Showing posts from June, 2020

Roll out the gurneys. The feds are starting executions again!

You gotta hand it to the Catholic Church. Led by fearless fighters like Sister Helen Prejean, the church has adopted this position: The Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is "inadmissible" in all cases because it is an "attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person." (CCC 2267) Meanwhile, so-called evangelical Christians on the Protestant side can’t seem to get their act together on the important issue of capital punishment. We love to talk about being “pro-life,” but that seems to focus a lot more on the beginning, rather than the end, of life. My own denomination, The Christian Reformed Church of North America, whose doctrines I believe and support, continues to waffle on the subject of the death penalty. Now, federal executions are about to get started again. What a shame! As if there aren’t enough nasty things claiming lives . -According to the Center for Disease Control, the coronavirus death toll in the United

Let us pray

We have such an incredible team! We not only have a committed staff, but we also have a dedicated board, a fine group of volunteers, and an impressive battery of professionals who are willing to assist prisoners in so many wonderful ways. And yet, we can’t solve all problems. We can’t meet all needs. When this was a one-man operation, I quickly learned that I couldn’t do the heavy lifting alone. Back then, I would hear of a difficult situation once in a while. Today, it’s different. When I compare notes with our team and hear stories like those of Al, Ken, Carl and Jim, I’m thankful that I can do more than just wish these guys the best of luck over a four-leaf clover. Al, 34, doesn’t call his mother much. She has a drinking problem, exacerbated by worry for her son. He’s dying of brain cancer, and she’s all he has. So, he’ll call again. He won’t be around much longer. He’ll die alone in the prison hospital. Ken, 72, may be an old man, but he sounds like a seco

To dads behind bars: You’re OK!

I love Father Greg Boyle’s stories. One of the reasons his anecdotes touch my heart is because his work with gang members parallels the work that we do with prisoners, in so many ways. I know this: His love for gang members is comparable to my love for people behind bars. Fr. Boyle tells of the day he was asked to give a keynote address to a large audience. He brought along two reformed “homies,” as he calls them, to briefly tell their stories before he gave his speech. In the Q and A session following their presentation, a woman in the audience said she had a question for one of the boys. He nervously approached the microphone. “You say you’re a father,” the woman began, “ and your son and daughter are starting to reach their teenage years. What wisdom do you impart to them?” She recalibrates. “I mean, what advice do you give them?” There stood the young former gang member and trouble-maker, trying to formulate an answer. With eyes closed, he clutched the mic

Lives of the mentally ill matter, too!

One of our prisoner correspondents has chosen to focus on inmate stories that could and should have been handled differently. Readers of this column know that we have repeatedly and strongly advocated for the mentally ill, especially those who live here in Michigan where our care is so inadequate. Well, here’s the story of Mr. Brown (his real name), and how our system in the State of Michigan failed him every step of the way. Mr. Brown is 72 now, although he sounds like a child. His peers say he cannot function properly, and insist that he needs help. 1978 Three guys arrested in Detroit when a person is killed. Mr. Brown’s two co-defendants take advantage of his mental illness, and place the blame on him. Following short prison terms, they are free. 1979 Though seriously mentally ill, Mr. Brown receives a life sentence in prison, rather than assignment to a mental institution. Over the years in prison Mr. Brown’s health deteriorates : bronchitis, asthma, h

That little light of yours, YOU gotta let it shine!

Scene 1, 1957 As a newly hired radio newsman in Holland, I was appalled to learn that the City Council met in secret session, over dinner, prior to each scheduled public meeting. The regular sessions were aired live on local radio, and council members didn’t want the public to see and hear any argument and/or disagreement. Those were the days before open meetings became law. The city picked up the dinner tab. To protest this shameful practice, I would obtain the dinner total the next morning, then report to my listeners: “Your city council met in secret last night to prepare its official meeting for tonight’s broadcast. It cost you $xxx.xx! My little protest, along with those of many other responsible journalists, eventually resulted in open meeting legislation that prohibits that kind of practice these days. Scene 2, 1976 I considered it a violation of journalism ethics when the Grand Haven Tribune repeatedly published the name of a black truck driver jailed in o

Must we always take sides? Sheesh!

“There is no 'them' and 'us.' There is only us!” Father Greg Boyle Father Boyle might as well be barking to the choir, because I swear not a soul is listening! Not one! The current police controversy is a perfect example. Because many of us have taken stands that black lives matter, following the George Floyd murder, it must mean that we hate cops…especially white ones. We have no more use for cops, want to abolish their departments, and want to spend that money on other things. Don’t ask me how you reach that conclusion, because it defies reason. That, in turn, prompts a pro-cop faction…police unions, families of officers, all of them as equally outspoken in their positions. Since the Floyd incident, we’ve been exposed to many more reports of people of color being abused by the police. Somehow, that degenerates to taking sides. You must choose a position. You may not live on both sides of the street. That damn divisiveness starts at the very top, a

William couldn’t breathe, either. His life mattered, too!

Jamie Meade, one of our fine correspondents behind bars, was reflecting on a news clip of last weekend. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was marching with protesters. All of this, of course, was in response to the murder of George Floyd, a black man who died under the knee of a white cop, all the while protesting, “I can’t breathe.” Those words, said Jamie, were heard around the globe and sparked international protests for reform. While viewing that march on TV in his Macomb Correctional Facility cell, his thoughts led to a friend right there who claimed he couldn’t breathe. William Garrison had caught the virus while in prison this spring. A couple months back William’s cell mate reported to three Corrections Officers that the man was sick and “could not breathe.” The Department states that officers rushed in, tried life saving measures, and failed. His bunkie tells a different story…that he was gasping for air, calling out for help, and staff was slow to respond. He died

My friends are being ignored. But, they’re used to it!

Once again my friends behind bars in Michigan are being ignored. And while they’re saying, “What else is new,” I’m saying this is unacceptable. It’s no surprise that citizens behind bars aren’t being noticed these days. In no way will I minimize the impact of the George Floyd death beneath the knee of a cop. In no way will I say one unkind word toward tens of thousands of peaceful protesters who are involved in what may be the strongest statement for civil rights in our lifetime. In no way will I take the spotlight off the multitude of first responders and medical personnel who are struggling to stay ahead of a raging pandemic in our nation. In no way will I join those criticizing our Governor for her firm action to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Michigan. BUT, I’m pissed that with all of this going on, nothing extra is happening to reduce the population of Michigan’s prisons. We’re overcrowded, and the sting of the virus will be much less if we

We are to blame!

Yep, we wanna blame that SOB white cop for keeping his knee on George Floyd’s neck. That’s why we’re having all these damned uprisings all around the world. Oh, really? It’s like, a couple thousand years ago, blaming Judas Iscariot for Jesus’ death. Or Pontius Pilot. Or those Roman soldiers who beat him or who pounded the nails. Nay. Hymn writer Horatius Bonar got it right way back in the 1800s: ’Twas I that shed the sacred blood, I nailed him to the tree, I crucified the Christ of God, I joined the mockery. True, Mr. Floyd’s death was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But, for my fellow white friends, please review these shameful facts that our black brothers and sisters face: -About 1 in 1,000 black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of police. -A black male in the United States today has greater than a 1 in 4 chance of going to prison during his lifetime. -African Americans are locked up at more than 5 times the ra