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Frank

Frank, “Go rest high on that mountain, your work on earth is done.” Vince Gill didn’t know my friend, Frank Smith, when he wrote that song, but if there ever was a song written for someone that song was written for Frank.
I first met Frank, when we were getting ready to build the work camp at Hamilton Correctional Institution. He was in that first graduating class of officers for that work camp. The warden, Rob Cason, told me to seek out any officers in that class that had construction experience to assist in the construction of the camp. Frank was one of those that raised his hand. That begin nearly three decades of friendship between us. Frank worked as both a security officer, rising to the rank of sergeant and every position for maintenance and construction for Region Two for the Florida Department of Corrections. A better man never served as Maintenance & Construction Officer as Frank. His skills and ability in those trades were at the top that field. Even though we competed for the same positions during our time with DOC, we were as close as brothers. He served under me twice and I under him twice. Never once did we have a disagreement. Never!
I was there the day he was demoted back down to officer for purely political reasons, which brought shame on the Region, and I was there the day the new Regional Director, Mark Redd, brought him back to build Suwannee Correctional Institution. No one was as angry as me for what they did to him, but Frank held to a higher standard than I did. He never held a grudge. I will never forget the lesson from that teachable moment. That servant leadership attitude put him right back on top again.
Vince wrote, “I know your life on earth was troubled and only you could know the pain.” There again, this was Frank, losing Claire, his wife, to cancer while building Suwannee was as hard as it gets.  He could never overcome that loss.  I watch his health deteriorate over the years to the point that retirement was the only option for him. Only those of us close to him knew of his struggles. Because of that we know he is at peace now.
“Go rest high on that mountain Son, your work on earth is done. Go to heaven a-shoutin’ Love for the Father and the Son. Good bye my friend, go with God Speed.

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The Bucket List

Ok, being a writer, everyone expects a story when you’ve been, seen and have done something different.  For our 50th wedding anniversary, BJ and I took a trip up to Maine and back.  While I have stories in mind, I just need to check off some items on my bucket list.  Ever since the movie, “The Bucket List,” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out, everyone has created a list.  We were no different, so here is my list of completed ones on this trip and the ones still to do, listed at the end.

 

CHECKED!

1.                  Mount Airy NC. The Real Mayberry USA.  (Nice)

2.                 Gettysburg Battleground.  (Take the bus tour!)

3.                 Lancaster County PA.  Amish Country. (Highly recommend, one of our favorites!)

4.                Hershey Factory Tour. (So so)

5.                 Travel New England States.  (Outstanding)

6.                Stay at Boothbay Harbor Maine.  (Can’t wait to do it again.)

7.                 Visit L.L. Bean Stores in Freeport Maine.  (Wow!)

8.                Visit Acadia National Park, Maine.  (Cadillac Mountain was great)

9.                Eat Lobster at Bar Harbor Maine. (First & last, give me shrimp any day).

10.            Buy Maple Syrup in Vermont.  ($70 Worth?)

11.              Get BJ on a boat at Niagara Falls.  (Frighten, soaked and froze her all most to death.)

12.             Let BJ drive through Cleveland Ohio. (Ha!)

13.             Tour the Ark Encounter in Kentucky.  (No words to describe this beautiful creation!  A must see.) 

As you can see I have trimmed my list down somewhat, but here are just some of ones left to do.

 

NOT CHECKED YET:

1.                  Visit the Creation Museum near the Ark Encounter.

2.                 Fly one more time with my longtime friend and service buddy, Randy Sizemore.  (The greatest Chinook Helicopter Pilot in the world.)

3.                 Zip line across the Grand Canyon.  (At the widest point, while eating a Hershey Bar.  With BJ of course.)

