Showing posts from April, 2021

How prison families identify with COVID victims

  There's no greater misfortune than dying alone. Gabriel Garcia Marquez   Day after day, during this past year of COVID horror, we have been bombarded with tragic stories about being alone. Time and again we heard tearful reports of family members unable to visit ailing and dying loved ones in nursing homes or hospitals. Thousands upon thousands of COVID patients died one at their bedside to hold hands, say last goodbyes, offer final prayers. Heartbreaking!   Experiences like that were new to many of us. We’ve never had a pandemic like this before.   But, surprise, surprise. This is nothing new for anyone who has a family member in prison! No, it’s not a virus that causes similar problems. It’s the cold, heartless, impersonal system that’s to blame...and it’s not nice.   Our home phone rang the other night. Old feller called me and introduced himself. He had gotten my name and telephone number from a friend of a friend. In this business, the calls, the pleas

Watch your mouth. You may need a criminal lawyer someday!

The Constitution of the United States of America gets treated much like the Holy Bible. We pick and choose which parts we really like.   Today, I’m picking a less popular amendment, as I come to the defense of criminal lawyers.   Eric Nelson has been taking a lot of heat these days. He was the lead defense attorney for recently convicted Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin.   In coffee shop or tavern discussions, you’ll invariably hear negative comments about any lawyer who would defend a guy like that. I remember long ago when a young criminal attorney married into a prominent family. You’d have thought their daughter had married someone of a different faith or, gasp, of another color. A member of his new family rudely wondered how the man could sleep at night.   I think the world of defense attorneys.   When invited to speak at their state convention, I concluded my address with the statement that I considered these lawyers “the backbone of our justice system.” I received a standin

Days, weeks, months, years in the hole? Not acceptable!

My friend puts it well: Getting old sucks!   In response to my kids’ persistence, I called my physician to ask about a troublesome leg. That led to a visit to Urgent Care, and that led to the Emergency Room. Possible blood clot.   I have great respect for the medical profession, but all of my hospital visits in my 80+ years have not been pleasant. We’re in a small town so, in this case, there was a 2-hour wait while the facility’s ultra sound technician was paged and brought in.   And here’s the deal. You’re sitting on a gurney with your pants off, so you can’t run to the bathroom. The ER exam room is tiny, the curtain is pulled, there’s no radio, no television, COVID has resulted in the removal of magazines. And, my cell phone was in the car.   Alone with NOTHING to do for 2 solid hours.   And that got me to thinking about people I love behind bars, and the common practice I detest: solitary confinement .   For a variety of reasons, we can and do place men and women in tin

What’s in a name?

So, how do you refer to people who reside behind bars? What do you call them? Criminal, convict, offender, felon, super-predator, lawbreaker, delinquent, inmate, prisoner? Our board chair, Russ Bloem, has been insistent that we reconsider the terms used for referring to someone who is incarcerated. This week we get some guidance from the Marshall Project, which has developed a policy on what to call someone behind bars. In a prison survey taken by the MP, 38% preferred being labeled an “incarcerated person,” 23% were OK with the term “prisoner,” but only 10% wanted to be called an “inmate.”  I thought the Marshall Project gave an excellent explanation as to why they were taking a look at this issue:  It’s important to note that our policy is not an attempt to exonerate anyone or minimize the impact of crime on people victimized by it. It is designed to promote precision and accuracy and to convey the humanity of people who are routinely dehumanized by the media and society   So

The real message behind problem solving: Someone cares!

I had an idea for a radio show back in the 1970s. Call-in shows were popular on local radio, but they all sounded alike. My idea was to be active instead of passive, to help listeners solve problems. We labeled the show Problem Solvers, and I hosted it along with my assistant Barb Werly.                                                                                                                            People could call with a problem. We and our listeners would then try to solve it. We did not limit the type of problem. If necessary, we would make an outgoing call to get an answer.   I didn’t create the show for ratings...I did it to help people, but the ratings followed! It was one of the most popular mid-morning shows on west Michigan radio, emanating from our little 500-watt transmitter in our small town!   That’s what is happening with HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. 20 years ago, we started out just helping those who claimed wrongful conviction. We found we couldn’t limit our

Heroes venture behind bars!

Every time I drive past a major intersection here in Grand Haven, I get a warm feeling. There’s a big skilled nursing facility on that corner, and I’m sure the past year has been a stressful time for both occupants and staff. But here’s the thing I like: There are signs in the lawn all around the building saying Heroes work here!   The pandemic has helped us become aware of all kinds of heroes. In addition to the doctors, nurses and first responders, we have found heroes who kept our grocery stores open, for example; who kept public transportation alive; and yes, who hauled away our garbage. All kinds of unsung heroes.   I’ve been thinking about this subject since last weekend when I heard one of my favorite country gospel groups, The Isaacs, singing their song called Heroes . The theme is that you may not know their names, but many everyday people are heroes all the same.   Today I’m going to do something about it. I’m surrounded by a group of heroes, and I’m going to tell the w

Dave and I have an Easter gift for you!

This is a very special Easter gift!   The following piece was written by a very special friend, David Schelhaas. Dave is a retired college English professor who now lives in Iowa. Many years ago he lived here in our part of the state, taught at Western Michigan Christian High School in Muskegon, and was a charter member of HIS MEN…a singing group that I founded in 1972.   He’s not only a fine singer, but an excellent writer. I invite you to savor this little gem on Easter Sunday, 2021:   Thinking He Was the Gardener   Thinking he was the gardener she did not recognize him, eyes blurred with tears, the weight of grief breaking her heart.   Now, all these centuries later, we find her misidentification of him as gardener happily apt. For he  is  the gardener of our lives and our salvation--- planter, waterer, weeder, feeder, completer.   He is the gardener of all green and growing things, of grasses, flowers and trees. The great sequoias, redwoods, and