DAY ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY
Federal Prison Camp
NOTES FROM FEDERAL PRISON
will officially step down as Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance
at noon this Friday, April 4, 2003. After years of fighting
the federal government, the U.S. Supreme Court has turned down
my request for a rehearing of my case.
knew this would be an uphill struggle. Last year, the Supreme
Court had over 7000 requests to consider and only reviewed 79.
No re-hearings were granted. So it was obviously an uphill battle
from the beginning.
difficult thing for me to accept is that if I lived anywhere
else in the United States, the outcome would have been different.
In any other circuit, I would have been allowed to have the
handwritten notes of the FBI agent who interviewed me. That's
right! If I lived in California, New York, Florida, Missouri,
even up in Arkansas, the evidence to clear me would have been
made available. But not in Louisiana. In this state, an FBI
agent can lie about you and hide the evidence that would set
have delivered to the Louisiana Legislature today, a proposal
to re-structure the regulation of all financial services including
insurance and banking. A number of states are making this change
and it may help in insolating my successor from the abuses of
unscrupulous prosecutors. My two-page letter to the legislature
appears at the end of this Column.
the Insurance Department is run by a first rate staff, that
I was able to train from scratch. The office will run well for
the next nine months until a new commissioner is elected.
statement to the press is also reprinted at the end of this
* * * * * *
jockeying has already begun over who will inherit my bunk bed
when I leave next week. You see, I'm in a good location. The
way my bed is situated, I can't see any other inmate, and have
both a wall and lockers to give me a little privacy. It's like
having my own little alcove. (See sketch at end of this column.)
So a number of inmates want to take my place. A CO who supervises
the logistics of the building will make the decision, but I
understand he is receiving numerous requests.
abound as to the possibility of new "celebrity" inmates
coming here to prison. David Duke is often mentioned. The prison
grapevine is saying that Duke is asking to come here and doesn't
want to be placed in solitary confinement. He was recently sentenced
to fifteen months for income tax evasion and his prison reporting
date is April 15th. Apparently a little humor on the part of
the sentencing judge.
inmates hoping to transfer here, according to rumor, include
Jerry Fowler, former Commissioner of Elections, who is incarcerated
in Beaumont, Texas. Jerry's wife tragically was kidnapped on
Christmas Eve and has never been found. I'm told by inmates
who have come here from Beaumont since that time that Jerry
is depressed and is trying to come back to a prison in Louisiana.
also hear that several of the Edwards defendants are hoping
to be transferred to Oakdale, including the Governor's son,
Stephen, Andrew Martin and Cecil Brown. So the prison camp might
be a more interesting place in the months to come. One of the
inmates jokes to me: "Big Jim, since you know all those
fellows, you just might want to stay awhile longer, right?"
smile. "Fat chance," I tell him. "I don't care
who comes. I'm out of here next week."
Crockett, Texas Chief of Police just arrived to serve three
more years. He had transferred in from a Texas federal prison.
His crime was possessing and distributing amphetamines - the
bathtub drug. That's because it's homemade and not imported
into the U.S. Besides being the Chief of Police, he drove a
cattle truck up to sale barns in the Midwest. To stay awake
on the trip that sometimes took 48 hours, he started taking
amphetamines, and now he's paying a heck of a price.
interesting phenomenon of "tuning out" is practiced
by a number of inmates, particularly those who have longer sentences
and those who are at all introspective. You might regularly
pass by an inmate in the hallway or outside with greetings and
jokes. But every now and then, the same fellow doesn't acknowledge
your presence. He's not being rude. He's just "in his zone."
As Ron from California says: "You've got to find ways to
deal with this place. I'm just passing time. So if I can get
in a rhythm of thoughts or music going in my head, I don't want
to break the flow. I'm not being rude. I just want to stay inside
myself to make the time go by."
finding myself doing the same thing. I stay quite busy here
and often leave projects undone and still to finish at the end
of the day. But when the injustice of what happened to me comes
to mind, as it regularly does, "tuning out" is a way
to deal with the pain. Sometimes I'll put on earphones, walk
the track and listen to music. At other times I'll read in the
library oblivious to those who may want to talk. If you get
in the zone, it's a comfort to stay there. And you know what?
Because of the wrong that's been done to me, I will, from time
to time, "stay inside myself" and "tune out"
for the rest of my life. Oh I can deal with it. But it will
happen. I suppose it's just a part of my own personal therapy.