4.                Hike the Appalachian Trail. (The whole long way!)

5.                 Canoe the Suwannee from the Okefenokee Swamp to the Gulf of Mexico.

6.                Catch a 10+ pound bass with my brother, Irv at Lake Blackshear.

7.                 Retire December 29th 2016.

8.                Write a Best-Selling Novel.

9.                In progress is to continue to watch my kids and grandkids become great citizens of this great country that I love so much…

 

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Remembering 911 Again!

 

What are you guys looking at?

There was a crowd around the TV in the lobby at the headquarters for the Florida Department of Corrections in Tallahassee, as I walked in.  On the screen I could see a burning building, and ask what was going on.  Someone told me a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers in New York City.  Someone else said it was an airliner.  Another said that they thought it was terrorists. Remembering the bombing in 93, I said that they sure don’t like that building, and I sure hope it was an empty plane.  Little did I know!

I was on a task force to develop a special tool cart, and procedures for the inmates to use on the prison compound to perform minor maintenance.  Security had changed over the last dozen years regarding inmate tool usage, but the need for inmate labor remained and we needed some guidelines to operate with.  We tried to get started, but the talk kept coming back to the World Trade Center.  It wasn’t long before someone walked in and said that a second plane had crashed into the second tower. We left to find a TV.  Word came down that they were worried about the safety of Governor Bush, the president’s brother, and we all may have to leave.  Rumors were flying.  Then the towers fell and our hearts sank to our stomachs.

How can anyone forget that day?  Our country has had a few of those kinds of days and it is a shame, (Remember December 7, 1941?).  I for one believe we are the greatest country in the world, and do not understand the hatred. There is nothing you can tell me that will change that.  Sure we have made our mistakes.  We have been involved in wars and places that maybe we shouldn’t have.  I have often questioned my two tours in Vietnam, but I have no doubt that I would do it all over again.  Such is my loyalty to this great country.

So, I woke up this morning thinking how I’m lucky to be an American.  In this world of instant info on the internet, people who truly seek freedom, know that by what they read, that we are truly blessed, and they long for the same opportunity.  The ones that trash our country don’t count.  Rather than wanting the freedom to pursue the American Dream, they would rather just take ours away.  I will not however, give them any more thought, but rather reflect on why I love this country, our Constitution, our flag, and our national anthem.

To start with our country has great religious tolerance.  However, that is changing every day, as the God haters gain more power. Our prayer is that they will never become THE power.  So, it is true that we “Cling to our God and guns.”  We even tolerated the Muslim Religion, because the ones that came to this country to find freedom were really peace loving.  I may not be in agreement with their beliefs, or they of mine, but still live in peace as neighbors.  Oh how that changed on 911.  It changed such that we now have to be careful of who we allow to become one of us.  The notion that we hate immigrants is not worth my time defending. That is as far from the truth as the east is from the west.  The few that do hate them are not worth my time either.

Since the early days of our country, one has the opportunity to own a business or land and develop it. Most have done so for the betterment of mankind and for profit, which is another great freedom of ours. There is nothing sinful about making a profit. Can it become sinful? Of course, but I don’t need to lecture on that. In a free country like ours innovation has been the key, what we didn’t invent we improved. The fact that some profited from it was the reason that it became affordable.

While agriculture exists in every country and culture, our country made it possible to feed the world. The fact that it doesn’t is no fault of the farmer, but rather governments. Our farmers can, and do, grow anything. With what our country has invented or improved in farming technology, I believe they could plant stones and make it grow. That is not limited to crops either. Look at our cattle, pork, fish, and poultry industry. If we Americans, see a need for something we find a way to cultivate it. I have a neighbor that raises more quail in pens than what we have in the wild throughout the county. Yes, we are a great country.

