Tuesday, April 29, 2014

In Memory Of Merry, The Wonder Dog

Friday, April 11, 2014, was a sad, hard day for Libby and me. Merry, her loyal and constant companion and protector, passed on peacefully in the vet’s office. She was fifteen years old. I’m not ready to write Merry’s story — even though we never met face-to-face — the prison doesn’t allow dogs to visit — but I knew her through her exploits with Libby the entire time we’ve been together. I loved her, too. Recounting the events of their daily walks in the neighborhood, and her sniffing friendships with Blue, Blackie, Marty, Fernando, Buddy, Bentley and their human escorts, and others, Libby frequently said, “Everybody loves Merry.” And they did. Just don’t get too close to Libby, or you may earn a growl of warning.

In 2003. while I was at Tomoka C.I. in Daytona, Libby took Merry for a jaunt from their home in Jacksonville to Flagler Beach. Merry loved the surf and the seabirds. On that day Libby took a photo of Merry, and in honor of her, I made a painting of the scene, “Merry at Flagler Beach,” so that one day, when Merry was gone, Libby would have something to remember her by. That day has come. A photo of the painting is below, so you can know her, too.

In the past months, I wrote two poems about Merry, from the frightened, injured pup who whimpered outside Libby’s church office door one cold night, on the brink of giving up for dead, to her healing and growth as Libby’s “Guardian Angel.” The point being that we are all guardian angels to each other.

The second poem, “Dog Heaven,” written in the weeks before Merry’s weakening and passing, was meant to lessen the pain of the loss of Merry and to show that there is, indeed, a better place.

I’m not one to assign human characteristics to animals, but in Merry’s case, if humans exhibited the qualities of love, loyalty, courage, and selflessness that exemplified Merry’s life, the world would be a much better place.

If you are a dog lover, you know what I mean. If not, I’m sorry.

Rest In Peace, Merry.
April 17, 2014

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Kangaroo Court has struck again! Charlie had his d.r. hearing 04/22/14, was found guilty (what a surprise), and given 30 days in confinement, which means his release date will be 05/21/14. I don't know any details yet, but I have a feeling this situation was a set-up from the outset. Apparently, either the witnesses were not interviewed or they corroborated the inaccurate facts of the d.r., or they were ignored.
If you would like to tell the warden and the D.O.C. secretary how you feel about this verdict, you can use their e-mail addresses; m.crews@mail.dc.state.fl.us and j.willis@mail.dc.state.fl.us and for good measure, the assist. warden, Richards at g.richards@mail.dc.state.fl.us
You can also send  a complaint to the inspector general's office by using their online electronic complaint form on the DOC web site.
And we still need your prayers, if you are so inclined.
This is bad enough for Charlie, but now the 3 positive programs he was spearheading at O.C.I. will most likely fall by the wayside; which means a lot of the other men who were participating in these programs will lose out, too. It seems to me that everyone in the Florida DOC would be a LOT better off if all the energy, resources, time, and personnel that are currently and habitually used to play these unfair and evil games with people's lives were instead applied to efforts to give the inmates a hand up with positive programs and activities, and actually make outcomes better than they are now. The good-ole' boy system goes merrily on, and evil thrives in the gutter that is prison.
thanks for your help,


Wednesday, April 16, 2014


04/16/14 [I received a letter from Charlie this evening with the following]

It has happened again! No matter how hard I try, the forces of evil keep snapping at me, trying to bring me down. Today, Sunday, April 13, 2014, at 2:47 PM, I sit in solitary confinement “on the house,” which is prison talk for having done nothing wrong. I just asked a question and made a statement, which is protected speech, freedom of expression, guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the Florida Constitution. Let me give you a synopsis.

I’m in “B” Dorm, the Re-entry Program, teaching classes, walking a very straight line, helping and encouraging others. Although “Re-entry” is a priority with the prison system now, pushed and encouraged statewide, there is a faction of guards who hold re-entry in contempt, who have attitudes against what they perceive as special treatment, which it is not, since re-entry prisoners are held to a higher standard of behavior, taking classes to prepare for release.

One way that certain prison guards exercise their contempt and hostility toward prisoners participating in a program that benefits them, their families and society is to deny B-dorm canteen access. When these guards are running the yard, they insure that canteen access is readily available to all the other dorms, including the ones that are frequently locked down for violence. The following is what happened to bring on the latest reprisal today [Sunday]:

The same officer ran the inmate movement to the rec yard and canteen on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Re-entry is supposed to be given the opportunity to go to the canteen and rec twice a day, since most all of the men are in classes, which limits their access.

On Friday, no one went to the canteen. On Saturday, this particular officer called every dorm on the compound except B-dorm. He also kept the canteen closed during the  lunch hour, when many men go, to avoid the swill. This officer always keeps the canteen closed at lunch when he works. The other shift keeps them open.

