Belle Isle Concern calls on advocates to attend this meeting to raise their concerns about the continued use of the Island for the Grand Prix

Wants public meetings, accounting of finances for Grand Prix and all other events on island, environmental assessment, compatibility for public park


FRIDAY,  JULY 13, 2018  9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Belle Isle Boat House

Directly east of entrance, has parking lot

By Diane Bukowski and Belle Isle Concern

July 10, 2018

DETROIT — The Belle Isle Concern, a citizens group that monitors the effects  of the encroaching corporate takeover of Belle Isle, and is opposed to the staging of the Grand Prix on the Island, is asking supporters to attend the “regular” Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee (BIPAC) meeting July 13.

Michael Montri

Michael Montri, General Manager of the Detroit Grand Prix, will be presenting a Detroit Grand Prix Event Proposal during this meeting. Although public comment is limited to 3 minutes, note that the small print on the bottom indicates that is the time limit is for “non-agenda” items. ”

The Grand Prix will be included under “Upcoming Events” as listed on the agenda. Belle Isle Concern has been protesting the use of Belle Isle Park for the Grand Prix race for several years. Most other Grand Prix races are held in the downtowns of cities world-wide, as they used to be held in downtown Detroit. Belle Isle Concern says a public park is not the place for such a race.

Last fall, Belle Isle Concern presented an appeal to Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to conduct an independent third-party environmental impact study of the Belle Isle Grand Prix as part of consideration for a new contract for the race.

The DNR did not respond to their request.

But, says Sandra Novacek of Belle Isle Concern, “We are asking again for public support as we continue to struggle to reclaim the integrity of Detroit’s most precious public space. All indications now are that the DNR is poised to approve a new multiyear contract for the Grand Prix on Belle Isle with a few minor concessions.”

Previous protest against Grand Prix sponsored by Belle Isle Concern

The group is asking for the public to endorse their “Public Request to the DNR” made on June 21, 2018, send letters and emails to contacts listed at the end of the request, and speak out at the meeting of the Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee meeting listed above, as well as other future meetings. 


 June 21, 2018

In MDNR surveys and public meetings, a substantial majority of park users have expressed strong opposition to continued staging of the Grand Prix on Belle Isle.  That opposition is not just because of the extended length of the race set-up and takedown time, but to the impact of the event itself on public access to the park and to the natural landscape and habitat of the island. 

Detroit youth on Belle Isle in 2012,  now run by the state. Youth like these are at peril from state troopers.

Therefore, we request that the MDNR, as leaseholders with stewardship responsibilities for this treasured piece of Detroit public property, undertake the following public steps in its process for evaluation of any request from the Grand Prix organization for a new contract for the race: 

1)      Conduct a series of public meetings, with at least one in the evening, to present the contract proposal, with members of the public allowed to ask questions and get answers from MDNR officials and staff and to have a significant opportunity for public comment (not limited to a few minutes).

2)      Provide information on rental fees the Grand Prix would pay, on amount of set-up and takedown time allowed, and on the exact area of the island occupied and for how long, including year-round storage of race-related equipment.

3)      Provide detailed financial information on park revenues from rental fees for all events—including weddings, gatherings, kayak and canoe rentals, photo shoots, and all other events that require permits or rental fees—held in each month of 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Family re-union picnic on Belle Isle, 2012.  Families travel from all over the country for these events.

4)      Provide information on how future races would affect access to all areas of the park, including Scott Fountain, the Conservatory, the Aquarium, the Dossin Museum, the Casino, and the Oudolf Garden. For what specific times would access be limited or roads rerouted?

5)      Provide an explanation of how the Grand Prix comports with the criteria for major events in the Belle Isle Strategic Management Plan and on compatibility with land use for a public park. If the race conflicts with such criteria, what is the rationale?

6)      Provide a detailed breakdown of the purported contributions by the Grand Prix organization to island improvements. How much was spent by what entities on exactly what facilities on the island?

Family picnics on the Belle Isle beach in between swims with gorgeous view of downtown Detroit skyline, in 2012

7)      Provide a third-party independent environmental impact assessment of the event, including air and noise pollution, on the island’s flora and fauna, on migratory birds and threatened animals, on storm-water runoff, and on physical structures including the MacArthur Bridge and historic buildings that should be protected by the island’s presence on the National Register of Historic Sites.

In addition, we believe the Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee (BIPAC) should not be the forum for any public review process of a Grand Prix contract, because the public has no meaningful voice in its meetings and there are committee members with conflicts of interest which should remove them from discussion, deliberation, and decision-making in relation to running the Grand Prix on Belle Isle. 

The Chairperson of the Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee is Michele Hodges. Her paid full-time job is President of the Belle Isle Conservancy, which is supported by a Grand Prix fundraiser. 

Michelle Hodges

Bud Denker

Bud Denker of Bloomfield Hills is President of Penske Corporation and Executive Vice President of Human Resources for the Penske Automotive Group. Denker is Vice President of Penske Performance as well, a unit that oversees race teams competing under the “Team Penske” banner. Since 2006, he has served as Chairman of the Detroit Grand Prix. 

Sommer Woods, appointed by the Detroit City Council, is principal consultant at Sommer Solutions and director of external relations for M1-RAIL. Roger Penske is chairman of M1-RAIL. Woods was director of sponsorship services for the Detroit Super Bowl XL Host Committee, chaired by Roger Penske. 

Sommer Woods

Roger Penske

There are no members of the committee appointed to specifically represent regular users of Belle Isle Park. 

As Michigan taxpayers, we believe this is the minimum that the MDNR, performing proper stewardship of Belle Isle, should do to conduct a transparent public process for any approval of a contract for the Belle Isle Grand Prix in the future. 

Respectfully Submitted,

Belle Isle Concern

For further information, see

or call Sandra Novacek at 313.832.1148  

CONTACT THE FOLLOWING TO EXPRESS YOUR OPPOSITION TO HOLDING THE GRAND PRIX RACE ON BELLE ISLE                                                                           

Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Executive Division

Keith Creagh, Director                                                                                  

P. O. Box 30028                                                                                      

Lansing, MI 48909                                                                                                                                  


Ron Olson, Chief, DNR Parks & Recreation Division

P.O. Box 30257, Lansing, MI 48909-7757


Detroit City Council – (The city still owns Belle Isle)

Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, Suite 1340

2 Woodward Avenue

Detroit, MI 48226                                                   

Brenda Jones, President (Member At-Large)

Mary Sheffield (District 5 (includes Belle Isle)

Related stories:

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Lewis in prison 42 years since age 17, innocent, official court file and ROA have disappeared 

Lewis makes record during June 19 hearing of voluminous documents still missing from file, objects again to re-creation, handover of defense docs. 

Lewis: what reasons did Pros. specify in asking for LWOP again? MSC decision in People v. Hyatt, Skinner says factual reasons must be stated 

AP Dawson challenges Lewis’ pro se motions as ‘non-existent’ because he had no atty., violating USSC Faretta v. California, Louisiana v. McCoy

Rally for Wrongfully Convicted, others Fri. July 20, 2018 at Frank Murphy Hall

 By Diane Bukowski 

July 5, 2018 

(VOD apologizes for the lateness of this story on June 19 hearing; MSC ruling in Skinner/Hyatt, which affects Lewis’ case as well as cases of 246 other Michigan juvenile lifers,  came down June 20. VOD story on that intervened.)

Charles K.K. Lewis, 59

DETROIT—During a hearing June 19 on the case of juvenile lifer  Charles ‘K.K.’ Lewis, Wayne Co. Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lewis said that she still must “certify” a file which purports to be a recreation of his missing official court file, before moving forward with his juvenile lifer re-sentencing. She set a court date of Fri. Aug. 3 at 9 a.m. in her courtroom #502 for further action. Hearings on Lewis’ re-sentencing have been ongoing in front of her since May, 2016.

Lewis is serving juvenile life without parole on charges that he murdered an off-duty Detroit police officer in 1976, when he was 17, charges which were refuted by all actual eyewitnesses at the scene including the officer’s own partner, both at trial and in newspaper accounts. Corrupt Detroit police officials threatened three Black juveniles from Lewis’ east-side neighborhood that they would be charged as well if they did not testify against Lewis.

Lillard noted for the record that Lewis has repeatedly objected to the rcreation of his file, citing higher court rulings, and that the parties were also still waiting for the Michigan Supreme Court ruling on People v. Hyatt, Skinner. (Ed. note: That ruling came down the following day.)

“I have not made a final ruling as to whether or not the file has been successfully recreated,” Judge Lillard said. “Mr. Schulman can make those arguments—I’m assuming it will be his position that we have been unable to recreate the file in any meaningful manner to move forward,” Lillard said.

Judge Qiana Lillard at Charles Lewis hearing June 19, 2018

Lewis, attending by video from Lakeland Correctional Facility, interjected forcefully, listing massive amounts of documents still missing from the “re-created” file.

“These are specific objections I would like to place on the record regarding the file,” Lewis said. “I got a copy of the ‘recreated’ file and the first trial transcript is totally incomplete, like it’s not even there, from March 9 to March 23 of 1977. A record of  proceedings held in front of visiting Judge Ollie Bivins March 23 is also not in the file.”

Lewis told VOD earlier that his first trial judge, Joseph Maher of Detroit Recorder’s Court, intervened to take Bivins off the second proceeding after questionably discharging the jury in his first trial.  Bivins, a visiting judge, was the first African-American Judge appointed to the Genesee County Circuit bench. As VOD has previously noted, the late attorney Kenneth Cockrel, Sr. told reporters that Maher was  a “racist monkey, a honky dog, a racist pirate, and a bandit.”

“There’s no voir dire transcript for the July 5 trial,” Lewis continued [referring to jury selection.] “There are also no proceedings from the appeal of right or the appointment of appellate counsel or the initial appeal that was sent to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Then proceed to the transcript from the Pearson evidentiary hearing in 1980, but there’s no record of all the proceedings that led up to the evidentiary hearing, and no ruling on the Pearson evidentiary hearing. All the proceedings from 1980 to probably 1997, none of those are in the file. So all of that makes the file incomplete in my opinion pursuant to People vs. Fullwood.  392 MI 751.”

Defense attorney Sanford A. Schulman of Federal Criminal Defenders Office.

He asserted again that the Judge has no authority to certify the file, to order the defense to produce attorney-client privileged documents for it, or to issue orders to the prosecutor’s office or the Wayne County Clerk’s office in the matter. 

