Federal Prison Camp
NOTES FROM FEDERAL PRISON
Christmas—away from home. No matter how short my sentence
(six months) and how supportive family and friends have been,
it is still hard to be away from home during Christmas.
The Browns have traditionally
opened up our home on Christmas Eve as the neighborhood Christmas
parade passes by. Numerous friends always stop by to warm themselves
and stay for holiday cheer. Our tree is loaded with gifts, lots
of extra gifts, for neighbors and other friends who visit. But
for me—not this year.
Gladys and James will spend Christmas
morning with me and we will share a holiday meal out of the vending
machines. (I always tell my visitors to bring lots of quarters.)
My daughters are spread out, spending their holidays in New York,
Birmingham and Argentina. All the rest of the Brown family will
gather in Shreveport, then down to see me over the weekend.
I asked my four children this
year to make a donation to a charity they like, instead of sending
me a gift. There is certainly nothing I need, and no sacrifice
on my part. Perhaps it could become a wonderful family tradition
in the years to come.
I’m told each of the inmates
will receive a Christmas socking later on today filled with candy.
But other than this small acknowledgment, it will be just another
day here at the prison camp.
Irving Berlin wrote my favorite
Christmas song in 1942. Perry Como’s recording made it a
be home for Christmas,
You can count on me.
Please have snow and mistletoe,
And presents on the tree.
Christmas Eve will find me,
Where the love light gleams.
I’ll be home for Christmas…
If only in my dreams.
* * * * * * * * *
I have been impressed with the intellectual curiosity exhibited
by a number of inmates here. Everyday brings a new surprise. I
have written in earlier columns of several inmates who write poetry.
“G. Town” from Galveston, Texas shows me several new
poems each week. Chris, from Forrest, Mississippi has asked me
to review a series of his poems about his relationship with his
wife and several family members.
Mike from Orange, Texas came by
the library last week when I was writing. He was curious of what
I knew about Machiavelli, the Italian writer whom many people
consider the father of modern political science. We discussed
The Prince and the Machiavellian theory of government
often being in the writer’s words “cunning, deceitful,
and unscrupulous.” We talked of my conviction, and how the
prosecutors had hidden from me the evidence (the FBI agent’s
handwritten notes) that would have cleared my name and set me
free. Machiavelli would have been proud of the prosecutors in
And by the way, Machiavelli also
was “set up” by the government, who made false accusations
against him. We have something in common.
I cook in the kitchen with Frank
from Houston. He wanted my thoughts on how the pharmaceutical
giant, Eli Lilly, was able to secretly slip in an amendment to
the recently passed homeland security legislation that will protect
them and a few other large pharmaceutical companies. Those companies
make a drug called thimerosol, and many parents believe their
children were harmed by it. Frank and I had both read a recent
column in The New York Times that stated:
This has nothing to do with homeland security. Nothing.
So why is it there? Perhaps it has something to do with
the fact that drug companies have become a giant cash
machine for politicians.
Frank wants to lobby against such
irresponsible legislation when he is free.
And a number of inmates gave a
perspective on the recent Louisiana U.S. Senate race and why Republican
Suzie Terrell lost. “It was overkill. Too many people from
outside the state telling local folks how to vote. They must think
we’re stupid.” Terrell had swamped the state with
I’m making the point that
many inmates here are bright, creative, and stay current on state
and national issues. Many of these fellows regularly read and
watch the news. There is a lengthy chain of inmates who pass on
and share my daily New York Times and Wall Street
Quite a contrast from those prisoners
who surround Edwin Edwards. I have read press reports of the former
governor’s letter describing his life in Fort Worth, Texas.
His fellow prisoners, according to Edwards, “act like lifeless
souls shuffling off toward the River Styx. They seem to be without
form. They do not grin, laugh, cry or complain.”
The difference, no doubt, is that
Edwards is surrounded by older prisoners who, in most cases, have
lengthy sentences; some for life. My group is much younger, and
most will be back home in a few years. His situation and attitude
should improve once he is transferred from Fort Worth.
* * * * * * * * *
Final Rounds: A Father, A Son, the Golf Journey of a Lifetime.
by James Dodson
A golfing book that can be thoroughly enjoyed by the non-golfer.
If you have dreams of traveling the countryside of England and
France, and would also like to revisit your own personal relationship
with your father, this is the book for you.
In Final Rounds, father
and son strike out on a final adventure, both knowing the father
is fighting a losing battle with cancer. They are both avid golfers,
but golf becomes a metaphor to recount the experiences and relationship
between the two of them.
For years, the author (a well-known
golf writer) and his father have talked about a trip to Europe
to play some of the most beautiful and challenging courses. The
story becomes a travelogue of funny, lyrical and heartbreaking
experiences. Dodson poignantly and convincingly reminds us (at
least me) that a man is never finished being a son, and “he
never leaves the influence of his father’s life behind.”
My father was an avid golfer.
One of my regrets is that I waited so late in life to take up
the game. My dad and I could have played many rounds together.
But the game was so time consuming. And I was always so busy climbing
mountains and joisting with windmills.
Dodson shares advice I should
have followed years ago.
Ambition is a kind of siren song. Especially in a job like
yours. The danger of greater ambition is that you’ll work
so hard, you may someday wake up and find that the things
you really wanted were the things you had all along.
So true. So true. My son and I
began playing golf together this past year. I hope we can play
together for many years to come.
My Christmas gift. A recommendation
of a book I know you will enjoy.
* * * * * * * * * *
And finally. I am including a Christmas poem brought to me by
one of the inmates a few days ago. Christopher Thompson is a quiet,
introspective fellow from a small town outside of Jackson, Mississippi
called Forrest. The New Orleans Saints star running back, Deuce
McCallister went to high school with Chris in Forrest. Chris certainly
expresses my feelings—I wish I were home for Christmas.
The best of holiday wishes to
you and your family during this special time of the year.
Peace and justice to us all.
The Absent Christmas
Christmas is a day our family holds dear,
Sorry, I’ll miss you all this year.
I will celebrate this day alone,
It brings happiness, then is quickly gone.
Our family tradition runs deep,
Being absent causes me to weep.
Family gather holiday supplies,
Preparing for young ones to rise.
For what you have done all honor is due,
Because things are different from what we once knew.
Completing the meal, you have the call,
To promptly attend the big and small.
At the table you sit down,
Shaking your head with a smirk, then a frown.
The family bows their heads to pray,
Our meal is always blessed this way.
Around the table each fills his platter,
But the look on your face, What’s the matter?
In years gone bye I was with you to share,
But this Christmas Day, I am not there.
I still give thanks unto the Lord,
Not for gifts or any reward.
I will be there in a little while,
Enjoy the holidays with a smile.