Sunday, November 22, 2009


Dateline November 10, 2009


Prosecutors Like Tampa’s Mark Ober Labeled “Overzealous and Dishonest”

Did you know that under Florida law, a state attorney (prosecutor) can use a false witness at trial, can coach that witness to commit perjury, to fabricate false testimony, to withhold evidence favorable to the defense, and be immune from penalties or lawsuits? Anything a corrupt, overzealous, and dishonest prosecutor does at trial is protected by law, except perhaps, punching out the judge. Framing an innocent person for murder is okay.

According to a November 5, 2009, article by Joan Biskupic in “USA Today,” titled, “High Court Weighs Lawsuit Against Prosecutors,” twenty-seven states and the U.S. Justice Department “…are trying to shield prosecutors from claims for damages tracing to any trial testimony.”

The article goes on to say that the Supreme Court justices struggled with whether prosecutors can be held responsible for framing defendants with false testimony and fabricated evidence.

Two men in Iowa were convicted for a 1977 shotgun murder and went to prison. Twenty years later, one of the men’s friends obtained the police report, discovering that the two prosecutors, Joseph Hrvol and David Richter, had coached the key witness and withheld evidence about a leading suspect. The Iowa Supreme Court threw out their conviction, and the freed men brought suit against the crooked prosecutors under federal civil rights law, known as a “1983 suit.”

I think I may be in love with new justice Sonia Sotomayor after what she told a lawyer defending the Iowa prosecutors. Let me quote:

“When Katyal said prosecutors would ‘flinch’ from their duties, Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested a prosecutor should flinch ‘…when he suspects evidence is perjured or fabricated.’ Sotomayor, a former prosecutor who seemed more sympathetic to McGhee and Harrington [the men wrongfully convicted], elicited from Katyal that the Iowa prosecutors were never sanctioned.”

“Justice Anthony Kennedy responded heatedly to arguments by the Iowa prosecutors’ lawyer, Stephen Sanders, that they cannot be liable for any fabrication that ends up being used at trial.”

“So the law is the more deeply you’re involved in the wrong, the more likely you are to be immune?” Kennedy said. “That’s a strange proposition.”

The deputy solicitor general, Katyal, said that the court should focus on the “overriding goals of the justice system,” which, to hear him tell it, should protect prosecutors, no matter how egregious their actions. Funny, I thought that the overriding goal of the justice system was “the truth.” It seems to me that such dishonest actions by “officers of the court” should be prosecuted as “obstruction of justice.”

Concerning “sanctions for failure to disclose,” according to Florida law (Hunter v. State, (Fla.2008), 2008-WL4348485, Fla.Law Wkly 5721), “Remedy of retrial for the state’s suppression of evidence favorable to the defendant is available when the favorable evidence could reasonably be taken to put the whole case in such a different light as to undermine confidence in the verdict.”

Nowhere does it mention the offending prosecutor should receive so much as a slap on the wrist. How about this one?

“If false testimony surfaces during a trial and the government has knowledge of it, the government has a duty to step forward and disclose.” (Ventura v. Attorney General, Florida (C.A.II, Fla.2005) 419 F.3d 1269) (Federal Appeals Court).

“Government has a duty not to present or use false testimony.” (Brown v. Wainwright, 785 F.2d 1457, (CA II Fla. 1986). (This was the Barksdale murder case out of Tampa, Hillsborough State Attorney’s office—sound familiar?)

“Deliberate deception of a court and jurors by presentation of known false evidence is incompatible with the rudimentary demands of justice.” (Criminal Law 110 K 2033).

What we are talking about here is a case of “manifest injustice.”

If a wrongfully prosecuted and convicted person can somehow discover the wrongdoing, and can comply with restrictive appeal rules, he may have a slim chance at a retrial, but the offending prosecutor gets away with his crimes.

I know this from personal experience. False testimony, perjury, coached witnesses, withheld evidence, immunity from prosecution for the guilty, and more are all present in my case. Go to the web site,, and read the case facts. The fight for justice is exceedingly difficult.

There is one exception to the “absolute immunity” of prosecutors. Although everything they do at trial in their own jurisdictions is protected. Once they step out of their counties and insert themselves into other jurisdictions, other matters, they lose all their immunities and protections. When Mark Ober leaves his Tampa sanctuary and travels to Tallahassee, making false statements before a state agency hearing such as the parole commission, under the law he is just another witness, subject to legal remedies if he oversteps the law. Hopefully, Justice Sonia Sotomayor will be watching.



