Monday, April 23, 2012

The beat goes on

Well, I tried to take a brief vacation for spring break...but prison issues don't take vacations. So, I took the computer with me, and had our son Matthew check in at the office each day. I'm pleased to report that HFP remained up and running with not even a hiccup.

A mother of one prisoner and a sister of another were in touch with us regularly, as we continued our struggle against the problems of segregation. Prisoners get poor and unfair treatment in the hole, and it's so very counter-productive.

The fiance' of another prisoner is battling the state...her friend is addicted to cocaine, and authorities believe that prison is the appropriate mathod of rehabilitation.

A lifer contacted me to ask if I would be willing to stand at his side as he faces the Parole Board for a regular interview. I have never turned down such a request, and I won't start now. God willing, I'll be there.

Another prisoner contacted us...something that happens quite often. An inmate in the women's facility is not getting appropriate medical care for some health issues that could be serious. It's a common complaint, and usually a valid complaint. We'll be on it.

We received a report from a prisoner in one facility describing a shameful incident involving tasers...a new tool in the hands of Michigan prison guards. We'll be asking our state lawmakers to look into this.

We managed to pair up the friend of a wrongly convicted prisoner with a high-powered criminal defense attorney who spent a couple hours helping these poor people, and charged them not a penny. She was elated.

It's the stuff HFP does, thanks to the support of our many friends. We're needing a lot more help to survive the month, but the reasons we must remain on the front line are obvious. The beat goes on.

Monday, April 16, 2012

On friends and friendship

I'm humbled.

I just received a message from prison yesterday: Doug is the only friend I've ever had.

I don't know if there is any truth to that statement.

I met Lee more than a decade ago. He was in prison for life on an assault with intent charge. If the truth were known, I think the charge was inaccurate and the sentence was far too severe, but Lee didn't have a very good reputation or a very good past. It was one of those situations, I think, where the system felt that he must have done something to deserve being in prison for the rest of his life.

But the punishment was much more than a prison sentence.

Some years after he was in prison, he was paired up with a mentally challenged inmate. He complained to authorities, because he was afraid, but his repeated pleas were ignored. And then one day his fears became reality...the prisoner bopped him over the head with a big lock. He suffered a closed head injury that was never treated properly. As a result, he now has epileptic seizures, and he must get around in a wheelchair. A high price to pay, indeed, for assault with intent. And it doesn't end there. His life in prison has been a litany of serious mistreatment...being assigned to upper bunks, even tho he suffers seizures, falling from those bunks, kicked and abused during seizures, failure to receive anti-seizure medication as required. The list goes on and on. It hasn't been a fun time for Lee, and the punishment now far exceeds whatever crime the state believes he committed.

Through it all, HFP has tried to help.

We've fought with the system to get treatment and to fight abuse. One time, when the state couldn't repair his wheelchair anymore and refused to give him a new one, we even sent a donated wheelchair to the prison and contrary to state policy, managed to get it to him for his personal use.

We didn't win every time, but we tried. And that was the key. Until Joanne came into his life, he didn't have anyone to go to battle for him.

She's carrying the ball most of the time now.

But we're still there, and over the years Lee and I have remained friends. It's the way friendship is supposed to be. Forever.

I tell the story not to impress anyone with my faithfulness.

First, it's important that you know that HFP needs your help to survive. We're struggling, and we're needed at Lee's side, as well as at the side of many other prisoners.

And second, it's important for you to know that prisoners are people, and they need more than me. It's OK for you to write to a prisoner, to befriend an inmate, and to pray for them all. It's not only OK. It's important.

These are the ones Jesus was talking about.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

No wonder he loved prisoners

It's the night before Easter Sunday. I should be thinking about my Savior, and what he did for me. But I'm hurting. I'm reading a letter from a prisoner. He's terminally ill. He has cancer. We've been trying to help him obtain a commutation of his sentence. There's no reason for him to be there anymore. It would cost the state a fortune to treat him properly. He's certainly no threat to society. So what's the point?

