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Monday, August 25, 2008

Dissatisfaction Brings About Change

"Our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Thinking about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. It's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you'll play in writing the next great chapter in America's story." —Barack Obama, Wesleyan University Commencement Address—

by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

This is an exciting time in American politics. After an arduous race for the Democratic presidential nomination the stage is now set for the presidential general election to soon begin.

Many new people have been registered to vote in the past several months across the country. It is a historic time that is reinvigorating the spirit of the electoral process in every demographic. While the nation has at times seemed polarized about the presumed presidential nominees, the citizens remain united about one issue — the desire to see change.

There are many lessons to be learned from this presidential race, particularly from Barack Obama.

A year ago Obama was not viewed as an electable presidential candidate by the majority of Americans. He was unknown to many people and his message and image were eclipsed by what many felt was Hillary Clinton's entitlement to become the Democratic presidential nominee.

All that has changed though. And, in many polls Obama now leads John McCain in the battle for the Oval Office.

Besides being attracted to Obama's message of positive change for the country, I am also impressed with his persistence and courage to not acquiesce to the enormous pressure he faced to not pursue the presidency.

Obama's willingness to use his life in the interest of public service is admirable. He could have chosen to use his knowledge and skills to create a flourishing corporation purely for self-gain. Instead, he has spent much of his life giving a voice to those who could not speak for themselves and brought to attention to deserving causes.

Throughout his life Obama has also worked to create change at the grassroots level. He understood early on that real and lasting change begins from the bottom up.

As citizens we have an obligation to steadfastly work to improve the quality of life for others around the USA. Failure to take an active role only serves to further erode the social fabric of our country and it fosters degeneracy.

A mark of a true leader is the refusal to allow people from robbing them of hope and vision even when all the odds are stacked against them. It takes a remarkable person to continue swimming against the current intended to drown them and still flourish.

Obama has proven people can be successful even by remaining true to themselves and others. He has sought to stave off disingenuous tactics in his campaign and instead replace it with integrity. It was a decision he made that many early on thought would lead to his political demise.

Becoming the first presidential candidate of color of a major political party is a major victory in our country's history. It was just 40 years ago that African-Americans were allowed to vote in the USA. The nation has evolved though, and so has the collective consciousness of its citizenry.

With the USA becoming an increasingly multiracial society the Obama story has even more relevance. It gives little boys and girls of color another strong reference point to relate to that reflects their innate potential. It also helps them develop positive self-image and confidence when they see leaders in their image.

If I were free I would cast the very first vote of my entire life in this November's historic presidential election. Having been imprisoned since age 15 I have never been afforded the opportunity to yet cast a vote.

Many people have taken their voting rights for granted. I know what it feels like to want to utilize that vote and not be allowed to. You can rest assured that when I do receive the opportunity one day I will not throw it away. Voting is a precious liberty I will take seriously.

It is Obama's model of change beginning at the grassroots level that has resulted in the kind of success that The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee enjoys through the labor and energies we have, and continue to expend. Ordinary hardworking citizens dissatisfied with injustice have accomplished extraordinary things.

This wonderful group of people has been determined to end the inhumane treatment of an innocent person deprived of his freedom. In so doing they continue to decry the false notion that people are powerless to social injustice or that their voice can be stifled by inequity.

I have spent much of my time in captivity working in the service of others. I know from experience what a difference helping others can make when we care enough to try. The results endure and we leave a noble mark on the world for others to emulate. In short, through our actions we become the agents and catalyst for change all around us.

It all begins with the desire to see it manifest. Some way. Somehow.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Efren Paredes, Jr. Addresses Univ. of Southern Cal. (USC) Student Body in Newsletter

Efrén Paredes, Jr. submitted the following writing addressed to the student body at the University of Southern California (USC) in the first edition of El Centro Chicano Newsletter of the school year. The newsletter will be received by thousands of USC students. Efrén is granting permission to anyone else who would like to use the message in any other publications to address students at other institutions of higher learning. We would like to thank our friend and supporter Arthur Fidel Argomaniz, McNair Scholar/MEChA de USC/CCU (Campus and Community United) and SAJE (Strategic Action for a Just Economy) intern for putting us in contact with the newsletter's editor and suggesting that Efrén submit the writing.

Address to the Fall 2008 University of Southern California (USC) Student Body

¡Bienvenidos! (Welcome), as you commence a new year of matriculation at one of the nation's most respected institutions of higher learning. I am grateful to send you this message from across the country and proud to stand by you in solidarity as you sojourn through an exciting year replete with a myriad of opportunities.

This message is being delivered from another institution of notoriety in this nation. Unlike your institution that nourishes life and creativity, the one I am in seeks to destroy them. We exist at opposite ends of the spectrum of life and opportunity.

