Showing posts from 2015

A prisoner prayer - for the New Year

Lord of the universe, as we end one year and begin another, we ask that you hear our pleas on behalf of those behind bars. Prisoners will lose loved ones in the year to come.  Even though they will not be privileged to experience the physical closeness of friends and family in their time of grief, we pray that they may not only feel your presence, but also your comfort and your peace. We know of your compassion for those whose minds were troubled.  We know how, in Bible times, evil spirits were ordered to depart from the bodies of the mentally challenged.  As we look to the new year, we ask you to do the same for those troubled souls behind bars who are not able to think clearly and respond correctly.  In addition, halt those inmates and staff members who would harm them or do further damage.  Instead, cloak their caregivers in a garment of compassion and concern. Lord Jesus, may the women behind bars feel the same warmth and love that you showed to your dear mother, an

In Santa's bag: Friends!

It’s always a pleasurable experience to develop a new friendship.  In our work, Matt and I quite often meet someone new who appreciates the work that we are doing, offers to help in some way, and becomes a new friend, not only to HFP, but to us, personally. Sitting at my desk in the quiet of Christmas morning, carols playing softly in the background, I’m thankful for all my friends.  But my heart is filled with gratitude on Christmas, 2015, for my friends behind bars---especially those whom I hadn’t yet met just one year ago.  As we reviewed our contact records for the year, we discovered that we added at least one new person to our list of friends every day, 7 days a week.  By December 31, I will have added the names of more than 365 persons behind bars to my list of friends.  And these aren’t merely acquaintances…these are friends! For example, Matt and I received an unprecedented number of Christmas cards in the mail from prisoners this year, and many, many more ecards and

The Christmas Spirit, as told by Channel 8

The producers of Channel 8 News had no idea they were giving me a lesson on the Spirit of Christmas.  But that’s exactly what happened late yesterday. It had been a hectic and heartbreaking day at the HFP desk:  stories of wrongful conviction, shabby and callous treatment by the Parole Board, an inmate struggling with mental illness, another dealing with an embarrassing physical ailment that prevents him from even wanting to leave his cell.  As you know, this week we have been publicizing the plight of women in Michigan’s prison facility, where overcrowded conditions are making life miserable.  Back to the 6 o’clock news. Much of the news was dominated by presidential candidate Donald Trump, doing the thing he seems to do best:  bad-mouthing Mexicans, immigrants, women…anybody who doesn’t look like him or think like him.  And that started my thought processes in this Christmas week.  There are many people who, I’m sure, claim that they follow this Christ Child, and yet who

I'm just plain disappointed!

You’d think a veteran worker in this field, with a journalism background, would have learned by now.  Yet, I stubbornly remain an optimist.  And that’s why I was so disappointed this week. Matt and I have been dealing with problems related to overcrowded conditions at the one and only Michigan prison for women, Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV), in Ypsilanti, for weeks.  Nay, months.  I even drove to Lansing for a personal meeting with the new Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Finally, a ray of shining light this week!  Paul Egan, fine writer for the Detroit Free Press, agreed that the overcrowded conditions and a resulting 21-hour-a-day restriction to prison cells were worthy of a story.  Perhaps, just perhaps, now the MDOC will respond, administrators at the facility might consider adjustment, attorneys might consider class action, Michigan voters might consider contacting their elected officials and demand change. Alas, none of the above

Scrooge pays a visit to women in prison!

Women in the Michigan prison system received a piece of coal in their Christmas stocking this year.  A new policy, enacted just before the Christmas holiday limits their time in the Day Room to three hours per day.  What this means, in effect, is that inmates are then confined to their cells or perhaps the yard for the rest of the day. The Michigan Department of Corrections claimed, in an interview with Paul Egan of the Detroit Free Press, that the action was taken because of intense competition for Day Room space, even coming down to near-criminal activity.  I’m not saying that kind of stuff doesn’t or didn’t happen…after all, this is prison.  But here we see two typical MDOC responses:  1), place the blame somewhere other than on the real problem, which is very obviously overcrowding; and 2), over-react by penalizing everyone.  I hope you read Mr. Egan’s article in the FREEP this morning, and we hope you’ll respond by forwarding the piece to the Governor and to your state le

Dirk was right!

