Thursday, October 30, 2008

Michiganders, what are you going to do about this?

Two things came across my desk today that should irritate every Michigan citizen!

First, the Associated Press reported that according to state auditors, the Michigan Department of Corrections paid nearly $67-million in overtime to prison guards in the 2006-07 budget year. In fact, one officer worked 2,390 overtime hours! That's like working more than two full-time jobs. Prisoners tell us they have heard guards boasting about how much money they're taking home. And while prison guards are living that way, let me tell you how some of our prisoners are living.

I received a letter today from a prisoner at the Mid-Michigan Correctional Facility, located in St. Louis, Michigan, who shall remain anonymous for obvious reasons.

There is no doctor here. For some reason whenever there is a new doctor, they never stay. It's so hard for anyone to see a doctor, and the lucky ones may see one after months of complaining or going through physical ailments. There's no dentist here, either.

I had X-rays about 3-4 months ago. I have yet to receive the results, let alone a diagnosis. I would like a prescription, but the nurses laugh at me and suggest that I go to the store and buy pain medicine.

Re bathroom facilities: It should be against the law for a person forced to use the toilet in standing water on the floor. And we are so overcrowded! We're housed in units designed for 80 men, and each unit has double that amount. That means there are 160 men trying to use 8 toilets and 6 urinals, and at least one toilet is not operating. 7 toilets for the entire unit! Most of the sinks leak, and the ventilation is poor.

There is no sprinkler system in any of the buildings for fires.

I'll bet that guard who worked nearly 2,400 overtime hours doesn't live like this!

Doug Tjapkes
HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

SUNGLASSESGATE!

Remember when we tried to give a wheelchair to a Michigan prisoner earlier this year, and it took almost five months to make it happen? To refresh your memory, a prisoner needing a wheelchair had a problem getting one from the state, and so we innocently shipped a donated chair. But apparently that was in violation of some policy, and it took months before reason prevailed, and the chair was moved from the warden’s office to the cell of the prisoner.

Well, the state never forgot that, and now the same prisoner is in the Michigan Department of Corrections limelight again. This time he’s been placed in the hole (segregation). The charge: Smuggling!

It’s a case much more serious than the wheelchair incident: His friend, with his knowledge and consent, sent him a new pair of sunglasses! Think of the serious ramifications! Everyone should know that sunglasses may not be sent to a prisoner. Just as with the wheelchair, this is against policy. But the MDOC dug in on this one, appointing an inspector AND a hearings investigator. The prisoner was thrown in the hole, the company that shipped the sunglasses from out-of-state was threatened with a federal investigation (US Mails), the friend of the inmate faces permanent restriction from prison visitation, and the state will even hold a hearing on this matter on November 14!

I have a copy of the MDOC Notice of Proposed Visitor Restriction, and regarding the sunglasses issue, it uses such ominous terms as “conspired …to send sunglasses,” “the package (of sunglasses) is fraudulent,” and, “ the prisoner has been charged with the following major misconduct violation: 045 Smuggling.”

The Michigan Department of Corrections faces huge issues and struggles with incredible financial problems, yet it spends this much time and money on sunglasses? It promises to even produce tapes of telephone conversations proving that these people conspired to have the sunglasses sent! Are sunglasses considered dangerous contraband?

Let’s compare the wheelchair issue. WE sent a wheelchair. Was that package fraudulent? We freely discussed this plan with the prisoner in advance. Was that a conspiracy? Why wasn’t the prisoner placed in segregation when the wheelchair arrived, and why wasn’t there a hearing to determine whether our visiting should be suspended?

The answer is simple. RETALIATION! The prisoner and his friend are learning an important lesson: It may take time, but when it comes to a shoving match, the MDOC does not intend to lose!

Doug Tjapkes
HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Friday, October 24, 2008

One of a kind!


Maurice Carter: his life, a sermon.

Maurice Carter died exactly four years ago tonight, after just three months of freedom. His strength ran out in the fight against multiple physical problems contracted in the Michigan prison system, a miserable hell-on-earth where he spent half of his life. His last words to me, in a whisper that I could hardly hear: "I love you!"

This humble, unassuming, innocent man had no idea that his simple examples in life would become a profound sermon, even after death.

