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February 5, 2003
Federal Prison Camp
Oakdale, Louisiana


Almost four months have passed since I arrived here at Oakdale. Someone asked recently what I miss about not being free. I decided to make a list.

I obviously miss family and friends. I had a good life at home in Baton Rouge surrounded by those I love. The fellowship of “hanging out” with friends for good meals, movies, ballgames, morning coffee and the numerous gatherings we generally take for granted. Gladys, James, and other family members and friends are here to visit regularly, but it’s not the same.

I miss being on the golf course with my son, James. The golf itself is secondary, as I’m not much of a golfer. It’s several hours puttering around the course in a golf cart where we can talk about whatever comes to mind. I wish my daughters were not so spread out and I could share the same time with them.

I miss sitting on the beach at Perdido Key-Gulf Shores. I’ve spent a fair amount of time there each summer for most of my life. I have often taken a book and sat on the beach—well after dark, until the sunset is just a memory over Mobile.

I miss my favorite radio show that comes on every Saturday night at 5:00, “The Prairie Home Companion.” If you don’t listen to it, you are really missing a gem. Host Garrison Keillor sings folk tunes and spins yarns of country life in his home state of Minnesota. The small radio I purchased here doesn’t pick up many radio stations. About all I can do is think what I’m missing each Saturday evening. Keillor always starts the show with his standard song, Hello Love. It’s a great old country song originally recorded by Hank Snow.

Well, look who’s coming through the door
I think we’ve met somewhere before
Hello Love! Hello Love!
It’s Saturday, the band is playing,
Honey could we ask for more.

And you know what I really miss? Krispy Kreme doughnuts. That’s right! Those hot, out of the oven different flavors that almost melt in your mouth. And let me tell you this. I know a lot about Krispy Kremes. Like the fact that an anonymous New Orleans Frenchman sold his secret yeast-raised doughnut recipe to Ishmael Armstrong of Paducah, Kentucky, and the first Krispy Kreme retail store was opened in July of 1937 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

And the choices. There are so many to choose from. Of course original glazed, then chocolate iced, custard filled, raspberry filled, lemon filled, maple glazed, sugar coated, cinnamon bun, cinnamon twist, powered blueberry, glazed cream filled, strawberry filled, cake, powered cake glazed devil’s food, glazed blueberry, glazed sour cream, glazed cruller, chocolate iced cake, and cinnamon apple filled. Have I worn you out? Don’t tell me I don’t know anything about Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

The real treat is to go to a Krispy Kreme shop that makes the doughnuts on site. I’ve been to one such shop, and it was a special treat. Gladys and I were on our way last year to the S.E.C. football championship in Atlanta to watch LSU beat Tennessee. We were on the I-459 bypass around Birmingham about midnight, and turned off Exit 13 at Hoover, Alabama to get gas and take a short break. There it was. The largest doughnut shop I had ever seen. We stayed for 45 minutes watching the doughnuts come out of the various ovens and down conveyor belts to the display racks. After eating a number of flavors, we took a dozen assorted with us, and I even bought a Krispy Kreme T-shirt.

Rick Bragg once wrote that trying to explain how good Krispy Kremes are to someone who has never had one is like telling a celibate priest about young love. He sure knew what he was talking about.

Now, what I do not miss. Easy. Information overload. In public life, I constantly consumed information. Ten daily newspapers, various newsletters, journals, specialty magazines, talk radio, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News. I was simply surrounded by news of current events throughout the day.

That’s changed dramatically. By mail, I receive several daily newspapers that generally arrive a week late. If I’m lucky, I can find a free TV in the recreation area to watch the NBC nightly news. But that’s about it. And you know what? I don’t really miss the way it used to be.

Texas singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker sums it up pretty well.

And I just don’t think there’s any need to be right
abreast of everything. We’re at the funeral of Sen.
Wellstone. We’re snooping everywhere. Somebody
said information is not knowledge, it’s just

Hume philosophized that knowledge is only ignorance postponed. Kant concluded that the only two things worth studying were the starry heavens above and the moral law within. Maybe it doesn't matter who gets it right, but who gets it true. All I know is that I’m doing okay with a lot less information.

In reading the newspapers, I generally look at only four sections. Oh, I do glance at the front page briefly. But then I turn to the obituaries. I want to know if old friends have passed away. Then to the sports page, for updates on LSU, and the New Orleans Hornets.

Do you read the comics? I never did in the past, but I always do now. Doonesbury, B.C., Dilbert, Zits (a perfect profile of my son), The Wizard of Id. Did you read Hagar the Horrible last Sunday? It’s 1000 B.C. and Hagar is dressed for battle in his armor, and interviewing potential soldiers.

