Showing posts from April, 2024

It’s seems right that the pope has a heart for prisoners! Should we, as well?

I’m writing this piece late on Sunday. One more time, Pope Francis prompts these comments.   The pope was in a women’s prison in Venice today. The Holy See set up the Vatican Pavilion at the Biennale, one of the most prestigious events on the art world's calendar, inside the prison.   I’m not going to talk much about the art exhibit, except to tell you about the spectacular prison entrance. Persons walking through the opening gate encountered a wall mural, painted by Maurizio Cattelan, showing two giant filthy feet. The work, titled “Father,” recalls the feet that Francis washes each year in a Holy Thursday ritual that he routinely performs on prisoners!   More details about the art exhibit are available in various news sources. I want to focus on, not only the words of Pope Francis, but the example that he sets for the church, and for you and me.   The pope began his visit with a meeting with 80 women prisoners at the Giudecca Women’s Prison. Pope Francis, pushed in a whee

New data about mistreatment of blacks: another black eye for death penalty

What a surprise (and an honor!) when an activist organist in England contacted me recently. Reprieve, a human rights group that opposes the death penalty, had heard of my personal experience in witnessing an execution. The resulting interview,  with a panel of researchers in another country via Zoom, was most interesting!   My feelings about the death penalty are well known, and I have posted numerous essays on this website regarding my 2007 experience in witnessing the execution of a friend and client.   But now about the new research.   The lengthy, in-depth report by Reprieve, made major news this week in the United States, both in the New York Times and National Public Radio!   The focus was on botched executions, and there was one statistic in particular that wasn’t anticipated. The research found, among other things, that Black people had 220% higher odds of suffering a botched lethal injection execution than white people!   That new insight just adds another way Black

Is the constitutional defense of prisoner abuse in jeopardy?

Eighth Amendment, Bill of Rights: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. Prisons are a hot spot for violations of the 8 th Amendment!   Since I got into this prisoner advocacy business a few decades ago, I have seen flagrant examples of “cruel and unusual punishments.” It is not uncommon for HFP team members to deal with topics like---   -Solitary confinement -Medical care or lack thereof -Mental health issues -Excessive force -Sexual and psychological abuse Etc.   The 8 th Amendment has been our ammunition for fighting cruel and unusual punishment, but now I’m hearing that there’s a possibility that even this weapon might get weakened. Here’s a notice I received from the Marshall Project this week:   When the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case of Grants Pass v. Johnson later this month, the justices will consider how far cities can go in policing homeless people. But just as the court sw

If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much!

Some of my Hollander friends and I used to jokingly say that to friends who were not of Dutch descent.   On a more serious note, though, I’m saddened by the way we treat people who are not the same as we are. Daily we hear about attacks on Jews, Palestinians, Muslims, Blacks, gays, lesbians, transgender persons…and let’s not forget prisoners.   “Such then is the human condition, that to wish greatness for one's country is to wish harm to one's neighbors.” ― Voltaire   Today the hot topic is immigrants and migrants. In our neck of the woods, this has been fueled by a Kent County murder case involving a previously deported immigrant.   Donald Trump was in Grand Rapids yesterday to fuel the fire. We already know how he feels about these people. He charges that many are criminals from prisons, and recently he accused migrants — many of them women and children escaping poverty and violence — of “ poisoning the blood ” of America with drugs and disease. He even claimed some