About Michael Freeman

Michael W. Freeman is a veteran journalist, playwright and author. Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, he has lived in Orlando since 2002. Michael has worked for some of Florida's largest newspapers, including The Orlando Sentinel. His original plays have draw strong audiences at the Orlando Fringe Festival. He is the author of the novels "Bloody Rabbit" and "Koby's New Home."

Polk County cracks down on gun owners — a specific type, though.

BARTOW – In a state where gun rights are strongly protected, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is taking aim at a particular group and hoping to remove any guns they might have in their homes – even if the gun owner feels the weapon is needed to protect himself and his family.

“Whether you think you need it for protection or not, it doesn’t matter, and we have no sympathy for you,” said Scott H. Wilder, director of communications for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Weapons owned by convicted felons are the target of a new tips program launched by the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

The group in question, though, may not draw much sympathy from the public: convicted felons, who face stiff penalties if they’re caught in possession of any weapons. The only exception is when the felon has had his rights restored by the convicting state.
“That’s just the punishment of our system,” Wilder said.  “Had you not committed that original criminal offense, you could own that gun and protect your family. If you haven’t had your rights restored, that’s life.”

Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from ever possessing any firearm or ammunition. It specifically applies to anyone convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment. 

Even after they’re released from jail, the felon is banned from owning a firearm either inside or outside of their home, and the federal punishment can run as high as 10 years in prison.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is trying to crack down on felons who own or use guns, and is working with Heartland Crimestoppers, Inc., on a new program that rewards anonymous callers who alert law enforcement to anyone with an illegally possessed firearm. Citizens are encouraged to turn in felons with guns, which Wilder said is a reoccurring problem for the sheriff’s office.

“We run across it all the time,” he said. “The one that provided the impetus for this was a guy who shot and seriously injured two of our deputies. He was a convicted felon, and he shouldn’t have been in possession of this weapon.”

Anyone with a tip to provide can call Heartland Crimestoppers at 800-226-TIPS (8477) and report a person known to be illegally possessing a gun. 

If an arrest is made and a gun gets recovered from the information that was provided, the tipster will be eligible for a $500 reward. 

All calls remain confidential and no one at the sheriff’s office will ask a caller for their name or phone number.  Callers are not required to testify in court on these cases.

“We know that guns don’t commit violent crimes, people commit violent crimes,” Judd said. “And we know that there are plenty of folks out there who know who the bad guys are in their area. They know if they have guns or not.

“Give us an anonymous call, tell us who and where they are,” Judd added. “Give us as much information as you can, and we will investigate.  If we find someone illegally possessing a gun, we will arrest them and give the person who gave us the information $500 cash.  It’s that simple.  We want convicted felons who illegally possess guns off the streets.”

Wilder said this program was modeled after gun buyback programs that have been used by other county sheriff’s offices. In those instances, people who turned in their guns to the sheriff’s office – no questions asked – got vouchers for food, gasoline or other goods in exchange.

In this case, Wilder said, they’re offering a cash reward for tips.

“This is sort of a play off that type of program,” he said. “We don’t believe that guns in and of themselves are the bad thing. Guns can be used to defend lawful people and protect your property and yourself.”

The goal here is to crack down on felons alone, he added.

“If you know of a felon in possession of a gun, or a gun that has had its serial numbers filed off, those are the ones we want to know about,” Wilder said.

It doesn’t matter if the convicted felon isn’t using the gun to commit crimes, Wilder added.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re going to use that gun to rob a bank or not,” he said. “The mere possession of it as a felon is what’s illegal, even if they’re not using that gun to commit crimes. It’s a fairly steep penalty, and I know the court system takes it very seriously.  It’s a big deal.”

Since the program was first announced on Oct. 28, it’s led to one arrest, Wilder said.

“We’ve had a number of tips, and we’ve already paid one out,” he said. “One of the tips  led to us making an arrest for things other than simply owning an illegal gun.”

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The ideal babysitter: “The Little Drummer Boy” charms young faces

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS – I’m always amazed at how well behaved children can sometimes be while watching live theater.

I’ve seen kids from local schools get bused into the spacious Orlando Repertory Theatre for a 90-minute show, and wondered how long their attention span will last — and whether at some point during the performance, I won’t be able to hear the actors anymore. Surprisingly, that’s never happened. For a generation growing up on rapid-paced, visually stunning video games, good theater – and the Rep truly has done some excellent shows – still manages to keep them entertained, happy — and quiet.

I was wondering the same thing on Sunday when I went to the Pinocchio’s Marionette Theater at the Altamonte Mall, which was performing a holiday favorite, “The Little Drummer Boy,” in what turned out to be a packed audience. That included quite a few young kids who sat up front on the floor below the stage. Although the show lasted just 40 minutes, was that too long to keep the young ones from getting antsy?

