All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Something's gotta happen! Now!

The fuse is burning. I fear a pending explosion! We can’t wait any longer.

The plight of prisoners didn’t get ranked number one in the Governor’s set of priorities, and perhaps that was explainable. People are dying of the coronavirus. Hospitals are jammed. Doctors and nurses are frustrated with equipment shortages. The President and the Governor can’t get along, or don’t want to.

But the prison situation cannot be ignored any longer.

We’re talking about 38,000 people here, all caged in Michigan’s 30 prisons. 2,000 of these people are women, all in one facility in Ypsilanti.

We started repeating some of the stories, but they’re too common now. Too many of them sound the same. In these overcrowded facilities, social distancing is almost impossible. You have people standing in med lines, eating in chow halls, sleeping in crowded cubes. Prisoners tell us that MDOC reports about plenty of soap, sanitizer and toilet paper are not true. They’re constantly running out. There are sanitizer dispensers on the wall, but they are empty. Horror stories are coming into our office at a record pace.

The President of the Corrections Officers’ union is quoted in Bridge Magazine as worrying that the virus will run rampant in one of these prisons. It’s not a far-fetched worry. Bridge quotes Michigan State University infectious disease expert Peter Gulick with our worry: “This could be an explosion waiting to happen!”

While the Department of Corrections is going to have to get a handle on policies and products, Governor Whitmer can and must make work of reducing the population.

We have nearly a hundred people in our prisons over 80 years of age, for example. We have lifers who have been in there 40 years or more. We have people whose legitimate requests for a commutation of sentence have been stacked in dormant piles on the Governor’s desk. We have people who deserve pardons. We have people who will receive parole yet this year, who could be released early. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more could be released.

We’re not suggesting that this be handled in a reckless manner. Obviously, we can’t have infected people released into society. That would just compound the problem. The Governor and the Parole Board have too much on their plates right now. It’s time for a special panel or commission, a new system. No more words. It’s time for action!

One prisoner told us: “I have repeatedly heard Corrections Officers, the 'professionals' who are supposed to represent the State of Michigan, say that Covid19 is the perfect way to reduce the prison population and help the MDOC fix its budget!”

No, there's a better way.

Pray for prisoners. Pray for staff. Pray for the Department. Pray for the Governor. Pray for solutions. Pray for quick action.

Maybe if we hurry we can douse that fuse before the explosion occurs.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Together with them

“Now your work becomes essential. It was much needed before, but now essential.”

That statement was made to me by one of our business affiliates, and it was prior to Governor Whitmer’s announcement permitting only essential businesses to stay operating.

I’m going to be very upfront about this. I make no claims that our little team ranks among the nation’s top heroes in this crisis, the first responders, the doctors, the nurses, etc. BUT, as you know, there’s an exceptionally vulnerable group of citizens during this emergency, and they happen to reside behind bars. AND, there’s an exceptionally heroic staff of prisoner advocates who are doing their very best to hold their hands.

A retired Michigan prison warden insists that only 12% of these people receive visits.

That means that, in these days of uncertainty and fear about the coronavirus, more than 80% of Michigan’s 38,000 prisoners have no one to talk to, no friends or relatives to confide in, no one on the outside to give them answers. Well, almost no one.

When prison health crisis protocols were introduced, when prison visits were banned, guess where prisoners and their loved ones went for answers? Humanity for Prisoners, that’s where!

My daughter does peer counseling. Once a week there are several inmates in a small room, far over guidelines.

Guys in our facility are paying no attention to limits on day-room attendance. As soon as the doors opened, guys flocked into the rooms like a group of hungry seagulls on a rotten carp.

We have 8 and 16-man cubes! Social distancing?

There’s only one shower for every 25 prisoners and one sink and toilet for every 11 prisoners…severely overcrowded!

No ways to sanitize our phones after a person uses them.

No social distancing for women in our med line.

This facility is seating 200 prisoners in the chow hall at a time and they are seated less than a foot apart.

My husband is denied basic rights, like disinfectants and cleaning soaps.

My loved one is scared to death because he has a heart condition, plus COPD, diabetes and is an amputee.