"Good Morning Men! Welcome to today’s interview.
First, I’d like to list the qualifications I’m looking for.
I want to hire a special type person for battle today…
I want someone who never gives up!
Someone tough as nails! Someone sure of himself!
Someone who keeps smiling…No matter what!
Someone who’s pushy..And won’t take no for an answer!
In other words…I want a former insurance agent!"

Great stuff! You are missing a lot if you pass up the comics.

Then on to the want ads. I’ll be out of here soon, and am already shopping for bargains and doing some price comparisons. I’ll need a new car. There are so many new choices on the market. I’m thinking about a new dog, probably a golden lab to keep our present dog, Shorty, company. For the right price, a used bass fishing boat. I used to own a sailboat, and we are talking about possibly getting one again. I’d like to keep it on the Northshore, perhaps in Mandeville. The want ads are the doorway to new hobbies and new experiences in the years to come.

And that’s about all I read in the papers. I’m spending the time with new books that wet my interest or classics I should have read years ago.

So that’s what I miss and don’t miss. I’ll give you a new list and a new perspective in six months.

* * * * * * * * * *

I have put a new top ten list together. It’s ten ways one can tell if you just got out of prison. My family and friends can keep an eye out for these signs when I get home in two months. You know someone just got out of prison:

1. If they cut their food with a plastic spoon. (No knives in prison.)

2. If they roll, instead of fold, their underwear. (To save space.)

3. If they can cook a gourmet meal out of junk food. (You can take several
irons, turn them upside down, and steam vegetables.)

4. They buy new pants, but with buttons up the front and not a zipper.

5. If every third word in their speech is an obscenity.

6. If at 4:00 p.m., they automatically get up and stand with their back
against the wall. (This is mandatory in every federal prison in

7. If the only way they can wake up in the morning is by the blare of a
public address announcement.

8. If they have learned never to ask, “Where did you get that?”

9. If they know more about drugs and drug deals than they did six
months ago.

10. If a majority of their recent friends have tattoos or razor wire.

So watch me close in two more months. And maybe I should send my list to David Letterman.

* * * * * * * * * *


There are certain books we are supposed to read during our years in school. The Grapes of Wrath is one such book. I can’t remember reading it. I either did not or it’s a sign of memory loss at 62. I enjoy seeing the movie every few years where Henry Fonda plays the lead.

I had remembered a lot about the book. Like the fact that John Steinbeck picked the title from Julia Ward Howe’s Battle Hymn of the Republic. He wanted to write a quintessentially American book in the 20th century in the way that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn humanized America’s downtrodden 19th century.

Steinbeck’s novel, that won the Pulitzer Prize, traces the migration of an Oklahoma Dust bowl family to California during the Great Depression. They join some 300,000 other destitute workers during the 1930’s who pour into California hoping to find the promised land. Instead, they find squalor, hunger, and humiliation.

The book is a marvelous story of survival, and the attempt to maintain family decency in the process. When the myth of California as the promised land unravels, Ma tells son Tom:

You got to have patience. Why Tom—us people
will go on living when all them people is gone.
Why Tom, we’re the people that live. They ain’t
gonna wipe us out. Why, we’re the people—we
go on.

Steinbeck also makes numerous references to Tom’s unjust criminal conviction, and the time he spent in jail. Would it surprise you that these sections particularly perked up my interest?

Ever’body knowed it was no fault of yours…

Got no right to put ‘im in jail. Sons-a-bitches got
no right.

I ain’t got a hell of a lot of respec’ for ‘em now.

The thing that give me the mos’ trouble was, it didn’t
make no sense. You don’t look for sense when lightin’
kills a cow, or it comes up a flood. That’s jus’ the way
things is. But when a bunch of men take an lock you
Up, it ought to have some meaning. That sort of
senselessness kind a worries a man.

The anger, the disgust, the bitterness, and the frustration Steinbeck describes over Tom’s unjust conviction really hit home to me, for obvious reasons, as I read the book last week.

I was also in agreement with Tom Joad concerning his feelings about prison life.

‘It ain’t so bad,’ said Tom. ‘Like ever’place else.
They give ya hell if ya raise hell. You get along
O.K. les’ some guard gets it in for ya. Then you
catch plenty hell. I got along O.K. Minded my
own business, like any guy would. I learned to
write nice as hell.’

I hope that you, my reader, think that if nothing else while I’m here, I’m learning “to write nice as hell.”

John Steinbeck went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. The Grapes of Wrath is one of the really fine and truly American books of the 20th century.

* * * * * * * * * *

The worst prison would be a closed heart.

Pope John Paul II

Peace and justice to you and your family.

Jim Brown

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