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February 26, 2003
Federal Prison Camp
Oakdale, Louisiana


I recently wrote about three inmates caught with alcohol. We are randomly stopped around the camp and required to blow into a Breathalyzer to be sure there is no alcohol in our system.

The question then is raised, how do you get alcohol in prison? Simple. Inmates make it. That's right. Homebrew. It's made in prisons all over the country. In some places it's called "hooch" and in others it's "juice" or "pruno". Generally it's a fortified wine made with a hodgepodge of ingredients that inmates can slip out of the dining hall. Items that work, include milk or anything that contains sugar, raisins, prunes (as in pruno) and anything else that can be fermented.

There, of course, is no tolerance for pruno hear at Oakdale. If an inmate is caught with alcohol in his possession or in his system, he is immediately removed from the camp and taken behind the wall to be thrown in the "hole". Solitary confinement. And this is a place no inmate wants to go. You are alone in a small cell with no contact around any other inmates. Meals are slipped through a slot in the door. You are handcuffed and led to the shower, which can be taken for a few minutes twice a week. Exercise is allowed for an hour a day where you are can walk around the prison yard. Again, only several times a week. Eventually an inmate in the hole for alcohol use will be transferred out of state to a different prison.

Oh, don't worry about me. With one and a half months to go until I'm released, there is not a chance I will be making up any homebrew. But, if you want to try it yourself, here's a popular prison recipe.

Take orange peels, fruit cocktail and water and heat it for fifteen minutes in your sink with hot water. Keep mixture warm with towels for fermentation. Leave hidden and undisturbed for two days. Add sugar cubes and six teaspoons of ketchup. Heat for thirty minutes. Wrap and leave undisturbed for three more days. Reheat daily for fifteen minutes for three more days. Skim and serve.

I'll be anxious to know the response from your guests.

* * * * * * *

Inmates are beginning to ask me how many days I have left before going home. They know I'm a short timer and my days of being in the Camp are dwindling down. 44 days to go. But I really don't keep a close check. Many inmates keep a calendar in their locker and mark though as each day passes.

Actually, I would rather lose track for a few days and let them slip away. I think when my number drops below 20 that I will be a close counter, and perhaps start marking off my calendar. If I stay busy, which I do, the time will take care of itself. I know it's hard to believe, but there are some days that I wish would not end. I still have so much to do. Writing a weekly column, finishing my book, beginning a second book about life here in prison, handling and trying to answer the hundreds of letters that come in each week, a job to do, some cooking on the side, exercising, and reading…the days go by surprisingly fast.

The telephone restrictions are a huge handicap. 300 minutes a month. Nine minutes a day. I have decisions to make concerning my appeal, a family with four children to call, and other basic calls to keep my world afloat. Phones are always available, so there is no reason to put on limits except to heighten the punishment here.

With no computer access, the law library is of little value. So I am prohibited from helping in my own defense. I feel sorry for inmates with much longer sentences who are continuing to appeal their case while trying to stay in touch with family members. At least for me, only 44 days remain.

* * * * * * *

There is an educational outreach program here at the prison camp. Certain inmates are allowed to go into surrounding high schools and talk to students about the consequences of crime. Usually, the inmates convicted of drug violations are picked to participate. It's a good program that should be used more extensively in schools throughout the country.

I inquired about my participation. After all, I am certainly the most well known inmate incarcerated anywhere in Louisiana. I have made thousands of speeches in my 30 years in public life. It would seem I would be a natural.

"What would you say to the students?" I was asked.

"Just the simple truth," I replied. "I will tell them to study current events, and pay close attention to those in public office. Register and vote when they are 18, and particularly keep an eye on those officials in law enforcement."

"I would tell them at length how I was violated by the criminal justice system, and I would tell them I'm in prison for all the wrong reasons. That I love my country, but fear my government."

The supervisor rolled his eyes. "There's not much of a chance you will be doing any outside speaking while you're here."

Did I really think otherwise?

* * * * * * *

There have been numerous recent news articles of controversy over insurance claims due holocaust survivors. One of my great disappointments of not being able to continue my work as Insurance Commissioner is that I have not been able to serve on the International Holocaust Commission. The commission was an outgrowth from discussions with several other Commissioners over the failure of certain European insurance companies to pay insurance claims of numerous holocaust survivors throughout the United States.

Before coming to prison, I spoke at length with one of the key Jewish participants in our efforts, who was also a holocaust survivor. He called me to offer his support. In the conversation, I asked him a question.

"Tell me your reaction to the following events. An official was indicted and charged with 56 crimes just weeks before his re-election. On the same day the charges were filed, a judge gagged him so that he could not defend himself. The trial was shrouded in secrecy. Most of the documents filed were hidden from public view. The jury was anonymous. When the jury was selected, all spectators and the press were ordered to leave the courtroom. The key evidence that would have cleared his name was not allowed to be seen by the jury. It should be no surprise that under such intolerable conditions, he was convicted. What does this remind you of?"

He replied: "Why of course. That's typically how it happened. That was the normal procedure carried out by the Nazis in the 1930s and early 1940s. That's how they did it. Where state in Nazi Germany did this farce of a trial take place?"

I paused and shook my head. "It wasn't Nazi Germany my friend. It was Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the year 2000."

There was a long silence on his end of the phone. "I'm shocked. This cannot be so. Not today. Not in America."

As we said our goodbyes, he reminded me of the words of German Christian scholar Pastor Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

* * * * * * *


I have always wanted to go to the top of the world - Mt. Everest. I knew I would never be able to climb to the summit, but just the thrill of getting close. Perhaps trekking from Katmandu up to the base camp where the climb begins. My son and I are talking about just such a future trip.

The closest I have come so far is to read Jon Krakauer's extraordinary true story, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster. It's a riveting description of how eight people died including celebrated Everest guide Rob Hall.

I learned of Krakauer through his outdoor adventure articles in Outside magazine. And I had read his earlier book, Into the Wild, a strange and true story of a young Georgia man who becomes trapped and dies in the Alaska tundra.

Krakauer was commissioned by Outside magazine to join an Everest climb, and report on the commercialization of ascents and the dangers of less qualified climbers on the mountain. He got more than he bargained for. A freak blizzard caught numerous climbers near the top that led to disaster and death.

A little mountaineering skill and $65,000 will get you to the top. That, according to Krakauer, was how several of the expeditions were sold. Mountain guides trying to lead unqualified climbers to the top of Everest, then urging them to flee the coming storm led them all to tragedy at the roof of the world.

As you read the book, you are right there at 29,000 feet (the cruising altitude of an Airbus jetliner), and read of climbers leaving dying friends. I remember hearing the tapes of Rob Hall, lying in a snow bank and dying, making a final call on his satellite phone to tell his wife goodbye.

One of the survivors of the climb was Dr. Beck Weathers from Dallas. I heard him speak in New Orleans and describe how he was left for dead and spent the night blindly staggering around, out of oxygen, and exposed to the horrendous wind-chill conditions. He lost some fingers, toes and his nose, but was still able to crawl into the camp the next day.

Krakauer's book is the best adventure survival story I've ever read. If you have any interest in Mt. Everest or mountain climbing, this is a good suggested read.

* * * * * * *

Trials, temptations, disappointments-all these
Are helps instead of hindrances, if one uses
Them rightly. They not only test the fiber of
Character but strengthen it…Every trial endured
And weathered in the right spirit makes a soul
Nobler and stronger than it was before.

James Buckham

Peace and justice to you and your family.

Jim Brown

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