All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A Memorial Day salute to the MDOC and its incarcerated veterans!

The Government calls them “justice-involved veterans.” They’re former service members now serving time under the supervision of the criminal justice system.

On this Memorial Day, I’d like to pay tribute not only to incarcerated veterans in the State of Michigan, but also to the Michigan Department of Corrections for its treatment and care of veterans.

How many are in prison, and what brought them there?

Well, there are more than 100,000 military veterans locked up  in prisons throughout the United States…2,300 of them right here in Michigan. More than 98% are men.

According to the VA, more than half of “justice-involved veterans” have either mental health problems or substance-abuse disorders, most notably alcohol or cocaine addiction. In addition, a large percentage are also homeless or at-risk for homelessness, and many others face such challenges as finding work and reintegrating into society. Sadly, these vets also may be at higher risk for suicide.

What can we do about it, and how is the State of Michigan handling it?

While there are veterans groups in several Michigan prisons, there’s an actual veterans unit at the Saginaw Correctional Facility in Freeland. It’s a good program, and we hope to see more.

Earlier this year, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency was recognized for its first-in-the-nation initiative that ensures incarcerated veterans receive the same measure of advocacy as other veterans. The program makes Michigan the only state in which a veteran can get connected to VA disability benefits while incarcerated.

Central to the program was the MDOC’s commitment to create that veterans unit at Saginaw CF. The department also transports incarcerated veterans to VA medical centers for  physical examinations at no cost. Previously, these people were unable to attend their exams and their applications for benefits were often terminated.

MDOC Director Heidi Washington says that starting the veterans unit was a priority and that she hopes to continue expanding services there.

On Memorial Day, 2019, deep appreciation to the MDOC for forward-thinking steps to improve the lot of our military veterans. And, deep thanks to these men and women for their service! You’re just not going to find a nicer group of people. HFP has always had a fine relationship with Michigan’s “justice-involved veterans,” and we’re committed to continuing our help and support.

"How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!" -- Maya Angelou

Yes, including those behind bars!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Some random thoughts on hypocrisy

Example one:

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, while signing that state’s Human Life Protection Act on April 15, 2019:

“…this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”

ONE DAY LATER, Equal Justice Initiative issued this statement in a news release:

Today, the State of Alabama executed Michael Brandon Samra, who was 19 at the time of the crime, despite evidence of an unfair trial and unreliable conviction and sentence.

Example two:

I have a very good friend who abandoned his church after the church leaders aggressively urged the pastor, as well as other “evangelical” churches in that community, to condemn homosexuality as sin.

The sign in front of the church proudly states: “Everyone Welcome!”

Example three:

One of the largest churches in our community boldly proclaims on its website:

We are a community that experiences the transcendent glory of God and is transformed by the power of Jesus Christ.

When HFP asked if we could meet with the church leadership to explain our prison ministry, based in the same town, a curt email message said:

“…this is not something we are willing to invest our time and resources in.”

Thanks to a wonderful supporter of our work, I was able to meet with, discuss prison ministry with, and pick the brain of former Prison Fellowship CEO Jim Liske this week. My quest is this: To persuade the Christian community that showing kindness and compassion to all prisoners---regardless of their crime, regardless of their belief, regardless of their color, regardless of their sexual orientation---that is the basic ministry that must come before all other ministries can be effective. Ministries such as Bible lessons and correspondence courses, Christian concerts and in-prison worship services. First, we must prove that we care!

We didn’t come to any conclusions in that discussion, but the conversation was rich.

Once again, I fall back on the healing words of one of my heroes, Fr. Greg Boyle. This is HFP:

You see the needy and downtrodden and lonely and abused and actually do something for them - and your goal is not to get them to your church, but to be the hands and heart of Christ.”

Friday, May 10, 2019

Happy Mother's Day?

Paula often dreamed of being a mom. Now, it can’t ever happen. One stupid mistake. That’s all it took. Now she’s spending the rest of her life in prison.

Someday she would settle down. Someday she would find the right partner and have a family. But for the moment, life in the fast lane was fun. Fun, that is, until a tragic day when the wrong crowd with whom she had chosen to associate got involved in some shady activity. And then something went horribly wrong.

“The jury finds the defendant guilty, Your Honor.” Life without parole.

Mother’s Day is a busy day at Women’s Huron Valley, Michigan’s only prison for women. Of the more than 2,000 women housed in the facility, many are mothers. And, many occupants have moms who are still alive. It’s a bittersweet time. The visits are usually pleasant, but then come the “goodbyes.” Inmates must return to their cells. Alone.

