Showing posts from October, 2012

Prison Visitation Part 5, the women's facility

The State of Michigan said it was a budget issue. Two prisoner visitation days a week were eliminated. MDOC spokesman John Cordell said it would save his department millions of dollars. But he conceded that it might result in an inconvenience to some people. Oh, really? Check with the women at Huron Valley. The problem gets more serious because all female Michigan prisoners are in one facility, some 1,800 of them. Weekday visitation is a thing of the past, so all husbands, brothers, parents, siblings and qualified children must visit these women on the weekend. Prisoner A told me, "there are many, many problems, with visitors waiting 2 hours to get in, and prisoners waiting in the visiting room that long, only to be told that their visitor has left." She went on: "My husband has driven 4 and 1/2 hours, but his visit was terminated because of lack of space." "Besides that," said Prisoner B, "instead of having their once-a-month emergency c

Prison Visitation Part 4, Meaningless Rules

I'm the first to admit that this example of prison visitor mistreatment isn't the worst of the bunch. It just shows the lack of consideration for friends of visitors, and the silliness of unnecessary and unbending rules. Mr. D, a senior citizen, had promised his dear friend Mollie that the day she walked out of prison, he would be the first to hold the door open for her. Even though the winter weather was threatening, he made the 150 mile drive. It was a harrowing experience. Because the drive had to be made early in the morning, it was dark, it was snowing, at times visibility was bad and at times the highway was slippery. But his prayers were answered, and he arrived in Ypsilanti safely and in plenty of time. In fact, because he allowed so much extra time, he was more than an hour early. He didn't mind that at all, because the waiting room in the prison was inviting, well-lighted, warm, and was served by vending machines. At least he could sit and let his jangle

Prison Visitation Part 3, Apparel Issues

The Michigan Department of Corrections must regulate apparel for good reason. One of the more controversial parts of the rules involves outer wear. Coats are not permitted, but blazers and sweaters are. With that background, here is the story as told by my friend Anna, a prison mom. Her companion,also a prison mom, had a very unpleasant experience. She and her husband had driven a couple hours to visit their son in prison, and here's how it went: She had on a nice jacket from Christopher Banks...not a "coat jacket" but a dress-up blazer that you wear with nice clothes. The woman working the visiting room told her she could not get in, because the blazer had metal buttons. Ms. B promptly returned to her seat, pulled all the metal buttons off her new blazer, and re-entered the visiting area. The officer allowed her husband in, but insisted it was still a "coat," and again blocked her entry. She was told that there was a department store 10 minutes away.

Prison Visitation Part Two---Picture ID Horrors

These are two real-life stories involving the elderly: two octogenarians hoping to visit their sons in prison. Mr. A was hoping to visit his son, a wrongly-convicted professional person behind bars. He was experiencing early symptoms of dementia, but his eldest son and namesake took him to the prison. Alfred, Jr, took charge of everything and presented the two drivers licenses to the guard at the control center---the licence for Alfred, Sr., and the license for Alfred, Jr. That's when the guard raised her voice, claiming the two picture IDS were phonies because they carried the same name, Alfred and Alfred. And besides that, to no one's surprise, the pictures looked very much the same. She refused to allow the elderly gentleman, who had been there many times before, to continue with the visit, and she refused to get advice from a superior. The situation was saved, however, when a veteran guard came along, recognized young Alfred, and sorted through the details. But t

On visiting Michigan prisons

You're going to be hearing a lot about this. The reason is I have a belly full of complaints, and I'm darn mad. The MDOC's prisoner visiting policies are ambiguous at best, capricious at worst, and completely and totally inconsistent from one facility to another. It's a joke, and not a funny one. The situation is so serious that it deserves legal attention, and I hope we can attract some. I'm thinking of the possibility of class action, and I'll bet we'd get hundreds of interested families. I'll deal with more of these situations in follow-up entries. But right now HFP is working on two cases...a permanent visitor restriction and a temporary one. I'm incensed over both of them. I don't dare give the names for fear of retaliation. The families are frightened. Some of the prisoners are enraged. The permanent restriction doesn't come until after what is called an administrative hearing. After obtaining documents from the hearing a

Livin' Humble

My favorite male chorus, HIS MEN, used to sing an old spiritual called LIVIN' HUMBLE. That title came to mind over the weekend, when we celebrated 40 years of ministry by this wonderful regional ensemble. At the conclusion of the weekend, we presented a 40th anniversary concert in a large Grand Haven church, to a warm and responsive audience that overflowed the sanctuary, despite the threat of bad weather. It was an incredible experience. But now back to the subject of humility. In case you are not aware of it, I was the founding director of HIS MEN, back in 1972. We had no long-range goals for this little rag-tag group of singers. A few of us just picked out the finest voices we knew in the area for each of the four parts, invited them to come sing some songs, and a group was formed. We knew that we loved to sing, and we knew that we were devout in our Christian faith. Our goals were simple: to sing familiar songs and do it well, to help worthy causes in their fund-ra

Lois for president?

I'm reading and listening with interest as political candidates prepare for public debates. From what we see and hear, it takes a lot of coaching and prepping. I've been thinking about that since last Sunday. My friend Lois DeMott, mother of a mentally challenged teenager in the Michigan prison system, had been booked to speak to an adult education class in our church. In preparation for that, we wondered about her presentation, and we even discussed a computer-based program with charts and a screen. But as things got more complicated, we decided to scrap the plan and go with something simple. We would just have Lois tell her story...the story of a single mom, going through the hell of worrying 24/7 about a mentally ill son behind bars. And it could not have gone better. The only prop she needed was a box of Kleenex for occasionally wiping her eyes. The presentation was riveting, as I knew it would be. Most of the people in an audience like this are parents. Just


I'd like to tell you about my friend John. John's a neat guy. He's in prison but he has a conscience. He heard a fellow prisoner confessing to a murder, and decided that the authorities should know about this. He asked for nothing in return. He did it because it was the right thing to do. But the State of Michigan chose to make this an even better situation. When a prosecutor learned that John's testimony could convict a suspected killer, an offer was made. If John would testify, and if the testimony proved to be effective, the State would do its best go get John re-sentenced. He's a lifer with no hope of release. John's attorney was ecstatic. He encouraged him to cooperate. “This is a done deal,” he assured my friend. Keep in mind that this was the State's idea. Not John's. Well, John testified, and his words were effective. The state got a conviction on first degree murder. That's the good news. The bad news is that John is