Showing posts from January, 2021

Watch your mouth!

I wonder what my mom might have been.   I say that because something rotten happened to her when she was just a kid. That episode helped mold her into the beautiful person that she became, but one can’t help but wonder.   Born in 1914 of humble parents in Muskegon, Mary Trap wasn’t like her other sisters and brothers. Not only was she a “tom-boy,” playing street hockey with the neighborhood guys, but she was an avid reader of books. How she loved prowling through the treasures at the Hackley Public Library!   That led her to a love of poetry and writing, and that led to a tragic chapter, and I don’t minimize the word “tragic.” She submitted a writing assignment as a high school student, and it was rejected! The teacher accused her of plagiarism! The piece was too good. Could not possibly have been written by his student.   Those of you who knew Mary Trap Tjapkes need no persuasion that she would never cheat. But for the moment, it broke her spirit. She was so ashamed, and never

Sitting on our hands while prisoners croak? Shameful!

I’m going to let some other folks do the talking today.   The words of a HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS client suffering from COVID:   “From what the Marshall Project's statistics show, Michigan ought to be ashamed of itself. We ranked 2nd in deaths per 10,000 behind New Mexico, and 3rd in cases per 10,000 behind South Dakota and Arkansas. We are messed up as a prison system regardless of the MDOC's spokesman's propaganda on their ‘wonderful’ protocols. I've got a bunch of dead friends who wouldn't be if staff had actually followed the protocols, or better yet, had reduced the population so we aren't stacked up in here like logs on our own funeral pyre. Okay. Deep breath. Yeah, I've got some seriously strong feelings about the screwed up way this pandemic has been handled when, for a couple of those days, I thought I might be a double stat.”   The words of a client of SAFE AND JUST MICHIGAN:   "We always heard about the restaurants and the schools. (Gov

When will we think about prisoners?

I’m impressed. I must admit it. As a news junkie, I was glued to the TV screen watching the peaceful transfer of power. But this time I felt better. Perhaps it was the stark contrast between the outgoing administration and the incoming administration. Yet, with all that feel-good stuff, I still experience a tug of pessimism regarding my friends behind bars.   Here’s why.   The new President of the United States and his administration do not have a plate big enough to hold the giant stack of pressing problems. The pandemic, or course, is at the top of the list. The many issues involved with the coronavirus crisis alone demand immediate attention...deaths, business closings, job loss, homelessness, hunger, education, depression. Then you have the economy. Global warming. Immigration. Ugh!   My fear is that, with so many squeaky wheels, there may not be enough oil to squirt on the bearings.   Mass incarceration may not seem like the most pressing issue in our country, but it’s a

Martin and Cy: Free at last! Thank God Almighty, they’re free at last!

I must admit that Dr. Martin Luther King didn’t make much of an impact on my life while he was alive.   Sure, I remember the I Have a Dream Speech. I remember the sadness and dismay upon his assassination when I reported that story on the air in 1968.   But, frankly, I was white, living in an all-white community, attending an all-white church, and Dr. King’s challenges and concerns bore little resemblance to mine.   Then, a few years later, I booked a guest for my morning radio talk show to discuss Black History Week (that was before Black History Month).   The date arrived, and this tall, striking black man with a tiny patch of white hair in the front walked in. His name was Cy Young, a Grand Rapids taxi driver and former nightclub entertainer who would later become an itinerant preacher.   What a delightful radio interview! Cy Young told how he found a discarded book of Dr. Martin Luther King speeches in a parking lot. As he sat in his taxi waiting for calls, he started mem

Some people in Washington DC didn’t have a dad like mine!

It was early in the 1940s. A little boy named Doug Tjapkes went down the street to play with his friends Billy and Chucky. Playing in their spacious back yard was always fun. And, their mother had a nice vegetable garden back there.   On that particular day, Billy and Chucky asked me if I liked to throw tomatoes. Well, I had never considered it...we didn’t raise tomatoes at our house. So, we all gave it a try, and I must admit it was fun. The neighbor lady had just received a new shipment of cement blocks across the alley, and we splatted tomato after tomato against that block stack.   Much later in the day, my father asked me if I had been playing with Billy and Chucky. I allowed that I had. Then he asked if I had thrown tomatoes. Yep, I said, we all did. Turns out the owner of those cement blocks was a customer of my dad’s neighborhood grocery, and she was steamed.   The elder Tjapkes assured me that, after supper, he and I would take a walk to Mrs. Smith’s house and tell her t

Second chances for juvie lifers? Elusive!

I blame it on prosecutors! Here’s what’s going on. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 2012 and 2016, ruled that we may not sentence juveniles to life without parole. AND, those who are now in prison serving that kind of sentence must have those sentences reviewed. And that’s where the rub comes in. The Marshall Project, which recently published an in-depth report on the topic, found that we’re not doing our job here in Michigan. We had about 350 juvenile lifers whose sentences needed review. But get this: It’s 2021, and 200 of those lifers have yet to receive a new sentence!   What the ?   This, even after the Michigan Legislature responded by ruling that prosecutors should take less than 6 months to get these prisoners resentenced.   Did that happen? Heck, no!   To no one’s surprise, according the Detroit Free Press, many prosecutors decided to take a lengthier approach. Simply put, they chose to defy the high court’s determination that life without parole for a kid should be exce

2021: Year of burying the hatchet?

While fighting to free Maurice Carter, at the turn of the century, I learned some important lessons about forgiveness.   I’ll not forget when a consortium of Innocence Project professionals decided to conduct a public seminar on the fallacies of eyewitness identification to focus attention on our case. It would be held on the campus of Andrews University, right in Berrien County where Maurice had been wrongly convicted. I was floored to learn that one of the nation’s leading experts on the topic, Dr. Gary Wells of Iowa, would coordinate this program on our behalf.   That’s when I first met Jennifer Thompson, who came to share her story. DNA testing cleared a man, 22 year old Ronald Cotton, whom she positively identified as her rapist, and who served 10 years.   But that wasn’t the end of the story. Jennifer explains that she humbly begged for forgiveness. And Ronald, who could have remained bitter over the ordeal, was big enough to forgive. They later co-authored the best-selling