All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Prison grief takes no holiday

Mail to the HFP office doesn't let up during the holidays. It might even pick up tempo just a bit.

A prisoner wants us to get his story out to all state legislators, because he can't make it happen. A prisoner wants us to help him find a location to parole to, because he was an only child, has burned a few bridges, and now has no family and no friends, should he ever obtain a release. A prisoner needs help filing a commutation application, but thinks we should do most of the work. A prisoner needs copies of the application form. (That's easy...we can honor that request.) The mother of a prisoner needs help getting medical care for her son. He was on medication for migraine headaches. As we often hear, the state stopped the medicine. He's not able to function anymore. He was supposed to have followup care following a CT-scan 2 years ago and that never happened. Can we help?

And, if you can believe it...all requests in the above paragraph came in TODAY. Not this week. Today!

We'll start making our contacts, start doing what we can, gently explain what we can't do, and place everything before God in prayer.

I so very much appreciated the comment from Thad a few days ago, a wrongly convicted exoneree, who encouraged us to "Keep up the important and impressive work that you do. I know that they appreciate your love and support, as I did when I needed it."

And I say that to all of you in our corner. Thank you for your love and support, as we try to offer the same to "the least of these."

Enjoy your holiday season. It's not nice in prison this week.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

trying to offer holiday cheer

It's not always that easy, trying to cheer up prisoners in the first place. Then add to the situation a series of unpleasant circumstances, and one is hard pressed for words.

We're trying to help Mr. C to file for a medical commutation, because he has terminal cancer. He has less than 6 months to live, and would like to spend his remaining days with his family. Knowing how slow the system plods along, we're trying to make things happen, and meanwhile he struggles with imperfect and impersonal prison medical care.

Says Mr. C:

I'm supposed to have chemotherapy treatments every 21 days but the MDOC keeps interrupting my treatments, and not give me the bone marrow shots that I need. I am already two chemo sessions behind, and the doctor and nurse here are asking how long I'll be taking chemo. It sounds like the MDOC is tired of paying for my chemo session and paying for the two officers to take me to the hospital.

Nice, huh? And then I had the audacity to get on Mr. C's case a little bit because he was tardy in getting all of the documents that I wanted to help put together this application.

Sorry I haven't sent you the application and the letters. My family has been busy making funeral arrangements for my younger sister who died December 12th from lung cancer.

A slap on the hand to me! Patience, Douger, patience. Sheesh.

Thank you very much for your help.

Thanks to all of YOU for your help and support, as we stumble along trying to be a friend and a help to the least of these.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

on the making of an unpleasant Christmas

I'm thinking of my friend Teri a lot these days. I even have feelings of guilt. How come my Christmas can be so bright? How come hers haven't been bright for years?

What would make Christmas bad for you?

How about this scenario: Your husband is a teacher, and wrongly accused by some little girls and wrongly convicted?

How about this one? The nation's leading lie detector examiner proclaims your husband's innocence, beyond doubt, but the courts refuse to listen.

Or this? Because your husband is convicted of a sex crime, and one daughter is still listed as a minor, she may not visit her own father.

Or this? While in prison he contracts cancer. And it's life threatening.

Or this? Even while getting chemo therapy, he must be shackled and under guard, because he is a threat to society.

Or this? Now it's a death sentence. Cancer will claim his life before his innocence is proved.

Had enough?

Well, if you can believe this, Teri is grateful this Christmas. Larry is in a hospice facility, and this year, for the first Christmas in six years, all four members of the family will be together.

Hope you're not complaining about this holiday season any more.

Pray for Teri, and Larry, and two beautiful daughters.

Send them a hug.

Friday, December 16, 2011

'Tis the season

Doug Coupland said, "Christmas makes everything twice as sad."

Each year at this time I hope for only warm and fuzzy stories to come to us from the prisoners.

Well, once again this year, it's not happening.

From one unit, 25 guys willing to put their names on the line in hopes of turning in a guard who is coming to work with alcohol on his breath, and whose behavior seems to indicate that he is working while under the influence. 25 men who are willing to risk retaliation and all sorts of unpleasantness just because they believe they deserve a sane and sober individual on duty in their facility. And yet, the complaint is rejected and retaliation begins almost immediately. I tread carefully, because I don't want to hurt these guys with any more crap than they are already experiencing. I must do something. In desperation, they've turned to us.

From one unit comes a request from prioners. Steve cannot get appropriate care for his cancer, Stage 4. They tell him it's incurable anyway.

It's the weekend. It's the holiday season. It's going to be difficult getting anyone's attention, let alone getting action.

In desperation, they've turned to us.

And that's why we're here.

Even at Christmas time.

Especially at Christmas time.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Takes one to know one

I remember that as kids we threw that phrase back at someone who gave us a bad label. I'm reflecting on the phrase as I open the mail today, and I'm thinking there's some validity to it. I'm seeing incredible empathy for prisoners from those who are struggling with their own needs. Serious needs. Needs that might prevent you or me from functioning half-way normally. Needs that would definitely keep some people I know from even getting out of bed in the morning.

A beautiful supporter who is at an age where many would be sitting home in a rocker sipping tea instead placed an order for six prayer books to be placed into the hands of needy prisoners. She accompanied the order with a generous gift of support.

An African American supporter who has a son in prison and visits her best friend in prison got talking with another prison mom, and today they ordered five books for prisoners.

A supporter on total disability with more health problems than I could list in one article and no money, but with a blessed spirit that only Jesus could give, felt led to send us a check of support because she knows the pain of prisoners.

An elderly woman whose husband had to write the letter for her because she suffered a debilitating stroke, still felt the need to help others after reading of our ministry, and placed a check in the mail.

I am touched.

These aren't people caught up in the Christmas shopping frenzy. These are people who, despite their own set of problems, feel a kinship with men and women behind bars and want to demonstrate their love in a tangible way.

No one has to explain Matthew 25 to them. They get it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The news isn't always good

Our daughter-in-law received an early Christmas present this year. She learned this week that a dreaded lump was benign. All of us thanked God.

But the reality is that a number of other people received news that wasn't as good, on the same day.

I was reminded of that today. I was thinking of Missy's good news, as I was FAXing out medical reports to two of the fine physicians who work behind the scenes for HFP.

One prisoner is terribly ill, but death isn't threatening. Maybe somedays he wishes it would hurry, as he suffers with some very unpleasant symptoms. Among other things, he has Hep C and he's going to need a transplant if he's going to survive. And so we're getting the machine fired up. You see, he can't have a transplant while in prison. He's really in on a non-serious charge and he has been in longer than his early release date. Why the state insists on keeping prisoners like this boggles the mind. He's got a great behavior record, the charge did not involve violence, he's been in longer than the minimum sentence, and he's very sick, so he's costing us a lot of money. I forwarded his first documents to a doctor so that we can work on the next phase.

The second prisoner has has received his death sentence. In his case, we'll be trying to obtain a release from prison on medical grounds so that he can die at home surrounded by love and loved ones. He has terminal cancer.

We are blessed to have the finest medical practitioners I know serving at our side to help these prisoners. They get it. They understand completely the depth of the meaning of their oath.

Yet, in both of these situations, there is nothing to give us optimism that we will be successful. But, we must keep the spirits of these inmates up. After all, 'tis the season to be jolly. If only all of our very sick prisoners could receive the glad tidings that Missy did.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On who's boss

There's one thing you gotta learn when you're in prison. You gotta learn who's boss. The system will keep pounding it in to you until you've got it straight. You're a nobody. Your opinion means nothing. You are simply a number.

It took good ol' Joe a little while to figure that out. Joe's parents are in their 80s and in bad health. They live in Lapeer, and there's a prison right there in the home town. So they thought it would be nice if Joe could be transferred from Ionia to Lapeer, in that Joe's dad has just suffered and heart attack and all. Certainly if Joe lived in the Thumb CF it would be easier for elderly parents to visit him.

Joe asked if we'd help. We wrote a letter to the warden, and we suggested that he contact his state legislators. His state senator was kind enough to contact the MDOC, and was told that Joe would probaby do best by just talking with his own housing unit personnel. He was informed that the state cannot really consider transfers just for convenience' sake, because transfers cost money and the state doesn't have any.

So Joe asked his housing unit people, but they didn't like that. And they didn't like it that I wrote to the warden and that Joe wrote to his state senator.

It was time for Joe to find out who's really the boss there.

So a transfer was arranged, all right. Joe was sent to the Upper Peninsula where, he says, he must stay now for two years. He doesn't think his parents will even live that long.

And while it made sense to Joe and his family to put him closer to his elderly parents, there wasn't unanimous agreement on that point. Sending him to the UP would teach him who's boss.

Well, Joe got the point.

He's simply a number. No name, no face.

The MDOC is the boss.

A boss with a heart.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

That old-time religion

I gave a copy of our new CD, SWEET FREEDOM, to my friend Beth at church this morning. In a way, she started this whole business of a benefit CD for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. When her husband Don died, she asked that I play the piano for the funeral service. He had always enjoyed my keyboard musings. And, because he had a love for trains, he wanted an old railroad song sung at his funeral service: Life's Railway to Heaven. I asked fellow-musician John Mulder to join me for the funeral music. A fellow prison worker liked it so much he suggested a fund-raiser in his church. John and I added a few more musicians for the fund-raiser, and people liked that so much we decided on a CD. The rest is history.

