Monday, December 24, 2012


Dateline: Christmas Eve   12/24/2012

by Charles Patick Norman

I'm beginning to look like Santa Claus,
Is that a white beard growing on my jaws?

May I share with you my Christmas blessing,
Times are tough for most I'm only guessing.

At the brink of Mideast war we seek peace,
From the rule of mad men they seek release.

Perhaps I should call it my Christmas wish,
That those who govern are wise, not foolish.

There can be no joy for those in Newtown,
Lord bring the domestic body count down.

We mourn the senseless loss of innocents,
And vow to make schools safe for all students.

They say it's better to give than receive,
Much better to celebrate life than grieve.

Smile at someone you wouldn't otherwise,
Say Merry Christmas with your voice and eyes.

Find it in your hearts to forgive others,
Even if they are sisters and brothers.

Although far from home on this special night,
Merry Christmas all, may your joy be bright.

Merry Christmas from Charlie and Libby
Okaloosa C.I.  12/22/2012
We wish you peace.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Dateline Sunday, December 9, 2012

On today’s Face The Nation news program, Bob Schieffer interviewed Newark, NJ, Mayor Cory Booker, about his attempt to live on the same amount of food that the average food stamp recipient could purchase in a week. He got hungry.

If he thought it was rough to live on food stamps for a week, he should come to Florida, and try to sustain himself on what state prisoners are served. He’d be thrilled to get the food stamps.

Mayor Booker spent thirty dollars on a week's worth of groceries, which comes out to be about $1.40 per meal, $4.20 per day. For breakfast, he ate an apple. He bought various canned goods, and made a casserole that he snacked on in the afternoon.

In contrast, the Florida Department of Corrections allocates about $1.54 per prisoner per day for their food budget, or about 51 cents per meal, an historic low.

How in the world can they feed close to 100,000 prisoners on such a limited budget, you ask? It's not easy. It's also not tasty nor filling. If it weren't for the sacrifices of many prisoners' families and friends subsidizing their loved ones by sending money to their prison canteen accounts to buy extra food, there would be many more hungry, dissatisfied prisoners creating problems than there are now. Thievery is endemic.

Over thirty-two years ago, when I came to Raiford, Union C. I., Florida's biggest prison at the time (2,600 men), also known as, "The Rock," the prison food budget averaged about $2.86 per person per day, almost double today's budgeted amount. In 2012 dollars, that $2.86 per day would be closer to $6.00, four times the actual amount spent today. The prison system was much smarter in those days, fed better, and stretched their food dollars much further.

Cattle grazing on 15,000 acres of state pastureland were butchered and processed in the prison slaughterhouse each week, providing beef for all. Pork from the huge hog farming operation was also a staple. Another prison operated a catfish farm, and prison chicken farms provided eggs.

Statewide prison agricultural operations provided tons of fresh vegetables. Thousands of prisoners provided free labor on all those operations. Thousands of other prisoners labored on outside work squads, on road crews cutting grass and picking up litter, working on Department of Transportation crews, and for numerous local and state government agencies. Prisoners worked hard and were fed relatively well, with real meat and vegetables. Other prisoners were trained in food prep classes and at the Quincy Baking School, preparing meals that were tasty, filling, and nutritious. Hungry people won't work as hard. Things are much different now.

With the budget crises and shortfalls, and state prisons bursting with the results of the "War On Crime," and over 30,500 people drawing paychecks in the FDOC, as opposed to less than 7,000 on the payroll thirty years ago, and faced with rising medical costs and huge infrastructure expenses, the "powers-that-be," when required to make more budget cuts, say, "Let's cut the food budget another quarter!" That is the wrong place to shortchange the system. Unless wiser heads prevail, it will only get worse.

Some people will inevitably say, "They're only prisoners. They committed crimes. Starve them. Give them bread and water!" These same people, once their son or daughter, or other loved one went to prison, rightly or wrongly, and heard what they were living on, beans, greens, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, grits, and other meager, flavorless staples made from soy, would be the first to send a money order or Western Union to their canteen account, so they could buy supplementary food in the prison commissary, or spend $25.00 in the prison visiting park on overpriced hamburgers and sandwiches unavailable to most of the prison population.

In my thirty-four plus years of continuous incarceration, I've never seen anyone starve to death in a Florida prison. You eat three meals a day, everything on your tray, you'll survive. You won't like it, but you'll live. That's about it. Hope you love grits.

I've known of certain dissidents going on hunger strikes, but those are unusual occurrences. In 1979, after Governor Bob Graham signed the first death warrant after the new death penalty law was enacted, condemned man, John Spenkelink (who turned down a 15-year plea bargain), was prepared for electrocution in "Old Sparky," the infamous electric chair at Florida State Prison. In a show of protest and solidarity, over 1100 FSP prisoners went on a hunger strike. After Spenkelink took his ride to eternity, the prison officials ordered the kitchen to start frying chicken. For several hours the aroma of chicken grease wafted through every wing of the prison. That's all it took. The hunger strike was broken.

I am blessed and grateful that someone loves me and cares enough to drive hundreds of miles to visit me and share a prison canteen meal  costing over $22 for two people, more expensive than Applebees, but we are a captive market. To try and live on the $1.54 daily food budget out of the canteen is impossible. A little flat Ramen soup pack, 58 cents, and a sleeve of saltines, 81 cents, don't leave much leeway with the $1.54 daily allowance. One would surely be hungry if limited to that.

I invite Mayor Booker to visit us in Florida and share a tray of chow hall food with us. Several years ago, at another prison facility, the Kairos Prison Ministry volunteers from Jacksonville joined us to eat the noon meal in the prison chow hall. The late Ron Hale, a big man used to eating well, set down his tray on the table at his place, looked at the indeterminate gray mix in the entree slot, and asked, "You guys really eat this stuff, Charlie?"

I replied, "I'll take it. Thanks. I'm hungry."

You would be, too.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Here are 2 new poems for your amusement. Charlie continues to work at improving his writing skills. As always, he welcomes any input, opinions, and constructive criticism.

We hope your holiday season is off to a good start.


by Charles Patrick Norman

Something happened

I didn’t understand,

So I asked my friend why.

He replied, “Sometimes it bees that way.”

I felt a buzzing in my head.

Something else happened

that made no sense to me,

So I asked him again to explain.

He said, “It is what it is.”

For some reason that infuriated me,

so I reared back my fist and

punched him straight in the mouth.

The buzzing in my head went away.

He looked at me, hurt, and asked,

“Why did you do that?”

And I answered, “Sometimes it bees that way,”

and punched him in the mouth again.

Holding a rag to his bleeding lip,

he asked me, “What was that for?”

And I said, “It is what it is,

except when it ain’t.”

He shut up.

No further questions.

and another one:


by Charles Patrick Norman

You say life is an accident, yet

I hear a crow cawing, another answering,

And wonder at your ignorance.

You say there is no God, yet

I look at the lines in my hand

And see our lie.

You say there is no hereafter, yet

When your child lay sick

You begged God to save her.

You say there is no evil, yet

I see men caged by men

Surrounded by darkness and hate.

You say there is no hope, yet

I see a son on his father’s lap, asking,

“Daddy, when are you coming home?”

Sunday, November 11, 2012


One of my earliest memories was my grandfather saying “Grace” before every meal. I called my mother’s father, Floyd Franklin Walker, “Bebaw,” from the time I could talk, and my grandmother, Velva Marie, “Memaw.” We would gather round the table, with the tantalizing aromas of breakfast, dinner, or supper filling the room, and look expectantly toward Bebaw to say grace before digging in. an outwardly serious man with a gruff voice, inside Bebaw was deeply emotional, and every time he recited the blessing that his father before him said, everyone knew he was talking to God from his heart.

The prayer never changed, in homage to his father and grandfather before him, and the words became indelibly imprinted in my memory. I remember the last Thanksgiving I shared with my grandparents, in their house at 1324 Della Street in Texarkana, sitting at the big table with various aunts, uncles, cousins, and other loved ones, so many that the children were served at a table in another room, my grandmother directing the team of womenfolk who brought steaming platters to the table. Bebaw was sick with the cancer that killed him. He’d lost weight, becoming a shadow of his former dominant physical self, but when all eyes turned to him, expectantly waiting for the blessing, his voice sang out powerfully and sure.

On this Thanksgiving, despite all the travails, I have much to be thankful for, and I want to share the blessing that my grandfather bestowed to me. My dear friend, Libby, will be sharing a modest canteen meal with me inside a prison visiting park, and I hope to share this grace with her.


Righteous Heavenly Father,
Look down on us
with tender mercy, Lord.
Direct your blessings
to sanctify these table offerings
for the nourishment of our bodies.
We ask these things
in Jesus’ precious name.

The following is a family photograph from 1913, when Bebaw was seven years old, at left, shading his eyes, with his parents, John Richard and Millie Francis Walker, brothers and sisters, in Texas. By that age, Bebaw had memorized his father’s prayer, just as I memorized it decades later, and now pass it along to you.

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving holiday surrounded by family and loved ones.