We’re exceeding our budget on email stamps, postage stamps and telephone calls. No volunteers on duty. Only one or two in the office at a time. But, we’re on duty, 24/7! Up to 90 contacts a day! Prayers and financial support during this time are critical.

I was searching for new or different Bible verses to apply to our situation, but I can’t improve on our favorite in the book of Hebrews:

…remember those in prison as if you were there together with them.


Saturday, March 21, 2020

Civility. Think we'll ever get it back?

Rev. Al Hoksbergen and I were on the way to Grand Rapids for an important meeting. He and I served on a committee charged with making recommendations to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of North America regarding its position on capital punishment.

Al was driving. Handing me a Bible, he asked me to look up a certain passage which he intended to use in opening devotions. The scripture verse was First Peter 2:17: “ Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers…”

“There may be differing opinions on the death penalty,” the good pastor explained to me, “and emotions might get high. But, we must remain kind and respectful.”

I’m thinking of that today after watching the President’s press conference yesterday. During the Q and A session, NBC reporter Peter Alexander asked, “What do you say to Americans who are scared?"

President Trump replied: "I say that you are a terrible reporter. That's what I say."

I’m miffed by that for two reasons. Number one, I still try to abide by what my mentor, Al Hoksbergen, insisted on: civility. And number two, I’m an honest, legitimate journalist. So is Peter Alexander, by the way.

If I were a smart ass, and in that situation, I might like to respond with a quote from our third President, Thomas Jefferson: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Civility was something I demanded when I hosted a daily talk show on my own radio station decades ago. Listeners were welcome to call in, but they were not welcome to rough up my guest, regardless of any differences of opinion. If they didn’t cool it, I cut them off.

Civility has trickled down in the HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS office. It is only natural that prisoners get frustrated by inadequate or inappropriate medical care, by rude prison staff personnel, or just by the atmosphere of heartlessness. But, that is no excuse for rude behavior toward our team. We may come up with an answer the prisoner doesn’t appreciate. We may come up with NO answer, which can be even more frustrating. Still, we insist that our clients communicate in a civil manner, and we’ll try to do the same.

In this day and age, it appears that we cannot look to the top voices in government for good examples of civility. 

We can go to Holy Scripture. Says the writer of Proverbs: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

God knows I’m no hero when it comes to civility, but I’m praying for its return.

Quoting still another President: “Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.” Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, March 19, 2020

While prisoners fret, we bicker!

It reminds me of the second or third grade!

“My dad can beat up your dad.”

“Nyah-uh, my dad is bigger and stronger, and he can wallop your dad!”

I’m looking at comments from people for whom I’ve had a lot of respect.

“The Republicans are to blame for all of this.”

“Uh-uh, those Socialist Democrats are all losers…they caused this problem.”

“Thank God we have Trump in charge, instead of that loser Obama. He’s to blame!”

“Obama has more compassion in his little finger than Trump has in his big head.”

As I’m reading this, Matt and I are struggling to stay ahead of 60-70 email messages a day from frightened and nervous prisoners. There are 38,000 men and women, created in the image of God, living in Michigan’s 30 prisons, and they
           -cannot practice social distancing (not in crowded med lines and mess halls)
          -can’t take preventive sanitizing measures
          -may not have visitors
          -don’t have money to keep making phone calls and sending emails
          -worry a lot about their very welfare, and
          -hear all kinds of rumors.

Because family members and loved ones cannot be there for them, HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS staffers seem to be stepping in as surrogates. These people are craving more information, worry that they’re not getting appropriate health care, and struggle, wading through a maze of disinformation or misinformation. If nothing else, they just need someone to talk to.

If that virus goes on a rampage in our prison system, the devastation will be immeasurable.

Meanwhile, Matt and I are concerned about our own staff, our own volunteers, and yes, our own families.

As a member of one of the highest risk groups, I’m sitting here doing my best to hold the hands of inmates, and encourage the HFP team. And then I read this juvenile, partisan garbage in Facebook.

If that bickering and petty finger-pointing reflect your personal claims of patriotism, Christianity, and humanity, the coronvirus is not our only problem.

I'm hoping you'll join us in rising above all of that today, and, as you pray, remember especially our prisoners, their families and loved ones, and all who work with them and for them. 