Defense attorney Sanford Schulman told Judge Lillard that AP Tom Dawson gave him a flash drive which he thought contained the entire recreated file, but Dawson said other documents are still outstanding in physical files in Lillard’s courtroom. 

The flash drive itself is controversial since it contains numerous attorney-client privileged documents which Lewis never gave consent to his former attorney Valerie Newman of the State Appellate Defenders Office to release. It was created by SADO, evident by looking at the flash drive itself.

In addition to the loss of his file, which comprised a tall stack of boxes, the entire Register of Actions for Lewis dating from his first arraignment Aug. 2, 1976 through 1999 has been wiped off the Third Circuit Court’s computers. It does not even include a “PDF” of actions during the existence of Recorder’s Court, which all other ROA’s VOD has reviewed do include.

SADO flash drive containing Lewis’ documents.

“Before we go, Mr. Dawson, I was wondering if you had access to the agreement that was made with the three juveniles in this case that testified against me,” Lewis asked AP Thomas Dawson. “I’ve never seen that and that’s something we would definitely want to have for any mitigation hearing. Also we would really like to know why exactly why you are asking for LWOP, what your reasons are. It’s impossible for me to mount a defense without really knowing why you have made that request.”

DPD Investigator report shows charges dropped for two of juveniles who testified against Lewis, a fact jury was never told. It makes no mention of well-publicized shooter in white Lincoln Mark IV. 

Dawson responded, “Any question your lawyer brings me I will be happy to answer any and all. So when he presents those to me, I will try to answer those.”

Schulman objected on the record to Lewis addressing the court without consultation first with his defense attorney. However, Judge Lillard in the past has allowed Lewis to do so on numerous occasions.

Dawson said earlier in the hearing that he did not respond to Lewis’ pro se motions because they were not filed by an attorney, and therefore as far as he was concerned, “they did not exist.”

But Dawson’s  arrogant statement dealing with Lewis, a Black man, age 59, who has become a well-respected ‘jail-house lawyer” and holds a paralegal certificate and associates degree,  violated well-known U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975).

 “The U.S. Supreme Court held that criminal defendants have a constitutional right of self-representation,” says a posting on Lawyers.Com. “In Faretta, the Court found that the Sixth Amendment not only provides the right to counsel in one’s defense, it implicitly protects a defendant’s right to control and present his or her own defense.

Faretta said, ‘The right to defend is given directly to the accused; for it is he who suffers the consequences if the defense fails.’  The right to self-representation, however, is not absolute. To exercise this right, a defendant must: “knowingly and intelligently” waive the right to counsel, and be able and willing to abide by courtroom rules and procedures. (See:

Pro se motions filed by Charles Lewis, which Atty. Sanford has committed to argue.

In McCoy v. Louisiana, handed down on May 14, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court was most emphatic about a defendant’s rights regarding defense counsel’s actions.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees to each criminal defendant ‘the Assistance of Counsel for his defence,’” said the Court. “The defendant does not surrender control entirely to counsel, for the Sixth Amendment, in ‘grant[ing] to the accused personally the right to make his defense,’ speaks of the ‘assistance’ of counsel, and an assistant, however expert, is still an assistant.”  The Court said the decision to plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ falls entirely within the control of the defendant alone, (addressing specifically death-row prisoner Robert McCoy’s objection to his defense counsel telling the jury he was guilty, an unsuccessful move to avoid the death penalty).

They added, “Violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment-secured autonomy ranks as error of the kind our decisions have called ‘structural’; when present, such an error is not subject to harmless-error review.”

See ruling at

Schulman,  of the Federal Criminal Defense Office, said during the hearing that he would preserve his client’s pro se motions and essentially argue them as his own by providing praecipes for them, as requested by Dawson. Judge Lillard so directed, but did not cite any legal requirement for such an additional action; Lewis himself had praeciped the motions when he e-filed them, as pro se litigants are permitted to do under state law and court procedures.

Wayne Co. Prosecutor Kym Worthy

Additionally, Lewis’ question about the reasons for the LWOP motion was addressed the next day by the Michigan Supreme Court in People v. Hyatt, Skinner (June 20, 2018). Although most of the decision has been viewed as a direct violation of  U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the unconstitutionality of juvenile life without parole, the MSC did address the responsibility of the prosecutor in such cases.

The MSC said, “MCL 769.25(3) does require the prosecutor to file a motion to seek a life-without-parole sentence for a defendant less than 18 years old, and this motion must specify the grounds on which the prosecutor is requesting such a sentenceIf such a motion is not filed, the trial court must sentence the juvenile to a term-of-years sentence.”

In Lewis’ case, as in all the other 66 cases in which Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy requested LWOP again, nearly all for Black men, only boiler-plate motions were filed not giving any specific reasons for requesting the harshest penalty that can be inflicted on a child offender.

During a hearing on the case of Jenard Sharp, Oct. 17. 2017, defense attorney Nefertiti Alexander of the New York law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton argued that the boiler plate motion used by Prosecutor Kym Worthy in all of the 67 Wayne County cases recommending renewed JLWOP is insufficient and asked for the case against Sharp to be dismissed. The case has not yet been resolved. Judge Richard Skutt, who was hearing it, passed away Feb. 5, 2018 and it has been transferred to another judge.

Juvenile lifer Jenard Sharp

NYC attorney Nefertiti Alexander argued to dismiss Jenard Sharp case.

Judge Lillard said she stood by her order to re-create Lewis’ court file, but she has stated on the record that she would address his legal objections to that re-creation as stated in his pro se filing June 23, 2017. Lewis cited rulings from the U.S. and Michigan Supreme Courts which say that even the partial loss of a file means the case must be dismissed and re-tried.

Attorney Schulman said he would also brief  and praecipe  the 1974 Michigan Supreme Court ruling in People V. Fullwood, raised by Lewis. In that case, the defendant’s criminal conviction and sentence were reversed due to the impossibility of reconstructing his  lost file.

Meanwhile, support for Lewis and other wrongfully convicted prisoners like Thelonious Searcy (see previous article) is growing in the community. During a show at Detroit’s oldest blues club, the Raven, on June 29, the CJ Styles band announced their support for Lewis and pledged to attend his hearing Aug. 3. Lewis says he was playing with the band leader Charles Jackson’s former band, Pure Pleasure,  until late into the morning of July 31, 1976, at the UAW Local 212 hall (formerly located on Mack in Detroit), during the time Officer Sypitkowski was killed. (See video at top of story.)

Charles Lewis on guitar, Bill Lemons on keyboard, both noted musicians, now play in prison bands.

His trial attorney Arduin never called any of the band members or the audience that night to testify as Lewis’ alibi witnesses. Jackson said members only found out about Lewis’ conviction and time in prison several years ago [when Lewis’ previous attorneys from Foley & Lardner contacted them). Arduin also argued at trial that Lewis was essentially guilty, a member of a Black youth “gang” whose other members should have been charged in the killing of the off-duty police officer as well. 

His case will also be addressed as part of a rally on Fri. July 20, below, to be held outside the Frank Murphy Hall. The rally is  meant to unite the wrongfully convicted and their families, Michigan’s juvenile lifers, and victims of police brutality, along with organizations representing them, including Protect Our Stolen Treasures (P.O.S.T.) and the Detroit People’s Task Force.

Read CHARLES K.K. LEWIS full pro se motions below:

Also see his June 23, 2017 Objection  to Judge Lillard’s order to reconstruct his criminal file at:

Read Judge Deborah Thomas’ opinion of Aug. 6, 2016 at






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Bethany Christian Services Is Fostering Migrant Kids. It Also Has a History of Coercive Adoptions.

Amy Littlefield & Tina Vasquez


Media outlets have largely overlooked the troubling record of Bethany, a well-connected powerhouse of the anti-choice movement, even as reporters have interviewed the agency’s leaders on the plight of migrant kids.

A Michigan state official told Rewire.News there is no real system in place for finding the parents of children separated from their families by the Trump administration. Some of those children are being housed in the state by Bethany Christian Services, a religious adoption agency with a troubling record.

Vicki Levengood, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, described a “chaotic” situation where the foster agency calls detention center officials, who then cry out the names of children into rooms full of people to see if anyone there knows them.

Levengood said the department’s director, Agustin V. Arbulu, learned the details during a phone call with Dona Abbott, branch director of refugee services for Bethany.

“She described to him how they are backtracking with the little information children come with: name, age, gender, nation of origin, and the area where they were held, not necessarily [the] name of the exact detention facility,” Levengood said. “Staff at Bethany, from what they’re telling us, contact detention centers in the vicinity where the child was taken, asking the staff if they have anyone in detention who is connected to X child and leave a name.”


Children detained by the Trump administration in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Rio Grande Valley Sector via AP Photo)

 Levengood’s agency released a statement last week noting that infants as young as three months old had been transported to the state.

“We’re doing our best, but I don’t think we have a handle on it all,” Levengood said.

Her words reflect the apparent lack of a plan to unify about 2,000 migrant children who remain divided from their parents, though a federal judge on Tuesday ordered that border authorities reunite families within 30 days. Rendered “unaccompanied” by the government, these children are now the responsibility of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which handles unaccompanied immigrant minors.

ORR has funneled these children into a patchwork of shelters and foster homes overseen by organizations including Bethany, which has long faced accusations of discriminating against LGBTQ couples and coercing parents into giving up babies for adoption.

Toddlers as young as three are being taken from parents.

Media outlets have largely overlooked the troubling record of Bethany, a well-connected powerhouse of the anti-choice movement, even as reporters have interviewed the agency’s leaders on the plight of migrant kids. Nor have outlets mentioned the troubling history of ORR director, Scott Lloyd, who blocked young people in ORR custody from accessing abortion care.

Nothing in Lloyd’s professional background suggests he is qualified to head ORR, yet he’s been tasked with overseeing the day-to-day care of the country’s most vulnerable people: child refugees, many of whom came to the United States to escape persecution and gender-based violence. As Rewire.News reported, Lloyd is an anti-choice radical who has emerged as a staunch opponent of reproductive rights. Lloyd has taken it upon himself to “counsel” pregnant young people in ORR-affiliated shelters, as he admitted to the Christian Broadcasting Network. Immigration advocates see Lloyd as an ideological pick by the Trump administration as it ushers “anti-choice fanaticism” into the immigration system.

