Thursday, November 16, 2017

Standing with the powerless and the voiceless: HFP at Public Hearings!

We chose to stand by two guys today. Perhaps some would call them losers. 

Why, you might ask. Why speak up for someone who committed a terrible crime against humanity 30, 40 or 50 years ago? Human life seemed to mean very little to that person back then. Why suggest freedom for that kind of criminal?

I’m referring to Public Hearings, sessions conducted by the Michigan Parole Board to determine if serious offenders should be paroled. I first became aware of the Public Hearing in 2004, when the Board tried to determine whether to release my friend Maurice Carter. Since that time, our office has made it a priority to speak up, when possible, for our friends.

There’s something you gotta know about Public Hearings. They’re not fun.

-The prisoner is nervous and, more often than not, unprepared.
-The Parole Board members are concerned about freeing a dangerous person.
-The Assistant Attorney General, who claims to represent all the people of the State of Michigan, tends to lean all of his support toward victims of the crime, and refuses to recommend parole for anyone who has committed a violent crime. Regardless of any extenuating circumstances.
-Friends and/or family members of the victim(s) sometimes show to support that position.
-Judges and Prosecutors, also, often oppose the release.

Does anyone speak up on behalf of the inmate? Sometimes…perhaps a family member or a friend. Some claim to be too nervous. Some are embarrassed by the nature of the crime. Some have nothing to do with the inmate anymore and stay home. In some cases, no one shows.

Today we spoke up on behalf of two inmates. One guy, 64, has served 40 years. Rehabilitation has worked, and we’re convinced he’s going to make it. The other is 68, has served 33 years, and won’t live much longer. He’s terminally ill, and in our communications with him, he just doesn’t want to die in prison.

Two losers? We didn’t think so. It meant a day away for Matt, while calls and messages stacked up in the office (We’re getting over a hundred a week).

Matt will be the first to tell you: It’s where we belonged.

Perhaps Father Greg Boyle says it best:

We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”

Yep, that’s HFP!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Feeding a prisoner for under four bucks a day!

As a teenager in the 1950s, I was a grocery bagger in my father’s supermarket. Of all the people who came for their weekly food supplies, I remember one woman who paid over $20 consistently for her grocery order. She was obviously very poor, but was the parent of a large flock of kids. I would carry her bags to the car, while her husband sat in the vehicle reading the newspaper. Usually 4-5 bags, filled to the brim. Not many people spent that kind of money on groceries.

Today, in 2017, I did the grocery shopping for Marcia and me. I paid $104 and some odd cents! Two octogenarians do not consume a lot of food, and I don’t purchase filet mignon and caviar.

I’m fully aware of the fact that those entities that purchase large amounts of food can save plenty. I did some checking on school meals. The latest statistics I could find showed the average cost of lunch for an elementary school student was $2.34. That’s a deal!

I bring up all of this stuff because my mind is still reeling over a story that Detroit Free Press writer Paul Egan broke recently regarding meals in the Michigan prison system. Once again maggots were found. Besides that, dirt was found in some of the food.

Meals are provided in Michigan prisons by Trinity Services Group, a national agency based in Florida. Rather than use state employees, Michigan chooses to outsource for chow.

I’ll save the comments on maggots and dirt, problems with Trinity employees, and the numerous penalties already paid by that company. I want to focus on cost.

I asked Egan to break down the contract so we could figure out how much money is spent on a meal for a prisoner. His reply: The cost for a single meal is $1.29! In other words, the State of Michigan spends $3.87 per day to feed the nearly 40,000 persons supervised by the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Granted, because I know I can’t take the money with me when I leave this earth, I now enjoy the luxury of buying my sandwich ham from the deli instead of in a bargain package. And I now feel that it’s OK to purchase higher priced bread from the bakery, rather than the stuff off the shelf.

But $1.29 per meal? $3.87 per day?

The next time you’re in the store, see what you can buy for under four bucks.

Quoting Mahatma Ghandi: “A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

Wonder how Pure Michigan stacks up?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The kind of guys Jesus would hang out with

My friend David once said, in describing prisoners, “I think these are the kind of guys Jesus would hang out with.”

I seldom write blogs when I’ve had a little quaff. Generally, I try to create the blogs in the morning when the mind of this octogenarian seems to be most productive. I admit, I’m mellow this evening. And for good reason.

HFP’s wonderful volunteer Jennifer and I went to the Muskegon Correctional Facility this afternoon, at the request of the prison’s National Lifers Association Chapter, to lead a workshop on how prisoners might fill out application forms for a commutation of sentence.

For background: No one knows whether Governor Rick Snyder will soften his stance and think about clemency during his last year in office. But there are many prisoners, especially lifers, especially those serving life without parole, who are hoping this might happen. That has led to business propositions from lawyers and agencies who say to vulnerable inmates: Such a deal we have for you!  For $#### we’ll prepare this application for you, because we know legal people in the Governor’s office, or we have special contacts, or we are exceptionally brilliant.

We know this is a crock, because we’ve been told so by top officials in the MDOC. So, to counter that, we’re offering to help inmates file these applications at no charge.  Hence, today’s seminar.

I don’t want to discuss who knows what about commutations, except to say that if someone claims to have an inside corner he or she is full of it. No one knows.

And that’s the kind of straight talk that I shared with 25 guys at MCF today. What a beautiful experience! We shared thoughts. We shared ideas. We asked questions. We tried to answer questions. Do we know it all, like the experts claim? NO. But here’s what many experts don’t have: a genuine bond between inmates and advisers. It was that kinship that we felt today.

I’m not exactly sure how much the guys got out of our workshop this afternoon. But I can tell you this: Jen and I were blessed beyond measure!

In my humble opinion, David was right.