Showing posts from February, 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 t

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

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, extr

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 prosecu

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. Sam

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, offe

Not to worry if you have lotsa dollars and good lawyers? Think again!

I don’t have a law degree. Worse than that, I don’t have a good understanding of the law. I’m also confused by what we call our system of justice. I’ll give you three very short stories, changing names. Bill was a highly successful businessman. By all appearances, he had everything. Beautiful family, several cars, and even three homes that his family enjoyed in various seasons. His two young sons were exceptionally popular. Parents of two of the boys’ acquaintances, however, were jealous of all this wealth, and connived to get a piece of it. They persuaded their boys to claim that Bill had molested them once in a back-yard camp-out. Bill would get arrested. Then, they could and would file a damage suit for thousands of dollars. It worked, just as they had planned. Diana was a highly successful corporate executive. But, life wasn’t all that pleasant at home. Her husband struggled with mental illness. While dealing with extreme paranoia, he was constantly confiding to