Saturday, April 3, 2010


Dateline: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 DAY FIFTEEN IN SOLITARY


Today is Passover. In a few days we’ll celebrate Good Friday followed by Easter Sunday. I take that back—you may be celebrating Holy Week, but there is no celebrating in “disciplinary confinement.” We are the forgotten ones. Today, being Passover, seems fitting, since we have definitely been “passed over” by those charged with our care, custody, and control. Yesterday, the prison chaplain made his obligatory rounds through “the hole,” passing by us so fast that for a moment I flashed back to the Vancouver Olympics, watching the speed skater, Apolo Ohno, zoom past the finish line for the gold.

In a few minutes I’d like to tell you about a memorable Easter experience in prison, in another time and place, but first I must comment on my appeal of this egregiously retaliatory “disciplinary report” that resulted in my letters from solitary the past fifteen days.

When I first learned on February 22, 2010, that mailroom clerk, Ms. T. Gronik, had intercepted, read, and arbitrarily decided on January 28, 2010, that my memoir, “To Protect The Guilty,” published in the anthology, “Wordsmith 2010,” was a “threat to security,” I put aside the crucial legal research I was doing on my criminal case and focused on the law pertaining to mail, censorship, prison writings, the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and other applicable laws. Little did I know that the content of my story about my factual experiences with retaliatory Ku Klux Klan prison guards many years before at an unnamed prison would trigger reprisals by prison higher-ups in 2010.

I soon realized that like jungle predators they had been “lying in wait” (operative word: lying, in verb form) for an opportunity to get even with me, to teach me a lesson for the contents of my other writings, specifically formal written grievances seeking redress of wrongs committed by them in their heavy-handed misapplications of state laws and rules. Kill the messenger. Ms. Gronik’s actions gave them the opportunity to slam me and silence my protected writings on two fronts: to punish me for telling the public about another one of the prison system’s “dirty little secrets,” rampant racism and tension among many prison staff (not an isolated problem), and to hinder, intimidate, and otherwise retaliate against me for bringing up their mishandling and abuses of their absolute discretion over our lives in formal complaints. In their minds, the state laws and rules don’t apply to them, and Heaven help anyone who calls them on it.

Because they screwed up the initial paperwork (it is still screwed up), requiring them to rewrite the D.R., I had more time than usual to research the law on the First Amendment and Freedom of Speech. What I found is that there is a huge body of law, much of it decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, that protects prisoners’ rights regarding mail, correspondence, permissible reading materials, and their own creative works. I also found that everything the “authorities” did in this instance was not only dead wrong, but violative of a plethora of state and federal laws, so much so that the first question I had to ask myself was, “where do I start?” Two quotes that apply:

“A prisoner’s allegation of being punished in response to the exercise of First Amendment rights to free speech and redress the government states a claim. An inmate who proves that he was retaliated against for filing an administrative grievance establishes a violation of his First Amendment rights.” (See Wildberger v. Bracknell, 869 F.2d 1467, 1467-68 (11th circ.1989)


“The gist of a retaliation claim is that a prisoner is penalized for exercising the right of free speech.” (Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F 3rd 1483, 1490 (11th cir.1997), quoting Thomas v. Evans, 880 F.2d 1235, 1242 (11th cir.1989)

One of the landmark cases, Procunier v. Martinez, (416 U.S. 396, 1974), offers a tremendous lode of wisdom from the U.S. Supreme Court. One brief quote is on direct point for what the authorities at this prison did concerning, “To Protect The Guilty,” and sounds like it was written for them: “These regulations fairly invited prison officials and employees to apply their own personal prejudices and opinions as standards for prison mail censorship.’ (416 U.S. 415)

Over the years, the courts have let the prison systems nationwide get away with many violations of law, justifying their inactions at times by saying that since running a prison is so challenging, the courts must allow administrators “considerable deference” and latitude in how they do their jobs; however, another landmark case sums up so accurately the situation I am dealing with that I want to close this part of my letter with a revealing quotation: “The ‘considerable deference’ to prison officials does not apply to prison officials who are so inexperienced and unaware of constitutional rights and law that they allow their personal prejudices and feelings to override existing regulations, in violation of well-settled law…Prison regulation which impinges on inmates’ constitutional rights cannot be sustained as ‘reasonably related’ to legitimate penological interest, where logical connection between regulation and asserted goal is so remote as to render policy arbitrary or irrational, or where goal is not legitimate and neutral one.” (See Turner v. Safly, 482 U.S. 78,89,107,s.ct.2254, (1987).

What is even more amazing is that the rule I was sent to solitary confinement for allegedly violating does not even exist! If you have your computer or volumes of the Florida Administrative Code handy, which contains “Chapter 33,” the rules governing much of the Department of Corrections, look up Chapter 33-201.101, (9) (12) and (13). Look hard! Can’t find it? I couldn’t either. It is not there. It does not exist. But there it is, plain as day, on assistant warden Angela Gordon’s D.R. statement of facts, “a direct violation…as stated in Chapter 33-201.101, (9) (12) & (13).” The law is clear. The D.R. is defective and void. Yet here I am.