As a consequence of biased policies which target youth of color, many Chicana/o and Latina/o youth end up in prison cells. It is an unconscionable reality we are compelled to confront. Census Bureau statistics reflect that there are 2.7 Latinos living in prison cells compared to every one Latino living in a college dorm.

We have higher dropout rates, lower test scores, and fewer college graduates, which all leads to less involvement in community affairs. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 37% of Latinos do not finish high school, compared to the national average of 15%.

The ACLU Racial Justice Program is currently tackling a disturbing national trend in which children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. They characterize this phenomenon as the "school to prison pipeline."

I know firsthand the devastating effects these statistics can have on our community. I have been incarcerated since age 15 for a crime I did not commit and had no role in. I was sentenced to die in prison and I still remain captive after nearly 20 years of wrongful imprisonment.

I am in the battle for my very life. Without the strong support of people of conscience who are committed to defending justice and human rights, I will die in prison.

It is human rights abuses like these that cry out for us to answer the call to service for the betterment of humanity. If we shirk from our responsibility we will be complicit in fostering more injustice and leaving ourselves vulnerable to further abuse and victimization.

I know what it takes to transcend dehumanizing conditions. If not for my independent pursuit of higher learning I would have been defeated long ago by the crushing weight of this experience. Education is vital to our survival and building bridges that enable us to connect the past with the future.

I urge you to not take your education and opportunities for granted. Demonstrate that you are among the worthy who were entrusted with this opportunity that many others have been denied or taken for granted.

You each represent beacons of light to a generation of scholarship that will follow you. The task before you can not be underscored enough as you valiantly carry the torch of victory in the struggle for self-determination, respect and quality education.

Know that you stand on the towering shoulders of a long illustrious line of strong Chicana/o and Latina/o leaders who sacrificed so you could enjoy the fruits of their toils and struggles. We are the descendants of the women who gave birth to one of the greatest civilizations on Earth, the architects who built the colossal Mayan and Aztec temples, as well20as great scientists and educators.

You are now the custodians of their legacy and your actions will determine the preservation of their memory. Leave your footprints as signposts along the path as you fulfill your hopes and dreams. In so doing you can help change the world a little at a time and liberate our gente (people) from the stranglehold of dependence and ignorance.

Once you are gone your stewardship will be celebrated by the bright eyes, brilliant minds, and beautiful faces of young Chicana/o and Latina/o children anxiously awaiting to take the baton. Like you, they will be pillars of hope and inspiration to others.

We will not be defeated. As individuals we are strong, but together we are unconquerable!

In Solidarity,

Efrén Paredes, Jr.

To learn how you can help end the injustice perpetrated against Efrén Paredes, Jr. visit To learn more about the shocking details surrounding Efrén's case please visit

Friday, August 8, 2008

8/8/08 and the Circles of Life

by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

Friday, August 8, 2008, people all over the world planned weddings to celebrate their sacred unions on this day marked with dual circles comprising the number "8", i.e., 8/8/08. Some people simply held parties and gatherings to bring attention to the numbers of the day.

The Beijing Olympic Games also began with an extravagant opening ceremony. According to m

any accounts they felt the ceremony eclipsed all previous ones as they marveled at its beauty and splendor.

Across the world 6,500 miles from the Olympic Games in Jackson, Michigan a small, quiet group of people convened for a different purpose. The number "8" was not considered when this gathering was planned. It just happened to be the only day everyone could mutually arrange to be together.

That day I received a visit from my wife, my grandfather, aunt Angie, and cousin Arielle. It was the first time I had seen Arielle since she was just a toddler in 1990. She was the last child I held during the entire length of my nearly 20 years of wrongful imprisonment.

Arielle was disallowed from visiting since then until she turned 18 earlier this year. Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) policy precludes anyone under the age of 18 from visiting a prisoner unless they are siblings. The policy went into effect a short time after Arielle last visited me.

Seeing Arielle again after all these years conjured a lot of memories of my early imprisonment. It was a salient reminder that I had been incarcerated the entire life of someone who is now a legal adult. In this instance I began my imprisonment months before Arielle was even born.

Previous to this visit, besides talking on the phone, seeing each other in pictures, and hearing about each other through other family members, Arielle and I had not seen each other since she was a baby. She also has two younger brothers, Alesandro and20Andreas, whom I have never met.

The visit went very well and we all discussed family memories. As we reminisced each time a person told a story they recalled it evoked another narrative by someone else. It seemed like we talked about the entire family before the visit ended. This wasn't so difficult having the elder of our family present to guide us along. It was like we were all putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle of our family's history.

I learned about more recent events as well. For instance, I discovered that my grandparents celebrated their 60th year anniversary that week. I also learned that Arielle would be leaving for college on Tuesday, August 12, 2008 — only a few days away.

