Memorial Day. Thinking beyond the loss of vets.

M emorial Day is a federal holiday for honoring and mourning the U.S. military personnel who have died while serving in the armed forces. It is observed on the last Monday of May, which means it’s coming soon.   It is a somber holiday.   I remember, as a child, standing in the crowd watching the Muskegon Memorial Day parade. I remember seeing young and old military personnel marching with solemn looks on their faces. Tragedies in the Second World War had many women in the crowd shedding tears.   Over the years we have expanded the observance of Memorial Day to include memories of other loved ones. Flowers are placed on the graves of family members and relatives. My mom and dad are buried in northern Michigan, and one of our cousins kindly sees to it that there are flowers on their grave marker each year.   All of this leads me to the discussion, once again, of prisoner deaths. Each year more than 100 residents of Michigan prisons die. Just as on the outside, the causes vary. Ye

National CO Week? Yep, they deserve it!

Many years ago I was speaking to a delightful group of senior citizens in a college campus setting, telling of the work of HFP. In describing conditions in our prison system, I expressed concern about corrections officers who mistreated the mentally ill, who loved their badge and their power more than the subjects they were working with, and who felt that no punishment was too great for law violators.   Following my presentation, a sweet grey-haired woman raised her hand. “I just want you to know,” she said, “that my son has a college degree, has chosen to serve as a correctional officer, loves his work, and takes his job seriously. He's proud of what he does!” That was a very important reminder to me: We should not paint with a broad brush!   We forget that COs are not properly trained to care for the mentally ill, are not paid enough for what they do, are overworked (due to staff shortages, (some are ordered to work double shifts!), and are generally despised and often mistre

Animals? Yes! Buildings? Yes! Prisoners? Let me think about it!

  I love stories, reports, TV features and documentaries about restoration, rehabilitation and renewal. With a background in broadcast journalism, I am a news junkie. Each day I review newspapers, on-line news reports, and television reports.   As a radio newsman decades ago, I loved to write and air stories about rescues and fresh starts. I still enjoy features about rescuing pets, saving old buildings, restoring run-down business districts, and helping abandoned small towns.   The thing is, I’m not in the news business anymore. And, in my current profession, I’m troubled about reports like these.   -In the U.S., over 400,000 people enter prison gates, but people go to jail almost 7 million times. Some have just been arrested and will make bail within hours or days, while many others are too poor to make bail and remain behind bars until their trial.   - On average, incarcerated people earn between 86 cents and $3.45 per day for the most common prison jobs. In at least five st

Empathy, not only for prisoners, but for each other. Important!

em·pa·thy Noun The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.   I’m quick with an opinion re the incredible success HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS has experienced with the incarcerated. It’s not what most organizations would boast about, because we often fail in our efforts to help the inmate as requested. Sometimes we get a partial victory. I’m convinced the real reason people behind bars love us is because we care! We listen. We do our best to assure them that, no matter how little or how much we can accomplish on their behalf, they matter!   Earlier in life, I had a couple of “non-empathy” experiences.   1981.   I had enjoyed a highly successful radio career until this year when, due to some incredibly unwise business decisions, my northern Michigan radio station went broke. I was devastated. I had no one to blame but Doug. My self-esteem was at an all-time low. Our corporate attorney recommended a lawyer who specialized in bankruptcy proceedings to help me.   The

I welcome you to the free world, James! I wonder if society will?

It never gets old.   I have no idea how many prisoners I’ve greeted at the door as they stepped into freedom. It happened again Tuesday morning. James (Ba’ Boy) O’Neal was being released on parole. For the first time in 46 years he walked out of that prison with no cuffs. For the first time in 46 years he rode in a vehicle without being shackled. For the first time in 46 years he didn’t have to eat garbage. We stopped at a nearby Panera’s for a juicy egg, cheese and sausage sandwich.   It was a sweet reunion for James O’Neal and Doug Tjapkes! Years ago he contacted our office for assistance in helping a friend who was experiencing health care problems. We were successful in that endeavor, and he and I became friends. I communicated with the Parole Board several times on his behalf over the years, and participated at his public hearing before the Michigan Parole Board.   And so, there was a lot of background, a lot of history, a lot of love in that welcome. There was a lot of la

Remembering Marcia, thanking her kids!

We’ve all seen it and heard about it. Perhaps you’ve been a part of it.   An elderly parent dies, and before the surviving kids can even think about fighting over who will get what, decisions must be made about a memorial service. Which funeral director? Where will it be held? Who will preside? Who will sing? Which family members should share stories? Sometimes a mini-family feud.   It’s all on my mind today. We lost Marcia exactly one year ago.   As a little boy, the funeral service confused me. I must confess that I hated to go. I had been taught in Sunday School that heaven was a wonderful place, that there would be no more sickness, death or tears, and everyone would be happy. There was no evidence of that in a funeral service. The funeral cars were black, the people wore black, the casket was rolled to the front of the sanctuary, the preacher somberly quoted Bible verses, people wept, the body was lowered into a grave and we all went home.   Today, I pay tribute to our fou

Another sad commentary on Michigan's mental health centers: OUR STATE PRISONS!

For the past 20 years I’ve been troubled by the manner in which mentally challenged inmates have been treated at Michigan’s only prison for women. We MUST demand more and better training for caregivers in all of Michigan’s correctional facilities.   I’m not going to come to any conclusion with this piece. This time, I’m going to let one of my friends behind bars, a whistleblower and a suicide watch observer, tell the story.   Jane has suicidal ideation. and has been dealing with it all her life. She finally reached out for help in the last few years.   Jane was moved to a unit that her therapist and psychiatrist were well aware triggered these thoughts…the administration is well aware as well. The day after they moved her she saw her psychiatrist. She was very honest about where her thoughts were. He concluded that she had to see her therapist once a week until these thoughts past.   That was the beginning of January. BOTH her psychiatrist and therapist left days later. She ne