“War is hell.” A quote attributed to General William Tecumseh Sherman dating back to the Civil War.
“Prison is hell.” A quote attributed to Doug Tjapkes at the turn of the 21st Century.
Articles appearing in our newspapers and on our television sets in recent years seem to show a dramatic improvement in prison life: college and seminary courses, community college affiliations, new programs offering vocational training, new dog-training programs, new and improved arts and hobby-craft projects. But the reality is: Prison is still hell! Pure and simple. No if, and, or but about it. And while the reformers and politicians are grabbing the headlines about our improvements, you can be assured that there are enough of the old guard, the hard line establishment, to make sure that prison remains hell. Retribution and punishment are rife! Rehabilitation and restoration are almost non-existent!
We are as guilty as others in painting a rosy picture. If HFP hopes to raise enough money to fund a smooth operation, we must demonstrate success. We must show not only how many prisoners are contacting us, but also how many we are helping. And so we do our best to talk about results.
But what breaks my heart is when we cannot help!
Robert is a 56 year old white man who has served 30 years. He’s not only eligible for parole, but he should be paroled. He minds his own business, stays out of trouble, helps other prisoners, plays his guitar for the church praise band, and stays in touch with his 80-year-old mother.
For some unexplained reason he got transferred to one of the state’s more unpleasant facilities in the Upper Peninsula this week, disrupting his life and placing him out-of-reach for his elderly mom.
That wasn’t all. When he arrived at the new facility, all of his earthly goods were dumped on the floor, and officers started labeling things “contraband.” One of his footlockers containing his precious legal documents was labeled “contraband.” He was told that guitar amps are not allowed at that facility, and if he didn’t send it out within 30 days it would be destroyed. When he tried to protest, the guard shouted that if he argued he would write him a “Class 1” ticket, and he would throw him in the hole for possessing “escape paraphernalia” because he owned a pair of leather gloves. They forced him to sign some document that he couldn’t even read, because at that point they still had refused to give him his glasses. For the moment, all of his legal documents are being held hostage.
But Robert still had hope, because this could be the year for his release
Said he: “Thinking that my chances are really good for parole, I didn’t want to rock the boat.”
And then, the very next day, the boat sank. He received a 5-year flop. He must remain behind bars for another 5 years.
“I just can’t believe God would put all this pressure on me like this.”
He’s begging for help, and we can’t give it. “I’m feeling overwhelmed.” He’s not alone. I’m not only at a loss to find the right actions, here. I can’t even find the right words. I’m praying. That’s the extent of it for now. It would be nice if you’d pray for him, too.
Robert feels all alone in a prison, in a world, that today seems like hell.