Saturday, February 23, 2013


DAY TWENTY FIVE: Prison Diary January 27, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL (coming to you from a dismal prison far, far away from civilization)

If you’ve been keeping score, back here in solitary with me, crossing off numbers on the wall, unless the trolls throw me a curve, I have five more days left in “the hole.” They do that sometimes. You’re already in “the box” on trumped up charges, enraged power-mad people abusing their authority by locking you up to “teach you a lesson,” or “bring you down a notch,” (I’ve heard them both before) you keep your nose clean, which infuriates them worse, so before your thirty days are up they tack on another false charge to extend your stay. Think about it. What kind of sick puppy would get enjoyment out of doing that? It happens.

By the time you read this, hopefully, the way the mail runs, I’ll have been released. Friday, February 1st is the 30th day. I’m looking forward to it, looking forward to going to the canteen and getting a cheeseburger, looking forward to hearing the voices of family and friends on the phone, to let them know I am out of the cage and walking around. Looking forward to going to the visiting park on Saturday, to be around some decent, “normal” people who love me, not the ones who hate.

Something that irritates the hell out of the “haters” is how little I let these setbacks get to me. I never get angry or curse anyone out, to open myself to more “discipline.” They don’t have the ability to get my goat, or provoke me. I just keep on doing positive things, make the best of a bad situation, and that spites them worse.

You have to stay focused in prison. No matter how agreeable you try to be, the threat of violence is everpresent, and you have to keep yourself strong. Every day in lockup I work out for awhile. If nothing else, it tires you out, and you can get to sleep better. But exercise keeps you from getting weak. I do pushups and situps, stretching, some yoga - you have to watch out for some of those positions! - some calisthenics. With the small portions of food, you’re going to lose weight, so you have to keep your strength up. I came in on January 3rd at 237 pounds. At last Wednesday’s weigh-in, after 21 days, I’d lost sixteen pounds, and probably a few more since then. That’s a good thing. I needed to lose it.

I used my time to think, and work on my appeals, get legal work done, and work on my literary writing. Good thing I got more paper and pens on the bi-weekly order. I’ve gone through over 150 sheets of paper and four pens since I’ve been back here. I wrote letters, wrote some poems and a play, and knocked out a large chunk of the new novel I’m working on.

And no, for my troll readers, I am not seeking “compensation” for it. Why would I? Why would I want to go to the hassle of getting a novel published in prison, and make nothing on it, when I can wait until I get out, make my own deals, do promotion, and earn a decent living? These people don’t understand economics.

When I was able to paint in here, before they took all our art materials, I was working on a painting and a guy asked me, “How much you selling that for?” I told him I wasn’t selling it - I was sending it home. “Why not?” I explained that my paintings were my “retirement plan,” that when I got out, and could market them myself, they’d be worth a lot more money than I could ever sell them for in prison. The same holds true for books. It is much smarter to get out and have six books to sell, that I worked on for years, polished up, got ready for prime time, than to hassle in here with small-minded, hateful, vindictive people who resent anyone with more education that the G.E.D. that they have.

And I spent as lot of time reading the Bible, always a good thing for prisoners, in times of trouble. I am inspired by Paul who wrote his letters from prison, always encouraging his readers to walk a straight path, fight the good fight, and hoping and praying to rejoin his people in freedom. He stayed optimistic until the end, always expecting to get oput, even when they killed him. Kept the faith. And so I keep the faith, and I thank you for keeping the faith with me.


Thursday, February 21, 2013


DAY TWENTY THREE: Prison Diary January 25, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL (coming to you from a dismal prison far, far away from civilization)

Garrison Keillor, “The Writer’s Almanac,” Aid in Solitary Survival

4:13 AM – Day 23 of my sojourn in solitary, only 7 days left. I was awakened by the caustic clang of a large brass key twisting against steel. The guard opened the tray flap in the cell door, waking me up, to hand me a letter I’d hoped to get eight hours earlier, a letter from my best friend, Libby, with several pages of “The Writer’s Almanac” from a couple of weeks ago. My eyes were still partially glued shut, so I lay the letter down and fell back on my pillow for an hour, to the shouts of, “Get up, get dressed, get your beds made!” echoing through the wing. When I was seven years old my mother was never that bad. Where are we going? Nowhere. What is the urgency? None. About 90% of my fellow denizens in solitary try to sleep their time away, anyway. After the “get up, get dressed, make your bed” orders, the meager breakfast is served (it is now 5:50 AM, and Pavlov’s dogs are anxiously awaiting the clatter of trays in the food cart to start them salivating). Two hard, flat, cold biscuits, half a serving of yellow grits, some cold potatoes, a half cup of watered down artificial drink, yum, yum, chowtime!

Did I say “pillow” in that previous paragraph? A euphemistic term. If you’ve ever seen a bag of “6-6-6” lawn fertilizer, put a hard plastic cover around the bag, and you have my pillow. For the first week, I had painful neck cramps every morning that lasted for hours, but it is said that you can get used to anything, so I suppose I’ve gotten used to sleeping with a bag of fertilizer for a pillow.

Garrison Keillor presents “The Writer’s Almanac” for about five minutes every morning on National Public Radio. Before I came “back here,” I tried to listen to his little show on my little radio on mornings when I didn’t have an early “callout,” (appointment) somewhere, and Libby and I would later discuss them. Since I missed a number of sessions (no choice) each week, Libby downloaded copies, printed and mailed them to me, so we could still share our thoughts. Those printed copies have been lifesavers for me in “the hole.”

I told you that perhaps 90% of my fellow solitary confines try to sleep their time away. Some are very good at it. Wake up for three meals a day, flop back, stay horizontal, if you’re not really sleeping all that time, pretend you are. That’s another symptom of severe prison depression. I can’t do that. You see? 5:30 AM, I’m writing.