Bethany, other foster care agencies profit with federal funds for every child snatched.

Even prior to the Trump administration, there have been documented cases of young people being punished for wanting abortion care.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently litigating a religious shelter case against ORR that began in 2016 under the Obama administration. Religiously affiliated shelters, which have received millions of dollars in federal funds as contractors with ORR, have kicked out young people for having an abortion or simply requesting access to abortion.

Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, is the lead attorney on both the religious shelter case and Azar v. Garza, a class action lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s exercise of veto power over unaccompanied immigrant minors’ access to abortion in ORR custody. The attorney told Rewire.News earlier this month that even if the class action is successful and the injunction in Azar v. Garza essentially stays in place, things will go back to where they were under the Obama administration. Meaning: “If you are in a religiously affiliated shelter, you get kicked out for even asking for an abortion,” Amiri said.

Jane’s Due Process

Susan Hays is the former legal director of Jane’s Due Process, one of the grassroots organizations that initially alerted the ACLU to the fact that young people in ORR custody were being denied access to care, even in instances of rape. The information led to Azar v. Garza, which is ongoing, but an injunction is currently in place allowing young people in ORR custody to access care.

“Perhaps it’s my paranoid mind or doing this work too long, but since the policy emerged from ORR that was trying to force migrants to have children, I’ve worried this was always about getting babies [away from migrants for adoption],” Hays told Rewire.News. “We have no idea if they are shuffling children around as quickly as possible so their parents can’t find them, and I frankly don’t believe the [Department of Homeland Security’s] claim that 500 children have been reunited with their families. We have no way of knowing if they’re actually making an effort to reunite families.”

In a written statement to Rewire.News, Bethany denied that any of the children in its custody would be put up for adoption, saying the agency “will not rest until every separated child in Bethany’s care is safely reunified with family.”

But the concerns of advocates like Hays are rooted in reality: Christian adoption agencies like Bethany have “a pattern and history of coercing women to relinquish their children,” as journalist Kathryn Joyce has reported.

Much like ORR’s director, Bethany has gone to great lengths to dissuade people from seeking abortions, raising questions about access to reproductive health services for migrant youths in their care, many of whom may be sexually assaulted en route to the United States.

As Rewire.News revealed in 2016, Bethany’s particular efforts to cajole patients out of ending their pregnancies have included hiring an ad firm to target “abortion-minded women” by sending ads for Bethany to their smartphones while they are sitting in Planned Parenthood clinics.

But that’s just scratching the surface of its long and complicated history. Here’s what we know.

1. Bethany has several federal contracts.

Despite speaking out against the Trump administration’s treatment of refugees, the Christian adoption agency has announced plans to expand its foster care operations as a result of President Trump’s policy of separating families at the border. As of June 19, Bethany had reportedly placed nearly 100 migrant children in foster homes in Maryland and Michigan.

The organization was initially approved by the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees as part of its resettlement program in Michigan in 1998. However, in 2016, Bethany was approved to “provide refugee resettlement and refugee youth foster care services” in Pennsylvania, according to the agency’s site.

Protesters outside Bethany’s headquarters in Grand Rapids.

Indeed, the agency has a wide variety of federal contracts, with millions in annual revenue coming from government-funded programs. It offers refugee and immigrant foster care, resettlement, and unaccompanied children reunification. Bethany has also received hundreds of thousands of dollars as a participant in the federal Family & Youth Services Bureau’s “Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Program,” an abstinence-only education program that targets Latinx and Black youth ages 14-to-19.

2. Bethany has a record of coercive adoption practices.

Last year, 17-year-old Alex Robinson gave birth at a Catholic hospital in Muskegon, Michigan. Robinson had been on a beach trip with friends and did not realize she was pregnant until she went into labor. While her mother was five hours away in Illinois, a counselor told Robinson she could give the baby up for adoption without anyone knowing, according to a local news report.

Within a few hours of the birth, a Bethany representative was at the hospital with adoption paperwork. But after returning home, Robinson changed her mind. She ultimately had to fight Bethany in court to regain custody of her child.

“They exploited her,” Robinson’s mother, Leah McDonald, told the news team Local 4 Defenders. “You know, they took advantage of her because they wanted her baby.”

This was not an isolated incident for Bethany.

The agency’s 2017 tax forms show it provided “pregnancy counseling services protecting unborn children” to “3,078 expectant parents” under its domestic adoption program.

But such counseling often amounts to coercion, as journalist Kathryn Joyce, author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, has reported.

“They come on really pro-life: look at the baby, look at its heartbeat, don’t kill it,” one woman, whom Joyce called Carol Jordan, recalled of her experience with Bethany in South Carolina in 1999. “Then, once you say you won’t kill it, they ask, What can you give it? You have nothing to offer, but here’s a family that goes on a cruise every year.”

Jordan told Joyce that Bethany isolated her by sending her to stay with one of its “shepherding families,” where she felt “like a walking uterus for the agency.”

When Jordan had second thoughts about the adoption after delivering her baby, a Bethany counselor brought the prospective adoptive parents, sobbing, into her recovery room.

“The counselor warned Jordan that if she persisted, she’d end up homeless and lose the baby anyway,” Joyce wrote.

Bethany declined to respond directly to concerns about its record of coercive practices.

In March, Philadelphia announced it had halted adoptions through Bethany following reports the agency refused to work with same-sex couples who wanted to be foster parents. In Michigan, one of the states where Bethany is caring for migrant children separated from their families by the Trump administration, same-sex couples sued the state last year for contracting with Bethany and other agencies that turn away prospective adoptive and foster parents because of their sexual orientation. Bethany had lobbied Michigan to pass legislation in 2015 allowing such agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples under the guise of religion.

At least nine states have passed such measures, five of them since last year. Of the states where migrant children have been placed, at least five have passed such provisions allowing discrimination.

“Bethany is part of this wider movement of organizations pushing to enshrine the right to discriminate into law—an effort that has gained widespread success under Trump,” Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire.News vice president of law and the courts said.

4. Bethany has benefited from figures within the Trump administration.

Bethany has a massive reach, with an annual revenue of more than $98 million, millions of which comes from government-funded programs, tax filings show.

Among the lawmakers who have directed public funding to Bethany is Vice President Mike Pence. As governor of Indiana, Pence shifted funds intended for low-income families in the state to a crisis pregnancy center umbrella organization, Real Alternatives, that subcontracted with Bethany Christian Services, Rewire.News reporter Jenn Stanley reported.

The agency has also benefited from the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation donated $25,000 to Bethany in 2015 and 2016, while the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation outlined $2.5 million in planned and executed donations to Bethany in its 2016 filing alone.


Doug Stanglin and Marina Pitofsky,

USA TODAY  June 30, 2018

Washington D.C: Families have no borders.

WASHINGTON — Thousands of people descended on cities from coast-to-coast Saturday in “Families Belong Together” rallies to protest the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that left more than 2,000 children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

In the nation’s capital, thousands poured into Lafayette Square, across from the White House, to chant “We care” and “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA.”

While President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump avoided the chants in Washington, the protests followed them to their weekend retreat in Bedminster, N.J.

Rally at Indiana Statehouse

Only a few miles from Trump National Golf Course, more than 100 protesters lined the side of a major New Jersey highway waving anti-Trump signs and chanting, “Where are the children!”

Jack Gavin, of West Caldwell, N.j., handed out miniature copies of the U.S. Constitution, “Facts Matter” pins and cold drinks. He said he also planned to attend rallies in Newark and Clifton,N.J.

In Washington, Shelley Kohl, a retired business owner from Johnson City, Tennessee, said she does not usually engage in politics, but the images of children being separated from their parents motivated her to travel to Washington for today’s protests. 

Indiana rally.

“Kids don’t belong in cages. Families don’t belong in cages, and kids absolutely don’t belong being removed from their families,” Kohl said. 

In New York City, protesters at a Manhattan park chanted “shame!” and “shut detention down” as they geared up to march across the Brooklyn bridge to Cadman Plaza, near the federal courthouse.

Episcopalian Chaplain Jenifer Gamber, 52, said she hoped to send a strong signal to elected officials about the public’s opinions on immigration. 

“I am appalled at the Trump administration’s treatment of people seeking asylum in the United States that criminalizes asylum-seeking and separates families,” Gamber said. 

Washington D.C. Rally: Families Belong Together

Organizers in the Families Belong Together Coalition included the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the ACLU, Leadership Conference and

“(The) family separation crisis is not over. We have a situation where the Trump administration seems to be aiming to detain families,” said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman. 

Each state is hosting at least one event, with some states, such as Texas and Massachusetts, participating some 30 events. California was on track to host at least 80 on Saturday, according to the Families Belong Together website. 

In Boston, the “Rally against Family Separation” was beginning with a morning march from City Hall to Boston Common, where a large rally will take place. The protest was timed with other protests nationwide and is also meant to oppose Trump’s ban on travelers from certain Muslim-majority nations. 

Washington, D.C.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Joe Kennedy III, both Democrats, will be among the attendees.

A second demonstration Saturday afternoon was expected to begin with a march from Wellington Common Park to the South Bay House of Correction, a county jail in Boston which houses undocumented immigrants apprehended by federal officials.

Rallies were also underway at mid-morning in El Paso and Atlanta, and communities big and small.

Among the protests:

— In Louisville, Ky., protesters sought refuge from thesweltering heat arond Metro Hall. Art Baltes stood out from the crowd, pacing back and forth under the sunshine with a banner in hand: “Immigrants and Refugees Welcome.”

Baltes, of Louisville, said his Catholic faith spurred him to attend the rally. “That’s exactly where it starts — our faith,” he said. “We just want people to know that people in this town support immigrants and refugees.” 

Rally at Senate Office Bldg.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Joe Kennedy III, both Democrats, will be among the attendees.

A second demonstration Saturday afternoon was expected to begin with a march from Wellington Common Park to the South Bay House of Correction, a county jail in Boston which houses undocumented immigrants apprehended by federal officials.

Rallies were also underway at mid-morning in El Paso and Atlanta, and communities big and small.

Among the protests:

— In Louisville, Ky., protesters sought refuge from thesweltering heat arond Metro Hall. Art Baltes stood out from the crowd, pacing back and forth under the sunshine with a banner in hand: “Immigrants and Refugees Welcome.”

