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Wednesday, December 18, 2002
Federal Prison Camp
Oakdale, Louisiana


The Christmas spirit has found its way even to the prison population here at Oakdale. Holiday music has temporarily replaced rap music in the dining hall and the workout arena. A small tree with red ribbons and tinsel appeared in the recreation room, and a few inmates have hung Christmas ornaments from their bunk beds. The chaplain assigned here is making the rounds handing out packs of Christmas cards for the inmates to send home.

I had volunteered, as my present to the inmates, to supply the Christmas dinner. Gladys, and sister-in-law Gloria, have sold their restaurant chain, but they still work with some of their former staff to do catering on special occasions. Chef Don Bergeron could have prepared a number of holiday dishes: oyster dressing, sweet potato soufflé, cranberry salad, green bean casserole, and hot French bread.

I planned on asking my mother to bake the pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top. Nobody comes close to her pumpkin pie. She would be a little taken back by an order for 100, but she would to it—for me.

I would cook the turkey. How would I prepare it you ask? Simple. Just open a copy of Jim Brown’s World Famous Squirrel Stew and Other Country Recipes. There are numerous preparation choices. Knowing the eating habits of my fellow inmates, I would opt for smoked turkey. Here is my recipe for a typical family.



10-14 pound turkey ½ tsp. Tabasco
1 tsp. chili powder 1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt 1 cup water
¾ tsp. mustard 1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tsp. sugar 1 onion, chopped
1 tbs. Worcestershire 1/8 tsp. red pepper

Salt and pepper turkey well inside and out and rub with oil. Place turkey on rotisserie
and tie wings and legs so they will not flop. Arrange charcoal fire on side of pit so it
will not be directly below turkey. Fire should not be too hot as it will split skin and dry
out. Use plenty of hickory chips—check on fire from time to time—and add more coals and chips if necessary. After turkey has cooked for 3-4 hours, melt butter in sauce pan and add other ingredients—brush sauce on turkey occasionally. Smoke turkey 6-8 hours. Keep covered to hold heat and smoke.


The food service employees who work here at the prison thought it was a great idea. But when my offer was passed up the chain of command, it was vetoed. The prison regulations, I was told, prohibit such food donation and preparation from the outside.

I’m sure we can put together a good Christmas meal. But wouldn’t it have been nice to have a special feast, and it would not cost the taxpayers a penny. Gladys and James will be here with me on Christmas Day. They are not allowed in the cafeteria, only the visiting room. So we will share our Christmas meal out of the vending machines. I’m thankful they will be here, but what a way to spend Christmas.

* * * * * * * * * *

I made the New York Times recently. A front-page story on November 18th reported on the dangers of using anonymous juries. A reference was made to the fact that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the use of an anonymous jury in my case.

If I lived further east in Georgia, Alabama, or Florida, there would have been no secret jury.

“An anonymous jury raises the specter that the defendant
is a dangerous person from whom jurors must be protected,
thereby implicating the defendant’s constitutional right to
a presumption of innocence,” the Federal Appeals Court in
Atlanta wrote in 1994.

The Times article quotes an expert in criminal procedure, Prof. Abraham Abramovsky of Fordham Law School, who said:

The right place to draw the line is that unless you have
reasonable ground to show the court that tampering has
happened in the particular case in that the defendant has
a rich history of jury tampering, there should never be an
anonymous jury.

In my book that will come out this summer, I have written extensively that my trial was one of the most secret in United States history. The examples are numerous: gag orders,
anonymous juries, the jury selected in secrecy behind closed doors, the motions filed by my lawyers were often not allowed to be made public. Most Americans would think this kind of secret procedure would be found in a totalitarian dictatorship or in the days of Nazi Germany. But as the New York Times points out, it is happening right here—in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

* * * * * * * * * *

Political intrigue and murder in the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion set the plot in a new psychological mystery by Elizabeth Dewberry titled Sacrament of Lies. A little background as to how I came across this literary thriller.

Elizabeth is married to a long time friend, Robert Olen Butler. I met Robert in 1993 about the time he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in writing his short stories on Vietnam called A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. He was a guest on my weekly statewide television show on several occasions. When we first met, he was teaching creative writing at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, but is now a professor at Florida State University.

Robert came to Baton Rouge, just before I left to come to Oakdale, for a book signing at the local Barnes and Noble. I went to hear him talk of his latest work, Fair Warning, which I hope to read and review in the coming weeks. Elizabeth was also there to sign her new book.

Somewhat as an afterthought, and as a courtesy to Robert, I bought Elizabeth’s Sacrament of Lies. Quite frankly, I doubted I would ever get around to reading it.

Gladys and I spent a weekend at our family camp in St. Francisville the following week. As is my custom, I loaded up a boxful of various publications to read. But when we arrived, I discovered I had left the box with all my reading material at home. The only thing I could find, back in a corner of my car trunk, was Elizabeth’s book.

I started reading Sacrament of Lies after supper, and did not stop until I finished about 2:00 a.m. I just could not put the book down.

The story is a modern day “Hamlet,” filled with murder, mayhem, and madness in the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion. One might argue that mayhem and madness has been the norm in the Governor’s Mansion over the past seventy years—but that’s another story.

The recently-widowed governor marries his deceased wife’s sister during his re-election campaign. But did his first wife commit suicide? The governor’s daughter, the book’s heroine, is torn with the thought that perhaps her father killed her mentally-disturbed mother—or is it all part of her own warped imagination?

Throw in Mardi Gras, the Governor’s long term quest for the White House, and his daughter’s suspicions of all those around the Governor’s Mansion, and you have a “Hitchcockien” mixture that keeps you puzzled until the end. The question that carries through the book is not just who did it, but whether anything was done at all.

Elizabeth Dewberry has written a fine new mystery. If you like political thrillers, I suggest you try Sacrament of Lies.

* * * * * * * * * *

I am surrounded here by inmates who come from poor families. Most of these fellows get no financial support from the outside. Their families can’t afford to send anything.

As you are enjoying the holiday season, I would urge you to remember the less fortunate families in your community who could use a helping hand at Christmas time.

My best wishes to you and your loved ones during this holiday season. I look forward to being with many of you personally next year at this time.

Jim Brown


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