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All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

GRATITUDE from behind bars!

Michigan prisoners are showing appreciation for our services in a most amazing and gracious manner. 

It’s no secret that I struggle when someone asks how HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS measures success.

I have appreciated Fr. Greg Boyle’s thoughts on the subject, when asked about his work with gang members. “Jesus was always too busy being faithful to worry about success. I'm not opposed to success; I just think we should accept it only if it is a by-product of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones.”

But, it’s a fair question.

One very nice person said she had difficulty donating to our cause because another charity she supports can tell her exactly how many hungry children they are feeding. We can’t provide numbers like that. We can tell her how many prisoners we are working with, but that has nothing to do with success.

A grant writer consultant insists that success data is important. Yet, this is why it’s complicated. 

We’re responding to some 100 calls a day, and we obviously can’t help every person in prison with every problem he or she faces. So, compiling specific data regarding our successes isn’t easy. We consider it a huge success, for example, when the prisoner just shows gratitude that someone cares. But how do you reflect that on a chart or list? 

Well, a growing percentage of prisoners have found a most amazing way. They’re donating money to support our cause! Aware of the dramatic increase in office activity in the past year, they’re stepping up to the plate. Something we’ve never seen before! Something we've never asked for.

HFP has received some 60 cash donations from prisoners already this year...an average of 10 per month! Unheard of in this business! These people, if they are fortunate enough to even have a job, may earn 40 or 50 cents an hour. While their wages haven’t gone up in decades, prison store and vending machine prices just keep on rising. They're not flush with dollars. 

Now the headline. 

This week, we received the largest single gift from a Michigan prisoner! Mr. D, who has won a couple of court settlements, said, “I really want to make a generous donation to your corporation because you have been the first organization to really help these guys in here in a way that makes a difference. Please, send my love to each and every one of you and thank you.” 

His gift: $15,000.00! 

This proof may not be what statisticians were hoping for, but we’ll claim it as a strong indication of HFP success. And the resulting feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment for our team is delicious! 

Thank you, Mr. D. Thank you, Lord!



 

 

 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Proudly treating transgender prisoners as fellow humans!

As we enter Pride Month, I’d like to focus on the T in the popular term LBGTQ. 

Some of my friends, especially those who share my Christian beliefs, really don’t like to talk about these things. If we don’t talk about them we don’t have to think about them, and if we don’t think about them we don’t have to deal with the complexity of these issues. 

When contacted for advice regarding a transgender person in one of our prisons, a Christian counselor bluntly stated to us: "Lots of luck with that one!"

First, a simple description of the word transgender. It’s an adjective, denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. 

In Pride Month, I’m very proud to state that HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is working with at least 40 transgender Michigan prisoners! Consider, for a moment, just how difficult it must be for a transgender person to just survive in that environment! They face specific and unique problems due to ignorance, discrimination, and violence from guards and other prisoners. Therefore, they are exposed to horrific rates of abuse. The U.S. Transgender Survey found that transgender people are ten times as likely to be sexually assaulted by their fellow inmates and five times as likely to be sexually assaulted by staff. 

I spotted this headline recently in a Detroit Newspaper: A transgender woman says she has been shunned her whole life: by her parents, strangers and the prison system, where she was ignored until she got raped. 

HFP has been blessed to receive assistance and guidance from a small band of professionals, who have even agreed to become pen pals with some of our transgender clients. We not only do our best to help and encourage transgender persons behind bars, we also show respect by referring to their chosen sexual identity in correspondence and with the pronouns we use ("she" instead of "he," e.g.). Our imprisoned friends are so grateful for these simple demonstrations of kindness! 

How sad that transgender persons have become such a political target in our divided country! State legislatures in some 33 states are now entertaining bills that restrict their rights. And further checking reveals that the wording is almost identical. Some devious person, agency or group made a concerted effort to send a template to political operatives in each state. Shameful. 

I love Psalm 139. These words in verse 14 fit our discussion: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

May our transgender friends claim this today.

And may the rest of us respect it.

 

 


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

1,000 people in Michigan prisons are innocent! Do you care?

Baptist Preacher Jeff Gravins tells the story about a church searching for a new minister. A likely candidate was invited to speak on a Sunday morning. The congregation loved his sermon, and called him to become their new pastor. 

Great sermon the first week. The second week, the very same sermon. The third week, the same again. The fourth week, samo samo. 

That prompted a meeting by the church board. Said the church’s leading elder: “We are a bit concerned that you keep preaching the same sermon every Sunday. Our question is: ‘Do you have another sermon?’ The preacher took off his glasses, folded his arms and responded, ‘I do have another sermon. But this church hasn’t obeyed the first one yet.’” 

I’m starting to feel that way about wrongful convictions. 

20 years ago I founded this organization, while trying to free my wrongly convicted brother Maurice Carter. Ever since, I’ve been hammering on the topic. 

Last week, former Cooley Innocence Project Director and HFP Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon was in Jackson to hold the prison door open for Gilbert Poole, a wrongly convicted Michigan inmate who had spent 32 years behind bars. 

Just two days earlier, I was at the Muskegon Correctional Facility to welcome my friend Ray Gray, who spent 48 years in prison for a crime he did not commit! 

Does anyone care about this injustice? 

Best selling novelist John Grisham, who is also a lawyer, says in his book The Innocent Man (a must read!): Wrongful convictions happen every week in every state in this country.  And they happen for all the same reasons. 

Experts agree that 3-5% of prisoners are innocent. 

Let’s boil down the numbers. If we have about 35,000 people in our state prisons in Michigan right now, that means we have at least 1,000 men and women locked up in our state facilities who are innocent! 

Let’s go to the Washington Post for something else that you should find maddening. Here’s the headline: More than half of all wrongful criminal convictions are caused by government misconduct, study finds! 

In his story, WAPO writer Tom Jackman quotes U of M retired professor Samuel Gross: “Misconduct by police, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials is a regular problem, and it produces a steady stream of convictions of innocent people.” 

The study also found that police and prosecutors are rarely disciplined for actions that lead to a wrongful conviction. 

Something’s gotta happen, boys and girls, and it ain’t gonna happen if you don’t give a crap! 

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Desmond Tutu

 

 

 

Friday, May 28, 2021

TW3!

TWTWTW, better known as TW3, was the title of a BBC TV comedy show in the 1960s. The letters stood for these words: That was the week that was! 

Today I’m reminded of that title. This has been one amazing week! Not one, but two clients of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, both wrongly convicted, walked free! 

The good news: Ray Gray and Gilbert Poole are free! 

The bad news: Combined, they spent 80 years behind bars for something they didn’t do! 

The big question: Will either of them ever get paid by the state? 

Raymond Gray, 69, served 48 years after being convicted of killing someone in an armed robbery. He was actually at home at the time. Sadly, he was not exonerated. His attorney was able to arrange a plea deal with the Wayne County Prosecutor and a judge. Ray walked out of the Muskegon Correctional Facility Tuesday afternoon. 

Gilbert Poole, 56, served 32 years after being convicted of stabbing a man to death in Pontiac. This many years later, DNA evidence proved conclusively that he was not the killer. Gilbert walked out of the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson Thursday morning. 

These two men will be the first to acknowledge that gifts like these don’t just fall like manna from heaven. It takes years of hard work, prayer, and downright legal wrangling. 

In addition to all of that, it helps immensely when someone is there to hold their hand, to offer encouragement, to help with a toothache or medical problem. That’s where HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS comes in. 

Former HFP Board Chair Dan Rooks once expressed his pride in our organization’s reputation of not abandoning our friends, so I share a couple of numbers with you. Believing in his innocence, I began working with Ray Gray 17 years ago! I was at the prison gate to welcome him. Believing in his innocence, Cooley Law School Innocence Project attorney Marla Mitchell-Cichon (a member of the HFP Board of Directors) began working with Gilbert Poole 18 years ago! She was at the prison gate to welcome him. 

In closing I just want to say that I hope Ray Gray continues his fight for exoneration, so he can collect $2.4 million owed him by the state. And I wish Gilbert Poole success as he attempts to collect the $1.6 million settlement owed him! That money won’t help recover all the lost years, but it will help even the score and ease the pain. 

"We will never know what our life would have been like had we not gone through this horrible experience."

Exoneree Yusef Salaam

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

This prize fighter deserves some prize money!

In the words of a New York umpire decades ago, I calls ‘em like I see’s em! 

I see Ray Gray’s victory this week as bittersweet! And here’s why. He’s now a free man, and we praise God for that! But the state’s not going to pay him a cent, and we damn the state for that! 

Legal scholars may scoff at me, judges and prosecutors may brush me off, but here’s how I see’s it! 

Raymond F. Gray, 69, of Detroit, was convicted by a judge in an armed robbery shooting death in 1973. Some legal experts have said all along that the evidence was questionable, and Ray has steadfastly maintained his innocence. Those who know him have no doubt that he is innocent. 

Now here’s an important point in my story. In 2016 the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act was approved in Michigan. The money’s not easy to get, but if it can be proven that a person was wrongly convicted, that person is entitled to $50,000 per year for the time spent behind bars! 

Are you starting to get the picture? 

Ray’s attorney, Gabi Silver, had filed for a new trial two months ago. 15 years ago, a group of people who specialize in wrongful convictions and I held an all-day working session in a Detroit library hoping to prove Ray Gray's innocence. It’s no secret that the case was shaky. 

Instead of a new trial, however, the Wayne County Prosecutor and a judge arrange a plea deal. Ray agrees to plead “no contest” to second degree murder, the court agrees to resentence him to 25-40 years, and since he has already served 48 years, he’s freed. Right now. A win for everybody, right? 

Attorney Wolf Mueller, who has worked with several exonerated former prisoners to get money from the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act, says in The Detroit News: "Unfortunately, Mr. Gray's plea deal will make him ineligible for compensation from the state because he doesn't meet the requirement of criminal charges being dismissed. But the most important thing is that he will not die in prison and can now try to rebuild his life." 