Saturday, November 3, 2012

WHITES ONLY Poem Receives Standing Ovation

Dateline 10/31/12

On Wednesday, October 31st, I completed a legal phone call to my lawyer, William Sheppard, in Jacksonville. Perhaps it was appropriate that it was a Hallowe’en phone call. In prison, when it comes to “Trick or Treat,” there are mostly “Tricks,” and very few “treats,” but on this Hallowe’en, Bill delivered a “treat.”

Much of our call concerned confidential issues, but Bill had no problem with my sharing this information.

A newspaper article described Bill Sheppard as “the renowned civil rights lawyer,” and he is that. He is famed for his many court battles, all the way to the United States Supreme Court, over the past forty-plus years,. I am fortunate and blessed to have him fighting for me.

Bill’s son is a filmmaker who produced a documentary about the Honorable Judge Henry Lee Adams, Florida’s first black federal judge, and the hurdles he overcame as a black lawyer in race-sensitive Jacksonville.

The Federal Bar Association invited Bill to be the keynote speaker at its Orlando gathering commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Middle District. The Middle District encompasses federal courts from Tampa and Orlando, to Daytona Beach. 185 federal magistrates and federal district judges were in attendance. It was quite an honor for Bill. The assemblage viewed the Adams documentary, then Bill spoke.

A little over two weeks ago I wrote a poem titled, “Whites Only,” recounting my memories of traveling across the South with my family in 1959, before the civil rights era came to prominence. Because Bill and I had discussed our own experiences from that time, and he’d previously told me about the documentary, I dedicated “Whites Only” to him. I mailed the handwritten poem to Libby, who typed it and sent it to Bill. I respect Bill’s opinion on writing, and Libby sends him copies of most of my literary works. I asked if he’d gotten the poem and what he thought of it. Bill said he was moved by it, loved all my work, that each of us only has so much time in this world, and what we leave behind us matters. He said, “Charlie, if you checked out of this world this afternoon, you’d leave behind a helluva legacy of your works, already.” Coming from such a man of distinction, that encouragement meant a lot to me.

Bill told the federal judges that we can’t be complacent on this race issue, that contention continues, then he read my poem to the group. I asked him how they responded to it, and he told me, “Standing ovation!”

That amazed me, that such an austere group would respond so positively to a poem by a state prisoner and thereby validating what I was trying to communicate. It was such a pleasant surprise for me, on Hallowe’en, after the battles I’ve had with the Florida Department of Corrections over their repetitive and ongoing censorship of my First Amendment constitutional rights to communicate with the outside world. I’ve had outgoing letters containing handwritten literary works “disappear,” never received by the intended recipient, never to be seen again, taken by a prison employee mail clerk, while other letters were arbitrarily “refused,” with post-it notes declaring, “inmates can not[sic] write stories,” and “inmates can not[sic] write poems.”

I beg your pardon, but we still have a “Bill of Rights.” Further, every citizen has the right to “speak, write, and publish their thoughts,” according to the Florida Constitution. After unwavering effort, the poetry censorship has eased. Had it not, the federal judges would never had heard the poem.

I’ve asked Libby to include “Whites Only” here. I would like your comments and feedback, and any experiences you might have had that you’d like to share.

A Poem by Charles Patrick Norman

(for Bill Sheppard)

It seemed odd, the barn roofs across rural Alabama
painted with Coca Cola and Burma Shave,
(there were no interstates in the South in 1959),
and every third billboard, it seemed, proclaimed,
“Impeach Earl Warren.” “Who is Earl Warren, Daddy?”
and, “Why do they want to impeach him?” I asked.

It seemed forever, our annual trek from Tampa
to Texarkana, to visit our grandparents, the race
across the South had only one entrant, our father
treating every gasoline refill as a NASCAR pit stop
to be done in thirteen-point-four seconds or thereabouts,
Heaven forbid, one of us say, “Daddy, I gotta pee.”

It seemed that Mississippi was one huge cotton field
hundreds of miles wide, lined with pitiful wood shanties abutting
the East-West-two-lane highway in front and outhouses
out back at the very abyss of the first green row.
“Daddy, can we stop and ask those black people
if I can use their outhouse, or just pee beside the road?”

It seemed the only gas station in Mississippi
wasn’t much bigger than the tiny shanties we passed.
The first thing I noticed were the two rusty water fountains
with signs behind them proclaiming “Whites Only” and “Colored.”
The old man sitting on the kitchen dinette chair out front
pointed with his chin when I asked for the restroom.

It seemed silly that I had to choose between two doors,
“Whites Only” and “Colored,” neither one looked special,
but I chose white, since I was one, and pulled open
the flimsy wooden door with no knob, just a round hole,
to be stopped short by the ammonia burn of stale urine,
then I gagged — the toilet stopped up, feces floating, overflowing.

It seemed my only alternative was to seek fresh air.
After I peed on the old tires stacked high in the weeds
at the back of the station, I ran to our car,
where my father impatiently thrummed his fingers on the seat back
and my mother read “Perry Mason,” refusing to look left or
right across Mississippi, avoiding childhood memories of Arkansas cotton.

It seemed unlikely that all those people sitting on porches of
those passing shanties knew I’d peed on old tires behind
the only gas station in Mississippi, but I felt like their
black faces accused me of something, though I wasn’t sure
what, since I hadn’t done much wrong in my ten years of existence,
at least I didn’t think so, ignorance being no excuse.

Lying on the backseat remembering how my sandals stuck
to the sticky restroom floor (“Whites Only”), I saw
in my imagination a black child coming out the “Colored”
door and peering past him to see shiny porcelain sinks,
polished toilets, white tile floor glistening where the black
man cleans, never daring to enter the door proclaiming “Whites Only.”


Monday, October 22, 2012



By Charles Patrick Norman

The four of us on Franklin Street one Saturday we walked,

My younger brothers ran ahead to peer in store windows

While I stretched my small steps beside my father’s strides

In blind imitation of his proud strut I stalked.

We came upon a withered man in dirty clothes upon the ground,

Against a vacant building door he leaned with dried flowers in hand,

Twisted red crepe paper, green wire stems, not worth much, to me,

Yet my father reached deeply in his pocket, giving all the quarters he found.

He handed me the flower, a poppy, symbol of a long-ago great war,

I did not understand why he paid a price so dear and asked him.

He said we can never repay that man for what he sacrificed,

“I’d have given him dollars, not silver, were we not so poor.”

In times to come I found my father never passed a beggar by

Without sharing what little he had for a pencil, smile, or God bless you.

He tossed his precious packs of Camels to road prisoners from his car

In high spinning arcs that one grinning soul snatched deftly from the sky.

He’s gone now, my father, these many years, yet his heart beats on in me,

I try to do what he would do for those less fortunate than I,

Even when it is the last I have with none to come, or more,

I think of us four on Franklin Street that day, when I was young and free.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Saturday, October 6, 2012



By Charles Patrick Norman

We are The Squanderi, the squandered ones,

You know us, but you turn your head

At the disturbing sight that otherwise offend

Your refined senses of justice, opportunity, and

The American Dream.

Our mothers were Squanderi before us,

Pre-teen pregnant, high on drugs offered freely

Through corporate neighborhood distribution networks

That start with billionaires with ships, airplanes and warehouses,

Down to teen dealers wearing Air Jordans passing out free samples

To addict each new generation of Squanderi to their losing ways

Of stealing from their Squanderi mothers and grandmothers

Who tend them,

To selling drugs themselves to feed their habits,

To trading their Squanderi bodies

For a few hours of narcotized oblivion.

We are the Squanderi babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome,

Premature babies the size of rabbits or squirrels

Removed from Squanderi wombs,

Already twitching from withdrawals

Our primitive pleasure centers calling out

For crack cocaine before we’ve tasted

Tainted mother’s milk,

Or seeking heroin, or pills of corporate choice,

Oxycodone and her sisters.

We are The Squanderi children

Who wander, lost,

Off the bus to elementary schools miles away,

Hungry, no breakfast, no eggs, milk or juice

Like your pink-cheeked cherubs with warm clothing,

New shoes, backpacks stuffed with school supplies and cell phones.

What’s a cell phone?

It’s what the dealers hold up to their ears

Or tap with their fingers and smile.

We are The Squanderi children who sit at the back of the classroom,

Starving, vacant-eyed, staring at the backs of the heads

Of your well-tended children who raise their hands

With the answers to unintelligible questions

Of that teacher who drones on and on

And never looks our way.

It is too disturbing.

It won’t do them any good, anyway,

An education.

They are Squanderi.

We are The Squanderi.

We descend upon “the convenience store” in our flocks

Like robins on a strawberry field,

Hoping to snatch a Twix or Skittles or beef jerky

Or a bag of Lays Potato Chips

Before we are shooed and hustled out the door

By the dark-skinned man who curses us

In some unknown tongue learned

In even worse slums of Mumbai, or Bombay,

Or whatever they’re calling it now,

A man now driving a shiny foreign car

Manufactured in Tennessee or Alabama

By Japanese or Germans or other folks

Who were shooting at Grandpa

Scant decades ago, and are now our friends

In prosperity that never seems to trickle down

To the bottom of the barrel where we squirm

And fend for ourselves,

Too many hands with manicured nails above us

Scooping out the meat before the broth reaches us.

