All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

More compassion for the ailing in 2014?

As I sit enjoying my first cuppa on the last day of the year, I'm reflecting on the huge challenges ahead for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. And some of the biggest challenges we face involve sickness and death.

Matt and I are reviewing the statistics for 2013, but a cursory glance at the daily log shows us that health issues are a dominant theme.

In short, here's what we're aiming for in the new year: better health care for ailing and injured inmates; more compassionate releases for prisoners with terminal illnesses; and, some form of hospice care for those who are dying and who do not get released to their families and loved ones.

Throughout the year we have heard terrifying stories of lack of proper care for prisoners who were afflicted with various illnesses, or who were injured either accidentally or intentionally. It is not uncommon, for example, to receive reports that medications have been taken away from prisoners...especially pain meds. We're the first to agree that there can be abuse. Some people with no moral character are not above faking pain, hoping to get narcotics. But one doesn't have to be an MD to tell when an ailing or injured person is in pain. Inmates tell of a young man who died of an asthma attack after his inhaler was taken away.

Throughout the year we found a callousness among Michigan Parole Board members when it came to compassionate releases. A woman who died of cancer in the Huron Valley infirmary had no business being there. She should have been home with those closest to her. A man in the Thumb Facility who died of lung cancer was the perfect example of heartless PB decisions. A request for a compassionate release was denied last year...another was denied this year. He died alone, behind bars. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

Throughout the year we heard stories of prisoners who died behind bars who should have had more compassionate care...the kind of care that only hospice can provide. We tried to raise the issue with the prison system and the health care provider at a high-level meeting in Lansing in 2013, but it went nowhere. There seems to be a lack of concern, because hospice care is readily available to us and our families. And those people...well, they're just prisoners, and they are there for a reason.

Jesus loved prisoners, and still does. And as his representatives, we do, too. We made some strides in 2013, but you ain't seen nothin' yet!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

On playing the race card

I'm not above playing the race card.

I'm a kid who was brought up in a white, Dutch church in Muskegon, with all white friends and relatives. In addition to the N word, we also heard numerous other titles for people of color. And all this from Christian folk who thought that somehow they were more righteous than those with a different skin. Nothing wrong with using words like that. Perhaps these weren't children of God after all.

It has taken me a long time to get here. But there's no turning back now, after people in my life like the Rev. Cy Young, who had memorized all of Martin Luther King's speeches (who my kids called “Uncle Cy”); Alma Perry, one of the finest and most devout gospel singers to make an appearance in my life (who sang a new song to me in her inner-city kitchen); and then Maurice Carter, my hero and my brother, who served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. I easily place these names at the top of a list of people who made a huge influence in my life.

A couple of prison visitation issues steered my thoughts once again toward our treatment of people of color.

I told a story in an earlier column about an old black preacher who came to visit his son in prison. He had traveled a long way, but upon his check-in, discovered that he didn't have his driver's license with picture ID. The prison people all knew him...he had been there many times before. He had credit cards and other forms of ID. He was not allowed to visit his son. Might have been his last time. Not a problem for the white guard at the desk. Rules are rules.

This week a member of our Board of Directors went to Ypsilanti to visit some women prisoners who are among our friends. The delay in processing visitors was maddening, and she waited 2 ½ hours just to make her first visit. Judy is healthy, and had the time, but it still was unpleasant.

Not to be confused with an elderly African American woman in bad health who came to visit her daughter for the holidays...perhaps for the last time. She was accompanied by another daughter. She waited for over two hours, then had to go home without seeing her child...she couldn't hang on any longer. Judy saw the mother weeping...saw the daughter in the visitor room weeping. Not a problem for those at the desk.

I know that it happens to white people, too.

But somehow, with blacks, I'm not sure everyone feels that it matters all that much.

In Christ there is no east or west.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holidays without a loved one

The joy of the holiday season is tarnished for those who lost someone dear to them in the past year.

For those of us working with prisoners and the prison system, we know there will be stories involving deaths of loved ones...but HFP is going to try to make a difference in the new year!

Our resolution to try to bring about change was strengthened last week when I spoke to James.

We lost another prisoner this past week, man...another one of our guys passed. He had lung cancer. He had been coughing and choking. We knew he was in bad shape. The docs had recommended a compassionate release to the Parole Board last year and it was turned down. The Parole Board considered another request this year and turned it down. That's so sad. It didn't have to be that way, man. He had family that just wanted him home for his last days.

That's the kind of stuff that just about sends me to the moon.

Who are these people who decide that a dying inmate, regardless of how serious the crime that sent him there, is still a threat to society? In our discussion, James then told me of another inmate who died of liver cancer shortly before that.

HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS was saddened in 2013 when we lost Joey and Otto. We heard of Linda's death in the women's infirmary. These prisoners could have and should have been home, surrounded by friends and loved ones. Instead, they died alone in a cold, impersonal atmosphere. What a shame!

If the past holds true, some 125 prisoners will die in the Michigan prison system in 2014, and about 60% of those will be from natural causes.

The HFP Board of Directors has determined that we must make a strong push for two things in 2014: getting Hospice care into the prison system for those who are dying; and doing our best to increase the number of compassionate releases for those inmates who are terminally ill.

Obviously, the state has no heart.

We're about to demonstrate again that HFP does.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Just the ticket!

I always cringe when I hear a member of the Michigan Parole Board question an inmate about tickets. A ticket is what happens when a prisoner gets written up for some kind of infraction. The Parole Board doesn't like to hear about tickets. And so, when an inmate appears before a board member for an interview, or during a public hearing, the issue of tickets invariably gets brought up. Board members love to refer to an inmate who has been in for 40 years and hasn't had one ticket. It's interesting to note that the ticket-free inmate, however, is still behind bars.

I cringe because I hear so many stories about ridiculous tickets.

It goes back to the days of my friend Maurice Carter. A friend owed him a debt, while in prison. The friend worked in the kitchen. So, he paid off his debt to Maurice with an onion. That seems harmless enough, but one isn't supposed to be walking around in prison with an onion. Could be dangerous. So Maurice was written up.

One would think that tickets should be for genuine misconduct...but prison guards can put their own spin on it, and use their own definition of misbehavior.

In Ypsilanti, an ornery prison guard who was fed up with the complaints about a shortage of bathrooms during remodeling finally warned the women: "Anyone who complains about having to go to the bathroom during my shift will be written up." Does having to pee sound like misconduct to you?

We just received word from the family member of a prisoner in the frigid UP. Her man got written up for wearing two sets of gloves. The prison-issue gloves are pathetically thin and inadequate. All he wanted to do was keep his hands warm. Nope. An infraction. Against the rules.

Recently one of our female friends who is a hairdresser for other inmates in her facility got written up for cutting hair. That's what she does for a few extra pennies. She had no idea that such activity wasn't allowed at that particular moment in that particular place...never heard of the rule before. Makes no difference. Ticket time.

Prisoners have often told us of getting tickets for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You're just not supposed to be in some areas of the prison, I guess...and if by mistake you happen to show up there, by golly you're misbehavin.'

The Parole Board members and the Attorney General's corrections lawyer are correct in showing concern about tickets. But they would do well to also consider that there may be more than one side to the story.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What are you going to do about it?

So here's the deal.

HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS can keep right on bringing up important issues involved Michigan prisoners, but if we're standing alone in this fight, it's an uphill battle.

For weeks and weeks we've been talking about the shameful toilet paper and sanitary napkin policies that affect all of the women incarcerated in Michigan. People who learn about this through HFP have been understandably outraged. They stop Matt and me on the street. They send us email messages. They click "like" on Facebook. They make strong comments of support. And that's where it stops.

My guess is that you could count on one hand the number of people who actually did something about it...sent a message, or a letter, or made a telephone call to a state representative, a state senator, the Governor, or the MDOC itself.

That ain't gonna cut it! We need help.

The reason I bring this up today is that we have just received another complaint from prisoners in the UP, where Michigan winters are at their harshest. These guys are issued thin shirts and pants...short-sleeved no less. They get a thin cap, a windbreaker jacket, thin gloves and inadequate footwear. This even though they must wait in some lines out-of-doors for meds, chow, etc. And how do the guards dress? You guessed it: heavy parkas, heavy-duty boots, big warm gloves, warm caps.

We've said it time and again: The incarceration is their punishment. Once there, these inmates deserve humane treatment.

Now we need support. We don't need "likes" and strong comments and "shares." We need pressure on state legislators and even the Governor's office. Please don't just cluck your something! Not for us. For them!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Keeping it in perspective

The beauty and charm and magic of the holiday season is frequently just a myth. As a veteran newsman, I recall tragic stories year after year that tug on the heart-strings during this season. Fires, accidents, tragedies, unexpected deaths, serious illness. For many people around us, the holidays aren't magical...they're difficult.

I don't mean to minimize this, but ask that you keep it in perspective.

Those around us who experience serious illness or tragedy this time of the year are still surrounded by friends, family and loved ones who care and who show their compassion in many different ways. Those who are suffering pain due to injury or illness are able to get appropriate medication to relieve their misery. Those who need it can easily obtain the finest medical care. Those who are dying may receive hospice care and have the people closest to them at their side. We simply take all of this for granted, and it's a beautiful thing.