The other 10% if not reading, are yelling to each other. “Woooo…” “Hey, dog, wassup?” “Chillin.’” “Ya feel me?” “Le’s talk about dem ho’s.” “Wooo…” ad infinitum.

And since prisoners in “disciplinary confinement (DC)” can’t receive books, magazines, or newspapers in DC, it’s a lonely place. The few dog-eared, pages missing paperbacks are highly sought after. Other prisons, the chaplain comes around weekly with a cart of religious books, Bibles, and other reading materials he passes out to anyone who requests it, but in my 23 days back here, we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of the chaplain. Every few days when I get a fat envelope with several days’ worth of “The Writer’s Almanac,” it is a treat.

Each edition usually begins with an interesting poem, then an eclectic mix of fascinating facts about famous poets, authors, musicians, composers, artists, people born that day, who had some impact and influence on world culture. I was particularly interested in the little-known facts Garrison Keillor presented about Johnny Cash.

On that day, January 13, 1968, Johnny Cash recorded a live concert at Folsom Prison, California. You know the song, “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” He’d written “Folsom Prison Blues” after becoming inspired by a prison documentary he saw in the 1950’s while in the Air Force. I won’t spoil it, read the story. Johnny’s career was sagging, and his album, “Live at Folsom Prison,” hit number one, reviving his career. Eight years later, I met Johnny Cash in Pontiac, Michigan.

I was warned by the Sheraton manager that next week the Billy Graham Crusade was taking over the hotel, and if I wanted to leave, fine, but if I wanted to stay, and didn’t mind the hubbub, no problem. I had a nice room, I liked their restaurant, I was gone most of the time anyway, so I stayed. The Crusade advance crew arrived that week, all the people, including public relations people, involved in setting up a week-long Christian crusade at the Pontiac Silverdome nearby.

I was an early riser as were a few of them, and soon I was having breakfast with two or three of them every morning. The first night I ran head-on into a group walking with Billy Graham down the hotel hallway – Johnny Cash and his wife, June, the actor, George Peppard, Billy’s wife, and others I didn’t recognize. Polite nods and smiles, “How ya’ll doing?” and I was gone. At the time I was most impressed to see George Peppard, who had starred in one of my favorite movies, “The Blue Max,” about World War I fighter pilots.

Early the next morning I’d just sat down at a little table with two of Billy’s p.r. people when the waters parted and several people came into the restaurant ahead of Billy’s group, pushing two big tables together to make room. They all came in and began sitting down. We were staring, of course. Even though they worked for him, the two young people I was with couldn’t get enough of the great man. It must have been like that when John the Baptist parted the crowds and stepped into the river.

Billy Graham is a gracious man. He walked over to our little group, put his hands on my shoulders, and said, “Why don’t you join us at our little prayer breakfast?” He knew those two – they worked for him, but he had no idea who I was except perhaps a new employee. I was hesitant, but one friend grabbed my arm, so I went.

I sat next to George Peppard and someone I don’t remember, across from Johnny Cash and his wife, June. Billy was at the head, of course. They poured coffee and exchanged pleasantries.

When Billy Graham says, “prayer breakfast,” that is exactly what he means. He looked at Johnny Cash, and said, “Johnny, would you start us off?” That was a thrill. You’ve probably heard Johnny Cash sing, but you should have heard him pray. That deep Johnny Cash voice of his rumbled a combination “thank you, Jesus, for our many blessings,” with a short “grace,” thanks for the meal and the company. When June Carter Cash said a short prayer and a blessing, it scared the hell out of me –they were going around the table, and in a few moments it would be my turn! I wasn’t prepared for that.

I couldn’t lie to these good people, who I was and what I was doing in a hotel in Pontiac, Michigan, packed full of fervent Christians either working for or attending the Billy Graham Crusade. (I was actually ducking two F.B.I. agents in Florida I didn’t want to talk to). The goodness and love just radiated off those people so strongly that I couldn’t bear to lie to them, to utter my “cover story,” so I just kept my mouth shut, smiled a lot, and kept it in neutral.

When it came my turn, I was almost paralyzed. No way could I ad lib a prayer with any degree of sincerity. Then my dying grandfather, Bebaw, rescued me. I recited the “grace” he said before every meal his entire life, the only grace I know: “Righteous Heavenly Father, look down on us with tender mercy, God; direct these blessings and sanctify these table offerings for the nourishment of our bodies. We ask these things in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.” And they all said, “Amen.” Man!

I looked to my right at Billy, he was looking at me with an approving smile, and gave me a little wink, like he saw right through me, but was pleased with the old time gospel grace. Thanks, Bebaw!

The prayers ended with Billy’s Baptist preacher prayer, which might have gone on for a lot longer, with him having a very heavy one-on-one conversation with God, with Billy talking and God undoubtedly listening, but the waitress began clattering plates and rolling in little carts of food, and Billy cut it short after about ten minutes. We ate a lively breakfast, and God went back to running the universe.

Afterwards I got to shake hands with Johnny Cash and talk to him for a few minutes. I was shocked at how tired and worn he seemed, his face exhibiting a hard life. He was a very nice person, and I felt uplifted in his presence.

No one can see the future. Perhaps I should have asked for a job and gone on the road with them, doing something. It never occurred to me. My mind was focused on more worldly things. Less than two years later, April 5, 1978, I was arrested for murder, and have spent the rest of my life in prison. It’s not Folsom, but it is close enough.

Johnny Cash said, “You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistake, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” I’m still working on that.

In December I wrote a “prison song,” a light-weight, more humorous poem than “Folsom Prison Blues,” as follows. Hope you like it:


By Charles Patrick Norman

Hear those hound dogs howling,
Running through the night,
If they catch me they’ll be growling,
And I might die of fright.
I’ve gotta keep on running,
They’re about a mile around the bend,
If these rednecks spot me, they’ll be gunning,
And for me it will be the end.