Baltes, of Louisville, said his Catholic faith spurred him to attend the rally. “That’s exactly where it starts — our faith,” he said. “We just want people to know that people in this town support immigrants and refugees.”

— In Nashville, Abigail Taylor, a 37-year-old mother of three, said she “can’t in good conscious pretend like nothing is happening and have my family go about like nothing is wrong.”

“The idea of someone taking them from me without saying goodbye, and them thinking I abandoned them, breaks my heart,” she said. 

The rallies were in response to a widespread desire among many Americans to take action against Trump’s strict immigration policies, said Lorella Praeli, ACLU director of immigration policy and campaigns.

“This is our country, and if there is something happening that takes us in the wrong direction, we can’t stay silent,” Praeli said. “It’s on us to hold our elected officials accountable, to hold our president accountable and to demand action. So silence in this moment is complicity.” 

After Trump signed an executive order last week ending the family separations, a California judge ordered the Trump administration Tuesday evening to reunite the migrant families it had separated.

There are 2,047 children that must be placed in the same facility as their parents within the next two to four weeks. But U.S. law and a series of court rulings that limit the amount of time minors can be held in detention will further complicate those reunions.

More: Illegal immigration: Separating the facts from fiction

More: As thousands prepare to rally, here’s where things stand on immigration

A June 18 CBS News poll showed 67 percent of Americans found separating undocumented immigrant children and parents at the border “unacceptable.” 

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said she has been engaging with organizers ahead of Saturday’s demonstrations, and many are concerned about the direction of the country. 

“The separation policy here, separating children from their parents and detaining them in internment camps and caging them is something that you would think would happen in tyrannical, authoritarian countries, not in a country that says that it is a democracy, not in the United States of America,” Weingarten said. 

Fabiola Perez, 24, said she will be protesting in Winston-Salem, N.C., because of her personal history with the U.S. immigration process. 

“I have been in those kids’ shoes. I’m currently a DACA recipient; my parents brought me to the U.S. when I was only 7 years old. I had to cross the border and we failed multiple times, my little brother, my mom and I were detained by the immigration officials,” said Perez, a sales operations coordinator at PepsiCo. “It was scary not knowing what to expect and also not knowing the language at the time. Thankfully, we were always kept together, which helped my brother and I feel safe.” 

Perez said she’s also protesting as the mother of a 6-year-old son. 

“Just the thought of getting my son ripped away from while only trying to get a better life for him would not only devastate me but it would definitely traumatized him,” Perez said.

Contributing: Nick Muscavage, in Bedminister, N.J.; Jordyn Pair, in Nashville; Shannon Hall, in Louisville, USA TODAY Network

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Family and friends of Charles Lewis and Michael Calvin, both recommended for LWOP by Wayne Co. Pros. Kym Worthy, at Juvenile Lifer For Justice Rally last June.

Cites states’ rights to “develop their own procedures to enforce new rule”

Dissenting opinion says USSC requires ALL  judges to make statement of facts regarding JLWOP sentence, including finding re: incorrigibility  

Michigan one of three rogue states with two-thirds of nation’s juvenile lifers, most of them Black and Latin 

PA. State Sen. Sharif Street rallies to pass bill ending all life without parole

Lee Boyd Malvo, 17 when D.C. sniper killings carried out, granted juvenile lifer re-sentencing by 4th Circuit Court

By Diane Bukowski 

June 22, 2018 

Kenya Ali Hyatt

Tia Marie Skinner

DETROIT – With its June 2o ruling on the Skinner/Hyatt cases, the Michigan Supreme Court basically torpedoed the hopes of the Michigan 247. They are the two-thirds of state juvenile lifers who are still incarcerated because county prosecutors recommended renewed life without parole for them, despite U.S. Supreme Court dictates in Miller/Hobbs v. Alabama (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016). Many have spent decades behind bars.

In a 4-2 ruling on the combined cases of Kenya Ali Hyatt and Tia Marie Skinner, the court essentially sided with the prosecutors responsible for the continued confinement of  the 247. It ruled a judge, not a jury, must preside over re-sentencings, but that the judge does not have to find that the defendant is a “truly rare” and incorrigible juvenile, with less culpability than an adult, as defined in Miller and Montgomery.

Juvenile lifer and long-time jail-house lawyer Charles Lewis said these cases must be further appealed in order to blunt the ruling’s effect on the Michigan 247. Neither attorneys for the defendants nor the Michigan ACLU answered VOD’s calls for comment.

Tia Marie Skinner, 17, of  Port Huron, Michigan, enlisted two adult male friends to kill her adoptive parents, both of whom were white, as were her friends. They succeeded in killing her father and wounding her mother.  Skinner was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to mandatory life without parole. She was re-sentenced to LWOP at a Miller hearing, but her defense attorneys appealed, saying the ruling should be made by a jury “beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Justice Bridget McCormack, dissent

Chief Justice Stephen Markman, majority

In its June 20 majority ruling written by Chief Justice Stephen Markman, the MSC found that a judge should make the decision.

But the greatest part of the majority ruling was devoted to the Eighth Amendment issue of “cruel and unusual punishment” in the case of Kenya Ali Hyatt,17, regarding the standard of review in such cases. Hyatt, 17, was convicted of first-degree felony murder for participating with two adult co-defendants in the robbery and fatal shooting of a security guard in Flint, Michigan.

The state Supreme Court reviewed the majority ruling of an appellate conflict panel that was convened to decide discrepancies between trial court rulings in Hyatt and two other cases including Skinner.

The four judge majority on that panel said, “As evidenced by the existence of this special conflict panel, we recognize that this is a difficult issue.  Also not lost on this panel is the understanding that juveniles who commit a heinous offense, while undoubtedly deserving of punishment, are categorically less culpable than their adult counterparts and are less deserving of the maximum punishment available under the law.  As the United States Supreme Court has made unmistakably clear, it is only the truly rare juvenile who will be deserving of the harshest penalty available under the laws of this state, and a life-without-parole sentence is an unconstitutional penalty for all juveniles but for those whose crimes reflect irreparable corruption.  Thus, while we conclude that a judge, not a jury, is to make this determination, the sentencing judge must honor the mandate that was made abundantly clear in Miller v Alabama. . .”

However, Chief Justice Markman of the Michigan Supreme Court wrote for the majority, “The Eighth Amendment, under either Miller or Montgomery, does not require additional fact-finding before a life-without-parole sentence can be imposed. 

“Although there was language in those cases that could be read to suggest that the sentencer must find that the juvenile offender’s crime reflects irreparable corruption before a life-without-parole sentence could be imposed, Miller simply held that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment and that before such a sentence could be imposed on a juvenile, the sentencer must consider the mitigating qualities of youth, and Montgomery expressly stated that Miller did not require trial courts to make a finding of fact regarding a child’s incorrigibility.”

Markman said the rulings allowed the states to develop their own procedures to comply with them. 

See full ruling at

The Court thus deliberately ignored the increasing trend across the states to outlaw juvenile life without parole, period, and further branded Michigan as a rogue state, particularly in its treatment of children of color. Two-thirds of Michigan juvenile lifers are Black or Latin.

“Twenty states and the District of Columbia do not have any prisoners serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles, either due to laws prohibiting the sentence or because there are no individuals serving the sentence at this time,” says the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth. “Thus, while 30 states allow the sentence, just three – Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Louisiana – account for about two-thirds of JLWOP sentences.”

The U.S. is the ONLY country in the world that allows this barbaric sentence at all. It is virtually the only country with actual life without parole sentences period.

Pennsylvania State Senator Sharif Street has just introduced a bill in that state’s legislature that would abolish ALL life without parole there, allowing parole board hearings at least after 15 years. (See story below.)

“Not all victims of crime want people to die behind bars,” Street said in March. “Many times the people who are victims of crime, they have another loved one who is also serving behind bars. Sometimes people themselves are both perpetrators and victims of crime.”

In addition to Michigan’s rogue status on JLWOP, it is also notorious for decades of state takeovers of its majority-Black cities, including Detroit, the largest majority Black city in the U.S. The takeovers have meant the theft of public assets from citizens, and left extreme poverty and unemployment among people of color in their wake, creating a constant pipeline to the state’s prisons.

Justices Bridget McCormack and Richard Bernstein dissented, saying that both the U.S. Supreme Court and Michigan statutes MCL 769.25 and MCL 769.25a mandate much more than just a jury verdict to impose life without parole on a child.

“In short, MCL 769.25(9) authorizes a maximum term-of-years sentence for juveniles convicted of the enumerated offenses based solely on the jury’s verdict. The remainder of the statute requires motion + hearing + consideration of the Miller factors +a statement of aggravated and mitigating circumstances considered by the court and reasons supporting its sentence before a trial court can impose LWOP on a juvenile,” McCormack wrote. “For these reasons, the most reasonable reading of MCL 769.25, is reading it as murder-plus.”

Notably, neither side acknowledged that both U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith   and the Sixth Circuit Court have struck the portions of each statute that forbid “good time” credits to be included when calculating new term of years sentences for juvenile lifers. Under Michigan law, even those sentenced to LWOP accumulate such credits.

Hopefully, it is not the stance of the Michigan Supreme Court majority that NONE of the Michigan 247 would be allowed term of years re-sentencings.

Friends of Charles Lewis demonstrate outside the Frank Murphy Hall in Detroit before his hearing Oct. 11, 2016.


By Ray Downs  |  March 26, 2018 at 11:38 PM

Pennsylvania State Sen. Sharif Street

March 26 (UPI) — A Pennsylvania lawmaker is leading an effort to end life without parole sentences, which would make his the first state to do away with the permanent punishment.

State Sen. Sharif Street, a Democrat out of Philadelphia, introduced Senate Bill 942 back in October and is preparing for a rally to promote it in Harrisburg, the state’s capital, on Tuesday. The bill would allow people sentenced to life in prison to be eligible for parole after 15 years. Street says it’s a bill that makes sense punitively and fiscally.

“There are also fiscal conservatives who support this because they believe that the purpose of our criminal justice system is to keep people safe, to rehabilitate people, and that to incarcerate people beyond that point is an expensive luxury that we can no longer afford,” Street said, according to WHYY radio.

At the Mosaic Community Church in Philadelphia on Monday, Street told constituents that the bill doesn’t guarantee parole to anybody given a life sentence, but extends the process of parole board hearings to people who have spent at least 15 years in prison. It also keeps intact the opportunity for victims of crime to speak at parole board hearings, which Street points out is not necessarily a plea to keep the perpetrator in prison.