Dateline November 5, 2009


You know the story. One day a long time ago, Rip Van Winkle walked out of his little village in the Catskills, sat down under a shady tree to take a nap, and woke up twenty years later. He had a long gray beard, his clothes were much the worse for wear after enduring twenty hot summers and twenty winter weathers without benefit of shade or shelter. It’s amazing he lived through the experience. He returned home to find everything changed. No one recognized the elderly old man, not his aged wife nor his grown children, who had gone on with their lives after the husband and father disappeared, nor his neighbors, who looked upon the scruffy stranger newly arrived in their midst with mistrust and disdain.

I know how the poor man must have felt. I am the modern-day Rip Van Winkle. But rather than fall asleep under a tree and disappear from my family for twenty years, only to materialize out of the blue one day, I have been held captive in a cage for over thirty-one years, or 11,544 days, as of this Veterans Day, 2009 (but who’s counting?). I passed Rip’s record over 4,000 days ago, and the clock is still ticking, the calendar page clicking over, fluttering in a blur like in those time travel movies.

Unfortunately, this is not a fairy tale or a movie, the script’s still being written, and there’s no guarantee of a happy ending.

I am not alone. There are many, many more like me. Imagine an eight foot by eight foot by eight foot glass cube with a man or a woman sealed inside. That’s me, trapped in a square goldfish bowl. Now place ten identical glass cubes filled with individual prisoners in a row, flush, side-by-side, eighty feet wide, then line up more cubes to make it ten rows deep, ten times ten, one hundred cubes of humans, eighty feet square, one layer.

We’re not done yet with our construction. Add a second layer of one hundred glass cubes of prisoners, and a third, and a fourth. Stack the layers of one hundred until you reach one thousand stories high, eight thousand feet above ground level, several times taller than the Empire State Building and any other manmade structure in the world. One hundred thousand people. Think about it. What an amazing sight that would be.

That is the Florida Prison System, stacked impossibly high. Can you imagine what a daunting task it would be just to feed those one hundred thousand people stacked up so high? Three times a day? What about giving them water, or figuring out how to let them use the toilet (what toilet?), take a shower, or provide medical treatment to the thousands of sick, elderly, or the mentally ill? It is mindboggling, the logistics. But that is what happens every day, 24/7, 365 days a year, and it never slows down. It only gets worse, the cubes keep getting stacked higher, and as soon as they free someone from his cage, someone else is waiting to fill it.

I used to wonder about old Rip lying there beneath that tree, snoring away the years, and how he survived being bitten, nipped, and chewed on by all the critters and creepy-crawlies that must have happened upon him over all that time. Thinking about that brought to mind my own such experiences in the opening weeks of my “commitment,” as they call it, to the Florida State Prison System.

In those distant days, every male prisoner spent four or five weeks being “processed” at the lake Butler Reception and Medical Center (RMC), before being assigned a permanent institution. The 1970’s brought heavy overcrowding to the prison system (sound familiar?), and at one point large tents were erected next to Florida State Prison (FSP) to house the overflow, aptly named “Tent City.” We had some highly-qualified “chain gang lawyers” in those days who petitioned Federal Judge Charles Scott, who closed down “Tent City.” The D.O.C. still had some tricks up its sleeves, however.

Up until the late 1970’s, the prison system was in the tobacco business. They manufactured “DC cigarettes,” called “RIPs,” (Rolled In Prison), that were distributed free to state prisoners, a couple of packs a week, to satisfy their nicotine addictions. Several large, old tobacco barns, all in a row, occupied a plot of land next to FSP. That’s where they made the “RIPs” for years. Once they stopped making cigarettes, and the federal judge closed down “Tent City,” the next logical step was to fill the old tobacco barns with bunks and prisoners. After I left RMC, and while I was waiting for a bunk to open up at “The Rock,” Raiford, they sent me to “Butler Transit Unit,” (BTU), or as we called it, “Wild Kingdom,” for all the animal life that resided there.

Each tobacco barn had two huge ventilation and exhaust fans in opposite walls, way up near the high ceilings, which sucked in a wide assortment of night-flying critters from small gnats and mosquitoes, to large moths, birds, and occasional bats. It’s a freaky feeling to be newly-arrived in prison, in the dark, with dozens of men crammed into a tobacco barn that seethes with wildlife that considers you an intruder. I admit I yelled when a large palmetto bug ( a species of giant flying cockroach) landed on my face as I drifted off to sleep. I wasn’t the only one. Across the building men slapped and screamed as a variety of creepy, crawly, and flying things practiced touch-and-goes on unsuspecting prisoners.

