Showing posts from 2018

What a year!

Breathtaking! That’s the only way I can describe 2018 here at the HFP office. The gate opened on January 1, and we were off and running! Our goal is to serve prisoners, and we did that in record numbers, responding to more than 50 contacts in one day, more than 600 in one month, and more than 6,800 for the year. To better equip them for the job, we took the entire gang to Lansing to interact with the MDOC. 2018 was the year we put on a new face: new logo and new letterhead. With professional services provided by Dr. David Schock, 3 new videos were produced featuring newly released inmates, and a fourth featuring Sister Helen Prejean. We brought renowned guest speakers to the community: nationally known peace activist Kit Cummins to Western Michigan Christian High School in Muskegon; nationally known capital punishment foe Sister Helen Prejean to Grand Haven. We were excited to add four prominent personalities to our Board of Directors: Rev. Rodney Gulley of Berrie

Thanks, Gov. Snyder! For shame, Gov Snyder!

Christmas Eve, a day when I love to tell warm stories. The problem is that reality keeps interfering. I have two short stories today, one of gladness…one of sadness. Both created by decisions of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Last Friday, December 21, he granted clemency to 61 prisoners before leaving office: 35 pardons and 26 commutations. Keep in mind that he received more than 4,000 requests for clemency from prisoners. No matter what he decided, there would be joy and sadness. And that was the case with two of our clients. James Hicks has been in prison since 1986, but he’s a rare breed. He decided that during his time of incarceration it was time to make things right with society. So, he worked with authorities at both the state and federal levels on case of case, getting conviction after conviction. In one scandal, a deputy warden was sent to prison. Through it all, the State of Michigan saved millions of dollars. HFP began actively assisting Jimmy in getting so

In this holiday season, look at the bright side!

As a radio newsman, I looked for good news. I wrote radio news copy from 1954 until 1983, but I never agreed with the concept “If it bleeds it leads.” Those who worked in my newsrooms knew that we loved human interest stories, especially those on the lighter side. We were sensitive to complaints from listeners that only bad news gets aired. That leads me to this short discussion in the holiday season of 2018. It seems that the only news we hear or read about prisoners is negative. We hear just how terrible these people have behaved, and we agree that they should be caged and forgotten. Just as I and my reporters did back in the old newsroom days, you gotta look for the good stories behind bars. There are plenty of them. We recently received an update on the Youth Detention Program, brainchild of a Michigan prisoner in 2008, and approved by the Governor. Prisoners took special training to counsel teenagers heading for trouble. Says our reporter from behind bars: “Over

When prisoners pray

The prayers of oppressed people are especially precious in God's sight. As you have advocated for them, they will advocate for you. Rev. Celia Hastings, Ellsworth, Michigan Prayer makes a difference. No one can shake my belief in that truism. I look back at 2010, when a deadly staph infection attacked this old body. Loss of the ability to swallow, loss of 65 pounds, functioning on a feeding tube for 6 months, family gathering in a prayer that Dad will survive. It was a dark scene. I wasn’t buried in discouragement, but I wondered if I would ever play the organ in church again, or go to Fricano’s for pizza and beer again. Prayers of family, friends, and church were abundant, and I'm certain they played a significant role in pulling me through. But I was amazed by the intensity and frequency of prayers from prisoners, some whom I had never met or even helped. Fast forward to the year 2018. On the day before Thanksgiving another sinister attack on this 82-yea

A hospital essay on breaking the rules

I’m writing today from a hospital bed. Three guys in the next bed have been teaching me some lessons. Funny how things go, but I suffered a heart attack early morning on the day before Thanksgiving. I’ll be undergoing open heart surgery on Monday. Between tests, procedures, injections, and a variety of other preparatory measures, I have time to write. It goes without saying that prisoners and prisons are on my mind a lot. Even when I'm here. And I’m seeing some interesting parallels while lying in this bed: When you don’t abide by the rules, you’re going to pay the price! In society, if you violate the rules, there’s a good chance you’ll wind up in prison. When you’re there, you’d do well to contemplate the wisdom and advice of counselors and reentry. Because if you make unwise decisions, there’s a good chance you’ll wind up right back there again. The same holds true for those who chose to violate rules of caring for the body. There’s a good chance they’ll wind u