“Not all victims of crime want people to die behind bars,” Street said. “Many times the people who are victims of crime, they have another loved one who is also serving behind bars. Sometimes people themselves are both perpetrators and victims of crime.”

Not all life without parole sentences are for murder or sex crimes.

Rally to end life without parole,, held in Harrisburg, PA March, 2018

Looking at data in nine states and the federal prison system from 2012, the ACLU found 2,578 people serving life without parole for drug crimes, 652 for property crimes and 48 for other nonviolent offenses.

Street’s effort to end life without parole sentences comes on the heels of the Supreme Court‘s 2012 decision that said life without parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. Since that ruling, 20 states, including Pennsylvania, have banned the sentence for juveniles.

Alaska is the only state in the country that does not have an official life without parole sentence on the books, but it does impose a 99-year sentence and judges can impose multiple 99-year sentences.


Charles K.K. Lewis, 59

(The story below on innocent juvenile lifer Charles Lewis has links to many JLWOP cases. Lewis had another in a series of dozens of hearings over the last two-and-a-half years on June 19; story upcoming. He has filed motions to dismiss case for actual innocence, inadequate assistance of counsel, and prosecutor’s move to re-sentence him to LWOP. His entire official court file has been lost, and his Register of Actions wiped out; MSC ruling in People v. Fullman, 1974 says file CANNOT be re-created, despite court’s order to do so, but must be dismissed.)


Lee Malvo was 17 was he was convicted of the D.C. Sniper killings, accompanying adult John Allen Muhammad.

VOD: In contrast to the intransigent stance of the Michigan Supreme Court in the Hyatt/Skinner ruling, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has granted juvenile lifer re-sentencings to Lee Boyd Malvo, who was 17 when he participated with adult co-defendant John Allen Muhammad in the D.C. Sniper killings.

THE DAILY CALLER 4:26 PM 06/22/2018

Anders Hagstrom | Justice Reporter

District of Columbia sniper Lee Boyd Malvo had four life sentences deemed unconstitutional Thursday, in line with a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that mandatory minimum life sentences cannot apply to minors.

See full ruling at

Malvo, now 33, pleaded guilty to murdering six people in the Washington, D.C., area in 2002 when he was 17 and received four life sentences under a mandatory minimum law in Virginia. A federal appeals court threw out his sentences, his convictions remain and he will be re-sentenced, The Washington Post reported. The ruling also doesn’t affect the six life sentences he received in Maryland. His accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, was executed in 2009.

Lee Malvo, from Jamaica, had been homeless before John Allen Muhammad took him in.

“[The shootings] were the most heinous, random acts of premeditated violence conceivable, destroying lives and families and terrorizing the entire Washington, D.C., metropolitan area for over six weeks, instilling mortal fear daily in the citizens of that community,” Virginia circuit court judges stated. But, “Malvo was 17 years old when he committed the murders, and he now has the retroactive benefit of new constitutional rules that treat juveniles differently for sentencing.”

Malvo’s attorneys will now relitigate his sentencing, claiming that a jury would have granted a more lenient sentence had the option been available. (RELATED: DC Sniper Gets Life Sentence Overturned)

“We’re pleased with the decision, of course, and not just for Lee Malvo, but for all juveniles that are in a similar situation,” one of his attorneys, Craig Stover Cooley, told WaPo. “I think at the time we would have had a sentence of less than life without parole.”

Malvo and Muhammad threw D.C. into a terror during their 6-week murder spree, shooting six people indiscriminately while they were getting gas, going for runs, or other everyday actions.

Follow Anders on Twitter

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Herman Vallery II is at bottom right being interviewed during his family’s 20th anniversary memorial for his only child Lamar Grable, on Sept. 21, 2016. Others in photo include Lamar’s mother Arnetta Grable, Sr. in black and gray dress and Cornell Squires, Sr., at her left. The two preceded Val in death after lifetimes of struggle against police brutality and injustices inflicted on poor and working people. Val constructed all the signs at the right, which he and others carried for those 20 years.


By Diane Bukowski

Lamar Grable, 20 when he was murdered by Detroit cop Eugene Brown with partner Vicki Yost Sept. 21, 1996

Herman Vallery II, affectionately known as “VAL” to his friends and family, passed away June 7, 2018 after a lifetime devoted to the struggle for the people. He was the father of Lamar Grable, his only child, who was shot to death by notorious Detroit killer cop Eugene Brown on Sept. 21, 1996. Brown killed three people without cause, and shot and wounded at least nine people.

Afterwards, Val joined with Lamar’s mother Arnetta Grable and her other children Aaron Grable and Arnetta Grable, Jr. in forming the Detroit Coalition against Police Brutality, which grew exponentially afterwards as police continued murdering Detroiters and others across the country. It preceded the founding of the national Black Lives Matter movement that swept the U.S. after the 2014 police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.

Val was a jazz musician and motorcyclist as well as a stalwart fighter. He created numerous posters throughout the ten years of struggle for justice for Lamar, including one with a blow-up of the front page of the Michigan Citizen with the headline “SERIAL KILLER KOPS” about Brown. He organized tirelessly in the community, speaking at the Detroit City Council and Detroit Police Commission meetings. During that battle, he also lost “Dee Dee,” the love of his life, but he kept on fighting. 

Members of the Original Detroit Coalition against Police Brutality at the April 28, 2015 protest against Terrance Kellom’s killing by police inside his father’s house. They are (l to r), Arnetta Grable, Jr., Butch Carrington, Arnetta Grable, Sr., Herman Vallery (father of Lamar Grable), and Cornell Squires.

He was never without fliers about his beloved son, and always wore a button with Lamar’s photo on his cap. Lamar Grable lived with Val at his home on Canton for several years before his death. Lamar had left his father’s home the night of Sept. 21, 2016 to attend a Police Athletic League (PAL) event with a friend at a nearby church. As he was returning across a vacant lot on Field St., Eugene Brown and his partner Vicki Yost unleashed a barrage of bullets at him, striking him eight times in the back and chest. 

When the family’s civil suit finally came to trial years later, testimony elicited by Attorneys David Robinson and Melissa El demonstrated unquestionably that Brown and Yost shot Lamar thinking he was another man they were pursuing. Brown admitted on the stand that he “could have” shot Lamar three times in the chest as he lay on the ground, already wounded by gunfire to his back.

Val was sorely grieved by Arnetta Grable’s death Oct. 30, 2017. He said he spent many hours talking on the phone with her and he shared a friendly relationship with Aaron and Arnetta Jr. as well as other members of both their extended families. Val will be sorely missed by many, but his memory will live on in the continued battles for justice for Black and poor America.

Families display signs outside courthouse (l to r) Gabrielle and Dominique Harrison, Oct. 22 protester, Khalid Fareed, Roberto Guzman, unnamed, Gary of Oct. 22nd, Herman Vallery, Cornell Squires, unnamed, daughter of Taminko-Sanford-Tilmon at her left, Jermaine Tilmon, with grandson Omari.

Members of the Original Detroit Coalition against Police Brutality, including Herman Vallery (2nd from left) and Arnetta Grable (6th from left), outside Frank Murphy Hall to demand that Pros. Kym Worthy bring charges against Eugene Brown after the release of the “Shoulders Report” which recommended those charges. Worthy never did so.


Lamar Grable’s family and supporters flew this banner from the site of his murder on Field St. to downtown Detroit’s DPD and court HQ and back on Sept. 21, 2016.


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HEARING TUES. JUNE 19, 9 AM, JUDGE QIANA LILLARD, FRANK MURPHY HALL, RM. 502 (call court at 313-224-2391 before coming to assure hearing has not been postponed).


Lewis convicted of police officer’s 1976 murder, sentenced to JLWOP

In 1975, white bar owner executed 18-yr. old Black youth, sentenced to 6 months in DeHoCo, 3 yrs. probation

Lewis’ atty. was campaign manager for anti-integration judge Thomas Poindexter; trial judge racist Joseph Maher

Lewis’ lost court files, blanked out Register of Actions still at issue; US, State Supreme Court precedents say case must be dismissed

DETROIT –Charles Lewis, 59, serving life without parole (i.e., death) in Michigan prisons since the age of 17, hopes to have his first real opportunity Tues. June 19 to expose the railroad that ended with his conviction of the murder of a white police officer during the racially volatile post-STRESS era in Detroit in 1976.

He says today of court proceedings in 1977, “It felt like I was sitting through my own lynching. When I stepped into the courtroom racism was the order of the day. White Power was in full effect.”

Lewis is asking all who support him and oppose the criminal injustice system that still flourishes in Detroit 42 years after his conviction, to pack the courtroom. He is one of 247 juvenile lifers still being held in state prisons despite two U.S. Supreme Court rulings declaring juvenile life without parole unconstitutional.

He will appear before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard in Rm. 5o2, at 9 a.m. for post-conviction hearings on four motions he filed himself.

Federal criminal defense attorney Sanford Schulman, who has visited Lewis twice at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan, is representing Lewis.

Lewis’ docketed motions are summarized in the box at left, and fully linked below this story.

Also outstanding is his June 23, 2017  Objection to an Order issued by Judge Lillard Nov. 11, 2016. She refused to honor State and U.S. Supreme Court precedents that mandate dismissal of criminal cases when the official court records are lost.  She said last year that she would hear the issues in that Objection in upcoming hearings.

Numerous boxes of Lewis’ court files went missing sometime after 2012, when he filed a motion asking Judge Gershwin Drain to implement Drain’s earlier order of April 3, 2000 dismissing Lewis’ murder case after the state failed to hold a Pearson evidentiary hearing within 30 days as mandated. 

Drain, whose daughter was then an Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor, denied he had anything to do with Lewis’ case, accused Lewis of forging the order, and hacking into the court’s Register of Actions, which is accessible only to the Wayne County Clerk and County Judges.  Neither Lewis nor any other MDOC prisoner has access to the Internet.

That Register of Actions currently shows that Lewis was convicted by a jury on April 3, 2000 in front of Judge Gershwin Drain. Everything from 1976 on is missing. 

Activist attorney Kenneth Cockrel Sr. called Maher a racist.

