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March 12, 2003
Federal Prison Camp
Oakdale, Louisiana


SUNDAY 5:00 a.m.

I'm wide awake and can't go back to sleep. Only a small emergency light illuminates. Inmates around me sleep late on weekends so it will be several hours until the normal lights come on. It would be best to go back to sleep, but I can't.

I feel into my locker and find my reading lamp. The small light gets me to the bathroom facilities where I shower in the dark, and am able to shave without nicking myself. All the inmates shave daily and groom themselves. This is one small way you can cling to your dignity.

I dress in my regulation green prison uniform. On weekends, most inmates wear a sweat suit, unless you have visitors. I will have several people coming to see me today, so I go ahead and dress for the occasion.

I make my way to the kitchen. The food supervisor, Mrs. Hatsfield, is preparing the morning brunch with the help of one other inmate who is up, Toney the morning cook. Sunday is my day off, but I pitch in and help Tony cut up potatoes, and thaw packs of sausages. Fried eggs, fried potatoes, grilled sausages, and toast is on the menu for brunch. Popular with the inmates but not for me. I've lost 20 pounds and my body fat is down to 13. When I was working out regularly at home, the lowest body fat level I ever obtained was 17. I'm hoping to be at 11 by the time I leave here in four weeks.

After lending a hand, I take some raw eggs and separate the whites. I mix the whites with orange juice and ice, and vigorously shake. Who wants the taste of raw egg whites? I drink it in one, big chug. Some raw oats with hot water added and wheat toast completes my gourmet breakfast.

The empty dining room, with fluorescent lighting, is a good and quiet place to read since the rest of the building is still dark. I catch up on back copies of the New York Times.

7:00 a.m.

Still not much activity around the Camp. Several Cos (guards who are called correctional officers) stop by for coffee on their way to duties in other areas of the main prison. One is dressed in a grey coat and black tie, derigueur when working the reception area at the main prison office.

"I wish I were able to wear a tie," I tell him. "Not that I would wear one, but I would ike to have the choice and be out of here."

"It's a clip-on," he says.

"A clip-on?" I say in jest.

"It's a requirement. No one wants to get strangled with his own tie."

I never thought of that.

Another guard asks for an autograph. "It's for my daughter. She's doing a paper on you at school. Could you add a note?" I'm glad to comply.

10:00 a.m.

A church service in the multipurpose room. A poker game took place here the night before. There is an occasional Catholic service on Saturday evening. Actually, the last one I can recall was Christmas Eve. A priest from India drove down from Alexandria to perform the service. I'm not Catholic, but there is something uplifting about the ritual of the mass. For some reason, I feel a flow and a rhythm that takes me back home. The priest brings regards from Camille Gravel, a long time friend and an attorney in my case.

Today's service is performed by the pastor and deacons from the Glenmora Baptist Church, located just a few miles from the prison. Scripture is read from the 1st Book of Maccabees in the Old Testament. I've never read the 1st or 2nd Book of Maccabees, but I try to follow along.

Some ten inmates attend the service. Most of the inmates bow there heads and pray before every meal. Part of their upbringing. But few attend church services.

There are no Jewish services because we have no Jews here. In fact, few Jews are ever sent to prison. Why is that? Is it the influence of strong family tradition and a "sense of Community?" I don't know. I just rarely hear of Jewish convicts.

10:00 a.m.

COOOUUUNNNTTTT TIIIIIMMMMEEEEE (Count Time). The call blares out down the hallway. 10:00 standup count. Every inmate up against the wall with no movement. A check to be sure no one has escaped. No one ever does. It's the regulations. Every federal prison has a 10:00 a.m. weekend count. (11:45 on weekdays.) It's the most degrading thing I'm required to do.

11:00 a.m.

The voice comes across the loud speaker. "Jim Brown to the visiting room." My son James must be early. He's coming by himself today. Gladys will ride in a Mardi Gras parade tonight so she won't be here. She spent the afternoon with me yesterday with long time friend Rannah Gray from Baton Rouge.

I wish there was a way to send for me and not announce to the Camp that I have visitors. Friends are here each Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Most inmates get no visitors. I know it's lonely for them, and I don't like to increase their sadness by announcements that I have a continuing stream of visitors.

Surprisingly, my first visitor is Dr. Carl Luikart from Baton Rouge. Carl is a good friend and one of the country's premier heart doctors. His partner, Dr. Joe Deumite, is originally from Oakdale, and flew up to visit his mother. Carl came along to pay me a visit, his 5th since I have been here.

We talk of home-town gossip, our children, our exercise routines, and other items of mutual interest. He has endless questions about prison life. Like so many on the outside, Carl has images from the movies; Con-Air and Alcatraz. I'm more interested in the good meals he has been having and at what restaurants.

James arrives at noon, right on schedule, as Carl heads back home. Earlier in the day, one of the inmates asks me if my son will be up to visit today. He tells me: "I've been hear for six years. Lots of young folks come with other family members to visit. But I've never seen a son come week after week by himself like your son does. You are really lucky, Mr. Brown." He's right. I have a special son who hasn't missed a week of being here for me.

