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.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Dateline April 1, 2012


In spite of what could be looked at as a demoralizing experience, being snatched up and shipped to a prison further from home, farther west than I ever was before, for a clearly punitive reason (that‘s how power-mad Tampa oligarchs smite those they can’t kill — use their abusive authority to break them — NOTE TO MARK: IT DOESN’T WORK), there are some interesting moments that cause me to stop and think.

One of those moments occurred today, at an obscure Florida prison nearerr to New Orleans than to Tampa or Jacksonville, where I’ve resided since March 28th, in limbo, waiting for another shipment to a secret location closer to New Orleans than to Tallahassee, even.

My dearest friend, Libby, made the pilgrimage from Jacksonville to share Palm Sunday and lift my spirits, offering me much needed moral support. At 8:00 AM (Central Time Zone) the dorm officer released me, and I headed upfront to the visiting area.

After walking the barren grounds of Wakulla Annex the past sixteen months, the soothing landscaped beds of bright petunias blooming between cycads pleasantly surprised me. Maybe this place wasn’t as bad as others had claimed. We had a nice visit, and it seemed like only minutes had passed, rather than six hours, before it was time to say goodbye. That is always the hardest part.

When it was my turn to go through the humiliating exit procedures of taking off one’s clothes, exposing one’s most private parts to a critical stranger, “squatting and coughing,” I entered the shakedown room. A tall, unusually older but fit prison officer with a combed-back shock of thick white hair addressed me. “Pardon me, but you don’t look like someone who should be in prison.”

Actually, I hear that a lot. Sometimes I will respond flippantly and say, “I wish you’d been on my jury,” or “I wish you’d tell the judge.” See “How Should I look?” that appears somewhere in cyberspace.

But this remark didn’t call for a flippant response. The man, a complete stranger who’d never laid eyes on me before today, made an observation that deserved an honest answer.

I wondered what he saw in me that informed his gut instincts that I was somehow different from the teeming masses of fellow prisoners who swarm in blueclad hordes to the chowhall three times a day. One of my prison survival strategies gleaned from years of watching nature shows on PBS has been to become like the zebra or wildebeest on the Serenghetti Plain, blend in with the herd, stay in the middle, don’t lag behind in the periphery and get picked off by the lions, keep my head down, let them choose someone else to be an example. To some extent that works, except during those times like today, when I must stand naked and alone.

When I’m in that crowd, packed into a cramped vestibule with dozens of prisoners jammed together like Tokyo commuters waiting to be released to join seemingly endless queue outside, rain or shine, I notice those around me just as I feel their eyes on me, wondering.

This is the bottom of the barrel. It doesn’t get any lower than this. I am surrounded by sad men with roughly-shaved heads, the homeless, the unemployable, the alcoholics, the drug-addicted, the illiterate, the lost, the pitiful men you recoiled from when they panhandled in parking lots with crud-encrusted outstretched palms. They are in here with me now, not much different than when they were out there except for the “three hots and a cot,” regular meals and a clean place to sleep, fairly free of the temptations of cigarettes, booze and addictive substances, unless you count the psychotropic drugs they zone out on.

And they look bad! I could write a book, The Prison of Scruffy Men, and describe the dull, vacant stares, the damaged, misshapen skulls, the scarred, lop-sided visages healed wrong, or not at all, the shuffling, limping walks of odd-lengthed legs, the thirty-year olds who look like badly-weathered seventy-year olds on meth, and worse.

These men are not the unfortunate foreclosed and laid off bankrupts fruitlessly sending out resumes to that you see on the nightly news, adding to the unemployment figures, debating whether to vote for Romney, Santorum or Obama, wondering who will lower the price of gasoline. These men have never imagined scaling such heights.

They could tell you the best dumpsters to find a discarded burger behind a McDonalds or Wendy’s in Orlando or Miami, or the safest abandoned buildings where a man can sleep on a piece of cardboard with a lesser chance of being beaten up by violent teenage gangs out for Saturday night sport, but the lives that average citizens live are as alien to them as life on the International Space Station.

