Showing posts from 2009

That one lost sheep

The author of SWEET FREEDOM received an unexpected Christmas gift. Brian, a prisoner in Florida, had received a copy of the book from a friend. After reading the story of Maurice Carter, he wrote back to her: An even bigger gift than the that you have fanned the almost dead embers of God and Jesus in me...and there might just be a hint of a glow coming to life! I have faith that God will show himself to me in January. Luke 15:7 I tell you that...there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. The book may have been written for just one reader!

Merry Christmas!

I am so concerned about the millions of prisoners around the world, living in such wretched conditions, that as part of my daily routine I say a prayer for every prisoner. Until you work with and on behalf of those who have lost their freedom, you don't really comprehend how blessed we are to be able to enjoy this holiday with family and friends. And, thanks to so many of you, HFP has been able to make this season much brighter for some freed individuals, and somewhat brighter for others just by providing a slight ray of sunshine, a glimmer of hope. We're all partners in this, you know. We cannot do it without you! And so, friends and partners, please join us in giving thanks for those celebrating Christmas for the first time in years as a free person, pray for those who remain separated from loved ones at holiday time, and make time to worship the newborn King, who came to set us free! Chairman Dan Rooks and our loyal Board of Directors, our incredible support staff of more t

It's a short drive from Pennsylvania to Michigan

Many Michiganders are celebrating these days. A Michigan prison, scheduled to be closed, will remain open thanks to the State of Pennsylvania. Because of overcrowded conditions in that state, some 1,000 prisoners will be shipped off to the Muskegon Correctional Facility. And so we celebrate here. Many guards, with their inflated wages, will remain employed, and the state will be reimbursed 62 dollars a day for every Pennsylvania prisoner transferred here, translating into more than $22.5 million per year. Not much thought or concern for the spouses, moms and dads, children and siblings of those being transferred. To visit their loved one, they’ll face a one-way trip of 650 miles, which would take an estimated 10 hours. Then one must drive home again. Can’t really be our worry. After all, they’re just prisoners, and good people don’t go to jail. ‘tis the season to receive! Let us rejoice and be merry.

A wonderful response!

Doug, Hearing about the Ionia inmates giving all they possessed to support HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS moved my heart as well. I'm sending $159 to honor the inmates of Ionia for their heartfelt gift of love to help others. I challenge other lovers of humane justice to send whatever spare change they have lying on a dresser, in a drawer, a dish, or at the bottom of a pocket to do as the Ionia inmates did and send it to Doug. m/a

A matching gift?

My friend Ken approached me after church Sunday morning. He was so touched when he read the news release about inmates in one of the units at Ionia Max taking a collection, in order to raise $159.00 so that HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS could continue to assist other inmates. "I think you should toss out the challenge," said Ken. "I wonder how many of us would be willing to match that amazing contribution from the prisoners with a year-end check for $159.00! Whaddaya think? HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS P.O. Box 687 Grand Haven, MI 49417

Bah. Humbug!

My friend Mr. S was so excited. After serving 35 years under the now-defunct "Lifer Law," the Parole Board was calling him up for an interview next month! The date was set. I was scheduled to be at his side as his representative. Mr. S. is now 60 and not in good health, but a lovable man and a model prisoner. He deserved consideration. He had been arrested and charged for being in the car with a man who was an alleged murderer. After spending most of his life behind bars, a positive interview now might mean that he could spend his final years as a free man. Then yesterday he received a form letter from the Parole Board: The majority of the Parole Board has no interest in taking action at this time. Next interview scheduled: 3/31/2015. No explanation . Pop went that bubble. Happy holidays!

Crossing the HFP desk today

FROM A PRISONER ON DEATH ROW Does it make me a Scrooge if I say I hate this time of the year? Yeah, I know, I shouldn't be so negative. But when I sit back and think of this time of the year, all I can really think of: "Is this my last December in the free world. I call it my month of "lasts." (The last time I did this, the last time I did get the idea?) MY MONTH OF LASTS! Don't get me wrong. The memories are not bad ones...a lot of them are good. It's only the fact that my LAST free world memories drag me down. In heart and struggle, T FROM AN INDIGENT SENIOR CITIZEN Thanks for all you do "for the least of these." How I wish it was more! (In the envelope, 2 one-dollar bills!) Humanity for Prisoners P.O. Box 687 Grand Haven, MI 49417

A neat holiday story!

PRISONERS SEND GIFT TO HFP! A check arrived at the HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS office in Grand Haven the other day. This was no ordinary check from a regular contributor. It came from the Michigan Department of Corrections, and was signed by Acting Assistant Warden Ronald Embry at Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility. The check, in the amount of $159.00, represented a gift from prisoners in one of the prison units. HFP President Doug Tjapkes explains that the contribution dates back to last July, when he and HFP board chairman Dr. Dan Rooks drove to Ionia on a Saturday afternoon, at the request of inmates, to tell the story of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. Meeting with more than 50 prisoners in a small auditorium at the facility, Tjapkes and Rooks explained the background, the purpose and the mission statement of their prisoner advocacy program. After that, they remained with the group to answer questions. “It was a great meeting,” Tjapkes said. “The questions were thoughtful and sensible, t

David Moore, 1940-2009

Pat and I said goodbye to David Moore yesterday. Somehow we sensed the urgency of the situation, and stood at his bedside in Grand Rapids, hoping he was hearing our final words of love. David died this morning. Pat Shellenbarger, former writer for the Grand Rapids Press, had introduced me to David Moore, and the three of us became best of friends who would get together for lunch, laugh and cry, and do our best to ignore the fact that this treasured trio wouldn't remain a threesome forever. David Moore, 69, had an incredible list of accomplishments for his God and his fellow man. His long journey took him to inner-city Chicago, where he counseled gang members and drug addicts, and through countless displaced-persons camps in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where he fed, housed and comforted the sick and impoverished. In his humble way he would admit that his journey to help those less fortunate took him to some 90 countries of the world. But his life took a bad turn when he mad

No merry Christmas for Adam

Would I be willing to sit at the side of a prisoner during his parole board interview? The request came from a distraught mother who lives in a rural area north of here. My immediate response was that maybe it might be best if one of the man's parents sat beside him. That would not be possible, according to Madelyn. Her son, age 36, is a single dad. And he has a son named Marc who is terminally ill with a disease that has left him unable to even move. His critical condition demanded care around the clock, seven days a week, by his grandparents. He hadn't seen his father in seven years because he was in no shape to visit a prison. I didn't hesitate. Even though I didn't know Adam, I felt he shouldn't be alone. I met a quiet, intelligent man behind bars, and we quickly bonded. "What do you mean when you say you committed an armed robbery because you had too many expenses?" I tried to explain to the exasperated Parole Board member that, while robbery

Mentally ill kids in prison: sex objects?

