Showing posts from January, 2020

Who are these people?

The President of the United States claims wrongful conviction in an impeachment trial. His alleged supporters, who believe he is innocent, oppose the introduction of witnesses who could prove their point. Duh! Maurice Carter, black man accused of shooting and injuring an off-white cop in Benton Harbor back in the 70s, has a team of supporters who found the real shooter and found his friends who admit that they hid him and whisked him out of town. Berrien County’s white prosecutor and white judge refuse to listen. Across the United States, prosecutors are informed that DNA evidence could establish proof of innocence or guilt in their cases. They oppose its introduction. Battered women who finally take action to save their own lives, wind up charged by prosecutors with murder, convicted by juries, and sentenced to prison by judges…all citizens of their own communities! Beautiful signs in front of churches expound the message: EVERYONE WELCOME! Everyone, that is, except

Free at last! Free at last!

“Look at this. I’m walking around with no one hanging onto me! I don’t have any shackles. No one is telling me what to do, where to go!” It’s early in the morning, dark, cold, with a light combination of rain and snow. For you and me, it would be just plain miserable. But not for Joe. We’re standing in the parking lot of the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility. Joseph Johnson, formerly Michigan inmate #164659, has just walked out the front doorway of this prison for good. His first time without handcuffs and shackles in nearly 40 years! He's free! “I really don’t have words…I don’t know what to say,” he whispers to me as I give him a bear hug. “You don’t have to,” I reply. “Just savor the moment! These are the moments we live for.” And that’s the truth. Before the sun came up, I was in the car, driving through marginal weather, heading to Ionia, Michigan. I was in town for less than hour…then drove back home again. But I gotta tell you something: For this 83-year

Good news/bad news

I’ve always been one to pick the good news. As a broadcast journalist, I did my best to cover the bloody stories, the tragedies, the disasters, as well as the crimes and the crap. But I loved the good stories: tales of kind and generous people; and I loved the funny stories, the happy stories that brought smiles to the faces of my listeners. Decades later, as I work with our team to help prisoners, I still opt for good news. So, it was a great day this week when I received an email from Adam, who had been in prison since 1993, saying, “I’m out! I’ll meet you for lunch!” That same day I stopped at the post office to pick up the mail, and spotted an unusual envelope. Opening it, I discovered a check from an anonymous donor for $25,000.00! Our bills would get covered this month! I drove to the office, stepped through the front door with all of this good news, and Melissa interrupted me: “Doug, it’s Allen on the phone.” Reality came crashing in. I had chatted with All

Free at last? Not yet!

I’ve gotta hand it to this Martin Luther King fellow. As I researched the data to write this piece about racial disparity in America’s system of injustice, I decided that if I were black, I’m not sure I could favor peaceful resistance any longer. I’d be mad as hell. Truth of the matter is, I’m white, and it makes me mad as hell. Here’s the truth, pure and simple: Racial disparity permeates every stage of the United States criminal justice system, from arrest to trial to sentencing to post prison experiences! I’m just going to rattle off some statistics here. Maybe you’ve heard some or all of them before. I’m not going to list all of the sources of this information, but rest assured that the data are accurate. After carefully reading this list I’ll give you two questions. -African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites -The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women -Black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going t

When stepping into freedom, fairness may be in short supply

Local television coverage of the release of a prisoner this week really hit a sore spot for me. I am in a unique position to make some comments about the coverage from two perspectives. Number one, I am a broadcast journalist. I no longer cover the news, but I was a member of the Radio-Television News Directors Association for over 25 years, and I won that association’s highest national award for editorial writing. And number two, I am a prisoner advocate. The agency that I founded is working with thousands of Michigan prisoners, and to claim that we have little understanding of prisoner issues would be a serious miscalculation. Here's what happened. A woman was released from prison who, with a partner, committed a heinous crime over 30 years ago. No one challenges the seriousness of the crime, or the extent of pain for all affiliated with the victims. The Michigan Parole Board did not make light of this case. In fact, the board denied parole for this inmate time and

Thanks from prisoners. It means the world to us!

May God forgive us if we ever, even once, take the thanks of an incarcerated person for granted. Our team happens to agree with Mother Teresa on this one: Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat. I bring up the topic because HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS has already received two special gifts this year! A check for $500 arrived from the U.P. the other day. It was a donation from the Prisoner Benefit Fund of Chippewa Correctional Facility. A few days later a check for $50 came from Ralph Wallace, an 83-year-old lifer who resides in the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater. I realize I’ve shared this before, but this passage from the Gospel of Luke bears repeating: And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.   So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor w

Yep, we DO rejoice!

Don’t get me wrong. We don’t break open the champagne. We don’t wear party hats and pop corks. But, even in this little office where we struggle daily with heartbreak, anger and disgust, little steps forward bring more than satisfaction. We see reason to rejoice! -Jimmy called me. We helped get his sentence commuted, and he was released last year after serving 30 years. He called to say he has his own phone, his own car, and now has a real job. “I wouldn’t be here without you,” he said! My heart rejoiced. -In opening our first 2020 mail, Matt found a check from the Prisoner Benefit Fund of Chippewa Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula. Some staff members there don’t much care for HFP. But, obviously, the prisoners think so highly of us that they voted to contribute from their shop and vending machine money. That $500 donation speaks volumes! Our hearts rejoiced. -Our Vice President, Holly, while preparing a commutation application for Joe some years ago, discovered