Back to Easter celebrations in times past.

The prison system experienced a veritable renaissance in the theory and practice of how to run a prison fairly and smoothly in the mid-1980’s. This enlightened period came about when mature, responsible prisoners worked together with experienced and knowledgeable wardens to improve the overall prison conditions, giving the prisoners the chance to show they deserved more privileges. The Easter Sunrise Service at Zephyrhills C.I. in 1986 serves as an excellent example of what could be accomplished by everyone working together for a common goal.

At four a.m. a work crew of prisoners began taking all the folding chairs from the building and setting them up in a large paved area by the chapel, at the front of the prison. A wooden stage had been set up, and a large wooden cross built by prisoners was erected behind the stage.

At five a.m. prisoners’ visitors from the outside, families and friends, began entering the visiting park, where coffee urns, orange juice, and milk for the kids were ready and waiting. The chow hall bakers made cinnamon rolls and snacks for the early risers. Jaycee members handed out carnation corsages to the women and girls.

After check-in and processing, over one hundred visitors joined two hundred fifty prisoners outside, within the prison, for the Easter Sunrise Service.

At five-forty-five a.m., an outside church choir joined with the prison choir and band to sing several hymns. An outside minister opened with a prayer. As the sun rose to the east, State Senator john Grant, a devout Christian and attorney from Tampa, gave a moving and enlightening sermon concerning the trial and execution of Jesus from a legal point of view. That got everyone’s attention.

In light of our own laws and procedures for accusing, trying, convicting, and executing a condemned man, Senator Grant went step-by-step through the entire process endured by Jesus, and showed how many legal violations and errors occurred. In spite of all that, Jesus never protested, but let it continue on. An innocent man was tried, convicted, and executed based on false evidence and false witnesses. I could identify with that. It gave us all a lot to think about, in God’s plan.

After a few more songs, we had an Easter egg hunt. It wasn’t easy. I wrote the memos weeks before, made all the arrangements, got all the permissions from the top dogs, but on Good Friday, I got called up front. The warden and his subordinates had the schedule and memos I’d produced spread out on a table, seriously contemplating them. He spoke.

“Norman, you’ve done an excellent job putting all this together, but we have one major concern.”

“Let me guess, sir, the Easter egg hunt.”
“That’s right. It’s never been done before. How many children do you expect?”

“Between twenty and fifty. We have enough baskets and eggs to cover more, if necessary.” (Actually, twenty-nine children participated).

“Do you know how many child molesters we have at Zephyrhills, Norman?”

“Quite a few.”

“That’s right. And we can’t afford to have one of them harm a child. I’d lose my job. How are you going to deal with that? We don’t have enough staff to isolate and watch all the perverts.”

“We’ve got that handled, sir. You don’t have to worry about it.”

“You have? How?”

“We’ve already identified every Chester the Molester, we’ve talked to them, and told them we will have a line set up that they can’t cross. They can’t come within a hundred feet of the area marked off for the Easter egg hunt, or they will suffer serious consequences.”

“How are you going to enforce it?”

“We have our own security crew of volunteers, a dozen large men, convicted murderers and armed robbers, no sex charges, who have pledged to guard those children with their lives. No perverts will be in the vicinity.”

The warden broke out laughing. “Murderers and robbers are gong to guard against the child molesters. That’s brilliant. The lieutenant here will be on duty Sunday, so get with him.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Norman, I’m going to stand way back out of the way. If you need any assistance, give me a wave.” The warden had one more question. “I’ve been looking over these work assignment lists. You’ve got over eighty inmates working on this project in their off-duty time for weeks, and they’ll be up at four a.m. working their butts off Sunday morning. I have a hard time getting anyone to work around here. We have to threaten them with lockup to get cigarette butts picked up. You have crews picking up trash and cigarette butts all weekend, to make the place look good. How do you get so many men to work voluntarily when I can’t?”

“Don’t you know, sir? That’s why they call it, ‘organized crime.’ ”

We didn’t need any assistance from security. Everything went like clockwork. A blessed time was had by all. We even gave the molesters the leftover cinnamon rolls after the visitors returned to the visiting park.

That will never happen again in prison. Where once our families could attend prison church services with us, thereby strengthening our bonds, in their infinite wisdom, all those programs have been shut down. Meanwhile, I pray you have a nice Easter celebration of your own. I’ll do the best I can.

A Note: One thing about being in lockup is that it gives me time to catch up on my Bible studies. It is easy to get behind. If you have trouble with that, too, let me recommend an excellent free publication by Rev. Charles Stanley, “In Touch” Magazine. Besides inspirational stories, it has a section that will help you read the Bible in a year, with a daily calendar and lists of verses to read each day of the month, an easy task, with explanations of the reading.

Go to to subscribe. Tell them Charlie sent you.

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