Showing posts from February, 2018

What a day!

I wish you could have been there. It was an unforgettable day! Visits with two ex-offenders, just released from prison. The reason our friends should have been there with me is because so many people have had a part in this. The words of thanks that I received from Anthony “Bear” Johnson and Roger Church were not expressions directed specifically at me, or at Matt. This was a thank you to HFP, and especially to everyone who sees to it that HFP stays right out there on the front line. Anthony was placed on a bus by MDOC guards this morning, en route to Maryland for a new life. He’s in his 60s now. He was 19 when he went to prison. I was at the East Lansing bus station this afternoon for a “Bear” hug! From “Bear:” When you’re in prison, it can feel like there’s no one there for you anymore. After 42 years, you don’t hear from many of your friends. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS was there. They care! My family could not attend my Public Hearing (the Parole Board session h

Marching for a cause. A great idea!

There’s a Chinese proverb, says Father Greg Boyle, that says, The beginning of wisdom is to call things by the right name.  I’m thinking about Fr. Boyle’s explanation this morning, as I’m reading and hearing accounts of kids responding to the school massacre in Florida. In his book, BARKING TO THE CHOIR, Fr. Boyle says, “ We want to find the right name for what was done to us, for what turned us around, for what is happening to us now. We all want to find our maximum capacity. And when that desire is strong enough, we find the legs to walk us through the hallway, down the path, on the Good Journey .” He was referring, or course, to former gang members. But the words also seem to apply to the thousands and thousands of demonstrators who are grabbing headlines today. God bless these kids, who---unlike many state and federal legislators--- have found the right name for what was done to them. They’re now “finding the legs” to keep walking on what is certainly a good journey!

They're not numbers; they're people!

My friend Troy argues that, according to the State of Michigan, he’s not a person. As he researched Freedom of Information Act requests, he learned that “persons” could be entitled to such information. Said the state: 'Person' means an individual, corporation, limited liability company, partnership, firm, organization, association, governmental entity or other legal entity. Then it went on to say: Person’ does NOT include an individual serving a sentence of imprisonment in a state or country correctional facility in this state or any other state or any federal correctional facility. Troy’s conclusion: He is a prisoner of the State of Michigan, therefore he is not a person. I use this simple illustration to highlight an issue that troubles me. We talk about 39,000 people in the Michigan prison system, numbers of blacks, numbers of whites, numbers of reoffenders, numbers of women, numbers of seniors…heck, each prisoner has his/her own ID number, and that’s how t

Helpers of prisoners: All part of the body!

The Apostle Paul says it better than I can. HFP team members sometimes hear questions about overlap of agencies and ministries. We’ll be the first to admit that there are wonderful organizations in Michigan working on judicial reform through new legislation. They work, they discuss, they lobby. God bless them. We need them. But they don’t help Anthony, who right now is trying to find and connect with a son who was born just after he entered prison, and who is now 21 years of age. There are wonderful groups, many of them in church settings, who study mass incarceration, criminal justice issues, judicial reform, restorative justice and other similar matters. They meet, they discuss, they hold retreats, they pray. God bless them. We need them. But they don’t have anyone to sit at Bobby’s side as he meets with a Parole Board member. After 40+ years behind bars, Bobby doesn’t have family or friends anymore. There are outstanding Bible study programs, local and natio

OK, I'm jumping into the prisoner mail fray!

Decades ago, when I was young, it was not uncommon, when kids questioned a parental judgment, to receive this blunt reply: “Because I said so.” I must admit that, as a parent, it took me a long time to recognize that listening to the input of kids, with a willingness to modify decisions and guidelines, worked best. That’s where we are now on the highly controversial mail decision being enforced by the Michigan Department of Corrections. True, like the position of our parents, the MDOC had every right to make such a decision without any input from the kids, and without answering any questions. Now it’s time to rethink. No one questions the seriousness of the drug problem behind bars . Neither does anyone argue that those who want to deal in drugs, as well as those who want to receive drugs, will keep right on being innovative in finding new ways to continue this illicit activity. But we (and by “we” I mean prisoners, as well as friends, family, and the general publi

Don't kid yourself. It's NOT safe in prison!

“I will not stop pressing for prison reform until it is safe to be in prison.” The words of my friend Carol as we discussed the general topic of incarceration. I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, but she has something there. Recent high-profile cases can help us to focus on that issue today. How safe is Dr. Larry Nassar going to be in prison? Especially when upright citizens like you and me, who could never imagine ourselves behind bars, quietly assure each other that additional justice will be done when “the prisoners take care of him.” How safe will that couple be that starved and tortured a house full of kids? Especially when our thoughts concede that, “If anything happens to them in prison, they had it coming!” How safe will that guy be who just got sentenced for torturing and killing his girlfriend’s 5-year-old boy? Especially when our thoughts drift to, “Someone ought to beat and torture him the very same way!” And it’s not just the high profile cases. Robert

A Black History Month tribute to my friends of color

How does it happen that a white guy with roots in the conservative Christian Reformed Church has over a thousand black friends? “That’s easy,” is your response. “You have something they want.” Your assumption is that these people are likely “fair weather friends,” right?  The black men and women in Michigan’s prison system with whom I have this relationship just say they like me because of the services we offer. Stop offering the services, and the friendship disappears, right? Not quite accurate. In fact, totally inaccurate! After nearly 20 years in this business I’m finally figuring this out:  The assistance which HFP offers is not the magnet. The big draw is caring! Those behind bars are accustomed to labels like “misfits,” “trash,” “outcasts.” Many have lost close relationships and perhaps even personal contact with friends, relatives and loved ones. HFP is pretty special this way. We don’t bother to look up the nature of the crime, or check the person's backg