We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
For many Michigan inmates, the magic word that offers hope these days is commutation!
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder can’t run for re-election, and that gives Michigan prisoners hope. They’re hoping that, because he doesn’t have to worry about public opinion, perhaps he’ll grant some commutations. The Governor can use his executive clemency powers to reduce a criminal sentence. That means, for example, that even a man or woman in for life can still harbor the hope of seeing freedom someday.
The process is relatively simple. An application form is readily available. The prisoner must explain the details of the crime which brought about the conviction, must explain why he or she feels a release from prison is deserved, and is required to provide information regarding housing and employment after release. That completed form goes to the Michigan Parole Board for initial screening, and then is forwarded to the Governor.
But there’s a huge problem here.
Many inmates, without proper guidance and assistance, are hurting themselves by not properly filling out the forms. Instead of showing remorse, for example, they’ll angrily blame the cops, the prosecutor, the judge, the jury or maybe even their upbringing. Now maybe all of these factors are legitimate, but that’s not what the Parole Board is looking for. Some forms are filled out in longhand, because typing equipment is not available. Spelling and grammatical errors shouldn’t play a part in this, but you and I both know there is something to be said about that first impression.
As a result, charlatans have appeared on the scene. Some attorneys are falsely informing inmates that the Parole Board has designated them to help inmates in filling out the form. For a fee, of course. Other private offices are helping prisoners with their applications, but again, for a hefty fee. We recently were informed by a prisoner that his lawyer was only going to charge him $2,500 to do the job for him. We have heard from several prisoners who paid an agency $4-5,000 to get the job done. And in one case, an inmate told us his mother spent $9,500 with a private organization to prepare his application. While we don’t know the whole story, on the surface this seems criminal to us. One prisoner told us last week that he’s making 72 cents a day in his job. Do you see what I mean? The Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections told me, in a personal conversation, that prisoners should not be paying for commutation assistance.
The thing is: So far, it’s all a risk. The only commutations the Governor has granted to date are to inmates with serious health issues. We have no idea whether he’ll have a change of heart before he leaves office.
I’m pleased to report that HFP is willing to help prisoners in filling out these forms, and of course our services are free. And more good news is coming! We’ll soon announce a major expansion of this service. I’m excited about this for two reasons. First and foremost, it may give prisoners a brighter ray of hope. The second reason: Perhaps it will steal business from the money grabbers.
Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.