Thursday, December 27, 2018

Our Holiday Wish for Every One

"Peace on Earth, goodwill to women and men. God is not dead, nor doth He sleep."
"God bless us, every one"   -- Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
and our wishes to you for a bright and shiny New Year,

Charlie and Libby Norman 


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christmas Blessings to You

Dateline: Wednesday, December 19, 2018

I learned a new word Monday as I lay on a gurney in the RMC prison hospital surgical unit--"preauricular," which is the area on your neck right below the ear lobe. Dr. M. Solano, an outside contract dermatologist, had identified a small lump below my right earlobe as basal cell carcinoma, and scheduled me for surgery after I finished six weeks of Efudex chemotherapy cream to combat the squamous cell carcinoma on my forearms and scalp. The Efudex treatment left incredible scabs that took weeks to heal up, which freaked out one little boy at the visiting park, who asked, "What happened to your head?"

When it all healed, though, people were amazed at the results of several layers of skin that were chemically peeled. Children, carefully apply your sunscreen every time, and avoid sunburns. It will save you years of cancer complications decades later.

Each night around ten p.m. every Florida prison conducts a "master roster count," in which the officers check off every prisoner to ensure no one is missing. Sunday night after the master roster count, the officer told me to get dressed, I had to spend the night in the infirmary. I knew what that meant. My long-awaited cancer surgery would be Monday morning, and they wanted me isolated in the infirmary overnight so I wouldn't eat or drink anything before the surgery. Fine. It was to my benefit. I wasn't going to cheat anyway, but I went along with the program.

I finally made it into the Tomoka C. I. infirmary, a glassed-in unit with six beds, which were all filled with sick old men. A very nice nurse directed me to a recliner chair that would be my bed. I didn't mind. The recliner was more comfortable than the thin mattress and narrow steel bunk I normally slept in.

I knew two of the infirmary residents. One man was enrolled in my Parole Planning Workshop. Now I knew why he'd missed the last three weeks of classes. The other man was someone I knew almost forty years ago, when I had run the GOLAB Program at Union C. I., "The Rock," at Raiford, Florida. We called him "Las Vegas Joe" LaRocca, since he'd bragged about running a carwash with showgirl workers in Vegas before he came to Florida and got life in prison. Joe was a personable and funny man whose small stature brought to mind a thoroughbred racing jockey, although he claimed to be afraid of horses.

I had previously seen Joe sitting in a wheelchair getting some sun at lunch in front of the chowhall, but I'd never been able to try talking with him, since we were forbidden to stop and talk with anyone. I'd been told that Joe suffered from senility and didn't communicate, so I was surprised when one of the infirmary patients asked him a question that he immediately answered. He sounded fine to me, so I spoke to him.

He hobbled over to my recliner, and I introduced myself, talked about our time working together in GOLAB all those years ago. I could tell he didn't remember me, but he did remember mutual friends I named, including the free man who supervised us, Rodney Hansen. Joe told me he was eighty-five years old, and didn't think he would ever get out. That shows you how screwed up are the parole commission policies that keep men like Joe in prison forever, at incredible taxpayer expense. How many thousands are in the same limbo?

Monday morning the transport officers came to chain my hands, waist and ankles securely before loading me into the prison van. I was joined by a diminutive Guatemalan brought from lockup for his trip to Lake Butler RMC. He was already thoroughly chained, and explained that he was the one who had stabbed and slashed another man's face during a melee in B Dorm the previous week. We got along fine. He had no beef with me.

The surgical unit at RMC is a well-equipped portable building that brings to mind a military MASH unit. Three very competent nurses filled out and witnessed release forms that documented my agreement that whatever happened to me was my own fault, and Dr. Solano was blameless. Fine. I'd risk it. They hooked me up to several monitors before the doctor came in, anesthetized the area, and took out his scalpel.

The surgery went quickly. Dr. Solano excised a bean-sized chunk from my preauricular region and carefully sewed me up. See you in four to six weeks for a followup. The next three hours were spent sitting on a hard bench until the Slasher's appointment was completed. Then we endured the long trek through heavy traffic back to Daytona Beach.

Back in the dorm, one prisoner said that he wouldn't let anyone cut on him, he'd rather deal with the cancer. I didn't bother explaining my position to him, that I wanted to survive this life sentence, and addressing medical issues was crucial to prison survival. I spared him my view that you can't be rational with an irrational person, else you risk being irrational as well. And it's doubtful that two irrational people can arrive at a rational conclusion.

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas. May God bless you and yours throughout the year. Thanks for your concern and support.

Charlie Norman

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


My wife Libby and I will spend our Thanksgiving in the visiting park at Tomoka Correctional Institution, Daytona Beach, Florida, miles from the "World's Most Famous Beach," (they claim) and the race track. We can walk outside and watch the sparrows eating bread, hear the "chee-chee" of Red-shouldered hawks scanning the grounds for meals, and count the shadows of the dozens of turkey vultures swirling overhead. They put a prison smack-dab in the middle of a bird sanctuary, then spent the next twenty years cutting down every tree growing inside the fences.

We can watch birds of a different kind as huge passenger jets pass low overhead coming in for landings at Daytona International Airport, and smaller, older, slower vintage airplanes crisscross the sky. I wonder if any of those people wonder about those people inside that fenced square below with the gun towers. Probably not. Life goes on.