When we Squanderi are hungry we will do things

That do not occur to you or us when our bellies are full,

Like the day the food stamps come on the card

And Grandma fries a chicken and potatoes

And we drink milk for two or three days

Until the gallon jug is empty.

What are food stamps, you ask?

We are The Squanderi children,

Diseased, impregnated

By those who squander our bodies

And discard us along with our sick babies,

Like those before us, waiting in lines,

Visiting our wasted mothers with brown teeth

Rotted from crystal meth along with their minds.

What did you bring me?

In jails and distant prisons, but not our fathers,

Who we wouldn’t recognize anyway

Unless Maury Povich gives DNA tests

To the neighborhood dope men on TV,

A lengthy process of elimination,

“You are NOT the Father!”

We are The Squanderi who used to fill up the mental hospitals

Until the rich politicians closed them down

So they could free up more tax dollars to steal,

Let them eat cake, or stand in line at the Salvation Army

Or some do-gooder soup kitchen like everyone else.

So now we live in homeless shelters, or cardboard boxes

In alleys, under eight-lane bridges, or city parks,


The Good Citizens who hold their breaths

And turn up their noses,

Offended by the stench of The Squanderi.

Don’t give them anything—

It only encourages them.

Why don’t those people get jobs

And better themselves, instead of taking

Government handouts from taxpaying citizens?

Jobs doing what?

Picking tomatoes at some corporate agricultural conglomerate

Twenty miles from the projects where not even

Illegal immigrant farmworkers dare to tread,

In fear of the white men in jackets with “ICE”

On the backs?

And then what?

Find our way back to town and trade

Twenty dollars to the teen with the cell phone

To his ear

For a few yellow crack rocks?

We are The Squanderi, who fill the juvenile “homes,”

The courts, the jails, the prisons

With “mandatory lifes,”

And some of us, the lucky ones,

Get strapped into polished wood chairs

With electrical connections pioneered by

Thomas Alva Edison and George Westinghouse

(Ask Mr. Google — he knows everything),

Better known for consumer products

That make your lives easier, insulated

So that your pink-cheeked cherubs

Won’t be “accidentally” electrocuted

By the dishwasher or plasma screen TV.

The jolts of electricity fry our brains

One last good time,

Smoke comes out our ears until

Our unwanted Squanderi bodies

Are carted away

For further cremation

With those Squanderi before us,

Ashes to ashes.

Or “The Authorities” will pump our veins full

With corporate drugs designed for “euthanasia”

Of dogs and cats and other surplus animals

Like us, The Squanderi,

They “put us to sleep” like Fido and Muffy,

One last shot of chemical dependency,

A final buzz at the buzzer,


We’ll never be this high or low again.

Thanks, I needed that. Better to die now

Than spend an eternity in your cages

Built by other Squanderi, supervised by

Fat white men with clipboards, hard hats and shiny trucks.

We are The Squanderi. Pay no attention to us.

We are not of your class or your world.

We are just “The Wasted Ones,”

On the way to the dump

With the other trash.

Pray to your God that you never join us.


Saturday, September 22, 2012


Dateline: 09/22/2012

How does one defend himself against wrong? In prison, a person has limited choices in how to respond to actions by others, especially when the wrongs are committed by prison employees, both guards and others.

To supposedly offer otherwise disenfranchised prisoners an avenue to redress any wrongs committed against them by prison staff members, in accordance with Federal regulations, Florida implemented a “grievance system” that is designed to provide a means to solve certain problems that affect them.

It sounds good in theory, but in application it often becomes a triggering event that sparks retaliation against the prisoner who dares to complain.

As someone whose spirit and will have never been broken by the yoke of incarceration and who refuses to silently absorb whatever unjust punishments certain bellicose and domineering types decide to inflict upon me, during my 34 years of imprisonment I have made full use of the remedies guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States of Constitution to redress grievances against the government, to my repeated detriment.

“Don’t get mad, get even,” could be the credo adopted by many subjects of complaint, since retaliation is a common result of filing a grievance in prison. Prisoners are retaliated against in many ways, and over time, if I haven’t experienced the retaliation personally, I’ve observed it happen to others, from unwarranted disciplinary reports, removal from decent prison jobs, to lockup in solitary confinement, to punitive transfers to distant, more severe locations far from home. I have personally experienced all of these. Other less fortunate prisoners who dared to file grievances against sadistic guards have weathered gassing with pepper spray, beatings, and even death.

One of the first things my friend, Jack Murphy, told me when I came to prison at “The Rock,” Raiford, Florida, was how to tell when a prison employee was lying:

“If their lips are moving, they’re lying.”

Perhaps that may seem like a broad judgment, but time after time I’ve found it to be true.

“I won’t lie to you, but I will lie on you.”

A guard who bragged that he had written over 400 disciplinary reports (D.R.’s) in one year told me that. He got promoted to sergeant. A year later he got fired for brutality and lying. He’s serving beer in a biker bar now. During his tenure as a “correctional officer,” he often boasted about how many prisoners he’d retaliated against for “writing him up” by planting contraband under their mattresses during contrived cell searched and by outright lies on D.R.’s.

That man is an extreme example, but not a unique one. Since I’ve been steadily fighting a series of retaliation and reprisals against me since about January, 2010, that so far have resulted in multiple false D.R.’s and two punitive transfers, it may prove enlightening to relate some incidents of reprisal and retaliation that have happened to me over the years. These incidents further illustrate the means and methods of how official retaliation is accomplished. Sometimes I wonder if they have a training manual and a course entitled, “How To Retaliate Against Prisoners And Get Away With It,” since the prevalence of these incidents is so widespread.

I’ve never written about how they retaliated against me at Avon Park C. I., but now is a good time. It is a classic.

I was punitively transferred from Polk C. I., near my family, to Martin C.I., almost 200 miles away, and spent eleven months trying to get transferred out of there. Through the intervention of a lawyer I finally made it out and was sent to Avon Park C. I., about ninety miles closer to home. Avon Park was known as a “sweet camp,” with better facilities and programs.

With my experience in printing and graphic arts, I got a good job as a vocational aide in the graphic arts department, which meant I taught graphic arts to about twenty students, and worked on projects for the administration and Central Office in Tallahassee. When I wasn’t working Monday through Friday, I enjoyed the abundance of nature and wildlife that surrounded the prison.

Avon Park is a fairly old prison, relatively small, and is nestled inside a corner of the massive Avon Park Air Force Base and Bombing Range, a piece of state property dwarfed by the federal swamp that dominates the ecology. During hunting season, deer, wild hogs, and turkey are pursued heavily through the woods and thickets. Drainage ditches crisscross the prison grounds in a losing battle to hold back the swamp. Sometimes the weed-filled ditches are four or five feet deep in murky water. Cottonmouth snakes (a.k.a. water moccasins) and other water snakes are frequently seen undulating through the ditch water, along with bull frogs that incessantly call to prospective mates all night. Prisoners buy bags of peanuts to feed the over-population of gray squirrels that boldly take the offerings from outstretched hands, and sometimes bite thumbs down to the bone with their yellowed incisors. Hawks and owls swoop down inside the fences and harvest the less-cautious and less-alert squirrels. Outside the perimeter fences herds of deer and flocks of wild turkeys appear in the early morning and evenings. Everglades kites, turkey vultures, black vultures and ospreys fly overhead, when the fighter jets and bombers aren’t making their training runs nearby, blasting the bejesus out of the bombing range. At night, gangs of twenty or thirty raccoons would sneak into the prison and turn over metal garbage cans and glean anything edible from the trash.

All was not right in paradise, as I found out after I filed a long-forgotten grievance to one of the prison plutocrats. Retaliation, next stop. Teach me a lesson.

Next thing I know, my name appeared on the daily job change sheet, from vocational graphic arts to “inside grounds,” a catch-all job category that served as a dumping ground for a couple hundred unskilled and otherwise unemployable prisoners who had very little to do but hang out, pick up an occasional cigarette butt or piece of litter, or cut grass. There is no unemployment in prison. Everyone has a job, even if it is in name only and little or no work is actually done. What are you going to do with a thousand men crammed in one small space, to justify giving them the “gain time” earned according to law? Nothing.

As soon as someone saw my name posted on the job change sheet and ran to tell me, I “knew what time it was,” as they say in prison. The vengeful plutocrat was expressing his displeasure with my grievance.

It became apparent to me that a simple job change was not the end of the retaliation, just the beginning, as soon as I reported to the Inside Grounds sergeant. I knew that going from a cushy position in the air conditioning to the “outside” was not the extent of the punishment. The sergeant, a large middle-aged guard in charge of the horde of “workers,” made his speech with hesitation and difficulty.

“Norman, I got nothing to do with this,” he said. “I’m just following orders, and for your own good I suggest you do the same.”


“Go sign for a weed whacker, and make sure it’s full of gas,” he said. “Get you a handful of them plastic replacement strings, then go over there and change out of your blues into those old work blues. Get a pair of goggles and rubber boots from my clerk. You’re my new ditch man.”

