Free Efren Orange Banner

Free Efren Orange Banner

Friday, December 22, 2017

Federal Court Strikes Down Portion of Mich. Juvenile Lifer Law

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (COA) recently made an important ruling on behalf of Michigan prisoners who received mandatory life without parole (LWOP) sentences when they were juveniles ("juvenile lifers").

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that mandatory LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional. The high court subsequently issued another opinion in 2016 which made their 2012 ruling retroactive and applicable to all 2,500 prisoners in the nation serving the draconian sentence. 

The recent U.S. Sixth COA ruling states that these prisoners will now be required to receive good time and/or disciplinary credits depending on the year of their conviction. This will change when they become eligible to pursue a meaningful opportunity for parole consideration based on positive behavior.

Juvenile lifers are also now eligible to participate in rehabilitative programming that they have been denied for decades. Previous to the court's ruling prisoners serving shorter sentences have been provided an array of programs that juvenile lifers have been denied.

The programs they will now become eligible for include Violence Prevention Program, Cage Your Rage, Thinking 4 Change, vocational trades, etc. The new court ruling ends these discriminatory practices and recognizes the right of juvenile lifers to equal protection.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit COA ruled against the issue raised by attorneys representing juvenile lifers seeking a categorical ban on imposing LWOP sentences on juvenile offenders on procedural grounds.

It is an issue that will persistently be raised in the U.S. Supreme Court by attorneys representing juvenile lifers from various states until a total ban is granted and the issue is finally resolved. Attorneys have already begun petitioning the high court seeking the ban and more are preparing to do so.

While the recent U.S. Sixth Circuit COA ruling is not a panacea to unravel all the juvenile lifer legal challenges before them it is a major decision that will have a profound impact on re-shaping the contours of Michigan criminal justice reform relating to juvenile offenders.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit COA ordered Judge John Corbett O'Meara of the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan to expeditiously resolve the matter consistent with the court's ruling. Judge O'Meara will now draft a court order specifying the details of what the State of Michigan must do to comply with the appellate court ruling as early as this month.

The Michigan legislature will also be required to revise MCL 769.25 to reflect the changes made by the U.S. Sixth Circuit COA as well. When they do it would be wise to also do two additional things that would make the sentencing process more reasonable, conserve valuable time and state employee resources, and save taxpayers millions of dollars when resentencing the remaining 260 juvenile lifers.

First, it should join the 26 other states across the country and the 192 nations of the world who have banned LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders. In the past six years nineteen states have abandoned LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders and the number keeps growing.

The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to categorically ban the practice in the coming year. Our state legislators should stand on the right side of history now rather than be compelled to make the right decision later. Remaining obstinate and tone deaf to this issue will burden taxpayers with millions more dollars in wasteful spending for repeating hundreds of resentencing hearings.

It would also force victim families to continue down the painful road of reopening wounds and revisiting tragedies in their lives through unnecessary court hearings and appeals. Many of these families have been trying to move on with their lives without exacerbating their pain and being encumbered with decades of court hearings and appeals.

Second, the legislature should revise the sentencing guidelines for juvenile lifer term-of-year sentences from a 25- to 40-year minimum to a 15- to 30-year minimum. They should also revise the currently allowed maximum term-of-years from 60 years to a maximum of 40 years.

If the 60-year maximum term is not reduced there will be additional years of protracted costly court battles asking courts to rule that 60 years is a veritable death sentence since it exceeds the life span of the average juvenile lifer. Other states have already ruled that such sentences are inordinate and deemed cruel and unusual punishment.

Alternatively, the legislature can convert the sentences of the remaining 260 juvenile lifers awaiting resentencing hearings to sentences of 15-year minimums to 40-year maximums all at once. It would save the state millions of dollars for resentencing hearings.

Since nearly all the juvenile lifers are indigent all court expenses including attorney fees, expert witnesses, etc., will be paid for by taxpayer dollars. Conservative estimates place the price tag around $26 million to pay the fees for the 260 prisoners still awaiting resentencing.

This move alone would not release a single prisoner. It would only give the Parole Board jurisdiction to begin reviewing their cases for release consideration annually after they have served a minimum of 15 years. The Parole Board would utilize their wealth of resources to decide when the prisoners merit release based on their conduct just as they do for over 10,000 other prisoners they safely release annually.

The Parole Board will not release prisoners until they are satisfied they pose no risk or danger to public safety. In fact, the Parole Board could keep juvenile lifers incarcerated for up to 40 years under this sentencing scheme if the Parole Board is not comfortable releasing them until that time. By then most juvenile lifers would range in age between 55- and 57-years old after being behind bars since their mid-teens.

If we are to illogically believe that juvenile offenders are not capable of change, by that same standard we will have to believe no adult is capable of change and deserves a second chance either. After all, each adult who receives a second chance in life was once a teenager.

Michigan should become a leader in criminal justice reform rather than lag behind other states. We cannot lead from behind. We are being looked upon with shame and disappointment for our woefully failing record of human rights abuses against juveniles, the poor, and people of color.

