Showing posts from September, 2020

On why Michigan prisons are too full

A warden came to me one day and asked that I try to help get a man out of prison!   Say what?   Yep, it’s true. Some six years ago I was asked to do my best to help an ailing, 74-year-old inmate to get a parole. He had been locked up for 47 years on a murder charge. He had died at least once, and was revived by prison medical personnel. He had had a spiritual conversion. He was now helping other prisoners with their legal problems in the law library. It was costing the state a fortune to keep him there, and the warden felt there was every reason for him to be granted a parole.   So, when Bert’s Parole Board review came up in 2015, I was at his side. The Parole Board member’s first request was that he describe his crime as he remembered it . He quietly explained that he could describe the crime as it was written in a police report, but that he could remember nothing, because he was an alcoholic, and the crime had occurred during a “blackout.” Within minutes, he was reduced to sobb

Noisy headlines, and mental illness gets shoved aside again

Black Lives Matter. Presidential debates. COVID 19. All making headlines these days. And once again, mental illness gets placed on the back burner.  Yet, guess what? The problem doesn’t go away! And it won't.  I’ve been hammering on it for years.  We have a mental illness crisis in our state prisons , and thousands of people are not only suffering...they’re not being properly treated.  Our in-prison essayist, Ricardo, has long served as a Prisoner Observation Aide, and claims to have  personally witnessed over 1,000 mentally ill individuals suffering from acute disorders.  He says that 10,000 Michigan prisoners have been diagnosed as being severely mentally ill. That’s a significant chunk of the population total of 35,000. Based on the messages crossing the desks in our office, we think the percentage of prisoners experiencing some mental challenges is considerably higher than that. One of our inmate whistle-blowers places the estimate at 80%!  It’s a huge problem.  For t

Federal executions resume. YOU can do something!

  Charles Anthony Nealy . Not many people remember that name. It’s the name of a young man executed by the State of Texas in 2007.   Here are two more names that will be new to you: William LeCroy and Christopher Vialva. These two men are scheduled to be put to death this week by the United States Government.   Not many people can say that they witnessed an execution. I can.   I didn’t want to watch Texas put Anthony to death. But he was my friend, and he asked me to be there with him as his spiritual advisor. I’m the first to admit that I’m not much good at that “spiritual advisor” stuff, and I’m afraid my presence and my last-minute prayers were quite inadequate.   The experience, however, solidified my feelings about the death penalty...something I find immoral.   Sadly, our federal government has opted to resume this barbaric form of punishment. The Catholic Momentum Network has announced plans to conduct two Virtual Prayer Vigils on the scheduled dates for the execution

If happiness is a good night's sleep, some women aren't happy!

  Deliberate  sleep deprivation  has been used for centuries as a form of  torture .   Optalert Hundreds of women serving time with the Michigan Department of Corrections are complaining about sleep deprivation. Here’s the deal.   Women’s Huron Valley is the only prison in Michigan that houses women. Some 2,000 convicts are incarcerated at this facility in Ypsilanti. There are actually two prison sections on the campus, East Side and West Side. At one time, the West Side was used for housing mentally ill male prisoners, and so large, strong fluorescent lights were installed in the ceiling. They were called “observation lights,” and their glow could light up the whole room. The lights were important and necessary for caring for these special needs people.   Well, women occupy all of the housing units now, and they’re not mental cases. But, the “observation lights” on the west side remain, and said lights are keeping prisoners awake. The inmates don't like it, they've been

State COs are picketing! Are we listening?

M ichigan prison guards are making some strong demands, and it’s time that somebody listens.   A couple weeks ago the Michigan Corrections Organization organized a picket at both prison sites in Muskegon. This week they did the same at Marquette Branch Prison in the U.P. The MCO is a union that represents more than 6,000 corrections officers who serve in our 30 state prisons.   The problem, simply stated: They’re shorthanded.   Employees with the Michigan Department of Corrections say 750 officer vacancies statewide have made working at prisons dangerous. Byron Osborn, union president, is being quoted in media reports as saying that widespread mandatory overtime, sometimes several days a week, is normal practice. “It’s not uncommon for our folks to be on the clock for 24 hours because they can’t get relieved. We don’t have anybody to go relieve them.”   We hear it from the prisoners’ perspective in our office. You know things aren’t good when you have inmates taking the side of

Four Labor Day heroes nominated by prisoners

Labor Day, 2020, like none other in the history of the United States!   While paying tribute to all laborers on this special day, it’s especially important that we honor first responders in the COVID crisis. The nation owes you a huge debt of gratitude!   My focus today, however, is on four first responders in the office of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. These four people last month, while trying to cram in some last-minute summer vacation time and while working around a two-day J-Pay collapse, still managed to respond to 1,695 messages from prisoners or their loved ones! A one-month record! (There was a day, not that many years ago, when we thought 100 calls in one month was a big deal!)   It’s no wonder so many prisoners are contacting our office. They’re hearing first-hand reports from their friends behind bars about an agency where people care, where people help, where people listen.   Like Clement, who claims innocence and who needed legal files to prove it. HFP filed FOIA reques

On following rules: good or bad example for prisoners?

I love this quote by Albert Schweitzer: Example is leadership!   If we want prisoners to be law-abiding citizens someday, it is important that all of us set good examples. The Grand Old Party did just the opposite last week. While prisoners are expected to follow rules and abide by policies, Republican leaders chose a different route at their national convention.   On rules   Many prisoners wind up going back to prison after they are paroled. NOT because they reoffended, but because they violated some rules .   The same is true about prisoner misconduct “tickets.” Many times, the tickets are issued for the violation of a rule , rather than troublesome behavior.   Now let’s talk about the convention.   The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in most political activity inside federal buildings or while on duty.   Yet, the political confab barely got started when   There was a presidential pardon from the white house; The Secretary of State gave a politi