This country has rushed to the aid of nearly every country on earth in their time of need, yet we are still hated. I simply cannot wrap my brain around that.  Sure, some of it has been misguided and we are paying for that today.  However, that aid has done more good than bad.  I said that I would not dwell on the haters, so I will just pray that someday that will change, so that my children and their kids will know a time of real peace. Surely God has blessed us and it is up to us to be worthy of that blessing. Thank you God for my America…

David Butler

September 11, 2016

 

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You need to understand that having come from a graduating class of 501 graduates where I knew maybe a third of the people, that Jennings Class of 64 was somewhat different.  I don’t remember just how many graduates the class had, but the number 25 comes to mind.  I’ve only attended a few of my own class reunions, but I don’t remember any that I’ve missed in the last 50 years of BJ’s Class of 64.   So, this year I tagged along as usual to her reunion.  This one, like the last one was at Wayne and Wanda Frier’s Hunting Lodge, a beautiful camp in the back woods of Hamilton County.  To give you an idea of the number of graduates there, I believe there were more deer heads mounted on the walls than former classmates there.  If you count the three bobcats, then I’m sure there were.  After all it was a hunting lodge and Wayne, (also a 64 classmate), and his son’s Matt and Todd have been busy counting coup.

It was after 5:30 when brother-in-law, (also a graduate), Robert and I arrived. BJ had gone earlier to help with the preparations.  Lavon was frying fish with Everal’s help.  Donald was cooking the puppies, since Lavon only cooks fish, (only fish).  Robert jumped right in and held the pan for Donald, while I joined Wayne Hurst at the picnic table.  Now normally I’m a conversation hog but after a stiff reminder from the woman that God gave me that this was their reunion and for me to join in only if invited, I kind of just stood around and observed everything.  Over the years I have developed the skill of observation into a real talent.  Waiting at the front of Walmart for BJ to exit will do that to you.  Anyway, mindful of BJ’s warning I just observed, and it was a thing to see.  There are families and family reunions where there was little love shown much less respect for each other.  However, these guys really liked one another.  Regardless of the time between meetings, it was if it was yesterday.  The bond there was unbreakable.  The camaraderie and lifelong friendships was evident even to a newcomer.  I know that to be true, as I have watched it for 50 years.  I understand that kind of bond as I see it in my own family.

And having fun? They had fun.  Now, I’m not around Sybil that much, but she and BJ are full of it.  Fun that is, in case you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking.  They played a game of who remembers what or who.  Questions like who was your first grade teacher.  On the men side, Lavon jumped on a couple of teacher questions quite quickly.  If fact from an outsiders thinking, I thought he probably remembered the cloakroom as much as he did the teacher.  At least that is how I remember certain teachers.   However, in the game it was the ladies’ memories that was the victor.  Then again, what can you expect at threescore and ten years old in we men anyway.  Since I mention the age words I must reflect on how the old bodies were still fit with a few minor exceptions.

From my observation the “Remember when’s” dominated the conversations and that is the expected norm at any reunion and should be.  I had dedicated my last years here in documenting such, so that my kids and grandkids, etc. can enjoy them in later years.  The Jennings Class of 1964 is worth remembering and I for one am glad to be part of it even if it’s by being married to one of them.  Wayne and Wanda were gracious hosts and made us feel like family.  It really was a great time.  And for my school teacher wife and school teacher, Sybil, I “ain’t” going to change any thang…

 

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Signal Six

 

Sequel to Ellaville

Prologue

The three escaped convicts lay about 10 feet apart in a slight depression behind the pine trees and palmettos. They were armed with several hand guns and hunting rifles that they had stolen. The leg of one of the escapees was bleeding from a shotgun blast. That blast came from about 50 yards away from the road where a prison van and pickup were parked facing each other. There were three correctional officers behind the vehicles, but only one of the three were still mobile. The other two were down hard. One had a sucking chest wound and the other had taken a round in the hip and shoulder. The mobile officer, (Lieutenant Eric Daniels, nick named Stormy), had dragged the two wounded officers behind the van and now was leaning over the front of his pickup with a shotgun pointed in the direction where the convicts lay. He reached through the window and grabbed his radio mic.

“Security One this is Security Three, 10-24, repeat 10-24!” he called on his radio.

“Security One to Security Three, what’s your twenty?”

