“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 right...space 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!