Thursday, May 28, 2020


Thursday, May 27, 2020, 1:00 p.m., Tomoka C. I., Daytona Beach, FL

You won't believe what just happened. I was served with a disciplinary report (D.R.), for disobeying a verbal or written order. A finding of guilty could result in solitary confinement, loss of gain-time, and an extension of my parole release date. I am not guilty, and will fight it at a hearing. Following is the text of the D.R.:

''Inmate Norman, Charles #881834 is in direct violation of 6-1, disobeying verbal or written order - any order given to an inmate or inmates by a staff member or other authorized person. At approximately 2100 hours on 26 May 2020 I was assigned as the control room officer. I was advised via email of a Jpay video visit violation committed by inmate Norman. On 5/25/20 at approximately 0930 hours inmate Norman was conducting a video visitation. During the video visit inmate Norman removed his mask. Inmate Norman is in violation of written order from the warden, requiring all inmates to be wearing a mask. Inmate Norman will remain in general population pending the outcome of this report. The O.I.C. was notified and approved the writing of this report. By: ATL29 - Allen, T.''

Additional text: ''An impartial investigation will be conducted on this disciplinary report. During the investigation of the disciplinary report, you will be advised of the charges against you and you may request staff assistance. During the investigation you should make known any witnesses to the investigating officer. The testimony of witnesses shall be presented by written statements. See Rule 33-601.307 (3) for complete information regarding witnesses. You will have the opportunity to make a statement in writing regarding the charge and to provide information relating to the investigation.''

Actual facts -- The video visit consisted of me sitting in front of the Jpay kiosk at the assigned time, facing the camera, waiting for Libby to appear on the screen. This is a very primitive system, the image and voices are out of sync and delayed, the bandwidth weakness results in a blank screen for most of the assigned 15 minutes, the image freezes up for several minutes, and if we can talk for 30 seconds without interruption, it's a surprise. We keep trying, in hopes the program will eventually perform as advertised. On this day, same problems. No signals for most of seven minutes. I have severe allergies (lots of pollen in the open windows), and when my sinuses drain it causes me to cough and clear my throat. Warden Duncan has the same problem. I've had a persistent cough for years.

While we were waiting in front of blank screens hoping the signal would return, I had to cough and clear my throat. I never ''removed'' my ill-fitting mask. It remained on my face, secured around my head. It may have slipped down a little as a brief signal returned, but was never removed.

More on this later.

We aren't receiving any new coronavirus information from the authorities, so the men stay glued to the TV news. That can be good or bad. Like many ''free'' citizens, prisoners are affected by events near and far away.

One hot-button issue that stirs up the men is the latest federal court decision regarding the constitutionality of voting rights for ex-felons. Florida voters passed a state constitutional amendment giving ex-felons the right to vote, with the exceptions of sex offenders and murder convictions. The wording is straightforward, but the Florida Legislature passed a state law exemption denying the right to vote to any ex-felon who owes court costs, penalties, fines, or fees. Since most ex-felons are indigent, with little ability to pay court fees incurred perhaps decades ago, that law effectively denies the right to vote to a large percentage of the ex-felons.

Activists argued that the state law was effectively an unconstitutional poll tax that denied voting rights to the poor. U. S. District Court Judge Richard Hinkle agreed, and struck down the law. Many prisoners are offended that Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is appealing the federal judge's decision, denying the vote to potentially hundreds of thousands of ex-felon voters, playing politics.

Many states permit ex-felons to register to vote upon their release from prison, without exception, while a few states allow them to vote while still in prison.

Another touchy subject that is creating tension inside prison is the recent death of Gerald Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis policemen who were subsequently fired. The network news shows repeatedly broadcast the cell phone video of the cop with his knee on Gerald Floyd's neck, juxtaposed with scenes of thousands of protesters demanding justice.

It's not a black/white issue. Everyone is offended. But in prison, such actions create racial tensions, with white prisoners taking the heat for the actions of white cops on the street. In the early 1990's, the Rodney King videos ignited widespread assaults against white prisoners when the cops on trial were acquitted. When the O. J. Simpson trial a few years later resulted in his acquittal, FDC officials breathed collective sighs of relief that he was acquitted. No riots, cheering instead. So far, this latest incident has not resulted in any overt actions within the prison, to my knowledge.

Out of time and space. Later.