I’ve got the howling hound dog blues,
It’s not a path you want to choose,
Some men win but most will lose,
They’ll die singing the howling hound dog blues.

A bloodhound’s got a special nose,
They can smell you far miles away,
And about now they’ve found the treats I dosed
With the special meds my cellmate shared today.
You see, he’s just a little crazy,
Sometimes he gets wild and violent,
Those pills he takes make him lazy,
He’ll sleep all day, and suffer bewilderment.

I’ve got the howling hound dog blues,
It’s not a path you want to choose,
Some men win but most will lose,
They’ll die singing the howling hound dog blues.

The howling’s not as loud as it was awhile ago,
It seems like the sounds have changed
From a baritone bass to a confused soprano
Those rednecks must think it strange.
Those good old dogs who chase men and ‘coon,
Don’t want to run no more,
They won’t even howl at the harvest moon,
Or chase me like they did before.

They just want to curl up and go to sleep,
While I keep running till it’s awful late,
Then I see my sweetie smiling there in her Jeep,
When those dogs wake up we’ll be in another state.
I’ve got the howling hound dog blues,
It’s not a path you want to choose,
Some men win but most will lose,
They’ll die singing the howling hound dog blues.


Monday, February 18, 2013


DAY TWENTY TWO: Prison Diary January 24, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL (coming to you from a dismal prison far, far away from civilization)

A Model of a Prison Retaliation

The end of February will mark the third anniversary of this series of retaliation against me by the Florida Dept. of Corrections (FDOC) for exercising my First Amendment rights, continuing to this day. As I write this in my suffocatingly hot cell, serving my 22nd day in solitary confinement, listening to the cacophony of screams from some miscreant who just got doused with “Liquid Jesus,” (pepper spray) for not cooperating, I feel the survivor’s mantra around me, loud in the otherwise silent confinement unit, “Better him than me.”

This particular experience actually began around April, 2008, when Professor William “Chip” Brantley, formerly of Massachusetts, now at University of Alabama School of Journalism, established the “FreeCharlieNow” blog, on my behalf, so I would have a place to say what I had to say. I’ve been saying it ever since, though not always to the FDOC’s liking. Such organizations, by their very nature, like to keep their “dirty secrets” behind the walls, and have a long history of retaliation against those who make their “enemies list.”

Prison officials and guards got wind of my essays fairly quickly, and I got mostly positive comments from staff. The Sword of Damocles always hung over my head, held by a thin string. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said that the public has a vested right to know what goes on behind the prison gates, and defended the rights of freedom of speech and expression of prisoners. That doesn’t mean that state prison systems nationwide aren’t going to slam the door and smash any exercises of free speech that displease or anger them, it means that those few prisoners with the strength of will to stand up to such powers face a long, frustrating campaign to get to a federal court who will reaffirm that our constitutional rights apply to prisoners, too. It was a federal judge who said that prison officials have a long history of retaliation against prisoners who criticized them.

Back here in “the hole,” subjected to a lot of sensory deprivation, locked behind a steel door in a little room no bigger than many small bathrooms, at least I’ve had a chance to study some legal decisions that apply to my case, and wanted to share what I came up with, if you are interested in that sort of thing.

A federal court in California, ruling on a prison retaliation case in a state prisoner’s favor in 2004, stated:

“Because purely retaliatory actions taken against a prisoner for having exercised his or her First Amendment rights to file prison grievances, and to pursue civil rights litigation in the courts, necessarily undermine these protections, such retaliatory actions violate the Constitution quite apart from any underlying misconduct they are designed to shield.”

If you are interested in reading the case in its entirety, you can ask Mister Google to look up “408 F. 3d 559” (Rhodes v. Robinson).

Compared to my case, Rhodes took a walk in the park. The federal courts say that for a prisoner to establish a retaliation claim, he must allege that five conditions are present, as follows:

“Plaintiff Charles P. Norman alleges that FDOC prison officials (1) arbitrarily delayed, hindered, intercepted, refused delivery, and destroyed his incoming and outgoing correspondence and subscription magazines, filed repeated fabricated false disciplinary charges against him, punitively transferred him twice to harsher, more distant prisons, denied him access to the prison law library digital/non-print legal research stations for months (ongoing), denied him access to inmate canteen purchases, suspended his mail privileges, locked him up three times in solitary confinement, twice for 30 days each, and once for 14 days, (2) because he (3) exercised his First Amendment rights to file prison grievances and otherwise seek access to the legal process, and that (4) beyond imposing these tangible harms, the prison officials’ actions chilled his First Amendment rights and (5) were not undertaken in narrowly tailored furtherance of legitimate penological purposes.”

That’s a mouthful, but every word is true and accurate, and actually understates the actual abuses. There is much more.

It is not supposed to happen. If all prison staff were adequately trained in the prison rules and laws, and they were properly supervised by superiors who made sure those who were enforcing rules were also obeying them, prison would operate much more smoothly and efficiently. The age-old question has been, “Who guards the guards?” And the answer has often been, no one, until it got so far out of hand that outside authorities had to intervene. It is a shame, but that is life in prison.

Where is the ACLU when you need them? Going all the way through courts to guarantee some guy’s right to blast his mega-powered boom box speakers from his car while stopped in traffic, damaging the hearing of anyone in range. Very big First Amendment case. That’s how it is in “free society,” too.

Reading my favorite book last night, I happened upon a verse written by Paul, the Apostle, to the Hebrews, almost two thousand years ago:

“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:3)

All I can say to that is, “AMEN,” and wish you happiness and success in all you do.



DAY TWENTY: Prison Diary January 22, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL

Only ten days left in “the hole,” February 1st, unless the grinches pull something else out of their bag of tricks.

