All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year?

I'm in the office alone on New Year's Eve. I was unable to leave early because the wheel kept squeaking!

Mr. V. wanted me to send letters by email to his two sisters in Honduras, wishing them a Happy New Year! He tries to send them letters, but mysteriously they never arrive.

Mr. H. called, and needed a little TLC. He has been in prison 24 years, claiming wrongful conviction, but now has a glimmer of hope because a foreign documentary maker wants to tell his story. I read the email message to him, his spirits were lifted, and he told me that he loved me.

Mr. D. wrote me a letter asking me to try to reach his grown children. He has been in prison for 15 years after his estranged wife accused him of child molestation. He could have settled for a one year jail term on a plea, but maintained his innocence. His holiday is ruined because judges ruled against him in one of the nations high courts a few days ago. Now he's desperately hoping to find offspring with a conscience to turn things around.

Mr. B. is on death row, and after we persuaded arguably the nation's leading lie detector expert to give him an examination free of charge, his attorneys are refusing! Positive results could draw amazing last-minute media attention! My letter of frustration will go out yet today. The lawyers are not facing imminent death. His execution date is rapidly approaching!

And, I just opened an angry letter from Mr. W., an exceptionally religious prisoner, full of pious phrases. He "rebuked" me for not being a computer expert who could bring up some information that he believes is important on the internet...which I cannot find. I tried. So now I am officially rebuked.

Aside from all of that, the board of HFP and I hope that your celebrations are safe, sane, and happy tonight. We are so grateful for your support, your interest, your love, and we wish the very best for you and yours in the new year! Amidst the fun and frivolity, please remember prisoners, their families and their loved ones. May God be near them in the new year, and bless us as we continue to fight in the trenches on their behalf.

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Friday, December 26, 2008

Call to action

Christmas was no sooner past than we received an urgent call to assist a prisoner on death row in Texas. Seems a jury had reached a verdict and decided on the death penalty in just TWO HOURS! A retired forensic pathologist pleaded with us to do something for this man, because records show he was actually in a county jail at the time of the murder! His execution date is just 35 days away.

In spite of holidays, HFP has already received a record 50 requests to date for assistance in December! We need you at our side this final week of the year.

If you will get your donation in before Auld Lang Syne fills the air, you will not only receive a 2008 tax deduction, but you will also help us to do our best for forgotten prisoners with healthcare, mental illness, parole, hospice and wrongful conviction issues!

To make it even more convenient for you, here's your online donation form:

I conclude with two kind comments from our wonderful partners that arrived on Christmas Eve:

"You take our money and love and turn it into goodness and mercy just as Christ would do."


"...there is always Doug of Muskegon to the rescue. I follow in awe of those footsteps in the sands of time and compassion."


Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Thank you!

It's no secret that we have a wide variety of supporters.

There are atheists, agnostics, evangelicals, protestants, Catholics, Jews, liberals, name it. But there is a two-strand cord that binds us all together: We agree that all prisoners deserve humane treatment, and we believe that wrongful convictions are not acceptable.

It's Christmas Eve, and the holiday weekend is here. I and my family will be in church tonight.

But regardless of where you are, and what you will be doing, I hope that for all of you the weekend will be special; that you will have the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate friends and family.

And during the laughter and gaity, I ask that you take a moment to remember a huge segment of our society under a black cloud this weekend. With more than 2-million people in prison in the United States, please remember not only the incarcerated, but the moms, dads, grandparents, children, relatives and loved ones...all real people, with real feelings and emotions.

And from all of us at HFP---the board, the volunteers, our intern, and the president---please accept our sincere admiration and thanks for daring to get involved. You have held our hand as we walked behind bars. You are helping prisoners on an individual basis to find a bright spot in this holiday season. You are the best!


Monday, December 22, 2008

New week, new year

On beginning the new week:

There is only one way in which one can endure man's inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one's own life, to exemplify man's humanity to man.
Alan Paton quotes (South African Writer and Educator, 1903-1988)

I chose that quote because of the following experience:

Over the weekend, Mrs. T sent me a brief message by email: My father is 68 and in prison, suffers from heart problems and cannot get the medicine that the doctor told him he must have. He was sent to the emergency room last Wednesday with what we thought was a heart attack. They performed a heart cauterization WITHOUT ANESTHESIA. The doctor was told that the Bureau of Prisons did not want to pay for anesthesia and not to administer it. I ask you, is this humane? We do more for our pets than we do for our prisoners.

Within minutes we pounced on that case, and will resume our pursuit of humanity today. But we cannot do it alone! Your year-end assistance will enable us to march into the new year, hand-in-hand, to keep on keepin' on!

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Friday, December 19, 2008

The gift with a heart

In the past two days, HFP was pleased to receive financial contributions in the name of another family member. We were asked to notify that family member that a gift had been given in his/her name by the donor.

If you would like to do something similar, contact me by email asap...the letter can go to your family member or friend in time for Christmas.

Thank you!


20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Count your blessings!

From COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS by Charles Partridge and Greg O'Brien:

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation...YOU ARE AHEAD OF 500 MILLION PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.

Today, with your help, we'll try to touch at least one of them!

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Monday, December 15, 2008

Scrooge lives in North Dakota

I asked our friend Chanda Hidanovic, in Fargo, North Dakota, if there were any new developments in her husband's case. Mevludin, as you may recall, is a Bosnian who claimed wrongful conviction having to do with a skirmish at the county fairgrounds, claiming he was with his family at the amusement rides when this happened. He said that faulty eyewitness identification resulted in his arrest, refused to take a plea with a short jail sentence, and instead opted to count on our judicial system. He learned that the wheels of justice ground to a halt in his case. He was found guilty and was put behind bars. Now, because he is not a citizen, Immigration officials have deemed him a criminal not fit to live in this country. Regardless of the fact that he has a wife and four children here, he is being deported to his native land. The incident happened in 2006, and since that time HFP and many other friends have tried to assist the family and the legal team all the way to the state Supreme Court. Everything failed, and at a recent deportation hearing, Mevludin was ordered to leave our country.

Here is Chanda's response to my question for an update on this hellish case:

Just getting ready. Deciding what to pack and try to send over there. It costs $38 per 20lbs. Yet in my mind $38 to send hundreds of dollars worth of items that we won’t have to re-buy is worth it. I haven’t told the kids that I am definitely going. They have seen it on the news and we talked about it briefly but I haven’t confirmed it. I don’t want our time to be sad although I have my moments. I plan to leave right when Mevludin is deported and go for two weeks. We can look for a place to live and get a cell phone. Then I will come back and start shipping things and do the final preparations and go back.

I am angry. I am damn angry that I have to leave my children. It is the principal of it all now. My kids don’t deserve this. My husband doesn’t deserve this. I don’t deserve this. My thinking is that my kids are going to be fine. They have grandparents, even some great grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. They will be in constant contact with us via webcam, e-mail and phone. I will try and come back as much as I possibly can. We are getting them all passports so they can come to see us this summer. I just wish they were all older. I hope and pray they understand and don’t hate me. My husband---I am not sure if he will be fine. He has been broken and even more so now that he is being deported. He is a really sweet and great guy and I hope we can get that “old” Mevludin back. I just thank God that it isn’t worse. He doesn’t have a death sentence or something. This has been the worst thing to go through but at least no one has died!

I kept thinking if I stay here with my kids and my heart broken they are going to see that. Having their mom depressed, gaining weight and crying all the time isn’t good for them either. I just have a lot to think about.

I haven’t really talked to the lawyers. I think they pretty much gave up on us. I had a lot of people sending letters or e-mails to the governor and we haven’t had any response. This is going to be a really sad Christmas.

Chanda Hidanovic

Christmas time in the land of the free and home of the brave!

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

'Tis the gift to think of others...

My friend Brett's life took a sharp turn recently. He lives on death row in Ohio, and since his arrest in 1997 he's been trying to prove his innocence. He believed that an execution date would be delayed as the courts debate the question of cruelty by using lethal injection. But without warning, earlier this month, the State of Ohio announced his execution date: April 7, 2009!

Said Brett in a letter to me today: It's taking some getting used to for me...I had anticipated I had at least a year or so before I had to worry about this. It is hard to wrap my mind around my new life expectancy!

But then he went on...

I know this might sound stupid or idiotic, but right now I am trying to enjoy what might be my last Christmas. I am trying really hard to not let the state ruin it for me. It is funny the things that become important, but for some reason enjoying Christmas and the full Christmas spirit is important to me!!?? Go figure!

Would you be willing to help brighten his holiday season?

Just send a simple greeting card, or a short hand-written note of encouragement to:

Mr. Brett Hartman
P.O. Box 1436
Youngstown, OH 44501.