Forgiveness is for me, not for others

What we love to hear:   Your sins are forgiven. What? Do you really mean it? Even the worst, most secret sin in my life? The biggest skeleton hidden in my remotest closet? What we don’t like to hear : For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Wait a minute. You don’t know the whole story! This person took the life of my loved one! My friend Bill used to say to me, “Douger, there’s a little bit of larceny in all of us.” I’ll go one step further. I think there’s a little bit of vindictiveness in all of us. I use this week’s Public Hearing for a local businessman as an example. Ron Redick killed his business partner in 1991, and has spent the last 26 years in prison. At age 81, he has now requested that Governor Snyder commute his sentence, so that he can spend his remaining years in freedom. The Michigan Parole Boa

Going for the two-pointer

A friend posted the cutest video on FB the other day. A little boy and a little girl, probably age 3 or 4, were shooting baskets at a hoop probably designed for 5-year-olds. The little girl’s shot and missed, and it broke her heart. She stood there crying. The heroic little boy not only hugged and consoled her, but handed her the basketball again. This time, he hoisted her to a level where she could make the basket. The resulting smiles were precious! This poignant video, which lasted only 30 seconds, was shared by the sister of a prisoner whom I loved…now deceased. It arrived the day before my 82 nd birthday, and it prompted some somber thoughts. I encourage you to take a minute to watch it. It’ll make your day. Perhaps you’ve seen it already. Over 5 million hits, I’m told! Maybe this is a stretch, but here’s the parallel I see. The little girl represents many men and women behind bars in Michigan, as well as their families and loved ones. Life isn’t easy

Too many prisoners being held for too long!

“What does a model prisoners look like?” That’s the question from my friend Ricardo. Ricardo has been in the Michigan prison system for 36 years, and is a prolific writer. He was pointing out, in this particular essay, that over-incarceration is costing Michigan tax-payers a ton of money. We’ve been hammering on that for years. He gave as an example the case of his friend Charlie. Charlie is 75, and what we call a “parolable lifer.” He’s serving a life sentence, but is eligible for parole. Charlie has served nearly 44 years with an impeccable blemish-free prison record. “He has never incurred a misconduct report in his entire period of incarceration, quite a rarity given the amount of years he's been in prison. His accomplishments are far too many to mention. Nevertheless, the Michigan Parole Board chose to ignore arguably the most excellent of candidates to grant parole. Like countless others who have long been eligible, the board simply rejects moving good candidates f

Do we really forgive! Do we even want to?

Edna’s husband was a millionaire industrialist. He was wrongly convicted due to a sinister extortion plot. He went to prison, and appeals filed by the best attorneys were denied. Even though their marriage for the past 18 years was solid, Edna decided that her life had to move on. She filed for divorce. Danny lost his freedom. Then he lost the love of his life. He never fully recovered. Divorce is not uncommon. When Daisy went to prison a corrections officer inquired as to when she was getting a divorce. She laughed, and asked what the heck that was all about. Her marriage was fine. One year later, sure enough, Bill filed for divorce. Life may be standing still for her, but it was going to move on for him. Forgiveness is difficult. Robin Sharma, one of the world’s top leadership experts, claims “Forgiveness isn’t approving what happened. It’s choosing to rise above it.” I’ll not forget the day that I contacted the adult son of an elderly prisoner for help with some of

What you don't hear in the political ads

No question about it: Most people are getting sick of the political ads. Your television set isn’t on for five minutes before you are bombarded with messages as to why you should vote for one person, and why his or her opponent is a danger to society. On the national level, we hear about immigration and about the economy. Healthcare is a major topic of discussion, and so is our nation’s leadership. But you don’t hear any discussion about -mass incarceration---2.2 million people behind bars, the highest percentage per capita in the world; -wrongful convictions---staggering numbers that have Innocence Projects in every state struggling with serious backlogs; and -the death penalty---only 20 states have abolished this shameful practice! Here in Michigan, there’s a lot of political discussion on who’s toughest on crime, bad water, right to life, and fixing the roads. But you don’t hear any discussion about -39,000 people occupying 30 prisons in Pure Michigan, a far hi

On Christians and punishment

In this pre-election period we’re hearing a lot of political mumbo-jumbo. My friend was telling me of a politician who, in a town hall meeting, vowed that he was staying with what he described as “core values,” saying he was OK with some voters not liking him because he is “too Christian.” The problem is, those of us with hearts for the downtrodden don’t think his voting record is all that Christian sometimes. Readers of this column know that I’m especially sensitive on this topic. Sister Helen Prejean, whom I describe as a national treasure and a national hero, is renowned for her battle against the death penalty. While discussing that topic with a person of faith recently, however, my friend stated, “I generally can oppose the death penalty, until I think of someone who might have raped and murdered a member of my family. Then I think I could pull the switch.” And that’s the dilemma, isn’t it? There are segments of the Christian community who favor the death penalty

