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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Disguising Authenticity

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Prison corridors reverberate with embellished stories of urban exploits and manufactured images prisoners believe they should emulate behind prison walls.

Many prisoners adopt distorted lifestyles absent thought about the perils and long-term ramifications attendant to their decision. Their myopia prevents them from foreseeing the potential for self-inflicted damage that may ensue.

Too often people live their lives to impress others, curry favor with them or gain their acceptance. They do this unaware that they are essentially alienating their true identity and surrendering it in exchange for a fabricated illusion of reality.

Adopting self-destructive behaviors can lead to prisoners leaving indelible impressions on their lives long after their return to society. It can also manifest in a host of dismal outcomes that compound their vulnerabilities during their incarceration.

Another consequence of people projecting false illusions of themselves is that they attract the same energies they project. It can translate to becoming a magnet for problems or toxic people that infect their personal sphere.

People should not settle for less by wasting their time living for others, rather than investing time living for themselves. No one should ever stand on the outside of their own lives peering in through the prism of a stranger.

Being confident in ourselves and striving to maintain our individuality goes a long way. It is a reflection of our genuine beliefs and personality, not a transitory illusory persona that divorces itself from reality.

In prison -- as well as in ordinary life -- people earn respect and gain acceptance because of who they are and what they accomplish, not who they aren't or their personal failures. Success is real, it can't be fabricated.

No one decision or experience in life -- whether good or bad -- defines a person. It is a culmination of their decisions and life experiences that does. We have to endeavor to jettison counter-productive actions and harvest empowering ones.

People should never be disingenuous with themselves. Being themselves is one of the most important things they can do in life. It means working to conquer their insecurities and sacrificing acceptance for authenticity.

Real strength and courage is demonstrated when we resist changing our identity or lives to satisfy others. Identity abandonment isn't the solution to life's challenges, it's one of the problems.

Embracing these realities can help liberate people from the manacles of society's pressures that keep them trapped in a parallel universe that swims in an ocean of disguises.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Quotes Banning Mandatory Life Sentences for Youth

Excerpts from the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court banning mandatory life without parole (LWOP) sentences for juveniles in the case of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. __ (2012):

"The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment 'guarantees individuals the right not to be subjected to excessive sanctions.' Roper, 543 U.S., at 560. That right, we have explained, 'flows from the basic 'precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned' to both the offender and the offense. Ibid. (quoting Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 367 (1910))."


"Because juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform, we explained, 'they are less deserving of the most severe punishments.' Graham, 560 U.S., at __ (slip op., at 17)."


"Our decisions rested not only on common sense -- on what 'any parent knows' -- but on science and social science as well. Id., at 569. In Roper, we cited studies showing that "'[o]nly a relatively small proportion of adolescents'" who engage in illegal activity "'develop entrenched patterns of problem behavior.'" Id., at 570 (quoting Steinberg & Scott, "Less Guilty by Reason of Adolescence: Developmental Immaturity, Diminished Responsibility, and the Juvenile Death Penalty," 58 Am. Psychologist 1009, 1014 (2003)). And in Graham, we noted that 'developments psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds'--for example, in 'parts of the brain involved in behavior control.' 560 U.S., at __ (slip op., at 17). We reasoned that those findings--of transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences--both lessened a child's 'moral culpability' and enhanced the prospect that, as the years go by and neurological development occurs, his "'deficiencies will be reformed.'" Id., at __ (slip op., at 18) (quoting Roper, 543 U.S., at 570).


"Deciding that a 'juvenile offender forever will be a danger to society' would require 'mak[ing] a judgment that [he] is incorrigible'--but "'incorrigibility is inconsistent with youth.'" 560 U.S., at __ (slip op, at 22) (quoting Workman v. Commonwealth, 429 S.W.2d 374, 378 (Ky. App 1968)). And for the same reason, rehabilitation could not justify that sentence. Life without parole 'forswears altogether the rehabilitative ideal.' Graham, 560 U.S., at __ (slip op., at 23). It reflects 'an irrevocable judgment about [an offender's] value and place in society,' at odds with a child's capacity for change. Ibid.


"'[J]ust as the chronological age of a minor is itself a relevant mitigating factor of great weight, so must the background and mental and emotional development of a youthful defendant be duly considered'" in assessing his culpability. Id., at 116.


"Such mandatory penalties, by their nature, preclude a sentencer from taking account of an offender's age and the wealth of characteristics and circumstances attendant to it."


"And still worse each juvenile ... will receive the same sentence as the vast majority of adults committing similar homicide offenses--but really, as Graham noted, a greater sentence than those adults will serve."


