All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A heavenly chat

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to speak with a departed friend now in heaven?

Well, that's the premise of a powerful play written about my dear friend Maurice Carter. He and I became like brothers as we fought alongside each other hoping to prove his innocence. The nine year battle with the state came to an end in 2004 when he was released from prison for medical reasons. He died just three months later.

Award winning playwrights Donald Molnar and Alicia Payne of Toronto were captivated by the story, and have penned a moving stage play called JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER.

There's a small cast, and a small gospel choir. But the two main characters are Doug Tjapkes, here on this earth...and Maurice Carter, in heaven, having a discussion. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll get angry as you hear them review the ups and downs of that amazing battle for freedom.

I bring all of this up because there will be four staged readings of the play by a fine cast this weekend at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, all in York Theatre. Washington Productions will be presenting the drama on Thursday and Friday, May 2 an 3, at 8 PM. And then on Saturday there will be two performances, at 2 PM and 8 PM. You will not quickly forget Dr. Von Washington's portrayal of Maurice Carter!

There's no admission charge, and it's a story everyone should hear; not because it's about me, but because it's about injustice that could affect anyone.

Please do your best to attend, and let me know your thoughts after the experience.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The widow's mite: mighty!

Last weekend the Board of Directors of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS held a retreat. In addition to the dramatic increase in requests for assistance, the board has many other important issues to tackle.

Our facilitator, Matthew Downey of Grand Valley State University, pointed out something very interesting when discussing non-profit organizations like ours. The bulk of the support for these agencies does not come from large companies, millionaire donors, or giant foundations. The support comes from individuals, and the majority of those individuals are in low and middle income categories. They do it because they happen to believe in that cause.

That was no surprise to me, because that's exactly the way it is for HFP.

Here at HFP, it is virtually impossible to attract the attention of large foundations. Most don't want to do much for prisoners. And if they do, they'll consider a grant if we want to take on a new program, especially involving re-entry. Well, we don't want to do that. We need money just to try to keep doing what we do best. As far as we know, we're the only agency that focuses specifically on helping one prisoner at a time with all of these humanitarian issues.

And that's why your monthly support is so important. We have many members of the 100 Club now, and they're not all giving $100 a month. Many wanted to join but couldn't afford that much. So we opened it up to all who would agree to a regular monthly sum. Some participants are giving $25 a month. Some are helping to make up for that by giving $200 a month.

The neat thing is that a lot of people care, and a lot of people want to honor the biblical admonition to show compassion to prisoners. And the $5 dollar gift is just as important as the $10,000 gift!

You care. So do we.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

One roll of TP?

Marcia and I often get annoyed when we hear or read about a group of men deciding things about women. This has happened throughout history, both in government and in the church.

But when a woman makes a decision against women...that baffles me.

We complain a lot about how women are treated at the only prison for women in the State of Michigan, located in Ypsilanti. The code name is WHV, the HV standing for Huron Valley. It's a constant uphill battle there, but the bigger surprise is that the warden is a woman. Go figger!

Anyway, here's the latest complaint that we're looking into, one that has come to us from three different independent sources within the prison: There's a new policy, we are told, that limits the female inmates to one roll of toilet tissue per week, regardless of sickness or good health, and one package of sanitary pads per month, regardless of menstrual regularity or difficulties. We keep checking, and so far no one has denied it. But what is the point?

One of the physicians on our panel of advisers was appalled, and labeled the policy unreasonable.

Michigan has a reputation of giving women higher sentences, especially battered women. I have seen male members of the Parole Board do their best to break a female inmate during the interview that could lead to eventual freedom. I have seen a male representative of the Michigan Attorney General's Office reduce a woman to sobbing in a public hearing. This must really make these guys feel good.

But for a woman to enact a policy that reduces staples to an unreasonable level for members of her own sex?

Pure harassment, I contend.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Black and white

Many years ago I vowed that I would never go to Haiti again. I was there to help in making a movie about a mission project, and I was staying in a modest but very nice motel. It didn't look like our motels...more like an expansive home. We lived well, and food was provided. But the sad thing was that just across the street, not 50 feet from my deck, was squalor. People were living in abject poverty. The worst I had ever seen. Why should I live any better than these people, also created in the image of God? I couldn't take it. I wanted no more of it. Certainly things weren't that bad in my country.

Years later, providential prodding put me right in the middle of the Maurice Carter case. And that drew me to the twin cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. Shades of Haiti! Abject poverty on one side of the river. Opulence on the other side. 90 percent black in Benton Harbor. 90 percent white in St. Joe.

The reason for these thoughts right now: I'm on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, enjoying a family visit. Here we see wealth beyond imagination. Beautiful homes on golf courses and ponds. Expensive cars that rarely travel down roads in my community. But yesterday, we entered the island from a different direction. "These are native islanders," explained our host. It was only a cut above a ghetto, all black folks, a tiny beauty parlor for African American ladies, a simple little church for the black folks. It looked like the old south. Then we went through a gate, into one of the communities of the rich. Total contrast.

In my prison work I've tried to become color blind, and I forget that the rest of the world isn't that way. Many don't wannabe either, methinks.

In Christ there is no east or west. And all men are created equal. But there's a lot of evidence to the contrary.

Friday, April 5, 2013


If you're getting sick of reading about the lack of heat at Michigan's prison for women, just imagine how sick of it inmates must be.

A few days again we received this message;

Been trying to get these return air blowers reset again. Found out that when they do generator checks and the power goes out and right back on, these blowers reset themselves and on high instead of at the set mark where everyone could at least sleep in their rooms. Third shift officers can't do rounds or counts cause everyone is layered up(again) and sleeping with their head under the blanket trying to stay warm. Can't sit in your room with the door closed or even open it is still freezing cold. Some lazy maintenance guy said it can't be adjusted. Liar. That is why throughout the years they keep getting readjusted. It will be one week tomorrow that we have all been freezing. It sure is inhumane treatment having outside cold air blow on your bed and body all day and all night long. Temps are down in the 20s at night now. I wish they would have to live through this, and see how they like it.

Then, a few days later, we received this sad message from the same facility:

Just needed to vent a little. These people are unbelievable. Because of freezing for a week now. this morning I woke up with my back whole shoulder blade muscles all locked up, because of the rooms being so cold and sleeping in curled up position. I cried most of the morning because of the pain. Took a hot shower. It loosened it up for a moment. Then got tight again when I was in my room. The officer asked me if I was OK and I told her no and explained how I woke up. She so casually looked at me very unsympathetic and said yea sometimes the blowers are high and sometimes they are low. Really.... and I am crying while I am telling her I can't take the cold anymore. I just walked away from the desk. The other officer seemed to care and called maintenance to come and turn them down but maintenance will not come over or respond to the call. The counselor even called them Monday and they still will not turn them down. I pray for their evil hearts

I pray for prisoners not being treated properly.