Showing posts from July, 2020

What not to read in the doctor's office

I’m sitting on a little bench in the examining room, waiting for the doctor, who is about to perform my annual physical examination. No magazines allowed, thanks to COVID 19. So, I scroll through the daily email dispatch from the wonderful Marshall Project on my telephone screen. Item #1, Nearly 79,000 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 in state and federal penitentiaries. Item #2, New Jersey legislators are poised to pass a COVID-19-related measure that would authorize the release of about 3,000 state prisoners who are within eight months of their release date. (Something like that could and should be happening in Michigan, but it is not!) Item #3, Death row prisoners in California are dying of COVID-19 while the state’s attorney general defends dubious convictions and sentences. Item #4, Patricia Ann Prewitt is the longest-serving woman in Missouri’s prison system, sent away for life after being convicted of murdering her husband in 1984. There was little e

On prisoner deaths, we opt for compassion!

A reader took me to task recently for suggesting that a dying inmate should have been released to spend his remaining days at home. She checked his arrest record, and based on his checkered past, it was her decision that the state did exactly the right thing by keeping him behind bars for his last breath. I respect her comments and position. I have never written editorials in an effort to convince readers or listeners that I am right. My goal has always been to stimulate discussion on a particular topic. I think it’s important, then, in response to the reader’s observations, that I explain once again, our philosophy for helping Michigan inmates. I found it interesting that she checked his “rap sheet.” That’s something we just don’t do. The crimes they’ve committed and their sorry track records have nothing to do with the quality or depth of our help and compassion. There’s a good reason why I call this “Jesus work.” Our Lord was notorious for showing kindness to tax colle

16 years later, whaddaya think, Maurice?

“Hey, Big Bro, I can see us now, working on cases…” Maurice Carter always called me “Big Bro,” pronounced “bruh.” We were standing on the banks of the Grand River in Lamont, Michigan…Maurice living in an adult care facility up on the hill. I’m thinking about it today because it was exactly 16 years ago that I accompanied him as he walked out of prison. He had served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. In the delightful stage play JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER, written by Toronto playwrights Donald Molnar and Alicia Payne, Maurice has a poignant chat with me. He’s in heaven, and I’m still here on earth. I’m thinking how that chat might be today, as I reflect on our story. I spent nearly ten years of my life trying to free Maurice. He walked out on July 24, 2004, and lived in freedom for just three months. The Hepatitis C that he contracted while in prison claimed his life. In our riverside conversation, leaning on a fence, Maurice was fantasizing about that

Did this black life matter? Allen Hollins, Jr. 1986 – 2020

I was going to make the statement that, to the State of Michigan, black lives do not matter. But that wouldn’t be quite fair, or quite accurate. Here’s what I can say with some degree of accuracy: The State of Michigan doesn’t give a damn about sick and dying prisoners! Yes, my anger is evident today. It’s right at the surface, after a tearful telephone chat with the mother of Allen Hollins. Allen died Saturday afternoon at Henry Ford Hospital just 7 minutes before his mother arrived to say goodbye. He was 34. Readers of this column will remember when we launched an effort to get him released from prison, to die surrounded by family. His mother, Mrs. Yvette Patton, first contacted our office in January. Surgery had been performed a year earlier to remove cancer from behind his eye. Doctors thought they got it all. They didn’t. The cancer returned with a vengeance. Optimistic despite MDOC warnings that efforts to obtain compassionate releases rarely succeed, we jumped

Don't blame me! Really?

A Grand Haven businessman is the center of a local controversy today, after posting a 1,200-word diatribe on Facebook. It all began when the local health department insisted that his employees wear face masks. His anger festered, then exploded. His eruption on FB didn’t stop at face masks, but went on to express strong opinions on COVID 19, Black Lives Matter, journalists, politics, and much more. After reading about that outburst, I was heartened to read another article, this by Washington Post writer Max Boot, who was reflecting on the pandemic, as well as blame being placed on the President and a variety of state governors. He recalled the adage, “every nation gets the government it deserves.” Said Boot: " Trump and the Trumpy governors did not seize power by force. They were elected by constituents…" He’s singing my song! You’ve heard numerous verses of that very song on this blog site. On ill-advised commutations by the President, and zero commutations

Our President and our Governor: Both let us down!

