The 2020 People Issue

Posted

Happy 2020, Lansing! Hard as it is to believe, the planet has completed a full circuit since our last People Issue. It’s time to pluck another bouquet of interesting humans for your edification and delight. Of course, every issue of City Pulse is a people issue, but this is a People Issue with a capital PEEP. Our subjects may not be the biggest newsmakers or the most influential of the year, but they all make Greater Lansing a better place to live and they are worth getting to know. We hope that spending a little time with them gives you a small taste of the fascinating and diverse humanity in our midst. Thanks to photographer Khalid Ibrahim for doing them visual justice.

Ryan Basore, Cannabis activist and entrepreneur

Ryan Basore, 43, is the co-founder of the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers, the original Lansing Cannabis Association and Cannabis Patients United. As a member of the “Okemos 7,” Basore was one of the first to grow and sell medical marijuana in Lansing — namely from Capital City Caregivers on Michigan Avenue. In 2009, he was arrested and federally charged amid a haze of unclear cultivation restrictions, but since his release from prison in 2015, he has remained at the forefront of the industry. Basore went on to serve as the business development director for the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, helped to elect pro-pot Attorney General Dana Nessel and later this year plans to launch a new company, Redemption Cannabis, in Greater Lansing.

Why did you switch from selling insurance to selling marijuana back in 2009?

I was always an advocate for cannabis, but I just sort of got stuck in insurance. I was one of the first licensed caregivers in the state. I started growing it in my house and eventually, my friends started to open up businesses. I said: “If these guys can do it, I’m going to do it too.” It was a chance to get involved in something new.

I also learned from a young age about cannabis being illegal and its medical benefits. I know what it did for me, personally. I used cannabis instead of my prescription for back pain and just had a better experience with it.

What was it like watching legalization — especially for recreational use — take hold in Michigan?

It being illegal just didn’t make any sense. There are no side effects. I’m a big believer in personal liberties. If you’re not hurting anyone, you should just be able to do what you want. And watching all these different people go to jail and watching their lives being ruined, that was a big part of what motivated me too.

Most of my patients, early on, were baby boomers. These people came in hobbled and hurting and we would always see improvements. These people were taking Vicodin or Percocets every day, and now they were off them. I’ve watched people be a mess on alcohol, but they smoke every day and they’re super productive now.

What was going through your head when your first medical growing operation was shut down?

Outrage. People’s lives and businesses were at stake here. I was ready to fight it, and then I learned the hard way that once you get indicted in that district, there’s a 99 percent chance of pleading guilty. If I didn’t take the plea, I could’ve been looking at 12 years. It’s leverage. It’s not justice. They were threatening to indict my family.

Why did you decide to jump back into the industry?

From the minute I walked into prison, it was like I needed to get back out there as quickly as possible. I believed in what we were doing. I went from a career where I was extremely unhappy to this newfound purpose in life. I look at it as a new opportunity. I just wanted to sell marijuana legally, and we’ve sort of came full circle on this.

So, you’re about to launch Redemption Cannabis Co. What’s the business all about?

We’re starting a nonprofit where basically a portion of every sale is going to help people that have either been — or are still — imprisoned for marijuana. We’ll have a big announcement soon, but it’s basically about licensing through high-quality products, really cool packaging and messaging. It’ll help the supply the market here in Lansing with a real focus on the people and the consumer — in ways we don’t always see out there right now.

We’ve definitely seen some legislative evolution in recent years. What’s left to be done?

There is still a product shortage out there. It’s also just about education. We need to keep pushing this into the mainstream. Michigan is in a unique position right now, and I don’t want to be anywhere else. We’re a lot further ahead than some states and we’re starting to become known for our cannabis. We need to build on that. After 2008, people were getting into marijuana not as a hobby but out of survival. It’s that pressure, that stress. That’s how our industry was born. And I think Michigan — like me — is really in this for the long haul here.