Over 29 years of incarceration, his compassion and gentle demeanor under a cloud of false accusation would

-bring tears to the eyes of investigating university students
-touch the lives of countless prisoners
-enrage those who assumed that punishment and cruelty could conquer his soul
-frustrate a judicial system so intent on winning that it even resorted to ridicule
-maintain his dignity under scorching words during insensitive parole sessions
-impress the finest of legal teams
-endear himself to thousands of people, of all ages, around the world, and
-empower him to cling unashamedly to his faith in all situations.

This was a man who treated the medical community better than it treated him.

This was a man who taught us that it was all right to say, "I love you."

This was a man who, under the worst of circumstances, would reverse the scene and counsel his would-be encouragers to just "leave it in God's hands."

Maurice Henry Carter, 1944-2004.

His spirit is alive and well.

Doug Tjapkes
HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS
20 W. Muskegon Ave.
Muskegon, MI 49440

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is the system broke?


SYSTEM FAILS BOSNIAN FAMILY, MICHIGAN AGENCY CLAIMS

Shattered Hidanovic family soon to be splintered!


American’s allegedly exemplary law enforcement and judicial systems have miserably failed in a North Dakota case, according to Doug Tjapkes, President, HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, a prisoner advocacy agency based in Michigan.

Poet Carrie Latet is quoted as saying, May I never wake up from the American dream. Tjapkes says that for Chanda Hidanovic, her husband and four children, the dream has turned into a nightmare.

Mevludin Hidanovic, husband and father, is the only member of the Bosnian family who is not a U.S. citizen. The Fargo man was arrested for starting a fight at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in June, 2006, while attending a county fair with family and friends. The arrest was serious, because alleged criminals who are not citizens face deportation.

Here’s how our “system” failed, from bottom to top, charged Tjapkes:

1. Local police used driver’s license photographs for their “scientific” lineup among witnesses;
2. Despite the fact that all principals passed lie-detector tests, and a baseball bat “disappeared,” the prosecutor proceeded to trial armed only with the testimony of one eye witness (of another race) who viewed the fight from a distance; no evidence, no fingerprints;
3. A judge twice ruled against new trials, even though one admittedly prejudiced juror signed an affidavit saying that she persuaded the remaining 11 to change their opinions of innocence, and even though the girlfriend of the man injured in the melee stated that Hidanovic was NOT the assailant;
4. Hidanovic was refused parole after board members scolded him for not owning up to his guilt;
5. The State Supreme Court, in August, 2008, ruled against post-conviction relief, rejecting the attorney’s arguments, prompting David Chapman to explode: “Unbelievable!”;
6. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT cancelled the first deportation hearing October 1 (after the entire family made the four-hour trip to Bloomington, Minnesota) due to a “scheduling conflict;”
7. ICE cancelled the second hearing October 20, after hiring a Romani interpreter from Bulgaria by mistake!

The hearing will probably make no difference. Mrs. Hidanovic overheard a judge, asking the prosecutor for a copy of the police report, say: "Even without it, I would have kicked his a--….”

Said Mrs. Hidanovic: “We are done. We have lost the will to fight any more. Mevludin is close to a breakdown. He just sat there and cried. I am close to a breakdown. He will be deported.”

The saddened mother said that she plans to accompany her husband when he is sent away, and grandparents will care for their children back in the states.

“So much for the American dream,” said Tjapkes. “Shame on us!”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Prompt response!

Our sincere thanks to the wonderful response to our plea for thoughts and prayers for numerous women who were struggling yesterday. It was a tough way to begin the week in this office! Somewhere in the nation, our request reached a prayer chain, and a kind woman, whose location and identity are unknown to us, offered this prayer:

Father, Our Lord,
We lift up all of these dire needs before your throne of grace and we come boldly to you seeking your mercy and help for these women and their loved ones that are needing divine intervention. You know all of the situations and all of the praying, hopeful hearts. We pray in faith, believing that you will supply everything that is needed for these dear ones that are needing your hand to bring miracles in their lives and loved ones lives. We ask for the needs to be met exceedingly above all that we are asking for. For it is through faith that we believe that all things are possible! In Jesus name we pray,
Amen.

On behalf of all hurting women with whom we are working, "Thank you!"


