All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

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