It is a stain we can begin to slowly wash away by making decisions that respect the concept of redemption and inherent dignity of youthful offenders.

(Efren Paredes, Jr. is a blogger and social justice activist who appears as a weekly guest on Detroit Superstation 910 AM. You can learn more about Efren at and

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cases Seek U.S. S.Ct. Ban on Life Without Parole Sentences for Youth

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Attorneys for an Idaho prisoner recently petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a national ban on life without parole (LWOP) sentences for juvenile offenders. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will also hear oral arguments September 13, 2017 in Hill v. Snyder, a Michigan case seeking the same ban, among other issues.

These appeals are proceeding while several Michigan prosecutors continue delaying resentencing hearings for dozens of prisoners who received LWOP sentences when they were juveniles ("juvenile lifers"). Many of the prisoners have languished behind bars for decades as 192 civilized nations in the world have abandoned the pernicious practice of condemning juveniles to die in prison.

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional and ordered the resentencing of the nation's 2,500 prisoners affected by the ruling. Prosecutors from several states ignored the landmark decision, including Michigan, claiming that it was not retroactive and did not apply to cases that had previously exhausted the direct appeal process.

The high court subsequently settled the issue in 2016 making it abundantly clear that its previous ruling four years earlier is indeed retroactive. The court added that upon resentencing juvenile lifers, only prisoners who a sentencing court could establish are "incapable of change" the remainder of their lives can receive LWOP sentences, and that the extreme sentence must become "rare" and "uncommon."

Michigan is home to the second largest population of juvenile lifers in the nation. Prior to 2016 there were 363 prisoners serving the draconian sentence. Seventy percent of them are people of color; a portrait of savage inequality. Since the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling only 91 prisoners have been resentenced. Six prisoners died during the four year wait and never had the opportunity to be resentenced or given serious parole consideration.

Prosecutors across the state are seeking LWOP sentences again for 247 juvenile lifers, or 68% of them, in defiance of the high court ruling. Prosecutors from the counties of Berrien, Gennesee, Macomb, Oakland, Saginaw, and Wayne are responsible for seeking LWOP sentences for over 100 of those prisoners.

In their August 10, 2017 Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court attorneys for Idaho juvenile lifer Sarah Marie Johnson argue that states are rapidly prohibiting juvenile LWOP sentences. They note that nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit juvenile LWOP sentences.

Prior to the high court's 2012 decision banning mandatory juvenile LWOP sentences only four states prohibited the practice. In 20 states every juvenile offender has a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate to a parole board or judge that s/he has rehabilitated themself in prison and should be eligible for release consideration.

In addition to the 20 jurisdictions that have formally abandoned juvenile LWOP sentencing six states have no individuals serving juvenile LWOP sentences. Seven more states have five or fewer individuals serving the draconian sentence. According to the Johnson brief, "In total, 33 jurisdictions are either abolitionist, or functionally so."

Earlier this year the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held, "For a sentence of [LWOP] to be proportional as applied to a juvenile murderer, the sentencing court must first find, based on competent evidence, that the offender is entirely unable to change."

They added, "It must find that there is no possibility that the offender could be rehabilitated at any point later in his life, no matter how much time he spends in prison and regardless of the amount of therapeutic interventions he receives, and that the crime committed reflects the juveniles true and unchangeable personality and character." (Commonwealth v. Batts, No. 45 MAP 2016, 2017 WL 2735411 (Pa. June 26, 2017))

The Johnson petition to the high court argues that, "While most jurisdictions are following the letter and spirit of this court's juvenile jurisprudence, a handful persists in pursuing the harshest penalties against large numbers of juvenile offenders." They specifically characterized Michigan and Louisiana as being among "a handful of extreme outliers that are flouting the [U.S. Supreme] Court's dictate to limit JLWOP to the rare juvenile offender."

In other words, the abuse of authority and other malfeasance of Michigan's rogue prosecutors is being used as examples by other states to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to end the deplorable practice of sentencing juveniles to die in prison.

Johnson's attorneys have to establish that either the national trend supports that sentencing juveniles to die in prison is no longer acceptable among most states or that the standards of decency regarding this matter have evolved. As they state:

"A substantial majority of states have abandoned JLWOP in law and practice, and others have acted to narrow its application. Today, the use of JLWOP is carried on by a handful of prosecutors in a shrinking number of counties and states. ... [S]entencing children to die in prison is cruel and unusual [which violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution]."

If the U.S. Supreme Court accepts the Johnson petition numerous other supporting amicus (i.e., friend of the court) briefs are likely to be filed from various groups and organizations across the country. This frequently occurs in cases that could impact many states or people, or become a landmark decision.

A favorable ruling by the high court would result in a national ban of LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders. Prosecutors who have created inordinate sentencing delays for juvenile lifers who have not yet been resentenced would be precluded from seeking LWOP sentences against them again and any prisoner currently serving the sentence would be eligible for a term-of-year sentence. 

Many people contend that prosecutors intentionally orchestrated creating the conditions for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a categorical ban on LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders. Doing so would save them time and resources by making it unnecessary to conduct legitimate reviews of each individual case, and deciding whether or not prisoners in their jurisdictions are truly eligible for a LWOP sentence.