Many people aren’t all that interested in making life a little better for prisoners.  It goes back to the old saying, “If they hadn’t done the crime they wouldn’t be doing the time.”   Video producer Dirk Wierenga quickly made that discovery, as he started doing interviews for a new HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS documentary.  A theme on improving the lot of prisoners was not going to work.  If his video production was going to help us raise money, it would have to change direction.  As he adjusted the focus of the documentary, Wierenga took the approach that 90% of these prisoners are going to return to society someday.  They’re going to move into our neighborhoods, work in our businesses, and attend our churches.  If they come out with a positive attitude, having been treated with compassion while behind bars, 1) there’ll be less chance of re-offending;  2) there’ll be a strong chance that they’ll be good neighbors;  and 3), chances are they’ll want to give back to society. I’m conv

A Christmas gift from behind bars

The question came up again just the other day:  With all the negative stuff that you guys deal with on a daily basis, how do you maintain a positive attitude? Let me answer that right this second, because I’ve just opened the mail that arrived in our Post Office box today. Seems our friend Roger, an occupant of the Muskegon Correctional Facility, shared the news with his bunkie that he was about to put together a little home-made Christmas card to Matt, me, and Father Jared Cramer (our unofficial chaplain who also serves on our Board of Directors).  His friend said that he wanted to sign the card, too.  And the word spread.  Other guys wanted to sign the card.  And they wanted to add messages.  Page after page of the tiny sheets got glued together.  I ripped open the envelope today, to find these electric-printer-generated words on the face of a pasted-together card:   Doug, Matt, Jared, and HFP Staff. Here’s a sample of some of the messages attached to the holiday greetin

Hurting for the "little guy"

In my years of radio broadcasting, a listener finally wrote a letter to the radio station wondering just who was that “little guy” that I kept fighting for?  I never kept it a secret that, as an editorial writer, I was going to flex my muscles on the airwaves for the “little guy.” That is still my passion. On this day before Thanksgiving, I’m sitting here trying to fashion a prayer to be recited by our extended family before dinner tomorrow.  I’m using the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson as a template. As I try to concentrate, my mind keeps wandering to issues that I find troubling at Thanksgiving time, 2015:  terrorist attacks, nations fighting with nations, shootings by those who are supposed to be protecting us, hateful comments toward people of a religion different than my own.  Sad. But once again, the problem of the “little guy” takes precedence. Years ago I took up the cause of a prisoner who was NOT wrongly convicted.  And here’s why. He had first-hand kno

A broken heart for Thanksgiving

Mr. H just received a rotten Thanksgiving present:  He must spend 5 more years in prison.  He has already served 47 years. I first met him just a year ago.  His prison warden, who has a heart for the down-trodden, personally asked me if there was some way that HFP could help this man in obtaining a release. For the sake of background, Mr. H is 74 years of age.  The warden claims that he actually died three different times in her prison, only to be revived again.  He’s had 5-bypass heart surgery.  He has serious leg problems that give him constant pain, and keep him in a wheelchair. His health is a mess. I wouldn’t dare publish his name because of the severity of the crime.  Those in his community who remember it would say he deserves to remain behind bars, and deserves every bit of the accompanying pain and discomfort that he lives with on a daily basis.  On the other hand, I listened to the warden, was given a private meeting with him, and on her recommendation decide

When thanks changed my attitude

I was about to write a “poor me” blog today.  In fact, I had it half finished.  It’s not really my nature to be that negative, but when things start to go south I have to catch myself. I was finding plenty of justification:             Money is not coming in             A recent speech about HFP seemed to fall flat             A prison warden just censored email messages to two inmates. HFP survives on contributions and gifts.  When we slip $10,000 behind budget by this time of the month we have some concerns.  Would we have to go back to some pay-less paydays? I’m used to varied reactions to my speeches about HFP, but I never get used to the fact that some people are just not all this passionate about helping prisoners.  In my mind I quietly wonder how they’d feel if it was their son or daughter, mentally ill, being abused by staff members not properly trained for this kind of care.  I wonder how they’d feel if a handicapped member of their family was getting teas

At 79, right where I belong!