But in this Christmas season, I ask you to consider the plight of those in prison. They encounter some of the same experiences this time of the year: an accident or a vicious attack; serious, perhaps terminal illness; excruciating pain.

But here's the difference.

They often battle to get minimally appropriate medical care; their pain meds are often inadequate and sometimes non-existent; hospice care is not available for the dying, no matter what the MDOC claims; and prisoners endure all of these experiences alone...without the presence and comfort and hugs and compassion of family and friends and loved ones.

And that's why I ask you to remember them, especially this time of the year.

Keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

If you know a prisoners, send him/her a simple, kind note.

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mandela and Carter: heroes, models

The world is grieving the loss of one of its brightest shining stars today. A script-writer could not have improved on the story of Nelson Mandela, incarcerated for a third of his life and then ascending to the presidency of his country.

As I listen to the various commentators the morning after, I am reminded time and again of my personal experience with a man, also of dark skin, who spent half of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit.

I hear statements that tell how Mr. Mandela touched lives around the world.

And I hear questions like: How could a man in prison for 27 years come out without being bitter?

I've been blessed to meet two men who had similar experiences. Both were named Carter. And as in the Mandela case, racism was involved.

Rubin Hurricane Carter, wrongly convicted not just once, but twice, told me that one day he looked in an old, cracked mirror in the prison and saw the reflection of a man he didn't even know. It was the portrait of a bitter and angry individual. He said that he made the decision right then to change, because "if I remained angry," he said, "they would be the winner, and I couldn't allow that to happen." Dr. Carter turned out to be one of the most warm and charming individuals I have ever met. He, too, touched lives around the world.

Maurice Henry Carter was something else. This indigent black man from Gary, Indiana, was arrested and imprisoned here in Michigan for a crime he didn't commit, and he was not a model prisoner for the first period of his incarceration. Would you be?

But he also told me that midway through his time in prison he made the decision to bury hatred, and try to turn his wrongful conviction into something positive. Unbeknownst to me, God used even me to help him change his attitude. When I joined his fight for freedom, nine years before his release, he realized that there could be people who care and that God had not abandoned him.

Maurice was in prison for 29 years...two years longer than Nelson Mandela. He didn't have the name recognition of a world leader, but I'm proud to say that before he died in 2004 he, too, touched lives---many, many of them---all around the world!

The sad thing is that we don't seem to listen to people like Mandela, Carter and Carter...and we don't seem to learn from them.

South Africa may be making progress, but here in this country, leadership by our first African American president has driven a segment of our population into a frenzy. And our government is taking steps backward to once again make it more difficult for people of color to vote. We also imprison an amazingly imbalanced number of young African American men.

I hear, through Mandela and Carter and Carter, these words of Jesus: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

We still have a lot to learn.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Think of prisoners when lighting the HOPE candle

I love the season of Advent...a time of expectation and anticipation. Dennis Bratcher, of the Christian Resources Institute, in explaining the meaning of this season, said: There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice...

And that made me think of Advent, 2013, where we still have hundreds of thousands of people behind bars, who right now cry out from their bitter oppression. Many are experiencing the tyranny of injustice. Some have been wrongly convicted, many have been over-charged and/or over-sentenced. Many are experiencing cruel treatment. Many are suffering the torture of solitary confinement. These aren't just empty words of speculation...these are words of truth right from the office of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS.

At the beginning of each week of Advent, many Christians light a candle on the Advent Wreath. And today's the day for the first candle: the candle of Hope.

The words of Dennis Bratcher again: It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant he sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a king who will rule with truth and justice...It is that hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world...

It seems to me that, on this first Sunday of Advent, until his second coming, it's up to those of us who follow this Messiah, to do everything we can to kindle and enhance that hope among the incarcerated. They must get the message that we care. They must be able to hear our cries for truth and justice. They must witness first-hand our expressions of love and deeds, not just words.

It's wonderful to anticipate the arrival of him who will finally bring peace and justice and righteousness to our society. But until then, the burden is on those of us who bear his title.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

HFP: Giving reason for thanks

HFP's accomplishments in our daily dealings with prisoners are not exciting, breath-taking and exceptional. For the most part, they are simple, small steps toward making life just a little better for hundreds of Michigan at a time.

In this Thanksgiving week---

Joe is thankful that HFP could be at his side for a Parole Board interview.

Dotty is thankful that HFP's pressure resulted in portable toilets for her unit during bathroom construction.

Herman is thankful to be a free man after 34 years. We testified at his public hearing.

Tony is thankful that someone is willing to take time to help him fill out his commutation application form.

James is thankful that we were able to pair him up with a fine defense attorney.

Dave is thankful that our efforts helped bring his case to the attention of an Innocence Project.

Jack is thankful for his new pair of glasses that we ordered for him.

Alfreda is thankful that we made the drive to speak at her first Parole Board public hearing.

Mark is thankful for his new appellate lawyer which we helped him find.

AND ALMOST ALL MICHIGAN INMATES are thankful that, thanks to our efforts, visits will be permitted on Christmas Day for the second year in a row.

The entire HFP gang is thankful that we can offer compassion to Michigan inmates in the name of Jesus.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Two rays of sunshine on one cloudy day

It is totally and completely November today.

My little glassed-in office is in the woods, one mile in-land from Lake Michigan, and the November weather can be wintry. Today a "sou-wester" is howling, snow squalls suddenly appear, and the sky remains dark. It's not pleasant.

It would be the most unlikely day to expect a ray of sunshine, especially in this business.

Word of another gang problem in another prison, word from the family of a dying prisoner that they seem to be making no headway, word that an inmate with irritable bowel syndrome can get no medication, word of new retaliation by prison's what we live with in the HFP office. And it contributes to a dark and gloomy day.

But God has the most amazing way of brightening the day.

Amid all of the complaints of the day comes a note of thanks from a group of women who have been struggling with lack of adequate toilet facilities in a construction zone. We fought for them, and our communications went all the way to the the director of the MDOC and to the warden of that facility. It seemed to work. Today there are reports that the construction crews are working harder and more consistently than ever, and the end appears in sight. And the portable toilets that were brought in provided some relief. "Thanks, HFP, for all of your efforts!"

One ray of sunshine.

Then came a second one! It was Herman on the telephone...after 34 years, he's a free man! "How does it feel to be free, Herman?" "IT FEELS LIKE HEAVEN HAS ARRIVED." HFP provided testimony at his public hearing a couple months ago, and went on record as supporting his release. I'm not sure how much influence we had on the Parole Board, but Herman is convinced that it made a difference. "Thanks, HFP, for all of your efforts."

I like this quote from Linda Poindexter:

Hope is a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds after a storm. Faith is knowing there are more where that one came from.

Amen, Linda. Amen.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The kangaroo public hearing

I'm discouraged.

The public hearing concept of the Michigan Parole Board is flawed, and I just can't see how it's ever going to get revised.

A public hearing isn't granted to a prisoner often, and a chosen inmate is immediately elated. It offers hope for freedom. Little does he or she know how traumatic this experience will be.

I participate whenever asked. It's HFP's goal to offer hope, and we must never refuse these opportunities. A three-hour drive to speak for just 2 minutes means nothing. We do it without complaint.

This week I agreed to testify at a public hearing for a woman who had served 26 years on a charge of second degree murder. She didn't really commit the murder...but her boyfriend and his buddies did. She didn't even know it happened until later, but she was implicated, and she was convicted. Life in prison at the age of 20.

She was angry. As a child she had been abused and neglected. She had children outside of marriage. She was dating a drug dealer at the time of this crime. Life wasn't good.

And so, in prison, she continued on this downward path, raising hell at every turn. In her first years in prison she received some 60 misconduct tickets.

But she woke up. An experienced hair dresser, she offered her services to prisoners. She took courses for self improvement. She accepted God in her life, and went to church. She went to school. She became a para-legal and assisted other prisoners.

Then, at age 46---26 years after she was locked up---came word of this public hearing. Family and friends supported her, as did a faith-based re-entry organization and HFP.

But there were issues. Number one, the Wayne County Prosecutor's office opposed the release. Only the Lord knows why. And the state Attorney General's representative didn't like all those tickets, and he couldn't get over it. Besides that, in 2008 the prisoner got in a fight with a room-mate over trying to climb into the top bunk by stepping on the lower bed. And, she and a guard got in a twit over a nonsense argument. That resulted in a ticket in 2011.

Based on all those issues, the AG's man recommended NO PAROLE. No one in that room would want to be judged by things done in their lives 25 years ago. No one in that room could say they had not been involved in pointless arguments twice in the past decade. Makes no difference. This woman is not fit for re-entry into society.

I already know what's going to happen. She's going to get a flop. It's carved in stone. Her dreams dashed in just two grueling hours. These smug people can all go home and think they did their job, put it out of their minds, and enjoy Thanksgiving with their families and friends. The prisoner will not get a chance again for another couple of years. Her heart will be broken.

Mine, too.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Michigan's train wreck

So here's a sample of what Matt and I have on the HFP plate today.

A guy writes from Chippewa that his meds for acid reflux have been stopped. When he wrote a grievance, they simply told him to stop eating the food that causes the reflux. Well,that's the food they serve him...albeit in small portions. So, his only alternative: stop eating. And that's what he's doing.

A guy writes from Cotton that his friend has been slashed in the face by members of a Latino gang, which, he claims, has rule over the prison yard. As a result of the attack, they're in lock-down.