No turkey, ham, stuffing or cranberry sauce for our Thanksgiving dinner. The prison canteen window has a sparse selection of sandwiches and other junk food snacks, but it's not the food, it is the fellowship.

We've endured and overcome multiple challenges this momentous year of 2018, but our love continues to be strong, and we ready ourselves for more challenges in 2019. Despite setbacks, we have much to be thankful for, and pray that you and yours have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving, enveloped in the love of family and friends.

Charlie and Libby Norman. November 2018.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


After my first trip to Lake Butler Reception and Medical Center (RMC), in August, the oncologist, Dr. Montoya, ordered a PET scan be done in two weeks, to see whether the skin cancer had spread to any internal organs. If so, that would mean much more aggressive treatment options.

Imagine my surprise when, one week later, August 28, I was roused from a deep sleep at three a.m. by a guard telling me to get dressed, that I was going on a medical trip. I knew that had to be wrong, but in prison, when they tell you to do something, you do it, or suffer the consequences.

It was a mistake. The officer escorted me into the cancer center, a separate unit (there's a lot of cancer in prison), and the nurse said, "You're a week early."
So I sat around for hours, until those who had accompanied me had completed their various treatments.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018: I was expecting the early morning wakeup this time. More shackles, chains, and leg irons, another rough ride across rural north central Florida. The transport officer removed all the hardware encumbering me, and left me with the nurse in charge of the PET scan, a big machine similar to the CT scan I had last year.

Looking at my medical chart, the first thing Nurse Ivey said was, "Happy Birthday! " I was surprised at the nice gesture. It was my sixty-ninth birthday, and I never expected a nurse who'd never met me to do that small kindness.

I thanked her, and sat down in preparation for the radiation drug introduced through an I.V. After that, I sat in a darkened room for fifty minutes until the radiation drug had seeped throughout my body. And no, I didn't glow in the dark.

I was directed to climb into the machine. The instructions mentioned that those who suffered from claustrophobia might have difficulties inside the machine. Fortunately, after forty-plus years of surviving in small cages, I could avoid the claustrophobia. Nevertheless, the next half hour seemed like forever. I survived.

Thursday, September 20, 2018: Another hard ride in chains to RMC, this time to find out the PET scan results from Dr. Montoya. We left Tomoka C. I. early, and were on the road by seven a.m. Only one fellow prisoner accompanied me, for an appointment with the eye doctor, and if both of us finished quickly, we could be back on the road early, and not waste another day.

It's a good thing I brought a book. Dr. Montoya advised me that the PET scan was negative, the skin cancer had not spread (Thank you, Lord!), and scheduled me to see the dermatologist in three weeks, probably for laser surgery. I'd endured that laser in 2007, and though it was not pleasant, it would be better than chemotherapy and radiation, which my brother, Dan, has endured over the past year.

Once you have seen the doctor, the guards direct you to the "Patio," a holding area for sixty or more prisoners to wait until their fellow prisoners are ready to go. I read my book, until an ancient prisoner in a wheelchair approached me. We had served time together over twenty years ago, and he still recognized me. After he explained who he was, I remembered him. Both of us had changed greatly.

Then I recognized another old friend, "Tiny" Callahan, a chain gang legend I first met at Raiford, "The Rock," in 1980. "Tiny" once looked like Tarzan, a huge, heavily-muscled man, but a heart attack and triple bypass surgery had taken its toll. Father Time waits for no one. This time, Tiny was using a walker, having had hip replacement surgery. We talked until the guard came in and told everyone to quieten down.

Another man looked familiar, someone I hadn't seen in twenty-six years, but he hadn't changed that much. "Red" Williams was a famous prison legend, the first man to escape over the perimeter fence at Lake Butler, where we both found ourselves on this day. Seventy-eight years old, he still had a head of red hair, albeit with some gray. We smiled and shook hands.

In 1977, Red made his bold escape over the RMC fences, avoided getting shot, then stole a car and a pistol. Red's wife was in prison at Lowell, the women's prison in Ocala, which was adjacent to Interstate 4. At 7:30 the next morning, Red parked the stolen car on the road shoulder, climbed the fences into the women's prison, and walked into the chow all, where several hundred women ate breakfast. Red fired a shot into the ceiling to get everyone's attention, called his wife's name, and took her out of the prison.

Months later, they were arrested in Brooklyn, New York, after a robbery spree. Red said his wife was at Lowell, and he was serving his time at Union C.I. The parole commission wasn't impressed by Red's bold actions. His parole date is 2277 A.D. I don't think he'll make it.

I had plenty of time to reminisce. The other prisoner didn't get in to see the eye doctor until after 3:30 p.m. Amazingly, the doctor performed laser surgery in five or six minutes. Luckily, we exited RMC before the four p.m. count, and made it back to the prison by seven p.m., slowed down by heavy traffic.

I dread the inhumanity of these medical trips, but I've vowed to survive this life sentence, and pursuing medical help as best I can is a major factor. At least now I can call my 89-year old mother and tell her the good news. Too bad the prognoses for so many other prisoners are not so positive.

                                                             Libby and Charlie, Sept. 2018