Our office received a disturbing message this morning. A relative of a mentally ill juvenile in the Michigan prison system was told that two guards (gender not specified) are sexually exploring his body with their hands. We received a similar report earlier this year from the mother of another young prisoner. Even when the youthful inmate was in segregation, the one-on-one guard assigned to him was a female who allegedly would reach through the opening used for delivery of food to engage in inappropriate activity. Does this mean that all corrections officers are bad? Absolutely not. But, the second question is: If we know about two incidents of this nature, is this just the tip of the iceberg? Recently a local policeman was arrested for using his position to obtain sexual favors. It gave many good cops a bad name. But the administration is to be commended: Immediate action was taken. Recently a local area Assistant City Attorney was arrested for using his position to obtain sexu

From the mom of a mentally ill teenaged prisoner

The Woodland Center Correctional Facility is located at Whitmore Lake, Michigan. This is the prison facility where the Michigan Deparment of Corrections lodges its most serious cases of mental illness. The office of HFP today received this message from the mother of a mentally ill teenager: I have learned some troubling things. When the prisoners are taken to the CRISIS UNIT at Woodland, they have just the clothes on their back for over a week; there is no quartermaster there to issue new clothes. On top of that, they don't have enough wash cloths for each prisoner, so they give them pillow cases! Is this only because these men come in such horrific conditions that no one cares whether they have a means to dry off? Even in other units, prisoners are given 1 wash cloth, which they have to use to shower and to wash up before meals and all other times. My son has not seen a wash cloth since he has been there. The mentally ill are at such a disadvantage when it comes to holding the pri

Benefit concert a success!

More than $2,000 was raised for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS in a Sunday afternoon benefit concert, it was reported today by HFP President Doug Tjapkes. More than 250 people attended the concert at Ferrysburg Community Church yesterday afternoon, featuring music by the western Michigan male chorus HIS MEN, and Grand Rapids soloist Asonja James. HIS MEN is directed by John Mattson of Muskegon, and accompanied by Sherry Merz of Spring Lake. Two former prisoners told the audience how HFP had been instrumental in their release. Tjapkes explained the work of HFP, and said a current emphasis during this holiday season is helping those in prison who are physically and mentally ill. He pointed out that one in four Michigan prisoners is mentally ill. Dr. Dan Rooks of Holland, chairman of the Board of Directors, expressed thanks to an attentive audience for their willingness to support a 501c3 agency that serves as an advocate for prisoners. Tjapkes explains that the organization assists prisoners a


The impact of the Michigan Department of Corrections' slogan, posted in almost every prison facility, hit me again yesterday. I had agreed to be a prisoner's representative for a television-interactive parole board interview in Kingsley, Michigan---150 miles from here. It promised to be a relatively easy interview. The prisoner has already served his minimum, he has a clean record, and has a 14 year old terminally ill son back home. The parole board member should be empathetic on this one. I was told, in advance, that the interview was to be held Monday morning of this week. Last week the prisoner's family frantically contacted me to inform me that it was rescheduled for Wednesday. Then it was set back to Monday. Then it was finally scheduled AGAIN for Wednesday, at 8 AM. No explanation. I pause to stress that we take EVERY parole board interview seriously. A generous donor provided gasoline for the trip, our ever-ready prayer partners were notified in advance, and

Are cops exempt?

Recently a well-liked, veteran Grand Haven City police officer was arrested for using his position to obtain sexual favors from two women over the past several years. His sentence was light, compared to those we see for other sex offenses. He was also exempted from having his name placed on the Sex Offender Registry. In Michigan, as in many states, there are no categories or classifications in the sex registry. Whatever the offense, from a simple mistake to the worst case of child molestation, those convicted are lumped into one list. I sent this letter to the Grand Haven Tribune, which was published yesterday: Now let me get this straight. The name of a person who is arrested for indecent exposure for urinating in public is placed on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry, along with those of rapists and pedophiles. The name of a teenager who has consensual sex with his girl friend who is a juvenile is arrested for criminal sexual conduct, and his name is placed on the Sex Offender Re

We can't do it without you!

I sat at the kitchen table this morning with my bowl of low-carb cereal, and flipped on the computer to review my overnight messages. From the distraught mom of a 17 year old, mentally ill kid: He attempted suicide by hanging himself with a sheet. I learned it around noon after calling tons of people, but no one would tell me why. This young man was doing fine in a private institution, but then had serious problems, and was arrested again for parole violation. He's back in the Michigan prison system. I don't think he will be able to cope. I hope he can find the will to live, but I don't feel he has it in him anymore. He made it very clear he cannot live in this life anymore. It is so sad. I love this kid! I went to see him in prison, and when he was stabilized with proper medication he was a delight: a charming teenager with an award-winning smile. I bought him soda and candy bars. We laughed together, and hugged. His mother received a national award for working 2

Mental illness and prisons don't mix!

