Thursday, November 28, 2013


We were watching a Publix commercial on TV showing a happy family sharing a Thanksgiving meal, a table filled with delectable dishes most of us hadn’t tasted in years, and a massive, glistening roast turkey that might have been an ostrich, for all we know. On the outside we were laughing at one prisoner’s comment, “They’ll be serving that same meal in the chowhall on Thanksgiving,” but on the inside some of us were crying, bemoaning our enforced separation from family and loved ones for another traditional holiday, many for the rest of their lives.

After the mouthwatering Publix commercial came one for a nonprofit Pensacola homeless mission seeking donations to feed the hungry on Thanksgiving Day for $2.23 a plate. Scenes of pitiful-looking dental-deprived folks — some were ex-convicts, I felt certain — holding plates piled high with sliced turkey, dressing, and gravy, generated wistful memories of long-past holidays at home, where I was the delegated turkey slicer, followed by visions of what the actual prison meal will look like on that day. I thought, how much I wish I could pay $2.23 for a plate of turkey and dressing. That is not to be, not with the Florida prison food budget limited to $1.54 a day, for three meals.

Although my memory flashed back to holiday meals in prison years ago, when they served real turkey, it has been so long that I couldn’t pin down exactly when. Over thirty years ago, at Raiford, Union C.I., the University of Florida agricultural experiment station donated a flock of huge turkeys to the prison, They made an agreement — the prison slaughterhouse would weigh each giant bird, then kill and “process” each one, then measure the dressed weight. All the university wanted were the numbers. The turkeys were irrelevant. In exchange, we got a ton or so of prime turkey for free, roasted and served to 2,600 hungry prisoners.

That was prison, which is synonymous with crime and corruption, and a percentage of those Florida Gator turkeys went out the back door of the prison kitchen, stolen, sold, and surreptitiously turned into turkey sandwiches for those with the money to buy them. Some of the whole roast turkeys even escaped in cardboard boxes out the back gate and were consumed by the guards and their families. C’est la vie!

The only type of “meat” served in Florida prisons on Thanksgiving is some anonymous laboratory concoction that has only the most tenuous links to any winged creature. This tasteless, ground-up gray substance is added to potatoes, rice, or beans and ambitiously labelled with monikers like “Tuscan Stew,” “Conquistador Chili,” “Tamale Pizza,” “Zesty Patty,” “Breakfast Meat Gravy,” and other euphemisms that make it sound like gourmet meals from Bon Appetit magazine are being served in prison. The reality is far different. I call it “possum meat,” for lack of a better name.

As for myself, I will not be sharing the repast in the chowhall on Thanksgiving Day. I am blessed to have Libby, my dearest friend, making the trek of hundreds of miles from Jacksonville to this distant outpost on Thursday, and we will share a meal purchased from the visiting park canteen. It won’t be roast turkey from Publix, but the company we keep is more important than what we eat.

Even in prison for thirty-five years, oppressed and wrongfully convicted by a corrupt, politically-ambitious prosecutor, I am thankful for my many blessings. I love, and I am loved. I have miraculously survived eighteen prisons, against all odds. I have fought all attempts to silence my voice, and speak out via the Internet to thousands of people in seventy-five countries. I have maintained and grown my Christian faith and dedicated myself to helping those less fortunate than myself. I have hopes and dreams for a life in freedom, and I am grateful for those who have helped me along this path for all these years.

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

  Happy Thanksgiving Day 
 from Charlie and Libby!

      Counting Our Blessings and Giving Thanks!

Sunday, November 24, 2013


EDITOR’S NOTE: After KAIROS #1 at Okaloosa C. I. a few months ago, which Charlie volunteered to work, a follow-up meeting is held on the third Saturday of each month in the prison chapel. The KAIROS  brothers, Christian volunteers from the local church community, return for a couple of hours of fellowship and talks. Unlike many national prison ministries that put on programs in prisons, then leave with no continuing presence, the KAIROS  ministry has been successful, in part, because it encourages the men to participate in weekly prayer and sharing groups among themselves, and the monthly meetings with the outside volunteers. Once called Ultreyas, from its roots in the Spanish Cursillo movement, these meetings are now called reunions.