* * * * * *
Following my workout this week, a number of younger inmates
got me in a discussion concerning why there are mandatory minimum
sentences for first time drug offenders. Some here face sentences
as high as 12 years for a first offense. That's because Congress
enacted mandatory minimum sentencing in 1986, mainly to catch
drug "kingpins." But now, judges can no longer fit
the punishment to the crime, and many low-level, non-violent
offenders are filling up our prisons. Did you know that the
number of federal and state drug offenders has surged during
the past decade from 40,000 to 453,000?
of the inmates here are hopeful that Congress will reinstate
the parole system, when each case is reviewed after one third
of the sentence has been served. They ask me if I will monitor
the possible changes in the law after I get out, which I agree
to do. But I'm not optimistic for them. We are at war and we
have both a conservative Congress, and an ultra-conservative
court system that, as a whole, is unsympathetic.
often surprised at how young some of these inmates are. In my
eyes, they have experienced so little. They were prepubescent
during the last Gulf War, and there has been only one Pope in
their lifetime. They have no idea that Americans were ever held
hostage in Iran. To them, bottle caps have always been screw-off
and popcorn has always been popped in a microwave. They can't
imagine what hard contact lenses were (I still wear them), and
they have never seen or heard of a computer that was too big
to fit on a desktop. There has always been MTV in their lives
and I wonder if they know that Kansas, Chicago, Boston, America
and Alabama are places, not bands.
can see why I feel a little old in the company I keep. On the
other hand, I tell them I would rather spend several years in
prison in my 30's than 6 months in my 60's. "You have so
much longer to live and the chance to do so many more things.
But they are in prison and it doesn't hit home. They just want
out of here. "So do I," I say.
* * * * * * *
A news report in a local paper catches my eye this week.
Justice Department statistics show that Louisiana remains
the Inmate State, with about 800 out of every 100,000 residents
in some form of incarceration - a higher proportion than any
have written of several innocent Louisiana citizens who were
obviously innocent, yet information that would clear them was
kept from the jury that convicted them. I am one of those statistics.
Innocent yet "set up" by the FBI and wronged by a
judicial system that failed me. I wonder how many other innocent
people are jumbled in the figures released by the Justice Department?
* * * * * * *
My granddaughter came to visit me here at the Prison Camp last
weekend. She is almost one year old, and I call her Sweetie
Pearl after my grandmother. Oh, her parents did come along…daughter
Gentry and her husband Michael. You know, there is nothing like
grandchildren to restore one's faith in heredity. She looks
like me, so the genes have come through well. And I have our
new responsibilities all planned. When she comes to visit, Gladys
will be in charge of toilet training and tantrums, and I will
be responsible for the treats and tall-tales. Doesn't that sound
like a pretty good arrangement?
* * * * * *
authors to share with you this week as my time here winds down.
pleasant surprise in the prison library is a collection of novels
by British author Jeffery Archer. Re-reading favorite books
is like becoming re-acquainted with old friends. Archer has
written four volumes of short stories that I particularly enjoy.
most well known book is Kane and Able. An engrossing
account of a life long conflict between two business competitors
who try to destroy each other, and cause great turmoil to their
children in the process. All of Archer's books are filled with
suspense, with interesting plot twists and ironic endings.
Jeffery Archer and I have a lot in common. He was one of the
youngest members of the British House of Commons in 1969, and
I was one of the youngest members of the Louisiana Senate in
1971. He was convicted of making false statements, unjustly
he says, just like me. He presently is serving time for his
conviction in prison, just like me. And he is writing a book
on prison life, just like me.
you haven't read an Archer book, you might start with his most
recent short story collection, Twelve Red Herrings.
He is a captivating storyteller who will keep you in suspense
and entertain you to the end.
also just finished reading Atonement, British author
Ian McEwan's powerful novel about the lifelong repercussions
of a single lie told in childhood. An overly imaginative 13
year old accuses her sister's childhood friend falsely of rape,
and the lives of the entire family are changed.
young man goes to prison for a crime he did not commit. (Hmmmm.
Where have I heard of something like this happening before?)
story then moves to World War II and the retreat of the British
at Dunkirk. The grime and realistic war scenes are vividly written
as a moving second story in itself.
has won numerous literary awards including the most recent National
Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. This is challenging but
rewarding reading with some of the best psychological writing
of the past decade. It's really a magnificent book.
inmate poet friend, Christopher Thompson, came up to me this
week with a going away gift. He had written me a poem about
my life here at Oakdale. I share it with you at the end of this
"American justice virtually guarantees that innocent
are being punished."