A woman wrote from the only facility for women, located in Ypsilanti, that the MDOC Director came to check on the problem of no toilets in one unit, due to remodeling and repairing. As a result, five portable toilets were brought in. But, to date, no one is allowed to use them. They're just setting there.

The wife of a prisoner in Newberry reports that she still has no response to her pleas on behalf of her husband who is dying of cancer. She simply wants him to be home in his final days. So far the state is dragging its heels.

The friend of a prisoner in the Roscommon County Jail is wondering what's going on. The guy served a federal sentence, then was to serve a state sentence, but the MDOC claimed it had no room so it placed him in this county jail up north. Things aren't going well there, and he's now in segregation. That means he's in a small cell 23 hours a day.

All this while we're trying to prepare testimony for a public hearing in Jackson tomorrow for a deserving female inmate.

All this while we're trying to come up with fund-raising ideas, because there are bills to pay.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Third world jail? Nope, Michigan prison

I've had it!

We may not treat women this way!

You've been reading and hearing about the toilet and shower shortages during remodeling and repairs in one of the women's prison units. At one point, 74 women with no toilet...inmates forced to go to the unit next door.

Now the HFP office is hearing complaints from women in that unit, who were told to drink less water so they wouldn't have to go to the bathroom as often. These comments came right from a Michigan prison, operated with your tax dollars and mine:

People are dehydrated, with sick stomachs, from not being able to go #2

One girl went to the desk and asked for a bag, she couldn't hold her poo any longer. Officer gave her a paper towel

Some girls had to pee in their trash can

Some officers don't even announce bathroom loud, and if you don't hear it and miss it, too bad...another two hours

They constantly yell at us telling us to hurry up, hurry have 3 minutes to use the bathroom. Under that pressure, who can even go to the bathroom?

Showers, we are told 10 minutes, and that includes getting dressed and undressed. You barely get your body wet and they are yelling at you again: “Shower's up, get out, turn that water off now, hurry up, Ladies...others are waiting”

We are forced to stuff and stuff and stuff whatever feelings or emotions we may be having. If it gets voiced, we are threatened with a ticket

This could be your mother, your sister, your daughter, your niece.

Make you feel proud to be a Michigander?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why we do the PB interview

I love to participate in Parole Board interviews.

As the President of HFP, my presence is requested from time to time by inmates who must appear before a representative of the Michigan Parole Board for an interview. Often this request comes because the prisoner has no family or friends nearby, and sometimes it comes because he or she has no more family or friends on the outside.

Either way, I love it, and I say this not to make me look like some sort of hero. That I am not.

But here's the deal. An appearance before a Parole Board member might be rather rare in the inmate's life, and he or she wants to make a good impression. The minute the date is set, the prisoner cannot stop thinking about it. There's hope. There's a possibility the Parole Board might vote to give that person a second chance.

Then there are the worries that invariably crop up in their minds: they might say the wrong things, they might just “blow it” and give the wrong impression; there are dozens of stories of brutal and vicious interviews by PB members, that left the inmate rattled, shaken, weeping and incoherent.

And so, when asked and if my schedule is free, I matter the distance.

The preparation is never pleasant. The travel time can be long, and chances are the wait after arrival will be even longer. Numerous interviews are usually scheduled on the same morning, and the length can vary from 10 minutes to hour. Meanwhile, all representatives there to be at the side of an inmate, wait in the lobby for their turn. It's not uncommon to wait a couple hours.

All this for a very short presentation. The representative of a prisoner is usually not allowed to speak until the very end of the interview. I always prepare my remarks, never to exceed about two minutes. Depending on the length of the drive, this can turn out to be an all-day event for just two minutes of talking.

But for the prisoner, it's a very special two minutes. I carefully craft my words, and that inmate who so often feels so worthless and so often is treated with such disdain behind bars, discovers that there is a representative of Jesus who cares, who can be kind, and who believes that he or she has worth. For two minutes, that prisoner feels great, and grateful.

And regardless of the Parole Board's eventual decision, you can't take away those two euphoric minutes.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Home is where the heart is

I've been doing some fretting about the subject of home lately.

Marcia and I have decided to downsize in our sunset years, and took the giant leap of purchasing a condo. Working with the bank was very difficult...I'm still not sure why. Now the condo needs a new furnace and new appliances. More money that we don't have. Then will come the painstaking process of emptying our present home, where we have spent the past 45 years and where we reared all of our children.

My fretting stopped yesterday when my friend David called.

David is a wrongly convicted sex offender who served 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Naturally he was anxious to be released, but now he's finding that freedom isn't all that exciting for one who is on a sex offender list. In fact, he's homeless. He finds a low-priced place that might fit into his tiny budget (he lives on disability income), only to learn that the dwelling is near a school. He would be committing a felony if he moved in there. And so he has bumped from pillar to post, sleeping just about anywhere except under a bridge...and maybe he has been there, too.

At the moment he's living in a little camper trailer illegally parked next to a friend's house. The facilities are almost non-existent and it's not the way you or I would care to live. Personal hygiene is a struggle.

He reports that recently his old truck broke down for good, and while he was making arrangements to have it towed the contents of the cab were stolen. This included the computer that we had provided for him.

Life is very discouraging for this former inmate.

And David is stuck in this situation because of prosecutorial misconduct and some other unethical activity in our judicial system. Meanwhile, all those people who created this hell for him can return to their nice homes at the end of the day.

I'm not fretting anymore. I'm feeling blessed, and frankly, a bit guilty. Shame on me for complaining.

Laura Ingalls Wilder is quoted as saying, "Home is the nicest word there is."

Nice, that is, if you have one.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bladder full, and no place to go

The sad treatment of women in the Michigan prison system reached another peak this week. Actually, it's been building up for weeks, as crews have been working in the prison system to improve the bathrooms...toilets and showers. The problem is, they start a job, close down some units...then don't show up for a few days. Then they start a new job without finishing the old job. And soon you have an array of toilets and showers that are shut down.
We've been receiving steady complaints about this, but yesterday came the worst one. Our friend Dora said that two weeks ago the construction crew closed their bathroom, leaving the unit with one toilet and one shower for 74 women. This week, the crew came in and shut down the final facility. Now, if the women must go to the bathroom, provisions have been made for them to go next-door to what is called the "acute unit." It's the secure area where the mentally disturbed people are housed.

These people don't understand this sudden influx of prisoners to use their toilets, and they're not pleased. The tension is causing problems.

Meanwhile, prison officials are advising the inmates to cut down on their water intake. Then they won't have to go so often. Inmates are complaining that they feel dehydrated, and they're complaining that they are forced to wait hours to use a toilet.

And the sad thing is that the prisoners report that not one of these jobs is completed yet! How simple would it be to start a job, and finish it, before starting up a new one?

This doesn't border on is pure, unadulterated harassment!

When our pets express the need to relieve themselves, we let them outside to go. Our prisoners don't have that luxury.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Maurice would be pleased

That divine intervention has played a key role in the start-up, continued operation, and future of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is not even a question. It has now reached the point of being an amazing phenomenon.

HFP started out based on the dream of the late Maurice Carter, a wrongly convicted prisoner who served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. I wasn't entirely excited about launching the project, originally called INNOCENT! But Maurice was determined that his negative situation should be turned into something positive.

And so doors opened---a generous donor gave us free office space and supplies, a supportive attorney did all the tricky legal work to obtain our IRS 501c3 status, and our efforts began touching the lives of prisoners within days. But how could it keep on going?

-It was being operated by one person already at retirement age
-Its goals were quite unpopular in most circles
-It couldn't generate enough revenue to make any type of progress
-Its board members served mainly as a gesture of friendship to the director.

But, through thick and thin, HFP survived. And despite a life-threatening illness, its director rebounded with renewed purpose and conviction. Divine intervention.

The subject of continuity and succession, which no one wanted to talk about but everyone began to think about, was abruptly resolved when young Matthew agreed to serve as an executive assistant. Divine intervention.

The personality of the board changed, one person at a time, to the point where each member is not only excited about the ministry, but determined to put it on a path of growth and expansion. Divine intervention.

And some outside sources are expressing a willingness to help the organization become financially sound. Divine intervention.

Maurice would be pleased.

God obviously has been from the start.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Preaching without words

I've been looking at the mailers from major prison ministries...those with international programs. The materials come in full color with beautiful photographs, touching testimonies, and strong appeals for funds to help support their multi-million dollar budgets.

Compare that to the HFP monthly newsletter. On occasion it shows up in color, thanks to a generous donor...but for the most part it's black and white, just one sheet with printing on both sides.

If we could provide photographs, they wouldn't be very pretty.

A prisoner with a leaky ileostomy bag begging for assistance in getting a replacement. A prisoner dying of cancer in the infirmary, begging to be home with family and friends in her final hours. A sex offender scared to death by threats from gang members, who doesn't dare leave his cell. A woman begging for extra toilet tissue and sanitary pads because of a medical problem. An inmate doubling over in pain from a hernia that prison doctors refused to treat. A bi-polar inmate experiencing a melt-down because his meds were suddenly discontinued for no reason. Do you see what I'm talking about?

And if we could and did publish such pictures, I cannot imagine that it would help our cause. These are the things we really don't want to hear about. In fact, we don't want to know about them...then we don't have to fret about them.

