Monday, October 26, 2009

The spirit of Maurice Carter lives on!

Maurice Carter died just five years ago this weekend. He could not have been remembered more appropriately than at a Friday evening ceremony in Madison, Wisconsin. Some 200 people gathered in a University of Wisconsin auditorium to celebrate 10 years of service by the U of W Innocence Project.
The case of Maurice Carter was one of the first to be taken on by the fledgling Innocence Project in 1998, and the bright-eyed students and eager professors began a six-year journey to free a man they came to know and love. Little did they realize that honesty and integrity are foreign to the judicial system in Berrien County, Michigan. They traveled, they made prison visits, they dug through dusty police files in a Benton Harbor basement, and over the years they prepared impressive briefs and documents, nearly two inches thick, that proved without doubt that Maurice was innocent. Never did they expect to encounter a judge who refused to review the material...who just shoved the stack of paper aside, grumbling something about the number of trees reflected in that stack of paper. Never had they heard a judge speak with such disrespect about a fellow human being whose life in prison was threatened by a mortal disease:
We're all gonna die sometime!
I'm not going to allow Mr. Carter to be transported to this courtroom. After all, I don't own any term insurance on him!
Maurice had warned his legal team in advance to seek a different county. He always maintained that, when his case came up in Berrien County, the wheels of justice ground to a halt!
I proudly stood in for Maurice, along with a dozen persons who were freed by the Wisconsin Innocence Project Friday night, and I thanked and congratulated the professors, students and alumni for their dedication. Maurice and the other exonerees received a lengthy standing ovation.
Maurice survived for only three months after he was released for medical reasons in 2004. During that short period, Maurice Carter visited our church, filled with his supporters. And when called upon to say a few words about serving 29 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, he focused, instead, on his freedom and proclaimed: ISN'T GOD WONDERFUL?
I'll not forget his final words. I had to lean over his bed to hear the whisper: "I love you."
May the death of Maurice Carter---a kind, gentle man whose love knew no bounds---serve to remind us that humanity for prisoners is a mandate, that complacency is a sin, and that WE are the ones who must constantly strive for a system that ensures justice for all!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

HFP thanks God for women!

Many women quietly support and assist HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS in many ways, but a few prime examples come to mind this morning:

THE MOTHER OF A YOUNG MAN WHO DIED IN PRISON DUE TO NEGLECT, who has no money to spare, has pledged the first $200 so that we can represent the late Maurice Carter at the Wisconsin Innocence Project's 10th anniversary observance in Madison on Friday. Is someone up to matching that pledge?

A FORMER PRISONER has taken on a fund-raising project for HFP that failed both times in the last two years. She's making it happen because she KNOWS what we are doing! Its success is already guaranteed!

AN EX-EMPLOYEE OF THE MICHIGAN PRISON SYSTEM is now working with me in the office to create harmony out of this discord. She understands our mission!

This is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg! I would like to profile a long list of women, and the amazing things they are doing to remember those in prison as if they were together with them in prison. They're help with fund-raising, contributions, grants, special projects, prayers, and prisoner-assistance keeps us going!

SINCERE THANKS TO ALL FROM THE HFP BOARD OF DIRECTORS!

Humanity for Prisoners
P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

Monday, October 19, 2009

First-of-the-week comments

From a supporter

I'd like to see the Avalon as a sculpture piece installed at a conspicuous intersection in all its wrecked glory! Dedication: Wrecked but still functioning. And Ron Ross even, the personifier of coordinating such a masterpiece... It's curious how random events often converge into a whole. RIP, Avalon. Your glory lives on!


From a prisoner, commenting on the work of HFP

...it is one thing to be compelled to help someone you know to be innocent. It is another to decide that what a person has done in their past is less important than who they are and how they are treated today. That is a huge leap that can only be made with a strong and pure heart, and I am so glad I have been given the opportunity to meet you.


From an advocate for juveniles in the prison system

If all the kids housed in the MDOC could be followed and supported by a church, what a positive impact that could make in their young lives! Your church in Ferrysburg supported Mr. Carter. Can you imagine how wonderful it would/could be if each MDOC child was matched with a church that could pray, send letters and books, and make personal visits to them?


Thanks to one and all for your constant, unfailing, support and encouragement!

Avalon obit

Her name was Avalon, and despite her beauty and good manners, she was best known as the reliable wheels for a freedom fighter.

Her first assignment: to free Maurice Carter. And she was up for the challenge.

The route to Benton Harbor, Michigan, where a Carter committee met monthly, was soon memorized. But she boldly took on bigger challenges in Benton Harbor, finding a tiny church where an Innocence Project laid out its plans to a skeptical community and where a jailhouse snitch told how he framed Maurice. She prowled through the inner city, despite the presence of a permanent cloud of evil, searching for witnesses who might clear Maurice's name.

No discriminator of persons, she humbly gave a ride to a drunken story-teller just as proudly as she transported Rubin Hurricane Carter to a prison to meet Maurice in person.

Not the least bit worried about distance, she traveled to Canada, Chicago, and Madison if she felt it would help the cause.

And when Carter was finally released, she gave him his first car ride to his first real bed in 29 years.

It was the same compassionate Avalon that gave Maurice his last auto ride to a hospital as he was slipping into a coma (We're going FAST!)

