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.