Day 3 of Our Fast: Finding Our Centers

By Efren Paredes, Jr.

Day three of the fast proved to be filled with a number of positive developments. I remain strong and I have continued to stay focused. The daily prayers, meditations, and communing with family and friends have sustained me during this time.

Last night was difficult at times. My leg repeatedly became numb as did my left arm. This woke me up repeatedly until around 2:00 AM when I was finally able to fall asleep. I slept well though and felt rested in the morning. During the times I struggled to sleep I thought about the events that would occur today, Wednesday, March 19, 2008. I knew it was going to be a busy day.

I awoke excited about the prospects of the new day would bring. As I have each morning this week, I opened my eyes to the sound of the alarm on my wristwatch beeping. And, like the previous two days, the alarm went off twice because I didn’t wake up to turn it off the first time.

While I have had difficulty going to sleep on some days, I have been sleeping pretty hard through the night once I have gone to sleep. But I haven’t complained about any of it. I know it’s part of the struggle I committed to participate in, and a small sacrifice I can make as I am joined in spirit by family, our strong committee, and supporters across the globe.

One thing I have never feared is taking a leadership role. Leading by example, and showing everyone that completing the fast can be achieved, is an example of fulfilling that role. I am a strong proponent of the philosophy that leaders lead by their actions and not through speeches or writings.

As I looked up at the ceiling in my cell, I listened to my radio playing in the background which is situated at the end of my bunk. I have the radio set to the smooth jazz station which helps me relax and sleep.

Listening to the soothing sounds of the music I sat up in my bunk and prayed to the Creator for strength. I asked that all the fasters be blessed with strength as well and that their spirits be invigorated to make it through another day.

I also thought about the significance of this third day of the fast. What it symbolized to me and so many others. For some it symbolized a mid-way point. To some it was simply the third day of the fast. To me, however, it was symbolic of mind, body and spirit and the balance we seek to attain of these three things so that we can be complete human beings.

It was also the first day of Spring which represents new life. Coming out of the long cold Winter in transition as we await the warm of the Summer. We will smell the fresh scent of flowers as they begin to blossom soon. People will begin to work in their gardens to produce a bountiful harvest. The animals that have been hibernating all Winter will begin to emerge. Today represented life!

According to three, represents that which is solid, real, substantial, complete, and entire. All things that are specially complete are stamped with this number three. The Creator’s attributes are three: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. There are three great divisions completing time, which are past, present, and future.

Three persons, in grammar, express and include all the relationships of mankind. Thought, word, and deed, complete the sum of human capability. Three degrees of comparison complete our knowledge of qualities. Three propositions are necessary to complete the simplest form of argument — the major premise, the minor, and the conclusion. Three kingdoms embrace our ideas of matter — mineral, vegetable, and animals.

How would the day play out, what new, exciting things would emerge? Only the movement of time would reveal that answer.

I went to work and spent my day there from 6:30 AM to 2:45 PM. While I work, I thought about my friend Mario Rocha. He was scheduled to do an interview for a radio show with Dan Mulhern, Michigan’s First Gentleman, at that time. Before the interview was scheduled to begin, I said a prayer for Mario and asked that the Creator guide him through the interview and that the interview be productive.

Mulhern’s office contacted Mario in California and asked him to participate in the interview because of his success story. He admires the work that Mario is doing for himself and others and thought he would be a great person to appear on the show to discuss his activism and accomplishments.

The timing was incredible. The Governor of the State of Michigan’s husband talking to Mario during the week of our fast to be aired for all of Michigan to hear. My commutation is before the Governor’s office pending her review and her husband is interviewing one of our committee members from across the country.

To my surprise I was notified today that I was scheduled to see the doctor this afternoon at 12:30 PM. I didn’t send a request to visit the health care department though. I rarely make that request because of the horrible services they render. Most times unless I am terribly ill I never go. I will not allow them to dehumanize me or go through avoidable hassles just to receive substandard care, nor will I reward them for mistreating me.

