Showing posts from August, 2018

It's time to replace the seats!

It sort of reminds you of that woman running for Governor in Michigan, who wants to “fix the damn roads.” It’s seats that I want to fix. Actually, I want them replaced. They’re located in the visiting area of the Duane L. Waters Health Clinic in Jackson, Michigan. Waters is the health center for the Michigan Department of Corrections. Prisoners dread going there. They beg medical people not to send them there, because the perception is that they’ll go there to die. But, sick prisoners and dying prisoners go there. The building looks nice on the outside. Inside, it’s a different picture. I think Dr. Waters, of Manistique, Michigan, for whom the building was named, would be disappointed. My major complaint today is about the seats in the visiting area. This section bears no resemblance to the visitation rooms in state prisons. It’s a glassed-in area in the middle of an open space, and there’s only one thing in this enclosure: metal benches. That’s where you go to meet y

No concern, no compassion, no problem

The year was 1976. As a semi-truck passed through Grand Haven on US 31, a distraught woman jumped from the tractor, and ran down the street screaming that she had been raped. City police stopped the truck a few blocks later and took the driver into custody. It took days to sort out the story, but the Grand Haven Tribune chose to publish the name of the man right away, even though he had not been charged. As the newsman for my radio station, holding up on the man's ID, I pressed then-Prosecutor Wes Nykamp about charges against that driver. He cautioned me to wait…there was more to the story. And indeed there was! The woman was arrested and charged with filing a false report. The driver was released. But the damage was done. The man’s name should not have appeared in our newspaper, and my critical editorial on the topic captured first prize in the State Bar of Michigan Advancement of Justice competition. That prestigious award remains here in my office. Fast for

What are we going to do about mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners?

Are we getting better at treating the mentally ill in prison? I don’t think so! Years ago, with overwhelming evidence about mistreatment of mental patients in the Women’s Huron Valley Facility, we filed a complaint with the U. S. Department of Justice. It led to a lengthy investigation. Evidence included numerous signed affidavits smuggled to us by trained prisoner observers whose job it was to keep an eye on the mentally challenged. They scribbled their signed statements on scraps of paper, courageously revealing shameful details of food deprivation, water deprivation and even hog-tying. With our evidence, the ACLU prepared a pages-long letter to the Michigan Department of Corrections and specifically to that facility, demanding that the practices be stopped and the procedures be changed. There may have been some improvement in care of acutely ill. But then a few days ago we received this message from another of our trustworthy informants, about one of the same patie

We don't need Doug, we need you!

Keep up the good work, Doug. We need people like you! As a young broadcast journalist, my radio editorials used to bring in a lot of comments like that. But that’s about as far is it went. In the City of Holland, for example, back in the days before Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, I badgered the city council mercilessly for holding regular secret meetings. The people loved it, but nobody ever did anything about it. Fast forward to today. I’m not writing radio editorials anymore, but the pieces that I post on this blog site are just as direct. But I’m going to tell you something. If mass incarceration is going to get serious attention, if sinfully lengthy sentences are going to get reduced, if prison overcrowding is going to be dealt with, if the number of wrongful convictions is going to be reduced, if prison conditions are going to be improved, if spiritual communities are going to change their attitudes about those behind bars, it’s not going to happen because of some

Prison visits: Important, stressful, heartbreaking!

Dr. James Woodall, a researcher in the United Kingdom, writes important blogs on issues facing prisoners and their families. He lists ten reasons why prison visits are so important: Humanitarian reasons . A prison sentence means the loss of liberty, not the desolation of family ties. Prisoner well-being . Visits are important markers for prisoners, often providing a much needed ‘boost’. Visits from family and friends mitigates against prisoners becoming institutionalised. Visiting helps family (children especially) to understand what prison is like for their loved one. Prison visits make it more likely that the family remains intact this means that when the prisoner is released he/she is better able to integrate into society. Better integration means lower likelihood of re-offending. Visits allow prisoners, albeit temporarily, to maintain their role as husband/wife/father/mother/son/daughter. It i

We get a failing mark on treating prisoners, especially the mentally challenged!

Persons doing hard labor may develop callouses on their hands, but I can assure you that persons doing prisoner advocacy never get callouses on their souls! I’ve shared this Bob Pierce quote before, as our Medical Director Bob Bulten has it posted on every email that he sends : "May my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God." That happened again yesterday in a message which I received from my friend Lois. Her son Kevin, who has struggled with mental issues all of his life, has been in and out of prisons since he was a little kid. Sometimes it would appear that we choose not to handle mental illness in appropriate ways, when it’s so much easier to just put someone behind bars. Lois and Kevin and I go back a long way. Back in the early days of this organization, when I was making a lot of prison visits, I went to see this young kid, chatted, drank root beer and ate candy bars with him. And I worked with his mom when and where I could. Life h