Sunday, March 28, 2010


Dateline March 26, 2010


Prisoner Charles Norman claims retaliation and First Amendment violations by prison officials offended by his writing the truth.

Florida prisoner, Charlie Norman, has served thirty-two years on a life sentence for a 1975 murder in Tampa. For the past twenty-five years, he has won numerous state and national writing awards for his poetry, short stories, plays, essays, and prison memoirs. Now a published excerpt from his 2008 prison diary about encounters with Ku Klux Klan prison guards at a North Florida prison years ago have landed Norman in solitary confinement. Prison officials claim he committed mail violations. Norman says it is harassment, retaliation, and censorship of protected speech, clear violations of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

According to Norman, this latest round of harassment started in 2008, when the Anne Frank Center in New York asked him to participate in their Prison Diary program, along with around one hundred other award-winning prison writers from across the country. Most of the prisoners invited to share their prison diaries have been participants in the Prison Writing Program sponsored since 1972 by the PEN American Center in New York, an international literary group dedicated to promoting writing and literature at every level and founded on the belief that free expression is an essential component of every healthy society. Past presidents of PEN have been such acclaimed literary figures as Arthur Miller, Larry McMurtry, and Salman Rushdie, who suffered his own literary persecution for his book, The Satanic Verses, which drew the ire of the ayatollahs.

As reported in a December 6, 2008, Associated Press article by Jessica Gresko, the Anne Frank Center sent blank journals to the prison writers for them to fill in. Norman quickly filled up the ninety-six page journal and a couple hundred more pages over the next two months, a period that included the brutal murder of a female correctional officer, Norman’s punitive job assignment to the prison kitchen by a hostile guard who claimed he didn’t know his place and needed to be taught a lesson, and other day-to-day events of prison life. Norman also wrote pages about his lengthy imprisonment from his months in the Hillsborough County Jail in Tampa, during which time he first read Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, through his years at Raiford, and his later encounters with racist, white prison guards who bragged to him, a prisoner, about their Ku Klux Klan membership and activities. Excerpts from his continued prison diary writings have been widely published.

Norman believes this latest run-in with assistant warden Angela Gordon at Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach began around January 28, 2010, when prison mailroom clerk, Ms. T. Gronik, read the book, Wordsmith 2010, an anthology of poetry, short stories, and essays published by the Tampa Writers Alliance. Although Florida law requires that any incoming publication confiscated by prison staff must be subjected to rules spelled out under “Admissibility of Publications” in the Florida Administrative Code, including filing a “Notice of Rejection or Impoundment” within 15 days of receipt, Tomoka officials neglected to do that. Further rules require any impounded publication be accepted or rejected by the Department of Corrections Literature Review Committee. This rule was not followed either.

On February 22, 2010, Norman asked mailroom clerk Ms. T. Gronik if she’d seen the book, that it was a month late. According to Norman, Ms. Gronik told him, “I read that book. I felt that a story you wrote was a threat to security, and I sent it to Mr. Hodgson.” Mr. C. Hodgson is the assistant warden of operations at the Daytona Beach prison. Angela Gordon is the assistant warden of programs.

Norman asked where his receipt and notice of impoundment were, that it had been much longer than 15 days, and the rules required him to attach a copy of the notice to his appeal of the confiscation of the book. By not issuing the form required by law, Norman claimed in a grievance, he was denied due process, and couldn’t legally request a full review of the original rejection.

Norman filed the required grievance paperwork challenging the confiscation, stating that it was not a threat to security. Mr. Hodgson told him he’d returned the book to the mailroom “to be returned,” which was not in accordance with state administrative rules. After filing the paperwork, a prison sergeant notified Norman that assistant warden Angela Gordon had written a disciplinary report accusing him of “mail violations” at 9:30 A.M. on February 24, 2010, the day before. Norman denied the charges, claimed Gordon’s actions were in reprisal and retaliation for filing grievances and pursuing his Constitutionally-protected Freedom of Speech rights under the First Amendment.

Norman claims that Gordon was offended by his memoir of his experiences with retaliation by Ku Klux Klan prison guards years ago, “To Protect The Guilty.” Gordon claims that Norman committed “mail violations” on the statement of facts, “It is apparent that inmate Norman has been entering contests and using the Tampa Writers Alliance web site has a means of directing people to his web site to solicit donations. This is a direct violation of (9-14) mail regulations violations as stated in Chapter 33 – 201.101 (9), (12) and (13), which states in part…inmates shall not use correspondence privileges to solicit or otherwise commercially advertise for money, goods or services…no inmates may establish or conduct a business through the mail during periods of incarceration…inmates shall be prohibited from entering contests or sweepstakes through the mail while incarcerated. Inmate Norman has been incarcerated continually since 07/25/1979 and is therefore in violation of (9-14) mail regulations violations by entering contests and soliciting donations. This report was re-written due to discrepancies in time between infraction and time written.”