At each reunion, a couple of prisoners are asked to speak about their Fourth Day Walk. At the November gathering, Charlie was asked to speak. Following is a report filed by Charlie on his talk.

“Good morning. My name is Charlie Norman. I attended KAIROS number nine in May, 1982, at Union Correctional Institution and sat at the table of St. James. I’m glad to be here with you. I’d rather be here than in the best cancer hospital in the nation.”


“The KAIROS program lasts over a three-day weekend. When you go through KAIROS they tell you that the next day is the Fourth Day, when you return to the world, the prison world, and that Fourth Day “Walk” doesn’t last for just one day, but continues on through your walk with Christ by your side. Little did I know how long my Fourth Day Walk in prison would last.”

“Ten days ago I celebrated an anniversary of sorts. On November 6, 2013, I completed serving thirteen thousand days in prison. According to the Microsoft program I’ve been using in the computer class, those thirteen thousand days translate to thirty-five point five-seven years. A lifetime. I’ve worn out many pairs of shoes on this long walk.


“The KAIROS  program I attended over thirty-one years ago was a lot different than it is today. Those were the early days of KAIROS, the only program was at Raiford, and the “Nine Old Men,” the founders of KAIROS, attended each one. Most all of those good men are gone now, except for one, I think, and over time, as it expanded into prisons in many states and other countries, KAIROS changed. But one thing has not changed, and that is the love of Jesus. Jesus Christ is the same today as He was yesterday, and He’ll be the same tomorrow.”

“At our table we were asked to discuss how each of us could better serve Christ in our environment, in prison, and we had a good talk. We talked about something that others say to us, I thought you were a Christian. Has anyone else ever heard this?”

(Laughter and applause)

“I admit that I once said those words. Before I went to KAIROS, I was an angry man. Crooked prosecutors had threatened me with the death penalty, and I said, ‘Bring it on.’ I was in a terrible prison with a fresh life sentence, and had a bad attitude.”

“There was a prison guard called Trooper, who was one of those hard-core Christians. Trooper carried those little ‘tracts’ around with him, and he would accost both prisoners and guards when he was on the yard.”

(Stepping from the podium and leaning down toward a retired military officer, in an insistent voice):

“Are you a Christian? Have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior? If you die today are you going to Heaven or Hell?”


“You get the picture. One day Trooper was talking to several of us on the yard, guys were snickering at him, making fun, and one prisoner said, ‘Trooper, how can you call yourself a Christian, and stand in that gun tower with a shotgun, ready to blast someone? Didn’t your God say ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill?’


“And Trooper answered, ‘You know, I told the colonel the same thing. Why do you put me in that gun tower? I can’t shoot anybody!’

(More laughter)

“You can imagine what happened. Two prisoners off to the side heard what Trooper said, and went, ‘Hmmm.’ They began planning, and a couple weeks later, when Trooper was up in the gun tower, they hit the first fence. Trooper yelled, ‘Stop!’ but they kept climbing. They hit the second fence, and we heard the ‘CLACK-CLACK’ as Trooper chambered a round in that pump shotgun, followed by a BOOM-BOOM! Trooper shot both of them. He didn’t kill them — they lived.”

“A few weeks later, Trooper was back on the yard, passing out religious booklets, tracts, and approaching prisoners with his spiel. He walked up to a group I was standing in, and I asked him, ‘Trooper, I thought you were a Christian. What does God say about those two men you shot?’

“Trooper thought for a moment, and said, ‘I am a Christian. But God doesn’t want me to lose my job!’

