Sunday, December 26, 2010


DATELINE 12/16/10


Florida is broke, and treasure chests full of cash have been squandered on the $2.5 billion state prison budget every year, with no relief in sight. Governor-elect Rick Scott has proposed cutting the costs by privatizing Florida prisons, reducing the funding by one billion dollars. What most people don’t realize is that the lion’s share of those billions of tax dollars are spent on--payroll! Excellent benefits, medical insurance, and pensions are guaranteed to anyone who lucks into a secure job at the state prison. Cutting labor costs, replacing those "certified law enforcement officers” and highly-paid administrators, cutting the morbidly obese labor costs are crucial to financial liquidation.
Can it be done? Yes! Hard times breed drastic measures, and we must seek solutions outside the tired thinking of the past-- new ideas that will not only cut the prison budget, but turn a profit. How can we do that? Walt Disney saved Florida once already back in the 1970’s, when he bought thousands of acres of empty land and built Disneyworld. Let Disney do it again, and turn the prisons over to Mickey Mouse and Company.

Think about it. Mickey Mouse Correctional Institution will be the world’s first prison theme park. Tours of the facility will highlight sights you’d never see in free society.

“On your left is a cage full of bank robbers. Notice the shifty eyes. On your right are rapists; don’t worry, the unbreakable glass protects us. Next, we have some serial killers--they are caged alone for obvious reasons. The mild-mannered man in the next cage is a white-collar criminal, an embezzler, and beside him, playing with matches is an arsonist. And we’re walking…”

A ride similar to the Haunted House would take the tourists past displays of imprisonment and executions throughout history, with robots acting out scenes such as Daniel in the lions’ den, the Crucifixion of Jesus, the burning of Joan of Arc, the Tower of London, scenes from an 18th Century English prison, hangings, beheadings, firing squads, Alcatraz, a prison shower scene, a riot, stabbings, escapes, electrocutions, and lethal injections. The fascinating life -- and death -- scenarios are endless.

Customers would pay high prices for authentic prison swill, and adults could sample prison wine mixed in genuine mop buckets and fermented in plastic jugs. Souvenir stores would sell striped prison uniforms, bull whips, canisters of pepper spray (useful to make rowdy teenagers do their homework), miniature electric chairs (batteries not included), and other interesting knick knacks unavailable elsewhere.

Mickey Mouse C.I. would also be a fully-functioning prison, with the staff dressed as Disney characters. The prison warden would be Mickey Mouse, of course, constantly smiling. The head guard, the colonel, would be Goofy. Donald Duck would be the prison doctor (quack!), and the Three Little Pigs would be the goon squad, armed with clubs to hurriedly put down any disturbances. The Seven Dwarfs would be in charge of the prison work squad, and every morning would lead several hundred prisoners to the fields to harvest crops with everyone singing, “Hi ho, hi ho! It’s off to work we go!” all the way. The Big Bad Wolf would be in charge of solitary confinement, and threaten to eat anyone who misbehaved. Cinderella’s evil stepmother would run the religious programs, and her daughters would pass out cookies and coffee to the visitors ($10.00 each).

The guards would be dressed as the other Disney characters and would be required to speak in their characters’ voices. The possibilities are mind-boggling, as are the potential profits.

With the paying customers taking daily tours in the thousands, it would not be long before Mickey Mouse C.I. began turning a healthy profit. The program could be expanded to more prisons and more theme parks each year. Imagine Sea World in charge of Death Row -- instead of lethal injections, the condemned prisoners could be fed to Shamu the killer whale. A special 50,000-seat circular arena like an oversized Roman Coliseum would surround a huge tank for Shamu. A crane would lower the chosen prisoner--feet first or head first, flip a coin--Shamu would leap higher and higher, until he could take a bite, piece by piece, complete the ritual; pay-per-view would broadcast worldwide to enraptured audiences. How much would the tourists pay to see that?

In no time at all, the State of Florida, Inc., would be a model for fiscal responsibility, the crime rate would drop, and a new era in correctional sciences would dawn. Let’s get to work!


Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas from Charlie and Libby!

Santa came to see me in the form of my dear friend, Libby. I borrowed her elf hat for this photo in front of the Christmas tree. At least that hasn't been taken from us.

2010 has been a difficult year for us, but we pray that 2011 will bring better outcomes.

On behalf of both of us, I want to wish you a blessed, safe, and joyous holiday season.

With our love,

Charlie and Libby

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Dateline November 30, 2010


You heard the news. On Thursday, November 18, 2010, at 2:30 AM, I was awakened by the little, bald-headed, myopic prisoner in the next bunk telling me he was being transferred.

“You? Are you sure?” I asked. “Did you put in for a transfer?”

“No. I only have two months left before I go home.”

That didn’t sound right. I was still groggy, having been awakened from a dream about – I couldn’t remember. You know how dreams are. But I told him he should double-check with the guard, to make sure. I had a sneaking suspicion they’d mistakenly awakened my neighbor in bunk 116, when they meant to wake me up. I’d been fighting the prison warden and his minions at Tomoka C.I. (Daytona Beach, Florida) since the previous February, when the self-righteous mailroom clerk informed me she had confiscated a book , Wordsmith 2010, an anthology of award-winning short stories, essays, and poems, published annually by the Tampa Writers Alliance, mailed to me.

Why was the book confiscated? She said she’d read the article I’d written, and felt it was “a threat to security.” A threat to security? How could that be? The article in question, “To Protect the Guilty,” was a 2400 word excerpt from the “Prison Diary Project” sponsored by the Anne Frank Center USA in New York City, in 2008, in conjunction with the PEN American Center’s Prison Writing Program. That particular essay—a memoir—recounted my negative experiences with Ku Klux Klan (KKK) prison guards at a North Florida prison several years before. I couldn’t imagine how that could be construed as a threat to security. The recollection was from years before, at a distant, unnamed prison, and involved unnamed guards who had retaliated against me in retribution for my perceived insults to the character and intelligence of KKK members, prison guards or otherwise. Hmmm…perhaps she was in the women’s auxiliary of the Klan, the little women who sewed up the sheets and pillowcases into those white robes and pointed hats worn by the menfolk as they danced around a burning cross in a cow pasture, reminiscing about the good old days, when they were the masters and the slaves answered “yassuh” and “nahsuh” to the overseers as they hoed those endless rows of cotton.

Word came down a few days later that “The warden wants your ass in jail!” The mailroom clerk had gotten the formal complaint I’d filed about the improper confiscation, had taken the book to the warden, who read the KKK memoir and was offended by it, too. Hmmm…why was he offended? Had I touched a sensitive nerve? How deep did the KKK roots go in the Florida prison system? With the head of the 30,000-plus employee DOC being a black former police chief in Tallahassee, the state capital, one would think that any prison employees who professed white supremacist, racist organization links would keep their heads down, maintain a low profile, not draw attention to themselves. But no, they couldn’t resist the impulse to retaliate against the messenger, the prisoner who talked about them, the urge to strike back was too strong. And they did.

The offended warden ordered his subordinate to write a bogus disciplinary report against me for multiple unwarranted “mail regulations violations,” for violating the strictures against advertising for a pen pal (never did, don’t have any pen pals), running a business while incarcerated (absolutely false), entering contests and sweepstakes (nope-not even a Saturday night Powerball ticket), and commercially advertising for money, goods, and services (they should have checked my account—the court found me indigent, a fancy word for “poor”). Never happened. Didn’t matter.

They call prison disciplinary hearings “Kangaroo Courts” for a reason. I don’t know why Kangaroos have such animosity toward us, but the two kangaroos who presided ever the two hearings I had refused to listen to a word I said, as I was standing against the far wall with my hands cuffed behind my back. I presented evidence refuting the false charges, and requested staff witnesses who could verify my statements. Denied without any reason. Guilty. Thirty days in solitary confinement, thirty days loss of gain time. Do not pass “GO.”

It snowballed from there. I went to lockup, served every day of the thirty, no “good behavior,” unlike those caught smoking pot, possessing drugs or other contraband, who got out early. The colonel told me, when I asked why, “There’s a reason for that.” Yes, it’s called retaliation.

One characteristic of Normans is that we fight. We’ve been fighting for over a thousand years of recorded history. It doesn’t matter if we’re outnumbered. A hundred Norman knights on horseback attacked and scattered ten thousand Saracen (Muslims) foot soldiers besieging a city in Sicily on the way back from the Crusades, a long time ago. I once fought eight attackers to a draw at Raiford in my much-younger days. But all I had to fight these false charges was my pen, and they took that!

I fought and fought, on paper, lost every battle (of course), and finally filed a lawsuit in the circuit court in Leon County, the state capital. Once you get out of the prison decision chain (denied, denied, denied) and into judicial review, one’s chances of receiving a fair hearing are increased.

What else could the prison officials do to me, to fire another arrow, now that my appeal war is in the hands of the court? Punitive transfer!

My neighbor double-checked with the guard. He came back. “It’s you,” he said.

Just what I suspected. The guard had made a mistake, woke up the wrong guy. I packed.

We’d been hearing about it for weeks, even months. One dorm was falling apart, collapsing, had been condemned, and 150 prisoners had to be sent elsewhere before Thanksgiving. Like the tomato fields on the side of the road, it was “U-PICK-EM.” The very people who’d retaliated against me were the ones who picked the 150 chosen to go. The word was that they were taking the opportunity to get rid of all the “troublemakers.” I knew my time there was short.

