I welcome you to the free world, James! I wonder if society will?

It never gets old. 

I have no idea how many prisoners I’ve greeted at the door as they stepped into freedom. It happened again Tuesday morning.

James (Ba’ Boy) O’Neal was being released on parole. For the first time in 46 years he walked out of that prison with no cuffs. For the first time in 46 years he rode in a vehicle without being shackled. For the first time in 46 years he didn’t have to eat garbage. We stopped at a nearby Panera’s for a juicy egg, cheese and sausage sandwich. 

It was a sweet reunion for James O’Neal and Doug Tjapkes! Years ago he contacted our office for assistance in helping a friend who was experiencing health care problems. We were successful in that endeavor, and he and I became friends. I communicated with the Parole Board several times on his behalf over the years, and participated at his public hearing before the Michigan Parole Board. 

And so, there was a lot of background, a lot of history, a lot of love in that welcome. There was a lot of laughing, and yes, also some crying. Now comes the difficult part for my friend. It was a different world when he got locked up more than four decades ago. Now he’s going to quickly learn that people aren’t all that friendly toward returning citizens, and the procedures aren't all that easy. 

My friend Bear, whom I welcomed into freedom after spending 42 years behind bars, said to me, “It doesn’t take 40+ years to change a person…I don’t care what they’ve done.” 

Baby Boy lamented the fact that there is so little public interest in the plight of our incarcerated citizens. “The annual Michigan prison budget is $2.1 billion,” said James. Somebody ought to ask, “What are they spending it on?” “They’re not spending it on health care,” he said. “Our health care is terrible!” He related story after story of death and near-death experiences. “They’re not spending it on food!” The daily budget for prisoner meals is under $2 per day per inmate. He said the food has never been worse. “We’re being served garbage!” He said that unless he could get some vending machine items, he could go days without eating. 

Good questions. 

Forward them to your state legislator. They’re not going to listen to him. 

A treasured moment!


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