Tuesday, December 26, 2017

New Christmas Poem by Charlie

Holiday Newsletter 2017

Merry Christmas from Charlie and Libby Norman! 2017 was a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, filled with both hopes and disappointments.

            We began January, 2017, with continuing preparations for the expected parole hearing due this year. We already had key pieces in place. First, the incomparable “Prisoners of Christ” program in Jacksonville, a faith-based private residential transition and re-entry program that prepares ex-offenders for life in free society and has been in continuous successful operation since the early 1990s, had confirmed they were ready to accept Charlie upon his release. Additionally, Charlie had the support of prominent businessman, Kevin Gay, founder of “Operation New Hope,”  a program for ex-offenders that provides jobs and training.
            Second, the preeminent psychologist, Dr. Harry Krop, of Gainesville, had previously re-tested Charlie and written a highly-favorable evaluation that confirmed Charlie’s status as a well-balanced man who has survived decades of imprisonment  with his mental health intact, something everyone who knows him already knew. Dr. Krop stated that Charlie’s risk factors for recidivism were in the lowest five percentile of the prison population. This priceless evaluation was specifically notable since most people who have been imprisoned for decades become institutionalized and suffer irreparable damage in mind and body from the years of isolation and neglect. Charlie has spent his entire imprisonment educating himself and others in a variety of programs and skill areas, many of which he created and implemented. He has deliberately worked to keep himself engaged and plugged-in to the “outside” world, keeping up with society, and in touch with a variety of real people to stave off the isolation. Charlie has been preparing for his release since the day he came to prison.
            The third essential piece of  our parole plan was granted in January. Charlie’s sentencing judge in 1980, J. Rogers Padgett, of Tampa, now a senior judge and still hearing cases, wrote a letter to the parole commission stating that not only did he not object to Charlie’s release, but also that he supported his parole release. Judge Padgett further stated that in his opinion, Charlie was in complete compliance with Florida Statute 947.18, the controlling law on parole.
            Then came April, 2017, bringing the high point of the year thus far when Charlie met with  parole examiner, Z.C. Rowan, an investigator with over 40 years of experience with parolees. Based on Charlie’s parole release plan and his prison record of unparalleled positive accomplishments, Mr. Rowan approved Charlie’s parole release for July 4, 2017 –Independence Day! Shortly after that, his parole hearing was set for May 24. All the pieces were in place, and pointed to a good outcome on May 24th, our 3rd wedding anniversary.
            At the parole hearing before the Florida Commission on Offender Review in Tallahassee on May 24th, the commissioners refused to authorize the July 4th release date, and postponed their final decision to another hearing on July 19, 2017, at which time they “suspended” his release date.  Again, Charlie was denied a fair and impartial hearing. The commissioners are three novices who were approved for appointment to their jobs by the two politicians who oppose Charlie’s release. Because of this continuing political tampering by the former prosecutor and his protégé, the attorney general (acting on political payback), and despite Attorney Bill Sheppard’s impassioned presentation at both hearings, the commissioners refused to honor all the experts who supported Charlie’s parole release.
            That was the low point of 2017. Instead of preparing Charlie’s welcome home, we geared ourselves to endure and survive more of this wrongful imprisonment. With Mr. Sheppard and associates, we have begun preparations for a court fight.
            In August and early September, we missed 3 weekends of visits due to the hurricanes, as the state prisons were all closed to visitation. Other than that, thankfully the hurricanes did not cause any other major damage.  In August, Charlie was again heartened and cheered by a visit from his long-time friend and supporter, Gary Smigiel and his wonderful family. We continue to be in contact with Charlie’s lovely and thoughtful mother, Lucille, his Aunt Alice, his brother, Dan, and nieces and nephews, in addition to Aunt Glenda Walker and family in Texas. It is very difficult for our loved ones to visit in person, so we are grateful for the telephone, e-mail, and letters.
            In September, out of the clear blue, Charlie’s first cousin, Sue Jones, contacted us by e-mail. Charlie says, “Her mother, my Aunt Frankie Lee Hatchell, was my father’s older sister. After my father’s death in 1985, Aunt Frankie and Aunt Eloise, my father’s youngest sister,  visited me in prison at Zephyrhills C.I. I’d spent little time with my Norman relatives growing up, but after we reconnected, Frankie, Eloise and I became much closer. They are all gone now, and to hear from my cousin, Sue, touched me greatly.”
            One more incident of note that happened one afternoon at the Orange Park Mall, south of Jacksonville when Libby made a purchase at one of the stores at the mall and got into a conversation with the sales clerk, Dawn. She suggested that Libby register her e-mail address to receive sales notices and coupons, so Libby filled out the form with the freecharlie e-mail. Dawn asked what the “freecharlie” meant, was it a certain name. Libby told her it did mean something, but it was too much to explain. She asked if it referred to Charles Norman. Flabbergasted, Libby said it did. Dawn said, “I’ve been following Charles on the Internet, and so have many of my friends. He has been in prison too long, and should be released.” After they talked some more, Libby left the store, elated, amazed at what had just happened, a totally random contact of familiarity and support.  That’s the power of the Internet.
            Also recently, in another surprise contact, we received an e-mail from a new friend, Gary M., who had read about Charlie’s case and was so affected by the injustice of it that he contacted Andrew Warren, the new Hillsborough County state attorney, and is continuing to work with him on Charlie’s behalf. We are very grateful for these new blessings that have brought hope.
            In October, Charlie embarked on a new job as “impaired inmate assistant,” and helps blind, crippled, and deaf inmates in his housing area. Earlier this year, he also was “treated” to a trip to Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville for a procedure to remove kidney stones. Dr. Mark Abramson, a urologist from Jacksonville Memorial Hospital, arranged for a  CT scan, a cystoscopy, and X-rays, which turned up two kidney stones. Charlie says, “I was outfitted in handcuffs, a waist chain, and leg irons, then transported in a prison van to the hospital for an ultrasound surgery. I was impressed by the kindness and professionalism of the doctors, nurses and technicians at Jacksonville Memorial Hospital. After the ultrasound, three nurses kept me company for an hour, monitoring my vitals, until I recovered. Another nurse, Mary, brought me a much-appreciated hot meal of beef tips and gravy over rice and green beans, something unavailable in prison “chow.” I did a lot of rubbernecking when we got off I-95 onto University Boulevard, still amazed at the traffic congestion, the dozens of fast food places, car lots, stores, and other businesses. I realized I was only a mile or two from Libby’s downtown office, which made me wistful, sad that I should have been out of prison already, working at the Prisoners of Christprogram, and seeing her every day, rather than being chained up like a condemned man.”
            This fall, Libby has embarked on a new weight-training fitness program, with good results, realizing that the future demands good health. We both intend to be “here” when Charlie is released, and desire to live as long a life together as we are allowed.
            All through 2017, Charlie has been continuing with his writing and artwork. He currently has several articles published by Loen Kelley in New York,  on www.prisonwriters.com, and we continue postings on the blog, charlienorman.blogspot.com. He continues working on his drawing techniques, several examples of which are offered in this booklet for your enjoyment. We continue matching these drawings with his poetry to create additions to our greeting card collection.
            We are both determined, and we will not give in to the low points or give up the fight to secure our much-deserved freedom. We maintain our faith in God, and in the hope that prayers will be answered. We are abundantly blessed by the love and support of family and friends, and always give thanks for all that has been bestowed on us. We greet the future clad in this armor.

May you and yours have a joyous and prosperous 2018. Please keep in touch.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Charlie and Libby Norman