Showing posts from August, 2014

One person CAN make a difference!

It wasn’t that Ms. S wanted to get even. She just wanted to be able to sleep at night. Ms. S had a prison job as a volunteer. She was assigned to be an observer in a unit where mentally ill prisoners are housed. Some may be suicidal, and the state wants to catch the problem before it worsens. The Michigan Department of Corrections says that this program has been quite successful. But in the case of Ms. S, she claims that she witnessed atrocities that should not have happened. A woman of faith, she takes her Christianity seriously and felt that she could no longer remain silent when mentally ill prisoners were being abused. Besides that, those visions of evil-doing kept her awake at night. And so she spoke out, not only in the prison system, but to sources outside the prison. Retaliation was predictable and swift. She lost her coveted job as a volunteer. Her communications were monitored. Prison life became difficult. But Ms. S was not to be deterred. She had witness

Was Jesus joking?

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” It was an informal setting, and I was doing my usual grumbling about the way man treats man. Matt and I never cease to be amazed at the way human beings treat fellow human beings while they are in prison. I was complaining about prisoners preying on elderly sex offenders. Unscrupulous guards looking the other way when alleged violent criminals get brutally beaten by fellow inmates. The callous decisions by the state to punish some inmates by sending them to far-away facilities in the U.P., making it prohibitive for family and friends to visit. And that’s when my friend said, “Really? Even when you know the person is guilty of an evil, horrific crime? I can see it for those who have been wrongly convicted, for those who have received an unfair and lengthy sentence. But do you really feel that way for the ‘worst of the worst?’” Yes, I do, for two reasons: one non-religiou

What will YOU do about it?

Michigan State Representative Joe Haveman, Republican from Holland, was addressing 75 people keenly interested in sentencing and Parole Board reform. The Michigan primary election had been held earlier the same week. "How many people here voted on Tuesday?" Among the 75, a paltry few hands went up. "Before you voted, how many of you met with the candidates to find out their views on prison issues?" One hand went up. And there, boys and girls, is the problem. 75 people, all in the same room, demanding reform, and nobody doing anything about it. There are a few very simple facts that you can discuss with your state legislators. -One of every five dollars in our state general fund budget goes to corrections: more than any other state! -Michigan keeps people in prison longer than any other state! -Michigan's Parole Board in many cases has taken over the role of judge, and is greatly responsible for our prison over-population! The big question i

Still learning from Robin Williams

The death of Robin Williams saddens me, in many ways. I’ll miss his incredible talent, his delicious humor. But the thing that saddens me the most is that his life didn’t have to end this way. I hesitated before writing this entry, because it’s very personal and it really doesn’t have a lot to do with my work with prisoners. Except that I’m still here doing it at age 77, and still loving life to the fullest. My simple message: depression is curable. And, pious and simplistic bits of advice are not the answer. During my two-year bout with depression in the mid-90s, well-meaning people had quick advice, like, “Just trust in the Lord.” Well, I had never stopped trusting in the Lord, but I was afflicted with a disease. In one of the Homecoming videos, Gloria Gaither encourages those with depression to sing a song about Jesus. I’ll grant you that music was incredibly soothing to me during this difficult time. But it wasn’t the cure. I find this quite amazing: We quickly r

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world...

I woke up this morning thinking about little children. As a father and grandfather, I suppose this isn’t surprising. But my thoughts this morning were not of the pleasant variety. Perhaps it’s because of the troubling clips I saw on television recently when adults were screaming shameful words at frightened immigrant children who had nothing to do with their present circumstances. Perhaps it’s because of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s hard-ass attitude toward juvenile lifers. From his point of view, kids who committed vicious crimes very early in their lives should never get a second chance. Perhaps it’s because the Kent County Prosecutor has decided to charge a 12-year-old as an adult in a tragic homicide which claimed the life of a 9-year-old. Perhaps it’s because of a news report that court officials had to appoint a guardian for a 16-year-old gang member, who faces a charge of murdering another teenager, because no parent or guardian bothered to show up for