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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).