James brings me up to date on his new condo at LSU, and his school challenges. He may make a talk in speech class on what I've learned about the drug world up here. Economics is hard. I suggest he get a tutor. He volunteers to check on new cars for me for when I get out as well as a new portable phone. When it's time to leave at 3:00 p.m., we still have much to talk about. He asks if it's okay to come up Friday night, so he can join friends for the weekend in New Orleans. Of course. I'm a "really lucky" father.

After visitors leave, inmates are searched before being allowed to go back inside the Camp main building. We are also searched coming out to meet a visitor. I ask: "What on earth would I want to smuggle out of here?" The answer is honest. "Who knows. It's the regulations."

3:15 p.m.

Suppertime. I decide to pass on the beet fried steak, white rice and canned broccoli. I opt for the salad bar and add my own can of tuna fish purchased at the Commissary. (97¢ a can) Wheat toast and cottage cheese will do. Perhaps peanut butter and crackers later tonight.

5:00 p.m.

Cardio workout. I'm on the treadmill for 45 minutes, then on to the stationary bike for 30 minutes as I watch the evening news. My knees are hurting, so I may have to ease off the bike. I'll see how I feel tomorrow.

7:00 p.m.

I'm a little depressed. Sundays at home are often the most enjoyable days of the week. Visits with my children or long talks on the phone. My phone minutes here are few. Little time for any meaningful or quality conversation. My children are busy with their lives, Gladys is riding in a downtown Baton rouge parade. And I'm sitting here in jail.

I go through much unread mail that has piled up since Friday. Each letter and package I receive is opened by prison officials to search for contraband…drugs, tobacco or pornographic materials. They are then stapled closed. This means I have to find some sharp-edged tool to pry the letters back open without tearing them. But no sharp-edged tools are allowed in prison. I break a lot of fingernails.

I'm too tired to answer any of the mail I read. But my spirits are lifted by so many comments of how wrong it is for me to be here, and how unjust this whole episode has been for me.

10:30 p.m.

I try to fall asleep in my thin, hard prison bed. A new inmate, Harvey from outside Baton Rouge, snores loudly close by. I slowly fall asleep. Four weeks to go. Four weeks to go.

* * * * * * *


Dee Brown died a few months ago at 94 in Little Rock, Arkansas. His book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, changed the way we look at the original inhabitants of our country.

Most of us grew up watching movies and reading books about our Cowboy and Indian culture of the American West. Our ancestors bravely fought the "red savages" who were led by the likes of Crazy Horse, Geronimo and Sitting Bull. And, of course, we were the good guys. After all, history is written by the victors.

Brown's acclaimed book tells a chilling narrative of the systematic destruction of the American Indian during the second half of the nineteenth century. His story shows us how the so-called Indian Wars were really real estate transactions and conquests. This property is condemned for better use. Didn't Bertolt Brecht say that "whom we would destroy we first call savage?"

Brown describes how time and time again, Indian tribes were herded off their ancestral lands and pushed until the ruthlessness and greed of new waves of American settlers uprooted them. If they resisted, they were starved and killed.

We are able to read the Indian view through Brown's first-hand descriptions of council records, numerous interviews and autobiographies. In other words, for the first time we can read a comprehensive Indian perspective.

Our friend Linda Davies, who has coffee with my wife, Gladys, every day, sends me a weekly post card with a different chieftain or tribal leader on the front. There is a description of how the individual spent a lifetime of attention to both the natural and spiritual world in order to survive. I also gained some insight into the multicultural Indian world back in the 1970s when, as a state senator, I authored legislation that created the Louisiana Commission on Indian Affairs.

At one time, there were over 500 various Indian tribes throughout the United States. Yet the Indian population over the past 500 years have been reduced from a possible ten million down to less than three hundred thousand today.

There is a Choctaw tribe located in my old senatorial district in LaSalle Parish. The Choctaws believe that the dead wish to be relieved from our sorrow so that they can freely enter the next life. So much to learn from a special people that we, as a nation, have lumped together and cast aside.

A thought. Are we making the same mistake today in the Middle East that we made a century ago with the American Indians? Are we lumping all the Islamic nations into one giant Mix-master that blends even more hatred towards our country?

Dee Brown is a native Louisianan, but his love was for the West and his feelings were for the mistreatment of the Indian. In an interview before he died, Brown said: "What surprised me most was how much the Indians believed the white man over and over again. Their trust in authority was amazing. They just never seemed to believe that the government could like."

Hmmmm. I wish Dee Brown were still living to read over my website. The American Indian wasn't alone in being duped by the government.

Dee Brown's classic is a heartbreaking saga that certainly has changed our vision of how the West really was won. His book has sold over five million copies and has been translated into 15 different languages. An essential book for any balanced home library.

* * * * * * *


The richest spiritual experiences I have
Ever known have not been in vaulted cathedrals
Surrounded by stained-glass windows, but in the
Lowest prison cells.

Charles Colson

Peace and Justice to you and your family,

Jim Brown

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