All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

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.