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All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

What are we going to do about it?

While World War II was raging, we had to practice hiding from the enemy. As a little boy growing up in Muskegon, I was seriously frightened during the air raid “blackouts” of the 1940s. I would tremble in the arms of my parents. I had nightmares about Hitler and Hirohito. 

Decades later, it was a different story.

When our kids were little, in the 60s and 70s, the threat of nuclear war was real and Civil Defense leaders recommended bomb shelters where families could hide from deadly radiation. There were practice drills in cities and schools. 

Today, it’s a different ball game. The kids in our schools must practice hiding and protecting themselves from shooters! Architects are even designing new school buildings to allow for hiding and protection. 

None of that helped 8, 9 and 10-year-old students at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, yesterday. A young gunman shot and killed 19 youngsters and 2 teachers before police shot him dead. 

I’m afraid our perception of the Second Amendment has run amuck. 

Maybe you’ll recall the words of the NRA head following a similar tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut back in 2012. His profound statement: The only thing to stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun. 

It is that kind of wacky thinking that has so derailed the debate over the Second Amendment that nothing makes sense any more. It has made a shambles of our two-party political system. And so, while Republicans claim Democrats want to take away our guns and our rights, and Democrats claim that Republicans want everyone to take arms for protection, our nation becomes not only the laughingstock of the world, but the slaughterhouse. We have more guns than people, more guns than motor vehicles! Mass shootings have become commonplace. 

The Washington Post reports that, since 1999 and the Columbine massacre, more than 311,000 school kids have been exposed to gun violence! 

As Michael Moore put it yesterday, “We love our guns more than we love our children.” 

Muttering “thoughts and prayers” isn’t enough. We’ve already had 27 school shootings this year! 

How many more precious jewels must we lose before we do SOMETHING to reduce this insanity?



Monday, May 16, 2022

When cruelty becomes torture, right in our state prisons!

There’s torture taking place in Michigan prisons. 

I’m not speaking figuratively. There’s actual, literal, torture occurring every day in some of our state’s correctional facilities. 

I’ll explain. 

For segregation areas, a prisoner count must be taken every half hour. It’s done 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Here’s how. Corrections Officers have been issued heavy metal wands for this high-tech system. An electronic module has been installed in the door of every cell. When the officer touches the wand to the module, there’s a beep which signals that the count has been recorded. Simple, right? So what’s the problem? 

Well, many times that’s not exactly how the procedure goes, according to reports we receive. The wand is metal and it’s heavy, and if the officer chooses, he can slap it against the module. One loud clang. If he really wants to be annoying, the officer can slap it several times---rat-a-tat-a-tat. 

Larry, one of our informers, says, “Imagine someone banging on your door, your wall, every half hour of every day, while you eat, read, sleep!” Larry goes on to explain that these are not just a few renegade officers. “The exception is the officer who does his count without cruelty. The rule is officers who perform those duties with a callous disregard. And it isn’t just the prison guards. Mid-level and upper-level administrators not only condone this behavior, but many of them bang on the doors themselves. Even healthcare workers---people whose profession it is to relieve suffering---bang on our doors with their wands.” 

Larry’s letter to HFP was a sharp reminder to me. We’ve heard similar complaints from prisoners in seg for years, and until now I haven’t spoken up. 

The use of sound as a means of cruelty is not new. Carefully read this definition by The United National Convention Against Torture: 

...any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as...punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating...him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. 

The shoe fits! 

This procedure can be done without noise. It’s time to make sure that happens. 

Incarceration is the punishment. We may not add to it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Nice!

Back in the olden days, radio and television stations used to shut down at night. 

I’m 85 now, so I can talk like an old-timer. 

The radio station that I owned and operated for 19 years signed on at 6 AM, and signed off at sunset. We would begin the broadcast day with the playing of our national anthem. Similarly, we would end the day with a simple hymn, like “Now the Day is Over.” 

Television stations often used spectacular videos as the national anthem was playing, perhaps the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, sometimes local scenery. They did this at sign-on time early in the morning, and sign-off time late at night. 

The story is told of a TV executive who, while driving to his office each day, passed an attractive little neighborhood church. The lawn was manicured, the flowers spectacular, the landscaping done to perfection. Out of curiosity, he finally stopped to learn more about this little inner-city treasure. 

