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All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

There are times when you gotta listen!

I dislike talking about myself. Even worse than that is the experience of visiting with someone who cannot stop talking about himself. 

BUT, if a personal experience can help someone else in important decision-making, perhaps it’s time to share. 

My first career was that of a radio broadcaster. I had my first radio program at age 12, and it was love at first sight. The word "radio" is still magical to me. 

After 29 years, I left the radio business in 1983 and stepped right into a position selling church organs. As an active church musician, it was a natural for me and I loved the work. 

Nevertheless, there remained that nagging desire to get back to my first love: radio. In the year 2000 I made serious work of it, and found a radio station that I could purchase. All of the details were coming together. I would finally be right back where I belonged! 

Wrong. 

Several years earlier I had met a Michigan prisoner named Maurice Carter, serving time for a crime he did not commit. A strong friendship developed. 

During our side-by-side battles for justice, he began pressuring me to start an organization to help other prisoners in similar circumstances---prisoners with little or no dollars, prisoners with little or no support from family and friends. I kept brushing aside these ideas, as I headed back into the broadcasting industry. 

Then, abruptly, every door toward radio slammed shut! 

And just as abruptly, as I grudgingly explored starting some kind of prisoner assistance, every door swung open. 

20 years later, it is apparent to me that this is where I belong, right in the midst of all these prisoners. It’s where I was meant to be. My previous careers in broadcasting and music were merely preparation for this one! 

My favorite theologian, Frederick Buechner, says: 

....a person's vocation is a person's calling. It is the work that they are called to in this world, the thing that they are summoned to spend their life doing. We can speak of a person choosing their vocation, but perhaps it is at least as accurate to speak of a vocation's choosing the person, of a call's being given and a person hearing it, or not hearing it.

 It took a while, but I heard it. 

My advice to you: Listen!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

There’s never a cop around when you want one!

I don’t know how many times I’ve said that after some rude bully of a driver cuts in front of a string of patient motorists waiting in line. I always wonder what kind of behavior these people exhibit in other parts of their lives. 

Well, the same kind of thing happens in prison. Obviously, it’s not cars in a traffic jam. It involves inmates waiting in line for their food. 

Our office received this message from a friend who, for obvious reasons, must remain unidentified: 

While prisoners from my unit were still on the chow line, an officer called another unit, so another 200+ people joined the line. Immediately 75-100 of them cut the line to go ahead of all the guys who were already waiting. 

The officers created this situation, then stood there and watched the guys cut in line. But if one person had tried to do the right thing and engage one of those line-cutters to get them to stop, the officers would have taken him to the hole for causing a disturbance. This happens not just in this instance in my prison, but in prisons across the state. 

I approached the officer who had called the extra unit, and his “professional” response was to tell me to “get the f*** away from him.” 

Our friend, who has spent years behind bars, insists that this is just one way that this kind of behavior is exhibited in the prison system. He asked that we forward his message to Heidi Washington, Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, along with this question: 

How are you going to ensure that officers and staff work together so that inmates come out of prison better than they went in, so that the public is protected by a system that teaches and promotes prosocial thinking and behavior? 

Sadly, no one really expected a response. But, to the surprise of many, Director Washington not only responded, but said that she would personally review camera footage from that facility. She's been in touch with our office. She's digging in. 

Maybe there was a cop around after all!

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Oscar Wilde: It is not the prisoners who need reformation, it is the prisons!

Activists and non-profits play an important role in monitoring our prison systems. Take the State of Georgia, for example. The feds are poking their noses into Georgia’s notorious prison system, thanks to a lot of noise-making. 

Prisoner advocacy agencies have stirred up state lawmakers, as well as prisoner families and loved ones, and as a result the U.S Department of Justice has launched an investigation. Newspaper accounts refer to deadly conditions for prisoners, as well as alleged unconstitutional practices by prison guards. 

The Marshall Project this week discussed the DOJ’s probe into violence and conditions inside Georgia prisons. 

It's interesting. Some of the complaints about Georgia prison problems don’t seem all that different than those heard in Michigan: squalid living conditions, COVID issues, suicides, homicides, staff shortages, guards working long hours, etc. 

Unless you’ve actually served time in a corrections facility, you have no concept of that environment. American political activist and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of a cop. He became widely known on death row for his writings and commentary on the criminal justice system, according to Wikipedia. 

His words: 

“Prison is a second-by-second assault on the soul, a day-to-day degradation of the self, an oppressive steel and brick umbrella that transforms seconds into hours and hours into days.” 

