Showing posts from May, 2017

Convicted of a sex crime? Don't expect a good time in prison!

Persons accused of committing sex crimes have a difficult time behind bars.  That’s no surprise, because negative attitudes toward alleged sex offenders are prevalent.  People on the street don’t like these people, corrections officers don’t like them, prisoners don’t like them.  Let’s face it, our friends sitting right next to us in church don’t like them!  Before I deal with the subject of this blog, however, it’s important to stress a few very important points.  Criminal sexual conduct charges cover an exceptionally wide variety of alleged offenses.  We know of actual cases in which a man was spotted urinating in a dark alley, arrested on a charge of indecent exposure and actually sentenced to prison!  We know of numerous cases of wrongful conviction , often stemming from marital or family disputes, when someone choses to get even by accusing a person of molesting a child.  We know of numerous cases involving consensual sex with someone below the legal age limit.  So while it’

Death alone! No loved ones present.

The system failed Mr. and Mrs. Glen Anderson.  Not once.  Not twice.  But over and over again!  Matt and I became very close to this story, because while Glen was writing letters to Matt, I was chatting by phone with Susan. Here’s the situation.  -Glen struggled with alcohol problems for years, and even went to prison for driving while intoxicated. -He was diagnosed in 2013 with liver cancer, and a transplant could have saved his life.  But he says he started drinking again, and that erased his name from the waiting list. -Then got arrested again.  He went back to prison again in 2015. And that’s when the questions first arise. When a judge was fully aware that Glen had terminal cancer, why send him to prison for 3 to 7 and a half years?   That, in effect, was a death sentence! Glen’s treatments continued on and off, but a prison doctor finally explained to him that there was no chance for recovery and his days were numbered. He wouldn’t qualify for parole

One more diatribe about the notorious Public Hearing

I hate Public Hearings.  They may be an essential part of gaining freedom for old-timers in the Michigan prison system, but I hate them.  I testified at a Public Hearing yesterday, and as usual, left in disgust.  Let me explain. Before a certain population of the Michigan Department of Corrections can attain a parole, they must first be grilled by one or two members of the Michigan Parole Board, and especially by an Assistant from the Michigan Attorney General’s office.  Department officials will quote state law when explaining the reason for these hearings:  "A prisoner shall not be given liberty on parole until the board has reasonable assurance, after consideration of all of the facts and circumstances, including the prisoner's mental and social attitude, that the prisoner will not become a menace to society or to the public safety." The agenda at a Public Hearing is rather simple.  The Assistant Attorney General and the Parole Board members spend a lot of

Blessed are they who mourn

It may sound like my life, my words, my heart, are always kind and full of compassion.  While that is my prayer and my goal, realistically it is just not so. I’m struggling with how to be kind to a prisoner who has been untruthful to his supporter.  I’m upset with a guy who refuses to go to the people we suggest with his medical issues.  Instead, he keeps bombarding me with medical records which I don’t want, which I don’t know how to read, and with which I don’t know what to do.  I’m trying to be kind to a little girl who wants us to help file an application for commutation of her sentence, but she just keeps insisting that she is simple-minded and that we must do all the work for her.  I’ve got to watch myself, because I can have a quick tongue.  I must put myself in their shoes and take a deep breath, then try to respond in a kind and compassionate manner. But then, in the midst of these and many more, I get hit with the simplest of requests, and I melt. Says Richard:

You can't visit your kids in prison, Susan, but Happy Mother's Day, anyway.

Each year at Mother’s day I write about moms of prisoners, or moms who are in prison. This year, for a change, I’m going to write about only one mom.  Her name is Susan, she’s black, and she lives in Detroit on fixed income.  Susan had five children:  four boys and a girl.  Life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries. Two of her sons are in prison, and one was killed.  As we chatted, she expressed concern over one of her incarcerated sons who has been in segregation now for 6 months, which means he’s in a cell 23 hours a day. He's dealing with severe depression. In the course of our conversation I asked if she had visited him recently.  That’s when she dropped this little bombshell:  She hasn’t visited either son in prison for two years.  Visitation has been denied by the State of Michigan because she has unpaid traffic fines! You may have read about a class action suit filed against Michigan’s Secretary of State, claiming that traffic fine laws discriminate against the poor. 

Marc Janness, 1953 - 2017

Ever since Maurice Carter days I’ve had negative feelings about prison health care.  Maurice had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C 7 years earlier, but no one bothered to tell him until the day he collapsed in his cell.  I know I’m painting with a broad brush here.  I’m sure there are some caring health care people in the prison system. But based on our experience, I contend there’s an unfeeling and uncaring mood that is pervasive among prison health care professionals. We lost Marc Janness a few days ago…a name I had never heard of until very recently.  And the death of this prisoner is still troubling me. For Marc, it started with a sore mouth…and now I’m wondering just how much and how long he had to pester health professionals before he even got a diagnosis, let alone treatment.  Anyway, turns out it was gum cancer.  Fast forward to April 25.  That’s when one of his buddies emailed our office: …in the past 20 days (the cancer) has grown from his gum into his lip and is n

And the prisoners take another hit

Something wonderful happened in Muskegon 6 years ago! Something terrible happened in Muskegon last week! In 2011, Founder and Director Curt Tofteland was given permission by then Warden Mary Berghuis to start an innovative program in the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility called Shakespeare Behind Bars.  Hardened criminals reciting Shakespeare?  Who woulda thunk it? Curt’s explanation of the program:  Shakespeare Behind Bars offers theatrical encounters with personal and social issues to incarcerated and post-incarcerated adults and juveniles, allowing them to develop life skills that will ensure their successful reintegration into society.   I’ve had the privilege of attending some of these sessions behind bars.  What a remarkable experience it was to join with these men, sitting in a large circle, and listening to one of their members in the center reciting lengthy passages of Shakespeare…and doing it with drama and with fire, walking around, pointing a finger,