The Final Day of the Fast for Freedom: The Sun Rises

“We must be players, not spectators, in the design of the future world. We must be a part of the community of ideas and agents of the development of vision in the process of brining into being the world that we ought to have.” —Asa G. Hilliard III

-by Efren Paredes, Jr.

I didn’t have to work this last day of the Fast for Freedom, Saturday, March 22, 2008. I slept in until 8:30 AM and then I started my day. It was the first day since the fast began that I didn’t have to be at work the following morning by 6:30 AM. I felt good though. I felt energetic, alert and prepared to begin the day.

I spent a lot of time reflecting this morning, thinking about when the fast began last Sunday. I thought about the events that transpired throughout the week and the lessons I learned. I also took the time to pray for everyone who was fasting or joining us in spirit.

I began thinking about resuming my regular daily routine. I would begin working out again and doing other physical activities on Sunday. I avoided rigorous physical activity during the fast. In the beginning I attempted to continue working out, but soon discovered it would likely make me too weak to complete the fast.

After I washed up and organized my room I spoke to a couple prisoners. They stopped by my room and asked me how the fast was going. One of them knew it was the last day of the fast. He jokingly said it seems like I fast every day because there seems to never be a moment that passes when I’m not either typing, reading, writing, working out, talking on the phone, going on visits, going to the law library, or working. He said it seems like I never even have time to eat.

I told him, “It seems like that sometimes! I’m fighting for my life though. I just don’t waste my time foolishly when I could be spending it educating myself and preparing myself for my eventual release. I’m getting out one day. And when I am released I will do so fully prepared for my re-entry to society.”

He further stated that in his 17 years of incarceration he has never known another prisoner more busy than I at all the different prisons where he has been. I didn’t find that part hard to believe. It wasn’t the first time I have been told that.

It is common for me to spend hours each day on my typewriter, between 3:00 PM and 12:00 midnight. I spend every available minute I can at the typewriter, composing letters, writing essays, generating support. I hardly watch television except to listen to the news.

I never watch movies, sitcoms, or other things for entertainment purposes either. I may
occasionally listen to music videos while I’m typing, but I rarely watch them. I can do that when I’m free. Right now my campaign for justice takes precedence over transitory pleasures or comforts in life.

The other prisoner I spoke to, asked me how I was doing physically. He knows I am always strong mentally, physically and spiritually. He just wondered what kind of toll fasting the entire week took on my body.

I told him I felt good. I was grateful I had the fortitude to complete the fast. He said, “Man, I don’t know how you did it! I wouldn’t have been able to fast one whole day. I have to eat. There isn’t anything else to do in here but eat and sleep.”

I responded by telling him he underestimates himself. I told him having a self-defeatist attitude like that will prevent him from ever reaching his full potential because he has no confidence in himself and his abilities. He isn’t in tune with his spiritual center which is connected with the infinite Source of all life.

I also told him that nothing is more difficult than we make it in life. We classify and apply a value to all the experiences in our lives. No matter what the situation is that we encounter, nothing wields the power to defeat us or rob of us of anything mentally or spiritually, unless we empower it to. Each of us is innately impervious to defeat.

It is our perception of each experience that determines the final outcome. If we accept defeat, we will be defeated. If we doubt ourselves, we give confidence to others. If we reject our strength, we accept our weaknesses.

We can’t vacillate between the dichotomies that are created in our minds. We have to make a decision. No two things can occupy the same space at the same time. No one has taught us this in life though. We often have to discover it on our own.

I have seen so many people around me give up by turning to illicit or prescription drugs,
depression, or deciding to end their lives because of the immense pressure of the incarceration experience. I exist in a sea of apathy. Everywhere I turn there is stark despondence. For many of these people I represent hope. I am a source of strength to them. I inspire them to explore other options and discover their potential.

I offered to let the person I was talking to read one of my books, “As a Man Thinketh.” I knew the book would give him some things to think about regarding the power of his thoughts. He agreed to take the book and read it. I told him I wanted a verbal book report when he was done reading though. That’s always a prerequisite when I share my books to ensure people read them. He agreed and said he would see me again in a few days.

A short time later I was approached by another prisoner who wanted to talk to me all week. He told me that he wasn’t able to find a moment to speak with me during the week because he saw how busy I was. He is a cancer patient named Andreas.

We dialogued for a few minutes and I learned that Andreas wanted me to write something for a card he was making for a woman who helped him. He had been battling with cancer and not receiving treatment from the health care department despite his repeated pleas for help. He filed grievances, complained to staff, wrote letters, but no one would help him.