When one reads this stuff day in and day out, and when one reviews the 75-100 complaints per day that are received in our office, it would be very easy to become overwhelmed. How can one person, let alone one little agency, make a difference, let alone bring about change? 

And that’s my selling point for HFP! 

We’re happy to work with and support those agencies clamoring for prison reform, those agencies who see the big picture and want to do something about it. God bless them. 

As of HFP. We listen to the words of Mother Teresa: If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.     

I’m proud to say that’s what our wonderful team of staff members and volunteers do each day. One complaint at a time, one issue at a time, one human being at a time. Prompt and quick response...compassionate, personal assurance that every person behind bars matters! 

Mother Teresa adds: “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

COVID in prison? Time to get serious!

Are state prisons an outbreak hazard? That was the front-page headline in MLive newspapers this week.

The answer is obvious, and it looks to me that there’s enough blame to go around...even among the prisoners.

Here’s the deal, and thanks to MLive for bringing it to our attention. We all know that, because of confinement, there’s a high COVID risk in the prison environment. BUT, the Michigan Department of Corrections has shown no interest in a vaccination mandate for prison employees. I suspect partly because they don’t want to tangle with their union.

That’s really no surprise, because the State of Michigan hasn’t mandated coronavirus vaccines for the rest of state employees, either.

All of this makes me so angry! True, COVID is the enemy, and it’s sending people to the hospital and/or to the mortuary every day. But the REAL KILLER is and has been misinformation and disinformation, a shameful epidemic initiated by some of our nations’ leaders who obviously place politics ahead of morality.

Allow me to rant for just a second.

I’m old enough to remember the polio scare, and how grateful we were in 1953 when we learned that Dr. Salk had invented a vaccine. As I recall, no parents questioned what was in that vaccine, quarreled about whether the tests had been rushed, or screamed that vaccination encouragement was unconstitutional. Instead, we thanked God that science found a means of protection.

OK, now back to Michigan prisons.

For a point of information, Michigan has almost 37,000 people in nursing homes, and some 32,500 people in prisons.  Last month, the President announced that nursing home staff would have to be vaccinated for these homes to participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs. So much for that vulnerable group.

What about prisoners?

Our Governor could order a mandate for prison staff, I suppose, but there’s no question that she’s a bit skittish about things like this. Her political opponents in both chambers seem more intent on weakening her powers than working on positive programs.

MSU’s civil rights activist Dan Manville says that, if prison employees aren’t going to be mandated to get the shots, the prisoners for sure ought to get them. But, according to the MLive article, only about 65% of Michigan inmates are fully vaccinated.

I’m sure that is also partly due to that “misinformation and disinformation epidemic.”

It’s time for all to adopt the Biblical principle of consideration for others over self.

It’s time for staff and inmates to “man up,” and get the damn shots!

Now!

 

 

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Some protests are misguided, methinks

 Something’s screwed up here! 

A year ago people with guns stormed our state capitol to protest a stay-at-home order to help keep people safe from a raging virus. 

Last month, a storming of the capitol again, this time in opposition to vaccine mandates...again dealing with the same virus. 

Lately, angry people have been protesting at local county courthouses.

Reflecting on our 20 years of existence battling to improve conditions for Michigan prisoners, I remembered a favorite Bible verse that I put up in our office in the early years. 

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,

for the rights of all who are destitute.

Speak up and judge fairly;

defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31:8-9 

In Brooks CF, a prisoner was killed the other day. Some say it was a dispute over homemade hootch, but the general consensus is that gang bangers were involved. Nobody’s protesting. 

We published a blog recently about the terrible dental care in Michigan prisons. Inmates coming into our state prison system receive no dental care for the first two years. The department justifies it by saying, “Well, at least it’s better dental care than they had before they came in!” Nobody’s protesting. 

It’s been so hot in some state prison units that inmates were passing out. Michigan’s prisons do not have AC. Nobody’s protesting. 

From Huron Valley we receive reports from the women that inadequate amount per daily distribution of chemicals to clean the housing units and cells is creating filth, dust, and black mold build-up in shower areas. Nobody’s protesting. 

No visitors were allowed during much of the COVID pandemic, yet the drug flow into our state prisons never let up. How do you suppose that happened? Nobody’s protesting. 

And you’re protesting because somebody wants you to simply wear a mask out of consideration for others? 

Gimme a break!