As messages continue to flood into the HFP office, I am especially troubled by cases involving mental illness. _____, (age 15!) called today and let me know he got a ticket and will probably be in the hole for 30 days, because he was hittin' the door to see when his school was. Now he can't have any calls or visits . _____,(age 17) has gone into a spiral and become manic. He had cut himself on purpose, has other injuries, and may need hospitalization. He is suicidal at times . _____,(age 23) was finally placed on meds, and I have never seen him more healthy looking and hopeful in the past 20 days. Yesterday I was informed that the prison doctor is cutting off all meds! He believes my son just has an anti-personality disorder and no pill can help him. I am willing to pay for the treatment myself if this is about money with the DOC. Unless you have had similar experiences, you cannot imagine the pain suffered by these family members! Please pray for them. And, as you think

Will your church be next?

This little church along the Lake Michigan shoreline wasn’t that much different than your church. Its people loved the Lord, loved to worship, sang hymns with gusto, heard preaching that was true to the Word, and did their best to love and care for one another. Years ago, getting a very subtle and almost un-noticed start in the church was support for a lonely, unknown, indigent, African American prisoner. A member of this church had started campaigning for the man’s release, claiming he had been wrongly convicted. Over the years the name Maurice Carter became a household word. His name was not only included in the prayers of church groups young and old, but in family devotions at mealtime. And so, by the time Mr. Carter was released from prison (after serving 29 years!), seriously ill and with only a few months remaining on this earth, he called the church his church. And before he died he slowly made his way to the pulpit on a Sunday morning to thank the people for their love and

Year-end gifts important to HFP!

IT’S TIME TO THINK ABOUT END-OF-THE-YEAR GIVING! Five years ago Maurice Carter died, after serving 29 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS was Maurice’s dream. He didn’t want another prisoner to suffer his nightmare of wrongful conviction and inadequate healthcare. Without Maurice our organization wouldn’t exist. I recently read “When praying, don’t give God instructions … just report for duty!” Well, that’s been our response here, and we thought you’d like to see the results. As you consider which organizations deserve your year-end attention, take a look at the back of this letter. No question about it, thanks to YOU, HFP has made an impact! And, on a shoestring budget! All organizations have impressive statistics. Our numbers are different: They wear faces! , For 5 years we’ve stayed true to our purpose of reaching out with compassion and helping to transform the lives of lonely and forgotten prisoners. And our work, unlike that

The spirit of Maurice Carter lives on!

Maurice Carter died just five years ago this weekend. He could not have been remembered more appropriately than at a Friday evening ceremony in Madison, Wisconsin. Some 200 people gathered in a University of Wisconsin auditorium to celebrate 10 years of service by the U of W Innocence Project. The case of Maurice Carter was one of the first to be taken on by the fledgling Innocence Project in 1998, and the bright-eyed students and eager professors began a six-year journey to free a man they came to know and love. Little did they realize that honesty and integrity are foreign to the judicial system in Berrien County, Michigan. They traveled, they made prison visits, they dug through dusty police files in a Benton Harbor basement, and over the years they prepared impressive briefs and documents, nearly two inches thick, that proved without doubt that Maurice was innocent. Never did they expect to encounter a judge who refused to review the material...who just shoved the stack of paper

HFP thanks God for women!

Many women quietly support and assist HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS in many ways, but a few prime examples come to mind this morning: THE MOTHER OF A YOUNG MAN WHO DIED IN PRISON DUE TO NEGLECT , who has no money to spare, has pledged the first $200 so that we can represent the late Maurice Carter at the Wisconsin Innocence Project's 10th anniversary observance in Madison on Friday. Is someone up to matching that pledge? A FORMER PRISONER has taken on a fund-raising project for HFP that failed both times in the last two years. She's making it happen because she KNOWS what we are doing! Its success is already guaranteed! AN EX-EMPLOYEE OF THE MICHIGAN PRISON SYSTEM is now working with me in the office to create harmony out of this discord. She understands our mission! This is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg! I would like to profile a long list of women, and the amazing things they are doing to remember those in prison as if they were together with them in prison. They&#

First-of-the-week comments

From a supporter I'd like to see the Avalon as a sculpture piece installed at a conspicuous intersection in all its wrecked glory! Dedication: Wrecked but still functioning. And Ron Ross even, the personifier of coordinating such a masterpiece... It's curious how random events often converge into a whole. RIP, Avalon. Your glory lives on! From a prisoner, commenting on the work of HFP is one thing to be compelled to help someone you know to be innocent. It is another to decide that what a person has done in their past is less important than who they are and how they are treated today. That is a huge leap that can only be made with a strong and pure heart, and I am so glad I have been given the opportunity to meet you. From an advocate for juveniles in the prison system If all the kids housed in the MDOC could be followed and supported by a church, what a positive impact that could make in their young lives! Your church in Ferrysburg supported Mr. Carter. Can you imagine h

Avalon obit

Her name was Avalon, and despite her beauty and good manners, she was best known as the reliable wheels for a freedom fighter. Her first assignment: to free Maurice Carter. And she was up for the challenge. The route to Benton Harbor, Michigan, where a Carter committee met monthly, was soon memorized. But she boldly took on bigger challenges in Benton Harbor, finding a tiny church where an Innocence Project laid out its plans to a skeptical community and where a jailhouse snitch told how he framed Maurice. She prowled through the inner city, despite the presence of a permanent cloud of evil, searching for witnesses who might clear Maurice's name. No discriminator of persons, she humbly gave a ride to a drunken story-teller just as proudly as she transported Rubin Hurricane Carter to a prison to meet Maurice in person. Not the least bit worried about distance, she traveled to Canada, Chicago, and Madison if she felt it would help the cause. And when Carter was finally released,

