TALLAHASSEE - A convicted marijuana smuggler serving time in Florida was moved over the weekend from a low-security work camp to a high-security lockup amid accusations that he used the prison's computer to write letters to The Herald and other newspapers.
In those letters, inmate Gary Brooks Waid, 49, joined the chorus of prisoners accusing guards of brutality. And in the tense atmosphere following the fatal beating of Death Row prisoner Frank Valdes, Waid's charges are being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and his temporary transfer has drawn intense scrutiny.
Late Monday, Waid was back at the work camp with other white-collar criminals, away from the killers and rapists down the road at Florida State Prison - the place where Valdez died a month ago after a confrontation with guards. Waid's brief journey speaks volumes about the climate in the Florida prison system since Valdes died.
Shortly after Waid was moved last Friday, his lawyer was demanding explanations, and a friend, Kay "Grandma" Lee of Key West, was sending urgent e-mail messages to Florida newspapers and to inmates-rights groups around the country, pleading with them to take up Waid's cause.
Prison officials took pains Monday to describe Waid's three-day transfer to the closest prison as a necessary move while they look into charges of misuse of state property - a computer in the work camp law library.
"He is not a security risk at the moment. We're moving him back to O Unit," said Florida State Prison Warden James Crosby, using prison jargon for the work camp. "We wanted him separated from any access to the computer until we could have someone go through the computer and check it. We have everything he had on the computer. We had to remove him over the weekend until we could get an expert to look at it."
Letter not typical
Prisoners' letters to the outside often are written in painstakingly precise handwriting, a reflection of the amount of time inmates have.
His three-page letter to The Herald on July 28 is neatly typewritten and articulately phrased, with key words italicized for emphasis. Describing himself as an apprentice law clerk, Waid said that since Valdes' death, "more and more inmates are coming to me to help them with their affidavits."
"They don't like a prisoner who's able to articulate himself," said Waid's lawyer, Donald Cohn of Miami. "He's one of the people they don't like because he's exercising the rights he has. This was, in effect, a form of punishment that was given to Gary because he's not the kind of inmate you normally get."
Waid, formerly of Merritt Island on Florida's Space Coast, was convicted four years ago of conspiring to smuggle two tons of marijuana on a fishing trawler from Jamaica to Florida over several years. He got a nine-year sentence in a federal prison and wasn't supposed to be in state custody in the first place.
He was one of about 30 minimum-security federal prisoners swapped last November for 30 violent state offenders, many of them murderers who came to the United States during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift. The prisoner swap had been advocated by state officials.
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His lawyer says Waid had an unblemished record while in federal custody and that he'd probably be in a halfway house by now if he hadn't been transferred to Florida State Prison's work camp last November.
"We're now in the process of doing whatever we can to get him out of there and get him back into federal custody," Cohn said. "He was in the worst place they could have put him."
Corrections spokesman, C.J. Drake said some e-mails on Waid's behalf came from people involved in efforts to legalize marijuana use. But, he said, Waid's transfer back to the camp was not a result of any complaints made by Waid's supporters on the outside.
"There's a heightened sense of awareness by prison management when it comes to conducting internal investigations," Drake said. "The Valdes incident has created an environment in which prisoners feel they have a forum to rehash allegations against the prison system."
Waid's Internet home page, set up by his friend, Kay Lee, is entitled "A Smuggler's Tales From Jails." On it, Waid describes Florida's prisons as "factories of hate and violence." A biography written by his brother says Waid was a promising musician - a onetime professional trombonist with the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra who got into shrimping and from there "became enticed into the marijuana trade."
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