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All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Proud to be part of the "irate, tireless minority!”


Samuel Adams, American statesman, one of our founding fathers, once said:

"It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brush-fires of freedom in the minds of men."

A very nice person who likes what I write recently suggested that I write an op-ed for one of the major newspapers. I sincerely appreciated the compliment and the suggestion, but I opted not to pursue that challenge for two reasons. One, I’m not all that enamored by my own writing; and two, I’m not all that convinced that my ranting and raving makes any difference.

BUT, having said that, on this Fourth of July weekend, I’m grateful for the freedom to write. I am proud to claim membership in Samuel Adams’ “irate, tireless minority,” and for that reason, I’ll keep right on setting brush-fires.

You’ve heard it in the past, and I guaran-dam-tee-it you’ll hear it in the future.

-I’m going to keep on bitterly complaining about the inhumane and widespread use of solitary confinement.

-I’ll never let up on the shameless way we feed Michigan prisoners, on two-dollars a day.

-I’ve been griping forever about the terrible medical care that our inmates receive, and that will never change until there is improvement.

-Mental illness is a problem that won’t go away, and we cannot keep ignoring it.

-Defendants, especially those who are indigent and/or of color, continue to be over-charged and over-sentenced in our system of injustice.

-Until we deal with mandatory minimums our prison population will remain inflated.

-Until that day our governor grasps the importance of clemency, and her power to use it, our cells will be occupied by many who deserve freedom.

-Ignoring the ailing and the elderly is not only inhumane, it is immoral.

-It never ceases to amaze me how politicians of both parties ignore the plight of the incarcerated. Our of sight, out of mind.

The list of prisoner "brush-fires" is endless, limitless.

And we’re not talking about numbers or statistics, here. We’ll talking about moms and dads, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers.

So, on Independence Day, 2020, this old man continues to warn that things ain’t gonna just get better on their own. It’s up to all of us.

…whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
James 4:17


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Roll out the gurneys. The feds are starting executions again!


You gotta hand it to the Catholic Church.

Led by fearless fighters like Sister Helen Prejean, the church has adopted this position:

The Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is "inadmissible" in all cases because it is an "attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person." (CCC 2267)

Meanwhile, so-called evangelical Christians on the Protestant side can’t seem to get their act together on the important issue of capital punishment. We love to talk about being “pro-life,” but that seems to focus a lot more on the beginning, rather than the end, of life.

My own denomination, The Christian Reformed Church of North America, whose doctrines I believe and support, continues to waffle on the subject of the death penalty.

Now, federal executions are about to get started again. What a shame!

As if there aren’t enough nasty things claiming lives.

-According to the Center for Disease Control, the coronavirus death toll in the United States could hit 150,00 by the end of next month!
-So far this year, there have been 170 mass shootings in our country, resulting in more than 160 deaths!
-Drug overdoses are killing people by the thousands! More than 750,000 Americans died from drug overdoses from 1999 to 2018!

Still, with everything our country is going through, our nation’s leaders seem hell-bent on taking more lives. The government is attempting to restart the practice of executions for the first time in 17 years. On June 15, the U.S. Department of Justice scheduled three federal executions to take place over a five-day span beginning July 13. A fourth execution is scheduled for the end of August. The legality of the federal government's execution protocol is still being contested.

A movement within the Catholic Church is calling on all of us to “proclaim on the housetops the dignity of all human life, no matter the harm one has caused or suffered.” Catholic Mobilizing Network is joining with other faith traditions across the country in urging a stop to federal executions. And you can take part.

CMN asks us to go to their web site and sign this joint statement:

"As faith leaders from a diverse range of traditions, we call on President Trump and Attorney General Barr to stop the scheduled federal executions. As our country grapples with the COVID 19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions."

I’ve signed it. I’m asking you to sign it.

As the Catholics say,

We cannot build a culture of life with a federal government that puts people to death.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Let us pray


We have such an incredible team!

We not only have a committed staff, but we also have a dedicated board, a fine group of volunteers, and an impressive battery of professionals who are willing to assist prisoners in so many wonderful ways.

And yet, we can’t solve all problems. We can’t meet all needs.

When this was a one-man operation, I quickly learned that I couldn’t do the heavy lifting alone. Back then, I would hear of a difficult situation once in a while.

Today, it’s different. When I compare notes with our team and hear stories like those of Al, Ken, Carl and Jim, I’m thankful that I can do more than just wish these guys the best of luck over a four-leaf clover.

