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  • Doug Tjapkes

Now let me tell you about Mark!

It’s funny how things work. Two days ago I wrote a piece for this column about my brother Maurice Carter, a black man from Gary, Indiana, who spent 29 years in the Michigan prison system for a crime he did not commit. I spent the last decade of his life at his side, trying to get him out of there. And when that finally happened, he lived for only three months. Maurice died exactly 16 years ago. Reliving that experience over the weekend, however, left me in a melancholy mood that wasn’t easy to shake. But, as the old gospel songwriter exclaims, Joy Comes in the Morning. On this dark, cold, rainy morning, I found myself in the car heading for Ionia, Michigan, and the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility. Pastor Nate Visker and I would be there to greet another very special friend, Mark Hartman, as he tasted freedom for the first time in nearly 12 years. But here’s the kicker: I would never have met Mark Hartman if it hadn’t been for Maurice Carter! I’ll give you the short version. Mark, a businessman from New York State, had no prison record. As he sat in the Earnest C. Brooks CF in Muskegon wondering how life had taken such a sour turn over a trumped-up charge in Berrien County, a fellow prisoner handed him a copy of my book SWEET FREEDOM. Two guys getting railroaded into prison in the same county caught his attention, and he decided to pursue that white Hollander who had helped Maurice. That was in 2009. Some weeks later, I paid Mark a visit at Brooks, we met face to face, and the rest is history. I introduced him to a couple of my friends in the clergy. One thing led to another, and Mark enrolled in The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) by Prison Fellowship. Upon completing that three-year-program he was accepted as one of the very first prisoner/students in the Calvin Prison Initiative. He graduated this year with a bachelor’s degree! Mark is a free man today. We celebrate that good news! His words: “I have long envisioned myself sharing the story of how a merciful God answered one of my most fervent prayers---offered up in the Berrien County Jail---manifested by the Lord’s refusal to abandon me following an arrest and malicious prosecution in the twin cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan---the same towns where an out-of-state stranger named Maurice Henry Carter was once treated less than human…all for doing nothing, really, except just being there, an outsider, like me. And sadly, being an African-American, unlike me. The Maurice and Doug story still resonates loudly, particularly in today’s troubled times. It is clear to see that not only do ‘black lives matter’ to Doug and Humanity for Prisoners, but all human lives matter.” Including Mark's life

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