According to a source employed in the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office who asked not to be named, "Prosecutors always say it's about victims but it's not. They use victims to advance their tough on crime policy but ignore them when it can make them appear soft on crime."

The person added, "There are instances where victims have forgiven perpetrators, believe in giving them a second chance, or a reduction in time, and prosecutors ignore their wishes. Ultimately this is about prosecutors protecting their jobs and salvaging their reputations."

While this cruel drama has played out prosecutors have vociferously demonized juvenile offenders and expressed their obsession with pursuing LWOP sentences again when resentencing juvenile lifers. They know the nation is on the cusp of ending the deplorable practice once and for all. Despite this reality they continue manipulating the public and media in their relentless thirst for reelection.

Whatever the motivations of these prosecutors, the winding labrynth of justice the public is witnessing juvenile lifers be subjected to is but one chilling example that demonstrates why the U.S. Supreme Court provides a checks and balances to lower courts, judges, prosecutors, and legislatures.

Absent their oversight some would continue ignoring the evolving standards of decency of a civilized society, and leave us trapped in the tombs of yesterday's thinking. Thankfully the high court has frequently reminded us through its rulings that we can't always use antiquated approaches to solve modern day problems.

The consensus among many of the nation's legal scholars is that in the coming months the U.S. Supreme Court will very likely strike down the imposition of LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders nationwide. If a favorable decision isn't reached in the Idaho case the likelihood it will occur in a similar case is growing increasingly high each day.

Defiant prosecutors have made it possible.

(Efren Paredes, Jr. is a Michigan prisoner who is a social justice advocate, blogger and weekly guest on the Elena Herrada Show on Detroit Superstation AM 910 Sunday mornings during the 7 am to 8 am hour. You can learn more about Efren and his latest writings by visiting or

Monday, August 7, 2017

MDOC Implements Strict New Prisoner Mail Policy Changes

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Today the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) issued a memorandum notifying prisoners and members of the public about new changes being made to the "Prisoner Mail" policy, PD 05.03.118, which should rattle the national consciousness. The changes will be strictly enforced beginning October 1, 2017.

According to the memorandum, "Mail received that violates any of these regulations will be returned to the sender and/or rejected by the mail-room staff in accordance with PD 05.03.118."

The following is the list of new regulations listed in the memorandum:

- All mail must be received in WHITE envelopes only; no security features will be permitted.
- Padded, cardboard, tear resistant, or similar envelopes will not be allowed.
- Stickers of any kind, including return address labels, are prohibited.
- Mail containing stains of any type, including but not limited to, perfume, lipstick, oily substances, water marks, body fluids, etc., are not allowed.
- Only mail written in blue or black ink or lead pencil is permitted. Mail written in marker, crayon, paint, glitter, chalk, charcoal, or colored inks is not permitted.
- Mail must not contain glue/paste or nontransparent tape of any type.
- Greeting cards must be no larger than 6" x 8", single-fold, commercially produced with no embellishments, including but not limited to, cutouts, jewels, raised areas, etc.

See list on MDOC website:,4551,7-119-9741_12798-25071--,00.html

The above list includes the most restrictive changes ever made to the MDOC "Prisoner Mail" policy. It appears that administrators are making a strong push to discourage the use of U.S. Mail to communicate with prisoners for anything other than sending letters, photographs, and legal correspondence, and encouraging people to use email instead.

Many courts, attorneys, book vendors, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and members of the public use address labels to mail letters to prisoners. According to the new memorandum all these examples of mail will qualify to be rejected.

The new policy changes are going to create major mail backlogs at each prison because of this. There are 41,000 prisoners in Michigan and tens of thousands of citizens who are related to or know prisoners who will be adversely affected by the new policy changes. It is impossible to notify everyone of the mail policy revisions in such a short period of time before the effective date of the changes. It could also result in prisoners missing court filing deadlines and consequently denial of access to the courts.

The MDOC allows members of the public to send prisoners email through their approved email portal which is The problem is there are limitations to the mail that can be sent this way and it is very costly, costing $0.20 per page. Document attachments also cannot be sent using this platform.

People who use are required to set up an account and locate prisoners they would like to write by their prison number. For instance, someone trying to write me using the platform can do so by locating me on the web site with my prison number, "203116". People can follow the same steps for sending emails to other Michigan prisoners as well, only they enter the prison number of the prisoner they are trying to contact.

Letters and emails are vital to rehabilitation. For families who cannot afford to visit prisoners or the exorbitant price of prisoner phone calls, letters and emails are the only form of communication available to them. It is the only way members of the public can find out how prisoners are doing and remain involved in their lives. This is especially true in the case of prisoners who have served many years behind bars.

It is important that people not allow the new mail restrictions to discourage them from communicating with prisoners. Letters and emails provide hope to prisoners and help them remain tethered to the outside world. In some cases it is their only connection. Mail is one of the most meaningful things in prisoners' lives and I encourage readers to not reduce sending it. 

