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Monday, October 21, 2002
Week One
Federal Detention Camp
Oakdale, Louisiana

My First Day in Prison

What an unbelievable day!

In my lifetime, I have anticipated major challenges, controversies, and conflict. I went in the military knowing I might go to war, though fortunately I never did. I knew every time I ran for public office that I might face defeat. And I felt there would be occasional tragedy I would have to deal with.

But I never in my worst nightmare ever felt I would one day land in a federal prison.

Day one of my ordeal was last Tuesday, October 14th. Gladys and I were awake at 4:00 a.m., and I packed the few items I could take with me:

· One pair of reading glasses.

· One religious ornament. (A small silver cross given to me by a wonderful lady named Mary in Thibodaux. She sought me out to pray for me. You will read all about Mary in my upcoming book).

· A wedding ring. (Gladys had one specially engraved for me to wear while I'm away from home.)

· A religious book. (The Book of Job: His Struggle Against Injustice)

· And a chapstick. (There's been a lot of hugging and kissing of family and friends in the last week. My lips are chapped.)

That's it. Nothing more. Everything else I might need will be, hopefully, given to me at the prison.

Our first stop was at Coffee Call, off College Drive, to say goodbye to our close friends and my key staff from the Insurance Department. The press were aware of our plans, so they were all there for my send-off. A short press conference, then thirty minutes of goodbyes to the many people who stood by me during this terrible and unfair ordeal.

I'm told most of the evening news stories pictured my son James and I sharing a private moment and a hug as I told him goodbye. He's a special son who has been at my side time and time again during this crisis in my life.

On the road at 8:30 a.m. with Gladys, sister-in-law Gloria, and family friend Janice Shaab. My first stop was the federal courthouse in downtown Baton Rouge to pay my $50,000 fine.

I started to write a check to the clerk. "No personal checks. Only money orders, cashier's checks, or credit cards.

"Credit cards?" I asked. "Will you take my American Express?" The answer was yes. I paid my fine with the card, knowing I would receive some 73,000 frequent flyer miles at the government's expense. At least there was some good news out of all of this.

A two hour trip to Oakdale was next on the agenda, with a caravan of reporters following along. The press joined us in Oakdale at Popeye's for a quick lunch (coleslaw and a barbequed chicken sandwich). Then to the gates of the Oakdale Federal Detention Center.

A swarm of reporters and television crews from throughout the state were waiting to see me go in. I stopped the car and got out to share a few final thoughts.

"My feelings are bittersweet. What happened to me is an outrageous injustice that I hope never happens again to any American citizen. Going in these prison gates, I feel like a prisoner of war."

"I'm the only person in the country who has ever been convicted in a federal court where I could not confront my accuser, nor see the handwritten notes that were the basis of the charges against me."

"What happened to me was wrong! I love my country, but I fear my government. What happened to me is a blight on the judicial system."

"But I'm blessed by the support I have received from the people of Louisiana. I've seen recent polls showing an overwhelming opinion that I was not treated fairly, and that I should not be in prison. And if an election were held today, I'd be re-elected."

"I will go through those gates with dignity, and will get along fine. But I'll be back soon. I've written one book about my ordeal. And I will continue to speak out for years to come to oppose the abuses allowed by the prosecutors in my case."

With those final words, I drove through the prison gates, and toward a whole new way of life-at least for the next six months.

* * * * * * *

Several prison cars and trucks escorted us through the prison camp entrance. Gladys walked with me through the front door where we said our last goodbyes.

What could I say to the woman of my life who has stood by me through this terrible ordeal, and who has never waivered in her love and support. For this, I am truly blessed. We share a few quiet moments, and then she left.

A friendly but professional orientation, a strip search, and in to the basic green prison uniform. Then an escort to my camp building-my new home.

So now I begin my personal purgatory. In the weeks to come, I will tell you of dealing with prison life, as well as commenting on public issues that surround me.

My best to all of you.

Jim Brown

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