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All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Friday, November 26, 2021

RIP, Jerry Horne! We'll meet again!

I suspect that Jerry Horne, Maurice Carter and Jesus are yucking it up, today. Probably chuckling over the Lord’s stories about the rich and the poor, and the complicated path to heaven. 

Jerry joined the party yesterday. 

Newlyweds Jerry and Dee Horne came to Holland, Michigan, in the 1960s. He and I worked together at Radio Station WJBL. It soon became clear, however, that this couple were headed for bigger things. Their combined prowess led them down an entrepreneurial path that took them into different and highly successful circles. We didn’t see each other again for decades. 

There was little likelihood that our paths would ever cross again. Our income brackets were at opposite extremes, as were our politics, and even some of our religious views. But an indigent black man from Gary, Indiana, changed all of that. 

Jerry read about my efforts to help a wrongly convicted prisoner named Maurice Carter. The story was making headlines in the Grand Rapids Press on a rather consistent basis around the turn of the century. And that’s when I learned a lot about this rich man. He not only had a pot of gold, but he had a heart of gold...and it especially leaned toward the less fortunate. 

Jerry Horne loved Maurice Carter, and it was his luxurious motor home that provided transportation from prison to a welcoming reception in July, 2004. Maurice lived for only 3 months after that momentous occasion, but Jerry’s love and support for the ideas of Maurice never waned. 

When I opted to go full-time into the prisoner advocacy business, it was Jerry and Dee who provided free office space in the Manpower Building in Muskegon. 

When many people thought I was dying from a staph infection in 2010, and an exciting new stage play about Maurice and me opened in Toronto, Jerry arranged for a private jet, piloted by his son, to take Marcia and me to the event. 

During the early years of this prisoner business, when times were lean, Jerry and Dee would roll out the red carpet. Marcia and I would get luxurious Florida lodging, transportation and living expense for a week! 

We’ve watched in sadness over the past ten years as Jerry battled dementia. 

That fight ended on Thanksgiving Day. May his family and loved ones feel God’s presence and his peace. 

And there is great cause for rejoicing. Jerry not only has a new body, today. He has a new mind!



 

 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

A "sticky note" to the late Rita Miller!

 Thanksgiving Day, November, 1954 (Age 18, at the “sunrise” of my life) 

As the newest announcer on the staff, I would be the only person on duty at WMUS on Thanksgiving Day. With only a daytime license, the Muskegon radio station would sign on at 8:15 AM and sign off at 5:15 PM. My loving mom would prepare a Thanksgiving dinner for me. My dad would deliver it. 

I flicked on the lights at the Giles Road studios, and discovered that the tiny office was speckled with yellow sticky notes. Before locking up on Wednesday, Rita Miller, our creative and innovative commercial writer, had and posted stickers everywhere! Thank you for telephones! Thank you for typewriters! Thank you for desks! Thank you for chairs! 

It was fun, but I had work to do. 

Little did I realize that I was at the beginning of an exciting 29-year radio career. That I would later embark on a fulfilling 21-year career selling church organs. And that, at age 65 when many people retire, I would respond to the calling of my life and form an organization that would offer compassion and hope to thousands of prisoners. 

I had no idea that, years later, I would be thankful for a loving wife, wonderful kids, delightful grandchildren, and a list that would go on and on. 

The big boss from Grand Rapids, a true scrooge, stopped in later that day to check on things. He immediately yanked off all the sticky notes and threw them into the waste basket (which also had a note on it!). 

But he couldn’t yank the memory from the mind of that enthusiastic teenager! 

Thanksgiving Day, November, 2021 (Age 85, at the “sunset” of my life) 

I don’t know how the years slipped by so quickly, but today I’m still thinking of Rita’s sticky notes. 

There’s an old gospel song that goes like this: 

Could we with ink the ocean fil
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.

That’s the way it would be if I had sticky notes today. I’m so thankful to God for so much. In trying to make a list, I’d run out of time and out of sticky notes. 

See what you started, Rita Miller? 

I realize that it’s far too little, far too late, but here’s posting a sticky “thank you” note for helping me see the true meaning of Thanksgiving!

 

 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Giving thanks behind bars?

In preparing an annual Thanksgiving prayer for our family dinner, I like to fall back on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s material. This year, as I read this simple verse, I think of persons living behind bars. 

 “For flowers that bloom about our feet;

 For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;

 For song of bird, and hum of bee;

For all things fair we hear or see,

 Father in heaven, we thank Thee!” 

The deal is, it would be pretty difficult to recite this little prayer while living in a cage, where you can’t smell flowers, can’t feel damp grass, and can’t hear the chirping of birds and the humming of bees. All stuff that we just take for granted. 