Even one of the puppet masters, Richard Hudnall, who introduced the show, had to remind the kids before the show started that “Today you’re in a live theater and that’s a little bit different than being at home in front of the TV or in the movies.”

Different, indeed. But there were no signs of kids looking bored, ready to go home. The tale of the little drummer boy who goes searching for his lost donkey in Bethlehem, before delivering a special gift to the baby Jesus, proven to be positively enchanting to the tiny faces in the audience.

Interestingly, puppetry appears to have been all the rage this year.  In October, the Orlando Puppet Festival at Loch Haven Park included original works like the Empty Spaces Theatre Co.’s “Phantasmagoria,” which recreated classic horror stories like “Frankenstein” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” through nearly life-sized puppets, which also revisiting the dark, violent comedy of a European-style Punch & Judy show.

Earlier this month, the Marke Sisters used marionettes in “Macabre Vignettes III: Snow,” a mix of modern dance, puppets and odd sculptures.
Those shows, however, represented marionettes for adults in pieces that were dark, disturbing and intricate – a reminder that not all puppet shows are designed solely for children.  Pinocchio’s Marionette Theater goes back to the more traditional concept of puppetry, though: the way marionettes can seem wonderfully spellbinding to children.

The theater got its start in May 1999, when a touring marionette company called Puppet Celebration, Inc. first started performing marionette shows across the region, in everything from elementary schools to libraries and civic auditoriums.

In 2002, the name was changed to Pinocchio’s Marionette Theater and it found a permanent home in the Orlando area before moving to the Altamonte Mall.  It’s been a fixture there ever since, drawing in crowds — young and old alike — for what may be the most unique and enjoyable children’s theater in this region.   

Marionettes welcome children from the front window of Pinocchio's Marionette Theater at the Altamonte Mall.

As the theater’s Web site notes, “The multiple goals of Pinocchio’s Marionette Theater have always been to help preserve the art and craft of marionette puppetry; to introduce children to live theater; and to teach theater etiquette.”

“The Little Drummer Boy” is an excellent example of the theater’s work, and why they manage to captivate small children. At times funny, certainly very sentimental, and by the end quite uplifting, this show gives us an ideal hero for the kids to relate to in Joshua, the boy who has lost his parents and now lives with his aging grandmother and their pet lamb and donkey.

When the donkey wanders off, Joshua sets out to find it, but arrives at the town of Bethlehem on a momentous day: the messiah is to be born that day.

Along the way, Joshua must fend off the rascally tricks of the Magnificent Barnibus, a scheming and greedy merchant who tries to entertain crowds by climbing atop his Trembling Tower of Trash.  When Joshua accidentally ruins his con – er, performance – it means war.

Along the way, the theater provides the audience with plenty to keep their attention: puppets that dance and juggle, moments that are sad and dramatic, others that prompted  even the adults to laugh out loud. It all comes to the final moments in the manger, when young Joshua discovers that doing good for someone else will ultimately be rewarding to him as well.

At the end of the show, the adults in the audience applauded, but the children did something different: they crowded around the stage, cheering, getting a closer look at the marionettes that had fascinated them for the past 40 minutes, then posing happily as their parents took multiple photos of them.

The theater is named after the classic wooden puppet, Pinocchio.

It’s hard to imagine a stronger and more impressive sign of approval from the kids. Their positive reactive to “The Little Drummer Boy” is no surprise, though, because this theater truly does understand what it takes to charm our youngest audiences, and it delivers for them handsomely.

“The Little Drummer Boy” continues tonight through Saturday, Jan. 1 at 10:30 a.m. and  12:30, 2:30 and 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 2 at 12:30, 2:30, and 4:30 p.m. Ticket are $5 for adults and children ages 2 and up. For reservations call 407-834-8757 or email BoxOffice@Pinocchios.net.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

Coffee lovers have their cafes, but what about those who savor tea instead?

ORLANDO — Everybody I know has their own favorite coffee shop. It’s their second home, the place I can always go to when I need to find them.
Coffee shops offer three great things — atmosphere (usually Bohemian), camaraderie, and, of course, superb coffee (if you know where to go to find it.) That’s why I know so many great coffee shops and have a hard time narrowing it down to one ultimate hangout. I’ve had so many great conversations, made so many great memories in these cafes.
It’s the drink that unites us.
Coffee is that universal drink that gives you a strong pick me up — in theory, anyway.  I still know a few people who insist they can drink 10 cups of coffee at night and go right to sleep.
I’m not one of them, which is why I tend to take in coffee shops in the morning. I’ve noticed, though, that the crowds tend to pick up much later — late afternoon into early evening.
it isn’t just that coffee shops are ideal places to get the best java. Coffee shops take on a life of their own, even as they expand their menus. The more Bohemian they are, the more you can expect two things: first, really good vegan plates, and second, special events being hosted there, including but not limited to poetry nights and even theatrical performances.
Now, what if you happen to like coffee, but you really, really much prefer tea?

