Showing posts from December, 2013

More compassion for the ailing in 2014?

As I sit enjoying my first cuppa on the last day of the year, I'm reflecting on the huge challenges ahead for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. And some of the biggest challenges we face involve sickness and death. Matt and I are reviewing the statistics for 2013, but a cursory glance at the daily log shows us that health issues are a dominant theme. In short, here's what we're aiming for in the new year: better health care for ailing and injured inmates; more compassionate releases for prisoners with terminal illnesses; and, some form of hospice care for those who are dying and who do not get released to their families and loved ones. Throughout the year we have heard terrifying stories of lack of proper care for prisoners who were afflicted with various illnesses, or who were injured either accidentally or intentionally. It is not uncommon, for example, to receive reports that medications have been taken away from prisoners...especially pain meds. We're the first to

On playing the race card

I'm not above playing the race card. I'm a kid who was brought up in a white, Dutch church in Muskegon, with all white friends and relatives. In addition to the N word, we also heard numerous other titles for people of color. And all this from Christian folk who thought that somehow they were more righteous than those with a different skin. Nothing wrong with using words like that. Perhaps these weren't children of God after all. It has taken me a long time to get here. But there's no turning back now, after people in my life like the Rev. Cy Young, who had memorized all of Martin Luther King's speeches (who my kids called “Uncle Cy”); Alma Perry, one of the finest and most devout gospel singers to make an appearance in my life (who sang a new song to me in her inner-city kitchen); and then Maurice Carter, my hero and my brother, who served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. I easily place these names at the top of a list of people who made a huge

Holidays without a loved one

The joy of the holiday season is tarnished for those who lost someone dear to them in the past year. For those of us working with prisoners and the prison system, we know there will be stories involving deaths of loved ones...but HFP is going to try to make a difference in the new year! Our resolution to try to bring about change was strengthened last week when I spoke to James. We lost another prisoner this past week, man...another one of our guys passed. He had lung cancer. He had been coughing and choking. We knew he was in bad shape. The docs had recommended a compassionate release to the Parole Board last year and it was turned down. The Parole Board considered another request this year and turned it down. That's so sad. It didn't have to be that way, man. He had family that just wanted him home for his last days. That's the kind of stuff that just about sends me to the moon. Who are these people who decide that a dying inmate, regardless of how serio

Just the ticket!

I always cringe when I hear a member of the Michigan Parole Board question an inmate about tickets. A ticket is what happens when a prisoner gets written up for some kind of infraction. The Parole Board doesn't like to hear about tickets. And so, when an inmate appears before a board member for an interview, or during a public hearing, the issue of tickets invariably gets brought up. Board members love to refer to an inmate who has been in for 40 years and hasn't had one ticket. It's interesting to note that the ticket-free inmate, however, is still behind bars. I cringe because I hear so many stories about ridiculous tickets. It goes back to the days of my friend Maurice Carter. A friend owed him a debt, while in prison. The friend worked in the kitchen. So, he paid off his debt to Maurice with an onion. That seems harmless enough, but one isn't supposed to be walking around in prison with an onion. Could be dangerous. So Maurice was written up. One wou

What are you going to do about it?

So here's the deal. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS can keep right on bringing up important issues involved Michigan prisoners, but if we're standing alone in this fight, it's an uphill battle. For weeks and weeks we've been talking about the shameful toilet paper and sanitary napkin policies that affect all of the women incarcerated in Michigan. People who learn about this through HFP have been understandably outraged. They stop Matt and me on the street. They send us email messages. They click "like" on Facebook. They make strong comments of support. And that's where it stops. My guess is that you could count on one hand the number of people who actually did something about it...sent a message, or a letter, or made a telephone call to a state representative, a state senator, the Governor, or the MDOC itself. That ain't gonna cut it! We need help. The reason I bring this up today is that we have just received another complaint from prisoners i

Keeping it in perspective

The beauty and charm and magic of the holiday season is frequently just a myth. As a veteran newsman, I recall tragic stories year after year that tug on the heart-strings during this season. Fires, accidents, tragedies, unexpected deaths, serious illness. For many people around us, the holidays aren't magical...they're difficult. I don't mean to minimize this, but ask that you keep it in perspective. Those around us who experience serious illness or tragedy this time of the year are still surrounded by friends, family and loved ones who care and who show their compassion in many different ways. Those who are suffering pain due to injury or illness are able to get appropriate medication to relieve their misery. Those who need it can easily obtain the finest medical care. Those who are dying may receive hospice care and have the people closest to them at their side. We simply take all of this for granted, and it's a beautiful thing. But in this Christmas sea

Mandela and Carter: heroes, models

The world is grieving the loss of one of its brightest shining stars today. A script-writer could not have improved on the story of Nelson Mandela, incarcerated for a third of his life and then ascending to the presidency of his country. As I listen to the various commentators the morning after, I am reminded time and again of my personal experience with a man, also of dark skin, who spent half of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit. I hear statements that tell how Mr. Mandela touched lives around the world. And I hear questions like: How could a man in prison for 27 years come out without being bitter? I've been blessed to meet two men who had similar experiences. Both were named Carter. And as in the Mandela case, racism was involved. Rubin Hurricane Carter, wrongly convicted not just once, but twice, told me that one day he looked in an old, cracked mirror in the prison and saw the reflection of a man he didn't even know. It was the portrait of a

Think of prisoners when lighting the HOPE candle

I love the season of Advent...a time of expectation and anticipation. Dennis Bratcher, of the Christian Resources Institute, in explaining the meaning of this season, said: There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice... And that made me think of Advent, 2013, where we still have hundreds of thousands of people behind bars, who right now cry out from their bitter oppression. Many are experiencing the tyranny of injustice. Some have been wrongly convicted, many have been over-charged and/or over-sentenced. Many are experiencing cruel treatment. Many are suffering the torture of solitary confinement. These aren't just empty words of speculation...these are words of truth right from the office of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. At the beginning of each week of Advent, many Christians light a candle on