Sunday, May 10, 2020


Monday, May 4, 2020, 9:00 a.m., Tomoka C. I., Daytona Beach, FL.

We are outside, in the sunshine, first time since being tested positive. If you look up the prison on Google Earth, 3950 Tiger Bay Road, Daytona Beach, Florida, 32124, you should see a large green square, about two-and-a-half acres, taking up the northeast corner of the main prison. That is our new recreation area. An empty field.

Right outside the east perimeter fence a one-acre retention pond is home to turtles, an alligator, and a variety of birds that perch in the cypress, oak, and pine trees nearby. A flock of wild turkeys roam outside the fence. I've already seen a beautiful great blue heron slowly flying across the field, totally unconcerned about the petty humans below. In years past we used to see a colony of wood storks roosting in a stand of dead cypresses, but none are around today. The ever-present turkey vultures circle on thermals in the distance. Seeing all the trees, so much closer, outside the fence, is a treat, since they cut down all the trees inside the fences years ago.

This is not the first time I've been here on what used to be called ''the farm.'' Fifteen years ago, before the prison system imploded under new, clueless political mismanagement, I ran the horticulture program, built a small greenhouse, and supervised 88 prisoners who tended over 40 flower beds and small gardens. I grew houseplants that decorated almost every staff office, cut and distributed flower bouquets, and decorated all the luncheons and banquets held in the visiting park, all at no expense to the state.

Tomoka housed about seventy ''check-ins,'' prisoners in protective custody for various reasons, informants, child sex predators, and others who could not live in ''open population,'' including nine former correctional officers and a highway patrolman. The check-ins filed complaints that they received inadequate recreation time, so the staff formed a ''farm squad'' for those in protective management. Officer Richard Batalligno escorted them to the barren ''farm'' every morning, provided hoes, rakes and shovels, and allowed them to order vegetable seeds.

It didn't work out very well. A few men had farming experience, and grew small personal plots, but most others had no idea how to grow a garden.

Officer ''Bat,'' as he was called, asked me to be a consultant to the farm squad. I agreed, and after going through a vetting process by Tallahassee officials, spent a couple mornings each week advising and organizing them at the farm.

That lasted about a year, until the FDC packed them up, closed the protective custody wing, and shipped them all to Gulf C. I. I would look out there at the fallow field, visualizing teeming gardens of fresh vegetables to be served in the chow hall, all that wasted land and potential.

This morning I look out over a green field blanketed in yellow dandelion flowers, each one greeting the Sun, brightly climbing in the east. I pick a single yellow flower and spy a tiny brown spider smaller than a turnip seed, hopping from petal to petal, its life upended, its hunting ground detached from the earth.

11:07 a.m. We got a full hour on the new rec field. I wore my straw hat, trying to avoid excess UV exposure, not bad this time of the morning. I made a couple of laps around the perimeter fences, then knelt down and examined more closely the amazing variety of native weeds and other flora that had taken over the area, reminding me of my childhood in Thonotosassa, east of Tampa, exploring, observing similar life inhabiting the orange grove next to our home.

Governor DeSantis came to Daytona Beach yesterday. He made an appearance at Halifax Hospital. He did not come near the prison.

The radio advised that Florida has over 36,000 COVID-19 cases, and over 1,300 deaths so far. That is a 3.6% mortality rate. With about 140 prisoners at Tomoka suffering from the virus, at that rate we can expect about five fatalities.

More later. Otherwise, all is quiet here today, so far.


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