- Doug Tjapkes
16 years later, whaddaya think, Maurice?
“Hey, Big Bro, I can see us now, working on cases…”
Maurice Carter always called me “Big Bro,” pronounced “bruh.” We were standing on the banks of the Grand River in Lamont, Michigan…Maurice living in an adult care facility up on the hill.
I’m thinking about it today because it was exactly 16 years ago that I accompanied him as he walked out of prison. He had served 29 years for a crime he did not commit.
In the delightful stage play JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER, written by Toronto playwrights Donald Molnar and Alicia Payne, Maurice has a poignant chat with me. He’s in heaven, and I’m still here on earth. I’m thinking how that chat might be today, as I reflect on our story.
I spent nearly ten years of my life trying to free Maurice. He walked out on July 24, 2004, and lived in freedom for just three months. The Hepatitis C that he contracted while in prison claimed his life.
In our riverside conversation, leaning on a fence, Maurice was fantasizing about that day he and I would be working side by side in an organization called INNOCENT. Years later, that name would be changed to HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS.
Maurice envisioned it as a relaxing atmosphere, with a conference table, where he and I would sit reviewing cases of inmates before making a decision as to whether to help that individual. Well, things didn’t quite turn out that way.
Were he and I to have a similar conversation today, he would be speechless, dumbfounded! He could never imagine arriving in the office on a Monday morning, only to have 100 email messages from Michigan prisoners waiting in our “inbox” for a prompt response. And, not to be confused with reviewing one case, our team is responding to 1,500 messages a month!
He would be blown away to know that we have our own offices, a staff of 5, a great list of eager and dedicated volunteers, a panel of doctor and lawyer consultants, and an amazing Board of Directors committed to our mission!
And the messages.
I know he would be proud to hear from James. HFP helps inmates reconnect with loved ones. “My son is back in my life! Thank you.”
I know he would feel the heartbreak. Allen died last weekend. Said his ailing mom: “I saved almost a thousand dollars from my disability checks so I could pay for his cremation. Now the funeral home tells me I owe another 700 dollars! Where the hell am I going to get another 700 dollars?”
We found it for her.
“You’re doing good, Big Bro!”
Yes we are, Maurice, yes we are. And you started it all! RIP.