All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Health care in Michigan prisons (or lack of!)

The MDOC claims that health care is improving in Michigan prisons.

We received these requests for help, from three different facilities, so far this week!

1. ...for at least 3 weeks his blood pressure has been running very high. The facility apparently has no pharmacist to dispense the drugs...he says he has not had some medications he was supposed to have had 3 weeks ago. There is no nephrologist available to see him. The doctor doesn't want to deal with him. He is retaining water, finding it hard to breathe and has a headache. Nurses pass him from one person to another as he tries to find out when to go to dialysis, etc.

2. ...he has many health problems, he just had a biopsy done on his breast, waited years and many written messages and telephone calls before anyone did anything about it. He thinks it is infected, and is in pain. He has been vomiting blood for a long time.

3. ...this prisoner was found lying naked in the shower, moaning because he could not get up. He said he has been having episodes of losing all motor ability for a while, they won't do anything about it. Other prisoners believe that he is dangerously ill, are upset about it and want someone to help ASAP.

You be the judge!

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Friday, April 24, 2009

She's a winner!

HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is proud to announce that a friend, co-worker, and mother of a client, has been chosen for the MOTHER OF DISTINCTION AWARD 2009 given by the National Juvenile Justice Network and the Campaign for Youth Justice! Please join us in congratulating Lois DeMott of Battle Creek. She was recognized for her incredibly intense advocacy for a juvenile son who, while struggling with mental issues, was placed in the Michigan prison system. Doug Tjapkes, President of HFP, was listed as one of the references for contact by the judges. Doug had personally visited her son, who has now been paroled, while he was in prison. Meanwhile, Lois joins HFP and other advocacy agencies in helping other juveniles who remain in prison.

20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Thursday, April 23, 2009

on helping

Thanks to many who have asked about Marcia. My bride of 52 years had major foot reconstruction surgery a week ago, and must remain down for 7 more weeks! The reason for very few email messages from HFP in the past week is a simple one: Marcia requires almost constant care, because she may not put any weight on her left foot.

Unfortunately, a reduction in the number of email updates invariably results in a reduction of contributions.

I have some exciting stories to tell, but very little time to tell them right now. But I must tell you that we are in serious need of your assistance!

I promise to be at Marcia's side during her time of need. May I ask you to be at ours?

Thank you, in advance.

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Freedom is a mouthful!

Five years ago I had my first experiences with a freed prisoner.

I still remember taking my friend Maurice Carter to visit his Parole Officer in Holland, Michigan. As we exited the building I spotted a Burger King across the street. "Hey Maurice," I said, "You want a hamburger?"

The Angus Burger was being introduced those days. Maurice, in his newfound freedom, bought one for each of us. His moans of delight with each bite turned heads in the restaurant.

Fast forward to April 13, 2009.

We didn't do any moaning last night, but I had a similar experience with Ron Ross, now observing his third week of freedom, thanks in part to the efforts of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. Ron had his first steak in 11 years!

It wasn't an expensive porterhouse or a choice tenderloin. It was a Delmonico ribeye, on sale, and he bought one for me, too, with his own money.

I tossed both of them onto the grille. Steak and a head of lettuce made up our gourmet dinner. We stopped, looked at each other, and grinned. No groaning. No moaning. Just the two of us, in that electric moment, celebrating freedom.

We hold in our hands, the most precious gift of all: Freedom. The freedom to express our art. Our love. The freedom to be who we want to be. We are not going to give that freedom away and no one shall take it from us!
Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider

Herbs and spices alone don't make a morsel of food tasty. A special element is freedom!

I know. I've seen it and felt it.

Thanks to you!

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

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mac: in a better place!

Kim McNier

"He's not getting visitors, and he's not getting the medical attention he needs. Call Doug!"

The prisoner, frantically speaking with his mother by telephone in November, 2007, was referring to Kim McNier.

Within days, I visited with Mac at one of the Muskegon prisons. Everything that I had heard was true. Mac was surviving in the end-stage of Hepatitis C, but was also suffering from at least one hernia, kidney problems and pancreatitis. He wasn't getting enough pain medication, and gritted his teeth so badly while sleeping that he broke some of them.

From that day on, HFP got involved in Mac's case.

The story was sad, in so many ways. Mac was not wrongly accused...he was guilty as sin. And his list of indiscretions didn't stop there. It extended to family and friends. He burned just about every bridge that could be torched. Now, crippled and sick, he was alone. And lonely.

During that time in prison came a change in life. Some might call it fox-hole faith. But if I remember correctly, some 2,000 years ago a crook on a cross right next to that of Jesus found faith, and the Lord didn't call it fox-hole anything. "I tell you the truth," he said, "today you will be with me in paradise." In our discussions, Mac expressed sorrow at the way he had lived, and knew without a doubt that his wayward life caused harm and hurt beyond imagination. He recognized that he had little time to rebuild bridges, and yet he tried.

Soon, his sister joined the efforts of HFP, and eventually his parents---though elderly and ailing---visited him. Michele and I worked as a team, although she did most if not all of the heavy work. We knew we were racing against time.

Just a week ago, on Monday the 6th, she and I pleaded with the Michigan Parole Board, in a public hearing, to recommend a commutation so that her brother could get better and more thorough care at a VA facility. But it was too little, too late.