So HFP is not in prison cells teaching the Bible, and seeking conversion to Christianity.

Our M.O. is different. We're fighting to help prisoners one-on-one with problems that may seem small to us, but that are huge to prisoners. Our ministry may not be as popular among those people who make major gifts, and those foundations that award major grants. But it's vital. Just ask the 150 prisoners who contact us each month.

And so we'll keep holding auctions, selling Christmas wreaths, and sponsoring musical events just to make ends meet.

And we'll keep following the admonition of St. Francis of Assisi: Preach the gospel every day. Use words if necessary.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

On letting Him do the rest

Pastor Nate straightened out my thinking today.

He was talking about Jesus feeding the 5,000. He pointed out that the disciples were not expected to perform a miracle. Jesus went about doing just that: blessing the 5 loaves and 2 little fishes, and turning them into a feast for the crowd. He merely expected the disciples to do what they knew how to do: distribute and serve the food to the people. "That's all he expects of us," explained Pastor Nate. Just do what you know how to do in your ministry. Jesus will do the rest."

I needed to hear that.

I get so frustrated as we work with prisoners.

I want to change the hearts of cruel prison doctors who with-hold treatment or cancel prescriptions.
I want to find a way to train guards better so they don't abuse the mentally ill.
I want to persuade Parole Board members that dying prisoners are not a threat to society, and should be permitted to die at home surrounded by loved ones, rather than in the cold infirmary of a dark and dank prison.
I want to change the opinion of legislators who believe that there's nothing wrong with placing a young teenager in prison for life with no chance of parole.
I want to explain to prison officials that there's a whole group of older sex offenders behind bars who are scared to death of gang-bangers who prey on them while officers look the other way.

I could go on and on.

But as Nate explains it, Matt and I don't have to fret about all of those things, as we handle the day to day prisoner issues in the HFP office. All Jesus expects of us is to do what we know how to do, and that is to reach out to these prisoners in his name, showing kindness to them, and helping them with all the resources at our disposal.

It's the best we can do. It's the only thing we can do.

He'll do the rest. Just as he has in the past.

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Keeping it in perspective

The mood was somber as son Matt and I discussed the annual HFP auction/fundraiser held this week.

"If we were raising money for puppies and kitties we'd have packed the place," grumbled Matthew. Indeed. Fact of the matter is that we drew about 50 people at best. Fortunately for us they were generous friends, and we still raised about $5,000.00. We had hoped to raise at least double that.

We deal with these serious prisoner issues on a daily basis, and somehow we think that everyone else is on the same page. We forget that we reside in an all-white, affluent society, and prisoners are not at the top of the popularity list. We're doing our best to educate and inform, but this simply pointed out that we have a long way to go.

But back to the title of this little entry.

When Matt and I opened the mail, our grumbling turned to gratitude. In two separate envelopes there were two checks from the State of Michigan. The first was a check from a female inmate who probably earns less than 80 cents a day at her prison job. The check was in the amount of 25 dollars...a huge gift from a prisoner whom we have not helped all that much personally. She just wanted to demonstrate her appreciation for all that we do for women in the Michigan prison system. The second check was for $200, and it came as a donation from the National Lifers Association chapter of the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer. Board chairman Dan Rooks and I made a guest appearance at their meeting more than a year ago, and they never forgot our kindness or our message. They had to cut through miles of red tape to make a donation from their club to our agency...but they made it happen. God bless 'em!

Thank you, Lord, for helping us to keep this in perspective.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The highs and lows

When it comes to working with prisoners, I must confess that the lows usually win. It has certainly been that way for the past few months.

First Otto ailing inmate who should have been home with his wife.

Then Joey died, after a harrowing few days when the prison system refused to keep his wife apprised of daily issues at the end of his life.

Then Linda died, a cancer patient who had no business dying in a prison infirmary, when she could have been surrounded by family and loved ones.

These are the sucker-punches in this business, and they hurt.

But the God of the valley is also the God of the mountains!

This morning came the brief message from Herman: I'm going home!

Herman is a parolable lifer, 54 years of age. He has served 34 years. A Parole Board agreed to give him parole once before, but then administrations changed in our state, and the new administration vetoed the decision. Can you imagine the heart-break?

Prisoners contacted HFP and asked us to help Herman. Another public hearing was set by the Parole Board for last July. I drove to Ionia to participate, and to show our support. Here was a beautiful man whose life reflected his faith and beliefs. He chose to make his time in prison a time for improvement, taking every course possible. He gained the respect of prisoners and staff members alike, and even obtained a letter of support from a former warden. While not a major player in the crime for which he was convicted, he showed genuine remorse and sadness for his actions.

But after the public hearing, an agonizing period withg no word from the PB.

Then the good news this morning.

Today, this high wins!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When thanks isn't deserved

I received such a kind note today from the wife of a prisoner, and I honestly felt guilty.

Some background.

I have worked to help Ray, an African American, for years. He's wrongly convicted, and he has now been in prison for 40 years.

Ray is a fine, fine artist. He has painted beautiful murals in some of Michigan's prisons, and has gained the appreciation and respect of many of the prison staffers. He's a kind, gentle man who has many friends inside and outside of prison.

I have sent letters on behalf of HFP to the Parole Board.

I have featured many of his pieces of art in a prison art show.

I have a treasured piece of his, painted just for me, hanging in the office.

I drove to Detroit to attend an all-day symposium with participants from the US and Canada---attorneys, innocence people, journalists, investigators. Everyone was convinced of his innocence, and everyone pledged to work hard. But eventually everyone found other things to do, as it became apparent that this was an uphill fight all the way.

I prowled through several trailer parks in western Michigan, hoping to find a witness who could help in proving his no avail.

I feel helpless. I'm familiar with that feeling, because it was a way of life when I was trying to help Maurice Carter.

And the guilt hit me even harder today when Ray's wife sent a message asking if I would once again write a letter on his behalf to the Parole Board. Then she said: "I hope you know we have the utmost respect for you and everything you do and have done for us. We hope you are well, have seen your picture in the newsletter and you look good. Take care of yourself, you are needed and loved by so many!"

Undeserved until Ray is a free man.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Jesus wept

The only time we read in the Bible about Jesus breaking down and weeping is over a death.

Somehow, I think he's still weeping over deaths...especially deaths of prisoners.

My heart breaks when we receive word of deaths behind bars. Our recent blog entries have discussed the deaths of Otto and Joey. We discussed those deaths in our recent newsletter.

The sadness of those deaths didn't sweep over just family and swept right into the HFP office.

And we were just recovering when two women in the Huron Valley facility---the only facility in the State of Michigan to house women---reported this weekend that Linda had died. She was in the infirmary with cancer, and for some reason, no one could persuade the Parole Board to let her go home to die. I just don't understand this stuff. I don't mean to digress, but I keep thinking of pieces I read in the newspaper about parolees who got out only to re-offend. They agree to release these people, but refuse to release the dying? There is some logic here that escapes me.

Well, we couldn't make anything happen for Linda.

But there are other women in the infirmary with cancer who are dying. Do you think the Parole Board, in its infinite wisdom, should keep them there because these ladies are threats to society?

Raise your hand if you think anyone really cares.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A special kind of doctor

I was in a meeting with officials from the Michigan Department of Corrections, Hospice of Michigan, and Corizon...the health care provider for Michigan prisons. A hospice official asked Mason Gill, VP of Michigan operations for Corizon, about prison doctors. Gill responded that it takes a very special kind of doctor to serve in the prisons.

I'll second that motion.

Let me tell you about a special kind of doctor.

Mr. D. had been complaining about severe pain from a hernia for weeks. Finally, the large lump in his abdomen started turning color and the pain became unbearable. Mr. D. doubled over in pain and started vomiting. He was rushed by ambulance to a local hospital, and then transferred to one of the major hospitals in Lansing. There a surgeon discovered there was not only one, but two hernias...and that the major hernia was causing problems with the colon. He was very upset with the prison healthcare people for letting the situation get to this stage. The surgeon corrected the hernia situation, and then performed a colonoscopy to make sure everything was OK.

Mr. D. was released from the hospital with two provisions. He was given a prescription for pain medication to take him through the post-surgery days. And, he was instructed to come back in two weeks for a post-surgery exam.

Well, let me tell you how that special doctor at the prison reacted.

He was upset that Mr. D. had been sent to the hospital, and said if the decision had been up to him, Mr. D. would have remained in prison.

He refused to fill the prescription for pain meds. Mr. D. would just have to tough it out. After all, he's just a prisoner.

And, he refused to let Mr. D. go back to the surgeon for a post-op exam.

Now that's some special kind of doctor.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

No strings attached

We turned down a financial gift this week, and that hurt. But the strings attached to the gift hurt even more.

Here's the background.

HFP seeks funds from foundations simply because the gifts of our supporters can't quite cover the budget. Many of our partners are lower income people.

The foundation considered a gift, but suggested these conditions: the foundation's name would have to be attached to every effort on our part to seek compassionate release for dying prisoners; the foundation's name must be used in a public announcement; and the foundation's name must be shared with the prisoner as well as the inmate's family in each individual case.

In other words, HFP would become a publicity tool for the foundation.

It's important to stress here that this is a fine foundation with a great reputation. Under different circumstances we would have no problem promoting its cause.

