Showing posts from 2022

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

Susan Burton's story: Important for all of us!

Maurice Carter was a hero to many when he walked out of prison in 2004. He had served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. At the conclusion of a ten-year battle with the State of Michigan, he finally obtained a compassionate release from the Governor because he was dying. He may have been a hero in our circles, and he’s still my hero today. But, he was no hero in the community when it came to reentry issues. He couldn’t find a play to stay. Here’s what he had going against him: He was Black, he had a prison record, and he was suffering from Hepatitis C.   We were finally fortunate enough to find one kind couple, who owned and operated a care facility, who had a heart and took him in.   Some 90% of the prisoners in Michigan will get out someday, but the going won’t be easy. Besides that, these people get little help with personal issues upon reentry. My friend Ronnie got caught up in his old ways upon his release, eventually got picked up again, and took his own life in a county

Why a Wrongful Conviction Day? It's always the other guy, right?

I always thought that I was a darn good reporter. I was a broadcast journalist for nearly 30 years in the 50s through 70s. Turns out, I was pretty darn naïve as well! A good part of my life I covered the police beat. Cops and prosecutors were my friends, and I thought they were always right.   Then, many years later (1990s), I met a black prisoner who claimed he was innocent. Over the next decade he and I became best friends, as we joined hands to prove that he had been wrongly convicted. That experience led to the formation of the organization we now call HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. It was a dramatic change in belief and understanding for me, as I learned that cops and prosecutors were not always right, and that many people are behind bars who do not belong there. They weren’t just poor Black people, either. They included teachers, businessmen, doctors, lawyers and yes, even cops.   Yes, it CAN happen to you! Just ask a banker who served 8 years after his wife died from injuries in a fa

Kid's rights? Not interested!

Yes, there’s a lot of rhetoric about the “unborn” as an election date approaches. But I’m really wondering just how much Michiganders really care about kids.   On August 18 I wrote a piece on this very blog site titled What about kids already born? Do they have rights? Only 29 views. No comments. Obviously no interest. Nada. Last Wednesday this headline appeared in the Detroit Free Press: Michigan earns “F” on children’s rights. I wonder if that attracted any attention. If so, I didn’t hear about it. I suspect that pieces in the Freep focusing on whether the last election was rigged, or which U of M quarterback would be chosen for Saturday’s game would garner more attention. It boggles the mind.   The essence of the story, written by Free Press reporter Jennifer Brooklane, was that a scorecard had just been released by Human Rights Watch that showed just how terrible Pure Michigan is doing in this matter of protecting rights for children. Our state still allows child marriage a

Melissa leaves, HFP stays: Both continue to do good things!

They sometimes call her the “Dog Whisperer.” Melissa Tjapkes has many talents. Her floral arrangements are the best, in my humble opinion. Her custom-made jewelry is incredible. Her work in putting together a highly efficient volunteer program at Humanity for Prisoners is saving us thousands of dollars. But her real love is animals! Especially animals in need. And so, while saddened by her decision to leave HFP, I concede that her appointment as Administrative Assistant for the Noah Project, an animal shelter in neighboring Muskegon County, is a “marriage made in heaven.”   I really dislike the end of things. I love spring…I go into mourning by late August because the summer is coming to an end. Three days before the end of our annual family vacations, I could already feel the dark cloud signaling the end of those precious moments. And now it's happening right here in our office.   After spending 3 years with us, Melissa will begin a new career with rescue animals next week. Sh

Sorry! No jobs for ex-prisoners!

Labor Day week seemed the perfect time to discuss the job situation for those who have served time in prison. Channor Lewis, an IT support specialist for DTE Energy in Detroit wrote an article for the Detroit News recently that does a great job of explaining the problem.   While our specialty is not re-entry, the HFP team still finds that our former clients face real challenges when they re-enter the free world. Employers are not excited about hiring former prisoners. Despite excellent credentials, background and training, Lewis says it took him 6 months to get a job! Think about it. That’s a half-year that these guys could easily get into trouble again. Lewis said he applied for 20 positions before he received one offer, and that offer was rescinded after the company did a background check.   Yet, those employers who boldly take the risk find that these men and women are excellent employees. My industrialist friend Andy loves to hire them! Companies often find that hiring returnin

Free prison telephone calls?

Yes, we're talking about free telephone calls. Take a look at this! Incarcerated persons in Michigan are learning that they have a valuable friend in the Michigan legislature. State Representative Tenisha Yancey, a Democrat from Harper Woods, is in her third full term serving Michigan’s 1sts House District. I knew nothing about Rep. Yancey until I recently read about a bill she has introduced. She wants free telephone calls for all persons behind bars!    House Bill #6363 would fully eliminate the fees and charges friends and families of incarcerated people pay to speak with their loved ones inside state prisons and county jails. If approved, this bill has the potential of saving Michigan families tens of millions of dollars every year!   While telephone rates for state prison calls aren’t the worst in the nation (we’re number 12, charging $2.40 for a 15-minute call!), the same cannot be said about county jail phone service. According to Save and Just Michigan, Michigan familie

Yep, Here in Pure Michigan, we've got prison problems! Especially staff!

Although prisoners do not have full constitutional rights, they are protected by the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. This protection also requires that prisoners be afforded a minimum standard of living. Legal Information Instititute   And I contend, Ladies and Gentlemen, that a “minimum standard of living” just ain’t happening! Not in our Michigan prisons. A key reason: critical staff shortage!   Consider this data, compiled by Kay Perry of MI-CURE and Ted Roelofs, of Bridge Michigan.   -Approximately 900 staff shortages in the MDOC (1 in 6 positions vacant!) -Corrections Officers are working 80-hours/week with mandatory overtime   In addition to the impact on the daily lives of the more than 30,000 men and women who occupy our prisons, just consider the damage among the staff when you expect people to work 16-hour shifts.   -41% meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder -25% meet the criteria for alcohol abuse -An

Witnessing by license plate?

I hardly knew Jack Bloem. I think we had met in person only once. I knew that he had married my cousin Dora, whom I had not seen since 1946. I know his son Russ, who serves as chairman of our Board of Directors.   Jack died last week. He was 92.   It would be easy, and even reasonable, to explain why I had so much respect for Jack Bloem after reading his credentials and accomplishments. But, those were not the deciding factors. The credit goes to a license plate. It’s a vanity plate that was on his car, and it simply says QNA 1.   Those of you who are familiar with Reformed theology will quickly pick up on this. The plate message was referring to the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism. My dear friend, the late Rev. Cy Young, a Black preacher from Grand Rapids, thought Q & A 1 was one of the most beautiful documents he had ever read. After spotting it in a hymnbook of our church he memorized it, and often used it in his oral presentations.   Here are the w

What about kids already born? Do they have rights?

Children should be seen and not heard. WRONG! I’m taking a stand for youngsters today.   I know, arguments are raging these days about when a fetus becomes a person. I’m not talking about unborn children. I’m talking about kids. Youngsters already born, alive, and deserving of rights. They are not chattel. They are human beings, and they do   have rights.   In a recent MLive newspaper feature, writer Mathew Miller exposes the disgusting fact that child marriage is still legal in Michigan! What the?   The article goes on to cite facts about young teens getting married (almost all of them end in divorce). According to the MLive piece, a union only has to be approved by the parents and a judge. Miller tells of one situation in which a 14-year-old girl was married! Sadly, our state legislature has considered bill after bill to correct this situation, but all efforts to change the state law have failed. Pure Michigan.   So, then I start thinking about other ways that we’