We ARE all in this together.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Michigan’s steps for prisoners too few, too small!

While everyone has justifiably been worrying about their kids, their elderly parents, and yes, themselves, we’ve been worrying about prisoners. It’s no secret that during this national emergency, Governor’s offices, parole boards, corrections officials and state legislators are getting all kinds of advice, and all kinds of pressure, all over the country.

Michigan is no exception.

A number of prisoner advocacy agencies are collaborating on a list of important items that are not quite demands, but really can’t just be labelled suggestions. For this column, however, I only want to focus on family and friend relationships.

In times of a pandemic, the first thing that happens is a ban on prison visits. And while there’s no argument that this is absolutely necessary, there is also strong argument for continued contact with those persons closest to an inmate.

The Michigan Department of Corrections realizes this, and quickly made work to get some rates reduced. A statement from the department today indicated that their vendor for phone services, Global Tel Link Corporation, is offering two free, five-minute phone calls to prisoners each week. Call rates are 16 cents per minute. In addition, MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz was quoted as saying prisoners would also get a break with email service. JPay, which is the service available to Michigan prisoners, is offering two free stamps per week, covering the cost of two emails. Each email requires one stamp. The cost of those stamps is $5 for 20, $10 for 50, or $20 for 100.

Two free brief phone calls and two short email messages a week? Not good enough!

The Michigan State Appellate Defender Office and Criminal Defense Resource Center has asked the Governor and the State Legislature to go one step better: The following should be made available free of charge for those who remain incarcerated: telephone calls, video visits, email communication, materials for correspondence, and postage so that people can communicate with their loved ones during the State of Emergency.

We support that position.

Quoting the Marshall Project: Inmates, institutions and children benefit. Research shows visits help reduce prison misconduct and recidivism. Evidence also suggests that visits can positively affect a child's well-being and improve the chances that families will remain intact when a former inmate reenters the community.

Michigan is off to a slow start. Let’s make this happen for the incarcerated and their loved ones now!

“Families are the compass that guides us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.”
 Brad Henry

Friday, March 13, 2020

Does all this anger make you angry?

For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my 83 years, I’ve never seen so much anger. The President of the United States thinks it’s cool to say, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” His supporters, then, think it’s cool to shout, “Lock her up.” For those who dislike the President and despise his supporters, it’s now OK to mouth strong words of hatred and opposition. All of this trickles down. Unparalleled road rage. Even at the level of childhood, kids hear this and feel encouraged to bully others.

I’m thinking of all this anger today as I try to respond to a young man in prison. Daniel is only 26 years of age, but he’s an angry, bitter human being. Granted he committed a terrible crime, and the families and friends of the victims will never be the same.

Now, his demons don’t stop pestering him. Well, this state has crushed me mercilessly for 9 years. My attorney has now abandoned me, and I see a long hopeless road before me. I have existence problems. My only option now is to soon do a media interview. You were a reporter, so you know hate and negativity sell "honest" news. So, how would I interview? Do I manufacture negativity, or defend myself? I stand a better chance of having my sentence reduced by being mean, instead of being who I truly am at heart.

My first job was and is to correct the record. Hate and negativity do not “sell” news. Granted, it’s in the news. That’s because right now the world is full of it. But I was a reporter, a darn good one, and my goal was to get above the gory and the bloody, the mean and the bitter. I read excellent work by competent journalists every day that is not focused on hate and negativity.

A huge task will be to convince Daniel that his life and outlook can still change. Being mean will get him nowhere. It took my friend Maurice Carter many years to see that. The old way, the old attitudes, weren't working. I related to Daniel how Rubin Hurricane Carter told me about his rage over being wrongly convicted. He said that he looked in an old, cracked, piece of a mirror in prison one day and saw a face that he didn’t even recognize. He vowed that that person would no longer exist. Rubin became one of the nicest, kindest human beings one could ever meet.

Daniel is going to be a challenge, but I’m encouraged by the words of Father Greg Boyle:“You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.”

Help me, Lord. 

Help Daniel, too.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Local prisoner advocates win awards!