But this proposal flies in the face of our entire philosophy.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh made this profound statement many years ago:“To give without any reward, or any notice, has a special quality of its own.”
HFP doesn't shout from the rooftops every time it scores some little success while helping a poor inmate. The prisoner knows without question that our friendship is genuine, and God knows we are not doing these things for personal gain. Perhaps that's why our bank balance is constantly bottoming out, but it's the way we operate: down in the trenches with our sleeves rolled up, seeking no public recognition.

Happily, that's also the story of many of our donors. Many prefer anonymity, relishing in the thought that they are helping prisoners without any hope of thanks.

And so we turned down a badly needed gift. To the HFP gang, it was the only option with integrity.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How best to tell the story?

Son Matt and I will be traveling out of town today. I have been invited to speak at a meeting of one of the popular service clubs...Matt will be there to set up and man the display. We're well aware of what to expect. The make-up of the audience is sure to be all-white, professional and semi-professional people, middle to upper income.

It's early in the morning, and once again as I try to organize my comments, I'm struggling with how to connect with these people. Matt and I have both found that, unless we make a very compelling case, there will be yawns, blank stares, and glances at wrist watches.

These aren't evil people. They're pillars of the community, and certainly many are responsible for major accomplishments in their town. They're nice. They're friendly. But they can't seem to relate.

How do Matt and I make our case? How do we convince them that we're not just a couple of do-gooders showing kindness to people behind bars? We're not trying to set ourselves up as the ones who are REALLY responding to the call of Jesus to care for and visit prisoners. It's up to us to tell what we're experiencing.

There was Doug who was rushed from the prison by ambulance for emergency surgery, who contacted us because he has been denied his post-op pain medication and his post-op doctor's appointment.

There was Dan who was diagnosed years ago with Hepatitis C by prison doctors, but refused treatment. Now he same doctors are telling him the disease is so advanced that his body cannot handle the treatment.

There was Tracy who complained that prison doctors took away her asthma medicine, claiming that she was "faking it."

There was Chris, a paraplegic, who is only being allowed to drain his bladder by catheter once every 12 hours, although standard treatment should be a minimum of 3 times a day...and he's being forced to re-use dirty catheters, which our physician/adviser labels malpractice.

And we've told the stories about the two recent prison deaths in previous blog entries.

How do we convince our audiences that these same people are moms, dads, sisters and brothers, all of whom have the same feelings and emotions that we do? God's children.

May God bless our efforts.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

This little light of mine

I was listening to some country gospel music while driving the other day. Some good ol' boy came on to sing a song that wasn't terribly impressive musically, but I found the words arresting: For some folks, you're the only Bible they're gonna read!

It is so easy to forget that when a driver refuses to pull over to the right lane, or we see another driving in an erratic manner while texting, or when someone cuts in line as we're standing in the supermarket.

And while this old country gospel song is true for you and me, it is especially true for those persons who wear Christianity on their sleeve, like preachers, missionaries, chaplains, and leaders of Christian organizations and agencies.

I bring this up because I found the actions, or I should say lack of action, most disappointing in two recent incidents involving prisoners.

In the first, an inmate shared with me how much he loved church as a child, and how he revered the pastor of his church at that time. Later in life, he took a wrong path and ended up in prison. His mother contacted the minister that the guy had loved as a kid and asked him to visit her son. When he learned that the man was in prison, he refused to go see him, saying there was nothing he could do for him. This man not only broke a prisoner's heart, but he broke the heart of Jesus who had a particular love for those behind bars.

And then we learned that some power-hungry guard in one of the Michigan prisons took away the materials that a religious group uses for worship services. And because this wasn't the same religion as that of the chaplain, he failed to step in and do anything about it. How does that make Christianity look?

Hide it under a bushel? NO!

Monday, September 9, 2013

MDOC violates it's own policy!

To establish my case, let me first give you direct quotes from MDOC Policy Directive 03.04.125:

The appropriate facility head or designee shall be notified when an offender is seriously or critically injured or becomes seriously or critically ill. In such cases, the facility head shall ensure that attempts are made to immediately notify the offender's emergency contact person by telephone or certified mail.

Whenever an emergency contact person is notified...staff shall ensure that the emergency contact person is kept informed of the offender's treatment and progress...

Joey James Mercer

8/26 Joe's wife Sarah goes to his prison in Coldwater to visit him, only to be informed that he isn't there. He's being transported. She knows that he is seriously ill with liver disease, so she is worried. She is unable to learn anything more.

8/27 HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS learns of Sarah's plight and joins forces to try to find her husband.

8/28 Prisoners claim they know he has been transferred to Duane Waters Health Center in Jackson, but Sarah is not informed.

8/29 Duane Waters finally calls Sarah to advise that Joe is there, is alert and improving.

Fast forward to

9/7 Sarah has not heard from Joe in 3 days, which is unlike him...he calls when he is able. She asks about visits, and is told that according to policy she may not visit her husband for 30 days.

9/9 Sarah's words: After leaving 2 messages in 2 days, I was finally told that Joe was weak but OK. Now I got a call that he has died.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is an outrage. We're talking about a human life here, and a married couple. We don't have the liberty or the license to treat each other this way.

While she was going through all of this, Sarah said to us: "I spend my time in prayer asking God's will to oversee this madness and give me grace to endure."

May God give her peace and comfort in this time of sorrow. She won't get it from the state.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The impersonal MDOC

Two separate cases that kept us busy in the HFP office last week underscored, once again, the callousness of the Michigan Department of Corrections.

In the first instance, the wife of a prisoner was trying to find her husband. She went to visit him, and was told that he was not there...he was being transported. She knows that he is seriously ill with a liver disease, so she feared the worst. But no one would tell her. For a couple days she could not find her husband!

MDOC policy clearly states that if someone is critically ill, the person closest to that prisoner must be notified right away. Not only that, but his wife should have been apprised of everything happening after that. When we questioned someone at the state level about that policy, we were informed that it is interpreted differently at different institutions. Hard to imagine how else it can be interpreted, but that's what happened. The man was being rushed to a hospital in an ambulance with liver disease/end stage. What's questionable about that?

Anyway, she finally found him. Last we heard she still had not received visiting information.

And then there was the story of Otto, as detailed in our last blog entry.

Otto was so critically ill that he should have been released to die at home with his loving wife, but the Parole Board was not about to let that happen.

And so he died in prison...but prisoners learned about it before his wife did! She was told that according to policy, the state has 48 hours to notify next of kin regarding a death.

Now she would like his belongings...they've all been packed up by the state. But she was told that the MDOC has 28 days before it must send home his stuff.

Your tax dollars and mine.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sequel, The Pathetic Parole Board

Robert Otto Bryan: 1937-2013

I penned the entry seen below last March, after the Michigan Parole Board gave my friend Otto a flop. I had sent a letter to the board on behalf of HFP outlining all of his medical issues. In typical fashion, the board looked at the seriousness of the crime 40 years ago, but apparently failed to take a good look at an ailing patient, and a changed man.

I was saddened to hear from Otto's widow this past week that his failing body just couldn't take it any more.

With typical indifference, prisoners learned about his death sooner than his wife.

With typical insensitivity, he had been denied a canister of oxygen for his COPD, according to prisoners, because that was considered not unlike carrying a bomb around.

With typical inefficiency, his belongings will not be returned to his wife for about 28 days.

The good news is that Otto can breathe just fine now, and he's without pain.

The bad news is that thousands of God's children are still subjected to this cold-hearted treatment.

Originally Published March 9, 2013
The Pathetic Parole Board
Perhaps the single issue over which I feel strongest disagreement with the Michigan Parole Board is this whole matter of compassionate release...freeing inmates who are seriously ill.

As I write this, I'm having a little private argument with the board in my mind. Here's why.

I've been talking to Otto's wife, who has been so kind and patient. But she's about had enough.

Otto has had triple bypass heart surgery while in prison. He has serious heart problems. Not only that, he has Hepatitis C, he can hardly breathe due to a serious case of COPD, he is diabetic and must be checked and treated several times a day. Besides that, he's 76 years of age. An old, seriously ill inmate, who could better be treated at home.

Now one would think that this man would be a perfect candidate for release from prison. He's a parolable lifer, so that's not a problem. Nope. The Parole Board just gave him a flop.

And if it costs $30,000 to care for an average prisoner, you can bet that the state is paying twice that to take care of this man.

Can the board members really believe that this ailing inmate is some kind of a threat to society? He runs out of breath walking from here to the front door.

Do board members think he has not yet paid his debt to society? He has been in prison nearly 40 years!

Now you have just a glimpse at one reason why our prisons are too full, and why we're paying more for corrections than we are higher education.

In my opinion, keeping Otto in prison is a crime.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

More reflections on MLK's dream

On this weekend observing the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I love to hear Dr. King's speech one more time. He was not only one of America's great heroes, he was certainly one of our finest orators. All of this talk about King's dream has me thinking about how my life has been touched by African Americans.

Things took a big step forward in the 1970s when I met an itinerant black preacher named Cy Young. He was a guest on my radio talk show and his shtick was MLK speeches. He had memorized almost all of them, and his recitation was amazing. He was a big black man with a big deep voice and his delivery was mesmerizing. That was really the first time I had actually listened to the I HAVE A DREAM speech. And it touched me forever. Cy and I became very close friends. We did programs together. I got him involved in ministry with HIS MEN, both in churches and in prisons. Cy died from injuries suffered when he was struck by a car. But his impact on my life was profound.