Guillermo Delgado, Painter, teaching specialist at MSU

For Guillermo Delgado, 54, teaching incarcerated men the art of yoga and poetry was kind of by accident. The same kind of happy accident led him to start hand painting t-shirts while recovering from complex head trauma, unaware it would lead to a fulltime art career and a ticket back into academia. In 2008, after exhibiting his paintings in nearly 30 different galleries, Delgado was asked by MSU’s Residential College of Arts and Humanities to teach community and socially engaged arts. Now, he takes MSU students on weekly visits to prisons in mid-Michigan to read and write poetry with young, incarcerated men. Over the years, Delgado’s incarcerated students have hosted poetry slams and crafted zines, which are being inducted into the MSU Library’s collection.

Why was it important to teach yoga and poetry to prisoners?

Because one day, about 50% of them will get out. When they do, most will be mentally worse because of the trauma from prison. If they learn meditation, yoga and breathing, maybe they won’t react violently when someone touches them unexpectedly in public, because that’s what they learned. So, they will come out still with those trigger points. 

Sometimes I ask myself, “Is this worth doing?” But then I hear things from my students in prison about their loved ones coming to visit them and they share their poems. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who has such a mundane life like that. This one guy said that he got his mom into yoga, now that’s all they talk about. He asked me, “Mr. G, can you send me some more sequences that I can share with my mom?” 

What was unique about this year’s poetry slam performance at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia? 

We’re at the point now where a prisoner can be like, “We got this, Mr. G.” It wasn’t like that before. They don’t have the kind of opportunities to make decisions and they put this whole thing together. They put together a house band, decided who were going to be the MCs, and I saw the conversations. It was decision making and it was peaceful.

Could you paint a picture of what growing up in Chicago was like? 

I grew up in Little Village. It was vibrant but gang infested. The thing that stands out to me about my youth is I lived in this neighborhood near Cook County Jail. It’s infamous. It’s the largest mental health facility in the country. I was like, “If I have friends or relatives who are staying in Cook County Jail, what makes me feel so safe?”

So, I attended a seminary high school. In my sophomore year, I got kicked out because I would argue during religion class and they just weren’t having it. “No potential for priesthood” is what they wrote on my pink slip. Then my life went kind of downhill from there. I became a teen dad. Didn’t go to college. So, I started to run, and I don’t want this to be a commercial for veganism, but something changed.

One day, in a gallery in Chicago, someone stops me and asks about my t-shirt and I say, “Ah, I made it.” And he’s like “What a waste.” He hands me a business card to a printmaking lab and said, “If you want to get serious about your art, we meet on Saturdays at 10.”

 I went to the collective with these other exhibiting artists. I always had my t-shirts around, because they let me, and people would buy them. Then the Tribune did an article about me and it exploded. After two years, I had enough momentum with the t-shirts that I quit my job. 

How did you enter academia? 

These folks from a museum asked if I would be interested in teaching a class for a semester and I was blown away by the experience. I started to do these community art projects and then one day, I got invited to RCAH to talk about my projects. I was freaked out. They gave me my own office with my name on it, and I was just there for one semester.  

My first week here I made it on the cover of the LSJ for a community art project I did with refugees. It was winter and Dean Steve wanted to talk with me and I thanked him for the opportunity. Then he said, “Well, it doesn’t have to end here.”  

Morgan Doherty, LGBT Resource Center coordinator at MSU

If you had to summarize what Morgan Doherty is all about in one verb and one noun, “planting seeds” would come close. (Morgan uses the pronoun “they.”) They are an avid gardener, community builder, mentor to troubled youth, newly designated coordinator of MSU’s LBGT Resource Center and co-founder of Lansing’s trans and queer growing collective Tender Heart Gardens on the city’s east side.

How did Tender Heart Gardens get started?

It started as a project among several friends. When I started it, I had, I guess, grander visions of it being for the entire trans community in Lansing, which, as it turns out, doesn’t really exist. There are plenty of queer and trans folks in Lansing but we are not one monolithic community. Since then I have spent a lot more time focusing on cultivating my own chosen family, many of whom spend a lot of time with me at the garden.

Did you start out cold or had you already been gardening?

I grew up doing urban gardening in Lansing.

My mom has had a community garden plot in south Lansing since I was a child.