“I’m with Hamilton two, and both officers are down hard. I need a code 71 dispatched ASAP to the power line road just off County Road Six west of County Road 141. Hold them at Road Six, the Signal six’s are about 50 yards away and heavily armed.”

“Good grief, Stormy, you’re ten miles away! How did they get there?”

“I think they stole a pick up. I passed an abandoned one just up the road. They must have run out of gas or blew the engine. Hamilton Two drove up on them from the other way and the Signal six’s opened up on them. I think they want the van. Stand by, Security One,” Stormy said.

Lieutenant Daniels turned to the officer waving his good arm at him.

“Stormy, I hit one of them. I shot him with the shotgun,” he said.

“Security One, Hamilton Two said they hit one of the Signal six’s with a load of buck shot. I need back up right now.”

“Help is on the way, Security Three. We have a 10-71 in route and they are checking with county to see if they have any units in the area.”

The Lieutenant could not answer as he was returning fire. The convicts had opened up on him with the hunting rifles they had. At that distance his buck shots, while lethal, mostly just kept their heads down.

“Security One to Security Three.”

There was no answer so he called again.

Security One to Security Three, talk to me Stormy!”

“Kind of busy now, Chief! Taking fire and need help now! We’re low on ammo! We got about two minutes to live!”

“Security Ten to Security Three, I’m about a mile away, I’m coming buddy.”

“Ten-four, hurry David!”

Lieutenant Daniels counted his empty shells, realizing he only had two left in his shotgun. He had already shot up one of his two spare revolver speed loaders leaving him just six rounds for his hand gun.

“Stormy, Akins don’t look too good,” Officer Lamb said.

“Help is on the way, Lamb.”

“He looks dead!”

The convicts started shooting again only they had separated further causing Stormy to drop down behind the front wheel.

“Lamb, can you still shoot?”

“I can try, but I ain’t no good with my left hand.”

“I think they are going to try to rush us from two sides and try to get one of the vehicles. You’re going to have to stop that one over there.”

“Yes sir.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ellaville

Prologue

August 1928 – Somewhere east of Ellaville Florida on the Suwannee River.
The fog was still pretty thick this early morning insuring that the humidity would still be high to go with the rising temperature. Two men were removing the catfish from their trot lines that were tied to the low hanging tree limbs when the taller of the two saw the head tangled in the half submerged brush.
“Great Scott, do you see what I see?”
“It looks like a head of a man,” the other man replied.
He paddled the boat close enough to the brush while being mindful of any water moccasins that might be lying on a limb. The tall man poked at the head with the paddle and it came loose and bobbled in the water.
“What are we going to do with it?”
“How do I know, I ain’t never seen a head with no body?”
“We got to get the sheriff.”
“It will be gone by the time we get back.”
“Pick it up and put it in the boat and we will take it with us.”
“What! I ain’t touching that thing. You pick it up,” he said.
“Maybe we can put it in the boat with the paddles,” the tall man said, while wondering out loud, if it was anyone he knew.
With the head in the boat they paddled down the river to the bridge at Ellaville and the phone at the Suwannee River Park Store.