Great. The ditch man, armed with a weed whacker, would wade into the water-saturated ditches and whack the continuously growing weeds that slowed down the flow of water from the institution grounds to the swamp. The ditch man was the acknowledged worst job on the compound, relegated to whichever poor soul had been unfortunate enough to bring down the wrath of some vengeful official. There were only two prisoners assigned to the ditch crew. When the ditches were done, all the grass growing along the fences, buildings, roads and sidewalks had to be edged. With the year-round growing season and ideal conditions for weeds, weed whacking was a never-ending job, one you could not escape unless you went to lockup or were replaced by someone in even less favor than you.

I knew exactly how their minds were working. All they knew about me was their perception that I was the scholarly, academic type, better suited for a classroom or office, not the type to respond well to menial labor or getting my hands dirty. I could hear the plutocrat’s orders to the sergeant:

“Put Norman in the ditch with the weed whacker and the moccasins. (Ha Ha) He’ll never do it, so when he says no, LOCK HIM UP for refusing to work. That’ll teach him.”


Sorry, no sir, I wasn’t falling for such a crude, transparent ploy.

I changed out of my prison blue uniform, washed and pressed neatly by the laundry man (for a small, weekly fee), and into the ragged work blues reserved for the worst, dirtiest jobs. I took off my clean tennis shoes and put on the shin-high rubber boots. A lot of good they’d do me in chest-high water. I made sure the weed whacker was fully gassed, got the plastic foot-long lengths of string that spun around in a blur to cut the weeds, put on my goggles to keep the mud and weeds out of my eyes, and off I went to find a nice ditch.

It took a little getting used to, but soon I had the hang of it. A couple of former ditch crewmen who’d graduated to cigarette butt pickup gave me valuable pointers. I was determined to be the weed whackingest s.o.b. anyone had ever seen at Avon Park. I was going to raise the bar so high that they’d be talking about me for years to come.

I gingerly climbed into a shallow ditch, about a foot deep, first, to practice, to get the gas right, but soon I was off and running. I would gently nudge the water moccasins that came toward me out of the way. Occasionally, I would catch one behind its head and toss it on the bank, creating pandemonium among the lollygagging unemployed with nothing else to do, who meandered in my wake, watching, like I was live-action TV. I was a country boy! I grew up around all sorts of snakes. There’re few things more pleasing to a country boy than to toss a snake into a crowd of city boys who are scared to death of snakes. Watch them scatter!

When the weed whacker machine ran out of gas a couple of hours later, and I emerged from a particularly deep and muddy ditch, I looked like “The Swamp Monster.” Soaking wet, covered in mud, weeds and grass clippings from head to toe, my goggles were so heavily coated with muck that I could hardly see out of them. When I took them off, the only white place visible was where the goggles had blocked the mud and weed scraps.

Prisoners gave me a wide berth as I trudged back to the inside grounds shed. I was tired, I’d strenuously exerted myself, but I wasn’t done.

The sergeant’s jaw dropped when he saw me coming. He didn’t know who I was at first. Unlike the others who tried to stay out of the water higher than the tops of their boots, I had totally immersed myself in my job. My white teeth must have provided a great contrast to my mud-coated face when I smiled at the sergeant.

“Norman?” The sergeant appeared confused.


“Are you quitting>” He would reluctantly obey orders and lock me up if I refused to work.

“No, sir, I’m out of gas.”

He looked me up and down.

“Well, you done a lot already, I can tell,” he said. “Take the rest of the day off. Take your clean clothes with you, dump them you got on, take you a good shower, and go eat lunch. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“No, sir,” I said. “I’m not halfway done. I’ve got that big ditch on the east side to do. I love my job. This is the most fun I’ve had in years.”

“It is?”


“Well, uh, get you some more gas and get back to work. You’re doing a good job.”


I was the first one to work, and the last one to leave. He had to come get me to tell me it was time to go. Please don’t throw me into the briar patch!

My goals were two-fold: stay out of lockup, and spite the hell out of them. After that, I planned to get out of the ditch.

I called my friend and attorney, Gary, and filled him in on what was going down, what they were doing to me. He said to hang on for another week ─ he was going to pay a visit to the prison, come see me.

I could do another week. I didn’t like it, but I’d never let them know it.

I was chest-deep in a ditch the following week when the sergeant rushed to me, out of breath.

“Norman, get out of that ditch right now. I’ll take the equipment back. Get your ass to the dorm, take you a shower and put on some clean clothes. You got a lawyer up front to see you. The colonel called down here for you. Hurry up!”

I can play dumb when I really need to. I just act like everyone else.

“A lawyer?” I said, handing him the weed whacker. I pulled the goggles down around my neck, sat on the ground, poured the water out of my rubber boots, put them back on, and squished my way past the sergeant.

“Where you going, Norman?”

I didn’t even look back. “I’m going to see my lawyer.”

“You can’t go like that. You gotta get cleaned up.”

“No way, sarge. At two hundred dollars an hour, it’ll cost me a hundred bucks t change clothes. I’m going just like this.”

And I did.

The woman in the control room buzzed me through two gates into the gatehouse. I was caked in mud and weed fragments from head to toe, except for the reverse raccoon eyes where the goggles had kept my eye area clear. I looked at myself in the reflective glass, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon stared back. The Lord loves the working man, they say. I walked through the door into the hallway leading to the visiting room. The large colonel, the head guard, stood with his back to me, talking to my lawyer, Gary, well-dressed and very clean in a tailored suit. Gary saw me approaching and somehow knew it was me. He smiled at me while the colonel was talking.

“Sir, I swear to you that no one is retaliating against your client. We don’t do that. You ought to know that inmates lie. Inmates get job changes all the time, based on the needs of the institution and the correctional goals─”

“Excuse me,” Gary said, cutting him off in mid-lie, stepping around him and extending his hand to me.

I hesitated. “I don’t think you want to get that close to me, Gary. You can see for yourself what I’ve been doing all morning.”

“That’s all right,” he said, shaking my hand. “The colonel was just telling me what a good job you had.”

Perhaps the best word to describe the colonel’s expression was flabbergasted. Speechless. Tongue-tied. Some words finally stumbled out of his mouth.

“”I apologize, sir. I had no idea. I don’t know what to say. This won’t happen again.”

He hurried off to chew out someone, and Gary and I spent an hour talking.

When I got to inside grounds the sergeant met me at the door.

“Norman, you’re off the ditch crew. Take the day off. Go to the library, the chapel, take a walk, take a nap, I don’t care. I got orders to check you off every day. Don’t bother coming down here. Do what you want to do.”


The retaliation was over. A few weeks later my transfer to Sumter C. I. in Bushnell came through. I spent a fairly productive three and a half years there before I was subjected to another round of retaliation, but that is another story.


Sunday, September 9, 2012


Dateline: 08/10/2012

Did you know that rats can laugh? No joke! I’ve been reading “Scientific American” magazine off and on since high school, whenever I could latch onto a copy. Someone here subscribes to the magazine, and I’ve enjoyed reading several of the most recent issues. That’s where I learned about the laughing rats, in an excerpt from Jesse Bering’s new book, “Why Is The Penis Shaped Like That? ..And Other Reflections On Being Human,” in the July, 2012, issue.

I don’t know why the penis is shaped like that — you’ll have to read the book to find out — but I found the questions about animal laughter and whether only humans have a sense of humor fascinating and thought-provoking.

Jesse Bering prefaces the story about laughing rats with an anecdote about his experiences with a 450-pound western lowland gorilla named King. When Bering was 20, he spent some time with the 27-year old gorilla at a zoo, listening to Frank Sinatra and The Three Tenors, playing chase, and tickling the big guy’s toes. King would stick one huge, gray foot through the cage bars and leave it dangling in anticipation, erupting in shoulder-heaving guttural laughter when Bering grabbed hold of one of King’s toes and gently squeezed it.

“If you’ve never seen a gorilla in a fit of laughter,” Bering wrote, “I’d recommend searching out such a sight before you pass from this world.”

In another life, I had close encounters with a gorilla at the Houston Zoo, a cigarette smoking chimpanzee at the Lowry Park Zoo who would blow perfect smoke rings, and an elderly, retired boxing orangutan in a sanctuary near Palm Harbor, but none of them were laughing.

Do animals have a sense of humor? We’ve heard of laughing hyenas, dolphins with their fixed smiles, and many dog owners swear their best friends express a range of emotions, including smiles of joy in their physical expressions of pleasure.

The question that I’ve been asking and seeking the answer to for years in prison is “Do humans have a sense of humor?” Many times the answer is no.

Growing up watching The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Red Skelton, I Love Lucy, and so many other world-class comedians, along with sharing raucous laughter with gatherings of relatives when the men would crack jokes, I took it for granted that everyone had a sense of humor. Coming to prison, I found out differently.

Standing in a group of men listening to a “chain gang comedian” telling (most off-color) jokes, while most of the audience would be laughing (or groaning) at the punch lines, I was more interested in observing the ones who never cracked a smile, expressionless, like a cigar store wooden Indian. I wondered why the jokes that elicited laughter from everyone else had no effect on those others. Did they have a higher tolerance level? Did it take more for them to laugh? Or was there something inherently lacking in their personalities?