What do you love to grow?

This year I’m really excited about growing lots of dried beans. They’re just so beautiful through all stages of their growth and there are so many different varieties. I love the idea that I’m harvesting something I’m going to continue to use throughout the year.

You worked for 13 years at the Capital Area District Library, right?

I really love librarianship and I think CADL is doing really wonderful things in the community. They do outreach to underserved communities, programming with people who are incarcerated and their families, unsheltered communities, at-risk youth. Just that they exist, and they are public, free spaces — they’re providing a service that doesn’t exist almost anywhere else.

I wonder what would happen if someone proposed the idea of a public library now.

It would absolutely never happen. They are truly radical institutions.

How did that lead to your new job at MSU?

The work I’ve just started, at MSU’s LBGT Resource Center, is really a continuation of that. When I was working at CADL, I volunteered at the TRUE LGBTQ Teen Support Group, a teen support group run by Child and Family Charities. I did some outreach for them as a librarian, helping teens and bringing them booklists and things like that.  Shortly after that I was invited to start facilitating the group. I ended up doing that weekly for three years, working with teens in the community, mostly in a mentor capacity.

What problems did you help them with?

A number of them were having trouble coming out or being accepted for their gender or sexual identity at school or at home. Some of them were coming out of foster care or other institutional living situations. These are kids who don’t have the resources they need and also don’t have the ability to advocate for themselves. Sometimes that meant going out to school districts to give a 101-level introduction on how to provide effective and humane services for LGBTQ students.

How did you become committed to the type of work you do?

That’s a really difficult question. Let me think about that. For a long time, I wasn’t doing a lot of the work I felt was necessary to create positive change in the world.  But once I started making changes to my life, particularly transitioning and changing my living situation, I made a much more conscious effort to live the way I felt I should be living.

What keeps you going, gets you recharged?

What really recharges me is doing the physical work, being outside, in the dirt, moving heavy things with my body. I’m fortunate that I’m able to do that but it really gives me a lot.

Is Tender Heart part of a larger plan?

I’ve also spent time thinking about ways that I can help facilitate land access for other groups of people who are historically prevented from maintaining land, particularly people of color. So, to that end, I and several of my friends who have worked at Tender Heart have founded a community land trust called Capital United Land Trust and we are going to work toward collectively purchasing parcels of land for marginalized growing organizations all over the city, both for agricultural use and ecological restoration. I’m really excited.

That’s biting off a lot, isn’t it?

It is. I like keeping busy.

How are you settling in at your new gig at MSU?

It’s been a really wonderful transition so far. It’s a small team of people working very hard, who are very dedicated to our students. When the students get back, I’m going to do a lot of networking with student groups and hopefully create an information and resource hub for all the varying groups of queer and trans students on campus.

You’ll be too busy to dream about spring.

I’m still going to dream about spring.

Krista Fuerst, Director of Expectant Parents Organization

In 2018, USA Today declared that the United States is the most dangerous place to give birth in the developed world. In the U.S ., 70-80% of all new mothers experience some negative feelings or mood swings after birth, according to the American Pregnancy Association, and that even goes for successful deliveries. Krista Fuerst, 39, is one of the most prominent voices in the state combatting the infant mortality rate and raising awareness on issues new mothers face.

What experience did you have that led you to work in maternal care?

My background is in child development, so I worked with children for most of my adult life. Then I was pregnant with twins and gave birth prematurely. I went into labor at 22 weeks, so around five months pregnant, and they both were too premature and died at birth.

I never thought that would happen to me. You know it happens, but you don’t see yourself in that. So it got me thinking, we’re well into the 21st century. How are babies still dying as much as they are?

So I found myself looking for a part-time job and EPO had an opening. I got my foot in the door as the administrative assistant. Worked there for about a year until the director role opened and I stepped into that.

Wow, that’s a big leap.