A “punitive transfer” can usually be identified by certain characteristics. Traditionally, it is accomplished by putting a prisoner on a bus and shipping him to a distant, less-desirable prison much farther from his family and loved ones. Not only does that get the troublemaker out of their hair, but it also punishes him by imposing physical and financial hardships on those who would visit him. In this economy of foreclosures, unemployment and prohibitive travel expenses, the possibility of aging and infirm loved ones making difficult treks to distant prisons are greatly reduced, effectively punishing the prisoner’s family members, too, who are only guilty of caring about their loved one in prison and wanting to support and reassure him to keep him connected to the “outside” world.

A second characteristic of a punitive transfer is that it was unrequested. There is a procedure in the prison rules for requesting a “good adjustment transfer” to the prison of one’s choice. Maintain a clean record, behave yourself, don’t get in trouble, work hard, earn “gain time” each month, participate in programs, and the prison authorities will approve you to go to a better prison, usually closer to one’s family or visitors.

That is a great incentive for good behavior and positive accomplishments. “Give me a year of hard work and I’ll transfer you wherever you want.” We’ve all been told that. Some favorable prisons with good vocational programs, education, or paying jobs (PRIDE Prison Industries), have long waiting lists of a couple of years to get there.

Not so for “punitive transfer,” however. Few if any want to go to some distant prison out in the boondocks, far from the major population centers, unless they live down the road. I had been previously approved to go to Sumter C.I., near Bushnell, forty miles from my family. No more. The defendants in my court case made the decision for me. They didn’t like seeing me in the visiting park each week with my loved ones. “Let’s ship him to Alabama,” they most likely said, gleefully. “That’ll teach him.”

The third and most crucial characteristic in this anatomy of a punitive transfer is that it is retaliatory in nature. It punishes a prisoner for some act on his part. In my case, it is perfectly clear. They were offended by the KKK prison guard article. They retaliated by concocting false disciplinary charges and throwing me in solitary confinement. I responded by filing formal complaints and appeals to higher authorities, as the law says I am entitled to do. The Bill of Rights, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guarantees several rights to all citizens, freedom of speech, and the right to redress grievances to the government –to officially complain of government actions— among them.

Even prisoners are guaranteed these rights, the freedom to pursue legal remedies without fear of reprisals by government officials. Think again.

Reprisals and retaliation have a “chilling effect” on prisoners, who already suffer hardships and denials of “due process” by the very nature of their incarceration. The message is clear to all—complain at your own risk, see what happened to him?—it will happen to you.

Former D.O.C. Inspector General Dave Brierton once said, “Prisoners are put in prison as punishment, not for punishment.” That statement was in response to an investigation into abuses and brutality by guards at Florida State Prison. Brierton understood that being in prison was the punishment, and the guards’ jobs weren’t to inflict their own brands of additional punishment as they saw it.

Chained in leg irons, carrying heavy bags of my court documents, I stumbled onto the crowded, rickety prison transport bus with 45 of my fellow prisoners. Who were they? The vast majority were Jamaican, Latino, and Miami ghetto prison gang members, drug dealers, and strong-arm robbers who preyed on weaker prisoners. One older white prisoner was infamous for having castrated himself with a razor blade years before. The monthly testosterone shots he got at medical resulted in occasional rages and assaults, keeping him in and out of lockup, an obviously mentally-ill person. Get rid of him. Another transferee was a mentally-deficient younger man whose sole possession was a pair of flip-flops he carried in his back pocket. Not a toothbrush, nor a pair of socks. He helped carry one of my heavier bags, since his hands were free. And then there was me, the troublemaker.

The first question the prison gang members asked me was, “What are you doing on the bus with us?” They knew why they were being transferred. “Norman, you never get in trouble. Why did they get you?”

I explained that I had filed a lawsuit against the administration. “Oh—okay.” That explained it. They knew the drill.

That was Thursday. The occupants of the Friday and Monday transport buses were mostly those who had been filing institutional grievances, one of them a man with hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, and other highly infectious terminal illnesses who complained about being assigned to the kitchen. I didn’t want him in there, either. Ship him. One thing about their strategy—ship out everyone who filed complaints and the assistant wardens’ workload drastically diminish, not that they have a lot to do anyway. For the past several months, a dozen or so “officials” from the warden down to the assistant wardens, colonel, majors, classification officers, and others spent one day a week going into each housing area “shaking down,” (searching bunks and lockers), and supposedly “inspecting” each dorm, ranking them in an arbitrary order of feeding. What a waste of taxpayers’ money! Close to a million dollars in annual payroll, and they are going around doing the dorm officers’ jobs for them.

Who was running the prison while the entire administration was confiscating extra rolls of toilet paper from lockers? The secretaries! Fire the administrators, Governor Rick Scott, and let the secretaries run the prison! They’re doing it already.

That’s what I was up against at Tomoka. The truth can be told at last. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the reprisals and retaliations are over. They have telephones, and can easily call their friends at other prisons and ask them to continue the process for them. Hopefully, by illuminating the tactics, that will lesson the chances of more adverse actions. Or maybe not.

The law says that once a plaintiff makes allegations of reprisal, backed up by specific details and facts, the burden shifts to the defendants to prove that they would have taken the same disciplinary actions in the absence of the constitutionally--protected activity. That’s a legalistic way of asking would they still have locked me up if I hadn’t written the KKK article two years before, or punitively transferred me later? The answer seems clear—no. Everything proceeded from the constitutionally-protected activity. If I were a functionally-illiterate prisoner, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

That’s the way it is in prison in Florida. Stay tuned for further developments.


Sunday, November 7, 2010


Dateline November 6, 2010


It is 43 degrees in Daytona Beach, and I wanted to show you the latest in winter prison fashion. This is the winter jacket they issued me a couple weeks ago. No, Ralph Lauren didn’t design it, nor did Armani or Brooks Brothers. This is a prison industry product. The Chevy logo in Magic Marker was applied in some previous year by a prior owner. Notice the unique distressed lining around the collar. Pretty ragged. Perhaps a previous wearer got caught in the razor wire.

Also note the fashion unbuttoned bottom button look. Of course, there is no bottom button, and the top two are barely holding in the frayed button holes.

The material is the same thin cotton cloth they make the prison blue pants from, affording little protection from the blasts of cold North winds that accompany the cold spells. 37 degrees in Ocala in the morning, Sunday, Nov. 7th.

I don’t know how old this jacket is, or how many times it has been recycled. Each year they take them in spring and box them up for warehousing until fall. This one has been around. The lining has been slit so food from the chow hall can be smuggled out, and the pocket was filled with old loose tobacco and crud. The smell was pretty bad, as you can imagine.

You should see the jackets the taxpayers buy the guards. Really nice winter-weight material, insulated, with fake fur collars that can be turned up to cover the ears. You can also wear them to go hunting, and people might think you’re a game warden, with the colorful state patches . Big difference. “You wanna nice jacket?” one asked me when I commented on his arctic warmer. “Git outta prison and go buy you one,” he said.

Or get a job in prison, and let the state buy me one like his. For now I’ll shiver and shake in my thin prison issue, and hope they get the heaters fixed in the dorm before summer.


Thursday, October 28, 2010




I am writing this on Thursday, October 14, 2010, from prison. Along with most everyone else on the planet with access to a TV, this morning I watched the last of the thirty-three Chilean miners trapped deep in the earth be rescued after sixty-nine days underground. I couldn’t help but be moved to tears by the genuine emotions of love and relief expressed by the miners, their joyful rescuers, and everyone looking on. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Belgium, said she couldn’t take her eyes from the screen.

Rescuers from around the world rallied to the Chilean desert to drill the hole that freed the men. Hundreds of newscasters provided round-the-clock coverage. The Chilean president put all his country’s resources to work to save the miners. Even NASA got involved, offering advice on the adverse effects of being isolated under such rigorous conditions. Poorly-paid, anonymous laborers have become “cause celebres,” international figures, their lives and the lives of their families irrevocably changed simply because they were determined to survive.

My fellow prisoners and I were deeply affected by the drama and the videos sent up from deep down inside that unsafe mine. We rooted for the men while doubtful that it could end any way but tragically. To see the last man come up—the foreman, the man who kept them all alive for the first seventeen days by doling out scant spoonfuls of food and water—we shared in the euphoria, cheering along with the rest of the world.

For myself, I can’t help but compare the trapped Chilean miners to my own life and situation, for I am trapped deep inside the pit of imprisonment, with no rescue in sight, no news reporters, no one drilling, no politicians lining up to greet and embrace me when the rescue pod finally opens outside the razorwire—topped fences.

The miners survived sixty-nine days. Today marks my 11,610th day of captivity! When the American Embassy hostages were captured in Tehran in 1979, I watched the drama unfold from a cell. They spent over 400 days as captives of the Ayatollah, which seemed like an incredible length of time at the time. Those folks—the ones who haven’t died—have been free for close to 11,000 days now. I am still trapped in the pit of wrongful imprisonment, but I survive.

One of the rescued miners said that both God and the Devil were with them in the mine, but God won. It’s no different in prison, except that the battle isn’t over, but is fought every day.