Norman denies the charges as a baseless ruse and smokescreen to justify the reprisal for writing about prison guards and the Klan. “The word ‘mail’ appears in the disciplinary report four times while ‘website’ is repeated six times. According to Department of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil, inmates do not have internet access,” Norman said.

Further, Norman explained that he does not have a laptop computer, wi-fi, a Blackberry, or a website. He has never accessed the Internet. The website Gordon claims to be Norman’s,, is sponsored by The Norman Partnership, Inc., a registered not-for-profit Florida corporation, with the mission of educating the public on the issues of wrongful imprisonment, according to Elizabeth Dobbin, president. Norman has long proclaimed his innocence, another in a series of wrongful prosecutions and convictions in Florida.

Angela Gordon should be facing her own disciplinary charges soon. In a letter to Tomoka warden Steve Wellhausen, Dan Faulkner of Issaquah, Washington, states that he is the webmaster for, that he is the only person responsible for the website content, that he installed the “Donation” link on the website, and Charles Norman has nothing whatsoever to do with soliciting donations or running any business.

In addition, Faulkner filed a complaint to the Department of Corrections alleging that Gordon violated federal copyright laws by making unauthorized copies of his website and distributing them. On the website’s home page, prominently posted, appears the notice, “Copyright 2007 by The Norman Partnership, Inc. All rights reserved; may not be used without express written permission.”

According to Faulkner, in a telephone conversation with him, Warden Wellhausen admitted that Gordon had made unauthorized copies of the website, but had good intentions, implying that intention negates an infraction of laws.

Other letters sent to the warden by witnesses on Norman’s behalf challenged Gordon’s allegations of any wrongdoing by Norman.
In his official appeal of the Disciplinary Report to the warden, Norman asserts that Gordon’s accounting is riddled with false statements, a violation of state law, and errors that render the charges defective and invalid. “The state (Gordon) has failed to comply with several sections of Chapter 33 rules, including allowing only one violation per charge (she listed three), providing no evidence of any ‘mail violation,’ since everything Gordon alleged involved websites, and even charging the violations under a nonexistent statute, ‘Chapter 33 – 201.101 (9), (12), (13).’ ”

Further, on the Disciplinary Report, Gordon states, “On Wednesday, February 24, 2010, at approximately 0930 hours, while assigned as assistant warden of programs, I was given a book…,” yet, on the belated “Notice of Rejection or Impoundment,” dated March 10, 2010, A. Gordon signed that she received the book on February 25, 2010. In actual fact, the book, Wordsmith 2010, was at the prison mailroom on or about January 28, 2010, weeks before Gordon received it.

In spite of these false statements, Norman was convicted and sentenced to thirty days in solitary confinement and 30 days loss of gain time. Norman claims that the entire disciplinary proceeding was the very definition of a “Kangaroo court,” and was conducted by an openly hostile classification officer who has harbored a grudge against Norman for years. At the first hearing, 03/11/10, this same officer illegally confiscated Norman’s legal documents while Norman’s hands were cuffed behind his back, and only returned the documents when the officer’s supervisor received complaints from citizens.

Norman says, “I was not given a fair and impartial hearing by unbiased members. I made a formal request that the biased hearing members be replaced. They refused to call my witness list at the hearing, as permitted by law, and would not read the evidence. They refused to make a record of the hearing, and considered neither the mitigating evidence contradicting Gordon, nor the ‘statement of witness relevance,’ which clearly showed that everything I’ve done was approved two years ago. ‘The Constitution ain’t in effect in prison no more,’ as they say.”

Meanwhile, Charlie Norman sits in solitary confinement, writing still, until his ink runs out.

His latest poetic offering, entitled, “Solitary”  by Charles Patrick Norman, March 21, 2010:

I hear the cry of a hawk

through my window obscured

though I see it not.

and here is the Anne Frank Diary Project entry that was one of 3 Charles Norman pieces published in Wordsmith  and whose content brought about another round of harassment for him:

I have to be careful how I say certain things. This is prison. Silence is the best policy. Don’t throw rocks at sleeping lions, they say. The only problem is, these lions aren’t sleeping, but are roaming, ravening beasts seeking to feed on any prey who attracts their attention. Some are kitty cats, purring, doing their eight hours and going home, while others actively seek victims from the teeming masses of prisoners who move past them like gazelles, antelopes and wildebeests on the Serengeti Plain, oblivious in their ignorance to the threat.

