Showing posts from August, 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

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.

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 wi

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 t

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. The

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!

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 d

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 wo

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 boar

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