All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Got a toothache? Who cares?

 “For there was never yet a philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently.”

— William Shakespeare 

We don’t do a lot of thinking about our teeth. Not until something goes wrong...cavity perhaps, maybe a broken tooth. Then we call our dentist. Need help right away. 

'T’ain’t that way in Michigan prisons, however, and it may take a lawsuit to change it. 

Here’s the sad story about our Michigan Department of Corrections. Prisoners cannot get dental care during their first two years in prison! The only time they can is if the treatment is considered urgent — and being toothless does not count! 

The amazing thing is the MDOC doesn’t see anything wrong with this! 

Department spokesman Chris Gautz told a writer for the Marshall Project that the agency’s dental care (or lack of) does not violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and is “far better than what the majority of the prisoners received prior to entering prison.” As if that makes any difference. 

In response to that, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that someone is doing something about it. The bad news is that it’s taking forever. 

Our friend Dan Manville, who heads up the Civil Rights Unit at Michigan State University’s College of Law, has filed a law suit. Dan actually served time before he became an attorney, and he has a genuine heart for those behind bars. 

“Most people in society have at one point in time had some type of tooth pain, and they know how bad it can be,” he told Keri Blakinger, writer for the Marshall Project. Manville is suing the state’s prison system and its medical providers over these nutty dental practices. “But in a system where you have to wait two years for dental care, it’s barbaric.” 

Said Keri Blakinger’s story: Manville’s legal battle started after prisoner Robert Johannes lost a filling. When the prison dentist tried to replace it, the whole tooth broke off. Over the next few years, dentists kept pulling teeth until he could no longer chew – but, according to the lawsuit, the prison still refused to give him dentures. If a cavity hurt too much, the dentist would tell prisoners they could wait at least two years for a filling — or just agree to an extraction right away. The case probably won’t go to trial until next year. 

I guess, for a person behind bars, a toothache just may be “something they’ve got coming.” 

Does anyone care? 

“Love conquers all things except poverty and toothache.” 

- Mae West

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Credit where credit is due. Many COs doing a fine job!

I was the guest speaker for a group of senior citizens. While describing conditions in Michigan’s prisons I made some disparaging remarks about a few Correctional Officers who were giving one of our clients a bad time. 

During the Q and A session following my presentation, a very nice gray-haired woman raised her hand. “I just want to say,” she said, “that not all Correctional Officers behave the way you described.” She went on to add, “My son is a Correctional Officer. He has a college degree. He takes his work seriously, gives his best every day, and he’s proud of his work!” 

That was a very important reminder for me, and for all of us in this prisoner advocacy business. 

It’s very much like those “rotten apple cops” who make all police officers look bad. Because of some misbehavior, we get to thinking that all cops must be mean and crooked, even though we know better. 

So it is with Correctional Officers. 

We hear and read reports of COs abusing and neglecting the mentally ill, smuggling contraband into the system, and treating visitors with disrespect. Then, with a broad brush, we paint all Correctional Officers the same color. And that’s not fair. 

A lot of attention is being paid to unsung heroes during this pandemic, especially first responders, doctors and nurses. Little is said about prison workers. 

And so, among the long list of other unsung heroes during these difficult times, we’d like to add Department of Corrections employees. Yes, there are some rotten apples. But there are also many fine, dedicated officers faithfully working without praise or fanfare day after day. 

In many ways, their job is far more dangerous than that of a cop, yet their wage doesn’t match that of police officers. Our team is witness to the fine efforts and tremendous dedication of many COs in the Michigan prison system. 

In declaring the first week in May as National Correctional Officers Week, back in the 1980s, then President Reagan said this: 

“The professionalism, dedication and courage exhibited by these officers throughout the performance of these demanding and often conflicting roles deserve our utmost respect. The important work of Correctional Officers often does not receive the recognition from the public it deserves. It is appropriate that we honor the many contributions and accomplishments of these men and women who are a vital component of the field of corrections.” 

We agree. A tip of the HFP hat to many fine officers in our prison system.




Saturday, August 14, 2021

Wrongful convictions: A bad taste in the mouth of prosecutors!

I’m watching Lester Holt this week, and that gets me to wondering if we’ll ever learn how to treat people who are wrongly convicted. 

Face it. Michigan doesn’t have a stellar record in this field. 

What a revelation it was for me, as a seasoned broadcast journalist, to dive into the sea of wrongful convictions back in the mid-90s. One of the things that absolutely blew my mind back then, and still does today, is the very real resistance that arises within our alleged system of justice. 

In the Maurice Carter case, we had actual proof of the real shooter’s identity, but no one would do anything about it! 

Yes, between the desire to save face and the hidden desire to prevent exonerees from collecting money that rightfully belongs to them for years spent behind bars, Michigan has little to be proud of. 

But, Missouri is worse! 

Back to Lester Holt. NBC news did a feature on the plight of one Lamar Johnson. Mr. Johnson is in prison for a murder two other people confessed to committing. Why is he still locked up? Well, Missouri law says that a prosecutor can only seek a new trial within 15 days of a conviction— in Johnson’s case, back in 1995. Hopefully there’s light at the end of the tunnel, as a new state law is set to go into effect later this month that will give prosecutors more power to correct wrongful convictions, even years later. 