Al, 34, doesn’t call his mother much. She has a drinking problem, exacerbated by worry for her son. He’s dying of brain cancer, and she’s all he has. So, he’ll call again. He won’t be around much longer. He’ll die alone in the prison hospital.

Ken, 72, may be an old man, but he sounds like a second grader, because of severe mental illness. The system has failed him all his life. He received a life sentence instead of institutionalization for his mental challenges. Now, he tested positive for Covid 19. He could try to get out, I suppose, but his sister won’t talk to him.

Carl, 62, is broken-hearted. He just learned that his son died of Covid 19 complications. This, after surviving the same disease while serving time in the Michigan prison system. On top of that, Carl has now suffered a stroke. He’s not thinking clearly.

Jim, 58, finally caught a parole after serving nearly 40 years. He was excited to meet a new friend upon his release. He learned, too late, that this person was, instead, a trouble-maker. He now faces a list of false charges, and if this doesn’t get straightened out, he’ll go right back where he came from. And guess how difficult it will be to ever get out again!

Clumsy may be my pleas, but I must seek God’s help when faced with a flood of stories like these. I don’t have the right words for these guys, let alone answers for their problems 

Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.
Max Lucado

If you are a person who prays, I invite you to remember the thousands of prisoners and former prisoners facing problems like these or worse, as well as the compassionate advocates who spend hours each day holding the hands of these precious people.

Groanings which cannot be uttered are often prayers which cannot be refused.
— Spurgeon



Saturday, June 20, 2020

To dads behind bars: You’re OK!


I love Father Greg Boyle’s stories.

One of the reasons his anecdotes touch my heart is because his work with gang members parallels the work that we do with prisoners, in so many ways.

I know this: His love for gang members is comparable to my love for people behind bars.

Fr. Boyle tells of the day he was asked to give a keynote address to a large audience. He brought along two reformed “homies,” as he calls them, to briefly tell their stories before he gave his speech.

In the Q and A session following their presentation, a woman in the audience said she had a question for one of the boys. He nervously approached the microphone.

“You say you’re a father,” the woman began, “and your son and daughter are starting to reach their teenage years. What wisdom do you impart to them?” She recalibrates. “I mean, what advice do you give them?”

There stood the young former gang member and trouble-maker, trying to formulate an answer. With eyes closed, he clutched the microphone. Finally, sobbing, he blurted: “I just don’t want my kids to turn out like me!”

The audience was silent, and not one of us made a move to fill it. The woman stood up again. Now it was her turn to cry as she pointed at Mario, her voice steely and certain, even through her tears. “Why wouldn’t you want your kids to turn out to be like you?” she said. “You are gentle, you are kind, you are loving, you are wise.” She steadied herself, planted herself firmly. “I hope your kids turn out to be like you.”  There was not much of a pause before all one thousand attendees stood and began to clap. The ovation seemed to have no end.

Now it’s my turn to convey a similar message to many fathers and grandfathers in prison.

I know that parents behind bars express similar sentiments: They pray that their kids won’t turn out like them. And that’s the wrong prayer.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: “Some of the nicest people I know are in prison; some of my best friends are in prison!”

I am daily impressed by their incredible stamina, amazing fortitude, honesty beyond bounds, undying loyalty, genuine spirituality, exemplary care and compassion for others, and a love for spouse and family that knows no bounds.

And so, my dad-friends behind bars, it’s OK to pray that your kids don’t stray.

But, I’d be honored to hope that my kids boast the attributes that I see in you!

"Becoming a dad is one thing - being a dad is many things."
Steve Chapman



Thursday, June 18, 2020

Lives of the mentally ill matter, too!


One of our prisoner correspondents has chosen to focus on inmate stories that could and should have been handled differently.

Readers of this column know that we have repeatedly and strongly advocated for the mentally ill, especially those who live here in Michigan where our care is so inadequate. Well, here’s the story of Mr. Brown (his real name), and how our system in the State of Michigan failed him every step of the way. Mr. Brown is 72 now, although he sounds like a child. His peers say he cannot function properly, and insist that he needs help.

1978

Three guys arrested in Detroit when a person is killed. Mr. Brown’s two co-defendants take advantage of his mental illness, and place the blame on him. Following short prison terms, they are free.