How Paula would love to chat with her mother one more time! Yes, her mom would be so pleased that she is finally using that beautiful voice to sing in the prison praise team for Sunday morning worship. And she’s even writing songs now! Who would have guessed it? She’s also furthering her education.

But Paula’s mother died, and that was another story. Paula was unable to attend the memorial service. Prisoners are sometimes permitted to attend the funerals of family members, but it’s complicated and costly. Permission isn’t quickly granted. And then, it all hinges on the hiring of off-duty corrections officers to accompany the inmate. That leads to two important requirements: a lot of money; and, availability of officers. Her family helped raise the necessary funds, but on the day of the service, alas, due to overtime issues, no corrections officers were free. Paula remained behind bars.

Yes, it took a while, but Paula’s life is getting straightened out, and she praises God for that.

But on this Mother’s Day, 2019, she’s alone.

No kids.

No mother.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Yep: Joe's mad at HFP!

Old Joe is pissed!

It says right in the HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS brochure: No request for assistance is ignored or denied!

And Joe, who has been in prison since 1984, is flat broke. So, he asked HFP for money. And guess what? He got denied. Joe was so angry that he filed a complaint with the Michigan Attorney General. Now our team will have to take time off from helping other inmates to explain to Dana Nessel’s office that we really weren’t ignoring him, and that his request just didn’t fall into any categories otherwise outlined in that same brochure.

But be that as it may, the incident points out a couple of things.

First and foremost, prisoners do have money problems. There are times when I wish I could be a DeVos or a Van Andel, just so that I could help people like

 Joe, who needs money to pay for his deodorant, toothpaste, bath soap and other personal hygiene needs;
Karen, who desperately wanted money to pay the cost of prison guards so that she could attend her mother’s funeral service;
Daniel, who needed only $150 for tuition so that he could continue his community college classes behind bars.

But it’s true in all of life, isn’t it? People of means could do so much more to help the plight of the poor. If they wanted to.

And the second point is, even though old Joe is upset with us, and even though our team is bummed that they must put prisoner assistance aside in order to provide all the necessary information to the State AG’s office, we’ll still be here for him.

On that day when he has some problem getting appropriate medical care, needs some help in filing a FOIA request, wants some assistance in preparing to meet with the Parole Board, hopes to track down a missing loved one, or wants some guidance in preparing a commutation application, HFP stands ready to help. We go the extra mile to provide assistance…even to the ornery ones! Truth of the matter is, we love ‘em, we think they have worth, and even the meanest and the most unlikable still deserve humane treatment.

That now-famous itinerant preacher who is our leader once told his followers:

If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.

We’re pretty good at that.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Matt: An award winner!

Some years ago a very nice person with ties to a major university insisted that she was going to see to it that I received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree.

I tried to be kind and polite about this, but the effort was doomed before it even started. I tried to explain that showing compassion to prisoners isn’t something that attracts praise and recognition in our society. Nevertheless, she insisted. She had connections, she loved what HFP does, and she wanted the founder to get recognition. Of course, she never saw the little things that we experience daily: the subtle frowns of disapproval, the silence from those whose religious and/or patriotic beliefs supposedly involve support for those less fortunate, the lack of financial support from churches and civic organizations. Society doesn’t really like to think about prisoners.

I’m not complaining…merely explaining. After all, I and those people who work with me, receive amazing awards like they don’t offer at the university:

The prisoners in one of Michigan’s facilities voted to make a $500 donation to HFP from their Prisoner Benefit Fund (What a compliment!)

A prisoner just sent us a $10 check, which he called a “tithe,” because he believes in what we’re doing (His prison salary amounts to less than $20 a month!)

And, a long-time friend just emailed to inform me of positive results from a biopsy. He’s starting to call me “Dad,” because I care and listen to him! (He doesn’t have one of his own.)

I’m thinking about this right now, because son Matt is taking over the helm of HFP. Matt, like his father, is a broadcaster. He’s in sports…I was in news. Broadcasters can and do receive awards. They covet awards. And award publicity attracts listeners and viewers…it can also result in pay raises.

With six years of experience at HFP under his belt, Matt gets the picture. He’s likely to receive some awards in the broadcasting business, but there ain’t gonna be none here.

One of my dearest, bestest, most favorite and most precious friends of all time---a friend that I connected with late in life---was Rev. Al Hoksbergen. How I loved that man! How I miss that man!

As we sipped a little whiskey, he would say, “Doug, you’ll get your reward in heaven.”