Somehow I think it will make a difference in your observance of the season!

Bless you for being on our team!

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

We need your help!

I should be fund raising this week!
Every newsletter we receive says that if HFP is to balance its budget, this is the month!

I should be fund raising this week!
But I had to take time out to dash to a nearby prison to give an inmate a hug! He just learned over the weekend that he has been granted a parole! You have no idea, unless you've been there, what it's like for a businessman who's never been behind bars to spend 8 years in that hellish environment. He wept.

I should be fund raising this week!
But we've just learned that we must find new office space by the first of the year. Imagine the time consumption of making presentations to potential sponsors, then making arrangements for office equipment and the transfer of cabinets full of documents!

I should be fund raising this week!
But prisoners need a Christmas card from us. For some, it is the only piece of mail they receive all year! A volunteer and I will make this happen, but it takes time.

I should be fund raising this week!
But we have a mentally ill prisoner on a hunger strike who needs immediate attention. Getting beaten by the guards doesn't seem to straighten him out. We can't wait until after the holidays!


Recognizing that we are in a recession, and completely understanding that you personally cannot balance our budget by December 31, perhaps

Your church could take a year-end offering for HFP
Your club would make a year-end contribution to charity
Your family members would be willing to receive one less gift
Your office staff could have a jeans Friday, and make an HFP contribution for that privilege
Your employer would welcome a new idea for a year-end donation
Your friend is looking for a needy charity at year's end.


Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

If service is the rent you pay for your existence on this earth, are you behind in your rent?
Robert G Allen

Friday, December 5, 2008

The perfect gift!

A Christmas gift suggestion for that friend or relative who
1. doesn't think there are wrongful convictions
2. believes that the judicial system works all of the time
3. wonders why you support a prisoner advocacy agency
4. has everything
5. loves a love story
6. needs encouragement and inspiration:


HFP will ship a signed copy of this book to the person of your choice, and will pay the postage, FREE OF CHARGE, as a thank you for a December contribution to Humanity for Prisoners. The recipient of the book will thank you, and so will we!

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Please remember the forgotten!


At a recent speaking engagement, I was confronted by a distraught mother. Her 16-year-old son, mentally challenged, was serving time in an adult facility of the Michigan prison system!

Many of you are parents and grandparents, and you and I would immediately recognize that prison is no place for the mentally ill! As our investigation expanded, we discovered more than half-a-dozen kids, some sentenced to prison as young as the age of 13.

-At least one had been raped!
-Most if not all were not getting proper medication!
-Some had been brutalized by prisoners and guards!
-One walked in raw sewage for a weekend because prison toilets backed up!

HFP rolled up our sleeves, and progress is being made. Perhaps that’s why Jeff Gerritt of the Detroit Free Press said of our organization,…the world is held together by the love of a very few people.

The average person can’t do much to offer humanity to prisoners. But HFP can!

At the end of the year, I ask you to consider a gift of

$41 for a roll of stamps to send Christmas cards to 100 prisoners
$82 for two rolls of stamps, so that we can reach 200 prisoners
$100 to help pay for Christmas cards
$150 to fund a visit to a prisoner
$200 to cover the cost of holiday greeting cards
$1,000 to bolster our ailing budget
$5,000 to enable us to finish the year in the black!

You may donate instantly on-line:! Or, you may send in your gift by mail.

We won’t be sending you a holiday greeting card, as much as we would like to. The money is being used for prisoner cards. Blessings and thanks to you in this meaningful holiday season!

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Death notice

Brett Hartman is a friend, we have always believed in his innocence, and have been communicating with him since he was referred to us by the Wisconsin Innocence Project in 2005. It's a sad day.

Ohio high court sets 2 execution dates

December 03, 2008 09:48 ESTCOLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The Ohio Supreme Court has set execution dates next year for two condemned inmates.

The court on Wednesday scheduled a March 3 execution for Jeffrey Hill, sentenced to death for killing his mother in Cincinnati in 1991 for money to buy crack cocaine.

The court also set an April 7 execution date for Brett Hartman, sentenced to die for stabbing a woman in Akron 138 times, then slitting her throat in 1997.

The state is once again executing inmates after the end of a de facto national moratorium on the death penalty that ended last April.

Ohio executed one inmate in October and another last month. There are 178 men and two women on the state's death row.

May God have mercy on us!


Year-end gifts

I realize that we're talking a lot about this, but our survival is not only important to us, it is terribly important to many who are in prison!

The Rev. Bob DeMoor is editor of THE BANNER, a publication of the Christian Reformed Church. In the December, 2008, edition his compelling editorial was entitled: LET THE LIFEBLOOD FLOW.

Just a few quick quotes:

When love stops circulating, the world dies.

Scripture reveals how much the world needed a kick-start to get love flowing again. World governments, institutions, and banks are not up to THAT task. They're not in the business of spreading love around. So they can't save this dying planet.

Whatever your investment portfolio or bank account looks like this Christmas, be sure to keep God's love circulating through your family, household, church, and community. Circulate it back to God as well, through giving to those in desperate need worldwide.
(underline mine)

Parents of some adult children have informed their offspring that instead of Christmas gifts this year, the money that would have been spent on presents is being contributed to HFP. Thanks for thinking of us!

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

To our faithful friends

This message was sent to me this morning by a dear friend. I forward it to the many people who quietly and faithfully support us throughout the year with the prayers and funds that we so urgently covet.

Subject: Emailing: Advent Calendar

Doug, this advent reading reminds me of Jesus' vision which has motivated and encouraged me through the years; it also reminds me of you, someone who faithfully follows after Jesus...

I remain with you, in the gentle grip of God's grace, Lou

Sawai Chinnawong, Old Testament and New Testament

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Copyright 2008 Christianity Today.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Speech for Amnesty International, Toronto

December 1, 2008

Immediate Release

Tjapkes an Amnesty speaker in Toronto

Doug Tjapkes, President of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, was scheduled as a guest speaker Sunday night, November 30, at a Cities for Life rally in Toronto, Ontario.

Mayor David Miller, in a public ceremony, officially proclaimed Toronto a city against the death penalty, part of an international action involving more than 800 cities worldwide participating in the event this year.

Cities for Life was the largest anti-death penalty event in Canada, and an important activist action for Amnesty Canada. Mayor Miller made his proclamation at Nathan Phillips Square Sunday night, and that was followed by a public march to St. James Cathedral. Among the list of speakers was Doug Tjapkes, of Spring Lake, who addressed the crowd by video recording.

The evening ended with an illumination ceremony lighting up the front of St. James Cathedral, and the ringing of the Bells of Olde York.

Here is the 12-minute speech that was prepared for the event.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Why we press on!

Dear Doug,

On this Thanksgiving — the first one I’m spending with my family since 1984 — I thought I would send a note to tell you how thankful I am for my freedom and for the chance at a new life.

I’m thankful to my family for welcoming me home, and to God for making my exoneration possible. I’m thankful to the Innocence Project staff for their work on my case and, most of all, to you, for your support as a member of the Innocence Project community.

I spent 23 years behind bars in Texas for a crime I didn’t commit. After not knowing for a lot of years whether the truth would ever come out, DNA testing proved my innocence and I was released in April.

I’ve been out for seven months now, and it’s hard to express how good it feels. I’m starting to build a life. I live with my sister in Garland, Texas, and I’m taking computer programming classes through an organization called Central Dallas Ministries. Technology has changed so much since I went to prison, but I’m really into learning new things and these classes are perfect for me.

For my first Thanksgiving as a free man in 23 years, I’m not taking anything for granted. After a few years in prison, you start looking forward to the meal they serve on Thanksgiving, and you start to think of your fellow inmates as your family, because it’s hard to accept that your real family is all together, so far away. After what I’ve been through, I’m just taking it all in. I’m going to my mom’s house, my grandma’s house and maybe a friend’s house as well.

Thanksgiving is a special day, and I’m overjoyed to be with my family.

