Thursday, December 29, 2011

Prison grief takes no holiday

Mail to the HFP office doesn't let up during the holidays. It might even pick up tempo just a bit.

A prisoner wants us to get his story out to all state legislators, because he can't make it happen. A prisoner wants us to help him find a location to parole to, because he was an only child, has burned a few bridges, and now has no family and no friends, should he ever obtain a release. A prisoner needs help filing a commutation application, but thinks we should do most of the work. A prisoner needs copies of the application form. (That's easy...we can honor that request.) The mother of a prisoner needs help getting medical care for her son. He was on medication for migraine headaches. As we often hear, the state stopped the medicine. He's not able to function anymore. He was supposed to have followup care following a CT-scan 2 years ago and that never happened. Can we help?

And, if you can believe it...all requests in the above paragraph came in TODAY. Not this week. Today!

We'll start making our contacts, start doing what we can, gently explain what we can't do, and place everything before God in prayer.

I so very much appreciated the comment from Thad a few days ago, a wrongly convicted exoneree, who encouraged us to "Keep up the important and impressive work that you do. I know that they appreciate your love and support, as I did when I needed it."

And I say that to all of you in our corner. Thank you for your love and support, as we try to offer the same to "the least of these."

Enjoy your holiday season. It's not nice in prison this week.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

trying to offer holiday cheer

It's not always that easy, trying to cheer up prisoners in the first place. Then add to the situation a series of unpleasant circumstances, and one is hard pressed for words.

We're trying to help Mr. C to file for a medical commutation, because he has terminal cancer. He has less than 6 months to live, and would like to spend his remaining days with his family. Knowing how slow the system plods along, we're trying to make things happen, and meanwhile he struggles with imperfect and impersonal prison medical care.

Says Mr. C:

I'm supposed to have chemotherapy treatments every 21 days but the MDOC keeps interrupting my treatments, and not give me the bone marrow shots that I need. I am already two chemo sessions behind, and the doctor and nurse here are asking how long I'll be taking chemo. It sounds like the MDOC is tired of paying for my chemo session and paying for the two officers to take me to the hospital.

Nice, huh? And then I had the audacity to get on Mr. C's case a little bit because he was tardy in getting all of the documents that I wanted to help put together this application.

Sorry I haven't sent you the application and the letters. My family has been busy making funeral arrangements for my younger sister who died December 12th from lung cancer.

A slap on the hand to me! Patience, Douger, patience. Sheesh.

Thank you very much for your help.

Thanks to all of YOU for your help and support, as we stumble along trying to be a friend and a help to the least of these.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

on the making of an unpleasant Christmas

I'm thinking of my friend Teri a lot these days. I even have feelings of guilt. How come my Christmas can be so bright? How come hers haven't been bright for years?

What would make Christmas bad for you?

How about this scenario: Your husband is a teacher, and wrongly accused by some little girls and wrongly convicted?

How about this one? The nation's leading lie detector examiner proclaims your husband's innocence, beyond doubt, but the courts refuse to listen.

Or this? Because your husband is convicted of a sex crime, and one daughter is still listed as a minor, she may not visit her own father.

Or this? While in prison he contracts cancer. And it's life threatening.

Or this? Even while getting chemo therapy, he must be shackled and under guard, because he is a threat to society.

Or this? Now it's a death sentence. Cancer will claim his life before his innocence is proved.

Had enough?

Well, if you can believe this, Teri is grateful this Christmas. Larry is in a hospice facility, and this year, for the first Christmas in six years, all four members of the family will be together.

Hope you're not complaining about this holiday season any more.

Pray for Teri, and Larry, and two beautiful daughters.

Send them a hug.

Friday, December 16, 2011

'Tis the season

Doug Coupland said, "Christmas makes everything twice as sad."

Each year at this time I hope for only warm and fuzzy stories to come to us from the prisoners.

Well, once again this year, it's not happening.

From one unit, 25 guys willing to put their names on the line in hopes of turning in a guard who is coming to work with alcohol on his breath, and whose behavior seems to indicate that he is working while under the influence. 25 men who are willing to risk retaliation and all sorts of unpleasantness just because they believe they deserve a sane and sober individual on duty in their facility. And yet, the complaint is rejected and retaliation begins almost immediately. I tread carefully, because I don't want to hurt these guys with any more crap than they are already experiencing. I must do something. In desperation, they've turned to us.

From one unit comes a request from prioners. Steve cannot get appropriate care for his cancer, Stage 4. They tell him it's incurable anyway.

It's the weekend. It's the holiday season. It's going to be difficult getting anyone's attention, let alone getting action.

In desperation, they've turned to us.

And that's why we're here.

Even at Christmas time.

Especially at Christmas time.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Takes one to know one

I remember that as kids we threw that phrase back at someone who gave us a bad label. I'm reflecting on the phrase as I open the mail today, and I'm thinking there's some validity to it. I'm seeing incredible empathy for prisoners from those who are struggling with their own needs. Serious needs. Needs that might prevent you or me from functioning half-way normally. Needs that would definitely keep some people I know from even getting out of bed in the morning.

