Showing posts from May, 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 h

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 liber

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 re

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 the

Our problems vs. Tony's problems

OK, let's pick three topics that rattle through your brain while driving to work in the morning...not terrible problems necessarily, but nagging issues. Under each topic, I'll tell you what I heard from Tony today...a Michigan prisoner who sent me a short note. 1. Your compensation. I just got paid by the state today. $17.71. Now I can buy some stamps. 2. Kid issues. My mom wants me to fight for custody of my 13 year old. His mother isn't taking very good care of him. Clothes are dirty and don't fit. My other brother and his wife, who have 5 boys of their own, took some of their money and got him two outfits and a pair of shoes. Now, when he comes over to go to school, he'll change clothes, so he can stop being teased by the other students. 3. Problems with a neighbor. I just hate these living conditions---8 man cube. They climb over the wall when you go to chow and pry your locker open while the guards are not looking. You and I have the ab

How to help the brothers

"The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do." - John Holt OK then, I guess it's time to test my character. As the person who runs HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, and who thinks he has the answers for prisoners and their families, this one has me stymied. I'm working with two brothers, Donald and Joseph. They're not young men anymore. Joseph is in prison, and mentally challenged. Donald is not in prison, but also struggles with issues. In its infinite wisdom, the MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS placed Joseph in the facility at Marquette, Michigan. His only contact is his brother in southwest lower Michigan, more than 450 miles away! Is this really necessary? These are simple people, struggling with simple issues that never bother you and me...why does this have to happen? So Donald asks me what I can do to help Joseph. Some days he claims doctors are telling him he is dying. He has

Wrongful convictions: rare or common?

just when I think I have my life's Maurice Carter chapter buried away, along comes another presentation of the powerful play JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER. I've seen it enough times now so that I look around to gauge audience reaction to certain key issues, rather than watch the actors. People react in disbelief. They cannot believe that a trial can end successfully for a prosecutor who has no physical evidence, no fingerprints, no evidence, no motive, and not one credible witness. They gasp when they hear Maurice Carter's terrible court-appointed defense attorney say that he has no questions. He had the key witness, the only true witness to the crime who insisted that Maurice was not the shooter. Yet he blew it. I'm so used to the whole issue of wrongful convictions that nothing surprises me. But in every performance of our play, people are surprised. And when the whole subject comes to the forefront in my mind, I become angry once again on behalf of thos