Showing posts from June, 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 t

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 evidenc

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 70

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 tha

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 speci

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