All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

GRATITUDE from behind bars!

Michigan prisoners are showing appreciation for our services in a most amazing and gracious manner. 

It’s no secret that I struggle when someone asks how HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS measures success.

I have appreciated Fr. Greg Boyle’s thoughts on the subject, when asked about his work with gang members. “Jesus was always too busy being faithful to worry about success. I'm not opposed to success; I just think we should accept it only if it is a by-product of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones.”

But, it’s a fair question.

One very nice person said she had difficulty donating to our cause because another charity she supports can tell her exactly how many hungry children they are feeding. We can’t provide numbers like that. We can tell her how many prisoners we are working with, but that has nothing to do with success.

A grant writer consultant insists that success data is important. Yet, this is why it’s complicated. 

We’re responding to some 100 calls a day, and we obviously can’t help every person in prison with every problem he or she faces. So, compiling specific data regarding our successes isn’t easy. We consider it a huge success, for example, when the prisoner just shows gratitude that someone cares. But how do you reflect that on a chart or list? 

Well, a growing percentage of prisoners have found a most amazing way. They’re donating money to support our cause! Aware of the dramatic increase in office activity in the past year, they’re stepping up to the plate. Something we’ve never seen before! Something we've never asked for.

HFP has received some 60 cash donations from prisoners already this average of 10 per month! Unheard of in this business! These people, if they are fortunate enough to even have a job, may earn 40 or 50 cents an hour. While their wages haven’t gone up in decades, prison store and vending machine prices just keep on rising. They're not flush with dollars. 

Now the headline. 

This week, we received the largest single gift from a Michigan prisoner! Mr. D, who has won a couple of court settlements, said, “I really want to make a generous donation to your corporation because you have been the first organization to really help these guys in here in a way that makes a difference. Please, send my love to each and every one of you and thank you.” 

His gift: $15,000.00! 

This proof may not be what statisticians were hoping for, but we’ll claim it as a strong indication of HFP success. And the resulting feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment for our team is delicious! 

Thank you, Mr. D. Thank you, Lord!




Monday, June 7, 2021

Proudly treating transgender prisoners as fellow humans!

As we enter Pride Month, I’d like to focus on the T in the popular term LBGTQ. 

Some of my friends, especially those who share my Christian beliefs, really don’t like to talk about these things. If we don’t talk about them we don’t have to think about them, and if we don’t think about them we don’t have to deal with the complexity of these issues. 

When contacted for advice regarding a transgender person in one of our prisons, a Christian counselor bluntly stated to us: "Lots of luck with that one!"

First, a simple description of the word transgender. It’s an adjective, denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. 

In Pride Month, I’m very proud to state that HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is working with at least 40 transgender Michigan prisoners! Consider, for a moment, just how difficult it must be for a transgender person to just survive in that environment! They face specific and unique problems due to ignorance, discrimination, and violence from guards and other prisoners. Therefore, they are exposed to horrific rates of abuse. The U.S. Transgender Survey found that transgender people are ten times as likely to be sexually assaulted by their fellow inmates and five times as likely to be sexually assaulted by staff. 

I spotted this headline recently in a Detroit Newspaper: A transgender woman says she has been shunned her whole life: by her parents, strangers and the prison system, where she was ignored until she got raped. 

HFP has been blessed to receive assistance and guidance from a small band of professionals, who have even agreed to become pen pals with some of our transgender clients. We not only do our best to help and encourage transgender persons behind bars, we also show respect by referring to their chosen sexual identity in correspondence and with the pronouns we use ("she" instead of "he," e.g.). Our imprisoned friends are so grateful for these simple demonstrations of kindness! 

How sad that transgender persons have become such a political target in our divided country! State legislatures in some 33 states are now entertaining bills that restrict their rights. And further checking reveals that the wording is almost identical. Some devious person, agency or group made a concerted effort to send a template to political operatives in each state. Shameful. 

I love Psalm 139. These words in verse 14 fit our discussion: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

May our transgender friends claim this today.

And may the rest of us respect it.



Wednesday, June 2, 2021

1,000 people in Michigan prisons are innocent! Do you care?

Baptist Preacher Jeff Gravins tells the story about a church searching for a new minister. A likely candidate was invited to speak on a Sunday morning. The congregation loved his sermon, and called him to become their new pastor. 

Great sermon the first week. The second week, the very same sermon. The third week, the same again. The fourth week, samo samo. 

That prompted a meeting by the church board. Said the church’s leading elder: “We are a bit concerned that you keep preaching the same sermon every Sunday. Our question is: ‘Do you have another sermon?’ The preacher took off his glasses, folded his arms and responded, ‘I do have another sermon. But this church hasn’t obeyed the first one yet.’” 

I’m starting to feel that way about wrongful convictions. 

20 years ago I founded this organization, while trying to free my wrongly convicted brother Maurice Carter. Ever since, I’ve been hammering on the topic. 

Last week, former Cooley Innocence Project Director and HFP Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon was in Jackson to hold the prison door open for Gilbert Poole, a wrongly convicted Michigan inmate who had spent 32 years behind bars. 

Just two days earlier, I was at the Muskegon Correctional Facility to welcome my friend Ray Gray, who spent 48 years in prison for a crime he did not commit! 

Does anyone care about this injustice? 

Best selling novelist John Grisham, who is also a lawyer, says in his book The Innocent Man (a must read!): Wrongful convictions happen every week in every state in this country.  And they happen for all the same reasons. 

Experts agree that 3-5% of prisoners are innocent. 

Let’s boil down the numbers. If we have about 35,000 people in our state prisons in Michigan right now, that means we have at least 1,000 men and women locked up in our state facilities who are innocent! 

Let’s go to the Washington Post for something else that you should find maddening. Here’s the headline: More than half of all wrongful criminal convictions are caused by government misconduct, study finds! 

In his story, WAPO writer Tom Jackman quotes U of M retired professor Samuel Gross: “Misconduct by police, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials is a regular problem, and it produces a steady stream of convictions of innocent people.” 

The study also found that police and prosecutors are rarely disciplined for actions that lead to a wrongful conviction. 

Something’s gotta happen, boys and girls, and it ain’t gonna happen if you don’t give a crap! 

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Desmond Tutu