And that’s the best advice I can give Matt today, as he capably assumes the role of CEO and President of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS.

HFP’s hero and leader happens to be a rag-tag preacher who told his followers, “He has sent me to tell the captives and the prisoners that they have been set free!”

For showing kindness to the prisoners he loved, Matt, and I, our staff and our volunteers, could receive no greater reward than to hear that same preacher, the Master, utter these words: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Are you in good hands? Yep!

A guy with a big, deep, bass voice asks that question in TV commercials. At this moment of transition for HFP, the question deserves an answer.

Some time ago I sent out this popular quote as Father’s Day approached:

"Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a Dad."

I bring it up today as a footnote to the public announcement that our son Matt has been appointed President and CEO of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. At first glance, that announcement smacks of nepotism. But, in truth, it’s far from that.

It’s no secret that I’ve had some serious health issues since HFP was founded in 2001. Some friends tease me about having nine lives.

In situations when my future is in question, two things happen. Number one, some people see a possible opportunity to replace me. And number two, our Directors take a hard look at a possible replacement.

-One highly qualified guy really wanted my job, and let our directors know that he was available. They soon learned, however, that while the man apparently had a big heart for prisoners, his past record of treating employees was dismal.

-A seemingly very religious person seemed to have the right qualifications until the discussion of transgender prisoners arose. There was little empathy for those potential clients.

-Then there was the gay/lesbian issue. This person had room for plenty of love and compassion of prisoners, as long as they’re “straight.”

-Religious belief was another hot-button. Some found it difficult to extend love and compassion to Muslims and Buddhists. Some even insisted that Bible study be included in our in-prison efforts.

And so, when it got right down to it, Matt was the obvious choice. Not because he’s my son, but because his track record over the past six years revealed a genuine compassion for the incarcerated. In this office, ALL prisoners are deemed worthy to receive fair, kind and equal treatment. He gets the picture.

It took 18 years to create this atmosphere. So, to paraphrase that old Father’s Day saying, a whole lot of people might seem to have the credentials to serve as CEO of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. But, for someone to take charge of our unique program, it takes a leader with a mind as open as Matt’s, and a heart as big as Matt’s. I proudly pass the mantle, without reservation.

May God bless Matthew, our team, and our agency, as we begin the next chapter.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

If we are the "Easter People," it's time to take a stand!

Response to the tragic fire that damaged the Cathedral of Notre Dame is an excellent example of our double standards. Millions of dollars’ worth of pledges are pouring in, thus assuring restoration and reconstruction of this majestic structure. Yet, three historic churches recently burned up in Louisiana, and response hasn’t been nearly the same.

As I reflect on that during Holy Week, I can only conclude that similar things can be said, similar comparisons can be made, about our treatment of people.

While millions of dollars get committed for the cathedral, people in Puerto Rico still struggle to get hurricane relief, and Flint’s little kids still struggle to find clean drinking water.

We righteously quote the Constitution:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Except Native and African Americans.

Except gays and lesbians.

Except prisoners.

We piously quote Galatians 3:28 

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female… 

Except those struggling with sexual identity.

Except those with differing religious beliefs.

Except prisoners.

Yet, I think it’s undeniable that the Jesus, whose death and resurrection we remember this weekend, not only gave us guidelines, but also gave us personal examples insisting on fair and equal treatment for all. In his preaching: As I have loved you, so you must love one another. In his teaching: the good Samaritan, the rich man and Lazarus. By example: dining with a tax collector, showing kindness to a prostitute.

Praying for a change of heart is a beginning. But, it’s time now for us to make an Easter resolution: From now on, equal love; equal compassion; equal treatment---equality for all people! No exceptions. Not even prisoners.

Then, as “Easter People,” we can all proudly sing with Avery and Marsh:

Ev'ry morning is Easter morning from now on! Ev'ry day's resurrection day, the past is over and gone! Goodbye guilt, goodbye fear, good riddance!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

For the season of Lent, I couldn't write a script like this!

I can’t plan Lenten experiences. But I can tell you about this one…one of the best, ever!

April 11, 2019. I was invited to the law office of John Smietanka in Grandville, Michigan, for a small, private reception for ex-offender James Hicks.

Jimmy was released two weeks ago after serving 35 years. He’s the first to admit that he was guilty of a crime. But, while in prison, he turned his life around and decided to help the authorities. In the ensuing years, he helped state and federal agencies solve at least 8 major cases.