Yeah. I really wanted to get involved in something that deals with infant and maternal mortality rates. Our country struggles overall. Ingham County’s numbers are not great. Michigan’s numbers are not great. We don’t have a good overreaching system for moms. One of the analogies I like to think of is that when a woman becomes pregnant, it’s kind of like we drop her in a body of water and the goal is to dry off. But all these different agencies are giving towels and washcloths to help. But unless you can find a way to kind of build a raft and lift mom out of that, we’re not doing any services. EPO provides education, we provide support, but it’s certainly not an all-encompassing service for parents. There’s more that’s needed.

With infant mortality rates higher within lower socio-economic communities, how do you make sure these services get shared?

So, it’s interesting. We find the lowest of socioeconomic groups, what we would consider poverty, are served through other organizations. The Ingham County WIC program is excellent. The parents who are between poverty and thriving, they make enough money where they don’t qualify for services, work with us primarily. We offer scholarships to help them and offer a sliding scale for families who might not have $300 to spend on classes.

In your first year as the EPO director, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

Baby Café, which is our breastfeeding support group, had fallen apart. So building that back up from the ground was a really big task I prioritized first coming in. We’re seeing lots of parents come, and that’s a free community resource.

One of the things we talk about is we live in a breastfeeding desert. You don’t see it in America. So we try and have what I would call an oasis for moms to come to where they can be around other breastfeeding moms. Maybe they’re not comfortable breastfeeding in a coffee shop, but they can see other moms there breastfeeding openly and maybe get a sense that it’s okay.

What kind of cultural norms in addition to breastfeeding are you trying to shift?

Another huge difference is our lack of maternity and paternity leave in our country. We really don’t allow moms that time needed to establish a good breastfeeding relationship. Most of our moms take about six to 12 weeks off and then are expected to go back to work for eight to 10 hours a day away from baby, which doesn’t support long-term breastfeeding goals.

Another hat that I wear, I’m the president of the Lansing area’s HOPING group, helping other parents who are grieving. That’s the other spectrum where we have parents who have had pregnancy loss or infant loss. We have a monthly support group, which I lead. I’m not a licensed social worker or therapist. We are just there for parents who need a safe space to and talk and listen.

Twesigye “Jackson” Kaguri, Founder CEO of Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project

Twesigye “Jackson” Kaguri, 49, was born in Nyaka, Uganda. He said his father broke a pencil into fifths to save money in order to afford sending him and his sisters to school, nearly 7 miles outside of their village. In 2001, after attending Columbia University in Chicago and losing two siblings to AIDS, Kaguri founded the nonprofit Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project. Now he’s a Heifer International Hero for building schools in rural Uganda, as well as libraries, water filtration systems, farms and a kinship network with grandmothers to house orphans. This year, Kaguri and 10 volunteers ran 26.2 miles in the New York City Marathon, a charity event, and raised $100,000 for the Nyaka schools. He said it was his biggest accomplishment to date.

What was it like addressing the United Nations in 2011?

The United Nations, at one point, had a program called Millennium Goals. So before 2015, they were going to meet these five goals around the world. One of those goals was education for all. As 2011 rolled around, somebody told them that there’s a school in Uganda that has high attendance and the person who runs it is going to come and tell you how he has done it.

The speech I gave was about holistic approach. When the U.N. made that declaration, they were thinking of a child in Lansing, Okemos or Williamston. They didn’t think of Olivia in my village, who is 10 years old and her period begins at 11 years old. The moment her period begins, she can’t talk about it with anybody, she’s an orphan. So she can’t go to school until the period ends. What Nyaka has done is provide food at school, sanitary products, health care, clean water, shower systems, food, clothing, and a farm.

How do you get volunteers for Nyaka and how many do you have currently?

I have 120 staff members and about 48 volunteers. We bring in close to 100 volunteers from around the world. People who say, “let me go see it.” When you get there, we put you to work. Michigan State University medical students have gone and did studies comparing students who eat two meals at school through us, and those who are in the community that don’t go to school. Doctor (John) Brewster (of Okemos) has come five times and started dental care. Now children have seen a dentist, for many adults this was their first time.