You are encouraged to circulate this message with as many prisoner family members, friends, and attorneys possible to prevent them from sending prisoners any mail which may contravene the new pernicious MDOC prisoner mail policy restrictions and result in avoidable mail delivery delays. You are welcome to share this message via social media and email.

For those who may view this development as insignificant, I ask you to consider the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, and whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."

Everyone will be impacted by the new changes at some point because of the persistent uncontrollable growth of mass incarceration.

(Efren Paredes, Jr. is a Michigan prisoner who is a social justice advocate, educator, and blogger. You can learn more about Efren and receive updates about his latest writings by visiting or

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mich. Juvenile Lifer Rally for Justice Draws National Attention

by Necalli Ollin

After thunderstorms barreled through the state Sunday morning, clouds dispersed later that day to create a sunny backdrop for the widely anticipated "Juvenile Lifer Rally for Justice." Citizens across the country descended on Erma Henderson Memorial Park in Detroit, Michigan on June 18, 2017 from 2 pm to 5 pm to shine a powerful spotlight on issues adversely affecting juvenile lifers.

Event organizers Elena Herrada and Efren Paredes, Jr. began planning for two months prior to the date of the event. Plans included doing outreach on radio shows, speaking to college students, inviting event speakers, creating and distributing posters, developing an online platform to contact state legislators to pass Michigan prison reform, and promoting the event on social media and blogs.

Elena Herrada is a Detroit Superstation AM 910 radio show host and adjunct professor at Marygrove College and Wayne County Community College. Efren Paredes, Jr. is an advocate for social change, youth mentor, blogger, and one of Michigan's 363 juvenile lifers.

The event was endorsed by an impressive list of groups and organizations from around the country. Among them are Amnesty International, Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), Human Rights Advocates, The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD), Voice of Detroit Newspaper, My Brother's Keeper Prison Outreach Program (MBK-POP), Xica Nation, ACLU (Detroit), Humanity for Prisoners, and ICAN (Incarcerated Childrens' Advocacy Network).

Other supporters included The Injustice Must End (TIME), South Eastern Michigan Indians, Inc. (SEMII), Black Lives Matter, and LaSED (Latin American Social and Economic Development), Peace Education Center of Greater Lansing, My Brother's Keeper Prison Outreach Program (MBK-POP), National Lifers of America, Inc. (Chapter 1030), Sacred Heart Catholic Church (Detroit), St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Keep the Vote No Takeover, Moratorium Now, Detroit School Board in Exile, Operation Get Down, and others.

Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, recently wrote a message to organizers about the event stating, "Thank you so much for your organizing and activism on this issue. It's great to see people committing to highlighting this shameful practice. We would be very pleased to be listed as an endorser of your convening. I hope it goes well. All the best."

Stevenson is the author of the New York Times Bestseller "Just Mercy" and the attorney who successfully argued the landmark Miller v. Alabama case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 which lead to the end of mandatory life without parole (LWOP) sentences for juvenile offenders nationwide.

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory LWOP sentences were unconstitutional and ordered the resentencing of the nation's 2,500 juvenile lifers. Of that number 363 prisoners are from Michigan.

"Juvenile lifers" are prisoners sentenced to mandatory LWOP when they were juveniles. Michigan shamefully ranks second in the nation as the state with the highest population of juvenile lifers.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a United Nations treaty, requires that imprisonment be used only as a "measure of last resort" for juvenile offenders, and "for the shortest appropriate time."

In 2016 the high court made their 2012 ruling retroactive. They also held that when resentencing prisoners reimposing LWOP sentences again must become "rare," "uncommon," and reserved only for those who are "incapable of change."

Since the latter ruling 15 months ago only a small fraction of Michigan's juvenile lifers have been resentenced. The remaining prisoners continue serving unconstitutional sentences. Prosecutors have stalled the process and some have not scheduled any cases for resentencing in their counties.

Prosecutors from Berrien, Gennesse, Macomb, Oakland, and Saginaw counties are shamefully seeking LWOP sentences for almost all the 100 juvenile lifer cases in those counties being resentenced. Wayne County is seeking LWOP sentences for 61 of the 158 cases in its jurisdiction. They are doing this despite the U.S. Supreme Court rulings referenced above.

In recent years 19 states have banned LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders and six states have no juveniles serving the deplorable sentence. This means that half the country has abandoned the practice while many Michigan prosecutors have maliciously obstructed justice in juvenile lifer cases for the past five years. During this time six juvenile lifers have died awaiting the justice they were never fortunate enough to receive.

Among the issues the event called attention to are:

Prosecutors to:
- Uphold the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility statement as ministers of justice;
- For them to have more than a nominal commitment to rehabilitation;
- To stop pursuing LWOP sentences that are at odds with U.S. Supreme Court rulings; and
- To stop delaying juvenile lifer resentencing hearings across the state.

They called on judges to:
- Impose the minimum term-of-year sentence allowed pursuant to MCL 769.25 for all juvenile lifers being resentenced and stop imposing LWOP sentences on juvenile offenders.

