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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday Message Calling for Healing and Reconciliation from Efren Paredes, Jr.

I want to wish each of you a Happy Holiday Season. I hope you are able to spend time with family and friends and reflect on the gifts you have been blessed to receive and enjoy in your lives throughout the year.

We each have much to be grateful for. Despite the struggles we endure in the vicissitudes of life we continue to persevere and make the best of each moment. We do not allow life to consume us with the weight of its difficulties.

This is a time to think about the birth of Jesus and the lessons he shared with the world. It is a time for healing and growth, and an opportunity to foster understanding and find common ground within the community. In so doing we can eradicate the energies that can erode the human spirit.

The question, "What would Jesus do?" is one question we should frequently ask ourselves as we make decisions in life. If we profess to be followers of Jesus we have a responsibility to pattern our lives after righteous principles.

Adhering to the wisdom of Jesus is not a matter of convenience or personal preference; it is an obligation we must fulfill if we have chosen to be faithful to God.

We are reminded throughout the scripture that withholding forgiveness and promoting divisiveness contravenes the will of God and the lessons taught by Jesus. We only hurt ourselves and deprive ourselves of blessings when we choose to rival the laws designed to keep us perpetually evolving.

We cannot succumb to destructive thoughts or immerse ourselves in a cesspool of negativity. There is no place in our lives for hatred and evil. They are the antithesis of life and can only serve to accelerate the demise of humanity.

It is my belief that healing can occur in the community I departed from 20 years ago and in the lives of those who have been deeply affected by the tragic death and loss of one of the community's finest members, Rick Tetzlaff.

I ask that everyone keep Rick's family and my family in your prayers. Ask God to bless us all with healing and ask Him to help our families seek reconciliation. Our families have suffered far too long and I am calling on rational minds to help us all begin the healing process.

As long as we remain polarized others will continue to inject their personal agendas into our lives and seek to keep us divided. Prosecutors and police involved in my case seeking to promote and protect their careers and reputations have no role in how our families move forward with our lives.

They have not suffered the anguish we have and they espouse callous views, reject the notion of redemption, and condemn forgiveness. These are not principles that any civilized and God-fearing society should celebrate.

My continued imprisonment will not erase anyone's pain, nor will it allow our families to heal. It will only exacerbate the pain and serve as a constant reminder that I am imprisoned while people all over the globe are working vigorously to restore my freedom. I no more wish for my family and supporters to endure this process as I do for Rick's family to be constantly reminded about our efforts.

At my public hearing Rick's widow, Tina, expressed anger that she had to be at the hearing. I was saddened she and other members of their family had to be there as well. I was disappointed their family had to endure nine hours of reliving the painful experience of 20 years all over again because the Asst. Attorney General sought to drag the process out.

It is my hope we do not have to endure another such experience. If I am not blessed with my release, however, the campaign to restore my freedom will only intensify exponentially and compel us all to continue subjecting ourselves to this ongoing process.

I may never convince Rick's family about all the actual facts in my case, but I will never admit to doing something I did not do. I have paid dearly with my life for my refusal to admit guilt to the crime I was falsely accused of. I have spent year after year in prison since the age of 15. I am now 35-years-old and will soon become age 36 in just a few months.

If I were guilty I would have sought to negotiate a guilty plea or reduced sentence long ago like the guilty parties did. I would have also never protected the criminals who have admitted their roles in the crime.

Michael Sepic, the Berrien County Chief Asst. Prosecutor, attempted to diminish their guilt and characterize their actions as "minimal roles." He also continues to offer them cover. Sepic's views on this insult our sensibilities.

If the stories of the youths who pleaded guilty to charges related to this crime were true my silence about their involvement would have shielded them from life imprisonment. Any 15-year-old who is arrested and facing their entire life in prison would have implicated everyone involved.

This would have certainly occurred if the other individuals were placing all the blame on a 15-year-old so they could go free or receive reduced sentences. I had absolutely no reason to protect my criminal accusers from blame then, and I have no reason to protect them now.

My family and I want the healing to begin and for representatives of the religious community to help us facilitate the process. I extend this invitation on behalf of my family and self and pray that this overture is received in the spirit it is offered.

I ask everyone, "What would Jesus do?" Would he want our families to go on enduring a painful life year or after, or would he want healing and reconciliation? I do not believe he would want our families to continue enduring the pain or divisiveness that abounds. He would want better.

And, together, we can do better by ushering in a new year and the dawn of a new era of healing.