Sunday, December 18, 2016

To Our Dear Friends at Christmas

“Studying century-old family photographs,
chipped, stained, faded memories
of grandparents — children held by great-grandparents —
silently staring at me, unblinking.
 I feel they strive to speak to me,
to tell me stories of their childhoods,
lost and mostly forgotten.
Would that I could cross the ether barrier…to ask…”

         Christmas, 2016
    Dear Friends,

            So began 2016 for us, with the quote above from Charlie’s poem, “Chain Links,” a year of the family, perhaps. January began with the Norman family mourning the loss of Sandy Norman, our sister-in-law, brother Dan’s wife, who passed away the last week of 2015 from a long illness. Then again, in March, we dealt with the blow of the unexpected death of our youngest brother, Tom Norman, who died in his sleep. It has been a special blessing this year through all these heartaches that Charlie has been able to talk with family members by phone.
            April marked Charlie’s 38th year of imprisonment, and in September, he turned 67 years old.
            On Saturday, April 30, Charlie’s mother, Lucille, and Aunt Alice Walker, drove from Tampa to Lake City for a surprise visit, their first since our 2014 wedding. We shared a wonderful few hours together in the visiting park before tearful hugs and goodbyes.
            On Sunday, June 26, Charlie’s long-time friend, Gary Smigiel, and two of his lovely, talented daughters, Adrianna and Daniella, made the long drive from South Florida to spend the day with us. Over the years, we have watched Adrianna and Daniella grow from darling little girls to delightful, poised young women before our eyes. Gary continues to be a source of strong encouragement and support for us. We are thankful every day for loved ones who make the effort to keep supporting and visiting us.
            On the creative side, in May, for our second wedding anniversary, Libby, with the help of our cat, Suzy Q, put together a small book of photographs and collected quotes about love and gardening as a gift for Charlie. Charlie’s latest creative endeavor is a new pen-and-ink drawing series of cartoons called, “Cats In Prison.” The series is rather satirical, and very witty, on many levels. He also continues drawing his beautiful portraits and wildlife in colored pencil and graphite, which Libby pairs with his poems and prints as note/greeting cards to send to friends and family. We are both pleased with the results. These activities provided an enjoyable break from parole hearing preparations.
            Charlie’s poem, “Sedimentary,” was published in the prestigious anthology, “PEN AMERICA, A Journal For Writers And Readers, #19 HAUNTINGS,” by the PEN America Center, New York, in June. We were honored in July when an excellent new publication from XfelonINK, by Suza Lambert Bowser in California, published a poem, “In The Prison Of My Rejection,” and essay, “Something Happened In Prison Yesterday,” and three drawings of Charlie’s in their Spring/Summer 2016 edition., Another  published poem was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a highly-regarded literary award.
            Loen Kelly, a renowned television producer in New York, featured several of Charlie’s essays on life in prison on the web site,, which stirred new worldwide interest in his writings. A Swedish documentary producer interested in Charlie’s essay, “The Gangs of Florida,” contacted us through Loen. The Florida Department of Corrections put Charlie’s photo and a link to his essay on their Facebook page, which went out to prison staff statewide. We received numerous positive comments from those readers.
            Prominent Jacksonville attorneys, Bill Sheppard and Elizabeth White, continue to fight hard for Charlie’s release. Without their powerful advocacy over the last several years, we would not be in the position we are in, hopefully — prayerfully — planning for Charlie’s release.
            Charlie’s current presumptive parole release date is July, 2017, which means a hearing will be held most likely sometime in April of 2017. We applied for an earlier hearing, but were inexplicably denied. This year has been occupied with preparations for the new hearing, and we sincerely thank all of our friends for their many letters of support sent on Charlie’s behalf. They remain in his file for consideration by the parole commissioners, all 3 of which are “new” to their jobs and have not been on the commission for any of Charlie’s previous hearings. We will keep you posted on this life-altering event.
            Dr. Stephen McCoy, executive director of “Prisoners of Christ Ministry” in Jacksonville, wrote a letter of acceptance to the parole commissioners, offering Charlie a place in their transition release program upon his parole. Rev. Ken Cooper, a long-time friend and encourager, and founder of “Prisoners of Christ,” has also offered his endorsement and support for Charlie’s release. Prominent Jacksonville businessman and founder of “Operation New Hope,” Kevin Gay, has offered his resources in securing full-time employment for Charlie.
            Two events during the last week of 2015 carried over to have significant impact on our lives. Early Christmas morning, 2015, Charlie saved the life of another prisoner in his dorm by stopping another man intent on murder from caving in the skull of the sleeping victim with a heavy pushbroom. Charlie’s actions were recorded by surveillance cameras. He distracted the attacker, effectively halting the assault, and called for help. Charlie’s bravery was acknowledged by prison staff. The incident has been reported by Charlie in the essay, “A Very Un-Merry Christmas In Prison,” published on his blog, “Free Charlie Norman Now” Unfortunately, Charlie was unable to help another young prisoner in his dorm who died of stab wounds as a result of ongoing gang violence. Charlie was conducting legal research in the law library the morning of the stabbing, and only saw the victim being taken to the medical department from a distance.
            Four days after the attempted murder, Charlie agreed to provide sworn testimony in a deposition for the Florida Attorney General’s Office, in defense of the FDC in a federal employment discrimination lawsuit. The case involved a rogue prison official at Okaloosa C.I., who had targeted and retaliated against Charlie and Libby from 2012-2014, for Charlie’s prison writings. The employee was eventually fired for fabricating disciplinary reports, making false statements, and stealing stamps and mail. On September 26, 2016, federal judge Robert Hinkle dismissed the case, finding in favor of the FDC. Charlie’s testimony potentially saved the State of Florida a one-two million dollar judgment had the disgruntled former employee prevailed. A significant point — the Florida State Attorney General vouched for Charlie’s veracity over the former employee, and the judge agreed.
            A disappointment resulted from an initially positive action on November 7th when Charlie was moved from the Annex to the newly-reopened work camp, a facility for prisoners whose “custody level” is medium-to-minimum. The work camp houses less than 300 “short-timers” who work outside the fences. Charlie’s custody level was reduced from “close” to “medium” in 2009, and he has been eligible for “minimum” custody for over two years. Being sent to the work camp indicated that authorities did not consider Charlie a risk; however, after arriving at the work camp, another officer reversed the move for unknown reasons and returned Charlie to his previous bunk at the Annex. All that packing up and lugging his stuff in a 2-minute bus ride away, only to be sent back after a few hours of standing around. Charlie’s “good-adjustment” transfer to Putnam C.I. has been approved for over a year, so hopefully, that will happen sooner rather than later.

