All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On returning a small favor

So I thought I was just doing this prisoner from California a small favor.

In a letter to HFP, he asked for the names of some Innocence Projects in his area. While we spend almost all of our time on Michigan cases, we try to be kind to every prisoner who contacts us And, as is our policy, we sent a personal letter and some contact information from our data base to Humberto.

Like the one leper who returned to thank Jesus, Humberto wrote back.

These next few lines, I hope, will bring a smile to your day: I am diligently working in the translation of
-your pamphlet
-your mission statement
-and your devotions booklet WHY? into Spanish!

It will take some time, but you will receive it from me.

A small gesture of gratitude---since my funds are scarce---for the help that you have provided. Gracias!

(Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world!)

Proverbs 11:25 "...whoever refreshes others will be refreshed."

Monday, March 29, 2010

As we begin Holy Week,

two true stories of violence in Michigan prisons.

Last weekend, the chairman of our board of directors was scheduled to speak at a prison in Ionia. Said Dr. Dan Rooks:

I didn't present because there was a lockdown. One of the prisoners was beaten and stabbed severely---someone said all of his facial bones were broken and he is in a coma in the hospital. Seven prisoners were placed "in the hole" and an investigation is underway.

Last weekend, the mother of a prisoner with ADD and other mental issues, age 34, called me:

First my son was hit over the head with a mop stick. Then some prisoners attacked him and poured boiling liquid (some say water, vaseline and bleach) on him and down his throat. He had to be airlifted to a hospital, where he was in a coma for 30 days. We were told state police officers have found the offenders.

Some 2,000 years ago:

They spit on him (Jesus---a prisoner), and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. Matthew 27:30

Thank you for standing at our side with your prayers and financial support, as we continue to serve as an advocate for prisoners. Based on what I know and believe, every person behind bars was created in the image of God.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On death row in Texas

I relived a horror story in Texas yesterday.

I was with Hank Skinner yesterday morning during his final hours at the infamous Polunsky Unit (Death Row) in Livingston, Texas. I pressed my hand against the window that separated us (no contact visits allowed, even at the time of death!), and I prayed over a squawky telephone as he placed his hand on the other side of the window.

I visited him in the Death House, a prison unit in Huntsville, Texas, where the condemned man may meet briefly with his spiritual advisor. We talked Studebakers and drag racing, and we laughed. I read Psalm 23, and we prayed. We prayed for a favorable decision from the Supreme Court.

Actually, I was in my comfortable office in Grand Haven, Michigan. But yesterday's story brought back all of the painful memories of a similar experience in Texas exactly three years ago. I was with my friend Charles Anthony Nealy, who very likely was wrongly convicted, and who would have been 43 years of age in just a few more days. He had asked me to be his spiritual advisor at the time of his execution. It was an experience I shall never forget. It was an experience I never want to repeat.

Anthony didn't receive his court decision.

Among his final words, as he lie strapped to a gurney, arms outstretched much like those of Jesus on the cross, tubes feeding into his veins: Thank you for coming all the way from Michigan, Doug. Say "hello" to Marcia. I love you.

30 minutes later a steam whistle on the prison roof shrieked. The community received word that another life had been taken in the name of justice. Anthony's lifeless body was taken to a nearby funeral home.

Marcia and I returned to Michigan.

Pray for Hank Skinner.

And if you chose to follow the words of Jesus, pray for the State of Texas: ...bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

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

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The weekly roller coaster

Our hearts soared this week: Michael caught a parole! He says it couldn't have happened without you. He gets out next month!

But here in the office of Humanity for Prisoners, we know better than to start celebrating. More messages trickled in:

-John called...he could barely get the words out. He received a letter from the Parole Board indicating his application was forwarded to the Governor's office. We know that this means they have not recommended commutation.

-I just got a call from Sandra. She didn't get a public hearing. The recommendation has gone straight to the Governor. It sounds like bad news.

-I just wanted to let you know about the parole decision for Joshua. They gave him a 12-month flop. I am really having a hard time holding it together.

We have been standing by these families and friends, advocating for these prisoners, so when their hearts break, ours break also. They become like family to us.

To the mothers, fathers, friends, and to our own hard-working advocates, I begin this day with a prayer for you written by Lynnie Buttercup:

This is my wish for you:
Comfort on difficult days
Smiles when sadness intrudes
Rainbows to follow the clouds
Laughter to kiss your lips
Sunsets to warm your hearts
Hugs when your spirits sag
Beauty for your eyes to see
Friendships to brighten your being
Faith so that you can believe
Confidence for when you doubt
Courage to know yourself
Patience to accept the truth
Love to complete your life.

Celebrate with those who are rejoicing today; say a prayer for those who are hurting.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

THIS is what bothers me!