Mice scurried across the floor in front of me as I made my way to the urinals. One man yelled in triumph every time he chased one down and flattened it with a flip=flop swat. Cockroaches didn’t bother scattering. To say that seeing a red-eyed rat staring back at me as I relieved myself was disconcerting is a vast understatement. I was actually relieved to make it to the relatively vermin-free prison after experiencing “Wild Kingdom.” You want to develop an effective “Scared Straight” program for wayward teens? Stick them in an old tobacco barn in the middle of nowhere to contend with strange beasts for a week or so.

I emerged, shaken, but fairly unscathed, from my BTU experience. It must have been much worse for Rip Van Winkle out there in the mountains, asleep, being chewed on all those years.

It has been hard on me, too, hoping that I am near to returning home after being lost, away for so long, everything changed, so many people grown old, died, left me behind, so many others grown up with families of their own, nephews and nieces born, grown tall, having no idea who I am, or not caring for that matter. I don’t need to mention the changes in our society since I’ve been sealed in my glass cube with the 100,000 other sharing my plight. I watched the first space shuttle blast into space while standing in a prison recreation yard, and now they are about to retire what’s left of that battered, dilapidated fleet. I hope I don’t look that worn out!

I look forward to the challenge. Unlike Rip Van Winkle, who slept away his twenty years, my eyes are wide open, and I’ve been watching carefully, preparing since Day One for the day I am free, doing my best to counter and overcome “The Rip Van Winkle Effect,’ against all odds.


Thursday, November 19, 2009


Dateline: October 26, 2009


The other day, the “Powers That Be” who run the prison shut the place down much of the day. Riot? No. Assaults? No. Escapes? No. Everything got shut down because the “Man Versus Wild” program came into the prison.

I’ve never seen “Man Versus Wild.” We don’t get cable or Direct TV, and this program is on one of those stations. As I understand it, the star is England’s answer to the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin crossed with Jeff Probst’s “Survivor,” with a dash of “Fear Factor” tossed in for good measure. “Bear” Gills? – is that his name? A fearless adrenaline junkie who was a British commando, climbed Mt. Everest, broke his back. “Man Versus Wild” takes a camera crew into dangerous places, pits its star against wild beasts and natural hazards and shows how he can survive under the worst, most primitive circumstances. Prison might have been his sternest test.

After surviving over 31 years in Florida’s worst prisons, I became intrigued with the idea that a “survival expert” would come inside the razorwire and film some survival scenarios. How would they know what to film? With my experiences, I thought I would propose a few “real-life, chain gang” scenarios, see how the “expert” might deal with them.

SCENARIO # 1— Our star is trapped in the TV room with forty desperate men screaming at Eli Manning and Kurt Warner tossing the football, scrambling, and getting sacked. Our star can camouflage himself in a prison blue uniform, sit among the madmen, and scream along with them, or he can take his life in his hands, grab the remote, and switch the station to PBS, a documentary on seabirds.

RESPONSE — “Are you out of your mind? Are you trying to get me killed? Take me back to Tanzania, and let me sit next to a den of hyenas, but please, please don’t leave me in a prison TV room filled with felons!”

SCENARIO # 2 — Our star approaches a line of 200 prisoners waiting their turns to get their laundry bags. The first ten men are young crack dealers from Miami, rival street gang members, and “Latin Kings,” trying to get their clean towels so they can beat the crowd to the showers. To test his survival skills, our star cuts the line, goes to the front, and demands his laundry.

RESPONSE — “Where did they get all those knives? Hey, folks, I was only kidding. I’ll go to the back of the line. Whew! That was scarier than when I was in that village of headhunters in Borneo!”

SCENARIO # 3 — Almost the same as #2, except this time our star tries to jump the line of women visitors who’ve been standing outside the prison gate for hours waiting to get in to visit their husbands, lovers, sons, and brothers.

RESPONSE — Similar to # 2 above,; however, the verbal assault is more intimidating than the knives.

SCENARIO # 4 — Our star waits his turn in the prison chow line with a thousand other men for a lunch tray. The “food” will have to be analyzed by “CSI” to find out what it actually is. Our star is joined by a 300-pound behemoth who is starving and eyeing the little guy with the full tray beside him and decides he’s taking the tray. How does our star respond?

