All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Black prisoners facing a White world

When in prison, chances are your roommate will be Black. But, chances are, the warden, the chaplain, your social worker and your health-care professional will be White. 

I really never gave much thought to the plight of a Black person in our criminal justice system until I met Maurice Carter. As I began to try to help my wrongly convicted friend, I discovered just how “white” his world was. 

Maurice was charged and prosecuted by a white prosecutor. He was convicted by an all-white jury. He was tried and sentenced by a white judge. Yes, there were some Black cops involved in the investigation and actual arrest, but I’m convinced at least some were dirty. His Parole Board review was conducted by a white PB chairman. He was questioned in the public hearing by a white Assistant Attorney General. And, in the end, his sentence was commuted by a white Governor who dragged her heels for a year. 

Our readers know I’ve grumbled a lot about this. While the population of African American people in Michigan remains at about the 13% level, more than half of the population in our state prisons is made up of Black people. 

In response to a recent article in The Banner, official publication of the Christian Reformed Church of North America, which criticized mental health care behind bars, a reader responded. “Addressing mental health issues is much needed. However, you can’t address the American prison system without acknowledging the racial disparities.” 

She went on: “Prisoners of color make up more than half of the population, yet the administration, chaplains, wardens, guards, social workers, medical/dental professionals, as well as mental health workers, are by and large white.” 

She’s absolutely correct. Of the 112 people listed in MDOC “Administration,” for example, 22 are Black...less than 20%. Of the 2,136 persons listed as “Professional” who work for the department, 588 are Black...less than 28%. And, there are 368 para-professionals hired by the MDOC. Of that number, only 73 are black. Again, less than 20%. 

It’s a problem on the national level. It’s a problem on the state level. 

It is the human face—a face of color—of the racial injustice of the United States criminal justice system that is the most compelling reason for reform. It is time for the United States to take affirmative steps to eliminate the racial disparities in its criminal justice system.

The Sentencing Project report to the UN, 4/19/18 

Amen and Amen!

Friday, November 26, 2021

RIP, Jerry Horne! We'll meet again!

I suspect that Jerry Horne, Maurice Carter and Jesus are yucking it up, today. Probably chuckling over the Lord’s stories about the rich and the poor, and the complicated path to heaven. 

Jerry joined the party yesterday. 

Newlyweds Jerry and Dee Horne came to Holland, Michigan, in the 1960s. He and I worked together at Radio Station WJBL. It soon became clear, however, that this couple were headed for bigger things. Their combined prowess led them down an entrepreneurial path that took them into different and highly successful circles. We didn’t see each other again for decades. 

There was little likelihood that our paths would ever cross again. Our income brackets were at opposite extremes, as were our politics, and even some of our religious views. But an indigent black man from Gary, Indiana, changed all of that. 

Jerry read about my efforts to help a wrongly convicted prisoner named Maurice Carter. The story was making headlines in the Grand Rapids Press on a rather consistent basis around the turn of the century. And that’s when I learned a lot about this rich man. He not only had a pot of gold, but he had a heart of gold...and it especially leaned toward the less fortunate. 

Jerry Horne loved Maurice Carter, and it was his luxurious motor home that provided transportation from prison to a welcoming reception in July, 2004. Maurice lived for only 3 months after that momentous occasion, but Jerry’s love and support for the ideas of Maurice never waned. 

When I opted to go full-time into the prisoner advocacy business, it was Jerry and Dee who provided free office space in the Manpower Building in Muskegon. 

When many people thought I was dying from a staph infection in 2010, and an exciting new stage play about Maurice and me opened in Toronto, Jerry arranged for a private jet, piloted by his son, to take Marcia and me to the event. 

During the early years of this prisoner business, when times were lean, Jerry and Dee would roll out the red carpet. Marcia and I would get luxurious Florida lodging, transportation and living expense for a week! 

We’ve watched in sadness over the past ten years as Jerry battled dementia. 

That fight ended on Thanksgiving Day. May his family and loved ones feel God’s presence and his peace. 

And there is great cause for rejoicing. Jerry not only has a new body, today. He has a new mind!



Thursday, November 25, 2021

A "sticky note" to the late Rita Miller!

 Thanksgiving Day, November, 1954 (Age 18, at the “sunrise” of my life) 

As the newest announcer on the staff, I would be the only person on duty at WMUS on Thanksgiving Day. With only a daytime license, the Muskegon radio station would sign on at 8:15 AM and sign off at 5:15 PM. My loving mom would prepare a Thanksgiving dinner for me. My dad would deliver it. 

I flicked on the lights at the Giles Road studios, and discovered that the tiny office was speckled with yellow sticky notes. Before locking up on Wednesday, Rita Miller, our creative and innovative commercial writer, had and posted stickers everywhere! Thank you for telephones! Thank you for typewriters! Thank you for desks! Thank you for chairs! 