Just the fact that a well-dressed, smiling lady drove across the state to see me for a few hours speaks volumes to the guards, setting me apart from the vast majority of prisoners who have burned their bridges, who have no family or friends who would bother to visit them even if they weren’t stranded in some distant Florida gulag. The officer asking the question of why I am in prison based it somewhat on his observation of us both, how we carried ourselves, so the question covered Libby, too. She didn’t look like someone who should be visiting someone in prison, either.

I admit it. I am different. I don’t want to be the same as everyone else, despite my camouflage techniques in the crowd. Notwithstanding 34 years’ imprisonment this week (Happy Anniversary to me), I am in this world, but not of this world. I have fought not to become one of the institutionalized lost boys I’ve documented so long, and I pray I never will be. It was a confirmation of my efforts that this prison officer saw something in me that he didn’t see in the others parading past him all day, and wondered why.

I gave him the abbreviated two-minute explanation. Few people want to hear long, sad stories, except in movie theaters.

“You’re right,” I said. “And I thank you for saying that, sir. I got some powerful, corrupt people mad at me a long time ago, and wound up getting life in prison for a murder that two other men committed.”

“You got in with a bad crowd.”

“Yes, sir, I did.”

“You lie down with dogs…”

“You’re right,” I said. “One of the men had a wealthy father who paid off some people, and over three years after the crime was committed in 1975, they were given immunity from prosecution for murder in exchange for their false testimony that I told them I did it. You should know that only the guilty are given immunity. The innocent don’t need it.”

I continued. “The only eyewitness testified that it wasn’t me, that the shooter was much shorter and smaller than I was, and I demanded a jury trial. I refused the prosecutor’s increasingly lenient plea bargains for a reduced sentence that would have freed me thirty years ago. I insulted him, which made him my lifelong enemy. Without his objections to my parole, I would have been free nine years ago.”

“I’m real sorry to hear that,” the man said. “As soon as I heard you speak, I could tell that you are an educated person from a good family. That’s a real shame.”

“I appreciate that.”

“You take care of yourself,” he said.

I went out the exit door and onto the prison yard.

The conversation lasted only a few minutes, but it kept me thinking for hours. Later that night, after Libby had finally made it home, I telephoned her about the unusual conversation. She was equally amazed at the man’s astute observations.

Many encounters with prison guards are in a negative context, so this one stood out for its uniqueness. I decided to sit down right then and write this account while it was still fresh in my mind.

So here I am. It is late, we are locked in our cells, the lights are off, and I am writing by the yard lights that glare into the tiny window onto my bunk.

There is much more to my prison survival that I’ve been documenting for years, and will continue to do, but that brief interlude with the officer encouraged me, believing that, in the midst of all the evil, hatred and negativity that surrounds me, I am doing something right, and someone noticed.


Monday, April 2, 2012


dateline: March 24, 2012

On Wednesday, March 21, 2012, my third parole hearing was held. Bottom line — no breaks — they put me off three more years — until 2017, because of the objection of the corrupt Hillsborough prosecutor, who it appears now was the instigator of the false 2010 disciplinary report by the DOC, the KKK prison guard article.

A number of people contributed to a valiant release effort. Jack Murphy, who spoke powerfully at the October 26, 2011, hearing, had a speaking engagement in Indiana and could not attend, but the previous week, he came to Tallahassee and did some high-powered consulting with Louie B. Wainwright, retired Secretary of the Florida DOC and one of the most influential people in Tallahassee. Louie called Bernard Cohen, the new parole commissioner, whom he has known for decades, and he and Murf went to Cohen’s office to bring him up to speed.

The decision was predetermined before my people walked into the hearing room, it appeared, but at least Mr. Cohen knows our side of the story if we have a re-hearing.

