NOTES FROM PRISON
New inmates arrived at the prison today, mostly from the Baton
Rouge and New Orleans areas. There are some twenty-five available
beds here now. So I assume more inmates will be arriving in
the weeks to come.
present inmate population is about 85% black, 5% Hispanic,
and 10% white. At least 85% of the inmates here are serving
time for drug-related offenses. They (we) are all first offenders
and the alleged crimes committed were all non-violent. (I
say “alleged” because of the false charges brought
have received quite an education about the drug world since
I have been here. Crack cocaine is, according to my numerous
experts here, used more frequently in the black community.
The white powder form of cocaine is generally more prevalent
penalties for selling crack are higher than those involving
powder. The reason given is that crack is more highly concentrated,
more potent, and goes through extensive processing. Black
inmates say there is discrimination in assessing penalties.
They feel the “white drug dealer” gets a better
of the cocaine obtained by these inmates comes through Mexico,
although Columbia seems to be the major country of origin.
And you don’t mess with the Columbians.
to my “teachers” here, there is often an “honor
system” when the cocaine is obtained by the middleman.
Most of the inmates with drug convictions didn’t actually
sell the drugs on the street retail. They acted as a transporter
getting a commission or set fee by moving the drugs from one
point to another. Often the drugs were going from the Mexican
border or Houston, then on into Louisiana.
the middleman could not sell all the goods (generally cocaine)
most would take back the unsold drugs and receive payment
for what was sold by the middleman. But not the Columbians.
A deal is a deal. If the money is not produced as agreed,
there is no re-negotiation. Your drug dealing is terminated.
in Baton Rouge will remember Barry Seale, who was involved
with drugs before he became an informer against the Columbians.
He was sentenced to a halfway house in Baton Rouge against
his wishes. He knew, after his testimony, he was a marked
man. Seale was gunned down—executed—at the halfway
house. A television movie was made about his own case. I’ll
be writing about Seale’s fate and what caused him to
be murdered in a coming book.
overwhelming majority of inmates in federal prisons throughout
the country are serving time for crimes related to drugs.
And it’s the same, for both men and women in prison.
are almost ten times as many women imprisoned in our country
than in all of Western Europe. And look at the comparisons.
The population of the U.S. and Europe is about the same, and
strong democracies rule in both locations. But we incarcerate
ten times as many women. Why? Drugs.
we now have in the country a huge disposable population that
has produced a deep malaise many of us would like to ignore.
But whether it’s convicted felons here at Oakdale, or
high school kids from our own neighborhood, there is no question
that drug trafficking and drug use are and will continue to
be a major problem for all our communities.
* * * * * * *
Visiting begins here in just two days. Visitors are allowed
Friday from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.; and on Saturday and
Sunday from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. Also, on all federal
extremely blessed in having family and friends come all three
days and stay most of the time allowed. With so much visiting
time, the week goes by much more quickly. Gladys and my son
James are here every weekend. Mother and my brother Jack,
with his whole family, made the trip down from Shreveport
visitor must fill out a background check form to be mailed
to the prison at least a week before a visit. A visitor’s
picture is taken upon arrival, and only a few basic items
can be brought in the visiting area. Wallet, comb, lipstick,
and change. Lots of change. I always urge friends to bring
several rolls of quarters for the drinks and snacks.
one of the few inmates who has visitors. On some Friday nights,
I’m the only inmate. And the other inmates know. I’m
always asked who came to visit, and if the tall young man
was my son.
quietly and without comment prepare for visitors. My heart
goes out to so many of these fellows who have long sentences,
who I know are lonely, yet have so few visits in a year, if
any at all.
(or what I’m reading on my six month sabbatical)
I never read many western novels. An occasional Zane Grey
or Louis L’Amour when I was much younger. But several
friends, whose opinion I respect, have told me if there is
only one western novel you read, it should be Lonesome
Dove. The book was written by an eccentric, odd-ball
of a fellow named Larry McMurtry who lives and writes in Archer
and I have been to Archer City and semi-visited with its famous
native son. The town is about a 3-1/2 hour drive northwest
of Dallas. We were on our way to visit a friend’s ranch
in west Texas several years ago, and I had read about McMurtry’s
bookstores in Archer City. He bought a number of vacant buildings
in the town, and purchased the inventory of bookstores going
out of business throughout the country. When you drive down
the single main street, you will pass the courthouse, one
café, a few general merchandise stores, and some six
buildings loaded with books. Books on any subject and every
description. Books in a number of foreign languages. A book
building has the central office with employees. You browse
and shop in the other buildings on the honor system. One of
the employees there told me they do a large mail order business
asked for a copy of Lonesome Dove, autographed if
possible. “We don’t sell any of Mr. McMurtry’s
books here,” she told me. My reaction was predictable.
have more books here in the middle of nowhere than any bookstore
in the country—and you don’t carry the owner’s
don’t want to be pestered by his fans and have to put
up with autograph seekers,” she replied. About that
time, McMurtry walked in the door.
chastised the employee in a raised voice, looked our way and
rolled his eyes (another pesky autograph hound) then stomped
out the door. So much for my “visit” with the
Pulitzer Prize winning author.
to Lonesome Dove. It’s long, 856 pages in hardback.
(I am not allowed hardback books in prison unless sent in
directly by a bookstore. Our neighbors and friends, Sharon
Pennington and her mother Honey were nice enough to arrange
for the book to be sent to me.)
McMurtry may be eccentric, his novel is anything but. It’s
an American Odyssey set in the late nineteenth century, and
tells the story of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. The
trip becomes a vehicle for McMurtry to examine the panorama
of everything we even imagined about the old west. An unforgettable
assortment of good guys and bad, Indians and settlers, heroes
and outlaws, Texas Rangers who turn horse rustlers, and strong,
marvelous western women of all descriptions.
urge you to read it. Just don’t ask for an autographed
* * * * * * *
finally, a little humor. What follows is a cartoon by Greg
Peters about my “good life” here at Oakdale. His
cartoons appear in several state papers and on several Internet
websites. He has little regard for Louisiana public officials.
But I still enjoy his “warped” perspective, and
read him every week.
to say, my fellow inmates were not particularly amused at
his depiction of the “easy life” Peters portrays.
But I share it with you so you can see I am maintaining my
sense of humor.
here to view the cartoon
Peace and Justice to you.
Until next week,