At lunch on Saturday, men in B-dorm asked him if he was going to call us. He said B-dorm would be called first after rec-call. False. Didn’t happen. When the night shift came on, the captain let B-dorm go to the canteen, but restricted it to a few items per each person, and no sandwiches, unlike day shift, when we can purchase whatever we need.

Sunday, when E-dorm was called out to the canteen at 8:15 AM, the second time this weekend that they had gone, I went to the dorm officer and asked if she could check to see if we were going to be called, or skipped again. Shortly thereafter, this officer with the hostile attitude called me out into the hallway and proceeded to profanely yell and rant for five minutes. “The dorm officer called the captain, the captain chewed me out, and I am pissed.”

The he called our dorm to go to the canteen. But the die was cast – he harbored a grudge, I could tell. About 10:30 AM, that guard came back, put handcuffs on me, and took me to the captain’s office. Although you are supposed to have an opportunity to make a statement to the captain, my fate had already been decided. The captain asked the guard what happened.

“I was counseling the inmate when he turned around, walked away, and said, ‘FUCK YOU.’ ”

I told the captain I had not said that, that I never use profanity toward the officer.

“Shut up,” he said. “Now you’re calling my officer a liar. Let me tell you something. Make this clear. I don’t give a fuck about you, I don’t give a fuck about the canteen, and I don’t give a fuck about B-dorm. You’re not going to disrespect my officer like that. Out.”

So he grabbed my arm and led me on the long walk to lockup, solitary confinement. When we walked out, I said, “Officer Walsh, I can’t believe you said that.” (No response.) “You know I did nothing wrong, and I never used any profanity toward you. You didn’t give me a chance to say anything. Why did you lie to the captain? I thought you told everybody you are a Christian.”  

“Now you pull that Christian shit on me I’ll really get pissed.”

This officer, when it suits him, when the chaplain or certain others are around, professes his Christian faith and brags about going to a local church. Hypocrisy abounds.

So I went to solitary wearing a tee-shirt, flip flops and blue shorts. I was writing out Easter cards when this occurred, stamped and addressed, but they are now “missing,” as are my envelopes and writing pens. Luckily, I got some writing paper and stamps, but without pen and envelopes, I am stymied. Perhaps that was their intent. Fortunately, I am well-known, have helped many others, some of whom are now in lockup. I am writing this with a little almost-dry pen that one man sent over, and another loaned me an envelope.

Several officers have come by my cell and yelled, “Norman, what are you doing back here?” Good question. They know “something is wrong with this picture.”

My several legal deadlines are about to expire, those that haven’t already. How long will I be back here? Who knows? What can you do to help? Prayers are always welcome. If you want to do more, contact Libby, and she will have some ideas, letters to be written, e-mail sent in protest. I can do virtually nothing on my own behalf; with fast-dwindling supplies, I am limited in what I can write and mail, in danger of becoming voiceless.

7:47 PM, Sunday: they are moving fast. At 6:46 PM an officer brought a d.r., log# 115-140359, written by CO I Patrick Walsh. Here is an excerpt: “On April 13, 2014, at approx. 11:05 AM, I was at center court counseling with inmate Norman about the canteen procedure. While counseling with him he looked directly at me and stated, “Fuck that, that’s not how we’re going to run this! I’ll have your fucking job!” Inmate  Norman was placed in wrist restraints and escorted to medical where he received a pre-confinement physical and then placed in administrative confinement pending disciplinary team action.”

Between 10:30 AM and 2 PM, when he wrote that, he totally fabricated a puny lie with a whopper. But I’ve called multiple officers, the nurse, and inmate witnesses to contradict his false time line, along with institutional records that prove I was in a solitary cell before 11 AM and could not have been out at center court at 11:05. Now we’ll see how many more lies get told. I told you, I’m fighting the forces of evil.

Some while back I wrote a poem, “I Wait,” that describes a similar occurrence somewhere else, another time. I’m asking Libby to print it here. It seems appropriate. Thanks for your attention, help and kindness. Keep the faith.



A poem by Charles Patrick Norman

I can hear it, but I can’t see it.
            What is it?
            I don’t know.
There is a window with a steel grill over it,
            but they put an opaque plastic sheet over that,
            so I cannot see out,
            only sense the lightening and darkening
                        of dawn and dusk.

They took everything — my Timex, too.
I tell time by the menu —
     breakfast-type swill means morning;
     a sandwich means it must be noon;
     supper swill appears thereafter.

They took everything — my paper, pens, envelopes,
What they call being held incommunicado,
            a good word; what is the verb?
What language is that?

I have something for them.
Don’t ask me how I got them past
     the strip search;
     the visual examination
     the cavity search.
Poor dental care means more cavities.
Try it — you won’t like it.

I had a choice:
The “run-around” came to the door flap.
The run-around is the snitch who brings the swill trays.
He will tell on you if he gets a chance,
            But I have something for him.

