Incarcerated for Life at Age 15: Lessons From Efrén Paredes, Jr.

By R. Dwayne Betts

The inside of a cell will try to erase you. Efrén Paredes, Jr. knows that, just as his life sentence has also taught him how time can relentlessly add up each day, without any hope for release. Convicted for murder and robbery at the age of 15, Paredes’s life should trouble us all. But the really troubling question isn’t the nature of his crimes, but rather why — after two decades — he still sits inside a cell in a Michigan prison.

It’s hard to imagine what that much time does to a person. Harder still to imagine how Paredes, incarcerated at 15, has in over 20 years of prison transformed himself into a passionate advocate for justice, a highly intelligent man and a skilled organizer. During his recent hearing before the Michigan Board of parole, over two hundred people testified — many attesting to his ability to serve as a community asset and to the man that he has become in prison. Others, by contrast, argued that he should remain in prison. Somewhere between these two perspectives, we have lost the idea of justice.

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