All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Monday, April 26, 2010

Just when the load seems too heavy

God intervenes!

I opened a letter from the mother of a prisoner this morning:
Would love to spend a few minutes on the phone with you to let you know how you've changed my life and helped my son.

I just finished a telephone conversation with a prisoner at whose side I testified when he had a Parole Board interview last August:
I'm getting out next week, man! I can't thank you enough. I can't tell you what it means to me. I'm praying that God will keep you on the battlefield!

My friend and gospel soloist Ben sings a spiritual to and for me that I don't always remember: I'll be all right!

Reviving thoughts of Timmy Souders

My mind is still reeling, after attending a small break-out session Saturday at the National Alliance on Mental Illness conference in Grand Rapids.

The American Friends Service Committee graciously allowed me to speak, and I begged the mental health professionals to help those of us in prisoner advocacy as we try to deal with mental illness issues.

But the testimony of persons with mentally ill loved ones in Michigan prisons was startling!

-A teenaged mentally-ill lad locked up 30-45 days at a time in one cell, 24-hours a day, with nothing to do
-a 34-year-old man strapped to the top of a steel bed with four-point restraints, lying, nude, in his own waste, for four days
-A mentally ill, but savvy teenager, who knew that he should not be taking 14 pills when his regimen was 3 per day
-The increasing use of pepper gas by guards to control all mentally ill, given them blast after blast, despite warnings of nurses
-The storming of a mentally ill prisoner on his knees praying in a cell by four guards with a shield, to beat him down so the nurse could give him a shot.

HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, the AFSC, and other fine agencies can help; parents and loved ones must be aggressive; but the buck stops with each voter in Michigan! You and I elect the people who run this state. If we don't contact them and inform them that torture in Michigan prisons is no more acceptable than international torture, we are remiss.

Please remember the mentally ill in prison, and please remember those of us on the front lines.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

from the mouths of prisoners

I was sitting in the office staring out the window.

Contributions to HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS just about dried up this month. And yet our successes and our joys seemed higher than ever. What is God planning? What am I supposed to think? Must our work with prisoners come to an end?

The telephone rang.

"Doug, it's Wayne."

It took a few minutes to register.

Wayne, age 57, has been in prison for 32 years, more than half of his life. I got to know him because he cared for my dear friend Maurice Carter, who was sick and dying in prison. Maurice was forever grateful. So am I.

"Doug! I'm free! I got out! I don't even know how to act, after 32 years!"

He was giddy with excitement!

How could it not be contagious.

As he asked about our situation, I had to confess that money was running out, and my enthusiasm was close behind.

"You've got to boldly go to God," he said.

He steered me to Hebrews 4:16:

Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Thank you, Wayne.

Thank you for Wayne, God.

words that touch the heart

in one of the typical letters from prisoners that cross our desk each day...a message from Donald---


I just want to let you know how much I appreciate all you have done for me and the other guys I have passed on your wonderful organization to and the help you gave them. Most of all, thanks for the gift of HOPE! People as yourself make a difference.


I am making little progress in a very unjust justice system, but I have not given up. My overall health seems to be precarious at best. I continue to suffer from chest pain due to my marginal heart that the DOC ignores. In addition to the damage and fractures in my lower back, the cervical spin has begun to suffer from ruptured discs and spinal cord narrowing. Pain seems to be my life portion. My children and family have abandoned me. I still write them as often as I can get stamps.

Please keep me and all the caged innocents in your prayers.



Will you please keep us in your prayers and your budget, so that we may continue to help the Donalds of the world?


P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Calls for help came in early today!

Matthew, 62, in prison for 32 years:

I couldn't breathe, I could hardly walk, but the nurse lied on my visit form and said I was breathing good and walking fast. So I got no medical care. I went back the next day, and was arguing with the nurse when tbe doctor walked by. I called him over, and said "I've got a problem." The doctor listened to me breathe, looked at my ankles, then said to the nurse: "Call an ambulance!" I flat-lined in the ambulance, then was in the hospital for 12 days for congestive heart failure. Today I'm back in general population. I want to
-seek a medical commutation
-find an attorney who'll help me take legal action.


Paul, 43, in prison for nearly 15 years:

Even though I killed no one, my court-appointed attorney encouraged me to plea to second degree. I received LIFE anyway. My prison record is great, I have a wonderful family support group, but after 14 1/2 years here I can't stand the thought of spending the rest of my life here. I have home and job waiting. I would like to try to have my sentence commuted. I don't know how to do that.


