Showing posts from November, 2016

I was in prison and you visited me

Interesting that Jesus used those specific words, as quoted in Matthew 25.  And it’s also interesting that so few prisoners actually receive visits.  Sad, really.  Former Michigan Prison Warden Mary Berghuis insists that only 12% of inmates in our state receive visits!  Yet, to our dismay, it seems that some prison staffers do their best to discourage visitation, and some treat visitors quite shabbily. I bring up the subject after hearing from my friend Jo, who went to visit her husband last week.  Here are some of her comments: Went to visit Lee on Black Friday because I figured everyone would be shopping. WRONG. There were so many visitors that they terminated about 10 visits (the first time). They named off those being terminated and gave them 2 minutes to say their goodbyes and throw away all the uneaten food. Then about a half hour later they terminated 4 or 5 more which was the group we were in. Gave us a 5 minute warning which really turned into about 3 minutes and more

What? Thankful for prisoners?

I know, I know.  It sounds terrible.  Actually, I guess it should be reworded.  I’m thankful for prisoners in my life, and for all the lessons I learn from them. I am not thankful that our nation has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and that our own state keeps people in prison longer than most others. I am not thankful that we still have over 41,000 people in the Michigan prison system, costing taxpayers $4-million a day…more than we spend on education! I am not thankful for the numerous cases of over-charging and over-sentencing felons in Michigan, bringing about the Governor’s appointment of a committee to investigate and reform our woefully inadequate indigent defense. I am not thankful for the lack of sentence alternatives, which could render such positive results in society if given the chance. I am not thankful for the lack of uniformity in sentences, as seen in the wide range of sentences received by prisoners for the same crime, committed in di


We may claim the title “Christian,” but even with our strong beliefs, it can be pretty difficult to reach agreement on redemption. We love to look back at heroes in the Bible to show how mightily God can and has worked to change lives:  Moses was a murderer, David was an adulterer, Rahab was a prostitute, etc.  We readily agree that in Christ there is total forgiveness, as we point to the convicted felon on the cross next to our Lord.  We affirm our belief that God can change lives, as we point to St. Paul, who, before preaching and writing New Testament books, spent his days persecuting Christians and condemning them to death. But that was back in those days.  Today, it’s a difficult proposition.  I bring all of this up as I mourn the loss of a friend, T.J. Spytma.  TJ was involved in a heinous crime, influenced in part by drugs, back in the 70s when he was 15 years of age. As he spent the next 40 years in prison, he never once forgot his terrible misdeed.  After

Post-election nausea? Not in prison!

It may surprise you to know that some prisoners aren’t really all that anxious about the state of national affairs.  The appointment of a white supremacist to a key position in the White House may seem like a national disaster to you.  But frankly, David is more concerned about his bowel movements.  He’s a paraplegic, and the only way he can go is with the assistance of personal medical care…something he doesn’t always get in the prison hospital.  Then he has accidents. A national election that is decided by the Electoral College , rather than a popular vote, may be spoiling your appetite these days, but Cary has spent more than $100,000 on attorneys to prove his innocence, and all he has to show for it is receipts.  They didn’t give him what he paid for.  No more money.  No freedom. Words of hatred and bigotry not only dominate our TV shows, but are even showing up in our social and religious circles.  But I must tell you that all of this disgusting behavior is not what

Birthday is no excuse! It's time to get to work!

I’ve never been 80 before. November 11 is perhaps best known for the historic signing of documents bringing World War One fighting to an end.  This all happened on the 11 th hour of the 11 th day of the 11 th month.  When I was a little boy, the nation would still pause for a moment of silence at 11 AM on my birthday, and factory whistles would blow.  Now called Veteran’s Day to widen the tribute, it’s still a very important holiday.  Let us not forget. November 11, 1936, is the date John and Mary Tjapkes welcomed Douglas into the world.  Not significant at all, but it’s a matter of public record. What to write as year 81 begins?  It’s a given that I am blessed beyond measure with loving wife, beautiful kids, delightful grandchildren, and yes, even good health after a scary year in 2010. Prior to that I was blessed with a good upbringing, by loving parents. I could reflect on my careers, my musical involvement, my church, my hobbies.  But looking backwards is simply

When some get out, they enter a "second prison!"

“You think it’s all over.  You think that after they’ve been released from prison, after they’ve served their time, after they’ve paid their debt to society, it’s over.  I tell you, it’s not!  It’s not!”  The words of a mother, as we chatted this week about her son's former incarceration. To underscore her position, when I arrived in the office following our meeting, Matt was on the phone with an ex-offender who was begging for our help.  He explained that he had been released three years ago , and his brother graciously offered to let him sleep on the couch until he found a place to live.  Sadly, he’s still sleeping on the couch.  He’s on Michigan’s sex offender registry and, even though he has the means and can afford the rent, he cannot find a place to live. That was exactly the point of the prisoner’s mom.  “They can’t find a place to live, they can’t get a job…it just keeps right on following them.” In recent weeks I have chatted with two delightful elderly black