Charley Honey, fine religion writer for the Grand Rapids Press, did a story about the CD yesterday, and called it a "delightful collection of old-time gospel chestnuts." In fact, when he listened to the CD, his first reaction was: Old-Time Religion. And I guess he's right. We chose titles that history has proven to be popular, Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, The Old Rugged Cross.

I hope you will give a listen. You can download your own personal copy of the album on iTunes or Amazon...or better yet you can ask me to send you a hard copy, so you can play it in your car when you drive to work.

It's called SWEET FREEDOM, and the other musicians are Lee Ingersoll, Cal Olson, Roger MacNaughton and David Mulder. We suggest a donation of $15, and the money goes right into the operation of HFP.

Said Charley Honey: "Their fresh treatments of these sentimental favorites could warm a wintry soul."

Give it a try and let me know.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mentally ill behind bars

A Michigan sheriff recently stated a fact that a whole lot of families already knew: prisons and jails have become the new institutions for the mentally ill.

In a fine piece on the subject, Detroit Free Press writer Jeff Gerritt said that, according to a University of Michigan study, more than 20% of the state's prisoners had severe mental disabilities---and far more were mentally ill. The same study found that 65% of prisoners with several mental disabilities had received no treatment in the previous 12 months. An outrage.

The big question.

What are you going to do about it?

If our experience provides that answer, we'd have to say that John Q. Public will do very little.

HOWEVER, it's a different story for people who have a loved one in prison. I worked side-by-side with Mary Ann when her brother Arnie---who was mentally challenged---suffered abuse on a routine basis in prison. We didn't just work. We fought!

And we're still working side-by-side with Lois, who has a son in prison who has mental issues. She fights 24/7. She has to, or her son will receive shameful treatment.

The simple fact is that prison staffers don't have training to deal with the mentally ill, and fellow prisoners don't know how to handle the mentally ill. For the unstable prisoner, it's a double whammy. Prisoners beat the tar out of him because they don't understand him. Guards beat and punish him because he doesn't understand the rules, and therefore he violates them.

I hope you won't leave this up to those with mentally ill family members in prison.

You can make a huge difference by applying pressure to your elected state officials. Jails and prisons are no alternative for mental institutions, and jail and prison guards are no alternative for trained caretakers.

It's time for change.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

even on Thanksgiving, stark reality

I was reflecting on my blessings on this Thanksgiving Day. A year ago I had just survived a brutal attack by a staph infection that many thought would claim my life. I'm feeling so good this year that I almost feel guilty. My list of blessings is so long that I cannot document it all. I feel like the Psalmist. My heart was overflowing with gratitude when I spotted a letter on my desk that hadn't been opened.

I'm amazed that it ever got here. It was sent to the wrong address. It had insufficient postage. Instead of my name on the envelope, it simply said "Dear Sir." It had been sent from San Quentin.

Dear Sir: My name is Paul Wesley Baker. I've been on death row since 2009. I was arrested in 2003 in L.A., California. My attorney did absolutely nothing to help me in trial. I only saw my investigator once in 5 years. My trial was in 2008. The DNA was tampered with and some of their witnesses lied under oath. Some of this could have been proved if my attorney did a small part in my behalf.

We don't even try to handle cases outside the State of Michigan. But Paul is on my heart on this Thanksgiving Day. I can do little more than pray for him. I shall write him a letter of encouragement anyway. And I'll send him a copy of our new book of prayers.

After actually visiting a prisoner on death row, and actually witnessing an execution of a man whom I believed was wrongly convicted, I am especially sensitive to the plight of people on death row.

How about you? Will you pray for Paul today? I suggest that you also remember all the others on death row who find it very difficult to be thankful on this Thanksgiving Day.

A blessed holiday to you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

a meaningful Thanksgiving

I was able to give my friend James the most incredible Thanksgiving message today.

James has been in prison almost 30 years. He was guilty of assault, but he turned his life around.

While in prison he has moved mountains for law enforcement.

Now he's seeking a commutation of his sentence, well deserved for a number of reasons. But here's the exciting news I was able to deliver.

The Prosecutor who put him away 28 years ago is now leading the fight to get him released!

I've never seen this before. I know many former and present prosecutors. They are really good friends, but I gotta tellya, these guys are prosecutors.

The man who put James away is so convinced that he deserves a new crack at life that he has written a three-page letter pleading with the Parole Board to give him a chance. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't read it.

Well, HFP is in the middle of this effort, and it makes me so proud.

I was the middle man today. I had the opportunity to tell this man in prison that the prosecutor who put him away will lead the effort next week to ask for a recommendation for commutation by the Michigan Parole Board. And I was able to tell him that this former prosecutor, now retired, is supported in his position by key people in the Michigan State Police and the FBI.

Thanksgiving Day is very special for James this year. And for good reason.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mr. or Ms. Anon keeps giving

Way back when Maurice Carter was alive, and we founded the organization INNOCENT, a very kind person on the other side of the state (based on the postmark) began sending anonymous contributions to our office in Grand Rapids. Once every month or two, I would receive a crumpled little envelope with squiggly writing on it. Inside I would find a sheet of lined paper folded up, and there a five dollar bill. No note, no message, no name, no address, no nothin.'

And it has never stopped.

Maurice has gone to heaven. INNOCENT is now HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. Our office is no longer in Grand Rapids. Neither is it in Muskegon anymore.

My former employer gets the envelopes now. I would like to thank the donor, and advise him/her that our address has changed. But we have no idea who it is.

I have a feeling that this is another example of the widow's mite. We treat the contributions the same as we would a major gift. Each time the gift gets recorded and deposited. And we take care to spend that 5 dollar bill just as carefully as we do all of our precious funds.

I wish I could thank this donor. Somehow, I believe that he/she feels our gratitude.

Meanwhile, the gifts keep coming.

And we keep going.

HFP is blessed to receive many small gifts. Small, but not insignificant.

For all of them we are thankful.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Big Ben Logic

My friend Big Ben makes so much sense so much of the time.

He was talking with Michigan legislators about the state's abominable prison situation. And he was talking about his particular situation. He's among about 40 lifers in the system who didn't get covered by new legislation, and therefore cannot become eligible for parole.

I was convicted at 22. I am now 64, diabetic, hypertensive, and afflicted with a number of other ailments for which I take 8 different kinds of prescription medications.

On average it costs the state $33,000 to incarcerate one healthy individual for one year in the D.O.C.

I, on the other hand, cost the Michigan tax payer somewhere in the neighborhood of $45-50,000 a year in incarceration costs. If you multiply that by the remaining 40 or more Aaron Lifers in the prison system, you begin to understand how this affects the state's efforts to contain its deficits.

Regardless of whether these words come from behind or in front of prison bars, they make sense and should be considered by our elected officials.

Big Ben is a considerate, highly intelligent inmate who should someday be elected to represent others in public office.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More on birthday wishes

The unwritten policy of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is based on an old, anonymous slogan: You have never really lived until you've done something for somebody who can never repay you.

I guess that's why I'm so taken aback when expressions of kindness come to me from prisoners. Now I'm making it sound like these expressions are infrequent. Quite the opposite. They're coming all the time, and you'd think I would get used to it. But I don't.

A birthday comes, and I receive a home-made card, beautifully created by a woman in Michigan's women's facility. These people have no money for guards, but their artistic skills are amazing.

A letter comes from a dear friend in another facility. I should have expected it.

A series of telephone calls from prison. I can't even imagine how they remember my birthday.

And now, a $10.00 check in honor of my birthday, from a prisoner whose monthly wage is less than most hourly wages on the outside. I am just astounded.

I often say that some of the nicest people I have ever met are in prison, and some of my best friends are in prison.

No wonder Jesus was so intent on having us care about them.

There are beautiful people both inside and outside. I can prove it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

On birthday wishes

One doesn't pay much attention to birthdays anymore at my age.

I must say that the celebration of my 75th was exceptionally pleasing. More than 50 guests showed up at a party featuring jazz greats John Shea and Tim Froncek. My family was more than gracious. Even grandkids from afar called to talk to their grandpa. In view of the fact that exactly one year ago I was on a feeding tube, a process that continued for six long months as I did my best to recover from a vicious attack by a staph infection, it was indeed a time for celebration. I greet each day this year with a feeling of exhilaration.

Son Matthew put out a notice on the HFP email network and my inbox was flooded with birthday greetings from around the world. I am blessed with so many beautiful friends.

My snailbox was filled with letters from prisoners who remembered my birthday, and some even called.

Perhaps the most meaningful greeting, though, came from a mentally challenged teenager in prison. You have done so much great work over the years and my mother and I really appreciate your work. I remember when you came to see me. Man, did we have a good time! I'm continuing to work on myself, to try to grow and better myself each day. I just wanted to let you know I'm thinking of you and praying for you. Thanks again for all your hard work. Have a great birthday!

A dose of that medicine is sure to fill one's heart to face the next year.

Thanks to all who were kind enough to remember. And a special thanks to my friend Kevin.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Prayers for prisoners

I'm so excited. I'm holding in my hand a brand new book that actually had its origin right here in the HFP office.