A ray of sunshine peeping into a dark cell

Twelve persons from St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, have pledged to send at least one letter a month for at least one year to a needy Michigan prisoner! It's all a part of HFP s exciting new program: PROJECT WINDOW . It's a program designed to shed a ray of sunshine into the darkness of Michigan prison cells. We're walking before we run, but it is our hope that one day the project can be expanded to every state! The names of prisoners are carefully selected by HFP staff and volunteers. Protection of the letter-writer is a primary concern, so the writer uses only his/her first name, and the return address is simply the address of the participating church. If this seems like a good program for your church or civic organization, please contact HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS for more information: 616.935.0075. A third western Michigan congregation will consider the program in a meeting tomorrow evening. Doug Tjapkes, President

on seeking excellence

So I go to this Michigan prison (not a busy one) to visit a guy who doesn't even belong there. The staff members at the desk are very nice to me, I sign in, follow all the rules and move to my seat. One of the people at the desk makes contact with the unit where the prisoner is housed, and announces that the man has a visitor. I remain seated in the waiting room. I'm the only person there to visit a prisoner. 15 minutes later (I learned after the fact), the prisoner took his seat in the visiting room. He was the only inmate in the room. After 30 minutes, one kind soul at the front desk assured me that she would investigate this delay. After 30 minutes, the prisoner asked the guard in the visiting room where his visitor was. Turns out, nobody bothered to let the front desk know that the prisoner was up, and waiting for me! My friend and I sat alone, in separate rooms, for 30 minutes while staff members in the prison talked about other things. I finally made it into the vi

October update

September, you responded to our appeals, and we had to ask ourselves Are we good stewards with your dollars? And prisoners answered with a resounding Yes! · A woman walked into freedom, her parole problems resolved: It couldn’t have happened without YOU…you were a God-send! · An ex-convict turned his life around after spending 11 years on a wrongful conviction, and told members of his church: I would serve the 11 years again if I knew that I could have THIS kind of life! · An African American prisoner , after hearing Doug speak, said: All my life I’ve had problems with white people, until now. I was blessed by your words! I praise God for your work! · An elderly inmate , abandoned in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, upon being informed by HFP that his case is now being reviewed by a top Canadian innocence project, broke down and wept: Thank God! You’re the first visitor I’ve had in five years! · A man who cared for the late Maurice Carter when he was

heading north!

Some might say that Marcia and I are heading to Michigan's Upper Peninsula this weekend to celebrate 52 years of marriage! And there's an element of truth to that. But here's what else is happening. On Monday, September 28, I'll be driving to Newberry to -meet with the author of a book of prayers for prisoners that we hope to publish -meet with a prisoner on behalf of a Canadian innocence project -meet with a prisoner who is a friend of an HFP friend and fund-raiser, and -meet with a prisoner who heads up a Christian ministry in that facility. Being locked up in a prison that far away, these men get few visitors. We'll be there! On Tuesday, September 29, I've been invited to be the guest speaker at a conference sponsored by the Kinross Ethics Group, in Kincheloe, Michigan. Nearly 100 prisoners at the Kinross Correctional Facility have already signed up for the event! Our friend and client Troy Chapman, who founded the ethics group, extended t

you get your downs and you get your ups

I have been here less than three hours today, and the emotional rollercoaster is running at full speed: PRISONER #1, Michigan--- I hope this letter finds you well. You've probably heard that I attempted to hang myself on August 7, quit talking for 22 days, and quit eating and drinking a few days later. I'm back on medication and I'm feeling better. My depression is so severe that it makes me want to harm myself . PRISONER #2, Oklahoma I have no family and receive no mail. So it's pretty lonely here in a super hi-max underground unit being locked down 24/7 in single cells, except for 3-ten minute showers every week. And no chapel. With no TV or radio, time goes slow and it's very depressing. But then comes a pickup from the mother of a prisoner, Michigan It was reading your book (SWEET FREEDOM) that helped light my fire and know that sometimes it takes more than the extra mile, more than extremes to be heard, listened to and a difference made! You and your wor

On stepping into freedom

It was a three-hour drive. It was worth it! I was at a prison to welcome a woman as she walked from behind bars after nine years! We hugged. I didn't know her well. Our paths crossed because of a mutual friend, who asked that we assist in solving a problem between the family and the state, prior to her release. We honored the request and we helped. Said Ms. G: I am so thankful for your assistance and could not have done it without you. You have been such a Godsend to so many! I had the pleasure of holding the front door of the prison as she took her first step into freedom! As I was reading Psalm 68 this morning, I came across these words: He (God) leads out the prisoners with singing. My mouth wasn't singing. But my soul was! Doug Tjapkes HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS PO Box 687 Grand Haven, MI 49417


The HFP Drag-Racing Fund-Raiser had the potential of being extremely successful, and could have raised several thousand dollars. Let's just say it was partly successful. For background purposes I'll explain that I was racing a 1963 supercharged Studebaker Lark that has a reputation of being one of the fastest stock Studebakers in drag racing today. The engine was built by one of the finest Studebaker engine mechanics in the country, and the car many times has achieved quarter-mile runs in less than 14 seconds! We promised to make at least ten passes in the Pure Stock Muscle Car Drags at Mid-Michigan Motorplex in Stanton, Michigan, this past weekend, and we asked for pledges ONLY ON THOSE RUNS REACHED IN LESS THAN 14 SECONDS. On Friday, here's how we fared: Run #1 13.936 @ 101.24 mph Run #2 14.027 @ 101.30 mph Run #3 14.091 @ 100.88 mph Run #4 13.805 @ 102.84 mph Run #5 14.058 @ 101.26 mph By the 5th run we discovered that

This year's race dedicated to Arnie!

A wonderful woman called our office in January, 2007. Her brother, who was in a Michigan prison, asked her to notify HFP that one of our clients was being abused by guards. As we questioned her, we learned that her brother was sick and mentally challenged, and wasn't being treated properly by the prison system, either. And so we added Arnie as a client, and assisted his sister Mary Ann in fighting for his release. I sat next to a jubilant Mary Ann in a Michigan courtroom in May of 2007, when a stubborn judge relucantly agreed with a higher court that Arnie should be released! And thus began a special relationship! Facing continued physical as well as mental issues, Arnie died in September, 2008. But he was a free man! Mary Ann has been a dear friend and staunch supporter of HFP, and when we announced the fall drag racing fund-raiser coming up, here was her response: Doug, I don't care if you win one or 10 races, or none at all. My brother Arnie was in love with cars and l

It's drag race time!