Tuesday, May 26, 2020, 10:30 a.m., Tomoka C.I., Daytona Beach, FL

The new guards are panicking. ''Inspection! Inspection! Fix your bunks, Be dressed Class A. They're coming!''

Big deal. No one really cares. We have people dying and some officer who hasn't worked here for three months, hasn't been to the training class yet, is freaking out, worried about a six-inch white collar on our bunks. We will endure it, the ''higher-ups'' will stroll in, say a few words, and check off on their clipboards that they made their weekly rounds, and go. See you next week.

Today is the end of Muslim Ramadan, the month of daylight fasting and prayer, capped off with the Ramadan ''Feast.'' There is a considerable population of Muslims in prisons nationwide, and Tomoka is no exception. The coronavirus pandemic, however, has virtually gutted the Muslim prayers and fasting in prison this year.

Before COVID-19, every evening during Ramadan the Muslims from every dorm would gather in the chapel for prayers, with other daylight gatherings during the month. The chapel is shuttered, closed, and there have been no programs or volunteers allowed since the first quarantine. No inmates can gather in the chapel. There are three forlorn Muslims in dorm K-1, and five times a day they place their prayer rugs in the corner, facing east, and conduct their brief prayers.

As far as the closing ''Feast,'' the Muslims will get the same supper tray as the rest of the compound--Baked chicken leg quarter, potatoes, maybe a few pieces of lettuce and a vegetable. No big deal.

It wasn't always so. In times past, family members brought in huge quantities of food to share with the prison Muslim Community, the Imam would preach, and it was a real celebration. Although most of the prison Muslims are African American converts, over the years I've known various Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians, Egyptians, Lebanese, and Afghanis whose families would prepare and share their traditional dishes.

So, you might ask, how do I know all this? Simple. Since 1980, my first one, I've been an invited guest to many Ramadan Feasts, usually the only Christian there, except for several years during 2002--2010, here at Tomoka, when Libby and I were invited together. That was when the prison chapel Fellowship Hall was converted to a mosque for the day, our family members were escorted to the chapel from the visiting park, and an Afghani prisoner named Mahmoud led the inmate prayer service in Arabic, a very interesting cross-cultural experience. Then we would all eat.

If you ever get the chance to be invited to a Ramadan Feast, take it. How I came to be the Christian representative at several prisons over the years involve several stories, which I will share if anyone is interested.

11:53 a.m. It is count time. No telling how long this will take.

We had our cursory ''inspection.'' Over the last few weeks, the warden and assistant warden have used the inspections to make announcements and give us updates on the virus as it affects us, but that period is apparently over. No warden—lower-ranked officers only. No announcements, no question-and-answer sessions. They were more interested in shirttails being tucked in, and checking empty lockers for contraband, like jugs of prison wine, ''buck,'' made from oranges passed out with the meals.

No buck today. One work camp inmate who came over after being tested positive in April made the mistake of stashing two bags of canteen purchases (actually gambling winnings) in an empty locker, only to be confiscated by the sergeant. Expensive lesson learned.

I know little else on the pandemic front, except what we hear on the network news. Massive beach crowds this weekend nationwide. People are fearing an upsurge in infections.

The women's prison in South Florida, Homestead, supposedly tested positive over 300 inmates. Union C.I., the ''over-50" men's prison, is said to have over 200 positives, knocking Tomoka down the list somewhat. No virus deaths here yet.

It is almost 1:00 p.m., and the count continues. No one is missing.

Please keep your thoughts and prayers focusing on our entire planet. We have no other place to go.

All the best.

Monday, May 25, 2020


Sunday, May 24, 2020, 7:12 p.m., Tomoka C.I., Daytona Beach, FL

It has been several days since I filed an update, for several reasons, mainly because there was little to report. Very uneventful week--three trips to the chowhall and back each day, no canteen or recreation, no one exhibiting symptoms, no status changes.

In a recent update I mentioned the cool breezes flowing through the adjacent barred window. Scratch that. It has been HOT, HOT, HOT! In the 90's, Fahrenheit, nothing but sweltering heat unabated. The puny ceiling fans merely stir the hot air. It affects everyone, tempers are short, frequent loud arguments, threats of violence--it's too hot to fight. Lots of ''selling out,'' ''trash talk,'' also called, ''selling wolf tickets.''