Attorney Bill Sheppard again appeared on my behalf, and I couldn’t ask for a finer advocate even if Perry Mason was still alive. He’d previously sent the commission a 35-page presentation that covered all the flaws and points in dispute from the October hearing, which set the legal bar high, challenging their inaction and demanding that the commissioners comply with the requirements of due process. I have read many hundreds of parole appeals in the law books, and it is shameful how the rules and laws are ignored and circumvented. Bottom line there — I knew from the beginning that we wouldn’t get justice, no matter how deserving of release I am. We have been preparing to take the matter to court all along so that a judge can overrule their improper decision. It is a long, difficult and expensive undertaking.

Libby made the three-hour drive to Tallahassee, and she was joined at the hearing by Father Bob Anderson, retired, and old friend, Rev. Dennis St. Lawrence, who took photos of the hearing participants until Chairman Tena Pate told him to stop. That ticked off Dennis, who showed a valid “Press” card, and he is considering a complaint against Pate for violating the laws on public hearings.

Bobby Greenwood spoke in Murf’s absence, supported by his wife, Bunny. Hugh MacMillan and Ken Cooper provided moral support, attending the hearing to speak on behalf of another man seeking release.

On the opposing side, state attorney Mark Ober was joined by his former protégé and now Florida’s Attorney General, Pam Bondi, who was taking some time off from raiding pill mills, supporting Mitt Romney, and running for governor. Little-known fact: when I was a high school student at King High in Tampa, I worked as a bagboy at the Winn Dixie/Kwik Chek supermarket in Temple Terrace. I knew well Pam’s parents, Dr. John Bondi, who was an English professor at U.S.F., and his wife. I don’t remember their children, who would have been babies or toddlers during those years.

Prof. Bondi was always very encouraging to me, urging me to major ion English. I was a top student, got an academic scholarship to USF, and tried to enroll in Prof. Bondi’s English class, but it was filled early, so I took Dr. John Parker’s class by default. He was the father of a fellow student, and I also knew him. He had the reputation of bring the toughest professor in the English Department, but I made all “A’s” in every class of his that I took, effectively launching my early writing career.

I bagged a lot of Bondi groceries between 1967 and 1970, when I left the grocery business. Dr. and Mrs. Bondi gave me many a quarter for my labors and were always very cordial to me and supportive of my efforts. I was sad to learn of Prof. Bondi’s passing a few years ago.

Ober has such a grudge and personal vendetta against me that it has blinded him to how his frantic, extreme behavior appears to the public. He claims to be in fear of me — he told this to a reporter! — and fears I’ll set up a sniper nest near his house if I get out. Come on, Mark! You need to know that you are only the center of the universe in your own universe, certainly not in mine — I have plenty of better interests.

There is written proof that I forgave him all his transgressions against me decades ago. I am a committed Christian, strong in my faith, and I fully embraced the principle that you must bless and pray for those who persecute you, which I have done for many years. Only a person who is spiritually bankrupt and morally poisoned cannot conceive of such a thing. It’s a shame, really, but I know that the Lord protects me. That doesn’t mean I can’t be a witness and document his actions as he deteriorates.

Many, many positive factors in my favor were ignored by the parole commission. This oversight and other lapses will be addressed in court. The commission is intimidated by Ober, which is a shame. Let us pray that justice will prevail in time.

As for myself, coincidentally, on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday — the 19th – 21st — before and during the parole hearing, I attended an “Anger Resolution Seminar” in the chapel, sponsored by the Institute in Basic Life Principles. It proved to be a very powerful course. A seminary student from Texas provided at least 12 hours of DVD lectures by Rev. William Gotthard, and I learned a lot about Biblical principles used to resolve anger. A couple of guys said it was convenient that I took the class when I did, but I already had a good grip on my emotions. The course helped to put many things in perspective.

I want to thank all the good people who have worked and prayed on my behalf, and I want you to know your efforts weren’t wasted. We are getting closer, and I am spiritually and mentally strong. I’m especially grateful to my long-time friend, Gary Smigiel, who has watched my back for almost thirty years, whose efforts have kept us in the game.

There’s much more, and if you want to find out the rest, let me know. Meanwhile, I have some legal research to do. God bless you, and Happy Easter.