The pastor shared a most interesting story. The exterior of the church was tended to by a member who was born with a serious birth defect. Her face was so grotesque, the pastor said, that she refused to be seen in public. But, she wanted to do something of beauty. And so she devoted her life to keeping the appearance of the little church beautiful.  

The TV executive decided that photos of that church should and would be seen on his station’s sign-off, and so, each day, a church that few people would even know about became widely recognized and admired, thanks to a humble anonymous member of the parish. 

That was a very long lead-in to a story I heard just a few days ago. I’m sure, by now, you’ve seen and read accounts of the graduation ceremony at Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia.

76 Michigan prisoners received bachelor’s degrees or associate’s degrees through the Calvin Prison Initiative program. 

What did not make the news was that MDOC Director Heidi Washington kindly and quietly decided that prisoners would not be required to wear their prison blues under graduation gowns (No mother should have to see that!). And then, some sugar daddy stood tall and picked up the tab for new shirts and pants for the graduates! 

As a newsman, that’s the kind of story I loved!

The anonymous donor obviously caught what John Bunyan was talking about when he said: 

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you."

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

By golly, school does make a difference!

Prison is an angry place. For something good to come from the prison experience it almost takes a miracle. But yes, things are happening! 

Prison Fellowship quotes a former inmate who says anger is the only acceptable emotion in prison. There are many reasons to be angry behind bars: loss of freedom, disrespect from fellow inmates, and so-called friends and family that have vanished. Besides, some days it seems if you aren’t angry, you’ll get run over. 

We’re learning that an antidote to that toxic environment is education. 

7 years ago Calvin University began offering a program leading to a Bachelor’s Degree. Each year 20 students from Michigan prisons are selected and enrolled in the five-year program at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia. These are legitimate credit courses taught by professors. 

We’ve watched the program over the years, and a number of our friends and clients have participated. But the thing that really impressed me as to the program’s effectiveness was a simple luncheon meeting. 

Five former inmates, graduates of the Calvin Prison Initiative, had graciously agreed to make a presentation in an adult education class in our church. You gotta keep in mind, here, that these five men spent years and years in that dark, angry atmosphere that I described. The big difference is that these are not angry people. They recognize how fortunate they were to get into a program where they could not only further their education, but could fraternize with like-minded individuals, all people of faith. 

It's no secret that, even in our own circles, some negative or unkind things get said. In conversations with family and friends, it’s not uncommon to make negative comments about a co-worker, a friend, or relative, who did or said something we didn’t appreciate. 

When I had lunch with these men Sunday, I heard NOT ONE NEGATIVE WORD in the entire conversation. To the contrary, these guys---perhaps considered seasoned criminals by the rest of the world---were kind, gentle, loving, supportive, gracious, not only to their hosts, but with each other. It’s exactly the type of person, the type of behavior, we want back in society! 

Study upon study unanimously conclude that higher education programs in prison drastically reduce recidivism, cut down on crime, and save tax-payer dollars, not to mention the long-term contributions to the safety and well-being of the communities where these people are heading. 

Hope College and Western Theological Seminary of Holland are now operating a similar program in the Muskegon Correctional Facility. God bless both of these schools for providing such innovative opportunities for the incarcerated. 

Offering a college education behind bars is a win all the way around. Data support the fact that reentry for that prisoner is enhanced by increased personal income, lower unemployment, greater political engagement and volunteerism, and even improved health. 

They may not be perfect. They'll be modifying and improving along the way. But, our hope is that the MDOC not only supports these two wonderful programs, but also encourages more colleges to get involved.

 

 

 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

This mom didn’t tell you. She showed you!

It happened in a matter of seconds, but I never forgot it. 

It was a summer evening on a country road in northern lower Michigan. A man who owned his own semi-tractor had parked the big rig in the driveway of their home. He and his little boy were standing there, admiring its size and beauty I suppose. From the street you could see the man walk up to the truck, give the tire a kick, then spit. Moments later, the little boy walked up, gave the tire a kick, then spitted on the ground as well. 

It was a reminder to me as a parent that, like it or not, we lead by example. 

In the many kind and loving condolences that we are receiving in the wake of Marcia’s passing, those people behind bars really get the picture. Typical of the many comments we receive from incarcerated men and women is this quote to Matt: “I trust, that the good in you, you learned from your mom to do the kind of work you do." 

