November 27, 2002
Federal Detention Camp
NOTES FROM PRISON
have gone by since I arrived here. Fairly quickly I might add.
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.
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.
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the book. His description of how the outside world views inmates
hit where it hurts.
job becomes easier if you think of them in either
clinical or jail house language that effectively separates
from the rest of us: sociopaths, pukes, low-lifes, miscreants,
streetmutts, recidivists, greaseballs, meltdowns, maggots,
gorillas in the mist.
saying that most people link anyone connected to a crime in
one general dumping pit. How sad, but how true.
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.