All right, girls and boys, it's DRAG RACE TIME and TIME TO RESCUE HFP ! Here's the deal, for those who have never participated. I'm 72 years old and I love Studebakers. I believe they can still win races at the Pure Stock Muscle Car Drags. And so we pulled an old junker of a 1963 Lark from a field in Missouri, and put in the best Studebaker drive train we could come up with, including a supercharged 289 V8 engine! We're still tweaking, but it is a solid 14 second car. On a good day, with a tail wind, new spark plugs and a little extra caffeine for the driver, we can make a quarter mile down into the 13s! Now here's the deal about HFP. We're broke, but our future is rosy ! We now have two organizations pledged to write foundation grants for us, and we have fund raisers who are willing to work without charge to help us get back on our feet! Our problem is right now. We've been so busy with prisoners in recent months that we got behind. I want these

We all need an "attaboy!"

At a time when we are struggling financially, we acknowledge that this doesn't pay the bills. It does much more! It encourages us to press on! Thank you so much for your help. You are truly the the face of what compassion and love looks like! I can't find words to express how much your support has lifted me up. Knowing you makes me believe once again in humanity and how we should behave and treat each other. God Bless you!! Love, Ms. T (wife of wrongly convicted prisoner) HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS P.O. Box 687 Grand Haven, MI 49417

on seeking grants

A team of three Grand Valley State University students has been assigned to seek grant money for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS , it was announced today by Professor Diane Kimoto of GVSU’s Grant Writing Class. The 501c3 agency is based in Grand Haven, Michigan. Professor Kimoto said that the students will be writing grants on behalf of HFP at both the state and national level. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS , formerly known as INNOCENT, was founded in 2001 by Doug Tjapkes, of Spring Lake, Michigan. At that time, he was part of a team hoping to free the late Maurice Carter from prison. Carter served 29 years behind bars for a shooting that injured an off-duty police officer in Berrien County, and still claimed he was innocent at the time of his death five years ago. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS operates an advocacy program for the incarcerated, dealing with issues of alleged wrongful conviction, care for the medically and physically ailing, assistance for inmates eligible for parole, and assistance for

on meeting Mom

I just received a telephone call from a prisoner in Muskegon, a young man with an IQ of 61 who has been wrongly convicted. Over the years we have been unsuccessful in helping him in any way, but he and I have become special friends. Family members rarely visit him; they're too poor. The first time I called on him it was his first visit in ten years! "My momma is coming here from Detroit to visit me on Sunday for my birthday! She would like to meet you." "I'm honored to be asked! I'll be in the prison waiting room."

on grumbling

It's no secret that I grumble about slow contributions and lack of a paycheck. Today I conferred by telephone with a 50 year old African American prisoner who lost all of his family support system in recent years...all died, one by hanging. He had no one to be his advocate. I offered to go with him, and sit at his side for his 9th parole board interview this coming Monday morning. "I pray every day, giving thanks for what you do for all the guys, man, and asking God to watch over you and your family. I love you!" I just got paid!

on bear hunting

Some days the bear gets you… Other days, you get the bear! This is bad: Prisoner Mr. S is back in the hospital, this time with a Staph infection! One day they tell him it’s a problem in his intestines, and the next they test him for diabetes. The fact that his blood pressure remains so high, he has swollen legs and feet, he is told he must see a cardiologist (but this doesn’t happen), and he has severe weight loss…all while he is on dialysis…gives me concern. I wonder about the adequacy of Michigan prison health care, and the lives that are likely in jeopardy . This is good: The Michigan Parole and Commutation Board has revised the rules for a mother being released from prison who had been forbidden to see or care for any children under the age of 17. You see, her youngest daughter is 16, has been visiting her regularly in prison, and has been writing letters on a regular basis. Mother and daughter were distraught. Thanks to Michigan advocacy programs, including HFP, the board wi

Nothing's simple!

In this office, it's all in a day's work! -Confer with an attorney for a prisoner. The inmate became a changed man and agreed to work undercover to assist federal and state investigators with the understanding that he might then get credit for time served, and receive an early release. He did his job efficiently, and suffered mental and physical injury as a result. Arrests were made and abuses were corrected. Now authorities aren't sure they want to live up to their agreement. The man still sits behind bars. -Confer with an attorney re a prisoner's parole regulations. The woman has been granted parole if she has no contact with any children under the age of 17. BUT, her youngest daughter, who has been visiting with her in prison regularly and writing her mom on a regular basis, is only 16! Both mother and daughter are beside themselves. -Confer with an attorney for a prisoner who is hoping to find his adult children. He hasn't seen or heard from them since

on physical handicaps in Michigan prisons

Michigan prisons and physical handicaps are a poor mix. Mike had a stroke while in prison, and it affected his entire left side. The problem is that he was then transferred to another facility. That wasn't all bad: He has been getting adequate medical treatment and physical therapy. BUT, a caring nurse at the new facility took away his cane...not a good thing for a guy whose left arm and hand cannot move, and whose left leg doesn't let him walk properly. So now he must get up and down stairs without a cane, take a shower without a cane (also no shower chair), go to chow without a cane, and try to use the bathroom without a cane. All Mike asks is that he be placed in a facility where his treatment and therapy can continue, where everything needed will be on one floor, where there might be a shower and a restroom for the handicapped, and where a doctor or a nurse will let him get around with a cane again. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS P.O. Box 687 Grand Haven, MI 49417

The unpleasant part of this job

Not sure if it's vacations, the economy, our new address...but contributions have taken a nose-dive following a great month in July! If you have been thinking about sending a gift this month, would you mind doing it still in the first half? And if you were thinking of waiting until next month, would you mind changing your plans just this once? We believe the last quarter is looking a whole lot better! It's the present that's a problem. For now, your quick help would be greatly appreciated by our bookkeeper...and the manager of this office! And his wife! Thank you, in advance. Doug Tjapkes HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS P.O. Box 687 Grand Haven, MI 49417

Michigan's shameful prison system

The Obama administration has announced major steps to improve our nation's shameful network of prisons that house immigrants. The New York Times says the sprawling network of ill-managed jails is rife with reports of abuse, injury and preventable death. And then there is the State of Michigan. Now that prisons are being closed because of budget problems, prisoners are being shoe-horned into existing facilities. But here in the Great Lakes State we have heard no announcements from our administration about plans to improve this shameful network of prisons. Mr. L, who lives in the Straits Correctional Facility up north, has spent time in the law library, to determine just how his living conditions compare to those guaranteed by the constitution's 8th Amendment. He concludes, without surprise, that his rights are being violated. As if anyone in Michigan really cares. He is currently being warehoused, he points out, with 139 other prisoners in a housing unit designed for 80. H

No more Timmys!