Thank you for your commitment to truth and justice, and Happy Holidays,

Thomas McGowan Garland, Texas
The Innocence Project — Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law 100 Fifth Ave. 3rd Floor - New York, NY 10011

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An outrage! My heart is broken

Late word from my dear friend Chanda, whose husband was wrongly convicted in North Dakota as the result of a fairgrounds brawl. This is a Bosnian family, but only her husband was not yet a citizen. Yesterday, the feds met to decide whether her husband could remain in the United States with his wife and four children, as he is now considered a convicted criminal. This morning, in my email messages, this heartbreaking letter:

---- Original Message ----- From: "Chanda Hidanovic" <>To: "Doug Tjapkes" <>Sent: Monday, November 24, 2008 9:41 PM

Once again Doug I get to share bad news with you. The immigration court decided to deport Mevludin. I will be taking some time away from work and the computer this coming week. Devastated is not even the word to describe how I am feeling. The pain is like grieving from death. The thought of leavng my kids and family is the worst pain I have ever felt in my life.I appreciate everything you have done for us more than you will ever know. I just wish I could have repaid it. I thought one day when Mevludin and I were back on our feet I could have been one of those people helping you financially. I really cared about "our" cause and had really believed that we would be one of the sucess stories. I held the hope for a long time. All the letters I received from your supporters moved me to tears. It helped me have that hope that things will get better again. Anyway Doug, I wish there could be a time or place to repay you. I almost feel like I know you personally. I can only hope that God has a bigger plan for us. Although I will never understand why we had to endure this.



Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The reality of the situation

A friend of ours just received a horrible letter from a Michigan prisoner! He said that a 300-pound bully was assigned as his cell-mate. The man's anger erupted, he threw her friend around in the cell, choked him, and finally her friend had to make a decision that neither you nor I can possibly imagine: He could either rat on the guy and be branded a snitch for the remainder of his time in prison, or be subjected to a rape. His mind in a turmoil, not wanting to be in jeopardy the remainder of his time in prison, he reluctantly chose the latter. Later he was so ashamed he tried to hang himself!

His letter was still in my mind this afternoon as I listened to a speech by an official telling of a new, positive attitude in the Michigan Department of Corrections that hopefully will reduce the rate of recidivism. The prison system that was the topic of his discussion sounded like a different one than I know.

Pray without ceasing for prisoners! Unless you've been an inmate, you'll never know their plight!

We'll keep on keepin' on, but we NEED you!

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Ave.
Muskegon, MI 49440

Monday, November 17, 2008

We need you!

'Tis the season to be thankful, and a few Thanksgiving gifts to HFP could touch many lives! We have some immediate needs, and no immediate funds:

$250 to settle up with Christ Memorial Church in Holland, where the wonderful WE CARE concert helped us to continue our advocacy for prisoners!

$270.40 to purchase another carton of the book SWEET FREEDOM, which we provide to prisoners at no charge, upon request!

$389.72 for four new Cooper GLS tires, 205-65-15, to replace FOUR BALD TIRES on our car so that we may make holiday visits to prisoners in Michigan winter weather! (Or, does anyone know where we can purchase tires of this size and quality at a lower price? We are NOT committed to this dealer.)

In the spirit of the holidays, will you please help? We are very thankful for our loyal supporters!

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ending the week on a dismal note

The frustration continues this week.

This year we've been trying to help the supporters of an Oklahoma prisoner who has a compelling claim of wrongful conviction. Our data base,, usually works quite well for families and friends of prisoners. This time, nothing seemed to work. Every agency refused to help.

Besides that, the prisoner has apparently been the subject of abuse.

Quoting from the letter in front of me:

While in prison, guards have, at different times, broken his nose, toe, knee cap, jaw, tooth, and permanently injured his head, back and hand, in retaliation for his attempts to find someone to help him. This has been going on for 17 years, with guards twice trying to get inmates to kill him. For 3 1/2 years they have refused medical services.

No church in Oklahoma will become involved in helping any state prisoner except female prisoners with children. Over 300 have been contacted. All said that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections won't let them!

Any ideas we're missing here?

Doug Tjapkes
Humanity for Prisoners
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mentally ill kids in prison!

From a friend of HFP:

I am the mother of a mentally ill teenager who is in prison. Now I find myself helping another woman, whose 15-year-old grandson, suffering from a significant mental illness, is also in the Michigan prison system! We have connected with several organizations, hoping to bring attention and change to the care and treatment of these minors with mental illness who were sentenced at very young ages to the Michigan Department of Corrections. Both of our boy’s cases are significant, and need attention.

This woman’s grandson resided in Calhoun County at the time of his sentence, and he now is still in prison. He has been in Lapeer at Thumb Correctional Facility and also at Huron Valley Men’s Facility in the Acute Stabilization Unit due to his significant mental illness, for a length of THREE MONTHS, yet, believe it or not, he was taken OFF his medications upon his entry to MDOC back in June of this year. He is not receiving an education, he was being verbally and physically abused while at Huron Valley Unit and my son begged for me to seek advocacy for Kyle. He was very concerned about his well-being and what he saw happening, particularly because he stated “Kyle has the mentality of a 6-7 year-old”, and saw that his treatment was deplorable. He was kept in a cell most of the time, not being escorted, and was eating all meals in his cell. His family was denied contact or information because he "had not signed a consent form", and he could not have visits as no one helped him fill out a visit form (which he did not have the ability to do on his own).

It is not coincidental that our boys are from the same county, or that we have experienced many of the same things, including significant violations found by the State of Michigan at the Calhoun County Juvenile Home.

I am asking for any and all legislators to start asking questions as to how we are going to better care for these minors who are mentally ill. If these youth were being treated at home as they are in this system, we, as parents, would be PROSECUTED AND SENT TO PRISON! How is it then that the counties and the prison system are getting away with this?


My questions to the legislature is this, three years ago when Gov. Granholm worked to close Baldwin Prison, and it was voted on by the legislature, did anyone truly think of the ramifications of placing these youth in with our adult prisoners?? Did anyone do their homework to see if MDOC had policies and directives in place for the youth within this system should they need more mental health care than once a month (what they can receive at Lapeer/Thumb Correctional Facility)??? Did anyone consider THAT many of these youth sentenced as adults have significant mental illness and by law they have the right to proper care and treatment for their mental illness, even if they are in prison???

One such boy COMMITTED SUICIDE in July at Lapeer. I am told he, too, had a known mental illness, was crying out for help, but was not responded to. Is this acceptable???

Simply put: This is an issue that NEEDS IMMEDIATE ATTENTION, and with MDOC’s stated financial woes and budget crises, NOW is the time to get these minors the help they rightfully deserve!

Thank you for listening to my story. Obviously just since August when I became aware of the rights, violations and inadequate care of my son, I am compelled to call attention to the above matters.

Passionately advocating for mentally ill incarcerated youth,

Lois DeMott
Currently in Branch County,
Previously in Calhoun County,
My son has been living in three counties in the cities of Lapeer, Ypsilanti, and Adrian, MI.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day!

I was still coming down from a "high" after viewing the first reading of a stage play that is being written about the late Maurice Carter and me. Then I returned to the office of Humanity for Prisoners this morning.

A prisoner who suffers from epileptic seizures informed me that prison officials had taken away his helmet!

I learned that a professional musician whom I sat with in a successful parole interview died at the young age of 44 because, I believe, his 7 year stint in prison messed with his mind!

The mother of a 16 year old mentally challenged prisoner informed me that a sewer had backed up, shoes and socks of all prisoners in that unit were soaked with raw sewage for more than a day, the water had to be turned off, and prison officials informed his parents that this issue did not have high priority!

A heroine in the Maurice Carter story, a single mom who spent the last year in jail, informed us by email that she doesn't know how she's going to pay the water bill, and if the water gets cut off her house is no good!

A prisoner with only one leg, and who suffers from pressure ulcers unless he sleeps on an air mattress, informed us that the mattress popped, he's in a different facility now, and they won't give him another one!

We learned that a benefactor was unable to help pay church expenses for our recent WE CARE concert, and so now it is up to HFP to pony up the $225.00 for engineering and janitorial services!

And a friend who just returned from a prison visit told us how worried she is about a wonderful person, incarcerated in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, because of a sharp downturn in prison morale that has left this inmate visibly stressed.

As Maurice Carter repeatedly advised me: "We're going to have to leave these things in God's hands!"

Your continued support is more critically needed than ever before.

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

On how to spread disease

The mother of a 16 year old boy, mentally challenged and in a Michigan prison, sends this message to HFP:

...this weekend the sewer backed up early Saturday, they had to shut off all water supply to his unit. It continued to flow out of the toilets, and this was as of 9:30 Sunday morning! An officer told my son to wad a towel up and try sticking it in the toilet, as his shoes, socks, etc., were wet, as well as those of everyone else on the unit. Everything on the floor was drenched with backup. It was to have been fixed Saturday night at 9, but no one showed up. Upon my visit Sunday morning, he was still in sewage-drenched shoes and socks. Our call to the command center was not well received. We were told that they had many issues and this one was not a priority.

Humanity for Prisoners
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Gregory John McCormick: 1964-2008

Itchy is dead.