It's called THE PRISONER'S PRAYER BOOK, and it was written by a dear friend of ours, Louise Reichert of Marquette, Michigan. Louise and I have worked together for the past several years, as she was advocating on behalf of a seriously ill prisoner. When I discovered that she was a gifted writer of prayers I began forwarding prisoner problems to her that we encountered in our work. Each time she skillfully penned a short, gritty prayer that could have been uttered by the prisoner. And should have been. And from that we started dreaming of a book.

Today, that book is a reality. It's a masterpiece. 100 meaningful prayers on issues faced by prisoners every day. I'm going to do my best to get the book into the hands of every Michigan prisoner who wants a copy. And I challenge prison programs in other states to do the same. Go to our website and find out how your $25 can purchase a copy for yourself and place a copy in a prison cell.

Get a copy right away. You'll be touched. You'll understand my enthusiasm.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The face of Jesus

I was feeling good. I just given a very short address to more than 100 criminal defense attorneys at their annual Michigan conference. It went well. They bought some of my books. They had kind words. I got into my nice car, outside the posh Park Place Hotel, located in the heart of pricey Traverse City. And then I spotted the face of Jesus.

It was pasted on the front of a homeless woman---not an old lady, either. She pulled all of her belongings in a little coaster wagon, right in front of me in the parking lot. Her face reflected all the pain and agony and shame of being homeless. She was probably planning to poke through trash bins outside the hotel.

This was it! This was the person I was talking to the attorneys about! I wanted to go back in and take her with me. All she had to do was get arrested for some kind of offenses that we find for charging the homeless and the down-trodden...and she would need a court appointed attorney. Her attorney would be her only hope. That's what I tried to tell these wonderful lawyers. I wanted them to pause before telling a client they didn't believe the story, and they wouldn't check out witnesses. I wanted them to know that refusing to listen, refusing to check out a story, was a crushing blow to someone with very little hope.

Why did I say this was the face of Jesus? Simple. He's the one who told us that in Matthew 25. He said that when we show kindness to these people---sick, poor, homeless, prisoners---we show kindness to HIM.

Thank you for the reminder, Lord.

I'm praying that our simple little message in Traverse City hit home.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On chiding a prisoner

I rather like the word chide, especially when I feel that I must try to realign a prisoner's thinking. It seems kinder than scold, or reprimand, or criticize.

I felt that I had to chide Mr. H. this week, and I don't do that quickly. Prisoners have enough problems and enough issues.

First I should say that I am blessed...I'll go farther than that and say I am actually humbled by the stellar character of a whole list of dear friends who are in prison. Their attitude toward others, their efforts on behalf of the needy, their disposition even in peak times of unpleasantness go far beyond the way I think and act and talk every day. They are amazing individuals and an example not only to me but to all who meet them, including those in charge over them in the prisons.

But then there is Mr. H.

He was wrongly charged, but he wasn't completely innocent. His past life was checkered, including a prior conviction and incarceration. Because he was over-charged and over-sentenced, he feels very wronged. He's angry at the system. He feels all who know him should be trying harder to find justice for him. And because of this, he's not happy. Church really isn't for him. He hasn't actively tried to pursue higher education. There are volunteer group sessions on subjects like self-esteem, but those kinds of programs are for prisoners beneath his level. And so he goes to work everyday, does his job, and mopes.

In a recent Parole Board interview, the board member caught this and also chided Mr. H. She encouraged him to do more. Thinking that this would get him out of prison, he said, "I'll do anything you want me to." And she stopped him right there. "I don't want you to do anything," said stated flatly. "I want YOU to want to do something!"

I'm one of the few friends who sticks with Mr. H, and I felt it my turn to give him a slight nudge.

I encouraged him to thank God for meeting up with that PB member, because he could use that interview as the basis for changing his life, here and now.

I encouraged him to contact me again, not to ask if I can be at his side with a moment's notice for a PB interview, but instead to ask what he can do for HFP.

I encouraged him to contact his family, not to make more demands, but instead to ask what he can do for the family.

I encouraged him to start going to church, but more than that, to ask the chaplain what he can do to make the services more meaningful to those who attend.

I encouraged him to reapply to the group session on self esteem, and this time to ask the group leader what he could do to make the session even better for the participants.

And I said that it was my prayer that, if he must appear before that same Parole Board member again in years to come, we could then tell her about the new life of the new Mr. H.

With a little divine intervention, who knows?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

They're really not any different

Prisoners really aren't different.

Sure there are some bad apples. That's what prison is for. It's a place where we put people who have committed crimes against society.

Having said that, I will tell you what I hear the most from volunteers who finally go into prison, from non-criminals who actually find themselves in prison, from my friends in a singing group that perform in prison: They're not any different than the rest of us.

The reason I bring this up is this. I just opened the mail today. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS received a contribution from a gang of guys in the Ionia Correctional Facility. I've talked in the past about prisoners and finances. They work for wages unlike anything you're seen or heard. $15-20 a month, for example. Money is important to them, because they must purchase their own supplies from the state's own store. Because the food leaves a lot to be desired, they like to purchase snacks in the store, also. So they really watch their pennies. This means that when we receive a check for $100 from a group of prisoners, it is an incredible gift. A huge sacrifice. And making a contribution isn't simple or easy for them. The state makes it difficult. Finally, in frustration, the guys gave up trying to make individual contributions. Instead, they put all their money together, gave it to a spokesman for the group, and he withdrew the money from his account for a contribution to HFP.

They're a lot like you and me. In spite of the mess-ups in their own lives, they want to do good things. They appreciate friendships. They want to help others in trouble. They want to help others avoid trouble in their own lives.

It's no surprise to me that Jesus said if we show kindness to them, we're actually showing kindness to HIM.

A decent lot, this gang from Ionia. Nice guys trying to do nice things.

I love 'em.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Remembering Maurice Carter

I could envision a beautiful building perhaps in the style of the Supreme Court structure, with letters carved in marble or granite: THE MAURICE HENRY CARTER INSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE. Perhaps it would be located on the campus of my favorite college, Calvin in Grand Rapids. It would house Michigan's finest Innocence Project, handling cases with and without DNA evidence. Pre-law college students would fight on behalf of indigent prisoners claiming wrongful conviction. But the institute would go beyond that. It would help those who had fallen through the cracks, and had no family, no friends, to stand beside them in fighting for fair treatment, medical care, a halt to mental health abuse, etc., etc. It would fulfill every dream of Maurice Carter, who insisted that his negative had to be turned into a positive. It would be funded by foundations and trusts with never a financial worry. That's what I was dreaming exactly 7 years ago today.

I had already spent my final moments alone with Maurice in a Spectrum critical care unit. He was attached to every piece of equipment the hospital had that might be able to keep him alive for a few more minutes. But the staph infection was obviously winning. His frail, tired body finally gave up. Just past midnight, October 25, 2004.

I hadn't expected his death. I expected that he and I would work side by side to help prisoners. I did not expect to be carrying this torch alone. And so the organization, at that time named INNOCENT, continued its work. Later we changed the name to HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS to better reflect our mission. We incorporated as a Michigan non-profit agency. We obtained IRS approval for tax exemption. But the Carter dream didn't evolve into a major justice institute. Instead, we're a tiny agency with a huge heart, located in a single-room office, but carrying out the Carter dream with an amazing panel of professionals, a band of committed volunteers, and a loyal albeit limited crowd of supporters who faithfully see that the bills get paid.

But as I reflect on Maurice's life and his dream on this meaningful day, I believe he would be pleased. I feel him at my side.

An African American gospel singer whom I loved and who died far too early in life, Alma Perry, used to sing this song. It doesn't exactly apply, but this is the spirit in which we carry on from day to day.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
If I can show somebody, how they're traveling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

We're on the job, Maurice. Rest in peace.

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's gotta be prayer!

Sometimes I just don't know what works.

A few years ago I made reference to a young lad who was sentenced to prison after being arrested on a minor sex charge (playing doctor with his cousin---his mom decided to teach him a lesson by calling the cops!), he was sentenced to the Michigan prison system. That, in itself, was an outrage...but I haven't told you the rest of the story. He's mentally ill. At that time, he had the mind of about a 6 year old.

I could see little or no help for this lad. His mother had her own emotional problems, and didn't have custody of the boy. That left only his grandmother, who resided in another state and who was in a wheelchair.

When I heard the story I went to see him in prison. I bought him soda pop and candy bars. We had a fine time. I've got grandkids, I know how to talk to kids, and I personally love kids.

But my heart was broken when he came walking in with shoes far too big. He had lost his own, and the staff found another pair for him, albeit the wrong size.

My heart was broken time again again as I kept up with his situation. The guards would tease him and scare him. Sometimes he could be seen in his cell just sitting on his bunk and crying.

He would get angry at the guards, so they'd throw him in the hole...a mentally ill little boy, sitting in the dark in seclusion! He'd get even more angry, so he'd urinate thru the meal slot in his cell door. Well, the guards retaliated by mopping up the puddle with his clothes. I guess they showed him who was boss.

Meanwhile, he has very few visitors, with almost no family and friends.

I tell you all of this to underscore why I couldn't muster up hope for this kid. His whole situation seemed hopeless to me.

Often, I asked people to pray for him.

I haven't heard from him in a long time. Then came word from his grandmother this week. He is doing good now, and has received his GED! I am so proud of him. I wish I could be there, so if you could go on his special day when he receives his certificate that would be greatly appreciated. He has worked so hard for this.

