Showing posts from March, 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

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 compa

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

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

Parole Board, you done stomped on my heart!

Let my heart be broken by the things that break God’s heart .   Prayer by Bob Pierce, often quoted by HFP’s physician/consultant. I’ve written time and again about changes in Michigan’s parole system that we feel would be beneficial. It has been our position for years that Parole Board reform is long overdue. But if we’re not careful, we wind up talking about practices, procedures and decisions, and we forget all about the human factor. It’s like when we talk about mass incarceration. We toss around numbers and statistics, and forget that these are real people! There’s a face attached to every one of those numbers. My friend Fred had a delicious sense of humor. He delighted in reviewing country and western songs, chuckling about the lyrics, and referring to unusual titles. The one that especially hit his funny bone was this one, as recorded by John Denver in 1977:   You Done Stomped on my Heart and You Mashed that Sucker Flat! I often think of that title when we rec

No bad guys? Really?

I have a bad habit. I tend to refer to some of my favorite people as “good guys.” When introducing my son Matt, for example, I love to point out that “he’s one of the good guys!” And he is. My point, however, is that my statement gives the implication that the opposite also exists. If there are good guys, there must be bad guys. And that’s just not accurate. Often when I speak at church or civic groups, someone will be quietly thinking that I’m one of those bleeding-heart liberals who want to free all criminals. So, they ask, “But don’t you agree that there are some really bad people?” We constantly encounter negative terms for prisoners: animals, predators, savages, beasts, the “worst of the worst.” Father Greg Boyle, who works with gang members, tackles negative descriptions like these head-on. He says we stand with   those people until their behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than