Wednesday, November 27, 2013

HFP: Giving reason for thanks

HFP's accomplishments in our daily dealings with prisoners are not exciting, breath-taking and exceptional. For the most part, they are simple, small steps toward making life just a little better for hundreds of Michigan inmates...one at a time.

In this Thanksgiving week---

Joe is thankful that HFP could be at his side for a Parole Board interview.

Dotty is thankful that HFP's pressure resulted in portable toilets for her unit during bathroom construction.

Herman is thankful to be a free man after 34 years. We testified at his public hearing.

Tony is thankful that someone is willing to take time to help him fill out his commutation application form.

James is thankful that we were able to pair him up with a fine defense attorney.

Dave is thankful that our efforts helped bring his case to the attention of an Innocence Project.

Jack is thankful for his new pair of glasses that we ordered for him.

Alfreda is thankful that we made the drive to speak at her first Parole Board public hearing.

Mark is thankful for his new appellate lawyer which we helped him find.

AND ALMOST ALL MICHIGAN INMATES are thankful that, thanks to our efforts, visits will be permitted on Christmas Day for the second year in a row.

The entire HFP gang is thankful that we can offer compassion to Michigan inmates in the name of Jesus.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Two rays of sunshine on one cloudy day

It is totally and completely November today.

My little glassed-in office is in the woods, one mile in-land from Lake Michigan, and the November weather can be wintry. Today a "sou-wester" is howling, snow squalls suddenly appear, and the sky remains dark. It's not pleasant.

It would be the most unlikely day to expect a ray of sunshine, especially in this business.

Word of another gang problem in another prison, word from the family of a dying prisoner that they seem to be making no headway, word that an inmate with irritable bowel syndrome can get no medication, word of new retaliation by prison guards...it's what we live with in the HFP office. And it contributes to a dark and gloomy day.

But God has the most amazing way of brightening the day.

Amid all of the complaints of the day comes a note of thanks from a group of women who have been struggling with lack of adequate toilet facilities in a construction zone. We fought for them, and our communications went all the way to the top...to the director of the MDOC and to the warden of that facility. It seemed to work. Today there are reports that the construction crews are working harder and more consistently than ever, and the end appears in sight. And the portable toilets that were brought in provided some relief. "Thanks, HFP, for all of your efforts!"

One ray of sunshine.

Then came a second one! It was Herman on the telephone...after 34 years, he's a free man! "How does it feel to be free, Herman?" "IT FEELS LIKE HEAVEN HAS ARRIVED." HFP provided testimony at his public hearing a couple months ago, and went on record as supporting his release. I'm not sure how much influence we had on the Parole Board, but Herman is convinced that it made a difference. "Thanks, HFP, for all of your efforts."

I like this quote from Linda Poindexter:

Hope is a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds after a storm. Faith is knowing there are more where that one came from.

Amen, Linda. Amen.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The kangaroo public hearing

I'm discouraged.

The public hearing concept of the Michigan Parole Board is flawed, and I just can't see how it's ever going to get revised.

A public hearing isn't granted to a prisoner often, and a chosen inmate is immediately elated. It offers hope for freedom. Little does he or she know how traumatic this experience will be.

I participate whenever asked. It's HFP's goal to offer hope, and we must never refuse these opportunities. A three-hour drive to speak for just 2 minutes means nothing. We do it without complaint.

This week I agreed to testify at a public hearing for a woman who had served 26 years on a charge of second degree murder. She didn't really commit the murder...but her boyfriend and his buddies did. She didn't even know it happened until later, but she was implicated, and she was convicted. Life in prison at the age of 20.

She was angry. As a child she had been abused and neglected. She had children outside of marriage. She was dating a drug dealer at the time of this crime. Life wasn't good.

And so, in prison, she continued on this downward path, raising hell at every turn. In her first years in prison she received some 60 misconduct tickets.

But she woke up. An experienced hair dresser, she offered her services to prisoners. She took courses for self improvement. She accepted God in her life, and went to church. She went to school. She became a para-legal and assisted other prisoners.

Then, at age 46---26 years after she was locked up---came word of this public hearing. Family and friends supported her, as did a faith-based re-entry organization and HFP.

But there were issues. Number one, the Wayne County Prosecutor's office opposed the release. Only the Lord knows why. And the state Attorney General's representative didn't like all those tickets, and he couldn't get over it. Besides that, in 2008 the prisoner got in a fight with a room-mate over trying to climb into the top bunk by stepping on the lower bed. And, she and a guard got in a twit over a nonsense argument. That resulted in a ticket in 2011.