Watch the tea brew at your table at Infusion Tea.

My advice: it would be hard not to imagine that we’d all find you comfortably settled in as a regular at Infusion Tea. This College Park institution is a dream come true for tea lovers, plus a exceptionally good spot for vegan meals and poetry nights.
Located at 1600 Edgewater Drive, Infusion Tea is the place to go where you can get in line and marvel at all the varieties of tea you have to choose from — not to mention taking you drink back to your table, then turning over the timer so it can brew for three to five minutes while you wait eagerly to savor it. The tea is always worth that wait, and there are jars of honey on every table calling out to you to make its way into the tea.  If coffee is the classic pick me up drink, tea may be the ideal relax-and-sip-it-slow drink.  Coffee winds you up … tea calms you down.
Infusion Tea is indeed a relaxing place, and there are really four spots inside this not very large cafe. You have the front counter, where you can order tea or sample some of Infusion Tea’s interesting and eclectic mix of meals.  

So many different flavors of tea to choose from at Infusion Tea ...


At that point, it would be hard not to imagine that we’d all find you comfortably settled in as a regular at Infusion Tea. This College park institution is a dream come true for tea lovers, plus a great spot for vegan meals and poetry nights.
Located at 1600 Edgewater Drive, Infusion Tea is the place to go so you can get in line and marvel at all the varieties of tea you get to choose from — not to mention taking you drink back to your table, then turning over the timer so it can brew for three to five minutes while you wait eagerly to savor it. The tea is always worth the wait, and there are jars of honey on every table waiting for you.  If coffee is the classic pick me up drink, tea may be the ideal relax and sip it slow drink.  Coffee winds you up, tea calms you down.
Infusion Tea is a relaxing place, and there really are about four spots inside this not very large cafe. You have the front counter, where you can order your tea or sample some of Infusion Tea’s interesting and eclectic mix of meals.  


There’s a vegan Gazpacho soup for $5.25, or a Raspberry Salad — organic field greens topped with candied walnuts, blue cheese crumbles, and dried cranberries, for $7.50. Another salad places roasted pears on greens, along with pecan crackers, for $8.
It wouldn’t be a true vegan spot without some whole wheat wraps ($8 each), including the Avocado Delight (organic avocado with hummus, sunflower seeds, tomato and spinich), or the Concorde (hummas, tabouleh, greens, sunflower seeds and balsamic glaze.)
Then you have the Tea Sandwiches — the Classic Cucumber ($7 for organic cucumber and cream cheese served tea-sandwich style) or the Sundried Special ($7.50, a sundried tomato spead). The Mediterranean Sandwich gives you spinach, roasted eggplant, pesto cream cheese and sundreid spread for $8.
How about Infusion Tea’s Platters, like the Gourmet Seasonal Fruit and Cheese plate ($9) with imported Irish Cheddar, Smoked Gouda and creamy Havarti served with fresh fruit and crostini? Or the Hummas, Pita and Veggies Vegan Platter ($6.75). Likewise, you get a choice of organic pizzas on multi-grain crusts for $8, including the MexiCali Pizza (refried beans and salsa topped with cheddar jack cheese, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, black olives, sour cream and cilantro) or the Goat Cheese Pizza (sundried tomatoes, goat cheese, mushrooms and pine nuts with fresh spinach.)  You may have arrived here looking for tea, but I suspect a lot of these meals are going to tempt you as well.

What to select from Infusion Tea's menu? The Mushroom Quesadilla is a good place to start.

There’s the section with the tables — be sure to get there early to grab one, because on some nights they fill up fast — and behind it, a gift shop. It’s operated by the Artistree Co-Op, offering locally grown art, jewelry and gifts. These are actually two separate businesses, but they operate under one roof.
And finally, near the window, you have an open microphone, where Infusion Tea hosts poetry nights and intersting Spoken Word events, bringing out artists, philosophers, writers and other Bohemian types for a stimulating talk. If the tea is really good, chances are it will be even more stimulating to experience.
I know of so many really good coffee shops that narrowing it down to one seems impossible — although the ones with the most interesting and eclectic blends of Joe always tend to win me over. Right now I can’t seem to resist Dunkin Donuts’ raspberry or coconut coffee.
But when it comes to great tea, I find it hard to top Infusion Tea’s mix of an appealing drink, interesting artwork to check out (or buy, which I have), tasty meals and inviting atmosphere, particularly on poetry nights.  Tea shops need not feel inferior to their friends operating coffee shops; this is one cafe that has quite a lot to offer.
To learn more about Infusion Tea, call 407-999-5255 or log on to www.infusiontea.us. To learn more about Artistree Co-Op, call 407-999-5251 or log on to www.artisteeco-op.com.

 Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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