Before he died, he introduced me to one of his favorite gospel singers. The late Alma Perry also touched my life, as she and I became dear friends. I arranged for singing engagements for her numerous times, especially in my own church, and especially with HIS MEN and in prisons. Those big, burly prisoners would melt when she sang, "In this very room, there's quite enough love for all of us." I wept at her bedside one day in the hospital as cancer was snuffing the life out of that young body. But her impact on my life was profound.

The most dramatic impact on my life, however, was made by an indigent black prisoner from Gary, Indiana Our paths crossed in a providential manner, and I eventually discovered that Maurice Carter had been wrongly convicted. In the next decade we would not only fight together for his freedom, but we would become inseparable brothers. My family became his family. His elderly mother became my elderly mother. Maurice only lived for three months following his release from prison, after serving 29 years for a crime he did not commit. But his impact on my life was profound.

I'm a white Dutch boy, in an all-white community, worshiping in an all-white church, but I thank God that my life has been incredibly brightened by my numerous African-American relationships. Maybe that's one way the King dream can person at a time.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

She had a dream

It was in August, 2013, the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's famous I HAVE A DREAM speech.

The doorbell rang, and I was annoyed. The Detroit Tigers were playing in the 9th inning, and I didn't appreciate the disruption.

A very nice looking young lady was at the door with a pad of paper. Was I concerned about pollutants being dumped into the Great Lakes? Frankly, at the moment, I was not. I was hoping that Miguel Cabrera would hit a ball over the fence. I tried to be polite. The woman, probably in her 20s, was well dressed and obviously on a mission. She knew her subject backward and forward. I didn't have to donate money, although it would be appreciated. Would I at least sign the sheet showing my neighbors that I cared? Would I consider sending a letter about this issue to others? A template would be provided. I hurriedly signed my name to the sheet so that I could get back to the ball game.

The more I thought about it after she left, the more ashamed I became.

I DO care about the quality of our lakes and streams...they are a part of Pure Michigan that I love. It was the dinner hour, and this person was concerned enough about the problem to do something about it, to get others involved, to give up a nice meal, to risk being shunned by impatient people like me. She had the facts and figures, she knew who to contact, she knew what had to be said...and all I wanted to do was get back to the ball game.

I can't call her up, I can't apologize, there's no way I can make up for my rude behavior. But I can pay tribute to Ms. Unknown. She has a dream. She's not going to see the benefits of her actions...but her kids and grand-kids might. Her fight is not that different than ours...those of us at HFP who want to find better alternatives to the way Michigan treats its prisoners. And our fight is not that much different than that of the late Dr. King, who had a dream that one day people would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

God bless you, Ms. Unknown. May you and I and Dr. King keep on dreaming, and may all who strive for good causes be an example to others, because the dreams must go on.

To quote Dr. King: "With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."

Friday, August 9, 2013

Give me your tired, your poor...

As an advocate for prisoners---many of whom are lonely and forgotten---I am always saddened by news accounts of people whose lives haven't gone right.

A disturbing story is coming from Grand Rapids this week. The body of a woman was found along a nature trail. She had been murdered somewhere else, and dumped there. The story goes on to give the identity of the woman, aged 47, and then to explain that she had a history of prostitution and was known to frequent an area of Grand Rapids where hookers often plied their trade.

It makes me wonder how much effort police will put into solving this crime in comparison to a similar situation in which a prominent socialite might have been brutally assaulted and killed. In this case, is it just another hooker? Will anyone really miss her, or pressure authorities to find the killer?

How tragic it is that a woman at the age of 47 is still on the streets, all feelings of self worth obviously long gone. Had she ever been married? Did she ever have children? What led to a life like this?

I'm saddened by this saga. This was a child of God, who at one time might have had hopes and dreams like the rest of us.

I'm grateful that Jesus always showed compassion for the poor and downhearted.

I stubbornly stick with the premise that God don't make no junk!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The story lives on

Great news from Winston-Salem North Carolina: The Maurice Carter play has been accepted for a staged reading today. JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER is a powerful drama written by Donald Molnar and Alicia Payne of Toronto. For years these two fine playwrights have been tweaking the script and trying to pry open doors for public exposure. Today, success! The play will be read on a stage at the National Black Theatre Festival, which is usually attended by more than 50,000 people. Playing the role of Maurice Carter will be veteran Kalamazoo actor Von Washington, who is also an internationally known playwright.

The story line has two important messages: Injustice is unacceptable, and friendship crosses all boundaries.

How amazing is it that the story of an indigent African American from Gary, Indiana, who was wrongly convicted in the 1970s, is still making an impact today?

Who would have ever suspected that the bond between Maurice Carter and me would be so strong that it would touch the lives of people years after Maurice's death?

Thanks to Molnar and Payne, the story is alive and well, fresh and new with each telling.

May God continue to use the play to promote justice and friendship.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Enjoy the little things

I'm thinking a lot about Maurice Carter these days. He was released from prison this week,in the year 2004. I've never experienced anything quite like it.

I'm not sure you can even imagine what it must be like to have been out of touch with the world for 29 years. The video camera had not been invented yet. No one knew what a cell phone was. The internet wasn't even part of the English language.

I had to teach him how to shop in a convenience store. He would pick out one item and take it to the counter, and the clerk thought he planned to check out. Not so, he was just setting it there while he went and looked for another item. I was forced to intervene before the frustrated clerk exploded.

Maurice Carter's presence in my life taught me many lessons, but there was this huge one: Enjoy the little things.

I still remember the day that I rented an apartment for another prisoner just released. He stood in his apartment late at night, and marveled at the experience. He told me the next morning that he enjoyed three things for the first time in ten years: being alone, being in the dark, and silence. All things that we take for granted.

If you have the opportunity, go to our web site today and read Charley Honey's column, written in 2004 after he and two other guys from the Grand Rapids Press paid a visit to Maurice. It's a poignant piece. You'll see that Charley captured exactly what I am saying now.

Yes, enjoy living in a free country, and enjoy the benefits of democracy...but also enjoy being able to go to the bathroom whenever you feel like it, having enough toilet paper, having heat or air conditioning to maintain a pleasant temperature, having a warm blanket on your bed, having silence when you need it, having medications and medical assistance whenever the need arises, and never living in the fear that you could be attacked at any moment.

May we all learn from Maurice.

And may we all show compassion to those still living behind bars.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tragic story of wrongful conviction

Because of national news stories, much attention is being focused these days on the plight of young black men in America. An exceptionally high percentage of them end up behind bars.

I'd like to share a story with you that didn't make the national news. I'm afraid it's more common than we want to believe.

I'm so aware of it because I was with Andre' in prison this week, trying to get him some badly needed legal assistance.

Andre' was 21, living with his girl friend and a 1 year old baby, when things came crashing down. An acquaintance was shot and killed on the other side of town. Andre' was home at the time.

But somehow, a friend of a friend dropped his name to police, and he became a suspect. He was picked up and questioned and questioned and questioned. He was told to confess to the crime because witnesses already tied him to the crime. It's very important to insert two facts here: number one, he was learning disabled and could not read or write; and number two, he had no history of criminal behavior. No prior arrests.

So when this happened he was in a terrible state of mind, weeping and begging them to leave him alone. But the white lady cop wouldn't let up on him, and finally wrote out a whole statement on a sheet of paper and asked him to sign it. If he would sign it, she would leave him alone.

I asked him if he knew what the statement said...if she read it to him. He said that she read something to him, he doesn't remember. How could he possibly know what he was signing? He couldn't read! But he signed it, and it turned out to be a statement of confession. This is how false confessions rank high up on the list of reasons for wrongful convictions. He didn't even own a handgun at the time of the crime.

Well, a jury found Andre' guilty, and he was sentenced to life in prison. And because he was indigent, the attempts at appeals were amateurish and not well prepared. He didn't let up until he went all the way to federal court, which means that he has exhausted all legal avenues. That makes things very difficult now.

19 years later, he's still protesting his innocence, wondering how he ever ended up there. For Wayne County authorities, it was another Detroit crime solved.

I tell this story to stress how easy it is for the young black man to end up in jail, and how hard it is to get out again...even when the man is innocent.

HFP is not going to abandon Andre'.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hot enough for you?

I've been watching the various ways people are dealing with the nation's heat wave on Facebook. Some have swimming pools in their yard or in the neighborhood, some live along or near Lake Michigan or an inland lake, some are blessed to have central air conditioning in their homes. While I, too, enjoy air conditioning in our home, in my car and in our office, I am living in a slightly different world: the world of prisoners.

Prisoners, for the most part, have no escape from this heat. A friend in a Nevada prison contacted me during the last heat wave to say just how terrible it was. I wonder how he's doing now. One of our supporters in Las Vegas said it was 117 there yesterday.

Many of the activities in Michigan prisons are canceled when it is this hot. The heat is brutal in the prisons. One inmate told me that he went out into the yard in the evening, where it was still 85 degrees. But he said that was still cooler than the air in his cell. Another reports that when the temperature gets so high, tension gets higher also. Another said he had a heat-related illness, but still was not issued a fan, and the windows in the cell won't open. We contacted the prison, and were told that if the inmate wants a fan he's going to have to buy it, and it's not necessary for the windows to be open because there's a good air circulation system.

I post this little message, not to tell you anything new, but to remind you how good we have it, and how unpleasant it is behind bars.

Follow the advice in Hebrews, and remember those in prison as if you were in prison with them.

Friday, July 12, 2013

More thoughts on wrongful convictions

Almost every day, after hearing what I do for a living, someone will say, "Well, all prisoners claim to be innocent."

Not true.

The truth is that most prisoners know those who are innocent. When I worked to free Maurice Carter, some admitted that they belonged in prison, but they thanked me for helping Maurice because they knew he was innocent.

I just received a letter this morning from a guy who claims wrongful conviction, and it sets my mind to thinking about situations like that again. Do you ever wonder what it would be like, what your state of mind would be like, if you found yourself behind bars for something you didn't do? I'm not sure I could stand it. I know that I could not have remained the gentleman that Maurice Carter was.

When my friend Kenny Wyniemko was in prison, wrongly convicted, his father died. He was unable to attend the funeral, and it broke his heart.

In the letter received this morning, Leo tells me that his two grandmothers died. Oh, and his dad died of a heart attack, also. Oh, and he lost track of his two kids, also. Oh, he has now lost his home and his vehicles.

It's not pretty, ladies and gentlemen, and if his claims of wrongful conviction are true (some very knowledgeable about the case support his claims), then we have another crime here. It's a crime that he's in prison. It's a crime that he has been robbed of these years of freedom. It's a crime that he couldn't be there when loved ones passed away. It's a crime that he wasn't able to keep his family together.

Sorry, don't mean to be ranting and raving, but this is serious stuff.

Put yourself in that position.

Pray for the wrongly convicted. And those close to them.

As Rubin Hurricane Carter told me, "If someone claims innocence all the time he is in prison, you'd better listen to him!"

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Thumbs up, Rep. Haveman; Thumbs down, Sen. Jones

Advocates for Michigan prisoners were encouraged by an AP story today showing that Gov. Rick Snyder and state lawmakers are considering changes to prison sentencing guidelines. It's about time. 15 years ago the guidelines were made tougher, and they stuck. But the times, they are a-changin' and the state now has a corrections budget that exceeds $2-billion.

Everything is Republican controlled right now in Michigan, but the Guv is a bit of a maverick, and at his side he has Representative Joe Haveman from Holland, who heads up the House Appropriations Committee. Representative Haveman is a conservative, but we happen to know that he has taken an interest in prisoners, and more than just a passing interest. Says Representative Haveman: “Being tough on crime above all other concerns simply hasn't created a safer society.”

His statement is backed up by actual statistics.

Then comes along Senator Rick Jones, from Grand Ledge, a former sheriff who heads up the Senate Judiciary Committee: “ my experience, most of the inmates at Michigan prisons are pretty dangerous.”

Gimme a break. MOST of the inmates, Senator Jones? Just what is your experience with the Michigan prison system?

I wonder if he has checked the percentage of people in prison who are mentally ill. Who are physically ill and in hospitals and infirmaries. Who are elderly and virtually harmless. Who are battered women who fought to save their lives. Who are in on non-violent drug or alcohol charges. Most of the inmates?

We hear from inmates daily, on a regular basis, and there's a criminal element in there, all's prison. That's where they belong. I was trying to explain to my grandkids the other day how nice many of the prisoners are, and how special they are in my life.

Corrections Director Dan Heyns is all for an update, hoping that the Law Review Commission can figure out what the state can do to lower prison spending and reduce recidivism rates.

It's going to be a hard sell, with numerous lawmakers and many people having the same former cop mindset as Senator Jones.

It's our job to let our state lawmakers know where we stand. The guidelines need revision.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

500 too many

Do you suppose government officials in Texas are proud today? Their state has just completed its 500th execution. Kimberly McCarthy, a woman of color, was 52.

I caught myself wondering why I was feeling so somber yesterday, and then it dawned on me that Dr. David Schuringa of Crossroad Bible Institute had sent out a press release that one of their graduates was being executed. Why, you may ask, does that hit me so hard?

Well, a little background is in order here. In 2006 a prisoner with whom I had established correspondence on death row in Texas asked me if I would be his spiritual adviser at the time of his execution. It wasn't high on my list of priorities, but I agreed to do it.

Until you go to death row, hear the horror stories, watch the way the inmates are treated, see the indifference among staff, feel the pain of family and friends, and experience the feeling of total helplessness...not until then should you express strong opinions about the death penalty.

To the shame of my own denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, its leaders this month refused to revisit an outdated position on capitol punishment. At the other end of the spectrum, sit in any bar and you'll hear bravado talk from those claiming they would be willing to pull the switch on a criminal in the death chamber.

You can't talk about the death penalty in committee meeting rooms and taverns with any meaningful contribution.

Wait until you stand in the polished hallway of the notorious Walls unit in Huntsville. Wait until you witness guards on the roof with rifles as you and your little band of supporters go to the viewing room. Wait until you watch your friend take the first dose of a lethal injection as the warden looks straight ahead. Wait until the loud lock springs open allowing you to leave after death has been pronounced. Wait until you hear the shriek of the steam whistle signaling that the execution is completed and prison lock-down is over.

Perhaps you'll then agree that this barbaric practice has no place in a civilized society.

As someone said, it's the most premeditated of all murders.

May God have mercy.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blood sugar blues

Statistics show that about 8% of Americans suffer from diabetes. My guess is that the number also holds true in prison. Michigan usually has around 45,000 people in prison, so do the math. We have many diabetics in prison, and from the increasing number of reports we are getting, many claim inadequate treatment.

Many diabetes suffer from a condition called neuropathy, a painful foot problem that requires special shoes. Michigan's prison system decided on doing away with the the line of doctor-ordered shoes, and use prison labor to make their own. From all reports, it's not working. One inmate reports he has gone through 7 pairs of these inferior shoes in six months. The sizes aren't right, and they rip apart at the seams. Because of these problems he's had numerous sores on his feet.

Another report indicates that the medical care system has been switching to different and less costly types of insulin. It's something that we cannot confirm, and our medical consultants aren't sure about. But the inmates are convinced of one thing: The change in medication has resulted in much higher blood sugar rates, and they're only recourse is to file grievances or file suit. Either alternative takes time. Meanwhile the unsatisfactory sugar level remains.

A report from the women's prison says that diabetics are given meters to check their sugar levels, but no needles. So, these ladies must save up their sewing needles and use them to check their blood.

A report from another of the men's facilities says that medical personnel in that unit have been randomly taking away meters from diabetics. "Someone's going to die here," he said, "and it won't be their fault."

I was reading the other day about the wonderful, caring health treatment that is becoming available for our pets.

How much more valuable are our prisoners, created in the image of God? The least of these.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wrongly convicted? You'd better listen!

I'm especially reminded of those words this week. That's what Rubin Hurricane Carter told me back when he and I were working to free the late Maurice Carter. The myth seems to be that all prisoners claim innocence, which is not true. But some protest their innocence the rest of their lives, and those are the ones that we must listen to, according to Rubin.

HFP is not an Innocence Project, but we do try to find help for those inmates who seem to have compelling evidence of a wrongful conviction.

We were heartened in two cases this week.

David, who has claimed innocence from day one and who has now exhausted all court avenues, remains in prison for life. BUT, he and I found a glimmer of hope when a retired state police officer, now on the Parole Board, believed him and recommended that I help in attracting the attention of an innocence project. A retired judge visited him this week, as a volunteer assisting two innocence organizations. After a two hour discussion, he informed him that he completely believed in his innocence!

Tony, who has been telling us that he is innocent since we met him several years ago, is about to be paroled but wanted to prove to his family and friends that he wasn't lying. They were able to put up the money, and we assisted them in retaining the services of a reputable polygraph examiner. Tony informed me this week that the lie detector test was administered in the prison, and he passed with flying colors!

These are just two cases, in the books of a very small organization. I say it's the tip of iceberg.

Before meeting Maurice Carter, I pretty much assumed that when someone was found guilty in America's system of justice. Many years later, I'm skeptical. Our system is badly flawed, and I'm wondering today how many innocent people are sitting behind bars.

We've gotta try harder.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

F is for father; F is for forgiveness

I heard a television commentator discussing fatherhood this week, as he wished all of the fathers in his audience a Happy Father's Day. He said that, as a father, he liked a quote from Henry Ford: Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

He was right on the money.

I love being a father, but I'm the first to admit that I made a lot of mistakes along the way. I hope that I kept correcting them, when I started over again...with more intelligence. I'm blessed to have a wonderful relationship with my kids and our grandchildren, which means that they all are forgiving people. They don't have a perfect dad or grandpa.

I'm especially mindful of that this year, because in recent days I had to be the message carrier between an elderly prisoner and his adult son. The father is a friend. I do not know the son. Sadly, it didn't turn out well.

The two were reportedly very close at one time, but some demons in the father's life caught up with him and he wound up in prison. Apparently the alleged crime was so heinous that the son absolutely cannot forgive or forget. Now he wants nothing to do with his dad. He ignores messages that come to him from prison. He refuses to do a few little favors that could make life much easier for his father. His focus is only on his hurt feelings and the alleged victims.

When I called the son he said, very openly, "I don't want him anymore. You wanna adopt him?"

He expressed no interest in his father's living conditions or mental state.

And all of this hurt me. In the HFP office we deal with broken relations every day, and I must confess that I have not been in the son's shoes. I loved my dad, and on this day miss him a lot.

But if I claim my heavenly father's promises, that means I am forgiven. No further questions.

I hope on this Father's Day you can forgive your dad, no matter how seriously he messed up. You'd simply be treating him the way you have been treated.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A few rotten apples

Every once in a while, I need a reality check in this business of working with prisoners.

Today I am reminded, again, that there is a reason for prisons, and there are reasons why some people belong there.

When my nephew showed interest in hiring a former prisoner in his company, I hesitantly encouraged him to go ahead. At first, it appeared the business decision was a good one. Sales were up. Things were looking good. Then came the bad news: A telephone caller asked for a personal meeting, and it turns out the former inmate's dark past is also part of his present life. Things are not good, he's been behaving inappropriately, and there's every reason to believe he's going to go right back where he came from.

That makes me so sad. The man had a chance to do things right.

It reminds me of our efforts to help Ronny some years ago. We got him out, got him a place to live, got him going in a business of his own. He would be at my side to speak in churches...we would hug, and he would get teary-eyed. But all the while, he was still involved in the dark side of his life, stealing from the very people who were helping him. It all caught up to him finally, and he took his own life. Heart-breaking, because he had such a huge chance to start a new life.

And one more example...a good friend of ours, a senior citizen who has been so supportive of former prisoners, apparently was taken to the cleaners by one who thought he had found a blank check-book.

Now it's important for me to stress that these are the exceptions. Each day I work with wonderful people behind bars whom I completely trust, and with whom I would work in a heart-beat. And these few rotten apples spoil it for the whole bunch. We must keep our focus, instead, on the shiny, red, sweet apples out there.

The real message here is that we all know some unsavory people, regardless of whether they have ever been in prison. But that doesn't mean that we are not surrounded by many, many, honest, kind, genuine human beings worthy of our love and friendship.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Medical un-care

Years ago my friend David called me from prison just to chat. He told me that before this telephone call he had been reading to a prisoner. I asked him what that was all about. He explained that the man had recently had eye surgery. because one of his eyes was bad. Problem was the surgery was done on the wrong eye, and now the guy couldn't see. "And they call us the criminals," David said.

For some time I thought that was an isolated incident, but now I'm not so sure. The HFP office is receiving atrocious reports daily.

A woman reported that a friend of hers in Huron Valley had cancer surgery and a very devastating bout of chemo therapy, only to be informed later that she never had cancer. My informant said the state had been getting her friend and another prisoner with the same last name mixed up.

A prisoner reported to me today that personnel in health-care in his facility have been taking away meds from prisoners who have been on that particular regimen for a long period of time. In addition, he said, they're taking away meters from inmates with diabetes. "Somebody's gonna die here," he says.

A wife informed me that her husband has had three surgeries for cancer, but the healthcare people in his particular facility say they don't have the means to give him follow-up treatment, and are unable to take him anywhere for treatment. She's praying for a transfer.

A mother reports that her daughter had the HIV virus when she went into prison, but because the system refused to treat the girl, she now has full-blown AIDS.

Are all these people telling fibs? I don't think so.

The people of the State of Michigan are going to have to demand more from their state legislators, or nothing will get done.

Our nation is opposed to torture, yet I describe this as cruel and unusual punishment. Not in some foreign prison camp. Right here in Pure Michigan.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A kinder, gentler DOC

I had forgotten the words of former President George H.W. Bush, who back in 1988 called for a "kinder, gentler nation."

Last week I had an opportunity to hear the Director of the MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Daniel Heyns, talk about his hopes and goals for the MDOC. I heard about lower recidivism rates, and improved training for corrections officers. But I heard nothing about a kinder, gentler DOC.

And that's one of the things we really need.

My thoughts turned to that today because the office of HFP is dealing with several issues, once again, in the women's facility. All of Michigan's female inmates are housed in a large complex at Ypsilanti, Michigan.

First and foremost on our plate, as many of you know, is the toilet paper issue. New restrictions give the women only two small rolls of single-ply tissue per week...tissue that must also take the place of facial tissue and paper towels, because the inmates don't get anything like that. We have been bombarded with complaints. Women have kept logs of how many sheets are used at a time, and they're still running out in four days!

Then there's our friend the wheelchair lady. Prisoners contacted us because the staff treats her so poorly, and doesn't provide a pusher. She told me that when she asks someone to push her, they want to be paid, and she makes prisoner wages. That amounts to pennies, not dollars.

And now a new one today...a young woman with the HIV virus who just cannot get appropriate care and medication, and is terribly sick. Her mother contacted us from another state. She's beside herself with fear that, without proper treatment, the girl will develop full-blown AIDS.

HFP's goal is to seek kinder, gentler treatment of all prisoners. That's why I met this week with representatives of HOSPICE OF MICHIGAN to explore how we can better serve dying inmates and their families.

Instead of just praising MDOC Director Heyns for being a man of faith, the many faith-based initiatives working in Michigan Prisons should be reminding him that Jesus expects us to show compassion to the least of these. And when we don't, we are not following his precepts.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Honk if you love a reporter

I'm going to digress this morning. For just once, I'm going to get away from prisoner issues.

While it's true that I am a prisoner advocate, and a life-long church musician, what I really am is a reporter. I'm not in the broadcasting business anymore, but it's kinda like a cop...once a cop, always a cop. Same with being a journalist.

I'm coming to the defense of journalists this morning in the wake of the Oklahoma disaster.

One cannot have been watching all of this coverage without gaining new appreciation for the street reporter...the journalist out there in the thick of things.

I'm so tired of hearing the phrase "liberal media."

I could identify with those Oklahoma reporters. As a very young newsman I have spent all night in severe weather headquarters on occasion, broadcasting updates to the people in my community. My personal politics had nothing to do with my desire to make sure our listeners were informed.

Thanks to the liberal media, if you insist on using those words, many fatalities were avoided in Oklahoma because of the outstanding warning information that was fanned out by the local outlets.

And the great coverage in Oklahoma was not provided by the big network guns flown in to get was provided by those guys and gals in the trenches, doing their best to provide news coverage for their friends and neighbors.

That's the way it really is, ladies and gentlemen. The media does not consist of a few high profile people on the cable networks. The media are made up of thousands of conscientious journalists who, regardless of their personal political beliefs, are committed to seeking the truth on behalf of their readers, listeners or viewers. That's how you are getting informed everyday.

Some bad apples in the bunch? Yep, just like anywhere else.

The reporter is an important cog in the gears of democracy, and I'm proud to be called one of them.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Thanks, for what?

A friend came up to me after church this morning to thank me for all that we are doing. While I very much appreciated this man's kindness, I had to explain that some days we really aren't doing all that much.

A woman behind bars was told by police ten years ago that she failed a lie detector test. She was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life in prison. She claims innocence. All she wants is a copy of that polygraph exam. I'm striking out trying to find it.

A man in the UP claims he is bleeding, and doctors say he is dying. The warden says he's being treated. It's too far away for me to go, and too far away for his support system. So here we sit in the middle. What is really going on?

I was encouraged by a Parole Board member to enlist the aid of an Innocence Project for an inmate whose story seemed very credible. We seem to be getting nowhere fast.

The women in Ypsilanti are bombarding this office with complaints about the new toilet tissue restrictions, something that one of our jailhouse lawyers says is actually cruel and unusual treatment. Yet, no matter how hard we try, we seem to hit brick walls.

One of our inmate friends claims DNA evidence would free him. But the police department in the case destroyed the evidence. Now where does he go? Everyone agrees this isn't right, but he stays behind bars. I don't know which way to turn.

Another of our inmate friends who claims innocence must take psych prison classes, where they badger him, try to convince him to show remorse, and say that if he continues to say he didn't do it he'll max out. He's having anxiety attacks. i don't know how to help him.

Prisoners need prayers.

So do we.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day?

I'm thinking of a little four-year-old girl early on this Mother's Day morning, as I sip my first cuppa. Our board member Judy VanderArk was making a prison visit at the women's facility in Ypsilanti Friday. She saw this little girl all dressed up, sitting with her grandmother in the waiting room. Judy complimented her on her pretty outfit. The child explained that she was going to visit her was her mom's birthday. We see so many experiences like this in prison, and each one can quickly move a person to tears.

I'm thinking of that little girl today, because her mother will not be with her on Mother's Day.

I'd like to ask, today, that we take a moment to remember mothers behind bars.

Out of curiosity, I contacted our local Sheriff, Gary Rosema, to find out how many mothers might be in the Ottawa County Jail. Well, right here in our lily white county that we think is such an exemplary place to live, there are 41 women in jail. 26 of them are mothers. And Gary says this means that 62 children will not be with their mothers for this special day.

In Muskegon today an organization called LETTERS R BETTER is staging a solidarity demonstration outside the County Jail. They just want to not only honor the mothers in jail, but express solidarity with one another.

I haven't found specific figures on the number of mothers behind bars in the U.S., but one report claimed that there are 85,000 mothers incarcerated nationally.

That's a lot of moms who won't get a little hand-made card with the words WORLD'S BEST MOM scrawled in crayon today.

That's sad.

My God be near this special category of mothers today.