1979

Though seriously mentally ill, Mr. Brown receives a life sentence in prison, rather than assignment to a mental institution.

Over the years in prison

Mr. Brown’s health deteriorates: bronchitis, asthma, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

2020

Mr. Brown contracts Covid 19. “There is no way he could make it through a second wave of infection.”

Our correspondent Jamie Meade, who represents the National Lifers Association chapter in his facility, is begging for help for the man: “Mr. Brown can safely be released to a senior living facility. His age and mental illness require continuous care. It is a social injustice to keep him in prison another day. If Mr. Brown does not receive help he will die in prison.”

Here we have an elderly African American man, severely mentally ill, who has spent the past 43 years behind bars. Now he’s physically ill, eligible for parole but obviously having trouble catching a parole, and no place to go if he does get out. What a sad, sad story!

The system has failed him from top to bottom, from beginning to end, from start to finish.

Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?

Oh, yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

I’m convinced that Jesus cares.

Do we?






Monday, June 15, 2020

That little light of yours, YOU gotta let it shine!


Scene 1, 1957

As a newly hired radio newsman in Holland, I was appalled to learn that the City Council met in secret session, over dinner, prior to each scheduled public meeting. The regular sessions were aired live on local radio, and council members didn’t want the public to see and hear any argument and/or disagreement. Those were the days before open meetings became law. The city picked up the dinner tab.

To protest this shameful practice, I would obtain the dinner total the next morning, then report to my listeners: “Your city council met in secret last night to prepare its official meeting for tonight’s broadcast. It cost you $xxx.xx!

My little protest, along with those of many other responsible journalists, eventually resulted in open meeting legislation that prohibits that kind of practice these days.

Scene 2, 1976

I considered it a violation of journalism ethics when the Grand Haven Tribune repeatedly published the name of a black truck driver jailed in our town for the alleged rape of a white woman in a truck stop. As it turns out, the driver was the victim. The woman was charged with filing a false report. My editorial was selected by judges at the State Bar of Michigan over all entries from all media, for their Advancement of Justice Award.

Scene 3, 2004

When Governor Jennifer Granholm took her sweet time responding to our appeals for a compassionate release for my ailing prisoner friend Maurice Carter, I chose to take another step. We placed a large billboard truck directly across the street from the Governor’s office window. The message: Show Compassion. Commute the Sentence of Carter. On the billboard was a photo of Maurice looking at her.

Scene 4, 2008

As the founder of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, my cousin, who admitted to being a “computer nerd,” persuaded me to start a blog site. “People will read your messages,” he assured me. So, we started verbal protests in the form of blog entries, a practice that continues to this day, reviewed by a couple thousand readers each month.

Am I trying to picture myself as a hero? Those who know me know better than that. I’m simply using these examples to insist that, no matter who you are, no matter your role in life, you must protest when you see wrong.

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
               -Robert F. Kennedy




Thursday, June 11, 2020

Must we always take sides? Sheesh!


“There is no 'them' and 'us.' There is only us!”
Father Greg Boyle

Father Boyle might as well be barking to the choir, because I swear not a soul is listening! Not one!

The current police controversy is a perfect example. Because many of us have taken stands that black lives matter, following the George Floyd murder, it must mean that we hate cops…especially white ones. We have no more use for cops, want to abolish their departments, and want to spend that money on other things. Don’t ask me how you reach that conclusion, because it defies reason. That, in turn, prompts a pro-cop faction…police unions, families of officers, all of them as equally outspoken in their positions.

Since the Floyd incident, we’ve been exposed to many more reports of people of color being abused by the police. Somehow, that degenerates to taking sides. You must choose a position. You may not live on both sides of the street.

That damn divisiveness starts at the very top, and it’s getting worse. All Republicans are good, all Democrats are bad, or vice versa. All Republicans are conservative. All Democrats are socialists. All gun carriers support the NRA. Liberals have no use for the Second Amendment. All Christians are right-wingers. All right-wingers are evangelical Christians. Middle-of-the-road and compromise are rapidly losing ground. Reason and calm discussion are getting thrown by the wayside.

In this prison advocacy business, we’ve been dealing with that for years.

I hear family members of prisoners cursing every prison guard. Corrections Officers are no good! Evil. Rotten. We know better than that.

Those of us fighting for humane and fair treatment of prisoners are considered the enemy by many victims, many victims’ rights groups, and many prosecutors. Then again, many of our friends in prisoner advocacy think that all prosecutors and judges are evil. Victims’ rights groups are cruel and uncaring.

