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March 19, 2003
Federal Prison Camp
Oakdale, Louisiana


I was cleaning up in the cafeteria after the noon meal this week. A new inmate was the only person still eating. When you are in charge of the eating area, there is an unwritten rule that when the lights are flashed on and off, it’s the signal that it's time for everyone to leave so that the person in charge (me) can finish cleaning up and preparing for the next meal. Being new, he didn't understand my signal. The normal procedure would be scream out a string of four letter words, turn off the lights and intimidate the inmate out the door. I just let him eat.

He waved my way and introduced himself. John from the New Orleans area. He had an insurance license, and knew the history of my unjust conviction.

"What are you here for?" I asked.

"Heroin. Possession and distribution, " he answered.

John is the first inmate I've met who was involved with heroin. Up till now, it's been marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines.

On the street, heroin might be called smack, gear, brown, horse, H, junk, scag, jack or boy, John calls it "boy". It's made from morphine, which is an active chemical in opium, and referred to as opiate. Addicts take heroin by eating it, snorting it, by "skin popping" (injecting it under the skin), by "muscling" (injecting it into a muscle), or by "mainlining" (injecting it into a vein).

John tells me that in 1981, he was involved in an elevator accident where he smashed his pelvis. His doctor prescribed percodan for the pain. It is heavy with codeine. John says it wasn't long before he went from pain relief to "feel good," and was taking ten to twelve percodans a day. It became a recreational drug for him. But he got off it in 1986 and went "cold turkey" for two years. Then he had a knee replacement.

He was prescribed vicodin (similar to percodan). But the euphoria of the drug came back. "I just felt so good taking it," he told me.

"I started out taking three or four a day for the pain. But to keep the same feeling, I went up to twenty a day. It was costing me three to five dollars a pill on the street," he told me.

I asked: "What do you mean, on the street? How did you get all the extra drugs?"

"It's actually pretty easy," he said. "You 'make a doctor'. Call five or six doctors to make appointments. Go to them all giving the same symptoms of pain. It's not hard to get a number of the same prescription. Or you can ask around for a 'source' to do the same thing for you, then you get it from the 'source'. You also ask the doctor for a muscle relaxer like Soma. You can get a high off of them. Two to three dollars a piece on the street," he explained.

"You try not to get hooked, but once you start, the chase begins. I sued to spend the whole day looking for pills. One day, I couldn't find any, but a fellow I knew suggested I try 'boy'. Heroin. He had it in powder form and told me one sniff would last 8-10 hours. At ten dollars a 'hit', one time would do what it would take ten vicodin to do. I was saving money. But my tolerance built up, and I kept needing more and more to get the same 'high'. I went up to six or eight bags of 'boy' a day and was spending $150.00 daily. 'Boy' was much more addictive than the pills.

According to John, he "snorted" heroin, but it took 15 to 20 minutes to kick in and he would generally waste 30% on the drug in the process. "Shooting it directly into your veins gives you a warm, high sensation within 30 seconds. All over your body."

John was on heroin for three years before being caught. He says he didn't actually sell it, but would often tell someone how to get it and ask that he be given a few himself. He was caught in December of 2001 when a friend who had been arrested for drugs turned him in to a federal DEA agent.

He was lucky in that the amount of heroin involved when he was arrested was only six grams. (enough for around 80 snorts). He was sentenced to eight months here at Oakdale.

John is not the typical drug dealer. He is extremely candid about what he did and how it happened. In his case, the motive wasn't money, as is the case of the majority of those here because of drug related crimes. He represents a lesson to be learned about how easy it is to get hooked while using legal drugs prescribed by a doctor. And this is a lesson not just for our kids. It should hit home to a number of our friends who always seem to be taking and sharing valium, xanax, ripinol and a host more. Without meaning to, it's easy to get hooked.

* * * * * * *

The mailroom censors here at the prison really struck a low blow this week. All mail is opened and prisoners do not receive what is deemed to be objectionable material. I was notified by an official form (see at the end of the column) that listed a number of objectionable items. Specifically listed as items not permitted include body hair, plant shavings, electronic musical greeting cards and sexually explicit personal photos.