It has been a busy couple of days back here. No mail on the holiday, but perhaps tonight. Three trays, shower night, and mail call are the only things to look forward to back here. Fortunately, yesterday after 18 days in isolation, my long-awaited “canteen order” arrived – a pack of 150 sheets of notebook paper ($2.40 – how much at Walmart?) and some “security pens,” a very short pen with a flexible tube around it – 65 cents each, as opposed to the 19 cent Bics. We get gouged – one pen didn’t work – no refunds – but the fresh supply of ink and paper put me back to writing wok. Yesterday and today I completed and re-copied a short play, “Shut the F—K Up!” a gritty prison drama set in solitary confinement. Based on a true story, rated PG, Adult Language.

I also wrote another poem, “Some Things That Bring Me Joy,” a much brighter subject, which followed, “In The Darkness,” last week. It is generally quieter, so I can concentrate better. Still much legal work waiting to do, but I can only do so much of that at a time.

My friend and webmaster, Dan, in Seattle, sent me a nice letter with “stats” for the blog and website, with several new countries added to the list of blog readers. This is ne – “Krizevci, Koprivnicko-Krizevacka, Croatia. Translated into Croatian! If you haven’t been to the blog, it is

The State of Washington Dept. of Corrections is a new blog reader. The Florida DOC visits all the time, crossing their fingers and praying I will say something incriminating (sorry, fellas, you have to make up your own stories – I’m not going to help you).

George Washington University in Washington, D.C. is new. Buchrain, Luzern, Switzerland, Abernant, Alabama, Ottowa, Canada, Warsaw, Warszawa, Poland, Kfer Saba, HaMerkaz, Israel, Campinas, Sao Paolo, Brazil, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, Singapore, Cheadle, Chesire, U.K., Thames Ditton, Surrey, U.K., and the “Ministry of Defense,” U.K., join many readers in Great Britain, Australia, Canada and most everywhere in the U.S. Even Vermillion, South Dakota, and Fort Swain, California.

It is amazing to me how the world has changed in the almost 35 years of my false imprisonment. In prison, you are so heavily burdened, bound, and blindfolded that you move ahead at “turtle speed” while the rest of the world races along on the turnpike beside you at lightning speed. Six year olds are more computer savvy than most prisoners. Yet the prison system claims it wants prisoners to be prepared for freedom so they can be contributing members of society when they get out. I have dedicated myself to preparing myself and others to do exactly that, yet all my altruistic efforts are met by certain mean-spirited people who censor and photocopy my mail, fail to deliver it, and throw stumbling blocks in my path at every turn. And these are our “public servants” who draw paychecks every two weeks of taxpayer dollars, playing childish games on the state time clock. Nevertheless, I am confident that right will prevail, and continue to do my best in a trying situation. I am encouraged and strengthened by those who write and comment, so thanks for that.

Only ten more days!




DAY NINETEEN: Prison Diary January 21, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL

Forget what I said about the kitchen workers looking out for their homeboys in confinement by doing a good job on the meal trays. I should have kept my mouth shut. They must have hired a new crew, or a harsher supervisor, for the food rapidly went downhill in quality and quantity, where it stays. This morning we had cold, rubbery pancakes (2) and a half-serving of cold, gummy, tasteless oatmeal with perhaps a teaspoon of sugary water that is supposed to be syrup. We get a half-cup of “juice,” which is actually some severely watered-down mess, pinkish color – if you can see through it, you know what happened. The workers mix just a little in the containers and steal the rest, to sell or drink themselves later. They add half a cup of some white milk substitute, tasteless, that looks like someone mixed a couple of packets of non-dairy coffee reamer in cold water. Someone said it was “soy,” but only “CSI” could know for sure. I have lost over ten pounds in 19 days, so there is some side benefit.

Yesterday, the 20th, was supposed to be the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. I suppose that went off as planned. You couldn’t tell it by me! We are totally cut off from the world, sensory and news deprivation. On Sunday night, every hour or so a guard would come by like the old town criers, calling out the NFL playoff scores: “Rams 28 Patriots 13,” “49’ers 28, Dirty Birds 24,” or we would have never known who was going to the Superbowl, either. In prison, there’s a lot more interest in football than presidents, although I don’t think any football team has ever drawn half a million people to one of their games.

Today is the Martin Luther King Holiday. No one knows when his actual birthday is anymore. No special occasion in prison. Hard, cold biscuits (stale) at lunch. There used to be token celebrations and a special meal, but over time the prison system has purged itself of any semblance of celebration. Why not? They stripped away most f the recognition for the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas holidays. The only thing that’s left is they still allow an extra family visiting day on those holidays.

“An Immigrants View of America from Outside”

A few days ago I recounted the views of a young Haitian prisoner back here in “the box,” concerning being in prison. Now I will share what he shared about how life was in Haiti before coming to America, and how he was greeted:

“I was a little jit in Haiti when Mama died. My daddy went to America to find a job. We kids all stayed with Grandmama. We didn’t have nothing. Hungry. I missed my daddy. We never got no letter. He couldn’t read or write.

There was a TV somebody had, and I never seen nothing like that. America. This show, a white boy was riding down a street in America throwing newspapers in people’s yards. He had a job! And the houses! All nice houses, pretty, with yards and grass. I never seen no grass in Haiti. The ground is like concrete. And the food! All these white people was sitting at a big table eating. It was covered in food! Food! Them people was eating all they wanted. America! I said, we gotta go there.

My daddy got married. My stepmom was American. He was gonna send for us. Haitians told us, watch out for them Americans when you get to Miami. They don’t like Haitians. They go around in gangs and beat up Haitians. They was talking about black people! We called them Americans. They wasn’t Haitians. But when we got there, we was in the projects, and all around me all I saw was black faces. I mean black faces. Haitians. You see how black I am? They call me “Black.” It was mostly all Haitians in the projects. I didn’t speak no English. You didn’t have to. I wanted to go to school, so I learned it. I got jumped on by this one American didn’t like me, but I fought back. Now I’m in here. It’s not so bad. I don’t get no letters, or write nobody, ‘cause nobody in my family can read or write. My daddy can’t read or write English or Haitian. My sister can – she’s gonna be a flight attendant! A good job. Wish I had a good job.”



