Showing posts from November, 2019

Blessed Thanksgiving to you. And that's no baloney!

Maurice Carter once joked with me about Thanksgiving behind bars. “Take a look at our Thanksgiving Day menu,” he said. The public saw a prison menu boasting a turkey dinner for inmates. In actuality, the main meat of the day turned out to be turkey bologna! Prisoners have a difficult time on holidays such as this. What’s to be thankful for? I can tell you this: In 2019, many prisoners---hundreds, perhaps thousands---are thankful for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. I make this claim, not in a boasting manner at all, but in deep humility, because I’m thankful that we can be there for them! They’re thankful that, even though we may not have had complete success, someone was there to try to help them get appropriate health care . You and I can “doctor shop,” or even run to a med center if necessary. The options behind bars are very limited. They’re thankful that we could help them track down a missing family member . They’re thankful that someone will assist them in seeking important

If Amazon can do it, so can the MDOC!

For this octogenarian, born and raised in a computer-less generation, technical advances are just incomprehensible. My mind can’t begin to understand it. I saw some video clips from an Amazon warehouse recently, explaining how same-day and next-day delivery services are implemented for catalog customers all over the nation. I still remember the day that a Calvin College official took me into a large, temperature and humidity-controlled room back in the 70s, to show off that institution’s new state-of-the-art computer system. The room was filled with giant pieces of electronic equipment, many of them with what appeared to be tape recorders herking and jerking, clicking and popping. Now I’m told that the computer in my cell phone can do more than that room full of stuff! All this leads me to a discussion of an area that concerns many families. The Michigan Department of Corrections spends $30-million a year to transfer inmates from one facility to another. There are man

"If I do not speak out and resist, I am an accomplice." Sister Helen Prejean

An overnight vigil was held this week in Washington DC. Protesters are urging the US Supreme Court to stop a Texas execution. 51-year-old Rodney Reed is scheduled to be executed on November 20. He’s been on death row for more than 20 years. Reed and many of his supporters claim he is innocent. Reading this stuff brings back one of the darkest chapters of my life. I went to Texas, and I witnessed an execution. In September, 2006, I received a letter from my friend Charles Anthony Nealy, a 42-year-old black man on death row. He asked if I would be his “spiritual adviser” at the time of his execution. How does one respond to a request like that? “No, I really don’t feel like it?” “I’m not qualified, go find someone else? Marcia and I flew to Texas in March, 2007. I cannot begin to describe the ugly memories--- The indifference and “business as usual” attitude on death row The braying bloodhounds in kennels just outside the prison The refusal to allow contact visi

Prison: Bumpy road for gay and transgender inmates

A front-page Associated Press story caught my eye this week. Only 21 states have their own laws prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. I think about the difficult road for gay and transgender persons a lot these days. I knew very little about this kind of thing when I was a child. Back in the 40s and 50s we gave gay people terrible labels, and it was not uncommon for bullies to beat up gays just because they were different. I was silent and did nothing about it. That has changed. I’m in the sunset years of my life now, and in my third career I’m closely aligned with prisoners. Just as in the outside world, there are sexual identity issues in prison. And it’s not a pretty sight. I can tell you this about gay people in prison . Many gay inmates, even those who may have been openly gay while on the street, stay in the closet while behind bars. That’s because any man or woman in prison who is known or perceived to be gay faces a

On quietly doing the work of the deacons

The work of the deacons seldom attracts attention. The work of the pastor and the elders are often the main focus in a church. After all, what can be more important than the preaching and the teaching? And so, when the Executive Director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (my denomination) decides to comment on Hebrews 13:3, his article in the denominational magazine focuses on a program conducted by Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary in one of the Ionia Prisons offering undergraduate courses to inmates. He draws attention to the wonderful work of our friends at Crossroads Prison Ministries . He praises a worship team that goes into one of the Muskegon prisons to lead services each month. The agencies and the people mentioned deserve that spotlight. But once again, the work of the deaconate didn’t draw any attention. I’m not a theologian, and I know better than to pretend that I’m knowledgeable on these matters. But Calvin Seminary prof