The lifeless body of this talented rock musician, whose band Shock Therapy was a popular group especially in Europe, was found in a field in Detroit last Wednesday, November 5. The Wayne County Coroner's office informed father Glenn McCormick that the body of his son Gregory, better known to all of us as Itchy, bore no signs of trauma. Glenn said that Itchy, who had been living at his father's dental lab in Detroit, had been drinking to excess for some time. While the toxicology report has not been released yet, the general consensus seems to be that he drank himself to death.

Our agency, while still named INNOCENT, first got involved with Itchy in 2005. The Detroit native, who called Germany his home, got involved in some unfortunate activity that placed him in the Michigan State prison system on a charge of arson of a dwelling. It was really just a bonfire in an alley, but an alleged parole violation placed him in prison for 1-20 years. I personally sat with Itchy for his final two parole board interviews. He had been flopped, or refused parole, by the Michigan Parole Board five times. There was no reason for this man to remain in prison, and he struggled in the prison environment. I agreed to help.

Meanwhile, we worked with his team in Germany on a regular basis with communications, and assisted regularly with financial arrangements while he remained in prison. Our office has two huge files labeled Gregory McCormick.

We finally helped him to obtain his parole, he was freed in June, 2007, and I was at the prison gate to welcome him!

But alcohol became a problem almost immediately.

He had such big plans to hold fund-raising concerts for Humanity for Prisoners, and to take Marcia and me to Germany in thanks for all of our work on his behalf. But he couldn't get his emotions together, seemed to resist professional help, and just could not get on top of things. Whatever stamina he had before incarceration was shattered by the prison system.

We can't win them all.

There will be no funeral service. Glenn McCormick is hoping for a simple cremation, and is making an effort to have the ashes sent to Itchy's beloved Germany.

Persons wishing to remember Itchy may do so by sending memorial gifts to:

20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

I am sad. He was a dear friend. I extend sincere sympathy to all of his family and friends.

Auf Wiedersehen, Itchy.

Doug Tjapkes, President

Thursday, November 6, 2008

So you think the system works?

I just opened my mail today, and have on my desk a letter from a poor Latino in California. Enclosed was a letter from the Los Angeles Public Defender's office which said:

While it seems inconceivable to me that you could be convicted based upon the identification of an eye witness who later recanted, and by a second eye witness who was never sure of the identification; and serving a life sentence in a case where someone else has confessed, I am sorry to say that I will not be able to assist you in overturning your conviction.

nuf sed


We need you!

Doug Tjapkes, President of Humanity for Prisoners…is one of a handful of prisoner advocates who are, I think, what writer James Baldwin had in mind when he said the world is held together by the love of a very few people.
Jeff Gerritt, Detroit Free Press

My name is Dan Rooks, I’m a psychologist in Holland, Michigan, and I’m proud to serve as chairman of the Humanity for Prisoners Board of Directors. I’m proud because of our reputation of integrity which earned the above comment from one of our state’s major newspapers. This reputation is not confined to the State of Michigan. Renowned Author Sister Helen Prejean signed her picture with Doug: Thank you for your precious care for prisoners.

-Strong prisoner advocacy means fewer prisoners and better use of tax money
-Strong healthcare advocacy means inmates won’t infect the public upon release

-A strong future as we seek affiliation with other solid churches and agencies
-More effective advocacy, as we make more efficient use of staff and volunteers

-One of Michigan’s fine prisoner advocacy agencies has closed---no money
-There’s rumor that another may close due to lack of funds

We must not…we cannot let that happen to HFP! So I’m coming to you with a very bold request. Would you please consider a substantial end-of-the-year gift to HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, in addition to your regular support? With the sagging economy and stock market uncertainty, we’re hurting. BUT, if my projections are accurate, we will never have to make a request like this again. Our footing will be solid in 2009, and our mission more exciting than ever! All because of your goodness!

Thank you! Signed: Dan Rooks, PhD, Chairman of the Board of Directors

20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Death penalty in Michigan?

Yesterday I was privileged to be the guest speaker at a DEAD MAN WALKING prayer service on the Divine Child campus in Dearborn, Michigan. Here are excerpts of my address to some 900 high school students:

As I speak in churches, I have found that some Christians speak with forked tongues when it comes to the subject of SANCTITY OF LIFE. Life is sacred at the beginning, when we're talking about abortion. Life is not sacred at the end, when we're talking about capital punishment. Life is sacred when we talk about euthanasia, but life is not sacred when we talk about war.

In a recent speech at Ferris State University, Sister Helen Prejean congratulated those of us who are Michigan citizens for living in the first state to ban the death penalty. I contend that we should not be smug about this.

My friend Maurice Carter contracted Hepatitis C while spending 29 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Doctors discovered that he had the liver disease in 1995, but didn't tell him until he collapsed in 2003. By then, only a transplant could save his life. He received a commutation of his sentence for medical reasons in 2004, but lived in freedom for only three months.


Now let me tell you about my friend David Moore in Grand Rapids. He repeatedly sought treatment in prison for rectal bleeding. By the time doctors performed a biopsy, they discovered he had a huge cancerous tumor, and the cancer had spread throughout his body. He, too, received a medical release because he was terminally ill.


Finally, a few words about Raymond Jones. I received a frantic call from the mother of a fellow prisoner who claimed that Mr. Jones was dying. It all began with a headache. No treatment. His condition worsened. Two Ibuprofin tablets. When we were called his eyes were rolling back in his head, and he was being pushed in a wheelchair. Too little treatment too late. Raymond Jones died.


This is the tip of the iceberg!

Healthcare in our prison system needs drastic improvement. It's time to call a halt to the death penalty in the State of Michigan.


Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Michiganders, what are you going to do about this?

Two things came across my desk today that should irritate every Michigan citizen!

First, the Associated Press reported that according to state auditors, the Michigan Department of Corrections paid nearly $67-million in overtime to prison guards in the 2006-07 budget year. In fact, one officer worked 2,390 overtime hours! That's like working more than two full-time jobs. Prisoners tell us they have heard guards boasting about how much money they're taking home. And while prison guards are living that way, let me tell you how some of our prisoners are living.

I received a letter today from a prisoner at the Mid-Michigan Correctional Facility, located in St. Louis, Michigan, who shall remain anonymous for obvious reasons.

There is no doctor here. For some reason whenever there is a new doctor, they never stay. It's so hard for anyone to see a doctor, and the lucky ones may see one after months of complaining or going through physical ailments. There's no dentist here, either.

I had X-rays about 3-4 months ago. I have yet to receive the results, let alone a diagnosis. I would like a prescription, but the nurses laugh at me and suggest that I go to the store and buy pain medicine.

Re bathroom facilities: It should be against the law for a person forced to use the toilet in standing water on the floor. And we are so overcrowded! We're housed in units designed for 80 men, and each unit has double that amount. That means there are 160 men trying to use 8 toilets and 6 urinals, and at least one toilet is not operating. 7 toilets for the entire unit! Most of the sinks leak, and the ventilation is poor.

There is no sprinkler system in any of the buildings for fires.

I'll bet that guard who worked nearly 2,400 overtime hours doesn't live like this!

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Remember when we tried to give a wheelchair to a Michigan prisoner earlier this year, and it took almost five months to make it happen? To refresh your memory, a prisoner needing a wheelchair had a problem getting one from the state, and so we innocently shipped a donated chair. But apparently that was in violation of some policy, and it took months before reason prevailed, and the chair was moved from the warden’s office to the cell of the prisoner.

Well, the state never forgot that, and now the same prisoner is in the Michigan Department of Corrections limelight again. This time he’s been placed in the hole (segregation). The charge: Smuggling!

It’s a case much more serious than the wheelchair incident: His friend, with his knowledge and consent, sent him a new pair of sunglasses! Think of the serious ramifications! Everyone should know that sunglasses may not be sent to a prisoner. Just as with the wheelchair, this is against policy. But the MDOC dug in on this one, appointing an inspector AND a hearings investigator. The prisoner was thrown in the hole, the company that shipped the sunglasses from out-of-state was threatened with a federal investigation (US Mails), the friend of the inmate faces permanent restriction from prison visitation, and the state will even hold a hearing on this matter on November 14!

I have a copy of the MDOC Notice of Proposed Visitor Restriction, and regarding the sunglasses issue, it uses such ominous terms as “conspired …to send sunglasses,” “the package (of sunglasses) is fraudulent,” and, “ the prisoner has been charged with the following major misconduct violation: 045 Smuggling.”

The Michigan Department of Corrections faces huge issues and struggles with incredible financial problems, yet it spends this much time and money on sunglasses? It promises to even produce tapes of telephone conversations proving that these people conspired to have the sunglasses sent! Are sunglasses considered dangerous contraband?