RESPONSE — “Almost the same thing happened in Ethiopia when I tried to take an antelope bone from the kill of a pride of lions. At least I knew it was meat! The small taste I got of the entrĂ©e before the giant took it from me reminded me of a cobra I once sampled in Bangladesh. The cobra was tastier.”

SCENARIO # 5 — Our star is issued a tiny towel and a sliver of prison soap, then enters a steaming shower to wash off the sweat and grime from a hot day on the dusty, shadeless “yard.” Four grinning, gap-toothed, muscle-bound Sodomites greet him with, “Come on in, the water’s fine,” and, “You got a purty mouth.”

RESPONSE — “I really don’t need a shower. Tell my producer I changed my mind about spending a week with Jane Goodall in Gabon. Hey, wait, fellas, that’s my towel…!”

SCENARIO # 6 — It is “count time.” You will be locked in a tiny cell with a psychopath infected with “HAGS” (herpes, AIDS, gonorrhea, and syphilis) not to mention hepatitis and tuberculosis. He thinks you look like his co-defendant who testified against him, or perhaps his prosecutor.

RESPONSE — “How sharp is that razorwire? Do those gun tower guards have live rounds in their rifles? Hey, you should always cover your mouth when you cough, dude!... Get me out of here!”

It seems that wild beasts, poisonous snakes, swamps, and river rapids are no match for a prison survival course.

That’s not really how it went when “Man Versus Wild” came to Tomoka C.I. with their star and camera crew. About 125 prisoners were allowed to sign up to attend the program held in the prison chapel, and each one had to sign a release for consent to be photographed. The place was packed with guards to maintain order and make sure nothing happened to the “Hollywood” visitors, particularly the women. Nothing did. The men were on their best behaviors.

The whole event was actually a program to promote the “Alpha Program,” a Bible study of sorts for beginning Christians, that began in England and has been apparently spread around the world. This was the first foray into the fertile fields of the prison system. Good luck! Anything that will distract a lot of negative, dangerous men with little hope for the future and give them something positive, to perhaps change their lives, is something I approve.

About that cobra, though—I wonder how it would taste in a chicken-flavored Ramen noodle soup?


Saturday, November 14, 2009


Dateline: October 15, 2009


This morning on the way to “chow,” I stood in a long line of fellow prisoners being head-counted in the fog before we marched single-file to the kitchen. A few men ahead of me, an old man who has served even more time than I have, commented, “The parole man is walking the fence,” which was obscured by the fog rolling in from the nearby swamp.

A couple of spots behind him a “newcock,” a young, inexperienced prisoner who hasn’t served much time and thus has no knowledge of “old school” prison, asked, “What’s the parole man doing walking the fence?” A couple of other old timers, some of the few who are left, chuckled.

“He’s handing out paroles,” the old man said. “All you gotta do is get outside the fence, and he’ll give you one.”

The newcock was baffled. He didn’t understand the joke at all.

In the old days, before electronic security gadgets and endless rolls of razorwire turned modern American prisons into virtually impregnable escape-proof fortresses, at prisons across the country, whenever thick fog rolled in and blanketed the compound so that the guards in the gun towers couldn’t see the fences or the desperate men trying to climb over them, the expression, “the parole man is walking the fence,” or, “the Man is handing out pardons on the other side of the fence,” had very real connotations to many prisoners who otherwise had no other hope for eventual freedom. To them, reducing the odds of getting blasted off the fence by a shotgun guard in a tower was a good bet. Of course, many of those desperadoes who managed to make it to the parole man outside the fence had no further plans—they hadn’t thought it through—and were quickly caught, often by the local populace, and returned to lockup.

Some years ago, at Raiford, a “citizen,” who captured an escaped prisoner could choose either twenty-five dollars or a pig as their reward. I don’t know what the reward is today, but with the menu changes, they’d probably substitute a couple of cases of turkey sausage for the pig.

Jorge Silva, a New York Puerto Rican, who made it over the fence at Raiford many years ago, stumbled around lost in the woods and brambles for three days before making his way to a highway. He had no idea where he was. Dehydrated, hungry, covered in thorn scratches and thousands of mosquito bites, desperate Jorge stuck out his thumb at the first farm truck that puttered his way.

