All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Points our new Michigan AG should consider

We’ve complained a lot, over the years, about the performance and the role of Assistant Attorney General Scott Rothermel in Michigan Parole Board Public Hearings. We were rather surprised that Rothermel, who served under former State AG William Schuette, continued on under newly-elected Democrat Dana Nessel. We believe that if AG Nessel, whose philosophy and that of former AG Schuette are miles apart, chooses to keep Rothermel on the job, she could and should steer him in a different direction.

I bring up these issues after reviewing two independent surveys which grade Michigan’s parole system at C-minus.

Prison Policy Initiative says, for example, that Prosecutors should not be permitted to weigh in on the parole process. Their voices belong in the courtroom when the original offense is litigated. Decisions based on someone’s transformation or current goals should not be contaminated by outdated information that was the basis for the underlying conviction or plea bargain.

In a very recent Public Hearing, Rothermel twice mentioned that the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office strongly opposed parole for that inmate, based on the nature of the crime (which occurred in 1994!).

PPI also contends Survivors of violent crimes should not be allowed to be a part of the parole-decision process. The parole process should be about judging transformation, but survivors have little evidence as to whether an individual has changed, having not seen them for years.

The second agency to grade parole systems was Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE).  CURE clearly states what we’ve been saying for years: The “nature of the crime” or “seriousness of the offense” should NOT be the reason for parole denial.

At the conclusion of every Michigan Public Hearing, AAG Rothermel explains that he does not have a vote, but that he simply represents “the people of the State of Michigan.” He then goes on to recommend no parole for EVERY prisoner convicted of an assaultive crime.

History has shown that the Parole Board pays little attention to such recommendations, because many of those same inmates are granted a second chance. But, with new emphases, our new AG could make the participation and the contributions of her AAG far more effective and meaningful.

We applaud the dramatic changes we have seen in the office of Michigan Attorney General. It’s time for that kind of change in the Parole Board Public Hearing process as well.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Where is Edith when we need her?

Marcia and I are watching ALL IN THE FAMILY reruns, and we’re laughing, once again, at Archie “Bunkerisms.”

Norman Lear’s attack on our problems, especially racism, was daring back in the 70s. But as we watch, we’re starting to wonder just how much, or little progress, has really been made in the U.S.

Take the time that Sammy Davis, Jr., made a guest appearance on the show.

Archie Bunker: “Now, no prejudice intended, but I always check with the Bible on these here things. I think that, I mean if God had meant for us to be together he'd a put us together. But look what he done. He put you over in Africa, and put the rest of us in all the white countries.
Sammy Davis Jr.: Well, he must've told 'em where we were because somebody came and got us.”

A position some of our nation’s leaders might take today!

Little did I know, back in the 70s, that racism would become so close to my heart. 20 years later, I began a 9-year trek on the road to freedom for a black man who was wrongly convicted. Maurice Carter would later be considered my brother, and it’s no secret that racism played a role in keeping that man behind bars for half of his life.

That Maurice Carter experience then led me into a third career as a prisoner advocate.

Check out this statement from Michelle Alexander’s book THE NEW JIM CROW:

“Almost two million people are currently locked up in the immense network of U.S. prisons and jails. More than 70 percent of the imprisoned population are people of color. It is rarely acknowledged that the fastest growing group of prisoners are black women…”

In case you’ve forgotten, the bright, shining light in that TV sitcom was Edith Bunker, who took her black next door neighbor, Louise Jefferson, as her best friend, who readily made room for Lionel Jefferson to sleep on her couch during a feud with his father, and who constantly debunked Archie’s white nationalist comments.

The New York Times obituary for Jean Stapleton (Edith) said, she “found vast wells of compassion and kindness…and a sense of fairness and justice that irritated her husband to no end and also put him to shame. She was an enormously appealing character, a favorite of audiences, who no doubt saw in…her noble spirit a kind of inspiration.”

At a time in our nation’s history when racism is once again rearing its ugly head, I contend that we need more Edith Bunkers!