Keep moving, keep your eyes straight ahead, fixed, or down at the ground, when one of them selects you.

“Inmate! Come ‘ere. Yeah, you. Whatchu lookin’ at, inmate?”

Backtalk or smartmouth at your own risk. Lower your I.Q. quickly—fifty or one hundred points if you’re smart. Get stupid. They like stupid. Yes, sir, no, sir.

You don’t know rednecks until you go to prison. Prisoners compare notes. It’s that way all over the South. I am in Florida, and in Florida, the farther north you go, the further back in time you recede.

In North Florida exists an area called, “The Triangle,” a hotbed of porkbelly politics that led to a prison building boom unparalleled in any other geographic region. If you build it, they will apply for jobs. All you need is a GED or high school diploma, eighteen years old, two arms and two legs, pass the physical, no felony convictions, and you’re good to go. Join the family business, as did their pas and grandpas before them.

It’s either the prison, the chicken farm, the hog farm, or cutting pulpwood. Even in North Florida that is a no-brainer.

Besides being in prison for life for a murder I didn’t commit, I have a couple of problems. One is my name. About one hundred-eighty years ago according to family legend, one of my distant great-grandfathers, Jeremiah Bryant Norman, and his fertile wife produced twelve sons. Those boys were fruitful and multiplied and populated much of South Georgia and North Florida with what would become a farflung tribe of latter day Normans, of whom I am a descendant. Many of the local rednecks see my name and automatically assume I am one of them. I am not one of them, nor will I ever be.

My second major problem is that I am intelligent and educated. Blame it on my parents, genetics, the roll of the dice, whatever, God blessed and cursed me with a highly-functioning brain. For that, the rednecks cannot forgive me.

We will change the names to protect me from the guilty. They may be stupid and prejudiced, but they have long memories. Years later something I forgot I said ages ago will ripen and bear fruit. I’ll get off a prison transport bus and some resentful clown who’s been harboring a grudge over something I said about him in a federal lawsuit will smile, spit, and say, “Well, well, well, Mr. Chaingang lawyer, we meet again,” and I will be screwed. It happens more often than you’d think. We will change the names to keep me from being pepper sprayed, stripped, beaten, and tossed into solitary, hopefully, although there are no guarantees.

Prison has changed in many ways since I came into the reception center and had my head shaved thirty years ago. Now women are taking a more prominent role in the ranks of prison guards. In my last foray into North Florida, one day I was sitting in the visiting park waiting to see the property sergeant when all the night shift guards began drifting in for the roll call before shift change.

I was amazed at the dichotomy—blacks on this side, whites on that side, completely natural and at ease, talking among themselves, totally ignoring the ones across the room. Then I realized that the whites had split into gender groups, males here, females there. Most of the females were white, but a couple of black women joined in the repartee.

A prisoner janitor stopped next to me, leaned on his broom, and made a comment I didn’t quite catch. When you’re a tasty gazelle in a den full of lions you don’t talk loud and draw attention to yourself.

“What was that?” I asked.

“When we came to the joint, who’d a’ thought a men’s prison would be full of lesbians, huh?”

It hadn’t occurred to me, but on second glance I realized he was right. I knew a few female officers who were way out of the closet with their sexual preferences, but I’d never seen it delineated like this. It seemed very strange to me that these prison guards, all wearing the same brown uniforms could be so separate and different, like three opposing street gangs, totally ignoring each other. These dynamics would come into play later.

The stark differences in physicality among the guards suddenly struck me, seeing them divided up like playground teams. The white men were either young, strong, muscular softball player-types, or older, softer, fatter smokers who’d gone downhill on lazy diets of beer, biscuits, pork chops, and gravy. The black men were fairly similar to their white counterparts, though generally fitter with more upper body development. A majority of both white and black men either smoked or spit snuff or chewing tobacco. It seemed incongruous to see a young black prison guard with his cheek distended like a chipmunk with a large wad of “chaw,” like his redneck brothers.

