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