Showing posts from 2022

Part Two from yesterday’s post. Still fuming!

I’ve always been reluctant to criticize the media, mainly because that was my first career. I was a radio broadcaster. More specifically, a broadcast journalist. Even though my writing appears only on a blog page now, I still consider myself a part of the media.   It’s so easy, as an octogenarian, to talk about the good old days, and how reporters just don’t get it anymore. And, that’s not fair. I see wonderful, brilliant examples of outstanding journalism in my daily news addiction searches. But I’m struggling with a Michigan issue…one that I alluded to in Thursday’s blog posting.   We have serious racial issues in our so-called system of justice , and we seem to be ignoring them. Perhaps it’s because we’ve gotten so used to the problem. In a day and age when white supremacy gains in popularity, and rewriting American history to soft-pedal our racist past also gains in popularity, those of us who are reporters must remain diligent.   Last weekend Governor Whitmer announced the good ne

Of the 18 year-end commutations approved by the Guv, only 1 white person! Surprise?

Yes, Governor Whitmer deserves thanks and congratulations for granting 18 requests for commutation at the end of the year. We haven’t seen that in recent years, and all credit is due.   Aside from that, it’s important that we take a careful look at individual cases. And as we do, we should be ashamed of America’s justice system, which we claim is the best in the world.   Let’s zoom in on some.   True, John Aslin participated in an unarmed burglary 40 years ago. But the victim had a heart attack and died. He was sentenced to life without parole, and served 38 years.   True, Jimmy Burden took part in a robbery 40 years ago. Only $16 was taken. He was sentenced to 60-100 years, and served 39.   True, LaDon Cloud was arrested for a non-violent drug offense. He was sentenced to 40-100 years, and served 22.   Likewise, Willie Kincaide was arrested on a similar charge. He was sentenced to life in prison, and served 27.   True, Monika McCain took part in an unarmed robbery. The

Bah, Humbug!

Louis Cassels was one of my favorite news writers. A Washington Correspondent for UPI for many years, he later became its national religion writer. In 1959 he wrote a parable for UPI that will last forever. I was News Director of WJBL in Holland when I first tore that copy off our newsroom teletype machine and aired it. For the next 25 years my listeners, first in Holland and then in Grand Haven, heard me read this parable at Christmas time. Today, as the founder of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, I share this beautiful story on Christmas Eve as my gift to you.   Now the man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge; he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. He was generous to his family and upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that stuff about God becoming a man, which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense, and he was too honest to pretend otherwise.   “I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not

It’s a dog’s life!

Today I surrender the blog pen to another Doug. This Doug, and his pal Jim, are an exceptional pair of dog trainers in the Michigan Prison PAWS program. Last week, as new dogs were arriving, Doug and Jim were pulled aside. A doggie with serious emotional issues was arriving, and they were selected to be the ones to help this little girl. I think this wis a neat holiday story, so I share it with you today.   Doug’s words:   “Well, when our new girl (named Goldie) came in, she nearly had to crawl she was so low to the ground, with her tail tucked completely under her belly, head and ears down and panting. Terrified. One of those break-your-heart ASPCA commercial moments.  I scooped her up into a hug and carried her to the back of the room. When there was a break in the action, I carried her completely out of the building. Pretty much everything scares her, or at least did the first two days, but we've barely left her alone for more than ten minutes, doting on her like our lives d

1886 prayer. Still perfect for today!

I have a beautiful Christmas gift for you. A simple gift. The words from a tiny, but meaningful prayer. The thing is, it’s very old! It’s my first Christmas alone. It’s midnight, and I’m listening to an Ave Maria that I haven’t heard before. It’s from Verdi’s opera Otello. Since the vocal solo was being presented on television, the producer chose to show the English translation, and I was moved. This was a beautiful prayer! This is perfect for the holiday season. This is appropriate as we near the end of 2022.   In the opera, the Ave Maria aria is sung by Desdemona (Otello’s wife) in Act 4, as she kneels in prayer with a troubled mind before going to bed.   Here is the English translation. Pay particular attention to the phrases I have highlighted in bold print:   Ave Maria, overflowing with grace, Blessed be the fruit of thy womb.   Blessed are you above all women for delivering to us Christ Jesus.   Pray for the one who kneels in prayer before you,   Pray for

Only coal in Christmas stockings for these prisoners!

