All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Saturday, December 29, 2012

They're just prisoners

Some end of the year thoughts.

It was a week ago that I wrote about the women being so cold in a couple units of Huron Valley. It doesn't have to be that way. The fans on the cold air return can be turned down. We complained, all the way to the top.

Just got word as to how the state responded. Our source tells us that a sergeant ordered that everyone in the cold area be issued a blanket. It wasn't a heavy blanket, but at least it helped the girls stay warm. Two days later, they collected all the blankets again. So much for staying warm in the bleak mid-winter. After all, they're just prisoners.

And on another subject, for several years we've been wondering how a seemingly inept judge who persists in abusing his power remains on the bench in Berrien County. Judge Wiley mistreated a client of ours to such an extent that it was an outrage. The man was a professional, with no prior arrests, who was involved in an unpleasant incident that police and a prosecutor and Judge Wiley escalated into a major case. Our friend is in prison, and will be there for years if his legal efforts fail.

And then this week, almost the same thing happened to an Indiana woman who made the mistake of muttering some oaths under her breath in the court clerk's office in Berrien County. Judge Wiley decided that was highly inappropriate, and ordered her arrested and jailed. And just like in the aforementioned case, when it appeared that bond would secure her release, he upped the bond. Instead of spending Christmas with her loved ones, this professional woman---again with no prior arrests---spent 8 days in the horrid Berrien County jail. Her rights were no longer important...she was just a prisoner.

We're hoping that appropriate steps will be taken against Judge Wiley this time. And we stand ready to help. We have some excellent ammunition from the prior case.

They may be just prisoners to Judge Wiley.

We see them as the faces of God.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Cold Christmas

Marcia and I were returning from a delightful week in Hawaii with our son and his family. We were just getting used to temperatures in the mid to high 70s when we were forced to wait for a commuter airplane in any icy wing of Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Even when wrapped in a blanket Marcia couldn't get warm. When we eventually arrived at our warm home, it still took hours before she felt comfortable again.

Then I opened my messages from prisoners, and stared at this one from the women in one of the units at Michigan's facility in Ypsilanti:

Lack of heat in our unit, Calhoun B. They have the return air set on 15, that pulls the outside air inside. Heat is barely on. Honestly can't even feel any heat in our rooms. All we feel is the cold air from the outside blowing on our beds all day/all night long. The head guy says they cannot turn the return air off because of germs. OK, so can we at least have enough heat so we can sleep at night, not having to curl up in a ball with 10 layers of clothing on? Why can't they turn this air down to 5. Then maybe, just maybe, we would be able to feel some heat. Highly doubt they will turn any heat up. Please, please help us. We are all so tired of being cold inside this unit. Our counselor had everyone uncover their vents and it still did not do any good. Lockers, desks and floor in all rooms are like ice cubes. Let me know if you can do anything about this inhumane treatment.

Readers of this column know of my concerns for the women. We don't treat them well in Michigan, and this is just another example.

Marcia was able to get warm eventually. These women may face a cold Christmas.

HFP has called this issue to the attention of the top brass. We'll keep you posted.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This. too, is why we're here

If you read the previous post, you'll certainly want to follow-up with this one.

It was the sister of Mr. D. who gave all of that information to HFP, and today we're pleased to advise her that some progress has been made.

We've learned over the years that every problem cannot be solved at the top. In fact, sometimes one must start very near the bottom. So in this case, we simply contacted one of our good friends behind bars, an inmate at the same facility.

We knew that we could count on Mr. R. He's a former executive, with take-charge skills. We passed along the information that we had received from the sister of the suffering inmate.

It's the Christmas season, and Mr. R. responded to our appeal for help saying he was "Santa's helper."

His word to us: "Two very capable older prisoners have taken him under their wings. I believe you and his sister can rest for a while."

May Mr. D. have a peaceful Christmas.

May the Prince of Peace be near every prisoner this holiday season.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's why we're here

Seems like we hear stories like this every holiday season.

62 year old inmate Mr. D. is in poor health. He uses walking assistance and is going deaf.

He had gotten robbed several times after receiving a store purchase of $85. But fortunately he found a room-mate who watched out for him, and that stopped the robberies for a few months. This nice roomie would also alert him for call-outs---meal time, counts, etc., as he can't hear. Some think perhaps dementia is even setting in.