Let’s compare the wheelchair issue. WE sent a wheelchair. Was that package fraudulent? We freely discussed this plan with the prisoner in advance. Was that a conspiracy? Why wasn’t the prisoner placed in segregation when the wheelchair arrived, and why wasn’t there a hearing to determine whether our visiting should be suspended?

The answer is simple. RETALIATION! The prisoner and his friend are learning an important lesson: It may take time, but when it comes to a shoving match, the MDOC does not intend to lose!

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Friday, October 24, 2008

One of a kind!

Maurice Carter: his life, a sermon.

Maurice Carter died exactly four years ago tonight, after just three months of freedom. His strength ran out in the fight against multiple physical problems contracted in the Michigan prison system, a miserable hell-on-earth where he spent half of his life. His last words to me, in a whisper that I could hardly hear: "I love you!"

This humble, unassuming, innocent man had no idea that his simple examples in life would become a profound sermon, even after death.

Over 29 years of incarceration, his compassion and gentle demeanor under a cloud of false accusation would

-bring tears to the eyes of investigating university students
-touch the lives of countless prisoners
-enrage those who assumed that punishment and cruelty could conquer his soul
-frustrate a judicial system so intent on winning that it even resorted to ridicule
-maintain his dignity under scorching words during insensitive parole sessions
-impress the finest of legal teams
-endear himself to thousands of people, of all ages, around the world, and
-empower him to cling unashamedly to his faith in all situations.

This was a man who treated the medical community better than it treated him.

This was a man who taught us that it was all right to say, "I love you."

This was a man who, under the worst of circumstances, would reverse the scene and counsel his would-be encouragers to just "leave it in God's hands."

Maurice Henry Carter, 1944-2004.

His spirit is alive and well.

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Ave.
Muskegon, MI 49440

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is the system broke?


Shattered Hidanovic family soon to be splintered!

American’s allegedly exemplary law enforcement and judicial systems have miserably failed in a North Dakota case, according to Doug Tjapkes, President, HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, a prisoner advocacy agency based in Michigan.

Poet Carrie Latet is quoted as saying, May I never wake up from the American dream. Tjapkes says that for Chanda Hidanovic, her husband and four children, the dream has turned into a nightmare.

Mevludin Hidanovic, husband and father, is the only member of the Bosnian family who is not a U.S. citizen. The Fargo man was arrested for starting a fight at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in June, 2006, while attending a county fair with family and friends. The arrest was serious, because alleged criminals who are not citizens face deportation.

Here’s how our “system” failed, from bottom to top, charged Tjapkes:

1. Local police used driver’s license photographs for their “scientific” lineup among witnesses;
2. Despite the fact that all principals passed lie-detector tests, and a baseball bat “disappeared,” the prosecutor proceeded to trial armed only with the testimony of one eye witness (of another race) who viewed the fight from a distance; no evidence, no fingerprints;
3. A judge twice ruled against new trials, even though one admittedly prejudiced juror signed an affidavit saying that she persuaded the remaining 11 to change their opinions of innocence, and even though the girlfriend of the man injured in the melee stated that Hidanovic was NOT the assailant;
4. Hidanovic was refused parole after board members scolded him for not owning up to his guilt;
5. The State Supreme Court, in August, 2008, ruled against post-conviction relief, rejecting the attorney’s arguments, prompting David Chapman to explode: “Unbelievable!”;
6. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT cancelled the first deportation hearing October 1 (after the entire family made the four-hour trip to Bloomington, Minnesota) due to a “scheduling conflict;”
7. ICE cancelled the second hearing October 20, after hiring a Romani interpreter from Bulgaria by mistake!

The hearing will probably make no difference. Mrs. Hidanovic overheard a judge, asking the prosecutor for a copy of the police report, say: "Even without it, I would have kicked his a--….”

Said Mrs. Hidanovic: “We are done. We have lost the will to fight any more. Mevludin is close to a breakdown. He just sat there and cried. I am close to a breakdown. He will be deported.”

The saddened mother said that she plans to accompany her husband when he is sent away, and grandparents will care for their children back in the states.

“So much for the American dream,” said Tjapkes. “Shame on us!”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Prompt response!

Our sincere thanks to the wonderful response to our plea for thoughts and prayers for numerous women who were struggling yesterday. It was a tough way to begin the week in this office! Somewhere in the nation, our request reached a prayer chain, and a kind woman, whose location and identity are unknown to us, offered this prayer:

Father, Our Lord,
We lift up all of these dire needs before your throne of grace and we come boldly to you seeking your mercy and help for these women and their loved ones that are needing divine intervention. You know all of the situations and all of the praying, hopeful hearts. We pray in faith, believing that you will supply everything that is needed for these dear ones that are needing your hand to bring miracles in their lives and loved ones lives. We ask for the needs to be met exceedingly above all that we are asking for. For it is through faith that we believe that all things are possible! In Jesus name we pray,

On behalf of all hurting women with whom we are working, "Thank you!"

----- Original Message -----
From: Doug Tjapkes
To: Doug Tjapkes
Sent: Monday, October 20, 2008 1:47 PM
Subject: Prayers, please!
We're calling today "PRAY FOR WOMEN DAY:"

-The mother of a violent prisoner with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, because she cannot persuade officials to give him medicine and a psych evaluation
-The mother of an adult prisoner with a record a mile long, who was on drugs and sleeping in a car, but has now been blamed for a crime he claims he did not commit
-The wife of a prisoner dying of cancer due to lack of proper diagnosis, who is being harassed by prison personnel and bombarded with bad luck
-A female prisoner who claims she is incarcerated because she blew the whistle on a state cop who beat her
-The frantic mom of a mentally challenged 16-year-old prisoner who can't get straight answers from the prison system and worries about her son's welfare
-The grandmother of a 15-year-old bi-polar child with the mind of a 9-year-old, sentenced to 9 to 15 years in prison for sexual play with a 6-year-old, who has been in and out of the adult prison population, does not get his required medication, but does get injections every time his behavior annoys guards.

The tip of the iceberg!

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Ave.
Muskegon, MI 49440

Monday, October 20, 2008

Prayers, please!

We're calling today "PRAY FOR WOMEN DAY:"

-The mother of a violent prisoner with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, because she cannot persuade officials to give him medicine and a psych evaluation
-The mother of an adult prisoner with a record a mile long, who was on drugs and sleeping in a car, but has now been blamed for a crime he claims he did not commit
-The wife of a prisoner dying of cancer due to lack of proper diagnosis, who is being harassed by prison personnel and bombarded with bad luck
-A female prisoner who claims she is incarcerated because she blew the whistle on a state cop who beat her
-The frantic mom of a mentally challenged 16-year-old prisoner who can't get straight answers from the prison system and worries about her son's welfare
-The grandmother of a 15-year-old bi-polar child with the mind of a 9-year-old, sentenced to 9 to 15 years in prison for sexual play with a 6-year-old, who has been in and out of the adult prison population, does not get his required medication, but does get injections every time his behavior annoys guards.

The tip of the iceberg!

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Ave.
Muskegon, MI 49440

On starting a new week

It's time that we, once again, read and absorb this Franciscan Benediction as we begin another week:

May God bless you with DISCOMFORT … at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with ANGER ... at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with TEARS ... to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into JOY.

And may God bless you with enough FOOLISHNESS ... to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can DO what others claim cannot be done.


Friday, October 17, 2008

What we are

I realize that some friends have questions about supporting Humanity for Prisoners because it's so difficult for us to explain just what we do. This unusual ministry doesn't bring religious lessons into the prison or hold services for prisoners, it doesn't provide religious or educational correspondence courses. All of those ministries are wonderful, and we thank God for ANYONE willing to help a prisoner in any way!

But we attempt to MODEL Christ:
-get a wheelchair to a crippled inmate who cannot get one from the state
-join a team trying to free a poor man who has served 35 years for a crime he did not commit
-help parents and grandparents of mentally ill children thoughtlessly thrown into the adult prison system by inconsiderate judges
-find a pleasant facility outside of prison for a dying inmate
-pray with a death row inmate minutes before his execution
-hold the hand of a Bosnian friend whose husband may be deported due to a disgusting wrongful conviction, thus leaving wife and children behind
-seek leniency for a teacher with a terminal illness, after prison officials rule that he may not see his 15 year old daughter before he dies
-sit at the side of prisoners who have no friends or family members during parole interviews, and
-visit prisoners just to lend an ear, regardless of whether we can help, when no one cares to see them.

Perhaps our work could best be described using a simple little story sent to me yesterday by one of our volunteers, about a four year old child:

His next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, 'Nothing, I just helped him cry.'

