Showing posts from June, 2012

On alternatives, or lack thereof

This is one of those times when I just don't know what to say. It's not fair to offer false hope. What do you suggest? Here's the situation. You can be convicted of first degree murder without actually committing the crime. If the court determines that you aided and abetted, you can go to prison for life with no chance for parole. And that's what happened to my friend Ms. D. She's been in prison for 28 years, has done a fine job of improving her situation and helping others. She's a good prisoner, minds her own business, and gets involved in programs. But, she's giving up hope, and I hate that. She doesn't want to go through another attempt at having her sentence commuted. We tried that once, and the Parole Board wouldn't hear of it. The emotional turmoil is very unpleasant, and she refuses to put herself through that wringer again. Besides, she says, no one believes her story anyway. And the other alternatives? Well, if she gets t

Happy Father's Day

My emotions are divided right down the middle today. On one hand, I feel like the Psalmist. I feel so blessed that I cannot stop praising and thanking God. I have four adult kids, four adult kids-in-law, nine grandkids, all in good health, all loving each other, and all loving their parents and grandparents. I am blessed beyond measure. On the other hand, I am hurting for many today. I am hurting for dads who are in prison today, and for whom the day will mean little more than perhaps a touch of extra heart-break. Many won't see their kids, or even hear from them. In some cases, they don't even know where their kids are. I am hurting for men and women in prison who would like to celebrate the day with their dads, but cannot. In some cases, their fathers have passed on while they were in prison. In some cases, their dads don't even want to see them. In some cases, they don't even know if they have a dad. I am hurting for dads who have kids in prison, me

Guest Commentary: On solitary confinement

A special edition of our blog with a guest writer. This is a copy of a letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee by HFP friend, Joyce Gouwens, of St. Joseph: Dear Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Graham: I am extremely grateful that you are looking into the long-term affects of solitary confinement. I correspond regularly with 10 prisoners, two of whom are mentally ill and who are overwhelmed by the isolation of solitary confinement. My article on the subject was published by The Christian Century in its December 27, 2011 issue titled "Put Away." I served on Berrien County's Task Force on Juvenile Justice (Michigan) in 2001, and was involved in our county's study a year ago on how to head off imprisonment for the mentally ill. We were impressed by the successful pattern established by police and mental health advocates in Chicago and are working here now in trying to treat instead of imprison whenever possible. I have volunteered for the past ten years

Think it's hot?

It's the warm weather season, and certainly a season here in Michigan to be enjoyed. But sometimes we forget how it used to be. I'm old enough to remember the days before air conditioning, not only in homes but also in cars and commercial buildings. Traveling in our black, 1937 Dodge sedan was't pleasant on a hot, sunny, summer day. And I remember sweltering heat in my dad's little neighborhood grocery store in mid-summer. Air conditioning is a way of life for most of us these days...unless you happen to be in prison. And there, it can still be struggle just to get some fresh air. I suppose one can say this is for budgetary reasons, but one has to wonder why the Deputy Director of Correctional Facilities Administration in Michigan, a man by the name of Thomas Finco, decides to crack down on free electric fans for inmates. Thanks to Kay Perry, of the MI-CURE office in Kalamazoo, we learn in her quarterly newsletter that a policy directive states that fans be

Pain is, indeed, cruel

In this prisoner advocacy business, it seems like we're always on the defensive. A prisoner may make a claim that he/she has been wronged, but that's not going to be accepted at face value. Every claim by a prisoner is challenged. Always. it's what the prison system does. I find this especially frustrating when the prisoner is in pain. It's one thing to make a claim that a medical issue is being ignored, and that symptoms are not being treated...but it seems to me that the situation changes when the prisoner is in such pain that it affects his daily routine. We're working on two cases right now that seem to demand corrective surgery: One involves a torn ligament of the knee dating back to 2007, and the second involves a fractured shoulder dating back to 2009. According to the inmates, surgery was indicated at the time of the injury but still has not been performed. And the arguments seem to vary as to why the surgery is being delayed, although cost

I'm third

Ages ago, when I was a kid attending summer camp, the YMCA's popular Camp Pendalouan had a slogan that I never forgot: I'm third. The counselors used to explain it this way to us: God first, the other fella second, I'm third. Good theology, really: Summary of the law; Golden Rule. And just plain, common sense...good advice. The slogan came to mind this week when a prisoner resisted what I thought was rather gentle advice, and pretty much told me that with friends like me he didn't really need any enemies. I'm sad about that, because no camp counselor ever repeated the slogan "I'm third" to him as a kid, apparently. I say that because, to hear him talk, he's first. In all fairness, prisoners probably get a better rating than the people you and I meet on the street in our everyday lives. We meet many people who think that way. I can think of only three instances in the past 15 years, in dealing with prisoners, where I have had a real