What's in the brown paper bag?

I pass along this story every year during the holiday season. It's not that I want to put a damper on all the fun and frivolity of the season. But, we must be mindful of all of our fellow humans, in all of their experiences. This is a beautiful story, really... .a story not written by me.   I feel certain that Luis Ramirez would be honored to have us pass along what he has written, but I can't ask him.   He's dead.   This message came to me from Texas Death Row in the early days of HFP. I was so touched by the experience that I vowed to keep the story alive. We generally re-publish it during the holiday season. May it remind us, again, that the names on death row represent real people. And, that the death penalty is dead wrong!   Anyway, here’s my gift to you today...a story from the late Luiz Ramirez: (In all caps, just the way he sent it)   I CAME HERE IN MAY OF 1999...A TSUNAMI OF EMOTIONS AND THOUGHTS WERE GOING THROUGH MY MIND.   I REMEMBER THE ONLY THINGS IN T

Does it have to be them and us?

Has the day of respectfully listening to a different opinion gone by the wayside? As an octogenarian, I cannot remember a time when there is so little respect for the opinion of others, and so little interest in open-minded conversation. So much division! So much shouting! So much anger!   This is serious stuff, and we’re going to have to give it some serious thought. I was seriously offended back in the 1960s when I covered a Spring Lake Board of Education meeting. As a local reporter, I asked a couple of pointed questions. A board member later chastised me implying that I was an enemy and certainly not appreciated. Later, however, cooler heads prevailed. We talked, and it became apparent that we had common goals. It was an honor for Marcia and me to be invited to a private social event hosted by the same man at a later date.   Many years later, while selling church organs, I had an unpleasant experience with the assistant pastor of a mega church. They were erecting a new struct

A challenge to provide kindness…all the way from Texas, of all places!

I can’t think of many good ideas from Texas, but here’s one!   I was recently contacted by a wonderful prisoner advocacy agency in the UK. They had heard about my experience with a death row prisoner in 2007. Charles Anthony Nealy and I were friends…he was a client of ours. Then he asked me to be his “spiritual advisor” at the time of his execution. While I loved Anthony, the experience was wretched!   Anyway, the 30-minute interview reminded me of one very nice memory in Texas: a mission project, and it could and should be done here.   On the day of Anthony’s execution, Marcia and I were invited to take a break at a place called the Hospitality House, in Huntsville, Texas. It was a beautiful facility erected and maintained by a Christian group in that state. I’ll explain it, then try to stir up some interest.   Many visitors at a state prison are from out-of-town. Some families and loved ones travel long distances to make such a visit. That was true in Texas, and it’s especial

Deaf kids? Hurting inmates? YOU can help!

It’s a tiny segment of society I’ve never thought about. But, thank God, someone did!   I’m talking about hearing-impaired teenagers. Think about it for a minute.   A teenager in a typical family sitting at the dinner table. Sibs and parents all laughing and talking. One person silent, living in another world…he can’t hear. A teenager sitting with a circle of friends in a school lunchroom…everyone talking and laughing. One person is silent, living in another world. She can’t hear.   I was intrigued by a short TV interview the other night with Dan Kregel, Executive Director of Youth for Christ of West Michigan. His agency has developed a program called Deaf Teen Quest, and it offers a new, exciting and participatory world for teens who can’t hear. There are leaders and counselors who chat via signing, and teens actually get together for events to laugh and talk, the things kids love to do, only with sign language.   YFCWM found a niche and ran with it. The program, only 5 years

Why it’s important for you to meet with us Friday night!

I realize that Friday nights are crowded…sporting events, happy hour meetings, cocktail parties, dinner parties, and a variety of other ways to celebrate TGIF. But just this once, it’s important that you take a break from that routine.   The 27 th marks the very first time that a powerful documentary labeled BEHIND OUR WALLS will be shown in Ottawa County. This award-winning film, produced by Nate Roels of Grand Rapids, conveys an important message about incarceration.   It'll be shown at Central Park Place in Grand Haven...the program begins at 7 PM. In 2015 Calvin College (now Calvin University) and Calvin Theological Seminary teamed up to prepare a classroom experience for a handful of prisoners at one of our state prisons in Ionia. I’ve been in that facility. The prison system has given Calvin Prison Initiative a classroom and a library in the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility. The class size is only 20 per year, but you should know that these people participate in

Love thy neighbor, when he or she is behind bars?

  Anyone can love a rose, but it takes a lot to love a leaf! Tom Flynn   I’ve been thinking a lot about love these days.   Perhaps it’s because Pastor Nate is in the middle of a sermon series on First Corinthians 13, that famous Bible passage about love. It’s easy for us to mouth popular cliches, “God is Love,” or “Love thy Neighbor,” but, as Nate is pointing out, the subject requires much closer examination. And deeper thought.   I’m a bit of a freak, I suppose, because I have a genuine love for persons who are incarcerated. I mean it. I love prisoners! And I think it started long before I got into this prisoner advocacy business.   I remember in 1969, my partner and I were excited to bring FM radio to Grand Haven. As the owners of the local radio station, we staged a big local ceremony when WGHN-FM went on the air. One of my first goals, as a broadcast journalist, was to do some in-depth programming on topics of interest. In those days, the use of heroin was becoming a major

It can't happen to me. Only to others!

If I got locked up in a prison for something I didn’t do, I’d be a raging bull!  Those were the words of the Rev. Al Hoksbergen, wonderful pastor, beautiful Christian, who was at my side during the years we tried to free Maurice Carter. I raise the issue this week because…   October 2 came and went. Not many people I know paid much attention to the fact that it was the 10 th annual International Wrongful Conviction Day.   Granted, the day has real meaning for me. It was a wrongful conviction that led to my beautiful relationship with Maurice Carter, which then led to the formation of a fine prisoner service agency called HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. But my point is this: It must be important to you, also!   My very good friend Marla Mitchell-Cichon, who for years served as Director of the Cooley Innocence Project, reminds that efforts to help the wrongly convicted go back much longer than 10 years. After all, I began working on the Carter case in the mid-1990s.   “I have been worki