We also have a program against gender-based violence, which my wife started, called the EDJA Foundation. In 2015, we found out that one of our children had been raped by a community member and the next day she was in school. That community member went to the grandmother and said, “I’ll give you a goat if you don’t say anything.” That’s what people had done in the past. We have since placed 40 perpetrators. Every year, we do gender-based violence work in a community, police against gender-based violence. A community that is aware of their rights but also that will protect their children.

You’ve created this formula for dealing with crises, be it AIDS or mass incarceration, where families of color are being destroyed. Do you think about implementing these systems locally?

Yes. We are creating what we call “Nyaka in a box.” Nyaka can work in Flint. We have better water in Nyaka village than you have in Flint. We have better structures of school and the school attendance is better than Detroit. Lansing, you can take this “box” and use the kinship system. It’s all about giving back and knowing where you’re coming from. If all the football players and basketball players in this country went back into communities where they were born and raised and created Nyaka, we wouldn’t have the ghettos.

You aren’t trying to necessarily stir empathy for people in Uganda, like the old tactics you see on TV. What are you trying to show?

Sympathy has been used on the continent of Africa, and not used here. The people who take those pictures are equally as human, and most of the time they are wearing layers of clothes. They have deodorant. Then they take a picture of a naked, starving child and put it in The New York Times. Twenty years from now, that child looks at that picture. What do they think?

When you see a commercial for MSU, advertising for students to enroll, it’s going to be smiling faces. They’re going to be walking to the library, holding books. So we decided to be like MSU. We choose the better part of them.

Even if a kid dies, they need to die with dignity. We had one kid who died because their medication was not working. They told their grandmother they wanted to be buried in their purple Nyaka uniform. We could call our resources Nyaka Make A Wish Foundation, but we’ve only lost three children in 18 years. They’ve all been buried in their uniforms because they asked for it. And so, we showed dignity is universal. If we don’t do it for the people, my people, where I was born and raised, who else is going to do it?

Todd Karinen, Metal guru and  behind-the-scenes newsman

Todd Karinen, 46, didn’t move to Lansing until he was 28. Karinen grew up in Lake City, a small isolated town near Cadillac with a population of only 836. When Karinen finally arrived in Lansing, he knew he wanted to be involved in the music scene. A few gigs later at Mac’s Bar, and Karinen was in deep. Today, he plays in several bands, such as The Jackpine Snag and Hordes, while managing a DIY metal label known as Silver Maple Kill Records. Karinen balances this with a career in television news, where he works behind-the-scenes at WLNS as a maintence engineer. And Karinen still finds the time to be a devoted husband and father to four children.

How did you get involved with Lansing’s music scene?

I knew Lansing had a music scene, but a lot like other people who don’t really know what’s going on, I thought it focused in East Lansing, and I was listening to the radio station. I was listening to The Impact, and I used to listen to The Afterglow a lot on Sunday nights.

They would play Calliope, they would play Rosetta and they would play other stuff like Tristessa — another really lo-fi band. The DJ was talking about Rosetta playing at Mac’s Bar, so I called up and I asked, “Hey, where’s Mac’s?” He told me, “Well, it’s out on Michigan Avenue and it’s really easy to see, because it has a big illuminated record that says Mac’s.” And I said to myself, “Huh, OK. I’ll go check that out.”

So it all started at Mac’s Bar?


Yeah, I made a lot of friends. I became friends with a co-worker, Ben Becker. So, I’d go see his band, Putty, and Ben was telling me, “Todd, I’m getting ready to move in with this guy, and he’s like the one the Lansing punk rock legends.” And that’s how I met Ken Knott from Violent Apathy. And Ken was one of the people that really knew what was going on. He was booking shows and he was doing a lot of cool things. I just dove in and I started meeting all these cool people. And that’s the origin.

Let’s talk about your work with WLNS. How did you start your career in TV news?

I worked for four years at Fox 32 WFQX up in Cadillac. I was a master control operator. Basically, you run TV shows, record TV shows, you produce stuff, and you make sure that everything airs properly. I got the job by responding to an ad that said, “Can you count time?”

At WLNS, I’m a maintenance engineer, before that I was a master control operator. Eventually, they changed that into an operator because we combined departments and had to start also directing the news.