Gads!

Let us pray that the Spirit of God whom Fr. Boyle preaches and whom I serve might descend on us with a blanket of reason, whereby

-we deplore abusive activity by law enforcement, and seek positive police reform;
-we put color aside, and see all humans as one race;
-our political leaders find respect for opposing opinions, and seek common ground;
-evil prison guards are overshadowed by kind, hard-working and caring officers;
-victims of crime recognize that many prisoners are victims, too;
-advocates for prisoners feel the pain and heartache of crime victims;
etc.
etc.
etc.

The ball is in our court. May change begin with us.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

William couldn’t breathe, either. His life mattered, too!


Jamie Meade, one of our fine correspondents behind bars, was reflecting on a news clip of last weekend. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was marching with protesters. All of this, of course, was in response to the murder of George Floyd, a black man who died under the knee of a white cop, all the while protesting, “I can’t breathe.” Those words, said Jamie, were heard around the globe and sparked international protests for reform.

While viewing that march on TV in his Macomb Correctional Facility cell, his thoughts led to a friend right there who claimed he couldn’t breathe. William Garrison had caught the virus while in prison this spring. A couple months back William’s cell mate reported to three Corrections Officers that the man was sick and “could not breathe.”

The Department states that officers rushed in, tried life saving measures, and failed. His bunkie tells a different story…that he was gasping for air, calling out for help, and staff was slow to respond. He died in April. Just 60 years old. Just one month before his scheduled release.

A juvenile lifer able to get resentenced under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, William was ready to begin a new life after spending 44 years behind bars.

Says Jamie: “3 prison staff stood by, failing to help him. William could not breathe. The Michigan Department of Corrections is under the 'Executive Branch' of the government. Isn't William Garrison's death a social injustice?”

Indeed. I would add this: The William Garrison story isn’t unusual.

While we’re seeing and hearing more about police impropriety these days, much of this exposure is happening because of cell phone cameras and body cams. Similar improper activity is going on in our county, state and federal detention facilities, as well, but we don’t hear much about it. No cell phone cameras. No body cams.

ABC news did a major story about Mr. Garrison’s death. The report incorrectly stated that “when the first presumptive cases of COVID-19 were announced in Michigan in early March, corrections officials began scrambling to reduce the state prison population, anticipating that social distancing would be tough to accomplish in packed prison cellblocks.”

Wrong!

The population has been reduced. That big announcement was just made today. Much of this occurred thanks to hard work by the Parole Board, and stopping the intake from county prisons.

The Governor has done nothing. She needs to do more than walk with protesters. Many more Michigan prisoners can and should be released.

It’s not too late.


Saturday, June 6, 2020

My friends are being ignored. But, they’re used to it!


Once again my friends behind bars in Michigan are being ignored. And while they’re saying, “What else is new,” I’m saying this is unacceptable.

It’s no surprise that citizens behind bars aren’t being noticed these days.

In no way will I minimize the impact of the George Floyd death beneath the knee of a cop.

In no way will I say one unkind word toward tens of thousands of peaceful protesters who are involved in what may be the strongest statement for civil rights in our lifetime.

In no way will I take the spotlight off the multitude of first responders and medical personnel who are struggling to stay ahead of a raging pandemic in our nation.

In no way will I join those criticizing our Governor for her firm action to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Michigan.

BUT, I’m pissed that with all of this going on, nothing extra is happening to reduce the population of Michigan’s prisons. We’re overcrowded, and the sting of the virus will be much less if we let out deserving people. Yes, the Parole Board is working hard to release eligible inmates. But so much more can and should be done!

Said Nolan Finley in the Detroit News:

Other states have moved more aggressively to thin their prison populations to slow the spread of the virus. Governors in California, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and elsewhere have used their commutation powers and ordered early releases of prisoners nearing the end of their sentences, Michigan has taken much smaller steps.

A team of U of M researchers found, for example, that inmates over age 55, even those who have been convicted of murder, present an extremely low risk of committing another crime. Among older homicide convicts who have been released, 99 percent will not repeat their offense. Their conclusion: “We’re keeping 99 people in prison who will never commit another violent crime to stop one who might.”

And that's just one segment. Many others, described in past columns, are worthy of consideration for release.