The Avalon attended Maurice Carter's funeral service, and traveled to Gary, Indiana, for Mother's Day and Christmas visits with Maurice's mom for years.

But Maurice Carter's transition to a better world didn't slow down the Avalon.

There were other prisoners who needed help at parole interviews, someone to speak up at public hearings, someone to help ailing inmates in their fight for medical care. There were other prisoners who just needed a friendly visit, a hug, a prayer. And so she traveled throughout Michigan, as far north as Munising and Marquette, and as far south as Coldwater and Adrian.

Over time, the Avalon inevitably started showing her age. After 200,000 miles of honorable service, her health began to fail.

Perhaps her final significant drive was to Jackson to pick up Ron Ross, whose two life-sentences were commuted by the Governor after he had served 11 years. Without stumbling, she brought him safely home. By then her frailties prohibited any more long drives, so she became the daily work vehicle for newly freed citizen Ross, a handyman earning his way back into society.

And that was working until Friday, October 16, 2009. Ron was in the Avalon, waiting in a stalled line of traffic in downtown Spring Lake, Michigan, when a giant SUV came roaring up from behind, and without application of brakes slammed into the rear of the car. The result was a chain-reaction crash involving five vehicles. Despite her age and her damage, the Avalon's airbags and safety-belt system worked perfectly, and Ron suffered only minor injuries.

The Avalon is beyond repair...nothing more than a heap of twisted steel and broken glass.

Mused Ron, in a brief, private eulogy: She gave her life to save mine.

With a little touching up, a preacher could use that line!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A ray of sunshine peeping into a dark cell

Twelve persons from St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, have pledged to send at least one letter a month for at least one year to a needy Michigan prisoner! It's all a part of HFPs exciting new program: PROJECT WINDOW. It's a program designed to shed a ray of sunshine into the darkness of Michigan prison cells. We're walking before we run, but it is our hope that one day the project can be expanded to every state!

The names of prisoners are carefully selected by HFP staff and volunteers. Protection of the letter-writer is a primary concern, so the writer uses only his/her first name, and the return address is simply the address of the participating church.

If this seems like a good program for your church or civic organization, please contact HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS for more information: 616.935.0075.

A third western Michigan congregation will consider the program in a meeting tomorrow evening.

Doug Tjapkes, President

Friday, October 9, 2009

on seeking excellence

So I go to this Michigan prison (not a busy one) to visit a guy who doesn't even belong there.

The staff members at the desk are very nice to me, I sign in, follow all the rules and move to my seat. One of the people at the desk makes contact with the unit where the prisoner is housed, and announces that the man has a visitor.

I remain seated in the waiting room. I'm the only person there to visit a prisoner.

15 minutes later (I learned after the fact), the prisoner took his seat in the visiting room. He was the only inmate in the room.

After 30 minutes, one kind soul at the front desk assured me that she would investigate this delay.

After 30 minutes, the prisoner asked the guard in the visiting room where his visitor was.

Turns out, nobody bothered to let the front desk know that the prisoner was up, and waiting for me! My friend and I sat alone, in separate rooms, for 30 minutes while staff members in the prison talked about other things.

I finally made it into the visiting room, we hugged, exchanged pleasantries, and sat side-by-side...the only two people in the room.

"You can't sit there," barked the guard. Referring to the prisoner, she said, "You must face me! You can't sit with your back to me."

We moved to the other side of the aisle, so that we both faced the guard. A small, round table---badly scratched and chipped, where the prisoners often place their vending machine food---was in front of us. As my friend crossed his legs to begin the conversation, the sole of his shoe touched the lid of the table.

"And you gotta take your foot off the table!"

45 minutes after my arrival, we began our conversation.

The Michigan Department of Corrections slogan:

Seeking Excellence Every Day!

Adds one veteran prisoner:

And never finding it!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

October update

September, you responded to our appeals, and we had to ask ourselves

Are we good stewards with your dollars?

And prisoners answered with a resounding

Yes!

· A woman walked into freedom, her parole problems resolved: It couldn’t have happened without YOU…you were a God-send!

· An ex-convict turned his life around after spending 11 years on a wrongful conviction, and told members of his church: I would serve the 11 years again if I knew that I could have THIS kind of life!

· An African American prisoner, after hearing Doug speak, said: All my life I’ve had problems with white people, until now. I was blessed by your words! I praise God for your work!

· An elderly inmate, abandoned in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, upon being informed by HFP that his case is now being reviewed by a top Canadian innocence project, broke down and wept: Thank God! You’re the first visitor I’ve had in five years!

· A man who cared for the late Maurice Carter when he was very ill in prison is now being considered for release: Will you say a kind word at my public hearing?

· A prisoner, upon hearing Doug question whether HFP was making gains, tightly grasped his hand: You’re winning, Doug. You’re winning!

· A scholar of the Bible, behind bars, counseled Doug: God always finishes what he begins!


More than 60 prisoners (needy, mentally ill, physically ill, abandoned, feeling unloved, frightened, claiming innocence, deserving freedom, dying) contacted HFP in September. We need your continued support in order to respond in mercy.

THESE INMATES, CREATED IN THE IMAGE OF GOD, THANK YOU FOR CARING!

HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS
P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417