Showing posts from September, 2017

HFP, with a more-than-casual focus on innocent people behind bars

I cannot imagine anything more terrible, more heart-wrenching, more devastating, than sitting behind bars for something you didn’t do! Matt and I got talking about the topic today, because International Wrongful Conviction Day arrives next week. I’ll be posting a blog with some outrageous facts and figures on Monday, but I just want to talk it through a little bit today. Those who know me realize that my personal efforts on behalf of a wrongly convicted Michigan prisoner, the late Maurice Carter, led to a new career for me and the formation of this organization. And, Matt got an early taste of it as well, not only because, as a member of my family, he was a personal friend of Maurice. As a young reporter, Matt had an opportunity to cover some major portions of the Carter story, including a personal interview with Rubin Hurricane Carter. I guess that’s why HFP never lets the focus on wrongful convictions wander too far, even though we’re not lawyers, and even thought HFP is

It's time to listen!

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” ―  Bernard M. Baruch I wish our President could grasp this common-sense approach. In another of his infamous adlibs, while speaking in a political campaign rally in Alabama yesterday, he asked the audience if they’d “ love to see one of these NFL owners , when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired?’” We all know what he’s talking about. It all began when a well-known player took a knee  during the national anthem  before games last year  to protest police brutality  and racial injustice. I’m not going to get in the middle of the argument about the national anthem…I’m getting on the case of people who refuse to listen. We struggle with this every day. A Michigan prison warden was so upset that I brought in the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate multiple claims of abuse of mentally deranged prisoners that he

On dominoes, ripples and divine intervention

Go ahead, be clinical about it and call it the domino effect or the ripple effect. Or, be a skeptic and deny that there’s any supernatural influence. I’m here in the middle of it, day after day---have been for the past 16 years---and I know darn well what it is. It’s divine intervention. Pure and simple. Case in point. In a telephone conversation with Joyce Davis last May, I discover that this African American mother, battling cancer and living on fixed income in the City of Detroit, is banned from visiting two of her sons serving time in state prisons because of old unpaid traffic tickets. HFP’s job is first to verify that information. Yep, Lansing says, once a bench warrant is issued for the arrest of someone with unpaid traffic fines, that person may no longer visit persons in the state prison system…not until those fines are paid. How to help this woman. HFP reaches out to Equal Justice Under Law , fine civil rights organization based in Washington DC that loves to

Two Fs that are NOT obscene: FOIA and First Amendment!

Something very significant occurred recently in the City of Grand Rapids. The city was forced to release a series of audio recordings from the police department…recordings that were seriously damaging because they showed an obvious intent to give favorable treatment to an obviously drunk driver. The reason: the guy was an assistant prosecutor. The significance, here, is not that they tried to go easy on somebody from the prosecutor’s office, although that, too, is not to be disregarded. One can be sure that if you or I got stopped by the same cops, for the same infraction, nobody would be on some secret phone line trying to save our butts. No, the real significance here is that the information was obtained through Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. MLive, publisher of the Grand Rapids Press, refused to take no for an answer, contending that “the people have a right to know how government is acting on its behalf, how taxpayer dollars are being spent, and that good judgment

That does it. Now we're mad!

It’s no secret that we’re declaring war on bad medical treatment and care in Michigan prisons. We’ll do it in a calm, reasonable, and legal manner. But sometimes, especially this week, when reading -That a guy gave specific symptoms of a torn retina last February, when the physician says there was a 90% chance of saving his vision, but because they waited so long they think he’ll go blind… -That a guy claimed he was having a heart attack, so they gave him Tums and sent him to his room, where he died of heart failure… -That a woman with colon cancer who desperately needs surgery keeps getting postponements… -That a prisoner with Crohn’s Disease is unable to get an appropriate diet… -That a prisoner with sleep apnea was ordered to ship his CPap home when he was booked in, and now cannot get another… -That a woman in the infirmary is complaining that her sheets are “awful…almost gray and black…” That an inmate who suffered a torn ligament in his leg still

Mrs. Jones, Fr. Boyle and HFP: touching broken spirits!

There are a lot of brilliant people in our prisons, but their hearts are not healthy . Their spirits have been broken. The words of Grand Rapids public school principal Ruth Jones, who received the Hattie Beverly Education Award some years ago for turning around a failing inner city school. In trying to explain her formula, she said, “Everybody wants me to pass out a handbook and say, ‘Here’s the model you should use.’ But the bottom line under it all is love.” Her words were sticking with me as I listened to Fr. Greg Boyle’s Ted Talk on YouTube. If you haven’t heard it yet, pry 20 minutes out of your schedule and make that happen. The author of TATTOOS OF THE HEART and founder of Homeboy Industries made the same point. All of this so strongly underscores the importance of our interaction with prisoners. But first let me address that first point by Mrs. Jones. As a pianist, organist and choir director, I am meeting and chatting with prison musicians who are far more s

When prisoners deflected my end-of-summer blues

Jean, Michael, Scott, Shirlee. I’m sure those names mean nothing to you. But to me, they made the difference between darkness and light last week. To explain, I hate when summer comes to an end, and it’s almost like I’m in mourning in those final days of August. Four prisoners were among many who wouldn’t let me sing the end-of-summer blues this year. From Huron Valley , Michigan’s only prison for women, a place from which we’ve received a ton of complaints about staff problems, came a surprising and refreshing request from Jean. She observed that too many of the officers at WHV are working too many hours, and she asked if we could do something about it. These officers are working sixteen plus hours daily on a regular basis and they are getting burned out. This affects us prisoners because the officers are short tempered, are too tired to proper manage the housing units they are assigned to, and occasionally they are falling asleep on the job. I don't blame them; they are comp