Eddie's Story Blog # 9, Muskegon Correctional Facility
Blog # 9
Muskegon Correctional Facility (MCF)
November, 1979 – January, 1984
When the Muskegon Correctional Facility opened in the mid-nineteen seventies, it was dedicated to the treatment and rehabilitation of prisoners. Lead by a Warden with a Master of Social Work, MCF provided real educational opportunities (even busing prisoners to a local community college for glasses) to prisoners; but even more than that, it provided a normalized environment that came as close as possible to the free world, bringing in volunteers from a score of agencies and organizations to work with prisoners. Eddie Guerrero is a testament to how correctional rehabilitation can work--an approach that no longer exists in our prisons. MCF was a turning point in Eddie’s life.
After my near-death experience at Jackson Prison, I spent a week in the prison infirmary where the Warden Anderson once again visited me. He said Deputy Director Robert Brown, Jr. approved my transfer to the Muskegon Correctional Facility and that I would soon leave. We spoke for a while then he told me I could use his name as a reference when I arrived at MCF. He wished me well and left. I was grateful for his visit and gestures of support; he had treated me well at Jackson. Warden Anderson retired in 1986 and we still communicate.
Early the next morning I was placed in belly-chains, cuffs, and leg irons, and boarded the bus for the ride to MCF. I don’t remember the ride and wasn’t excited about leaving Jackson. I know it sounds strange, but I knew I would miss Jackson.
It’s about a four-hour ride from Jackson to Muskegon and we arrived in the late morning’ pulled up to the massive chain-linked sally port gate and were directed in so that we were between two gates. I was amazed that there were trees everywhere. I don’t mean little puny trees, but big mature trees all over the prison. I remember thinking, “I could like this place.” I looked around expecting to see one huge building, like the Jackson cell blocks, only to find five two-story brick buildings that looked more like apartments. More amazing was that there were no walls, only chain-link fences that I easily saw through to discover even more trees. The entire prison was built in a forest!! Once unloaded, we were escorted to what I learned was the intake unit. Each unit held 120 prisoners and the units were named after types of trees: Aspen, Birch, Cedar, Douglas, and Elm.
I still had a bunch of stitches in my neck and was given special attention when we went through the usual new arrival cursory medical exam. I coughed consistently and my voice was a harsh whisper due to my being stabbed in my neck at Jackson; my vocal chords were cut and not healing properly.
I immediately ran into many prisoners and staff I knew from other institutions. I was first placed in Aspen, which was the intake unit, where a guy approached me and said someone wanted to see me outside. My first thought was, “Who would want to see me, I just got here?” When I walked out of the unit I was greeted by a welcoming committee of Mexicans: the practice I had instituted at other prisons had carried over to MCF even though it was a new facility. I told the group who I was, hoping to be recognized, but got no response. I knew I had a real cousin at MCF (not a phony cousin like “Bobby” at Marquette—See, Eddie’s Story, Part 7) serving time for drug dealing, the son of my Mother’s oldest sister. The greeting group asked my cousin’s name and were surprised when I told them: turns out my cousin was head of the HASTA organization and still involved in the drug trade. After the noon count and lunch, my cousin found me and took me on a tour of the facility, introducing me to other Hispanics, white, and black drug associates. I was immediately accepted into their inner circle, and I learned the name of a staff member, a Teacher’s Aide, who was bringing the drugs in.
Several days after my arrival, the housing unit officer instructed me to report to the Deputy Warden’s office, which was in the Administration Building, across the hall from the Control Center. When I arrived a recognized the Deputy Warden was the former Captain Gibson from the Michigan Reformatory in whose office I was regularly questioned about suspected numerous wrongs. Deputy Gibson was a big black man with a heavy low voice that sounded more like a growl. The first thing out of Deputy Gibson’s mouth was, “Guerrero, how the hell did you get to my facility?” I was surprised but remembered my last conversation with Jackson Warden Anderson. I told Deputy Gibson I had changed my ways and if he wanted proof he should call Warden Anderson. Gibson said, “I’ll do just that,” and dismissed me adding I would hear from him. A couple of days later Deputy Gibson called me back and we talked like a couple of regular guys in a coffee shop. He was more relaxed about my being in “his” facility. When I left the Administration building I wondered just how far Warden Anderson’s name would take me.