1
August 1988 – Near “Five Hole” on the Suwannee River.
“Come here Bo. Bo, come here boy. Now where is that dog? Probably digging a hole.”
The couple was walking along the trail with their chocolate lab. Jordan called again for Bo but with no results. So he and his wife April left the trail in the direction that Bo went. After about 10 minutes they saw him.
“I knew it, he’s digging a hole.”
As they got closer they could see he had uncovered what looked like bones.
This area was named by the locals because of the five sink holes that are joined by a spring then emptying into the river. The Suwannee River along with the Withlacoochee River defined Hamilton County Florida. Both rivers having originated in Georgia and merging a couple of miles west of here, thus connecting the county to the rest of Florida by bridge only. The Suwannee River was one of the few remaining unspoiled pristine rivers in the South. Along the banks of the Hamilton County side ran the Florida Trail. The trail was maintain by an association by that name out of White Springs. Locals loved the area for swimming at Five Hole and hiking the trail on weekends because of the unspoiled wilderness river. Such was the case on this beautiful Saturday morning.
“Bo leave those bones alone. You’re not going to take those old animal bones home with you,” Jordan said.
“Honey look!” “That looks like human bones!” April said as she put her hand over her mouth as if to stop herself from speaking more.
“Bo come here, back away Bo!” Jordan reached to grab Bo’s collar and keep him away from the bones, but not seeing the one in his mouth right away.
“Kind of looks like an arm and hand bones – you may be right – we gotta call the sheriff and report this. Bo, put down that bone!”
“I will stay here and you go call.”
“I don’t want to leave you here alone,” April said.
“Ah come on, ain’t no one watching over this grave, if that’s what it is. Go call Virgil and take Bo and leave him at the house.”
April grabbed Bo’s collar and walked to where they parked their pickup.

Ellaville will be published the first of 2016

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Behind The Fence

About five inmates were standing in a group about 50 feet from the rear sally port. Monk had his football pool sheet writing down names as the inmates made their bets. They were oblivious to the three officers standing in a group about 200 yards away. They already knew that they were rookies and just paid them no mind. Neither did they notice Frank Smith standing behind them looking over their shoulders. He stood there a while and then just reached in and took the football pool sheet out of Monk’s hand.

“Monk you know better than this, and right in front of those new officers.  Get out of here before I lock up every one of you.” Frank said.

They all left but Monk and he waited to the other inmates got far enough away then asked Frank:

“Mr. Smith can I have my paper back please.”

“What paper, get on out of here Monk.” Replied Frank.

“Come on Mr. Smith, all them guys will say they won Ifn I don’t have the pool.” Monk said sheepishly

“You should have thought about that before you disrespected those new officers like that, now get out of here before I lock you up Monk.”

You can’t spend 30 years in the correction system without collecting a gold mine of stories. Some are even funny at times. Life behind the fence is a constant battle fighting boredom. Older Inmates down for the long count find ways to combat that and find a quieter life while the younger ones are always cooking up something. They figure it is their job to beat the system and we know it is our job to catch them. I have worked thousands of inmates in maintenance and construction and have seen many come and go like Monk. He burned his bridges on the outside and therefore received no financial help from family or friends. Gambling became his only source of income.

Now days inmates are not allowed to have paper money on the compound. What money the inmates get from family is in a bank and they are given that much credit at the canteen. That doesn’t stop the gambling though, because they just adapted to the change. But when Monk was running the football pool inmates had cash. Later that day Monk came to Frank again.

“Mr. Smith, would you please give me my paper, I need it bad. You know what these guys will do. I have no proof who gave what.”

“Monk, what paper? I don’t know what you are talking about.”

That afternoon the Lieutenant call Frank and ask Frank what was up with Monk. He said that he just checked in to Administrated Confinement. He said that he was in fear of his life. Frank told him and they had a good laugh. But that was not the end of Monk or his gambling. He became famous betting on his fighting spiders. That was another big deal with the inmates. I can’t tell you how many spider boxes that came out of my maintenance shop over the years. Inmates love their spiders and Monk had his favorite. Frank and I were talking the other day reminiscing about the old days, (we have been together most of my 30 Years with the department), and he was telling me that one time Monk was bragging about a praying mantis that he caught and he was going to let his prize fighting spider fight him. Later when Frank saw him he ask about how the fight went. With tears in his eyes Monk said.

“Mr. Smith that thing ate my spider.”

He lost money that day. But it was just another day trying to relieve the boredom. Gambling caused as much grief in prison as it does on the street. In a society of crooks playing fair could be a liability. However, old Monk was a true enthusiasts and his strategies are still talked about today.

I plan to blog more about “Behind the Fence,” and my next one will be on Krispy Critter king of the “Buck” makers…

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