Family separated by 3 decades in prison reunited

Herman Haisma reunites with his daughter Leah Deboer on Nov. 25, 2016.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A chance scroll through Facebook reunited three West Michigan siblings with the father they have not seen in person in three decades.

Herman Haisma has spent 33 of the last 35 years in prison, getting out in June with stage three lung cancer and nowhere to live.

Thanks to Exodus Place, a Southwest Side facility for once homeless veterans and other men in need, he has a place to live and work.

His story was featured on the facility’s Facebook page and was, by pure chance, seen by his oldest daughter who had been unable to locate her father after his release from prison.

Haisma was featured on the Exodus Place Facebook after he talked the nonprofit’s founder — Robb Munger — into giving him a job at the facility despite being confined to a wheelchair and battling lung cancer.

Leah Deboer of Greenville runs a Facebook page for her dog breeding business and said she scrolls through thousands of posts every day, but saw the photo of her dad.

“I wasn’t going to allow any door to be shut. If my dad could be on this soil to see his other youngest kids,” Deboer said. “It’s been a long road.”

She was able to track down the man she had not seen since he turned to crime to support his addictions and ended up convicted of armed robbery, kidnapping and weapons charges.

“When you shoot heroin, it gives you a false hope,” Haisma said. “The high I got today from them coming, no heroin, no alcohol, no words can express the high.”

Deboer was able to contact three of his other children — Lisa Marie Lord and Herman Haisma III — and they came by to see him Friday.

“It’s nice to know that they’re willing to forgive and willing to love me,” Haisma said. “I’ve never been a dad, I don’t know how to be a dad.”

He says he plans to resume his relationship, if at all possible.

“If you want to call me dad and you want to accept me as your dad, that’s fine, but let’s build a friendship,” he said. “For whatever time the Good Lord allows me to be here, spend time with and enjoy just having a family.”

He said this Thanksgiving will be one he will never forget.

“I have had the most blessed day that I have ever had in my life,” he said. “The cloud that I’m on, there’s no ladder to reach.”

Haisma says he knows he can’t change the things he has done that landed him in prison, but he plans to do what he can now to make a positive difference in the lives of his fellow residents, his children and the grandchildren he hopes to meet soon.

Another visit with the kids is planned Saturday.