A shameful story made its way out of the Michigan prison system and into the media three years ago today. Timothy Joe Souders, mentally ill prisoner only 21 years of age, died in 100-degree temperatures, after spending most of the last four days of his life chained naked in a steel bed, lying in his own urine. He was alone in a hot, segregated cell in the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility of Jackson, Michigan. Like some of the mentally ill prisoners of today, he was merely a boy inside a man's body, and had no business being in prison. Police agencies and the judicial system should have known that this lovable kid, when he was on his meds, couldn't survive in a prison system. Yet an officer stunned him with a taser when arresting him for assault. After he was taken to jail, he stabbed himself in the stomach seven times with a knife that the jailers had missed. Then he tried to hang himself with a noose made with his prison clothing. Seems like someone might have co

To Sherry, with our sympathy and love

Ronald Patrick Swiney 1944-2009 Patrick can breathe perfectly now. And he has no pain! He had been in the Alabama Prison System since 1989, when he was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole. He maintained his innocence until the moment he died. Patrick, and his wife Sherry (who campaigned tirelessly for his release and his well-being 24/7) became friends of ours in 2002. Sherry was fighting on behalf of Patrick, and I was fighting on behalf of Maurice Carter. I most recently corresponded with Patrick late last year. I learned that he loved to talk about drag racing, and so I sent pictures of Doug racing Studebakers. How he loved those memories! He closed his last letter to me: I appreciate all your hard work on my behalf, and making my heart happy with using one word: STUDEBAKER! But, as his appeals and requests for legal assistance continued to fail, so did his health. Last night, Sherry sent out an urgent appeal to those of us who remained close to the case

Is MPRI working?

The Michigan Department of Corrections states that the primary goal of the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative is to promote public safety by increasing the success rates of prisoners transitionaing from prison to the community. According to the MDOC, MPRI delivers a seamless plan of services, support, and supervision from the time a prisoner enters prison through their return to a commmunity. We are receiving word from some Michigan prisoners questioning the effectivess of the program. Today this: FROM 2 MICHIGAN PRISONERS WHOSE ACCURACY YOU CAN BELIEVE The program consisted of an offender refresher class, learning about programs available to a released individual in his/her area, meeting with the assigned parole agent and a transition team, and learning about the GPS electronic tracking system. The program down here at Ryan (Correctional Facility in Detroit) is a huge mess: mass confusion! The trip, leaving Muskegon, traveling to Detroit and getting settled in a housing unit, to

Carter freed 5 years ago today!

Letter to heaven: My dear brother Maurice, how time flies! I can hardly believe that it was five years ago today that you walked out of the prison hospital. Your cousin Mary and I were at your side. I've never experienced anything like it before or after that date, July 24, 2004! After 29 years, you were free. Your smile told it all! A book and a stage-play assure that the story will never die. And oh, the dreams we had: We would carry our new organization, INNOCENT, to a new level; we would travel the country so that you could give lectures, speak to students, make radio and television appearances, and meet with church leaders. I just want you to know that, because your health problems prevented the two of us from carrying on that mission, one of us is still on the battle front. Liver disease and other complications may have allowed you to live for only three months, my friend, but your dream is alive and well. Perhaps I shouldn't say "well," because we fa

We were there. God was there!

Dan Rooks, clinical psychologist from Holland who chairs the board of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS had never been in a state prison. Today he would accompany me in a precedent-setting meeting where some Michigan prisoners had invited HFP to explain its purposes and its functions. What would he think? Would his enthusiasm for our purpose remain, or grow? Or would he leave in disgust, thinking this is a worthless cause and prisoners are a worthless bunch? If decisions were based on first impressions, I might not have stayed! From the prison staff: “That's the building where they house the level 5 and level 6 prisoners. Most of them are crazy! It's being converted into a facility for mentally ill prisoners. About 500 of the 700 are crazy, and they're dangerous!” “That's the segregation building. We call that 'the hole,' and it's where inmates go for punishment. They spend 24 hours a day locked in their cells!” As we walked across the large courtyard in mid-day, we c

We MUST press on!

Yesterday HFP made a prison visit. A New York businessman (and definitely not a criminal!), with no friends or family members in Michigan, is hoping to find friends, a pastor, and eventually justice here. It was a beautiful visit! Today HFP completes and sends out an application for commutation of the sentence of a deserving Michigan prisoner who, during the war on drugs (which we lost), got caught up in those outrageous sentences, and received life without parole! He, his family and friends, have been counting on us to do things properly. We can only pray that our application receives favorable attention. Tomorrow HFP makes a presentation at Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility. We will be speaking there about the role of our charitable organization, at the request of a group of prisoners! What a compliment! We have just received word that another Michigan prisoner advocacy program is on hard times, and its staff must take a two-week unpaid vacation. Last month our co

Any suggestions?

Several Michigan prisoner advocacy agencies, including ours, received this urgent message from the friend of a prisoner last night. Steve is 53, has chronic heart problems, and is on dialysis: Steve was hospitalized 3-4 weeks ago for high blood pressure and shortness of breath. He was told he needed to see a cardiologist. To date, that has NOT happened. The high blood pressure readings continue. On 7/4, it was 186/112. On 7/8, it was 186/111. Last night (Monday) he was taken to the hospital with a BP reading of 220/129. He then was told to go into a particular room. A doctor came in and asked him one question and never came back. He was taken back to prison at 3 AM, having had nothing done. He just called me this evening, and it was 220/140! It appears that a diuretic should be given with the medicine he is receiving. It appears that is not happening. Are they trying to kill him? Please, please, please, I beg of you, if there is something you can do on Steve's behalf, p

It's time to do what is right!

