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  • Doug Tjapkes

Coal in Christmas stockings!

Many prisoners and their families received coal in their Christmas stockings this year. You probably won’t hear a lot of complaining. These people are accustomed to having their situations ignored. On the other hand, you can expect to hear it from this writer. The two St. Nicks who could have made a huge difference failed. The President of the United States is given the power to grant clemency, thanks to Article Two of the United States Constitution (Section 2, Clause 1), which provides: “... shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States...” The Governor of the State of Michigan is given executive clemency authority by the Michigan constitution, to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons for any offense except impeachment. At the national level, President Trump thumbed his nose at compassion and tradition, and instead granted pardons to war criminals, crooked politicians and family. Even more reprehensible, he chose to dangle pardon offers in exchange for loyalty and favors. Those familiar with the federal prison system say our facilities contain many men and women who have clean records, no significant ties to gangs or violence, and who are serving decades behind bars for relatively low-level offenses. No end-of-the-year breaks for these deserving people. At the state level, Governor Whitmer had the right idea, but instead of making an impact, she threw us a bone. She granted requests for clemency to four men serving lengthy prison terms for nonviolent crimes tied to drugs. That was it. Please don’t misunderstand me. Those four commutations were well-deserved, and the Governor and Parole Board are to be commended. BUT, the list of Michigan inmates who also deserve consideration numbers into the hundreds! We know, because we helped many of them file their applications. For example, Lifers, especially LWOP Aging and ailing inmates Those serving long, indeterminate sentences Battered women. With overcrowded prisons and a raging pandemic that is seriously affecting those behind bars, this would have been the perfect year for high numbers of clemency. Unfortunately, the descriptive words “care” and “compassion” do not seem to apply to those who can and should do more. So, for Christmas of 2020, the Clemency Santa was elusive. Let’s pray that these old chunks of coal in the stockings might be diamonds some day.

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