Showing posts from 2020

Resolved: That 2021 will be The Year of the Prisoner!

  “New Year's Day ... now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”   Mark Twain   OK, this time, a resolution you can keep. I promise.   First let me say that we let our prisoners down in 2020, and we can’t allow that to happen again.   Granted, we were obsessed by more than a handful of other issues: political division, Black Lives Matter, a pandemic with all of its spinoffs and problems, etc.   But while we were fretting and whining about our own situations, Michigan prisoners sank into the depths of hell. Due, in part, to poor planning and bungling, more and more prisoners caught the virus. More and more prisoners died. And the hundreds of prisoners who could have been safely released never got to see daylight. We’re now approaching 120 prisoner COVID deaths. Positive tests are way past the 60% mark  among our 35,000 inmates.   People often ask, “What can I do?” Or, “Is there anything I

Too many prosecutors on the bench!

  Prosecutors have dominated the bench for too long. We need more public defenders to become judges. Headline, Business Insider.   Like a lot of prosecutors, I possess a zeal that can border on the bloodthirsty .... I put a lot of people in prison, and I had a great time doing it ... Now I describe myself as a recovering prosecutor-"recovering" because one never quite gets over it. I still like to point my finger at the bad guy. Paul Delano Butler, former prosecutor, and current Georgetown University law professor.   Business Insider is not a publication that I subscribe to, or even read. But I just happened to spot that headline a few days ago, which prompted a quick response from this old man: “Yes!”   The article was written by Brendon Woods and Emily Galvin Almanza. Woods is the only Black chief public defender in California. Almanza is a former public defender and co-founder of Partners for Justice.   Their main contention was this. From the Supreme Court

Coal in Christmas stockings!

Many prisoners and their families received coal in their Christmas stockings this year. You probably won’t hear a lot of complaining. These people are accustomed to having their situations ignored. On the other hand, you can expect to hear it from this writer.   The two St. Nicks who could have made a huge difference failed.   The President of the United States is given the power to grant clemency, thanks to Article Two of the United States Constitution (Section 2, Clause 1), which provides: “... shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States...”   The Governor of the State of Michigan is given executive clemency authority by the Michigan constitution , to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons for any offense except impeachment.   At the national level, President Trump thumbed his nose at compassion and tradition, and instead granted pardons to war criminals, crooked politicians and family. Even more reprehensible, he chose to dangle

Our gift to you: A Christmas Parable

Louis Cassels was one of my favorite news writers. A Washington Correspondent for UPI for many years, he later became its national religion writer. In 1959 he wrote a parable for UPI that will last forever. I was News Director of WJBL in Holland when I first tore that copy off our newsroom teletype machine, and aired it. For the next 25 years, my listeners, first in Holland and then in Grand Haven, heard me read this parable at Christmas time. Today, as the founder of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, I share this beautiful story on Christmas Eve as my gift to you.   Now the man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge; he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. He was generous to his family and upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that stuff about God becoming a man, which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense, and he was too honest to pretend otherwise.   “I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m no

This meaningful Christmas gift will cost you nothing!

A petition is being circulated asking that Michigan prisoners get high priority for the vaccine, in contrast to the present policy. Your signature will be a gift to the 36,000 men and women behind bars.   Right now, here’s the state’s position, according to Kyle Kaminski of the Michigan Department of Corrections:   “Prisoners aged 65 and above as well as prisoners aged 18 - 65 with medical conditions such as COPD, hypertension, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, obesity or other conditions that puts them at high risk of a negative COVID-19 outcome will fall into Phase 1C. Based on our study of these groups, we currently have 1,692 prisoners who are 65 or above and we are evaluating the number of prisoners who meet the conditions mentioned above. All other prisoners will fall into Phase 2 of the plan.”   Diane Bukowski, Editor of The Voice of Detroit, contends that is not good enough, and we agree. Consider these numbers, which are changing by the minute:               - 77+

What's in the brown paper bag?