Gloria: How come you married Daddy instead of Freddie Witthauser?
Edith: Well, I liked being called a “Goddess of Beauty”, but somehow it seemed more permanent when your father called me a dingbat.

No, Edith, you really weren’t a dingbat. Not then. Not now.

The word is “hero.”

Thursday, July 11, 2019

What kind of gospel is that?

I’m going to start this piece with a confession.

I don’t believe there has ever been a bigger hypocrite to darken the door of a church than this writer. I stand guilty before you and before God.

Having said that, I’m going to grumble a bit.

I think the church should take stronger stands on certain social issues. I was appointed to a committee some years ago to make recommendations to the synod of my denomination, the Christian Reformed Church of North America, regarding capital punishment. We urged the denomination to take a stand against the death penalty, for a number of reasons, but our recommendation was denied. Sadly, as of today, there’s still no firm opposition to the practice.

There are numerous and even more controversial matters that deserve thoughtful discussion in the church. Granted, different and varied interpretations of scripture will result in lengthy deliberations on some topics and final positions won’t come quickly. And they shouldn’t. But how hard is it to oppose blatant evil activity such as racism, injustice and wrongful convictions?

And getting to the issues that are important to me, and my team…rather than just praying for suffering inmates in our state prisons, I wish we’d raise hell about the heat in the cells, the terrible food, inadequate medical care, and the shameful manner in which we treat women and the mentally ill.

Saint Óscar Romero y Galdámez was a prelate of the Catholic Church in the early 1900s. He was outspoken on topics such as poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture. I love and support this quote:

I think the Jesus who overturned money tables in the temple is just as angry over these matters.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love the church. I love my church!

But, if our church leaders are reluctant to speak out, how can we expect their parishioners to do so?

I join with St. Romaro.

What kind of gospel is that?

Monday, July 8, 2019

Black and white issues give me a red face!

It came back to me in a heartbeat.

Bryan Stevenson was relating the experiences of a wrongly-convicted black guy to a popular TV network journalist the other day.

“I didn’t do it,” swore the suspect. “Listen,” said the cop, “You’re going to jail. Take a look. White prosecutor. White judge. All-white jury!” No reference was made to the court-appointed defense attorney, but you can darn betcha that he was white, also. The police officer’s words were accurate, and it took years before an Innocence Project corrected this injustice.

If the name Bryan Stevenson doesn’t ring a bell, I must confess that he’s a hero in my mind. I’ve met him, and I’ve chatted with him. Bryan A. Stevenson is an African-American lawyer, social justice activist, founder and executive director of Equal Justice Initiative.

His story over the weekend brought the Maurice Carter battle right to the forefront of my mind again. My brother Maurice, of Gary, Indiana, was arrested in Benton Harbor, Michigan, for a crime he did not commit. The warrant was issued by a white prosecutor. The trial was presided over by a white judge. He was defended, if you can call it that, by a white court-appointed attorney who had a reputation for dozing in the courtroom. And, the decision was rendered by an all-white jury. A black man had shot a white cop, and somebody was going to pay! Maurice served 29 years for a crime he did not commit.

I’ve gotta tell you that many of the people with whom I associated didn’t give a Tinker’s damn back then, and when it comes to this subject today, many still don’t. Maddening!

More than 150 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, most U.S. adults say the legacy of slavery continues to have an impact on the position of black people in American society today. More than four-in-ten say the country hasn’t made enough progress toward racial equality, and there is some skepticism, particularly among blacks, that black people will ever have equal rights with whites, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

According to Pew: Majorities of black and white adults say blacks are treated less fairly than whites in dealing with police and by the criminal justice system.

True, I’m white. But, in case you haven’t noticed, this makes me angry.

Said Dr. M.L. King: “300 years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.” 

It’s why I keep shouting.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Give us this day our daily bread

How was your holiday picnic?

Sounds like Americans really enjoyed their picnics on the 4thCheck out these advance numbers from the National Retail Federation:

Eighty-six percent of Americans plan to celebrate Independence Day this year, spending a total $6.7 billion on food items, according to NRF’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics.