They also called on lawmakers to:
- Pass legislation abolishing LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders; to
- Give jurisdiction to the Parole Board to begin reviewing all juvenile lifer cases for meaningful parole consideration annually after serving 15 years; and to
- Allow juvenile offenders who are resentenced to receive good time and disciplinary credits, which is currently not allowed.

A 10-Point Michigan Prison Reform Platform and online petition was also unveiled that citizens across the state can digitally sign. The petition will deliver emails to state legislators calling on them to reform the state's prison system. Some of the proposed reforms include abolishing LWOP sentences for juveniles, restoring good time eligibility for all prisoners, reducing the predatory pricing of phone calls, providing relief to prisoners serving life or long indeterminate sentences, etc.

Among the rich array of people who spoke at the event were Eric Alexander from the Washington, DC-based Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth; Dr. Austin Jackson, Director, MSU My Brother's Keeper Program; Ken Grunow, President, Amnesty International (Detroit); Rodd Monts, Legislative Department Field Director, ACLU of Michigan; Dr. John Masterson, Board Member, Peace Education Center of Greater Lansing; and Mario Bueno, Co-Director, LUCK, Inc.

Also speaking that afternoon were Hon. Peter Deegan, retired judge, prosecutor, and past President of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan; Velia Koppenhoefer, member of The Injustice Must End (TIME); Elyse Blennerhassett, Columbia University graduate student, New York-based podcast producer, and photographer; former prisoners who were convicted as juveniles who were paroled and are now productive citizens, and others.


Speakers shared personal stories and offered examples of the capacity for change in young people. They emphasized the need to not impose extreme sentences on youth offenders and for judges to be mindful of the concept of redemption.

Retired judge, prosecutor, and past President of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, Peter Deegan, urged prosecutors to not make decisions in juvenile lifer cases that are at odds with U.S. Supreme Court rulings. He said it makes sense that if a person who received an unconstitutional sentence as a teen can demonstrate they've been rehabilitated, they should have a chance at parole one day.

Velia Koppenhoefer, member of The Injustice Must End (TIME), stated, "We are not asking prosecutors or judges to do any more than the nation's high court has ordered in this matter."

Koppenhoefer added, "We are simply asking them to follow the law. Providing term-of-year sentences to juvenile lifers and the opportunity for meaningful parole consideration is a sensible and humane solution that can bring resolution to the problem."

Speakers expressed frustration with the state spending $34,000 to incarcerate each prisoner yearly yet only investing $7,000 annually per pupil, and the fact that the state pays more for incarceration than it does for higher education.

To punctuate the value of children's futures at the event two children were permitted to speak during the program, a girl age 7 and a boy age 10. The seven-year-old also assisted organizers distribute flyers, business cards, and water during the program.

Paredes, who called the event from prison and had his voice amplified over the event sound system stated, "We betray humanity when we condemn people to die in prison because of mistakes they made when they were children."

Members of the print, television, and radio media provided coverage of the event. It was also recorded by a documentary film producer and podcast producer to be featured as part of a future production.

Nearly 200 people attended the rally throughout the afternoon and enjoyed the uplifting atmosphere. One attendee from Lansing, Michigan described the experience as "powerful and moving." Another person who traveled from out of state characterized the energy at the event as "inspiring" and described feeling "a sense of hope and renewal."

A currently incarcerated juvenile lifer, Ronnie Waters who has served 37 years in prison, expressed gratitude for the event. He stated, "Thank you from the heart for not forgetting about the difficult fight that juvenile lifers are engaged in across the state. Knowing you are there to support us lifts our spirits during this long, difficult wait. May God be with all of you freedom fighters who never stop beating the drum for justice. We love you all."

Event organizers vowed to keep organizing to bring attention to the issues surrounding juvenile lifer resentencing hearings and prison reform affecting all prisoners. They also expressed plans to mobilize thousands of prisoner families, friends, and formerly incarcerated people to become active in the election process and stand behind public office candidates that support prison reform. Among the offices they will seek to impact include the Governor, Attorney General, lawmakers, mayors, judges, prosecutors, city clerks, and others.

According to Paredes, "Children for generations will be impacted by our decision to act or our unwillingness to do so. We can not sit silently in the periphery as spectators and allow the lives and futures of our young people to be carelessly thrown away."

He countered false claims and hyperbole made by prosecutors about the manufactured danger juvenile lifers allegedly pose to public safety by pointing to the fact that prisoners serving life sentences who are paroled statistically have less than a 2% chance of reoffending. They have ranked the lowest of all offense categories for over 100 years and consistently demonstrated they can be safely returned to society with minimal risks or danger to the public.

The state's addiction to incarceration as a solution to the crime problem is a failed solution that must be replaced with sensible alternatives that work. If not, mass incarceration will continue to be a vortex that suffocates everything in its path. 

A link to the "Support Michigan Prison Reform" petition is available at


The following is the 10-Point Michigan Prison Reform Platform that is part of the "Support Michigan Prison Reform" online petition:

1. Abolish life without parole (LWOP) sentences for all juvenile offenders, revise MCL 769.25 to allow juvenile lifers to receive meaningful parole eligibility annually after serving 15 years, and allow them to receive good time and disciplinary credits if they receive a term-of-years when resentenced.