What is the religion that grounds our understanding of human identity and purpose, of government and its duties, of crime and punishment, and of the responsibilities of families, schools, businesses, churches, and social-service organizations? Christians should be pleading for God's forgiveness for our complicity in a criminal justice system that perpetrates and perpetuates so much injustice. And genuine repentence means turning around to do what is right! James W. Skillen, President, CENTER FOR PUBLIC JUSTICE

Encouragement from a supporter of HFP

Laura writes: Hi Doug, I'm reading a daily devo by Max Lucado and it centers on enduring til the end. The verse he uses is found in Matt. 10:22, " Those people who keep their faith until the end will be saved." The following is is an excerpt ."Are you close to quitting? Please don't do it. Remember, a finisher is not one with no wounds or weariness. Quite to the contrary, he, like the boxer, is scared and bloody. Mother Theresa is credited with saying, 'God didn't call us to be successful, just faithful.' The fighter, like our Master, is pierced and full of pain. He, like Paul, may even be bound and beaten. But he remains. The Land of Promise, says Jesus, awaits those who endure. It is not just for those who make the victory laps or drink champagne. No sir. The Land of Promise is for those who simply remain to the end." Doug, I think of YOU and all the trench workers that endure the process of action on behalf of the prisoners (and families). I

From a Michigan prisoner to the GR Press

I am a professional project manager specializing in business and finance. I am a resident of New York, and was sent to Michigan for a two year contract assignment. The story of my incarceration is most unusual, but is not the topic of this letter. I was recently given a book to read from a fellow inmate. The author was Doug Tjapkes, and the book: SWEET FREEDOM. I was so moved by this book, the story line, and the true message of hope… that I have continuously circulated it to others in the prison. I tried to write to Doug, but the letter was returned. I am now turning to you in hopes that you might be willing to help me locate him. My primary purpose is to obtain several copies of this book for my immediate family, and to perhaps establish contact with someone involved in prison ministry. All of my family and friends are in other states or other countries. I am virtually alone . Mark The letter made its way to the office of HFP, and I had a wonderful visit with Mark in a Mu

It seems so simple

As an advocate for a prisoner in his/her parole board interview, you speak for only two or three minutes. BUT HERE'S WHAT YOU MUST TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION -the inmate has been waiting for that interview since the last rejection for parole or commutation -this poor prisoner hardly slept the night before the interview -one slip of the tongue, one inappropriate statement, one comment in the wrong direction AND THE INTERVIEW WILL BE TERMINATED! I've done many of them, and each time I am uneasy. I pray before each session. I ask others to pray. My name is called. Our interview is next. We sit in a tiny prison room with a social worker, the inmate and I side by side, we face a member of the Michigan Parole and Commutations Board on an interactive television set-up, and we do our best. We choose each word carefully. We try not to offend or irritate. We silently pray. And then it's over. Today, the kind interviewer was compassionate enough to indicate that freedom

A powerful voice is silenced!

It's a sad day for journalism in western Michigan. Pat Shellenbarger, fine writer and investigative reporter for the Grand Rapids Press, has taken early retirement. They said "goodbye" to him yesterday. Shellenbarger's interest in the plight of prisoners was heightened when he became aware of the Maurice Carter case in the late 1990s. He became a friend of Carter before Maurice's death in 2004, and he worked with me to help find the perpetrator of the crime for which Carter spent 29 years in prison. In addition to that, he tirelessly investigated other prisoner issues, and dared to tell the truth about prisons and prison personnel. He sought balance and fairness in all of his reports, but he refused to compromise. I join with prisoners and all who advocate for prisoners in thanking Pat for his courage and integrity, as he repeatedly exposed situations of inappropriate care and/or injustice. Words alone cannot express our gratitude. God knows that he and his q

Ending the week on a positive note

- I had lunch today with Ed . A year ago I visited him in prison! - I'm preparing a statement for the Parole Board . A wrongly convicted friend was suddenly called up for an interview on Monday! I'll be there. - I opened a file for a woman going to prison for life . Her bunkie, who admits doing wrong, forwarded a message to me from the county jail saying that this person was coerced by authorities and is innocent! - I sent a note of congratulations . We had been advocating for a prisoner suffering with cancer. He was freed last night! - I downloaded a foundation resource outline . A university professor promises her grant-writing class will help our agency find grant money when it starts up in August! - I received a note from an attorney in California who read about us in a newspaper : "Good to know you're still in the battle!" We didn't meet expenses this week, but you can be reassured that your support makes a difference! Doug

Can the Lark do it? Can Doug do it?

HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS PLEDGE! Again this year, HFP President Doug Tjapkes is taking pledges for the F.A.S.T. muscle car drag races next weekend. He'll be racing his 1963 supercharged Studebaker Lark at Martin, Michigan, on Friday and Saturday, June 26 and 27, and is taking pledges for charity. He will make a maximum of ten quarter-mile runs , if the car remains mechanically sound. You are invited to pledge an amount only for every run that is made in less than 14 seconds ! Can a 45 year old Studebaker perform in the 13s? Can a 72 year old race driver pull it off? If you pledge $10 for every run under 14 seconds, as an example, the most you will contribute is $100. The car has been in storage since last fall. The driver hasn't raced since last year! How high do you dare pledge? All contributions are tax-deductible, and will support HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. Doug will buy his own racing gas! You may email your pledge now. Results will be announced June 29.