Having grown up in the South listening to my father and his brothers play one-upmanship with their expressions of humor, I developed an appreciation for well-told jokes that resulted in my recall and repeating of many old favorites over the years. I found that sharing some of those laugh inducers gave me opportunities to conduct a simplified personality inventory of certain people I wondered about. Prison can be a great laboratory.

Southerners, particularly Florida natives, have a particular affinity for humor involving out-of-state visitors. This is an example of one that is usually guaranteed to garner vaying degrees of laughter from my Southern compatriots:

A tourist made a wrong turn off the interstate and got lost in North Florida. After driving around for hours, he happened upon a country store, where he hoped to obtain directions back to civilization.

Getting out of his rental car, he approached an old farmer wearing overalls sitting on the porch playing chess with a bird dog. The old man moved a pawn, the bird dog moved a bishop, the old man took a pawn, and the bird dog put him in check. The old man turned over his king.

“My goodness,” the tourist said. “That must be the smartest dog in the world!”

“He can’t be too danged smart,” the farmer said, spitting tobacco juice into a can. “I done beat him three out of five games.”

Well, perhaps it’s not that funny, but you should have been there.

I’ve never told a joke to a rat, but Jesse Bering is sure that they laugh, all the same. Some of the most significant findings to emerge in comparative science in the past decade, Bering writes, have involved the unexpected discovery that rats — particularly juvenile rats — laugh. Scientists are now studying the possibility that our most commonly-used animal subjects may have “social joy-type experiences” during their playful activities. They especially like being tickled!

How do you tickle a rat? The lab assistants do it by rubbing the juvenile rats’ bellies with their thumbs, which evokes “laughter,” not like human laughter, however. The rat laughter comes in the form of high frequency ultrasonic calls, or chirps. The rats even have their favorite “ticklers,” and seek out the individuals who tickle them the best.

An interesting fact is that the young rats prefer the company of adult rats who laughed and enjoyed the tickling the most when they were juvenile rats. Did they have a better “sense of humor,” or is it that everyone loves the life of the party, even rats?

Do rats actually have a sense of humor, to go along with their laughter? Would they crack up if something bad happened to a cat they were observing, like in one of those “Sylvester and Tweety” cartoons? That hypothesis has not been studied yet.

The other end of the sense of humor index in prison involves not those who don’t laugh, but men who overly laugh, who laugh at anything, often inappropriately, bursting out with whooping horse laughs, gasping, tears flowing, falling over, far beyond how the average person responds to the stimulus.

I heard three men laughing uproariously in the hallway outside my cell one morning, and went to see what I was missing. The manic laughter drew the attention of several other prisoners who came out of their cells to see what was so funny.

One neighbor who had spent several years in the Florida State Mental Hospital at Chattahoochee before he was adjudicated sane and came to prison for life, dismissed the trio’s hilarity with a wave of his hand.

“That’s all you hear in the nuthouse, Charlie,” he said, turning to go back into his cell. “Day and night, they be laughing like maniacs.”

I suppose that is as good a reason as any.

Have you heard any good jokes lately?


Sunday, September 2, 2012



Some things should not be left to chance;
Why should those with youth lay claim to love?
While the music plays let us dance.

We’ve lived and learned from circumstance;
With age should we lose all hope for love?
Some things should not be left to chance.

Across the room you risked a glance;
The angels whispered from above,
While the music plays let us dance.

Romance is not extravagance;
Holding hands is not enough.
Some things should not be left to chance.

Together our lives have substance;
Shallow youth pales in our new love.
While the music plays let us dance.

We will not yearn for past remembrance;
Or store regrets for long-lost love.
Some things should not be left to chance.
While the music plays let us dance.

By Charles Patrick Norman, September 1, 2012
Editor’s note: In his continuing pursuit to develop a basic poetry workshop program, Charlie has been studying different poetic forms. This new piece is a villanelle, a poetic form that appeared in English language poetry in the 19th century from the French models, although the word itself is derived from the Italian, villanelle, and the Latin, villanus.

Characteristics of this form include the use of only two rhyme sounds with the first and third lines of the first stanza as the rhyming refrains. These refrains alternate as the third line in each successive stanza and together form a couplet at the close. A villanelle consists of nineteen lines arranged in five tercets and one concluding quatrain.

Villanelles do not tell a story or establish a conversational tone, but are comparable more to a lyrical dance form accompanied by sung lyrics or an instrumental piece.

The form enjoyed a revival beginning in the 1930’s. In the 1990’s many contemporary poets composed villanelles, often varying the form in innovative ways. One of the more well-known villanelles was written by the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, and was entitled, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”

Charlie’s efforts at improvement are ongoing, and he would welcome your comments and criticisms.

With gratitude,


Monday, August 20, 2012


TUESDAY, JULY 10, 2012

Although I can’t mail any letters until this illegal mail restriction is lifted that doesn’t mean I can’t write, so this latest “prison diary” project, documenting my inability to send out letters to my family and friends, serves as a good safety valve to release the incredible tensions and channel my energies in a positive direction, rather than lapse into a depressed state.

Another ironic instance: I’ve been meaning to write about the creative writing class at Wakulla Annex. I taught short story writing in the first one, from November, 2011, to January, 2012. I was dissatisfied with the curriculum they’d set up, put together by non-writers without any English study credentials or writing chops, not to mention they were devoid of effective teaching experience, and had never had anything published.

Despite all that, and a lack of materials (PEN was going to help us with materials and supplies in the next class, before I was transferred to Siberia, Florida), we had 169 men on the creative writing class waiting list. I couldn’t go anywhere without someone asking, “Can I get in the next class?”

I began teaching poetry classes in prison in 1995 at Sumter C. I. in conjunction with the “R.I.T.E. Program” teacher training run by Sister Ann Raymond Wood of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

Everyone was amazed at the response. Hard core convicts focused and struggled to find the right words for their haikus. I published a two-page sheet of twenty-four haikus written by twenty-three convicted felons and one Catholic nun. The question was, which one was written by the nun?

No one knew. They couldn’t tell the difference between murderers, rapists, robbers, burglars, thieves, and a nun. That drew some interesting observations from my literary mentors, Fielding Dawson and James J. Kilpatrick, who publicized and shared that fact. That was then. Back to Wakulla “faith-based” programs.

I wasn’t real happy with how they were managing the creative writing class, something that was in great demand and that had a powerful rehabilitative effect on prisoners, not only improving their ability to write and express themselves, but also developing “critical thinking skills,” something most prisoners lack. Although the prison, Wakulla Annex, was classified as a “faith-and-character-based” institution, the “business” classes and the creative writing classes were separate from the religious-oriented chapel programs, and held in the education building.

There is much more to “creative writing” than writing short stories. I am of the belief that students should be exposed to all aspects of creative writing, non-fiction as well as fiction, essays, journals, diaries, poetry and more. There are many talented people in prison who aren’t aware of their talents until they are mined and revealed to the light.

Poetry is one of those talents. I had discovered my own talent and desire to write poetry through the encouragement of a great teacher, Mrs. Vivian Barnard, in the 1980’s, at Zephyrhills, and I felt it was part of my personal mission to help others discover their hidden abilities. Over the years we had poetry classes, poetry readings of both prisoners’ works and classic poems from the masters, all of which were well attended. And there was never any talk of poetry not being “manly,” or only for “sissies.” Some of the baddest, toughest prisoners would come to me and say, “Charlie, I’m trying to write this poem for my mom. Would you read it, and tell me what you think?” And I would.

With all that background, at Wakulla I began asking prisoners if they would be interested in attending a poetry workshop. The answers were resoundingly positive. Through word-of-mouth only, in a month over one hundred men had signed up on a waiting list.

I contacted Hettie Jones, a fine lady and the most talented poet I know, who has taught poetry to women prisoners in New York for many years, for guidance, not only for advice on a curriculum, but also for philosophical insight so I could present a proposal to justify such a class. She recommended textbooks and shared her experiences of how poetry helped prisoners become rehabilitated and lead law-abiding lives upon their release. Poetry classes have been a highly cost-effective means of reducing recidivism. So what’s not to like about teaching poetry to prisoners? Nothing. It is a win-win for everyone ─ taxpayers and prisoners.

I put together an eight-week introductory poetry workshop, at no cost to the state. Then I got punitively transferred again, on March 28, 2012, here to Okaloosa, Florida. Siberia. So here we are. We are in an intellectual wasteland inhabited by clueless people who think the song, “Summertime,” (as in …”and the livin’ is easy…”), is a poem an inmate wrote and is trying to sell, and has obviously never heard of “Porgy and Bess,” or Broadway, for that matter, an whose only knowledge of New York is “that place where them damned Yankees” come from.

Every day men approach me and ask, “Are you gonna teach a writing class here?” I shake my head no, as much as they need such a class. The field is full and ripe, yet there are no pickers allowed to work. It would be like having Bible study in Hell. The Devil is against it.

In the meantime I plumb the depths of my own soul and reveal thoughts and feelings I didn’t realize were there. I put them on paper with the hope that my friend, Hettie, will read one day and say, “This one I like.” It will not matter that some small-minded, hateful person doesn’t like what I write. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and some others said I could write, and I will.


