Showing posts from August, 2012

When two or three are gathered

That simple little promise in scripture has deep meaning for me. In my 75 years on this earth, I have had some rich experiences in small groups of worship. I participated in a worship service for Viet Cong prisoners in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Two singers and I took communion in a storefront church in a San Juan ghetto where the only music was the pastor, singing unaccompanied and on perfect pitch, The Lord's Prayer. As the director of HIS MEN, I took the concert to an audience of one person in the hollers of Appalachia, when an 80 year old woman wasn't well enough to get to our program. The same male chorus went down into the bowels of the giant San Juan Penitentiary to sing for prisoners living in conditions not acceptable for most of mankind. I learned early in my life that a large audience was not a necessary ingredient for something spiritually meaningful. All of these experiences, and many more, came to my mind this week when I read a letter

Welcome home, Bobby

For today's blog entry, I'm going to write an obituary. As a news writer, I've penned my share of obits over the years, but never for these reasons. I'm writing this obit because I'm sure no one else will do it. I'm writing it because Bobby deserves it. And I'm writing it because this glimpse of prison life must also be seen on the other side of the bars. Robert McKinney: 04/07/1952 - 08/26/2012. Mr. McKinney died less than five hours ago at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, Michigan. Liver disease claimed his life at the age of 60. His health had been failing, and the prison doctor suggested a transfer to the Duane Waters Health Center for McKinney, where he might receive better pain control medication. McKinney refused, saying that he would prefer to remain among his friends and endure the pain. And endure the pain he did: the methadone he was given wasn't adequate. He was in such pain, according to his friends, he was unable to

Being alone makes it worse

When as a little boy, I stumbled and skinned my knee, my loving mother was there to wipe my tears and tend to my pain. Even when I was in high school, and had to stay home from school with the flu, Mom was there with chicken soup. Many years later, when a stubborn staph infection tried to introduce me to the grim reaper, Marcia---my partner for life---was there to fight off the demons and ride out the storm with me. I cite these examples to show the stark contrast with my friends in prison. Mark has been struggling for years to get appropriate surgery after a prison injury, and an even simpler matter: he wants something for the pain. We're doing our best to try to help, but we're on the outside; he's on the inside. He's alone. He said to me today: "I am in so much daily pain and finding it hard to even walk around or sit still without complaining about pain." I'm sorry. He has no mother, no wife, not even a friend to help him through this

On losing a loved one

I played the piano and the organ in a memorial service for a dear aunt last week. Aunt Clara was almost 95 years old, and the last of all of the brothers and sisters in my father's family. It sounds rather bizarre, but I really love a service like this. No one was really sad that she died. She was in misery, and had lived a full and complete life. It was time to move on. I'm family, and it felt important to me to be a part of that service. Today I received a short message from a prisoner: "I would like to ask you for prayers for me and my sister. Our father passed away last Thursday, and it has really taken a toll on our lives." George couldn't be at the memorial service for his father. His sister had to go alone. It's one of the little things we don't think about when we think about incarceration. My friend Kenny Wyniemko gets very emotional about this very subject. Kenny served nearly 9 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

A soft answer

It's Sunday, and I played hooky today. I didn't make it to the service this morning. But the most unusual thing happened. I watched commercial television, and actually had some time with God. Let me explain. One of the things I regret about having to be in church every Sunday morning is that I must miss one of my favorite broadcast personalities---Charles Osgood. I think one of the reasons he is such a hero of mine in the industry is that he's actually a radio man. Granted, he's in TV now, but he's a radio man. And that's what I am. I haven't been in the business for 30 years now, but I'm radio man. Started at age 12, and will be until I die. And I forgot how much I like Charles Osgood, and why, until I turned on the set this morning while staying home from church. There was no shouting, no rancor, no bitterness. The terrible political battles were missing. Instead, there were beautiful stories, and a very emotional story really touched

Joy: it can't be stolen

Our daughter Sue tells of a delightful African American co-worker whose spirits never seem to dip. One day Sue had to ask her, "Tell me, how is it that you're always so happy, so positive, so upbeat?" She looked at Sue, and said with conviction: "Ain't nobody gonna steal my joy." Isn't that wonderful? I thought of that yesterday when I opened a two-page letter from a dear friend in the Women's Correctional Facility at Ypsilanti. These women are not treated nicely. Granted, they are prisoners, but the incarceration is their punishment. They don't need or deserve such rude treatment. HFP has been working with this prisoner in recent years to develop a wonderful knitting program for prisoners. These women knit items for shelters, hospitals, churches...they're doing good stuff for others. We have coordinated efforts to get yarn to these knitters, sometimes as many as 100 women. Our friend reported that the staff members do th

On prisoners' generosity

The wife of a prisoner gave me a challenging statement the other day. She said: "I hear a lot about what HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS has done. But if I'm going to donate any money to your organization, I don't want to hear that. I want to hear WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO DO!" And that started my thought processes. Maybe we're going about this fund-raising business in the wrong way. Perhaps we should offer new programs, new ideas, thoughts about what HFP will try to accomplish in the future. I won't argue that plans for the future are not only exciting, but they also are important. There's a flip side, however. It's also important for us to continue doing what we have been doing. And here's why. As I write this, Marcia and I are in northern Michigan for a rare experience. We're vacationing for a few days with all of our children and all of our grand-children. This doesn't happen often, because two of our grand-kids live in Hawaii

Haleigh's mite

Dr. Luke tells in his gospel of a poor widow who stepped up to the temple treasury and dropped in two tiny copper pennies. A little girl named Haleigh jogged my memory of that story this week. Our little ragtag band of musicians was performing in a downtown Grand Haven church coffeehouse, hoping to raise dollars for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. In fact, we were hoping to raise lots of dollars. HFP is usually struggling to stay afloat, and today is no exception. A wonderful couple who support us donated ten jars of their home-prepared Michigan maple syrup, which we used to attract contributions of $100 or more. Some gave even more than that, and one generous soul donated $1,000.00! But now to the story of Haleigh, age 8. Haleigh came with her piggy bank. She wanted to give her pennies to HFP, and said she hoped the money could help to send Bibles to prisoners. Her grandfather emptied the piggy bank with her, and they turned over $3.00 in coppers to HFP. He introduced her to