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.