It's gotta be prayer.

Thank you, Lord.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A stitch in time

Another shipment of yarn has just left western Michigan, heading for the Women's Unit at Huron Valley CF in Ypsilanti.

It all began as just a few women in prison wanting to do something creative with their fingers, wanting to do something meaningful with their time. They learned to knit, and they started knitting clothes, and the prison people saw to it that the clothing made its way to the homeless.

Word of the project got out to a woman here in our town who, as a part of HFP's Project Window started corresponding with a pen pal in Huron Valley. She asked if she could do more to help, and the prisoners said they could always use more yarn. That's all it took.

Bags and bags of yarn now make their way to Ypsi. Last week four large bags. More ready to go this week.

And some 100 female inmates are now participating in the program.

And the clothing keeps right on going to homeless people.

Little things mean a lot.

Your continued support of HFP helps to keep this ball rolling.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Another one freed!

I received great news yesterday afternoon from the Innocence Project Team. Another wrongly convicted prisoner has been freed. Henry James walked out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola yesterday, a free man for the first time in three decades. DNA tests prove his innocence of a 1981 rape.

So today, this man can start over again, reconnecting with family and rebuilding his life, at age 50. It's not going to be easy. There's a good chance that it may not even work.

James was arrested charged with rape in 1981 after he victim mis-identified him as the attacker. And here's one more shameful little fact about this case: blood tests pointed to his innocence, but his defense attorney failed to share that with the jury.

Sometime I wish that everyone who reads our material and supports our project could go with us to a national Innocence Network Conference. The speeches and the workshops are wonderful, but the real meaningful experience comes when the exonerees are introduced. It's a reunion every year, as more and more people are freed after being found innocent. These people are like family. They welcome each other. They hug each other. They weep openly. And while I tell about these meaningful experiences, I must confess that there's another side to the coin. At the same time I get very angry. In a country that boasts justice for all, why does a man have to wait 30 years to be found innocent? Is it because he doesn't have money, or stature?

And how many more Henrys are there? Care to guess? If the system is right 99% of the time, care to figure out the total of 1% of 2.5 million? That's how many are in prison in the US of A.

Let's get angry together, and let's vow to do something about it.

No more Henrys.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

One day with God

Here at the office of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, unpleasant messages from prisoners arrive on a regular basis. It can be very discouraging. Perhaps that is why, when a rare ray of sunshine beams into the office, one feels like cheering.

That's the way I felt yesterday after talking with Terry, program coordinator for a prison a mere ten miles away from here.

He introduced himself and told me about a project coming up next month at his facility called ONE DAY WITH GOD. Here's what happens.

He and his associates choose about 25 model prisoners, most of whom are fathers of small children, for a special weekend.

On Friday, there will be a day of prayer and preparation with those 25 prisoners. Preparation means packaging donated gifts for children, which they will be able to present to their kids when they come to visit the next day.

On Saturday, some 50 kids will meet at a local church, and will be bussed to a special prison gate where they can safely enter to see their fathers for ONE DAY WITH GOD. A day of special activities is planned, including the presentation of gifts. A tiny slice of heaven on earth. But it doesn't stop there.

The regular caregivers for those kids, who get a day off thanks to this event, are not forgotten. Activities are scheduled in a local church for that day to make it special for these unsung heroes as well.

Think about it. We have over 2-million people in prison. Terry's project is going to help 25 of them. Insignificant? Not in the least! It's a huge start. Now we need more Terrys. And more Days with God. Kudos to Terry. Prayers for many more program coordinators like him, and for more wardens like his boss who believe that prisoners are real people, created in the image of God.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The dreaded message

Well, we finally got the message from the bookkeeper last week. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is flat broke. It took 10 months for it to happen, but we finally reached the bottom of the barrel.

This doesn't mean that HFP is going to fold up. No Way. A series of fund-raisers has been planned for the end of the year to provide many ways for our supporters to keep us going. But it's a wakeup call for our Board of Directors. Prayers are important for our survival. But so are dollars.

If you live in this area, we'd love to see you at our two music programs coming up. A sacred concert Sunday night the 16th at the Ferrysburg Community Church, featuring two outstanding groups, HIS MEN and JUBAL BRASS. And next month, on the 9th, we have a fun evening of the best piano jazz in the midwest in the Harbourfront Grand Hall in downtown Grand Haven.

If you live farther away, but would like to be a part of this ministry, we welcome your donations. We are a 501c3 organization and your gifts are tax exempt.

And if you're flat broke, like HFP, you can still support us. Prayers are such an important part of this week. We need them daily. We covet them.

Thank you for being there for us. We're here for prisoners.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The greatest gift

As you drive north on scenic highway US 31 in Michigan's lower peninsula, you pass through a little town called Conway. There's not much in Conway except a Post Office. Not much, however, except a monastery that sets back off the highway. You'll miss it if you don't make a point of looking. For years I drove past it, wondering that was and what happened in there.

And then one day, in my second career, that of selling church organs, I learned that the nuns in this beautiful little facility needed a new organ for their chapel. The old one was emitting sparks and smoke. Doug to the rescue.

We sold them a beautiful little ALLEN organ (the best name in the business), and my dad joined me in driving it up there and hauling it into the chapel. What a time we had, as each of the sisters had a different idea as to where the organ should be placed. My dear friend Sister Rosemary finally uttered in exasperation, "Lord, help us all!"

Through all of this I learned more about the Augustine Center and the Sacramentine Monastery. I learned that the sisters in this little order of nuns were committed to a lifetime of prayer. That's all these beautiful little ladies do. They pray. They don't get out of that facility for any more than a few days a year. Their daily routine rarely changes. They believe that they've been called to pray, and they very much appreciate things to pray for. As our friendship deepened, I encouraged the male chorus that I directed at the time---HIS MEN---to rent the monastery for a weekend retreat. It was marvelous. We then sang for their Sunday morning mass as a token of thanks. The nuns were keenly interested in my third career, which took me into prisoner advocacy. How they prayed for Maurice Carter. And after he died, they continued to pray for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS.

What a ministry!

How much we can learn from those who have devoted a life to the practice of prayer!

And as I received a check from these poor/wealthy ladies today in the amount of $10.00 for HFP, which comes from their skimpy funds, I again felt so much gratitude. For the financial gift, yes.

But especially for the greater gift: the gift of prayer. And it never stops.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

on employing prisoners

I would like to tell you about a genuine hero.

She certainly would not let us use her name, nor would she let us disclose the identity of her former employer.

We can tell you that she was employed in a supervisory position at a reputable company here in the western half of Michigan. Among the entry-level employees for whom she was responsible was a guy who voluntarily disclosed to her that he had served time in prison. She thanked him for the information but said it made no difference to her. He was a good employee, and did his job well without complaint. She stated her position, that he had served his time, and the past was the past. He thanked her, but said he just wanted her to know because all supervisors don't feel that way.

Well, sure enough, someone complained to the company that one of its employees was a former prisoner. And, the mid-level manager ordered the man's supervisor to fire him. She refused. Instead, she went to the top, explained the situation, said that the man had done nothing wrong and didn't deserve to be let go. Sadly, she didn't get support, even from the big boss. She was ordered to dismiss her employee. Again she refused, and instead resigned.

The man was still fired.

Two postscripts.

Number one, the top level manager who ordered the firing claimed to be a part-time fundamentalist pastor, but informed the supervisor that he, too, had to do some things that were against his principles. I guess his job was more important to him than principle.

And number two, as if to demonstrate that God approved of her decision to get out, our friend later was extremely successful in her next position of employment, in an occupation that took her to numerous foreign countries.

It's a sad state of affairs, but I must tell you that it is very difficult for former prisoners to find work, and once they find it, to keep their jobs here in Michigan. And it won't change unless we become as courageous as the hero of our story.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Two kinds of Christianity?

I was meeting with board members of a fine, socially aware downtown church in a nearby town, hoping to persuade them to give HFP some free office space. But then I noticed one board member with an angry look on his face. It didn't take long for him to speak up, and express strong opposition to giving HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS anything. He didn't want his church affiliated with some do-gooder group that wanted to free vicious criminals and might put the church in a controversial position. No way.

Another retired reporter and I were talking about the anger in people these days. Even, and perhaps especially, among those claiming to be Christians. We think it's getting worse. What do you think?

We recalled the recent scene where gay military personnel who have been serving their country were booed. Where a presidential candidate who boasted about his death penalty position received applause. Where poor people in need of welfare were angrily advised to get a job, get a life. And much of this behavior is found in a group of people calling themselves Christians. Frankly, I'm not terribly surprised because, as an advocate for prisoners, I'm pretty used to it. Doesn't make any difference whether you go to church or not. If you never knew anyone in prison, and if your friends and family never had anyone in prison, chances are you don't like to hear about it. Because then you have to think about it. And Jesus said you darn well better do something about it.

Speaking of Jesus, maybe it's time to forget the rhetoric of people, and listen to the words of our master. We might start by once again reviewing the words to the Sermon on the Mount.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is prison the best answer?