As always, we continue to be each others’ 
rock of strength and support,
and strive to keep our hopes and faith alive 
and growing,with the added support 
of family and friends who stand by us.

We pray that 2017 
will be a good year for each of you, too.
Merry Christmas! 
God Bless and Keep You,
 Libby and Charlie

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Sunday, October 16, 2016

    Notes From The Prison Diary

Hurricane Matthew made his presence known here last weekend, even though this prison [Columbia Annex in Lake City] is a fair distance inland from the Atlantic coast at Jacksonville. On Wednesday evening, October 5th, an official came into our housing area and told us about 200 prisoners from Tomoka C.I. (Daytona Beach) would be evacuated to this prison, near Lake City the next day, but it would have no effect on our dorm. Visits on Saturday would be cancelled, and possibly also on Sunday. Emergency conditions. Sorry.

The next day, Thursday, October 6th, guards came in and announced we had 15 minutes to pack all our property and bedrolls, we were moving across the compound to T-Dorm. So much for being unaffected by limited evacuees. Now the figure was 1,000 prisoners from Tomoka were en route. The only problem was that T-Dorm was already full, it’s two-man cells housing “close custody” prisoners, those facing lengthy imprisonments, disciplinary problems, and gang memberships, requiring them to be locked behind steel cell doors at night, in contrast to the “open dorm” I live in, medium/minimum custody, mostly short-timers on good behavior.