Planned per person spending on food items for Independence Day: $73.33.

While we were enjoying our hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs and pork barbecues, there wasn’t any change in the menus behind bars.

After hearing those holiday statistics, I contacted the Michigan Department of Corrections Office in Lansing for an up-to-date figure on the food budget. You’ll be pleased to know that, here in Pure Michigan, "$2.85 per prisoner per day to cover all three meals is the goal for the normal menu."


I was raised in the upstairs apartment of a neighborhood grocery store, back in the 30s and 40s, and I still remember the food prices of those days. Many years later, at age 82, I do the grocery shopping for Marcia and me, and I watch for bargains. Our appetites aren’t very large anymore, but we enjoy good food. We could not make breakfast, lunch and dinner for $2.85 per person per day.

Granted, we cannot buy food in large quantities, either.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we routinely hear complaints from prisoners about food quality and taste, lack of nutritional value, and small portions.

The Marshall Project recently carried a story about prison food.

Nutritional standards at state and local facilities are governed by a patchwork of state laws, local policies, and court decisions. A Texas law requiring inmates be fed three times in 24 hours, for example, only applies to county jail inmates, not state prisoners. Some jails and prisons require low-fat or low-sodium diets, while others mandate inmates receive a certain number of calories. All detention facilities must have a licensed dietician review their menus in order to be accredited by the American Correctional Association. The association recommends — but does not mandate — that prisons offer inmates three meals a day.

For those prisoners who have adequate funds, food can be purchased for snacks, and we continually hear of creative recipes developed by inmates, often using a microwave oven. But for the poor, indigent cuss who has no money to spend, it’s meager fare, indeed.

Maybe it’s not worth talking about.

They’re just prisoners.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

A contemplative 4th?

When I heard the cost of a military display for our nation’s Independence Day observance, my first reaction was to write a blistering piece of disagreement. But I’ve changed my mind on that, and on all the other concerns that I have about our nation’s direction. Instead, for this Fourth of July, I’m going to simply suggest discussion topics.

Those who know me completely understand how difficult it is for me not to put in my two cents’ worth.

So, here’s the format. I’m going to give you a famous quote. Then I’ll supply a couple of headlines to serve as holiday discussion starters. The rest is up to you.

Here goes.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Statue of Liberty

Squalid Conditions at Border Detention Centers, Government Report Finds
New York Times
Migrant father and daughter who drowned at US-Mexico border were desperate for a better life

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
Declaration of Independence

Trump’s transgender military ban now in effect
Washington Blade
The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women
The measure of a country is how it treats its prisoners. The U.S. is failing.
Washington Post

"A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
"The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything." -- Albert Einstein

In Alaska, climate change is showing increasing signs of disrupting everyday life
Washington Post
Warming seas may increase frequency of extreme storms
US withdrawal from Paris agreement may affect climate change

As promised, no comments from me. Just a final observation from Nelson Mandela:

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Happy Birthday, America. May God shed his grace on thee.

Friday, June 28, 2019

A fruity reputation

Jesus was warning his followers about false prophets. That’s when Matthew quotes him as saying, “By their fruits you will know them.”

I’m proud to say that HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS has, in my humble opinion, a “fruity” reputation.

When we’re answering dozens of calls a day, it’s not easy to focus on a few cases, but let me give you some fresh examples.

-HFP participated in a Public Hearing before the Michigan Parole Board this week, speaking on behalf of a 71-year-old black man who has served nearly 25 years and deserves a parole. Other than his wife, we were the only person to show up.

-HFP responded to a call from panicky relatives after their niece, a prisoner in Huron Valley who is dealing with lung cancer, collapsed and fell, striking her head on the concrete floor. Fearing that she may have suffered a closed-head injury that wasn’t getting appropriate attention, they called our office. Within the hour she was receiving a medical evaluation.

-HFP received a telephone call from a paraplegic inmate. As one might expect, multiple issues, multiple problems.

-HFP received this message from a long-time friend, a 77-year-old dude who is so medically frail that he has been revived from death more than once behind bars: If possible, please give me some hope; some light at the end of the tunnel. Please give me something. I'm getting really tired. Keep in mind: I have NO LIVING RELATIVES who can in any way help me.

In my June, 2019, HFP newsletter column, I make reference to some religious radio stations. As a veteran broadcaster, I’ve had first-hand experience where the rough-shod treatment of employees and unethical behavior of executives were in stark contrast to the daily programs sent over the airwaves. That’s why I always contended that my radio station, while not considered a religious station, was very Christian.

The same is true for HFP.

We are not a religious agency. Yet, each day our team provides one-on-one assistance, without any qualms or questions, to prisoners who are Muslims, Wiccans, atheists, agnostics, Jews, Buddhists---you name it. If they need help, we’re here for them.

That, we believe, is the Christian way.

And by those fruits, you’ll know us.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

On false confessions, will common sense prevail?

I have a problem with the President.

I’m not talking politics, here…that would take a separate book. I’m talking about an issue of extreme importance in the field of justice: the false confession.

U.S. News reported this week that “President Trump continued his refusal to apologize for his 1989 call to execute five teenagers who were falsely accused of rape in the notorious Central Park Five case.”

For the record, you should know that Trump took out full-page ads in New York City newspapers in 1989 calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York following the arrest of these five teens ― four of whom were black and one Hispanic ― in connection with the rape of a white jogger in Central Park.

Thank God, the kids weren’t executed, because there’s more to the story.

The low point of this story is that all five teens were convicted based on coerced confessions and little evidence. The high point is that they were exonerated in 2002 thanks to DNA evidence and were paid millions by the city to settle lawsuits.

Here’s the thing: False confessions are a major cause of wrongful convictions. And it doesn’t help when the New York Prosecutor says she doesn’t care what the DNA tests proved, she still thinks these guys are guilty…and when the President of the United States agrees.

According to the Innocence Project, 30 percent of all DNA exonerations involve false confessions. The National Registry of Exonerations estimates that 182 out of 1432 known exonerations (or 13 percent) involved a false confession as a contributing factor.

Why would someone confess to a crime that he or she did not commit? Good question, but stop to think about it.

-In Texas, for example, prosecutors get false confessions by telling a suspect that if he admits to the crime, they’ll make sure he will not get the death penalty.
-In Michigan, prosecutors persuade alleged sex offenders to plead to a lesser charge to avoid placing their name on our state’s terrible sex offender registry.
-Chicago has a horrendous record of cops beating and torturing suspects until they signed confessions.
We know of a Detroit case where a suspect with an IQ in the 60s signed a confession when he couldn’t read or write.

This is a serious problem, boys and girls, and it won’t get much better when our political and judicial leaders refuse to remove their blinders.

Monday, June 17, 2019

This old man's gotta change!

Holly and I were huddled together in a coffee shop, discussing speeches. Holly, Vice President of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, is just beginning her speech-making activities for us. I’m nearly at the end of mine.

We reviewed shameful incarceration statistics in our country and in our state, the sad conditions and policies and methods of our Michigan prisons. Then we discussed the amazing progress made in services offered by HFP, our dedicated team, and the phenomenal growth of our activity rate.

As I explained to Holly, that’s what I use in speeches. BUT, I’ve come to the conclusion that change is needed. More must be said. After reflecting on powerful presentations by Father Greg Boyle and Sister Helen Prejean in recent years, I’m convinced that facts, figures and anecdotes are not enough.

It’s past time for all of us on the HFP team to answer two important questions: Why do we do this, and why you should care?

It’s no surprise to me that we’re now responding to some 700 messages a month from Michigan inmates and their families. HFP is doing something that no one else wants to do. Prisoners have discovered that somebody cares, and the word is spreading like wildfire.

This statement by Fr. Boyle perhaps best explains what prompts us to help the disadvantaged: “The wrong idea has taken root in the world. And the idea is this: there just might be some lives out there that matter less than other lives.”

He goes on:
“The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather in standing in the right place—with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.”

That’s what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And why should you care? My favorite theologian, Frederick Buechner, puts it this way: Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me.

That’s what this old man’s gotta start talking about. And that’s what Holly must emphasize in her speeches. And that’s what the HFP team must remember as we struggle to stay ahead of the daily pleas for assistance.

We’re not dealing with facts and figures. We’re dealing with people!

“Somebody has to stand when other people are sitting. Somebody has to speak when other people are quiet.”
Bryan Stevenson

Monday, June 10, 2019

One Doug is more than enough!

“Good for you, Doug. We need people like you!”

In the very first chapter of my new book I respond to people who, after hearing what I do, make such statements.

I was reminded of that while reading a recent edition of THE BANNER.

Rev. Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning said:

…when I worked as a reintegration chaplain with men leaving prison, I would often talk about my work in local churches and schools. I could count on a few people to come up afterward to say, “I’m so glad you’re doing that work. It’s so important for some of us to do.” Those comments always grated on me. I know people mean well. Most wanted to compliment me on what they see as valuable work. But three words always stuck out to me: SOME OF US. Implicit is the idea that some of us are called to the work of justice and solidarity, but the rest of us are not.

Here’s the deal. While it’s true that I have been called to prison ministry, the fact remains that all of us are called to do justice.

I’m sure that, in the minds of some folks, there’s a fear about this call to action, thinking they might be asked to go into prison, or take ex-convicts into their homes. God bless those people who actually do this, but we’re talking about something far simpler, far easier.

To “act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God," as the prophet Micah directs, here’s something all of us can do:

-Speak with our pen. There are wonderful pen-pal programs where you can communicate with a prisoner. Here in Michigan, statistics show that only 12% of state inmates receive a visit! Think what a letter a month could mean.
-Speak with your wallet. Every prison ministry struggles to make ends meet, due to the unpopularity of this work. What a meaningful adjustment this could be to your monthly tithe.
-Speak with your vote. Where do those men and women who represent you in public office stand on issues of prison reform and humanity for prisoners? Your vote is important, and can certainly reflect your values.

Back to my first statement again, no, we don’t need another Doug. We’re stuck with him. WE NEED YOU!

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
M.L. King

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A new sign in front of our building?

A friend of mine is highly offended by trite and whimsical church signs. It drives him crazy, for example, at Christmas time to see this sign in front of a house of worship: Jesus is the reason for the season!

At one time, during my second career as a church organ salesman, I started collecting sayings and slogans and quotations that appeared on these signs. I was going to publish a book of church signs by topic (turns out I was a day late and a dollar short, someone had already done it!).

Maybe it goes back to a cartoon that I remember as a kid. Two small-town churches across the street from each other, obviously competing for members, used street signs in their combat. Said one sign: Will there be any stars in my crown? The church across the street used the words of another hymn to respond on its sign: No, not one. No, not one!

The topic of church signs came up, interestingly, in a recent HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS committee meeting. Members of our board, working on a specific project, were discussing our unique philosophy and work ethic after sharing a photo of a church sign that someone had posted on Facebook. Said the sign:  JUST LOVE EVERYONE. I'LL SORT 'EM OUT LATER - GOD

That’s where we are!

Over our 18-year history we have had some folks claiming religious conviction who seemed to deplore the idea that HFP provides necessary assistance and shows compassion to all prisoners, regardless of the nature of the crime, regardless of their beliefs or lack thereof, regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of their sexual identity…you get the picture. With examples like the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible, it’s been my contention from the very beginning that we’re doing exactly what Jesus would be doing.

That’s the way we operate, and we’re making sure it won’t change.

My dear old friend Mitch, who lives in northern Michigan and who wasn’t well enough to make the trip downstate to attend our open house event at the new HFP headquarters sent his regrets by email today. He said that he was here, indeed, in spirit. And then he added this statement: Jesus hovers above your door!


Now that’s a sign I’d be proud to see in front of our building!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Come see us!

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” So says popular American cartoonist Bill Keane.

I’m thinking about that today, as we prepare for a public Open House on Wednesday.