It was 14 years ago when another prisoner introduced me to James Hicks. He explained that the state had offered to reduce Jimmy’s sentence if he would agree to testify in a murder trial. Well, he testified, the Prosecutor got a conviction, and then the state re-thought the whole matter and said, “Nah, I don’t think so.”

That’s when I jumped aboard.

Here’s what you must know about me, and about HFP: We hate injustice, we love the undesirable and unwanted, and we don’t give up.

As you might imagine, Jimmy wasn’t the most popular guy in prison. Inmates hate snitches, and when they found out he was telling on others, he had a target on his back. His testimony also exposed fraud in the prison system, there were federal arrests, and an assistant warden was sent to prison. So, the alleged good guys didn’t like him, either. Over the years, even though the state claimed it was trying to protect him, James was stabbed, beaten, poisoned, and shoved down a stairway. And whodunnit is still debatable, but we know for sure that the culprits weren’t just prisoners.

With a sentence of 50-200 years, a commutation by the Governor was James’ only hope. So, we tried. Once. Twice. Three times. All rejected.

HFP enlisted the aid of renowned criminal defense lawyer and former US Attorney John Smietanka, who finally persuaded Governor Snyder’s legal people that this man deserved freedom. State police officers agreed. FBI agents agreed. The Prosecutor who put him away agreed. And just two weeks ago, it happened!

You didn’t see this on TV, and you won’t read it in the newspaper.

But in a quiet moment, Jimmy threw his arms around me and told everyone standing around him: “If it wasn’t for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, I’d still be in there today.”

Precious memories! Shades of Maurice Carter days!

A Lenten experience. Without a doubt.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Simple problems aren't all that simple behind bars!

Under normal circumstances, it would take just a few minutes to solve problems like this.

1.    I have ants in my bedroom.
2.    I need the copy of a report from our County Prosecutor’s Office.
3.    I have a medical condition that demands that I wear tinted eye-glasses.
4.    I need the latest info on how PTSD affects behavior

The solutions are as easy as

-Calling the exterminator
-Filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act
-Getting a prescription from your ophthalmologist
-Going online and Googling the topic.

Easy, that is, unless you’re behind bars.

I list these four simple examples in response to this question that we hear so often: Just what does HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS do? These are the types of issues our HFP team members tackle 7 days a week, as they seek to provide practical assistance to Michigan prisoners who have very real, everyday needs.

Ann’s cell was filled with ants. She wondered if she was sleeping on an ant’s nest. No one would listen. She complained to a friend. A friend contacted HFP.

Anthony is indigent and is preparing his own defense, working in the prison law library every day. There are some documents critical to his case, BUT, Michigan inmates are not allowed to file FOIA requests. It’s a service that HFP provides.

Gary has a medical condition that demands that he wear tinted glasses. The Michigan Department of Corrections doesn’t believe him, and keeps stonewalling the order for dark lenses. HFP has a noted ophthalmologist on its team of professionals to help in situations like this.

Jan is convinced that studies have provided a lot of new information on how post-traumatic stress disorder affects behavior, which could enhance her appeals. But, she’s not allowed to go on-line. HFP has volunteers willing to find material like this and print copies for prisoners.

We’re here to help, believing that all prisoners deserve to be treated with humanity, kindness and dignity. And when they or their friends or relatives contact the office of HFP, no request is ignored or denied.

In a report to our Board of Directors, a consultant flatly stated: Nobody is doing what you do. Nobody wants to do what you do!

It’s my hope that someday there can be an HFP chapter in every state.

In our office hangs a little framed needle-point Bible verse: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

That’s what we do. It’s what we want to do. It’s what we love to do!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Bullying: Never OK!

“…where is it written that we must act if we do not care, as if we are not moved?
Well, I am moved. I want a kinder and gentler nation.”
President George H.W. Bush

President Bush would be appalled!

A political rally for our current president was held in Grand Rapids last week. The event drew thousands of people, which meant waiting for hours. It so happens, the long line snaked through the heart of the downtown area and past the facilities of Mel Trotter Ministries. Back in the olden days we knew Mel Trotter as a rescue mission. Founded in 1900, it began by helping those with substance abuse. Today it’s an impressive and expansive operation that offers “rescue and restoration for anyone experiencing hunger and homelessness.” Mel Trotter has an impressive history of helping those experiencing substance abuse, as well as battered women and homeless kids. It even offers shelter space for those who identify themselves as transgender.