But here’s the stuff that really yanks my chain! 30 elected Missouri prosecutors submitted a brief not only arguing that Johnson should remain in prison despite his innocence, but that St. Louis District Attorney Kim Gardner behaved unethically when she asked a court to release him. Sick! 

That should surprise no one in Missouri. A recent Washington Post article by Radley Balko revealed these additional absurdities: 

-At least three men remain imprisoned despite the fact that the prosecutors in the jurisdictions where they were convicted have released the evidence of their innocence and the real killers have confessed. 

-The Missouri AG’s office, which handles post-conviction cases in the state, has a tradition of defending every conviction, regardless of merit. Joseph Amrine was on death row when found innocent. But listen to this: In 2001, a state supreme justice asked the prosecutor, “Are you suggesting . . . even if we find that Mr. Amrine is actually innocent, he should be executed?'” The prosecutor responded, “That is correct, your honor.” 

Now that should flabber your gast! 

There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.”

― Charles-Louis de Secondat

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Open the door, MI!

No question about it: Isolation due to COVID nearly drove many of us crazy! 

From our friends, from our neighbors, in the news, we heard reports of such psychological disorders as anxiety and panic, insomnia, digestive problems, depression, loneliness, and irritability. Sadly, the suicide rate was up. 

Psychology experts point out that human beings are not “designed” to manage segregation, even for 10 days, let alone for a long period of time. Duh! As the Greek philosopher Aristotle reminds us, man is a “social animal.” 

I’ve got news for you. After hearing our complaints, more than 3,000 Michigan prisoners have little sympathy. These prisoners are caged in a 7x9 foot cell for more than 20 hours a day! They’re in solitary confinement. They were there before COVID. They’ll be there after COVID unless we do something about it. 

The HFP team is especially aware of this, not only because some of our clients are in seg, but also because our office is supporting Citizens for Prison Reform’s Open MI Door Campaign, an effort to end or at least limit solitary confinement in Michigan. 

My friend Lois DeMott Pullano, Executive Director of CPR, is spearheading this campaign, and it’s turning out to be an uphill battle. 

You see, we don’t like it when we’re stuck in the house all day, even though we have the opportunity to mask up, take a walk around the neighborhood, and chat with family members on zoom. 

Yet, we show little concern re solitary confinement in our prisons, where prisoners can experience 

-Confinement behind a solid steel door for 20 to 24 hours a day

-Water shut-offs and restrictions on food

-Inadequate medical and mental health treatment

-Physical torture such as top of bed restraints, hog-tying and restraint chairs

-“No-touch torture,” such as sensory deprivation, permanent bright lighting, extreme temperatures, extreme noise and forced insomnia

-Chemical torture, pepper spray, tasers and forced cell extraction

-Sexual intimidation and other forms of brutality and humiliation

-Infrequent phone calls and non-contact family visits

-Extremely limited access to rehabilitative or educational programming

-Restrictions on reading material, paper and mail. 

It’s no wonder that we get reports of severe anxiety, fear, rage, depression, even hallucinations, confusion and memory loss. 

It’s time to end the double standard. Isolation wasn’t a picnic for us. It’s hell for prisoners. 

We encourage your support of this CPR effort by signing a petition. Do it now!



Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Whistleblowers - Genuine Heroes!

It takes a lot of courage to be a whistleblower. Just ask those women who dared to speak up about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s outrageous behavior. 

In one of the New York Times pieces that I read, the writer reported a “campaign of retaliation” against any person who dared challenge the Governor’s suggestive words and actions. In fact, the story said, options were so bleak for those hoping to expose this toxicity that many just chose to tough it out. They needed the job. They needed the paycheck. 

The story reminds me of some amazing whistleblowers who helped us expose problems in the Michigan prison system over the years. 

-There was a plumber who risked his contract with the MDOC just to tell us about a rotten situation at Women’s Huron Valley.

-Speaking of WHV, there was a list of gutsy women who risked their valuable prison jobs by smuggling affidavits to us accusing officers of abusing mental patients, resulting in interference by the ACLU and investigation by the US Department of Justice!

-Then there was the Corrections Officer in the U.P. who risked losing his job by blowing the whistle on his warden, who had been encouraging staff to harass ethnic minority prisoners!

-Prisoners regularly agree to give their names, if necessary, to expose shoddy prison medical care.

Political commentator Fuad Alakbarov says whistleblowers are “crucial to a healthy society. The employee who, in the public interest, has the independence of judgment and the personal courage to challenge malpractice or illegality is a kind of public hero.” 

Said the New York Times Editorial Board, in calling for the Governor’s resignation: “...the women who came forward to share them (the stories), even in the face of threats of retaliation, as detailed in the report, should be commended for their bravery.” 

We, too, encounter this kind of bravery on a state level, time and again. The threat of retaliation is rife in the prison system, but courage often rises to the top. 

An HFP salute to those who, despite the very real threat of retaliation, dare to speak up! 

“To see a wrong and not to expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.”

 -Dr. John Raymond Baker, Whistleblowers International.