Home Page
About Jim
Legal Briefs
Press Comments
Jim's Column
Reader Responses
Frequently Asked
January 29, 2003
Federal Prison Camp
Oakdale, Louisiana


My sentence is two-thirds completed, and my daily routine is predictable yet busy. I’m never bored or short of things to do. There are actually days when I wish I had more time to complete the tasks at hand.

I’m an early riser here; more so than at home. I’m stirring by 5:00 a.m. and up and about shortly thereafter. In to the kitchen by 5:30 for a quick check of the dining area. Breakfast essentials were set up the evening before. I shower and shave, then back to the dining room by 6:15. I do some food preparation, keep the supplies available, then clean up and finish before 8:00 a.m. A ten-minute break at 7:00 lets me watch the beginning of the Today Show for an update on national news.

I’m in the library, generally alone, for the morning where I write for several hours. I prepare my column for the coming week, work on my book, and do my best to answer the hundreds of letters and e-mails I receive weekly.

Back to the kitchen and dining room for an early lunch. We begin eating here at 10:00 a.m. and close the kitchen a little after 11:00. I often buff the dining room floors after lunch. A little floor wax mixed with shampoo and ice water. The floors really shine. Then back to the library to write some more. A two-hour workout from 1:00 till 3:30 p.m. With the cold weather, I am stretching longer (25 minutes) and on a treadmill for an hour.

Time to eat supper at 3:45 p.m. That’s right! The middle of the day. And I’ll tell you something. You can really lose weight eating this early. I’ve lost 16 pounds since arriving here. About the only difference in my routine is eating early with no late night snacks. This may not be convenient for most of you, but it’s a sure fire way to drop a lot of pounds quickly.

I’m the last person out of the dining room, and I mop the floors around 5:00 p.m. Remember, soak the mop in ice water and wring it as dry as you can. The floors will really shine. Everyone comments on the floors up here. Gladys says a number of her friends want to hire me out. And I’m available. But my rate will be a lot more than the 12 cents per hour I make now.

A few of us ease outside to the recreation room office at 5:30 p.m. to watch the evening national news. There is much debate over the President’s plans to attack Iraq. Little support here for such a war among both inmates and staff without a U.N. resolution.

I watch little TV. It’s hard to find an available set. I do join a group who watch “Friends” on Thursdays and “The Practice” on Sunday night. My evenings are spent reading, either in the library or on my bunk. I just finished The Complete Stories of Mark Twain, and begin tomorrow Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections.

A stretch and walk about the building around 10:30 p.m. and a look at the stars. The air is cold and crisp this time of year at night. The moon is big and approaching fullness.

You can really see the moon well up here. It was so big last month I felt I could almost touch it. Some 240,000 miles away, yet it seemed so close. A lot of people think the full moon has some unexplainable effect on our behavior. I’m not sure I believe in Werewolves. Lycanthrope (the study of Werewolves) derives its name from the Greek king Lycaon who was transformed into a wolf for playing a trick on Zeus. A “lunatic” comes from the Latin “luna” or moon, and asylums are known to bring extra staff on the night of a full moon.

And did you know that the Easter bunny derives its existence from the moon? The name Easter comes from the Saxon Eostre (synonymous with the Phoenician Astarte), goddess of the moon. The Chinese and other Far Eastern countries in ancient times often painted the moon with rabbits running across its face. I remember one ancient fable of the rabbit, with nothing else to offer a hungry, weary Indra, jumps into a fire, cooking himself for the deity. Out of gratitude the deity placed the rabbit in the moon.

Remember (I wrote about this in my stars column on December 11th) that the new year in ancient times began at Easter. Now you know where the Easter bunny comes in.

There is a marvelous exchange about the moon in the Solzhenitsym novel about a Russian prison camp, One Day in the Life of Inan Denisovich. A sailor asks the captain where the moon goes when it disappears.

'Where does it go? What do you mean? What stupidity!
It’s simply not visible.

Shukhow shook his head and laughed. ‘Well, if it’s not
visible, how d’you know it’s there?'

‘So according to you,’ said the captain, unable to believe his
ears, ‘it’s another moon every month.'

'What’s strange about that? People are born every day.
Why not a moon every four weeks?'

'Well, tell me. Where does it go?'

Shukhow signed and said with a slight lisp: ‘In our village
folk say God crumbles up the old moon into stars.’
' But why does God do it?’

‘Do what?’

‘Crumble the moon into stars. Why?’

‘Well, can’t you understand?’ said Shukhow. ‘The stars
fall down now and then. The gaps have to be filled.’

I guess that’s what I’m doing. Filling in the gaps until my full moon (going home) comes up again.

So, now it’s 11:00, I’ve checked the moon and stars, I’m too tired to read anymore, and it’s time to crawl into my bunk bed.

My schedule only varies on the weekend. Visiting hours are allowed Friday night and throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. Few inmates have visitors, and I try to low key the fact that I have a number of friends and family that come to see me. Three days of visits. With everything else I do, you can see why I stay so busy.

When I get home in two months, Gladys won’t know what to do with me. I’ll no doubt be up at the crack of dawn, cooking breakfast for her as well as the neighbors. Remember I’m used to cooking for one hundred. After cleaning up, I’ll be waxing and buffing the kitchen floors, then off to find something else to clean.



Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz is the prolific author of thirteen books and has argued numerous criminal appeals before the United States Supreme Court. His public profile in Louisiana was raised considerably when he took on the legal defense of former Gov. Edwin Edwards. Dershowitz recently filed Edwards’ appeal to the Supreme Court.

His book, Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bulow Case, was made into a movie. You may recall Dershowitz won a new trial and an acquittal of socialite Claus von Bulow, who was accused of killing his wife. I have studied the von Bulow case with particular interest. A major reason the conviction was thrown out was the failure of the prosecutors to produce handwritten notes of one of the investigators. Do you see why my interest was peaked?

I have read two books by Alan Dershowitz since arriving here at Oakdale. The first Just Revenge, is a gripping novel that explores how one deals with the limits of justice and the primal impulse of revenge.

A 75-year-old Harvard professor lost his entire family 55 years earlier during the Holocaust. By chance, the professor stumbles across the Lithuanian officer that ordered his family exterminated. He must get revenge. But how? Can he get vengeance now when none was obtained during the Holocaust? How far can he go?

Dershowitz raises the troubling dilemma of the limits of justice. How do you contain a deep desire for revenge in a civilized world? And how fulfilling is the revenge once obtained? (Did you see the excellent film that came out last year from Alexander Dumas’ wonderful book The Count of Monte Cristo? Edmond Dantes was imprisoned for something he didn’t do. He lived for revenge only to discover how unfulfilling it was.)

The novel is fast moving, cleverly plotted, and a real moral page-turner. It’s a book that is easy to read, and I really enjoyed it.

Let me turn to a second book by Dershowitz, filled with violence, lust, deception, murder, incest and vengeance. The author offers a thoughtful, provocative book entitled The Genesis of Justice. He argues that the elusiveness of justice and the struggle for predictable standards is the basis for the biggest bestseller of all time, the Book of Genesis.

Dershowitz takes ten stories from the first book of the Old Testament beginning with the fall of Adam and Eve, and describes how lessons from these stories led to the Ten Commandments. He starts with the premise from Ecclesiastes: “There is not a righteous person in the whole earth who does only good and never sins.” Justice is taught through examples of injustice and imperfection.

Dershowitz makes a valiant attempt to justify the story of Abraham being instructed by God to sacrifice his son Issac. You can read the troubling story in Genesis 22: 9-10.

“When they came to the place of which God had told him,
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on
it. Next he tied up his son Isaac, and put him on top of
the wood on the altar. Then he reached out and took the
knife to slaughter his son.”

I have always really had a hard time dealing with this passage in the bible. What kind of a God would ask such a thing of any father? Some would argue that God was “testing” Abraham to see if he would remain loyal and put his full faith in the Lord. But hadn’t earlier God made a covenant with Noah that killing was wrong? And why didn’t Abraham protest? When God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham argued God down at length. So what we see is Abraham arguing with God over the lives of strangers then fails to argue for the life of his own son.

Bob Dylan sums it up pretty well:

God said to Abraham, go kill me a son.
Abe said, man, you must be puttin’ me on.

Dershowitz tries his best to explain what God must have been thinking. When all is said and done, he leaves us with the thought that “Religion is not a panacea for all of life’s tragedies.” This won’t be satisfactory to many readers, but the author gives us plenty of food for thought.

The most personal chapter for me is the Joseph narrative where Joseph is framed by his brothers. I feel like Dershowitz is talking to me when he writes:

“Anyone who has been falsely accused of a crime will
appreciate the need for a system of justice in which the
accused has the right to confront the accuser on a level
playing field. “How can we clear ourselves?” The
answer is by a fair system that places a heavy burden
on the accuser and provides the accused with adequate
safeguards against the false evidence employed in the
story of Joseph.”

Dershowitz goes on to discuss the “horror of false accusation” and the fact that the bearing of false witness is made a terrible sin and is listed as one of the Ten Commandments.

“It shows us the need for a system of justice in which all
stand equally before the law and those accused of a crime
have a fair opportunity to challenge evidence against them
and to demonstrate that it was planted, false or mistaken.”

Dershowitz’s book should be required reading for the prosecutors in my case. Every basic sense of fair play as outlined in the Old Testament was ignored during my trial. I wasn’t able to confront my accuser as the Bible requires, and I was not allowed to see the evidence against me—the handwritten notes of my interview with the FBI agent—as any fair system of justice would demand.

Alan Dershowitz doesn’t have all the explanations. But he does a first rate job of making these ancient teachings extremely relevant to our lives today. His reflections on these biblical stories provide a provocative bridge between religion and the law for all faiths. My personal opinion may be slanted because of the injustice of what happened to me. But I consider The Genesis of Justice as one of the most significant books I have read over the past several years.


To live continually in thoughts of ill will, cynical
in suspicion of everyone, is to be confined in a
self-made prison hole.

James Allen
As a Man Thinketh

Peace and justice to you and your family.

Jim Brown

Contact Webmaster | Copyright 2002 | Official Web Page of James H. "Jim" Brown | All rights reserved