It has been two weeks since I arrived at the Oakdale Federal
Prison Camp. You are reading the words of Inmate No. 03312-095.
I am now a part of the huge disposable population of well
over two million people (and growing) whose welfare is largely
regarded as irrelevant to the general population. I’m
an exception due to my high profile. The average prisoner
disappears in the morass of the prison bureaucracy.
I didn’t slip into the prison camp building unnoticed.
All the 82 inmates in my building were well aware of my pending
arrival, and most had followed my case through the television
or various state newspapers. The inmate population is primarily
from Louisiana, so most of the state’s daily papers
are sent in my mail and shared among the inmates.
An announcement had even been made that numerous members of
the press had surrounded the camp entrance, and that no inmate
was to leave the compound until after my arrival. So much
for quiet anonymity.
The inmates without exception have been extremely friendly.
I “worked the room” the first day I was here,
shaking hands and visiting with just about every inmate. A
you vote for me?”
mama did. She says you really got a bum rap.”
I ask everyone to call me Jim. Nobody does. To the guards,
it’s about half and half. I’m either Brown or
Mr. Brown. To the inmates it varies. I’m Mr. Brown to
a lot of the younger prisoners. But to others I’m J.B.,
Jeemmm Brown, Big Jim, Big Bad Jim, or the Commish. One of
the letters sent to me was addressed to The Honorable Jim
Brown. Several of the fellows who bunk near me call me “The
Honorable,” then burst out laughing. But it’s
nice to know that the views expressed in newspaper columns
and editorials throughout the state, and the feelings of thousands
of ordinary people who have contacted me are understood and
acknowledged by my fellow inmates.
Special treatment you may ask? It depends on how you define
it. Since I’m still being processed in and orientated,
I haven’t been assigned a regular job. Therefore, I’m
the first person called for general clean-up duty, washing
down scuff marks on concrete walls, sweeping cobwebs on a
tall ladder from corners throughout the camp building, and
buffing linoleum floors. Some special treatment!
We are housed in a building a little larger than a basketball
court. Here I sleep, eat and make use of a small library and
several recreational and television rooms.
I can view four television sets in our building. One stays
on the Spanish channel, one shows rap music videos, and two
others stay on the sports channels. Not much of a chance to
view the History Channel or Booknotes.
There is a covered outdoor workout facility with a bare selection
of weights and exercise equipment. The use of weights by federal
inmates was recently banned by the Bureau of Prisons, but
the Oakdale equipment is grandfathered in. Once it rusts or
breaks down, it cannot be replaced. This is a mistake. The
workouts with weights are a wholesome way for inmates to let
off steam and frustrations. I workout here every day, rain
I wear green workclothes on work detail during the day as
well as when I have visitors. At other times, a sweatsuit
and general workout clothes.
Eighty-two inmates are in the camp living dormitory style.
No privacy of any kind, but I never had must around my house
anyway (with twins, friends, and kids coming in at all hours
of the day and night).
The food is—well—not bad. Not very spicy, but
remember, we’re in central Louisiana.
A salad bar at lunch and dinner, with as much baked food as
fried. If the meal is not to my liking, I’ll bring along
a can of tuna I bought earlier at the commissary and mix it
with a salad. No Lebanese food, pasta, or crème brulee.
All to look forward to in five and one half months (168 days).
Visiting days are Friday (5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.), Saturday
and Sunday (8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) as well as all federal
holidays. Gladys and Gloria were here this past Friday, spent
the night, and were back on Saturday. Gladys and my son James
drove up for the day on Sunday.
James has been in the center of much press coverage in recent
weeks. He has handled it well, and I’m really a proud
father. I’m blessed that my family has rallied around
me during this crisis.
Do I get lonely? With everything being so new, I am still
getting “broken in,” and I haven’t had the
time to let the melancholy slip in. But there are times.
After Gladys and James left last Sunday, I was up late reading.
And I had trouble falling asleep. I got back up, found a corner
of the recreation room that was fairly well-lighted. I read
and dozed, then read and dozed some more.
My mind wandered and I found myself thinking about the outside
and missing my family. Giving up my freedom in such an unfair
way is such a terrible price to pay.
I started humming to myself….just humming. An old Hank
Williams tune came to my mind.
I’ve never seen a night so long,
When time goes crawling by,
The moon just went behind the clouds,
And I’m so lonesome I could cry.
Peace and justice be with you.
Until next week,