Saturday, March 31, 2012

Remembering Maurice Carter

Maurice Carter's birthday appeared on my calendar this week. We were so busy tackling a couple of prisoner issues that the day went by almost unnoticed. Maurice would have understood. After all, we were doing the work that he dreamed about. The formation of INNOCENT!, now known as HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, was the idea of Maurice Carter, who served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. He wanted to form an agency that would help others in situations similar to his. After many years in prison, he finally found help, but he pointed out that many do not.

And so we began, at first attempting to help just those claiming wrongful conviction. But it soon became apparent that others needed help. There were other prisoners like Maurice, for example, suffering from maladies like Hep C, and unable to get treatment. Maurice was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 1995, and didn't get treatment until 2003 when he collapsed in his cell. They didn't bother to tell him that he had the disease, therefore they wouldn't have to treat it. There were others dying, like Maurice, who had no one to be near them through these difficult times. There were others needing parole or a commutation of sentence, with no one to stand at their side, to help them fill out the forms. In other words, there were tons of prisoners "falling through the cracks." And those very prisoners are the ones that Maurice wanted to touch, to help, to befriend. And it is those very prisoners that HFP is dealing with on a daily basis.

Maurice didn't live long enough to see his dream come true. In fact, he died just three months after his release in 2004. But I assured him we would press on, and we have. It's not a popular cause, which should have been no surprise, but it did catch us a bit off guard. We felt that in the American spirit of kindness and generosity, the disenfranchised in prisons would find some compassion. It didn't happen. And we felt that certainly in the Christian community, especially because of the words of Jesus in Matthew 25, we would receive overwhelming support. No such luck. It was there, but it was minimal.

Our band of supporters is rather small, but exceptionally loyal. These wonderful people remain at our side through thick and thin. We're not making ends meet, but we're determined to keep on.

And as we do, HFP continues to quietly make its mark time and again in the Michigan prison system. The prisoners know, and love us. Maurice would be 68 this year, still a young man. We lost him far too early. But his name lives on, and we press on in his spirit. He would be proud.

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