Showing posts from March, 2018

A delightful Easter gift from me to you

I have an Easter gift for you. The following piece was written by a very special friend, David Schelhaas. Dave is a retired college English professor who now lives in Iowa. But many years ago he lived here in our part of the state, taught at Western Michigan Christian High School in Muskegon, and was a charter member of HIS MEN…a singing group that I founded in 1972. He’s not only a fine singer, but an excellent writer. I invite you to savor this little gem on Easter Sunday, 2018: Thinking He Was the Gardener Thinking he was the gardener she did not recognize him, eyes blurred with tears, the weight of grief breaking her heart. Now, all these centuries later, we find her misidentification of him as gardener happily apt. For he is the gardener of our lives and our salvation--- planter, waterer, weeder, feeder, completer. He is the gardener of all green and growing things, of grasses, flowers and trees. The great sequoias, redwoods, and ced

Holy Saturday? Doesn't feel that way to me.

They call it Holy Saturday, but it doesn’t feel very holy. For me, the day contains a certain numbness. It reminds me of the day after I learned that my only sister, still in her early 20s with a longing and eagerness to be a beautiful wife and someday mother, lost her life at the hands of a drunk driver. I’m old enough to remember what it felt like the day after John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. Then came Martin Luther King. It didn’t stop there. Bobby Kennedy was next. The day after: feelings of dull resignation. History could not be changed. Death may not have had the final victory, but it certainly had sting. I know, I know, this day is different. But on Holy Saturday I’m still living with the trauma of watching the Christ candle depart from the presence of the congregation on Maundy Thursday. And I’m still living with the reality that yesterday, on “Good” Friday, they did, indeed, execute a wrongly-convicted itinerant preacher. In contrast to all the vici

Are we angry about this week's news stories? We should be!

It’s always someone else who gets wrongly convicted, right? Wrong! Just this week in the news came the Nevest Coleman story from Chicago. DNA testing proved that the White Sox groundskeeper was innocent. He served 23 years for a crime someone else had committed. Then today came a second story, this in Michigan: Richard Phillips was released. Innocent. He had served 45 years! No one says “Oops.” No one says, “Sorry.” And both of these kind men smile, express gratitude for their release, and try to jump-start their lives. I’m sorry, but I think they should be mad as hell! And so should we! It was Maurice Carter’s wrongful conviction that sucked me into this business. Since that time my life has been touched by so many wrongly-convicted people. Today I started jotting down names…all are white, and most of them mid-to-upper income. Take a look, An industrialist. A business owner. A financial adviser. A housewife. An employed laborer. An account exec

March 29: Maundy Thursday; Maurice's birthday!

March 29, 1944: Birthdate of Maurice Henry Carter. Interesting that this comes up during Holy Week. That Maurice’s birthday actually falls on Maundy Thursday. These days I think so much about the mother of Jesus. Just a few decades earlier she had given birth to this child under the most mysterious of circumstances. And now, to have it all come to an end under the most cruel of circumstances. Heart-breaking! Maurice Carter’s death was heart-breaking for his mother, as well. Little black boy, born to a kind, Christian woman in Gary, Indiana, whose husband wasn’t around any longer. A nice little boy, always soft-spoken. Son of a single mom in an inner city neighborhood, their home next to a red-light-house, he managed to endear himself to the “ladies of the night.” He was the polite young man who took their apparel to the dry cleaners for their generous tips and grateful words. As with most young black man of that day and that area, he got into his share of scra

Monday emails---a mixed bag: A Lenten message

Monday morning. What will the prisoner email inbox show this morning? As I open it, I’m thinking of Lynda Randle’s delightful song, GOD ON THE MOUNTAIN IS STILL GOD IN THE VALLEY. Prisoner #1, in the valley: Times haven't been the easiest lately. After my last request for commutation was denied, I've tried moving on. My mother was my rock and gave me all of my strength, now she's gone. I'm trying hard to still be strong. My dad is all that I have left in this world and I'm trying to be there as best as I can for him. It sure isn't easy though. This place makes everything so complicated and hard. I hope that, when this nightmare ends, I'll be able to make her proud. Prisoner #2, in the valley: My ankle is so bad! The doctor gave cream for Psoriasis and I had an allergic reaction to it. After weeks had gone by and it got worse, he gave me a different cream. That's what led up to me going to the hospital on Monday because I just started bl

That church sign saying ALL ARE WELCOME---is it true?