Cara, 31, in prison for a year on a questionable charge:

I just received my notice that I am to meet with someone from the Parole Board. My mother and father are old, and live on the other side of the state. They don't have a car. I would love to have someone at my side. I'm afraid I won't say the right things! I'm a single mom with a small child.


Of course we'll help, but we absolutely cannot do this alone! Our funding is drying up, we're good at what we do and we'll respond quickly, but we need YOU at OUR side right now.


P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Get outta that Capitol building!

“Until you and your fellow legislators get out of this building and go into the prisons to make surprise visits…you’re allowing a terrible situation to get worse…and you’re not going to be adequately representing those of us who elected you to public office!”

That's what I told a group of Michigan state lawmakers this morning. I was testifying before the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Corrections at the state capitol.

“You can sit here and discuss dollars, and you can decide that corrections budgets should be increased or decreased…but you’re missing the point. We’re talking about people: people like your kids and mine!”

I was the second person to testify in the packed hearing room.

As President of HFP, I gave specific examples of prisoner abuse and lack of healthcare, especially among the mentally ill. I named names and specifically listed certain prisons where the problems are acute.

Two mothers of prisoners made emotional appeals to the committee for improvement in prison care of the mentally ill, citing numerous examples of neglect and inefficiency.

Committee Chair Representative Alma Wheeler Smith, a democratic contender for Governor, responded by saying the committee should take a closer look at this problem, because, she said, some of these cases could result in lawsuits. “If we don’t,” she said, “we may find that we’re being penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

State Representative Fred Durhal, Jr., of Detroit, who has two state prisons in his district, was visibly upset. “I find this testimony very disturbing,” he said after I spoke, “and I’m going to do something about it!”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mentally ill in an Ionia prision

Because we closed our mental institutions in Michigan, many of the mentally ill eventually wind up in the state prison system. Some of our sources say as many as 50% of Michigan's prisoners could be experiencing some type of mental illness! Of those who go to prison, a number of the serious mental cases are going to what is called Level Five of the Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility. The HFP office has been bombarded with letters of complaint within that division. Some of our sources are excellent, are willing to sign their names, and have collected affidavits from other courageous prisoners. Here's a sample of what they claim is going on, as received in a letter today:

They use any excuse to use chemical agents on these guys...all are mental health caes and do not require such excessive use of force. A psychologist should speak with and be present whenever a mental health patient is to be gassed.

Staff is not properly trained to deal with mental health patients. Their idea of treatment is to place one in restraints, tie them to the bed, and gas them with chemical agents.

Another of their tools is the use of industrial fans, regardless if there's snow on the ground and no heat. Officers will turn them on to drown out the noise. So if someone is screaming in pain, needs medical attention, is mutilated or dying, they can't hear him.

During rounds they do not check the condition of the prisoner...they just look for what appears to be a body, and keep moving. It has been tested several times with dummies in the bed, and always works. Even the nursing staff refuse to talk during their rounds, saying you must submit a medical request in writing.

The worst issue is that the Physician's Assistant and nurses have this general rule they tell staff and inmates: If a guy takes an overdose, leave him in his cell unless he falls out; if a guy cuts himself, patch with band-aids and put him back in his cell. Don't send or take anyone to healthcare or the hospital...all to save a buck. And thus the mentally ill end up with ugly scars and deformities, and they laugh at them as if it's a eventually you have deaths.

How would you feel if your mentally challenged loved one lived in this environment?

We promise to help, but your financial support makes that possible. We need you today!

P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mentally ill prisoners getting NO treatment!


A state-commissioned University of Michigan study says about 65% of prisoners with severe mental illness get no treatment behind bars. The Michigan Corrections Department hired the university to conduct the study, mandated by a 2007 law. Professor Brant Fries and his collaborators interviewed 618 inmates between May 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009, and reviewed prison records. Michigan had about 48,000 prisoners then, and about 9,700 had severe psychiatric illnesses.

OK, Michigan voters, what are you going to do about it?

HFP will continue to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. But we need your muscle!

P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

Thursday, April 8, 2010

On fighting the good fight

I've been leaning on you, AND your church to partner with us in helping prisoners. One little office cannot do it alone. We need you, your church, your civic club, your prayer circle. We need prayers and we need dollars so that we do not weaken. Good things are happening, and with you aboard they'll continue!