DAY EIGHTTEEN: Prison Diary January 20, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL

Twelve days left “in the hole.”

Sometimes you see and hear pitiful things in here. One of the worst parts of the “open population,” in the housing areas, is the incessant noise. If you can’t tune it out, all the chatter, you’ll have no peace. I’ve written some of my best works in the middle of the buffalo herd, so to speak. The relative quiet of confinement makes it easier to sleep, not having four guys sitting on a bunk three feet away gabbing, or standing next to your bunk and yelling at a friend 60 feet away.

When the heat is off, you can talk to the guy next door, or downstairs in the cell beneath you, the vents being open. If the guys next door and downstairs want to carry on a long conversation, you can’t help hearing whatever they’re talking about, through the vents.

Next cell to mine, sharing the vent, is a young Haitian who talks on and on to his friend down below. As I write this they are droning on and on. What I wanted to tell you about was how this Haitian kid views his imprisonment.

He said, “You know, I don’t like it here, not in the box, but I got a bunk to sleep in, and a room, and a sink, and a toilet, light, warm food every day, a doctor f I get sick. My grandma in Haiti don’t have any of that. She was living in a tent when I left. You know how she gets water? It ain’t funny. Least I’m not living on the street. If I get sent back, well, we’ll see.”

It gives you something to think about. You wouldn’t want to be in the Port-au-Prince prison. People do live better in many American prisons than their families in impoverished Third World countries. That doesn’t give our people the right to treat their fellow Americans in prison any way they choose, though.

This morning I am reading about Samson in the Book of Judges, Chapter 13-17, in the Old Testament. Samson was in prison, too. Interesting stories, with parallels to today’s world.




DAY SEVENTEEN: Prison Diary January 19, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL

Only thirteen days to go, unless the powers-that-be have mercy, acknowledge the wrongness of their constitutional violations, and suspend my remaining days of solitary. “Disciplinary Confinement should be the last resort,” those magnanimous prison rules state. Sure, right, uh-huh, forget it. Men got to jail for stealing bread. Sound familiar? “Les Miserables.” This is called in prison parlance, “getting the butter from the duck.” How do we silence this guy? Hmmm. Don’t give them any ideas. No, Virginia, I am not suicidal, I don’t harbor thoughts of harming myself or others, so if I wind up hanging from a bedsheet with boot marks on my chest, that wasn’t CPR they were applying. Don’t give them any ideas. I’m not worried about the officers – I can’t complain about them. On the whole they are fair and do a good job. Don’t let the mail grinches near me with any sharp implements! It’s bad enough trying to send out legal mail without enduring buckets of verbal abuse.

Today is my younger brother, Danny’s, 59th birthday. Hard to believe. I remember it like it happened yesterday. I was four years and four months old, and was amazed to see such a red-faced baby against the white sheets of my mother’s hospital bed.

“That’s not my brother, that’s an Indian baby!” I said. Four year olds in 1954 knew nothing of P.C. and Native Americans. Texas was cowboys and Indians territory.

They are bringing evening chow, so I will cut this short. I wanted to mention that something astounding happened a few nights ago – breaded fish filets! Not the compressed fish patty, but real fish, with commercial breading, like something you’d get at Captain D’s, if you frequent such plebian establishments. It wasn’t very big, but it was tasty and real. It had to be a major foul-up on the food suppliers’ part. We haven’t had any type of fish for many years, and that was always the scary patties. They probably meant to send the possum and soy patties (what I call the mystery meat), but an illiterate worker grabbed the wrong cases. We will probably not see them again in my lifetime.

Goodnight all, see you tomorrow.


Saturday, February 16, 2013


DAY SIXTEEN: Prison Diary January 18, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL

Remember Goldilocks and the porridge — too hot, too cold, just right? That is a fairy tale. In real-life prison, it seems, everything is too hot or too cold. It is never just right.

In the early morning hours of my retaliatory stay in solitary for expressing myself, the weather turned cold and windy. An officer said it had snowed in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which isn’t that far from this godforsaken place. Suddenly the confinement cells turned freezing cold, it seemed — concrete and steel hold cold better than heat.

Voices erupted from other cells in protest, “turn on the heat!” Hardly anyone back here has any clothing beyond the bare minimum. Even this old building is supposed to have some sort of thermostat. Eventually someone had mercy and cut on the heat. And did they cut on the heat! Powerful blasts of hot air like the Devil’s breath came blowing out a little vent. In minutes the cold was gone. In half an hour the tiny cells were stifling, and more men were yelling, “turn it down!” Can’t. If we’d had coffee we could have had it steaming.

Taking advantage of the situation, I immediately washed my shirt and hung it from the vent with staples. It looked like a flag flying in a gale! In minutes it was dry, so I washed some more. Then, as always happens, before another soul collapsed in the saunas, they cut the heat off. Soon, the cold dominated again, but fortunately the sun rose and drove away the chill.

Last night confinement had some excitement in an otherwise boring and monotonous existence. Two young men locked in a cell together across the catwalk from my abode got into a rousing fight. Everyone heard the thumping of fists, grunts of pain, sounds of crashing against the walls, the bunks, the floor, cries, more slaps on flesh, more grunts, oofs and gasps.

Most prison fights don’t last long. “Sucker punches” predominate. One man “creeps” the other, lands his best punch, usually stunning him and leaving him open for a battering and kicking until the puncher gets tired. But this fight seemed evenly matched, and went on and on, perhaps three minutes, a prison eternity.

The noise drew the guard, who looked in the little plexiglas window and ordered them to break it up, stop fighting. They paid him no mind, going at it harder, perhaps to gain a win before the squad rushed them.