When you have nothing,
            a little can be a lot.
I trade:
     two stamps for some paper;
     two stamps for an envelope;
     two more for a pencil nub.
I need one for the envelope.
I have to pay him four stamps
            to put the letter in the outgoing

I have a choice:
            I can give the run-around two more stamps
                        for a ragged paperback book,
                        or for an extra swill tray.
                                    Not both.
I only have two stamps left.
            I am hungry.
            I trade for the book.
                        Louis L’Amour.
                                    Not my first choice.

Now I wait. The letter has taken flight.
                        Or not.
The run-around could have peeled off the stamp,
            trashed the letter,
                        or given it to the guards.
You have to trust somebody, even if he is a snitch.

I can hear something. I cannot see anything.
            It is dark.
            A thin line of yellow light comes beneath
                        the steel door.
A shadow breaks the yellow line.
            What is it?
                        I do not  know.
I hold my breath.
            Maybe it will go away.
                        Maybe not.
                                    I wait.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


I was surprised last year when flyers appeared offering signups for a proposed “Art Club” here at Okaloosa C.I., near Crestview, Florida, in the Panhandle. Since creating art is up there near the top of the list of my passions, I signed up.

Months went by. Eventually fifteen prisoners were invited to the first meeting of the Art Club, which consisted of the transition teacher sponsoring the gathering, and a plastic box of donated art supplies – a drawing pad, colored pencils, lead pencils, two pencil sharpeners, and some ballpoint pens. Although I prefer painting with acrylics, watercolors, and pastels on canvas, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It had been too long.

Years ago most Florida prisons sponsored vibrant arts and crafts programs. At Tomoka C.I., in Daytona Beach, the Wellness Department supervised dozens of prisoners ardently working on leathercraft, woodwork, and a wide range of art. Not only did the arts and crafts work consume hours of otherwise idle and unproductive time, raising the spirits and self-esteem of those involved, but also hobbycraft sales provided money for prison essentials that might have been earned through illegal activities, without the program.

Time went by. Every year several dozen prisoners spent months making Christmas gifts for the U.S. Marine Corps “Toys for Tots” program, at their own expense. Other prisoners painted murals on expanses of blank walls in the visiting park. Many men proudly created gifts for their children, wives, family and friends. When people are imprisoned, caged, dependent on kindnesses from their loved ones to meet basic needs, being able to give back to those who stand by them is a wonderful thing. How many times have I seen faces light up in love and joy in the visiting park when fathers presented gifts that they made with their own hands to their children? I can’t count them. I painted dozens of works for chapel programs, which meant a lot to me, and painted works for family, friends, charity and sale.

Then a new sheriff came to town. New prison administrators with repressive, harsh, “lock ‘em up and throw away the keys” mentalities took over. The Wellness Department was disbanded and the arts and crafts building was “temporarily closed.” I inquired over and over again. When I finally became exasperated and asked the former “coach” for permission to go into the locked hobbycraft building where all my materials and artworks were stored to send them home, he admitted to me, “Norman, they’ve been pilfering all that stuff since day one. There’s nothing left.”

During the five years at Tomoka I had accumulated over $1000 in brushes, paints, canvases, and other materials that I used for my own works, and in the art classes I taught, including several completed paintings and several “in-progress” works. All gone, stolen by guards. In the two years following the shut-down, the repressive regime changed Tomoka from a positive place that prisoners strived to get sent to, to a negative, violent place filled with drugs, illegal cell phones, and gang activities. Both a prisoner and a female correctional officer were brutally murdered within a month of each other. The administrators were sacrificed, demoted, and replaced by worse ones.

I’m not saying that all those terrible things that befell Tomoka C.I. occurred because they shut down the arts program and stole the prisoners’ property, creating unrest and animosity that spread, but those actions were symptomatic of the environment that resulted from the harsh negativity of the people in charge of the prison.

Back to Crestview. After not being able to create any artwork for several years, I jumped into it quickly and completed a series of portraits over a few months. Limited class hours slowed my progress and production. I learned years ago that if you can draw or paint portraits of people, you can do most anything. My friends, Dan and Stephanie in Washington State, sent me a photo of their grandson, Aiden, which resulted in the colored pencil drawing below. I completed several other portraits, mostly of celebrities, which are also below. I began polishing neglected skills.

In the class, artistic abilities range from beginners to advanced. Several men have discovered hidden talents for art, and make progress every week.

Numerous studies over the years confirm that prisoners involved in positive activities such as art, creative writing, educational and vocational classes, not only exhibit improved behavior in prison, but upon release to free society have a much better likelihood of maintaining a law-abiding life and not returning to prison. I see it every day in the Re-entry Program dormitory I live in. Senses are honed as survival skills after years of imprisonment in a dangerous, deadly world. We can tell which men are serious about self-improvement, which ones are striving to become better people, who intend to get out of prison and stay out, and we can tell which ones are playing games, the phonies who put on their smiling masks attempting to fool the authorities with their false sincerity, who have no intention of leading law-abiding lives.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough resources or opportunities to permit everyone who wants to join the art class or other programs to do so. In the meantime, I will thank my lucky stars for the chance to participate in activities that benefit myself and others.


by Charles Patrick Norman