The old farmer stopped beside bedraggled Jorge and asked him where he was heading. Jorge held up a ten dollar bill he’d brought with him and told the driver that he’d give him the ten in exchange for a ride out of there. The farmer asked Jorge if he was an escaped prisoner and Jorge confirmed he was. The prison blue uniform was a dead giveaway.

The old man told Jorge to get in the pickup, but crouch down by the dash so no one would see him. Jorge complied, thrilled to escape the woods and mosquitoes more than he had been to escape from Raiford. He told Jorge he’d drive him to town and took the ten dollar bill. The truck finally slowed and came to a halt. The farmer told Jorge they’d arrived and to get out. Jorge did, and discovered that the farmer had driven him to the Lake Butler Police Station. Resigned, Jorge turned himself in. He never found out whether the good citizen claimed the twenty-five dollar reward or the pig.

Over twenty years or so ago, The Florida Legislature abolished the Parole Commission in favor of sentencing guidelines and other mandatory terms of imprisonment. Supposedly, this would correct a lot of abuses in disparate, discretionary release decisions by ivory tower bureaucrats making arbitrary rulings in the distant state capital. The top heavy Parole Commission members would be gradually phased out as their terms expired, or so the plan stated.

That didn’t happen. Like a beaten and battered boxer who takes every punch, refuses to go down, and keeps swinging to the end, the Parole Commission fought for survival and maintained its power for years beyond all expectations and annual efforts by certain legislators to put them out of business. One argument in their favor was that since there were still thousands of prisoners serving time under parole sentencing, the parole commission had to continue to decide when those people would be released. Out of about 100,000 people in Florida prisons, close to 5,000 survivors still are subject to parole. Until the last of these dinosaurs are released or die, the Parole Commission clings to life. For the other 95,000 prisoners, the parole system is irrelevant. Since they only release twenty-five to thirty people on parole each year, however, as long as these old men (and a few old women) keep breathing, the commissioners will hang on with them.

It seemed fitting this morning walking in the fog, after the old timer’s comments and explanations about the parole man walking the fence, another clueless newcock asked, “What’s a parole man?”


Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Dateline: October 10, 2009


You think you have it bad, with the neighbor who cuts his grass with a loud mower early Sunday morning, or the one whose Great Dane loves to plop huge, smoking piles of doggy-doo on your St. Augustine lawn, or the little old lady across the street who’s always spying on you, writing down tag numbers of your visitors, calling the cops and complaining about the truck parked in your driveway, or the dog barking?

You think you have it bad? At least you can close your drapes when the reflection off Granny’s binoculars keep glaring through your dining room window at breakfast. At least you have drapes!

You think you have it bad? You should see my neighbors. I live packed in a two-story concrete and steel building, capacity 228 convicted felons in 114 little cells the size of small bathrooms, two hard steel bunks with thin, lumpy mattresses, a toilet, and a sink with pushbutton cold water. My neighbors range from convicted murderers (myself included), armed robbers, kidnappers, child molesters, rapists, carjackers, and burglars, to drunk drivers, probation violators, and “gunslingers,” particularly irritating idiots and sickos who expose themselves to (mostly) female prison guards and publicly masturbate until the guards come and get them or they get done. Thirty days in lock-up, get out, do it again.

In my neighborhood, forget about doors or burglar bars or personal security. Go to breakfast and you’re likely to come back to your little cell to find your locker broken into, your meager possessions stolen, traded for drugs, or to pay gambling debts. Throughout the day you have hammering sounds reverberating as desperate men straighten and bend pieces of steel into crude, but effective stabbing “shanks” for self-protection or revenge to satisfy rampant paranoia.

One of the biggest problems in prison is dealing with the mentally ill. “Back in the day,” criminals went to prison and the insane went to Chattahoochee, Florida’s main nut house, insane asylum, looney bin, whatever you chose to label it. They had satellite nut houses at Arcadia, Macclenny, and many “county hospitals,” as they called them. Then the political winds shifted, they began closing all the facilities for the mentally ill, resulting in thousands of hapless people incapable of shifting for themselves filling the streets, parks, homeless shelters, jails and prisons.

I have learned something about mental illness since I was put in a county jail cell over thirty years ago with a pitiful soul named Willie McGee, a toothless, stunned, over-medicated man who’d spent the previous eight years at Chattahoochee waiting to be judged competent to stand trial. In my untrained psychological opinion, Willie McGee was no more competent to stand trial than was Calija, the wooden Indian, in that Hank Williams song. What do I know?