As I walked over to the health care department I wondered to myself, “What is this about? Why does the doctor want to see me?” A thought came to mind. Was the Parole Board requesting that I release my medical file to them? This is a practice of theirs when they have interest in a case that is coming before them for review. Could have just been wishful thinking on my part.

In past reviews with the Parole Board they never requested access to my medical records. They had also not requested to see me a year before my scheduled time to see them for my five year review. I had already received notice of my Parole Eligibility/Lifer Review Report (PER) on Monday, only two days earlier. This just seemed to be too soon for the Parole Board to make a request to access my medical records as well. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility though. I would just wait to see what happens.

After a half-hour wait I finally met with the doctor. He was a real pleasant guy. He said he remembered me from when I previously gave him a tour of the braille production center I work for. I gave him a tour a few months earlier when he first started working at the prison.

We shook hands and he began to talk to me about why I was scheduled to see him. He explained to me that I was there by request from the Parole Board. As we dialogued I saw forms on his desk which were situated atop my medical folder that had my name on them.

I was right.

The voice of knowledge that spoke to me, and brought to mind the possibility of this being related to the Parole Board, was correct. The doctor asked me to sign a waiver form granting the Parole Board authorization to access my medical records. I, of course, agreed to sign the waiver form.

The doctor was amazed at how small my medical record was. Little did he know my thoughts about the health services department’s competency! He said I was in perfect health and it appeared the only services I really ever requested were for dental work (e.g., getting fillings, annual cleaning, etc.). All that was good. He wished me luck and told me he would submit his report to the Parole Board soon.

Due to the nature of this information I elected not to tell anyone about this other than Helen that day. I didn’t want it to disrupt any of the activities going on, and I especially didn’t want to create false hope in anyone about what this may mean. I wanted to make sure I would have the opportunity to explain more at length rather than just discuss it briefly during a phone call.

As I told Helen, this is only part of the process of Parole Board review for people they have deemed are of interest to them. It is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is not the final decision and there is still much to be done. I figured I would keep the information quiet until I could share it with everyone at the same time in my writing, which I am doing.

Is it good news? Yes. Was I happy to learn about this development on Day 3 of the fast.
Certainly. It was the second significant sign of serious interest in my case by the Parole Board during the week of the fast, and the first time it has ever happened in my 19 years of incarceration.

Later that afternoon I participated in an interview with Detroit Public Radio WDET 101.9 FM. The reporter I spoke with, Craig Farley, was awaiting my call right after I left work. The interview lasted 15 minutes and it went well. I was able to respond to Farley’s questions and speak about my pending commutation request.

During the interview Farley told me that I have become a symbol for the campaign to end the imposition of life without parole sentences. He asked me how I felt about that.

I explained to Farley that I was all right with that. One of the reasons is that I have been
through that experience since the age of 15. I have never spent a single hour of my adult life in society. I have not experienced the freedom that so many take for granted each day. The freedom to walk down a street, to sit on a porch and just relax, to drive a car, or to participate in other events that adults do in their lives. I know the experience that juveniles endure in adult prisons and I have known this for 19 years.

I expressed to Farley that I believe I am a positive example of a young person who was placed in a milieu that is designed to strip people of their identity and extinguish their spirits. Despite these deplorable conditions I have thrived. I have remained strong, and I have continued to help myself and others in their continued growth and development. I have resisted institutionalization and never acquiesced to the concept of despair.

I also told Farley that I support the passage of House Bills 4402-4405 which are currently pending in the Michigan House Judiciary Committee. These bills would abolish the imposition of life without parole sentences against children in the State of Michigan. These draconian sentences are unforgiving against children and abandon the idea of redemption.

I contend that there are no incorrigible children in this world and that we can rescue any youth if given the opportunity. Banishing our children to die in prison is unacceptable penalty in the eyes of people of conscience, and it offends the will of the Creator. In any spiritual text we have been reminded of the sacredness of children and human life. Not so that we would offend the Will of the Creator, but so that we would carry out His Will.

We receive so few opportunities to share my voice with the world and respond with my own answers to questions. It is wonderful to have others speak on my behalf and share our campaign with them, but no one can convey my experience and years of separation from my family and society like I can.