Based on all those issues, the AG's man recommended NO PAROLE. No one in that room would want to be judged by things done in their lives 25 years ago. No one in that room could say they had not been involved in pointless arguments twice in the past decade. Makes no difference. This woman is not fit for re-entry into society.

I already know what's going to happen. She's going to get a flop. It's carved in stone. Her dreams dashed in just two grueling hours. These smug people can all go home and think they did their job, put it out of their minds, and enjoy Thanksgiving with their families and friends. The prisoner will not get a chance again for another couple of years. Her heart will be broken.

Mine, too.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Michigan's train wreck

So here's a sample of what Matt and I have on the HFP plate today.

A guy writes from Chippewa that his meds for acid reflux have been stopped. When he wrote a grievance, they simply told him to stop eating the food that causes the reflux. Well,that's the food they serve him...albeit in small portions. So, his only alternative: stop eating. And that's what he's doing.

A guy writes from Cotton that his friend has been slashed in the face by members of a Latino gang, which, he claims, has rule over the prison yard. As a result of the attack, they're in lock-down.

A woman wrote from the only facility for women, located in Ypsilanti, that the MDOC Director came to check on the problem of no toilets in one unit, due to remodeling and repairing. As a result, five portable toilets were brought in. But, to date, no one is allowed to use them. They're just setting there.

The wife of a prisoner in Newberry reports that she still has no response to her pleas on behalf of her husband who is dying of cancer. She simply wants him to be home in his final days. So far the state is dragging its heels.

The friend of a prisoner in the Roscommon County Jail is wondering what's going on. The guy served a federal sentence, then was to serve a state sentence, but the MDOC claimed it had no room so it placed him in this county jail up north. Things aren't going well there, and he's now in segregation. That means he's in a small cell 23 hours a day.

All this while we're trying to prepare testimony for a public hearing in Jackson tomorrow for a deserving female inmate.

All this while we're trying to come up with fund-raising ideas, because there are bills to pay.

Sigh.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Third world jail? Nope, Michigan prison

I've had it!

We may not treat women this way!

You've been reading and hearing about the toilet and shower shortages during remodeling and repairs in one of the women's prison units. At one point, 74 women with no toilet...inmates forced to go to the unit next door.

Now the HFP office is hearing complaints from women in that unit, who were told to drink less water so they wouldn't have to go to the bathroom as often. These comments came right from a Michigan prison, operated with your tax dollars and mine:

People are dehydrated, with sick stomachs, from not being able to go #2

One girl went to the desk and asked for a bag, she couldn't hold her poo any longer. Officer gave her a paper towel

Some girls had to pee in their trash can

Some officers don't even announce bathroom loud, and if you don't hear it and miss it, too bad...another two hours

They constantly yell at us telling us to hurry up, hurry up...you have 3 minutes to use the bathroom. Under that pressure, who can even go to the bathroom?

Showers, we are told 10 minutes, and that includes getting dressed and undressed. You barely get your body wet and they are yelling at you again: “Shower's up, get out, turn that water off now, hurry up, Ladies...others are waiting”

We are forced to stuff and stuff and stuff whatever feelings or emotions we may be having. If it gets voiced, we are threatened with a ticket


This could be your mother, your sister, your daughter, your niece.

Make you feel proud to be a Michigander?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why we do the PB interview

I love to participate in Parole Board interviews.

As the President of HFP, my presence is requested from time to time by inmates who must appear before a representative of the Michigan Parole Board for an interview. Often this request comes because the prisoner has no family or friends nearby, and sometimes it comes because he or she has no more family or friends on the outside.

Either way, I love it, and I say this not to make me look like some sort of hero. That I am not.

But here's the deal. An appearance before a Parole Board member might be rather rare in the inmate's life, and he or she wants to make a good impression. The minute the date is set, the prisoner cannot stop thinking about it. There's hope. There's a possibility the Parole Board might vote to give that person a second chance.

Then there are the worries that invariably crop up in their minds: they might say the wrong things, they might just “blow it” and give the wrong impression; there are dozens of stories of brutal and vicious interviews by PB members, that left the inmate rattled, shaken, weeping and incoherent.

And so, when asked and if my schedule is free, I go...no matter the distance.

The preparation is never pleasant. The travel time can be long, and chances are the wait after arrival will be even longer. Numerous interviews are usually scheduled on the same morning, and the length can vary from 10 minutes to hour. Meanwhile, all representatives there to be at the side of an inmate, wait in the lobby for their turn. It's not uncommon to wait a couple hours.

All this for a very short presentation. The representative of a prisoner is usually not allowed to speak until the very end of the interview. I always prepare my remarks, never to exceed about two minutes. Depending on the length of the drive, this can turn out to be an all-day event for just two minutes of talking.