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Weaken not

It's not unusual for those of us working in this business of helping "the least of these" to find ourselves propping up a fellow worker during a moment of despair. In fact, I need it rather often.

But today, it was another co-worker, in another state, who was blasted by her friend Juanita for decrying the fact that hate-mongering is being demonstrated at some political rallies. And, in response to her appeal for support to save the life of death row inmate Troy Davis, a friend responded: It seems NOT okay to kill criminals, but it IS okay to kill innocent, unborn babies.

Here, in part, are the thoughts I shared with her.

We must not stoop to their level. Shake the dust off your shoes, and lets get on with what we believe Jesus wants us to do.

I've got a poor woman on line now whose husband is dying of throat cancer because prison doctors didn't do a biopsy in time. And since California is so strict on sex offenders (this one claims wrongful conviction) her 15 year old daughter will not be allowed to visit her father before he dies, and he will not be allowed to die outside of prison walls because he might molest someone. She's a woman of faith, yet I cannot come up with the right words to ease her pain.

Just a few minutes ago I got a request to help a prisoner whose doctor has consistently refused to help a guy with an ingrown toenail. Now it has become a major infection, every time he removes his shoe it is full of blood, there is a possibility the foot will have to be removed, and the heartless doctor still refuses to help, telling the prisoner to go to the top if he thinks he's got a complaint.

Yesterday I had lunch with a former prisoner because I treasure our moments together in the final chapter of his life. Doctors refused to treat him in time while he was in prison, now he's dying of cancer.

And I received a request this morning to send a devotions booklet to a teacher in jail, accused of trying to take a picture under the skirt of a student with a cell phone. The girl has since admitted there was nothing to the story, but this family of 4 is devasted...lost their home, lost their reputation.

The Juanitas of the world will have to go on living on another planet. We don't have time for that luxury.

We must roll up our sleeves!

I conclude with some words from English clergyman Charles Kingsley, in the 1800s: Do today's duty, fight to-day's temptation; and do not weaken...

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Friday, October 3, 2008

Kind words from a saint!


Thank you for your precious care for prisoners!

Sister Helen Prejean

With your help, it will continue!

Doug Tjapkes, President

Does IMMIGRATION really care?

Some of you have followed, with interest, the story of a Bosnian family in North Dakota. Mevludin Hidanovic is in danger of being deported, because he was wrongly convicted in a simple situation where there was a fight in an amusement park. He was wrongly identified as the instigator, refused a plea bargain, and spent a year in jail. Worse than that, he is not a citizen and now he has a criminal record. That's grounds for deportation.

While attorneys continue to battle the case on legal grounds, his wife and four children (all U.S. citizens) are hoping for mercy. They hope to keep their husband and father here. Meanwhile, he's being held in a county jail in Minnesota, which is NOT next door.

The hearing was scheduled for this week.

Said his wife Chanda: ...yesterday was supposed to be his big deportation hearing to find out if he stays or goes. So, I take two days off work, pull the kids out of school, drive four hours to Minneapolis, spend the night in a hotel room, get up and drive to the immigration court. Wait! They cancel his case due to a scheduling conflict! It has been rescheduled for October 20. Wonderful! Why are we being tested?

It was horrible waiting for the hearing. I saw them take about 50 Mexican men, put them on a bus, and take them to the airport to be deported to Mexico. Very scary. I kept thinking, "That's going to be us."

Please keep this family in your thoughts and prayers.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Arn is in a better place!

It is always a sad day here in the office, and for loved ones, when one of the prisoners we have helped leaves this earth.

We received the message over the weekend from Mary Ann Thomas, international flight attendant who resides in North Carolina, that her brother Arnold had died, here in Michigan.

Mary Ann and I first met by email in January, 2007, when, in her characteristically unselfish manner, she contacted our office asking that we assist another prisoner at once who reportedly was not getting proper medication. She asked us to help, because she was dealing with her own prison issues.

I pried into her issues, and learned that she was single-handedly fighting the entire MDOC on behalf of her brother Arn, who, as a result of earlier injuries, was mentally and physically challenged. He didn't belong in the state prison system in the first place, he wasn't getting proper care there, but he was getting more than his share of abuse by guards. HFP joined the fight, and on May 14, 2007, I was at Mary Ann's side in the Tuscola County Courthouse when a stubborn judge angrily agreed with a higher court that Arn had served too long and should be released at once. It was a happy day!

Our sincere expressions of sympathy to dear friend Mary Ann, as well as all of Arn's family members and friends. Now, he's not only free, but well!


Friday, September 26, 2008

Take two aspirin and call me in the morning

This 61 year old Michigan prisoner asked his warden to assist him in seeking a medical commutation. The inmate's brother contacted us.

I had two mild heart attacks;
I had open heart surgery (5 bypass)
I have been diagnosed with diabetes
My blood pressure is too high
I am anemic
I have now been diagnosed with a lung disease
I have 100% dysfunction in one eye
My hearing is very bad
I take 11 different pills a day and carry nitroglycerin at all times.

We'll check the medical records to verify all of this, but if it is true, do you think he would still be around when the warden agrees to help?


A review of your file indicates that you have only served 17 years of your life sentence, and although you do have some health concerns, I am not willing to submit a commutation request on your behalf at this time. After you have served 25 years of your life sentence, please feel free to contact this office and your file will again be evaluated for referral.

I'll bet that it costs more than $35,000 a year to care for this prisoner! Your tax dollars and mine.

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Reflections on the Troy Davis stay of execution

I found it interesting that, following announcement of the stay of execution, a newspaper story reported that some family members of the victim were livid. They vowed to be there when the execution is rescheduled, so that they could witness the death of Mr. Davis. They obviously believe that watching the murder of a human being will bring some closure to the tragedy they experienced.

Not so, claims Dr. Dan Rooks, Holland psychologist who chairs our board of directors. Professionals agree that, to the contrary, viewing an execution can cause additional emotional problems.

Sister Helen Prejean, author of DEAD MAN WALKING, responds to the argument this way: “Well, if that is true, then are we cheating the families of the victims of the 98 percent of all murderers who are never executed out of their closure and retribution?”

I do not speak from inexperience. I witnessed the execution of a friend/client in 2006. Texas Professor Rick Halperin, outspoken opponent of the death penalty, warned that my life would never be the same. He was right.

A footnote: I am honored to have been invited to an intimate luncheon with Sister Prejean THIS AFTERNOON, prior to her public appearance at Ferris State University!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If words were dollars...

we'd be rich!!!

I received a call at the HFP office a few minutes ago from a prisoner.

I remember when his closest friend first contacted us. The man was in a prison in the middle of nowhere, and never had visitors. We went to see him.

I remember when he began experiencing serious medical issues. We fought for him.

I remember when he needed someone at his side for a parole board interview. I was there.

I remember when a public hearing was set to consider commutation of his sentence. His friend and I were the only two persons to testify.

A man who years ago had no hope is now excited about getting out of prison, now has a vision for the future, and most importantly has been spiritually revitalized enabling him to see life through a different lens!

Concluding our lively discussion, came the words: "Luvya, brother!"


Luvya, HFP supporters!


We need you!

We were sorry to learn that one of Michigan's fine prisoner advocacy agencies must close next month, due to lack of funds.

The lagging economy combined with the uncertainty of the US financial community has been devastating for charities, and especially those dealing with prisoners and prison issues.

HFP was in hope that the Drag Race Fund Raiser would bring us up to budget this month. Rained out! Thanks to many generous supporters who pledged, we still received more than a thousand dollars! But that was far short of our goal.

In weeks ahead, we hope to see three prisoners released because of parole or commutation, thanks, in part, to HFP's involvement. So if you've got a spare ten spot in your pocket, slip it in an envelope and mail it to us today. We're not too proud to accept cash. And be assured, we have too many exciting developments in the future to quit now!

We'll be sure to inform you of our victories as they come, because you are a partner in this mission! Thanks, from many prisoners who at one time had no hope, for your compassion!

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Ave.
Muskegon, MI 49440

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

When life doesn't seem fair

Bill wrote a letter to our office from a Michigan prison in August asking for help. He had refused to accept a plea bargain, and to make a long story short, he was sentenced to 40-60 years for second degree murder as the result of a fatal traffic crash, which he claims was an accident. When he left for prison, in 1995, his little girl said to him on the phone: "Daddy, Momma says you're going to be in there until I grow up. I want you to come home." He's now 43 years of age.

Earlier this month he wrote again: I have cancer: tumors in my chest and neck. I'm going to have surgery. I'm so angry! My whole life was taken away for something I'm not guilty of, and now I'll probably die in prison before I can prove it.