MCF used something called the Quay Classification System to manage prisoners by assigning them to housing units containing one of four behavioral types: aggressive, manipulative, weak/inadequate, and ‘just trying to follow the rules.’ You were classified based on your prison file, and Intake unit staff observations of your behavior for several weeks; I was classified as aggressive and assigned to Birch Unit so I asked Deputy Warden Gibson to waive the classification and assign me to Elm Unit. I explained I had changed my ways and just wanted to do my time in peace. Just that easily he agreed and moved me to Elm. I was sincere in what I said to the Deputy, but in addition my cousin lived in Elm and I wanted to be near him.
I was surprised how supportive Deputy Gibson was as well as other staff who also knew of my past. I was at MCF several weeks when I met a Lieutenant I knew from the Michigan Reformatory named Denny Birdsall. I was walking the yard (called the “commons” at MCF) when Lt Birdsall came out of the Control Center and said, “Guerrero, how long have you been here?” I told him and he immediately asked if I wanted a job. He said he supervised the prisoner assigned to walk the commons with a camera and take pictures of prisoners who had purchased a picture ticket. He said the prisoner currently assigned to the job was consistently coming up short, meaning he was being strong-armed by other prisoners to take free pictures. The Lieutenant went on to say, “I understand you have changed your ways, but I’m willing to bet no one is going to take anything from you.” The next day I had the job. Each day I picked up the camera from the Control Center and walked the yard collecting photo tickets and taking pictures; I even could enter any housing unit to take pictures. My second day on the job I entered the Control Center and saw Jim Anderson sitting in the corner. This is the same Jim Anderson who as a Sergeant at MIPC treated me so well, even shaking my hand when I boarded the bus to leave that facility. Jim was now a Captain and even though it had been six years since we last saw each other, when he saw me he jumped up, shook my hand, and said, “Eddie Guerrero!” We talked for about ten minutes and he told everyone in the Control Center that I was a “good guy” and that when I needed something and he wasn’t around, they should handle it for me.
I attended the next HASTA meeting and was introduced to everyone by the President, my cousin. Then he did something I didn’t expect: He said he had taken the Presidency because no one else wanted it but he didn’t know what he was doing, and resigned and said they should elect me. I assumed the Presidency at my first meeting and held the position at MCF for the next five years. I did know what I was doing and took the position because I wanted to do positive things for the MCF Hispanics and the organization. The next day I attempted to meet with the staff HASTA coordinator, a guy named Felix. Because Felix was originally from Mexico, and was the Resident Unit Manager (RUM) of Elm unit where I locked, I assumed he would be very cooperative. Boy, was I wrong. Every time I tried to meet with him he said he didn’t have time for HASTA. In my estimation, Felix was particularly hard on Hispanics so as not to be seen as showing favoritism.
Each housing unit’s RUM coordinated a prisoner organization or activity: The Birch unit RUM had Jaycees; Cedar RUM had substance abuse; Douglas had religious activities, and Elm had HASTA. I learned these RUMs were supervised not only by the Assistant Deputy Warden for Housing, but by the Prisoner Services Director regarding prisoner activities. I sent a kite (an internal prison memo, more like a note) to the “Prisoner Services Director” requesting a meeting and explaining I was the new HASTA President. I got the meeting and when I walked into the Director’s office I was surprised to see Bill Weideman, the man who repeatedly helped guide and mentor me at the beginning of my sentence at the Michigan Reformatory. Bill is tall, about 6’5”, and soft spoken, and had been very kind to me despite all my early problems.
We spent about a half hour talking about the “old days” and I told him about the changes in my life and my stabbing. But then I got serious and told Bill I was President of HASTA and that I had attempted for a week to sit down with our Coordinator who had informed me he didn’t have time for HASTSA. I don’t know if it was because of our past relationship, or if Bill simply felt strongly about my issue, but Bill immediately got Felix on the phone while I sat in Bill’s office. I only heard Bill’s side of the conversation, but it was clear that Bill told Felix to make time for me, that it was part of Felix’s job. Bill ended the conversation by saying he assumed Felix liked his job. About a week later Felix asked me how I got to know Bill Weideman so quickly after my arrival and I explained we knew each other from the MR, and that I also had history with Deputy Warden Gibson, Captain Anderson, RUM Terry Bradford, and Lt. Birdsall. Felix must have contacted them to verify my claim, because I soon had an open-door relationship with him.
