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Transgender persons. Finding little dignity among us. Even less behind bars!

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” Jesus   A ll prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings. UN General Assembly Resolution   It’s exceptionally difficult to find even a hint of dignity behind bars. Incarcerated people are known by their prison ID number, not by their name. When speaking to an inmate, corrections officers don’t use the words Mr. or Mrs., Rev. or Dr. They call them by their last name. They shout it out. There’s no respect or dignity involved.   I guess that’s why I go overboard in trying to give the incarcerated a little hint of dignity. From the day I started this business, with every piece of mail I sent to every person living behind bars, I never included the name of the prison facility in the address. I give the inmate’s name, ID#, street address, city, state and zip. That has been, and still is, the policy of Humanity for Prisoners. It may not seem like much, but it’s our li

An open letter to the residents of Women’s Huron Valley

Dear Friends at WHV,   Your recent expression of kindness prompts me to send an immediate letter of thanks. I, as well as the staff and volunteers at HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS are filled with gratitude, after receiving a grant from your Prisoner Benefit Fund!   For our readers who are not aware of this fund, it’s a special account set up in every Michigan prison for special expenditures on behalf of the incarcerated. The money comes from sources like the prison store and vending machines. A special committee, made up of staff members and inmates, then decides how the money is to be spent. It can be spent, for example, on exercise equipment or microwave ovens. But, the PBF committees may also choose to make contributions to approved charitable organizations. This week, HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS received a grant from the WHV Prisoner Benefit Fund in the form of a $5,000 check!   It's a reflection of a love affair between WHV and HFP that goes back many years.   One of my earliest m

Mitch is right. I was wrong!

I am ashamed! Confession time.   You may have seen a blog post I wrote earlier this month when Kyra Harris Bolden, newly elected Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, hired a former criminal, Pete Martel, as her law clerk. Pete had served time for a foolish crime, committed as a young man. Upon his release, he not only obtained a college degree, but went on to get a law degree from Wayne State. A strong advocate for persons behind bars, he eventually was employed by the State Appellate Defender Office. He was perfect for the job!   We were elated to hear that this returning citizen was chosen by our new Michigan Supreme Court Justice to be her law clerk. But then the hammer fell. Justice Richard Bernstein expressed his disgust and insisted that a person with that kind of record should never work in the Supreme Court Office. Rather than embarrass Justice Bolden, Pete quietly resigned.   That’s when pompous Doug Tjapkes (champion and crusader for “second chances”) fired off a blog

New legislature? Time for new and improved prison medical care!

“Seeking Excellence Every Day.” More than two decades ago, when I got started in this business, that was the motto of the Michigan Department of Corrections. My friend Ronnie, who was behind bars at the time, used to add: “…and never finding it!”   In the olden days, when we actually played records on a phonograph, an occasional nick or scratch would result in the needle getting stuck. A phrase in a song would just get repeated and repeated until someone bumped the needle arm so it could move on Thus the phrase, “Sounds like a broken record.”   Well, that’s what I sound like on healthcare issues in Michigan prisons. I’m SO sick of writing about these matters…the same problems over and over again, never any improvement, never any solution.   A friend wrote me the other day about a guy in one of the Muskegon prisons. He was a middle-aged dude suffering from flu-like symptoms. As my source worded it, “ His situation is an extreme outcome of the ways MDOC has weaponized Covid against

Listen to Rev. Young...you'll hear Dr. King!

Back in the 1970s, when I owned and operated WGHN, I hosted a daily morning talk show. Early one year someone called asking if I would like a guest for Black History Week (that was before the observance became Black History Month!). Always eager to welcome special guests, I agreed. No name. No arrangements. Just watch for a guest.   The date arrived during Black History Week. WGHN had just moved into posh studios in one of Grand Haven’s very nice neighborhoods. Watching out my office window, I noted an old car approaching. A handsome, well-dressed Black man with a striking white streak of hair sort of abandoned his vehicle in the street, and ambled up the sidewalk. I anxiously awaited…no one arrived.   (Gasp) The imposing Black man, smoking a cigar (still tolerated in buildings back then), walked up to one of the very nice houses on our street and walked right in, thinking it was the radio station! Fortunately, even in lily-white Grand Haven, someone was gracious, did not call the

Take him back, Sam!

Don’t you hate it when someone whom you’ve placed on a pedestal turns out to be a disappointment?   When it turns out that the pastor for whom you’ve had such great respect is caught having an affair with a parishioner?   When it turns out that the priest who helped you through some very difficult times turns out to be a child molester?   When it turns out that one of your company’s exciting achievers has been embezzling?   That’s what I’m feeling today about Richard Bernstein. I was so impressed when he got elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2014…the first blind person in history to reach that position! He was a huge crusader for rights of the physically challenged, something that touched the heart of this prisoner advocate.   But the wall of Jericho came crashing down in 2023.   Another wonderful jurist, Kyra Harris Bolden, was appointed to the same court by Governor Whitmer. And, praise God, this new Black justice hired a former prisoner as her law clerk ! Granted,

Care Bear called at just the right time!

As I begin this piece, I’m feeling that perhaps English Poet Alexander Pope was referring to me when he talked about fools rushing in “where angels fear to tread.” It’s with a bit of hesitation that this crusty old radio newsman tackles the subject of prayer. But, an experience in the HFP office this week has me doing just that.   As a Dutch kid, brought up in the Christian Reformed tradition, prayer was a part of daily life. As far back as I can remember, we prayed before and after all three meals each day. We knelt at our bedside at night to recite, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” And, in both morning and evening worship services every Sunday, the minister faithfully reserved 10 minutes prior to the sermon for what was often called, “the long prayer.”   While it definitely became a part of my life, its relevance was rather limited. Those prayers were offered in the old King James style, using “thee” and “thou” instead of casually referring to our creator as “you.” Didn’t sound much

Who’s to blame? It’s time to look in the mirror!

I love to blame other people. The prices are too high! The traffic is too heavy! The political parties are too extreme! All the things that upset me each day must be somebody’s fault!   The tragic story of an NFL football player collapsing on the field this week prompts my column today. Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin remains in critical condition in intensive care, after suffering from cardiac arrest on the field after a brutal play.   While I appreciate and respect the dramatic response, there’s a part of me that makes me shake my head. Retired football pros tell stories about being encouraged to injure opponents, cause damage. Moments before this incident on the field, 300 lb. players were doing their best to disarm and disable their opponents. They weren’t playing tag ball. Someone injured? What a surprise!  Who's really to blame here? You probably don’t remember a boxer by the name of Davey Moore. In 1959, he won the World Featherweight Title. He lost it to Cuban Sugar

For those working with prisoners, 2023 resolution suggestions from St. Francis

  UNLOCKING PRISON DOORS IN 2023 A St. Francis New Year Resolution Guide By Doug Tjapkes*   Lord, make me an instrument of your peace   …where there is hatred, -Friends, loved ones and victims, themselves, often express hatred of the perp -After commission of a heinous act, criminals sometimes express hatred of themselves -Certain types of crime prompt the public to express hatred                                                                                                 let me sow love;   …where there is injury, -Family bonds may be injured when someone offends -Incarceration can and often does injure romantic relationships -Harsh words behind bars injure feelings                                                                                                 pardon;   …where there is doubt, -Society has doubts about prison occupants -Inmates have doubts about their future -The judicial system has doubts about rehabilitation