Do you ever take the time to review prison sentences when they are listed in the newspaper? Some people do, just to see if they recognize any names. I do, just to see who goes to prison, for how long, and for what reason. I am astounded by the number of people in our Michigan prison system for crimes that are non-violent. There were a dozen state prison sentences in the local newspaper today, sentences starting at 3 and a half months, and extending up to a maximum of 40 years.

And the crimes? Drugs, drugs, drugs, probation violation, failure to pay child support, home invasion, fleeing police officers, larceny, bad checks, retail fraud. All bad stuff, especially when the crimes have been repeated time and again, as indicated by the notation of habitual offender.

Is this the best way to punish violators of crimes that do not even involve theft, such as probation violation, drugs and child support? As a society, can't we do better to prevent these people from reoffending and to help them get out of the situations that lead to these offenses?
By legalizing marijuana, how much prison space would we free up and how many underworld criminal drug operations would we put out of business?

I'm not giving answers, I'm asking questions. Rather than continue to lock people up where there is no hope of rehabilitation, or education, or life-improvement, I have to believe there are better ways. The cost of incarceration, alone, should prompt an immediate study of alternatives.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's just part of the punishment

I know that this is a broad generalization. I know my contention cannot be proved. I believe that prison systems---not just ours in Michigan, but prison systems in general---make things difficult for prisoners just to heighten the punishment of prisoners. The stories of prison visitors encountering problems are non-ending. One would think that if the prison system is making it difficult for certain people to visit certain visitors, these people must be trouble-makers, perhaps hoping to smuggle in contraband, perhaps looking at ways to violate rules. But the stories don't come from people like that. They come from elderly parents, from handcapped people, from children of prisoners, from people for whom a trip to the prisons is already difficult.

Just in the past couple of days in the HFP office we had a report from an irritated clergyman who has visited the same prisoner in the same facility time after time, never once having to produce his clergy card. But the last time he went, you guessed it---he had to produce his clergy card, and he couldn't find it. No visit.

The husband of a wife experiencing mental issues was refused permission to see his wife. The warden's office claimed there was a personal protection order issued against the husband because of past abuse. All paper work was produced proving that the PPO story was just a rumor, and there was no such thing. It changed nothing. No visit.

The wife of a prisoner who just learned that his cancer has returned has requested permission to be with him at the time of his surgery. Even though he will be in shackles while strapped to the gurney, her presence was deemed a threat. No visit.

The motto of the Michigan Department of Corrections is EXPECTING EXCELLENCE EVERY DAY.

One of our prison friends finishes the sentence: BUT NEVER FINDING IT.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On the execution of Troy Davis

The execution of Troy Davis this week underscores the need for this civilized nation to abolish the death penalty. And even if you believe that scripture doesn't forbid the death penalty, I cannot find a single good reason to keep it. The simple fact is that only God knows whether a prisoner is guilty. And because the system is so flawed, we shouldn't be taking chances.

I happen to agree with Sydney Harris who says, "To execute a criminal is to simply accept his point of view."

I am particularly saddened when Christians, even in my own denomination, attempt to justify the death penalty and strongly support it. I am especially offended by those pro-lifers who cling to the sanctity of life position for those human beings at the start of life, but then apparently abandon that position for human beings at the end of life. Either all life is sacred, it seems to me, or none is.

A retired federal prison chaplain this week told me that according to the statistics he has on record, in the last 10-15 years the violent crime rate has gone down by more than 50% in our country, but the incarceration rate has not changed at all. In fact, it has gone up.

The President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, Lisa Wayne, issued a statement after the execution: "Politics killed Troy Davis just as surely as the lethal poison injected in his veins. Troy Davis went to the death chamber not for something he did, but for what he represents---a failed system driven more by emotion than facts. His death makes it clear to me that the only way to prevent the execution of an innocent person in Georgia, or anywhere, is to abolish the death penalty everywhere."

In closing, I would like to ask you to read the thoughts I wrote after viewing an execution of a wrongly convicted prisoner in Texas. I am troubled when I hear people say that they would be the first in line to pull the switch, or inject the poison. I offer these words in response.

(date of execution: March 20, 2007)

I saw someone die.

That’s not an unusual claim. Many have been at the bedside of loved ones who have died. Many have witnessed tragedies.

This is different, so let me revise my statement. I saw a friend in good health deliberately put to death by lethal injection.

The friend was Charles Anthony Nealy of Dallas, Texas, who would have been 43 years of age three days after the execution.

He was found guilty of murder by a Texas jury in 1998 in, what the Dallas Morning News, called the “fastest death penalty trial in the history of Texas.” Nealy swore he was in Oklahoma at the time of the armed robbery/shooting, but the state claimed that a grainy picture from a surveillance camera proved that he was the perpetrator. Never mind that the perp wore a gold chain (Nealy is allergic to gold and never wore jewelry) or that he was wearing a cap (Nealy’s hair was styled in corn rows, so he rejected headwear). Never mind that a prosecutor who had been suspended twice before for his pre-trial misbehavior threatened Nealy’s nephew with the death penalty if he refused to sign a statement identifying Anthony in the picture.

Our small organization makes no attempt to screen the innocent from the guilty. We leave that up to some 40 Innocence Projects, mostly anchored in university law schools around the country, which have incredibly accurate procedures. The fine Texas Innocence Network in Houston, led by Professor David Dow, provided the last-minute legal work for my friend Anthony. But it was too little, too late.

Our office was alerted to his plight in 2002 by a support group in England. While in Texas for an Innocence Conference in 2003, I made a side trip to visit this Charles Anthony Nealy on death row in Livingston. We became instant friends, and remained in contact over the years.

The jarring news that an execution date had been set arrived last September, and immediately following that came the request from Anthony that would change my life: “I am wondering if you would be willing to be my spiritual advisor?” The spiritual advisor of a condemned inmate visits him during his final two days, spends a 30-minute period alone with the prisoner in the “death house,” and then witnesses the execution.

Why me? Certainly there were other friends. “I know that you are a writer. Executions are so common they do not make the news in Texas. I want you to tell the story as you see it.”

I answered in the affirmative, as any friend would do, but a stay was granted before the November 16 execution date based on a claim of prosecutorial misconduct. From that point on, however, Nealy’s legal team struck out, and a new date for death was set: March 20, 2007.

I didn’t enjoy visiting the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, where death row is housed, in 2003. I enjoyed it even less in 2007: The dark cloud of death hovered overhead, and I could feel evil in the air.

Monday, March 19, and a most pleasant visit with Anthony at this hell-hole of a prison, where bloodhounds bray in a nearby barn, cowboy-looking guards circle the grounds in pickup trucks with shotguns, and women guards laugh and chatter as though the shadow of death was non-existent. We prayed together, and I relinquished the rest of the visiting hours for the day to family members, because only two people may visit an inmate at one time. All visits are non-contact, right to the very end…glass in-between, conversation by inefficient telephones.

Monday evening Marcia and I made the 60-mile drive from Houston back to Livingston so that I could make a brief appearance on KDOL, a low-power FM radio station that precisely aims all programming at the nearly 400 inmates on death row. On the evening prior to an execution, a two-hour SHOUT OUT program is scheduled from 7 to 9 specifically for the next unfortunate victim of the Texas death penalty. It was Anthony’s show, and dozens of email message were read to him from all around the world, inspirational music was dedicated to him, and I delivered a personal message to him and his comrades.

Lawyers were frantically working at the federal court level, but still no stay.

Tuesday morning, and an even shorter visit at Polunsky. Visiting hours ended at noon to allow time for the prisoner to be transported to the Walls Unit in Huntsville, some 45 miles away, where all the executions take place. Anthony was still in his upbeat mood, laughing and talking. It was time for me to depart, giving Anthony and his family members some final quality moments together. His sister Debra and I placed our hands on the glass, Anthony matched ours with his hand, and I offered a brief prayer. Tears were streaming down my cheeks as I walked to my car. Where was the stay? Why wasn’t this nightmare ending?

The last prison trip was to Huntsville, home of the infamous Walls Unit. On Tuesday afternoon I dropped off Marcia at the Hospitality House, a religious mission facility for families and friends of those to be executed. I was ushered to the death house for my final 30-minute private discussion with Anthony. Again, he talked and laughed, expressed optimism that he would receive a stay, but thoughtfully informed me that he had stayed up late to write three fund-raising letters for INNOCENT! If the execution took place as scheduled, Debra would receive his property and turn over the envelopes to me. The half hour expired in a heart-beat, and it was time for my final prayer, offered this time in the name of him who was wrongly convicted, handed the death sentence, and executed so that Anthony could have life eternal. Guards saw me to the door.

There’s no way to describe the atmosphere, the feeling in the air, the apparent indifference you encounter in this seemingly heartless environment. State Prison chaplains relate stories and jokes while family members suffer the dread of what is to come. Bored prison guards routinely search, frisk and use a magnetic wand on those planning to view the execution. A burly guard armed with a shotgun watches from a nearby roof. The inane chatter of a female reporter continues as she flirts with a guard. There is silence among the rest of us, appalled by the business-as-usual attitude.

When led into the viewing room during this Lenten season, my friend Anthony can be seen with arms stretched out not unlike the crucifixion. He’s on his back on a gurney, with tubes feeding into his arms. He can see us, and thanks to a microphone dangling over his mouth, we can hear him. He welcomes each of us by name. There are only four of us: Debra and her husband James, another friend, and the spiritual advisor. Others in the room represent the media and the prison system.