I am a Christian, and my faith in God, the promise that God has a plan for my life, has been a major reason I have survived these 11,610 days in the hell pit of prison. I’ve spent years reading The Bible, and the lessons I learned from my study have given me strength and understanding.

Joseph was the first person imprisoned in The Bible. First, his brothers put him in a pit. I can relate to Joseph’s story of imprisonment and redemption because he was also wrongly accused and imprisoned. There is a lesson there. He was eventually freed and went on to greater things.

One of my favorite jailbirds in The Bible was Jeremiah, the prophet, who was cast into a dung pit for speaking the truth. The vision of that good man deep in a hole full of excrement, depending on passers-by to provide him with bread and water, provides great meaning to many prisoners, especially me. Those in authority didn’t like what Jeremiah said, so they tried to silence him by throwing him in the hole. I can relate to that. Been there, done that, as they say. No First Amendment protections in Biblical days, or even the present day, in some places, as we have found out.

What was the last mention of imprisonment in The Bible? Wouldn’t you know it? It is in Revelation, and the lucky person is the Devil. May he stay there. Just let me out. I don’t expect to see the camera crews, the President, or cheering crowds when the prison gate opens for me. Just one or two people who love me and care about me will be enough. I do need some help, though. NASA’s not interested, and neither is Hillary or Diane Sawyer, but if you can tear yourself away from the TV set for a little while, and are willing to help, it will be appreciated. You don’t even need a drill


Thursday, October 7, 2010


DATELINE: 08/25/2010



You always thought that Billy the Kid, John Wesley Hardin, the Earps, and Marshall Matt Dillon were “gunslingers,” a breed of man that died out a hundred years ago, didn’t you? You never imagined that Florida prisons are filled with modern-day gunslingers, not men armed with six-guns, but perverts who will whip out their “equipment” in front of employees at the drop of their pants. A new law designed to cut down on such exhibitionism has created a brewing controversy.

A “gunslinger” in the prison setting is someone who exposes himself to a female employee, usually, but males are not immune to being “gunned down.” This involves a “solo act,” but the ramifications could be far-reaching, since homosexual acts between prison lovers result only in a punishment of a maximum sixty days disciplinary confinement (the box) and ninety days loss of gaintime, a disparity, some say.

The new law is Florida Statute Section 800.09, “Lewd or lascivious exhibition in the presence of an employee.” The new law reads in part:

(2)(a) A person who is detained in a facility may not:

1. intentionally masturbate;
2. intentionally expose the genitals in a lewd or lascivious manner; or
3. intentionally commit any other sexual act, that does not involve actual physical or sexual contact with the victim, including, but not limited to, sadomasochistic abuse, sexual bestiality, or the simulation of any act involving sexual activity, in the presence of a person he or she knows or reasonably should know is an employee.
(b) A person who violates paragraph (a) commits lewd or lascivious exhibition in the presence of an employee, a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s.775.083, or s.775.084.

Whoa! I understand what the legislators are saying in numbers 1 and 2, but number 3 worries me. Read that one again. What is with the sadomasochistic abuse and the sexual bestiality? Perhaps I led a sheltered life. Will someone please tell me what “sadomasochistic abuse” is, so I don’t unintentionally commit it when some employee observes me soaping myself in the shower? And I could have sworn that “sexual bestiality” was having sex with animals, as grotesque as that might be.

I don’t get it. I don’t know where he would find one in prison, but let’s say some weirdo was having sex with a chicken in front of an employee. The freak could get arrested, go to court, and possibly sentenced to five more years in prison if found guilty, but what about the chicken? Would it be “put down,” euthanized by a veterinarian, or what? No one is really talking about that. Where is PETA when you need them?

What they are talking about is “sodomy” and other homosexual acts. This is prison, after all, and most folks have heard scary rumors about what happens to innocent young boys in those showers when they drop the soap and get cornered by tattooed, muscle-bound bikers.

Not that such violent acts don’t happen, but consensual homosexual acts are much more prevalent. I can’t count the number “men” with shaved legs, plucked eyebrows, skintight hot-pants, and lisps, who’ve swished across prison yards over the years, or the number of “war daddies,” “boys,” “sissies,” and “punks,” who carry on their chain gang homosexual affairs in front of God, the guards, and fellow prisoners without shame. Many have “chain gang weddings” and carry on like husbands and wives, with young boys coming under their protection as members of the “family.”

But what happens when “mom and dad” are in the shower, doing the “wild thing,” when an employee strolls by making the rounds, pulls back the curtain and spies the couple “in flagrante delicto,” caught in the act? The Ick Factor is in effect, and forbids me from going into more graphic detail. To hear more about that, you’ll have to read, “Chain Gang Mating Rituals,’ copyright 2009.

In most cases nothing happens. The employee keeps walking, pretending nothing happened, and the prison lovers consummate their passion.

Trust me on this—it is “anything goes” in those showers. Not that I have ever partaken of such forbidden acts—I’m old fashioned, a diehard heterosexual—but many of these people are not very discreet. I’ve seen things and turned my head from sights I wish I’d never seen. But on the rare occasions when an employee witnesses such an act and decides to write up “disciplinary reports” against the offending parties, the worst punishment they could get would be sixty days in lockup and ninety days loss of gaintime. Compared to the love sicko who pulls out his “tool” and gets five more years in prison, it doesn’t seem fair.

Some say that the prison authorities favor and condone homosexuality. The truth is that guards and officials have always made use of and taken advantage of homosexuals, exploiting their vulnerabilities.

When I first went to Union C.I., Raiford, and wanted to get a cell change to another building, I was told right off the bat not to approach the sergeant in charge of housing. He would turn me down. Instead, I was told to buy a carton of “Kool’s” ($6.50 in those pre-tax days) and take them to the prison “runner,” who ran errands for the sergeant and acted as his “do-boy.”

The runner was a freakish-looking prison drag queen who accepted the offering of cigarettes and told me to go ahead and pack up property, the move was approved. Just like that.

That prisoner was under the protection of the sergeant, who allowed him to live his life as he chose in exchange for being his snitch and personal servant. He also earned a good living making moves, and if a couple wanted to hook up and become lovers, it was no easier said than done.

It was that way all over Raiford. The prison gays controlled various little fiefdoms, doing “the man’s” bidding in exchange for living their lives unmolested.

I’m not saying that what “gunslingers” do in the modern prisons isn’t detestable. It is. As more and more women go to work as guards, the worse it gets, it seems. Perverts are everywhere, and give the “normal” prisoners a bad reputation because of what they do. We are all tarred with the same brush.

The five-year felony charges for solo exhibitions arose after a number of female employees sued the state, fed up with being exposed to such acts of gunslingers, and little being done about it. Some male prison employees even thought it was funny. Those were usually men who didn’t agree with women working alongside them and earning the same pay, perhaps feeling that they didn’t earn it. I’m not going to get into all that.

I will say that it seems weird and unfair that the same prison employee who turned his head when he saw an act of sodomy would threaten to terminate someone’s visit because he was kissing his wife in the visiting park. That has happened. Bottom line—heterosexuals want equal rights, too!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Dateline: 09/02/10

Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, And Lindsay Lohan Suggested For The Three Stooges Remake And Cher Confesses That Lady Gaga Is Her Long-Lost “Love Child”

My web advisor offered a way to ramp up the daily hits and log-ins on the “FreeCharlie Norman Now” blog, to build a larger base faster. She said we need more links and references to celebrities like Paris, Britney and Lindsay, so when their fans Google them, they will come here.

Since certain stars are having trouble with the law, getting involved in drugs and risking prison, perhaps it would be a good idea for them to google themselves and find out the real story about prison life from someone who knows about it. Me.

And since it is Hollywood we are dealing with, perhaps we will pitch some projects to the producers, give these screw-ups a chance to redeem themselves. I am offering a few suggestions of my own, of new movies and castings. If you have some, add them to the list.

Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan are perfect candidates for a The Three Stooges remake with a female twist. Since Britney shaved her head once, she’d be good as “Curly.” Paris bossed around Nicloe Ritchie in The Simple Life, so she could play Moe. Lindsay could frizz her hair and be a great Larry.

Can’t you see Britney going, “Woo, woo, woo, woo,” slapping herself, then falling on the floor and spinning around in circles like Curly used to do? Wait—she already did that! I think it was on YouTube, at a nightclub.

Lindsay smacks Paris in the face with a cream pie, and Britney smacks her Chihuahua, “Tinkerbell,” with a Twinkie. The potential is endless.

Another great casting for these three would be a female version of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Can you see it? Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are in a women’s prison. They get caught by the mean guards in a menage á trios, and transferred to the nuthouse for evaluation and rehab.

Mel Gibson and David Hasselhoff would be cast as the mean guards. Glenn Close would be the strict warden. Angelina Jolie would fill the “Nurse Ratchitt” role, wear a short leather nurse’s uniform, and carry a quirt to enforce discipline. Oprah Winfrey would be the mother figure who tried and failed to keep the girls out of the meds. Kathy Bates would play McMurphy, Jack Nicholson’s old role, but this time Paris, Britney, and Lindsay unite to smother her. Kiefer Sutherland would be the medical orderly who takes them all on a day trip to the mall, instead of fishing. Wynona Ryder would get caught shoplifting thongs in “Victoria’s Secret,” and when they got back to the nuthouse, Angelina Jolie would give her electroshock treatments. Sounds like an Academy Award for someone.

Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, and Leonard DiCaprio would play the three girls’ outside romantic interests, the men they left behind, who come to visit them, and hatch an escape plot to rescue them. You can take it from there.

Another possibility, they might be great in a female The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Take your pick.

Or join with four more high-profile stars as female gunfighters in The Magnificent Seven. We can add Reba McIntyre, Uma Thurman, Jennifer Garner, and Jennifer Love Hewitt wearing tight jeans, holsters, and six-guns, and Stetson hats.

As an unemployed Texan by way of New Haven, Connecticut, George W. Bush could play the crooked sheriff. Donald Trump would be the bartender, Meryl Streep the card sharp, and the Jonas brothers would provide the saloon music. Sarah Palin would be a great bordello madam upstairs, with male prostitutes offering themselves for eight bits apiece to the Magnificent Seven. I can’t wait to see this movie. It will gross $200 million the first weekend!

If all these dropped names don’t generate some new hits, I don’t know what will. Perhaps Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Sean Combs will log in and decide to contribute a million apiece to the issues of wrongful conviction and imprisonment. And perhaps pigs will fly!



Monday, September 6, 2010


Dateline: 08/20/10


Notes and Observations From the Prison Front Lines

WARNING: if you are insectophobic, you might want to skip this part.

Something woke me in the middle of the night, a soft tickle on my face. It had been a restless sleep anyway, with a heat index of 106 degrees in Daytona Beach that day. It didn’t seem much cooler now. At four AM, lying on top of my thin mattress, my pillow sweat-soaked and musty, my dreams of freedom fleeing, if someone was playing games and waking me up, I would be very angry. I looked around the crowded dormitory, a large room jam-packed with narrow bunks and sleeping prisoners. With the exception of two Cubans smoking cigarettes across the room, I was the only person awake. What had been tickling my face?

It never gets dark in prison. Lights are always on. I’ve been told by friends “on the street,” that when one flies cross-country at night, the sickly-orange square beacons beaming into the sky in otherwise dark landscapes delineate the proliferating prisons everywhere. It is no different inside the “housing areas,” the polite word for cell blocks. Glaring fluorescent light banks burn from 5:30 AM till 11 PM daily, running up incredible electric bills. During the so-called “sleeping time,’ a few dozen lights are cut off, replaced by lesser fluorescent “night lights.” It is still bright enough to read by, and to see everything going on. Most men wrap their heads in t-shirts or towels to block out the light, so they can sleep for a few hours.

I looked over at the man sleeping on the neighboring bunk, scarcely two feet away. Close quarters. He lay on his back, mouth open, snoring. A cockroach crawled across his cheek and stopped, its feelers flickering, like it knew it was being observed. It continued creeping across my neighbor’s face, pausing on his lip, peering down into the gaping maw.

I didn’t know what to do. Waking a sleeping prisoner can be an iffy proposition. You never know how they might react. I’ve seen men freak out, wake up rolling and screaming in fright just from someone bumping their bunks. What if I woke him, he closed his mouth, and trapped the roach inside?

The roach did it for me. It tickled the man’s lip, interrupting his snorting snore. A hand rubbed his face. His eyes opened, confused. He looked at me.

“You’ve got a roach on your face.”


“He slapped at his face in panic. The roach leaped to the floor and scurried beneath the bunk. Two more cockroaches crawled up the wall by his bed. A barehanded slap smashed one. Ugh! The other got away.

“I hate these effing roaches!” he said. “This place is infested.”

“You don’t hate them as much as I do.”

We moved from Texas to Florida in the 1950’s, when I was a child. I’d never seen a roach in Texas, and didn’t know what they were. I was about to learn.

My father rented a little wooden house on a hill surrounded by orange groves in the country east of Tampa. It had been sitting vacant for some time. Before we unloaded the U-Haul trailer containing all our furniture and belongings, my mother swept and mopped the floors. It didn’t matter. Little did we know that hordes of giant cockroaches, also known as palmetto bugs, lurked in hiding, waiting for darkness.

Hour later, we went to the grocery store to stock up on food. It was November, and night came early. When we returned, the little house was pitch black inside. Grabbing grocery bags, we climbed the steps and entered. My mother hit the light switch and screamed.

The wood floor was covered in a living carpet of roaches, thousands of them. The light interrupted what they were doing, and for a moment the tableau was frozen. My mother’s scream set them off, and they rushed helter-skelter in every direction. In moments they disappeared, as if they had never been there.

Heated discussion ensued between my parents. My mother was rethinking the wisdom of moving to Florida, freaked out by our unwanted house guests. My father drove to the store for a can of roach spray. Little did he know that the huge roaches would be hardly affected by the spray. All he did was stink up the place when he sprayed the baseboards.

Sometime during the night I woke up and stumbled through the dark house toward the bathroom. With every step, something crunched beneath my bare feet. Turning on the light switch, I stifled a scream of my own. The floor, toilet and sink were crawling with the stinking, detestable palmetto bugs. For an instant they froze, then scuttled out of sight. Beneath my feet I saw the crushed corpses of more cockroaches that hadn’t gotten out of the way, when I’d stumbled, half asleep, through the darkness. I left the bathroom light on as I made it back to my bed.

The next day, my father related the events to a neighbor who came to see who we were. He laughed and told my father about a product called “Holiday Fogger.” He said to buy two Holiday Foggers, wait until dark, close all the windows, set off the foggers, and take the family to the drive-in movies. When we got back, the roach problem would be gone.

It worked. The foggers were like poison gas for roaches. Upon our return later that night, my mother nervously entered the house and hit the light switch. Again, the floor was carpeted with roaches, this time, however, they were dead and dying, on their backs, some twitching.

My mother cussed and swept, cussed and swept, sweeping up dead roaches with a dustpan and dumping them in the trash. I would have never believed that little house could hold so many giant cockroaches if I hadn’t seen them myself. That night, when I tiptoed to the bathroom, not a roach was to be seen.

Eventually, the foggers gave way to the Orkin Man, who came out once a month and sprayed for roaches, ants, and fleas, and every other creepy crawly that infests Florida. It is a battle we can’t hope to win. The cockroaches ruled the planet millions of years before we showed up, and they’ll probably still be creeping around after we are gone.

Unfortunately in prison, the humans in charge have given up without a fight. Roaches are everywhere. Not so many of the giant palmetto bugs, although we smash a few every week, but the smaller, peskier German cockroaches, which crawl everywhere, even on our faces when the lights are out.

When a prisoner goes to lockup, they carry his locker to the officer’s station, a glass-enclosed work area, where the guards inventory and pack up his personal belongings to send to him in confinement.

A sergeant told me recently that four prisoners in one dorm on the other end of the compound went to lockup at the same time, resulting in four steel lockers lined up in the officer’s station for inventory. As the various belongings, photos, legal papers, books and Bibles were taken out of each locker, hundreds of the small, half-inch German cockroaches ran everywhere, freaking out the guards. They’d been busily breeding for months and months, unmolested by non-existent spraying for insects, doubling and redoubling their populations, merrily building up their forces, a “roach surge.”

They are everywhere. Don’t get me started on the prison chow hall! They are even worse there.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a pest control person spray for roaches inside the dorms. It has been a couple of years at least. The guy ran through there like he was in “The Amazing Race,” trying to pump out as little of the watered down juice along the hallways as fast as he could, and get out of the Roach Motel before the cockroaches rallied their forces and counterattacked. Forget about spraying the lockers. Those bad boys have used the stuff for mouthwash.

The prisoners, at least, are making a half-hearted grass-roots effort to knock back the roach population. I went to the water cooler and waited until another prisoner, who was on his knees poking around the baseboards, grabbed something and stood up.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Catching roaches for my lizard.”

Grinning, he held up a squirming cockroach trapped between his fingers, then dropped it in a plastic baggie holding several other cockroaches. Ugh!

A number of prisoners are obsessed with “pets,” lizards, spiders, even small snakes, any critters they can catch and keep in small boxes or carry around. Some of the spider-lovers will put two spiders together, betting on which one will eat the other. Some men spend their days trying to catch flies to keep their spiders fed, while others have a cottage industry catching grasshoppers on the recreation field and selling them to the owners of spiders and lizards. It seems that cockroaches have become the “food du jour” for the pet lizards. They are abundant, easily caught in the daytime when they are groggy, and the lizards readily eat them.

As someone who grew up with dogs and cats, more sentient creatures, it actually gives me the creeps to watch another prisoner have conversations with a small, cold-blooded lizard, telling him “to eat that damned roach,” or he’ll be punished.

One prisoner bought a lizard from another, and I watched amazed as he petted and kissed it, talking to it like it was a baby.

“I never had a pet before,” he said.


“We lived in an apartment in New York. It wasn’t allowed.”


“I’m learning how to take care of her.”


“Yeah. I’m not too good at catching roaches yet, but I’m getting better.”

“Keep up the good work.”

Perhaps we can blame it on those silly Geico commercials with the talking gecko. Impressionable prisoners believe whatever they see on TV. Perhaps they think that the lizards actually understand them, and hope for one to respond with a British accent some day. Or they are so lonely and isolated from society that feeding roaches to a pet lizard provides them with a lost connection, memories of a family, and being the breadwinner. At least they are trying, and their efforts are knocking down the burgeoning roach population a little bit.