I have never cared very much for personal prizes. A person does not become a freedom fighter in the hope of winning awards. Nelson Mandela

When I was a young radio newsman, running a low-budget news operation in a small-market station, I had little use for those radio and TV stations touting “Award-winning News Department!”

If ever there was an award-winning newsroom, it was ours. Our little team worked around the clock, 7 days a week, to keep our community informed. We didn’t have the time and energy to fill out applications for winning awards. We actually editorialized on local issues. Listener response and appreciation was our reward.

I still feel that way. All kinds of people deserve awards today, who receive little or no recognition: hospice nurses, nursing home attendants, hospital orderlies, beat cops, volunteer firemen. Each one of us can name heroes who get paid very little, and receive even less recognition.

Now in this field of prisoner advocacy, if I could arrange an awards ceremony and if I could spotlight winners, the gang at HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS would be at the top of the list. Bragging was a deadly sin, according to my father, so I tread lightly on this topic. He insisted that others should do the praising.

OK, Pa, that’s exactly what I’m going to do right now.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the envelopes please---

Award #1, to Doug:

This morning a former prisoner called me. Years ago, when he received a parole thanks to our help, I held the prison door open for him as he stepped into freedom after 38 years behind bars. “You gave me a new life.”

Award #2, to Matt:

Today Matt opened a letter from a prisoner with health problems whom we have been helping. “Thank you for making me feel I am not alone…I thought about my son, and wished he be like you!”

Award #3, to Holly:

As we seek a compassionate release for a terminally ill prisoner, his mother today had high praise for our Vice President: “She’s awesome!”

Awards #4 and #5, to Susie and Melissa:

Just today I sent a thank you note to a prisoner who made a $15 donation to HFP…the 10th Michigan inmate already this year to send us a financial contribution! I told our team today that these gifts are a huge “thank you” for their compassion and hard work.

There’ll be no mention of these awards in the media. We won’t be getting dollars or trophies.

But as Mark Twain says: “Great things can happen when you don't care who gets the credit.”

God will repay each person according to what they have done
Romans 2:6

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Wanna know where death's sting is? In prison. That's where!

The subject of death is surrounding me these days. At age 83, it’s bound to happen.

Friends are dying, peers are dying, my friends’ loved ones are dying. I catch a common cold, my tired old body tries to fight it off, and those close to me wonder if I’m going to be OK.

But that’s not the death I’m talking about.

I’m in the prisoner advocacy business, and death is a different ball game when it involves prisoners.

We’ve been frantically working this week to try to help Allen, who at the age of 33 is dying. The jury is out whether the state treated his earlier cancer properly, and if anyone is to blame. Makes no difference now. The cancer is back, it has spread, and it won’t stop.

In my 20+ years in this business, I’ve discovered two things that prisoners dread: dying in Duane L. Waters Health Center (the shameful prison hospital in Jackson); or, just dying in prison.

We’ve mobilized a team of staff, volunteers, family and friends this week, hoping to allay those fears by Allen. In his email message to me today, he said: “I’m not doing so well. My jaw has swollen to the point I can’t chew which means liquid diet..and weight loss. I’ve been in the bed ‘cause I’ve had a constant headache. I’m on morphine and that’s not stopping the pain, so I’m fighting, so please keep praying and fighting for me.”

It brings back so many memories.

-When HFP first got started, a weeping little black girl came to me asking if I could get her daddy out to die at home. There was no hope for victory in that one…he died two weeks later.

-The wife of a dying inmate called us, nearly hysterical, after going to prison for one final visit, only to learn that her husband had been transferred…no one would say where to!

-Our friend David was in a coma, dying in a northern Michigan hospital, still shackled to his bed (wouldn’t want him to escape!), and his parents were denied a visit.

I could fill a page with these stories. But my point is, when death involves prisoners, it’s a completely different story.

I’m hurting today. I’m hurting for Allen, for his mom, and for all the others in similar situations. More than 100 prisoners a year die in our Michigan system, and that number is only going to increase because our population is getting older. 

We’re pulling every available string, hoping that Allen’s final hours may be spent with loved ones. That’s what you and I long for…it’s no different for the incarcerated.