The Carter death sentence: Some thoughts on Maurice Carter Day

October 25 is Maurice Carter Day. Here in our office, we observe this day every year, remembering the date that Maurice Carter breathed his last on this earth. He died in 2004. On this Maurice Carter Day, the death penalty is on my mind, probably because I’ve spent time this week with Sister Helen Prejean, prominent death penalty foe. As I introduced her to the audience at a public lecture Tuesday night, I explained that Michigan does not have the death penalty. Then I asked the question, “Or does it?” I used the Maurice Carter story as a typical example. Maurice was wrongly convicted on a charge of assault with intent to commit murder in 1975, and he was given a life sentence. I contend it was a death sentence , based on the following facts: -He was eligible for parole in 15 years, but because of dirty politics, he never even had the opportunity to be paroled. -20 years after his prison doctors diagnosed Hepatitis C, but failed to tell him. One can only assume th

Matt calling the game and Matt's mind games

Not everyone knows this, but Matt Tjapkes is not only the Executive Director of HFP…he’s the voice of the Grand Haven Buccaneers. Matt is a professional play-by-play sports broadcaster when he’s not running our office. The final game of the year was between Grand Haven and Grand Rapids Union. The Buccaneers wasn’t a terrific high school football team this year, and the record hasn’t been very exciting (even though our two grandsons were on the roster). But the GR Union Red Hawks’ record is dismal. And it goes way back. The school is located in an older neighborhood, the football team hasn’t won a game in a long, long time, and nobody even bothers to come out to watch them anymore. A while back, at a high school contest in Muskegon County, there were 4 fans in the stands. So tonight, Grand Haven finally had excitement in the stadium…the Bucs tromping the opposition. At half-time, 35-0. It was raining, and it was cold, but our local fans finally had something to cheer about. Fo

Why prisoners identify with #MeToo

My friend Jerry has an interesting perspective on the #MeToo Movement. Jerry Metcalf resides in a Michigan prison, and he points out that it’s not just female prisoners who support this protest movement. The subject strikes home for guys. “That's because,” he says, “many prisoners have experienced it, too. Everything the system does to us is designed to tear us down, to degrade us. I imagined a woman with a couple of kids. She has to keep a job to take care of her kids, to feed them and whatnot. So, when she’s at work and her boss sexually harasses her or grabs her, she just grins and bears it. That’s  us,  I thought.” For example… “A guard once made me eat off the floor (literally)! Others degrade us and don’t even know they’re doing it. I remember a guard who used to stand in the chow hall and constantly belittle our food. She’d scrunch up her face and say things like: ‘That looks disgusting,’ or ‘I wouldn’t feed that crap to my dogs.’ It wasn’t like we could go dow

More than one reason why old-timers should be released!

Denials are arriving by the boatload in the Michigan prison system. Many inmates who deserve a second chance are not being considered for clemency by Governor Snyder. And that’s a shame. Darnell Epps, student at Cornell University who served 17 years for a violent crime, wrote a great op-ed piece in the New York Times, titled: The Prison ‘Old-Timers’ Who Gave Me Life. “A ging inmates,” he said, “some serving life sentences, helped me turn my life around.” His next sentence is important: “ They could do even more good on the outside.” We’re tough on crime in Michigan! We like to “throw away the key.” Right now more than 8% of Michigan prisoners are 60 and older…some 75 of them over the age of 80! Our friend Doug, age 54, who has served 33 years, has had the door slam shut on every opportunity for reentry into society, and that saddens us. A teacher, mentor, and a person who has done so much good behind bars, he deserves a new crack at freedom. Besides that, he could do eve

A Penny saved is a Penny earned: a nice story!

Here’s a neat story about Penny. Actually, it’s about Penny and HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. If you haven’t caught it by now, we’re the place prisoners go when they don’t know where to turn. Penny got convicted of a non-violent charge in Detroit in 2008, and was given probation. In 2015, she apparently violated probation and was sent to prison for 3-10 years. But that was an error. The most she should have received was 3-5 years. Nobody caught it. Nobody, that is, except Penny. The state’s legal counsel helped her appeal, but the Michigan Court of Appeals said no. Not one to just let things drop, Penny---a 63-year-old African American---spent her time in the prison’s law library, and all by herself went all the way to top. And wonder of wonders, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed with her! The order came down that she must be sent back for re-sentencing. That was in May, 2017. Since then, nothing happened. No word from anybody, the five years   served, and she’s still b