The prisoner whose face the roaches used as a playground filed a grievance, complaining that federal prison standards required regularly-scheduled pest control. Someone in authority responded, stating that a work order would be submitted, but when the technician, an outside contractor, came in to spray, they said the prisoner would not be allowed to talk to him. That was weird. A subsequent complaint resulted in the statement that the work order was filled two weeks ago.

Funny, but no one saw a bug sprayer, and the cockroaches were out in force last night. One man killed twelve crawling around his bunk. Perhaps the new pest control contractor is Casper the Friendly Ghost or The Invisible Man. Meanwhile, the roaches run this motel. We are just visiting.


Monday, August 30, 2010


Dateline: July 29, 2010


“Back in the day,” as they say, when the judge sentenced someone to “life in prison at hard labor,” that’s exactly what he meant.

My first job upon my arrival at the reception and medical center at Lake Butler was washing pots in the kitchen. When we came out of there at the end of the day, soaked in sweat, greasy, exhausted, all we wanted to do was take a shower and fall in a bunk for a few hours before starting all over again.

At Raiford I watched the prisoners come in the gate after working since daylight on the three “gun squads,” punishment details of prisoners who marched outside the prison gate every day slinging “bush axes,” clearing ditches, dodging snakes, watched over by a couple of shotgun guards who wouldn’t hesitate to fire a load of buckshot at any prisoner who got “rabbit” in him and tries to runoff. The chain gang expression I heard most often from those exhausted men was, “They got the butter from the duck today,” meaning they had nothing else to give. When they came in the gate, each man had to shout what squad he was on, to get checked off. The gun squad’s actual title was “outside labor squad, number one, two, or three,” but when the prisoners returned, they called out, “outside slavery squad!” Those days are long gone.

When I came to prison, the total population was about 20,000. Today it is over 100,000. Forget individual “treatment plans,” or any semblance of proper utilization of manpower. The old woman in the shoe, as the nursery rhyme went, who had so many children she didn’t know what to do, had nothing on the bursting-at-the-seams Florida prison system, or any of the other overburdened state and federal prison systems. Whereas, years ago, virtually every prisoner had a job, and many worked hard and were proud of their work, today’s prison have become massive holding pens, fenced-in camps crammed to overflowing with bored, idle, unemployed men with little productive activities for their time. Where men once learned skills they could turn into jobs in free society upon their release, now thousands of bored prisoners meander in circles on hot, unshaded cow pastures (euphemism: “rec yard”) for hours, or are cooped up in human warehouses (AKA: dormitories), growing more and more frustrated and short-tempered every wasted day.

Only a small percentage have actual “jobs,” and much of that is busywork, or just on paper. The hardest-working prisoners are still washing pots and trays in the kitchen, stirring 80-gallon kettles of boiling beans or grits, pulling hot pans out of ovens, mopping floors or serving meals to 1200 or so fellow prisoners three times a day, but they are in the minority. Not even one-tenth work in the kitchen, and most of those are scheming of ways to get out, reassigned to less-strenuous tasks or none at ll.

Although on paper, perhaps three hundred prisoners are assigned to “inside grounds,” which used to mean that hordes of men with rakes, brooms or buckets would swarm across the entire prison grounds all day, like locusts descending, raking, sweeping, picking up paper and cigarette butts, in actuality the vast majority of those men never report to work. A small squad of men with lawnmowers, supervised by one guard, keep the vast expanses of lawn neatly trimmed, working hard at a fast pace all day, but they are the exception. It is a privilege for them.

When I went to work in the GOLAB program at Raiford over thirty years ago (one of the very best programs ever to grace the prison system –long-gone), one of the eye-opening revelations was how much brain power was wasted in prison. It never ceased to amaze me how many really smart people were intermingled with all the rest. I met doctors, lawyers, successful businessmen, even a NASA rocket scientist, all serving time. In the GOLAB program, all those varied minds got a rare opportunity to sit down in a classroom together for a week or so and concentrate on positive activities. Thousands of men’s lives were changed for the better during those years, and many got out, applied the principles they’d learned in prison, and became successful, contributing members of society. No more.

At this point in time, with our society in flux, let us address the incredible waste of “manpower” that goes on every single day. Look at the recent “Disaster in the Gulf” as an appropriate comparison. Who can forget the nightly news images of millions of gallons of crude oil bubbling out of the broken pipe a mile beneath the surface, costing billions of dollars in damages and lost wages? The waste of manpower in our prison system is no less destructive, albeit in a different way, than the billions in oil damages.

Let’s look at some simple math. Let’s say that only half of the 100,000-plus Florida prisoners are physically capable of working full-time jobs. There are many sick, debilitated, dying, or elderly prisoners who have too many medical conditions to do “hard labor.” Fifty thousand men times forty hour per week equals two million manhours of labor per week! Two million! Think what could be done with that much labor, spread across the state. As it stands now, only a small percentage of prisoners are actually working at manual labor jobs that benefit the cities, counties, and citizens, rather than busywork.

I look out at the green expanses of prison lawns that nobody sees or ever walk on, that would be the pride of many private country clubs, and I wonder why we don’t have a couple hundred prisoners out there digging, planting vegetables, growing their own food, saving millions of tax dollars, as they used to in Florida, and still do in places like Texas. Instead of the “TVP,” textured vegetable protein they pawn off on us as “food,” prisoners could be growing their own food, eating better, and glad to do it. The Lord loves a working man. The prison system has thousands of acres of land that sits as idle as thousands of prisoners. Too bad we can’t put the two parts together.

Why can’t something be done, these issues addressed? Instead of prisoners sitting idle, being recruited into criminal gangs just for something to do, why can’t we put them to work in positive activities that will benefit society, the prisoners, and their families? In a word, it is “mismanagement.” The old woman in the shoe doesn’t know what to do. The people who run the prisons are so overwhelmed by the job, so underequipped to deal with the sheer mass of over 100,000 prisoners, they are so paranoid that “something” is going to happen, that they will be criticized, that they will lose their jobs, their carefully managed careers ruined, that all they can do is hold on, like a rider on a galloping runaway horse that has gotten away from them.

When I came into the system, wardens and “colonels,” the top “security” chiefs, most all had gray hair. Most had been in the military for a few years and knew how to work with men. They worked their way up through the ranks under more experienced mentors, and learned every aspect of the job, dealing with prisoners and guards, before being slowly promoted to higher positions of authority.

Those times are gone. Those “old pros” retired years ago. In their places, their children and grandchildren applied for jobs, got through their probationary periods, learned the finer points of sycophancy, held on, and got promoted as fast as Jack’s beanstalk grew, right into the sky. The “Peter Principle” kicked in hard. Positions opened up at new prisons that had to be filled. The median ages of high-ranking administrators trended lower and lower. Just because someone was awarded a title didn’t mean they knew what they were doing. The “skills pool” has been diluted and watered down to dangerous levels. On-the-job training doesn’t suffice.

What are we to do? Hopefully, somewhere in state government, a strong, wise leader will emerge and take charge, and solutions will be sought. Perhaps that person will even seek answers to the prison crisis from within. As we learned years ago, a lot of brain power is wasted in prison. Let us hope something is done before it is too late for all of society.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mourning the Passing of a Great Man

Dateline: 08/17/10

“Mourning the Passing of a Great Man”

The first time I read a newspaper column by James J. “Jack” Kilpatrick, I was locked up in a solitary confinement cell. It was 1992. It was the first time I’d been locked up “on the house,” as a result of my prison writings. It wouldn’t be the last.

Jack Kilpatrick’s column concerned the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, focusing on freedom of speech and the press, inviolate freedoms that separated us from our colonial oppressor, England, and made us strong. Since I felt I was being wrongly punished for exercising my First Amendment rights, as a result of publishing an award-winning essay in “The Insider,” a prison literary journal I edited, paid for and sponsored by the Department of Corrections, I was compelled to write Mr. Kilpatrick and tell him what had happened to me. I did not expect a reply.

A week or so later, after my lawyer, Gary Smigiel, made phone calls to Tallahassee, exposed the lie, and got me sprung from lockup without charges, lo and behold, at mail call I was handed a letter from the famous man.

I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was to the effect that in the annals of the First Amendment, what had happened to me was a new chapter in that book. He went on to say that few editors or writers in America are privileged to go to jail for their writings, that I was in a select group now, singled out by the government for oppression, that it takes a special person to provoke such actions. He had referred my letter to the “Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression” in Charlottesville, Virginia. I beamed with pride. So began an unlikely friendship that continued for the next eighteen years, through thick and thin, an exchange of letters and correspondence that ended this week with my dear friend Jack Kilpatrick’s death at eighty-nine. It is a week of sadness and mourning for me as I reflect on my relationship with this kind, generous man.

I remember Jack (“don’t call me James”) Kilpatrick from “60 Minutes,” 1975 or so, face-to-face with Shana Alexander, debating, later supplanted by Andy Rooney. They called him a “conservative columnist and wordsmith,” but he called himself the last of the Whigs, a throwback to an earlier time in our nation.

He wrote a weekly column about the English language, and another one covering the U.S. Supreme Court, to whom he coined the term, “The Supremes.” Every letter I sent him, he answered, and he became a mentor, coach, and encourager to me. He said he wouldn’t edit anything anymore, except for his family, but for years he patiently read and edited everything I sent him, adopting me under his strong wing.