A state chaplain holds Anthony’s foot as a sign of human contact, we were told. An unemotional warden stands at the head of the gurney, looking straight ahead…refusing to lower his eyes to the prisoner. “Do you have a final statement, Mr. Nealy?”

He did, four minutes in length, thanking everyone, taking a lick at the prosecutor one more time, but expressing everything with an elegance and dignity that demonstrated to the state in no uncertain terms that he was not going down in defeat. “I’m sorry that you all had to go through this. Put it behind you now. I’m going to a better place.”

7 PM, and as he specifically directed his remarks to me, he said, “I love you.”

At the conclusion of the statement the warden gave the sign, and the first of three chemicals entered his body. “That tastes nasty!” The final words of Anthony Charles Nealy.

Chemical one puts the prisoner to sleep. Chemical two stops his breathing. Chemical three stops his heart. There was no thrashing, no gurgling…he could be taking a nap.

The silence in our room was deafening. Debra was quietly weeping in the arms of her husband. Why didn’t I say something? Where were the perfect words from scripture: “Death, where is your victory; death, where is your sting?” I was mute.

At 7:19, the warden gave a signal. A man dressed as a physician with white coat and stethoscope around his neck quickly checked for vital signs.

“7:20,” said the doctor.

“7:20,” said the warden.

A loud snap indicated that our room had been unlocked. We were led through the outer door. We were free to leave. As we walked into the fresh air an ungodly steam whistle shrieked a double blast. Every resident of Huntsville knew the signal: The execution was complete; the lockdown in the prison was over.

Life went on. For some.

I saw someone die.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wish you could take it back?

How often do you wish you could take back just one misdeed? Just one statement? It happens to all of us.

I could really identify with Evan this week. He's a guy in prison for life for a horrible crime. Here's what he wrote me.

I cried as I told my parents how ashamed I am of going to prison for a senseless crime I am quite guilty of committing. I destroyed so many beautiful people's lives, hurt so many people, and even after 34 years the pain, hurt or suffering has not subdued. Even at this late date the consequences have continued to affect so many. When I lay awake at night reflecting on my life, there is so much pain. I can recall the night I committed this senseless, horrendous crime...when I was leaving to go out my daughter kept sobbing as I tried to leave. The sad expression on my child's face has never left me, nor the face of the innocent victims.

What I have done so many years ago haunts me endlessly. So many letters of apology, so many prayers seeking forgiveness, yet this cloud of despair lingers. Those I love suffer. I cannot imagine what the victims have gone through, or may still suffer.

Now all I can do is keep working at and trying to be a much better person, contribute and make atonement to society for the wrongs I caused. Since accepting God in my life, these changes have taken place of their own accord.

Thank you for reaching out to assist me. Also for allowing me to share with you who I was, what I was, and who I now have become. I trust the Lord to do wonderful things in my life.

How I wish we could put Evan in a room with troubled teenagers today, and tell them to just listen to what this man says. How I would we could print his words and put them in the hands of every troubled youngster who is standing at a fork in the road, and considering the wrong route.

It's good for Evan to know that God is the only one who holds an eraser in his hand.

But as he points out, how much happier he would be if he had never written that chapter.

A lesson for all of us.

Friday, September 16, 2011

On when not to speak

The author of Ecclesiastes insisted, in chapter 3, that there is a time for everything, including: "a time to be silent and a time to speak..." (vs 7). That was certainly true for a defendant in Texas.

I was contacted this week to see if HFP would be willing to help a Texas inmate who has already served 20 years on a charge of cattle rustling.

His cousin told me that the judge told the defendant that he had to be quiet during the trial. But, said my contact, he insisted on trying to explain that a veteran cattle rustler had masterminded this crime and he just played a minor role. The judge evidently didn't like his interruptions and stated that every time he spoke up she was going to give him another life sentence. Before the guy stopped talking she had given him 7 life sentences! And they stood.

Governor Perry speaks very highly of his Texas judicial system, and one can certainly empathize with a judge who has a short temper when it comes to court interruptions, but 7 life sentences. Does that seem like a bit much?

And lest we start pointing fingers at Texas, I can tell you that stories about judges in other states also funnel into the HFP office, including confirmed reports of a judge who used to keep dirty magazines on his lap WHILE WORKING ON THE BENCH. And this was in Michigan. I won't say where, except to give you this hint: It was in a county where you just might expect that sort of thing.

Robert Green Ingersoll said, " being made judges,...their intelligence is not increased."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Three preachers, three churches

Mark is amazing. A 48-year-old professional engineer from New York, he has experienced first-hand the ruthless injustice of Michigan's notorious Berrien County. But this hasn't stopped him. He could be sitting in prison doing nothing but moping, facing the possibility that if all legal challenges go south, he could perhaps spend the rest of his years behind bars. He's never been in prison before.

Nope, this guy's glass is half-full...perhaps even more than that. That negative stuff doesn't enter his mind.

He struggled with some of his religious beliefs before going into prison, but not any longer. In fact, he has enrolled in a reputable prison seminary program. He's going to be a trained, educated servant of and for God one way or another.

He has a fist-full of degrees, but this prison business has changed his career thoughts, also. He's asking our board of directors if we would consider taking him aboard as an understudy with the possibility that eventually he'll take over my position as CEO. We'll be giving that serious thought. I am, after all, getting into the golden years.

When HFP first learned about Mark's situation, we instantly befriended him. For one thing, with my background in the Maurice Carter case, we're well aware of what can happen in Berrien County. But there was another matter, here. Mark is from New York State, and that's where his friends and family are. This means no visitation. No communication.

As things turned out, two other guys representing HFP started visiting him, and both are preachers: Al and Nate. Actually, I'm ordained also, so that made three members of the clergy all visting Mark. One might think God was ganging up on him. But he didn't take it that way, and we didn't approach it that way. It was just a simple situation of very good friends enjoying the company of each other.

Over the weekend Mark called me from prison to suggest that I stop there and pick up a gift from him at the front desk. Three gifts, actually. One for Al, one for Nate, one for me.

You should see the gifts! Beautiful, dainty, hand-made little country churches with steeple on top, sign board in front, little trees and shrubs. Each church much the same as the other two, but each individually made with its own unique characteristics. I know not how he could have found the time and especially the materials to put these together. Didn't know he had gifts like this.

Well, there are no words to describe the gifts. But there are no words to describe the friendship, either. As my friend would say, it's a "God thing."

Dunno where all this business is gonna go with Mark, but gotta admit that it's fun.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

The magic of music

We're all old enough to realize that magic doesn't exist. And with our age has come the inevitable element of cynicism creeping into our thoughts, words and deeds. But I hope that we're also young enough to recognize that there are, indeed, magical moments. A small rag-tag group of musicians had that experience yesterday.

I am honored to have musicians John Mulder, Cal Olson, Lee Ingersoll and Dave Mulder surround me as I plunk away at the piano. And I must confess, some of the moments are magical.

We met yesterday in a church setting to record the instrumental track for what will be a classy CD of gospel favorites, done in a homespun, folksy way. John's guitar work is absolutely masterful. There's no other way to describe it. Then we blend in the bass work of Cal Olson, who, like the rest of us, never places a note of music on the stand in front of him. It just comes from the soul. Cal adds the haunting sounds of breathy whistles to the mix. As with all music, percussion is the spine, the back-bone, and that is provided by our son-in-law Lee Ingersoll, a true metronome. And finally, as every cake must have frosting, we have Dave Mulder, who pours his emotions into the lush notes of the cornet and flugelhorn. Is it any wonder that I enjoy playing the piano with this gang? I just go about filling in the cracks in the only way that I know how.

Well, that was the instrumental track. Now comes the vocal track. John serves as lead soloist, but often he will be joined by tenor Cal Olson and baritone Lee Intersoll with some of the sweetest three-part harmony you'll hear. More magic moments.

Cal's capable wife Vicki served as our recording engineer for phase one.

We're hoping all of this will be ready in time for Christmas. All of the musicians are donating time and energy and yes, even dollars, to make this happen as a fund-raising project for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS.

The magic isn't over.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Those welcome phone calls

Some telephone calls just make your day. Like the ones from your kids who live far away. Or from a distant relative who has been special in your life. Or from a long lost friend. Or, in our case, from a special prisoner.

I used to think it was important---well, I still do, for that matter---to have a few good news items up my sleeve for that time when a prisoner calls. Because so much of a prisoner's life is negative, it's important to pass along some positive vibes. But the more I'm in this business, the more I've learned that it's equally important for my peace of mind to hear positive things from prisoners.

It was that way today when Big Ben called. The minute I hear his name from the automated prison system, I get a smile on my face. He's one of those friends you just love to hear from.

And he has good news.

"Hey man, it's not much, but the guys got together and held a little fund-raiser for you. The check is in the mail."

I've talked about this before. Gifts from prisoners are so meaningful. These guys may be making $10-12 a month, and yet they scrape up dollars to give to HFP.

"The guys are going to be putting on a music show. It's kind of a talent show, with playing and singing. Maybe some of us will be reading poetry, too. Anyway, your name is going to be on the invitation list. We want you to be a special guest. We know that your wife is in a wheelchair, so we're going to try to make provisions so that she can be here, also."

Two neat pieces of information that make my day.

