All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Saturday, January 17, 2015

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 what was going on.  A hard-line judge took it to the next step and sentenced this young lad to prison on a sex charge.

He was sent to a special facility first, as we don’t really have a lot of units for kids in their early teens.  Predictably, he was raped in no time at all.

Eventually he ended up in the Michigan prison system, notorious for its inability to handle mentally-challenged inmates.  Kenny’s little boy mentality just compounded the problem.

I first learned of Kenny’s plight when he was 15, alerted by the mother of another mentally ill teenager in the same facility.  Kenny’s mother was in another state, and chose not to visit him in prison because, we were told, there were outstanding warrants for her arrest.  There were no other friends or family members, with the exception of an elderly grandmother.  Even though she lived out-of-state and was confined to a wheelchair, she tried.  She made occasional visits.  Writing letters was almost impossible.  There was the occasional telephone call.  She loved this little boy and did her best.

I immediately made plans to visit Kenny, and we had a great time in the visitation room, eating candy bars and drinking soda.  I’ve got grand-kids, so chatting with him was easy.

I noticed a festering sore on his arm, and asked what happened.  The guards had been teasing him, holding his food tray out of reach. When he finally stuck his arm out between the bars, the guard stabbed his arm with his ball-point pen.  “Why did he do that,” I asked.  “Because he’s a jerk.”

I would like to show you the stack of papers in the HFP file on Kenny.  One atrocity after another over the years.  Guards teasing and abusing him, because of his lack of proper behavior. 

As I consulted with people familiar with corrections issues, they kept reminding me that if Kenny would just behave, things would be better for him.  But how does a little boy behave when he’s constantly teased by adults?  We heard one story from his unit that a guard showed him an orange, and laughingly told him that this was the size of the testicles of the man who was going to rape him the next morning.

Kenny responded to taunting, sometimes urinating at the officers.  At other times, we were told, he could just be seen sitting on his bunk crying.

To our credit, we tried and tried to improve conditions for this lad.  To our discredit, eventually other cases took precedence and his case faded into the past.

Then last week came the news that the one and only person who was still showing any love for the kid, his grandmother, died.

Now to the point of all this.

Kenny’s going to come up for parole in another year.  The big question is, who’s going to step up and care for him?  Even though he’s in an adult 21-year-old body now, his mind is still that of a youth.  There’s not a family member that cares for him or wants him.  There’s no support group.  Kenny is alone, and that makes me furious.

I’m angry with HFP.  I’m angry with all the other fine prisoner advocacy agencies working so hard in this state, but not quite dealing with an inmate like this.  I’m angry with Christian prison ministries doing such a great job in Michigan, conducting worship services and teaching Bible lessons, but not taking Jesus’ orders one step farther by adopting Kenny.

And so I’m proposing a new program called BETWEEN THE CRACKS.  Because, I can assure you, Kenny’s not the only one who has fallen there.

May God help us to catch the next one.

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