I learned a lot from Jack Kilpatrick. He wrote me a letter once, stating, “I want to introduce you to something that is very useful.” He proceeded to type three lines of periods…………….., and so on, telling me that particular literary effort, comprising long paragraphs and long sentences, should be broken down into shorter sentences. He was right. He rewrote part of the offending paragraph with much shorter sentences with more punch, illustrating his point. I took his advice to heart, rewrote the piece, sent it back for his approval. The piece wound up winning a national writing award. I owed it to him, and told him so. His praise gave me the confidence I needed to progress.

Jack Kilpatrick had a fine legal mind, became interested in my case, and investigated it on his own. He felt so strongly about my innocence that he wrote a newspaper column specifically directed to then-Governor Lawton Chiles in 1998, urging him to grant me clemency before he left office. The column was placed on Governor Chiles’ desk, and he read it. He was convinced. Sadly for all of us, before the Governor took action, he dropped dead of a heart attack in the exercise room of the Governor’s Mansion, ending that opportunity for release. (Click here to go to the article.)

Undeterred, Jack wrote new Governor Jeb Bush, recounted his friendship with Jeb’s mom and dad, how he’d flown in “Air Force One” with the Bush family, and told him about my case. Didn’t do any good. Jeb Bush “was not inclined to grant clemencies,” as one of his aides said.

Even though his congestive heart failure worsened, and he struggled to care for his incapacitated wife, Jack never stopped trying to help me. We kept up our correspondence almost to the end, even as his vision failed and he could hardly see to type. Expecting the end did not make it any easier.

One of the worst things about serving—and surviving—decades of imprisonment is the aging and death of loved ones. The attrition rate rises as the long years mount up. With only a few exceptions, those family, loved ones, and friends who were with me when this nightmare began have fallen by the wayside, gone to their just rewards, given up the ghost. The prisons are filled with thousands of lonely old men who have lost virtually everyone who cared about them, and they are just waiting to die.

I have suffered the same losses, but have been fortunately blessed to have encountered and been befriended by new people over the years, kind, decent, souls who saw something in me that caused them to walk alongside me on this long journey, sometimes for short times, others for long years. Like Jack.

Jack Kilpatrick was a good man who loved his wife, children, and grandchildren, retaining enough goodness in his soul to share some of that love with me. He became an old friend to me. I’m sorry, Jack, that I haven’t been able to get out yet, despite our best efforts, to come see you, as I promised, to shake your hand and thank you in gratitude for all you did for me. I will pray that the Lord will bless you and keep you close as you go to a better place. I will never forget you.

Charles Patrick Norman

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Dateline: Saturday, July 10, 2010


Today, I made it to the “Kairos Reunion” program at the prison chapel.

The monthly follow-ups to the Kairos prison weekends were called “Ultreyas” for many years, and that’s what we old-timers still call them, but like everything else, it seems, new times redescribe and reinvent old events.

A dozen or so Christian volunteers from communities surrounding Daytona Beach and Tomoka C.I. come in once a month to participate in a two-hour program of testimony, prayers, songs, and discussions with forty or fifty prisoners who have attended the Kairos Weekend at various prisons throughout the state. This follow-up program gives the prisoners a chance to reinforce the faith and spiritual lessons they experienced during the three-day Kairos Weekend, sometimes called a “short course in Christianity.”

I attended Kairos #9 at Union C.I., Raiford, in May, 1982, and have volunteered in many programs during the intervening years. I also need that reinforcement and fellowship that such gatherings offer to the men. In the midst of such worldly evil and degeneracy that dominates prison life, to maintain one’s hope, faith and belief in a Supreme Being that will deliver us from all this is crucial to one’s survival, physically and spiritually.

Several prisoners with guitars and other musical instruments led an introductory hymn, “Victory In Jesus.” As I sang along with the group, rattling the rafters, eyes closed, I could imagine that I was a child in Redwater Baptist Church in East Texas in the 1950’s in the comforting midst and security of family, hearing those same words for the first time.

“I heard an old, old story, how a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary, to save a wretch like me.
I heard about His groaning, of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins and won the victory…”

I opened my eyes and saw that I wasn’t a child in Texas, surrounded by Memaw and Bebaw, Cherry, my mother, Alice and Patsy, but instead it was 2010, I was in a prison chapel filled with convicted murderers, rapists, child molesters, burglars, robbers, thieves, drug addicts and drug peddlers, drunks and fools, as well as a handful of well-meaning citizens who see beyond these sins and exercise their faith by coming through the razor wire and prison gates to share their faith and encourage men who society has written off and cast aside.

I’d been at Raiford two years before I was finally pestered enough by my friends that I reluctantly signed up to attend the Kairos Weekend. Over and over again, I heard men tell me, “Charlie, you’re a good guy, but you need to go to Kairos.” They were right.

I had arguments against it, though.

“I don’t want to go down to that chapel with all the child molesters, phonies, and hypocrites,” I said.

Jack Murphy told me, “Are you going to let some child molesters stand between you and God?”

Joe Miller gave me a different insight, that the church was more a hospital for hypocrites than a showcase for saints. I finally realized that I needed to get past my own shortcomings, that it would be better if those I considered despicable people were to go to church and have a chance to change their lives, become better men, to give up their evil ways, than to stay the way they were, obsessed, and return to society only to victimize more innocent people. In the process I became a better man, and did my best to keep my judgmental nature in check.

I’d seen all those volunteers coming in at Raiford, and had issues with how happy and friendly they were. More objections.

“Man, I’m not going up there and have all those men hugging me, calling me brother, acting like a bunch of sissies,” I complained.

I got past that, too, when I discovered that those men were actually glad to meet me, considered me a brother, and were only sharing the joy they felt when they hugged me and told me Jesus loved me. It might have sounded hokey, but they were for real. The feelings were contagious.

Twenty-eight years later, there I was, walking into another prison chapel, hugging grown men, Larry Harrington, Hank Pankey, Henry Arnold, Manny Bolanos, and others I’d met at the Kairos here, and wondered where all the other old friends were, realizing that many had died and passed on to their just rewards. I met new friends, and shared my faith, comparing the prison chapel to going down to a river on Saturday morning.

Something was happening down by the river. People came from all over to see. Some stayed on the bank and watched those who waded out into the water. The observers had a choice, to stay dry and uninvolved, or to get out there and get wet. John the Baptist was there, and a man named Jesus. People crowded around, wondering what it was all about. I’d stood on the sidelines too long, parched and dry, so now it was time to plunge into the cool water, find out what it was all about.

A prison chapel is not like any church you went to “on the street,” in free society. There’s a noticeable absence of women. They don’t pass the offering plates. There are other differences, too. At the end we don’t get in our cars and drive home, but the guards line us up on the sidewalk and march us to our cells. Then they count us all, to make sure no one sneaked out.

Before that happened, though, we had a couple of hours when we couldn’t see the fences, the guard towers, and the gun trucks cruising around, but instead could see the best in our fellow man, as we continued to sing:

“O Victory in Jesus, my Savior forever,
He sought me and bought me, with His redeeming blood.
He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him.
He plunged me to victory, beneath the cleansing flood.”

After that, I walked out of the chapel with my friend and fellow prisoner, Karl Stephens, one of the finest men I know, in prison or out, wondering when we’d each return home.

Thank God Christ is alive and well in prison.


Monday, July 12, 2010

“Poems Written on the Backs of Envelopes”

Dateline July 10, 2010

“Poems Written on the Backs of Envelopes”

Ink and paper are always in short supply in prison, especially when you go through writing materials as fast as I do.

I’ve discovered a good way to recycle mail and write poems, too, a technique I call “Poems Written on the Backs of Envelopes.” It is a good discipline strategy—starting and finishing on the blank side of a #10 envelope, having something to say, and saying it. (This blog is written the same way).

I hope you like this first example below. Let me know. Out of paper—have to stop.



Giants walked the land
in those days—uncles,
grandpa and dad.
Grasping their knees with
my arms, embracing
the tree trunks of
their legs, peering
skyward at their distant
smiling faces looking down
at me from the clouds

I raise my hands,
beseeching, and they bend,
lifting me up, higher
and higher to the land
of the birds and trees
and distant landscapes.

I feel their scratchy
faces against my soft
cheeks, smell the lingering
acrid smoke of Camels,
Prince Albert and Bull
Durham on their breaths.

They lift me higher, toss
me into the upper air and
laugh with me.

How odd, how small
they became, withering,
weakening and shrinking before
my eyes, ‘fore dying,
the giants.

Copyright 2010 by Charles Patrick Norman

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Dateline: Sunday, July 4, 2010


Against all odds, I have survived my thirty-third Fourth of July in captivity. A long, long time ago, when I narrowly avoided the death penalty for a murder I did not commit, corrupt prosecutor Mark Ober was quoted as saying, "Norman will never survive a life sentence." Sorry to disappoint you, Mark, but you were wrong again.

As you can see from the accompanying photo taken today at Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach, Florida, I am alive and well, and still have much of my hair, in much of its natural color. I pose next to one of the last two oak trees left standing by the chain-saw-happy prison administrators over the past five years, but not too close to the razor wire that confines me.

I did not achieve the ripe old age of sixty (sixty one in September) on my own. I have survived this hell on earth only with the support and intervention of a small army of angels including Gary Smigiel and Henry Wulf, private investigator Dick Rivett, some great literary folks from "PEN" and the Anne Frank Center in New York, retired Reverend Bob Anderson and others whose names they'd probably prefer went unmentioned.