No squad needed. The officer opened the metal tray slot, and hit them both with a canister of pepper spray. That took a minute to take effect, then they were both burning, crying, the fight was over. Another guard came, the combatants submitted to the command, “cuff-up,” putting their hands behind them and through the slot, to be manacled. The crybabies were led to cold showers to wash off the burning capsaicin, per the rule. I give the responding officer credit — he handled it professionally, and without unnecessary force.

That was last night. I’ve been neglectful of my prison diary entries because of the urgency to file the appeals of the false disciplinary charge, “attempt to conspire,” which isn’t an actual infraction, but is what is called an overbroad, vague charge utilized merely to put something down on paper even when the person has done nothing wrong, to justify the oppression. Sort of like “grand mopery with intent to commit scrutiny,” another nonsense charge.

I am back now, for a little while, at least. I got mail fairly unhindered, informing me that my first installment of poems and diaries had arrived unmolested — the “heat is on” in the mailroom, too, which means many eyes are watching their actions, so for now the mail Grinch is playing it somewhat by the book. If you don’t file your appeals within certain tight deadlines, they kill them, although that never kept prison officials from ignoring mandatory deadlines, or not responding at all.
Around nine thirty this morning, I was called out, manacled, waist chain, cuffs, padlock, legirons, and led to the infamous little “d.r. room,” where I talked on the phone to all-star lawyer, Bill Sheppard. No sooner had I been “unchained” and locked securely in my cell, than another escort officer told me I was going to dental.
Last week the dentist examined the upper left molar that had broken, and today was the scheduled extraction. Forget about fancy dental work in here. It’s “yankem, pullem” time.

It’s not easy even getting into a dental chair when you’re chained like Harry Houdini about to get dropped in the river, but I made it. At least they use novacaine in prison, so after the shots took effect the dentist proceeded to pull the tooth until it broke in two. Oops. After some serious grinding and digging the malefactor came out, but the hole in my gum was so deep, he said that he could see the gray sinus membrane. Whoa! No problem though. The membrane was intact, and besides, I’d signed the release, hadn’t I, that authorized them to do whatever they did without fear of lawsuits. If you die, you die. Form signed.

So, a few stitches and gauze pads, I was good as new. At least, the painful tooth was extracted. I hobbled back to solitary, numb for hours, thank you, Lord.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


DAY TEN: Prison Diary January 12, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL


With the continued budget cutbacks, another area the prison system has thrown on the wood pile is laundry. Out here in "no-man's land," where public scrutiny is rare, many of the prisoners look like homeless people, or "outdoorsmen," as the late Mitt Romney called them, wearing clothing not much better than rags. For those with families who visit them, they are dressed better - we don't want any distraught mothers calling the newspapers and complaining, but if you are in solitary confinement, Heaven help you - you are the "Forgotten Ones."

Some of these guys coming out of their cells look like they've been in one of those Mixed Martial Arts fights where their opponents' goal was to rip their clothes to shreds. One poor guy's blue shirt was ripped down the back, his bare shoulder sticking out, trying to hold up a ragged pair of trousers several sizes too large.

Under no circumstances do you dare turn in your clothes for washing at the laundry! If they come back in the cart at all, you'll never see the same ones you sent. The "orderlies" will pick through the laundry and take anything better than a rag.

Which brings us to Saturday, Day 11 of my sojourn in solitary. We don't go to any callouts to medical or dental or classification on the weekends, so that becomes wash day. Wash your meager belongings in the tiny sink that dribbles water, never let them out of your sight, hang them off your bunk and hope they will dry.

"Back in the day," old-time convicts washed all their clothes on Saturday morning in their toilet, known in the prison vernacular as a "shit jacket."

It freaked me out to go over to Jack "Murf the Surf" Murphy's "house," what we called the cells, on Saturday morning, and there he'd be, merrily scrubbing and rinsing his personal socks in the toilet. Of course, he'd have cleaned the toilet beforehand, but I never could bring myself to wash my clothes in the cell toilet. I still won't. It may take longer, but I have "time." Call me squeamish.

So I washed my blue shirt, let it hang all day, then when it was almost dry, I carefully smoothed out the wrinkles, folded it, and placed it between the hard steel bunk and the plastic-covered mattress. Tomorrow it will come out looking like it was pressed. I washed my socks and tee shirt, and tomorrow I'll wash my boxers. I am lucky to have them - "personals," - purchased from the Internet canteen order by my family. I don't dare let them out of sight. They fit, and they are mine.

Solitary is a musty, smelly place. Men in close quarters, locked in small cells, showers three times a week, sweaty clothing, raw armpits and elsewhere, think of an animal den where the bear slept all winter. Many of these prisoners were homeless before they came to prison, many have mental disorders that caused them to wander the city streets - remember the crazy-looking guy who wanted to wash your car window at the stoplight with a filthy rag? He's in here with me. And he is still not too concerned about hygiene, or what anyone else thinks about him. Sometimes it is a defense mechanism against rape. A young man who isn't tough enough to defend himself might let his personal hygiene go to Hell, refuse to shower or change clothes, and like the skunk, hope to use his awful scent to drive away predators. It doesn't always work - someimes the predator is as smelly and musty as his prey.

That's the last thing I'm worried about, so I will wash my clothes and myself, and cling to any small scraps of dignity I can hang on to.

See you tomorrow.


DAY EIGHT: Prison Diary January 10, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL


One of my favorite books of the Bible as a child in Sunday School was Daniel. It had such exciting stories, like the three young men surviving the fiery furnace they'd been thrown into without so much as a blister, the mysterious handwriting on the wall, and, of course, my hero, Daniel, in the lions' den. In years to come, I could relate personally to Daniel's story. Unlike Daniel, who spent the night in a den of hungry lions, I have lived in the lions' den for many years, yet I have survived, by the grace of God.