We’ve been hammering on this since the coronavirus scare began. Though faced with many major problems, our Governor is overdue in finally getting involved here. It’s past time for our state legislature to take a look at the plight of prisoners. And, I know it’s wishful thinking, but our media just might take a moment to peek behind the major headlines.

My friends behind bars in Michigan are being ignored!

They’re not complaining. I am.

They’re used to it.




Monday, June 1, 2020

We are to blame!


Yep, we wanna blame that SOB white cop for keeping his knee on George Floyd’s neck. That’s why we’re having all these damned uprisings all around the world.

Oh, really?

It’s like, a couple thousand years ago, blaming Judas Iscariot for Jesus’ death. Or Pontius Pilot. Or those Roman soldiers who beat him or who pounded the nails.

Nay. Hymn writer Horatius Bonar got it right way back in the 1800s:

’Twas I that shed the sacred blood,
I nailed him to the tree,
I crucified the Christ of God,
I joined the mockery.

True, Mr. Floyd’s death was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

But, for my fellow white friends, please review these shameful facts that our black brothers and sisters face:

-About 1 in 1,000 black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of police.

-A black male in the United States today has greater than a 1 in 4 chance of going to prison during his lifetime.

-African Americans are locked up at more than 5 times the rate of whites.

-The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women.

I’m blessed to have many friends in Christian ministry. Most of these pastors are white, with typical American family history. But one Christian leader is black, and you might find this a little more difficult to identify with. His son was murdered, his father was murdered, his grandfather was murdered, and his great grandfather was lynched! When he gets stopped for speeding, he is ordered to get out of the car and place his hands on the roof of the vehicle. When he and a wealthy friend go fishing, a fine boat occupied by two black men invariably gets stopped. Just a routine check, of course.

We may not be old enough to remember lynchings, but some of us can still remember the shameful episode in 1944 when a little black boy was given the electric chair for the alleged murder of two little white girls. He later was proven innocent, but that didn’t bring back his life.

No, dear readers, the blame goes far beyond rogue white cops. It includes white prosecutors and judges, but goes even further.

It is time for us to lament. To confess. And then to be voices and examples for change.

We are to blame.






Saturday, May 23, 2020

WWJD?


Melissa Cedillo has a word of advice for prison ministries: It’s time to get your hands out of your pockets!

The graduate student at Harvard Divinity admits, in a recent Sojourners Magazine article, that at one time she considered becoming a prison chaplain. Then, she says, the more she discovered how our prison system exploits incarcerated people, their families, and their communities, she changed her mind.

Just going into prisons and teaching Bible lessons doesn’t cut it, according to Melissa. If prison ministries do this “without addressing root causes, (it) merely allow the prison system to continue practices and policies that strip away the dignity of those experiencing incarceration. This is not something I believe is pleasing to Christ.”

Whoa!

Commenting on the fact that black Americans, who only account for 13% of the total population, make up 40% of our incarcerated population (it’s no different in Michigan), she accuses the American prison system of having a white supremacist goal---"to control and dehumanize people of color, the impoverished, the marginalized.” Because of this, she goes on to say, “any form of prison or mail ministry rooted in Christian values must also address the injustice of mass incarceration.” This can be done, says the author, “by advocating for early release, working to dismantle unjust systems of power, and pushing for a rehabilitative, not punitive, justice system.”

Commenting on the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on prisoners and their loved ones, Melissa says: “I believe Christ would be using this moment as a chance to move the world from visitation to decarceration, a world in which prison ministry centers around advocating for early release and an end to the use of incarceration as a solution for societal ills such as poverty, addiction, and lack of education.”

After letting this article stew in my mind for a few days, I’m convinced that now is the time for all prison ministries, from local to national, to take a bold, new stand and dare to get involved. Prison ministries have clout. Prison ministries can bring about change. I agree with Melissa: Just continuing what's been done in the past isn’t enough.

Concludes the author:

As I continue my theological studies, I am always asked to take more seriously what mercy looks like. I have been taught that theology, when done right, must translate teachings into actions. It must ask the faithful, what more can I do now?


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Willie aint’ goin’ home! Neither is Nancy. Neither is Mark. Neither is Andre’. Neither is Troy. Neither is Tracy…


From news sources this week:

MLive:

A former United Auto Workers vice president and Flint union boss has been released from a federal prison’s minimum security satellite camp and is expected to finish his sentence through home confinement, part of the federal government’s efforts to expedite the release of eligible inmates during the COVID-19 emergency. Federal inmate records show the transfer occurred this week, putting Norwood Jewell, 62, in the custody of a Residential Reentry Management field office in Detroit, which is expected to transition him from a halfway house to home confinement.