I was reading an article the other day about the lack of gratitude when spoiled rich kids receive gifts. It reminded me of my parents talking about Christmas during the great recession. They felt blessed to receive an orange for Christmas!   Back to the magazine article. This account is typical of the many stories told in the TODAY Parents Newsletter. “A close friend of our family came back from a trip bearing gifts for my children. Upon receipt of his gift, which was a little hand-carved wooden box from one of the countries my friend visited, his response was, ‘Oh brother, is that all?’. I immediately sent him to his room…later he was sent out to apologize to our friend. After our friend left, my husband and I discussed his horrible behavior and knew we had created this monster by our buying the kid just about anything he wanted, anytime he wanted it. His punishment for this behavior was being grounded for a week and each day of that week he had to pick out four of his gazillion toy

What's in the brown paper bag?

I’d like to share a beautiful story...a story not written by me.   I feel certain that Luis Ramirez would be honored to have us pass along what he has written, but I can't ask him.   He's dead.   This message came to me from Texas Death Row in the early days of HFP. I was so touched by the experience that I vowed to keep the story alive. We generally re-publish it during the holiday season. May it remind us, again, that the names on death row represent real people. And, that the death penalty is dead wrong!   Anyway, here’s my gift to you today...a story from the late Luiz Ramirez: (In all caps, just the way he sent it)   I CAME HERE IN MAY OF 1999...A TSUNAMI OF EMOTIONS AND THOUGHTS WERE GOING THROUGH MY MIND.   I REMEMBER THE ONLY THINGS IN THE CELL WERE A MATTRESS, PILLOW, A COUPLE SHEETS, A PILLOW CASE, A ROLL OF TOILET PAPER AND A BLANKET.   I REMEMBER SITTING THERE, UTTERLY LOST.   THE FIRST PERSON I MET THERE WAS NAPOLEON BEASLEY.   BACK THEN, DEATH ROW PRISON

Jerry was there for Maurice. Who’s there for Jerry!

The year was 2003. Marcia received an unusual daytime prison call. It was Maurice Carter’s bunkie. Jerry Talison called to tell us that Maurice was experiencing a medical emergency due to Hepatitis C. Marcia was a savvy RN, immediately grasped what was happening, and between the two of them, I believe they saved Maurice’s life!   Well, Maurice died in 2004, just three months after being released from prison.   Jerry remained in prison, and then he started experiencing his own health crises…plural!   First, he had a stroke. The lack of medical care that resulted in Maurice’s serious condition then affected Jerry. The stroke brought high blood pressure and balance problems. The man who helped Maurice survive a medical crisis now requires an aide to assist him as he does his best with a wheelchair, a cane and hand brace. Due to kidney failure, he undergoes dialysis sessions three times a week.   Trips to a local hospital are not uncommon.   We’re going to try to help his handful

RIP, Danny Jones!

Like her or not, one must admit that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took the high road on that sad day in 2017 when a gunman opened fire on a practice for the Congressional Baseball Game. Republican Whip Steve Scalise was seriously wounded. Said Speaker Pelosi: “On days like today, there are no Democrats or Republicans, only Americans united in our hopes and prayers for the wounded.”   In other words, “If you take a shot at one of us, you take a shot at all of us.”   That’s what I’m feeling today after hearing the news about one of our prisoner advocates.   Last weekend the movement to end perpetual punishment suffered a great loss with the tragic death of Danny Jones. The name probably doesn’t ring a bell with you, but those of us involved in prisoner advocacy knew of him and his work. Danny was a former juvenile lifer determined to bring about change. He was associated with several state advocacy agencies, but is best remembered as a founding staff person for Michigan Collab

Thanks! From both sides of bars!

For the incarcerated, there isn’t a long list of things to be thankful for. As we approached the holiday this year, I just grabbed a sample of messages from prisoners received in the HFP office in just one day!   John: “Thank you for your quick response about the Flu and Covid shots.” Jen: “You guys are the only ones that seem to be able to get a response as to my need and I am so thankful for your concern.” Joe: “Thanks for being there for us. God bless!” Shane: “Thank you for all of your compassionate help. I greatly appreciate it.” Jason: “Thank you so much for your time, and thank you for the Clean Slate Act forms.” Chris: “I just wanted to thank you for sending me the parole plan packet…it is very informative.” Andre: “I am so thankful for you and those who work with you.” Sybil: “Thank you so much for all the wonderful services offered.” Charles: “T hanks for the info on the parole board questions.” Daniel: “Thank you for all you do! IT'S TRULY APPRECIATED

Seeking forgiveness? Great! Granting forgiveness? Let me think about it!

