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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Seeds and Butterflies: Symbols of Life and Transformation

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

I want to thank each of you for attending the TIME Committee meeting on Saturday, January 26, 2008 in Lansing. You had a very productive meeting and you filled the North Star Center with positive energy.

Our meetings are the building blocks for new ideas and help us improve our campaign for justice. As we work to educate ourselves and others about my case we continue to expand our circle of influence and make a compelling case for my release.

I was unable to call in to the Saturday meeting as hoped because the phone system was off at the facility I am housed. I was really looking forward to calling in. This is one of many disappointments I have encountered over the years. I remained strong though and did not let it consume me. I took comfort in knowing that those attending the meeting knew I was there in spirit. I also knew everything was in good hands.

Last week our Detroit Committee convened a wonderful meeting which included members of the media from The Michigan Citizen and National Public Radio (NPR). I was fortunate to call in to that meeting and communicate with those present. It is always a pleasure to hear your voices, engage in dialogue with you, and exchange ideas.

I am encouraged each time you convene on my behalf because I know every meeting gives birth to a multitude of innovative possibilities. Each of you possesses a wealth of potential that can germinate into the key that delivers me from the dismal cages that hold me captive.

Seeds represent potential. They are symbols of regeneration. Each time we observe them we are reminded that life springs forth from their core. They are an ecumenically recognized part of creation that are revered and an integral part of everyone's life.

Maria used beans during her opening remarks at the committee meeting to illustrate how we can distribute work and lighten our burdens. She discussed the significance of beans to Mexican people and them being the embodiment of sustenance.

After the meeting, the following day, I spoke with one of our committee members and friends, Scott Elliott. Scott told me that everyone who attended took some of the beans home with them as a reminder to continue spreading our vision and nurturing these seeds of potential.

During our conversation Scott told me that he is going to take the beans he received and plant them around the Berrien County Courthouse where I was unlawfully convicted. He plans on also planting them around the police department and throughout various parts of the city of St. Joseph where my arrest occurred.

To Scott, whenever the beans take root and begin to grow they will remind him of me and our campaign for justice. And, they will be sprawled throughout the entire city; tiny symbols of my spirit and the wonderful work done by the committee.

To reinforce the powerful message that lies in the beans/seeds that I heard about from the meeting something interesting occurred today when my mail was delivered. My newspaper was slid under my cell door accompanied by a letter from a prisoner friend housed in the upper peninsula, along with a card from an address that didn't appear familiar.

Curious what was inside the card-sized envelope I briefly studied the address, realized I was sure I didn't recognize it, and then I proceeded to open it. Inside I discovered a card. On the cover it said, "I bought a seed bank for you" with a photograph of a small hill of large seeds that look like beans. Inside the card was the message, "Dear Efren, we are thinking of you and wish you very well." It was signed by 10 people.

According to the card, the investment of a seed bank was made in my honor. It is part of Oxfam America's gift program that gives in two ways: by providing a symbolic gift for the recipient of the card, as well as supporting people in need. The inside of the card says that Oxfam saves lives, helps people overcome poverty, and fights for social justice.

I received the mail just as I was about half-way into writing this message. In many ways, the sender of the card mailed me a gift of life which arrived very timely. They wouldn't know that though since I didn't receive it until well over a week after they mailed it. Typical mail delays in prison. I was thankful to receive it though and it brought a smile to my face.

Later that day I had the opportunity to speak with another one of the individuals serving a life without parole sentence who was sentenced as a juvenile. Like me, he has strong family and friends supporting him. He just arrived at the facility on Friday.

This individual and I had corresponded through the mail for several years but never met each other personally. This was the first encounter we had in person. And, I don't believe it was a coincidence that we met at this particular time.

We discussed several issues related to the juvenile life without parole legislative hearing from last week and the various facets of our individual campaigns. I learned that he submitted a commutation request in March 2007 and still has not received a response. His request was prepared by a parole board consultant his family hired for him. He agreed to share it with me tomorrow so that I may perhaps receive some helpful ideas about its preparation.

During our discussion I told him I was nearing completion of my commutation request and told him the approach I was utilizing. He agreed with what I told him but urged me to review his request to ensure I explored other ideas as well. I, of course, agreed to do that.

One thing I strive to do is make informed decisions. Only a fool would prepare something haphazardly and rush to submit a document that will greatly impact their life. Careful deliberation is essential in any decision that alters the trajectory of our lives.

Later that evening I attended an Indian Nations United (INU) meeting and our sponsor brought in several hand drums for us to play. INU is a cultural organization dedicated to the preservation of indigenous culture and history.

The 10 people in attendance formed a circle and we drummed for a half-hour. It is always a great experience when we do it. The unification, energy, and peace generated is always refreshing and has a healing effect.

All of the oldest known religious rites used drumming as part of the shared religious experience. According to master drummer Babatunde Olatunji, "The sound of the drum resonates with an inner chord that vibrates through your whole body, so that when you go through the act of drumming, you are energizing every cell in your body."

When people are surrounded by drums played in unison a phenomena called entrainment takes place. The organization The Primal Connection writes that, "The vibrations of the drums cause the cells and fragmented electrical impulses of the body’s nervous system to smooth out and line up with the rhythm. This is the state of mind where healing begins and a sense of well being comes to the forefront."

Drumming tonight allowed me to clear my thoughts, feed my spirit, and release a considerable amount of stress. It was therapeutic and the vibrations washed away the negative energies. The opportunity to drum couldn't have come at a better time.

Tonight I selected one of the drums I had never used before too. It was covered with brilliantly painted butterflies; symbols of transformation. Some were depicted flying, others delicately sitting on freshly grown flowers.

After several weeks of prayer, intense thought, countless hours of research, conferring with several others similarly situated, speaking with members of the committee, etc., the time has arrived to complete the final steps of the commutation request.

I am hopeful it can be submitted this week, but if not it will be submitted next week for sure. There are factors beyond my control which could compel that. I am not able to put anything directly in the U.S. Mail mailbox. Everything we submit for mailing goes through the prison mail room which then turns it over to the U.S. Postal Service after they process it.

I share all this with you to invite your prayers and ask you to join me in spirit this week as I steadfastly work to complete this very important project. While I have been under a considerable amount of stress as I have worked on it, I have done my best to stay on course and not allowed people or things to scatter my focus.

Seeds and butterflies were the last things I focused on tonight before completing this writing. Life and transformation. Hopefully the coming days will manifest this in my life in a very powerful and profound way.

Like the butterflies, my spirit waits to be finally lifted from this experience so I can join all of you one day and be physically present at a committee meeting. Finally free and working to fight other injustices.