One thing I’ve learned is that the average high school graduate prison guard is poorly-equipped to deal with or even understand the thousands of seriously-mentally ill people crowding the prisons. For an excellent account of how the federal court got involved in Florida’s pepper spraying and tear-gassing of the insane for rules violated, check out “Prison Legal News” at, September, 2009, edition, page 22, “Using Chemical Agents on Mentally Ill Prisoners Unconstitutional,” by David Reutter. Paul Wright, a former Washington state prisoner, publishes a monthly paper that is despised by prison systems across the nation. Needless to say, thinking prisoners love it. Check it out.

The federal court got involved when guards at Florida State Prison (FSP) continued to spray prisoners with “Liquid Jesus,” our name for pepper spray, with good reason. Take a good shot in the eyes with a chemical about a thousand times stronger than Tabasco sauce, and you will either find Jesus, become a believer, or scream, “Jesus Christ” at the top of your lungs as you writhe on the cell floor, eyes on fire.

This could become a powerful conversion tool, since every guard is now issued a personal spray can of “Liquid Jesus” to use when the industrial-sized fire extinguisher-type sprayers aren’t handy. The only problem is that sometimes particularly belligerent disturbed prisoners take the spray cans of “Liquid Jesus” away from the guards, and use it on them, with negative results.

The federal courts’ position is that some prisoners are so crazy that they don’t have the ability to obey the rules, resulting in repeated cries of “Jesus, Jesus” throughout FSP.

Just how crazy are these people? Let me quote the court’s descriptions of two prisoners, who I now nominate as candidates for “Cellmate of the Month.” Don’t laugh—I’ve had cellmates little different from these characters.

“Thomas’ symptoms include auditory hallucinations, impaired thought process, and paranoid delusions, and his behaviors while incarcerated have included acute agitation, maniacal banging on his cell door (to the point of breaking his own hands), eating his feces, pouring urine on his hands, exhibitionist masturbation, urinating on his mattress, attempting to cut his penis, and repeated suicide attempts.”

“McKinney has marginal intellectual functioning and propensities for anger and anti-social behavior. His ‘pathological’ behavior has resulted in 320 disciplinary reports over 18 years in prison. He has a history of self-injurious behavior and has been diagnosed at various times with having an adjustment disorder with depressed mood, anti-social personality disorders and major depression with recurrent psychotic ideations.”

If you can’t figure out what all that means, ask your friendly, local psychologist or shrink to explain it to you.

Down the hall from me lives a man who gets monthly testosterone injections because he castrated himself some years back. He’s one of the better behaved ones I have to live with.

In their endless drive to classify and pigeonhole prisoners and their conditions, the D.O.C. labels prisoners with “Psych. Grades 1, 2, or 3,” in open population. A “Psych – 3” is one of those prescribed psychotropic medications who have moderate impairment in adaptive functioning due to serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression, or borderline personality disorder. Nearly 80% of FSP’s 1400-plus prisoners are Psych-3’s. And you thought you had problems. Take some cookies to nosey Granny across the street and thank God Thomas or McKinney don’t live there.

I am a “Psych-1,” no mental illnesses, no psychological counseling, or psychotropic medications prescribed or needed. According to the D.O.C. experts, I am as “normal” as a person can be, especially considering that I have been living in nut houses for over thirty-one years and am surrounded on all sides by hundreds of “Psych-3’s” in varying states of mental disrepair. So why am I still here? Good question.

Thirty years ago, Dr. Walter Afield, a psychiatrist, Harvard Medical School, etc., testified at my trial after examining me that he had his doubts that anyone could twenty-five years and emerge to be a functioning member of society, but if anyone could do it, Charles Norman could. Thanks, Dr. Afield, for the endorsement. You were right. I just hope I get the chance to prove it soon.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Dateline: October 9, 2009


Friday, October 9, 2009—still waiting for transfer to Sumter C.I.

Here is a word of advice—don’t get sick in prison. If you do, make certain your illness is minor. For God’s sake, don’t come down with anything serious. Especially be wary of indigestion.

Some years back a fellow prisoner went to medical at a central Florida prison complaining of chest pains. He told the nurse he thought he was having a heart attack. She told him it was indigestion, gave him some “Alamay” tablets, chalky pink, horrible-tasting antacids, and sent him back to his dorm. He collapsed and died on the sidewalk. Indigestion can kill you! Happens all the time.