Anyway, the CEO of Mel Trotter issued a lengthy statement last week critical of the behavior of some people in that line. Dennis Van Kampen claims they

“Said rude things to our staff
Shouted racial slurs at our guests
Refused to get out of the way for women and children trying to get in
 Yelled political slogans at those trying to find safety, hope, refuge and help.”

Said Mr. Van Kampen: “I am heartbroken, angry and ashamed!”

Why do I bring up an issue affecting Mel Trotter Ministries in Grand Rapids? Because I’m in the prison ministry business, and those people who think it’s OK to bully men, women and children down on their luck, or of a different color, or different persuasion, or different sexual identity…those are the same people who have low regard for prisoners. We see it every day!

I’m not blaming any public figure or any political party. I’m placing the blame right where it belongs: on you and me!

We’ve let things slide, we’ve looked the other way, and we’ve ignored warning signs for too long thinking that perhaps something good can come from all of this. I’m sorry, bad behavior is never acceptable.

Another former President, Jimmy Carter, said: “I hate to see complacency prevail in our lives when it’s so directly contrary to the teaching of Christ.”

Now the ball is back in our court. It’s up to us to do something about it.

As a church musician, I occasionally like to pull up this hymn from the 50s:

Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me.

Yes, Lord.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Maurice wouldn't fit in today!

It’s March 29, Maurice Carter’s birthday, and I’m reading about the President’s political rally last night here in our part of the state.

For those who may not know the story, Maurice served 29 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was granted a compassionate release in 2004, and then lived in freedom for just 3 months. It was his dream and his passion that led to the founding of this organization.

Here’s something you gotta know about Maurice.

On a beautiful, sunny day in July, I personally walked him out of prison and placed him in the front seat of Jerry Horne’s luxurious motor home. From that perfect location, he would enjoy the scenic panorama all around him in his short trip from Jackson to Spring Lake, where a welcoming party awaited. A friend presented Maurice with a cell phone…something he had never seen before. During the ride, he placed calls to his friends all over the country. Jerry, who was doing the driving, was able to overhear one side of all those conversations.

The point that amazed Jerry:  Maurice never bad-mouthed anyone! Not anyone in the system, not anyone among his accusers, not anyone who shamefully battled to keep him behind bars for half of his lifetime!

And that just wouldn’t fit today.

It wouldn’t fit in a society where polarization is so rife that one is hard-pressed to find civil conversations about crucial national and international issues anywhere anymore. Our national leaders take delight in mocking, deriding and condemning all opponents or even those with differing views.

Maurice was a believer, but that type of attitude wouldn’t fit in with some types of Christians, either. The evangelical church is getting a black eye because a vocal segment of its alleged adherents quote the Bible to blister those persons who have different or opposing views on such things as abortion, immigration, gay and transgender rights, black lives matter, and yes, even political party.

Don’t get me wrong. Maurice Carter was firm in his beliefs, and had definite opinions about unfairness and injustice. But he seemed to understand Solomon’s words in Proverbs 15:

 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

We could use Maurice Carter in a lot of ways…especially because of his attitude! It’s a rare commodity these days.

Happy 75th, my friend. RIP. There ain't much here!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Riff raff in heaven?

I’d like to spend a few minutes today talking about “riff raff.” This is the perfect day for it. March 25, St. Dismas Day.

Never heard of it?

Our Roman Catholic friends tell us: St. Dismas is the man known as the "Good Thief" who was crucified with Christ alongside another criminal on Calvary. He is described in Luke's Gospel (29: 39-43) as repenting from his sins and asks Jesus to "remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus replied to him, "I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Enemies of the state were often crucified by the ancient Romans. Another favorite target for this humiliating form of torture was “scum of the earth,” perhaps better known as “riff raff.” And that’s how these other two guys could best be described…the pair who flanked Jesus on the hill of Calvary.

“Riff raff” strikes a familiar chord with me, because from the very beginning, a common perception was that our agency was showing compassion to that same segment of society. Now, to be clear, those who know me and know about HFP, also realize that we don’t consider any human being to be “riff raff.” But, I know the question remains hidden in the minds of many: “Why spend time, money and resources helping that kind of person?”

Pastor Nate may have said it best, this morning, in his sermon about the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Those who worked for only one hour received the same pay as those who had labored all day, even though that was the agreed-upon salary. And it didn’t set well with the all-day workers.

Nate’s response: Compassion is greater than fairness!

On this St. Dismas Day, a legitimate question for the theologians might be why this low-life criminal, who didn’t study the scriptures and didn’t spend his life being nice to people, receives the same kind of eternal reward that we do? And a legitimate question for those of us in prisoner advocacy might be why those persons behind bars deserve the same kindness and compassion as needy people on the outside?

