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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Meeting a Pastor by Day, Packing Away My Life by Night

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 I met Pastor Bill Wylie-Kellerman. He spent three hours visiting with me and our meeting went very well. I enjoyed visiting with Bill and the time went by very quickly. I don't believe there was hardly a moment of silence during our visit.

Bill and I learned a lot about each other during the visit. As I explained to Bill, many of the things I have learned about life has been through books and listening to others' stories about their lives. Having come to prison at the age of 15 it was imperative that I learned about life and experiences quickly if I wanted to survive in an adult world.

As is always the case with people I meet who wish to learn more about me and my life, who are interested in helping me combat my wrongful conviction, I invited Bill to ask me any questions or concerns he had. I never hide anything from people and am always up front with them. I have no reason to not be open and honest about any aspect of my life.

We talked about my upbringing, my family, life in prison, how I cope with the magnitude of the injustice that has robbed me of many years of freedom, what I do in my free time, various aspects of my case, among several other things. Bill also told me insightful things about his life and what lead him to become a pastor. We talked about his family, church and the social justice work he has done throughout his life.

I invited Bill to become part of The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee which was created to help free me, generate support for my case, and educate the public about the facts surrounding my case. Bill accepted the invitation and welcomed my request.

In many ways Bill was already a TIME Committee member. He was introduced to my case by another of our committee members and friend, Elena Herrada. Elena has known Bill for many years and they have worked together on numerous projects. Bill had also been gathering support letters for me from the religious community. To date he has been successful obtaining 14 support letters from religious leaders across the state.

Bill and I took a photograph during the visit which one of my family members has added to the slide shows which appear on my web site, blog, and MySpace page. I bought a photo ticket which allows us to take two photos in the visiting room. We took a photo and I requested two copies of the same photo so that Bill could take one with him and I could keep one to share with others.

After we spent time visiting Bill read Psalm 139 from the Holy Bible. It was a chapter I was familiar with. It is also a chapter I enjoyed reading. Afterwards we read the Parable of the Sower in the Book of Matthew, a chapter I requested because of its meaning and significance to me.

Later that afternoon I returned to my housing unit and, as luck would have it, I was ordered by the unit staff to do a "practice pack-up." A practice pack-up is when a prisoner is compelled to take all his property and pack it into a duffle bag and a footlocker (if the prisoner owns one). Prisoners are allowed to own as many footlockers as they can afford as long as one is for personal property and the others are for storage of legal work only.

It is very inconvenient to do practice pack-ups. It totally disrupts the day of the person who has to do it. The person is actually packing all his belongings like he is moving to another location. It is akin to packing your entire life and existence. And, in this instance, all just so staff can see how much property you have.

During these practice pack-ups people are ordered to pack their grocery items into their duffle bag and footlocker as well. While that may not seem like a big deal, it is. It involves smashing your food down to make it more compact, and packing it into the duffle bag or footlocker with other things like your clothes, books, radio, tape player, letters, etc.

In this case I had just received my groceries from the prisoner store the previous day and it resulted in me having to smash a considerable amount of food in my property to make sure I could fit it in my duffle bag. The alternative when a person has more property than will fit in the duffle bag and footlocker(s) is to destroy the food or give it away, or to destroy other personal items or send them home.

It took me an hour to pack all my belongings as requested. Afterwards it took me over five hours to unpack it all, organize it, and put it all back where I previously had it. I had to iron my clothes again as well after having stuffed them into the duffle bag. It is never an enjoyable experience. I had a number of writings I had planned on doing that evening related to my case. Unfortunately they would have to wait for another day.

Another reason the practice pack-up was even more unpleasant was because I had just done one two weeks prior. In most instances prisoners only do practice pack-ups every six months or less frequently depending on the facility.

Practice pack-ups are usually utilized as a tool by staff to harass a prisoner. I was told I had to do it because it "appeared" I had too much property. This, despite me proving two weeks earlier I was in compliance with allowable limits and I had not received any additional property since that time.

I complied with their orders though and repeated the process as requested. It wasn't worth challenging. While I could have filed a grievance because it was obviously harassment, I chose to just cooperate and let it go. It wasn't worth the waste of energy. I had already wasted enough time and energy as it was.

This is just another example of how even a day that starts off really well in here can turn into a disaster later on. I wasn't happy with how the second part of the day turned out but, as is usually the case, I just viewed it as another test of my faith and patience, neither of which I will allow to wane no matter how many disruptful or unpleasant experiences I encounter.

As I told Bill during our visit, this experience hasn't dictated my life or shaped who I am. I wield the power to determine how each experience affects me, not vice versa. I remain committed to this reality.