Showing posts from July, 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 t

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

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 tha

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 die

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