And yet, here in our office we receive words of thanks every day! With 50-100 messages arriving daily from behind bars, our team is wrapped in warm and fuzzy comments like these. 

“Thanks again for all your help. Make sure you give a special thanks to all the volunteers at HFP for me.” 

“Thank you for data provided by your complex searches. Because of HFP, I have been able to change my life for the better mentally and spiritually.” 

“Thank you GREATLY for the work HFP does for us.” 

“Thank you! I received my clothing today from the Quartermaster. God Bless! 

“I just want to thank you for those kind words ‘you matter.’ That means so much to me.” 

“Thank you so much for the prompt response re my eye glasses. you made this old man very happy!” 

“It inspires me to want to help others as you have helped me. Thank you once again!" 

In addition to many nice comments, this week I mailed out four personal thank-you notes to prisoners who made financial contributions to HFP. For our gang, this is the ultimate compliment! Residents of our prison system are not wealthy people, and their wages are puny. Expressions of financial support from inmates have been overwhelming this year, and for that WE are thankful! 

In conclusion, as we observe Thanksgiving, 2021, I just want to add a personal note. Since I started HFP 20 years ago, I’ve discovered that some of the nicest people I know are incarcerated. I’m thankful for their friendship! Because of them, Thanksgiving means more to me today.



Monday, November 22, 2021

Are we winning the war against racism? I don't think so!

I can’t even begin to discuss the obvious racial issues in the Rittenhouse story with a good friend. She insists that I’m biased because I refuse to watch Fox News, and that racism is not a systemic problem in U.S. law enforcement and justice circles. 

She is correct in that I struggle with objectivity on the issue of race, because my colleagues and I deal with it every day. As a legitimate and experienced broadcast journalist and a news junkie, I refuse to listen to any single news organization, and I have broad experience in pursuing facts. 

I’m not sure what planet my friend lives on, but here are some quotes, all gathered from legitimate resources, today. 

-A Freep investigation found that Black men are nearly six times more likely to be charged with resisting under state law than white men. Detroit Free Press 

-Federal prosecutors in New Jersey last week indicted 3 police officers seen on video abusing a Black teenager who was handcuffed and prone. The incident took place in January, 2018. Two of the copes were still on the job when indicted. The Marshall Project 

-More evidence that avowed white supremacists are allowed to work as prison guards in Florida. “Those who work in our prisons don’t seem to fear people knowing that they’re white supremacists,” says a state lawmaker. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

-Blacks tend to be sentenced more harshly than whites for lower-level crimes such as drug crimes and property crimes. Blacks convicted of high-level drug offenses also tend to be more harshly sentenced than similarly-situated whites. Open Society Foundations 

-Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at nearly five times the rate of whites. The Sentencing Project 

-The criminal justice system’s pervasive problems with racism start before the first contact and continue through pleas, conviction, incarceration, release, and beyond. American Bar Association 

-The net effects of history’s injustices are staggering. According to statistics the NAACP examined, although Black people make up 13.4 percent of the population, they make up: 22 percent of fatal police shootings,47 percent of wrongful conviction exonerations, and 35 percent of individuals executed by the death penalty. NAACP 

I think we can safely assume that a Black teenager cannot grab an assault rifle and run off to another town in another state, shoot 3 people participating in a white supremacy rally killing 2 of them, and be found not guilty on all charges. 

On this Thanksgiving Day I shall not be giving thanks for the widespread gains in defeating racism in America. I don’t see it happening.

 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Are you ready to accept any blame in the Rittenhouse verdict?

People aren’t going to like my opinion. But here it is: It’s the Prosecutor’s fault! 

People are shouting from all sides, following announcement of the verdict that teenager Kyle Rittenhouse has been found not guilty of all charges in a shameful Kenosha, Wisconsin, incident. This kid came into town with an assault rifle last August. He didn’t live there, but apparently felt he was needed because a demonstration was scheduled...somebody had to help keep order. He wound up shooting three protestors, killing two of them. Self-defense, he claimed. 

So now you have 2nd Amendment supporters, self-defense advocates and gun rights people defending the decision of the jury. Loving the decision. Meanwhile, many of us are shaking our heads in alarm and disgust. 

But let me return to my first line. 

As a young radio broadcaster, partly because of my own enthusiasm and gusto, I got thrust into the role of management at an exceptionally early age. I became the youngest News Director in a medium market at the age of 19 back in 1955. I was appointed General Manager of a small-market radio station over 15 employees at the age of 26, and I became the President and CEO of a small market radio station at the age of 27. 

