DAY ONE HUNDRED FOURTY-NINE
Federal Prison Camp
NOTES FROM FEDERAL PRISON
SUNDAY 5:00 a.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
a clip-on," he says.
clip-on?" I say in jest.
a requirement. No one wants to get strangled with his own tie."
never thought of that.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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."
I wish Dee Brown were still living to read over my website.
The American Indian wasn't alone in being duped by the government.
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.
* * * * * * *
richest spiritual experiences I have
Ever known have not been in vaulted cathedrals
Surrounded by stained-glass windows, but in the
Lowest prison cells.
and Justice to you and your family,