Things took off with HASTA and we brought in influential Hispanic speakers from throughout the state. Once HASTA was moving, I decided to run for housing unit prisoner representative, which gave me entry to the Warden’s Forum, a group of prisoners who met monthly with the Warden.
MCF was dedicated to prisoner rehabilitation and had a large innovative education system consisting of: a self-paced GED preparation (Skills Acquisition) program; a Skills Application program that allowed prisoners to utilize the academic skills they acquired to pursue a myriad of enrichment academic and practical courses; a vocational program consisting of Auto Mechanics (terminating in state certification), building construction and maintenance; Food Service preparation; and a college program where prisoners were bussed to the Muskegon community College to take classes. The education system was run by a School Principal who sought guidance and feedback from a Student Education Group (SEG), sort of a school board composed of prisoners and staff. I was elected to the SEG and later became its Chairman, a position I held for three years.
I was proud of my work on the SEG: Each year we reviewed the education budget and make recommendations on how the money should be spent…no small matter, since the annual budget was around $750,000. I also taught the Skills Application pre-release class, which gave prisoners practical information about such things as resume preparation, job interviewing, and personal banking. The Factor, for which I was a writer, was the prisoner newspaper and was also run out of the Application Program. I got to know the Skills Application coordinator, Carl Carlson, and he had me take every class offered in the program, and write an evaluation of each.
I was Chairman of the Library Committee and worked with the Librarian to order books. I tried to get a clerk’s job in the library but the School Principal, Joe Abramajtys, said to me “No way. I want to keep my librarian.” I was close to the Librarian and knew I would get even closer if I were her clerk, so I told a friend that I was denied the job; he got the job and several months later they were having a lot of fun in the psychologist’s office.
Speaking of having fun, once when I was a cameraman in the TV production studio, the Assistant School Principal came into the studio. She had to key the door open and a couple of prisoners had to quickly hide marijuana that had been brought in by the Teacher Aide and was being stored in the studio. She opened the door and a prisoner Reyes said to her, “You know you can’t come in here without a complete shakedown.” She turned, put her hands up against the wall, spread her legs, and allowed the guy to thoroughly feel her up from her thighs to her breasts (which were substantial). I got the hell out of there. I later saw this woman when I was in another facility; she was visiting another prisoner named Williams and jacking him off in the visiting yard.
Slowly, activity by activity, I gained the respect of staff and prisoners. After a year at MCF I ran HASTA, the Student Education Group, and the Jaycees. I formed a HASTA softball team and got outside sponsors to supply equipment and uniforms. I put my experience with my Dad to good use and coached the team for four years. As a kid, I thought my Dad was a tough coach but I found myself using his same effective techniques.
My relationship with the Warden, Gary Wells, got off to a rocky start. I saw him one day in the Commons (the prison yard) and introduced myself. He immediately said, “I’m not Warden Anderson, so if you want something you need to go through the chain of command.” One day Warden Wells wanted Bill Weideman to gather all the heads of the many prisoner organizations in Bill’s office so the Warden could ask for their assistance in having an open house for staff and their families: prisoners would escort family groups through the prison so they got a feel for where their relatives worked. I was in Bill’s office when the Warden came for the meeting, and on entering he said to Bill, “I wanted all the prisoner organization heads, not just HASTA” The Warden was obviously annoyed. Bill pointed to me and said, “They’re here.” Reluctantly the Warden sat down and started to explain what he wanted. I remembered our introductory meeting on the Commons and stood up and said, “I don’t think we are interested in cooperating”, and I walked out of Bill’s office. I was no sooner in the hallway when the Principal stopped me and said, “The office doors were opened and I heard what you said to the Warden. I think you made your point, now I suggest you get back in there and tell him you’re on board. Think about this Eddie.” I went back in and we all treated each other as adults. The open house came off without a hitch, except for a storm and very high wind that blew-off part of the Food Service building roof.