Andreas said that after months of writing and appealing for assistance finally someone did help him — a woman from Ann Arbor. She sent an e-mail to the medical director in charge of all the health care departments in the state prison system. They responded to her e-mail and began providing Andreas cancer treatment.

The problem was that Andreas’ condition was now in its advanced stages due to the negligence of the health care department. It was so bad that the University of Michigan specialists he began seeing told him they were doubtful that their chances to contain the cancer or cure him would be successful.

Thankfully for Andreas, they continued the chemotherapy and radiation treatments despite their uncertainties. After several months of intensive treatments, Andreas’ cancer is now in remission. He likely would be dead without the intervention of the woman who sent that one single e-mail appealing for his treatment.

I thought to myself, “How cruel can this system be to deprive this man of the opportunity to save his life?” I was quickly reminded that the same system sought to end my life.

The card that Andreas made for the woman thanking her for saving his life meant a lot to him. He asked me to give him just a few moments of my time so he could go to his cell and bring me the card to see it for myself. He wanted me to see how nice it looked and all the time and energy he put into creating it with his own hands using cardboard, paper, glue, markers, colored pencils and glitter.

Then came the next thing. Andreas wanted me to write a thank you message for him to put on the card. He said he waited all week to ask me because he didn’t want anyone else to do it. He wanted to use my words in the card. Out of the 1,800 people here he chose me. He gave me an idea what he wanted to say and I agreed to do this for him.

I went into my cell, typed the message for him, and returned it to him. He was very thankful and immediately returned to his cell to put the message in the card. Afterwards he brought me the card again with my words neatly typed inside. He felt really proud of his card and was honored to have me share some of my words with him to use.

Later that day an officer approached me. (I will refer to the person as “they” to avoid using their name and avoid disclosing any information about the person to protect their privacy.) The officer told me they heard about the Parole Eligibility/Lifer Review Report (PER) that was submitted on my behalf. They wished me well and told me that they know I am going home one day. They don’t know when, but they are confident it is going to happen.

They were excited and told me, “You have such a good heart. You’re such a good person. I know you are going to get the chance to go home and I know we are going to hear about the good things you do when you get out. I am so happy for you. Take care of yourself and Happy Easter to you, in case I don’t see you tomorrow.”

While I have had my bouts dealing with prison staff with negative attitudes, I have also had some positive experiences and established amicable relations with staff at every prison I have been over the years. Staff know my character and see by my actions frequently that I don’t bother anyone and I am always doing positive things. I am always helping others and continually cultivating myself as a human being.

Staff from my housing unit characterized me in my PER as a leader, confident, one who accepts criticism, and a positive role model for others. After I learned about that, I approached the staff who made the comments and told them I appreciated what they wrote. One responded by saying, “I just told the truth,” and the other stated, “Don’t thank me. You’ve earned it.”

As I am typing this, a prisoner just walked up and asked me to help him prepare for a parole interview and to help him write a letter to his family seeking support letters from them. I told him we will talk later. It is amazing how many people I have helped prepare to see the Parole Board and how many have been released.

I have helped change many lives in here and helped them with their releases, yet I have been denied release repeatedly over the years, from the same Parole Board who frees those others. I learned a long time ago how unfair life is sometimes. I don’t let it deter me from continuing to help others though. After all, helping them has nothing to do with me gaining anything. It’s about me sharing with others less fortunate or incapable of helping themselves. This is what altruism is truly about.

As I reflected over the events of this day, it made me think about how grateful I am for the things in my life. So many people need help in their lives but never receive it. It is a
reminder to me that the Creator has blessed some of us with more strength and knowledge than others for a reason. We have a calling and we have a responsibility to humanity to share the gifts we have received.

Sharing, compassion, solidarity, and the need to help others, were recurring themes throughout this week of fasting. The sacrifices we make for others are for the upliftment of humanity as a whole. When one of us struggles, we all struggle. When one of us enjoys victory, we all enjoy victory.

Our lives are interconnected in wonderful ways. Our fast brought together people, from all over the world, to learn about a campaign to end my wrongful conviction, and to stop human rights atrocities against children. At the core of this was the Creator, whose spirit is an intrinsic part of all our lives.

We all learned more about self-mastery, detachment from feeling dependent, and about the power of cohesion. We discovered that we don’t have to be slaves to food to solve our problems. That a simple hunger pang or stomach’s digesting doesn’t require us to eat to make them go away. We also found out that we don’t have to look outside ourselves for answers to many of life’s questions. The answers are found within, we just have to mine for them.