Recorder’s Court Judge Joseph Maher

Lewis, known to many friends as “K.K.,” was a gangly teen-ager weighing 150 lbs. when he was hauled into Detroit Recorder’s Court in March, 1977. He was charged with the murder of Gerald Sypitkowski, 27, a white off-duty Detroit police officer, on July 31, 1976, outside Oty’s Bar on Harper and Barrett.

He faced Recorders Court Judge Joseph Maher, known for his failed attempt to disbar militant Black attorney Kenneth Cockrel, Sr., for calling Maher “a racist monkey, a honky dog, and a racist pirate,” outside of the courtroom during the trial of Alfred Hibbitt. Hibbitt was accused of killing a police officer when Detroit police attacked a meeting of the Republic of New Afrika held at the New Bethel Baptist Church in 1969.

Maher also facilitated the acquittal of Detroit officer Raymond Peterson, a member of the DPD S.T.R.E.S.S. unit, for one of 22 murders of unarmed men, mostly Black, during the early 1970’s.

Recorders Court Judge Thomas Poindexter

Attorney M. Arthur Arduin, Jr. was appointed to represent the teen.  Arduin was once the campaign manager for Judge Thomas Poindexter, who headed the Greater Detroit Homeowners’ Council, devoted to keeping Blacks out of white neighborhoods. Arduin was also rumored to have ties to organized crime in Detroit.

Poindexter additionally became notorious for setting aside, and later dismissing, a jury verdict of “felonious assault” against white Detroit officers Jay Hammer and Charles Springer in the death of 27-year-old Leslie Wayne Armstrong, who was Black, in 1978. He said “race” affected the verdict.

The officers had stopped Armstrong for outstanding traffic warrants at Kercheval and Dickerson. Witnesses, including a reserve officer,  said one later held Armstrong under his chin with a heavy police flashlight, while the other beat him with a second flashlight. He was pronounced DOA at Detroit General Hospital. Coroner Werner Spitz declared his death a “possible asphyxiation.”

Leslie Wayne Armstrong, killed by Detroit cops 1978

Detroit had just elected its first Black Mayor, Coleman A. Young, who had run against Police Chief John Nichols on a platform critical of racist police treatment of Blacks.

But the city remained in turmoil. The New York Times reported that in 1975, Detroit experienced 600 homicides, the last involving a cop killing a Black man because he refused an order to “halt.”

“At seventeen I was ald enough to know that being accused of killing a cop in Detroit was a death sentence,” Lewis recalls in a vivid life history he wrote shortly after his incarceration.

“The Detroit Police Department terrorized the black community in the fifties, sixties and seventies with brutal beatings and senseless murders. It was no secret in the hood that during the times when Detroit had the highest murder rate in the country, that most of the murders were committed by rogue police officers. Black males were routinely the victims of police brutality. Something as harmless as ignoring an officer’s command to walk to his squad car could get you killed.”

Obie Anthony Wynn, 18

A year before Sypitkowski’s killing, on July 28, 1975, a white bar owner named Andrew Chinarian shot Obie Anthony Wynn, 18, father of a two-year-old son, in the back of the head in the Bolton Bar’s parking lot, according to the coroner.  Wynn’s friend Michael Brown watched. Brown said Chinarian then began beating Brown in the chest with his gun. Brown said other whites from inside the bar began forming a mob.

The killing touched off three days of rebellion by angry youth from across Detroit, who poured out into the neighborhood around Livernois and Chalfonte, throwing rocks and bottles and re-distributing the wealth by breaking into stores owned by the well-to-do.

Chinarian was charged with second-degree murder, but that was eventually reduced to a misdemeanor charge of careless and reckless use of a firearm resulting in death. Judge Leonard Townsend sentenced him to six months in DeHoCo, three years  probation, and a $300 fine.

Andrew Chinarian

At the time, Lewis was living with his parents Rosie and Herbert Lewis and four younger siblings he often looked after, at 12631 Kilbourne St. on Detroit’s east side. His father worked for the Federal Aviation Administration and was frequently assigned out of town, while his mother worked at a General Motors plant.

“We were one of only two Black families living on that block at the time,” Lewis’ mother Rosie Lewis recalled. 

 Lewis’ father Herbert Lewis was falsely accused of robbing a Farmer Jack at Gratiot and Bellevue on Oct. 6, 1972. But Lewis and his wife produced “employment records. . . proving beyond question that Lewis was in Oberlin, Ohio, working  for the Federal Aviation Administration on October 6, 1972, the day of the robbery. The robbery charge was therefore dropped, and the criminal case was dismissed at the preliminary examination on March 30, 1973.” (See Lewis v Farmer Jack Division, Inc.327 N.W.2d 893.)

Rosie Lewis says police continued to harass their family after the charges were dropped and her husband sued the city, initially winning $40,000 in a jury verdict for “false arrest.

At the time of his arrest, Lewis was just short of graduation from Finney High School.

Finney High School then; it has since been demolished.

“Finney High School was a changing school in the early seventies,” Lewis wrote in his life history. “The once all-white school was giving way to busing and blacks. . . Some of the teachers didn’t want to change with the times. The teacher that I had for English Eight was one of those teachers.”

Lewis said the teacher stopped him the minute he entered his classroom to interrogate him. Lewis told the teacher he wanted to be a journalist, and work for the school paper and yearbook.

“Well, here is all you have to do,” the teacher told him mockingly. “Go to the gym during this period, go to the library, or hang out in the parking lot. Do anything but show up for class and you’ll get an ‘A’ from me.”

But Lewis became an accomplished writer and  a reporter for various newspapers during his imprisonment. His voluminous pro se legal filings attest to his writing and analytical skills. He has earned a paralegal certificate among other degrees in prison.

Charles Lewis playing in prison band. His fellow musicians have extolled his musical talent, calling it “world-class.”

Lewis has told Judge Lillard and his previous attorneys that he has been “studying law since before you were born.” He currently works as a clerk at the law library at the Lakeland Correctional Facility, and has earned a certificate as a paralegal, among other certificates. He is well respected among many fellow prisoners for his assistance to them in their cases.

Lewis’ defense atty. did not call band members or audience to testify.

Willis X. Harris, editor of the Michigan Lifers Report, says that numerous prisoners call him about articles on the man they call “K.K.” expressing their respect for and gratitude to him for his leadership and assistance on legal and personal matters.

He was already an accomplished musician. At the age of 4, he began playing guitar, piano and other instruments, a child prodigy following in his maternal grandfather’s footsteps. Today, he hones that talent playing in prison bands, and writing and arranging music for concerts.

He says he was with a band called “Pure Pleasure” on the night of July 31, 1976, at the United Auto Workers Local 212 Hall, during the time Sypitkowski was killed. His defense attorney did not call members of the band or audience to testify as alibi witnesses. Lewis was looking forward to graduation, a possible athletic college scholarship, and a prosperous career in music.

Below, his mother reads testimony from Dennis Van Fleteren, Sypitkowski’s partner, given at Lewis’ trial in 1977. Van Fleteren and numerous others standing nearby saw Sypitkowski shot by the driver of a white Lincoln Mark IV, who was later arrested but released on the order of then Sgt. Gil Hill. 

The video is by MacSpeaking and was done after an earlier court hearing on Lewis’ case. Please note that court date in video is not accurate. It was delayed numerous times until the upcoming hearing Tues. June 19, 2018 at 9 a.m.

Van Fleteren got the license number of the car, and police arrested its driver, Leslie Nathaniel. Their version of events was published in a Detroit Free Press article the next day, by reporters at the scene. It was also given at two trials in March and November, 1977.

Then Sgt. Gil Hill, however, told the reporters that Sypitkowski was not the victim of a “drive-by shooting.” Hill was later investigated by the FBI for alleged ties with organized crime and accused by FBI informant “White Boy Rick” of falsifying homicide reports. He passed in 2012.

Gil Hill in FBI surveillance photo conferring with known drug dealer Willie Volsan and Sgt. James Harris.

Although no eyewitness reported the presence of Black teens at the scene in the mainly white neighborhood when Sypitkowski was killed, Chief Investigative Officer Sgt. Marvin Johnson named Lewis, Jeffery Mulligan, 16, and Ronald Pettway, 16 as Sypitkowski’s killers in his report. Mulligan and Pettway’s names were later dropped as defendants after they agreed to testify that Lewis committed the murder. This was never revealed to Lewis’ jury.

According to Lewis’ homicide report, unidentified “confidential informants” named him and the others. They were never called to testify at his trials. Lewis and others believe the killing of Sypitkowski was a ‘hit’ ordered either by the mob or elements within the Detroit Police Department.

After his previous paid attorney withdrew from his case in a surprise hearing Jan. 31, 2018, Lewis filed four “pro se” motions. He says attorney Schulman has assured him he will get them on the record.

The motion to dismiss his case due to actual innocence refers in large part to an Aug. 16, 2006 opinion written by noted Third Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas. In that opinion, she upheld Lewis’ contentions that jury instructions by Judge Maher, which included a statement that he was “guilty” of another crime, were highly prejudicial and affected the jury verdict.

Judge Deborah Thomas

Only a small portion of Lewis’ first trial transcript exists in the files that Judge Lillard has said she may certify in order to move on with the prosecution’s motion for renewed juvenile life without parole.

However, Judge Thomas said that she “thoroughly” read the first trial transcript in 2006, and that she found no documentation of Maher’s reason for dismissing the jury in that first trial in March, 1977, or any motions by either prosecution or defense for a “mistrial” after the jury had deliberated for over a week. She said that meant that Lewis should have been considered acquitted, and not tried again, because that would have been “double jeopardy.”

Thomas also upheld Lewis’ contention that he was denied effective assistance of counsel when Recorders Court Judge Gerald Thomas fired defense attorney Rosemary Robinson after she won a Court of Appeals verdict ordering that a “Pearson” evidentiary hearing must be held at Lewis’ request. The attorney who represented Lewis at the hearing was not familiar with the issues in his case, and given only a short meeting with Lewis to prepare for the hearing. Witnesses Lewis wanted subpoenaed did not testify at the hearing.

Lewis’ motion regarding ineffective assistance of counsel relates to his trial attorney, Arthur Arduin, who essentially argued in his opening and closing statements that Lewis was guilty. Arduin characterized him as a member of a young Black “gang,” and said that the three Black juveniles who testified against him should also have been charged. 