I am a loyal American. Despite being denied some of the unalienable rights guaranteed all citizens by the Founding Fathers, I love my country and all it stands for. Despite enduring varying degrees of censorship by prison authorities over the years, and suffering the consequences, with the help of friends I've been able to exercise my First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and expression to an extent possibly unparalleled by an American prisoner. Google searches of Charles Norman, Charlie Norman, Charles P. Norman, and Charles Patrick Norman, reveal over 200,000 listings of my literary works available. People from twenty-eight countries, many states, most of the Canadian provinces, The Department of Corrections are regular readers of the Free Charlie Norman Now blog. Truly I am blessed to live in this time.

On behalf of Libby and myself, I wish you a Happy Fourth of July at home, surrounded by loved ones, and pray that next year I will be able to do the same.


Thursday, July 1, 2010


Dateline: June 27, 2010


I read an interesting article in the June 8, 2010, “New York Times,” by John J. Miller, about a famous writer who served three years in prison. Although his imprisonment had a great effect on his writing, he considered it a mark of shame, carrying his secret to the grave, never even telling his daughter.

Years after his death, when Prisoner #30664’s secret was revealed by a professor, the public became fascinated by his story rather than shunning him as a criminal. All his worries about his posthumous reputation were for naught.

Reading about such a man gives me pause to consider our differences and similarities, one hundred years apart. Rather than hiding my imprisonment of over 32 years, I make no secret of it, and have steadily recorded my experiences, thoughts, and stories, the entire time. In this new world of the Internet, there are few secrets to be kept by anyone anyway.

Wonder what someone is in prison for and when they’re getting out? Check the web site. The molesters and perverts can no longer fool people into believing they are in state prison for tax fraud. It used to happen all the time. I could tell you stories! And I will.

That man who was ashamed of his imprisonment was named William Sidney Porter. Ironically, another point we share is that most likely he was innocent of the charges he served time for.

While in prison he began submitting stories to New York magazines, some of them inspired by his fellow prisoners. They were best known for their unexpected conclusions. Mr. Miller compares reading Mr. Porter’s works is like watching episodes of “The Twilight Zone.”

Being ashamed of his prisoner status, Prisoner # 30664 did not want to publish his work under his own name, so he possibly borrowed an alias from a prison guard named Orrin Henry, calling himself, “O. Henry.”

Two of my favorite writers as a youth were Edgar Allan Poe and O, Henry. Who can ever forget “The Gift of the Magi,” or “The Ransom of Red Chief?” Little did I know all those years ago that one day I would have something in common with William Sidney Porter?

It’s a good thing you aren’t around in this modern world, Mr. O. Henry. Times have changed. If you’d been serving time in a Florida prison like Mr. Charles Patrick Norman, you might have been thrown into solitary confinement for your writing, like I was.

Perhaps I should have taken a hint from O. Henry, and used an alias, calling myself A. Gordon or T. Melton or S. Wellhausen. Alas, those names just don’t possess the ring of “O. Henry.”


Tuesday, June 29, 2010




For the past three months I've been so busy fighting the forces of evil, filing legal appeals on the First Amendment attacks by Ku Klux Klan sympathizers, meeting impending deadlines that could otherwise cost me more prison time, that I haven't devoted the time I usually did on updating this blog. For that neglect I apologize and ask your forbearance. Freedom first!

A few weeks ago, sitting in the prison chapel waiting for Father Bob Anderson to come in for the Episcopal Communion Service, I had the unique experience of hearing a previously-unknown prison poet perform a unique work for the Gavel Club meeting. You had to be there to appreciate  the performance. Afterwards, I asked  my friend, Andre, if I could get a copy of his poem. With his permission, unveiled to the world for all to see, is the following work. I hope you enjoy it. Andre assures me he has more.



By André L. Payne, Sr.

I crashlanded into the Abyss—of a Piss-poor
Penitentiary system that has given me
Its gluteus maximus to Kiss.

Dis-functionalism at its Apex
Check the deck of cards they dealing
Peeling the Skin—akin to Swiss Mocha
they gave us the Joker—
Jack-in-da’-Box Wardens with the
Academic Attitude of a Sand-Crane-on Crack—

My Back is against the Wall painted the color of puke,
Scoop up your seeds you just spilled in the Shower
The hour is Now—How—can we reproduce,
When you reduce your Spectrum into the
Rectum of the Devil?

Level the score—
He wins the War
The Door is broken-down
So long as you clowns
Walk the Pound
With your pants hanging down!

Sharpen your perception—
The election has left us with a people,
Whose only direction is a career in corrections.
This is their Made Best—
When a TABE Test
And the ability to say, “Cuff up!”—
is the only criteria for a [C.O. Badge]—
We’ve been had.

Sadly spoken, token hand-picked pricks with the
I.Q. of a pair of handcuff Keys
I dare you to ask an officer
What’s the eight parts of speech
(He’ll probably lock-you-up!)

It’s a crying Shame;
A White Shirt can’t even spell your NAME,
Brain dead derelicts that don’t even pay Rent!
They’re living for free
They wear their brass for free,
We mow their grass for free,
You Kiss-his-asinine-behind-to remind him;
His spine is gone
His Mind is blown!

They don’t give a flying flapjack about
a Chapter 33—open your eyes and see!
How can We Win—When they all Kin?

Look around—Brothers and Sisters on the same pound!
Fathers and daughters on the same pound—
Cousins, Uncles, and Aunties walking the same ground,
on the same pound.

The End

Saturday, June 12, 2010


This is another installment from Charlie's Confinement Diary written from "solitary" where he was sent as a result of a retaliatory disciplinary report by officials of D.O.C.



As Day Three of my odyssey through the First Amendment and solitary confinement progresses, I should tell you first of the events that closed out Day Two.

I had the same conversation virtually verbatim, several times since I’ve been locked in “the Hole,” mostly with the “C.O.’s,” the correctional officers, and their immediate supervisors, the sergeants. Each would be passing by my cell, would glance in to make sure I was alive, not hanging from a sheet or sprawled in a pool of blood, would start to go by, then stop, step back, look again, recognition dawns, confusion wrinkles the brow, and after a few seconds would speak:

“What are you doing back here?” (astonishment)

“A story I wrote was published in a book, so the assistant warden wrote me up.”

“What was it about?”

“My experiences some years back with retaliation by KKK prison guards.”

“Why did they lock you up?”

“I suppose she took personal offense at my depiction of the KKK. I don’t know. I’ve never spoken to her.”

“Haven’t these people ever heard of the First Amendment?”

“Funny you should mention that. I’ve been told by a KKK prison guard that ‘the Constitution ain’t in effect in prison.’ ”

“That’s bullshit. You’re the last person I’d expect to see back here.”

“Me, too. You know how straight a line I walk.”

“Good luck. Keep fighting.”

“I will. Thanks.”

What has amazed me is the virtually universal understanding of the First Amendment trampling the lowest level guards possess, while the highest level “administrators,” college-educated and “trained” at endless taxpayer-funded “conferences on corrections,” have such a cavalier disregard for years and years of Constitutional law, state law, and prison rules that regulate both “them” and “us.” When you gain ultimate control and total power over the defenseless, oftentimes that absolute power corrupts what at other times are described as “good people.” I think the term is “totalitarianism.”

Where is the ACLU, the SCLC, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the defenders of the oppressed and powerless, when I really need them? Come on, folks! Let’s stop this lynching. The rope is getting tighter. How are they going to explain this to D.O.C. Secretary Walt McNeil?

About eight thirty PM on Day Two, when solitary confinement was just settling down for the evening, when the psych meds were beginning to hit the loud mouths who’d been screaming inanities all day lapsed into their drug-induced comas (they like prisoners in comas; it becomes more a “storage” issue than “care, custody, and control,” their bywords), I lay on my hard bunk reading a dog-eared twenty-year old paperback novel a fellow prisoner had slid down the hall to me.

At the end of the hall, where they can approach the wing from the back way, came a ruckus. Loud talking, laughing, joking—you ever see a pack of teenage boys walking through a mall, kidding around, elbowing each other, playing “grab ass?” That’s what it sounded like. It couldn’t be guards: cameras record everything in the hallways, and the guards are “under the gun” of the higher-ups in charge—any wrong moves on camera and they’re gone—they know they are under surveillance, so they keep themselves low-key.

I didn’t bother getting up. I didn’t care. But a moment later the obviously phony camaraderie reached my cell, and I saw the warden, the male assistant warden (both white), and the black colonel peering through the little grill of my cell door. They are required to make rounds every so often, and I suppose they stopped by after having a few beers, before returning to their trailer park across the street.

They did the same double-take—looked in, moved, stopped, looked in again, stared.

“Who’s that?” (There is a photo page print out by the door, the same one on the D.O.C. web site, with identifying information).




“That’s Norman?” (They crowd around the grill and stare again. I stare back, not moving).

They move on, quiet now, no “Kee-Kee-Keeing,” as prisoners call the immature posturing and grab ass. Then the black colonel came back, stopped, looked in and stared, by himself. If I’d expected him to say something like, “Hey, I’m not with this KKK shit, I’m not defending white racists, but this is over my head, and I can’t say anything, sorry,” I’d have been wrong. I didn’t. He didn’t.