As our kids were growing up, they didn’t hear any instructions about being kind to others. They saw their mother, as a hospice nurse, get up in the middle of the night to be at the bedside of a dying patient. They didn’t see her sitting in the church pew with arms folded, grumbling and complaining about what the church could and should be doing. They saw her, in an official position as an elder, calling on women with problems that just couldn’t be discussed with a man. They didn’t hear pious comments about how Jesus loves people of all colors. They saw her welcome an itinerant black preacher into our home for a Sunday dinner. They saw her defy the guards and walk up to a shackled black prisoner and give him a hug.” 

It’s no surprise that all four of our offspring are in the people business. Her simple counsel was, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” 

And so, parents, take a lesson from Marcia: Be careful what tire you kick. Be careful where you spit. Somebody’s watching! 

RIP, Sweetie! Te Amo.



Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Marcia Tjapkes, 1937 – 2022

To say that she was the “wind beneath my wings” would be an understatement. Almost an insult. 

While I was the young wannabe “pillar of the community” running a local radio station, traveling around the world with musicians, and serving on a variety of boards, committees and commissions, someone had to keep the home fires burning. Our four wonderful kids and our nine delightful grandchildren are a testament to Marcia’s incredible parenting skills. 

Once the kids started growing up and the radio stations were history, Marcia Tjapkes sprouted her own wings. A registered nurse with innate medical skills, she went on to become one of the early certified hospice nurses in our county. She was a natural for that position, and for years provided compassion and assistance to men and women, along with their loved ones, in the final chapters of their lives. 

After that she obtained another certification and became the first Parish Nurse in her church. Having earlier served as the church’s first female elder, she was well aware of the many ways a Parish Nurse could be of invaluable assistance. 

While the late Maurice Carter gets the credit for the idea, and while I get the credit for its founding, I think it’s safe to say that there wouldn’t be a HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS had it not been for Marcia’s perceptive medical skills. She arguably saved Maurice’s life while he was still in prison. 

Maurice was unaware that he was in the final stages of Hepatitis C...prison doctors never bothered to inform him that he had the disease. Then, one day he had a serious medical emergency in his cell, and his bunkie called our house. Marcia accepted the collect call, and immediately recognized the symptoms. Healthcare had already given Maurice some aspirin and returned him to his cell. Marcia insisted that his roommate get emergency assistance stat. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance, and his life was saved. 

Only God knows how many lives she touched in her own quiet way. Family and friends are well aware of how she touched our lives. 

The last years of her life became difficult and complicated, as she lost both physical and mental capabilities. 

That all ended late Saturday night when the message of Easter was no longer just a beautiful Bible story...it became a reality! 

What a life! What a woman! What a wife! What a mother! 

RIP, Sweetie. Te Amo! I’ll see you soon.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

On Easter and forgiveness, or lack thereof

Our pastor recently completed a sermon series for Lent on the topic of forgiveness. I’m so happy that I could hear those inspiring messages on Sunday, because in my world, I don’t hear much about forgiveness on weekdays. 

When we ask for forgiveness as we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we piously promise God that we, too, will “forgive those who trespass against us.” But when the prayer is over, and real-life situations develop, we seem to forget all about that vow. 

-Families and loved ones of crime victims refuse to forgive the perpetrator, arguing that the victim doesn’t get a second chance. Why should that person who committed the crime have such an opportunity? 

-Readers and viewers of crime stories in the news express their anger and disgust. “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key,” or, “I’d be the first one to throw the switch” on the electric chair. 

-Prosecutors and judges, while ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to resentence those prisoners who received life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles, resist at every turn. Regardless of how undeveloped the brain was at the time of the crime, regardless of how lengthy stays in prison have changed lives, acts and thoughts of forgiveness are elusive. Revenge and retribution reign. 

In this business, we hear stories of no forgiveness every day. 

Somehow, we didn’t pay much attention to some important Easter week stories. 

We weren’t listening when Jesus asked the Father to forgive a bunch of brutal, cruel soldiers who whipped him, teased him and spat on him: “...for they know not what they do.” 

We didn’t really pay any attention to Jesus’ last-minute pardon of a hardened criminal on the cross next to him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Yet, we’re not ashamed or embarrassed to freely accept the forgiveness we received when death was defeated some 2,000 years ago. 

CHRIST IS RISEN! 

I pray that the message of Easter, 2022, finally makes an impact.