Showing posts from February, 2014

HFP still salutes Corrections Officer of the Year

We frequently complain about corrections officers in the Michigan prison system...and for good reason. Some of these people are callous and abusive, some are rude to visitors, and some are involved in the smuggling in of contraband. But the key word here is “some.” As in many situations, the troublemakers get the attention. Many others are very nice people, kind to inmates, helpful to visitors, and carry out their duties with pride, dignity and integrity. I bring up all of this because I just read a disturbing little piece in the February MI-CURE newsletter. The MCO (Michigan Corrections Organization---union for the guards) recently notified the MDOC that it is withdrawing from the process of selecting a corrections officer of the year and that it will not have an official presence at the annual Department of Corrections banquet. The announcement read, in part, “The consensus of MCO leaders across the state was that the union should discontinue official participation in the se

Death, where is your sting?

It's the first death of 2014 among the list of inmates being served by HFP. We've just learned that Daniel Hnatiuk died on January 7. He was 58. As is so often the case, Dan's plight was called to our attention by another prisoner. He suffered from Hepatitis C, and was in such bad shape that only a liver transplant would save his life. He remained confident that he would be released and get a new liver. Michigan prisoners are not allowed to have transplants. (From what we're told, it's not because they're's because the prison medical staff won't provide the necessary care for the patient after the surgery.) When HFP was notified by a fellow prisoner that this inmate was not getting appropriate care, we pounced on the case. “I pray that you are the help I have been looking for,” he said to me in a short hand-written note. We prayed the same thing. He had been told the disease was so advanced that the usual medications could not

Roles reversed - we're doing the begginig

Words from the Apostle Paul: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. My son Matthew and I are very accustomed to hearing pleas for help. By the very nature of our business, we hear begging. Just today, alone, we heard prisoners and/or their family members pleading for -prescription shoes that were denied to a crippled inmate -court documents that an inmate cannot retrieve on his own -prayers for safety in a violent situation -answers to questions about an obvious MDOC retaliation prison transfer -assistance in getting a handi-craft program started again for women -help in finding a family member -assistance in filing an application for commutation. It's not uncommon, anymore, for the HFP office to receive 10-15 requests for help A DAY! But today, we're asking for help. We're blaming much of our problem on the weather, but our February contributions took a steep d

Smile. You're on PB TV!

My friend David asked me to be at his side for a Parole Board interview. He's a lifer, but claims wrongful conviction. Unlike most PB interviews, this was a great experience. And here's a major reason why it was so good: The interviewer was sitting across the table from us. I bring this up because nowadays, most PB interviews are done by interactive TV. It's a simple system really. One camera is set up in the Parole Board office in Lansing. Another is set up in the prison where the interviews are being conducted. These cameras are in a fixed position. Microphones, also in a single location, allow interviewer and interviewee to communicate. I think it's a terrible situation. When I sat by David for his interview, the Parole Board member was able to see and feel the sincerity and conviction in his voice. Instead of lasting the usual 10-20 minutes, the discussion continued for nearly an hour. At the conclusion of the interview, the Parole Board member i

TV News. Always fair, always accurate?

I got in a little shoving match with a news editor at Channel 8 earlier this month. It was the day after an escape from one of the prisons in Ionia. I became frustrated with the way the TV reporters were describing the escapee. In some informal chatter, one reporter gushed, “How does a mass murderer escape from prison?” Then, in a related story, another reporter on the same channel said, “We talked with family members of the people he killed.” My blood was boiling as I emailed the newsroom. We knew that Michael Elliot was an escapee. We knew that he was a carjacker. But we DID NOT KNOW that he was a mass murderer. I knew that Mr. Elliot had claimed that he was wrongly convicted of a quadruple homicide in 1993, and has claimed his innocence ever since his arrest. Granted, this doesn't make him innocent, but the famous Rubin Hurricane Carter once told me that if a prisoner refused to budge on a claim of innocence over the years, “You better listen to him.” My position

After an escape comes the blame game

There's a lot of finger-pointing in the Michigan prison system these days, as details of a daring escape from an Ionia prison begin to leak out. The more we learn, the more we discover that the real criminals were not among the inmate population. They were in various levels of our complicated, complex and confusing corrections program. First among the finger pointers is the corrections officers union. The escapee was able to get white clothing like that worn in the prison kitchens, and the kitchen administration these days has been out-sourced to Aramark...a national company that doesn't have a great reputation. “If we had been running the kitchen, this guy wouldn't have been able to sneak out with white clothes,” some union members contend. That's quite interesting, because we've heard for years that inmates with the right connections in the kitchen can easily pilfer fruit juice, yeast, and other ingredients to help make their own booze. While it is true t

Not only immoral, but costly!

We can boast about “throwing away the key,” about “an eye for an eye,” about “life means life in Michigan,” about tough sentences in the war on drugs. My contention is that Michigan's record of keeping people in prison longer than any other state is immoral. But whether you agree or not, you cannot dispute the fact that it's costly. It's costly to each one of us who resides in Pure Michigan. Fact: Michigan has the longest average incarceration rate, with an average time served of 4.3 years. Fact: That's 3 years more than a stay in South Dakota prisons. Fact: Michigan imposes especially long sentences for drug crimes...2nd highest in the nation. Fact: Change of length of stay in Michigan prisons has jumped 79% since 1990. Fact: Cost to Michigan of keeping prisoners longer is about $472 million. Fact: This extra cost per prisoner is greater than any other state in the nation. Here's the thing: the above information is not just a series of stati

The US prison system is doing it wrong

I've been doing some reading about prison systems and sentences in Europe, more specifically The Netherlands and Germany. It helps us to identify an elephant that's been sitting in the middle of our room for years: What do we really hope to accomplish with our present system of incarceration? If we're looking for retribution, if punishment is our goal, and if we're thinking that it's biblical to seek an eye for an eye, we're doing things exactly right. Prison in the U.S. is hell. There's little attempt at rehabilitation. Because they're “just prisoners,” we don't worry about quality or quantity of food. Meals very often are very terrible. Medical care in most prisons is marginal, as private healthcare services worry about the bottom line. Solitary confinement, though proven to be psychologically damaging, is rampant. Parole Boards often assume the role of sentencing judge and keep inmates behind bars far longer than early release dates. P

Every little bit counts

One thing you learn in this business: Never give up...never let up! As we review the January activity log for HFP, we are pleased to report three paroles. In each case, we did our little part. Maybe it was just a letter to the Parole Board. But through experience we have found that every avenue must be pursued. We have no idea whether we can claim any credit at all for these three, but thank God they happened. Jeff received a parole after serving 5 years of a 4-10 sentence. He's a free man today. Jim finally was granted a compassionate release. He's been in only two years, but he's dying of cancer and the Parole Board had been stubbornly resisting a request to let him live out his remaining days with loved ones. And Norman was granted a parole in New York state. True, HFP focuses only on Michigan cases, but this one dates back to the time when we were known as INNOCENT and we were considering wrongful conviction cases all over the country. We learned of N