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December 25, 2002
Christmas Day
Federal Prison Camp
Oakdale, Louisiana


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 Christmas standard.

I’ll 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 my case.

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 Washington dignitaries.

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 Journal.

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.

Jim Brown

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.

Christopher Thompson

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