(Much more laughter)

“That’s how one man felt led to serve Christ in that environment. We live in a far different environment. Most of us live in the re-entry dorm, where many men are Christians who don’t have a whole lot of time left on their sentences. The living conditions are better, compared to other dorms, because a majority of men are trying to do right, to get ready for freedom.”

“The Bible says Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and the shepherd knows his sheep. And the sheep know their shepherd. We are the sheep, but intermingled with the sheep are wolves in sheep’s clothing, wolves who pretend to be sheep, on the surface, who look to take advantage of a good situation, but actually are there to prey on what they perceive as weak sheep. But that’s not necessarily true. Those weak ones, the ones you call sheep, are actually ewes, the females. How many people — not you city guys — how many have actually been around a flock of sheep? Let’s have a show of hands.”

(A scattering of hands are raised)

“The females, the ewes, the ones who need protection, are what people commonly think of as sheep, frightened, manipulated, easily led. But they don’t think about the males, the strong ones, the rams, who are also sheep. Have you ever seen a ram up close, with the big curving horns, and the hard heads? Those bad boys are tough! Grandma said don’t butt heads with a billy goat, and the same holds true with rams. When the flock is threatened, the rams gather up and protect the sheep. They’ll knock a wolf for a loop. We’ve all seen the St. Louis Rams football team. Nobody calls them the wimps. Jesus was not a softie. He was a tough guy. He had to be. He stood up to the Romans. And you can be a member of Jesus’ flock and be strong, too. I am a ram. Nobody calls me weak. And you are rams, too. You worship God in your own way, be God’s man in prison, and no one will say, I thought you were a Christian! They will know you are a Christian. Thank you and God bless.”



I rejoined my table after speaking to the group, feeling pumped up from the positive response. Three other prisoners and a clean-cut young man named Mike greeted me. I’d met Mike for the first time only an hour or so before, introducing himself as active-duty military, in the U. S. Navy. This area of Northwest Florida has a number of bases, including Eglin Air Force Base and the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Mike told me that he had been inspired by what I’d said, and I was touched by his sincerity. It takes a special person to give up their Saturday and come into a state prison to share their beliefs with a bunch like us. One of the other prisoners at our table had been in the Navy, and shared some of his experiences. I asked Mike what he did in the service, and he said, “I’m an F-18 pilot,” which impressed me even more. If I could inspire an F-18 Fighter pilot, perhaps I am doing the right thing.

Below is a photo of KAIROS  #49 at Tomoka C.I., Daytona Beach, Florida, on April 16, 2004. I am kneeling, wearing sunglasses, by the “theme poster” I painted for that occasion, along with prisoners and “KAIROS  brothers” who participated in that program. Over the years I painted over a hundred posters for KAIROS programs in Florida, several other states, and even a few foreign countries, along with “outside” weekend programs put on by Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, and other churches. Several men in this photo have achieved their freedom and lead successful lives in society. I yearn to join them. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Have you heard about the comet that may be visible to the naked eye this month, Comet Ison? The comet is plunging toward the sun, and not even professional astronomers really know how bright Comet Ison will get.
If you can get outside an hour before sunrise on November 18th and look toward the horizon to the southeast, you may see the comet, aimed toward the sun. Mars, the Red Planet, will be higher in the southeastern sky. Mercury will be bright, barely above the horizon, before sunrise.

As darkness falls this month, Venus is bright in the southwestern sky, fairly low, to the left of the sunset. As November progresses, Venus climbs higher in the evening sky, impossible to miss if the sky is clear. Full moon comes November  17th. The traditional full moon name for November is the “Beaver Moon”. It is also called the “Frosty Moon” or “Snow Moon”. This was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Full Beaver Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now actively preparing for winter.  (from Farmers Almanac).

I won’t be able to see these celestial sights from my cage, but perhaps you will. Let me know.

In our modern age, it seems that most people have lost touch with the natural world, and rarely look at the night sky. When the night sky is denied you, it becomes more precious.