Showing posts from June, 2014

Not ashamed. Not in the least!

I am not ashamed of the gospel... Romans 1:16. I was reminded of those powerful words from the Apostle Paul, who made such a bold statement after an earlier life of persecuting Christians, following a recent meeting with the founder of a generous philanthropic foundation. Our board chairman Dan Rooks, my son Matt and I were being interviewed because we were hoping to obtain a small grant for HFP operating funds. The man was so kind and so understanding. We're not certain whether we'll receive a grant, but we know for sure that the man caught the flavor of our operation. And that, in itself, was impressive to all of us. Because often it seems we are on the defensive. For some reason, even though Jesus insisted that we give special attention to prisoners, many people cannot understand the work of HFP, and find it difficult to support. We may get a dismissive statement: “We need people like you.” We don't get dollars very easily. But we are not ashamed of the da

Whistle blowers behind bars: Heroes!

Thanks to behind-the-bars whistle blowers, HFP is providing an exceptional service. But I'm not sure it's having the desired effect. We are so proud of those inmates who leak the truth to us on a regular basis by email and letter. We have learned which ones are exaggerating, are telling self-serving stories, and are determined to smear the system. We have reputable people behind bars who are regularly disclosing serious problems in Michigan prisons, and we are sharing that information. In recent months we have told about a mentally ill woman being hog-tied in the nude for hours, and being forced to sleep on a slab with no padding. We are now receiving reports of another mentally ill woman who was denied food and water, and who was administered drugs even while still unconscious from the previous injection. Only then was she rushed to a hospital by ambulance on a ventilator. From Michigan's Woodland Facility, which houses mentally ill men, come new reports of abu

And prisoners are smart!

I heard something new about prisoners last night. I was invited to be the guest of a book club. The readers had just finished my book that tells the Maurice Carter story, SWEET FREEDOM. And the discussion inevitably led to prisons and prisoners in general. Then one of the book club members, who is a teacher, said that while attending a teachers conference the participants were told that prisoners had a higher IQ average than the general public. Wow! Upon reflection, that did not really surprise me. I have heard prisoners in the Muskegon SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS Circle recite lengthy passages from Shakespeare works, flawlessly quoting the Bard of Avon with expression and gestures. I have seen legal documents prepared by so-called jailhouse lawyers because many inmates cannot afford real-life attorneys...documents that would amaze you, and some of which have been effective in the courts. I think they amazed judges as well. I hear of conscientious inmates who serve as teac

A Father's Day promise---found in the last chapter

In my early morning reflections on Father's Day, I think back on a sermon preached by a friend years ago in our church. I don't remember all the details, but I remember the title: The world ain't supposed to be this way! The minister explained that the words were those of an elderly black man, after witnessing an ugly racial incident. Those words ring true, especially on a day like today, especially when thinking of the true-life stories that cross our desk on a regular basis. A heart-broken mom contacted us very recently to inform us that her son, still in his 20s and in prison, had taken his own life. And now it is up to her to care for his child...a little boy with no dad today. I have a friend on the sex registry after serving time for a crime he didn't even commit. His children, all adults now, never forgave him for the alleged offense and refuse to even let him contact them. A father and grandfather who is not celebrating today. The visiting rooms i

A way to remember Andrew

Almost mid-month, and HFP contributions coming in slowly. Then, a heart-breaking letter arrived yesterday. Here is the message, in part: Dear Mr. Tjapkes: A few months ago I wrote to you regarding my son Andrew, and the difficult time he was having at Pugsley receiving medical attention. Today is his birthday. My son had back problems and suffered from depression. I have wanted to write to you many times, but was unable to do so because it was too painful. My son took his own life on January 30 of this year. I am inconsolable. Those are the only words I know when someone asks me how I am. I am raising my grandson, who will now never have a relationship with his father. My son was 28 years old and spent the last 10 years struggling with so many demons, and trying so hard to hold on. I ask myself over and over "what will I do without him? What will I do without him?" I am destroyed daily thinking about his last moments and that I could not be with him. There is no one

Pickin' & Grinnin' behind bars?

What happens when you put a doctor, a preacher, a social worker, a broadcaster and a weathered old prisoner advocate in the same room? Well, they make some of the neatest gospel music one could ever imagine. It all started at a funeral service, where John Mulder and I were asked by the widow to play and sing some tunes that were favorites of the deceased...a very nice man who was big into prison ministry. We did our thing. One of the persons in attendance said, “That music must be heard by others.” So John and I decided that we would continue pickin' and grinnin' by staging a fund-raiser for HFP. And along the way we added some more musicians: John's brother David, a preacher on the other side of the state; our son-in-law Lee Ingersoll, who is a social worker with the Spring Lake School system; and Cal Olson, veteran broadcaster in Grand Rapids. The gig is officially called Pickin' & Grinnin' now, and we get together a couple times a year to raise u

Suicides behind bars. Does anyone care?

The more information we hear about suicides behind bars, the more we become convinced that the number could be reduced. Little attention was paid to a recent suicide at the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center, one of the Michigan prison facilities in Jackson. That was because the young inmate who took his own life had shot and killed a state cop. Somehow, shooting a police officer is a worse crime than shooting any other citizen...and the offender is viewed as a worse criminal. Police and prison officials are investigating, but we'll bet money that you'll hear no more of this. Some of the cops in the joint are thinking “good riddance,” and we suspect that sentiment is shared by quite a few. The thing is, the man was obviously a suicide risk. It would be hard to prove that it was by intention that he was not closely watched, but it does make one wonder. Why wasn't he on suicide watch? We know of two suicides at the Pugsley Correctional Facility in Kingsl

Another beggar along the road

I was driving in Holland, Michigan, the other day and spotted an unkempt individual begging for money. It is not uncommon these days to see panhandlers along the road. The signs often explain that the beggar is homeless or jobless or a military vet, and sometimes there's an offer to work for food. Usually these individuals are at major intersections in larger cities, and the appearance of one in the rather upscale community of Holland surprised me. Reaction to this phenomenon has been varied, but many communities are now outlawing the practice. There's no question about it, however: The appearance of people claiming to be homeless and begging for money and/or jobs makes us uncomfortable. I'm using this rather long introduction to point out that it may not be so comfortable for the person doing the begging, either. I realize that some are involved in scams, and some are using the money for beer. But the truth of the matter is that begging is not fun. And that