The previous radio interview I did on February 28, 2008 with Artistic Expressions went very well. It was broadcast on the Internet and we were able to reach a large audience. That show was an hour long. That was really a rare opportunity, but it was a good one. I knew the Detroit Public Radio show would prove fruitful as well.

I locked in for institutional count time from 4:00 PM to 4:45 PM. During that time I read my newspapers for the day, did some writing, and thought about the phone calls I would be making later that evening. Time was moving really fast today. Before I knew it the time was 7:30 PM.

Before I called members of the Detroit TIME Committee at St.Peter’s Episcopal Church I spoke to Helen and learned that Mario’s interview with Mulhern had been changed to a time he couldn’t participate because of other commitments. I was initially disappointed by the news but Helen and I both agreed that Mario would likely be able to re-schedule.

I never see the cup half-empty, only half-full. I wasn’t going to dwell on it. Instead, I was
going to remain focused on the rest of the day and on the possibility that the interview would be re-scheduled.

At 7:30 PM I reached the Detroit TIME Committee at the church. We spoke for about 45 minutes and things went very well. The spirit of the people present was very moving. They held a prayer vigil and lit a candle for me during one of our phone calls. Before I called, the fasters present shared their reflections about the fast and invited me to do so as well.

I shared the events of the week with them and told them I was doing well. That I was strong and focused, and that I was enjoying the fast. I was happy to join them as they gathered to support me. I reminded them that it was the Creator, my family, and supporters that help me wake up each morning ready to face another day. Each helps me persevere through all of the challenges I confront regularly.

One of the committee members present, Elena, told me that they printed out the painting that Mario had circulated which was created by his friend Anthony Throop. They had the picture present during the vigil and she reminded me that Mario was also there in spirit, as was Anthony Throop.

Those present sang a song for me by Bob Marley and one of the women present, Julie, played the guitar. I was pleasantly surprised by this. Afterwards I read my poem to the group titled “Resilience.” They sang me another Bob Marley song “Keep Your Eyes On the Prize.” It was the final song of the night. We spoke discussed our campaign more, talked about social justice work, and shared moments of laughter and smiles.

Later that night I called Mario in California. He had been feverishly sending out a-mails and making phone calls to his contacts in preparation for a vigil he was hosting for me at La Plaza de Mexico.

When we connected around 10:10 PM EST he set the scene for me. There were over 25 people in attendance which included men, women and children. Everyone had candles lit and they had my large banner hanging in the middle of the plaza. Mario sounded enthused by the event and was happy that people came out to express their support.

After we talked briefly Mario told me he wanted me to speak to the fasters, so I did. I spoke to various people present and they shared with me why they were at the vigil. They each shared powerful stories which Mario captured on video and his camera which he will be sharing with everyone on YouTube.

One of Mario’s friends in attendance did the videotaping. Each time I spoke to one of the fasters on the phone each person was being videotaped. It was all being carefully recorded as part of the history we are making and a legacy we will leave behind of triumph and the determination to never be defeated by injustice.

As I spoke to the various fasters I was touched by their stories. Each was compelling and very moving. They were all so genuine and sincere, and I felt honored to be sharing this special event with them. At times the images they conveyed to me made me feel as if I was right there with them.

I spoke to one of the fasters who carefully described the plaza they were at. Throughout the plaza there are statues of Mexican heroes and leaders. He told me about the statue of Benito Juarez, General Zaragoza, and others. He said that this event was being held in the center of a plaza of victory for our people. With my banner hanging in the center, I was surrounded by the greatness of our heroes of yesterday, and now I was surrounded by our beloved heroes of today in the plaza — each of the fasters and people who came out to express their support this evening.

I was told that the irony of all this was that just a stone’s throw away was the largest juvenile hall West of the Mississippi River which houses 800 children. Here we were together, united in the struggle to combat social injustice, educating others of the need to end juvenile life without parole sentences, discussing the need to generate support for my case and campaign for freedom. The setting couldn’t have been any better.

