Showing posts from June, 2016

We must get off our butts! Now!

Things were getting under my skin this week.  It all came to a head as I watched a TV report on progress, or lack thereof, in the Flint dirty water case last night.  That was it.  “It’s time to throw out the Governor,” I thought. Then I listened further.  Not only is the Governor and his administration taking their sweet time, but also the state legislature and the U.S. Congress are shirking their duties. Let’s move on.  Here’s the background for my eruption today. Earlier this week I joined hands with a small group of professional people to try to help a prisoner who is innocent of the crime for which he had been sentenced to life behind bars.  These people wanting to help aren’t just average citizens---two businessmen, a retired judge, and two of the finest criminal defense attorneys in their market.  This innocent man was put in prison 15 years ago by a County Prosecutor who used junk science not once, but twice, to get a conviction!  It is my belief that the Prosecuto

Take time to smell the bacon!

We take so much for granted. People who are visually impaired admit they never appreciated the beauty around them until they lost their eyesight, and couldn’t see it any more.  It’s the same with all the senses…it’s the same with all that we enjoy. I’m thinking of this because a former prisoner explained to me some of the things she enjoyed the most upon her release.  She was able to eat with a real spoon, knife and fork again, instead of the plastic “spork” used in the prison system.  She was so grateful to be able to hold a baby, to pet a dog, and to grab a piece of fresh fruit whenever she felt the urge. I stood with a newly released prisoner in his first living quarters, a small apartment in a nice neighborhood.  He turned off all the lights, and savored the darkness and the silence.  For years he had not been in the dark, nor had he been in a place free of noise. None of us can really identify with the feelings of prisoners, but I can come close on one topic:  tas

Don't throw away the key!

Paul’s offense wasn’t one of those vicious, brutal crimes that we read about on the front page.  No.  Instead, it was the kind of crime that disgusts us, the kind that we detest to the nth degree.  We want these kind of people put away. I’m reminded of that today, because Paul called our office from his new home in Grand Rapids.  He is enjoying transitional housing, provided by a fine ministry that works hard to keep prisoners from re-offending.  He simply wanted us to know that he’s doing great, and that, at the age of 41, he’s intent on making a new life for himself. I’m not about to use his real name, or describe his crime, because I suspect you’d get disgusted all over again and ask why he’s on the outside. Actually, those are the thoughts we struggled with at first.  But Paul’s letters to HFP seemed genuine.  From what we could tell, he had a real conversion experience while in prison.  I know, I know.  The Parole Board hears this all the time.  “I’ve met the Lord, an

The system ain't working the way it's supposed to!

I was in prison twice this week.  The two visits proved to me, once again, just how difficult the system makes it for someone to walk out of there.  My first visit was to participate in a Public Hearing, conducted by the Michigan Parole Board, to determine whether an inmate should be granted a parole.  The second visit was a strategy session to make some legal plans.’ The cases are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Case number one involves an indigent, Hispanic prisoner guilty of his crime.  Case number two involves a middle-class white man who is completely innocent.  I was the only person to testify in the Public Hearing for Mr. A.  After being in prison for nearly 39 years, friends and family are gone.  His wife and mother died years ago.  I’ve participated in enough Public Hearings to know that this was going to be an uphill effort.  I felt that I should be there for him. Here’s the thing I don’t understand.  The Parole Board members, but more specifically the Assi

Innocent and in prison? Yep!

“When someone says he’s innocent, and he keeps on saying it for the whole time that he’s in prison, you’d better listen to him!” Famed welterweight prize fighter Rubin Hurricane Carter was sitting in the front seat of my car, as we drove from a visit with the late Maurice Carter (no relation).  The Hurricane had come to Benton Harbor twice at my request to assist in raising public awareness about the injustice of the Maurice Carter case.  His words carried weight (no pun intended).  Rubin had been wrongly convicted for a crime he did not commit.  Not once, but twice!  I’m thinking of that today as Matt and I discuss the assistance we are trying to provide to hundreds of prisoners in the Michigan prison system.  I was reporting to him about a meeting I had with a prominent criminal defense attorney last week.  This high profile lawyer is one of more than 50 professionals who freely and generously give of their time to help us with a multitude of problems and issues.  The lawyer

Gorilla worth more than prisoners?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not an animal hater.  I’m completely in favor of being kind to all creatures, great and small.  The problem I have is with the high international interest in the story about taking the life of a gorilla allegedly to save the life of a child.  And meanwhile, topics of abuse of human beings, many of them behind bars, hardly cause us to raise our eyebrows.  Where is the hue and cry on behalf of the mentally ill, for example?  We’ve closed many of our mental institutions, and now our prisons are loaded with mentally challenged inmates, who are being cared for by personnel who have had little or no training in this field.  Cruelty and abuse are rampant. Why do those of us in prisoner advocacy have such a difficult time focusing any attention on the terminally ill?  For decades people have been dying in our prisons alone, without the benefit of bedside visits by family members, and without any type of hospice care.  Many of these men and women should have b