The controversial decision by the President to commute the sentence of Roger Stone has, once again, focused attention on the word “commutation.” Commuting the sentence of a person convicted of a crime is something that both a President and a Governor may do. It falls under the umbrella of granting clemency, which means to give mercy, to forgive. This action allows the Pres or the Gov to show leniency or mercy…an act of grace “based on fairness, justice and forgiveness.” The action replaces the original sentence with a less severe punishment. Readers of this column may remember our efforts to seek a commutation for James Hicks, who was serving a sentence of 50-200 years. Mr. Hicks, who helped state and federal authorities for years while behind bars, was finally granted clemency by former Governor Snyder. Under his new sentence, he was given credit for time served and released. Here’s why we contend that both our President and our Governor have let us down. President T

They call it execution. I call it murder!

It saddens me to report that federal executions are set to resume this coming week, after a 17-year hiatus. Three executions are scheduled over a five-day span Monday through Friday, July 13-17. A fourth execution is scheduled to follow in August. As a person who personally witnessed the execution of a friend on death row in Texas, I’m flabbergasted on two fronts. First and foremost, I can’t believe that our Justice Department is doing this at such a critical time in American history. My second point of frustration is that, with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church, the Christian community remains rather silent on the whole issue. Granted, 1,000 leaders from all faiths signed a statement asking for an end to federal executions. But, again, I point out that this movement was orchestrated by the Catholic Church. The National Association of Evangelicals dropped their pro-death penalty position a few years ago. I don’t hear them raising hell this weekend. Numerous C

Grateful Gregory's gratitude is gratifying!

Gregory Winfrey reminds me of a Bible story. During his 30-year stint behind bars, he and I became friends. Like many, upon his release, he said, “I’ll never forget you.” And he never has! His gratitude for another chance at life comes shining through messages he posts on Facebook on a regular basis. He’s not only loving life to the fullest, he’s thanking all who traveled this journey with him. His plight reminds me of this Biblical account. In his gospel, Dr. Luke tells about the time Jesus ran across ten lepers, all begging to be healed. Never one to turn down making someone whole again, the Lord did exactly what was asked of him. The grateful men were able to return to society. A short time later, one of them came running back to the Master, throwing himself at Jesus’ feet, thanking him and praising God. Then Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” In the past two decades, I’ve made the acquaintance of thousands of prisoners,

When you see a need, it's time to do something!

While pawing through some old stuff, I found an interesting recording the other day. It was a non-professional recording of the second public performance of HIS MEN, a small male chorus that I started in 1972. With time on my hands during this virus business, that delightful tape led me down memory lane.   It’s very easy for me to beat myself up over some colossal business failures. But that musical treat reminded me of two little success stories, both starting with the letter H: HIS MEN and HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. I’d love to boast that I’m a visionary, and could predict that someday these singers would perform in the Crystal Cathedral (they did!), or that someday the HFP team would be touching the lives of thousands of Michigan prisoners (they are!). But that would be a lie. I had no idea whether either project would even survive. Their formation was simply a response to a need, a niche, that I had spotted. HIS MEN There were many wonderful Christian music group

Proud to be part of the "irate, tireless minority!”

Samuel Adams, American statesman, one of our founding fathers, once said: "It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brush-fires of freedom in the minds of men." A very nice person who likes what I write recently suggested that I write an op-ed for one of the major newspapers. I sincerely appreciated the compliment and the suggestion, but I opted not to pursue that challenge for two reasons. One, I’m not all that enamored by my own writing; and two, I’m not all that convinced that my ranting and raving makes any difference. BUT, having said that, on this Fourth of July weekend, I’m grateful for the freedom to write. I am proud to claim membership in Samuel Adams’ “irate, tireless minority,” and for that reason, I’ll keep right on setting brush-fires. You’ve heard it in the past, and I guaran-dam-tee-it you’ll hear it in the future. -I’m going to keep on bitterly complaining about the inhumane and wide