Politico:

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — who was serving a 7½-year sentence on charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller — was released to home confinement Wednesday due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in federal prisons, a lawyer said.

Need I even say any more?

Fredric Neuman, MD:

Someone wrote a book—and then a musical—about how to succeed in business without really trying. It was a prescription for what an ambitious person without skills, talent, or brains needs to do to succeed. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time and saying the right things to the right people. It was amusing because it alluded to certain aspects of business that we all recognize. People sometimes fail their way up the corporate ladder. Others “rise to their level of incompetence.” It is said—usually by someone who is not progressing quickly in a career---that “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

In 2007, I sat on Texas death row with my friend Anthony Nealy. He was amazingly upbeat when one considers that he was about to be executed for a crime he claims he did not commit. I naively asked about his companions on death row, being a newcomer to this scene…wondering how the wealthy, white guys were faring. “Doug,” Anthony patiently explained, “there are no rich, white guys on death row.” Duh.

As an old-time journalist, I’m still a news junkie, so I’m still reading newspapers and scanning news channels. I do that when I’m not at my desk, with the other team-members at HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. The reports in the media break my heart, as we review hundreds of incoming messages from prisoners dealing with Covid 19.

There’s nothing fair about this.

Some of the rich folks behind bars may be going home, but I’ll be quick to point out that the poor folks in prison are NOT going home. Many are past due, many are eligible, some are sick, some are dying, and many deserve it.

It’s not happening.

It is one thing to be awakened to injustice, and quite another to be willing to be inconvenienced and interrupted to do something about it.
Christine Caine


           

Monday, May 11, 2020

Putting a face to a name, a name to a number, a number to a story


We are sad to report the death of a prisoner who tested positive for COVID-19. The prisoner had originally been housed at Lakeland Correctional Facility. There have now been 50 prisoners in MDOC custody to pass away from this virus.

That was the Sunday report from the Michigan Department of Corrections. Today, four more deaths were added to the list.

He’s a former police officer who made one mistake in 1986. He spent the next 44 years behind bars.For the record, the prisoner’s name, in that Sunday dispatch, was Vernard Washington.

Never mind that he had
            -heart problems (quadruple bypass, pacemaker)
            -colon problems (colon mistakenly nicked during surgery)
            -prostate problems
            -swollen legs (needed a walker for mobility).

Vernard Washington
This 73-year-old black man belonged in prison, and that’s where he was going to stay! That, according to the Michigan Parole Board in 2018, after granting Mr. Washington a Public Hearing. Assistant Attorney General Scott Rothermel, who seems to feel that no one should ever get out of prison, kept poking holes in his story about the crime. His recollection of the event, 40 years ago, wasn’t all that clear any more. (Duh!) Based on the fact that his description of the crime wasn’t accurate, and what was deemed a “lack of candor,” the Parole Board decided to keep this dangerous man in prison. 

My good friend Rev. Rodney Gulley, pastor of New Covenant Community Baptist Church of Benton Harbor, (we go back to Maurice Carter days!) alerted me to the plight of Mr. Washington in 2017. We supported his release, and Pastor Gulley, who serves on our Board of Directors, actually attended the Public Hearing.

I realize this story sounds like a broken phonograph record. I have been repeating similar tales for years, trying to answer the question that Pastor Gulley posed this week: “Why does the state keep poor old sick people in prison? It makes no sense!”

Why, indeed!

Point one, the recidivism rate for old duffers like this is virtually nil. Point two, the cost of caring for them is astronomical. Point three, reducing the population will improve social distancing efforts. Point four, these poor people are among the highest-risk inmates now during the coronavirus pandemic. The Lakeland Correctional Facility is sometimes referred to as the prison’s nursing home, so the virus deaths are exceptionally high there.

The State of Michigan---more specifically Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been dragging her heels on this whole matter of releasing prisoners, siding, instead with state prosecutors and victims advocates. It’s a ticking time bomb. Hundreds of prisoners could and should be released ASAP!

The Detroit Free Press says we have already recorded more prison coronavirus deaths than any other state.

If you think it’s bad now, just wait.

We ain't seen nothin' yet!