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Wednesday, November 27, 2002
Day Forty-Four
Federal Detention Camp
Oakdale, Louisiana


Six weeks have gone by since I arrived here. Fairly quickly I might add.

The holiday season begins tomorrow (Thanksgiving). I’m sure that time in the coming weeks will be more difficult for all the inmates. Being a part of the coming Christmas season with parties and family gatherings is always so special. A time at home that I won’t be a part of this year.

Today is my twentieth wedding anniversary. Since its not a visitors’ day, Gladys cannot come so I will be celebrating it alone. She will be here tomorrow with other family members. Our Thanksgiving meal will be snacks out of the vending machines.

* * * * * * *

The cool fall weather seems to have attracted more inmates to the covered, outdoor workout arena. I generally eat supper at 3:30 p.m. That’s right. In the middle of the afternoon. After letting my stomach settle, I’m on the training floor by 5:30 p.m. for a two hour workout.

The workout arena is filled with old, rusty barbells and other workout equipment. This equipment is banned in the future in all federal prisons. Once it breaks or wears out, it will not be replaced. (Really a mistake. As I have written before, this exercise arena is a good place for inmates to take out their frustrations.)

This arena would remind a first time visitor of a seedy, intercity gym. Rap music blaring, weights clanging, and a strong smell of sweat and cigarette smoke all around. Most of the young inmates smoke, even when they workout.

I have a set routine that does not vary. A thirty-minute intense stretching session to warm up the muscles. I do long stretches, somewhat like a yoga extension. In developing my routine, I have tried to pinpoint stretches for most of the major muscle groups.

Then on to lifting. There is no modern exercise equipment here similar to that found in most health clubs. Only free weights—mostly dumbbells. This type of lifting is harder on us old guys and more prone to injury. So I am careful to work around a bad back, weak knees, and a tennis elbow.

I finish each day with an hour run on the treadmill. Nothing fancy. Not electric, but self-propelled. Still, you are able to set the angle of the running incline and get a strong aerobics workout. I end my hour in a heavy sweat.

After exercising, some of us often sit around the arena and swap old athletic stories. Most of the inmates who workout have played some high school sport, generally football or basketball. There is lots of interest and questions about my being a member of the U.S. Track Team in the early 1960’s. “Bullet” Bob Hayes was my roommate during our travels throughout Europe, and at that time, was the fastest runner in the world. I handed the baton off to him on the American 400 meter relay team. He died a few months ago, having served time for drug dealing—cocaine. Most of my workout partners can relate to that.

One of the inmates asked me to remember my fondest memory while running track. I pause and think for a moment.

“The biggest thrill I had may have been the 1963 Atlantic Coast Conference Track Championships at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It was one of the top meets in the country, and I was favored to win both the high and low hurdles. Just before the first race started, I glanced up in the stands, and there was my dad. He had traveled over a thousand miles to surprise me and be there.”

Dad seemed to always be there, to support me in whatever I did. I studied English Literature at Cambridge in England. When I read Chaucer’s line about the noble knight en route to Canterbury with the other pilgrims—“a gentle, parfit knight”—I would think about my father. If he were still here today, he would be my strongest advocate; telling anyone and everyone how wrong and unjust my conviction has been. I really miss him.

* * * * * * * *

Some thoughts on the recent elections. Although I’m locked up, I have a fairly balanced overview by reading a number of state and national publications. And this has been my business for over thirty years. I have probably run more polls than any other elected official in Louisiana.

Polling. Many polls being taken, particularly by the media, are becoming more and more unreliable. In fact, it would seem that the so called “horse-race polls”, especially in tight races, are all but meaningless.

The reason is simple. The average voter just does not want to respond to telemarketers. In fact, 28 states (including Louisiana) now have what are called “no-call” laws restricting telemarketing. So it is becoming too hard for pollsters to develop a reliable sampling that will give accurate results. An in–person poll is just too expensive, and Internet polling is too unreliable because of the difficulty of finding accurate e-mail addresses.

A good pollster can still offer guidance on judging trends of key issues. For many years, I have used the Kitchens Group out of Orlando, Florida. They are one of the best at prioritizing what is important to the average voter.

Unfortunately, many newspapers use inaccurate polls that often can influence public opinion. Be leery of “horse race” polls in the future. More emphasis should be placed on gathering reliable issue-oriented information that will help the public make informed decisions, rather than having pollsters tell us what we already think.

One more thought. I wasn’t surprised the Democrats took such a beating, particularly in losing control of the U.S. Senate. The Democrats blew it by dropping the ball on their key issues.

Senior voters are, for good reason, concerned about social security and health care. These are traditionally strong Democratic issues. A majority of voters back the President on terrorism and Iraq, but they are worried about their retirement and affordable health care. The Republicans effectively “blurred the difference,” and the Democrats ineffectively let them do it.

Democrats lost the chance to energize voters on Election Day. You can’t “out terrorize” the GOP. If the Democrats fail to emphasize close-to-home issues in the months to come, they will remain the minority party for a long while.



I’ve been maintaining a disciplined reading schedule trying to keep a balance among the newspapers, magazines, and both fiction and non-fiction. Jonathan Franzen, whose novel The Corrections was a bestseller last year, has a new book of essays out entitled, How to be Alone. In one chapter he is surveying a prison in Colorado, and finds himself “thinking this would be an excellent place to read and write.” I can attest that he’s on the mark with this assumption.

My thanks to so many readers of my web site who have responded to my book reviews, and who have sent their own reading suggestions. I will try from time to time to pass on some of your recommendations as well as my own.

I’ve been asked on a number of occasions about books by James Lee Burke, the New Iberia native whose work is receiving accolades from reviewers all over the country.
His some twenty novels, built around South Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux, explore violence, the abuse of power, sin and redemption. Reviewers generally praise his work and use terms to describe his stories as full of “passion, hopelessness, bitterness, longing, grief, corruption, passion, murder, teaming bayous, seedy streets of New Orleans, and sweat-drenched atmosphere of South Louisiana.” Wow! What more could a reader ask?

I just finished Cadillac Jukebox about a newly-elected Louisiana Governor, a Ku Klux Klan member in Angola prison for the murder of a civil rights leader, and Robicheaux’s efforts to ward off the seductive charms of the Governor’s wife. Burke has a sharp eye for local color and a real feel for Cajun dialogue.

I liked the book. His description of how the outside world views inmates hit where it hurts.

So the job becomes easier if you think of them in either
clinical or jail house language that effectively separates them
from the rest of us: sociopaths, pukes, low-lifes, miscreants,
streetmutts, recidivists, greaseballs, meltdowns, maggots,
gorillas in the mist.

Burke is saying that most people link anyone connected to a crime in one general dumping pit. How sad, but how true.

I suggest you try a Burke novel. He has a new one out called White Doves at Morning, about the ravages of the Civil War in Louisiana. But if you like to follow Louisiana politics, I would steer you towards Cadillac Jukebox.

* * * * * * *

Finally, I’ll close this week by passing on a recent cartoon about yours truly. My website has been receiving so much news coverage, they are even suggesting a webcast. I like the idea. Cameras could document my mopping and waxing the floors, cleaning the showers, and reading, writing, and exercising all day. I mentioned the idea to a prison supervisor, but he merely rolled his eyes and told me by his glance, “Good Luck!” So don’t count on live photos from Oakdale.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Until next week,

Jim Brown



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