Saturday, February 29, 2020

Black History Month is demeaning

I got talking with a friend about Black History Month the other day. He lamented the fact that he had been born and raised in a part of the Midwest where he had never met an African American until he became an adult. I felt so sorry for him.

I’m sure you’re wondering about the title of this piece. I feel we’re throwing the black people a bone by designating just one month to highlight their history and their achievements.

My dear friend Cy Young, in a radio interview with me back in the 1970s, laughed when they expanded Black History Week to Black History Month. “They gave us the shortest month of the year,” chuckled the Rev. Cy.

In thinking of how many people of color have touched me, I can only conclude how sterile, how lackluster, how desolate, how barren my life would have been without their involvement. The thesaurus doesn’t have enough words.

I’m not just talking about major public figures, like our former President and Dr. Martin Luther King. And I’m not just talking about casual acquaintances. I’m talking about deep friendships, personal relationships. I’m talking about people who made a profound impact on my life. I just made reference to the late Rev. Cy Young, whose life was cut short when struck down by a car as he exited a civil rights meeting. Many of you know about the late Maurice Carter, black man from Gary, Indiana, whose wrongful conviction saga led to a new career for me.

I can’t begin to list all of them. The page isn’t large enough, and I’d surely  forget some names. The amazing and exciting post script to this is that more are still being added. Each day! Many of them are incarcerated…men and women whom we try to help, in one way or another, eventually leading to friendship.

I’ve never tried anything like this before…maybe it won’t work. But before you leave this page, I ask you to take 3 minutes and enjoy a song with me. The familiar hymn JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE is sung here by a black gospel quintet that flourished in the Muskegon area in the 50s. I first met the Spiritualaires as a teen-aged weekend radio announcer on WMUS in Muskegon around 1955. I loved these guys, and loved their music! They’re all gone now. But please enjoy this performance with me, recorded in 1958, as we exit Black History Month, 2020. You’ll not hear a better rendition of this classic!

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Be not deceived. The state doesn't really care!

Remember last year when the state legislature adopted a bill that would increase the number of compassionate releases from prison?

The Michigan Department of Corrections issued this statement:

-- Today Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed House Bills 4129 through 4132, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, to allow the Michigan Department of Corrections to parole seriously ill and medically frail prisoners so that they can obtain care at medical facilities or nursing homes instead of prison ...May 22, 2019

As one looked a little deeper into the news stories, the bills didn’t sound all that spectacular.

We soon learned that

-legislators weren’t really all that concerned about dying prisoners…it was the cost of the care that was bothering them;

-perhaps as few as 30 of Michigan’s 38,000 prisoners would meet the criteria!

All that attention lavished on action that may affect 30 prisoners?!

I have mentioned Allen to our readers. He’s a 33-year-old terminally ill prisoner whom we’re trying to help. 33 years of age, and he won’t last the year.

A year ago it was discovered that he had cancer behind one eye. Surgery was performed that removed a section of his face, but doctors told Allen they were certain they “had it all.” Turns out, they didn’t. The disease is back with a vengeance. It’s throughout his body now. He’s getting chemo, but one physician told his mother that her son may not live long enough to observe his birthday in June.

After speaking with his mother, I immediately contacted the Department of Corrections.

Under the new bills, would they help? “In January he didn’t qualify for medical parole based on the very narrow definition created by the Legislature.  They didn’t apply the standard solely to those with a terminal condition, as be must also be unable to sit, stand, or walk without assistance.  At last check, he is still able to do those things, so he doesn’t qualify under the law.”

Would the ACLU help? “Has Mr. Tjapkes contacted MDOC’s Bureau of Health Care Services? They’re the ones who have to initiate the recommendation to the parole board.”

Would the Governor’s office help? “Do you know if Mr. H has a medical commutation on file? I understand that this is an urgent matter and our office would like to help anyway we can. However, we have to follow proper protocol for all clemency requests.”

Imagine an elderly mother, ailing and indigent, trying to simply make arrangements for her son to spend his remaining days with his family, yet challenged with unraveling this very large spool of red tape!

Here’s a word that describes the work of our office, from the very day it began 19 years ago: Sticktoitiveness!

Stay tuned.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Adequate medical care: elusive!

