Showing posts from March, 2020

It's not a relaxed pace, Maurice! Belated Happy Bday!

Maurice Carter’s birthday quietly slipped past yesterday. All of his friends still living huddled in their homes, fearing for their lives in the midst of a pandemic. Marcia and I, now 83 years of age, remained in seclusion nursing our own non-virus respiratory ailments. No celebrations. Not even any quiet observances. He deserved better. Maurice Henry Carter would have been 76 on March 29. We lost him in 2004, just three months after his release from prison. BUT, what a legacy! Today, HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is thriving, although not quite the way Maurice had envisioned it. How he loved to fantasize about how it would be someday. Maurice had persuaded me to get this organization started already at the turn of the century. We officially became a non-profit organization in 2001. “I can see us now,” Maurice would say to me. “We’ll have a big table in our office. You and I will sit around that table, reviewing cases of prisoners, and deciding which one we’re going to h

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

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

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

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 phon

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 fr

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 hopeles

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 coul

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