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July 24: M&M Day!

Matthew Douglas Tjapkes was born on this day in 1978, 11 years after Marcia and I were convinced that we were finished with child-raising. Wrong! That means that Matt was still living at home in the 90s, when I got started trying to help Maurice Carter, a poor black prisoner who claimed he was wrongly convicted. As I recall, Matt received an A on a college speech he gave about Maurice. And it was Matt, who as a young reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune, snapped the picture of Maurice holding his walking papers that graces the cover of my book SWEET FREEDOM. That photo was taken on another historic July 24---2004. Matt would hear bits and pieces of Maurice Carter stories, the highs and lows of that amazing journey, every time he came home. The prosecutor battling our efforts all the way. The court system refusing to listen. Maurice getting dangerously ill. A stubborn governor refusing to budge. Welterweight Champ Rubin Hurricane Carter joining our fight. Parole Board hearings held in the prison hospital. Commutation granted while I was drag racing a Studebaker. Finally, stepping into freedom on July 24---1st time in 29 years! Who could ever guess that sportscaster Matt Tjapkes would ever follow his newscaster father into a field of prisoner advocacy? Other than our Heavenly Father, who had it all planned at the very outset, I suspect that Maurice Carter could. For both Matt and his dad, it was a circuitous route. But we both eventually landed right here! Right where we belong. Over time, neither of us could ignore the pull to help “the least of these,” to recognize that all persons residing behind bars deserve humane care and treatment, and to understand that somebody had better stand up and do something about it. And so, on this July 24, we again celebrate Matt’s birthday and Maurice’s freedom day. On this date in 2004, moments after leaving prison, Maurice Carter stepped out of a motorhome in a supermarket parking lot in Jackson, Michigan, to greet his fans and supporters. After snapping Maurice’s photo, Matt threw his arms around me and whispered just one word: “Awesome!” Yes, it was! Yes, it is!

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