Susan Burton's story: Important for all of us!

Maurice Carter was a hero to many when he walked out of prison in 2004. He had served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. At the conclusion of a ten-year battle with the State of Michigan, he finally obtained a compassionate release from the Governor because he was dying. He may have been a hero in our circles, and he’s still my hero today. But, he was no hero in the community when it came to reentry issues. He couldn’t find a play to stay. Here’s what he had going against him: He was Black, he had a prison record, and he was suffering from Hepatitis C.   We were finally fortunate enough to find one kind couple, who owned and operated a care facility, who had a heart and took him in.   Some 90% of the prisoners in Michigan will get out someday, but the going won’t be easy. Besides that, these people get little help with personal issues upon reentry. My friend Ronnie got caught up in his old ways upon his release, eventually got picked up again, and took his own life in a county

Why a Wrongful Conviction Day? It's always the other guy, right?

I always thought that I was a darn good reporter. I was a broadcast journalist for nearly 30 years in the 50s through 70s. Turns out, I was pretty darn na├»ve as well! A good part of my life I covered the police beat. Cops and prosecutors were my friends, and I thought they were always right.   Then, many years later (1990s), I met a black prisoner who claimed he was innocent. Over the next decade he and I became best friends, as we joined hands to prove that he had been wrongly convicted. That experience led to the formation of the organization we now call HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. It was a dramatic change in belief and understanding for me, as I learned that cops and prosecutors were not always right, and that many people are behind bars who do not belong there. They weren’t just poor Black people, either. They included teachers, businessmen, doctors, lawyers and yes, even cops.   Yes, it CAN happen to you! Just ask a banker who served 8 years after his wife died from injuries in a fa

Kid's rights? Not interested!

Yes, there’s a lot of rhetoric about the “unborn” as an election date approaches. But I’m really wondering just how much Michiganders really care about kids.   On August 18 I wrote a piece on this very blog site titled What about kids already born? Do they have rights? Only 29 views. No comments. Obviously no interest. Nada. Last Wednesday this headline appeared in the Detroit Free Press: Michigan earns “F” on children’s rights. I wonder if that attracted any attention. If so, I didn’t hear about it. I suspect that pieces in the Freep focusing on whether the last election was rigged, or which U of M quarterback would be chosen for Saturday’s game would garner more attention. It boggles the mind.   The essence of the story, written by Free Press reporter Jennifer Brooklane, was that a scorecard had just been released by Human Rights Watch that showed just how terrible Pure Michigan is doing in this matter of protecting rights for children. Our state still allows child marriage a

Melissa leaves, HFP stays: Both continue to do good things!

They sometimes call her the “Dog Whisperer.” Melissa Tjapkes has many talents. Her floral arrangements are the best, in my humble opinion. Her custom-made jewelry is incredible. Her work in putting together a highly efficient volunteer program at Humanity for Prisoners is saving us thousands of dollars. But her real love is animals! Especially animals in need. And so, while saddened by her decision to leave HFP, I concede that her appointment as Administrative Assistant for the Noah Project, an animal shelter in neighboring Muskegon County, is a “marriage made in heaven.”   I really dislike the end of things. I love spring…I go into mourning by late August because the summer is coming to an end. Three days before the end of our annual family vacations, I could already feel the dark cloud signaling the end of those precious moments. And now it's happening right here in our office.   After spending 3 years with us, Melissa will begin a new career with rescue animals next week. Sh

Sorry! No jobs for ex-prisoners!

Labor Day week seemed the perfect time to discuss the job situation for those who have served time in prison. Channor Lewis, an IT support specialist for DTE Energy in Detroit wrote an article for the Detroit News recently that does a great job of explaining the problem.   While our specialty is not re-entry, the HFP team still finds that our former clients face real challenges when they re-enter the free world. Employers are not excited about hiring former prisoners. Despite excellent credentials, background and training, Lewis says it took him 6 months to get a job! Think about it. That’s a half-year that these guys could easily get into trouble again. Lewis said he applied for 20 positions before he received one offer, and that offer was rescinded after the company did a background check.   Yet, those employers who boldly take the risk find that these men and women are excellent employees. My industrialist friend Andy loves to hire them! Companies often find that hiring returnin

Free prison telephone calls?

Yes, we're talking about free telephone calls. Take a look at this! Incarcerated persons in Michigan are learning that they have a valuable friend in the Michigan legislature. State Representative Tenisha Yancey, a Democrat from Harper Woods, is in her third full term serving Michigan’s 1sts House District. I knew nothing about Rep. Yancey until I recently read about a bill she has introduced. She wants free telephone calls for all persons behind bars!    House Bill #6363 would fully eliminate the fees and charges friends and families of incarcerated people pay to speak with their loved ones inside state prisons and county jails. If approved, this bill has the potential of saving Michigan families tens of millions of dollars every year!   While telephone rates for state prison calls aren’t the worst in the nation (we’re number 12, charging $2.40 for a 15-minute call!), the same cannot be said about county jail phone service. According to Save and Just Michigan, Michigan familie

Yep, Here in Pure Michigan, we've got prison problems! Especially staff!

Although prisoners do not have full constitutional rights, they are protected by the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. This protection also requires that prisoners be afforded a minimum standard of living. Legal Information Instititute   And I contend, Ladies and Gentlemen, that a “minimum standard of living” just ain’t happening! Not in our Michigan prisons. A key reason: critical staff shortage!   Consider this data, compiled by Kay Perry of MI-CURE and Ted Roelofs, of Bridge Michigan.   -Approximately 900 staff shortages in the MDOC (1 in 6 positions vacant!) -Corrections Officers are working 80-hours/week with mandatory overtime   In addition to the impact on the daily lives of the more than 30,000 men and women who occupy our prisons, just consider the damage among the staff when you expect people to work 16-hour shifts.   -41% meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder -25% meet the criteria for alcohol abuse -An