Upon arrival at T-Dorm, we found out that we would be joining the two-man cells, making them three-man cells. I dumped my narrow mattress on the floor by the toilet/sink combo. The two residents weren’t happy about it, and neither was I, but it was an emergency situation in which you adapt, get along, or go to lockup.

Later on the guards moved out the previous cell residents and moved in two of my fellow medium custody residents from Q-Dorm. It seems that “close custody” prisoners are not supposed to be in the same cells as “medium custody.” It didn’t matter to me. After 38 years in 20 prisons, I  can live with grixxly bears and rattlesnakes and get along. The reason they emptied the medium custody dorms on the east side of the compound was so they could keep all the Tomoka prisoners together, to avoid more conflicts.

Friday came, and Saturday ushered in Hurricane Matthew to Florida, after hitting the Bahamas hard. The TV was “All Matthew, All The Time.”

In 2004, I was at Tomoka C.I. during the period when three powerful hurricanes criss-crossed Florida in a six-week period, each one hitting Daytona Beach. I watched trees get blown down from my cell window. Power off, no showers, toilets wouldn’t flush, we ate cold cut sandwiches and peanut butter three times a day, but we stayed put. No evacuation. This time, the FDC erred on the side of caution and evacuated  a number of prisons near the Atlantic coast of Florida to interior prisons, like Columbia C.I.

I’m not a cheerleader for the prison system, but in this case, I must give the FDC due credit. Faced with a massive evacuation of thousands of prisoners, they did it, packing rickety prison buses full of coastal prison inmates and rushing them to interior prisons hours inland. It was an amazing transfer feat. No one missing. Also amazing, here at Columbia Annex and Main Unit, everyone got fed hot meals three times a day and were allowed to make canteen purchases. And they got them all back a few days later, to their proper prisons.

Negatives — besides being cramped in three-to-a-cell, a few weak elderly and younger prisoners were robbed by the supposedly more dangerous close custody inmates in T-Dorm, threatening them with violence if they turned them in to the  guards. I had no problems — when you’ve served this much time, and experienced so much, younger predators keep their distance in most cases. Those who don’t, I growl at and they go away. One old man had just gotten a package from home and lost everything, even down to his last pair of socks. You have to toughen up if you want to survive imprisonment. The elderly are preyed upon by the merciless young.

On Saturday, we heard that we’d be stuck in the crowded, loud T-Dorm possibly until Thursday, October 13th. Daytona Beach had power failures and flooding. Great! People get crazy in crowded confinement, and I dreaded to think what might happen in the days ahead. A few days we could deal with. A week — frayed nerves and mentally-challenged prisoners boded ill for a peaceful outcome. High winds and rain continued through Saturday and into Sunday. Men nervously watched the TV weather reports and worried about family members in Matthew’s path. St. Augustine, St. John’s County, and Atlantic Beach looked hard hit. At least the phones worked, and we were reassured by loved ones’ reports.

Early Monday morning a confinement orderly came in and told us the guards had ordered the Tomoka prisoners there to pack up. Two wings of solitary were filled with visitors who’d been confinement at their prison. Despite the “inmate dot com” rumors that we weren’t moving back, I rolled up my mattress and bagged my property, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. My two fellow cellmates, inexperienced short-timers, followed my lead and rolled up their bedrolls, too.

Other men looked in our cell and asked if we’d heard anything. I told them, “No, we’re stepping out on faith, with the belief that we’re moving back to Q-Dorm soon.”

What if we don’t move?” one asked.

Then we’ll unroll our mattresses until tomorrow.”

Follow the leader — some got ready, some didn’t. After lunch, the guards announced that we were leaving, to pack up. I was the first one out the door.