Showing posts from July, 2017

No callouses on the heart for some prisoners

No matter how long I work in this business, there are some things that I just cannot get used to. I don’t know what to say to the old-timer who just got flopped by the Michigan Parole Board: The inmate in his or her 70s and 80s who, you can bet on a stack of Bibles, would never commit a crime again and certainly would not be a threat to society, but to whom the Parole Board refuses to grant a second chance. Some of these people are struggling with illness, some have family members who desperately need them back home, and some were even wrongly convicted. Makes no difference. I don’t know what to say to prisoners with serious ailments who contact us, supported by all the necessary medical documents and records. I don’t know how to respond to these inmates, their families and their loved ones, who ask this simple question: Why can’t they get appropriate care and treatment? I don’t have the right Bible verse to quote to the wrongly convicted prisoner who has served decades

Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?

This was one of the best-known American songs of the  Great Depression , written in 1930. It was considered by Republicans to be anti-capitalist propaganda, according to Wikipedia, and attempts were made to ban it from the radio.  I’m thinking of that song as I open an envelope from a prisoner this week. Henry has been granted a parole, and I figure he’s sending me a short note of elation. Instead, it’s a check to HFP for $15.00! I know this is money he can’t afford to give away, and I know he’s not looking for any favors because he’s about to leave prison. Instead, it’s a vote of confidence , pure and simple. He knows what we did for him. He knows what we’re doing for others. Last week it was a check for $10.00 from another prisoner. This inmate probably makes between $1 and $3 a day in his job. Just imagine the sacrifice. Talk about a “widow’s mite!” A very nice, well-meaning person said to us a while back: “I appreciate your monthly newsletter, but do you have to keep o

Civility? Parole Board. Really!

The Parole Board review has been a touchy subject for me. Michigan prisoners serving life sentences come up for review every 5 years, and for parolable lifers it offers a glimmer of hope. It’s an opportunity to face a member of the Parole Board, one on one. For many inmates it has not been a pleasant experience. We can tell you about some doozies! I’ve personally witnessed a Parole Board member first verbally abuse a woman accused of killing her husband, then refuse to hear her side of the story, and finally send her back to prison weeping. The mother of a convicted sex offer, at her son’s side for his Parole Board review, was horrified when the woman representing the Parole Board---in discussing his alleged crime---bluntly asked the inmate why he didn’t just --- (have sex with) the family dog instead! Prison staff members specifically asked me to represent a lifer in his 70s whose critical health issues nearly resulted in his death, whose medical costs were skyrocketi

July 24 - A reason to celebrate!

Doubly blessed! That’s what I think of on July 24. In 1978, the newest member of our family arrived. Marcia and I were both 41 when Matthew Douglas was born. More than a decade had passed from the time we were heating baby bottles and changing diapers, and the other three kids were well along in life. Then came this dude. As I’ve learned so many times in four-score years, there’s a divine plan. In an era when some unsettling business and personal matters could have been disastrous, the possibility of troublesome and harmful thoughts was completely offset by issues and events such as baseball cards, Tigers games and Saturday hot dog runs. Our other kids may have been growing up, but there was still a little guy waiting for his dad at suppertime, no matter how disturbing the day’s events may have been at the office. We’ve found that parents don’t love one child more than another, but Matt did make his mark as the one who not only followed me into the radio broadcasting b

Willie Lyles-Bey deserves better!

It was Willie Lyles-Bey’s big day. Mr. Lyles-Bey was 19 years old when he participated in a crime that went sour and people were killed. He’s 62 now, and he’s still in prison. But this week there was hope. A Public Hearing was scheduled, which could lead to a parole. He was excited. This is a rare occasion for lifers, as the Michigan Attorney General’s Office likes to point out. It can lead to freedom! The hearing, conducted in a specially-designated room in one of the Ionia prisons, was led by Michigan Parole Board member Ed Heap. His soft-spoken manner obviously put the inmate at ease, and the hearing was one of the better ones that I have witnessed. Then it was my turn to speak. Upon completing my short presentation of support, Assistant Attorney General Scott Rothermel---who leads the bulk of the questioning regarding the inmate’s criminal past---asked if I would remain seated. From that point on, Mr. Lyles-Bey’s big day suddenly turned south. Mr. Rothermel

Surprise. The Attorney General represents ALL of us!

I was trying to explain my frustration with the Michigan Attorney General to one of the newest members of our team. We were talking about the Public Hearing, an essential step for a lifer before he/she can be granted parole or a commutation of sentence. The hearing is conducted by the Michigan Parole Board, but the activity is dominated by an Assistant Attorney General who mercilessly grills the inmate, who is under oath, not only about every minute detail of the crime, but also about what he/she was thinking at the time. The Assistant AG defends his actions, saying he is representing the “People of the State of Michigan.”  The meaning is clear: He represents the victims of the crime, and their families. My complaint is that the family and friends of the prisoner are also members of the Michigan populace. He represents us, too, and while he may not realize it, sometimes the prisoner is actually the most damaged victim in this situation. I’ve had criticism of our work as priso

The bad ones are in jail, and the good ones are not, right?

I have three questions for you. They’ll come at the end of this blog. The court appoints a defense attorney for an indigent black man, charged with assault with intent to commit murder. The first time he meets with the defendant is the morning of the trial.  He fails to thoroughly cross-examine the single witness who insists the defendant is the wrong person. The jury buys the story of the Prosecutor, and the poor African American is sentenced to life in prison.  Wrongly convicted. A County Prosecutor knowingly uses junk science to convict a woman who has no prior offenses, is known to be a devout and upright person, whom witnesses claim could not have committed the crime of murder…but his boasts for continued re-election are that he has never lost a case. The victory was obviously more important to him. The woman is in for life.  Wrongly convicted. A Circuit Court Judge refuses to listen to the testimony of professionals in the field of psychiatry, and decides that a

The writer of Proverbs, with advice for prison visitors and staff

Dan Rooks shares great ideas with Michigan prisoners on the topic of nonviolent communication. Sometimes I think he should hold similar workshops for their families and friends. Dan is a clinical psychologist, who formerly chaired our Board of Directors.  He and I have made numerous presentations in Michigan prisons. In this program he gives practical suggestions on ways to avoid conflict in communications. The prisoners love it. I bring up the topic because I just received a nice note from the wife of an inmate.  She travels some distance to see her husband, taking along tiny tykes. It’s challenging.  She and the warden of this facility have established a very civil dialog on visitation issues, especially those that involve families with small children, and this friendly discussion has actually resulted in improvement. After her last visit, she sent a message to the warden thanking the prison staff for their prompt and courteous manner of handling bathroom breaks for a 4

Peace and harmony behind bars?

It was a breath of fresh air. The prison gates clanked behind me.  A Corrections Officer frisked me.  Into another room…more gates noisily opening and closing.  A remote control unit with an emergency button for me to carry in the event I felt endangered or threatened.  Still one more gate, and then an escort through the prison yard to another building. And in that moment, I escaped from some insanity never experienced before in my eight decades--- Entire families hardly verbally communicating with each other anymore---simply texting! Two factions claiming that scripture is on their side, and that between contemporary music and traditional church music, only one is acceptable! People of alleged integrity claiming that it’s OK to discontinue healthcare for some segments of our society. An abrupt reversal in our nation’s care and concern about immigrants, racism and the environment. A tacit approval from our nation’s leaders to denigrate and bad-mouth those w