People in this country are the most obese in the world. We are driven by our overindulgence in food and believe that food consumption will provide us comfort, eating until we are full will make us less stressed. We have become dependent on food rather than relying on it as a source of sustenance.

There are people all over the world who are starving because they have no food, yet many people overfeed themselves. Excess in food or other material things in life is not good for us. It is the reason there are so many people living without, while others have too much. The rich keep getting richer while the poor remain in poverty.

Finding a medium that works for all of us will help us find commonalities we can use to build stronger communities and forge stronger relations. It will help us end many of the conflicts and problems that exist in the world and help increase our awareness about unification.

We often hear the media and individuals say that there is no unity in the world. They will
quickly express every imaginable way to say that divisiveness exists, and when they run out of ways to do it they’ll create more. Too much energy is expended trying to perpetuate this dysfunctional thinking.

The reality is that unity does exist in the world. It exists at every level. It is part of the
very fabric of life. It never ceases to exist. We just lose our awareness of it. Refusal to
acknowledge its existence doesn’t make it vanish.

Establishing and maintaining awareness of unity will help rescue us from ignorance and help us stave off destructive beliefs. The highest plane of consciousness is the field of unity. On a physical level this will help us work together to build global solidarity. The fast proved this could happen.

On a spiritual level unity represents synthesizing our mind, body and spirit. Unity represents oneness, solidarity. It is a culmination of the wisdom we attain through the struggles in life. It means adopting beliefs that liberate us from the bondage that keeps us tethered to the physical world.

This week reminded me of the necessity to continually nourish our spiritual selves. In the book, “The Self Within,” Sue Prescott writes:

“Just as a pearl grows within an oyster, the spiritual self expands within the personal self.
A grain of sand inside its shell irritates the oyster. This prompts the oyster to turn the sand into a pearl.”

“The same is true with your self. As you encounter life’s irritations, you develop
understanding about how to handle them. You learn patience, strength, and wisdom. These are your ‘pearls.’ It is only through living life with its joys as well as its sorrows that you can learn to express the qualities of your spiritual self.”

If we remember this analogy, it will help us continually evolve and become stronger through our struggles. We will realize these are opportunities for growth and not something that will defeat us. After every difficulty, there is ease. After each long night we awaken to the powerful rays of light which emanate from the largest star in our universe we call “the sun.”

This evening I broke my fast eating plain nacho chips. I later ate a burrito made by one of the fast supporters who could not participate because of his health. He checked on me often though to make sure I was doing fine and offered his continued support.

I also drank orange juice that another fast supporter shared with me. This individual, Dave, was very helpful to me throughout the fast. He gave me cranberry, apple, and orange juice each day so I could imbibe a good selection of 100% juices.

I broke the fast with members of the Lansing TIME Committee and Saginaw TIME Committee while on the phone. I shared my reasons for breaking the fast with the plain nacho chips and thanked them for their participation. I also briefly explained that the end of the fast signaled the dawn of more successes and opportunities.

I learned that our newly created Saginaw TIME Committee is organizing a presentation for Saturday, March 29, 2008 in Saginaw. The city has a large Chicano/Latino population and there has been a history of abuses by the criminal justice system in that county. Our committee members are hopeful they will be able to produce a large turnout.

Daniel and Fenis Soza passed out 400 flyers and there are two sessions scheduled for presentations on March 29. They stated they have been receiving several phone calls from persons expressing interest in attending. I was encouraged to hear the news and look forward to hearing how things unfold.

Maria Zavala discussed other planned presentations at Michigan State University and around the capital city area. She will be making the actual presentations in Saginaw. During the call she also told me that one of our committee members, Chris Singer, just recently returned from Uganda, Africa.

While in Uganda Chris shared my story with people and one day he was surprised to learn that someone there already knew about my case. Here Chris was, across the world in a remote village, and he met someone who had learned about my case through our effective public relations campaign. I was pleasantly surprised by this news and it reinforced my belief that we are doing a great job of spreading the word about this injustice.

Afterwards, I called and spoke to Helen to see how she was feeling. She, too, broke her fast today after fasting all week on juice and water. I was proud of her for completing the fast and being so strong. There were some days that were extremely difficult for her. Despite the rigors of the fast she remained determined about completing the fast and did not waver.

Helen and I visited on Thursday and Friday. We were scheduled to visit with TIME Committee friends, Inge Longpre and Elena Herrada on Friday. Due to inclement weather Inge was unable to make the visit. Elena was unable to make it either due to a death in her family.

