Saturday, October 26, 2013


The above photo documents the visit of my mother, Lucille Norman, and her friend, Phil Plummer, visiting with me at Okaloosa C. I. on Saturday, October 19, 2013, after a 420-mile drive from Tampa.

I would like to contrast this photo with one taken at visit in 1980 (below), over thirty-three years ago. In this photo taken at the Union C.I. (Raiford, FL) visiting park, my brother, Dan, my mother and father, Eugene Norman, came to see me early in my imprisonment. I was thirty years old at that time. I am sixty-four now. Time has taken its toll on all of us. My father lasted five more years, passing away in 1985 after a long, lingering illness.

For thirty-five years my mother has devotedly made her way to visit with me, from my almost two years in the dungeon-like old Hillsborough County jail awaiting trial for a murder I did not commit to a succession of eighteen state prisons from one end of Florida to the other, to this present far-flung outpost within spitting distance of Alabama.

Despite the long costly drive, the three of us had an enjoyable time, talking and sharing a meal from the prison canteen. My mother has a remarkable memory, and each time we get together I ask her questions of family history. This time was no exception, and she told me a fascinating story about my Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Albert’s family, his father, Mr. Thornhill, and “Buck Henry,” which I will write about in a later memoir.

When one goes to prison, his loved ones go to prison with him, suffering what many consider a fate worse than death, living in limbo in a purgatory not of their making, grieving for the loss of someone caught between life and death. And so it goes with my loved ones, and particularly Mama.

For two years my father was dying, and as hard as it was for all of us to deal with, we knew it was coming and reconciled his passing. But for me, serving a “life sentence” that should have ended ten years ago, except for the objection and obstruction by corrupt prosecutor, Mark Ober, the subsequent possible “end” in 2017, we are faced with the question of how much longer either of us will live. Will I survive this wrongful imprisonment, survive this life sentence, and be able to help my mother, who grows increasingly frail with her advancing age? Or will we both give out?

It is a sobering reality to see one’s loved ones age before your eyes, and feel great responsibility for contributing to that aging. Will this visit be the last time? Or will we be reunited in freedom? Only God can answer those questions.

Mama cried when we embraced at the end of our too-short visit. It broke my heart, and I had a hard time not crying, too. Our visit is a joy and a sadness.

I am grateful for Phil Plummer’s making our visit possible by driving my mother the long trek from and to her home. He is a good man and good friend, and my mother is blessed to have him in her life. Daily I pray that this travesty of justice end soon, and I will be able to return home.


Friday, October 11, 2013



No matter how hard corrupt Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober tries to sabotage and derail my efforts at release from prison, I continue to work hard at self-improvement, positive accomplishments, and good works on behalf of my fellow prisoners. It galls that evil man to no end that I don’t merely survive this wrongful imprisonment, but thrive in a harsh environment that has broken and destroyed many strong men and women. A good example presents itself in my recent activities in this prison colony otherwise known as Okaloosa C.I., in the Florida Panhandle.

Even with Mark Ober’s illegal, immoral and unethical efforts to increase my imprisonment, such as obtaining and monitoring months of my personal phone calls — electronic wiretapping without warrants or probable cause — criminal violations of state and federal laws in collusion with high-ranking prison officials (they found nothing in the  calls in spite of their efforts!), my good behavior and time served resulted in a “custody reduction” from “close” to “medium custody.”

As a result, I qualified for the “Re-entry Program,” in a special dormitory housing area reserved mostly for “short-timers,” men getting released soon. Because of my qualifications, education, and years of experience conducting a variety of prison programs, including career planning, transition, and pre-release programs, the people who run the re-entry program encouraged me to apply. I did, after a few months of indecision while I was documenting and filing retaliation and reprisal charges against other officials, and have been active in several of their programs since around the first of June.

I’ve written about my participation in the Kairos prison weekend in July. Follow-up  programs for the Kairos religious experience include weekly prayer and fellowship group meetings in the prison chapel, and monthly half-day programs conducted by outside volunteers, Christian men from local churches who are moved to help their less fortunate brothers — us. And it is a fine job they do. Being in a predominantly negative environment 24/7, with the constant threats of being locked up, gassed, having crews of guards come in at any time to ransack our property in senseless shakedowns, or subjected to fabricated disciplinary reports that will postpone release, being around decent, “normal” people for a few hours who mean no harm, only good, is an incredibly positive force in men’s lives.

