Showing posts from October, 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 penni

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

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 f

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.

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 introdu

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 ON

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 ta

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 abo

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

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 lif