It was fun, but I had work to do. 

Little did I realize that I was at the beginning of an exciting 29-year radio career. That I would later embark on a fulfilling 21-year career selling church organs. And that, at age 65 when many people retire, I would respond to the calling of my life and form an organization that would offer compassion and hope to thousands of prisoners. 

I had no idea that, years later, I would be thankful for a loving wife, wonderful kids, delightful grandchildren, and a list that would go on and on. 

The big boss from Grand Rapids, a true scrooge, stopped in later that day to check on things. He immediately yanked off all the sticky notes and threw them into the waste basket (which also had a note on it!). 

But he couldn’t yank the memory from the mind of that enthusiastic teenager! 

Thanksgiving Day, November, 2021 (Age 85, at the “sunset” of my life) 

I don’t know how the years slipped by so quickly, but today I’m still thinking of Rita’s sticky notes. 

There’s an old gospel song that goes like this: 

Could we with ink the ocean fil
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.

That’s the way it would be if I had sticky notes today. I’m so thankful to God for so much. In trying to make a list, I’d run out of time and out of sticky notes. 

See what you started, Rita Miller? 

I realize that it’s far too little, far too late, but here’s posting a sticky “thank you” note for helping me see the true meaning of Thanksgiving!



Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Giving thanks behind bars?

In preparing an annual Thanksgiving prayer for our family dinner, I like to fall back on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s material. This year, as I read this simple verse, I think of persons living behind bars. 

 “For flowers that bloom about our feet;

 For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;

 For song of bird, and hum of bee;

For all things fair we hear or see,

 Father in heaven, we thank Thee!” 

The deal is, it would be pretty difficult to recite this little prayer while living in a cage, where you can’t smell flowers, can’t feel damp grass, and can’t hear the chirping of birds and the humming of bees. All stuff that we just take for granted. 

And yet, here in our office we receive words of thanks every day! With 50-100 messages arriving daily from behind bars, our team is wrapped in warm and fuzzy comments like these. 

“Thanks again for all your help. Make sure you give a special thanks to all the volunteers at HFP for me.” 

“Thank you for data provided by your complex searches. Because of HFP, I have been able to change my life for the better mentally and spiritually.” 

“Thank you GREATLY for the work HFP does for us.” 

“Thank you! I received my clothing today from the Quartermaster. God Bless! 

“I just want to thank you for those kind words ‘you matter.’ That means so much to me.” 

“Thank you so much for the prompt response re my eye glasses. you made this old man very happy!” 

“It inspires me to want to help others as you have helped me. Thank you once again!" 

In addition to many nice comments, this week I mailed out four personal thank-you notes to prisoners who made financial contributions to HFP. For our gang, this is the ultimate compliment! Residents of our prison system are not wealthy people, and their wages are puny. Expressions of financial support from inmates have been overwhelming this year, and for that WE are thankful! 

In conclusion, as we observe Thanksgiving, 2021, I just want to add a personal note. Since I started HFP 20 years ago, I’ve discovered that some of the nicest people I know are incarcerated. I’m thankful for their friendship! Because of them, Thanksgiving means more to me today.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Are we winning the war against racism? I don't think so!

I can’t even begin to discuss the obvious racial issues in the Rittenhouse story with a good friend. She insists that I’m biased because I refuse to watch Fox News, and that racism is not a systemic problem in U.S. law enforcement and justice circles. 

She is correct in that I struggle with objectivity on the issue of race, because my colleagues and I deal with it every day. As a legitimate and experienced broadcast journalist and a news junkie, I refuse to listen to any single news organization, and I have broad experience in pursuing facts. 

I’m not sure what planet my friend lives on, but here are some quotes, all gathered from legitimate resources, today. 

-A Freep investigation found that Black men are nearly six times more likely to be charged with resisting under state law than white men. Detroit Free Press 

-Federal prosecutors in New Jersey last week indicted 3 police officers seen on video abusing a Black teenager who was handcuffed and prone. The incident took place in January, 2018. Two of the copes were still on the job when indicted. The Marshall Project 

-More evidence that avowed white supremacists are allowed to work as prison guards in Florida. “Those who work in our prisons don’t seem to fear people knowing that they’re white supremacists,” says a state lawmaker. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

-Blacks tend to be sentenced more harshly than whites for lower-level crimes such as drug crimes and property crimes. Blacks convicted of high-level drug offenses also tend to be more harshly sentenced than similarly-situated whites. Open Society Foundations 

-Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at nearly five times the rate of whites. The Sentencing Project 

-The criminal justice system’s pervasive problems with racism start before the first contact and continue through pleas, conviction, incarceration, release, and beyond. American Bar Association 

-The net effects of history’s injustices are staggering. According to statistics the NAACP examined, although Black people make up 13.4 percent of the population, they make up: 22 percent of fatal police shootings,47 percent of wrongful conviction exonerations, and 35 percent of individuals executed by the death penalty. NAACP 

I think we can safely assume that a Black teenager cannot grab an assault rifle and run off to another town in another state, shoot 3 people participating in a white supremacy rally killing 2 of them, and be found not guilty on all charges. 

