All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Friday, February 27, 2009

Why YOU are so important to us!

I am constantly amazed by man's inhumanity to man."
Primo Levi

From our desk this week:

My husband (blocked arteries, high blood pressure, several herniated discs) has been transferred back to Ely, without any treatment! They discontinued all pain medication, continued to deny him the use of a walker, and even revoked his no-kneel order that was prescribed by a doctor.

My son was hit on the head, then tranferred to another prison for his safety. One year later a CTscan found the brain was severely damaged and surgery was necessary. Now he has no therapist, no case worker, no psychologist, gets no medication, and has such terrible mood swings he is threatening suicide.

My son had nerve damage in his left leg, with problems in his ankle also. He walks on the outside of his foot because he has no strength to walk on the flat of his foot. The doctor took away his brace and cane. His ankle swelled up, and his leg turned blue. Then he was assigned to do light work detail. There's a new doctor now ordering corrective measures. He said no doctor in his right mind should have given him work detail!

Thanks for sticking with us.

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

Friday, February 20, 2009


It's not been a good week. Friday couldn't come soon enough!

Financially, the economy is killing us.

Emotionally, the case we're working on is devastating: mentally ill juvenile, abused by guards, slashed by another prisoner, spending much of his time crying.

This morning I was in a funk, and just went through the motions. Until noon, that is.

A collect call from a prisoner: Doug, I'm walking on air! The Governor has signed the papers! I'm getting out!

We started working with this prisoner nearly 3 years ago.
-We visited him, even though his prison was in a remote location
-We fought for him when he had medical issues
-We were at his side for his Parole Board interview
-His best friend and I were the only two people to testify at his public hearing.

I'm getting out!


Thank you! Thank God!

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

(This grown man crying stuff has to stop!)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How Michigan prisons treat the mentally ill

A friend of HFP who has a relative in one of the MDOC's facilities allegedly designed and staffed to handle the mentally incompent shared with me that earlier today he spoke with his relative in prison by telephone. Their call had to be cut short, however, because another inmate had become unruly. Our friend said he received a call back some 30 minutes later with the story about the prisoner causing the problem. "10 officers came, handcuffed the inmate, then proceeded to beat him, then strapped him into a restraining bed where he remains."

Commented my friend: "This is care for the mentally ill."

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Some Interesting Reads...

I recently came across a copy of an article by Kristyn Komarnicki entitled "In the Furnace of Affliction". After a brief conversation, she notified me she had a number of prison-related articles she would like to share. If you have a minute, here they are:

Lost and Found 

by Hans B. Hallundbaek

Unique programs are equipping thousands of incarcerated individuals to use prison as a time to discover their gifts and their God rather than brood over what they have lost.

Trading Knives for a Double-Edged Sword 

by Mae Elise Cannon

Once known for its violence, the Louisiana State Penitentiary is famous now for the gospel that is preached within its walls and spread to other prisons by inmate missionaries.

The Correct Way 

What would an ideal prison look like? Five people from within the criminal justice world share their goals and dreams.

A Sacred Opportunity

by Kristyn Komarnicki and Sharon Gramby-Sobukwe

Joanna Flanders Thomas of the Centre for Hope and Transformation in Cape Town explains how her heart became hooked on prison work.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Looking in the mirror


I've seen a lot of criminals

I've seen a lot of crimes

Doing a lot of evil deeds

Doing a lot of time.

We speak of these men as aliens

From some forbidden race

We speak of these men as animals

We will lock in a cage.

But there's one man I must arrest

I must interrogate

One man that I must make confess

Then rehabilitate.

There is no other I can blame

No other I can judge

No other I can cast in shame

Then require blood.

There is no crime he cannot


No murder too complex

His heart is filled with larceny

And violence and sex.

His heart is filled with envy

And revenge and greed

His heart is filled with nothing

His heart is filled with need.

He's capable of anything

Of any vicious act

This criminal is dangerous

The criminal under my own hat.

Paul, Chief of Sinners

"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief .“—I Tim. 1:15

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jesus: I was in prison and you visited ME

I had driven about 400 miles in one day…200 to the prison, 200 back home.