Thursday, August 16, 2012


MONDAY, JULY 9, 2012
Today, I mailed 38 pages of legal research and documents to my lawyer, Bill Sheppard, in Jacksonville, First Amendment cases from the federal courts and U. S. Supreme Court. In May, I sent him eight pages of the same research through Libby, so she could type it and send me copies, too, but that was one of the first four letters stolen by the mail room woman. I can understand why she stole it, trashed it, whatever she did with it besides mailing it, but I can’t excuse it.

Targeting all my mail because I filed complaints against her for targeting my mail, when she read all those high court rulings about the mail rights of prisoners, she must have figured that if she destroyed the research, it would stop the federal civil rights lawsuit. It just slowed us down somewhat, but made my case stronger.

The illegal acts continue. The state law requires them to process our incoming and outgoing mail within 48 hours of receipt, or file a Form DC2-521 explaining why. Tonight, Libby got a letter I mailed on June 28, 2012 ─ eleven days! But the problem is the letter was postmarked July 6th. That means the mail room held my letter eight days before sending it to the post office, six days beyond the legal limit. It only took from Friday to Monday to get to Jacksonville. I can live with that, but not weeks, and even months, or never. So I have to write that up as a formal complaint, and engender more wrath.

The good news is that two of my latest poems were in the letter, and she let them through. All the other poems I sent out the past couple of months were eventually returned with post-it notes stating, “inmates can not[sic] start or conduct business while incarcerated,” refused to be mailed by the mail room. What is with this person and poetry?


Saturday, August 11, 2012





Perhaps you will find it as ironic as I did. After I was sentenced to “90 days mail restriction” on Thursday, July 5th, I stopped in the library to pick up a couple of grievance forms to appeal the illegal sentence. (For what good it does ─ DOC motto: “when we’re right, we’re right, and when we’re wrong, we’re right.”)

Turning t walk out, I paused to look more closely at a colorful poster taped to the wall. In large letters it asked, “Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?” In small print it noted, “from ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’ by T.S. Eliot.”

A poem! Or, at least, an excerpt from a famous poem, I recalled. The poster proclaimed that April, 2009, was National Poetry Month, and it listed the Academy of American Poets, at “,” the New York Times, and other sponsors of National Poetry Month. Could this beacon be an encouragement for prisoners to write poems?

And I thought, “Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?,” if only for a moment? I answered, “Yes.” Would J. Alfred Prufrock and T. S. Eliot be proud of me, for enduring punishment for the sake of art and the First Amendment? I would like to think so.

SUNDAY, JULY 8, 2012


At least they haven’t cut off my phone privileges yet! (knock on wood). Today is Sunday, and I spent several hours writing down legal case citations on the First Amendment as applied to prisoners, learning several new facts. The main point is that the prison officials are dead wrong for punishing me for writing a poem, and all these petty rules are unconstitutional. Florida is caught in some sort of time warp or wormhole, years behind the rest of America. Are they oblivious to the “Law of the Land,” or just don’t care to do the right thing?
When public officials who have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution abuse their authority, lie, and make false statements on official state documents strictly to strike back at a prisoner as a reprisal, they undermine the integrity of their fellow public servants, losing what little respect they might have had from their charges. How can society expect thousands of prisoners to emerge from prison and lead law-abiding lives when their captors have posed as such poor role models? It can’t.
I was discussing that same thing on the phone with a friend when I thought again how impossible it sometimes seems to maintain a clean record when we are constantly subjected to arbitrary and capricious enforcement of petty and illogical rules by hostile, miserable people who bring their personal problems to work with them and vent their frustrations on us. Sadistic roots run deep.
I used the example of Jesus and Paul the Apostle sharing a cell together in prison, and how much trouble they could get into if they were targeted by a typical bad guard:
PAUL: Jesus, I wrote a letter to the Philippians, and the mailroom sent it back.


PAUL: They said it was conducting a business and soliciting donations. They’re gonna write me a D.R. What if they read Corinthians?

JESUS: That’s a bummer, man. Did I tell you what they did to me today?

PAUL: No, what’d they do?

JESUS: This guy on the rec field had a seizure, fell out, and I laid hands on him.

PAUL: Did he have a demon?

JESUS: Nah, it was straight epilepsy, but that sergeant who hates us flipped out, said he was going to write me a “walking D.R.” for unauthorized physical contact. What’s a “walking D.R.,” Paul?

PAUL: Um…I think that means you get to stay out of lockup and walk around until the D.R. hearing next week.

JESUS: Man, how many walking D.R.’s have we gotten this week?

PAUL: I don’t know. We need to count them up. There’s that one where we were praying, speaking in tongues, and that young guard wrote us up for “violation of count procedures,” talking during count.

JESUS: And we both got D.R.’s for not shaving our beards, and not having a shaving pass, or getting haircuts.

PAUL: How do you get a shaving pass?

JESUS: I don’t know. I can’t understand why they wrote me up for turning water into wine in the chowhall at lunch.

PAUL: Let me read the paperwork.

JESUS: Here it is.

PAUL: “Possession of alcoholic beverages.” That’s not good. It was good wine, though. It went well with the soy patty.

JESUS: Yeah, but what about when I took that biscuit out of the chowhall, broke bread on the rec field, and fed the whole compound? The portions on the tray were so small, everyone was hungry.

PAUL: I don’t know. I think it was the six baskets of leftover bread and hot dogs they found. They wrote you up for stealing food out of the kitchen.

JESUS: But I wasn’t stealing! My Father gave it to us!

PAUL: They don’t care, Jesus. What about this one the guard wrote on me? Verbal disrespect!

JESUS: How did that go down, Paul?

PAUL: I told him we were all prisoners of sin, and he got very angry, said he hated prisoners, and I insulted him, he wasn’t a prisoner.

JESUS: Is that all? That doesn’t seem very serious.

PAUL: It wasn’t until he told lies to the sergeant, said I cussed him, calling him dirty names.

JESUS: That’s not very nice. What do you think we should do?

PAUL: (grinning mischievously) When they lock everyone in their cells tonight, how about if we make all the doors pop open, and the fences fall down. That ought to confuse them.

JESUS: Sounds like a plan, Paul, but we should make sure all the guards fall into a deep sleep first. When they wake up, the prison will be empty.

PAUL: But some of these guys are dangerous. Do you want to just set them free?

JESUS: Oh, no! We will heal them all first, make them new men.

PAUL: I like it!

JESUS: And we won’t have to worry about all those D.R.’s.

PAUL: Have you noticed, Jesus, how these prison folks are just like the Romans were two thousand years ago?

JESUS: People never learn, Paul, you know that, until they are washed clean of their sins.

PAUL: So, you wanna go down to the showers and baptize some of the guys?

JESUS: Excellent idea, Paul. We’ll get an early start.

PAUL: I wonder what kind of D.R.’s they’ll write us up for that?

JESUS: It doesn’t matter.


Sunday, August 5, 2012


Dateline: August 5, 2012

Editors note: Here is an original from Charlie -
it's a new form for him that he calls "Exercises in Linguistic Gymnastics."

Since he can only see bits and pieces of The Summer Olympics on TV,
this is his way of joining in the spirit.

I think he deserves the gold; what do you think?
We hope it brings a smile to you.


Among us the cactus colossus,

Arose the question, can there be justice,

Or as Oedipus remarked on Olympus,

Is it just us?

Brutus and Columbus couldn’t reach a consensus,

So they brought in Cassius, the discus emeritus,

Rubbed his body with eucalyptus, some mucus,

And asked him to read the papyrus opus onus.

The bird he flipped us gave Pegasus tetanus,

But it could have been worse, like syphilis sanctus.

Icarus landed with a hibiscus of surplus humus

Rather humorous, with Venus versus Ursus,

Two out of three falls, refereed by the Walrus.

The habeas corpus took Cyrus the Incubus

A lovely dianthus picked by Narcissus.

Too bad the fungus spread to Tacitus,

When the noise abated

We agreed it was just us.


Saturday, July 21, 2012


dateline: July 21, 2012

Early morning

I wake to the songs

of birds outside

my small window.

To the east

Blue clouds turn pink,

the sky brightens

with the coming dawn.

From a storm drain

a young cat creeps,

feral, velvet black, white feet,

fixated on the singing bird above.

Florida's true orange,

the sun, bursts forth

above the distant tree line,

a symphony of light.

Clear beams illumine

cropped green fields beyond

And rouse bees from sleep

to tend the clover.

Such pastoral calm

is blemished solely by

the grumbles of gun trucks

Securing the prison within.


Sunday, July 8, 2012


Dateline: July 8, 2012

“Norman, Stop Writing!”

“I stand in a steel-barred, and concrete room, my hands tightly cuffed behind my back, waiting for a hostile and profane officer in a tiny office to receive instructions over the telephone whether or not to lock me up in solitary confinement for writing a poem. Everyone’s a critic! If other poets risked 30 days in lockup every time they wrote a poem, there would be far less poetry written in America. It is the day after July 4th.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Actually, Charlie received 90 days mail restriction for his poem, “How Should I Look?” That means he cannot send a letter to anyone, not even his mother, until October 12, 2012. This is a blatant U. S. Constitution First Amendment violation by the prison officials, since the U. S. Supreme Court has ruled that prisoners have the constitutional right not only to write, but also to correspond with people in the outside world. Charlie is appealing that illegal sentence.

