Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A parolable lifer walks free

I had a special moment at midnight last night, and that doesn't happen often in this business.

We received word from one of our contacts behind bars: Our friend John, a parolable lifer, walked free yesterday! I took a moment to thank God before I crawled into bed.

John is the first to admit that he and his friends committed a horrible crime back in the 70s, while high on drugs. There was no excuse for it, and the parolable life sentence was justified.

John was 15 at that time. He's going on 55 right now, having spent the majority of his life in prison.

I'm so pleased to report that he didn't continue on an evil path during his incarceration. He was determined to improve himself, and to do things for others. His prison record reflects all of his accomplishments, as well as his personal improvement. Even with all of that, it was a long and difficult road to freedom. Many still believe he should remain in prison. In fact, when a newspaper published a story indicating that he might be paroled, there were bitter and vindictive comments cowardly penned by anonymous readers. 50 pages of them! It's amazing how we pray for and expect forgiveness for our past transgressions, but we're not ready to offer any forgiveness to others.

The good news is that one parolable lifer walked free this week. Based on statistics, the chances of him re-offending are almost nil. I know the man, and I know he won't.

The bad news is that many more men and women in this aging group of inmates are not being released. The Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending estimates that if just half of the eligible prisoners eligible for parole were released, the state would save $17-million.

I once spotted a little poster in the office of a person who worked with mentally challenged children. Scrawled on a cheap piece of paper with crayon were the words: GOD DON'T MAKE NO JUNK.

I thought of that, and believed it, when I heard that John was finally going to enter the free world...a healed and restored human being. But I almost questioned it when I read 50 pages of terrible comments about his pending release. Still, based on what I believe, even those people will experience God's forgiveness. That's just the way his amazing grace works.

Back to Michigan's shameful record with lifers: It's time for change and reform in our state's parole process. We keep people in prison longer than any other state.

It's negatively affecting lives. It's costing us dollars.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The HFP roller coaster rides again

Here's the roller coaster that Matt and I rode on, in the very front seat, today in the office of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS.

Thank you for your help. You are a great example of helping others. I pray that I only honor that by helping others, too!

I still have not been in to see the Dr. since the colonoscopy and the pain in my side while subsided somewhat is not gone and flares its ugly head on occasion. No help with the under-active thyroid either. The last couple of days have been bad but today so far is better thank you Jesus!

The Warden's Forum approved the donation for $1000.00 to HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. It was approved by the Warden and everyone. The funds have been approved and will be deducted first before any funds are spent in the next budget to cover all approved budget requests and approvals for the year.

On Monday they came and told Ms. R. her mom was here for a visit, did she want to go see her. Of course she got very excited and said yes. About an hour later they came back and told her that her mom just called but said she was not going to come see her. She cried and cried and cried. It was so sad. Not sure why they play these games with a mentally ill inmate.

FINALLY! I arrived at a different facility yesterday. Terrible bus ride but anything was worth getting out of hell. It's pole barns, 7 men to a cube. But, I know quite a few guys here and I think this place is laid back. No gang activity or stealing, mostly old guys like me.

They took Ms. M off all machines, she is a vegetable as a result of the mistreatment here. I guess MDOC is discharging her now. Her family still goes to see her in the hospital.

I am truly honored that you have picked my story, because as you can see. I have been trapped in the belly of the beast without any help. I thought that I would never get the chance to tell my story. I really appreciate the help - God knows I do!!

A prisoner said when she opened her door to her cell there was a huge POP! Then her TV went out and the sprinkler system went off. This facility has too many people using this old electricity in these units. We are overloading what we have. I see this as a huge problem in the future especially when they are saying they might make the TV room in the west side units 16 man cells. There isn't enough electricity to run an iron, TV, dvd, and two microwaves let alone for prisoners using curling irons, hair dryers, and all the other electrical things we use everyday. Something has to be done before many prisoners get hurt.

You couldn't write a script like this!

Pray for prisoners.

Pray for the work of HFP.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Michigan's forgotten prisoners

The Lord himself...will never leave you or forsake not be discouraged.

I'm sure that these words from Moses to Joshua, as quoted in Deuteronomy 31, have been a comfort to millions of people over the years.

They came to my mind over the weekend as HFP deals with a little-known problem in the Michigan prison system: the plight of prisoners with long, indeterminate sentences.

The situation is this: Some insensitive judges, perhaps hoping to make a statement, handed down sentences far worse than life in prison. Here are two examples. My friend Troy Chapman, instead of receiving a parolable life sentence, was given 60 to 90 years. Another prisoner whom I don't know, but whose situation was revealed in an AP story this weekend, is Leon Echols. His sentence was 75 to 150 years!