2. Restore good time eligibility so prisoners can earn early release for completion of rehabilitative programming and demonstration of positive behavior.

3. End Michigan's failed truth in sentencing policy which is largely responsible for maintaining a large prison population despite a widely recognized consistent statistical drop in crime for several years.

4. End mandatory minimum sentences and give discretion to judges to impose sentences based on all the facts of an individual case since no two cases are the same.

5. Institute presumptive parole for prisoners who complete all parole program requirements and screen high probability of parole so prisoners are not arbitrarily denied paroles they have fairly earned.

6. Stop sending women to prison who have been the victims of violence for defending themselves against their abusers.

7. Increase rehabilitative programming opportunities for all prisoner demographics, including those serving long sentences since 95% of all prisoners will become returning citizens one day.

8. Allow the Parole Board to obtain jurisdiction over prisoners serving long indeterminate sentences and begin annually reviewing them for parole consideration after they have served 20 years.

9. Allow prisoners serving parolable life sentences to become eligible for parole review/release annually after serving 20 years; and allow prisoners serving non-parolable life sentences who were convicted over the age of 18 to become eligible for parole review/release annually after serving 25 years.

10. Reduce the predatory pricing of prisoner phone calls from $.20 per minute to $.10 per minute to help prisoners maintain family and community ties and foster rehabilitation.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Juvenile Lifer Rally for Justice

by Necalli Ollin

Advocates working to abolish life without parole (LWOP) sentences for juvenile offenders ("juvenile lifers") are hosting the "Juvenile Lifer Rally for Justice." The event will take place Sunday, June 18, 2017 from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm at Erma Henderson Memorial Park, located at 8810 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit, MI 48214.

The event is calling on:

- Prosecutors to uphold the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility statement as ministers of justice, to have more than a nominal commitment to rehabilitation, and stop delaying juvenile lifer resentencing hearings across the state;
- Judges to impose the minimum term-of-year sentence allowed pursuant to MCL 769.25 for all juvenile lifers being resentenced, which is currently a 25- to 60-year sentence; and
- Lawmakers to pass legislation giving jurisdiction to the Parole Board to begin reviewing all juvenile lifer cases for meaningful parole consideration annually after serving 20 years.

An online petition will also be launched that delivers emails to state lawmakers demanding passage of a 10-point prison reform platform that will impact every prisoner in the state. Included will be the restoring of good time, reducing the predatory pricing of prisoner phone calls, providing relief for prisoners serving life and long indeterminate sentences, and other important issues.

Additional information about the event and the 10-point prison reform platform is available by visiting:

The collaborative effort is being lead by Elena Herrada, adjunct professor at Marygrove College and Wayne County Community College, and Detroit Superstation AM 910 radio show host; and Efren Paredes, Jr., social justice advocate, blogger, and prisoner who was arrested in Berrien County at age 15 and sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) in 1989. Students attending Herrada's classes and others are also assisting organize the grassroots effort.

The "Juvenile Lifer Rally for Justice" has been endorsed by Amnesty International, ICAN (Incarcerated Childrens' Advocacy Network), The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Humanity for Prisoners, Peace Education Center of Greater Lansing, Human Rights Advocates, National Lifers of America, Inc. (Chapter 1030), LaSED (Latin American Social and Economic Development), St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Keep the Vote No Takeover, Detroit School Board in Exile, Operation Get Down, and others.

Those in attendance will include family members and supporters of juvenile lifers, youth advocates, attorneys, members of the faith-based community, legislators, representatives of civil and human rights organizations, bloggers, podcast producers, and members of the state and national television, print, and radio media.

Ideas for writing support letters and emails for juvenile lifers, making phone calls, doing radio interviews, submitting letters to the editor, and other ideas that can be helpful to advocating for the release of juvenile lifers will be discussed.

Attendees are encouraged to create posters and wear T-shirts expressing support for juvenile lifers from their respective areas. They should reflect images of communities embracing returning citizens and the reunification of families. People are encouraged to also display large photos of juvenile lifers.

T-shirt ideas can include slogans such as "End Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentences," "Support Second Chances for Youth," "Children Are Not Disposable," etc. People can also wear photos of juvenile lifers on T-shirts with the words "Free (Name of a juvenile lifer)" or just the words "Free (Name of a juvenile lifer)."

Efforts will also include urging citizens to vote against any prosecutors in the state who continue defying the U.S. Supreme Court by creating resentencing delays, abusing their authority, and arbitrarily pursuing LWOP sentences against juvenile lifers rather than term-of-year sentences.

Elected officials must be held accountable for their support of sentences that extinguish hope by being removed from office next election cycle. It is not the will of the people to viciously condemn youth to spend their entire lives in human cages.

According to Efren, "A sentence that perpetuates human storage in an austere world in which condemned prisoners are treated as bodies kept alive only to later be disposed of has no place in a civilized society."

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional and ordered the resentencing of the 2,500 prisoners affected nationwide. Of that number Michigan imprisons 363 juvenile lifers.

