Monday, January 26, 2015

Guest Post from HFP Board Chair Dan Rooks


On Saturday, January 24, Dr. Dan Rooks, chairman of our Board of Directors, traveled to Ypsilanti, Michigan with me, to make presentations for women in prison. The local chapter of the National Lifers Association had invited both of us to speak at the prison officially known as WHV, the Women’s prison at Huron Valley. I invite you to read Dan’s guest piece which follows…and then continue reading my entry of the 25th. As usual, our session with the women was a memorable and moving experience.


Dr. Rooks:

"You also helped Linda," a woman near the front interjected. Doug was sharing the stories of two other women HFP had more recently helped through the challenging and too often demeaning parole and public hearing process. His personal and experienced presence at these hearings is often a great source of support and strength. Linda was assisted 8 years ago or more. Until the woman near the front spoke, Doug hadn't remembered. She had never forgotten. "It gives us all hope. You have no idea the difference that makes."

Compassionate release, too infrequently granted, allows a fortunate few dying inmates to spend their final days free, cared for and surrounded by loved ones. The image of that possibility offered unimaginable comfort and hope for this middle aged woman serving a life sentence.

Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE, spoke powerfully on matters of incarceration at a recent Calvin College January Series gathering. He challenged all who listened to accept the inevitable discomfort, to see beyond the politics of fear and anger and get close to the matters and people impacted by our incarceration policies. "Proximity," Bryan said, changes your perceptions. "Proximity" brings new understandings. "Proximity" will better inform the policies we seek to establish. And, "proximity" will change you.

Amen and Amen Mr. Stevenson!

That was true, again, for me on Saturday.

My hope and prayer is that it can also be true for the incarcerated women longing for hope, even if that hope comes in the midst of their dying. Compassionate release for the elderly and the sick and the dying. Would that really be too unreasonable? Would that really be too "soft on crime?"  Or, would that simply be responding naturally to a recognition of our shared humanity? Might we not strive to extend a small, yet profound, measure of mercy, dignity and grace. Would any one of us wish for less!

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