Monday, September 2, 2019


For weeks my wife Libby and I have been looking forward to the Labor Day weekend, three days of visiting together, and quietly celebrating my seventieth birthday. It was not to be. This morning the JPAY website notified everyone with a tablet that due to the hurricane, all visiting statewide has been cancelled. We knew that already. The only remaining question is will we be evacuated in the next day or so.

Dorian crept up on us, a mild tropical storm that spared Puerto Rico and headed west, building up strength, aiming toward Florida. Rumors abounded. Would we be packed on prison buses and evacuated somewhere north and west? In the past few years, this prison in Daytona Beach has been evacuated twice. In 2004, however, three powerful hurricanes converged and passed through Tomoka C. I. in a six-week period, raising holy hell. No electricity, no plumbing, no showers, peanut butter sandwiches three times a day, no visits. But we hunkered down and withstood everything Mother Nature threw at us.

The trees were not so lucky. Tomoka was known for its tall trees shading the compound for twenty-five years, only fitting since the prison was carved out of a bird sanctuary in the Tomoka State Forest. Red-shouldered hawks still perch on fences and seize inattentive mourning doves, sandhill cranes dig for insects in the lawn beside the library, occasional bald eagles glide overhead, panicking the turkey vultures and black vultures that roost on the stained water tower, and a colony of wood storks stake out swamp trees east of the compound. Territorial mockingbirds still serenade our visitors waiting for entry on weekends, and tirelessly chase away crows. A flock of wild Osceola turkeys roam across the parking lot, ignoring the visitors. None of our feathered friends nest in trees inside the fences. The trees are all gone.

There must have been at least two-hundred trees here before Hurricane Charlie demolished half of them. After hurricane season ended, the authorities decreed that the remaining trees would be chopped down for "security reasons." Within weeks the large compound was barren, except for a few oaks in the outside visiting park, and a lone pine left standing near the PRIDE factory. One of my favorite visiting park photos showed me standing in front of a beautiful oak in 2010. I left Tomoka that year for an eight-year tour of bad prisons, and upon my return in 2018, was saddened to see the visiting park trees gone, too.

The question remains--will we stay here or evacuate. The decision is said to be announced today at noon. The most recent weather radar models indicate a Dorian landfall near West Palm Beach/Ft. Lauderdale, many miles to the south, far from Daytona Beach, instead threatening perhaps six thousand or more prisoners in the South Florida region.

If you don't hear from me for awhile, we may be incommunicado. Please keep all the Florida residents threatened by Dorian in your prayers, including the thousands of prisoners who may be chained up in crowded prison buses heading to parts unknown.

Charlie Norman

Note from Libby: Sunday night late Charlie called me, said the authorities advised them that due to the severity of Hurricane Dorian, Tomoka C. I. would be evacuated on Monday, September 2. No one knows where the men will be sent, but most likely they will be split up among prisons on the Florida west coast, North Florida, and the Panhandle. They were allowed to carry only a pillowcase with a few hygiene items and medication with them. No one knows when they will return, depending on whether the institution sustains storm damage.

Charlie will turn seventy years old September 4th. Please keep him and all the millions of Floridians threatened by this storm in your prayers. I will let you know what's happening when I hear something. Thanks to all.

Libby Norman

1 comment:

Sue said...

Happy Birthday to Mr. Norman on the 4th.

Sue (Ryan's Grandma)