Thursday, May 28, 2020


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.

No comments: