All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Without blacks, my life would have been colorless! Some Black History Month musings

I propose that those of us who are white make Black History Month a time for reflection, showing gratitude to God for placing people of color along our pathway. I can tell you this: African Americans helped shape the life, the personality and the mission of Doug Tjapkes.

My life was never the same

-after, at the age of 17 in my very first radio job, hearing Sister Mattie Davis of the Heavenly Echoes broadcast praying for the ‘policemens and firemens’ who were on duty through the night in racially insensitive Muskegon in the 50s

-after meeting and hearing the Spiritualaires, a black singing group that taught me just how little white people know about a cappella gospel music

-after granting the Rev. Cy Young a guest appearance on my radio show in Grand Haven in the 70s, as I listened spell-bound to his recitation of ‘I Have a Dream’

-after weeping and praying at the bedside of gospel singer Alma James Perry, whose glorious soprano voice was silenced far too early by cancer

-after adding Asonja James’ soprano descant to the anthem ‘Majesty,’ so majestically performed by this dear woman and HIS MEN in the Crystal Cathedral

-after spending 9 years trying to free a wrongly convicted black man named Maurice Carter, one of the most decent, kind and gentle individuals I’ve ever met

-after having one of my favorite people and favorite vocalists, Ben Reynolds, sing the old gospel song to me during a very difficult time: ‘I’ll be all right!’

-after my friend Pastor Rodney Gulley stood tall against blatant racism in so many forms, some of which took the lives of his son, father, grandfather and great-grandfather

-after kindling relationships with hundreds of black men and women behind bars in my pleasurable, gratifying and ordained role as an advocate for ‘the least of these!’

My life would have been colorless without the influx and influence of people of color. To those listed above, and many others, I owe a debt of gratitude. I feel pity for those who haven’t experienced this richness. I feel sadness for those who embrace ideas of white supremacy. “Hating skin color is contempt for God's divine creative imagination. Honoring it is appreciation for conscious, beautiful-love-inspired diversity.” 
― T.F. Hodge

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
—Desmond Tutu

Monday, February 11, 2019

Forget the damn roads! This needs fixing now!

I realize that our new Governor has pledged to get the roads fixed. And the Lord knows that Michigan’s infrastructure is long overdue for some serious attention.

But at the moment, I’m concerned about people like Nathaniel Hatchett.

The Detroit News reports today that Hatchett, age 39, of Detroit, is unable to collect $500,000 from the State of Michigan. He’s unemployed, broke, and he needs that money.

Hatchett, as it turns out, spent 10 years in prison for a sexual assault he didn’t commit. He was arrested at age 17 in Sterling Heights, and spent 10 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him. Prosecutors dropped the charges in 2008 and he was released from the Michigan prison system.

As you may recall, many of us who advocate for prisoners were able to persuade state legislators to adopt the Michigan Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act which says that wrongly convicted people are to receive $50,000 for each year spent in prison.

That was easier said than done, however, as our former Attorney General did what he could to drag the state’s heels in order to keep these poor people from getting their money. Hatchett had to go to court for his dollars, and in December he won his petition. Michigan Court of Claims Judge Colleen O'Brien ordered the state to pay him the full $500,000 by Jan. 16. 

But he’s still not getting his money!

Michigan Department of Treasury spokesman Ron Leix is quoted in the Detroit News as saying that the exoneration fund contains about $1.6 million — or $400,000 less than the $2 million it owes just one wrongfully convicted murderer, Richard Phillips. Phillips spent 46 years in prison before his case was overturned.

So, Hatchett is still on hold.

It’s like a sign I saw in a little tavern where I stopped for a beer years ago. THOSE WHO CANNOT PAY FOR THEIR BEER ARE ASKED TO CONTACT OUR CREDIT MANAGER, HELEN WAITE.

Sounds to us like Hatchett has been told to go to the same person! 

Tiffany Brown, spokeswoman for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, when contacted by the News, said: "At this time, we are not commenting on specific items in the budget until the Governor releases her executive budget in March.” 

Sorry, not acceptable. State legislators, you made the law. Now live up to your agreement.

The roads can wait.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Needless spending/shameful treatment: that's Michigan!

Where are the voices of budget-minded Michigan legislators when it comes to corrections?

The State of Michigan Corrections budget has been $2.2 billion annually for years, even though the state boasts that the population keeps going down.

One of the simple reasons for the high cost is that we refuse to let go of parolable lifers. More than a thousand of these men and women deserve to be released, they no longer pose a threat to society, and the cost of keeping them is astronomical!

While the prison system says the cost of housing a prisoner for a year is around $36,000, that figure isn’t very realistic because many of these people have serious health issues.

I want to give our writer/reporter from behind bars, Ricardo Ferrell, credit for his assistance with this story. It’s one thing to talk about dollars, but it’s not fair to do so without talking about people. Ricardo has provided a few names, and I’m adding one of my own.  I stress that these are not the only people deserving of parole. We give their names strictly as examples.

Ricardo, himself, has served 37 years, and his medical needs are considerable. He’s 61.

Then there’s Charles Ross, age 75, who has served 44 years; Darnell Bolden, 66, who has served 44 years; Raymond Richardson, age 50, has served 35 years (he was 15 when he came to prison!); and finally, I want to mention my friend Herbert Collins, who is now 77, and has served 50 years and who struggles with serious health issues.

Ricardo and I estimate it has already cost the state well over 10-million dollars on these five guys! And there are a thousand more names!

Now here are a couple things that just annoy the dickens out of me. By the state’s own assessment mechanism, Ricardo, Charles, Darnell and Raymond are considered low risk! Then why the holdup? Why the delay?

The second issue is this: admission of guilt. I was at the side of Herb Collins when he met with a member of the Parole Board. I did so AT THE REQUEST OF THE WARDEN, WHO INSISTED THE MAN SHOULD BE RELEASED! But no soap. The problem? Herb cannot remember the details of the crime because he was in an alcoholic blackout when it was committed. He doesn’t contest the details, he even pled guilty…he just can’t remember. Because he refused to lie and say he remembered all the details of that crime, the Parole Board member wouldn’t let him continue. She was tired of it…wanted to hear no more. She sent him back where he came from.

That’s the stuff that’s gotta stop.

Holding prisoners who have been eligible for parole for decades, especially those who are elderly, makes absolutely no sense.

Michigan spends 20% of its general fund in corrections…1 in every 5 dollars. "If this sort of wasteful spending doesn't shock the conscience of ordinary people, then what will?" asks Ricardo.