I was still sorting through my emotions when I said to Marcia: “I’m not sure how to say this, but I think that I’m the privileged one to visit a prisoner.”

She quickly responded. “When I worked for hospice, and sat with the family of a loved one at the actual time of death, I felt that I was standing on holy ground! There’s no doubt in my mind that that’s where you were.”

I thought of the lyrics of that old gospel song: We are standing on holy ground, for I know that there are angels all around…

Kevin is 16 years old, and has already served a year in a prison system where he doesn’t belong. He’s been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. For a mentally challenged juvenile in an adult world, it has been anything but easy, as proven by the ugly scars on his arm. Failure to get proper medication, long hours in isolation, scorn and ridicule. His excellent condition and demeanor today are testament to his loving mother’s 24/7 vigil, an around-the-clock fight for the rights of her son!

When he entered the room my first thought was: ‘This could be one of my grandkids!” Then came the uneasy second thought: “Can two people with an age difference of over 50 years connect?”

“Are you hungry?” One of my first questions. I had brought my limit of quarters for the vending machines. “I’m always hungry!” A killer smile! Why was his answer no surprise?

We started out with a breakfast sandwich and a Pepsi. We switched to sweets: M&Ms and a Snickers bar. The desserts for his meal were an apple fritter AND a piece of apple pie! He was right: a voracious appetite! I grinned as he wolfed down the food. He was so polite. “Please.” “Thank you!”

We talked of prison facilities (the juvenile facility has been closed); we talked of guard abuse of mentally ill prisoners (one prisoner’s eye was swollen shut and bones were broken because guards beat him while he was strapped down); we talked of prisoner guard behavior (some of them seem to enjoy making fun of mentally ill prisoners, imitating them or laughing at them); we talked about Kevin (I want to make a difference; I was placed here for a reason; I want to write a book; I want to speak at public meetings; I want to work in YOUR business when I get out!). His slightly herky-jerky speech pattern was the only indication that this young man has any problem. We had a delightful conversation!

I had to leave. There was a long drive ahead.

We shook hands. I allowed that I needed a hug, also. “My mom gives me a hug when she leaves!”

I did well...not until I reached the car did the tears flow.

Did I do the right things, God? Did I say the right words?

We are standing on holy ground for I know that there are angels all around.

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hey Mister, got a buck?

Dear Mr. Tjapkes

I don't know if you heard about the state wide prison lockdown in Texas last September, when a death row inmate threatened Senator Whitmore and his family using a contraband cell phone. The Governor ordered a statewide shakedown, and as a result gave free reign for destruction and confiscation.

The fan you helped me buy in August, 2006, was taken away as a retaliation for helping other prisoners to write legal documents, and my religious material was trampled.

I and other prisoners went through the grievance process, claiming this is inhumane because of the Texas weather, and I have written to several people. I am indigent, and still contesting my conviction. No one has responded.

I know that you are a 501c3 group, however because of the circumstances will you help me get another fan? You would have to fill out the Inmate Trust Fund form, and then provide a money order in the amount of $32.00.

I hope my request will be well received and not be a burden on you. Please share my gratitude with the donor.

JT, Huntsville, Texas

20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Friday, February 6, 2009

at what price?

High and Low
I pray to be like the ocean, with soft currents, maybe waves at times. More and more, I want the consistency rather than the highs and the lows.
Drew Barrymore

Wednesday’s High

The telephone rang almost the moment I entered the office. 906 area code: the Upper Peninsula. I quickly grabbed the receiver. It was Ann and Bill on a speaker phone. He had been released on parole just one week ago, after serving 11 years on a wrongful conviction. The 60-year-olds sounded like newlyweds, laughing, giddy, excited. Bill was free. Their happiness was contagious. Our work seemed SO worth-while!

Tuesday’s High

The parking lot of this Michigan prison was very familiar. I had been visiting Pete in the same facility for the past several years. We pleaded our case before the parole board. We lamented the fact that he had spent 8 years behind bars for a crime that he did not commit. We prayed together, wept together, laughed together. This morning Pete walked out. He is officially on parole. Being there to witness this exit is one of the joys of this job.