As a child, I saw things with a child's eye and a child's understanding, but becoming a man, I looked at things and understood them differently. So it is with the Bible. Many Bible stories are multi-layered, with the surface features presenting a straightforward narrative that satisfies and explains the events in a simple style that most anyone can understand and appreciate, but with deeper levels of meaning available for those who seek them. The fiery furnace, the writing on the wall, and the lions' den, according to scholars, as well as most every other part of Daniel, are fertile subjects of intense study and meaning.

I'm not a Bible scholar, but going to prison for life has a tendency to change the way one looks at the world, and studying the Bible is a busy occupation for many, especially with all the well-meaning Christians whose mission is to bring light to the darkness of prison. This starts in the county jail with preachers and volunteers passing out New Testaments, literature, and simple Bible studies to captive audiences behind the bars. Once you get to prison, it is more organized, and certain churches and other groups have prison ministries with weekly programs that may last for years.

With the educational levels of most prisoners being fairly low (70% of Florida prisoners are functionally illiterate), it would be wasted effort to teach religious subjects at too high a level. Many of the Bible studies available to prisoners are what I call the "Fill-in-the-Blank School of the Bible."
for example: "For God so loved the  (blank) that
                      He gave his only begotten  (blank) , so
                      that whosoever believeth in  (blank)
                      shall not   (blank)    , but
                      have everlasting  (blank)   ."  John 3:16
Fill in the blanks, earn a certificate, congratulations.

Even with the low average educational levels, there are still a number of high school- and college- educated prisoners who are unsatisfied with the simplistic studies and seek courses with more substance and intellectual challenge.

I was fortunate in the mid-1980's to be at Zephyrhills C.I. when Professor Bob Loeffler came to the chapel with an offer we couldn't refuse. He taught Bible classes at Trinity College in Dunedin, whose graduates received divinity and theology degrees. A well-off elderly lady felt moved to pay the college tuitions of a class of prisoners who wanted to take college-level Bible courses. Professor Loeffler asked if we could come up with twenty-four prisoners who could meet Trinity College's enrollment standards. We could, and did. He offered to teach a class twice-weekly, three hours a night, at the same intense level he taught at Trinity. The men responded to his challenge.

In the two years the program continued, I learned a tremendous amount from Professor Loeffler, and developed a confidence in my Bible knowledge that I would never have gained on my own. We learned about the historical perspectives of the various books, when they were written and by whom, and what was going on in the surrounding world at the same time, in addition to the inherent messages of the works.

There was a King Nebuchadnezzar, a Chaldean who ruled Babylon, a mighty kingdom at the time, and he did besiege and capture Jerusalem, the capital of the Jews. There are independent historical records that confirm many of the events in Daniel.

Daniel recounts the story of the First Exile (605 B.C.), a deportation of captives taken to Babylon across 500 miles of desert, along with much of the temple gold and treasure. The king ordered that a number of young men from the royal families were to be trained and taught the language of the Chaldeans, so they could serve the king. The classical literature of the Chaldeans, which predated the Hebrews by centuries, was written in Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform, a complicated syllabic writing system. But Babylon was a multi-racial society, with all the military successes bringing in merchants and slaves from distant locales, and the language of normal communications was Aramaic, with an easily-learned alphabetic script. The captives from Jerusalem spoke their own language, Hebrew, with its own script.

You'll have to read the book to get the whole story, but after the first deportation in 605 B.C., a second one, in 597 B.C., included the prophet, Ezekiel. In 586 B.C., when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, the third deportation occurred, and many more were enslaved.

The city of Babylon was built astride the Euphrates River The Tigris River was about 100 miles further east. Babylon was in the middle of the Fertile Crescent, what has been called Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, now Iraq.

Classical writers recorded glowing accounts of the splendor of Babylon. The high hundred-gated walls were so wide a four-horse chariot could turn around atop them. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Newcomers to Babylon gawked at a staged temple-tower 295 feet high, and several colossal gold statues weighing tons each.

That was where Daniel and his friends went to work. In the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, it says they worked under the "chief of the eunuchs." That most probably meant that all the royal captives chosen to work in the palace were castrated (ouch!), a subject that is not further discussed. Old King Neb didn't want any young, virile foreign slaves sneaking into the harem. In the New International Version (NIV), a modern translation in language we can better understand, the word, "eunuch," is nowhere to be found. Instead, Ashpenaz is described simply as chief of the king's court officials, perhaps sanitizing the account for the more squeamish modern reader.

Back to the lions' den. Daniel lived a long time, and because of his success interpreting dreams, he rose to prominence as chief of magicians. By now Darius, the Mede, was king, and some jealous officials falsely accused Daniel, manipulating the king to order Daniel cast into the lions' den, albeit unwillingly on the king's part, where he spent the night. In Hebrew, "Daniel" means, "God is my judge," and during that long night, Daniel's God judged him worthy. Daniel told King Darius that God sent his angel, who shut the mouths of the lions. They did not hurt him because God found Daniel innocent in His sight.

This is the part I like: at the king's command the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions' den along with their wives and children. That was the custom of the time, perhaps just a little harsh. The Hebrew law prescribed something similar for false accusers in Deuteronomy 19: 16-19, "If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime,
                                        the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the
                                        Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time.
                                       The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be 
                                        a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he
                                        intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you."

That part of the story had a quick resolution and a happy ending. My own experiences with false accusers have gone on for over a generation, and continue to this day. I was thrown into the lions' den of prison by false accusers,and I have no doubt that the lions' mouths have been shut by angels. I wonder if those who continue to lie and condemn me would fare as well.

Daniel was still alive in 539 B.C., when Cyrus established the Mede-Persian Empire (present-day Iran), which is the date of the fall of Babylon. Other books of the Bible recount when King Cyrus freed the captives in 537 B.C., and very possibly an elderly Daniel saw the exiles return to Judah. To this day Iran covets Jerusalem, Israel, and the land of Babylon, present-day Iraq, and would probably like to march the captives across the desert into slavery again.

