Showing posts from January, 2015

Guest Post from HFP Board Chair Dan Rooks

On Saturday, January 24, Dr. Dan Rooks, chairman of our Board of Directors, traveled to Ypsilanti, Michigan with me, to make presentations for women in prison. The local chapter of the National Lifers Association had invited both of us to speak at the prison officially known as WHV, the Women’s prison at Huron Valley. I invite you to read Dan’s guest piece which follows…and then continue reading my entry of the 25th. As usual, our session with the women was a memorable and moving experience. Dr. Rooks: "You also helped Linda," a woman near the front interjected. Doug was sharing the stories of two other women HFP had more recently helped through the challenging and too often demeaning parole and public hearing process. His personal and experienced presence at these hearings is often a great source of support and strength. Linda was assisted 8 years ago or more. Until the woman near the front spoke, Doug hadn't remembered. She had never forgotten. "It gives us

Turning a frown into a smile

I remembered her face and her frown. This prisoner wasn’t touched by any of our songs or any of our words when HFP’s musical group SWEET FREEDOM presented a gospel concert at the Michigan prison for women.  I was playing keyboard, facing the audience, so my eyes kept getting drawn to this one person who obviously wasn’t having a good time.  Perhaps she had come with a friend, just as a favor.  She remained for the entire program but she didn’t seem to like it. That was last June, and I had completely forgotten about her until yesterday. Board Chairman Dan Rooks and I were in the same auditorium in the same prison, as guest speakers for a public assembly sponsored by the local chapter of the National Lifers Association.  I spoke first. I so enjoy meeting with the women at this prison, because it’s a love affair, in the honorable sense of the word.  HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS loves and works hard for these women, and they are most grateful for our compassion and assistance.

Who's gonna take care of this kid?

OK, listen up, churches, service-oriented civic groups, activist associations.  We need a new prison ministry/program in Michigan called BETWEEN THE CRACKS! Let me start with a story that I recently put together in brief form for the front page of our February newsletter.  It’s the story about a little boy, now in a grown man’s body, whose plight is on my heart.  To protect his identity, I’ll call him Kenny. Kenny was born with some mental issues, and by the time he turned 13 he still had the mind of a 6-year-old.  That’s why he didn’t think it was all that unusual to be caught “playing doctor” with his 6-year-old cousin.  His mother, on the other hand, was so displeased that she felt strong disciplinary action was in order.  So she called the cops to teach him a lesson.  They bought into the program and contacted the County Prosecutor.  He joined the march toward justice by issuing a warrant, and the rest is history.  A plea deal was certainly in order, as Kenny had no idea w

The work of two heroes: affirming what we do

I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that Matt and I need some “attaboys” once in a while.  For the most part, we’re working in a dark atmosphere.  In the first month of the new year, I found strong affirmation for our particular ministry in two different places:  a public lecture, and a book.  The title of the lecture was WHY MASS INCARCERATION DEFINES US AS A SOCIETY.   The speaker was Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of an organization called Equal Justice Initiative.  His particular niche in dealing with the “least of these” as discussed by Jesus in Matthew 25 is providing legal service at no charge to death row prisoners in Alabama.    I identify with Mr. Stevenson when he says :  Somebody has to stand when other people are sitting. Somebody has to speak when other people are quiet.   The title of the book is TATTOOS ON THE HEART:  THE POWER OF BOUNDLESS COMPASSION , and the author is Father Gregory Boyle.  His niche in following Jesus’ Matthew 25 requiremen

Think we could release half of them?

Bryan Stevenson makes an amazing claim!  He says that a million people in our jails and prisons are in for non-violent crimes and could be released today!  He didn’t develop the point in his lecture in the Calvin January Series, but the implications were clear:  the release would not make a negative impact on society, and it would save us a ton of money. He said this after pointing out that the United States makes up 5% of the world’s population, but shamefully claims 25% of the world’s incarcerated individuals.  We have 2.2 million people behind bars! That statement started my thought processes.  Right here in Michigan, where we have more than 40,000 people in our state prison system alone, Matt and I see numerous categories of prisoners who could and should be released.  I’ll not go into a lot of detail, but here are some that we believe could be let out today: PAROLABLE LIFERS NOW ELIGIBLE FOR PAROLE The Parole Board just keeps hanging onto a bunch of these people

Loving prisoners: the butcher, the baker, the candle-stick maker

In this case it’s not the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.  It’s a doctor, a preacher, a social worker and a broadcaster.  And they’re all giving of their valuable time simply to show love to prisoners. Dr. John Mulder, Rev. David Mulder, Lee Ingersoll and Cal Olson join me around the piano to form a musical group called SWEET FREEDOM.  Along with their fine voices, they bring a variety of instruments including but not limited to guitar, ukulele, bass, cornet, flugelhorn, whistles, djembe and tambourine.  And the category of music is limited to one:  gospel. It all started several years ago when John Mulder and I, who have played music together for years, provided a few songs in the funeral service of a fellow prison worker.  From there the group expanded, continued doing fund-raisers for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, and eventually brought their talents behind bars. Last year we presented a series of four gospel concerts in one day at the Women’s Huron Valley Facil

Important or nice? We choose nice!

As we begin a new year, I’m reminded of a phrase that Marcia used at one time or another with all of our kids:  It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice! This came to mind in the past week as I learned of the deaths of two old-timers, one whom I had met only once, and one who was a dear friend. When I met Casey in the kitchen of a downtown Grand Rapids restaurant, he showed me a stack of lunch receipts…money still owed to him by homeless people from the Heartside area.  It made no difference if they didn’t have money; he wouldn’t let them go hungry.  They could pay him later.  He assured me that sooner or later, they would pay him.  And if they didn’t, he just considered it a gift from him to that poor individual.  Casey won’t go down as one of the important restaurateurs in Grand Rapids, but it was important to him to be nice! Doug was a diamond in the rough!  He wasn’t sure he could worship in our church because he didn’t have fancy clothes.  Upon being a