Today’s Low

The happiness that I felt for these two men faded quickly, as reality crept to the top of my thought processes. How could one put a number on the price my two friends had paid?
Both were kind husbands and fathers, honest businessmen who had never been arrested, and were considered pillars in their communities and churches.
Both are ex-convicts, because of reckless lies and accusations. Both had to take courses they didn’t need, had to lie and grovel and show remorse before a heartless parole board. Careers were ruined, families were splintered, hearts were broken, and all because of just plain greed.

I pray that, in their lifetime, God will show them how these experiences were only the beginning: Bigger and better things will happen in their lives; and there’ll be exciting new ways that these dear men will touch the lives of others! It already began when their stories touched my life.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Free at last!

It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

I’ve personally watched only a few prisoners walk into freedom. I’ve seen more on film and video.

But I must tell you something. I have watched the miracle of child-birth. I’m sure that most people can tell about a specific “mountain-top” experience. But I can truthfully state that watching a person step out of prison creates its own unique set of emotions.

Two months ago I learned that a client, and dear friend, was to be released this morning. Marcia asked, “Are you going to get up early to be there?” “I wouldn’t miss it!”

I was there. I drove to a Michigan prison. I watched as my friend stepped out onto the sidewalk, with a grin from ear to ear. As his brother loaded him into the car, and as they sped off for the first meeting with his parole officer, my feelings of elation were quickly replaced with angry thoughts.

There could be no price tag on what this man lost. Here was a kind, civic-minded businessman, husband and father who had never been arrested for anything…a pillar in his community and church, an executive is his company. Now he’s an ex-convict, having been wrongly convicted, who spent nearly a decade in prison because some evil people decided to play a joke on him. Here was a man who had to take courses he didn’t need, who had to lie and grovel and show remorse before a hard-hearted parole board. Here was a man whose family was splintered, whose career was ruined, and whose heart was broken, and all because of just plain greed.

Somehow, I believe that God is going to forgive the performance he created to successfully convince the Parole Board. Somehow, I believe he’s going to climb higher than he’s ever been. Somehow, I believe he’ll be given a new life that could never have been imagined before. Somehow, he’s going to touch lives like he never did when he was the CEO of a thriving industry. He’s living proof that the Michigan Department of Corrections cannot break and ruin every life it touches.

I thank God that the lives of this man and mine have crossed. I am the richer.

It’s enough to make a grown man roll up his sleeves!

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

WANTED: Changes to Michigan Sex Offender List

Memo to the women and men who serve in the Michigan Legislature


Perhaps you read the short story in some of our newspapers last week that on Monday, January 26, a 52 year old man was found frozen to death on the streets of Grand Rapids. He was a registered sex offender, and couldn't find a place to stay. He had been turned away by at least two rescue missions because the state law prohibits him from staying, even for one night, within 1,000 feet of a school.

Granted, our state has huge budget and unemployment issues, and granted your plate is more than full.

But we have a problem. Creating strict, far-reaching rules does not necessarily reflect a tough position on crime.

Doesn't a story like this tweak your conscience, perhaps just a little bit?

Michigan's Sex Offender Registry is terribly unfair the way you designed it. True, a person who freezes to death on a Michigan street because he could not find a place to live may have been a dangerous pedophile. But how would we know? The same registry contains the names of some unfortunate residents who were arrested by zealous police officers for urinating in public. Perhaps the registry contains the name of a young man who had consensual sex with the woman he later married, but she was underage at the time. It's a known fact that there are names of people on the registry who didn't even realize they were committing a crime. Now they are branded with a scarlet letter for life.

Members of the family of Mr. Tom Pauli have contacted HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS: We need help to be pointed in the right direction on how to get the laws changed.

Persons whose names are on the Sex Offender Registry cannot change laws. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS cannot change laws. YOU can change laws. In what may have been perceived as an effort to protect your constituents, your action now ruins lives, prevents legitimate potential employees from getting jobs, drives people onto the streets and now, horror or horrors, has claimed the life of a victim who lost hope.

We want pedophiles locked up. And if these animals are released, we want to know where they are.

Frankly, we're not worried about that poor all-night traveler who was forced to seek release when he could find no open public restroom.

One thing is certain: You'll give this matter a second thought if a member of your family gets trapped in this maelstrom.

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