Whether in music or prisoner assistance, no more cookie-cutters!

  To play a wrong note is insignificant. To play without passion is inexcusable   Ludwig van Beethoven   I made my way to a little nightspot recently, having been told I would hear some fine live music. Sitting next to me at the bar was a fellow musician. After 10 or 15 minutes he said to me, “Every song has the same beat.” I hadn’t been paying that much attention. Sure enough. I added to his statement. “Almost every tune is in the same key!”   I must be fair, here. The musicians were competent. The music was well done. The sounds were pleasant. Nothing out of place. BUT, everything sounded the same! As a musician who prefers creativity, I called it a day a little sooner than usual.   Later that same night, I surfed to a lesser-known cable TV channel, knowing that Bill and Gloria Gaither would be featuring an hour of gospel music. That should cheer me up.   The show featured a popular country/western musician singing old, favorite hymns. But here’s the thing. He played all in

Better late than never: Congrats, Public Defenders! Thanks to ALL defense attorneys!

March 18 arrived. No mention of the significance of the day. Not a word in newspapers. No special tributes or features on TV. Sadly, I almost let it slip by…it was flagged on the wrong date in my calendar.   Well, it’s not too late. March 18 is National Public Defender Day. To add to the trivia, let me tell you about a little-known division within the Department of Justice. It’s called The Bureau of Justice Assistance, and its job is to provide leadership and assistance to local criminal justice programs. That is the office that chose to make March 18 a special day on the calendar.  Public Defenders help those accused people who have no money for a lawyer. In Ottawa County such a plan was approved in June of 2018. The new Public Defender Office became fully operational in 2019.   I can still remember, as a young news reporter, questioning the integrity of those lawyers who chose to defend people on the wrong side of the law. How did they sleep at night, arguing on behalf of a per

What breaks our hearts! What breaks your hearts?

Stories like this come across our desks every day, and break our hearts every day.   My son called tonight and stated that a new inmate had been added to the veteran's unit in Saginaw prison. He stated that the man has severe dementia and is needing help BAD. He is 74 years old. Today he walked around naked and voided all over himself, and didn’t even know that he had done it. My son was told that the man was put in that unit to protect himself from men in other units taking advantage of him.   Reacting to a report that two lifers had passed away at Women’s Huron Valley, one of our friends wrote: It is so unfortunate that WHV doesn’t even allow us to have any sort of memorial service for our sisters.   In response to the death of a middle-aged resident of a Muskegon prion, a friend says: He was rushed to the hospital with flu-like symptoms. He had delayed going to health-care until it was too late. (This happens often, because of the unfortunate rule that prisoners face a $5

Wages go down. Prices go up!

  The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” – Albert Camus   In a telephone chat with one of my friends behind bars the other day, the topic of prisoner pay came up once again. He has certain MDOC certifications that entitle him to a slightly higher pay rate for certain jobs. But, he was transferred to a facility that doesn’t recognize those certifications. He’ll have to settle for the lower pay.   I was discussing the topic with a former prisoner, and he shared a similar story where, upon transfer, the people at the new facility wouldn’t pay the rate that he had been receiving for years at the old facility.   Keep in mind, now, that these prison people aren’t doing their best to balance the prison budget. They’re doing their best to be unkind to the residents of that facility.   This week I received a message from one of the prison dog handlers. “Well, the buggers went ahead and cut the maintenance, upholstery, and all dog handlers' pay. We

We agreed that prisoners mattered, but we didn’t know what the heck we were doing!

  God uses those with limited abilities to further his kingdom.   Bill Gaither   Bill was chatting with the Booth Brothers, fine gospel music group, in one of his TV videos. His response, as shown above, came after Michael Booth, the group’s tenor, shared that he was unable to reach some rather high notes.   I found Gaither’s comment meaningful because of the HFP story.   I started this organization 22 years ago at the urging Maurice Carter, who at that time had served 26  years in prison for a crime he did not commit. There were many more people behind bars, he insisted, who needed outside help. Well, I didn’t know much about the justice system, but I knew about helping prisoners. I had been fighting at Maurice’s side for 8 years.   It’s fair to say that, when my good friend and lawyer John Carlyle offered to help set up this unique organization, we had no idea what we were doing. Talk about limited abilities!   1.       Maurice was still behind bars, and had no legal or bus

Intestinal issues, mental illness, wrongful conviction...all in a day's work. Even on Sunday!

  O day of rest and gladness, O day of joy and light   I love this old hymn, composed by Christopher Wordsworth back in 1862, but it doesn’t really describe typical Sundays of this octogenarian. I look forward to being busy on Sunday! I’m a church musician, and the older I get the more it feels like music soothes my soul. Sunday the 19 th was particularly busy, because I was the only keyboard musician on duty that day. I played both organ and piano during the service. When I finally returned home, it was time to crash. I mixed up a Bloody Mary, grabbed the Sunday newspaper, and plopped on the couch.   Within the hour a telephone call. It was my friend Brad, in a Michigan prison. Could I find some help for a fellow inmate? David, who lives in a cell right across from him, has been experiencing physical problems for the past couple of years. When he goes to the bathroom, a part of his bowel actually comes out, and so each time he is forced to put his body back together again. It

Inflation behind bars. Do we give a damn?

I’m reading about the crazy battles in Lansing, as lawmakers fight over which tax breaks they’ll approve. Let’s face it. Inflation is real, we all feel it, and we’d like relief.   “Inflation has driven the cost up on everyday goods, which is squeezing household budgets and forcing families to forego necessities,” Governor Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids and House Speaker Joe Tate of Detroit said in a joint statement. “That’s why they sent us to Lansing…”   I read through Lansing accounts in Bridge Magazine, the Detroit News, and the Detroit Free Press. I scoured all reports to see if there was anything about how inflation affects Michigan prisoners. Nary a word!   Inflation behind bars is especially crippling, because as store prices continue to rise, wages remain stagnant.   Check out these messages on my desk, just received.   Doug at Saginaw CF : “Lunch today is pseudo Bologna, so my bunkie is making a simple bowl cook-up. ‘Simple’ is going to