Today another letter, and his bitterness has hit a new peak: I'm old now, I've lost my youth, I missed seeing my children grow up, I'm sick every day and in pain. I pray to God to let me die because I can't face another day in this place. This may offend you, but I find myself tempting God to kill me at night, in the dark. But I always wake up the next day. My life is over. It's been wasted.

Bill hasn't had his surgery yet, but he is giving HFP permission to view his medical records.

Said Bill: Thank you for your offer to help me. I hope I haven't offended you. I've never told anyone the things I said in this letter. No matter if you do or are able to do anything for me, your offer means the world to me. I've written enough letters to wallpaper my entire cell from ceiling to floor. Thank you! Please pray for me.

If you're feeling sorry for yourself today, take a break from those feelings and breathe a prayer for Bill and his family.

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thanks for many kind responses like this!

Not your fault it rained! We just KNOW you would have won. Check is in the mail. RS

-- "Doug Tjapkes" <> wrote:
The good news: Wonderful supporters of Humanity for Prisoners pledged over $2,500 to help make up a budget short-fall for September, based on the performance of my scrappy little supercharged Studebaker Lark at the Pure Stock Muscle Car Drags! The car and driver were up for the challenge.

The bad news: A nasty weather system hit this part of Michigan last week. For the first time since I have been racing, all activities had to be cancelled on Friday and Saturday due to rain! Not one race car made one pass on the drag strip near Stanton, Michigan.

The pledges were generous, our hopes were high...we just hadn't counted on rain like that!

Thanks to all of you who believed in the car and driver, and who believe in and support our mission! As it turns out, you owe us nothing.

There's always next year.

Disappointed Doug
20 W. Muskegon
Muskegon, MI 49440

____________________________________________________________ Click here to learn more about nursing jobs.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

There's still time!

You still have an opportunity to make a contribution to HFB, through an unusual drag race fund raiser.

HFP President Doug Tjapkes will be competing tomorrow and Saturday in the Pure Stock Muscle Car Drags. He'll be driving a supercharged 1963 Studebaker Lark.

Doug will pick his five best runs in these quarter-mile sprints. He asks for a pledge from you for every run completed in less than 14 seconds. That's a quick 1/4 mile for an old Studebaker! Can he do it?

If you choose to pledge $20 per run, the most you would contribute to HFP is $100.00...and that would happen if Doug gets below 14 seconds on every run. Highly unlikely, based on past performance.

Anyway, you may still make your pledge, in any amount, today. Please help. If you pledge a buck a run, the most you will be out is five dollars! All gifts are deductible.

And if there's a generous supporter out there, perhaps we can find someone to match all money that is raised in this effort to double the results!

Well, it's worth a try!

Humanity for Prisoners
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


For many years in the 1990s, the western Michigan male chorus HIS MEN sponsored an annual benefit concert to help feed starving people. It was called WE CARE, and it featured various gospel music groups. Eventually the concerts were discontinued.

Two local area singers in HIS MEN proudly announced today that WE CARE is being resumed, with a new cause: prisoner advocacy. Don Daniels of Muskegon and Dennis Schaaf of Spring Lake reported that the date and location have been set for a benefit concert for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. The concert will be held Saturday, October 11, 7:30 PM, at Christ Memorial Church in Holland, and will feature an eclectic array of Christian musicians, according to Daniels and Schaaf.

Three male chorus will be featured: The Singing Crusaders Male Chorus of Kalamazoo; the Men of A-Chord from the Chicago area; and HIS MEN from western Michigan. Other prominent musicians donating their talents will be the African American gospel group from Grand Rapids, The James Family Singers; and prominent gospel recording artist Gary Matthews.

There will be no admission charge for the concert, but a free will offering will be taken, with all proceeds for Humanity for Prisoners.

“It was very appropriate for our chorus to restart these concerts,” said Daniels and Schaaf. Doug Tjapkes, who is the president of Humanity for Prisoners, was also the founding director of HIS MEN, and the originator of the We Care concerts! “He has now dedicated his life to serving as an advocate for prisoners, especially the wrongly convicted!”

The public is welcome.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I think this one's meant for you, my dear brother!

From JV:

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. "

Teddy Roosevelt

Friday, September 5, 2008

Important dates to remember

September 20 9AM - 3PM
All-day justice conference: Michigan's Prison System---How does it affect you? Plymouth Congregational Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan

September 25 6 PM
Sister Helen Prejean, author of DEAD MAN WALKING, speaking at Williams Auditorium, Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan

October 11 7:30 PM
WE CARE Benefit Concert for HFP, featuring HIS MEN, the Men of A-chord, Singing Crusaders Male Chorus, James Family Singers and Gary Matthews, at Christ Memorial Church, Holland, Michigan

Little things count!

Helen Keller was quoted by a supporter of prisoner advocacy this week as telling the Tennessee Legislature that when she was young she had longed to do great things and could not, so she decided to do small things in a great way.

I thought you might like to know some of the small things that HFP did this week:

-personally answered 12 pleas for assistance in writing
-sent contact information to persons in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia who were at a loss to know how to help their loved ones in prison
-sent six devotional booklets to Christian prisoners who wanted something to read
-at the request of a sister, shipped a copy of the Maurice Carter book Sweet Freedom to her brother
-called a prisoner's mom in Detroit to tell her of his new visiting hours, after the prison messed with his outgoing mail
-suggested to a family member what to do with the written confession of a grown woman who, as a child, had wrongly accused her brother
-encouraged a prisoner by phone who is concerned about an upcoming Parole Board decision
-saw that an indigent prisoner got 15 bucks to pay back his bunkie for coffee, and
-offered our services to a North Dakota attorney battling to free a wrongly convicted Bosnian prisoner.

A friend of Penny Ryder (American Friends Service Committee) said this week: I have found that the "little things" we do for prisoners seem to be "great things" to them, and even greater to God!

Thanks to your continued support with prayers and dollars, we'll do our best NOT to forget "the little things" for prisoners!

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Studebaker drag race for prisoners generating excitement!

Drag racing to raise urgently-needed funds for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is generating a lot of interest and excitement! I will be driving a 1963 supercharged Studebaker Lark in the Pure Stock Muscle Car Drags at Mid-Michigan Motorplex on Friday and Saturday, September 12 and 13. I will pick my five best runs of the two days, and have asked our supporters to make pledges on each quarter-mile run under 14 seconds. That's a fast ride in an old car!

Pledges are coming in at a steady pace, and for that we thank you! But some of you are being very creative.

Chuck said he would pledge $10 per run, BUT, if all five runs were under 14 seconds, he would DOUBLE the money!

Then Bob came along, and he pledged $100 per run, and then added this kicker: HE WILL CONTRIBUTE AN ADDITIONAL $500 IF I GET BELOW 13.5 SECONDS in any one run!

There's still your own pledge, small or large. All money goes to HFP, all contributions are tax deductible, and ALL will help prisoners!

Hang on!

Doug Tjapkes, President
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A better Studebaker race challenge!

A friend of HFP just pledged $10 per run for the up-coming Pure Stock Muscle Car Drags, for every 1/4 mile run that the Gold Rush makes UNDER 14 seconds. But he went one step farther! He said that IF ALL FIVE runs are under 14 seconds, HE'LL DOUBLE THE MONEY!

Are you willing to take the chance on a 1963 Studebaker Lark?

All funds go to Humanity for Prisoners and are deductible.

And if you know this organization at all, you KNOW that the money goes straight to advocacy!

Prisoners thank you!


Dragging for funds

It's drag race time again! Twice a year I participate in the pure stock muscle car drags, driving a 1963 supercharged Studebaker Lark. Last spring, the races had the potential of being a fine fund-raiser for Humanity for Prisoners. But it rained, and we didn't do very well.

We're going to make things very simple this year, and the ball is in my court.

The races will be held Friday and Saturday, September 12 and 13, at Mid-Michigan Motorplex near Stanton, Michigan.

I claim that I will be able to coax this little car to reach one-quarter mile in less than 14 seconds! I'll pick only five of the best runs of the two-day weekend.

I'm asking you to make a pledge to HFP for every run UNDER 14 seconds, of those five. In other words, if you pledge $10 for every run under 14 seconds, and I happen to be successful in all five runs, you owe HFP 50 bucks. Last Spring, on the first day, I got below 14 only one time! You won't have to pay until after the races, when I have the proof.

How much per run will you pledge for those five quarter-mile tries? Just send me an email, and I'll keep the records.

Your pledges will be my incentive to do my best.

All contributions will be deductible.

Ladies and Gentlemen, start the bidding!

Many, many prisoners thank you.


Fargo case still alive!

Fargo, North Dakota Attorney David Chapman says he will file a writ of habeas corpus in federal court today.