A beautiful supporter who is at an age where many would be sitting home in a rocker sipping tea instead placed an order for six prayer books to be placed into the hands of needy prisoners. She accompanied the order with a generous gift of support.

An African American supporter who has a son in prison and visits her best friend in prison got talking with another prison mom, and today they ordered five books for prisoners.

A supporter on total disability with more health problems than I could list in one article and no money, but with a blessed spirit that only Jesus could give, felt led to send us a check of support because she knows the pain of prisoners.

An elderly woman whose husband had to write the letter for her because she suffered a debilitating stroke, still felt the need to help others after reading of our ministry, and placed a check in the mail.

I am touched.

These aren't people caught up in the Christmas shopping frenzy. These are people who, despite their own set of problems, feel a kinship with men and women behind bars and want to demonstrate their love in a tangible way.

No one has to explain Matthew 25 to them. They get it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The news isn't always good

Our daughter-in-law received an early Christmas present this year. She learned this week that a dreaded lump was benign. All of us thanked God.

But the reality is that a number of other people received news that wasn't as good, on the same day.

I was reminded of that today. I was thinking of Missy's good news, as I was FAXing out medical reports to two of the fine physicians who work behind the scenes for HFP.

One prisoner is terribly ill, but death isn't threatening. Maybe somedays he wishes it would hurry, as he suffers with some very unpleasant symptoms. Among other things, he has Hep C and he's going to need a transplant if he's going to survive. And so we're getting the machine fired up. You see, he can't have a transplant while in prison. He's really in on a non-serious charge and he has been in longer than his early release date. Why the state insists on keeping prisoners like this boggles the mind. He's got a great behavior record, the charge did not involve violence, he's been in longer than the minimum sentence, and he's very sick, so he's costing us a lot of money. I forwarded his first documents to a doctor so that we can work on the next phase.

The second prisoner has has received his death sentence. In his case, we'll be trying to obtain a release from prison on medical grounds so that he can die at home surrounded by love and loved ones. He has terminal cancer.

We are blessed to have the finest medical practitioners I know serving at our side to help these prisoners. They get it. They understand completely the depth of the meaning of their oath.

Yet, in both of these situations, there is nothing to give us optimism that we will be successful. But, we must keep the spirits of these inmates up. After all, 'tis the season to be jolly. If only all of our very sick prisoners could receive the glad tidings that Missy did.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On who's boss

There's one thing you gotta learn when you're in prison. You gotta learn who's boss. The system will keep pounding it in to you until you've got it straight. You're a nobody. Your opinion means nothing. You are simply a number.

It took good ol' Joe a little while to figure that out. Joe's parents are in their 80s and in bad health. They live in Lapeer, and there's a prison right there in the home town. So they thought it would be nice if Joe could be transferred from Ionia to Lapeer, in that Joe's dad has just suffered and heart attack and all. Certainly if Joe lived in the Thumb CF it would be easier for elderly parents to visit him.

Joe asked if we'd help. We wrote a letter to the warden, and we suggested that he contact his state legislators. His state senator was kind enough to contact the MDOC, and was told that Joe would probaby do best by just talking with his own housing unit personnel. He was informed that the state cannot really consider transfers just for convenience' sake, because transfers cost money and the state doesn't have any.

So Joe asked his housing unit people, but they didn't like that. And they didn't like it that I wrote to the warden and that Joe wrote to his state senator.

It was time for Joe to find out who's really the boss there.

So a transfer was arranged, all right. Joe was sent to the Upper Peninsula where, he says, he must stay now for two years. He doesn't think his parents will even live that long.

And while it made sense to Joe and his family to put him closer to his elderly parents, there wasn't unanimous agreement on that point. Sending him to the UP would teach him who's boss.

Well, Joe got the point.

He's simply a number. No name, no face.

The MDOC is the boss.

A boss with a heart.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

That old-time religion

I gave a copy of our new CD, SWEET FREEDOM, to my friend Beth at church this morning. In a way, she started this whole business of a benefit CD for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. When her husband Don died, she asked that I play the piano for the funeral service. He had always enjoyed my keyboard musings. And, because he had a love for trains, he wanted an old railroad song sung at his funeral service: Life's Railway to Heaven. I asked fellow-musician John Mulder to join me for the funeral music. A fellow prison worker liked it so much he suggested a fund-raiser in his church. John and I added a few more musicians for the fund-raiser, and people liked that so much we decided on a CD. The rest is history.

Charley Honey, fine religion writer for the Grand Rapids Press, did a story about the CD yesterday, and called it a "delightful collection of old-time gospel chestnuts." In fact, when he listened to the CD, his first reaction was: Old-Time Religion. And I guess he's right. We chose titles that history has proven to be popular, Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, The Old Rugged Cross.

I hope you will give a listen. You can download your own personal copy of the album on iTunes or Amazon...or better yet you can ask me to send you a hard copy, so you can play it in your car when you drive to work.

It's called SWEET FREEDOM, and the other musicians are Lee Ingersoll, Cal Olson, Roger MacNaughton and David Mulder. We suggest a donation of $15, and the money goes right into the operation of HFP.

Said Charley Honey: "Their fresh treatments of these sentimental favorites could warm a wintry soul."

Give it a try and let me know.