Robert McCoy, Louisiana death-row prisoner

The U.S. Supreme Court just overturned the conviction of death row prisoner Robert McCoy May 14, 2018, in McCoy v. Louisiana because his lawyer argued he was guilty, in an unsuccessful attempt to get the death penalty off the table. McCoy had argued strenuously with his attorney that he did not want to plead guilty.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, “The Sixth Amendment guarantees to each criminal defendant ‘the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.’ The defendant does not surrender control entirely to counsel, for the Sixth Amendment, in ‘grant[ing] to the accused personally the right to make his defense,’ speaks of the ‘assistance’ of counsel, and an assistant, however expert, is still an assistant.”  The Court said the decision to plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ falls entirely within the control of the defendant alone. See ruling at

Lewis’ motion to strike the prosecutor’s attempt to re-sentence him to life without parole based on state statute MCL 769.25a argues that the action is ex post facto. He says he was already set for re-sentencing by Judge Edward Ewell in October, 2012, long before the controversial state statutes on re-sentencing juvenile lifers were effected in 2014. In fact, Ewell’s order was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court by 2013 after the prosecution challenged it. 

Charles Lewis after class graduation in prison.

The Michigan ACLU has already won its case against a portion of MCL 769.25 which held that re-sentenced juvenile lifers would not be allowed to use “good time” credits in computing their time served. Both U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck that portion of the law.

Finally, Lewis is arguing that he is due a bond in his case, that he has been without an actual sentence since Ewell’s order in 2012, nearly six years, and also that Judge Lillard has now relinquished her right to re-sentence him because of the delay of more than one year.

Read his full motions below:

Also see his June 23, 2017 Objection  to Judge Lillard’s order to reconstruct his criminal file at:

Read Judge Deborah Thomas’ opinion of Aug. 6, 2016 at

RELATED STORIES: Continue reading

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Videos above: sitdown in front of MSHDA headquarters

Campaign takes direct action to end war on the poor across state and U.S.

Broad coalition of grass roots groups, unions, churches is rapidly building

Next action planned for Mon. April 18 at Central Methodist Church, Detroit

By Diane Bukowski

 June 13, 2018

Young workers from #D15 constituted a large part of the march, drumming, chanting and dancing through the streets of Lansing.

LANSING – Well over 700 people flooded the streets of Michigan’s capital June 11, as part of the national Poor Peoples Campaign of direct action against the super-rich. They came from across Michigan, including two busloads from Detroit and another from Flint.

They included youth from #D15 demanding a $15/hr. wage for fast food workers, the disabled in wheelchairs, and AT&T union workers likely on the brink of a national strike.

Joining them were Detroit city retirees demanding the return of millions in pension and health care funds, Flint residents and others demanding the restoration of state-funded bottled water supplies and an end to water shut-offs, and Detroit homeowners demanding that federal Hardest Hit funds to be used to keep occupants in their homes, stop tax foreclosure auctions and shut down the Mike Duggan/Dan Gilbert scandal-ridden Blight Removal Task Force.

Flint resident demanding funding for water crisis.

They were angry and motivated by the announcement of state, city and county budget surpluses resulting from severe cutbacks in human services to pay off massive government debts to the banks. Michigan has a $575 million revenue surplus this year, which it has refused to spend to remedy the Flint water crisis.

The City of Detroit announced an unprecedented $63 million surplus resulting from drastic cuts to city retirees’ pensions and benefits, and the dumping of Detroit’s major assets during the false bankruptcy proceedings in 2014. Detroit’s debt to the banks increased 300 percent over its pre-bankruptcy level. 

At the conclusion of a 1.7 mile march and two rallies that targeted the State Treasury Building and the headquarters of MSHDA (Michigan State Housing Development Authority), hundreds from the march, with youth from #D15 in the front lines, sat down to block the entrance to the MSHDA HQ.

The rally and sitdown outside MSHDA lasted for nearly an hour, as troopers lined up to guard the entrance, making it appear that no access to MSHDA officials contacted earlier for a meeting would be allowed.

Protesters mass outside the State Treasury Building in Lansing April 11, 2018.

But finally, amid cheers from the crowd, Yvonne Jones, leader of  the Detroit Active and Retired Employee Association (DAREA), Mike Shane and Jerry Goldberg of Moratorium Now!, and Abiyomi Azikiwe of the Michigan Emergency Committee on War and Injustice were ushered through the line of troopers into the building for a scheduled meeting at 4:15 p.m.

Meanwhile, however, troopers announced that all those remaining outside the building would be arrested if they did not leave.

Thirteen protesters were arrested, but they were released after receiving citations, in time to return to Detroit and Flint on the buses.

Shane said he and the other delegated members met with Earl J.Poleski, MSHDA Executive Director, and Mary Townley, Director of MSHDA Home Ownership to present demands outlined in a letter from Moratorium NOW! including:

  • A MSHDA amendment to provide $200 million in federal Hardest Hit Funds for the City of Detroit’s purchase of any occupied homes scheduled for tax foreclosure and evictions this fall;
  • The city would then turn the homes over to the occupants, including, owners, renters, or others who have just occupied the premises for shelter, based on affordability guidelines.
  • A program to ensure that the homes are tax assessed at their proper value instead of the exorbitant rates that have prevailed.
  • A program to ensure property tax exemptions are applied to eligible families.
  • A zero interest home repair revolving loan fund.
  • The payment of delinquent water bills for families whose water bills exceed the 2.5 % income guidelines recommended by the EPA, since water shut-offs effectively represent evictions.

See complete letter from Moratorium NOW! at

Aurora Harris (center) joins Baxter Jones and another representative of the disabled caucus during initial rally at church. Jones, a long-time DPS teacher, lost his home after an accident that left him unable to work. 

“Last year, about 2,000 occupied homes went to auction,” Shane told VOD. “If this program had been in effect then, it would have cost only $12 million. Our proposal would put money back into the City treasury to be used for blight elimination costs and other needs. We were on the brink of winning this proposal last year, but local politicians and others interfered.”

This time, Shane said, the MSHDA officials flat out refused to enact the demands. 

“While we have carefully reviewed and contemplated your written request, we believe that the programs currently in place will aid homeowners with tax foreclosures and keep many households in their homes,” Townley said in a written response. See MSHDA’s complete response at

Numerous speakers brought up other multiple issues faced by poor and working people in Michigan and across the U.S. during an initial rally at the First Presbyterian Church.

“I retired in 2012 after 38 years with the city,” Ray Smith of the Detroit Active and Retired Employee Association (DAREA) said. “My monthly pension has been cut by $714.29 and I no longer have health care funding, part of the national attack on pensions across the U.S. The Detroit bankruptcy was a wake-up call because emergency managers appointed by Gov. Snyder targeted the state’s majority-Black cities.”

Shawn Kirkland of the Communications Workers of America

Shawn Kirkland, a staffer from the Communications Workers of America, said their union has been in negotiations with AT&T for the last three and a half months. The union currently is on the verge of a national strike. 

“We are fighting for good jobs to stay,” Kirkland said. “After those enormous tax breaks Trump gave to wealthy corporations like AT&T, last year they had promised to bring 1500 jobs back. But instead this year AT&T has laid off 1500 workers.”

A representative of the Detroit People’s Platform called for massive public transit funding, one of the group’s many platform planks. 

“Dan Gilbert took $74 million of public money and put it into a streetcar that goes nowhere,” he said, referring to the Q-Line. “Meanwhile, bus riders across the city are stranded. They can’t get to work, to school, to their medical appointments because city transit is underfunded.” 

Dorothea Brown connected #D15’s demands for a $15/hr. wage to her transit problems. 

“I have to work to support my three kids,” she said. “But I have to take three buses just to get to my job after I get them to school. We need change. If we all stand together, I believe we will win.”

Helen Moore and Teresa Kelly addressed the plight of schools in Detroit and Highland Park. Moore is featured in the video below.

This was the fourth and last “Moral Monday” action in Lansing. Organizers said it was by far the largest, indicating the campaign is growing as the grass roots begin to stem the tide of the all-out assault on working and poor people driven by the corporations and the banks, using Donald Trump and sell-out Democratic politicians as their puppets.

Members of the Detroit Peoples’ Platform call for justice for majority-Black Detroit.

The next action is set for Monday, June 18, beginning in the Central United Methodist Church at Woodward and Adams, in the heart of Detroit’s downtown which has been thoroughly gentrified for the benefit of the white and wealthy, led by billionaire Dan Gilbert.

Along with Moratorium Now, sponsors of Monday’s action included the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Detroit Eviction Defense, the Detroit People’s Platform, the Detroit Active and Retired Employee Association, the People’s Water Board, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), among others.

Related, including links to many of the groups in this action:

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The video above is from the Lansing State Journal, taken during one of the poetry classes held Jan. 17, 2018 at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia.

By Ricardo Ferrell

April 30, 2018

Michigan State University’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH) expands poetry class to a group of inmates at the State’s oldest prison, the Michigan Reformatory making it the second adult facility to be offered such an initiative.

The MSU RCAH Free Verse Arts Poetry Slam Contest held on Monday, April 30, 2018, at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, Michigan, was a success.

Utilizing what they learned in various styles of writing poetry, e.g., Ghazel, Pantoum, Sestina, Haiku, etc. several inmates participated in the prison’s first poetry slam. They were allowed to perform their pieces in the chapel before fellow prisoners, MSU faculty, Reformatory’s Administration/Staff, and staff from the Handlon facility which is where the MSU Free Verse Arts Project began two years ago. Being afforded the opportunity to write out some of their thoughts presented many with new views and perspectives.

Michigan Reformatory at Ionia/ Photo by Grant M.

Topics ranged from the #MeToo movement, social justice issues, inadequate educational opportunities, mass incarceration, family, poor health care, poverty, and lifestyles back on the block.

Some came away feeling a new sense of meaning and purpose for their lives realizing that within them lies talent, skill, and potential. The creativity realized and explored by the prisoners was priceless because they’ve embraced the concept of wasted talent as being a thing of the past and they’re committed to moving forward and bringing out the best in themselves and becoming more meaningful and significant in their own lives as well as that of others.

The daily writing exercises and homework given by RCAH’s Instructor Guillermo Delgado were both fulfilling and definitely had a therapeutic value. In an environment where most men usually suppress, hide or camouflage their emotions and true feelings in an attempt to mask the pain and hurt they experienced before and during their incarcerations the 16 men who participated were willing to let down their guards, thus dissolving their rigid demeanors and allowing the moment of the poetry slam to give them a different lens by which to see themselves and those who were witnessing the humanity they demonstrated through their written expressions.

