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  • Doug Tjapkes

Let prisoners see funeral videos!

Grieving is important because it allows us to ‘free-up’ energy that is bound to the lost person, object, or experience—so that we might re-invest that energy elsewhere. Until we grieve effectively we are likely to find reinvesting difficult; a part of us remains tied to the past. University of Washington Over the past two decades I’ve done a lot of hurting with prisoners. Manifestations and expressions of grief can be elusive when you lose loved ones, and are unable to be present at a wake, at family gatherings, or especially at funeral or memorial services. The Michigan Department of Corrections will permit some prisoners to be released for a few hours when a loved one dies, under certain circumstances. But, it is costly and it is risky. It’s costly because the prisoner and/or family must underwrite the cost of prison guards who will perform this transfer. And it’s risky because there is a shortage of guards in Michigan, and it’s entirely possible at the last minute that the officers may be assigned overtime and therefore cannot implement the transfer. In situations like that, disappointment is added to heart-break. We think there’s a partial solution to this. It’s not a perfect substitute, but it is not costly and it is not risky. We are suggesting that the prisoner be allowed to watch a video of the memorial service. To that end, HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS has submitted a request for a specific policy on the issue to Heidi Washington, MDOC Director. A specific policy is necessary because, based on our experience, prison wardens may not be open to the idea. In 2016 Mark’s mother died in her home town in the State of New York. Obviously, the MDOC would not allow the prisoner to travel that far for a memorial service. But, the state would not permit him to see a video, either! A recording of the Catholic Mass had been sent to Mark on a thumb drive. The prison chaplain agreed to play the video on his office laptop, where he would also remain present during the viewing. No soap. The warden said he didn’t want to “open that door.” Very recently we tried, once again, to make provisions for a prisoner in the U.P. to watch a video of his brother’s funeral service. Nope. Couldn’t make it happen. And so, our formal request for a policy change. Seems like it would be a winning situation for everyone. It wouldn’t cost the state any money. And, it would enable a prisoner to better grieve the loss of a family member. We’ll let you know how Lansing responds. It’s humanity for prisoners that we seek. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7

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