But for the prisoner, it's a very special two minutes. I carefully craft my words, and that inmate who so often feels so worthless and so often is treated with such disdain behind bars, discovers that there is a representative of Jesus who cares, who can be kind, and who believes that he or she has worth. For two minutes, that prisoner feels great, and grateful.

And regardless of the Parole Board's eventual decision, you can't take away those two euphoric minutes.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Home is where the heart is

I've been doing some fretting about the subject of home lately.

Marcia and I have decided to downsize in our sunset years, and took the giant leap of purchasing a condo. Working with the bank was very difficult...I'm still not sure why. Now the condo needs a new furnace and new appliances. More money that we don't have. Then will come the painstaking process of emptying our present home, where we have spent the past 45 years and where we reared all of our children.

My fretting stopped yesterday when my friend David called.

David is a wrongly convicted sex offender who served 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Naturally he was anxious to be released, but now he's finding that freedom isn't all that exciting for one who is on a sex offender list. In fact, he's homeless. He finds a low-priced place that might fit into his tiny budget (he lives on disability income), only to learn that the dwelling is near a school. He would be committing a felony if he moved in there. And so he has bumped from pillar to post, sleeping just about anywhere except under a bridge...and maybe he has been there, too.

At the moment he's living in a little camper trailer illegally parked next to a friend's house. The facilities are almost non-existent and it's not the way you or I would care to live. Personal hygiene is a struggle.

He reports that recently his old truck broke down for good, and while he was making arrangements to have it towed the contents of the cab were stolen. This included the computer that we had provided for him.

Life is very discouraging for this former inmate.

And David is stuck in this situation because of prosecutorial misconduct and some other unethical activity in our judicial system. Meanwhile, all those people who created this hell for him can return to their nice homes at the end of the day.

I'm not fretting anymore. I'm feeling blessed, and frankly, a bit guilty. Shame on me for complaining.

Laura Ingalls Wilder is quoted as saying, "Home is the nicest word there is."

Nice, that is, if you have one.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bladder full, and no place to go

The sad treatment of women in the Michigan prison system reached another peak this week. Actually, it's been building up for weeks, as crews have been working in the prison system to improve the bathrooms...toilets and showers. The problem is, they start a job, close down some units...then don't show up for a few days. Then they start a new job without finishing the old job. And soon you have an array of toilets and showers that are shut down.
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We've been receiving steady complaints about this, but yesterday came the worst one. Our friend Dora said that two weeks ago the construction crew closed their bathroom, leaving the unit with one toilet and one shower for 74 women. This week, the crew came in and shut down the final facility. Now, if the women must go to the bathroom, provisions have been made for them to go next-door to what is called the "acute unit." It's the secure area where the mentally disturbed people are housed.

These people don't understand this sudden influx of prisoners to use their toilets, and they're not pleased. The tension is causing problems.

Meanwhile, prison officials are advising the inmates to cut down on their water intake. Then they won't have to go so often. Inmates are complaining that they feel dehydrated, and they're complaining that they are forced to wait hours to use a toilet.

And the sad thing is that the prisoners report that not one of these jobs is completed yet! How simple would it be to start a job, and finish it, before starting up a new one?

This doesn't border on harassment...it is pure, unadulterated harassment!

When our pets express the need to relieve themselves, we let them outside to go. Our prisoners don't have that luxury.

Shameful.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Maurice would be pleased

That divine intervention has played a key role in the start-up, continued operation, and future of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is not even a question. It has now reached the point of being an amazing phenomenon.

HFP started out based on the dream of the late Maurice Carter, a wrongly convicted prisoner who served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. I wasn't entirely excited about launching the project, originally called INNOCENT! But Maurice was determined that his negative situation should be turned into something positive.

And so doors opened---a generous donor gave us free office space and supplies, a supportive attorney did all the tricky legal work to obtain our IRS 501c3 status, and our efforts began touching the lives of prisoners within days. But how could it keep on going?

-It was being operated by one person already at retirement age
-Its goals were quite unpopular in most circles
-It couldn't generate enough revenue to make any type of progress
-Its board members served mainly as a gesture of friendship to the director.

But, through thick and thin, HFP survived. And despite a life-threatening illness, its director rebounded with renewed purpose and conviction. Divine intervention.

The subject of continuity and succession, which no one wanted to talk about but everyone began to think about, was abruptly resolved when young Matthew agreed to serve as an executive assistant. Divine intervention.

The personality of the board changed, one person at a time, to the point where each member is not only excited about the ministry, but determined to put it on a path of growth and expansion. Divine intervention.

And some outside sources are expressing a willingness to help the organization become financially sound. Divine intervention.

Maurice would be pleased.

God obviously has been from the start.