All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Monday, December 28, 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!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

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 than 30 professionals, our wonderful intern Cindy Glomb, and my tolerant wife (who has been at my side through thick and thin for over 50 years!), and I wish you a most blessed Christmas.

Thank you for caring!

In the service of that child in a manger,

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

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?

P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

Friday, December 18, 2009

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!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Crossing the HFP desk today


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


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

Monday, December 14, 2009

A neat holiday story!


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, the statements were often profound! Listening from the outside, one would have thought we were involved in a discourse with a group of college students.”

The prisoners thanked the men profusely for giving of their personal time on a Saturday afternoon to work with and assist prisoners.

Then, unbeknownst to HFP, the prisoners decided that they should express their thanks in a tangible way, so they took a collection! Prison officials and HFP personnel alike point out that inmates are incredibly poor, with little opportunity to make more than tiny hourly wages.

“It’s a modern-day version of the Bible story of the ‘widow’s mite,’” said Tjapkes. “$159.00 is a huge sacrifice from indigent prisoners! Some gave a dollar, some two bucks…but they wanted to give, so that other prisoners could be helped. We couldn’t be more honored!”

Said HFP’s college intern, Cindy Glomb: “In this holiday season, I think this gift speaks volumes!”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

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 made a mistake in 1993, and he wound up in the Michigan prison system with a 10-22 year sentence.

It was in prison that his health turned bad, and prison officials turned a deaf ear to his complaints of rectal bleeding. One guard told him: "Why don't you die. You're just costing us money, and we don't need your kind out there."

By the time he received medical care, it was discovered that cancer was consuming his body and couldn't be stopped. He received a medical parole in 2007, with doctors predicting that he would die within six months.

He had no kind words for Michigan Prison medical care. Speaking of the MDOC's Duane Waters Hospital, he said: "I've been in refugee camps in Africa and Asia. I've never seen disgusting, degrading conditions like at Duane Waters."

He defied the predictions of an early death, however, and continued his crusade for better prison medical care and restorative justice, forming his own organization called Restore Hope. And he constantly supported and applauded the efforts of Humanity for Prisoners. "I know my days are numbered," he told Pat, "and I know there are things I want to do and accomplish, and I'm doing it!"

The cancer, however, refused to let up.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 AM on Saturday, December 19, at his home church: Plymouth Congregational, in Grand Rapids.

God had a purpose for David Moore.

The two of them are talking about it right now.

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 certainly is not the answer and without question is deserving of punishment, escalating medical expenses over a period of 14 years could perhaps send a person in an inappropriate direction. Adam was truly sorry.

That was four weeks ago.

Yesterday I learned from the grandmother that the little boy couldn't hang on any longer.

Marc received a new body for Christmas, relief from pain, and a personal welcome at heaven's gates.

But during this holiday season, pray for Madelyn and Roy. Their grandson is gone. Their son remains in prison.

And pray for Adam. The MDOC waited until after he received the call informing him that his only son had died, to tell him that the Parole Board had denied his appeal. Now he'll spend at least another year in prison.

No son. No freedom.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

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 sexual favors. It gave many city attorneys and their assistants a bad name. But, again, the right thing was done. Immediate action was taken.

If investigation by the Michigan Department of Corrections finds that the above stories are true, Band-Aids are not appropriate. Just handing a guard, who didn't use good judgment, another assignment isn't acceptable.

We're talking about young children here, who have no advocate, who have no recourse, and (in our opinion) who should be in an institution other than a prison! They're helpless!

If the MDOC is Expecting Excellence Every Day, then we are expecting appropriate investigation and action today!

Many years ago, when Bill Van Regenmorter was a Michigan Senator, I visited his office and was immediately struck by a small plaque on his wall that quoted Proverbs 31:8: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

I asked a friend from our church to cross-stitch the same verse for me. It is framed and on the wall of this office. My assistant and I cannot walk in and out of this room without seeing it.

We pledge to continue to do that, on your behalf, with your continued support.

P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417