In a landmark ruling 16 months ago the high court strongly urged judges and prosecutors to pursue term-of-year sentences for those prisoners being resentenced. It held that the reimposition of a LWOP sentence must be "rare," "uncommon," and only reserved for those persons "who are incapable of change."

Since that decision only a small fraction of Michigan's juvenile lifers have been resentenced. Prosecutors have orchestrated incessant delays that have resulted in the death of six juvenile lifers who have died while waiting to be resentenced over the past five years.

Michigan prosecutors have also defied the U.S. Supreme Court by widely expressing their intent to pursue LWOP sentences again for 228 of the state's 363 cases. This excessive number is hardly rare or uncommon.

To educate the public about ways they can urge prosecutors to desist their sentencing delay tactics, and shine a spotlight on the overall issue, Efren has been calling in to Herrada's radio show and classrooms to speak to college students. He is appearing on her radio show weekly to discuss the event, and is harnessing the power of his vast network to help grow the campaign to abolish juvenile LWOP sentences.

People are urged to begin tuning in to Detroit Superstation AM 910 weekly Sunday mornings between 7:00 am and 8:00 am to hear Efren and Herrada discuss continued efforts to organize the "Juvenile Lifer Rally for Justice."

People outside the broadcast listening area can hear the show in real-time on the AM 910 website and also listen to a taped version of interviews on YouTube in the days following the show. The YouTube links will appear on the Free Efren Facebook page available at

People interested in attending the Rally for Justice, assisting with organizing, and/or receiving email updates can send a message to event organizers via email to Please put "Rally for Justice" in the subject line of the email.

Youth offenders have a remarkable capacity for change and deserve an opportunity to prove they possess redeemable qualities. State-sponsored death-by-incarceration is a deplorable policy that must be vehemently rejected and openly condemned by all people of conscience.

According to Efren, "We can not sit idly by and wait for prison reform to occur. We are all stakeholders in this very important matter. If we are not assertive with our agenda we will continue witnessing the same dismal results and failed representation by elected officials."

He added, "The addiction to constructing prisons as the solution to the crime problem has been an abysmal failure that has destroyed an untold number of lives and manifested itself as the school-to-prison pipeline. It has also created crushing images of self-contempt, personal alienation, and a poverty of thought."

Please invite friends and family members to attend the event, circulate the event widely on social media, and ask others to do the same. You can copy and paste the following sample paragraph to assist with this:

Support the "Juvenile Lifer Rally for Justice" on June 18, 2017 in Detroit and the 10-Point Prison Reform Platform that affects every female and male prisoner in the state serving short- and long-term sentences. Learn more about the event at: Please circulate link widely via social media platforms, email, post to blogs and media web site comment sections, and invite others to do the same.

Friday, May 5, 2017

2017 Cinco de Mayo Message

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo to everyone celebrating this day in Mexican history.

It isn't often we find people of every cultural and political background in our nation so widely celebrating a triumph in our neighbors' history. One can't help but admire the undauntable will of a small indigenous Mexican community that courageously represented the embodiment of resistance and defeated a foreign power in heroic fashion.

I want to ask people who are celebrating Cinco de Mayo today to not only acknowledge the authentic history of this day, but to also recognize the myriad current painful struggles that Mexican people are enduring across the United States.

People who genuinely value the lives of Mexican people are invited to support:

- An end to the deportations of undocumented Mexican nationals;
- The closing of immigration detention centers profiting from the misery of people trying to seek a better life for their families; and
- Advocate for passage of comprehensive immigration reform that creates a path to citizenship.

The dehumanizing forceful separation of families is an un-American, shameful policy that must be ended. We can't lecture to other nations about not mistreating people while immigrants in our country are under siege, we are openly offending our neighbors, and tearing their families apart.

Mexican people and immigrants are an integral part of the rich mosaic of backgrounds that comprise our great nation. Let's make sure they are accorded the respect they are due and transform the toxic political terrain that is demonizing them.

We also cannot forget the untold number of Mexican citizens and people of Mexican descent languishing in our nation's prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers whose voices remain muted. Many of them will experience this Cinco de Mayo alone, separated from their families and communities, and experiencing hunger.

Let's celebrate our diverse culture, history and values that have sustained us for so long, and support our Mexican friends, neighbors, and family members. We will all be better because of it. There can be no celebration of Cinco de Mayo absent civility, respect, and embracing the people who contribute so much to this country every day.

While it is a great moment in history to celebrate about the will to triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds, it is an opportunity for us to also collectively work to ensure that its memory is not lost in the commercialization of a battle in a little town 155 years ago that transformed the contours of American history.

That can be a contribution we all make today so that the next generation of young people celebrating this day preserve its integrity and appreciate the sacrifices made by Mexican people to ensure that a world super power an ocean away did not reach our nation's southern border.

Monday, March 20, 2017

MSU Story Catcher's Drama Club Performs Play at Ionia Prison

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

After several months of production the moment finally arrived this past Friday for playwrites at the Handlon Correctional Facility to perform a play they produced titled "Only the Blind Can See." 