If our staff and volunteers are followers of that itinerant preacher on the cross who welcomed St. Dismas into Paradise, the answer is the same: Compassion is greater than fairness.

In conclusion, this message from a Roman Catholic publication:

On this St. Dismas Day – March 25 – special blessings to all inmates, families, staff, volunteers – everyone involved in prison life and ministry one way or the other. Read & reflect on Luke 23: 39-43, the story of our patron the good thief.

From now on, let's not ignore St. Dismas Day.

Or the beautiful message that it generates.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The heartbreak of helplessness

There’s nothing more frustrating, more heartbreaking, than knowing that someone is innocent and striking out with every attempt to do something about it. We do a lot of good things for prisoners in this office. But, our record with the wrongly convicted isn’t so great.

It’s on my mind again today as my friend Gary Weingarten takes another shot at freeing Ray Gray. Dear Ray has now served over 45 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He was one of our first clients. I started trying to help him back in the 90s. I’ve still done nothing that was effective. Frustrating.

It’s on my mind again today after chatting with my friend David, another old client, who served his full sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. He may have been released 8 years ago, but it would be a stretch to say that “he’s free.” He’s unemployed, he’s listed as a sex offender, he’s in terrible health, he’s indigent, and he lives in shameful conditions without even the luxury of running water. Is it any surprise that he’s so angry? I couldn’t help him then. I can’t help him now. Frustrating.

It’s on my mind again today as we put away the case file of another man named David. This David died of complications from pneumonia while in the hospital. But if the pneumonia hadn’t done the job, a broken heart might have. We were just about to inform him that we could find no more legal avenues to pursue in his quest for freedom. An innocent man who served 18 years, spending every day trying to find justice. He failed . I tried to help, and I failed. Frustrating.

It’s on my mind again today as I read the latest posting on Facebook from Jeff’s wife Lena. I believe in his innocence, but he’s already served 6 years for someone else’s crime. I stood by this couple in their prison wedding ceremony. I’ve tried to guide them in the right direction. Bottom line: I’ve not been able to help. Frustrating.

I’ve said it so many times: It is so easy to get in; so difficult to get out!

Prayers, today, for the wrongly convicted. It’s estimated that there are more than 1,000 of them right here in the Michigan prison system! Prayers that wrongful convictions will get more attention. Prayers for an improved justice system where the number of wrongful convictions can and will be reduced.

Imagine being charged with a crime for something you didn’t do.  Imagine being thrown into jail, alone and scared and seemingly defenseless. Imagine the injustice of being one of the wrongfully convicted.  This isn’t a movie plot based on a Kafka novel.  This is the fate of some people at the hands of some other people. 
Honey Novick, Poet

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Paul gets 7 years; Joe gets life! Fair?

Is there anyone besides me who fails to see fairness in our courts when it comes to treating the rich vs. the poor?

Is there anyone besides me feeling outrage at the light sentences handed to Paul Manafort?

Let’s put politics aside for the moment. It makes no difference whether Mr. Manafort managed a campaign for the President or not. His political affiliation means nothing right now. The man got arrested on charges of conspiring against the United States, and conspiring to obstruct justice. And it must not have been the result of a “witch hunt,” because he entered pleas of guilty. He admitted in court that he did these things.

In appearances before two federal judges, Mr. Manafort has now received two sentences. It appears that he’ll serve a total of about 7 ½ years in prison.

Does something not seem quite right about that?

Before we move on, let me point out that Mr. Manafort is white and rich.

OK, now let me give you a comparison right here in the State of Michigan. We could cite numerous examples, but I’m going to focus on just one. Some 38 years ago, when he was just a kid, Joe Johnson and a buddy decided to hold up the operator of an ice cream cart. Nothing violent was going on. In fact, they paused to let a little boy buy some ice cream and even made sure he got the correct change. But, they stole money…some 40-dollars if I remember correctly.

Just like Mr. Manafort, Joe pleaded guilty…he knew he had done wrong. He was sentenced to life in prison. As of today, he has spent more than 37 years behind bars!

Mr. Johnson may have needed some pocket change, but at least he didn’t try to sell out his country in order to get it!

Only now, after a member of the HFP team took a personal interest in this particular case, has the Parole Board even shown any consideration of a possible release.

The other factor here that deserves to be mentioned: Mr. Johnson is black and poor.

The prophet Isaiah said: Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people.

Somehow, I think we missed that message.