Showing posts from March, 2022

Behind bars? Not much respect!

All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings. UN General Assembly, Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners   Some 20 years ago, I found that Michigan didn't abide by that principle, as I was trying to assist a wrongly-convicted prisoner.   -The chairman of the Michigan Parole Board harangued and harassed him, finally suggesting that he would free him immediately if he would just admit to committing the crime. Maurice Carter refused. -The Assistant Attorney General recommended no medical parole for Maurice, even though he was dying from Hepatitis C, final stage. A danger to society.   -The circuit court judge hearing the circumstances of Maurice’s terminal disease, said “ We all gotta die sometime!”   -The Governor of our State, when faced with the request for a compassionate release, waited a year before granting approval. It was too late. Maurice died 3 months after his release.   One might think tha

Touching at the time of execution is OK: US Supreme Court!

Luke 5 passage about a man with a skin disease: He said to Jesus, “Lord, if you want, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do want to. Be clean.” Instantly, the skin disease left the man.   Touching and Christianity fit well together.   Bill Gaither’s popular gospel song---   Something happened and now I know,  He touched me and made me whole.   My friend Tommy asked me to bring up this topic upon hearing a news report regarding a Supreme Court decision that the State of Texas was wrong in not allowing a minister to touch a person at the time of execution.   The prisoner simply wanted his pastor to be in the chamber with him at the time of his passing, audibly praying and laying hands on him. The clergyman said this was “deeply rooted in the man’s faith.”   Some leery observers and justices thought the prisoner just wanted to delay the date of his death. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the dissenting opinion, accused the guy of t

The incarcerated: They ARE persons to us!

Sunshine Week came and went earlier this month, without even a squawk from this corner.  I apologize for that. For those not familiar with the observance, Sunshine Week was created to raise awareness and appreciation for our access to public information and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).   When it was adopted in 1976, the act stated that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees.   Some years later, the Michigan Department of Corrections rebelled, saying that these FOIA requests from prisoners were taking too much of their time, and were costing millions of dollars. Instead of making some provisions that would prevent prisoners from filing frivolous requests, in typical knee-jerk style, the state legislature of Pure Michigan took action in 1994 that flatly stated that incarcerated individuals a re not persons.   My friend Adam, who

Wrongful convictions: just plain cruel!

Here’s the thing when it comes to writing about wrongful convictions. It’s a constant roller coaster ride!   Tuesday was the perfect example.   Early in the morning I celebrated (although she wasn’t aware of it!) with HFP board member Marla Mitchell-Cichon, former director of the Cooley Innocence Project at WMU. They were a major part of the news story you may have read, where two Michigan brothers were released from our prison system after serving 25 years for a crime they did not commit.   Despite claims of alibis, George and Melvin DeJesus were convicted in 1997 of murder and felony firearm in the 1995 killing of Margaret Midkiff, who was found dead in her Pontiac home They were sentenced to life without parole. Finally, they're free!   As many of you know, it was a wrongful conviction that sucked me into this prisoner advocacy business 20 years ago. It was sickening then, and it’s sickening now. Good-news stories, like the one above, place your roller coaster car at th

Firing squad? We’re going backwards!

How perfect! The State of South Carolina chooses the season of Lent to announce that it is now prepared to carry out executions by firing squad. The shootings can begin once the state Supreme Court approves the specifics of the procedure, according to the Greenville News. The state spent $53,000 to renovate its capital punishment facility after a law was passed allowing this procedure.   Until now, South Carolina’s primary means of execution was the electric chair. But by law, inmates may now choose death by lethal injection or firing squad — provided the methods are available. The firing squad option was added after the state had trouble getting the right drugs for lethal injection. I thought the story was so fitting for the season. After all, it is during Lent that we recall that incident a couple thousand years ago when our Lord was put to death in a most ugly and gruesome manner. Crucifixion was intended to be the most painful and humiliating death imaginable. And, if it didn’t

My Lenten message: Prisoners need new batteries!

Matt and I were recording a podcast with one of our staff members. Ted, who assists prisoners in obtaining important legal documents through the Freedom of Information Act, observed how his impression of the incarcerated has changed since he came to work for us.   This has been true, I think, of every person who ever worked for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS.   It’s no wonder our thoughts are negative. Our senses are almost numbed by the brutal and senseless crimes that grab the headlines day after day. And I know of people in the media who seem to enjoy reporting on horrible prisoner behavior behind bars.   Yet (you’ve heard me say this time and again!), the prisoner who actually steered me into this business 20 years ago was one of the kindest, most gentle people I had ever met. Until given permission otherwise, he constantly referred to me as “Mr. Tjapkes.” In fact, he even hesitated to seek my help because I was trying to assist another guy behind bars and he didn’t want to be a both

The tables are turned: A prisoner makes our day!

I’m sure Mr. T had no idea how much he brightened spirits in our office the other day.   By “our office,” I mean the headquarters for HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. In that small office building, members of our team respond to between 75 and 100 requests for help every day. Many of the prisoners asking for assistance are not in an exceptionally good mood. Let’s face it, you and I do not run, as happy campers , through the front door of the doctor’s office to exclaim how great we feel. We usually go because we have a problem, and because we have a problem we’re often not in the best of moods.   Well, as our Sarah started dealing with the daily stack of snail mail, she unfolded a letter that was not filled with grumbling and complaint. Instead, a hand-written note, specifically addressed to her, said:   My name is _______ and I’ve been incarcerated in the MDOC since 2010 when, at 15 years old, I was convicted of murder in the second degree, and sentenced to 31-50 years. I’ve never been an

It pays to train a rescue dog. But not much!

To the state’s credit, there are some excellent dog training programs in the Michigan prison system. 24 Michigan prisons are approved to have some type of dog program. Perhaps one of the most unique is the Dawgz Adapt Program at the Alger Correctional Facility in the U.P.   Working with the Delta County Animal Shelter in Escanaba, these prisoners take in and care for dogs that have been abused, neglected, abandoned, starved and even left for dead. It’s a huge challenge, but the guys take great pride in their work. They nurse the animals back to health, along with a lot of rehabilitation and reconditioning so that they can be adopted into a forever home someday.   Not only do they train these canines, but they clean up their messes, potty-train them, trim their nails, and leaf through books to handle medical issues.   The 10 inmates in this unit have completed an 8-week training class. In addition, they receive in-service training from outside professionals, as well as from books