Making a Living
To keep out of trouble, I refused have anything to do with drugs but kept informed of what was happening in the drug trade if only to protect myself. It became apparent to me that staff knew my cousin was involved with drugs but had not been able to catch him…yet. I told him if he was going to associate with me he had to get out of drugs. At first, he rebelled until I told him that as long as he was in Elm unit he didn’t have to worry about getting the little extras he was used to buying at the prisoner store or from approved vendors. Though I had given up drugs I did get into loan sharking, which gave me an income of two to three hundred dollars every two weeks. I spent half my take on prisoner store items for me and my cousin, while the other half went right back into the business.
Everyone knew my business and the operation ran smooth, so smooth that my RUM was involved. Whenever a new prisoner arrived at ELM unit, the RUM would explain to the fish prisoner (a “fish” is a new arrival) that it takes about a week for the prisoner to get his first tokens, but if he wanted tokens right away he should see me. The agreement was that when the fish finally received his token draw, I was to be paid off before the RUM handed the balance to the prisoner. It became so sweet a deal that when the RUM passed out tokens to all the guys in the unit bi-weekly from his office, I showed up with a list of prisoners and the RUM skimmed off my take before handing the balance to a prisoner. If a guy complained about the skim, the RUM would say, “Do you owe him or not?” and that would be that. The Felix never asked or received any benefit from my loan operation, except that of having a peaceful housing unit…by deducting the loan payment from a prisoner’s token draw before he got his tokens, the risk that there would be violence when a loan went unpaid was greatly reduced. Think of it as convict garnishment.
The job as visiting room photographer opened and I got it. Visitors purchased tickets at the Front Desk and, once in the visiting room gave me the ticket in exchange for a picture of them and the prisoner they were visiting. There was an outside visiting yard (located inside the prison and demarked by a split-rail fence. This area had a push merry-go-round and when I wasn’t busy I would play with the kids, pushing them on the merry-go-round and helping them get on and off the replica horses that bobbed back-and-forth. I held the camera job for years and got to know individual kids as they returned to visit their fathers and “uncles.” One time a prisoner was distracted “squeezing” his wife, neither of them paying attention to their kid who had climbed to the top of a jungle-gym and was scared to climb down. The kid started crying and the father got up and yelled in vain at his kid to jump into his arms. I went over to the kid and said, “Come on, I’ll catch you”, and the kid immediately jumped into my arms.
On another occasion, I was myself on a visit watching a kid run around while eating a chunk of candy. I told my visitor that the kid was going to fall and gag on the candy, and no sooner did I utter the words when that is exactly what happened. The kid didn’t cry but he did gag and it was obvious he was having difficulty breathing. The mother got up…a really fat lady…and yelled at the kid to spit out the candy. I got up, and using the CRP I learned in the Skills Application program, took the kid, bent him stomach down over my knee, and gently hit him on the back. The candy popped out. When I returned the child to his mother, the lady raised her hand to hit him. Without touching the woman, I raised my arm to shield the kid. I held the child until he stopped crying, then tried to hand him back to her and she again tried to hit him! Once again, I shielded the kid and said, “That is not happening in this visiting room. This is over.” She looked at the prisoner she was visiting as if he should make a move. I knew the guy from Douglas Unit, and I knew he was a sissy. I told him, “Sit your hot behind there and don’t say anything. He didn’t move. I hate to guess what happened to that kid once he left the prison with his mother.
Prisoner organizations could hold an annual banquet held in the chow hall, using the kitchen to prepare food, each prisoner member could bring in two guests from the outside. I was the informal banquet coordinator for both HASTA and the Jaycees. Each year I tried to make the banquets larger and more elaborate: my last year at MCF I arranged for a Mexican band to come in gratis to play at the HASTA banquet. I had a professional photographer come in and donate his services, and a local Roman Catholic group volunteered to cook the Mexican food donated by a local restaurant owner whose son was a HASTA member. The chow hall was decorated in the traditional green, white, and red Mexican national colors, and we hung a big Mexican flag! Speakers from throughout the state attended, as did various politicians. We were even allowed to dance with our visitor guests and I was taken aback when the Deputy Warden asked me if it was alright if he danced with my sister. I asked my Father what he thought about the request and he said it was up to my sister. I consider that last HASTA banquet one of my proudest achievements; to pull it off I had to call in every favor I could get from staff, many of whom complained that I was “pressing the envelope this time.” It helped that the staff HASTA coordinator signed every request I gave him, but I also had grown to know there were limits and stayed away from causing staff problems.