The play script was written by prisoner participants in the MSU Story Catcher's Drama Club and performed in the prison auditorium for the prisoner population. Also in attendance were Warden Dewayne Burton; Dr. Austin Jackson, director of the MSU My Brother's Keeper Program; and other prison staff members. It was the first play ever performed at the prison.

The Story Catcher's Drama Club is lead by Dr. Lisa Biggs, an actress and assistant professor in the Michigan State University Residential College of the Arts and Humanities.

Dr. Biggs created the "story catcher's" concept as a vehicle to deconstruct false and misleading narratives about members of marginalized communities. She believes we can empower communities by fostering the creation of counter-stories that shatter stereotypes, promote equality, and combat words that wound which can result in a withered self-concept.

Storytelling provides a forum for the marginalized voice. According to Richard Delgado, "Through personal histories, parables, chronicles, dreams, stories, poetry, fiction, and revisionist histories, the marginalized voice is allowed to teach us other realities that we need to know in our world."

"Only the Blind Can See" is a play about a teenage African-American male who collapses in a town. People all over the community make assumptions about the event, including believing that he was a victim of violence.

In the end it is a blind man who simply asks if anyone has checked the teenager's body for vitals. The question leads to the discovery that the teenager is still alive, revealing that many people drew wrong conclusions about what occurred.

It was the one character in the story that could not physically see who had the clearest vision of all. He did not allow his opinion to be distorted like other people did which resulted in their flawed conclusions.

The moral of the story was the need to recognize the importance of utilizing all our conceptual tools to interpret reality rather than reaching conclusions based on fragments of information. Too often people make erroneous assumptions about people or events with little or no evidence to support their belief.

The play was replete with a broad spectrum of experiences. Some were funny, serious, and others were designed to evoke serious thought, reflection, and penetrating insight.

Audience members described the play as "disciplined and heartfelt," "40 minutes of great entertainment," and "brilliantly done." They also discussed the performance with several other prisoners upon returning back to their housing units later that evening. They shared impactful scenes with friends and recited various lines by characters in the play.

Each cast member took their role(s) seriously and their performances reflected their commitment to success. Most had never performed before a large crowd and had to quickly overcome fears associated with that experience.

Shortly before the play began one cast member peeked through the curtain to view the audience. Upon seeing the large attendance he abruptly closed the curtain and returned to the back of the stage.

He indicated that he felt intimidated by the presence of so many people and didn't think he would be able to perform his character. After some encouragement from other cast members he regained his confidence and subsequently delivered a stellar performance.

Another cast member had been previously characterized as shy and introverted when the theater workshop initially began. One prisoner described him this way: "He never used to interact with other prisoners or come out of his cell. The class made him come out of his shell and start talking to people. He changed a lot in a good way."

According to Diarra Bryant, another member of the cast, "Men came together to present a narrative about the difficulties of life and the joy that comes from triumphing over struggle."

One of the youngest performers, Kenyatta Johnson, was impressed with how Dr. Biggs "continued to break down walls and barriers that the men in her class didn't even know existed." He added, "I learned a lot from the experience and forged new bonds with people from different walks of life I had never talked to before."

Dr. Biggs taught cast members deep listening skills, the importance of collaborating with and respecting the opinions of others, and she fostered the development of their self-confidence. She also challenged them to embrace vulnerability which can serve as a pathway to exploring new experiences.

I played multiple roles in the play as a student, storekeeper, poet, and mayor whose role was to calm escalating tensions in a city that was demanding answers to why the teenager collapsed.

I wrote the dialogue for a mayoral press conference scene which appeared in the play. It was a proud moment for me personally because it was the first time I ever wrote anything for or appeared in a play.

The name I gave to the character I developed in the play as the mayor, Carlos Munoz, Jr., was done as a tribute to a friend and mentors I admire and profoundly respect. Dr. Munoz is Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley, in the Chicano Studies Dept.; author of "Youth, Identity, Power"; and a long-time Chicano and human rights activist who recently suffered a stroke.

The success of the play would have never been possible without the dynamic stewardship and careful guidance of Dr. Biggs. Her passion for education and the arts is a model many other educators can learn from.

The cast of "Only the Blind Can See" would like to thank Warden Dewayne Burton for allowing the play to be performed, and to staff member Jodie Heard for coordinating the cast costume inventory, facilitating the scheduling of prisoner audience members to attend the performance, and printing the programs.

A special thanks to Dr. Biggs for sacrificing valuable time from her busy schedule to travel to the Ionia-based prison weekly for several months to share her wisdom, expertise, and inspire cast members to explore the depth of their imaginations.

One concept Dr. Biggs introduced to cast members was "sawubona," which she learned about while conducting a theater workshop for women prisoners in South Africa. The Zulu term inculcates the value of recognizing the inherent dignity in fellow human beings.

Lessons like these and others helped the men remove their intellectual blinders, evolve into better people, and empowered them to become the torch bearers to carry on Dr. Biggs' legacy of teaching the world the vital role that story catchers play in our society.

It is a legacy well-deserving of our time and dedication. And, one that will proudly be carried on.