Saturday, November 20, 2010


When he was sentenced to prison for running a dog fighting ring in August, 2007, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was one of the most hated persons in America. Many sports writers, pundits and Average Joe's weren't satisfied that Vick lost his top celebrity job as a first rank quarterback, his millions in salary and endorsement fees, his adulation by a sports obsessed populous, and his freedom. No, they wanted a lifetime ban of Vick to prevent him from ever again earning a living at the only talent he ever possessed (dog fighting mogul not included).

At the time I sided with giving Vick a long shot chance of getting back to the NFL after a two year stretch in the pokey would most likely have diminished his playing skills stating: "a reformed, redemptive Michael Vick, piling up yardage instead of dead dogs would be a shining example to America's youth and fellow parolees to have a life after prison. If he makes it back to the NFL, I'll root for him, as I do all underdogs" (USA Today, August 29, 2007).

Last Monday, Vick quarterbacked his new team, the Philadelphia Eagles to a 59-28 shellacking of the Washington Redskins in what some analysts called the greatest quarterback performance ever. How good was Vick? He piled up 413 yeads (333 passing, 80 rushing) which included 4 touchdown passes and two rushing touchdowns.

I hope America's youth and Vick's fellow parolees were watching Monday and taking notes on Vick's return from the abyss. He's living up to the hope I had for him to offer hope to the hopeless. Those who obsess over everlasting punishment for wrongdoers could learn a lesson from Vick as well: forgiveness.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Every young man beginning a long or even lifetime prison sentence should be told the story of Illinois inmate No. C-06103, also known as William Heirens, incarcerated in 1947 for three Chicago murders in 1945 and 1946.

Heirens' story comes to mind because today is his 82nd birthday, and he is still doing time for a crimes he arguably did not commit, but admitted to in order to end week long torture by Chicago police, mightily embarrassed that they couldn't crack the supposedly related killing spree that ended nearly seven months prior to Heiren's arrest.

Actually, compared to first suspect Hector Verburgh, janitor in the building of third murder victim, Heiren's got off pretty easy. Although only tortured for two days, Vergurgh was so badly injured he spent ten days in the hospital recovering. His recollection speaks volumes about police methods in those nearly medieval days of law enforcement:

"Oh, they hanged me up, they blindfolded me ... I can’t put up my arms, they are sore. They had handcuffs on me for hours and hours. They threw me in the cell and blindfolded me. They handcuffed my hands behind my back and pulled me up on bars until my toes touched the floor. I no eat, I go to the hospital. Oh, I am so sick. Any more and I would have confessed to anything."
Verburgh's last words were prophetic and not lost on Heirens. While Vergurgh eventually got $20,000 from the city for his brush with a life sentence, Heiren's got the full monty - 63 years and counting. View the photo of two cops dragging the barely conscious 17 year old Heirens from an interrogation, and you get, literally, the picture.

Heirens routinely and predictably gets turned down for parole or pardon, and as a wheel chair bound octogenarian diabetic, his chances for justice are fading. The fact that no politician or public official wants his fingerprints on admitting a 63 year long torture induced miscarriage of justice is understandable but lamentable nonetheless.

But its not Heiren's torture induced confession that youthful new inmates should be told about, but what Heirens did during his entire 63 year long stay At Hotel Big House. He has been a model prisoner who became Illinois' first inmate to earn a four year college degree in 1972. He learned several trades including television and auto repair, and for a time operated his own prison repair shop. He learned enough law to help other inmates with their appeals even as he continues his own quest for freedom and exoneration.

Those young men, whether guilty or innocent, hearing the jailhouse door clank shut for the first of what could be the 23,000 days that Heirens has listened to, should keep in mind the amazing and positive accomplishments he achieved under the most hopeless circumstances a human being must endure.