Saturday, February 14, 2015

It was a dirty trick! And it hurt!

The dirty trick was performed with a two-edged sword by the Michigan Department of Corrections. 

EDGE ONE cut off all email correspondence between HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS and nearly 500 inmates in the Michigan prison system.  In order for inmates to communicate with us, I must first open an account by sending an email message to an inmate.  Once the prisoner receives that message, he/she may begin conversing with me by email through an on-line service called JPay.  On or about February 5, my name was mysteriously removed from the email account lists of ALL our friends.  This effectively cut off all email communications between us!

EDGE TWO removed all previous email messages from the mailboxes of these prisoners.  ALL previous correspondence, dating back to the beginning of our conversations!  This includes important legal information, sometimes actual legal documents, medical information, personal information.  It’s all gone!

This action by the state came without warning or advance notice.  We first got wind of the embargo when confused inmates and their families starting calling the office.  The confusion soon turned to hurt and anger.  One dear man, 60 years of age, still hoping to get a parole on a 30-50 year sentence, thought I had shut him down.  He had just asked a simple question by email, and the next day my name was off his list.  His heart was broken.  He couldn’t sleep.  What had he done to hurt my feelings?  Others were angry, blaming wardens for shutting us down.  But it wasn’t the fault of local wardens.  The action was taken in Lansing.

How many prisoners does this affect?  Well, we have nearly 400 men on our email account list with JPay, and nearly 80 women. 

Will they still be able to communicate with HFP?  Yes, but it must be done through regular snail mail which is cumbersome and slow.  Due to problems with some prison mail rooms, snail mail delays for days and even weeks are not uncommon.  Email was cheap and it was fast.  10 cents a letter, and instant communication.

So yes, it was a dirty trick by the MDOC, an entity that apparently does not have to provide answers if it doesn’t feel like it.  And yes, it hurt.  It hurt those of us trying to extend compassion to inmates on a daily basis.  And it hurt prisoners like Clarence, who thought we just arbitrarily pulled the plug on him.  It hurts others like those who contacted our office just in the past week asking us to help in a case of abuse of a mentally ill inmate, asking us to check into the death of a prisoner who may not have received appropriate treatment, asking us to help fill out a commutation application form, asking us to help in getting a gluten-free diet, asking us to help find re-entry resources in a certain part of the state…and the list goes on and on.  It’s what we do.

Other prisoner advocacy agencies are watching.  If it can happen to us, it can happen to them.  Some are distancing themselves, and that hurts, too. 

We may be small, but the God we serve and in whose name we do this work, is mighty!  As Matt said, “Did they think we would just accept this and shut down?”  It ain’t gonna happen!

We need your support and your prayers as we begin serious talks with our legal counsel next week.

Romans 8:31.

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