Struggling to learn all that I needed to fulfil these roles, I grabbed management courses whenever and wherever I could. And one of the most important lessons still sticks with me. Our instructor said: “When you fire an employee, it’s not the fault of that worker...it’s YOUR fault!” 

Now back to convictions and acquittals, because that same lesson applies. 

The Black community isn’t quick to acknowledge this, but in 1995, when OJ Simpson was acquitted in a murder trial, many African Americans cheered. They knew darn well that he was probably guilty, but he beat the system. 

Granted, he won, fair and square. But legal experts will agree: It was the Prosecutor’s fault! 

And that’s where we are right now. Many of us agree that we cannot have vigilantes taking the law into their own hands. Deep down, even those shouting their approval of today’s verdict know darn well that we can’t maintain justice and order that way. 

But, today’s verdict is the Prosecutor’s fault! If the kid was guilty, it was the job of the Prosecutor to prove it. Innocent until proven guilty, we like to claim. 

And, ladies and gentlemen, the Prosecutor is elected by the people. So is the judge. 

Guess where the buck stops?



Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Mentally ill moms and dads behind bars need you!

Old Arnie was mentally challenged, and never should have received a prison sentence. Once behind bars, he got into even more trouble. He was confused and didn’t follow directions. It was a hot summer when he got thrown into “the hole” for disobeying orders, and it was like getting locked up in a sauna. Then, the laughing guards pulled one more trick. They turned off the cold water, so all he had was hot tap water. 

That happened years ago, and marked my first experience with mistreatment of the mentally ill in a state prison. 

I raised hell. We’ve been complaining ever since. 

In 2014, after obtaining smuggled affidavits from prisoner observers in Huron Valley, we persuaded the US Department of Justice to investigate mistreatment of mentally ill women. Even that didn’t seem to bring about much change. 

In recent days, we received this shameful report from an inmate at Macomb CF: 

"When a prisoner is under observation for self-harm they are being treated like animals. Their food is put on wax paper no matter what it is. If the population is having chili for dinner, then the person on observation gets the same, just put on wax paper, and has to eat with their fingers. They call it finger food but it’s just the same as population gets, and there is no policy for finger food. Also, they are not given any thing to wash their hands with after using the bathroom. So, they have to eat with dirty hands." 

It's time for a change. Demanding decent treatment for mentally challenged people behind bars is long overdue. Serious mental illness has become so prevalent in the US corrections system that jails and prisons are now commonly called “the new asylums.” 

Prisons hold more mentally ill individuals than state psychiatric hospitals. 

According to the Treatment Advocacy Center of Virginia: 

-Mentally ill inmates remain in prison longer than other inmates.

-Incarcerating mentally ill inmates is costly.

-Mentally ill inmates are often isolated, because of behavioral management problems.

-Mentally ill inmates are more likely to commit suicide. 

The loved one of a Michigan inmate writes: “This is wrong in so many ways! These are human beings and not a piece of crap! These men are our brothers, fathers, husbands, friends, etc., and to treat them like this and humiliate them is sickening. It's not acceptable!” 

Every Michigan legislator has an email address. Send him/her the link to this article. 

Let’s do something!

 


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Doug Tjapkes: A “not all that innocent” bystander

I don’t spend a lot of time reflecting. Don’t have much time for it. Even at this age, there’s a lot to do, a lot to be thinking about. 

But, November 11, 2021, is significant for me, in that I’ve never been 85 before. My parents never reached that age, either. This reflection business all started while reading a little devotional by my favorite theologian, Frederick Buechner.

 

Buechner was talking about the challenges St. Paul faced in trying to get a Christian church up and running. He was recruiting anybody and everybody he could.

“Where was it all going to get all of them, any of them, in the end? When you came right down to it, what was God up to, for God’s sweet sake, sending them all out – prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers, the whole tattered bunch – to beat their gums and work themselves into an early grave?”

 

But it was this little passage that really grabbed me.

 

“God was making a body for Christ, Paul said. Christ didn’t have a regular body anymore, so God was making him one out of anybody he could find who looked as if he or she might just possibly do.

“He was using other people’s hands to be Christ’s hands and other people’s feet to be Christ’s feet, and when there was someplace where Christ was needed in a hurry and needed bad, he put the finger on some, maybe not all that innocent, bystander, and got that person to go and be Christ in that place for lack of anybody better.”

 

I don’t want to compare myself to the early pillars of the church. God forbid. But I can tell you that this broadcast journalist/church musician had no intention of getting into the prisoner advocacy business. But, here’s the thing. No one was providing the assistance that HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS offers, on a daily basis, to thousands of Michigan prisoners. Christ was needed in a hurry.