As a young news reporter, I smoked anything legal that I could get my hands on: cigarettes, a pipe…even cigars. And though I quit the nasty habit over 50 years ago, nicotine did its number on me. I live with COPD.

That means that even a common cold can give me some serious grief. So, when the symptoms appeared last weekend, I immediately contacted my medical care people. I was able to get an appointment, and proper medication, within hours.

This wonderful medical care, which we take for granted on the outside, is in stark contrast to what our friends behind bars must endure.

Sylvia tried to get help when she experienced early symptoms, but that’s not the way it works for the incarcerated. Based on her email message this morning, let us walk you through just one episode in Michigan’s prison for women.

Well, I’m finally seeing progress in my health problems. At first it was respiratory problems. The treatment: Alka Seltzer. Two days in, it was nausea, stomach pain, extreme headaches and weakness to the point I couldn’t walk. Healthcare refused to see me, and instead insisted that I “push fluids.”

Finally, on the 7th day, an officer contacted Healthcare and they said I could come. A nurse reviewed my symptoms with the doctor, and he sent me to the hospital via ambulance. They took good care of me with IV fluids, as well as pain, nausea and vitamin meds. All symptoms stopped. I begged the doctor not to discharge me, knowing that there would be no follow-up care in prison. He replied: “I tried, it was denied.”

I was discharged with orders to take magnesium, potassium, antibiotics for 6 days, along with a liquid diet, to control nausea and pain. Yet, the only thing I received was a liquid diet. I was on the floor of my cell, begging the officers to call Healthcare again, as all symptoms had returned. The nurse refused: “They sent her to the hospital, there was nothing wrong with her. Push fluids.”

Finally, after 12 days, food was good to my body.

Many of us have had similar problems. It’s upsetting to see these people crying and needing basic medications, only to be told to “push fluids.”

Sylvia’s getting back to her routine now, as a busy person involved in numerous projects. She says she has a lot of paperwork to do, must get to her ironing, and wants to do some walking.

A little extra time is all it will take with Jesus.

Our office is flooded with stories like this. In a typical month, we will receive 200-250 messages via letter, email and telephone, regarding inadequate or inappropriate healthcare in Michigan prisons.

Jesus is available to them. Medical care is more elusive.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Prosecutors can make a difference!

I suppose it’s pretty unusual to pay tribute to a couple of Michigan Prosecutors during Black History Month. But then again, who could ever make the claim that Doug Tjapkes marches to a given drummer?

Those of us in prisoner advocacy rarely have high appreciation for county prosecutors. I have always grumbled about, what I call, a “prosecutor mentality.” I point out that prosecutors are elected to office, and it is not uncommon for the number of convictions to be a strong campaign issue for reelection.

To set the stage for my comments, let me first point out, as we observe Black History Month, that

-African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites
-Black men have a 1-in-3 chance of going to prison in their lifetime
-Among black kids, 1 in 9 has had a parent in prison.

Let’s move on with a couple more stats:

-Nearly 80% of prosecutors in the United States are white men, and
-Here in Michigan, we have 83 counties…21 with female prosecutors.

I’m paying tribute today to two of those prosecutors: Kym Worthy, in Wayne County; and Carol Siemon in Ingham County. Prosecutor Worthy is black, Prosecutor Siemon is white, but notably, both are women!

We’ve had our differences with Prosecutor Worthy, but we honor her today for forming Wayne County’s Conviction Integrity Unit. This unit “investigates claims of innocence, to determine whether there is clear and convincing new evidence that the convicted defendant was not the person who committed the conviction offense.” It’s about time! Chosen to head up this unit is another female lawyer of great integrity. Says the State Appellate Defender Office:  Valerie Newman has battled prosecutors as an attorney at the State Appellate Defenders Office for 23 years. Now she has joined the other side – to help her former opponents avoid sending innocent people to jail. 

We also pay tribute to Carole Siemon in Ingham County, today, for taking a bold approach to lifers in prison. Quoting an article in CityPulse: Siemon — with pro-bono help from former Assistant Attorney General Ron Emery — this year plans to begin a formal review of the 90 convicted murderers serving life in prison without parole in Ingham County. And for a select few, she said she plans to seek a gubernatorial commutation that could get them back out on the streets.