And here's the problem. Thanks to an opinion by the Michigan Attorney General in 1986, these guys are not eligible for parole until they serve their minimum. This means that Chapman, who is 50 and who has already served 29 years; and Echols, who is 43 and has served nearly 25 years, will both be in their 80s by the time they get to meet with the Parole Board. Lifers, on the other hand, after serving x number of years in prison, get a crack at the Parole Board every 5 years.

Both of these inmates have tried unsuccessfully to get their sentences commuted by the Governor, which he certainly could do. But why should he? A commutation would do little to reduce Michigan's shamefully high prison population, and on the other hand it definitely could damage his political reputation. Being tough on crime pleases voters.

We don't know how many of these prisoners with long, indeterminate sentences are buried and forgotten in Michigan prisons, but you can be sure that Troy and Leon aren't the only two!

Perhaps AP Writer Ed White's story, published in various Michigan newspapers this weekend, is a start. But we mustn't stop there. Corrective legislation is needed. HFP is going to do its part. You can do yours, as well. Simply passing this piece along to someone of influence might make a difference.

We know the Lord won't leave these guys or forsake them.

Will we?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Not ashamed. Not in the least!

I am not ashamed of the gospel...Romans 1:16.

I was reminded of those powerful words from the Apostle Paul, who made such a bold statement after an earlier life of persecuting Christians, following a recent meeting with the founder of a generous philanthropic foundation. Our board chairman Dan Rooks, my son Matt and I were being interviewed because we were hoping to obtain a small grant for HFP operating funds.

The man was so kind and so understanding. We're not certain whether we'll receive a grant, but we know for sure that the man caught the flavor of our operation. And that, in itself, was impressive to all of us. Because often it seems we are on the defensive.

For some reason, even though Jesus insisted that we give special attention to prisoners, many people cannot understand the work of HFP, and find it difficult to support. We may get a dismissive statement: “We need people like you.” We don't get dollars very easily.

But we are not ashamed of the daily work of HFP. To the contrary, we're very proud of it!

The compassion of this agency can be shown in small, and what same may think, insignificant ways. Just recently

-We helped a prisoner locate his estranged step-father, so he could patch things up before the elderly man died.
-We helped an inmate find a private investigator to dig up some critical evidence in his wrongful conviction case.
-We agreed to help an inmate deserving of parole, who has been ignored by the Parole Board far too long.
-We agreed to write a letter of support to the Governor for a lifer who deserves release.
-We promised to try to get some treatment for a prisoner experiencing serious health problems and apparently is not getting proper treatment.
-We communicated a message to the pastor of a family whose adopted son recently committed suicide behind bars, after guards laughingly told him to go ahead and do so.
-We filed a complaint with the Department of Justice regarding cruel punishment of a mentally challenged woman in prison.
-We found the phone number of an inmate's mother.
-We agreed to help a prisoner in preparing his commutation application form.

Yes, these may seem trivial and insignificant. Just ask prisoners how they feel. Notes of thanks and gratitude arrive here daily.

I started out with St. Paul's statement about not being ashamed of the gospel.

Is this activity by HFP the gospel?

It certainly is in our mind! We believe that we're demonstrating the gospel of Jesus Christ in a most meaningful way...the method of St. Francis of Assisi: Preach the gospel every day. Use words if necessary.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Whistle blowers behind bars: Heroes!

Thanks to behind-the-bars whistle blowers, HFP is providing an exceptional service. But I'm not sure it's having the desired effect.

We are so proud of those inmates who leak the truth to us on a regular basis by email and letter. We have learned which ones are exaggerating, are telling self-serving stories, and are determined to smear the system. We have reputable people behind bars who are regularly disclosing serious problems in Michigan prisons, and we are sharing that information.

In recent months we have told about a mentally ill woman being hog-tied in the nude for hours, and being forced to sleep on a slab with no padding.

We are now receiving reports of another mentally ill woman who was denied food and water, and who was administered drugs even while still unconscious from the previous injection. Only then was she rushed to a hospital by ambulance on a ventilator.

From Michigan's Woodland Facility, which houses mentally ill men, come new reports of abuse and lack of appropriate care, and then cover-up moves by staff members.

The daily messages on the HFP network are not there to titillate the reader.

We don't put them out there to replicate the super-sensational tabloids.

We do this to inform an uninformed public. But more than that, we also expect results.

In almost every session where I make a presentation, people ask what they can do about these intolerable situations. Certainly we can pray for improvement, but we must do more than that. We must demand change.