  If you don’t heal what hurt you, you’ll bleed on people who didn’t cut you. Anon.   How we love to pray these words on Sunday: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.”   And how we hate to forgive on Monday!   I was chatting with one of HFP’s major donors. She was lamenting the fact that, in one of the multitude of outrageous political ads prior to the recent election, one candidate was being scorched for having committed an infraction 40 years ago! “Don’t they believe in forgiveness, in restoration, in healing,” she asked?   The places where I see it the most are in courtrooms and in Parole Board hearings. Families, friends and loved ones of crime victims often cannot let go. There is, somehow, this perception that if the perpetrator can be kept in prison for the remainder of his or her life, or perhaps better yet, if the criminal can receive a death sentence, there will be closure. I can state, with no hesitation, life without parole and

Remembering vets behind bars

I used to boast that they blew factory whistles on my birthday. It’s true, but it wasn’t because Doug Tjapkes had entered the world. November 11, in the olden days, was called Armistice Day. It marked the agreement signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany in France, ending the fighting. It took effect at eleven in the morning—the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918.   And so, in the City of Muskegon, when I was a little kid, many of the town’s factory whistles blew at 11 AM on the 11 th day of the 11 th month. Imagine my pride, especially in 1947, when I was 11 years old! Armistice Day was a big deal back then!   The name of the holiday changed in 1954 when President Eisenhower relabeled it Veteran’s Day.   This Veteran’s Day, I’m asking that you expand your consideration and admiration to those veterans behind bars. We have more than 100,000 veterans serving time in our state and federal prisons. About 29,000 of these men wer

This story/situation makes me (burp) angry!

My topic today is acid reflux. I have it, and so does Michigan inmate Mr. R.   The thing is, I can do something about it. He, on the other hand, is having his share of problems.   Here’s the story.   Mr. R has been treated for his reflux problem, while in prison, for the past 20 years. That came about after hospital tests revealed that he was suffering from a hiatal hernia. But the other day, out of the blue, the nurse practitioner informed him that she’s getting pressured by her superiors to take patients off the medication (Zantac and Pepcid), and instruct them to buy it from the prisoner store.   His prescription ran out at the end of October, and medical care now refuses to renew it. “Get it from the prisoner store.”   (Mr. R says that, a year ago, this same medical practitioner took away his migraine prescription and gave him Tylenol!)   Here’s why HFP is getting involved, and here’s why this is such a big deal. At the prisoner store, he’ll have to pay $4.86 for 8 Pepcid

Do NOT throw away the key!

I love visiting with lifers!   These are the persons a former director of the MDOC shamefully called “the worst of the worst!”   How often have you heard the phrase, “Lock him up and throw away the key?” Those of us who are tough on crime and hate lawlessness love to say things like that. Or even worse: “Give him the electric chair. I’ll be the first to throw the switch!”   All that stuff is on my mind this week because Matt and I spent a couple hours in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Monday chatting with lifers at the Chippewa Correctional Facility, invited there by the National Lifers Association.   I guess the name needs a bit of explanation first.   The NLA was founded some 40 years ago by five men at the State Prison of Southern Michigan in Jackson. It’s a pioneer in the movement for prison reform driven by people who are themselves behind bars. There’s a chapter in every Michigan prison. And, despite the name, it’s primarily a Michigan organization.   The NLA’s primary mi

Hard topic, soft heart

  Having A Soft Heart In A Cruel World Is Courage, Not Weakness Quote Notebook   I swear it’s true: Working with prisoners softens hearts!   I first noticed this more than 20 years ago when I founded this organization. At that time, our name was INNOCENT and we worked primarily with the wrongly convicted. Keep in mind that, in a prior life, I had been a broadcast journalist. As a local news reporter, I witnessed opposing lawyers in the courtroom almost draw blood!   In the early days of INNOCENT we took membership in the national Innocence Network, made up of Innocence Projects all around the country. I was blown away by the camaraderie of these lawyers. In seminars, as well as in private lunches, these attorneys would hear the plight of others trying to help a prisoner and would share experiences. There was a constant spirit of kindness and helpfulness that I had never seen in the legal community.   In my role as the founder of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, one of my least favorit

I met her. Now it’s your turn!

One would have thought we were old friends. Susan Burton walked into the room, gave me a hug, and we sat down and started talking like we had known each other for years! Actually, we were meeting each other for the first time.   Susan Burton co-authored an amazing book titled Becoming Ms. Burton, From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women. She’s in town to deliver a public address in the auditorium of Grand Haven’s Lakeshore Middle School tomorrow or today, depending on when you're reading this. Thursday, the 13th.   Matt and I had the opportunity to record a podcast with Susan. And, the HFP team had an opportunity to socialize with her over an informal dinner. Now it's your turn, and I hope you take advantage of this opportunity. It’s estimated that 85% of locked-up women were, at some time, physically or mentally abused…or both. Here in Michigan, as in every other state, disproportionately these women are Black and poor. Says Susan: “I was born