All that's left of ancient Babylon are bits of rubble in the desert, south of present-day Baghdad. But the book of Daniel lives on, with its plethora of messages for modern Man.



DAY NINE: Prison Diary January 11, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL


There are all kinds of rules in prison, rules that supposedly apply equally to prisoners, guards, and those higher ups who wear jeans, dresses, and ties to work. Sorry, Charlie, not true.

Prison is a societal hybrid, little plots of totalitarian dictatorships plopped amid wide expanses of democracy, like spots of  melanoma infecting someone's back. The people locked up in these places have been judged guilty of violating society's laws, so they are removed from the democracy and placed into the prisons for reform, revenge and rehabilitation. Yes, revenge. Society demands its pound of flesh. When someone has satisfied the burden placed on him or her by society for recompense, when their time is up, or another "authority" decides that person will live a law-abiding life, they are released into the not-so-open arms of society for another chance.

Meanwhile, someone has to work in this totalitarian hybrid, to run the operations. In come the public servants, selfless people with only altruistic aims to help their misguided brethren mend their wrongheaded ways. Again, Sorry, Charlie! - not true.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they speak to people they consider both much lower and higher on the totem pole than they are. Smiling faces. In prison, we see stark contrasts. An employee - a woman, let's say - talks to a prisoner, who she considers her social inferior, "like a dog," as the expression goes, condescending, insulting, "getting off" on the power trip of lording over another person. In the tyranny of prison, there are many petty tyrants who use their "authority" to satisfy their own inadequacies, insecurities, and personality shortcomings. Many of these people are most notable by their ill-bred lack of common manners. Everything is personal. Friend or foe. If you are considered an underling, or "scum of the earth," as they depict those beneath them, if you don't kowtow to their every whim, bow and scrape, they'll say you don't have the proper attitude, and use that as an excuse to harass you and get you "back into line," where a good slave should be. The Civil War has been over for 145-plus years (NEWS FLASH - ya'll lost!), but the slavemaster mentality lives on in the tyranny of prison.

Former prison official, Dave Brierton, once said, "People are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment." That distinction is one of the hardest things for many prison staff to understand. It is not their job or mission to inflict additional punishment on those under their control. It is bad enough just being here, separated from loved ones and freedom.

Switch to SCENE TWO: a higher-ranking person approaches the employee described above. It doesn't have to be a much higher-ranking. Let's say he wears a tie, how does the other person act? Have you ever seen an orphan cocker spaniel at an animal shelter when a human approached who might adopt the pitiful dog? Not just the tail wags - the entire dog wags, and whines, submissive to the max, will lick that superior human's - well, you get the picture. They will say or do anything to please their superior, no matter how far they must abase themselves. The words, "sycophant," "toady," and a few others come to mind. Fill in the blanks.

Sorry, Charlie, I don't play that game. Do you remember the words, "All men are created equal?" I happen to believe those words, and the ones about how every person has "inalienable rights," endowed by their Creator. They don't want to hear that in prison. But not everyone - there are many examples that prove the rule, many fine, moral employees who come to work to do their jobs, go home, collect their paychecks. Many military veterans come to work in the prisons after going to war, have seen it all, and maintain their military courtesy, work habits, and professionalism.

That's what I'm up against here, in this place, today. Do you remember, "Fatal Attraction?" Michael Douglas and the psychotic, obsessed Glenn Close? In this case, it's not even close. Just unbalanced and fixated on harassing me. And when the truth isn't enough - lie! Who will they believe?

That's what I went through this morning with being baited by a transparently two-faced sycophant who, like a spoiled child, has had her way so long, and now wants to smash anyone who won't stand for her abuse. And when the "superiors" have been snowed and flattered and conned for so long by such a person, not even they will make the right decision to stop the employee's illegal and unethical acts, even if it lands them in front of a federal judge. Enough said for now.

That's how the morning started out. Then they came and got me to take a walk to the prison dentist office. That required the several pounds of hand cuffs, waist chains, and leg irons, shuffling from confinement to the medical building. Fun.

We passed the smoking area where several women employees enjoyed their cigarettes and coffee, acting like some scruffy-looking, unshaven character chained and in leg irons passing by was no different than Mr. and Mrs. Jones out strolling down Honeysuckle Lane. "Good morning (smiles), how are you?" (How do I look like I am?) "I'm fine, thank you." "Have a nice day." "I will. You, too." "Thanks." (puff, sip).

It takes an eternity to get in to see a prison dentist. $5.00 copay. So what? When you have a tooth broken in half while you were eating, and it's hurting, you don't care what it takes to fix it. Thank God the caveman era is over.

If you want your teeth examined by the prison dentist, you have to send in a request to be added to the list for a treatment plan, which includes cleaning, x-rays, and a check-up. I've waited as long as 18 months just to get in the door. Right now I'm in the middle of my "treatment plan." I saw the guy in October, and if I get done in 2013, I'll be surprised. It only took six or eight months to get in to see him this time, so I feel lucky.

The broken tooth was not part of the plan. Does your dentist talk too much? Don't you hate that? There you are, mumbling, "Pull it! pull it, pull it," and he's droning on and on about how he has to do this and that and the other, interminably, saying he hasn't got time to look at it today, or pull it, but I'll be rescheduled at the earliest opportunity, yadda, yadda.

Well, Doc, if you'd taken a quick x-ray and shot me with novacaine when I came in, instead of giving me this windy canned speech, I'd have been out of here already. But no. Maybe next week.

Actually, on the whole, the majority of prison dentists do fine jobs and know their business. They just talk too much.

We had the "turkey sausage" for supper, although I couldn't get nary a gobble from the beast. Looked like a fat, short hotdog. They picked some turnips out of the field, but they boiled them to death. Most of the turnips wind up in the swill barrel.

I had a hot shower and some wonderful mail, so my evening is complete. See you tomorrow.