• Doug Tjapkes

On why we tell you what goes on behind bars

I have an announcement to make. And a confession. The announcement: I have a new book in the works...I’m hoping it will be released in a few months. The confession is that I’m rather ashamed of some of its content. Let me explain. As an octogenarian, I have had three distinctly different careers. My first career was that of radio newsman, and as I concluded nearly 30 years in the business, I owned and operated Radio Station WGHN right here in Grand Haven, Michigan. As a local newsman/broadcaster, I felt it was my duty to air editorials on local issues. Unlike articles and editorials in the newspaper, which can and do get saved, many things on the air later disappear. A former employee enjoyed those editorials, and saved copies of some 300 of them, aired between 1964 and 1978. With the kind assistance of Grand Haven’s Historical Museum and Loutit Library, we’re assembling more than 80 from that collection into a fine book that accurately reflects the social history of our community during that era. I’m very proud of this book. My positions on some issues, however, make me ashamed. Based on my life experiences, those opinions seemed quite valid back then. Cops and prosecutors were seldom if ever wrong. Arrested folks were obviously “bad apples.” Problems involving young people were obviously the fault of the teenagers. Certainly not the adults. My opinions were colored by these inhibiting factors: I had been a radio newsman in three predominantly white communities; I had never met a prisoner; I had never parented teenagers. My life, and my opinions, are different today. Now my friends and acquaintances have a variety of skin colors, and many of them are, or were, in prison. Today, while I greatly respect those persons in law enforcement and the courts who do their jobs fairly and honorably, I am fully aware of those who misuse their power and authority. And today, I can honestly say that the joys of raising kids through the teen years far outweighed the challenges. When I founded HFP 20 years ago, the old newsman in me demanded that we tell stories. Only then would people know what it’s like behind bars. Many reports were shocking. All were enlightening. One day a friend asked if I was making them up! The average citizen has no awareness of prison conditions and problems. As a former newsman and founder of an agency that helps and promotes humanity for inmates, I encourage our team to face that challenge and communicate, communicate, communicate! We’ll keep telling you the stories. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll watch for the new book. And I hope you’ll pray for the incarcerated.

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