If nothing else, as a state tax payer, here's why you should care. Michigan prisons take a bigger bite out of the general fund budget than any other state. Michigan keeps people in prison longer than any other state. You and I are paying for it!

And there are problems in the Michigan prisons which we are revealing daily on our email network, thanks to whistle blowers who know that they can expect retaliation. Much of it we also share in our monthly newsletter.

Do you know the name of your State Representative? How about your State Senator? Have you ever contacted either of them? They are not appointed...they are elected to office. If you're a registered voter in the state, they'll listen to you. And if they don't, you should vote for someone else and you should tell them that.

Sign up for our email network. Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter. Then, when you get this disturbing information, dare to do something about it!

For those of us who consider ourselves Christians and responsible American citizens, we have no option.

Complacency is a sin.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

And prisoners are smart!

I heard something new about prisoners last night.

I was invited to be the guest of a book club. The readers had just finished my book that tells the Maurice Carter story, SWEET FREEDOM. And the discussion inevitably led to prisons and prisoners in general.

Then one of the book club members, who is a teacher, said that while attending a teachers conference the participants were told that prisoners had a higher IQ average than the general public. Wow!

Upon reflection, that did not really surprise me.

I have heard prisoners in the Muskegon SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS Circle recite lengthy passages from Shakespeare works, flawlessly quoting the Bard of Avon with expression and gestures.

I have seen legal documents prepared by so-called jailhouse lawyers because many inmates cannot afford real-life attorneys...documents that would amaze you, and some of which have been effective in the courts. I think they amazed judges as well.

I hear of conscientious inmates who serve as teachers and mentors, helping others to become better and more educated citizens during their time of incarceration.

I have read countless letters from inmates carefully prepared, flawlessly written, and typed without a single error.

It reminded me of the time when I was in school, back in the 40s and 50s, when we labeled some kids “dumb” just because they couldn't seem to read or write or spell up to the level of the rest of us. In those days no one ever heard of or gave consideration to such a thing as learning disabilities. Little did we know that those kids were probably smarter than we were, but struggling with something as simple as dyslexia.

So, in addition to being children of God, or as Jesus called them, “the least of these brothers of mine,” prisoners are also smart. Their IQ is probably higher than yours or mine.

All the more reason for us to dig in and find better ways to recycle these damaged individuals and make them productive members of society.

Punishment, retribution, an “eye-for-an-eye” isn't working.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Father's Day promise---found in the last chapter

In my early morning reflections on Father's Day, I think back on a sermon preached by a friend years ago in our church. I don't remember all the details, but I remember the title: The world ain't supposed to be this way! The minister explained that the words were those of an elderly black man, after witnessing an ugly racial incident.

Those words ring true, especially on a day like today, especially when thinking of the true-life stories that cross our desk on a regular basis.

A heart-broken mom contacted us very recently to inform us that her son, still in his 20s and in prison, had taken his own life. And now it is up to her to care for his child...a little boy with no dad today.

I have a friend on the sex registry after serving time for a crime he didn't even commit. His children, all adults now, never forgave him for the alleged offense and refuse to even let him contact them. A father and grandfather who is not celebrating today.

The visiting rooms in Michigan's prisons will be overflowing today, and the scenes would touch you. Elderly fathers with pain in their eyes, visiting sons who made some mistakes along the way. Young moms, some of them pregnant, bringing little kids to see their daddy on Father's Day. They must painfully separate after the visit. Alone once again on this special day.

Other children and fathers must be satisfied with a very expensive phone call from prison, thanks to the immoral and exorbitant rates they are forced to pay.

I had the wonderful privilege of performing music and speaking with a number of female prisoners a few days ago, and I very briefly shared with them a story I heard early one Sunday morning on TV's Hour of Power. The guest minister was one of my favorite preachers, Richard Mouw.

He said that in his busy life he occasionally liked to take a break and read a good detective novel. But he also admitted that by about page 146 he became anxious, because the hero was in serious trouble and the heroine was in the hands of captors. And Rev. Mouw then made a confession: “I go to the last chapter.” He advised the audience that he still went back and read all of the book...he just wanted to be assured of the outcome.

And I chose to take his application of that story to prison with me. I reminded these women, many of them hurting and in a dark time of their lives, that they're still on page 146. And I said that I could offer them hope with assurance, as I held up my Bible, because I had read the last chapter!

The stories of my many prisoner friends, whom I deeply love, make me a bit melancholy early on this Father's Day.

But I thank and praise God that we're promised a happy ending in the last chapter!