Michele received a telephone call early Saturday morning, just 6 days later: Kim had gone home.

I like to think that Jesus welcomed him: "Today you are with me in paradise."

So long, Mac!

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

The Attorney General's friendly reps

We hear this all the time! Assistant Michigan Attorney General Thomas Kulick, with a smirk on his face, in the spotlight at a public hearing this week. Prisoners are always trying to convince us that they are feeling remorse.

Kulick was responding to the whispered words of a dying inmate, cringing in a wheelchair before him, seeking permission to spend his final days outside of prison . The inmate merely had stated that he was sorry about his earlier life, and he wished he could do it all over again.

Do you know why you hear those words all the time, Mr. Kulick? It's because the Parole Board from your own state makes that demand!

I speak from experience. If prisoners, especially those accused of a sex offense, ever hope to get a parole, they must confess to the crime, and they must show remorse. This comes from the mouths of Parole Board members.

And so, Mr. Kulick, you should be able to predict the results, but I'll explain them anyway.

1. People, falsely accused, sometimes violate all the principles they have been taught, and tell lies to the Parole Board, just because they cannot stand the prison environment anymore and will do anything to get out.

2. Meanwhile, the "con artists" in prison, persons who should not be out on the street, know how to work the system. They weep, they grovel, they say all the words the Parole Board members want to hear. They know what they must do to catch a parole.

3. Yet many people with integrity refuse to compromise. I can still hear the words of the late Maurice Carter, weeks before he died, sitting on a hospital gurney after he was told by former Parole Board Chair John Rubitschun that he could walk free right then if he would confess to the crime. He stared at Mr. Rubitschun through his ill-fitting prison-issue glasses, with all the dignity he could muster: I will never admit to a crime that I did not commit! He was in prison 29 years.

So do you see how the system works in reverse, Mr. Kulick?

The prisoners who should remain behind bars find a way to wreak havoc once again in society, while those who maintain their honor are punished by receiving a flop: that is, they are refused parole for another period of time. Sadly, they remain behind bars.

It's no surprise that you hear words of remorse, Mr. Kulick. That's what is expected.

Now it's about time that the citizens of Michigan hear words of remorse from you, your office and the Michigan Parole Board, for missing the whole point!

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

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It's never easy

Two significant events for HFP yesterday! And two frustrating stories about how Michigan treats prisoners, young and old.

FIRST, we are pleased to report that a mentally challenged juvenile has been released from the Michigan prison system, so that he can get proper treatment and care: something that was not happening in prison! This came about because of the determination of a mother who worked around the clock on behalf of her son!

But, just three days before he was released, his mother learned that MDOC healthcare people were trying to administer this lad a psychotropic drug THREE TIMES A DAY...a drug that he hasn't taken in about a year! He wisely refused to take it.

His mother informs us the young man is now free of MDOC health care!

SECOND, I testified in a Michigan Parole Board public hearing yesterday on behalf of a critically ill, 55 year old prisoner who is dying. He now weighs 85 pounds, is losing weight at the rate of one pound per week, and suffered pain spasms so severe that the session had to be interrupted several times. His family and HFP are trying to get him into a VA hospital for his final days of treatment and care.

But, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Kulick said the State opposed the medical commutation, taking the position that the crime victims would be traumatized to hear that this dangerous criminal (failed armed robbery over 20 years ago) was being freed. Kulick contended that the dying prisoner might still be a threat to the public!

The decision will be up to the Governor.

Doug Tjapkes
20 W. Muskegon Avenue
Muskegon, MI 49440

Friday, April 3, 2009

On praying over a car

MARCH 26, 2009

I don't know of anybody who has ever said a prayer over a car. I did this morning.

I had to drive to Jackson to pick up a prisoner who planned to walk free at 8 AM, after serving 11 years for two crimes he did not commit. My mode of transportation would be a 2000 Avalon with 211,000 miles on the odometer. There could be no more fitting way for this fine car to end its prison career!

It was pitch dark when I walked up to Sir Avalon at 5:30 AM, placed both elbows on the roof, folded my hands and prayed that this wonderful vehicle, now almost ten years old and starting to feel its age, being carried along on balding tires, would make one more prison trip without problems.

If you've read my book SWEET FREEDOM, you'll remember that this was the car that carried me into the inner city of Benton Harbor, looking for the shooter who allowed Maurice Carter to serve time in his place.

The Avalon heard me weep when the court refused to grant a new trial to Maurice.

It heard me shout when Governor Granholm granted commutation of his sentence.

It felt my tension as we drove to Jackson to meet the Carter friends and family members who would be on hand to see him walk out of prison.

It carried me, for the past nine years, as far south as Adrian and Coldwater---as far north as Munising and Marquette, Michigan---to visit with prisoners, help them with their parole interviews and testify at their public hearings. It overheard my anguished prayers following many of those visits.

Today, I made the round-trip without a problem, guardian angels perched on every corner of the vehicle!

Nothing can compare with the expression on the face of a prisoner, taking his or her first tentative steps into the free world! My heart rejoiced.

In the past decade the Avalon has served magnificently! Yes, someone will "low-ball" me when it comes to selling the car as it heads toward well-deserved retirement. The vehicle seems to have little monetary value any more. But in my efforts to touch prisoners with love and compassion, it has been a part of my life. That goes beyond dollar figures.