Well, the nice guy got transferred, and Mr. D. now has a new room-mate. He was just robbed again. But this time the thieves stole all his property, including a footlocker that contained not only his personal belongings but his legal papers to try to fight his case. They stole his radio and head-set. They tried to steal his TV set but it was zip-locked in place.

As far as we know, the prison did not conduct any searches, because it would have been relatively easy to find a footlocker, one would think.

And because he cannot hear them call him, the guards are now writing Mr. D. tickets for missing his call-outs, and have punished him by putting him on cell he cannot leave his cell.

Our sources tell us that Mr. D. is a veteran and should be covered by VA for hearing aids, but we are told that the prison will not let him use this service. We are unable to confirm this.

All I can say is that regardless what you hear from the top, all this talk about compassion for Michigan inmates is just that: talk. We still have a long way to go.

This is no isolated incident. It just happens to be one that caught the attention of an HFP informer.

We're now on the case, and we'll update the story.

Pray for Mr. D. and many others in similar circumstances.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Open letter to the boss

To Mr. Daniel Heyns, Director

Dear Mr. Heyns:

You make one generalization in your letter to the editor of the Detroit Free Press, published in the November 11, 2012 edition, that must be challenged. In praising your team of employees, you say this about their work with prisoners: “Every day, they deal with the worst of the worst of Michigan's citizens.” It's a generalization that must be challenged. The worst of the worst?

I started going through the HFP files to list exceptions to that rule. I intended to list names of prisoners, and a list of reasons why I so admire these men and women...all of them friends. I found too much material. Many of these inmates have gone 10, 20, 30 and 40 years without one misconduct. They are active in positive programs like the National Lifers Association. They are mentoring and teaching. They are knitting clothing for the underprivileged. They go out of their way to help senior citizens and the mentally ill. They care for the ailing and the injured. Old-timers do their best to give valuable advice to youngsters coming into the system. We encounter it daily. My friend Dr. David Schuringa, President of Crossroad Bible Institute, insists that these are the people that Jesus would enjoy hanging out with. The worst of the worst?

Kenny Wyniemko, wrongly convicted and freed from prison thanks to DNA testing, claims that up to 15% of prisoners may be innocent. Some statistics show that perhaps 20% of Michigan prisoners are mentally ill. The worst of the worst?

How about those employees of yours who do not meet your description of the most dedicated, compassionate, honest and hardest-working? How about those dirty cops who bring in the drugs and allow the resulting illicit activity. How about those guards who tease and abuse the mentally ill, especially the youngsters...the ones who throw a teenager into the hole wearing only his underwear and then open the window on a January day. Or the ones who throw a mentally ill man in the hole on a hot summer day, and turn off his cold water tap. How about the medical people taking away asthma inhaling devices and discontinuing important prescriptions for no particular reason? The medical and dental people refusing basic services?

We hasten to add that we are not to be classified as liberal bleeding hearts who want all prisoners released. We work in the prisons. We know that there are people who belong there. We realize that prisons are here for a reason. We also acknowledge that there are many honest, dedicated, kind people working in the prison system.

Jesus informed his supporters that HE was in prison, chided them for not visiting him, or praised them for calling on him. That wasn't Jesus making the visit. That was Jesus being visited. The worst of the worst?

There are good and bad people behind bars...very much like we have in a free society, and inmates deserve that acknowledgement from the director of our prison system.

Doug Tjapkes, President


Saturday, December 1, 2012

When will it stop?

I had sort of lost touch with Pete. He's in a prison in California, his writing is so small I can hardly read it, and now that HFP takes cases only in Michigan there was little reason to be communicating.

But this week I heard from him. Still tiny print. Still hard to read. But this time it was not only difficult, it was painful.

Pete's prison has been in lockdown a lot lately...he didn't say why. But that means that inmates can't get out. In his case, it was worse.

He said that he was brought breakfast and lunch in paper bags, which were shoved through the opening in the door. Dinner was also served through the same slot. The door, locked from the outside, was never opened so he could get out, so there was no human contact for a month. There was no window in the tiny room, which he described as the size of a closet.

He had no radio or TV to help pass the time, and he said his newspaper subscription had expired several months ago.

Said Pete: "I've been out of touch for three months."

I need someone in the field of corrections to explain to me all the positive reasons for this type of incarceration.

I'll bet money that the only thing that results from this terrible segregation is mental deterioration.

Pete describes it as a nightmare, especially since he claims wrongful conviction.

I contend that, regardless of guilt or innocence, it's a crime on behalf of the state.