Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Sunday, April 26, 2020, 8:17 a.m. Tomoka C. I. - Daytona Beach, Florida

Inmates tested positive__94__. Staff tested positive__10__

Life goes on, in prison and out. The TV news has talked about the hundreds of prisoners released from local, state and federal jails and prisons nationwide in response to the virus outbreak. The consensus here is that won't happen in Florida. We're here for the duration. I feel especially connected to those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities where this COVID-19 runs rampant. They are prisoners, too--prisoners of their failing bodies, unable to isolate themselves from this plague which is taking a heavy toll on the sick and elderly, alone, unable to receive visitors. None of us saw this coming. It is a pandemic that affects all of humanity, sounding like the plot of a Stephen King novel.

It's easy to be critical, but I must give the prison officials their due. Pardon the tired cliches, but it's true, they're operating without a playbook or a net. They're doing the best they can under extremely challenging circumstances. At least they're not offering to spray us with Lysol or bleach.

The nurses came through for the morning temperature checks. So far, so good. No one in dorm ''K-2" has shown a high temperature this week. We had one diabetic prisoner who takes insulin, who was moved out, with other high-risk men, to a separate dorm, supposedly, for observation.

They woke us for breakfast at 5:45 a.m. Oatmeal, two boiled eggs, coffee cake, and an apple. Since the widespread complaints about the bag lunches of dry peanut butter, they've greatly improved the food. That is an important control factor--thousands of hungry, angry prisoners is not a scenario anyone wants to deal with. One hot meal a day, with sandwiches the other two meals. Everyone gets an orange, an apple, or a banana. We see those miles-long lines of cars in cities nationwide lining up for food packages to feed their families, and count our blessings.

The authorities authorized two free phone calls per week for each prisoner, to stay in touch with their loved ones, a good thing, but not without its consequences. We have two pay phones for 71 prisoners, most of whom make few if any phone calls each week. The queue has been long.

I was able to talk with my wife, Libby, and my 90-year old mother, Lucille Norman, early today while most other prisoners were sleeping. Libby is fine, though missing our visits, spending her weekends doing yard work and enjoying the songbirds patronizing her bird feeders. She's thrilled that hummingbirds are visiting a new feeder given to her by a coworker.

My mother is fine, so far, sheltering in place in her home in Thonotosassa, seeing only my brother, Dan, who does her grocery shopping, and will pick up KFC to go for Sunday dinner. She's banned the grandchildren from visiting until this is over. Don't kill Grandma!

I get email responses from cousins nationwide, and relay them to my mother. She loves to hear from family, as do I. Most recently I've heard from my Norman/Hatchell cousins Sue, Betty and Jane, in North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia, and my cousin Linda and Aunt Glenda in Texas. My Aunt Alice, in Tampa, fills me in on the rest of the relatives. Everyone is praying for everyone else. It makes a major difference in my own spirits to have family and friends who care. I look around at depressed men who have no one, and thank God I don't carry their burdens.

10:28 a.m. We watched the CBS Sunday Morning show with Jane Pauley, with features about--what else?--the coronavirus. Julie Andrews and her daughter are publishing a new book. Many prisoners are ''news junkies,'' while others have no interest in anything more serious than Jerry Springer refereeing hair-pullings or Maury Povich announcing, ''You ARE the father!''

The TV room has stayed full to capacity. Last night, it was standing room only for ''The Revenant,'' on the Spanish station. It didn't matter that most had no idea what was being said. Grizzly bears and marauding Indians trump dialogue.

11:25 a.m. It is ''chow'' again--turkey bologna and cheese sandwiches. They are also calling for tablets to be charged, so I must bid adieu.

All the best, to all.



 Dateline: Friday, April 24, 2020 8:57 a.m. Tomoka C. I.

We've had a line of thunderstorms, hard rain, and tornado warnings for Daytona Beach and much of Central Florida since late last night. Life goes on. We're waiting for the nurses to come through with their infrared thermometer guns to shoot our forehead temperatures. No one speaks it, but I can feel the tension, the men making nervous jokes, worried that they will register a fever and go into isolation. I can't help but think of the correlation between the nurse aiming the ''gun'' at each man's forehead, at point-blank range, and the image of mass execution. What is left unsaid is the realization that if COVID-19 gets loose and out of control in the prison system, mass deaths could ensue. Many pray that will not happen.

I'm proud of my fellow prisoners' behavior since this statewide quarantine went into effect. So far most everyone remains calm, unlike at prisons in other states and countries that have seen violence. I attribute this calm to the responsible leadership of Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch, whose unprecedented communications to prisoners statewide, via posted memos and the JPay tablets, have kept prisoners and families informed and encouraged. Offering free phone calls and emails have enabled prisoners to remain in touch with their loved ones. The ''not knowing'' is often the worst part. Just hearing a loved one's voice can boost one's spirits.

