Showing posts from September, 2014

To that person in the back row with pursed lips

Frequently there’s a person who disagrees. As President of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, I’m sometimes asked to explain our work to church and civic groups. While I appreciate the support and acceptance of those smiling and nodding individuals sitting in the front, I have more concern for the one or two frowning persons with pursed lips sitting in the rear. I’m not only concerned, but I’m sad, because I can predict with some accuracy what these people are thinking. It goes something like this: Why do prisoners deserve any compassion, decent meals, appropriate health care, and letters from caring individuals? If they hadn’t done the crime, they wouldn’t be doing the time. This isn’t a country club. They deserve all the rudeness and mistreatment they get. What about the victims of the crimes these people committed? Why aren’t you supporting them, instead of the criminals? That’s where the care and compassion should be directed. What about the corrections officers? Why aren’t

Will the real heroes please stand?

A most amazing event took place this week behind bars. A group of inmates who are members of an organization called SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS presented a staged reading of the play JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER. The program was presented in a classroom of the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon. There have been previously staged readings of the drama or segments of it around the country, but never behind bars, and never with a cast consisting solely of prisoners. The play is a compressed, poignant depiction of the unique relationship between an indigent black man from Gary, Indiana, and a middle-class Dutch boy from western Michigan, and their 10-year battle to overturn a wrongful conviction. It’s important however, to identify the real heroes of the two performances this week. I don’t mean to minimize the divine plan that put me into the life of Maurice Carter, or vice versa. I certainly don’t mean to downplay the fact that Marcia and I, our daughter Sue and

A still small voice for prisoners

In his fine sermon series on prayer, Pastor Nate Sunday challenged us to find God in our simple, every day experiences. He used the example from I Kings 19, when God told Elijah that the Lord was about to pass by. There were strong winds, there was an earthquake, and there was fire…but God wasn’t there. After all of these sensational phenomena came a gentle whisper, and God was in that still small voice. That challenge has prompted me and fellow church members this week to wake up to the fact that we can see God in something as simple as the first sip of a steaming hot cup of coffee in the morning, or a spectacular Lake Michigan sunset, or a favorite piece of music. But it also prompted me to take this whole thing one step farther. Perhaps if we run across people who have a hard time seeing God anywhere, our challenge should be to help them reach this experience. As I reflected on that while waking up this morning, it dawned on me that this has been a specific goal of HUMANITY

Goldfish vs. prisoners

A story making the news this week: Surgery on a goldfish was successful, giving the little swimmer another 20 years! Animal rights activists were elated, and I’m sure the coffers of animal rights organizations began filling up with dollars. My companion in this venture, Matt, sometimes grumbles that if we were saving the lives of puppies and kittens we would have no money problems. But the simple fact is that we’re dealing with the lives of prisoners. And we have serious money problems. For some unknown reasons gifts dropped off dramatically, and we are left with bills to pay and no money to cover them. Quitting at this stage of the game is no option. Just in recent days our office heard from -a distraught mother of a mentally ill inmate who had been told by the head of the acute unit that prison officials had the right to deprive her daughter of food for a day, or water for up to three days; -a group of angry prisoners in one Michigan unit where a disgruntled plumber had

The shame of wrongful convictions

The words “wrongful conviction” were an unfamiliar phrase to me until 1995. That seems strange when one considers that I spent nearly 30 years in and out of broadcast newsrooms. But events that began in 1995 dramatically changed my life. And that is why, when contacted by my dear friend Win Wahrer from AIDWYC, I immediately responded with HFP support for what is being called WRONGFUL CONVICTION DAY. This informal day will be observed on October 2, and it prompts me to make a few comments about this sad subject. My life was never the same after I developed a friendship with the late Maurice Carter, a dear soul who claimed wrongful conviction. For the next 9 years I joined him in a battle for freedom. The story is now told in a book called SWEET FREEDOM, and in a stage play called JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER. Here are some staggering statistics that you should be aware of. Years ago, a study in Ohio determined already back then, that some 10,000 innocent people were conv

Water torture is real

We’d like to shed a little more light on the subject of water, and how it is sometimes used to torment and abuse mentally challenged Michigan prisoners…and not just women. I hope you read the MLive story, written by a reporter for the Ann Arbor News, outlining alleged abuse of two female inmates at the women’s prison in Ypsilanti. One of the claims was water deprivation. First you should know what the American Bar Association has to say about food and water deprivation: Correctional authorities should not withhold food or water from any prisoner. I guess the staff at the women’s prison doesn’t feel these guidelines apply, because here’s what the mother of one of those inmates told me today: “Chief Christine Wilson (head of the acute unit) said they can keep food away for 24 hours and water for 3 or 4 days. She said that they can do that when a person is in segregation.” 3 or 4 days?! But stuff like this has been going on for years. Some ten years ago my friend Mary Ann

Where have the media been?

Numerous articles have been written about the humorous epitaphs found on gravestones in cemeteries around the country. One of my all-time favorites is: I told you I was sick! That’s the way it has been with this troubling issue of abuse of mentally ill inmates at Michigan’s prison for women in Ypsilanti. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS has been aware of it for months. We have media people who read our dispatches, watch our blog and receive our newsletter. Yet, no one saw the news value of this outrage. As early as May of this year we started dispatching troubling reports on our daily email network. We were getting these reports directly from inmates who had witnessed the abuse. Reporters wouldn’t bite. For the month of June we dedicated the front page of our newsletter to these abuses, and encouraged our supporters to spread the word. Nobody in the media picked up on it. On July 29, armed with ammunition provided by HFP, the ACLU sent a scathing 5-page letter to the director o