Saturday, April 26, 2014

New Film About Michigan Youths Sentenced to Die in Prison

The case of Efren Paredes, Jr. appears in a new feature length documentary titled "Natural Life." 

The film challenges inequities in the U.S. juvenile justice system by depicting, through documentation and reenactment, the stories of five prisoners who were sentenced to life without parole (natural life) for crimes they were convicted of committing as youths.

Life without parole is the most severe sentence available for convicted adults. Shamefully the U.S. is the last remaining country in the world imposing this draconian sentence on youthful offenders. Seventy-two percent of the children who received the sentenced in Michigan are children of color.

The youthful status and/or lesser culpability of these youths, their background and their potential for rehabilitation, were not taken into account at any point in the charging and sentencing process.

Without a change in current sentencing laws, or a favorable decision by the courts regarding applying a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case (i.e., Miller v. Alabama) retroactively which held that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional, the five could remain in prison until they die.

The documentary film portrays the ripple effect that this unforgiving sentence has had not only on the incarcerated youth and their victims, but also on the community at large.

During the past two-and-a-half decades fear of juvenile crime has violated the fundamental ideas upon which juvenile court rests, and specifically, the belief in children's unique capacity for rehabilitation and change.

State lawmakers and the federal government have more and more frequently opted to resort to harsher punitive adults models, demanding that children be put on trial as if they were as culpable, liable and informed as adults who commit similar crimes.

Forty-one states in the U.S. impose life without parole sentences on youth under the age of 18. The sentencing system for youth is especially vulnerable to a challenge where over half of the youths serving these sentences did not, themselves, commit a homicide.

The film features nearly 50 interviews with individuals who were involved with the crime, the arrest and the sentencing of the five featured inmates.

Among those interviewed are judges, lawyers, police officers, reporters, wardens, teachers, child psychiatrists, legal experts, members of families of the incarcerated as well as of the victims' families; all this alongside extensive recorded phone conversations with the inmates themselves.

The film is being screened across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. You can learn more details about the film or purchase a copy by visiting You are also invited to "Like" the film's Facebook page.

Members of the media, educators, students, people seeking to screen the film for a large audience, and others can request a live interview with Efren to discuss the film, or to include his responses to questions in a media story by putting "Efren Media Request" in the subject line of an e-mail to his family.

You can also contact Efren directly electronically via He can be found on the prisoner locator for
the state of Michigan under prisoner number 203116.

Please circulate this post widely by sharing it via e-mail and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google , etc.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Efren Paredes, Jr. Letter to Pope Francis

April 14, 2014

His Holiness, Pope Francis 
Apostolic Palace 
00120 Vatican City

Dear Pope Francis,

My name is Efren Paredes, Jr. and I am a Latino prisoner currently housed in the State of Michigan, United States of America (U.S.).

In 1989 I was arrested at age 15 and given two life without parole (LWOP) sentences, and one parolable life sentence, for a homicide and armed robbery I did not commit. I was home with my family when the crime occurred. This past March marked 25 years of imprisonment.

During my incarceration I have educated myself and worked tirelessly to help improve the lives of other prisoners, young people in society, and to bring attention to the shameful practice of sentencing children to die in prison.

I have been very moved by your courage and bravery since becoming the Bishop of Rome by speaking out against injustices that have been committed against children and the poor. Your actions have reflected a sincere follower of Christ whose life I believe other Christians should strive to emulate.

I admire your ability to help re-energize the Catholic church and change antiquated policies that need to be reformed to meet the demands of the time. You have a profound compassion for humanity and your actions have impressed upon the world the need for racial, gender, and economical equality.

I write to ask you to please publicly condemn the shameful practice of sentencing children to die in U.S. prisons. LWOP sentences for children are an unforgiving sentence that ignores the inherent dignity in young people. The U.S. is the last remaining country to impose this sentence on children.

I believe that the rest of the civilized world can shine a light on this cruel and unconscionable policy to influence the U.S. to one day make it an inhumane relic of the past. I contend that the voices of people who remain silent on the issue are complicit in the perpetuation of this cruel injustice.

It is my prayer that together we can galvanize people of conscience to encourage the U.S. to abolish the practice of sentencing children to die in prison and replace it with a policy that reflects the spirit of forgiveness and rehabilitation.

I have witnessed the transformation of countless prisoner lives during my incarceration. In over two-and-a-half decades of imprisonment I have never encountered a single prisoner sentenced to LWOP as a juvenile who does not regret the mistake(s) he made which resulted in the precious loss of life.

I reject the notion that any child is incorrigible or expendable. Children deserve second chances. Every parent, educator and most adults know that young people have an enormous capacity for change. All children can be rehabilitated if placed in an environment that genuinely seeks to foster that goal.