Instead, he asked, “What’s the name of that book?”

I didn’t expect him to want a book review, so I just held up the title where he could see it. Most prisoners in solitary, when “officials” pass by, “get on the door” and beg for an audience, seeking conversation, mercy, whatever. I had nothing to say to them. “You have the right to remain silent” are optimum words, since anything you say will be used to justify pepper spraying and “use of force.” I let my pen do the talking, that is, until it runs out of ink, which could be any time. Then I really will be silenced. Perhaps that’s their plan.

Thirty minutes later the guard came by and told me to pack up my meager laundry bag of limited possessions, I was moving to “E” Dorm, the larger confinement area far on the south end of the compound. Why? Orders. Okay, I get it. The KKK’s roots run deep in prison, like those stunted trees in parched lands.

You may recall they took my shoes, and gave me flip flops. They cuff your hands behind your back, put on short leg irons, so you take shuffling baby steps, and have to carry your bag behind your back. The weight pulls down on your shoulders, and if you are a big man with big shoulders, it’s a form of torture. I refused. I told them I’ve had back injuries, and I couldn’t do that. Sometimes, if you have a choice, you must not submit to torture. I knew if I even tried to carry that bag—my Bible and two large envelopes of legal papers made it heavy—I’d be suffering later. Just the handcuffs behind the back cut into and bruise your wrists and arms.

One of the “decent” guards said fine, use a “waist chain,” hands at the front, which was better, but still an ordeal. Try wearing flip flops with your ankles chained together and walk down a very long sidewalk. It’s not easy. Neither is climbing stairs.

Before I leave “Y Dorm” behind, I want to give you a brief rundown of how that term evolved.

Up until 1999 or so, all the main solitary confinements, “disciplinary,” at most Florida prisons were designated as “X Wing,” as in, “X-ed out,” crossed off, no longer in “X-istence.” Things happened on “X-Wing.” Run your mouth to the guards, they yell, “Pop the door,” and a crowd piles in the cell and beats you down, which is different from “beating someone up.”

Then “Valdez” came along, a notorious prisoner who was involved in a guard’s death. They housed him on “X-Wing” at “FSP,” Florida State Prison, and everyone knew it was just a matter of time. He was a dead man.

One day they came in there and kicked and beat Valdez to death. Most bones in his body were broken. Ribs punctured his heart and lungs. The guards said either it was an accident, he’d fallen off his bunk and died, or he did it on purpose, did a swan dive to take himself out. What about those deep boot impressions on his chest and back? Oh, they were trying to revive him! So emerged the joking (to them) term, “FSP CPR” —he’s not breathing? —step on his chest with your boot and give him FSP-CPR. Perhaps a couple of kicks will jumpstart his heart. Nope, he didn’t make it.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigates prisoner deaths, and they called it murder. A crew of guards were charged, went on trial, and were acquitted. What did you expect? Bradford County is composed mostly of prison guards, retired prison guards, and their relatives. North Florida justice.

There were national TV shows about “X-Wing,” the state of Florida, and the prison system took some P.R. hits, so the biggest change came in abolishing all “X-Wings” and making them “Y’s.” Now it is “Y-Dorm,” sounds like a place curious college students might live, but it is the same old X-Wing, whitewashed with new labels. Spray paint silver onto a rotten mullet, it still stinks. Even so, I was glad to get out of “Y Dorm,” even at nine o’clock at night, mysteriously hobbling in the dark, trying not to fall on my face.

Later I’ll tell you more about Day Three and “E” Dorm, my new cell, with a 21-year old “bug” on the top bunk, who’s served less than a year in prison and gets out Saturday, returning to Tampa. I’d been in prison eleven years already when he was born.

The sergeant put me in his cell to watch out for him—“Talk some sense to the kid, please.” The kid—that’s what he is—small, slightly built white boy, looks about sixteen, scared to death they were going to put a “booty bandit” in the cell. He’s relieved. He’s safe for a few days.

Now I must deal with a host of new challenges, including being stuck in a cell dirty as a pig sty. First thing we’re doing is cleaning this place up. I have to babysit. See you later.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010



This is another installment from Charlie's Confinement Diary written from "solitary" where he was sent as a result of a retaliatory disciplinary report by officials of D.O.C.
Tourists picture their time in Florida as palm trees swaying in the balmy ocean breezes, rubbing on Coppertone at Daytona Beach, getting a tan, enjoying the heat. I have bad news. That’s not how it is in solitary confinement. The low temperatures this week have been in the 40’s outside and little difference in “the box,” except the wind isn’t blowing.

Until I run out of ink and paper, while I’m back here in lockdown doing my “30 & 30,” thirty days disciplinary confinement and thirty days loss of gaintime for the heinous act noted on Form DC5-101 as, “Book contains an article written by Inmate Norman that won a contest (page 54-57).” The book is “Wordsmith 2010,” published by the Tampa Writers Alliance, and the “article” is actually a 2400 word excerpted memoir from my “prison diary,” part of the 2008 Anne Frank Center Prison Diary Project in New York, and the offending memoir is “To Protect the Guilty,” an account that I thought was fairly innocuous, tongue-in-cheek, even humorous in a dark, realistic way. I guess the offended prison administrators (all white, from North Florida, with heavily Deep South accents, by the way), didn’t see the literary value.

Just one more false statement to note: “To Protect the Guilty” did not win the contest—it came in third, but the prison system has never been known for its accuracy.
It was a cold evening in my cell as Day One turned to night. Don’t try this at home. After hours of asking, I finally got two threadbare sheets and an extremely thin cotton blanket (more like a heavier sheet). A one-inch hard plastic mattress on a cold steel bunk (no pillow) made for a painful, restless semi-sleep. Having progressive arthritis doesn’t help.

After we ate our meager supper trays around four PM (part of the deprivation is the loss of time sense—24 hour lights, no clocks or watches, no radio, no news) the poor soul in the next cell said, “It’s a long time to two slices of bread.” I found out what he meant about thirteen hours later when they brought a breakfast tray with two pieces of toast (where’s the French?) and a small spoon of oatmeal. Stomach growls started soon after.

It may be around ten AM now, on Day Two—St. Patrick’s Day, if I recall correctly. No parades, no floats. A minute ago a woman from classification was escorted down the hall by a guard, to have someone sign papers, said, “Brrr! It’s freezing back here!” No kidding.

After doing some jumping jacks to try to get warm, the first thing I did was cobble together a calendar for March and April. I knew yesterday was March 16th, but if you’re not careful, back here you can lose all sense of time and date. I used one of my precious few sheets of paper, a worthwhile investment. I calculated that if they make me do the full thirty days, I’ll get out on April 14th. Since this is a completely false charge, a reprisal, and glaring errors ensued (which happens when people compound their lies), which I documented in my appeal to the warden, who has the last say, if all were right in the world and they actually followed “Due Process,” he’d quickly respond to my grievance, toss out the predetermined verdict, and let me go. But, since the investigating officer told me, “the warden wants your ass in jail,” what sort of hope do I have for a fair hearing? Not much.

I found out it’s a little after eleven AM—they brought the pitiful lunch trays—textured vegetable protein (a.k.a. Kibbles & Bits), beans, and cold sliced potatoes. No salt, no seasoning. A two-inch square piece of cake. You have to resist the impulse to eat it fast—chew it slowly, small bites, make it last longer, or you’ll be hungry quicker. The captain told me yesterday that he’d let me have one phone call, but that hasn’t happened yet. At least I did get a five-minute shower last night—showers on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, so something went right.

After I made the calendar this morning, I read my Bible. That’s the only book they allow you to keep. Bibles and prisons have long history together. The Quakers supposedly built the first prison in our country. In line with their beliefs, “penitent” became “penitentiary,” and they’d lock a man alone in a cold stone cell with a Bible and a water cup. Bread and water. Read the Bible and reflect. Learn the error of your ways.

I have a very nice “NIV” Bible that my Aunt Alice gave me in 1986. At Zephyrhills C.I., our visitors could go to the prison chapel every Sunday with us for an hour before visiting. My mother, Alice, and my niece, Tammy, came most Sundays. When the visiting preachers would say, “Turn in your Bibles to _________,” we’d all try to read the verse in the Bible, but the print was so small, it didn’t work. When Alice ordered a large-print Bible for me, it solved the problem. Four of us could read the verse with ease. Little did I know that twenty years later I needed the large print text myself!

One thing I do is read a chapter of Psalms and Proverbs each day, depending on the date. Today I read Psalms 17 and Proverbs 17. If I have time (now) I’ll read five chapters of Psalms and some New Testament. It’s uncanny how there will be a verse on that date that applies to my situation, like in Psalms 17—“Give ear to my prayer—it does not rise from deceitful lips. May my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right.” And two verses from Proverbs 17: —“A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue,” and “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both.”

I realized a long time ago that this is a spiritual battle I am involved in, and the forces of evil—in the form of state attorney Mark Ober (the Great Satan) and his minions have been firing at me forever, it seems, and there’s no doubt in my mind that all the prayers made on my behalf by so many true believers have kept me alive and safe. So be it.

It’s getting a little noisy back here now. The “psych meds” must be wearing off my fellow confines. I will continue this record when I can, or until they take my half-pen. Meanwhile, prayers or any other help you can offer will be appreciated. Thanks.