Arielle told me she is attending Indiana State University (ISU) to pursue studies in music and pre-law. She also made the ISU Sparkettes dance team and plans on competing in national championships which are scheduled in the coming weeks.

Throughout our conversation Arielle shared her aspirations with me and sounded determined to accomplish them. She was poised, focused, and eager to commence her journey. I was proud of her and encouraged her to do her best and not allow anyone or anything to stand in the way of her dreams.

I had already been imprisoned three years at the age of 18!

As we talked I thought to myself, "Here is this young person who is about to embark on an exciting life of opportunities I never had." Like me, Arielle was an honor student throughout school and sought to excel at every level of education. She had worked hard for this opportunity and deserved to enjoy every moment of it.

Being raised primarily by Angie, her single mother, makes Arielle's achievements all the more exceptional. More often than not children raised in single-parent homes struggle with their education and many of them drop out of school.

While other children chased the fast life or the streets, Arielle chose to chase stars. This is a testament to the upbringing she received from a loving mother who sacrificed in order to provide for her three children and see them thrive.

Rather than dwell on the unfortunate reality of having to wait so many years to finally see Arielle again I was grateful the day finally arrived. I did not want to detract from the visit by wasting time reflecting on the painful past of being separated from members of my family.

I have been robbed of too many freedoms and opportunities in my life to remind myself of these things. As always, I strive to avoid looking back at what I have lost, but instead focus on looking ahead to the things I will encounter and experience in life.

I was happy I was able to spend time with Arielle and offer her words of encouragement before she left for college to begin what may be the most important stage of her life. I last saw her before she could even take her first steps in life. Now I was about to see her take her first steps of independence and pursue her cherished dreams.

As the visit ended I kept that thought in mind. I wasn't watching Arielle leave. I was watching her begin a new life.

(Photos: Upper right (Angie, Arielle, and Efren in 1990); Center left (Angie and Efren on 8/8/08); and Lower right (Arielle and Efren on 8/8/08).

Monday, August 4, 2008

Prisoner Murdered at Prison Where Efren is Housed in Jackson, MI

Dear Friends,

On Saturday morning, August 2, 2008, I was on the prison yard when unexpectedly an announcement came over the facility loud speaker which said, "Attention on the yard. All yards are closed. Report to your housing units. All yards are closed."

It was around 10:15 AM and yard typically does not close until 10:45 AM. As I returned to my housing unit I noticed there was an ambulance parked at the health care building. I deduced there was a possible nexus between the ambulance and the early yard closing.

At the time I was speaking to Helen on a telephone located on the prison yard. She, too, suspected that something was wrong and immediately asked me if everything was alright. She knew it was abnormal for the yard to close early so abruptly.

Having heard the urgent tone of the loud speaker announcement also added to her concern.

Later that morning I learned, according to staff accounts, that a prisoner had stabbed another prisoner while in the shower, puncturing his heart and killing.0 The victim and perpetrator were both Black.

Unfortunately my instinct about the ambulance I had seen earlier was correct. I will admit, however, I suspected it may have signaled someone needing medical attention. I did not think it was a homicide victim.

The incident was a reminder that prison is not a safe place. While prisons may be absent of guns or sophisticated other legal weapons, it is not devoid of improvised objects that prisoners use to create weapons for whatever reason. It is a reality that exists in every prison.

News of the prisoner's murder quickly swept across the prison and evoked a host of discussions. Disturbingly, what I did not hear was colloquy about the issue of the need to curtail the cycle of violence or ignorance that results in this type of destructive behavior.

At a time when the absence of males of color in society has reached catastrophic proportions, this issue is all the more important. Our communities are being devastated by the absence of males. Consequently women, children and families are suffering and struggling for survival. Some more poorly than others.

The murder of the young man on Saturday represented so much more than the death of a prisoner. It was an attack on the heath of the community. Man is a symbol of the seed that is germinated in the sacred wombs of women. Without it civilization can not endure.

Educating people about the value we each contribute to the pr
eservation and perpetuation of humanity is vital to helping end the violence gripping our communities. It is only when people do not acknowledge and respect their own self-worth, and that of others, that they can rob another human being of the precious gift of life.

Transforming each situation into a learning opportunity helps us change the world in some small way. It can help us alter the trajectory of destructiveness and help us embark on a path of restoration and healing. We simply have to be the catalyst that initiates the process.

There are no guarantees that a prisoner will return home to his/her family physically unscathed, or even alive. What we can guarantee, however, is that through striving to make a difference we can work to prevent future recurrences of senseless homicides and help shape a new consciousness. We can also help release the mental shackles that are fostering ignorance and self-hatred.

In so doing, we will promote the sanctity of life.

The Struggle Continues,