In closing, I make sure to tell him how much I appreciate his phone calls, and how much this short quarter-hour conversation means to me.

"Well you know, man, we gotta be there for each other in difficult times. That's why the Lord put us together."

Yes, it is, Big Ben.

Yes, it is.

One day at a time

Sharon, our church secretary, commented yesterday on my walking ability. I had stepped sprightly up the church sidewalk. She talked about the contrast with my manner of walking just a few months ago, when I struggled to get out of the car, took a moment to get my bearings, and then slowly ambled up to the church door. Of course it's all relative. I hadn't resumed going to church until last Thanksgiving. A vicious multiple attack by a staph infection had nearly claimed my life more than once, kept me from church from Easter to Thanksgiving, and had me on a feeding tube for my only nourishment for six months straight.

And I agreed with her. It's just exhilarating for me to walk in the sunshine today, a glorious, sunny Michigan day with temps in the 70s.

But I must say that after a narrow brush with the grim reaper your mind works differently.

For example, a flu bug got the best of me a few weeks ago. I didn't panic, but I'd be a liar to say I didn't worry. How I dread the thought of having that infection return.

But, the flip side is that I give thanks to God for every great day like this...for every day that I feel so good. I'm not fully recovered from that ordeal and maybe that'll never happen. But I am indeed grateful for the gift of health every day. It's a shame that it took a scary experience to make me that way.

I encourage you to be thankful for every good day. It can all change in a heartbeat.

We'll celebrate together.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Michigan's Scarlet Letter

One of the first prisoners ever to receive assistance from HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, back in the days when the agency was still known as INNOCENT!, shamefully wears Michigan's Scarlet Letter. His name is on the sex offender registry.

Mr. J. sent me a curt message from his computer this week.

Yesterday, someone called my employer yet again...fourth time I lost a job in the last year because someone keeps calling my employers to tell them I am on the sex offender registry. Apparently the Scarlet Letter is alive and well.

Some steps have been taken to improve Michigan's poorly structured and poorly managed sex offender list. There are arguments for and against a state registry, but we have yet to see the perfect program.

There is no proof for this, but it seems like one could make a case that the state does everything it can to make it difficult for former prisoners to get a life in the real world upon their release. In fact, it seems to us that the state relishes the idea of getting prisoners to trip up. In a state where prison population is too high, and where budget is such a huge problem, you'd think that the state would do everything in its power to, one, adequately prepare prisoners who eventually will be released to make the re-entry successful; two, take all steps possible to make the re-entry smooth and barrier free; and three, prepare society in advance so that we know how to best help those freed prisoners in their difficult adjustment to a new life.

Continued steps to modify and improve Michigan's Scarlet Letter would be huge.

God bless those who are trying. There are too few of them, and their efforts are shamefully inadequate.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Well said, James

I often talk about my friend James, the prisoner who has listened to his conscience and who lives in fear every day because of that.

He has testified in case after case where he saw wrongdoing.

His devastating testimony has toppled people in high positions, as well as lowly crooks. If they did wrong, and James was a witness to their wrong-doing, he dared to take a stand for what is right. Because of his damaging testimony, James' very life is in danger. Constantly.

This week prison officials decided his message was good enough to be repeated. And so the prison psychologist set up him to speak to a group of 26 teenagers in the youth unit at the Thumb Correctional Facility. I often worry about these kids, because many if not most of them have not been in prison before, and that's the perfect place to learn the wrong lesson.

So James spilled his guts to these guys.

"It's OK to blow the whistle when you see injustice," said James. "If you believe in your heart that it's the right thing to do, do it!"

James spoke for an hour and 21 minutes, and he said, "Those cats listened!"

Said the prison psychologist, "Well said, James."

We say the same.

Well said, James.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Absence does NOT make the heart grow fonder

Some people I know in the prisoner advocacy business are trying to come up with hard data on just how important family visits are to prisoners. It is their belief that frequent visits by loved ones not only contribute to mental and physical well-being, but actually enhance the rehabilitation process. They're hoping to find data to prove all of this.

One of the reasons these people want this information is to strengthen their position when arguing with the state about where prisoners should be located. We can't prove this, but it seems that transfer is one form of punishment for prisoners who get in trouble. If they do something wrong, they get sent to some distant facility where it's very difficult for the prisoners' next of kin and closest friends to visit them. So the guy sits in a God-forsaken place alone, and lonely.

One of the sad spin-offs of this alleged punishment is that it often is a direct punishment to the parents or the fiancee' or the dear friend or sibling. We knew of a prisoner in one of the facilities in Ionia who did something to displease the state, and in a heartbeat he was transferred to the U.P. But the inmate's parents lived in Grand Rapids, so they really caught the brunt of this punishment. Ionia was a skip and a jump away. Now it takes them 4-5 hours just to get to the bridge.

I received a letter this week from a very nice inmate with a very clean record, liked by prisoners and staff alike, who is also living in one of the facilities in Ionia. But his parents, in their 80s and in bad health, live in Lapeer. In case you weren't aware of it, Michigan has a prison facility right in Lapeer. Joe's parents, although elderly and in bad health, insist on visiting him regularly. Think how much easier it would be for them to visit him if he resided in the Thumb Correctional Facility, right in Lapeer. And think how much more comfortable it would make him knowing that his elderly and ailing parents wouldn't have to take so much time and travel so far just to see him. Seems like a no brainer.

Maybe with a new administration in the state we'll see positive changes on common sense issues like this.

I wouldn't bet on it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

No such thing as a coincidence

Do you believe the headline?

The older I get, the more I'm convinced that nothing that that happens is just an accident.

I have a beautiful example.

I'm getting more and more like Archie Bunker each day, in that I dislike answering the telephone. Each time it rings I grumble just like Archie used to. And this was the case one evening last month.

But this time, when I answered, a mostly friendly voice on the other end of the line said, "I can't believe that someone is actually answering the telephone this time." He went on to say how difficult it has been to find someone at home on our end of the line. Finally I interrupted him and asked him just who he thought he was talking to. When he responded I had to regretfully inform him that I wasn't the guy. He had a wrong number.

He was so friendly, however, that I kept the conversation going by saying that I ran a charitable organization and I wondered if he would like to make a contribution. Again, a friendly response instead of a hang-up. He wanted to know what I did, and so I told him.

And it turns out that he has a family member with prison issues. And it turns out that he is very interested in what we do.

So I told him that, as a gift, I would send him a copy of my book SWEET FREEDOM. It went out the next day.

I got a note the other day, thanking me for the book, which he had read shortly after its arrival.

Along with the note came a check to HFP for $50.00.

The note was signed, "Your new friend in Tampa."

Coincidence, indeed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A cruel hoax

The Michigan Department of Corrections has been playing a cruel trick on prisoners for years. It must be increasing lately, because the complaints are increasing...both from prisoners and from families and friends of prisoners.

The game goes like this. The state says a prisoner must participate in a particular program before he/she can be released. Sounds reasonable enough, if you can find the program. The prisoner agrees and tries to sign up for the classes, only to discover that that particular program is not available in his or her facility. Or, the prison finds out that there is a three-year waiting list, probably because there are not enough instructors. The prisoner complains to staff and writes to legislators, even sends messages to the Ombudsman's Office and the Parole Board. Not only does the prisoner not get satisfaction...he/she doesn't even get the courtesy of a reply.

And it doesn't stop there. When appearing before the Parole Board, the prisoner will be reprimanded for not taking said course. And it still doesn't stop. The PB then gives the prisoner demerits in ratings with the board for that time when a parole will be reconsidered.

One prisoner said in a letter to a newspaper editor: I've been told I need a class. I've been on a list for more than 10 months. Yet, I cannot even enroll in it, let alone complete it, because it doesn't exist. It's insane. I received a 12-month continuance for a class I've had zero chance to complete. I'm serving time for operating under the influence of liquor---a five year maximum.


Where are those people elected to office who make such big campaign promises?

And they wonder why the prison population can't be reduced? Gimme a break.

Holding a tin cup

I'm begging today. Again.

It's a way of life here at HFP, because we always have needs. This one comes as regularly as the seasons. We need more copies of the book SWEET FREEDOM.

If you haven't read it, please pick up a copy. You'll then understand why it's so popular in prison. Prisoners love to read my stories about visits with my friend Maurice Carter when he was alive and in prison. They laugh when I talk about the vending machine food in the visiting room. The smell of the food made me sick. Yet Maurice loved the taste of it, because it was so much better than the prison meals. The book gets passed from one prisoner to another until the pages are frayed, and that makes me feel so good.

You've gotta remember that many of these people do not have much to read if anything at all, but they do have time. And if radio and TV are limited, and there isn't a lot of printed stuff to read, a book is precious, especially a book about the things they understand. And that's why we give away so many copies to prisoners, not only in Michigan, but all around the world.

It costs less than $300 to buy a carton of 52 books. I'll order another box just as soon as we get confirmation of a gift.

Meanwhile, don't wait for us to stock up. Go to Amazon, and even if you're broke you can buy a book from the used book division. You should be able to pick one up for a buck.

Get back to me after you read it. I would like to hear from you.

And if you're interested in funding this little project, let us hear from you right away.