A ray of sunshine in a dark prison cell

In discussing the subject of writing letters to prisoners, John Speer says, in his book UNCOMMON COMMUNITY : " A genuine correspondence offers a prisoner an opportunity to peer into a home and a life that may be substantially different from anything he or she has ever known, and it offers the free-world writer the same opportunity." With that in mind, HFP has been developing a letter-writing program. After several months of meetings and discussions with a select committee at Plymouth Congregational Church in Grand Rapids, I am pleased to report that this past Sunday, June14, we launched an innovative new program for writing letters to prisoners. It's called Project Window , designed to shine a little light into dark prison cells. About a dozen people have committed to writing one letter a month to a single prisoner, for at least one year. The names of the prisoners were carefully chosen by HFP. The letter writers use only first names, and the return address is the chu

One of those difficult moments

I'm not going to ask for money, but if you believe in prayer, I am asking that you'll join me on this one. Here's the thing. After being asked to vacate this building, we found new office space in Grand Haven, Michigan, and we'll be moving soon. And, it will cost us NO CASH! We have worked out a barter arrangement, so that all money contributed to our organization will actually go directly into our programming. We are blessed. THEN, wonderful supporters of our organization completely furnished the office! BUT, now we must have roughly $5,000 by the first of the week to operate. I'm not asking you for the money. You have been most gracious and generous during very difficult economic circumstances. But, after running a little short each month, things finally caught up with us. To give you an idea of what's happening: We've responded to 28 requests for assistance already this month! I'm going to testify in one of the most important parole interviews

on saying "Thank you!"

A wonderful supporter of HFP surprised me this week. He and his lovely wife, once again, displayed generosity like nothing we have ever encountered since getting into this "prisoner" business. My mother taught me to always say thanks, and I really try. And I'll assure of this: We say "thank you" to the wife of a prisoner who gives us one dollar a month, just as much as we thank our major supporters. But back to the surprise. He told me that I would be amazed to know the number of people who do not take the time to say "thanks." This couple are among those who have been blessed, and they are quick to share what they have with those deemed worthy of support. "They just expect it from us," he explained. "They don't feel that they have to thank us." I immediately thought of the ten lepers. As (Jesus) was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him...and called out..."...have pity on us!" When he saw them,

on why our partnership is so important!

Working with prisoners helps free us from cynicism and despair. If you want to learn how to keep hope alive, involve yourself with the voiceless ones, with the infinitely oppressed. Involve yourself with the desperate, the unloved, the wretched, the thrown-away souls. There you will find hope and compassion; you will find astonishing art and wisdom. Prisoners will remind you that even here, even now, even in the darkness, the spirit is strong, the spirit is free, and the dignity of being human is alive with possibility every moment. You will be reminded that it is self-indulgent to lose hope in your relatively privileged circumstances. You may even be inspired to create a better world for free men and women to step into, once they are released! John Speer Grasp our hand as we seek to do just this, starting right now! Doug Tjapkes, President HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS 20 W. Muskegon Avenue Muskegon, MI 49440

A nice way to end the week!

Former Michigan Governor William Milliken : I am so supportive of your program. I completely believe in what you are doing! Barbara S. Sampson , Chair, Michigan Parole & Commutation Board: Best wishes to you for achievement and fulfillment in your ongoing work with prisoners! Tim Moore , Program Coordinator, Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility: The prisoners have invited you to be a guest speaker at an assembly here! "Preach the gospel everyday. Use words if necessary," said St. Francis of Assisi. We'll keep on keepin' on, with your help! HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS 20 W. Muskegon Avenue Muskegon, MI 49440

A letter from Marcia Tjapkes

It was Sunday morning, I was late for church, the Hour of Power was on the TV screen, and Bill Hybels, of Willow Creek Church, was just starting to speak. He was talking about Moses, and God’s instructions to him for helping the hurting Israelites. Now listen to me very closely. If you get nothing else from what I say in this service, please get this. I think what’s really happening is that God is saying to Moses, “What you…physical violence that made you so unbelievably frustrated and angry, what you saw on earth, I saw all of that in heaven, I heard that suffering, I heard the cries and I can’t stand it in heaven, either. I’m stirred in my spirit and I’m going to intervene and clean up this mess on planet earth, but I’m going to use you to do it, in part, because I see passion in your life. I see your emotion. I see someone who can’t stand idly by when his people are being beaten and oppressed. I see your capacity for activism and I’ve been looking for someone like yo

Finale to the Mevludin Hidanovic case

Doug, I have resigned from my work today. My last day will be June 5th. I am leaving for Bosnia June 6th. I hope we can keep in touch. I thank you for everything. Chanda Thanks to so many HFP partners for the prayers and support of this family, shattered by a wrongful conviction. Heartbreaking! doug

List of those NOT free

On this Memorial Day weekend, let me begin a list of those persons who are NOT free. Please add your own contributions to keep the list going! Persons NOT free this weekend: -the wrongly convicted who are in prison -innocent prisoners who are refused parole for failing to show remorse -the wrongly convicted who have been freed, but not accepted by the public -the mentally ill in prison -juveniles in an adult prison system -dying prisoners who are not allowed to be with family for their final days -well-meaning citizens who believe the system works, and all prisoners belong there

Give thanks!

I'm blessed to be working with some of the prisoners we have helped to find freedom. In one of my most recent discussions, a newly released citizen said to me: The first night I turned out all the lights in my apartment. This was the first time in 11 years that I was alone, that it was silent, and that I was in the dark! Today join me in remembering the thousands of people who cannot enjoy those precious gifts. Never take them for granted! There but for the grace of God....

YOU can make a difference!

As most of you know, a very large amount of our financial support is at the grass-roots level. We receive numerous gifts of $1, $5, $10, $20, etc. Many gifts come from those who are touched by our services, especially families of prisoners. People experienced in charitable contributions are amazed at the number of gifts we receive in response to our regular monthly mailer…far higher than the average! But, these are not normal times, and again this month we're getting farther and farther behind. I would like to ask a special favor only from those whose giving ability has not been seriously affected by the economy. I would like 4 or 5 of our most loyal supporters, who have the means, to offer matching contributions to the end of May . If we have 5 persons who would be willing to match all of these small gifts that we receive, up to a given number, such as $1,000 (we promise it won’t go over that!), we could be in the black by the 31st! YOU PICK THE AMOUNT YOU WILL MATCH. Sen