It is my distinct privilege to call Alfredo Ramos my brother. I have known Fredo for over 12 years, and he has enriched my life. I met him in Cook County Jail after he had been waiting for determination on his case for six years. I was serving as a pastoral minister in Division 10 at the time. No question, Fredo had trouble letting go of the lifestyle that brought him to jail and subsequently, prison. But from the very beginning, I saw beneath the surface layers — that here was a man who had depth, the capacity for transformation, a loyalty that could bless those he loves, and an intelligence that is informed by avid reading, his stellar intuition, and self-reflection.
What are the goals and hopes of incarceration –not so much as it is carried out, but as it was designed? Women and men who are found “guilty” of their crimes, especially serious ones, must be held accountable, no question about it. But we also hope that incarceration transforms people who are confined in prison. I have seen it happen right before my eyes; Alfredo is a different man than the person I met in jail. He has endured the grueling work of leaving behind people, patterns and choices that weren’t serving him and, slowly but surely, consciously embracing habits and values that enhance his life and the lives of those around him. He has worked and studied consistently whenever offered the opportunity in prison.
I test out my advocacy for people to be granted parole through this litmus test: would I want Fredo for a neighbor? Without hesitation, I say, “Absolutely!” He has become my brother in every beautiful sense that word attempts to convey. He is joyful, grateful, loyal, thoughtful, generous and considerate. He has been there for me as much as I for him. He is hard working, fastidious, and conscientious.
I know he regrets the life he was leading and aches for the loved ones of the people he harmed. But this now nearly middle-aged man is not the impulsive, selfish teenager he once was. He is responsible and anxious to give back to society in meaningful ways, building it up and helping people and communities to heal and thrive. We need to recognize that people change over time. None of us wants to be frozen in the midst of our misbegotten adolescence, and few of us are required to do so. Let’s put end-dates on the long sentences given during the ill-conceived truth-in-sentencing era and let good men (and women) be freed to give back to society. Let’s reinstate parole in Illinois!