All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Thursday, August 27, 2009

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!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

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 will allow the family to stay together!

This is bad:

The Parole and Commutation Board gave me a public hearing, because I have been in prison 25 years. I was guilty of being with some people who committed a crime. I was in their company, but not at the time of the crime. I have turned my life around, I have never had one ticket while in prison, I am teaching Bible classes and mentoring when possible. NO ONE opposed my release. Yet, in the public hearing, the Attorney General’s assistant persisted with the same questions for three hours about the layout of a house, which I couldn’t remember. I cried the entire three hours. I have now learned that the board turned me down for another 12 months! I am at the end of the road and feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

This is good:

HFP asked a local pastor to visit a prisoner whose entire family is either out of state or out of the country: I had a great visit. I read to him from Jeremiah 29 and prayed for him before I left. Thanks for encouraging me to visit. It was a real blessing to be there and to spend time with him.

The hunter of the bear needs ammunition. Your support touches lives! We must NOT stop now!

P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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 they were babies.

-Confer with a state official, behind the scenes, to discuss abuses of juveniles in the adult Michigan prison system.

-Hold the hand of a prisoner with an IQ of 61 who committed no crime, has spent 16 years in prison, yet will receive no consideration from a state Innocence Project or the state's Parole and Commutation Board.

-Try to obtain records from the Detroit Police Department showing that a man, charged with murder, was actually in a county jail at the time of the crime!

-And try to help attorneys who believe a man was wrongly convicted. The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, however, cannot provide the necessary files: Unfortunately, we must deny your appears that the file you requested has long since been destroyed in a routine purge of files.

And then we wonder, at the end of the day, why there's no time left for fund-raising.!?

Thank you for your continued help, and for your prayers. We desperately need both!

Doug Tjapkes, President
P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

Thursday, August 13, 2009

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.

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
P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

Friday, August 7, 2009

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. His shared cube (designed for 4 men) is currently divided among 7 prisoners, and the word is that soon the number will be 8. Thus he is forced to live in less than 12 square feet of personal space, whereas the courts have determided that the minimum should be 60 square feet, and anything less would constitute a denial of an inmate's basic human needs.

This overcrowding, claims Mr. L., dilutes other constitutionally required services so that they, too, fall below the minimum 8th Amendment standards: ventilation, lighting, excessive noise, healthcare and the spread of communicable disease. In his housing unit, Mr. L. points out, the 140 inmates are forced to share 6 showers! That's 11 showers short of the original requirement for that housing unit.

Meanwhile, Mr. L. contends that the MDOC continues to spend money on upgrades such as fences, gating systems, and fiber optic security improvements.

As long as cruel and unusual punishment does not directly affect the taxpayer, we suspect that few Michiganders care, and even fewer will consider doing anything about it.

Doug Tjapkes, President
P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

Thursday, August 6, 2009

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 come to the conclusion that this lad had some mental issues. And yet a judge sentenced him to 1-4 years in the state prison system for assault, resisting arrest and destroying police property. It turned out to be a death sentence.

Tim died three years ago today, hot, thirsty, screaming for help...but no one was listening.

Our hearts go out to Tim's mom, and our friend, Theresa Vaughn. Say a prayer for her today.

Our pledge goes out to all who support HFP: We will be diligent in continuing the fight on behalf of the mentally ill in our Michigan prison system. Send your contribution today.

Doug Tjapkes, President
P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417