Guillermo Delgado MSU Academic Specialist/Photo courtesy of MSU

Some of the men who participated in today’s poetry slam had never composed a poem before while others experienced their first slam. Many in the audience stated they really enjoyed the program. Stephen Esquith, Dean of MSU’s RCAH expressed his satisfaction of the slam and mentioned to one of the participants how much he liked his piece and deliverance and they both discussed the possibility of more programming being offered by MSU to the Michigan Reformatory and other facilities.

Dr. Kevin Brooks, Arzelia Williams, and Katie Harger, all from Michigan State participated in the poetry slam making it all the more interesting. The panel of judges consisted of a combination of Ms. Leach (VPP), Ms. Laurie Bollinger (RCAH), Dean Stephen Esquith (RCAH) and two prisoners Milton & Walker.

We also had in attendance and gracing our presence; staff from the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility, Jodie L. Heard, (CPC) and Vickie Ortiz, (CPC) they both were enjoying the slam from start to finish and excitedly applauded after each performance by the poetry slammers. Ms. Heard and Ms. Ortiz both are instrumental in orchestrating the MSU classes and programs over at Handlon, i.e., Poetry, Drama and My Brother’s Keeper.

First place: Sherman Wagner

Second place: Leroy ‘Luqman’ Harris

The Poetry Slam Contest winners; 1st) Sherman Wagner; 2nd) Leroy ‘Luqman’ Harris; and 3rd) Ricardo Ferrell, each delivered jaw dropping performances. Wagner spitted his piece metaphorically speaking to the gist of his story about the power women possess.

Harris shocked the consciousness of those listening with his dynamic rendition of his life story called ‘Prison’ speaking to his transformation. Ferrell (myself) meant to capture the audience’s attention by performing my joint called ‘Whatcha Gonna Do Now’ in the style of a spoken word trying to awaken those who are asleep. A. Smith, he delivered the fire; M. Reid-El’s poem ‘You’ had heads nodding feeling it; and open mic performances by Vinson, Davis and Lewis were an added plus to the slam.

Vinson’s ‘I Shed These Tears’ was the balance needed, and the other men in the class who shared are: M. Lewis; M. Williams; L. Pate; R. Whittenburg; D. Lumpkins-Bey; M. DeCosey; D. Bell; and B. Gaines. Among the prisoners in attendance watching everyone do their thing and showing support was Lee Glover and Edward Jones, both aspiring writers, “I hope to be afforded the opportunity to participate in the next class this fall,” said Glover. “Man, this was nice everyone did good, I’m glad that I came over,” stated Jones.

Thanks to the MC’s A. Davis & A. Shahideh and Music Artist – B. Grandion for the selections. Special Thanks/Acknowledgements: Dean Stephen L. Esquith; Prof. Guillermo Delgado; Dr. Kevin Brooks; Assistant Arzelia Williams; Katie Harger; Sahar Mahmood; Laurie Hollinger; Matthew Kulju; Jodie Heard; Vickie Ortiz; A/Warden Gregory Skipper; A/Deputy Warden James Miller; Dan Schafer, Rec. Dir.; Jen Houck, Classification Dir.; and Ms. Leach, VPP Coord.

Pennsylvania State Sen. Sharif Street has introduced a bill to end LWOP sentences, which would make PA the first state in the nation to do so.

Mr. Schafer who actually coordinated the event said afterwards, “Guys this turned out great.” And, as a final note we should all be proud because this clearly shows how there are some of us who are engaging in positive and constructive self-help programs to better ourselves and at the same time setting an example for others to follow. The certificates and awards presented to the participants were a gesture by staff from Michigan State University expressing their appreciation to the men who participated in the poetry class and slam.

VOD editor’s note: our apologies to Sherman Wagner, Leroy Harris and Ricardo Ferrell for using their MDOC photos from OTIS, for lack of alternatives. All three men are serving life terms; their literary work as chronicled by Mr. Ferrell shows that the U.S., the only country in the world to have actual life without parole sentences, needs to abolish that heinous, inhuman practice. Everyone deserves a second chance; no one is irredeemable. To be serving LWOP and still striving to develop oneself as a model human being is an act of courage that is nothing short of astounding. Read about Pennsylvania Sen. Sharif Street’s introduction of a bill to end life without parole in that state at

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Jackson College graduation ceremony at Parnall Correctional Facility. Jackson was one of many colleges in Michigan to offer Pell grants to prisoners under a federal pilot program. MDOC photo 

By Ricardo Ferrell

VOD Editorial

An out-of-control corrections budget continues to contribute to the practice of keeping those within the system locked-up longer than necessary. Ask unpopular questions such as: What are some of the driving factors associated with over-incarceration? Why does the State of Michigan think it’s making communities safer by arbitrarily denying parole to those who no longer pose any significant danger to public safety? How can the MDOC, specifically the Michigan Parole Board, reform their draconian practices?

Perhaps by returning to a prison system which promotes rehabilitation inclusive of educational opportunities for all prisoners – whether that looks like GED programming for lifers and those serving long indeterminate sentences, skilled trades, higher education thru Pell Grants, or allowing more colleges & universities like Calvin College, Grand Rapids Community College, Davenport College, Montcalm Community College, Olivet College, Kellogg College, Wayne Community College, Jackson Community College, Albion College, Delta College, Northern Michigan University, Lake Superior State University, Central Michigan University, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, and Ohio University to be expanded to more facilities which would provide opportunities for individuals to receive an education.

Studies have shown significant reductions in recidivism for those released who were afforded some educational opportunities during their incarceration. With acquiring some education the offender is placed in the more likely than not category to succeed after his or her release. Thus recidivism is reduced to right around 50 percent.

Therefore, it would seem that the Michigan Department of Corrections would be out front in the lead to better prepare those confined in correctional facilities to experience and benefit from what’s being currently offered by many of the College’s & Universities mentioned above. That is of course, if the MDOC wishes to get serious about reducing its prison population, its enormous budget, and contribute to making communities safer.

And, the question should be asked. What’s more important, saving money or saving people? Well, if you save people (offenders) then theoretically speaking you will save money, especially, with providing them with the tools they need such as: education, counseling, and a skilled trade to meet today’s demand in the workforce. Michigan not only can slash its enormously high corrections budget but also contribute to reducing recidivistic trends by focusing more on helping offenders succeed rather than inadvertently perpetuating their failure.

By leaving in place failed practices which have kept the corrections department behind other states that have actually taken a serious approach and initiative to reform their prison systems, Michigan will undoubtedly remain in virtually the same position and predicament we’ve seen for the last 40 years or more. Michigan and its Corrections Department have a perfect opportunity right now to become like its five lakes – Great!!!

Tax breaks and other incentives are given to companies and businesses that provide employment opportunities for returning citizens seeking to become a part of the workforce. Basic conditions of their parole require they obtain and maintain gainful employment. Considering the fact some 95 percet of those incarcerated will eventually be released; it seems both logically sound and economically feasible for the Michigan Department of Corrections to really put more of an emphasis on preparing those under its care with what’s essential for them to succeed and not become an alarming statistic due to not being given such a chance.

Common sense approaches demand a rational minded individual to do the right and practical thing like what’s being written here.  Michigan taxpayers cannot be expected to keep fueling a broken MDOC engine by helping to pay its outrageously high $2.2 billion wasteful budget year in and year out. More emphasis on investment and providing educational opportunities for prisoners instead of throwing and pouring billions of dollars into a broken prison system would be a smart start.

Incarcerated individuals have gone from convicted felons paying their debts to society to Prison Industrial Complex commodities, costing taxpayers over $80 billion annually here in the United States. No other country on the globe incarcerates more of its citizens than that of the U.S. The U.S. has five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its incarcerated population.


By Lindsay VanHulle  (excerpt)

Crain’s Detroit Business

August 6, 2016

Jackson College, Michigan

LANSING — Several years ago, as administrators at Jackson College prepared to offer courses to inmates at a state prison, they weren’t optimistic about success.

The community college in Jackson County had educated inmates for decades, but stopped in the mid-1990s when a federal law change prohibited incarcerated students from receiving Pell Grants. This time around, administrators thought the first class of 18 prisoners paying their own way would be the most academically disadvantaged students they’d ever taught. They planned remedial courses and leveled their expectations.

That inaugural class in 2012 eventually grew to about 400 prisoners today, partly due to additional grants. Those students would not only raise the bar, but shatter it, said Todd Butler, the college’s dean of arts and sciences. Inmates make up about 3 percent of Jackson College’s part-time student population, Butler said, but 46 percent of the part-time dean’s list. Their success rate on their first attempt at completing a developmental math class is near 100 percent, compared to 54 percent of on-campus students.

Butler said instructors attribute the difference in part to a noticeably strong work ethic among incarcerated students.

Mott Community College

“It’s that moment when we begin to pull (back) that curtain of our own imagination,” Butler said, “and say, ‘I didn’t realize that this level of potential existed.’?”

Jackson College has been a leader among higher education institutions in Michigan in teaching prisoners while they’re behind bars. Offering college classes in prison is one piece of a broader approach within state corrections departments nationally — and particularly in Michigan — to try to increase inmates’ employment opportunities post-release and lessen the chances they’ll get locked up again.

The college is one of three in Michigan, and more than 60 across the country, to be chosen to participate in a U.S. Department of Education pilot program that will waive restrictions on federal Pell Grants for prisoners in order to find out whether more prisoners will pursue education if they have financial assistance. Jackson College was slotted for 1,305 Pell Grants, more than any other selected college or university in the nation, according to the department.

Delta College

Mott Community College in Flint and Delta College near Bay City also were chosen to participate.

Michigan is second only to Texas in the total number of Pell Grants received, at 1,475. The three schools will teach students at a number of state prisons, including the Detroit Re-entry Center on Ryan Road and Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven, according to the federal government.

VOD Editor’s Note: Why don’t Michigan’s top universities like Wayne State, UofDMercy, Grand Valley State, and others located in cities with high incarceration rates, request these grants for prisoners? Instead, county prosecutors are focused on keeping 247 of the state’s juvenile lifers behind bars until they die, in violation of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, Miller v. Alabama, and Montgomery v. Louisiana.

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Kansas City MO Poor People’s Rally



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