To stay enrolled in the Re-entry Program, one must participate in various programs, some voluntary and others mandatory. I completed one twelve-week program called “The Truth Project,” conducted by two fine men affiliated with a local church, and a “Money Management” class taught by a retired Air Force officer. I’m also involved in a newly-formed voluntary art class, a computer class, and mandatory self-esteem class taught by another dedicated outside volunteer. The class I want to tell you more about is the Children Who Need Their Fathers class, which I began attending this past week.

I don’t have any children. It was a choice I made. I tell people, having children is the smartest thing I never did, looking back on my life in prison, seeing all the sad stories of children growing up visiting their fathers in prison, living messed-up lives, and very often following the same paths to prison that their fathers walked before them. As hard as it has been for me to survive these 35 years in prison, it would have been much worse if I had children to feel guilty about, as so many of my compatriots do.

I would not have taken the Children Who Need Their Fathers  course if it were not required. What do I need something like that for? I don’t have children, for one. And for two, if I had children, they’d be adults by now with children of their own to worry about. Perhaps a Children Who Need Their Grandfathers class would be more appropriate. Now I am glad I did take the course. In just the first two classes, I’ve gained numerous insights that I would not otherwise have gained and learned from.

This particular class is fundamentally different from many of the “pre-packaged” programs developed by “professionals” that are offered to prisoners. The greatest difference is that the program is conceived and put together by prisoners, and prisoners conduct or “facilitate” most of the class time. A security “captain,” a high-ranking officer in charge of operations on his shift (evening) is the nominal instructor of the class, and he does participate in the program, presenting insights from his point of view. It is a rare, welcome opportunity for the participants to have available a dialogue with someone in authority who they would rarely speak to unless they were in handcuffs on their way to solitary confinement. Communication between typically opposing groups changes attitudes and fosters mutual respect, otherwise sparse commodities in prison.

From my years of working in the Golab Program over thirty years ago, I developed an appreciation for programs by prisoners. When their peers conduct classes for prisoners, totally different dynamics are at work. In programs conducted by “professionals,” “free people,” many prisoners behave completely differently from how they would act when no free people are present. Oftentimes they will put on acts to impress the outside instructors, not presenting their true selves. And Heaven help us if an attractive woman instructs the class! You know how stupid men get around pretty women. Magnify that stupidity several times for desperate men deprived of female contact, putting on acts to curry favor and attention, mistakenly thinking they are playboys.

When it is prisoner leading prisoner classes, the dynamics change completely. Among ourselves, prisoners are quick to pick up on phonies and falsehood. They are quick to say, “Bulls—t!” And among ourselves, prisoners have opportunities to be honest with themselves and speak their minds, revealing fears and failures they would never share in front of outsiders, especially when given the positive examples of their fellow prisoners conducting the class. More on that later.

I was alarmed at some of the statistics presented in the first class of Children Who Need Their Fathers. Did you know that children from fatherless homes are five times more likely to commit suicide? Or twenty times more likely to have behavioral disorders? This is really a bad one — children from fatherless homes are fourteen times more likely to commit rape. Additionally, they are nine times more likely to be committed to a state-operated facility, twenty times more likely to end up in prison.

An informal poll — there were about thirty men in that first class — the prisoner leader asked, “How many men in here tonight grew up in a fatherless home?” I counted twenty-five hands raised. Twenty-five out of thirty! I couldn’t believe it, but there it was. The statistics presented said that according to figures from Fulton County, Georgia, and the Texas Department of Corrections, 85% of all youths in prison grew up in a fatherless home. In our very small sample of 25 out of 30, that is about 83%. Too close for comfort.

One man said his father had been in prison, and he never saw him. Another man said he never saw his father until he was thirteen years old. One said his mother lied to him for years, told him his father was working in another state, until years later his grandmother told him the truth, and took him to visit her son — his father — in prison. He had never seen a picture of his father. He asked his grandmother how would he know his father, since he had never seen him. His grandmother told him to look for the man who looked just like him — that would be his father. Twenty years later, he was going through a similar situation with his own children.

Growing up in a typical two-parent family, I never experienced such disconnections as so many of these men. But it only takes a short time of hearing their common stories, applying the statistics presented to not only themselves, but also their children, and I realize that our society is in serious trouble. Little is being done to break the vicious cycles of crime, punishment and incarceration. Rather than spending billions of dollars of scarce tax money confining damaged adults in prisons to no avail, it would seem to make sense to divert some of that money to helping millions of at-risk children avoid otherwise inevitable imprisonment and destruction of salvageable lives.

