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Tuesday, November 12, 2002
Federal Detention Camp
Oakdale, Louisiana



Seven o’clock a.m. and the 84 inmates housed at the Oakdale Federal Detention Camp are off to work.

Every inmate is assigned a particular job if he is physically able. The various jobs are part of the overall maintenance support for the whole prison.

I am assigned to the prison camp made up of inmates who have been convicted of non-violent crimes, and who have less than eight years remaining on their sentence.

In addition to the camp, two other prisons comprise the Oakdale complex. There is a prison for foreign detainees that presently houses around 800 inmates. A second prison facility with around 1300 inmates is used for medium security prisoners.

I have no permanent job yet since I am still waiting for various test results from my physical exam. That means I fill in each day where needed. I chuckle when anyone feels I am given any special consideration at work. I have cleaned the toilets and showers, scrubbed and buffed the floors and assembled fairly heavy equipment. A few days ago, I washed the concrete slabs around the complex, much of it heavily stained with grease, with a power washer. I was wet from head to toe throughout the day. Some special consideration!

Inmates are paid an hourly wage of twelve cents. That’s right. Twelve cents. It averages less than twenty dollars a month. But remember that many of the inmates here receive no money from outside the prison. If an inmate needs a sweat suit, batteries, aspirin, fruit, snacks, vitamins, a watch, or a radio, all items like this must be purchased with one’s own funds at the camp commissary.

Many inmates have nicknames. Some are brought in from the outside. Others are acquired from within. I lift weights and work out with Bizz, Puff, and You Dig. I shoot pool with Grill, bunk right by Kinfolk, and swap stories at night with Shoestring and Pops.

Many of my newly acquired friends want to give me a nickname, too. The camp is abuzz with suggestions. The list seems to be whittling down to P.J. (Penitentiary Jim), Captain (I was a Captain in the Army National Guard), and Snake (remember Snake Plissken in the movie “Escape from New York”)? Stay tuned to future columns for an update on my new name.

As I have written before, I have set out an ambitious reading program. I receive by mail daily The New York Times, the Baton Rouge Advocate, The Times-Picayune, The Times (Shreveport), and a variety of weekly newspapers including the Concordia Sentinel (my old hometown newspaper published by Sam Hanna). Friends are sending me magazines galore including Time, Newsweek, The Atlantic Monthly, Sports Illustrated, Outdoor Life, The New Yorker, Gold Digest and a cross-section of others too numerous to mention.

I’m still Insurance Commissioner. Therefore, I receive a variety of insurance publications on state, national and international issues. With the 30 to 40 letters I generally receive each day, and the hundreds of e-mails forwarded to me, my mail stack is generally as large as the rest of the inmates’ combined.

Don’t be too overwhelmed. I skim through much of this material, and only read specific articles of interest. And remember, I do have a little bit of time on my hands and will for the next five months.

A number of your e-mails have commented on my ambitious reading plan, and have asked for suggestions. Perhaps I can start the Brown Book Club. (Maybe I should call it the P.J. or Snake Book Club).

Let me make a recommendation for those who are interested. Before leaving Baton Rouge, John Hill with Gannett News Service suggested a book by Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a New Orleans-based reporter for the New York Times. It is titled All Over But the Shoutin’, Bragg’s memoir of people and events that affected his life as he grew up in the rural south.

He poignantly portrays the dignity of the many poor people he encounters, and, with a wonderful writing style, is able to transcend the particulars of his stories. Know from the beginning that he is a die-hard Alabama football fan. But that aside, no one I’ve read captures the rhythms of small-town southern living any better.

His words will make you review your own relationship with your family, particularly your mother, and he lets you know life is still pretty good after you reach forty. Time well spent—with this moving recollection by Rick Bragg. I strongly recommend this book.


* * * * * * * *


I continue to be amazed at the strong interest in my case by so many of you. Can you believe that my website has received 426,921 hits in the past month since it’s been up?
We are beginning to post a cross-section of comments and responses by the readers of my site for your review.

Last week, I wrote of receiving correspondence from a member of the jury that convicted me. The juror told of how troubled she was, and how she hoped I would win my appeal. I’m sure she and the other jurors must feel I hold some animosity toward them. The following is the letter I wrote back to her…my letters to her and the other members of the jury…from federal prison.

TO: ____________________

My family and I really appreciate your e-mail. It was sent up here to me
at Oakdale Federal Prison.

I want you to know I have no ill feelings toward you or any member of the
jury. You were kept in the dark about so many things during the trial.

You were not able to read the notes taken by the FBI agent. If you could
have seen the notes, you would have discovered that much of what Burton
testified to at trial is nowhere in the notes.

I’m sure you will agree that the very best evidence would have been the
handwritten notes taken down by the agent when he interviewed me.
In count after count, the notes contradict what the agent said on the
witness stand. But the notes were kept from you.

I also was denied the right to put key witnesses on the stand who would have
testified about how time and time again, he makes mistakes when interviewing
people and how he conducts investigations. He was the fellow who forgot
to turn on the tape recorder as Governor Edwards was giving an envelope
to a state senator.

When the agent interviewed a key witness in the Edwards riverboat case,
eighteen major errors were made on the statement he signed. But you didn’t
know any of this. It was all kept hidden from you.

Everything I’m writing to you is discussed at length on my website.

Your message does mean a great deal to me and to my family. If you
talk to any of the other jurors, please tell them to read my website. I want
them to see how they were mislead during the trial.

Again, I want to thank you for contacting me. My six months will pass
quickly. I do miss my family terribly, but we are dealing with all this as
best we can.

I want you to have peace of mind, and find much happiness in your life.
We both have learned from this experience, and some good will certainly
come from it. I hope we have the chance to visit personally some day.

With warm regards,

Jim Brown


If the jury could have seen the handwritten notes—if the jury could have known the truth—I would not be sitting here in a federal prison today.

Peace and justice to you and your family,

Jim Brown

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