“Over and over again, when people exit the prison system, they say to the churches who visited them behind bars, ‘I’m out. I’m here!’ And those churches then explain that prison ministry is something they do ‘in there,’ and ‘we don’t really want ex-offenders in our building.’” The words of Fr. Jared Cramer in our HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS video. It’s a sad reality. I guess we might expect the world to reject ex-offenders. “Go ahead and release them, but I don’t want them in my neighborhood.” But, it must hurt Jesus, who loved to quote from the Old Testament about his reason for being here ( He has sent me here to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed… ) to see his church shy away from that very element of society. Many years ago when we lost our first office space in downtown Muskegon, I met with the trustees of a well-known inner city church thinking they might give me a little closet space in which to do our bu

On rethinking Corizon: It's time!

A giant company is supposed to be taking care of the physical and mental needs of Michigan inmates. We contend that it’s not happening properly. Corizon Health is one of the largest for-profit medical providers for jails and prisons in the United States. In 2016, the Tennessee-based Corizon signed a 5-year contract worth $715.7 million to provide both physical and mental health services in Michigan prisons, according to the Detroit Free Press. Here’s our story. We are blessed to have a panel of excellent, dedicated physicians, representing a variety of specialties, on the HFP advisory team. We call on them regularly to help us answer a variety of questions from prisoners regarding symptoms, aches and pains, injuries, treatment or lack thereof, and just general medical care.   It seldom goes well, and invariably our doctors throw up their hands and say, “In the free world, you or I would demand and receive proper treatment. It’s anybody’s guess what he or she will get b

WWJD? More thoughts for Lent

What would Jesus do? Years ago, people wore wristbands with the letters WWJD in bold print, serving to remind them how to handle matters in their daily routines. The fad didn’t last very long. I suspect that reason, in part, was that we didn’t like the answers. I’m thinking of that during the season of Lent, an insightful period for those of us who follow Jesus. It started when I received a message from a transgender inmate last week. She’s in the body of a man, and residing in one of Michigan’s prison for men. I’ve known her for years and had sort of lost track of her. If you think life is challenging for a person struggling with sexual identity, just imagine how much worse it is behind bars. Hell on earth! And yet, when I approached a Christian professional in the field of psychology for some input, she sniffed, “Lots of luck with that!” End of discussion. It’s no surprise to me that the life of Jesus was cut so short by dissidents, many of them a part of organi

A prisoner at the right place at the right time: A story for Lent.

That story about the criminal on the cross next to Jesus catches me off guard every time! I’m sure, earlier in my life, I felt a bit of envy when hearing the story about Jesus welcoming this dude into Paradise. “Not fair! We served you all our lives, and he gets the same reward?” But that changed 20 years ago when I began working with prisoners. Just last Sunday I started getting choked up when Pastor Nate read Dr. Luke’s account of that familiar story. And that reminded me how I get choked up every time I hear Gloria Gaither read an account of the same story. And that prompted me to share her reading with you…something I encourage you to savor in this season of Lent. It’s called The Misfit, it was written by Bob Benson, and it was taken from his book LAUGHTER IN THE WALLS. It seemed to be his lot, he was one of those unfortunate people, With a talent always to be in the wrong place … always at the wrong time. He was born wrong: The declining Roman Empire, the broke

Prisoners teach me about patience

God, grant me patience. And I want it now! Someone who knew me well gave me that little plaque which decorated my office wall many years ago. You’d think I might have improved by now, but after 80 years, I still struggle with impatience. Patience is on my mind today, after spending an inordinate amount of time on the cases of two prisoners this week. Both are Christian men. Neither belongs in prison. Both have exhibited patience beyond human understanding. Today I can report one good outcome. Sadly, the other is questionable. One guy has been in prison for 33 years. During this time he has worked with state and federal prosecutors to solve case after case. He has saved the State of Michigan millions of dollars, and that is no exaggeration. He possesses letters of commendation from personnel within the prison system, the Michigan State Police and the FBI. He never sought a deal. It just seemed right. If he became aware of filth and dirt, he wanted to help clean it up. And