Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Remembering Maurice Carter

I could envision a beautiful building perhaps in the style of the Supreme Court structure, with letters carved in marble or granite: THE MAURICE HENRY CARTER INSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE. Perhaps it would be located on the campus of my favorite college, Calvin in Grand Rapids. It would house Michigan's finest Innocence Project, handling cases with and without DNA evidence. Pre-law college students would fight on behalf of indigent prisoners claiming wrongful conviction. But the institute would go beyond that. It would help those who had fallen through the cracks, and had no family, no friends, to stand beside them in fighting for fair treatment, medical care, a halt to mental health abuse, etc., etc. It would fulfill every dream of Maurice Carter, who insisted that his negative had to be turned into a positive. It would be funded by foundations and trusts with never a financial worry. That's what I was dreaming exactly 7 years ago today.

I had already spent my final moments alone with Maurice in a Spectrum critical care unit. He was attached to every piece of equipment the hospital had that might be able to keep him alive for a few more minutes. But the staph infection was obviously winning. His frail, tired body finally gave up. Just past midnight, October 25, 2004.

I hadn't expected his death. I expected that he and I would work side by side to help prisoners. I did not expect to be carrying this torch alone. And so the organization, at that time named INNOCENT, continued its work. Later we changed the name to HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS to better reflect our mission. We incorporated as a Michigan non-profit agency. We obtained IRS approval for tax exemption. But the Carter dream didn't evolve into a major justice institute. Instead, we're a tiny agency with a huge heart, located in a single-room office, but carrying out the Carter dream with an amazing panel of professionals, a band of committed volunteers, and a loyal albeit limited crowd of supporters who faithfully see that the bills get paid.

But as I reflect on Maurice's life and his dream on this meaningful day, I believe he would be pleased. I feel him at my side.

An African American gospel singer whom I loved and who died far too early in life, Alma Perry, used to sing this song. It doesn't exactly apply, but this is the spirit in which we carry on from day to day.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
If I can show somebody, how they're traveling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

We're on the job, Maurice. Rest in peace.

No comments: