Showing posts from February, 2013

Big Ben's sermon

My friend Big Ben is a lifer, a dear man who has served some 40 years all because of a foolish moment in his young life. He's a beautiful Christian, and there's really no reason to keep him and many others like him in prison. But that is another matter. Big Ben informed me the other day that he was recently called on to preach the sermon at the church in prison. He told me about the passage that had chosen He went on to tell the congregation about an incident that happened on the floor of the prison gymnasium. He said he was playing a pick-up game of 21 with this guy, and went in for a rebound. When he came down, he slightly brushed his fellow player across the bridge of his nose with an elbow. He said the man went down like a 50-pound sack of potatoes. "I thought he was joking," said Big Ben, "because in my mind I had hardly touched him. But when he lifted his head up, blood was gushing from his nose and his mouth. Naturally I was apologizing profus

On drinking spiked coffee

I knew right away that something was wrong, when James called me today. His voice wasn't the same. James has been represented by HFP for quite a while now. You've heard me talk about him. The state promised him that an effort would be made to get him re-sentenced if he would simply testify in a murder trial. And the thing is, the state didn't have to make this promise. James would have done it anyway, because it was the right thing to do. The man had boasted to him about involvement in a killing, and James told me that by doing nothing he would be siding with the criminal. But the state DID make the promise. And so he testified, and the man was convicted of murder. The state was elated. Now, years later, guess who's still in prison. Yep, the state has a hard time remembering promises like that, especially after it gets what it wants. Well since that time, as you might expect, word has leaked back into the prison system, and now James lives in fear. He&#

Little is much!`

My prayer for HFP support is very simple each day. It's very much like, "Give us this day our daily bread." We don't need much, but do do need enough to handle the major challenges that come our way each day. So I say a simple prayer each morning before I open our box at the Grand Haven Post Office. Today, good news came from all over the place. It's not big news, but it's good news! Some dear friends of HFP sent out a feeler...they'd like to donate some stock to HFP, and our accountant must figure out how that can be done. A friend from out-of-state, an award-winning broadcast journalist, sent us a message...she thinks she may have found some foundation money, and she wants to write a grant for us. A notification came by email that the employer of one of our supporters would be matching that person's gifts to HFP, and we should be getting a check in April. A Grand Rapids church took an offering where I had spoken recently...that generou

Why some people shoot

The nation is saddened once again over gun violence. Anger apparently festered so long in the mind of a troubled individual that he finally decided to take action, snuffing innocent lives with weapons. And we sit in our nice little homes in nice little neighborhoods and wonder how anyone could do something like that. I have a different take on this. Some of you know that I befriended a prisoner, Maurice Carter, in 1995, and spent the next 9 years trying to prove his innocence and trying to free him. He was eventually freed due to illness, after serving 29 years for a crime he did not commit. That was just about 50% of his life. Think he should have been angry...or could have been? If you were finally released after 29 years of incarceration for a crime that someone else committed, might you consider taking revenge against the snake who escaped a serious drug charge by telling a lie about your involvement in a crime? How about the crooked cops that set this up so they could

On God's mysterious ways

Laura stood before the congregation in our morning worship today and made a public profession of her faith. Before this emotional little segment of the service, pastor Nate Visker told an amazing story of how God works...actually, how things got started toward making a change in Laura's life. And that was 40 years ago. Here's how the sequence went: 1970s, Doug Tjapkes founded a group of singers called HIS MEN, and this male chorus chose prisons as one of its venues to present music. 1995, as a result of this interest in prisons, Doug chose to assist a prisoner named Maurice Carter who was wrongly convicted. 2001, at the encouragement of his friend Maurice, Doug formed an organization originally named INNOCENT, now doing business as HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. 2010, former prisoner Ron Ross, aided in his release by HFP, fell in love with a local woman, and they were married in our was the only church Ron new, and people here were kind to him. Later that year

It could happen to you

At first blush it might seem that my ego is getting the best of me when I ask you to watch a performance about me on stage. But hang in there...this isn't about me, it's about you. Two wonderful playwrights from Toronto, Alicia Payne and Donald Molnar, read my book SWEET FREEDOM some years ago and were touched by the story of Maurice Carter and Doug Tjapkes. In about 1995, I made a decision to try to help this black man sitting in the Michigan prison system, claiming that he was wrongly convicted. The fight was waged over the next nine years. Alicia and Don thought that the story could best be told on the stage, so they obtained some grants and over the next couple of years conducted their own research into the story. They went through my files, they traveled to Benton Harbor, they interviewed key players in the case. As a result of all that came the stage play: JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER. We are so grateful to the Calvin Theatre Company for scheduling two stag

All life is precious

There's no question that a close brush with death gives a person new appreciation for life. Perhaps that's why the casual way in which life and death are mentioned behind bars makes me so sad. A friend wrote a short note to me recently from one of Michigan's prisons. Almost as an after-thought, he reported that "there was another murder here last week." Another day, another life. A female inmate sent a short note via email. "I just thought I would let you know that Trina passed away last night at the hospital. She got pneumonia and her heart gave out. I don't think she had any family." Another prisoner wrote to tell me of a terrible incident across the hall from him. An inmate jimmied the lock on his cell so the guards couldn't get in...then he tried to beat his roommate to death. They had to just about tear the cell apart to get at him and stop him. I wrote this inmate a short note, asking how the story turned out. "As for th