On this Thanksgiving Day I shall not be giving thanks for the widespread gains in defeating racism in America. I don’t see it happening.


Friday, November 19, 2021

Are you ready to accept any blame in the Rittenhouse verdict?

People aren’t going to like my opinion. But here it is: It’s the Prosecutor’s fault! 

People are shouting from all sides, following announcement of the verdict that teenager Kyle Rittenhouse has been found not guilty of all charges in a shameful Kenosha, Wisconsin, incident. This kid came into town with an assault rifle last August. He didn’t live there, but apparently felt he was needed because a demonstration was scheduled...somebody had to help keep order. He wound up shooting three protestors, killing two of them. Self-defense, he claimed. 

So now you have 2nd Amendment supporters, self-defense advocates and gun rights people defending the decision of the jury. Loving the decision. Meanwhile, many of us are shaking our heads in alarm and disgust. 

But let me return to my first line. 

As a young radio broadcaster, partly because of my own enthusiasm and gusto, I got thrust into the role of management at an exceptionally early age. I became the youngest News Director in a medium market at the age of 19 back in 1955. I was appointed General Manager of a small-market radio station over 15 employees at the age of 26, and I became the President and CEO of a small market radio station at the age of 27. 

Struggling to learn all that I needed to fulfil these roles, I grabbed management courses whenever and wherever I could. And one of the most important lessons still sticks with me. Our instructor said: “When you fire an employee, it’s not the fault of that’s YOUR fault!” 

Now back to convictions and acquittals, because that same lesson applies. 

The Black community isn’t quick to acknowledge this, but in 1995, when OJ Simpson was acquitted in a murder trial, many African Americans cheered. They knew darn well that he was probably guilty, but he beat the system. 

Granted, he won, fair and square. But legal experts will agree: It was the Prosecutor’s fault! 

And that’s where we are right now. Many of us agree that we cannot have vigilantes taking the law into their own hands. Deep down, even those shouting their approval of today’s verdict know darn well that we can’t maintain justice and order that way. 

But, today’s verdict is the Prosecutor’s fault! If the kid was guilty, it was the job of the Prosecutor to prove it. Innocent until proven guilty, we like to claim. 

And, ladies and gentlemen, the Prosecutor is elected by the people. So is the judge. 

Guess where the buck stops?

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Mentally ill moms and dads behind bars need you!

Old Arnie was mentally challenged, and never should have received a prison sentence. Once behind bars, he got into even more trouble. He was confused and didn’t follow directions. It was a hot summer when he got thrown into “the hole” for disobeying orders, and it was like getting locked up in a sauna. Then, the laughing guards pulled one more trick. They turned off the cold water, so all he had was hot tap water. 

That happened years ago, and marked my first experience with mistreatment of the mentally ill in a state prison. 

I raised hell. We’ve been complaining ever since. 

In 2014, after obtaining smuggled affidavits from prisoner observers in Huron Valley, we persuaded the US Department of Justice to investigate mistreatment of mentally ill women. Even that didn’t seem to bring about much change. 

In recent days, we received this shameful report from an inmate at Macomb CF: 

"When a prisoner is under observation for self-harm they are being treated like animals. Their food is put on wax paper no matter what it is. If the population is having chili for dinner, then the person on observation gets the same, just put on wax paper, and has to eat with their fingers. They call it finger food but it’s just the same as population gets, and there is no policy for finger food. Also, they are not given any thing to wash their hands with after using the bathroom. So, they have to eat with dirty hands." 

It's time for a change. Demanding decent treatment for mentally challenged people behind bars is long overdue. Serious mental illness has become so prevalent in the US corrections system that jails and prisons are now commonly called “the new asylums.” 

Prisons hold more mentally ill individuals than state psychiatric hospitals. 

According to the Treatment Advocacy Center of Virginia: 

-Mentally ill inmates remain in prison longer than other inmates.

-Incarcerating mentally ill inmates is costly.

-Mentally ill inmates are often isolated, because of behavioral management problems.

-Mentally ill inmates are more likely to commit suicide. 

The loved one of a Michigan inmate writes: “This is wrong in so many ways! These are human beings and not a piece of crap! These men are our brothers, fathers, husbands, friends, etc., and to treat them like this and humiliate them is sickening. It's not acceptable!” 

Every Michigan legislator has an email address. Send him/her the link to this article. 

Let’s do something!