----- Original Message -----
From: Doug Tjapkes
To: Doug Tjapkes
Sent: Monday, October 20, 2008 1:47 PM
Subject: Prayers, please!
We're calling today "PRAY FOR WOMEN DAY:"

-The mother of a violent prisoner with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, because she cannot persuade officials to give him medicine and a psych evaluation
-The mother of an adult prisoner with a record a mile long, who was on drugs and sleeping in a car, but has now been blamed for a crime he claims he did not commit
-The wife of a prisoner dying of cancer due to lack of proper diagnosis, who is being harassed by prison personnel and bombarded with bad luck
-A female prisoner who claims she is incarcerated because she blew the whistle on a state cop who beat her
-The frantic mom of a mentally challenged 16-year-old prisoner who can't get straight answers from the prison system and worries about her son's welfare
-The grandmother of a 15-year-old bi-polar child with the mind of a 9-year-old, sentenced to 9 to 15 years in prison for sexual play with a 6-year-old, who has been in and out of the adult prison population, does not get his required medication, but does get injections every time his behavior annoys guards.

The tip of the iceberg!

Doug Tjapkes
HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS
20 W. Muskegon Ave.
Muskegon, MI 49440

Monday, October 20, 2008

Prayers, please!

We're calling today "PRAY FOR WOMEN DAY:"

-The mother of a violent prisoner with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, because she cannot persuade officials to give him medicine and a psych evaluation
-The mother of an adult prisoner with a record a mile long, who was on drugs and sleeping in a car, but has now been blamed for a crime he claims he did not commit
-The wife of a prisoner dying of cancer due to lack of proper diagnosis, who is being harassed by prison personnel and bombarded with bad luck
-A female prisoner who claims she is incarcerated because she blew the whistle on a state cop who beat her
-The frantic mom of a mentally challenged 16-year-old prisoner who can't get straight answers from the prison system and worries about her son's welfare
-The grandmother of a 15-year-old bi-polar child with the mind of a 9-year-old, sentenced to 9 to 15 years in prison for sexual play with a 6-year-old, who has been in and out of the adult prison population, does not get his required medication, but does get injections every time his behavior annoys guards.

The tip of the iceberg!

Doug Tjapkes
HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS
20 W. Muskegon Ave.
Muskegon, MI 49440

On starting a new week

It's time that we, once again, read and absorb this Franciscan Benediction as we begin another week:

May God bless you with DISCOMFORT … at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with ANGER ... at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with TEARS ... to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into JOY.

And may God bless you with enough FOOLISHNESS ... to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can DO what others claim cannot be done.

Amen

Friday, October 17, 2008

What we are

I realize that some friends have questions about supporting Humanity for Prisoners because it's so difficult for us to explain just what we do. This unusual ministry doesn't bring religious lessons into the prison or hold services for prisoners, it doesn't provide religious or educational correspondence courses. All of those ministries are wonderful, and we thank God for ANYONE willing to help a prisoner in any way!

But we attempt to MODEL Christ:
-get a wheelchair to a crippled inmate who cannot get one from the state
-join a team trying to free a poor man who has served 35 years for a crime he did not commit
-help parents and grandparents of mentally ill children thoughtlessly thrown into the adult prison system by inconsiderate judges
-find a pleasant facility outside of prison for a dying inmate
-pray with a death row inmate minutes before his execution
-hold the hand of a Bosnian friend whose husband may be deported due to a disgusting wrongful conviction, thus leaving wife and children behind
-seek leniency for a teacher with a terminal illness, after prison officials rule that he may not see his 15 year old daughter before he dies
-sit at the side of prisoners who have no friends or family members during parole interviews, and
-visit prisoners just to lend an ear, regardless of whether we can help, when no one cares to see them.

Perhaps our work could best be described using a simple little story sent to me yesterday by one of our volunteers, about a four year old child:

His next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, 'Nothing, I just helped him cry.'

Doug Tjapkes, President
HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Weaken not

It's not unusual for those of us working in this business of helping "the least of these" to find ourselves propping up a fellow worker during a moment of despair. In fact, I need it rather often.

But today, it was another co-worker, in another state, who was blasted by her friend Juanita for decrying the fact that hate-mongering is being demonstrated at some political rallies. And, in response to her appeal for support to save the life of death row inmate Troy Davis, a friend responded: It seems NOT okay to kill criminals, but it IS okay to kill innocent, unborn babies.