Elliot and Douger have something in common. We’ve been reading and hearing a lot about Elliot Uzelac these days.  He’s the fine American football coach, with a history in the pros and in college football, who at the age of 74 decided to serve as head coach at Benton Harbor High School. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, the high school is located in a community fraught with problems, and all of those problems were reflected in the history of the local high school football team.  Prior to this season, the team had won only 4 games in 8 years!  Uzelac had a successful and productive career as a football coach.  But he couldn’t resist this challenge.  Within days after assuming his new position, things began to turn around.  And after the last game was played, the team was able to boast about its first winning season in 25 years!  The team even went on to win its first game ever in the playoffs!  There’s a much bigger story here.  The kids learned a lot more th

Little things mean a lot!

The year was 1954…one of the most exciting times in my life.  I had my first legitimate radio job:  weekend disc jockey and announcer for WMUS, in Muskegon!  In those days, a disc jockey was really a disc jockey.  For the most part, I was spinning 78 RPM records on the two turntables.  And one of those records was a new hit by pop singer Kitty Kallen:  LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT. The job led to a thrilling and rewarding career in radio broadcasting that spanned nearly 30 years.  In 1983, radio was finished, and a new life selling church organs began.  21 years later, this old man began still a third new career:  showing compassion to prisoners.  It’s important to note here that while jobs changed, the lyrics to the old popular song held true, and perhaps have more meaning now than ever before! The song lyrics popped into my head this morning as I was reflecting on the number of prisoners who are just begging for Matt and me to get to know th em.   The underlying message is s

Some days it's not much fun in this office!

We promise to try to help any Michigan prisoner dealing with an in-prison problem.  If we can.  And that’s a big “if.”  Today Matt and I haven’t been much help. A prisoner tells us by email that a car ran over him before he went to prison.  Says the inmate:  I haven't gotten any therapy or anything, they just gave me a booklet of things I should do. I got a limp, my ankles hurt, and swell up. They won't give me a shoe detail or anything. I've ask them to give me some shoes but they deny me for everything.   We checked with one of our doctors regarding the injury.  Nothing more that can or should be done.  We checked with a former MDOC official regarding the procedure:  Shoes aren’t all that great.  He should carefully read that booklet. Another inmate tells us about the transfer of prisoners from an Upper Peninsula facility that was recently closed, to a recently re-opened unit just down the street.  There is fiberglass insulation shoved in the ventilation, the toi

On MAURICE HENRY CARTER DAY, the key word is “frustration!”

That single word perhaps best summarizes our battle to obtain Maurice’s freedom. Here are some things that topped our frustration list. His defense attorney The prosecutor The judge The judicial system in general The community The public The Parole Board The Governor The prison staff Prison medical care, or lack thereof The slowness of speed for the wheels of justice.  (Quoting Maurice:  When my case came along, the wheels of justice ground to a halt!). My involvement began after he had already served nearly 20 years.  Convinced that I could make a difference, and in a hurry, I soon learned otherwise.  Here’s just a short list of additional things that frustrated me. The lack of interest The lack of support The generally negative feeling toward prisoners, even, and perhaps especially, among Christians The reaction of many of my own friends ( I wish Doug would quit saying the man is innocent!) The common perception that all prisoners say they

This is why I shed tears

I was sitting in the front row.  Some 100 people had gathered in the meeting room of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing.  Michigan State University Drama Professor Lisa Biggs had put together a group of actors from the university, the church and the community, in order to present a stage reading of some excerpts from JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER.  This is the powerful and moving drama, written by award-winning Toronto playwrights Donald Molnar and Alicia Payne, which tells the story of my friendship with Maurice.  For those few who may still not be aware of his plight, Maurice served 29 years in the Michigan prison system for a crime he did not commit.  This was not the first time I had heard parts of the play.  Marcia and I were privileged to hear the first reading in a small room on the second floor of a Toronto theatre in 2008.  Since that time we have heard actors telling the Maurice Carter story in many venues.  Perhaps the most meaningful was a stag