When I arrived at the Okaloosa Prison Colony in April, 2012, the result of a second punitive transfer orchestrated by the corrupt Mark Ober, one of the first men I met was someone I’d known at Tomoka C.I. in Daytona Beach, Florida, before my first retaliatory, punitive transfer to Wakulla in 2010. We had lived in the same building — the notorious “B Dorm,” on adjacent wings, for about six years, and we could not have been more different. Where I walked a straight line, worked in my garden every day, painted in the art department, did legal research in the law library, played in the prison tennis league, attended church programs, and spent weekends in the visiting park, “Ray” was the complete opposite. He was involved in every kind of prison hustle and negative activity you could think of, and some you can’t imagine. I will not list them. Suffice it to say that Ray was well down the road to perdition, with little chance of getting out of prison for many years and no incentive to be a good person.

Nevertheless, despite our philosophical differences, during the several years we served together at Tomoka, we became friends. I learned not to be judgmental. Judge not lest you be judged is timeless wisdom. I did not approve of Ray’s lifestyle, but we shared common interests in sports. Ray read some of the articles and stories I’d written, and we maintained a level of mutual respect. I lived my prison life as I always had, as a positive role model, and offered Ray advice from a Christian perspective when he came to me with a question, which was fairly often.

Despite the low average educational level in prison — it is estimated that about 70% of Florida prisoners are functionally illiterate, unable to write a letter — education and intelligence are much admired qualities. A prisoner who is educated and intelligent is usually well-respected. So it was with Ray and me. We got along. Then Ray got transferred, and I didn’t see him for a few years. A lot can happen in that time.

When I arrived at Okaloosa, I’d barely gotten settled in before Ray greeted me. It is funny how serving prison time affects people. Two men who barely knew each other at one prison, who didn’t even know each other’s names, only recognized their faces, when they are suddenly transplanted to a different prison, perhaps finding themselves in the same housing area, they become fast friends, like they are from the same neighborhood, having served time at the same place before.

Ray had something to say, and sought me out. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but the gist of it was that even though we were opposites at Tomoka, that he was strictly into “doing dirt,” (being bad), he had admired and respected me, and my example had an effect on him. His life had been screwed up, he realized he was lost, and had made a life-changing decision. He had given up his evil ways, rejected all he had been, had accepted Jesus as his savior, and had become a committed Christian. That was quite a revelation, but I was not completely surprised. I’d seen the same thing happen to men whose actions were more anti-social and evil than Ray’s who gave up the dark side and embraced the positive life.

I was moved to hear Ray’s testimony, although I took it with a grain of salt. I’ve also seen such epiphanies fade  after a time, and the men return to their previous lifestyles. “Time will tell.” I’ve learned not to let other men’s failures bring me down. I could only hope for the best. In Ray’s case, it appears to be a sincere change. He worked as a chapel aide for awhile, leads a Bible study in the dorm, and acts as a facilitator in several of the re-entry programs. He also led the Children Who Need Their Fathers class, and did a skilled job. I felt a degree of pride that another of my “prison protégés” had gone on to successful mentoring.

I’ve seen several “awakenings” in the class in the short time we have been there, men recognizing how the absence of their fathers had major effects on their lives, and, knowing that, making the decision to become involved in their own at-risk children’s lives before the damage is done, and they fall into the same trap.

How can a man in prison become involved in his children’s lives? Several ways. First, he must mend fences and repair the bridges separating him from the children’s mother, whether they are married, unmarried, separated, or divorced. I’ve heard so many stories of betrayal and hard feelings between parents, resulting in the mother refusing to have anything to do with the father. If she blocks access, little can be done. Heal the wounds!

The best way, of course, is to have the children visit their fathers, get to know someone who they may have had little if any contact with. Writing letters, sending birthday cards, and talking on the phone, offering love and positive encouragement are also ways to make crucial father-child connections. From my position as an objective observer, with “no horse in the race,” so to say, I’ve offered advice on the above strategies based on what I’ve learned from 35 years of successes and failures.

Many success stories have occurred. Time and time again, when I ran the Golab Program years ago, the best prisoner self-help program ever, smiling men would tell me they had shared the lessons learned in Golab — goal-setting, self-esteem, respect, personal inventories, and others, — with their wives and children, and it had brought them closer together. Hopefully, these current programs will have positive beneficial effects on those who need it the most.