Here, in part, are the thoughts I shared with her.

We must not stoop to their level. Shake the dust off your shoes, and lets get on with what we believe Jesus wants us to do.

I've got a poor woman on line now whose husband is dying of throat cancer because prison doctors didn't do a biopsy in time. And since California is so strict on sex offenders (this one claims wrongful conviction) her 15 year old daughter will not be allowed to visit her father before he dies, and he will not be allowed to die outside of prison walls because he might molest someone. She's a woman of faith, yet I cannot come up with the right words to ease her pain.

Just a few minutes ago I got a request to help a prisoner whose doctor has consistently refused to help a guy with an ingrown toenail. Now it has become a major infection, every time he removes his shoe it is full of blood, there is a possibility the foot will have to be removed, and the heartless doctor still refuses to help, telling the prisoner to go to the top if he thinks he's got a complaint.

Yesterday I had lunch with a former prisoner because I treasure our moments together in the final chapter of his life. Doctors refused to treat him in time while he was in prison, now he's dying of cancer.

And I received a request this morning to send a devotions booklet to a teacher in jail, accused of trying to take a picture under the skirt of a student with a cell phone. The girl has since admitted there was nothing to the story, but this family of 4 is devasted...lost their home, lost their reputation.

The Juanitas of the world will have to go on living on another planet. We don't have time for that luxury.

We must roll up our sleeves!

I conclude with some words from English clergyman Charles Kingsley, in the 1800s: Do today's duty, fight to-day's temptation; and do not weaken...

Doug Tjapkes, President
HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Friday, October 3, 2008

Kind words from a saint!

Doug,

Thank you for your precious care for prisoners!

Sister Helen Prejean

With your help, it will continue!

Doug Tjapkes, President
HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS

Does IMMIGRATION really care?

Some of you have followed, with interest, the story of a Bosnian family in North Dakota. Mevludin Hidanovic is in danger of being deported, because he was wrongly convicted in a simple situation where there was a fight in an amusement park. He was wrongly identified as the instigator, refused a plea bargain, and spent a year in jail. Worse than that, he is not a citizen and now he has a criminal record. That's grounds for deportation.

While attorneys continue to battle the case on legal grounds, his wife and four children (all U.S. citizens) are hoping for mercy. They hope to keep their husband and father here. Meanwhile, he's being held in a county jail in Minnesota, which is NOT next door.

The hearing was scheduled for this week.

Said his wife Chanda: ...yesterday was supposed to be his big deportation hearing to find out if he stays or goes. So, I take two days off work, pull the kids out of school, drive four hours to Minneapolis, spend the night in a hotel room, get up and drive to the immigration court. Wait! They cancel his case due to a scheduling conflict! It has been rescheduled for October 20. Wonderful! Why are we being tested?

It was horrible waiting for the hearing. I saw them take about 50 Mexican men, put them on a bus, and take them to the airport to be deported to Mexico. Very scary. I kept thinking, "That's going to be us."

Please keep this family in your thoughts and prayers.

Doug

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Arn is in a better place!

It is always a sad day here in the office, and for loved ones, when one of the prisoners we have helped leaves this earth.

We received the message over the weekend from Mary Ann Thomas, international flight attendant who resides in North Carolina, that her brother Arnold had died, here in Michigan.

Mary Ann and I first met by email in January, 2007, when, in her characteristically unselfish manner, she contacted our office asking that we assist another prisoner at once who reportedly was not getting proper medication. She asked us to help, because she was dealing with her own prison issues.

I pried into her issues, and learned that she was single-handedly fighting the entire MDOC on behalf of her brother Arn, who, as a result of earlier injuries, was mentally and physically challenged. He didn't belong in the state prison system in the first place, he wasn't getting proper care there, but he was getting more than his share of abuse by guards. HFP joined the fight, and on May 14, 2007, I was at Mary Ann's side in the Tuscola County Courthouse when a stubborn judge angrily agreed with a higher court that Arn had served too long and should be released at once. It was a happy day!

Our sincere expressions of sympathy to dear friend Mary Ann, as well as all of Arn's family members and friends. Now, he's not only free, but well!

Doug
HFP