It has become a Christmas season tradition that I share this story. The story takes on additional meaning in 2020 because of the federal government’s shameful decision to resume executions before the new administration takes office. This story was not written by me.   I feel certain that Luis Ramirez would be honored to have us pass along what he has written, but I can't ask him.   He's dead.   This message came to me from Death Row in Texas back when we were just getting started in this business. It touched me touches me now.   Anyway, here’s my gift to you today...a story from the late Luiz Ramirez: (In all caps, just the way he sent it)   I CAME HERE IN MAY OF 1999...A TSUNAMI OF EMOTIONS AND THOUGHTS WERE GOING THROUGH MY MIND.   I REMEMBER THE ONLY THINGS IN THE CELL WERE A MATTRESS, PILLOW, A COUPLE SHEETS, A PILLOW CASE, A ROLL OF TOILET PAPER AND A BLANKET.   I REMEMBER SITTING THERE, UTTERLY LOST.   THE FIRST PERSON I MET THERE WAS NAPOLEON BEASLEY.

Prisoners are watching you, Michigan!

“Be a good example.” We’ve heard it all our lives. “Your actions are so loud I can’t hear your words.” Says broadcast journalist Germany Kent: “Be the girl you want your daughter to be. Be the girl you want your son to date. Be classy, be smart, be real, but most importantly be nice.”   "Most importantly, be nice!" I’m fretting today, after reading the headlines this morning. This one caught my attention:   Legislative office buildings in Lansing closed Monday over security concerns The Detroit News said the decision was based on “credible threats of violence.” It’s the day for the electoral vote, and we have a group of nuts who believe that overthrowing legitimate votes of our citizens is a way to achieve better government.   Members of our little team of staffers and volunteers work hard each day to set an example to the thousands of Michigan prisoners with whom we come into contact. We know that 95% of them are going to reenter society someday, so it’s time they

Prisons aren’t built to be hospitals!

I’m starting to feel like Jeremiah!   That feisty Old Testament prophet complained that nobody listened. Instead, his constant messages from heaven on pending violence and destruction here on earth simply got him insult and reproach. But, he says, “If I say I won’t do it anymore, his (God’s) word is in my heart like a fire...I can’t hold it in.”   Jeremiah preached his message for 40 years and nobody listened. It's no wonder he was discouraged.   Well, here’s Douger, the “Jeremiah” of bloggers, complaining once again about all the old people in prison. People who pose no threat to society, people who have paid their dues, many who are sick and dying...and all of this is costing us a fortune! I’m hoping someone will listen. I could just shut up, but it’s in my heart. (Maybe because I, too, am so old!)   Conservative readers should at least identify with the cost issue, and seek change. But those of us who are more progressive must, instead, be lamenting the inhumanity of the

How soon should MI prisoners get the vaccine? ASAP!

The feds have come up with some cockamamy idea that prison staff should have priority for the COVID vaccine, but not the inmates!   Michigan must not let that happen.   State health officials are currently working on a distribution plan for the vaccines when they become available. We have heard no details yet, but we are particularly interested in the recommendations for prisoners.   Federal officials have suggested that corrections staff be placed on high priority status for the vaccine, but not the millions of federal prisoners! That goofy bit of information comes to us from the New York Times.   Roni Caryn Rabin, of the NY Times, accurately describes prison environment:   They live in crowded conditions, sharing bathrooms and eating facilities where social distancing is impossible. They have high rates of asthma, diabetes and heart disease.   Many struggle with mental illness. A disproportionate number are Black and Hispanic, members of minority communities that have be

Medical co-pay behind bars: unfair, ineffective, and stupid!

Medical co-pay in Michigan prisons has been a burr under my saddle for a long time. It’s so ridiculous. So counter-productive!   Here’s the deal.   In hopes of discouraging prisoners from abusing the medical system (if you can call it that), the Michigan Department of Corrections imposes a $5 charge any time an inmate makes a healthcare visit.   The poor devil has been worrying about a headache for a week, finally goes to health-care, and the nurse tells him to take two aspirin. “Five dollars please!”   The good news is that, to its credit, the MDOC has waived the medical co-pay for anything COVID related since March. We’re told it will stay that way until the threat if over. We sincerely applaud that decision.   The bad news is that, for all other medical reasons, the co-pay remains .   First, a comment on the “good” decision.   Even that compassionate move has its problems because quite often infected people show no symptoms. The CDC estimates that some 40% are asympto

Federal executions/Silence from people of faith!

