All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

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

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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.