Saturday, March 28, 2015

The judicial system still has flaws, Maurice!

71 years ago a child was born to a poor, African American family in Gary, Indiana, who was destined to change my life.

Things didn’t go all that well for Maurice Henry Carter.  As a young man he made the mistake of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, right here in Michigan.  Two years later he was arrested for a crime that had occurred while he was in Benton Harbor, based on the testimony of a lying jail-house snitch.  It was a crime he knew nothing about, certainly had not committed.  And from there, things continued to go downhill. 

-An eyewitness who later was hired to be a secretary in the Prosecutor’s office testified that she saw him running from the scene of the crime.

-The victim of the crime, who couldn’t identify his picture for two years, suddenly remembered that Maurice was the perp  after seeing his arrest picture in the newspaper.

-The Berrien County Prosecutor was hell-bent to put a black man in prison, because a white cop and been shot and injured.  A white cop who, later, would also come to work for the Prosecutor’s office.

Maurice never gave up, and during his 29 years behind bars he ran full-speed ahead trying to prove his innocence.  For the last decade of his years on earth, I joined that fight, and though my background was in radio broadcasting and church music, my focus changed and I’m still battling for prisoners.

Our friendship blossomed after our first encounter in 1994, and because of it he had renewed faith and optimism.  Because of it my family became his family.  Because of it this little-known indigent man from Gary became overwhelmed by support from all around the world.  He was never exonerated.  But all who met him and loved him knew that he was innocent.

It’s Maurice’s birthday tomorrow.  He died in 2004.  And I guess the simple message is that our organization, founded as his dream-child, still encounters the same kind of unfairness that he dealt with on a daily basis.

Just in the past two months, the work of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS was seriously crippled by not one, but TWO, two-week-long blockages of all email communication with all 500 of our Michigan inmate friends!  No warning.  No explanation.  Sorry.

Just in recent days, prison inspectors are picking all kinds of unreasonable excuses to censor HFP email messages to inmates:

Can’t use the phrase ASAP.  You’re writing in code!
Can’t check on the well-being of a prisoner on behalf of a worried relative.  Violation of some policy!
Can’t offer to send a prayer shawl to the dying mother of an inmate.  Danger to emotional health!

Besides all of that our coffers are empty.  Helping “the least of these” isn’t the most popular cause among the long list of charities.

But the promise that God is faithful is just as strong now as it was on that day 11 years ago when we whispered our final “I love you” messages to each other.

Maurice Carter---quiet, gentle black man from Gary, Indiana---is still touching lives.

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