribed psychotropic drugs to control his behavior. He has alienated his family, has no support group, no place to go upon release, no job prospects.
Can there be any question in any reasonable person’s mind that the above-described individual is not rehabilitated, and is an unlikely candidate ever to be successfully rehabilitated? Of course not. Are there any examples of such individuals in prison? Yes, the system is full of them. Close management prisons and confinement cells are at maximum capacity statewide.

How do these negative examples compare to Charles Norman and the question of rehabilitation? A better question would be, how do the other 100,000-plus Florida prisoners compare to Norman and his accomplishments? The fact is, they can’t. A review of the voluminous record in the Florida Parole Commission’s file conclusively proves that Charles Norman has demonstrated the highest levels of rehabilitation by his exemplary record of service and accomplishments in prison, continuously and unabated, for over thirty years. He has not only participated in every relevant program available—self-improvement, educational, literacy, religious, among many others—but also, he has conceived, created, and implemented programs of his own throughout his imprisonment that have positively impacted literally thousands of prisoners and their families.
A review of the letters written on his behalf by many highly-respected citizens who know Charles Norman well, leaves no doubt as to his value and worth to society. An accomplished artist and writer, his poetry, dramas, fiction, and essays have received numerous national writing awards and been published worldwide. He is an acknowledged authority on prison, and his views and opinions are widely respected. He has a large, dedicated support group of family and friends who have pledged their help in transitioning back into society.
It seems virtually inconceivable that anyone could endure over thirty-one years in the harsh, unforgiving environment of prison and emerge without being permanently damaged. Only the rarest of individuals possess the character, moral strength, and fortitude—people like Nelson Mandela, whose twenty-seven years imprisonment was surpassed by Norman four years ago—and other extraordinary people, who turned an experience that destroyed lesser men into a positive achievement that refined them in the furnace and made them stronger. Can there be any greater example of “rehabilitation?”
In wide swaths of state and federal law, rehabilitation refers to individuals with mental or physical disabilities, and society’s goal to re-integrate those people with such disabilities into the mainstream of America. The U.S. Congress has spelled this out in 29 United States Code Anno.§ 701, Chapter 16 – Vocational Rehabilitation and other Rehabilitative services, as follows (excerpt):

§ 701 (a)(1) Findings. Congress finds that (1) Millions of Americans have one or more physical or mental disabilities and the number of Americans with such disabilities is increasing; (2) Individuals with disabilities constitute one of the most disadvantaged groups in society; (3) disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to:
A) live independently;
B) enjoy self-determination;
C) make choices;
D) contribute to society;
E) pursue meaningful careers; and
F) enjoy full inclusion and integration in the economic, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of American society;
(4) work; (5) Individuals with disabilities continually encounter various forms of discrimination in such critical areas as employment, housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, communication, recreation, institutionalization, health services, voting, and public services; and (6) the goals of the Nation properly include the goal of providing individuals with disabilities with the tools necessary to:
A) Make informed choices and decisions; and
B) Achieve equality of opportunity, full inclusion, and integration in society, employment, independent living, and economic and social self-sufficiency, for such individuals.

In addition, under Florida law, Chapter 413, Vocational Rehabilitation, refers to: 1) Persons who have physical, cognitive, sensory, or mental disabilities.
The members of “WORKFORCE FLORIDA” are described as: a) individuals who have physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the person’s major life activities; who have a record of such impairments; or who are regarded as having such an impairment.

Clearly, individuals who have endured long-term institutionalization, whether it is a hospital, mental health facility, or a prison, could easily be declared “disabled” in some definition of the term. A paralyzed person, wheelchair-bound, released from a hospital after years of treatment, could not be expected to return to society, get a job as a carpenter, and live a normal life without a great deal of rehabilitation.
In the vast majority of cases of long-term imprisonment, those finally released easily fall under the umbrella of federal and state definitions of disabled. It is not the intention of Congress that these people be cast aside by society, but returned to society.
For many of these people, the challenge is too great, the damage too extensive, the drug addictions, mental illnesses, and other disabilities are too crippling for them to realistically return as a functioning, law-abiding member of society. Sooner or later, they will be re-institutionalized, in a setting where they can subsist until they die.

This is not the case with Charles Norman. He has steadfastly resisted the eroding, destructive effects of long-term imprisonment, continued to improve himself and help many others do the same. Under whatever definition of Rehabilitation one chooses to use, Charles Norman is obviously rehabilitated, poses no risk to society, and deserves immediate release. The vindictiveness of one person abusing his political power should not be enough to negate the voluminous record of Charles Norman’s accomplishments, character, integrity, and good works.

Let us acknowledge that the only reason Charles Norman has not been paroled and released from prison is because of Mark Ober’s opposition, a man with a personal vendetta against Norman, who used Charles’ case as a stepping-stone for his own selfish purposes and ambitions. Ober’s skewed view of “rehabilitation” is just a smokescreen and stumbling block designed to further delay and hinder Norman’s release back to society, where he belongs.
As long as Charles Norman is still alive, Mark Ober runs the risk of being exposed for his part in the wrongful prosecution of an innocent man, along with “immunity” and freedom for the actual murderer, the son of a wealthy man who bragged that his father “paid off” people in exchange for his freedom, a notoriously violent man who has never had the opportunity to be “rehabilitated” in spite of the great need for it.