If you disagree with gagging a prisoner and denying this award-winning writer his chance to express himself, you can help by writing your own letter to the Florida Department of Corrections’ leader expressing your disapproval, referencing Charles Norman, #881834. That address is:

Ken Tucker
Florida Department of Corrections
501 South Calhoun Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-2500

We will keep you posted. Thanks for supporting the First Amendment.


Thursday, June 28, 2012


Dateline: 06/04/2012

In the Internet age, with so many people communicating through Facebook and e-mail, traditional letter writing seems to be facing extinction. This is a dreadful problem for people who don’t have access to the Internet, like prisoners.

Most people can’t be bothered to write letters anymore. Call me old-fashioned, but I try to keep hope alive by writing to the diminishing handful of people who still care about me, to encourage them, and, in turn, to be encouraged.

One dear Christian friend in South Dakota has been corresponding with me since we met over 24 years ago, and his letters always brighten my day. His example inspires me to be a better person, through his lifetime dedication to lifting up and helping others, but the twist to the story is his insistence that he is inspired by my example, of enduring the deprivation and hardship of prison, and maintaining my faith in God. Each of us gains strength from the other.

Recently someone said that they don’t know how I can take it, the stresses of subjugation, the incessant shakedowns and harsh treatment imprisonment entails, and particularly the targeting by the corrupt Tampa prosecutor with the personal vendetta against me. The repeated strident false accusations that he fears me, therefore I should never be released, and most recently, his enlisting the help of the DOC in recording my phone calls (in a fruitless hope that I would be caught saying something against him), delivery refusal and censorship of both my incoming and outgoing mail, including the return of books sent from the publisher, and most damaging, denying me access to the legal research sources in the law library, hindering my ability to defend my case in court, all of which would test the patience of Job.

I want to tell you how I do it. I read the Bible, and draw strength from the words and deeds of those who endured and overcame far greater hardships than my meager imprisonment.

Some scoffers ridicule so-called “chain-gang religion” as a facile attempt by desperate people to latch onto something that will get them out of prison. I say let them latch onto the Bible, read it every day — if it changes someone’s life, their evil ways. I pray that corrupt prosecutor will read it and be changed, too.
When Jack Murphy and I were putting together the first “Sonshine Adventure” in September, 1983, at Zephyrhills C. I., we had six weeks to organize a three-day spiritual weekend involving scores of outside church members and Christian volunteers bringing their programs into the prison, something that had never been done. We had several dozen prisoners signed up to help with all the work. One of the things we did was to have short sessions of daily training in being “disciples” and servants. We encouraged the men to spend private time each day reading the Bible, particularly the Psalms and Proverbs.
This morning I started over with the first chapter of Psalm 1: verses 1-4, and the words struck me as being so on-target to my present situation, that I want to share them:
“How blessed is the man who does not
Walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted
by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which
The wind drives away.”

There is much that I could say about these verses, but for the moment let it suffice that I feel strongly that the truth continues thousands of years after the words were written, and lives as an example to many people besides me.

Before I came to prison, I measured success the same as most people do, seeking the American Dream of financial rewards, money, a nice house, car, boat, family, status in the community, but because I “walked in the counsel of the wicked” and “stood in the path of sinners,” I lost virtually everything that I held dear, and very nearly lost my life. When threatened with electrocution, one’s thoughts get focused on what is truly important in life.

Somehow I survived, against all odds, and in some people’s eyes I have thrived in an evil place. Other people resent the fact that I’m still breathing and won’t conveniently die, thus effectively shutting me up. But I truly believe that the Lord has a plan for my life, and I will continue to do my best to fulfill His plan. If that means I must endure false personal attacks by evil people, so be it. My measure of success has changed over time, as I have changed, and I am a better man because of it. I was denied the American Dream, but I will make the best of what I have, day by day.

Perhaps the prison mail room will decide to let some of my correspondence come through today, and I will get a letter from a friend. I will delight in small blessings, and pray that you will, too.

God bless you.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Dateline: 05/22/12

Alone amid a thousand men like me,
Beyond restraining fence I spy the geese,
Intent upon their nest they do not see
Or care about a man who knows no peace.
Tormented by the demons of this world,
Pretending that they serve a higher cause,
While hiding from plain sight tails sharp and curled,

Unwilling to reveal dark fangs and claws.

I shout the truth yet no one hears my voice,
Except the few who dare to be my friend,
Who like wild geese decide to make a choice
To stand against all foes until the end.

The precious few remaining through the night
Give hope that sorrows end and wrong made right.


Like Jeremiah waking in the pit,
To find himself mired deeply in man’s dung,
Surrounded by a darkness barely lit
My ladder to the surface lacks a rung.
I cry to passersby above for bread,
May someone suffer pity on my plight,
Instead they dump more refuse on my head,
With no regard or care for what is right.

Those selfsame ones shout with indignation,
O’er matters that they feel a major wrong,
They bow to false gods in supplication,
And offer sacrifices for a song.

Perhaps they’ll toss a bucket to be mean,
By mischief I may drink and yet be clean.


You’ve never known me outside these fences,
Who was that young man who drew so much ire
From pointing fingers singing in the choir,
Whose accusations offended senses?
You’ve known me only in captivity,
An artificial world they created,
Where men lie with men and live sedated,
Repressing ev’ry sensitivity.

I am not the man I was or will be,
Neither saint nor evil sinner they claimed,
Who could be such a beast, cruel and untamed,
And cover ev’ry trace so completely?

I am the man you know and nothing more;
I’ll be no different outside that door.


Sunday, April 22, 2012


Dateline March 30, 2012


Of course the parole commission ruled against me. Let me tell you how it really was — a panel of three gray foxes, two females and a male — looking down their long noses at me, the fluffy white rabbit, sitting before them, guarded by two coyote clerks. An aged Rottweiler sitting beside me rifles through his documents spread out on the table — my defender and attorney, W. J. — battered and scarred from many battles, but still possessing his sharp teeth and sinewy muscles, the only force keeping me from being eaten alive by these predators.

In the row behind W.J., the Rottweiler, sits another fluffy white bunny, a female, Lizzie, my mate. With curled lip, she directs a low hiss of contempt at the three foxes staring at me. She has been here before and holds no false hope of witnessing any display of justice.

A scholarly brown female owl, the court reporter, sets up her equipment to one side, her feathers poised to document every word.

In struts two angry wolves, one a limping old lobo with a mangy pelt, wicked eyes tearing and sagging from too much drink and late night moon howling, but still threatening and in the position of pack leader, followed close behind by his former mate, a younger, snarling female, with bleached blonde fur, fangs glinting in the conference room lights. Her bushy ears twitch this way and that as she glares at the hostile crowd of bunnies, hens, an occasional rooster, sheep and goats, and a few tasty squirrels, all here to ask for mercy for their loved ones caught in the tiny cages out back.

The two wolves throw down their bulging briefcases on the opposition table, low grumbling growls burbling from their throats at W.J., whose hackles immediately raise in response. The Rottweiler bares his teeth at the wolves, snarling and growling at the two shocked predators, then bounds across the room after them, barking ferociously.

The wolves, Markie and Pammy, scramble around the table, freaked out at this old guard dog’s sudden attack, surprised by the daring and aggression of the only Alpha male in the room. W.J. dashes past Pammy, ignoring her, zeroing in on Markie cowering behind her. With one powerful move, W.J. knocks the old wolf on his backside and grips his exposed throat with fangs that mean business. Markie whimpers and pees on himself, cringing in submission. Two coyotes rush to the wolf’s aid, but W.J.’s growls warn them off.

The gray fox in charge bangs her gavel, calling for order. W.J. releases the mangy throat, barks several times for good measure, and whirls around, facing toward his chair and me, his client, who is putting up a good front while actually trembling beneath my fur.

The audience cheers. Rabbits and bunnies whistle, hens cackle, roosters crow, sheep and goats bleat, while several squirrels chee-chee-chee.

“Order!” shouts the gray fox, banging her gavel.

The Rottweiler stops at the wolves’ table, sniffs, cocks hios leg and pees on the table support, marking it as his territory. The female wolf, Pammy, in heat, emboldened and aroused by the war dog’s dominance display, patters after him, long snout extended forward, and sniffs his butt. W.J. turns on her, growls, snaps, and she retreats with tail between her legs, properly chastened.

W.J. begins with a spirited presentation that outlines all that I have accomplished in prison, and rebuts the wolves’ previous allegations that I am a threat to them, outlining my peaceful, nonviolent nature, as a follower of personages such as Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Bill Cosby. Mild applause and a few cheers erupt spontaneously from the audience. W.J. bows, then takes his seat beside me.

The grizzled old male wolf opens his briefcase and digs in it. Several Milk Bones fall onto the floor, but are quickly snapped up by Pammy and the two coyotes. He retrieves a pint bottle that is half-filled with brown liquid, takes a long swallow, and sighs, smiling.

“Cough syrup,” he says with a straight face, putting the bottle back into the briefcase. The crowd boos and hisses. Markie growls at them, pink tongue licking his yellowed, broken fangs at the sight of a particularly delectable lamb, which squeezes closer to her mother. He turns back to the three-fox panel, clears his throat, and points his paw at me. My eyes widen in alarm. I am ready to race out of there, into the crowd. W.J. pats my shoulder, comforting me.

