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Showing posts from February, 2012

On Michigan PB hearings

My memories of Parole Board public hearings are not fond. It all began with the hearing for my friend Maurice Carter in 2004, when a stern-faced board chairperson stuck with his belief that Carter was guilty, and a crack-pot representative of the Michigan Attorney General's office recommended no release for this dying prisoner because he might get a gun after his release and start blazing away. In a later public hearing, the same AG attorney shouted at a dying woman in a wheelchair, seeking release for medical reasons, until he reduced her to tears. Sitting next to me was former Governor William Milliken who was appalled. So my hopes were not high yesteday, as I drove to Jackson for a medical commutation hearing for inmate Tracy Snay. She's dying of cancer, and has been given less than a year to live. I don't know her, but I promised her friends in prison at Huron Valley that I would put the reputation of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS behind her request for release. I mus

We're all in this together

One of my favorite and oft-recited phrases took on new meaning yesterday. Board Chair Dan Rooks, his wife Deb, and I, were special guests of Chapter 1014 of the National Lifers of America, in Michigan's huge women's facility. All 1,800 women incarcerated in Michigan are at Huron Valley in Ypsilanti. When community volunteer Mary Lynn Stevens invited me to speak at one of the chapter's monthly meetings, called a soiree, I readily accepted, and then asked if Dan and Deb could participate as well. Saturday, the three of us were guests of honor at HVW, and it was one beautiful experience. We learned so much about their NLA chapter, and will talk more about it in the future. These women and this organization are amazing. To say that we were impressed would be an understatement. But back to the title of this entry. I do have manners, and the last thing I would ever do in a prison speech is hit on inmates for money. They don't have any. They are incredibly poor. The

on strange bedfellows having lunch

Cal Thomas and Rachel Maddow having lunch together? Many would never have believed that this could happen. If you haven't read about this, Google Cal's apology to Rachel. Cal Thomas is an enigma to me. He embraces Christian principles. And yet his tongue can be so sharp. I cannot imagine Jesus talking that way. But then Cal made an unfair comment about Rachel, and realized it. You must read his apology. It is very Christian, and it led to a luncheon meeting between these two people with opposing viewpoints. I'll bet the meeting will be a success, because these people will discover that you can disagree with someone and still like that person. Now I share the rest of this story...another luncheon meeting. This week I had lunch with prominent west Michigan attorney John Smietanka. He was the Prosecutor of Berrien County in the 1970s when Maurice Carter was wrongly convicted. Even though he didn't personally try the case, and claims now that he cannot even rem

Where do we go from here?

It's a question we must continue to address here at HFP. The problem is simple: we cannot survive. It takes money, and we don't have any. HFP is an amazing organization, an agency that appears, on the surface, to be very small. But it's not. It has a vast network of advisors in all kinds of professions, even to public officials and former public officials, doctors, lawyers, investigators, you name it. They just want to remain below the radar, and so we don't tell anybody who they are. It gives us a huge advantage when it comes to advocating for prisoners. We know good people, who know more good people, who know how to press buttons. They have answers, and they have contacts. And so, we get results. And, because we get results, prisoners love us. It's a two-way street, of course. Just read my last entry. We love prisoners in this office. But having said all that, we must go back to my original premise: We need dollars to continue. We need dollars to

One more reason why I love prisoners

When I correspond with some of my friends in prison, I share personal information. It's no secret that Marcia has been experiencing some health issues. They are not life-threatening, but they certainly do affect everyday living. And so, knowing that Marcia would be going to the University of Michigan Health Center for a certain procedure a week ago, I asked some of my Christian friends behind bars to pray for us. Today Marcia received a letter from a Michigan prison. Marcia: I hope this letter finds you whole. About 18 of us came together a few days back and prayed for you. Your spirit, wisdom, and struggle has been a blessing to HFP, which has been a true blessing to us prisoners. Be blessed, Robert Thank you, Robert, and thank you, prayer team of 18, for thinking of others, when your own situations aren't all that great. God be near you.

Getting out is just plain difficult

One of the mysteries of this business is that it's so easy to get into prison, and so difficult to get out. I'm really upset today, because James deserves to be out. Never mind that he has served 28 years, probably longer than almost any other prisoner in the country on a conviction of assault with intent. Never mind that he has been a model prisoner, and helped the state on numerous occasions. Never mind that the state made promises to him in exchange for his cooperation. He's staying in prison, and that's that. I'm convinced the Michigan Parole Board never even took at glance at the request for commutation of James' sentence. Because if board members had looked, they would have seen a three page letter from the prosecutor who put James away 28 years ago, RECOMMENDING HIS RELEASE. They would have seen letters from former FBI officials and Michigan State Police officials thanking him for helping to solve cases WHILE HE WAS IN PRISON. They would have see

May the words of my mouth...(Part Two)

"I don't think a round of applause is enough for our guest speaker," said inmate Ramano Wednesday evening at the Thumb Correctional Facility. "I believe his work at Humanity for Prisoners deserves a standing ovation!" And with that prompt, 100 men dressed in prison garb stood and cheered. I had just finished my part of the HFP presentation in a special assembly, arranged by Chaplain Hart. I reviewed impressive case after case where HFP made a difference. We helped a prisoner who was abandoned on her release date when her bus trip was cancelled. We arranged a birthday party in prison for the 8 year old daughter of a female inmate. We prodded the MDOC into giving cancer treatments to a terminal patient behind bars. We were up early in the morning to be at the side of an inmate who had no one to represent him at a Parole Board interview. We found a beautiful hospice facility at the request of prisoners in Jackson who wanted their friend, Old Bill, to die ou