If we can shift the public perception about juveniles who commit crimes we can change the way they are punished for their actions in a manner that is sensible and humane. We cannot allow vengeful prosecutors to hijack the narrative of peace and reconciliation in our society.

We often hear believers in Christ ask the question, "What would Jesus do?" regarding a variety of issues. We need to transform this question from an empty slogan without substance to one that begs an honest, genuine response.

True followers of Christ know that Jesus would not condemn children to die in prisons. To do so would be diametrically opposed to everything he taught about valuing and protecting the lives of children as well as the concept of redemption.

It is in this spirit that I invite you to join the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and chorus of voices who have called on the U.S. to end the draconian practice of sentencing children to die in its prisons.

Please use your voice to help spare the lives of the 2,600 prisoners whose lives will expire in prison cells if LWOP sentences continue to be imposed on children. We desperately need you to lend your voice and influence to this campaign.

Thank you for your time and consideration and may you enjoy a blessed Easter in the coming days.


Efren Paredes, Jr.
Saginaw Correctional Facility
9625 Pierce Road
Freeland, MI 48623
United States of America (USA)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sign New Petition Supporting Parole for Efrén Paredes, Jr.

The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee recently created a new online petition for people to sign which supports the parole release of Efren Paredes, Jr.

The web site that hosts the petition generates individual e-mails to be sent to the Chairman and other members of the Michigan Parole Board each time someone signs the petition. The message that is sent is available for viewing on the petition.

In the coming weeks and months prisoners like Efren who were sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) when they were juveniles may begin receiving parole and/or resentencing consideration as a result of a recent federal court ruling. There is also a pending appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court and pending legislation that could produce similar results.

Please sign the petition and circulate its web link widely via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. You are also encouraged to download the petition flyer and print it out to post it at churches, libraries, and on college campuses. The flyer can also be distributed at gatherings and events.

Links to the online petition and petition flyer appear below:

Petition shortcut link:

Petition flyer link:

Monday, August 12, 2013

Judge Bans Mandatory Life Without Parole Sentences for Michigan Juveniles

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O'Meara issued a court order on Monday, August 12, 2013 stating that all Michigan prisoners who were sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) when they were juveniles are now parole eligible.

In January the judge ruled that the state's law, MCL 791.234(6)(a), which denies juveniles sentenced to LWOP the opportunity for parole, is unconstitutional.

Subsequent to the ruling Attorney General Bill Schuette argued on behalf of the State of Michigan that the judge's order only applies prospectively to a handful of prisoners.

Judge O'Meara made clear in his ruling today that the state is wrong to believe it "may enforce the statute, which the court has been ruled unconstitutional." He added, "When a state statute has been ruled unconstitutional, state actors have an obligation to desist from enforcing that statute."

The ruling was applied retroactively to each and every prisoner who was sentenced to LWOP as a juvenile who had exhausted their court appeals previous to the court's order.

While the ruling strikes down MCL 791.234(6(a) as being unconstitutional, the legislature must still revise the statute to bring it into compliance with the court's order and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct 2455 (2012).

The ruling is a positive step in the right direction and puts the legislature on notice about the need for serious reforms to the state's sentencing laws governing juveniles sentenced pursuant to MCL 791.234(6)(a).

It is imperative that citizens continue signing the online petition dedicated to ending mandatory LWOP sentences for juveniles and circulating it widely until the legislation is passed.

Citizens must continue sending a strong message to legislators that it is unconscionable to condemn juveniles to death-by-incarceration.

Readers are encouraged to print the petition flyer below and distribute it to as many people possible, to educate people about this campaign, and to share it with people who can feature it on blogs, web sites, social media and hand it out anywhere there are public gatherings.

Petition Link:

Petition Flyer Link:

Friday, August 9, 2013

End Mandatory Life Without Parole Sentences for All Michigan Juvenile Offenders

Please sign this important new online petition aimed at ending mandatory life without parole (LWOP) sentences for all Michigan prisoners who were juveniles at the time their crimes were committed. This is a requirement made by a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

House Bills 4806-4809 extend this protection retroactively to prisoners whose court appeals were already exhausted at the time of the high court's decision providing equal and fair treatment to all affected.

Signing the petition sends electronic messages to your state representative, state senator, and the Governor, expressing support for passage of the bills. The petition will identity your respective legislators based on your zip code.

Please share the petition link with others widely via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, and invite others to do the same.

Included in the messages sent to state legislators will be a request for an amendment to the bills which allows judges to impose sentences that are a term of years rather than only LWOP and parolable life sentences.