This past Monday morning the guards awakened me at 3:30 AM, told me to get dressed, I was going on a medical trip. After years of being roasted in the relentless Florida sun (cutting down all the trees and shade in prison didn’t help), for the past several years I’ve been dealing with skin cancer, specifically squamous cell carcinoma, on my arms, scalp, and face. It is not fun.

An outside specialist, a dermatologist, has weekly clinics at the prison hospital at Lake Butler, in North Florida, a two- or three- hour drive from my prison home at Tomoka, Daytona Beach, depending on who’s driving. I haven’t driven in over thirty-one years. I could use the practice, but they won’t let me drive, for some reason. With the manacles, waist-chains, and leg irons, it would be difficult to shift and steer, anyway. The D.O.C. transports sick prisoners from across the state to see a variety of specialists—cancer, heart, and eye problems, particularly, referred by the local medical staff.

I’ve had several laser surgery treatments on my arms, scalp, and cheeks, and it is not pleasant. Last year I came out of the doctor’s office with the burning hair and flesh scents, and a prisoner waiting his turn for the procedure asked me if it hurt.

“Imagine someone holding a Bic lighter to your head,” I told him. No sense sugar-coating it.

This time I went to Lake Butler for a consultation concerning “actinic keratosis,” a precursor to the skin cancer. No lasers this time, thank God!

I was escorted (in handcuffs) out of my building before 4 AM to medical, to await my ride. I haven’t been outside at that hour in a long time, and craned my neck to see the full moon overhead and all the stars. Securely chained in the back of a van, doors padlocked, metal grills over the windows, a tight cage, I tried not to think of what would happen if a crazy driver smashed into the van, rolled it, and it caught on fire. There’d be no getting out. The Bic lighter held to my scalp didn’t seem too bad after all.

Staring through the steel mesh, taking it all in, my primary impression was how dark it was “outside,” in the night, away from prison. There is little darkness or shade in prison. Jack Murphy told me once that when flying across the country at night, he could identify isolated prisons from a long way off, square beacons of orange light beaming into the night sky. They burn cell lights all day long, and at night between 11 PM and 5:30 AM, cut the main fluorescents, but leave on dimmer “night lights.” It is never dark. One of the rules of the Geneva Convention regarding treatment of prisoners forbids “sleep deprivation” and the use of constant illumination as torture. It works. Those rules apparently don’t apply to us. With the lights, the racket, the slamming and clanging of steel doors, day and night, a twenty-minute nap is a luxury.

But “outside,” on the street, the absence of light, the darkness, struck me with its immensity. Mere blocks from the prison, twisting down a narrow, two-laned street without streetlights, tall trees on either side blocked off the sky and the dim light of the moon. I thought of the weekend visitors, the women,—wives, mothers, lovers—who parked on a sidestreet in the pitch-dark early every Saturday and Sunday morning, waiting for 7:30 AM, when they were allowed to enter the prison parking lot and wait for 9:00 AM visits. For the first time I realized the depths of their love, commitment, and sacrifice, to sit, alone, in that forbidding darkness, out of love. It gave me pause. Why can’t they be able to park in a safe parking lot?

The hospital at Lake Butler was as it always has been, filled with sick and dying prisoners. It’s not difficult to figure out which of these sad cases are nearing the end. One observation I made though, is the D.O.C. is actually doing a pretty good job concerning health care and treatment. The nurses and doctors are competent and professional, and patiently responded to my list of questions.

The highlight of the trip came along a lonely stretch of Highway 100, out in the middle of nowhere, when the van driver squashed a freshly-killed skunk. There was no mistaking what it was. The van instantly filled with choking musk. If the military could mass-produce skunk scent and drop it on al Quaida positions, the insurgents would quickly come out gagging, and surrender.

Several days later my wrists and ankles are still bruised and swollen from the steel restraints. Another word of advice—don’t ride in vans for hours in manacles, waist chains, or leg irons. It’s hell if your nose itches or you need to scratch your head. When the doctor examined me, he was concerned about the long, red bruises and abrasions on my wrists. I told him they were from the handcuffs, not skin cancer. He frowned at that.

Speaking of scratching, it seems many prisons are plagued with frequent outbreaks of some kind of skin disease colloquially known as the “itchy-scratchies,” for want of a better diagnosis. Last week one dorm filled with wheelchair prisoners, old men, and other impaired people was quarantined for three days with the “itchy-scratchies.” I should have known better than to mention that—now I have to scratch! Don’t you just hate that?