Showing posts from April, 2018

Prison volunteers: lightening the burden!

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else. Charles Dickens I discovered something very important back in the 70s, when I was leading a little rag-tag group of 13 singers in a new group called HIS MEN. It was important to stretch these white, middle-class businessmen, teachers and laborers. So I constantly pushed them into unfamiliar venues with their message of song: jails, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, and churches unlike theirs. The results were predictable. Not only were listeners of these fine old gospel melodies blessed beyond compare, but the singers were touched even more! Their world was suddenly expanded. The ripple effect followed. They shared with others. I’m reminded of all this while basking in warm feelings over a weekend experience at the Muskegon Correctional Facility. I attended the annual Volunteer Appreciation Celebration. I barely qualified to participate. Most volunteers are regulars, while I had m

John C. Carlyle, 1938-2018

Back in the days when the media in Grand Haven were locally owned, we paid genuine tribute to a pillar in the community when that person died. It’s not that way anymore. An out-of-town implant came to Grand Haven in the 60s and quietly began moving mountains, playing a key role in the building of a new YMCA, the formation of North Ottawa Community Hospice and the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, just to name a few. Front page stuff. And yet, when John Carlyle died the other day, hardly a word in our media, now owned by people who don’t live here, don’t work here, and don’t seem to know much about our history. Well, I no longer have the voice to thank him on behalf of our town, but I can and shall pay tribute to one of the finest people I’ve met in my lifetime. I’m an implant here as well. When I came to Grand Haven as the new owner of WGHN, I was not only the General Manager but also the News Director. As a reporter, I remember being summoned to a news confe

And Part Three, on the purpose of punishment

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought this much about punishment. Probably not since March, 2 007, when I viewed the execution of my friend Anthony in Texas, where they love to punish killing by killing. Anthony was put to death right before my eyes, for something he didn’t do. I’ve just returned from the funeral service for my friend David, a Michigan prisoner who took ill and died of pneumonia complications. He claimed he didn’t commit the crime, but still his sentence was life in prison without parole. I got the feeling, though, that friends and family of the victim felt that even a life sentence was not punishment enough. Their vitriolic comments could be heard in the courtroom and read in the media. And to me, that raises questions about the reason for punishment, as well as its effectiveness. I like this quote by Haim Gnott:  When a child hits a child we call it aggression When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility When an adult hits an adult, we cal

The system needs a heart, Part Two

It’s easy to point fingers, especially during a time of grief. David, Michigan prisoner, is with his friend Jesus now. His parents were not permitted to be at his side as he passed from here to there. Even though he was still in a coma and unresponsive, a doctor determined that there was some improvement. Based on that report, a prison warden had no alternative but to terminate the visitation rights of David’s parents in his final hours. They were sent home. Department policy. A top official in Lansing explained it this way: MDOC only allows visits at outside hospitals when the prisoner is deemed critical and unlikely to survive by the treating physician. It is in that particular section of the Visitation Policy where we desire modification. In the wake of this sad story, seeking change seems more productive than placing blame. We know, for example, that prison visits are a good thing . A study has found that inmates who were visited were 13 percent less likely to be

David needs prayers; the system needs a heart!

Man's inhumanity to man Makes countless thousands mourn! Robert Burns I’ll try to make this story very short. David, a Michigan inmate and a dear friend, became ill in his prison cell at Kincheloe the other day. When it became apparent that he was really sick they rushed him to the nearest hospital at Sault Ste. Marie, in the Upper Peninsula. When it became apparent that he needed even more specialized care, he was given an emergency ride to Marquette, Michigan. That’s not next door. It’s a 165 mile ambulance trip for an unconscious and unresponsive patient! Yet it must not have seemed all that serious to some prison officials, because David’s elderly parents weren’t notified for three more days! Without hesitation, they made immediate plans to head north. What a journey for this elderly couple---Grand Rapids to Marquette---400 miles one way! The past few days have been heart-breaking for mother and father. Little to no response from their 58-year-old son,

Will Gov. Snyder do the right thing? Nancy deserves clemency!

There’s more than one kind of wrongful conviction.   Let me explain. Maurice Carter was wrongly convicted. A black man shot and injured a white, off-duty cop. Maurice was not on the scene when the crime occurred. Yet, a jury convicted him of assault with intent to commit murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison. That was a wrongful conviction. Now let me tell you about another dear friend, Nancy Seaman. The part of Nancy’s life that the public saw was her shining role as an award-winning school teacher. The part of her life that no one knew about was her role as a battered wife in an abusive marriage. Finally, as her husband tried to kill her, she retaliated. He wound up dead, instead of her. A jury convicted her of premeditated, first degree murder and she was sentenced to life in prison without parole. That, in my opinion, was also a wrongful conviction. Nancy is 65 now. She’s been in prison for 13 years. For a year I struggled to come up with ways to help thi

Is a prisoner worth as much as a parrot?

I was watching a show on a cable TV channel. A state conservation officer had been called to help find the owner of a tiny, beautiful, frightened pet parrot that had escaped. Granted it was part of the whole TV plot, but I was amazed to see how much effort was expended not only to save the life of this little bird, but to find its owner. First there was a kind person who spotted the bird in her yard, made a choice to catch it, and then get outside help. In the next phase, the conservation officer contacted a bird sanctuary and persuaded them to hold it. Finally, a successful effort on social media to locate the owner. A lot of work, a lot of effort, all for a little bird. In the end, a happy reunion! It reminded me of the parable Jesus told grumbling Pharisees.   “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on

Not your run-of-the-mill prison "do gooder" agency!

A typical day in the office of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS? HFP Executive Director Matt Tjapkes was in Ionia, to testify at a Michigan Parole Board Public Hearing on behalf of an inmate who has served nearly 20 years, and who, in our opinion, has demonstrated that he is worthy of a parole. We don’t do this on a routine basis, but we try do it when we feel a prisoner needs someone at his/her side. In some public hearings, a deserving inmate may have no one. Not even family. Way to go, Matt! HFP Vice President Holly Honig-Josephson was in Ann Arbor, to participate in a panel discussion at the Arts for Justice Conference on the Campus of the University of Michigan. She was speaking on the critical need for reform in Michigan’s parole system. HFP was honored to have been invited to participate by co-sponsor Shakespeare Behind Bars. When it comes to parole issues, to quote the bald guy on television, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.” Way to go, Holly! HFP