It bothers me when I hear that some of the children in prison are mentally ill.

It bothers me when I hear that some of the mentally ill children are actually placed in adult prison facilities.

It bothers me when I hear that other prisoners tease, torment and injure these children.

It bothers me when we receive reports that prison staff members also mistreat these children, and not only mistreat them, but sexually tamper with them!

(James Bell said: Our justice system is one of the few unaccountable systems in the country. It doesn't make decisions based on best practices...or in the best interest of the young people and families involved. The decision makers can administer this misery and not take any responsibility for the outcome.)

BUT WHAT REALLY BOTHERS ME is when we encounter mentally ill children in prison with no advocate. In our most recent case the lad was injured, and so now he has been placed in segregation in an adult prison for his own protection (an exceptional way to treat a mentally ill child!), which means he is in his cell 23 hours a day. He reports that, for his one hour of recreation a day, he is alone, because of his age! His mother has two other sons in prison, has no way to visit him, is not even on his visitor list, and he has no one else! In his letter to HFP: Please, anyone, help me!

I think of the words of Rachel Carson: If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.

Randy doesn't have that. And it keeps me awake at night.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lenten story #3, the hungry

As we work with prisoners, we are also mindful of all less fortunate people, including the hungry.

A dear friend who works at my side as an intern, drawing unemployment and struggling to stay ahead as a single mom, decided to window-shop at a local mall.

Her attention was drawn to two young teenaged girls, who were apparently troubled while conversing with an older man. Sensing that tension was in the air, Cindy walked over there, and the man walked away. "Are you girls OK?" "Yes, but kinda freaked out. the guy wanted $2.50 for some food."

Cindy looked in her pockets, and found $1.50. "I have a dollar," said one of the girls.

Cindy walked over to the man who, she said, was obviously mentally challenged. "I'm so sorry," he said, "I didn't mean to scare those girls. I'm hungry. The half-way house where I live didn't serve breakfast this morning. The lady just left without preparing any food."

Cindy gave him the $2.50. "Don't apologize for being hungry," she said. "Get something to eat."

He hustled right over to the food court, and made his purchase.

Cindy returned to the girls, and said: "You made someone's day, today. He bought food."

Later, as she related her story by telephone to her fiance' who is a prisoner in Michigan, he said to her: "Baby, God sent you to the mall today to feed someone who was hungry!"

For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lenten Story #2, the homeless

Working with prisoners every day makes me feel very close to the homeless. Many times they're just one step away from going to prison. And so this little story is not about humanity for prisoners, it's about humanity for people.

Thanks to frequent flyer miles, Marcia and I have been able spend a few days in Hawaii with our oldest son, his wife, and our two little grand-guys.

I am always touched when I see a simple act of kindness, especially where one might least expect it.

I was sitting in a little pizza joint yesterday, next to two young men who---based on the clothing they were wearing and the electronic toys they were playing with---had few money problems. They nibbled away at a pizza, and stopped at the half-way mark. "Do you want me to put the rest in a box," asked the lady behind the bar. "Naw, we're just going for a walk down the beach."

"Then do me a favor," the bartender persisted. "I'll box up the pizza, and when you run across some of the homeless people on the beach, give it to them. I know you can argue about whether they should be working. Just forget that for now. They're hungry. I hate to throw good food into the garbage!"

The young men agreed, and they were gone.

Things got busy after that, and although I meant to, I didn't get the opportunity to thank that woman. I probably won't see her again in my lifetime, but I asked God to thank her.

She caught the message of Proverbs 22, because gender isn't the issue here:

A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.

Lenten story #1, fasting

I have friends who have given up chocolate, or dessert, or Diet Coke for Lent.

Barb and Godwin have a different idea, and I like it better. They chose to give up some of their spare time and spare change.

Barb and Goddie read a story written by HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS telling of an indigent single mom in the Michigan prison system, who had not seen year 7-year-old daughter for over a year. The little girl is being cared for by her grandparents. Their inner-city home is 150 miles away from the prison. Because of financial limitations, prison visits were out of the question.

Mr. and Mrs. O, upon hearing the story, made a Lenten decision to contribute some of their precious, personal time. They live near the prison, so that was not a problem. The challenge was the 150-mile one-way drive in uncertain Michigan weather!

With HFP serving as the "middle-man," arrangements were finally made for Godwin to drive from Ann Arbor to Benton Harbor to pick up the grandparents and the child, then take them to the prison for this special reunion. The long day was an overwhelming success!

Other than food or beverages, what could YOU give up for Lent? Spare time to help a prisoner and his or her family? A spare moment to send an Easter card to a prisoner who receives no mail? A check to HFP so that we can pay a visit to a mentally retarded juvenile in the adult prison system on the other side of the state?

Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go.
Mother Theresa