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  • Doug Tjapkes

On meeting “deep hunger” behind bars

When a memorial service was held for my mother, our family was astounded at the number of people who showed up whom we didn’t know or recognize. As we circulated among the crowd it became apparent that “little things” done by my mom became “big things” in the minds of many. She was great at sending a little hand-written note, baking a pie for someone, or inviting a needy soul over for a cuppa. Turkish playwright Mehmet Murat ildan said, “Without water drops, there can be no oceans; without steps, there can be no stairs; without little things, there can be no big things!” I could never fill my mother’s shoes. I did learn some important lessons from her, though, and those have filtered down into Humanity for Prisoners. And because our CEO, son Matt, has some of the same genes, we’re on the same page when it comes to compassion. With nearly 2,000 calls a month coming into our office, many are predictable. Helping prisoners file requests under the Freedom of Information Act and helping those needing improved medical care will occupy nearly 50% of our time. But then there are the unusual ones that might seem small or insignificant. A long-time friend of ours serving time at Women’s Huron Valley asks if HFP can help a woman in her unit who is illiterate and can speak only Spanish. The woman would like to file an application seeking a commutation of her sentence, but the obstacles are huge. The father of a prisoner who has been denied telephone privileges asks if we can arrange an exception of the rule so his son may have one final conversation with his dying grandmother. She’s under hospice care, and won’t last long. A prisoner in Saginaw CF asks what we can do to help an 83-year-old man in his unit. The poor old guy suffers from dementia, he soils himself, and nobody seems to really give a damn. Nobody, that is, except this caring prisoner, and our caring team. If you had a loved one behind bars, for whatever reason, I think you’d be pleased to know that calls like this get top priority in our office. Dr. David Schuringa, as our consultant some years ago, said, “Nobody does what you do! Nobody wants to do what you do!” I love this quote by theologian Frederick Buechner: The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.

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