At the time---when the powers that be still supported rehabilitation---MCF was known as a very innovative prison; the Warden had a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan and was the former Treatment Director for the entire Department of Corrections; he had some very definite ideas on how he wanted MCF to run. Because of the MCF’s reputation, many outside groups from various disciplines wanted to tour the place and the Deputy Warden instructed me to tour most of these groups. Back then we could have some private clothing, and I was instructed to report to the Control Center when summoned, dressed in my best clothing.
I remember one time I was called to tour two individuals, a man and a woman, who had recently completed their secondary education degrees and wanted to tour the school. Normally a staff person would accompany a tour but let me do the talking. This time the Deputy surprised me by introducing me to our guests and telling me to take them through the school, the housing units, and then to the officers’ dining room if they wanted a snack. As we were clearing the security gate the Deputy took me aside and said if anyone questions what I was doing, have them call his office.
We completed the tour (they declined the snack) and as we walked back to the Control Center the lady asked me if I wanted to go out to lunch with them. I smiled and said, “I don’t think the Deputy Warden will permit me to do that.” She then said, “What does the Deputy have to do with your having a lunch break?” To which I replied, “The Deputy neglected to tell you I am a prisoner here.” Her eyes grew wide with surprise, but the upshot was that she continued to visit me for the next ten years.
The last HASTA banquet almost didn’t take place because of a program scheduling conflict. MCF utilized many religious volunteers who got permission from Warden Wells to hold a four-day retreat to take place in the school gym and other school rooms. The Christian group got permission to “take over” a large section of the school building occupied by the leisure time activity program: windows were covered with paper and eighty mattresses were placed in the gym as overnight accommodations for forty prisoners, and forty volunteers (all male). The event was called a Cursillo, and the volunteers were from all walks of life: lawyers, businessmen, doctors, dentists, as well as laborers and one millionaire that I know of. The Muskegon County Prosecutor even attended. The problem was that the time scheduled for the retreat conflicted with when I wanted to hold the HASTA banquet, and I already had the band and cooks, and outside speakers and guests committed to the date we had set.
The Deputy Warden told me I had to change the banquet date because they didn’t want that many non-staff located in two different areas of the prison. I panicked! I asked why the retreat couldn’t change its time and was told the Warden had made his decision, period. However, the Deputy warden said the volunteer coordinating the retreat was given office space in an old modular building that had been used by the Education System before the new school was built, that the volunteer was scheduled to be in today, and that I was free to see him and state my case in the event he might be open to changing retreat dates.
I decided I was going to try to intimidate this volunteer into changing the retreat date. I recruited six of the nastiest Hispanics I knew---all big, tattooed, and ugly---and we walked into his office unannounced and stood in front of his desk. The man didn’t flinch, but instead sat and listened. When I was finished talking he smiled and said it would be easy to change the date because he had just set it, and that he could move it a up or back a week. He also said there was one condition: that all of us in the office would attend the retreat. His first stipulation was I would have to attend, to which I immediately agreed thinking I would say “yes” then not go. Then he added, “I want those six gorillas with you to also attend.” I said that was fine, but then he said they had to make up their own minds. I said they will do what I tell them to do, but he insisted they say if they would come. They all said they would be there. I turned to leave and the volunteer told me to wait while he made a phone call. He explained our agreement to whomever he called, then asked, “How is Guerrero’s word?” He listened to the response then told me the person he spoke to said if I gave my word, then that was it. I Knew I was trapped and had to be all in, as were the thugs with me.
I didn’t know much about Cursillo other than it was a four-day weekend, so I asked around to see what I had gotten myself into. I learned that the program came from Spain and originally was for Roman Catholics, but the MCF volunteer group modified the program to welcome anybody. The program attempted to show that Jesus was “real” and that He loved everyone; the group felt that by expressing their love to MCF prisoners, that somehow, we would see what it meant to accept the Lord. I didn’t want any part of what they were selling, but I remembered when they had run the first MCF Cursillo some months back, the final day they bussed in a bunch of women, some of which were pretty good looking.