The Washington Post
was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."
"My Back Pages"
Peace and justice to you and your family.
A DEMAND SET LIFE AT A SNAIL'S PACE
THIS MOVED ME OUT OF THE RAT RACE
I'VE GIVEN MY FRIENDS A WEEKLY REPORT
I OFFER THANKS FOR YOUR STEADFAST SUPPORT
UNABLE TO RESPOND TO YOUR EVERY CLICK
YOUR FAITHFULNESS HAS SPEEDED THE TICKS
I HAVE APPROACHED THE END OF THIS TRIAL
DRASTICALLY HAS IT ALTERED MY LIFESTYLE
I HAVE USED THE FACTS AND WRITTEN A BOOK
GO TO YOUR LOCAL STORES AND TAKE A LOOK
THERE I WILL SHARE MY LIFE EVEN MORE
STEP BY STEP MY CASE GIVEN TO THE CORE
SOCIETY HAS REMOVED FROM ME IT'S PARTITION
REDEEMED TO THE COMMUNITY IN A STABLE POSITION
REAIDLY I'LL RETURN TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS
THE GOVERNMENT, HOPEFULLY, WILL ONE DAY MAKE AMENDS.
BY: CHRISTOPHER THOMPSON
H. BROWN, JR.
COMMISSION OF INSURANCE
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA 70804
TO: Governor Mike Foster and members
of the Louisiana Legislature
As you are well aware, I have been fighting to overturn my unjust
conviction and fully pursue my appeal through the federal court
system for the past two and one half years. Unfortunately, the
federal government has tied my hands, and has kept me during
this time from carrying on my duties as Louisiana Commissioner
I am still considering other legal options, it is becoming apparent
that, even under the most favorable circumstances, I will not
be able to return to my elected job before my term ends.
legislature will soon be meeting and certain proposed changes
in the office should at least be considered. In the past, a
number of legislators have told me they will support no structural
change in the Department of Insurance as long as I am pursuing
my appeal. For this, I have been grateful. But with the statewide
election coming up this fall, I think in fairness, that any
changes should be considered in the coming legislative session.
number of states have changed how insurance is regulated, the
most recent being Florida. With the passage in Congress of the
Sarbanes-Oxley Act, many states are merging or considering merging
the regulation of both insurance and banking under one office.
Other states that do this include Maine, New Jersey, Oregon,
Rhode Island, Alaska, Minnesota, Nevada, and Vermont.
agents are now selling bank products and bankers are becoming
more active in the insurance business. The attached article
of how this overall regulation is handled in Florida by my colleague,
Tom Gallagher, will give you this State's perspective. The legislature
should consider creating a Department of Insurance and Financial
Services to oversee the operation of insurance, banking, savings
and loans, small loan offices and other related financial services.
frankly, I have concerns that the next Insurance Commissioner
may be unfairly investigated by prosecutors for self-serving
purposes. Some type of merger may help in reducing the unjust
focus on the Insurance Department.
By the way, you may have heard that one of the jurors in my
case recently went on Baton Rouge television to say that my
jury made a mistake and I never should have been convicted.
"I wish we could go back and change our verdict,"
she said. "I never thought he would go to prison."
The full text of her interview is also attached.
Department of Insurance has available for your consideration
a state-by-state comparison of how Commissioners are selected,
and what states have merged their various financial services
regulation into one department. I will return to Baton Rouge
on April 11th. If you have any questions or I can supply you
with any additional information, I hope you will let me know.
me again thank the many of you who have been so supportive during
this difficult process. I wish you well in your efforts during
the coming session.
With Best Regards,
James H. Brown, Jr.
You can review my entire case, and also read a weekly Column
I write from prison by going to my website, www.jimbrownla.com.
from Commissioner of Insurance Jim Brown
Supreme Court decision not to grant a re-hearing causes me the
deepest personal disappointment. The judicial system has failed
fair-minded person who reviews my appeal will conclude what
happened to me was wrong. Even one of the jurors in my case
has now publicly come forward and admitted that my conviction
was a tragic mistake.
though I strongly disagree with this unjust decision, I have
now exhausted all my appeals, and I will abide by it.
will follow the law and submit my resignation to the Secretary
of State to be effective at noon on Friday, April 4, 2003.
I will never stop protesting the great wrong that was done to
me. I will soon return to my home and will continue to speak
out and write for years to come about this terrible injustice
that was allowed to take place.