And it’s amazing. I loved directing the news. It was always interesting. There would be times that you would get really aggravated, but you always had to be in the moment. And plus, when you like your job, you don’t dread going in every morning.

You play drums in several bands like Jackpine Snag and put out albums with your label Silver Maple Kill. What’s that like?

Jack Pine Snag started in Joe Hart’s basement in 2010. My old band MK-Ultra Culkin was ending, and the bassist, Nicholas Merz, and I were asked to play with Joe, because we knew him from a band called a bluesy, garage band called The Chairman. Joe said, “I got this project. Do you guys want to try jamming?” So just went in his basement, and everything clicked. It was so easy. We’ve been through a couple of bass players, but next year we’ll have been together for a decade.

Silver Maple Kill started in 2009 as way of putting out the MK-Ultra Culkin CD. Tom Muth, from Collegeville Textbook Co., played in a band called Red Swan. He had his own label, and I was grilling him constantly. “How do you this, how do you that?” He told me, “If you want to do something, you just do it.” And that really resonated with me.

Tell me about your family, do they support the wide range of projects you get yourself involved in?

Oh my God, I would not be where I am without them — especially my wife. One of the things she told me once that almost made me cry, was that one of the things she loves most about me is how passionate I am about music. I’ll never forget how supportive she is.

Jennifer Nagel, Fitness expert, business owner

Born outside of Chicago, fitness trainer Jennifer Nagel, 41, first moved to Greater Lansing to attend Michigan State University. After earning her bachelor’s in food science, she continued her degree at University of Michigan-Flint, where she obtained her master’s. Nagel returned to Lansing to work for MSU, holding that position for 15 years before setting off to start her own online women’s fitness and nutrition company, Figured Out Fitness.

Through the years, Nagel decided to stay settled in Lansing with her husband and four children because of the charm supplied by its diverse neighborhoods, citing REO Town, East Lansing and Old Town as some of their favorite places to frequent. She is also fond of Lansing for its racial diversity, explaining it was important to live in a community where a mixed-race family could feel safe and comfortable.

What drew you away from your job at MSU to focus on your passion full time?

I had a great conversation with one of my colleagues. We talked about how after 20 years at a job you should start to think about retirement. I’ve always considered myself a pretty young woman, so when someone said that to me I realized I had a really great career at MSU, I had great opportunities and I was able to do a lot of wonderful things. I spent time as a director of sustainability; I spent time as our director of strategic initiatives for infrastructure planning and facilities. I have met amazing people. But I just felt like I wasn’t done yet. There were a lot of things that I’ve always been interested in that I hadn’t had a chance to pursue. And I also love the idea of being my own boss. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so I just think it’s in my blood.

You talk about elevating your clients to make breakthroughs in their lives. Can you elaborate on what that means to you?

I think the fitness industry tends to focus a lot on weight loss — the physical and what’s outside. But fitness and nutrition, for myself, has been a way to help build confidence, a way to help me have energy and feel good. I truly believe that when people feel good about themselves and take care of themselves, it becomes a foundation for them to do really amazing things.

I typically work with women who are busy, who are kind of the foundation of their family. There are so many poor messages about health and fitness that I want people to understand that it’s a lot more holistic than running on a treadmill and cutting back calories. It’s much more than that. It’s about feeling strong, being balanced and taking care of yourself in a way that’s sustainable.

Would you say you’re a big proponent of learning to love yourself and your body image?

If someone likes to have muscles on muscles, I say go for it. If someone doesn’t really love that, then that’s their prerogative too. I think the biggest issue is that I don’t think it’s anybody’s business what kind of physique somebody maintains. Unless it’s your body, commenting on other people’s figures and physiques is really not your business.

What advice do you have for somebody who’s nervous about committing to a fitness regime?

I tell people if this is something that they really want, they have to think deeply about why they want it. What is the benefit? And it can’t be something superficial. It has to be something deep that you’re connected to emotionally. Losing five pounds is not deep enough. Being alive for your children, or setting a great example for health and fitness for your family, That’s kind of getting closer to a deeper, emotionally connected “why.”

What are the challenges of running your own business and being your own boss?

