Showing posts from March, 2016

On Maurice Carter's birthday has anything changed?

Maurice Carter would be 72 years of age today.  Thanks to the State of Michigan, his life was cut short.  We lost him in the autumn of 2004, after only 3 months of freedom.  Maurice had served 29 years for a crime he did not commit, almost one half of his entire life here on earth. Yesterday, one day before Maurice’s birthday, I spoke to a group of high school seniors in Grand Haven.  As we neared the end of the hour, one beautiful young woman who was completely getting the picture asked me, “After 15 years of working with the system, do you see any improvement?”  The question caught me a bit off guard.  That’s not one that I’m used to hearing.  And my answer reflected that…I stumbled and bumbled.  As I recall, I think that I answered that I haven’t seen much improvement, but that I was cautiously optimistic. I’m wondering what change Maurice would see if he were sitting beside me this morning. I don’t think the number of wrongful convictions has changed.  It’s still happ

Easter---a special day for prisoners!

Criminals and criminal activity make us angry! Even those of us with strong views against capital punishment entertain second thoughts on the subject when we hear or read of heinous crimes.  Just when you think you’ve heard it all, mankind seems to devise new and more dreadful ways to torture, maim and kill fellow human beings.  Some days revenge sounds pretty good to us, even those of us who claim to follow the risen Christ. Sometime that anger even rears its ugly head against those of us who work with criminals…again, even among those of the Christian faith.  It is not uncommon for us to hear that prisoners do not deserve humane treatment.  Those opinions will be expressed with the question, “How humanely did the criminal treat his/her victims?”  The rationale seems to be that the person who commits an inhumane crime deserves inhumane treatment while incarcerated. I was invited to discuss my book SWEET FREEDOM with members of a Christian book club that included some dist

Score one for religious freedom!

It happens so often.  A problem is perceived, and as a result, a new rule is created.  We have a feeling that’s what happened in Michigan’s prison for women, located in Ypsilanti. According to our sources in the Michigan Department of Corrections, the prison warden wanted to make sure that the dayrooms, where prisoners gather during down times, weren’t used for religious services which, under a specific corrections policy, are to be held in specific areas in the prison.  And so a rule was created, and this is the exact wording: IX.  DAY/GROOMING/TV ROOMS 6.  All religious studies must be done in your cell or at specified times in programs. Armed with that new rule, Corrections Officers began immediate enforcement.  One of our friends immediately contacted the HFP office:  “We can no longer do Bible studies outside our cell.  We cannot bring our Bibles into the dayroom and read them, discussing with our fellow believers.  We can only wait for church services once a week,

On prayers for prisoners, old and new

How people loved to hear Old George pray! The church was different in those days.  Prayer language was a lot like the King James Version of the Bible, with lots of “thees” and “thous.”  We didn’t have praise bands and happy music.  Smiling and laughing were not appropriate.  The sanctuary was quiet as one entered.  Organ prelude music was funereal.  Frowning elders and deacons occupied the two front rows to make sure the sermon was in keeping with our doctrine.  I’m not arguing that this was good or bad.  I’m simply saying that things aren’t that way in many churches today. Old George was a perfect fit for that type of church.  Whether in a consistory meeting, a congregational meeting, or some other type of church meeting, it was always a good idea to call on him to offer the prayer.  It would be just the right length, it would cover all necessary topics, the cadence and tonal fluctuation of his voice was not unlike the musical offering of a competent and intense church organi

Jimmy has a target on his back! Does anybody care?

My friend Jimmy has a bulls-eye on his back.  And it’s his own fault! Jimmy is one of the most unusual prisoners I’ve met.  He sees it as his Christian duty to help the government, even though he’s been in prison for the past 30 years.  His sentence, one of those amazingly unfair determinations by a judge:  50 to 200 years! I’ve written about this before, but let me review this story with you again. In 1989 he cooperated with law enforcement officials in a bribery investigation within the prison system actually involving a deputy warden.  As a result of this daring activity, both state and federal convictions were obtained!  As you can well imagine, his life wasn’t worth much after that.  He was an enemy to both prisoners and corrections officers. But that didn’t stop him. In years following that, he continued to provide law enforcement with information leading to many arrests, on charges like auto theft, stolen property, and a multi-million dollar phone fraud sche

Wish we had Solomon!

Solomon doesn’t work in our office.  We don’t have his expertise to fall back on.  The author of First Kings tells us that “all Israel” held King Solomon in awe, because he had the “wisdom of God” to make decisions.  We don’t have two women fighting over a baby, but we do have a prisoner wanting to say goodbye to her dying father.  We have an elderly mother who saw the system work against people of her race, and is convinced that her son has most of his life behind bars for a crime that someone else committed.  We have an old duffer who died in prison and who was brought back to life, and who now should be out, but who remains behind bars because our Parole Board thinks he might be a threat to society! That’s why we not only ask for dollars, we ask for prayers.  We’re not asking for general prayers for sentencing reform, or Parole Board reform, or justice for the wrongly convicted (although those prayers are important also).  We’re asking for guidance as we deal with specific

Think it can't happen to you? Think again!

Wrongful convictions happen every week in every state in this country.  And they happen for all the same reasons.  So says renowned author John Grisham, who is also a lawyer, and whose book The Innocent Man is a must read. My mind is back on wrongful convictions today since watching the 11 o’clock news last night, which featured a mini-documentary produced by Ken Kolker, one of local TV’s few real reporters who formerly wrote for the Grand Rapids Press.  Channel 8 chose to use this feature in place of most of its local news and sports last night, and if you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to retrieve it online.  It’s just one more story about police and prosecutor tunnel-vision, where they focused on the wrong man in a murder case, and finally put him away.  Later, another scum bag confessed to the crime. As I watched, I felt as if bile might start coming up in a minute.  It brought back all the memories of my 9 year battle to free the late Maurice Carter, a kind and gentle h