From Matt Tjapkes, Doug's son:
I always liked July 24. Of course, it’s my birthday, so that’s pretty normal.
But 2004 was a bit different. Probably for the first time in my life, my birthday wasn’t the big deal on that day. Celebration was on the agenda, but for a far better cause. It was finally the day that Maurice Carter would be free once again.
A large group of supporters headed to Jackson the night before, because Maurice would be released early in the morning. There was a lot of excitement in what was about to happen. Everyone was ready to celebrate, but after watching my dad work for 10 years to make this day happen, I don’t think anyone was truly ready until the moment we saw Maurice outside the cell.
Could you imagine what it was like on his end? Nearly 30 years of incarceration, knowing the whole time he did not deserve it. Struggling with illness, his day had finally come. And what a ride on the way out - A luxury motorhome! The last time he had really seen an automobile, it was 1976. He had clean clothes, a cell phone to talk on, hundreds of people ready to greet him. He must have been the talk of the prison that day.
While only a few people were allowed to actually go on prison grounds, a group waited outside to see him ride out in the motorhome. A mile down the road, we found a parking lot big enough to accommodate everyone. Maurice stepped out to cheers, TV cameras, hugs and tears. The celebration continued all the way back to West Michigan, where Maurice would finally hug his mom again.
It was three short months Maurice had out of prison before his body succumbed to liver disease. But he savored every waking moment. Every bite of food, every beautiful view of nature, everything we take for granted on a daily basis was a true treat to Maurice.
Eight years later, take a brief moment to think of Maurice and remember two things. First, there are others still in prison. They’re all God’s children. Pray for them, pray for HFP as we strive to make sure they are treated with fairness. Second, take a brief step back from your busy life and try to enjoy a day like Maurice did. We’re all blessed. Life is good today.
Happy July 24.