In my car alone, returning from a brief prison visit, I reflected on the work of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. It’s near the end of the month, and we still haven’t even reached 50% of our budget. Money is tight.
And I thought: If only our supporters could have spent the last hour with me.
It was a big day at MCF. But only for a few people.
On the surface, it was another routine day at Muskegon Correctional Facility.
When I arrived at 8:30 AM, a friendly corrections officer at the front desk asked if he could be of service. I announced that I was there to welcome a friend who planned to walk out on parole. He was puzzled, and informed me that I was probably at the wrong facility. There was no one else in the lobby…there were no prisoners in the nearby holding area. He was aware of nothing like this on the schedule.
Meanwhile, it was just another morning at the prison.
A big State of Michigan bus rolled up. A new inmate was arriving from another facility. Another guy, in chains, was being transferred out.
A prison trusty was pushing a broom. He wasn’t going to be set free today.
A couple guards were joshing as staff members arrived for the day.
Then the word came: Two guys were getting out! And one of them was my friend Bernard. Just then, Bernard’s sister and her husband arrived from the Detroit area to pick him and take him home.
For the sake of background, I should explain that Bernard has been in prison for nearly 40 years, and he was not wrongly convicted. I met him a few years ago following a speaking engagement at this facility. I told the story about Maurice Carter, and how my 10-year fight to free Maurice led me into this work. As it turns out, Bernard and Maurice were friends, and he contacted me to tell his story. After reviewing his situation, it was very apparent that Bernard was more than prepared to re-enter a free society. HFP did what we could to help. I testified on his behalf at a public hearing. And I promised him that, on that day that he stepped out into freedom, I would be there to hold he door open.
In contrast to the day that Maurice walked free, there were no media people…just one videographer who is producing a documentary about HFP. And there was no big crowd. The welcoming committee consisted of Michelle, her husband, and me.
With an obvious sign of relief that this day and moment had finally arrived, Bernard stepped into the prison waiting room and into the open arms of his sister. Then hugs all around.
He picked up one cardboard box containing all of his earthly possessions. I raced to the front door of the Muskegon Correctional Faciliy: “I’m holding the door open for you, my friend.” For the first time in 39-plus years, Bernard walked into the sunny outdoors without chains or shackles, grinning from ear to ear! We were the only witnesses. If only others could have seen it and felt it!
Said documentary producer Dirk Wierenga: “This was an awesome moment!”
Said an emotional Bernard: “I want to thank HFP for being at my side all the way!”
Said a weeping Michelle as she gave me a bear hug: “Priceless. Just priceless, what HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS has done!”
Said Doug to himself: “This is why Matt and I do what we do!”
Despite this month’s budget shortfall, experiences like this one make us rich, indeed.
SOLE DEO GLORIA!