In Secretary Inch's most recent communique, he asked, ''What do you need from me? If I could give you anything within my authority as Secretary, what would you ask for?'' His point revolved around finding meaning and purpose in one's life, whoever or wherever you are.

In 42 years of continuous imprisonment, I have dedicated my life to helping others and becoming a better person. It has been a hard road, surviving this wrongful imprisonment, and at 70 years old, it doesn't get any easier. I have been blessed with the love and support of a wonderful wife and family, of old and new friends who've encouraged me, and the strong hope and faith that God has a plan for my life. Knowing that I am a political prisoner, held far beyond my time when many hundreds of others with life sentences have been living their lives in freedom for years, might depress the average prisoner, but it makes me only work harder.

In many of the dozens of different classes I've taught to literally thousands of prisoners over four decades, one assignment I've emphasized over and over again mirrors Secretary Inch's question: ''If someone walked into this room and told you, you have two minutes to convince me to sign your release papers and let you go home, what would you say?''

It is a very difficult question, one that dumbfounds many prisoners.

As for myself, in answer to Secretary Inch's similar question, I would ask for freedom, to be returned to my wife Libby and my remaining family, to answer the fervent prayers of my 90-year old mother, who has vowed to stay alive until she sees her eldest son released from prison.

And the fact is, that is an attainable goal, a recommendation by the FDC Secretary to the parole commission for a new, fair, impartial parole hearing, granting my well-deserved release. You have the authority, Secretary Inch.

Back to Tomoka and the pandemic.

The numbers are increasing. Wednesday: 47 prisoners tested positive for the coronavirus at Tomoka C. I. Thursday: 82 Today--this morning: 88 inmates positive, along with 12 staff. I reported our first fatality a few days ago: it was not virus-related, however. I asked a nurse, was it the virus? She said no, ''inmate-on-inmate violence.'' Terrible, to die in prison.

Please keep our nation and our world in your prayers. This virus plays no favorites, heeds no barriers or fences. I will continue to report from prison as long as I can.


Sunday, April 26, 2020


Dateline: Thursday, April 23, 2020--Tomoka C. I.--Daytona Beach, FL

I wanted to tell you about the other dorm, ''F-1," that was transferred Saturday. F-1 is a ''faith-based'' program dorm, the inmates signing up for a one-year program. I have much to say about the watered-down faith-based program, some other time. They get a lot of privileges other inmates/prisoners don't have. Some sincerely want to improve themselves, while others are schemers, looking for angles.

The theory behind the Saturday transfer order was that the only dorms without virus symptoms, K-2 and F-1, should be transferred to another prison, separated, so they wouldn't be exposed to infection. They would then keep all the symptomatic prisoners here, isolated. When Mr. Strauss' positive tests came back, that killed the transfer for K-2. We were all theoretically exposed--quarantine.

F-1 inmates had no choice. No positives. They took their meager pillow cases, crowded onto the prison bus, packed together like sardines, got shipped to Columbia C.I. No telling how long they will be gone. They've already filled their dorm with sick inmates.

When we evacuated Tomoka for the September, 2019, hurricane scare, to Columbia, we carried the same near-empty pillowcases, shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, a change of clothes. Luckily, after two days we went to the canteen there and bought coffee, shower slides, soups, etc. We were gone for a week, but these men could be stranded for a month or more.

This morning, the same two nurses came around for our temperature checks, decked out in their ''PPE,'' face shields, etc.

I told the nurse taking my temperature, ''Thank you both for your dedication and professionalism. I appreciate you risking your own health to keep us safe, and my wife is grateful, too.''

The nurse lit up, smiling behind her mask. ''Why, thank YOU. You're very welcome. We don't get much thanks, but the opposite, people blame us for all this.''

"It's not your fault, you're just doing a difficult job.''

"I'm glad somebody appreciates that,'' she said, moving on to the next person, three feet away.

I'm glad I said that, a brief conversation that made the three of us feel better.

About the food--after all the complaints about the repeated servings of dry peanut butter sandwiches, the food has improved. We've been getting hot meals at supper, some sort of meat patty, rice, carrots, and corn bread. Tuesday breakfast consisted of coffee cake, oatmeal, and diced pineapple, while they served two turkey bologna and cheese sandwiches, a sandwich bag of lettuce, and a green orange for lunch. This morning we got a hot meal, a spoonful of scrambled eggs, grits, coffee cake, and a banana. Lunch consisted of two bologna and cheese sandwiches, sliced cucumbers, and an apple, a huge improvement over the dry peanut butter.

No one knows when this will end. Suspended family visits spread the suffering to our loved ones. We have plenty of soap for hand washing, wear our prison-made cloth masks, and clean frequently. We got to make a canteen run, five scans only, but still haven't gotten outside for recreation.

I will write more tomorrow. All the best, and take all precautions.