"('A State is not required to to guarantee eventual freedom,' but must provide 'some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation'). By making youth (and all that accompanies it) irrelevant to imposition of that harshest prison sentence, such a scheme poses too great a risk of disproportionate punishment."


"[G]iven all we have said in Roper, Graham, and this decision about children's diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change, we think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon. That is especially so because of the great difficulty we noted in Roper and Graham of distinguishing at this early age between 'the juvenile offender whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity, and the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption." Roper, 543 U.S., at 573; Graham, 560 U.S., at __ (slip op., at 17)."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Nation’s High Court Ends Mandatory Life Without Parole Sentences for Youth

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion abolishing mandatory life without parole (LWOP) sentences for the 2,500 prisoners across the U.S. who were condemned to die in prison for crimes they were convicted of as juveniles.

Courts will now have discretion to impose a lesser sentence in those cases and consider age as a factor in sentencing. Juveniles can receive LWOP sentences, however, it is a discretionary sentence now, not a mandatory sentence in cases involving homicide. Prisoners already serving LWOP sentences for crimes they were convicted of as juveniles are now eligible for resentencing. How that process occurs will vary by state.

The court conveyed what any parent, educator and common sense can tell us: children are different than adults. They possess the unique capacity for change and growth because they are still cognitively developing, and should be provided a path for rehabilitation during their incarceration.

Children are not incorrigible or expendable, nor are they miniature adults. They are not transformed into adults because they make mistakes or bad choices no more than they are transformed into adults for positive achievements or making good decisions.

It is undisputed that young people must be held accountable for their actions. This accountability, however, can only be achieved in ways that reflect the young person's age and his/her capacity for change. Just as the punishment should fit the crime, the punishment should also fit the offender.

In Michigan, 73% of the prisoners serving LWOP sentences for crimes they were convicted of committing when they were juveniles are people of color, yet they comprise only 27% of the youth in the state.

Nearly half of those convicted are also first-time offenders. Most grew up in impoverished areas, were victims of abuse, and were regularly exposed to drugs and violence.

The International Journal of Forensic Mental Health reports that 2/3 of males and 3/4 of females in the juvenile justice system show signs of one or more psychiatric disorders.

Taken together these findings reflect a very vulnerable demographic of 200,000 to 250,000 juveniles annually transferred to adult courts that are disparately being subjected to the harshest sentences meted out by judges.

Sadly, the vast majority of these juveniles are incapable of defending themselves against the political gamesmanship and cascade of abuses and mistreatment they are subjected to by older, experienced professionals in the criminal justice system.

It is a moral imperative that we now amplify the national conversation about the draconian policy of sentencing juveniles in adult courts. Rather than abandon and demonize young people, citizens should urge legislators to reform sentencing guidelines and work to ensure fairness in the parole process.

Life sentences in any form are veritable death sentences in Michigan. As long as they remain sentencing options for juveniles their opportunity for serious parole consideration will remain an unattainable reality.

To read the US Supreme Court Decision in its entirety click on:

(Efren Paredes, Jr. is a Michigan prisoner sentenced to LWOP as a juvenile in 1989. Learn more about Efren at

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chippewa Correctional Facility Adds TASERs to Its Use of Force Continuum

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Yesterday afternoon as I was seated on a bench in the Control Center at Chippewa Correctional Facility (URF) awaiting a visit I observed three facility staff members congregate around a computer monitor.

While staff watched the screen, I began hearing sound from a video they were viewing of an incident earlier that day involving staff use of TASER-manufactured electro-shock weapons on a prisoner in one of the housing units.

I could hear officers in the video yelling at a prisoner and ordering him to go to the back of the cell. After an exchange of words, staff discharged an electro-shock weapon on the prisoner. Upon impact of the taser projectile, I could hear the prisoner who was hit hollering.

I subsequently heard one of the staff members watching the video utter in an excited tone, "Fuck yeah! Took the fight right out of 'em!"  Amused by what she observed, a female staff member watching the video immediately began laughing loudly.

The video was replayed and the same female staff member who was watching the video burst into a loud laugh once again and then walked away from the monitor. When she moved from the monitor, I observed a portion of the video before it was turned off.

The following day prisoners at the facility heard staff members talking and laughing about the tasing incident. Staff also encouraged co-workers to view the above-referenced video in the Control Center.

Last year the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) added electro-shock weapons to their arsenal as a tool to incapacitate prisoners when MDOC staff deem necessary. The MDOC entered into a $3 million contract with Michigan TASER Company until 2013.