I have a question for my fellow believers: Why the silence on federal executions?   Readers of this column know that I really try to avoid political issues, and when I as much as dip my toe into the political mud puddle, I hear about it.   But when it comes to the death penalty, the gloves come off.   Here’s what has quietly been going on, with little publicity, and certainly little comment from religious sources (except the Catholics!): -Since July, when it resumed carrying out the death penalty after a 17-year hiatus, the present administration has executed eight federal inmates.   -The Justice Department plans to execute five more inmates before the next President, who opposes the death penalty, takes office. (The only woman on federal death row, Lisa Montgomery, who is a mentally ill victim of sex trafficking, is scheduled to be executed just 8 days before the inauguration!)   -A new rule published by the Justice Department will allow the use of different methods permit

Can you believe it? Some prisoners are still giving thanks today!

B ack in the 90s, when Maurice Carter was still in prison, he joked about the prison Thanksgiving menu that had been published to show just how well our prisoners are treated. The menu showed that they were getting a turkey dinner. Turns out it was turkey bologna, and the same old slop.   Truth be told, any publicity that attempts to show exemplary treatment of Michigan prisoners is baloney.   Would that menu were the worst thing to grumble about on Thanksgiving, 2020.   I’m not sure how prisoners are giving thanks this week. I don’t think I could do it. But, like the Apostle Paul who wrote some of his most powerful stuff while in prison, many of these men and women look beyond their present circumstances.   And that’s good, because in my two decades of work in this field, I’ve never seen anything this bad. A few days ago, the Editorial Board of the New York Times described it this way:   The American penal system is a perfect breeding ground for the virus. Squabbles over mas

Innocent until proven guilty? You must be kidding!

I love a good thriller, and Michael Connelly’s new book The Law of Innocence is one of the best I’ve read in a long time!   It reminds me of two very important points that we often ignore, or just don’t believe: The presumption of innocent until proven guilty just isn’t true, and never has been; and, defense attorneys have an unfair, uphill fight in U.S. courtrooms.   I still remember my thoughts, when covering my first trial as a young reporter. “Wow, the prosecutor has a strong edge, here!” But, in my naivete, I just assumed that’s the way it was supposed to be. We want bad guys off the street, right?   Connelly’s fictional defense attorney Mickey Haller insists that going to trial is really a gamble: The prosecution is always the house in this game. It holds the bank and deals the cards.   The plight worsens substantially for the accused if that person is poor and/or black.   Here in Michigan, the situation used to be of the worst in the country. I saw this

Can helping prisoners be measured?

“So, how do you measure your success?”   The question came to us from a potential new staff member. The HFP team and members of our Human Relations Committee were conducting interviews for someone who may be called upon to help us raise funds. “When approaching foundations for money,” she said, “I have learned that they want to see positive results.” F air Question. Fair observation.   I have long held Father Greg Boyle’s opinion, that success is valuable only when it is a by-product of faith. As he puts it, success can be set up by choosing to work with those most likely to produce positive results, rather than those who most need support. In other words, HFP does not choose who it will help in order to stack the deck in the success column! We help everyone who asks.   The neat thing was the quick response to her question from the front lines...not with numbers, but with stories.   Susie told of a prisoner who had serious physical issues that made conditions for living with an

Juvie lifers deserve better from the media...and all of us!

Criticizing the media is a real challenge for me. You see, I am a part of it!   That’s right. Long before I was a prisoner advocate, I was a reporter, and a darn good one!   Today, I’m fuming about headlines in weekend MLive newspapers. Yet, I must confess that at one time I might have done the same thing! Might have, that is, before I got into this prisoner business.   Here are the headlines that raised my hackles: “ Three young women, bound, raped and strangled.” “The murders in Kalamazoo that summer nearly five decades ago left the community in fear.” “Now, the convicted killer wants to be a free man.”     The story is that of Michigan inmate Brent Koster who committed the crime when he was 15. He’s 64 now, and was granted a hearing because the Supreme Court has ruled that we can’t send juveniles to prison for life without parole. He’s been in prison for 45 years.   I voiced similar complaints in 2014 when the same writer, John Agar, gave the same media treatment to the r