Showing posts from July, 2009

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