Mevludin Hidanovic was convicted in January, 2007, on a charge of engaging in a riot. It so happened that he was at a North Dakota fairgrounds with his family when a fight broke out at another location. Later, witnesses implicated him. He refused to plead guilty and receive 30 days. Instead, he was convicted and received 18 months.

The bigger problem is that he is a Bosnian citizen...his wife and four children are citizens of the US. The family fears that the Department of Immigration will deport him, claiming that he is a foreigner with a criminal record. He is currently being held in a federal detention center, after appeals all the way to the state supreme court failed.

Attorney Chapman has been fighting to avoid a breakup of this family over a wrongful conviction. Let's pray that his documentation will enable the federal court to see through this nonsense.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

HFP needs you!

We must talk. This shaky economy is doing a number on us!

I think that it is important for you to know how we use donations.

Last Thursday I was in Jackson to testify in a commutation hearing for Mr. R., WHO WAS WRONGLY CONVICTED AND GIVEN IMPROPER MEDICAL CARE! In a letter just before the hearing he said: I will never be able to find the words that will express my gratitude in my heart for all you have done and still do for me, I shall never forget again the way love and peace can change a life.

On September 23 I will be in Jackson to testify in a commutation hearing for Mr. K., WHO WAS SUFFERING EXCRUCIATING PAIN AND DYING IN PRISON! In a recent letter he said: I know that no one has worked as hard as you have and without your intervention I’d still be back where I was before. Words will never be able to cover my gratitude for all you have done.


We do not receive foundation grants. I am asking YOU to hold us up with your prayers, and YOU to help us pay our bills. I can optimistically report that we look forward to an exciting future! But I would be less than honest with you if I didn’t inform you that, in order to maintain our amazing track record of prisoner advocacy, we need some immediate generous contributions.

As you think about enabling us to serve the less fortunate, please consider this statement from this saint:

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love. Mother Theresa

With your help and prayers, we’ll continue to advocate for the wrongly convicted prisoner, the one deserving parole and/or commutation, that inmate not getting appropriate medical care, the dying convict being ignored or mistreated; and we pledge to continue helping the released to get jobs and lodging and food and dignity!

Yours in the service of helping the least of these,

Douglas J. Tjapkes, President

Saturday, August 30, 2008

We lost!

The five-word message from Fargo, North Dakota, attorney David Chapman:

We lost the hearing. Unbelievable.

It's the most recent disappointing chapter in a hellish story about a Bosnian family in Fargo.

Mevludin Hidanovic was enjoying a day at the Red River Valley Fair with his family when a skirmish broke out at another location on the fairgrounds. Yet, he was arrrested.

Hidanovic was convicted in January, 2007, on a charge of engaging in a riot, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. This all came after he refused to accept a deal from the Prosecutor to plead guilty and accept a 30-day jail term. Six months later, HFP got involved. That was when we learned that a juror came forward after the guilty verdict and admitted to the media that she had found him guilty due to race. That was when a woman who witnessed the fight came forward, after seeing his picture on the news, and said she knew it was the wrong person. That was when the family members voluntarily took a lie detector test to prove that he had been with them at the time of the incident. They passed.

One of the nation's leading eye-witness identification experts, suggested by HFP, said cross-racial identification is rarely accurate.

But, this tragic case went all the way to the North Dakota Supreme Court with no success. Then attorney Chapman persuaded the state to consider a new trial. A hearing on that request was held yesterday, and Chapman was confident. We started a prayer chain.

Not only Chapman, not only the Hidanovic family, but fairness, and justice for all, lost in that courtroom yesterday.

Hidanovic's wife and four children are citizens of the United States. He is not, and he now faces deportation.

We are all in this together.

It's a sad day for all of us.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Got time for a prayer today?

I am asking you to focus your thoughts and your prayers on a courtroom in Fargo, North Dakota, at 1:30 PM Central Time today.

The case of Mevludin Hidanovic came to our attention over a year ago. Mevludin is a Bosnian who was wrongly identified as the instigator of a fight in an amusement park, and subsequently wrongly convicted. Because of this conviction, he now faces deportation...something that would split up a beautiful family, because his wife and children are American citizens.

HFP's involvement early on was to assist in obtaining media coverage, and we were quite successful.

But nothing was successful in the courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court of North Dakota.

And yet, we thank God for attorney David J. Chapman, who never gave up. Recently, he persuaded the state to consider a new trial for Mr. Hidanovic, based on ineffective counsel.

Again, HFP got involved. We found one of the leading eyewitness identification experts in the country to assist attorney Chapmen. Solomon Fulero insists that cross-racial identification of witnesses is highly inaccurate.

Our dear friend Chanda Hidanovic has spent thousands of dollars on this case. You may read her story in an earlier blog entry here.

Finally, this afternoon, the court will decide whether there will be a new trial. Attorney Chapman has told HFP that he feels very confident, going into the hearing. I told him that, at 1:30 PM Central, we would have a battery of wonderful people upholding him and the case with prayer! And at the same time we promise to remember the Hidanovic family.

We will keep you posted.

Thank you for remembering those in prison as if you were together with them in prison (Hebrews 13:3)!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Their words, your words, His words

4:00 AM

I can't sleep, and by 4 this afternoon I'll be paying the price.

I was troubled by their words:

-Those of a mom whose son (in prison) cannot get DNA testing to prove that he was not the father of a dead new-born, left in a toilet by his frightened step-daughter;

-Those of a mom whose frightened son (in prison), driving through snowy white-out on a pitch-black night, felt his car hit something but told no-one. The pedestrian died;

-Those of a daughter whose battered mom is going to prison because her father, while struggling to kill her mom with a shotgun, took the blast himself. He died.

-Those of my friend whose Bosnian husband is threatened with deportation over a wrongful conviction, and who drives four hours one way to see him in a federal facility, only to encounter uncaring prison officials and heartless prison rules, concluded by a husband-wife conversation via video cam, limited to 20 minutes.

I was encouraged by your words:

"We were touched, once again, by your recent letter to the editor."

"We REALLY BELIEVE in what you are doing!"

"You will always have my deepest respect and support as you often stand alone to bring a better quality of life and hope to the forgotten and discarded."

I was comforted by His words:

Come to me and I will give you rest, take my yoke upon you, it is easy and my burden is light.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

That the innocent may be freed!

The first words in the mission statement of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS ARE: Seeking rightful resolutions to wrongful convictions...

This week, we'll be rolling up our sleeves to do just that!

Tomorrow, Wednesday, a legal team from the Toronto-based ASSOCIATION IN DEFENCE (Canadian sp.) OF THE WRONGLY CONVICTED will be in Detroit for a strategy session regarding Ray Gray. Gray is now 56, and has served 35 years in prison. This fine group of legal experts believes he is innocent. HFP is proud to have been invited to participate in that conference. Gray is a fine artist, and a number of his paintings were on display for our benefit art exhibit a couple years ago.

On Thursday, my car will head south again. I will be traveling to Jackson to testify at a public hearing, scheduled by the Michigan Parole Board, for Ron Ross. Ron, now 42, was convicted of a safe cracking and has been in prison for nine years. He is a Master Gardener, and has used his gifts to develop a prison garden program that has distributed fresh vegetables to hundreds of disadvantaged people in the Upper Peninsula over the years! He has consistently maintained his innocence, and is now crippled because of improper medical care while in prison.

In your own way, remember us as we travel more than 450 miles in the next two days in an 8 year old car with 201,000 miles and a soft tire; and especially as we seek God's guidance to say the right words and make the right moves in our imperfect effort to give new life to two fine human beings. It is our position that they have been wronged by an imperfect system.

This is the work that we do in the trenches: Work that we are called to do, but work that limits the amount of time we can spend trying to make up our financial deficit.

Thank you for being our partners in this amazing, exciting, on-going adventure!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Words for starting a new week

Dr. Samuel Johnson:

The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.

Perhaps the best way to accomplish that this week would be to do something for a prisoner.

I know of a prisoner advocacy agency that MUST raise $10,000 yet this week. Slow economic conditions and summer contributions, combined with a strong surge of requests for help all resulted in an unexpected financial crisis.

A Christian organization, hearing of our plight, has already awarded a grant of $2,000! May God bless those generous, considerate people. That leaves a balance of $8,000.00.

Perhaps you know of a church, a club, an agency, that has a contingency fund for situations like this. September will be here in a minute, accompanied by a new set of monthly bills.

You know that I don't regularly use these "start-of-the-week" quotations to raise money. I'm merely calling a critical situation to your attention.

Dr. Johnson's statement stands on its own.

20 W. Muskegon Ave.
Muskegon, MI 49440