Thank you.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The mentally ill cannot win in prison

I had an opportunity to chat with Lois the other day. She has a teenaged son in prison who is mentally challenged and who, I fear, is in there for a long time. He shouldn't be in there at all.

She shared pictures with me that were heartbreaking. Her son was chained to the concrete floor, but the guards were kind about it...they placed a blanket in between him and the cement. The reason for the shackles was simple in the minds of the guards: He had been trying to injure himself, and for a while he was successful. So, to prevent him from hurting himself, chain him up, including legs and feet. No one suggested that he was trying to kick himself, but I guess if you're gonna do it, you'd better do it all the way.

Here's the problem, and it is a brutal, vicious cycle. This teenager and many mentally ill prisoners like him are not treated well by guards and fellow prisoners because their behavior is less than stellar. And so, their behavior get's worse. Then the guards take stronger action, and write tickets. The more they do this, the worse the behavior of the prisoner gets. And it goes on and on. And the worse this situation gets, the less likely the chances that a prisoner will be released early, or released at all.

In many cases, I think it's very fair to say that these people should not be in prison in the first place. Granted, there are some vicious and brutal crimes, and these must be considered in a separate discussion. But the prisoners I'm talking about are in for such things as home invasion or playing doctor with their little kid friends. No major violence, and no major sex crimes. And yet judges who aren't thinking clearly decide that the way to make society better for all of us is to lock up these mental cases. Where is the sense in all of this? Then the jailers go one step farther: They put these sick people in the hole. The nice term is protective segregation. In some cases the mentally ill prisoners are locked in seclusion in the dark! If a sane person was placed alone in a dark room for 22 hours a day with nothing to do, no radio or televion, no one to talk to and nothing to read, my guess is that person would come out mentally ill. Is this a way to treat our fellow human beings? I think it is absolutely shameful.

Lois would like to get her son out of there and into some kind of a private facility where his treatment would be guaranteed, where the medicine would always be correct and on time. She doesn't want her son injuring himself, but she's not convinced that the only way to stop that is to shackle his whole body with chains to the concrete.

Not until someone in authority with a conscience steps in will we see any improvement, or even any change.

Only you and I can make that happen, and that's by contacting elected officials. The one thing these people understand is getting re-elected.

Let's get started.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Little things mean a lot

Our blog title is a song that dates back to the Hit Parade of the 1950s. I was reminded of that important premise when I opened the prisoner mail over the weekend. One letter came from a woman whom I have known for several years. I love her, believe her story and will do what I can to help her win release from prison. She doesn't belong there. I apologize to her once in a while, because I'm not making much progress with my help.

"I am often puzzled when you write, 'I haven't done much for you lately.' I cannot express the feelings of not having anyone to believe in you and support you. You renewed faith and humanity for the community that I had lost long ago. I simply thought that no one cares. What comes to mind that you have done for me opened me to hope. Ps. 146: I have joy in me that was oppressed by my situation. Thank you."

Please join us in showing kindness to prisoners. You have no idea how much little things mean. A lot!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why writing letters is so important

My friend Cindy heard the HFP pitch for Project Window, our pen pal program involving prisoners, and hesitantly agreed to give it a try. We provided the name of a female inmate who had indicated an interest in receiving a letter. Cindy was disappointed that, after she finally made up her mind to take this big step, she didn't receive a reply.

She stopped me in church this morning. "My lady finally wrote back to me," she said. She was so pleased, and said that she received a very nice letter.

Why had it taken to long?

The inmate confessed to Cindy that she was nervous about writing. While it took an amount of courage on Cindy's part to write a letter to a prisoner, turns out it also took an amount of courage on the prisoner's part to respond.

In her letter to Cindy the woman explained that she has no contact with the outside world any more.

We see that often. Many prisoners agree that after about ten years, contacts with family members and friends start to die off. For many prisoners, it drops off to nothing. No contacts. No word from family or friends. Can you imagine it? Think about your activities today. The people you talk to. Your communication in person, on the phone, on the computer...all of your conversation with people you know. What if it were to stop? Completely!

That's exactly why our Project Window is so very important. Cindy didn't realize it when she finally decided to take the plunge...she may be the only contact for this prisoner in the outside world. She may be the only friend of that inmate. What a privilege. What a responsibility.

God bless Cindy for daring to take this step.

God bless all who agree to befriend a prisoner, even if the effort isn't returned.

Jesus was pretty firm in his words. He wants us to do it.

We'll help to get you started.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

On heroes and heroism

We loosely throw around the word "hero." Genuine heroes, however, are few and far between.

I have a friend who is a real hero, genuine in every sense of the word.

This man has saved one of our telephone companies an estimated $5-million or more by breaking up a credit card fraud that resulted in several arrests.

He broke up an auto theft ring that resulted in huge savings for one of our major car insurers.

He worked with the FBI and played a central role in exposing a prison escape plot.

He heard a prisoner boasting about how he killed a woman, could not live with his conscience, and brought the criminal to justice. A Michigan prosecutor and a municipal police detective were elated with his testimony and they obtained a conviction that resulted in a life sentence.

He was instrumental in breaking up criminal activity at the staff level in one of our prisons.

The list goes on, if you can believe it. If successful in winning just one of these cases, I would say the man was worthy of being called a hero. But this guy has done a bunch of them.

Now here's the kicker.

Is the man holding some honored position, where he can be paid tribute by private business and government alike?


You wanna know where he is? In prison. That's right. In prison. Our system, made up of all these wonderful people who benefited from his testimony, is sitting on its hands, taking its sweet time about repaying this hero who has been promised a chance at freedom.

Meanwhile, this man is constantly afraid, always watching behind his back because so many people want to get even with him.

If he's to be called a hero, what would you call all of those people who don't seem to get around to paving the way for his freedom?

I'm praying that this hero someday will get some of his reward here on earth.

Friday, August 5, 2011

We need a Prison Justice Day

For 35 years now, prisoners in Canada have been observing a Prison Justice Day on August 10. I say that it's past time for a similar observance in the United States. I'd be in favor of holding it the first or second Sunday in August, rather than on a set date, and I'd love to have churches of all faiths involved.

The oservance began in the prisons. Prisoners set aside this day to fast and to refuse to work in a show of solidarity to remember prisoners who died unnecessarily---victims of murder, suicide and neglect.

And at the same time, organizations and individuals in the community were to hold demonstrations, vigils, worship services and other events in common resistance with prisoners.

I'm encouraging others to get this ball rolling, and let's throw the ball to churches...churches of all observe this day on a Sunday. It's past time that we listened to what Jesus had to say about prisoners, and it's past time that the churches got on board. Get it started in your church. Let's make things happen.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Thinking would help

I got a call this week from a guy who admits he broke the law. He's on the later side of middle-aged, and was growing some wacky tobacky in his back yard. I'm not sure why people think they can get away with this stuff, but that's another story. Anyway, he got arrested and convicted. But then he got sent to prison for a couple years. That, in itself, doesn't make a lot of sense. But now you gotta hear the rest.

The man had been injured several years earlier in a snowmobile accident, and is paralyzed from the waist down. This means that he cannot get around. It also means that he has problems with bowels and his urinary tract.

Now stop to think about it for a minute.

I know that this well-meaning judge wanted to get terrible criminals off the street. But guess how many problems it might cause not only for the new prisoner, but for the current occupants of the prison and for the prison staff, to suddenly admit this man. And when you get done thinking about that, stop to think about how much more this is going to cost the state than housing a healthy human being.

The results were completely predictable.

Prisoners couldn't stand having this guy around, with all of his personal hygiene issues, and they finally took things into their own hands and beat the guy to a pulp. That was their only solution to the problem. The man recites a litany of disasters that no one should have had to experience. His punishment turned out to be much worse than the actual crime.

There has to be a better way. This is sheer stupidity.

In a case like this, it's hard to believe that anyone was thinking.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Do you make up those stories?

Marcia and I were enjoying a cup of coffee and a dish of ice cream with friends dating back to high school days, Timmy and Char. The question came from Tim, who knows the truth but has a hard time believing that all of this stuff goes on in the prisons day after day.

Actually, I couldn't tell him one that I'm dealing with right now, where prisoners have a contract out on a friend of ours who dared to tell the truth despite a threat of retaliation. Jimmy lives in constant fear, and his spirits are so low it's getting hard for me to prop him up. Last weekend some terrorists hit him in the face and mouth with human waste. Nothing is too low, too degrading. I couldn't tell this to Timmy because it would spoil his ice cream snack. One cannot imagine anything so horrible. Makes me gag to talk about it. It took him over an hour just to get rid of the smell and taste, gargling and using mouthwash. Nope, I'm sad to say, I don't make up these stories.

General Sherman is credited with being the first person to use the phrase "War is Hell," which he did in a graduation speech back in 1879.

I have paraphrased it just a mite, to say that PRISON IS HELL. Honest, it is. Relious experts have been debating Rob Bell's wonderful best seller, LOVE WINS, because he questions some of our old concepts of hell. I can tell you, here and now, that hell exists. Prison is hell.

That's why it's so important that we never flag in our mission. We may not falter or slow down. Every issue that comes to our desk is of utmost importance. Each prisoner who contacts us, no matter how unpleasant and no matter how ugly his/her crime, is a real human being created in the image of God. And he/she must be treated with care and respect, and his/her issue is, indeed, critical.

Thanks for being a partner with us.