What was my objectionable item? Read for yourself. A Krispy Kreme Donut Hat. That's right. Krispy Kreme hats have been labeled, I can only assume, as morally objectionable and pose some sort of danger. Maybe the temptation of one day eating a really good donut in the outside world might incite the inmates to riot and even try to escape. I'm not sure what the thinking was of the higher-ups here. But it's final. There's no appeal. I won't be getting my Krispy Kreme Donut Hat. But it will be waiting for me when I get out of here in three weeks.

* * * * * * *

Did you read the story that appeared in newspapers all over the country last week about the Oakland, California city official convicted in federal court for growing marijuana? If he was breaking the law, so what? That's what the jury thought when they convicted him. But there was a lot more to the story.

Ed Rosenthal was an Oakland city employee paid to oversee the cultivation of starter marijuana plants in an Oakland warehouse, and was licensed to do so by the State of California. Nine states allow marijuana to be grown for medical purposes under a doctor's prescription for seriously ill patients.

Unbelievably, the federal judge in the case had barred Rosenthal's defense from telling the jury he was legally licensed. Five jurors called a press conference after they found out the whole truth, publicly apologized and demanded that the judge give him a new trial. The jurors issued a statement that said:

"In good faith, we as jury members allowed
ourselves to be blindfolded to weigh the evidence
before us. But in this trial, the prosecution was
allowed to put all of the evidence and testimony on
one of the scales, while the defense was not allowed
to put its evidence and testimony on the other scale.
Therefore, we were not allowed as a jury to properly
weigh the case."

Rosenthal faces up to five years in jail. His lawyers are asking for a new trial. He is fortunate not to have been tried here in the Fifth Circuit where he would receive little consideration.

Doesn't this whole scenario sound familiar? A judge keeping vital information from the jury that would have found the accused innocent? A juror coming forward saying to the press that the conviction was a mistake and that the accused should not be in jail.

Good luck Mr. Rosenthal. I know exactly what you are going through.

* * * * * * *


I have never particularly enjoyed political biography. Being a part of political life for more than 30 years, I have generally picked literature as a diversion from my chosen profession. But a friend and neighbor, Scott Crawford, has urged me to make an exception and read Rober Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, Master of the Senate.

The United States Senate is a far cry today from the body that LBJ led in the 1950s. In these troubling times we currently face in our country, it seems that the Senate does little more than rubber stamp or oppose policies proposed by the Executive Branch. Not so 50 years ago when, as Caro describes, LBJ ran the Senate with an iron hand.

Master of the Senate is the 3rd of a proposed 4 volume series on the life of LBJ. Caro makes it clear that the Senate was Johnson's favorite time in political life. I had the good fortune of having dinner and sitting next to Lady Bird Johnson in the mid 1970s one summer evening in Natchez, Mississippi. She told me that Johnson's 12 years in the Senate were certainly his happiest.

Caro does a first rate job in describing how Johnson negotiated among the Senate factions; the Republicans, Southern Democrats, and liberal Northern Democrats. He was the youngest elected majority leader, and was the driving force in passing the 1957 Civil Rights Act.

Johnson is portrayed by Caro as relentless in working an issue to hammer out a compromise. He quotes Georgia Senator Herman Talmadge as saying: "He would tell us (segregationists) I'm one of you but I can help you more if I don't meet with you." But at the same time, he was quietly cultivating NAACP leaders.

Rober Caro is a great storyteller who fills his work with rich detail in his examination of political power in a compelling and vivid way. It's a long book, some 1000 pages. But if you have an interest in following the Byzantine struggles for power during an important time in our history, you will enjoy reading the years of Lyndon Johnson when he was Master of the Senate.

* * * * * * *

"Always love your enemies--
nothing annoys them so much."                ***

-Oscar Wilde-

Peace and justice to you and your family.

Jim Brown

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