 

I think it’s fair to say that, exactly 20 years ago, “for lack of anybody better,” God put the finger on me to establish this agency. And hopefully, in HFP, our team’s hands and feet would be the hands and feet of Christ behind bars.

 

In sending a generous gift, a kind donor made this observation:

 

HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS - truly the hands, feet and heart of Jesus.

On November 11, 2021, a birthday gift that makes me proud!

Friday, November 5, 2021

Two days later, a different story! Can Shipman's style prevail?

I mouthed a silent “Thank you!” when I heard the news that Brian Shipman had been appointed chairman of the Michigan Parole Board last year. It was an excellent decision by Director Heidi Washington. 

My first brush with the Michigan Parole Board came in 2004, when Maurice Carter was being considered for a compassionate release. At that time, the PB was run by a former prosecutor who still talked and acted like one. And, in his public hearing, Maurice was grilled by an Assistant Attorney General who acted like this was another trial. 

As providence would have it, I later became a prisoner advocate and had many experiences with the Parole Board...and 9 out of 10 were just as bad or worse! 

Years later, while representing a prisoner being considered for parole, I had the opportunity to interact with a new member of the board, Brian Shipman. What a difference! What a breath of fresh air! This man treated a prisoner like a human being! 

Later, as son Matt started taking on most of the Parole Board duties for HFP, he expressed similar feelings. 

I suspect it has a lot to do with Shipman’s background. He’s a veteran of more than 30 years with the MDOC, and he started out as a Corrections Officer! 

Another step forward in the PB’s public hearing procedure occurred when Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel replaced Assistant AG Scott Rothermel with Alicia Lane. Things seemed to have mellowed out, quieted down. Until Tuesday, that is. 

That’s when Parole Board newcomer Adrianne Van Langevelde presided over a hearing for one of our clients. In that session, Assistant AG Lane followed in Ms. Van Lengevelde’s footsteps, as they turned the whole session into a hellish experience for our friend (See Matt’s blog entry earlier this week). Shades of the past! 

Was that just a temporary relapse? We hope so, because Thursday’s public hearing, conducted by board chair Shipman, was completely different...like day and night. 

We’re hoping, and prisoners are praying, that Shipman’s attitude and style can prevail, and the torturous public hearings of the past stay there. 

The entire PB would do well to consider these words from Pope Francis: 

Human dignity is the same for all human beings: When I trample on the dignity of another, I am trampling on my own.



Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Like father, like son

Readers will remember that I have been railing about Michigan Parole Board public hearings for years. Yesterday, son Matt’s pen erupted. 

It doesn’t have to be this way

By Matt Tjapkes, HFP CEO, 11/2/21 

Even the good parole hearings are bad. 

In 10 years, I've sat through a bunch. While I always walk out with hope for our clients, I also walk out with a bad feeling in my gut. Today as I sat and watched, a parole board member and a member of the Attorney General's office badgered HFP client Mr. D about how he left his kids behind. He had openly said the same thing several times, saying how remorseful he was, but they just had to keep talking over each other, beating him up about it until he finally broke down in tears. Once he broke down, they seemed satisfied. 

A student who had helped the client called me afterward. At that point, she, too, was in tears. She, like I, was not satisfied with the hearing. 

It doesn't have to be like this. 

For an hour and fifteen minutes, Mr. D. was forced to go over every detail of his crimes. Not just the ones he's serving time for. Your actions of 20+ years ago? It doesn't matter, you better remember the details. His previous prison sentence? Had to go over all of that, too. His juvenile record? You bet, we need to make you feel bad about what you did then, too. In fact, as the client went through his story, both the board member and the AG representative pointed out what could have been even MORE charges against him. 

With a smile on their faces. 

For the last 20 years, our client's been locked up. He's stayed in touch with his family. He's done his best to stay in contact with his kids, and managed to keep the relationships intact to the point that his kids brought their newborn baby to prison, just so grandpa could see his grandbaby. He's reflected daily on what brought him to prison, and vowed to conquer those addictions and contribute to society. 

On top of that, he's worked his butt off! Great job reports everywhere he goes and the list was long. Even though he's ineligible for most programming because of MDOC technicalities, he still found his way to participate in some classes and find fellowship with other inmates. 

Best of all, he's been well behaved. His one ticket in the last 10 years - that was for having a bottle of superglue so he can fix headphones for fellow inmates when they need a hand. He's left positive impressions everywhere. 

The total amount of time the Parole Board and AG's office spent on all the work done the last 20 years - SIX MINUTES! 

In the end, I'm hopeful for our client. He had the grace to thank everyone participating after the hearing was complete. But the behavior of the Parole Board and AG's office ruined the day for many others in attendance. 

Mr. D's trial was 20 years ago. It should have stopped then.