I am a man of words, but words are failing me as I try to describe my feelings of joy and love when my son Ramiro called me today as a free man. Yes, on Friday July 16, Ramiro was released from the Illinois Department of Corrections’ Danville Prison. He had spent thirteen-and-a-half years in various prisons throughout the state since his conviction and sentence in late 1998 (the sentence included the year-and-a-half he spent in the Cook County jail in Chicago from early 1997). Ramiro joined a street gang in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago when he was fifteen. He was the main catalyst for my book “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in LA.” Since then the book has become a best seller (in the LA area, it’s the most stolen book in school and public libraries). Reports on my struggles as a father to Ramiro have appeared on the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Good Morning America,” CNN Talk Live, “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,” Head Line News’ “Leaders with Heart,” CNN’s “What Matters,” and publications such as the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, New York Times, San Jose Mercury, US World & News Report, Entertainment Weekly, among others. Ramiro is now 35 years old. He has a 17-year-old son, a 16-year-old daughter, and another 15-year-old daughter. He will be living in a transitional living space for a while. We also have people trying to get him a job. While he may be willing to speak and get around to help young people from entering this life (or trying to get out of it), for now we’re suggesting that he take his time getting adjusted, to focus on his health and wellbeing (and spending time with his kids), and getting spiritually and emotionally centered. There will be plenty of time for Ramiro to offer his strong voice for real rehabilitation and resources so that our young people can stay out of the criminal justice system and into a meaningful, knowledgeable, and imaginative life. For now, I want to give the strongest thanks to his mother Camila, who stayed on in the Chicago area and worked hard to provide what Ramiro needed, including getting a decent housing situation. Also to the rest of my family, who stood by us during this ordeal, taking Ramiro’s phone calls and his letters. And, of course, a deep thanks to the vast community—especially in Los Angeles and Chicago, but also throughout the country and other parts of the world (he now has friends in England, where I just visited)—who never wavered in their prayers, good wishes, letters, and support. We’re blessed to have come this far. Ramiro is in a good space. He will inherit new problems, big challenges, more issues, but he’s come through the hardest time so far. He also turned his life positively toward personal change and to help others. He gave up violence and drugs. He also turned to his indigenous roots and has been doing Mexika and other native rituals and ceremonies whenever he can. When I get to Chicago next month, we plan to have a sweat ceremony together with friends and family. He’s become a knowledgeable and vigilante warrior through the initiatory darkness of the many prison cells he’s inhabited—he’s been on a thirteen-and-a-half years sweat lodge. I also called his lawyer, the wonderful Julie Aimen, who took on his case when others didn’t and against great odds helped Ramiro get a more reasonable sentence than the 40 years to life he was facing in 1997. Ramiro had to pay for his actions, but this did not mean he had to be thrown away. Many others, poor, working-class, black and brown (but also white), don’t have the funds, support, or adequate defense needed and are rotting away in our growing prison cellblocks. We have fought for real justice and meaningful consequences when young people do wrong, not the punishment-driven, costly and no rehabilitation reality that we have today. I also give thanks to the Creator, to all the energies and elements of the universe and this world for aligning so that my son can be free, protected, and much loved. I pray the next path of his journey will be good, proper, and spiritually filled as Ramiro grows deeper into his life and those of his children—as well as the great community we’ve established throughout this country and in other countries as well. In the Nahuatl language I say tlazhokamati (thanks) and tiahui (we move forward). c/s
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