On Friday’s visit, Helen bought me Dole peach slices so I could drink the juice from the peaches. We poured the juice into an empty water bottle and I drank the juice. We disposed of the peaches themselves. Thursday and Friday were the first times in years that I went without eating on visits. Visits are the only time that family and friends can buy me food and beverages I like to consume from the vending machines.

The food in prison is bland. There is little variety and there are very few meals I will eat from the prison kitchen. I may go to the prison kitchen a couple times a week. I don’t eat breakfast and lunch there at all. Most times I buy the things I eat from the prisoner store, but even that selection is limited, and very few items are healthy.

Not eating on the visits this week was all right though. It was a little challenging watching
everyone around us consuming things for five hours but we were fine with that. We didn’t allow it to derail us from the fast or diminish our focus. We understand it was part of the experience. It was part of consciously not allowing food to dictate our lives.

Before breaking the fast today I prayed alone in my cell. I closed the door and sat quietly in a chair and expressed thanks to the Creator for this memorable week. I was grateful, for the strength that all the fasters and I received each day, for helping us remain strong, healthy an committed to the purpose of the fast, for uniting us in spirit, and for infusing our campaign with renewed vitality.

I asked that we continue to forge bonds of unity with our new friends and supporters. We heard from many wonderful new people this week, previously unknown to us, who I want to remain in communication with. While we were united through the fast and my campaign for justice, I want to keep our lines of communication open.

The struggle for social justice will not end with my case. I haven’t reached out to people to assist with only my cause, because it is singular. My cause is part of the larger campaign for social justice. It is a campaign for the wrongly convicted, the children imprisoned for life, and the people, whose lives have been devastated by the criminal justice system.

The struggle will continue long after my release. It continued after Mario’s release.
Fortunately for Mario he prepared for his release during his incarceration. Once he was liberated he took the criminal justice system by its horns and began exposing the systemic problems that cry for real answers and solutions. And, rather than allow himself to be defeated, he has actively been organizing, combating injustice, and awakening the consciousness of the masses.

I know Mario’s heart and spirit. They have been forged in pure fire, like fire separates gold from dross to reveal one of the world’s most precious metals. Mario’s character has been forged the same way. I know this because our lives parallel each others. I know what I have endured and the experiences that have shaped my being and consciousness in isolation behind cold steel bars.

The acumen Mario and I have developed didn’t come easy. We toiled, struggled, and felt the brutal force of recalcitrant opposition every step of the way. It is difficult being conscious and in prison. It is easier to be an ignorant fool than a conscious leader. The latter is met with fierce opposition at every turn and is compelled to defend his ground every step of the way. We literally have to fight each day to remain psychologically and spiritually liberated.

I broke the fast tonight with plain nacho chips because maize (corn) has long been a vital staple food and cultural symbol in Mexican history. It is a symbol of fertility. For the Mayans maize represented the essence of life and had a central role in Maya cosmology. It has long been a source of sustenance and a rich part of our history. Mexican people have been known as “children of the sun” or “children of the corn.” It is a powerful symbol of life.

I chose this symbol to end the fast because while the fast has come to an end our movement has not. It continues. Like the scarab beetle represented perpetual regeneration to the Kemites (ancient Egyptians), or Ollin symbolized to the Nahua people of Mexico, the maize I consumed this evening will eternally reflect the evolving life of our movement.

From this day forward, when each of us partakes any maize I ask that we all be reminded of this special moment as well. You each helped us arrive at a pivotal point in our lives that generated new awareness. We have all been profoundly impacted by the experience of this week. Together we made this week what it is.

And it isn’t over. The sun has only begun to rise. Soon our presence will be felt ecumenically like a sphere with its center everywhere and its circumference nowhere.

_______________________________

To those who do not know, we have a 4Efren Google Group which is the official TIME Committee Google Group. If you would like to join the TIME Committee, receive regular updates about the work we are doing, and writings I compose for circulation, you are invited to subscribe to the group by sending an e-mail requesting to join to 4Efren@googlegroups.com. Please put “Request to be added to 4Efren Google Group” in the subject line of your e-mail to expedite the process.

Web Site: http://www.4Efren.com
E-mail: eparedes@aol.com
MySpace Page: http://www.myspace.com/4Efren
Blog: http://4Efren.blogspot.com
Online Petition: http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/4Efren

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Published in: on March 26, 2008 at 8:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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