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.”