“Mister and Missus commissioners, look at that rabbit,” Markie snarls. “Don’t be fooled by his calm demeanor.”

Calm demeanor? I am scared to death!

“Look at those long ears, those buck teeth, those sharp little claws on his feet. He is a dangerous beast!”

Boos and hisses buzz from the crowd. The old wolf snaps his jaws at them, fangs menacing. Everyone draws back in fear.

“That rabbit threatened me! If you dare let him go free, he will track me down and kill me, and I have proof.”

More boos and hisses come from the crowd. Markie bends down and drags out a previously unnoticed box from beneath the table. He unlatches the lid, reaches in, and pulls out a huge snake, a python, beady yellow eyes leering, black tongue flicking in and out from the slit of a mouth. The python uncoils onto the table, spreads its length over the files and papers, and raises its head two feet into the air. The crowd gasps in shock and fear. Several squirrels scramble for the exit and are gone. The snake hisses, menacing the entire room. The female wolf yelps, leaping backward several feet before regaining control. Markie sniffs the vile reptile, then begins.

“This is my witness, Greg the Snake. He may look mean, but that’s because of the deprived life he’s lived. He’s really a sweetheart, a pussycat. He will do anything I say, won’t you, Greg?”

The python attempts a smile, failing miserably. His snaky eyes zero in on a brown rabbit in the first row. He licks the air with his tongue. The brown rabbit bolts from the room. The crowd boos.

Markie continues. “Two years ago, my witness, Greg the snake, shared a cage with that — that — monster, that white bunny rabbit.”

He points at me. I cringe.

“Do not be fooled by his cute little fur coat or those big eyes, that twitching pink nose, or the cottontail, ladies and gentleman. Beneath that meek exterior lurks a vicious killer, a ruthless murderer.”

Pammy nods at the gray fox with the gavel. She returns the nod, some silent communication agreed upon.

“Why the entire time poor little Greg here was in that cage with that — that — assassin — he feared for his life.” The wolf’s eyes dart around the room, judging the effect, then looks quickly toward the ceiling, perhaps anticipating lightning striking him dead. Nothing happens, so he continues. “That monster, Charlie Cottontail — don’t be fooled by him. He is a master manipulator. Thirty-two years ago, when I was a young wolf prosecutor in Tampa, after several fine, upstanding citizens and I sent his rabbit ass to prison for life, he sent me a Christmas card threatening my life. It said, ‘Merry Christmas from Raiford, wish you were here.’

“Why, I was so frightened by that insidious rabbit’s threats that I began drinking myself senseless every night. Ask Pammy here. She was just a baby cub at the time, but she will verify everything I say. It was the first and only Christmas card I ever got, and it had to come from that diabolical rabbit, Charlie Cottontail.”

Markie looks at Pammy. She nods affirmatively. Of course it must be true. They are both elected political wolves. They would never lie or even consider stretching the truth for their ambitions.

Markie picks up where he left off. “I had to seek psychiatric help, ladies and gentleman. Can you imagine how I felt? My first Christmas card! In my wolfpack we didn’t know about Christmas or Santa Claus, or any of that Jesus legend stuff. I never got anything but a bone to chew on when I was small.”

Markie whimpers. The three gray foxes dab their eyes with hankies. Pammy peeks around the audience to gauge the reaction. The audience is rolling its collective eyes. A poodle sticks its paw in its mouth in a gagging gesture. The snake rolls belly up in surrender.

“I couldn’t sleep, I was so worried,” he says. “I couldn’t eat, not even a juicy lamb.” The crowd cringes . A red hen cackles. The foxes and coyotes nod their heads in commiseration. Pammy licks her rear end.

All my fur fell out! I got the mange — can you imagine? Me! The mange! I came down with worms! The vet tried everything. I paced my lair, night after night, sick with fear, worried that — that — that — monster was coming after me. I could hear his little bunny feet hippity hopping outside my door.” He pauses for a deep breath.

“It broke up my marriage. I couldn’t perform in the bedroom, if you know what I mean, and she left me for a Great Dane!” Markie glances at W.J., the Rottweiler, whose tongue lolls as he pants and smiles at Markie’s phony revelations.

“I quit the state attorney’s office and became a mafia lawyer. I got off drug dealers, prostitutes, child molesters, rapists, even serial killers. I chased ambulances! I admit it. I picked up stray, mangy mongrels and spent the nights with them, I so feared being alone. I even flirted with suicide, ladies and gentleman. I would get drunk, then run out into traffic on Interstate 4, risking death. I almost became roadkill, all because of that nasty rabbit!”

Foaming at the mouth, eyes blazing, Markie points his paw at me. The three gray foxes are glaring at me, as are all the predators in the room. I’m a goner. I’m even considering I should stand up and shout, “KILL ME!” but I can’t think of any reason I should die for Markie’s sins. Two sheep and a goat slink out the back door. The crowd is noticeably smaller. My friend, Dennis, a friendly St. Bernard, has been snapping photos, documenting the event. As he takes a nice shot of Pammy sniffing herself while Markie foams at the mouth, the head gray fox orders him to cease photography. Two coyote clerks hurry over to confiscate Dennis’ camera. He growls, baring his teeth. They stop in their tracks. He starts to go after them, but my priest, Father Robert, a graying English Mastiff, restrains him. Reluctantly, Dennis lets the coyotes live.

“It took me years of therapy to get back to my career of putting dangerous creatures like that white rabbit over there on Death Row, where they belong, Markie says. He takes a breath. Pammy nuzzles his neck in encouragement. He licks her in return.

“Ladies and gentleman, I am scared to death of Charlie Cottontail.”

A loud clatter interrupts Markie’s indictment. The court reporter falls out of her chair, knocking over her steno machine, shocked by the incredulity of what she is hearing. Embarrassed, she straightens the machine and resumes typing the testimony. She looks upward at the ceiling, perhaps worried that the roof will cave in. It holds.

“Greg, the snake, will swear to you that when he was in the cage with that mad rabbit there, that he swore he was going to get me when he got out. He wants to set up sniper’s nests in trees in my neighborhood and shoot me,” Markie says. “I know you’re thinking that rabbits can’t climb trees, but this is no ordinary rabbit. This is a cagey creature so deadly that he scares wolves, ladies and gentleman. That rabbit, Charlie Cottontail, scared this big snake almost to death!”

The diminished crowd hisses and boos Markie’s tall tale. The weasely wolf takes another swig of his “cough syrup,” coughs a few times, composes himself and continues.

“Now, that old — that old — mutt — over there —”

W.J.’s hackles stand straight up on his neck and back. He growls and begins to move toward Markie and Pammy. Markie backs up, tail between his legs, front paws held out in supplication. W.J. returns to his table. The audience cheers.

“As — as I was saying,” Markie says. “My esteemed colleague, W.J., will tell you that my pet snake here has a bad record, he’s a career criminal, a liar, a cheat, a professional snitch for hire, a fraud, and he’s just trying to get released from prison for his own crimes, that he’s a lowlife piece of crap, and you can’t believe a word he says.” Markie takes a breath. The snake hangs its head in shame. Markie lovingly rubs its neck with his furry paw. “That is all true. It is in the record. I cannot deny it, but I tell you today that the snake you see here before you is a changed snake. I trust him, and you should trust him.”

The snake lowers its head to the table, uncoils, and lies still. The crowd boos. The python raises its head toward the audience, its yellow eyes flashing hatred. Its tongue flicks out, but Markie motions for him to remain calm.

“The experience of being caged with that psychopathic rabbit over there, hearing the vile atrocities he has planned for poor little Pammy and me — ladies and gentleman — it changed his life!”

Hoots, whistles, cackles, and boos fill the room in derision. The wolves and snake are pummeled with acorns, tomatoes, and radishes raining down on them from the audience. A duck flies around the room and splats a stinking mess on Markie’s head. The gray fox bangs her gavel for order. Pammy cleans Markie’s fur with a hanky. He reaches into the box, retrieves a piece of white cloth, and attaches it to the snake’s neck.

“I present to you today, Reverend Greg the Snake.”

The snake rises up from the table, a white clerical collar fastened around his neck. The crowd collectively gasps at the blasphemy.

“I assure you that Reverend Greg would put his hand on a stack of Bibles — if he had a hand, and if we had a stack of Bibles.” He looks around the room. “I don’t believe there are any Bibles in this room, or in this building, for that matter,” Markie says. “But don’t take just Reverend Greg’s word for it. Take mine! You can believe me. I would never tell a lie. I am an elected politician…”

You know what happened. The three gray foxes weighed all the damning evidence against me, ignored everything said on my behalf, made a fair decision that I was a risk, that the wolves and the snake were honest, decent citizens, and that the audience was fair game. Fortunately the visitors and loved ones got off the premises before the wolves, foxes, coyotes and snake could make a meal of any of them.

As for me, W.J., my defender, the tough Rottweiler, ably held them off until I was safely back in my cage, where I remain, until next time.

And that’s how they conduct beastly parole hearings in Florida.