Showing posts from January, 2017

The good and the bad: You gotta love 'em all!

Dan Rooks and I had such a neat experience yesterday! Dan is a clinical psychologist and former chairman of our Board of Directors.  He and I do a “dog and pony” show in Michigan prisons from time to time.  I speak first, telling about the history of HFP and the services that we offer.  He then follows with a serious chat about non-violent communication…an important topic for all of us, but especially for prisoners.  Yesterday we presented our program at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility, one of three state prisons in the city of Ionia. On the way in As we walked through the yard on our way to the prison auditorium, the Activities Director pointed out the unique facilities on this campus, including one special unit for physically handicapped and one special unit for mentally challenged inmates.  He explained that this particular facility offers more programs than any other single prison in the state, including college courses and even vocational training. On

No one is marching for prisoners. Yet.

Millions of women give me hope today! I have been in such a funk, worrying about my country.  For those who do not know me, my roots are in journalism, my first career in this lengthy term on earth.  I think that, by their very nature, reporters are a cynical bunch, but the developments in recent months have pushed me beyond cynicism.  Then, in the depths of my despair, came the marches by women…not only in western Michigan, not only in our state, not only in major cities, not only in our nation’s capitol, but around the world!  I should know better than to let myself sink into those emotional pits, because in my long lifetime I have clearly seen these two things:  God remains in control, and good people will not be put down. And that has me thinking this morning. The threat of losing rights and losing freedoms has people marching in the streets, which is great. But there’s a huge segment of our society where many of these rights and freedoms have already been take

I, too, have a dream!

I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day the concept of restorative justice will take hold in every community, that offenders will be concerned about victims of crime, that victims will learn more about reasons for crime, and that supporting the rights of victims will not be mutually exclusive of ensuring humane treatment for prisoners. I have a dream that one day the legal defense of indigent prisoners will not go to the lowest bidder, but will be sought out by the best legal minds so that every arrested person may get constitutionally guaranteed excellent representation in the courtroom. I have a dream that one day the concept of “innocent until proven guilty ” will become a reality instead of a meaningless cliché, that investigating officers will avoid the curse of “tunnel vision” and seek all facts before making arrests, and that states’ attorneys will pursue conviction of proven criminals but also admit mistakes and wrongdoing and release those persons w

On January 15, a tribute to three African American giants

On the eve of Martin Luther King Day, I pray tribute to three African Americans who made a profound and lasting impact on my life. The first was Sister Mattie Davis , a wisp of a little black lady who was Business Manager for a black gospel singing group based in Muskegon known as the Heavenly Echoes. The year was 1954.  I was a young man 17 years of age when I landed my first job in radio broadcasting, and part of my assignment was to sign on the radio station WMUS at 8:15 AM on Sundays.  Each Sunday the Heavenly Echoes provided a live broadcast, and the host and announcer was Mattie Davis.  This white, Christian Reformed boy was amazed at the difference in prayers.  At my home, in my school and in my church, our prayers included lofty phrases of “thees” and “thous” in words of praise and supplication.  In the Heavenly Echoes broadcast, Sister Mattie Davis remembered to include those first responders and people on the street protecting our safety, as she prayed for “policemens” a

We don't talk about failure: Not good for business!

Final copy for the February HFP newsletter just went to the printer.  This will be a “happy” edition, in contrast to some where we tell stories of sad prisoner plights.  But I can tell you this:  We made no mention of our failures.  That kind of news certainly would not please those who support us with their dollars.  Instead, we tuck them away, quoting the old cliché:  Grin and bear it! We made no mention of the fact that women in one prison unit at Huron Valley have been without heat for 6 weeks now, temps haven’t gotten above 55 degrees, many are getting sick, there are no extra blankets or clothes.  So far, nothing we’ve tried is working. We didn’t talk about old man John.  Prisoners say, “…they took his wheelchair, cane, C-Pap machine and a number of other health care items, all out of retaliation.  He does have a walker right now but still they torture him.”   So far, we’ve been ineffective. We didn’t run any story about the court’s mistakes in Joe’s case, even thoug

The necessary ingredient in helping prisoners: YOU!

President Obama was giving his farewell speech.  He urged those who love this country to do more than just sit around and discuss our problems.  “We must all accept the responsibilities of citizenship,” he contended.  Right on! That brought to mind a discussion I had had earlier in the day, as I shared a cup of coffee with Joe Whalen, Executive Director of 70X7 MUSKEGON, certainly one of the finest re-entry programs available for Michigan prisoners.  Joe and I have a lot in common.  HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS does its best to help prisoners while they’re still behind bars.  His organization does its best to help them when they get out. Joe said that he explains his work to a businessman, explaining all the complexities in helping prepare a former prisoner on how to be a productive member of society (a prisoner created in the image of God!). The company finally agrees to make a donation to get the job done.  I have a similar situation when I explain, to church groups, how import

Sure there are lows. But the highs win!

The questions invariably come after we tell of an unpleasant experience:  Don’t you get discouraged; why keep on trying to help prisoners? Let me ask you something. If you’re a parent, you don’t stop loving or stop helping when your kid messes up, do you? If you’re a teacher, you don’t stop loving your work because of a disruptive student or contrary parents, do you? If you’re a doctor, you don’t stop doing your best, even though some patients refuse your treatment, think you’re a quack, and make unwise decisions, do you? Do you see my point? Sure, I stood in the window of an execution chamber and watched in horror as the State of Texas put my friend to death for a crime he didn’t commit. I took a call in the middle of the night.  A parolee for whom I had held the prison door as he stepped into freedom, had ignored my pleas to avoid substance abuse.  He went on a drunken spree, and was found frozen to death in the middle of a field. Turns out a guy I be