Yes, yes. The last thing the state wanted to do was pay $2.4 million to a poor black man for spending the past 48 years in prison for something he didn’t do. Free but penniless, he can now “try to rebuild his life.” 

Not even an apology, let alone dollars. 

That just sucks. 

Ray, a 5-time Golden Gloves boxing champ before he went to prison, said in comments to friends and family yesterday, “I feel like a boxer whose corner has thrown in the towel, but he wants to fight on.”

 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Bad person in prison? More likely, poor person in prison!

For the past 20 years or so I’ve been vocal about mass incarceration. Our prisons are too full. Our nation’s incarceration rate is matched by no other country. 

I’m starting to change my mind. 

Oh, I agree that many people in our prisons should be released. Right now! It’s estimated that between 2.3 and 5% of all U.S. Prisoners are innocent! That’s over 100,000 people. 

Then consider those still in prisons over non-violent drug charges, those who were seriously overcharged and/or over-sentenced by over-zealous prosecutors and judges, the indigent who couldn’t afford good defense. 

Think of all the spouse abuse victims spending time behind bars because they fought back. Think of the sad number of old-timers in prison who, statistics prove, will never reoffend, but who cannot be released because of life-without-parole guidelines. 

The list goes on and on. 

But here’s my point. Granted, our prisons are too full, but I also think they’re too full of the wrong people! 

Take a look at white collar crimes alone, for example. I offer this quote from a highly respected investigative journalist: 

It started to dawn on me that the Department of Justice and the SEC were broken institutions when it came to corporate white-collar [crime] enforcement. In the wake of the financial crisis, I started to see other examples in the tech world, in the pharmaceutical world, in the industrial world, in retail— Walmart, Google, Pfizer— companies that were making mistakes, admitting to wrongdoing, [even] criminal wrongdoing, but no senior individuals were being charged. I realized that this is a broken system...

 Jesse Eisinger, Pulitzer prizewinner 

Take a look at those in public office. 

-An inordinate number of police officers involved in various types of misconduct.

-Prison guards who abuse mentally ill inmates, with little accountability.

-County Prosecutors who knowingly initiate wrongful convictions and who boast immunity.

-U.S. marshals who kill 22 suspects and/or bystanders every year!

-Top public officials in our land who get away with sex trafficking and sex with minors.

-National leaders without consciences who, for example, incited a national insurrection. 

I completely agree with author Michelle Alexander when she says, “...if we say to ourselves that the problem of mass incarceration is just too big, too daunting for us to do anything about and that we should instead direct our energies to battles that might be more easily won, history will judge us harshly.” 

But I’m also of the belief that our prisons are full of poor suckers who didn’t have the capital, the clout, the power or the public sentiment to avoid incarceration. 

And that is simply shameful!



 

Friday, May 21, 2021

A soft answer turneth away wrath!

As so often happens, something I’m watching or something I’m reading triggers thoughts for a blog.

Tuesday evening I was privately fuming about the attack on our nation’s capitol. People get all worked up over a lie, a non-issue, to the point where they actually get involved with guns and violence. But when it comes to the inhumane treatment of thousands upon thousands of prisoners, we decide that maybe we should have a meeting and talk about it. 

By Wednesday morning, I couldn’t wait to get to the computer to get started on my Thursday “mad-as-hell” essay. 

It’s easy to explain that if the state did things the right way, HFP wouldn’t be very busy. For example, we file FOIA requests for those behind bars because the state won’t let them do it. We have a panel of doctors helping because prison health care is abominable. 

Then I started running out of steam, so I contacted Matt. Why do we spend so much time emailing photographs, searching for family members, and just providing answers to questions? 

Known for his brevity, Matt quickly emailed back: HFP is family when family isn’t there. 

Huh? That doesn’t convey fire and anger and “fed-up-ness!” That’s warm and fuzzy. 

Minutes later, realizing that his answer was very short and not realizing that his words were in contrast to my mood, Matt said: I'll try to expand. Every person we work with in prison is given daily reminders of the biggest mistake in their life. To make matters worse, for most, the outside world has abandoned them as well. By the simple action of sending a photo, or trying to locate a lost friend, or providing some information on a favorite subject, HFP shows the client that they ARE worth our time. Kindness is in short supply in prison, and we hope to provide that to our clients along with some information that brightens their day. 

Realizing that this wasn’t fitting my theme and my mood, I chose to save his comments for another blog. He was right, of course...that was the premise on which HFP was founded. 

Then Matt went one step farther: I recently changed the final words on my email format. For a long time, it just said “peace,” which I do believe is also in short supply. But I changed my final words in prisoner mail to "you matter." So many feel they don't matter. By providing these simple services, we hope they remember that they do matter. 

So, go ahead and read Thursday’s entry. It’s OK to get mad as hell with me. 

But don’t stop there. It’s Friday. Re-read this piece, and feel the love and compassion that reaches from our office to the darkest corner of the dankest prison cell. 

...remember those in prison as if you were together with them.