Here's what the founder of the Salvation Army said many years ago:

While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight;
While children go hungry, as they do now I'll fight;
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight;
While there is a drunkard left,
While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets,
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight;
I'll fight to the very end!

General William Booth

Are you and your church ready to fight? Let us hear from you.

P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Where does the money go?

When you make a tax-free contribution to HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, how is the money spent?

Excellent question!

Here's what's been happening this week, and it's only Wednesday:

Monday Parold Board interview for Gino. When our good friend Ron, who has been free for one whole year, informs us that his friend Gino has more than paid his dues with 30 years in prison, will make an exceptional citizen and deserves to be out, how can one turn down a request to participate in the interview? I drove two hours, waited in the prison four hours, spoke for two minutes, gave the prisoner a hug for 10 seconds, then drove two hours again. One full day, but a fruitful day! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! But the office was closed for the day.

Tuesday In addition to handling a steady flow of requests for help arriving Monday and Tuesday, we were able to complete two applications for the commutation of sentences for two worthy prisoners. A stack of unfinished applications awaits our attention. Prisoners are anxious and impatient. Meanwhile, a church in the southern part of the state expresses interest in helping an incarcerated juvenile who gets no visits. Thank God!

Wednesday The day is just getting started, and one of our special friends asks if I would be willing to participate in a PB interview in the UP. You don't say "no" to friends! Within a few minutes, another of our friends contacted us. A co-worker has a son in prison who cannot get any meds for debilitating migraine headaches. Will we help? That's what we're here for. Still a third message on the computer: a beautiful, ordained minister is concerned about a mentally ill juvenile in prison. May she help? We'll put the wheels in motion!

It takes stamina, an extra measure of God's amazing grace...and yes, dollars.

WE partner with YOU in this business!

P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

Friday, April 2, 2010

On help from churches

I was one of the narrators in our church's annual Maundy Thursday service last night. I was struck, once again, by how much our Lord was tortured and abused as a prisoner, prior to his execution based on a wrongful conviction.

I and others had been trying to persuade someone in some church in one of Michigan's prison towns to help one poor child who is sad and alone in an adult facility. No success. Not one taker!

Said a friend of ours who is an effective fighter for prisoners, and has a loved one who is incarcerated:

I will continue knocking on doors to try to find someone who will take this kid under his/her wing. This is really sad to me that we can't get churches jumping on board! They send money all over the world to support causes they don't even know about, but cannot take on caring for someone in their back yard?? Sorry, I have developed an attitude about much of this. I was raised in a very legalistic faith-based setting, and have struggled much with it all in recent years, particularly when I see things like this.

What about your church? What about you?

A ponderable subject for this Easter weekend.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Maundy Thursday Musings

"How did the visit go?" I was anticipating positive information when I asked the question of a good friend and wonderful attorney. Mr. T. had volunteered to visit a juvenile in one of the prisons in Adrian, Michigan, after we shared a story with him. Randy is 16, and he spends 23 hours of each day in a cell, alone. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS wants to do something about this situation. Step one was to have an attorney verify what's going on.

"I came home very depressed."

Just what I didn't want to hear.

"He's in segregation for his own safety, so that he won't get hurt, either by adult prisoners or by prison guards. For his one hour of recreation each day, he's allowed to go out into the yard, but because he's a juvenile he must be alone. Day after day, he see's no one.

"I asked him if he gets visitors. He looked up. I was his first visitor since he was incarcerated last October!

"I said, 'Doesn't your mom come to see you?'

"I've never seen such a sad face. 'She has transportation issues.'"

I can add a footnote to that, because I spoke with her. Life hasn't been pleasant for her. She has two other sons in prison, and she has some difficulty regulating her medication. Not only has she never visited Randy...she's not even on his visitor list!

Bits and pieces from Matthew 26:
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray."
...he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Couldn't you keep watch with me for just one hour?"

Randy is not the only child in prison who seems abandoned by those closest to him at a critical time in his life. Pray for Randy and remember all such youngsters today. Sure they're in prison. Sure they made a mistake. They're still kids who enjoy playing, enjoy Payday candy bars, enjoy root beer, and love visits!

And please stick with us as we do our best to help them, and try to help establish a new path for their future. Randy could be in prison until 2024 on a simple charge of home invasion. I can guarantee that, after years of imprisonment, Randy will no longer be a simple child. He'll be a different person when he gets released!

These kids need HFP, they need special care, and they need you.

May your weekend be special.