It is the hardest and most fun thing that I’ve ever done. Everything is on your shoulders. I’ve learned to truly have discipline in my own work. I have to create the big plan, the strategy, and I have to implement the strategy.I also must have the discipline to do the things every single day that grow my business and help my clients. It’s been a really fun discovery process.

Eugene Wanger, Death penalty opponent

The number of states forbidding capital punishment has grown to 21, plus the District of Columbia, but thanks to attorney Eugene Wanger, Michigan is still the only state where such a ban is written directly into the state Constitution. Wanger wrote the provision when he was a 28-year-old delegate to Michigan’s 1961 Constitutional Convention, a high point in more than 50 years of vigorous, fact-based opposition to the death penalty. In December 2019, Wanger received the “Abolitionist of the Century” award from Journey of Hope, an international organization fighting the death penalty.

What arguments against the death penalty have you found more effective over the years — practical ones or religious and moral ones?

The moral arguments are powerful, but my experience from the beginning is that most people don’t want to hear you tell them what your morals ought to be. They want the facts and they’ll apply their own morals to the facts.

Is making a fact-based argument harder nowadays?

Oh no. People are better informed. No single subject in criminology has been studied more than looking for a deterrent effect of the death penalty. More than 30 years of study have shown that you’re no safer from being a victim of homicide in a state that has the death penalty than a state like Michigan, that doesn’t. And a month doesn’t go by that another guy who’s on Death Row is let go, because DNA evidence shows he’s innocent. Stories like that have had an impact on the public.

What about the cost of incarceration?

The cost of putting people to death is millions of dollars — two trials instead of one, long, drawn-out legal fights, administrative and material costs for a separate prison unit. Housing a prisoner is peanuts compared to having the death penalty.

The reverse argument is pretty ghastly — you’d have to scale up executions to make them cost effective.

If you really want to make it cost effective, cut out the second trial. Get rid of the jury and let the judge decide. Appeals are expensive, so get rid of that. Do away with lawyers that specialize in these high-stakes death penalty cases and get any old lawyer. And if you really want to make it cost effective, use China’s approach. Start up an organ farm. When they need an organ they can sell, they kill you, slice you up and sell the organs. It’s very lucrative. Now, they attracted a certain amount of criticism for this, and I don’t know if they’re still doing it. They don’t release their data. I asked a professor from Beijing some years ago. He said they execute about 50,000 people a year. Think of the organs! Big money for government!

Besides writing a book, “Fighting the Death Penalty,” you donated thousands of items on capital punishment to the State University of New York at Albany.

The Michigan universities didn’t want it.

And that’s not the only trove of historical materials you have collected and donated.

Back when I was young, I got very interested in Ingham County history. Why, I can’t remember. We had a bookseller here in Lansing named Chester Ellison. [Ellison’s Book Store was at 217 S. Washington Square .] I’d buy books on history and law and other things from him. I was very interested in county history, and later on, was on the county commission, I realized they didn’t have squat. I gave it to the Capital Area District Library with the stipulation that it go to the Mason library. The downtown library is an impressive building, but all this history stuff’s in the basement! If there’s ever a fire, it will fill up with water.

How did you get involved with your other big side project, the R.E. Olds Museum?

Back in the 1970s, the Chamber of Commerce put me on the committee, not because I knew anything about old cars. I didn’t. But they knew I was interested in history. Nobody said this to me directly, but they needed to sucker in a lawyer who would do the work for free! That’s how the R.E. Olds Museum started up. I went through all the chairs there. I was president in the early 1980s. Along the way I collected material on the REO Motor Car Co. and that’s at the downtown CADL. People around the world use that material to do research.

Do you foresee a time when the death penalty is abolished once and for all?

Look at it this way. There are now 21 states, including the District of Columbia, that have abolished the death penalty. When I started out there were only six. The number of death sentences in the country has been going down for years. I would feel more confident except for the undetermined influence of electronic media. With sufficient repetition, people can be made to believe an awful lot of stuff. With that risk in mind, I’m not as optimistic as I would otherwise be.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Connect with us