Video cameras record every place in the dorm except the bathrooms. If anyone gets in a fight, the guards ''roll back the tape,'' (actually digital, as is the entire world), and identify the participants. Next stop, solitary confinement. If two men are serious about fighting, one will challenge the other to meet him in the bathroom. They will wind up in jail, too. 

Although there are no cameras covering the bathroom, as soon as something starts, fifty pairs of eyeballs are staring toward the two combatants, like a flock of penguins in a nature show. The officers pick up on that in about two seconds, then call for backup. They may be short-staffed, but somehow, in less than a minute, a crew of hefty guards come busting in with their pepper spray canisters ready.

I'm too old to be getting into fights, but with all the mentally-ill prisoners, many not taking their meds, one must always be conscious of the surroundings, and prepared to defend oneself. It's better to get locked up for fighting than to get murdered by some nut with a grudge. I learned years ago that you can often defuse a bad situation verbally, with well-chosen words, rather than risk getting locked up or injured in a senseless argument.

I can't remember how it started, but some time ago I let myself get embroiled in a shouting match with a big-mouthed fool. He was doing all the shouting. I may be old, but I've had years of fight experience, and I knew I could beat this much-younger guy if forced to fight. One of the cardinal rules in prison fighting is the one who hits first usually wins, so I had my eyes open, guarding against a sucker punch, and planning my own.

We were in the middle of the dorm, everyone watching, one idiot shouting threats. I told him, you wanna go in the bathroom? Yeah. Okay, you go ahead. If I'm not there in 15 minutes, start without me. Laughter. Situation defused.

The prison administration is collectively crossing its fingers, hoping that the COVID-19 virus burns itself out soon here. Don't think the prisoners aren't praying for relief, as are our families. The last official to visit dorm K-1 told us that family visits will resume 21 days after the last quarantine ends. On TV, a state official said the new date for earliest possible visit, statewide, would be June 13, but that depends on the virus.

Today is our anniversary, Libby and me. We talked on the phone, a far cry from spending the day together, but at least we heard each other's voices. I talked to my mother, in the rehab center. She's recovering from Friday's therapy session, hates it, hates the food, misses her family. My brother Dan and aunt Alice call her daily, but no visitors allowed. I pray that their safeguards against the virus are strong, and she can come home soon.

My neighbor, ''Ant man,'' (I refrain from using his name to protect what little privacy he has) has been at it again, reading the Bible out loud, getting on my nerves. He seems to be skipping around the Bible without rhyme or reason, King James Version, 17th Century English, very difficult for a 21st Century crack cocaine addict to understand. Who is he going to turn to? Who else? Me.

It went something like this:

''Norman...Norman,,,'' (3rd time in the past 20 minutes).


"What's this word? I can't pronounce it.''

"Spell it.''





''What's that mean?''

"A eunuch is a man who has been castrated, his balls cut off.''


"What are you reading? The Book of Daniel?''

''No. Matthew 19."

I explained that the Book of Daniel, in the King James Version, talked about how after the Captivity, Daniel and his three fellow captives were turned over to the Chief of the Eunuchs for their three-year apprenticeship in King Nebuchadnezzar's palace in Babylon. It wasn't expressly stated, but inferred, that Daniel and his friends, as the king's slaves, became eunuchs. And in that time, eunuchs were trusted and influential.

In the ''modern'' Bible translation, the New International Version, NIV, the chief of the eunuchs became the chief of the royal court officials. In the verses Ant Man was reading, in Matthew 19, Jesus mentioned eunuchs in an entirely different context. I definitely did not want to get into that subject.

After explaining the Captivity, Jeremiah's prophecies, and the common practice of turning men into eunuchs in Biblical times, I thought I might get done some peaceful reading. No. More on that later.

Prison pandemic news briefs from USA Today:

Little Rock, Arkansas--A federal judge on Tuesday rejected an effort to require the state to release inmates at high risk of contracting the coronavirus and to take other steps to curb its spread in its prisons.

Silver Spring, Maryland--A jail in a COVID-19 hot spot is detaining more than 100 prisoners who have been authorized or ordered by a court to be released, according to civil rights attorneys who sued over jail conditions during the pandemic.

Charleston, West Virginia--There are now at least four coronavirus cases at the Huttonville Correctional Center in Randolph County after the lockup reported its first infection earlier this week.