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  • Doug Tjapkes

Four Labor Day heroes nominated by prisoners

Labor Day, 2020, like none other in the history of the United States! While paying tribute to all laborers on this special day, it’s especially important that we honor first responders in the COVID crisis. The nation owes you a huge debt of gratitude! My focus today, however, is on four first responders in the office of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. These four people last month, while trying to cram in some last-minute summer vacation time and while working around a two-day J-Pay collapse, still managed to respond to 1,695 messages from prisoners or their loved ones! A one-month record! (There was a day, not that many years ago, when we thought 100 calls in one month was a big deal!) It’s no wonder so many prisoners are contacting our office. They’re hearing first-hand reports from their friends behind bars about an agency where people care, where people help, where people listen. Like Clement, who claims innocence and who needed legal files to prove it. HFP filed FOIA requests on his behalf. Based on the results, two powerful attorneys are taking on his case! Like Linda, a transgender inmate in a male prison, who struggles with dyslexia and ADD: “My bleakness turned into light by just having someone to listen and care about what I am going through as a forgotten person in prison.” Like David, who reported that, in his facility, maintenance took action to enforce social distancing, by forcing 60 prisoners “to share just 2 toilets, 2 sinks, and 1 urinal!” Thanks to HFP action, one day later the order was rescinded. Like Nelson, whose toothache got so bad he couldn’t sleep nights. He contacted our team.I wanted to let you know that the warden called health service here and told them to take care of my dental problem ASAP!” The next day the offending tooth was pulled. Heather, another transgender inmate, put it this way: “Without HFP I would still be lost, angry, and probably worse. Matt, Susie, Holly, Melissa, and all the volunteers at HFP are heroes and true credits to the human race.” On Labor Day, 2020, I salute Matt, Susie, Holly, Melissa, our wonderful gang of volunteers and our exceptional panel of medical and legal experts. You are, indeed, heroes! We know, because prisoners are telling us! It’s not only your work, it’s your heart! My dear friend Alma James Perry used to sing this old Mahalia Jackson gospel song when we held prison services together. I dedicate it now to our team: If I can help somebody, as I pass along, If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song, If I can show somebody, that he's travelling wrong, Then my living shall not be in vain.

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