Why is she doing this?

“I just don’t believe in the death penalty,” Siemon explained. “I think life in prison without parole functions in a similar way, and I think everyone should have an opportunity to be able to get out some day.”

A tip of the HFP hat to these two prosecutors, striving to right some wrongs in Pure Michigan!

This is an election year. Know who you’re voting into the Prosecutor’s Office. There are things more important than party affiliation.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

In the ditch, or in gotta stop and help!

Then Jesus asked, “Which one of these three people was a real neighbor to the man who was beaten up by robbers?” The expert in the Law of Moses answered, “The one who showed pity.” Jesus said, “Go and do the same!”

Marcia and I were driving home from our daughter Sue’s home in a snowstorm last night. We had just pulled onto Hickory Street, a rural road in Spring Lake Township, when I spotted a set of headlights on the wrong side of the street. They were way down in a water-filled ditch. Sue and our grandson Brenden were following us. Seeing my hazard lights, they stopped as well. I told Marcia, “I gotta see if that driver’s OK.”

By the time I got back there Brenden was already down in the ditch talking to the guy. He wasn’t injured, but getting his car out of that steep gulley was going to be a challenge.

Hickory is not a busy street, but along came another car as we were stopping. When he saw that we trying to help the guy, he kept on going. One other car approached. Same situation: cars along the street with hazard lights flashing, a set of headlights far down in the ditch. This driver not only chose to disregard someone else’s misfortune, but he stepped on the gas! He blew through the scene with snow flying and exhaust roaring. I doubt that he could have seen my gesture, had I thought to give him one.

Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan came to mind. Nobody wants to get out of their car on a dark, cold, snowy night to check on someone in a ditch. But the simple fact is that someone could have been you or me…it was a real person, in real trouble.

I tell this story not to boast about stopping. I tell it to draw a parallel.

This is what we do at HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS.

One of our supporters told Matt and me this week, “A lot of people really admire you for what you are doing, but they wonder why you are being kind to this segment of society.”

The words of Jesus: Go and do the same.

That’s exactly what we’re doing. Just as the unfortunate driver was a real person, people in prison are human beings. Truth be told, they’ve been created in the image of God just like the rest of us living on the outside.

HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS has already touched the lives of 200 new Michigan prisoners this year. Our records show that we have now assisted at least 10% of the entire state prison population, in one way or another, since we began 19 years ago!

I’m proud of our gang, our work, and our mission.

…the same.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Message to Governor Whitmer

OK, Governor Whitmer.

We’ve finally taken steps to fix the damn roads. Your response, on behalf of your party, to the State of the Union Address went flawlessly. Now it’s time for you to take a hard look at the #$%&* prisoner commutations!

Granted, it wasn’t very nice of former Governor Snyder to leave all those unanswered commutation requests in your lap. Decency would have suggested that he, at the very least, give all of those Michigan prisoners seeking clemency either a “yes” or a “no.” Yes, he did commute a handful of sentences. But, the rest of the applicants (and there were hundreds), never got answers.

Here’s the thing. When an application is denied, prisoners may try again in two years. Well, two years is coming up for some of these men and women, but they still haven’t received a formal answer to their first application! You can’t put this off any longer.

In recent months, HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS has reached out to you personally, and to your staff, offering to help with this massive stack of applications. We have commutations experts on our team (we’ve actually prepared a printed guideline for inmates to assist them in filling out the application forms!), and we’re willing to help, without charge or obligation. But to date, we can’t even get a meeting. We can’t even get someone to talk about it.

The stack continues to grow by the day. You not only have all of those old applications from the Governor Snyder days, but you have applications coming in now from prisoners who see and feel new hope because of a new administration, a new attitude.

We believe there are prisoners who deserve to have their sentences commuted. Regardless of how you and your staff feel about the 38,000 people who are housed and fed by our state prison system, they are human beings. They deserve an answer, a response.

Will you respond?

Can we help?

The position of HFP has been, and always will be, that 95% of the incarcerated will someday leave these prisons and reenter society. They’re going to be neighbors. To make them better citizens then, they deserve humane treatment now. They need someone to care.

Ignoring pleas for help from this segment of our society is no longer an option.