December 18, 2002
Federal Prison Camp
NOTES FROM FEDERAL PRISON
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.
tsp. chili powder
clove garlic, chopped
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.
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
a presumption of innocence,” the Federal Appeals Court
Atlanta wrote in 1994.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.