Many of the older female guards, both black and white, mostly sergeants, were morbidly obese, with huge pillows of blubber, like they’d been inflated with helium. I grinned, recalling an incident the previous week, when some altercation on one end of the compound resulted in most of the guards trying to run to the scene from the other end. Some waddled a few steps, slowed, walked, waddled some more. One waddled twenty yards, stopped, bent over, breathed hard, sat down on a nearby bench, gasped, then got up and continued on. A handful of younger men raced like sprinters eager to get there in time to get their licks in. The younger, thinner, shapelier, sexier female guards, sheltered, protected, and coveted by both the men and the older women, either walked or didn’t bother, knowing that no one expected them to jump into an altercation.

Obviously the competition for the same few highly-prized females by men and women caused conflicts and friction among the factions, and it seemed like the various losers would take out their anger and frustrations on us, convenient targets. Psychiatrists would have field days if they got their hands on some of these people.

To some extent the state prison system acts as an entry level position for jobs as county deputies and city police. At the bottom rung of the “law enforcement” ladder, many guards aspire to become “real” police with a pistol, badge, a car with lights and siren, and powers of arrest. The best candidates are skimmed off the top eventually and move up, but most aren’t qualified to advance and are stuck, frustrated and angry, in the tar pit of prison. We, the prisoners, are stuck in here with them.

At this really bad prison in the “Triangle” I had a fairly good job in the prison laundry. My first prison job at Raiford was pressing shirts in the laundry, and I advanced quickly to a clerk job. You go to work early, before breakfast, get all the dirty clothes going into the washers and dryers, fold them, take them back to the dorms, and you have the rest of the day off. I spent many hours in the law library, off-duty, researching.

Then one day I got called into classification and told they were changing my job to the kitchen.

“Kitchen?” I asked. “Why?”

The man told me I was educated, I’d taught college computer classes to prisoners and staff, I could type, and the kitchen was desperate for a clerk to operate their equipment, do all their paperwork. My choice – go to the kitchen or go to jail. I went to the kitchen.

Usually prisoners are put in the kitchen as punishment. The pot room—hot water, steam, grease, huge pots and pans, long hours, soaked and grimy all day—is the first stop. I went to work in the office—two glass-enclosed office cubes in the middle of the kitchen, one for the food service manager, one for the clerk and the officers. A desk, a typewriter, word processor, and a computer. Over one hundred prisoners on three shifts, from 3:30 AM till 7:30 PM, serving 1200 prisoners three meals a day. Maintain all the work rosters and attendance sheets. Do all the gain time sheets. Do the time sheets for the guards. Keep track of 50 – 100 special diets prisoners. Place all the food orders, 80 fifty-pound bags of potatoes at a time, all the vegetables, the meat, 1320 pieces of chicken at a time, eggs, milk, bread from the outside vendor. We served more meals than any restaurant in the county and much of the administrative work was dumped on me. All the boss would do was sign orders.

“You take care of it, Norman, or we’ll get someone else,’ he said.

“Why don’t you get somebody else, then?”

“We don’t have anybody else.”

Too bad. I’m stuck. Oh, well. I have a policy that has served me fairly well. I try to avoid contact with the guards. Out of sight, out of mind. There were times when I maintained so low a profile that most guards had never heard my voice or knew my name. That’s how I liked it. But now I was surrounded by guards, trapped in a goldfish bowl, all day. No way out.

There were some advantages, though. I’d come in at 6:00 AM, grab a few eggs, some cheese, go over to the grill, and make an omelet the way I liked it. Get a cup of grits from the bubbling eighty-gallon cauldron, grab two half-pints of milk, and I was good to go.

The grudges, beefs, and personality conflicts among the guards and the sergeants frequently put me in the middle no matter how hard I tried. One would give me an order, the other would countermand it, then the first would be on me. No-win situation. If one took the attitude that you were “his inmate,” working under his orders, an opposing guard might target you for abuse when the first one wasn’t around. Farmer Brown couldn’t kick Farmer Jones’ ass, so he’d kick Farmer Jones’ dog. I was the dog.

The big boss was BIG—350 pounds, at least, a head the size of a buffalo’s. Rumor had it that he owned a restaurant in town, and a lot of supplies got funneled there. He denied it. That man could eat, though. It took a restaurant to feed him.

“Norman, go get me a tray full of that fried chicken. Pile it up. Put some bread on there. And some potatoes. Hurry up.” And he meant full!

“Yes, sir.”

One Sunday morning early I was typing a list at my desk when this goofy guard sat at the other desk eating a tray of French toast.

“Guess where I went last night,” he said, smiling conspiratorily, smacking, dripping syrup.

“Where?” I asked.

“A Klan meeting.”


He looked at me blankly, not understanding.

“Congratulations. Your name has been added to the FBI’s list of subversives and members of subversive organizations.”