According to URF Warden Jeffrey Woods, the weapons can be used anywhere in the facility. This includes on members of the public, if necessary. The weapons will be available at MDOC prisons across the state by July 2012.

Funding for the weapons came from rate increases to telephone calls made between prisoners and their family members. Contact between prisoners and family members is an evidence-based proven part of rehabilitation for prisoners. Despite this fact, the MDOC preyed on this demographic to fund the purchase of their new weapons.

Several staff members have expressed opposition to their colleagues being armed with electro-shock weapons inside the prison. They express this sentiment because of the potential for abuse and the increased aggression exhibited by some of the staff who are armed with the weapons. According to one staff member, "This lack of professionalism could endanger others and unnecessarily exacerbate existent tensions within the facility."

If the recent nauseating events of MDOC staff viewing the tasing video is any indication of how electro-shock weapons will be misused against prisoners, and how sadistic the culture of violence and abuse against prisoners will escalate, Michigan citizens will witness a new frontier of inhumane treatment against prisoners ushered in by the misguided decision to arm MDOC staff with electro-shock weapons.

Not surprisingly, these weapons are being discharged the most at prisons housing large numbers of mental health patients. According to MDOC staff who asked to remain anonymous, "No special consideration is given to mental health patients or prisoners with physical disabilities before tasing them. We've been told to treat each prisoner the same."

The future of assaulting prisoners with electro-shock weapons and showcasing the incident videos is pregnant with potentially myriad dark possibilities. The only thing that remains to be seen is the depth of the darkness.

Updated June 30, 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

Support Documentary Film Calling for End to Life Without Parole Sentences for Youth

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments to consider whether or not to end the sentencing of youths to life without parole (LWOP) -- death by incarceration -- nationwide.

If the high court rules in favor of abolishing this deplorable sentence it will make 2,500 juveniles across the nation eligible for parole consideration. Michigan incarcerates 358 of these juveniles, 15% of the total number of juveniles serving this sentence globally.

Ending LWOP sentences alone will not result in releasing a single prisoner. Parole Boards will just begin having the authority to give release consideration to these prisoners. Parole Boards currently have no authority to release prisoners serving LWOP sentences. Only state Governors can grant them a pardon or commutation of sentence that will result in their release.

To help end the shameful imposition of LWOP sentences on youths, a documentary film in its post-production stage titled "Natural Life" is seeking financial support necessary to be complete and distributed nationwide by the summer of 2012.

A complete description of the film is available at the end of this message, as well as information about how you can make a donation to help make the film completion a reality.

Please take a few minutes to visit the link and, if able, make a financial donation to this project. You can also contribute to this project in a big way by circulating the link to the fundraising project widely via email, Facebook, Twitter, and Google. You can also mention the link in editorials, in comment posts to articles on the Internet, and by posting flyers on college campuses, at churches, libraries, community centers, etc.

Your participation in this project can help change the course of history and end the mistreatment of juveniles by the criminal justice system. It will also send a message to the rest of the world that you stand in defense of human rights and the inherent dignity in our nation's youths.

I have been imprisoned since age 15 and the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling could impact my life in a huge way. Just four days ago I completed 23 years of imprisonment. I have spent 8,474 days -- over half my entire life -- locked away from society in adult jail and prisons.

If we do not end LWOP sentences for juveniles in the U.S. many of us will die in prison having never experienced living one single day in society as a free adult. We will never have been given the opportunity to be rehabilitated and be a productive citizen because of a crime we were convicted of committing when we were juveniles.

Let us remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who reminded us "Our lives begin to end the moment we stop caring about the things that matter." The lives of children matter. And so do their futures and the future of this nation.

The fundraiser link is:

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Contacting Efren Electronically

Recently the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) installed kiosks in the housing units at the Chippewa Correctional Facility (URF) -- where Efren is currently housed -- that allow prisoners to send and receive electronic messages ("JPay messages"). To send Efren JPay messages you need to visit and create an account. Once you create an account you must purchase electronic stamps to send Efren messages. The electronic stamps cost 20 cents each. You do not have to pay to receive messages from Efren via JPay. He pays to send his own messages. After you have created a JPay account and purchased electronic stamps the next step is to locate Efren on the web site to write him. You do this by entering his prison number in the "Inmate Locator" box on the site. Efren's prison number is "203116". To initiate correspondence with Efren using you must first send him a JPay message. The MDOC does not allow Michigan prisoners to send messages to members of the public until the prisoner first receives a message from the person who is trying to communicate with the prisoner. Once Efren receives a message from you he can begin responding to your messages. Note that all incoming and outgoing JPay messages are screened by the MDOC.