The problem for Mr. C. is that he just can't get treatment. What the heck is wrong with us? Can't we give the guy the medicine he needs?

His simple letter just explains how sick he has become, and that recent tests at a Michigan hospital showed that his tumors are growing.

But then he complains about his chemo. First they gave him this. Then they gave him that. Than they decided to stop.

He enclosed copies of his many grievances, because it appears that all kinds of steps have been taken by the system to block his treatment. What's this all about? An oncologist ordered chemo, but a nurse got in the way and stopped it because there was a confusion over what day the treatment was to be received. So she wouldn't let him have it. And then it got to be five days after the treatment was ordered, he was in pain, and still no chemo.

I apologise on behalf of all free citizens. Our system is broken. God help us.

It's absolutely no wonder why Jesus felt such compassion for prisoners. This season reminds us that HE was wrongly convicted. In the process, he was terribly abused. And then wrongly executed.

We take our marching orders from the risen Lord.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The pals of Jesus

I was having lunch with the President of Crossroad Bible Institute. I had served on a committee with Dr. David Schuringa, and it seemed to me that we had a lot in common, and that we should get to know one another better. And so the luncheon meeting.

We hadn't gotten far into the discussion while breaking bread before it became very apparent that we have a mutual love for prisoners. Granted, his organization emphasizes helping the prisoner with his spiritual issues, and our organization emphasizes helping the prisoner with his physical and mental issues, but we're both helping prisoners...and our interests overlap. Dr. Schuringa pointed out that, while his program centers on Bible studies for prisoners, he and his staff quickly learned that they could not, then, ignore other issues. And so Crossroad Bible Institute is expanding into the area of advocacy. With that, our conversation became animated. HFP advocates on the local level, down in the trenches...CBI is advocating on the state, national and international level.

But now, to the subject of this entry.

Dr. Schuringa told me that while he was serving as a seminary professor, he was encouraged to visit prisoners. He had never been in a prison. He did it, he loved it. And his conclusion, after mingling with the guys behind bars: This is the kind of gang that Jesus would hang out with.

Right on!

I hadn't thought of it in those terms, but I, too, experience such enjoyment when I'm visiting with a group or prisoners, male or female.

No question about it. These would be the pals of Jesus.

In fact, they are right now.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A letter to Mr. Anon

Dear Mr. Anon,

This will acknowledge receipt of your 5 dollar bill, a monthly contribution that has arrived without fail for years. How I wish that we knew more about you and your whereabouts. The only thing we have is the Saginaw, Michigan, postmark. Your crisp currency is always folded between a sheet of lined paper, always enclosed in a small envelope, but never comes to us with a return address.

I'm assuming that you are a mister based on the penmanship. If you are a Ms., please forgive my error.

I just want you to know just how important your monthly gift is.

In the month of March, for example, the HFP office received 63 pleas for help from prisoners. That's way above average, but that's the way things have been going lately.

Among those 63 requests were 18 appeals from new Michigan prisoners for assistance, to which we actually not only reply but take action.

We had disappointments. One of our prisoners got involved in a fight, and seriously injured another inmate. And the mother of a prisoner, whom we had helped to make a visit to her ailing son, was seriouly injured en route when her car was struck by two kids texting as they drove.

But there were exciting moments. We helped a prisoner hoping for a parole this year to avoid returning to Detroit, and to get a new start here in western Michigan. And we testified on behalf of a terminally ill cancer patient at her public hearing. The Governor granted a commmutation of her sentence, and she went home.

Besides that, Mr. Anon, because you believe in us, we went the extra mile. We reached out to meet with a state legislator. We got involved in trying to establish a church denomination's new position on the death penalty. And the chairman of our board actually conducted two group sessions in prison on restorative justice.

Your money each month didn't go to cover administration costs, Mr. Anon. It went right straight to the front line.

Thank you.