Showing posts from October, 2019

I'm telling you: It CAN happen to you!

Our conversation centered on the plight of prisoners, as it often does. Marcia asked me, “Have you ever added up the number of people you know who were wrongly convicted?” I had not, but as I thought about it, names popped into my mind. I’ve been working on wrongful convictions since the mid-1990s, so there were certainly a few. Riiiiight. So far, I’m up to 11 here in Michigan, and 11 more from other states. 22 people, some of whom served decades, and some who died behind bars! God knows how many years they served, collectively, and the sad thing is that many of them were never exonerated. I never get tired of talking about this, even though you may be getting tired of reading my tirades. The reason I keep beating this old drum is because it can happen to you! Of the 11 people I know here in Michigan who were wrongly convicted, nine were white, middle-income folks, and none had any kind of police record. They were not criminals. As I look through the list, here’s why

Honoring a hero! Remembering a hero!

Our nation pays tribute to one of its black heroes today. Our office pays tribute to its black hero today. Here in the United States, citizens mourn the loss of Congressman Elijah Cummings, who died on October 17. The Washington Post relays this interesting information: Born to a family of Southern sharecroppers and Baptist preachers, Mr. Cummings grew up in the racially fractured Baltimore of the 1950s and 1960s. At 11, he helped integrate a local swimming pool while being attacked with bottles and rocks. Here in the HFP office, we’re remembering the loss of our hero, Maurice Carter, who died on October 25, 2004. Born and raised in poverty in Gary, Indiana, Maurice wandered into the Benton Harbor area in the 1970s to visit a friend and look for work. Instead, he caught a wrongful conviction that placed him in prison for 29 years. I learned of his case in the mid-1990s, and for the next decade he and I battled that injustice. And while we may not have attracted th

Second chances on Sunday. None on Monday!

When it comes to redemption, we love to hear Bible stories from the pulpit on Sunday morning. On Monday morning, however, we’re not so sure about true-life stories on TV. Reporter Ken Kolker refuses to let up on this story: The Michigan Parole Board has granted parole to 47-year-old Catherine Wood. Channel 8’s latest report once again quotes dire warnings by family members that this woman may kill again. Well, it’s time to take a deep breath. Catherine Wood has been in prison for 30 years for her alleged involvement in 5 nursing home deaths back in the 80s. News people call her the Nursing Home Killer. Parole for her didn’t come quickly. In fact, 8 times in a row the Parole Board turned her down, claiming she didn’t show remorse. Last year, however, following a Public Hearing, the board approved her release. That got delayed when the Attorney General’s Office protested. But last week Kent County Circuit Judge J. Joseph Rossi determined that the Parole Board did not

It was delightful...for a few minutes!

It was a wonderful evening! Against all odds! Renowned author and lecturer Alex Kotlowitz was in Grand Haven for a community event, sponsored by HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. He was to speak in a local school auditorium. The key word here is “was,” because that is not where the event ended up. Just one day earlier, the school system advised us that the auditorium had been double-booked. Sorry, we’d have to find another place. ONE DAY BEFORE OUR PROGRAM! So, we had to punt. But thankfully, we have a team including our staff, board members and committee members, that can roll with anything. And they did! A pre-program dinner and reception were planned to be held at St. Patrick’s Family Center in Grand Haven, so why not just keep people there, and hold the event in the same spot? It took a lot of scrambling, a lot of last-minute publicity, and a bit of finagling, but it all worked out. More than 100 people gathered in a beautiful, intimate setting to listen to and interact

AG Nessel, where are you?

For a while, there, I really believed we had a kinder, gentler State of Michigan. Memories of former Attorney General William Schuette and angry Parole Board members faded into the past. The occasion was a Public Hearing, conducted in Ionia by the Michigan Department of Corrections. Readers of this column know just how much criticism these public hearings have prompted from me in the past. Some members of the Parole Board have been cold and rude, some hearings have been poorly run, and there were times when the Assistant District Attorney was brutal. Today, it was a different story. Presiding Parole Board member Sonia Amos-Warchock, whose anger and brusque manner I’ve personally witnessed, was on her best behavior. She quietly and patiently explained what was happening to the prisoner. Not once did she raise her voice. Her kind manner set the tone for the entire hearing. Assistant Attorney General Scott Rothermel, whose sometimes raw prosecutorial-style questioning ha

YOUR story deserves applause!

I’m humbled by that applause. Johnny Carson To my delight, reruns of the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson are still available on cable TV. At the end of each performance, the producer inserts the above quote. I’m sure Johnny made it “tongue-in-cheek,” because performers thrive on applause. But here in the quiet of my office, I must admit: I am humbled by applause. I’m basking in the afterglow, after viewing another staged reading of the play JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER. It was presented over the weekend at the prestigious Atlanta Black Theatre Festival. This powerful stage presentation, capsulizing the story of my ten-year battle with Maurice Carter to seek his freedom, was written ten years ago by award-winning Toronto playwrights Donald Molnar and Alicia Payne. Several factors, not the least of which is my age, make it very difficult for me to leave home for any period of time. But, thanks to the love and generosity of HfP board member Judy VanderArk and her