“Yep, it’s a fact. I read it in a magazine. Every KKK group in the U.S. has been infiltrated by the FBI. You just go to the meeting, they record every truck tag number, photograph every person, identify them, and open a file on them if there isn’t one already.”

“No shit!”

“No shit. And not only that, but every grand dragon, imperial lizard, whatever you call them, if they’re not active FBI informants, they’re most likely undercover FBI agents.”

He cut his eyes nervously to the other office, where the big boss man briskly shoveled about a dozen fried eggs, a quart of grits, and half a dozen biscuits down his maw.

“No, he ain’t,” he said, staring at his boss through the glass.

“Oh, well, believe what you want, but don’t be surprised if you ever flunk a federal background check.”

“Huh. How do you know so much about it?”

He was looking at me now with a weird expression on his inbred face. I should have picked up on it quicker, but at the moment I didn’t care. I hate such ignorance, and to go one-on-one with one of them was just too tempting to pass up.

“How do I know about the Klan? What do you think? I grew up in the South. I’ve been in prison since the Seventies. You have no idea how many morons, prisoners and guards, I’ve met in prison who wore pillow cases over their heads and burned crosses. You guys love to brag.”

“You don’t like the Klan?” He was getting hostile now, eyes squinting, forehead wrinkling and getting redder.

“Like the Klan? What’s there to like? Any white person who joins the KKK, I guarantee you, has got to be one of the dumbest, most ignorant cowards there is. They give white people a bad name. For fools who claim they are superior, they are the most inferior idiots and shitheads on the planet.”

Now he stood up, pointing his finger at me, losing control, spittle bubbling and spewing, stuttering, his primitive little brain overloaded with emotion at the insult to his social club.

“You ought n-n-not be t-t-talking all that shit about d-d-decent white folks who’s trying to save the-the-the world from going to hell in a handbasket, all the n-n-niggers trying to t-t-take over.”

“Let them have it, I say. You guys haven’t done a very good job of running the world so far. Hell, you can’t even run a kitchen.”

He stormed out. That wasn’t the end of it. They had their plans for me, a smart-ass white boy with a slick mouth. Hey, is it my fault I have a difficult time resisting a debate with a racist who has a double-digit I.Q.? I guess it is. And so I would suffer the consequences.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Regarding Charles Norman and the latest round of punishment

Dateline: St. Patrick's Day 2010

Regarding Charles Norman and the latest round of punishment:

The Disciplinary Report hearing that was postponed from Thursday, 03/11/10, was held on Tuesday, 03/16/10, at 6 AM. This kangaroo court found Charles Norman, #881834, guilty and gleefully sent him to confinement for 30 days. In spite of all our written witness statements refuting every phony charge against him, Charlie was still found guilty of unspecified mail violation, running a business from prison, and entering contests, just as the warden predicted before any hearing was held.

We believe the exercise of this entire process is in retaliation against Charles Norman that is predicated on an essay he wrote about the actions of Ku Klux Klan guards at work in Florida prisons, and that it is specifically designed to not only effectively deny him his First Amendment rights, but also to severely hinder his efforts to obtain parole and his access to due process.

What can possibly be gained by this harassment of a man already wrongfully incarcerated for over 32 years? Who profits by silencing a gifted writer and able witness to the human condition?

If this action by Florida D.O.C. overweening despots offends you as much as it does me, please make calls, send faxes, and e-mail to the following expressing your support of Charles Norman and asking for this entire Disciplinary Report and the hearing to be investigated. Charles Norman should be released from confinement, the Disciplinary Report removed from his record, and he should be immediately transferred to Sumter C.I., a move which has been approved since June, 2009. Further, no additional punitive action should be taken against Charles Norman.

Contact information:

1) Warden Steve Wellhausen (Tomoka C.I.)

Phone # 386 -323-1070 fax 386-323-1006

2) D.O.C. Gen. Counsel Kathleen Von Hoene

Phone 850-488-2326 fax # 850-922-4355

3) Dept. of Corrections Secretary Walter A. McNeil ( Tallahassee )

Phone # 850-488-7480 fax 850-488-4534

4) Inspector General D.O.C. Gene Hatcher

phone 850-488-9265 fax # 850-414-0953

5) Regional Director Gerald Abdul-Wasi

Phone # 352-989-9111 fax 352-989-9113

6) Florida Gov. Crist e-mail

Fax # 850-487-0801

7) State Senator Gary Siplin e-mail

8) State Senator Al Lawson e-mail

Thank you.

Libby Dobbin

Friend of Charlie