To deny this discretion to judges is to handcuff them by preventing them from utilizing their professional discretion to impose individualized sentences. It also ignores the inherent dignity in young people and abandons the concept of redemption.

We need to generate as much support possible for passage of these bills. This is a powerful form of activism that can empower citizens to reject the continued human rights abuses committed by the criminal justice system against youthful offenders.

Please urge people to continue signing the petition until the bills are voted on which will likely be in the Fall and keep gathering petition signatures until the moment that the bills are voted on and passed. We want legislators to know it is unconscionable to condemn juveniles to sentences of death-by-incarceration.   

The petition link is:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Judge: Juveniles sentenced to life must get 'fair, meaningful' chance at parole

by Robert Snell
The Detroit News

January 30, 2013
Detroit — Inmates sentenced to life in prison for murder as juveniles are eligible for parole and must receive a "fair and meaningful" chance at leaving prison, a federal judge said Wednesday.

The order from U.S. District Judge John Corbett O'Meara comes six months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory no-parole sentences for juveniles.

The order offers an opportunity at freedom for several inmates who challenged the constitutionality of a state law prohibiting the Michigan Parole Board from considering parole for juvenile lifers. The state has more than 350 such prisoners.

"I think this is both the right legal and moral decision," said Deborah LaBelle, the inmates' lead counsel. "We are pretty elated to be able to tell all of the individuals serving a hopeless sentence that they now have an opportunity for parole."

O'Meara said the state law is unconstitutional for inmates who received mandatory life sentences for first-degree murder when they were under the age of 18.

"As a result, plaintiffs will be eligible and considered for parole," O'Meara wrote. "It remains to be determined how that process will work and what procedures should be in place to ensure that plaintiffs are fairly considered for parole."

Attorney General Bill Schuette is considering appeal options, spokeswoman Joy Yearout said.

"He will continue to fight for crime victims and their families, who should not be forced to relive these horrific crimes at parole hearings," Yearout said.

The judge's order trumps a ruling last fall by the state appeals court, which said retroactivity would not apply for most people already behind bars.

He told the state attorney general and lawyers for inmates to propose a way to hold parole hearings. Those next steps will be litigated for months.

"If there was ever a legal rule that should — as a matter of law and morality — be given retroactive effect, it is the rule announced in Miller," the judge said, referring to the Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama.

"To hold otherwise would allow the state to impose unconstitutional punishment on some persons but not others, an intolerable miscarriage of justice," he said.


Click here to view the court opinion

Click "play" below to listen to an audio version of Efren Paredes, Jr.'s response to the recent federal court opinion which held that Michigan prisoners who received life without parole sentences when they were juveniles are entitled to "fair and meaningful" parole opportunities.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Disguising Authenticity

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Prison corridors reverberate with embellished stories of urban exploits and manufactured images prisoners believe they should emulate behind prison walls.

Many prisoners adopt distorted lifestyles absent thought about the perils and long-term ramifications attendant to their decision. Their myopia prevents them from foreseeing the potential for self-inflicted damage that may ensue.

Too often people live their lives to impress others, curry favor with them or gain their acceptance. They do this unaware that they are essentially alienating their true identity and surrendering it in exchange for a fabricated illusion of reality.

Adopting self-destructive behaviors can lead to prisoners leaving indelible impressions on their lives long after their return to society. It can also manifest in a host of dismal outcomes that compound their vulnerabilities during their incarceration.

Another consequence of people projecting false illusions of themselves is that they attract the same energies they project. It can translate to becoming a magnet for problems or toxic people that infect their personal sphere.

People should not settle for less by wasting their time living for others, rather than investing time living for themselves. No one should ever stand on the outside of their own lives peering in through the prism of a stranger.

Being confident in ourselves and striving to maintain our individuality goes a long way. It is a reflection of our genuine beliefs and personality, not a transitory illusory persona that divorces itself from reality.

In prison -- as well as in ordinary life -- people earn respect and gain acceptance because of who they are and what they accomplish, not who they aren't or their personal failures. Success is real, it can't be fabricated.

No one decision or experience in life -- whether good or bad -- defines a person. It is a culmination of their decisions and life experiences that does. We have to endeavor to jettison counter-productive actions and harvest empowering ones.

People should never be disingenuous with themselves. Being themselves is one of the most important things they can do in life. It means working to conquer their insecurities and sacrificing acceptance for authenticity.

Real strength and courage is demonstrated when we resist changing our identity or lives to satisfy others. Identity abandonment isn't the solution to life's challenges, it's one of the problems.

Embracing these realities can help liberate people from the manacles of society's pressures that keep them trapped in a parallel universe that swims in an ocean of disguises.