I was a church organ salesman in 2001 when Maurice Carter and I put our heads together to form an organization called INNOCENT, designed primarily to provide assistance to inmates claiming wrongful conviction. I worked with two telephones from my Grand Rapids office.

Three years later I quit the organ business, made prisoner advocacy my full-time work, and moved the office to Muskegon. God has a sense of humor: Our office was located in the old Muskegon County Jail building! But, the price was was donated.

We moved to Grand Haven in 2008 and changed our name to HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS…a name that better reflected our mission. We then decided to focus all of our assistance on helping inmates in the Michigan prison system. Nothing out of state, no federal prisoners, no county jail inmates.

At first I worked alone, with the assistance of an occasional intern. By 2011 the work load became too heavy and our son Matt came aboard on a part-time basis. The two of us worked out of a little one-room office, filled to capacity with filing cabinets, desks, office supplies and two large men.

Today I checked back on my President’s Report for the first quarter of 2013. We made history. We responded to 100 or more calls each month for January, February and March…a total of 334!

Fast forward to today, and the reason why this board took a bold and progressive stance and decided we needed office space. Now. HFP currently has five staff members, two who are full-time. They are assisted by a few volunteers. We have a medical and a legal assistant who donate their time and expertise. Those experts are backed up by a panel of 20 doctors and lawyers in a variety of specialties who stand ready to help at a moment’s notice.

President and CEO Matt Tjapkes and his helper Susie Greenbauer this year are responding to an average of 700 calls a month! We assist in a wide variety of ways, helping these prisoners with everyday needs and problems. Assistance most frequently sought falls into categories of medical care, Freedom of Information Act requests, commutation application assistance and legal questions. We call it "Jesus work:" helping others, no questions asked, no requests denied.

I’d love to have you see the new facility that houses this well-oiled machine, now touching the lives of more than 3,000 prisoners! Come and meet the people who make it run so smoothly and efficiently, and on a shoe-string budget. Open House hours are this Wednesday, June 5, from 5-7 PM. Our address is 14998 Cleveland Street, Spring Lake, MI 49456.

I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Is Cindy right? I hope so!

Cindy Anderson may have a point.

Cindy, former board chair of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, still serves as a director. And when she heard the news that the Michigan legislature had passed a series of bills making elderly, frail prisoners eligible for parole, she insisted that we had something to do with it.

My immediate reaction was to refute that contention, because we really don’t get involved in lobbying and legislation. But Cindy was holding to her position. She pointed out that we’ve been seeking better and more compassionate care for the aged and ailing behind bars for 18 years. And when an agency doesn’t let up over that period of time, the message is bound to get out and the effort is likely to spread.

Well, she’s definitely right about our aims and goals.

After all, it was an elderly and sickly human being that helped form this organization. Maurice Carter had not only served 29 years for a crime he did not commit, but he was also dying of Hepatitis C because of poor diagnosis and care in prison. By the time we were able to get a compassionate release for Maurice it was too late for a liver transplant, and he lived in freedom for only three months.

Three years before he left this earth, however---at his suggestion---I founded what was then known as INNOCENT.

In our early days, thinking we would focus primarily on wrongful convictions, I was approached one day in the parking lot by a young, teen-aged black woman. “Are you Mr. Doug?” she asked. I have no idea how she knew me, found me, and knew what I did for a living…but she broke into sobs. Her imprisoned father had cancer and was dying. Could I get him out, to be with his family in his final days? This was all new to me. I tried, and I failed. Too little too late. I was the only white person attending her father’s funeral service.

Since that day we never let up, finally changing our name to HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS to better reflect our mission.

And Cindy is absolutely correct. Since those early days, we have passionately struggled to get better care for the elderly and dying in prison, compassionate releases for the terminally ill, and improved visitation for families of the dying. It has been an uphill fight. Still is.

So, the signature by Governor Whitmer on those recent bills was most welcome!

We’ve already started submitting names of deserving clients. And, we’ll proudly accept Cindy Anderson’s belief that efforts by prisoner advocates on behalf of ailing old-timers contributed to the victory of this small step forward.

We must not stop now!

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.”