I spoke to a professor who told me that Mario shares my letters and writings with him, which he in turn shares with his students and others. I spoke with a student who told me he was inspierd by my words to succeed in life. He said that it made him think about his young daughter and wanting to establish a bright future for her.

Every person I spoke with was honored to be a part of our gathering and a part of the fast. They each told me how Mario introduced them to my case, shares my letters and other writings with them, and recognized the importance of our gathering that evening.

One of the stories I heard that evening was from a mother named Ofilia. She spoke to me in Spanish and told me about her son who is also wrongly incarcerated. I could hear the tears and pain in her voice as we spoke. She expressed her support and told me if I ever needed anything to please tell her. My heart went out to her. I told her to stay strong. To take care of herself and never give up hope.

The mother tugged at my heart. Of all the people I spoke to today, my conversation with her was the most difficult for me because she embodied the pain and suffering that my own mother has endured for 19 years as a consequence of my own wrongful incarceration. Speaking to her forced me to reach inside myself and connect with the mother’s experience.

I reminded everyone that evening that our gathering was about so much more than just me. It is about the injustices perpetrated against children all over the nation. I may be a symbol of that injustice, but behind the symbol is a host of other stories. As Mario expressed to his network before the gathering in an e-mail writing, I represent one of the 230 other Efrens in California. To that I add that I represent the other 307 Efrens in Michigan, and the more than 1,238 other juveniles sentenced to life without parole across the nation.

While there are 1,231 juveniles who received that sentence there are a combined total of over 10,000 juveniles who were sentenced to some form of life in prison before their 18th birthday throughout the nation. They are not forgotten. In fact, tonight they were remembered. And, every day they are remembered as long as we continue to speak their names.

We talked for 45 minutes. At the end of the night the fasters gathered and held up their lit candles in solidarity. They held their candles to my banner which was hanging above them. They held their candles up in unity under the young picture of me in the banner at age 15, and they then held their candles in solidarity under the more recent picture of me in the banner when I was 33 (next month I will turn 35-years-old).

This was another memorable day in our campaign. Everyone I spoke to today, and those who joined us in spirit from every corner of the globe nourished my mind, body and spirit. The each sustained for another day as I held my head high with dignity and honor for their selfless work and sacrifices.

I look forward to the day that we will all be able to gather together when I can be on the front lines joining others to help combat the injustices that are perpetrated against others. Our shared struggle is something I carry in my heart each day. I live it, breathe it, feel it, smell it, taste it. And until I am released and permitted to fulfill my role in the struggle in society I will be sustained by everyone united in my cause.

If the purpose of my struggle has been to bring the world’s attention to the issue of wrongful convictions, to bring an end to the imposition of life without parole sentences against children in the USA, and I am able to prevent other youth from having to endure this painful experience, my struggle has not been in vain.

Today each of us demonstrated an enormously powerful spirit. Together we became an immeasurable reservoir of hope, strength, and the determination to advance in the struggle despite the challenges we face along the way. Everyone gathered to give a voice to the voiceless. We gave strength to those steeped in despair, and we infused the struggle for social justice with new energy on this first day of Spring.

The Bible speaks of the Apostle Paul who created churches. But it also speaks of Jesus who created a movement. This week many in the world are preparing to honor the crucifixion of Jesus. To many they believe that in Jesus’ death the world received life. It is not by coincidence that our fasters and supporters gathered this week and worked to build a movement of our own. Everything happens by design. Man plans, but the Creator is the Best of Planners.

In the Center of the Stone of the Sun, which depicts the Aztec calendar, are circles which
represent the four epochs of time according to the Aztec people. In the third circle there are twenty Aztec symbols for the days of the month and the hieroglyph for four (ocelot), the day when the sun stood at the zenith over Mexico City.

On this third day of our fast the sun stood above La Plaza de Mexico. It stood over the gathering in Detroit and throughout the world where my message was being spoken. Years from now the world will remember us. They will be inspired by our courage and vision.

Perhaps we may not have heroic statues erected in La Plaza de Mexico in our honor, but rest assured that the presence of our spirit is indelible and will endure for eternity.

Published in: on March 21, 2008 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

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