Showing posts from February, 2021

Transgender prisoners. Created in the image of God?

Transgender prisoners are on my mind.   We’re hearing some positive news about transgender people these days. Shortly after taking office, President Biden signed an executive order allowing transgender people to serve in the military. In fact, on his first day in office the President reinstated protections for gender identity that had been earlier curbed.   But progress for this group of people (all created in the image of God) has been slow. For example, on the day Biden signed that order, 2,100 miles away conservative legislators in Montana advanced a law to ban transgender youth from competing in girls’ sports.   What does it mean to be transgender?   Transgender people are persons whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth. When we're born, a doctor usually says that we're male or female based on what our bodies look like. Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from the sex that they were

Speaking of solitary confinement, Albert holds the record for life in the hole!

The problem with writing about a subject like solitary confinement is that sometimes I can’t let it go.   Just a few days ago I posted a piece exposing shameful solitary confinement numbers in Michigan, now I’m back again, like a bad penny.   I bumped into a story in the Guardian US, an on-line British newspaper. It told about an old guy who spent almost 40 years in solitary confinement! And this happened in Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison where, for years, some religious leaders touted how Christianity was making a difference in improving the lives of prisoners.   Former Warden Burl Cain had invited the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to set up a Bible college in the prison. Other states, upon hearing Warden Cain’s claims of success, followed suit. Right here in western Michigan, Calvin Theological Seminary has been sending students to Angola for more than a decade. Calvin University and Calvin Seminary now operate a for-credit college program in Ionia, Michigan.

The number of lifers continues to rise. So does the stupidity behind it!

  The wrong idea has taken root in the world. And the idea is this: there just might be some lives out there that matter less than other lives.” Fr. Greg Boyle   It wouldn’t be right to go through Black History Month without dealing with the topic of life sentences. The Sentencing Project recently issued a report that has my blood boiling! And it’s not just about racial disparity among lifers. It’s about the stupidity of the whole concept!   First a word about The Sentencing Project. It’s an agency that strives for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by producing “groundbreaking research to promote reforms in sentencing policy, address unjust racial disparities and practices, and to advocate for alternatives to incarceration.”   Please join me in taking a look at some of this “groundbreaking research.”   The number of people serving life sentences in the U.S. is higher than ever before! Complains the report:   Extreme punishment for punishment’s sake is now a ha

YOU can do something about torture in our prisons!

Getting thrown into “the hole” messes up lives...inside and outside. No one knows that better than Lois DeMott Pullano, whose son was mistreated by the prison system as a youth.   When Lois goes out on a speaking engagement, she takes along a most amazing exhibit for her audience to see and experience. She has a portable prison cell, and you’ll start feeling a hint of claustrophobia the moment you step into that tiny, parking-space sized room.   Lois is the Executive Director of Citizens for Prison Reform, a Lansing-based prison advocacy agency that got its start very much like that of Humanity for Prisoners. Actual experiences led her into this business, and led me into this business.   This week her agency issued a blistering report about solitary confinement. I’m going to encourage you to read it and do something about it. “Tsk, tsk, tsk” isn’t enough...this must go to your State Representative and State Senator along with your strong message of support.   Why are prisoners

Pardon my French, but Michigan voters, you should be pissed!

L eonard Pitts, Jr., fine columnist for the Miami Herald, wrote a great piece the other day about that high school principal in South Carolina who recently made national news. He took a night job at Walmart to help school kids living below the poverty line.   Pitts took issue with those who claimed this was a “feel-good” story. Instead, he argued, it should make us feel rotten that teachers still have to use their own money for supplies, that the government keeps giving tax cuts for the rich while working class people must protest to get a working wage. You get the idea.   I’ve been having similar feelings about the work of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS.   We experienced an 88% increase in our work-load last year, providing personal assistance to persons incarcerated in the state prison system. Last month was the second-busiest month in history, as our staff and volunteers struggled to respond to nearly 2,000 calls. Meanwhile, board members are scrambling to meet the resulting increase

Black History – Pastor Gulley can tell many “Jim Crow” stories!

Pastor Rodney Chester Gulley, an inner-city preacher since 1974, can tell Jim Crow stories that’ll make your straight hair curl up into kinks! His son was murdered, his father was murdered, and his grand-father was burned alive by the Klan!   As we discuss and think about Black History Month, I’d like to focus on this member of the HFP Board of Directors. Pastor Rodney Gulley’s name belongs among those whose courage and tenacity led to the eventual formation of HFP.   I first met Rodney while trying to free Maurice Carter, an indigent black man who had been wrongly convicted of shooting and injuring an off-duty white cop in Benton Harbor back in the 70s. The newly-formed Wisconsin Innocence Project, helping us with the case, wanted to hold a public information session in the city where the crime had occurred.   It was around the turn of the century when Pastor Gulley stepped up to offer his church for such a meeting. As the African American audience listened to an all-white group