LatinaLista — In yesterday’s Latina Lista post recounting how prisons are the breeding grounds for new tensions arising between blacks and Latinos, one faithful reader, Efren Paredes, Jr., who has been behind bars since the age of 15, in a gross miscarriage of justice, serving three life terms for a crime, that has been extensively researched and documented as one he did not commit, decided to share his perspective about prison life with Latina Lista readers.
Efren Paredes, Jr. was sentenced to 3 life terms at the age of 15 for a crime he did not commit. Though there is overwhelming evidence that shows Paredes did not commit the crime, the Michigan Governor has yet to commute his sentence.
As a side note, on December 4, 2008, the Parole Board heard testimony from those who support Efren’s release, as well as those opposing it. They made a recommendation to the Governor’s Office about Efren’s release in the weeks thereafter and now the decision to commute his sentence rests with the Governor. However, in a call from Latina Lista to the Governor’s office to ask why the Governor has not yet decided on Efren’s case, a spokeswoman in the Governor’s office said “We can’t release that information. You should call the Department of Corrections.”
Latina Lista did and at the time of publication was still waiting back to hear from the Michigan Department of Corrections.
(Update: Russ Marian, Public Information Officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, called and explained that the Governor has not yet received the recommendation from the Parole Board. During Efren’s 9-hour hearing, which Marian said was “an all-time record,” many documents were entered into the record and testimony heard that the Parole Board has to review. At the time of the hearing, there were only 9 members on the board. Since then, the Governor signed an Executive Order to have 15 members on the Parole Board. The added members meant more people had to review the case.
However, Marian told Latina Lista that the process is winding down and that the Governor should receive the Parole Board’s recommendation as to whether or not to commute Efren’s sentence in the next two weeks. After that, it will be the Governor’s staff who must review the paperwork before the Governor makes a decision.)
by EfrÃ©n Paredes, Jr.
When the yard is open many prisoners enjoy going out to talk with other prisoners, working out in the weight area, walking around, talking on the phone with friends and family, or just to get some fresh air. It is truly one of the few moments during a prisoner’s day when they can leave their cell and look out to the world, enjoy some time alone or socialize with others.
It is a rare moment they can experience some semblance of “freedom” inside the borders of the prison milieu.
Recently prisoners at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility twice heard the announcement, “Attention on the yard. All yards are closed. Return to your housing units. All yards are closed.” The announcement was made once in the morning and once in the evening.
When prisoners hear this announcement it is an ominous sign that something is wrong. Most often, they’re right. Things were certainly wrong when they heard the announcements this day as well.
Earlier that morning a prisoner was involved in a physical altercation with staff members. According to witness accounts a female officer had an argument with a prisoner in the housing unit and called him a “bitch.” Subsequent to this the prisoner became angry and he responded with remarks of his own.
A staff member not involved in the incident overheard the dispute and called for additional staff to the housing unit to take the prisoner to the segregation unit. The prisoner refused to be handcuffed by staff and argued that he was merely responding to the remarks that were made toward him.
Responding staff members insisted on taking the prisoner to the segregation unit for threatening behavior. The prisoner then began fighting them. It took several staff members to contain the situation and ultimately subdue the prisoner. While this was taking place the prison yard was ordered closed by the facility.
Later that evening while I was in my housing unit speaking to a family member on the phone another announcement was made that the yard was being closed. As I saw prisoners entering the unit I heard the chatter of what several people had witnessed take place on the yard.
According to several eyewitness accounts I learned that a prisoner on the yard speaking to a family member on the phone had attempted to commit suicide. While he was repeating the words “I love you,” he cut his wrists and began bleeding heavily as he was kneeling on the ground. He was rushed to the hospital for emergency care.
The young man who attempted suicide was serving a sentence of 2 to 5 years. The fear of having to spend even a couple years in prison was too much for him to bear.
Last week I exited my cell shortly before dinner to get a cup of water. On my way down the stairs I observed facility staff running to a housing unit directly in front of the one I house in. Upon further observation I saw two prisoners escorted out of the unit. One was handcuffed, the other had a towel wrapped around his head and was bleeding profusely.
I learned later that the two prisoners had been bunking together in the same room and experiencing ongoing problems living together. They had complained to staff repeatedly about trying to be moved but staff refused to move them. That day the tension escalated to the point that one of the prisoners wielded two knives and stabbed the other repeatedly until staff came to break-up the altercation.
Navigating through the ubiquitous minefield of despair and conflicting personalities in prison is a daunting task . It is a daily challenge that prisoners incessantly endure. Unfortunately for some, they find it insurmountable and acquiesce to the weight of its enormity. No matter what the background of the prisoner may be, one thing they can never prepare for is surviving in captivity.
As a consequence of the emotional and psychological damage that is incurred, some prisoners lose their sense of self-worth and become increasingly fearful of reintegrating into society. Once the system incarcerates their minds it is a casualty with devastating effects that are often times irreversible.
In recent months there has been an increase of prisoners refusing to be released from prison because of the dire state of the economy. In a state with a 15% unemployment rate prisoners are fearful that finding employment upon release will be extremely challenging. In many cases it is unlikely to occur at all. Remaining in prison affords some of the individuals guaranteed housing, food and clothing.
When we begin to witness trends of prisoners vying to remain in an apathetic condition it illustrates complete failure. A system that allows human beings to descend into a hopeless state without making an effort to rescue or equip them with the tools to maintain their inherent dignity is utterly inhumane.
In an environment where an impoverishment of compassion and redemption flourish, hope is replaced with despair. It slowly erodes the human spirit and fosters a cultu re of degeneracy. The inhumanity of these conditions is destroying people’s lives and empowering more imprisonment.
This is the “rehabilitation” that Michigan taxpayers pay $30,000 a year per prisoner to receive. At that rate we could pay the yearly tuition for a student to attend a reputable university. Somehow people have been mislead to believe that the State Pen is synonymous with Penn State.
I guess I should be grateful I can at least see through the distorted veneer of its hypocrisy.