Showing posts from January, 2012

May the words of my mouth...

Dan Rooks and I are scheduled to speak at the Thumb Correctional Facility this Wednesday. Dan is a clinical psychologist and is chairman of the HFP Board of Directors. He has a genuine passion for prisoners. He conducts regular group sessions in one of the state prisons. He and I will make a good team Wednesday. We both have a heart for these guys. We've spoken to prisoners before, and the rapport is great. There's only one problem. The state can't handle the number of prisoners who want to hear us. I'm told by one of the guys that we'll be able to speak to about 50 prisoners from the youth division, and about 125 of the old-timers. The session, being arranged by the chaplain, will be held in the gymnasium. Inmates were asked to sign up, the lists are full, and more prisoners still want to attend. I don't know if he was joking or not, but our friend James said that some of the guys are offering to buy a seat in the meeting. This is getting serious, and

I have a dream

These famous words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., came from the mouth of Warden Mary Berghuis, as I sat in her office at the Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon, Michigan. She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a set of blueprints. As she spread them out on her desk, one could see that these were plans for a beautiful chapel, to be located right on her prison campus. Seems that she had shared her dream with a prominent Muskegon architect, who not only picked up on the idea but made his own contribution to the prison system by designing the entire facility at no charge. Warden Berghuis explained that there was plenty of room for the chapel. In fact, she had chosen the perfect spot so that it would be easily accessible for prisoners there. The subject came up as we discussed previous programs presented at the prison by HIS MEN, a male chorus that I founded in 1972 and directed for 21 years. HIS MEN is still involved in presenting programs in prisons. But there's no chap

What does it take?

We're starting to wonder just what it takes to attract the attention of the Michigan Parole Board, after the board just blew off one of the strongest applications for commutation of sentence that we have seen. James should be out of prison anyway. He has turned his life around, has been more than a model prisoner, and has served 28 years on a life sentence for assault with intent. Our sources say that's enough time for a prisoner who has not been a problem. But there are other factors in this case. This marks the first time I have ever seen the prosecutor who put the man away now lead the charge to free him. But that's what has happened. The Chief Trial Attorney for the Muskegon County Prosecutor's Office in 1986 who obtained the conviction against James now wants him freed. And that's because James has not only become a model prisoner. James has decided, despite severe and continued threats, to help the state. And so, time after time, in case after case, he h

Are women treated worse in prison?

I can't prove it, but I think so. Gail, a resident of the Michigan prison system, this week called our attention to three different situations where it appears that appropriate health care is NOT being provided. Said she: There are so many women who are suffering with health care problems here that are so inhumane it just tears at my heart. Incarcerated women live under very harsh, uncomfortable, humiliating and demeaning conditions with rules of NO TOUCHING. She went on to tell me about Donna, who suffered a bowel obstruction due to inappropriate treatment of symptoms, that leaves her now with an ileoscopy bag not properly cared for, and so she has a continuing problem of bleeding around the opening. A request for corrective surgery is ignored. She told about Rita, who is totally disabled due to hip deterioration. And she told about Mary, who continues to have serious issues as a result of cancer and the removal of both breasts, but who is refused treatment for continued pain a

An internal investigation brings...RETALIATION

It was down to the final hours of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day I spotted a piece of unopened mail. I have been corresponding with 25 guys who had the courage to sign statements incriminating a prison guard who has been coming to work with liquor on his breath, and who has been mistreating inmates. These 25 men dared to sign their names to documents demanding that something be done about this officer. They approached HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS for assistance. I readily agreed to help, but stressed that we could not protect them from retaliation. In a situation like this, the guards get the last word. Always. Well, we charged in and brought about an Internal Affairs investigation, and it wasn't pretty. Word is that the officer didn't get fired, but he got transferred, and that was enough for the men in the unit. But it didn't come without a price. One of the men told me that some in the group were denied their food. Some were denied health care kites (messages). Some were denied


It will give an added dimension to this story, because on Monday the 9th, I received a call from Dan Armijo's mother. I was in a bad cell, and could hardly understand the crackly and distorted message: My son has been granted a new trial! Dan was convicted on a CSC charge in Macomb County and sentenced to 2-15 years on November 30, 2010. He came up for parole, but he refused to show remorse and admit that he had committed the crime, so no parole. The Parole Board insisted that he was in denial. And so he served one year beyond his minimum sentence before the state begrudgingly released him. He was still on a tether the last we heard. But now, in answer to many prayers, Dan's conviction HAS BEEN SET ASIDE, AND A NEW TRIAL HAS BEEN GRANTED. Proof positive that it does sometimes happen. Once in a while there is wrongful conviction. The Parole Board is going to have to get off this kick that EVERYONE must show remorse and admit guilt, because everyone is simply not guilty. Our cong

I'll hammer it out: Shakespeare

I have bin studying, how to compare This Prison where I live, unto the World; And for because the world is populous, And heere is not a Creature, but my selfe, I cannot do it: yet Ile hammer't out. Shakespeare I was listening to a riveting performance of this monologue from The Life and Death of Richard the Second. I was not in a major Shakespeare venue in Canada, nor in a small theatre off Broadway. I was in a classroom at Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon, Michigan. And the performer was not a kingpin in the thespian world, but may have been---for all I know---a kingpin in the world of crime at one time. I know him only by a prison nicknam, Latorius, and though not a professional critic of the theatre, I can tell you that this was no simple, amateur performer. He was good. It's a product of a program called SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS, the brainchild of Curt Tofteland, of Holland, Michigan. A select group of prisoners participate, and after completing the course in a presc

do you hear anything about the poor?

As a reporter, although retired from day-t0-day journalism, I remain facinated by politics and continue to watch political skirmishes on the local, state and national levels. As we head toward another national election, I am puzzled by the lack of discussion on one particular topic: the poor. Recent statistics show that more people are legally poor in the United States than ever before. Poverty is on the increase. As Christians, we are constantly advised in scripture to be aware of thee poor. The book of Proverbs is full of zesty little nuggets about the poor. A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor . (22:9) The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. (29:7) Even the Old Testament prophets warned the government about lack of concern for the poor. I will be quick to testify against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice... .(Malachi 3:

God don't make no junk

I was first drawn to that slogan more than 40 years ago when I spotted the words on a poster, obviously designed by a child with crayons, on the wall of a social worker who specialized in helping mentally challenged children. I don't know where the saying began. Ethel Waters is among those credited with first making the statement. But, I woke in the middle of the night full of HFP ideas---as so often happens---just last week, and I thought of this statement. It's the message that HFP must confey to its supporters at the beginning of a new year. It's the message that HFP must convey to its friends behind bars. Many people on the outside believe that prisoners are somehow in a different category of humanity. But God don't make no junk. Many prisoners feel that because they've failed, time and again, there's no hope for them. But God don't make no junk. I've been trying to figure out who can be a help to one of our prisoners in recent days. He's so sick