Showing posts from November, 2012

One small step

You've heard me talk about the roller coaster. Lately, it seems, most of the rides were downhill. But, it's a new week, and we're heading up again! In my recent blog, I sounded pretty much like scrooge when discussing the holiday season behind bars. After the last blog entry, I decided that it was time to actually communicate with the Michigan Department of Corrections regarding this business of no visits on Christmas Day. We already had the MDOC decision that eliminated Tuesday visits for budgetary reasons. But we had also heard that one warden was hoping to make an exception for holiday visits. And so we contacted the head of communications for the department, Russ Marlan, whose relationship with the President of HFP goes back to the days of Maurice Carter. We've communicated a lot over the years. I sent the email question to Russ over the holiday weekend. After all, if Christmas visits were going to be denied, we wanted to hear it straight from the admini

Happy holidays?

This Thanksgiving week was a good time to start working on the December newsletter which gets mailed to many HFP friends and supporters. I have been communicating with prisoners, hoping to find some touching holiday stories from behind bars to brighten the mood of the newsletter. But you cannot imagine how difficult this has been. The negative keeps outweighing the positive. Some guys at Kinross are scared this holiday season. Violence is common-place in that facility, and prisoners sometimes join gangs simply for protection as staff members look the other way. A friend at Chippewa just got out of the hole, to find that---while he was in segregation---somebody ransacked his cell. Belongings are missing, including his beloved MP3 player. Legal documents are in disarray or missing. A lamp was broken. Merry Christmas. A prisoner at the Thumb told me that it's really sad to see the mentally ill patients in one unit of that facility. He said they're zombies: heavily

On death and dying

It was a difficult week, but that comes with the territory. As mentioned in my last post, the State of Ohio took the life of my friend Brett Hartmann this week. He first contacted me in 2005 asking for assistance, claiming wrongful conviction. That's when our organization was called INNOCENT and we were taking cases from all states. More than once I made plans to visit him, and we took steps to try to help. Then I became very ill, and our correspondence faded. What a sickening feeling: to receive word that the government has purposely snuffed the life from the body of a friend. Things didn't get any better. My friend James called to inform me that Tommy Holt's wife had died. Tommy is a lifer in the Thumb Correctional Facility of Michigan, and his situation was different than that of many prisoners. His marriage held together despite incarceration. He had been married 48 years; an incredible accomplishment even for someone not in prison. Because he's a l

The Tuesday ride

When discussing my emotions of any given day in this business, I often refer to a roller-coaster. Today was a typical HFP day. It began with my anxiety over saying the right things to college kids. I had agreed to speak to and interact with members of a Criminal Justice Class at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids. I always jump at chances like this. I love being with the future generation, and I enjoy telling our story. Yet there is always that uncertainty before the actual experience...what if they don't listen? What if they don't care? That was not the case, and the roller-coaster reached a peak when a young woman quietly approached me after class to talk. "I'm going to start crying," she said. "I had just asked God to show me some place where I might be able to make a difference. Then I came here today and heard what you had to say. I don't know if you have volunteers. Is there anything I can do?" Tears streamed down he

The last chapter

I was spiritually preparing myself for a prison gig, where Board Chairman Dan Rooks and I would be guest speakers. It was early Sunday morning, and I clicked on the TV set for the 30-minute broadcast from the Crystal Cathedral. I was pleasantly surprised to note that the visiting pastor for the day was Dr. Richard Mouw, President of Fuller of my favorite preachers. He didn't disappoint. Dr. Mouw, after laying the groundwork for his sermon, changed course for a moment to make an interesting confession. He said that as an alternative to the stress of his position, he likes to take a break and read a thriller novel. But he didn't stop the confession at that point. He went on to say that by the time he gets to page 245 of the 400-page book, anxiety builds as the hero is surrounded by enemies and the heroine has been separated from her lover. "So what I do," said Dr. Mouw, "is go to the last chapter." He hastened to add that he doesn'

A heart-breaker

Yvonne is in her 70s. She was so looking forward to the release of her daughter from prison. Debra had served nearly 14 years, but she was being freed a few weeks ago. "I didn't even recognize her," said her mother. "She was all bent over, she couldn't connect her words, and she was stuttering." "I don't know what's wrong, Mamma," said the released prisoner. "My head hurts." The next day, Debra collapsed at home and her mother had to call an ambulance. She was taken to Henry Ford Hospital, and that's when the truth was discovered. Debra has brain cancer. Not just any old brain cancer: Glioblastoma. The kind you don't want. The aggressive, fast growing kind. Its victims do not survive. Surgery was performed on one of her five tumors, to relieve pressure on that part of the brain that deals with motor skills. She's in a nursing home now as therapists try to help her walk again. As for the prognosis, lo