The Cursillo weekend came and we all attended; my strategy was to get thrown out of the event early on. We were told the sleeping arrangements, and I realized I would be separated from my crew, I boldly announced that the sleeping arrangements were not acceptable, that we were to sleep together or we wouldn’t participate. The staff coordinator, a guy named Fred Goff, knew me and that I didn’t back down, so instead of saying “no,” he asked why it was so important. I explained we were in an open gym, that some prisoners saw me as a thug leader, and that I didn’t feel comfortable sleeping away from my crew and their protection. To my utter astonishment the coordinators went for it! They arranged for my crew to sleep on both sides of me. I wanted to get tossed from the program but Fred, et. al., out-smarted me.
The Cursillo volunteers brought in their own food and drinks and during the first day we took breaks where goodies such as potato chips and pop, pretzels and Little Debbies, were served. We looked forward to the breaks and eventually my crew and I discovered where the food was being stored. We helped ourselves because the storage area wasn’t locked. I thought for sure our snack theft would be discovered and I would be summarily ejected from the program. Well, we were discovered by an outside volunteer, but instead of making a big deal of it he pulled me aside and asked that I not let anyone see what we were doing. He didn’t ask me to stop! Foiled again!
Apparently, there wasn’t much I could do to get thrown out, so I spent the first evening introducing myself to the volunteers, asking where they were from and what they did in life; I might as well see if any of these people could be resources for my different prisoner organizations. In addition, they might be personally useful to me down the road, since I had every intent of eventually being released from prison.
I don’t remember much of the second day’s speeches and small group discussions because I wasn’t listening and only looked forward to the breaks.
It was on the third day I noticed my guys falling off. There was a session on forgiving yourself by letting God forgive you, and they had us write what we wanted to be forgiven for on small slips of paper. That whole day the volunteers spoke on how Jesus forgave us, and his dying on the cross, and it really meant nothing to me. But my crew loved the acceptance they were getting from the outside volunteers despite looking like the thugs they were: muscles, scars, and lots of ugly. But these outside people were hugging them and asking questions about families and childhoods; they felt accepted and more importantly they felt forgiven.
I watched my crew drop like flies, accepting the program 100% and accepting the Lord into their lives. I didn’t interfere because I was taught to believe in God, I just thought God wouldn’t waste his time paying any attention to me and my actions. My crew kept pointing out to me how the outside guys were showing them in the Bible how God would forgive anyone for anything as long as they asked for forgiveness and that, as they put it, “If this is real we want to be part of it.”
At the end of the third day, in the day’s twilight, we were taken outside to a grassy area behind the gym. All the pieces of paper containing our forgiveness requests were put in a metal can and set on fire. We were told to pray as we watched the smoke rise from the can and disappear in the air; as Jesus accepted our guilt and took away our burden of shame. I remember thinking I BELIVE IN GOD…I BELIEVE HE CAN FORGIVE ME IF HE WANTED TO. That maybe if I were sincere in asking forgiveness, that this could work. If there were some sort of gift, or blessing, or forgiveness that could come from my just asking, that I wasn’t willing to miss out for lack of asking. That’s when my mind flashed back to the Jackson hospital when the doctor said though he wasn’t a religious man, I should thank God for being alive. I remember, after being stabbed, talking to my Mother (who had always been religious) and she said God had a plan for my life---that the reason I wasn’t killed was because He was going to use me for some good I didn’t now know about. I liked that idea.
So that night when they lit the fire and the smoke and little bits of fiery paper rose and skipped into the night, I felt a sense of peace and acceptance. Forty outside men from all walks of life took me in, those doctors and businessmen, and farmers, and even a prosecutor! all took me in. They talked about the love of Jesus, and that Jesus was willing to live inside us if only we would open our hearts and let Him in and not be so hard-hearted. I knew they were talking about me. Hard-hearted!
The last speech on the last day, a Sunday, was given by a Roman Catholic priest named Fox who talked about loved ones and how we always hurt the people we loved the most and how we never tell these people, our loved ones, how much we love them until we are talking to their casket. I sat immobile in that prison gym thinking how I’ve been a burden to my Parents, and at 29 years-old I hadn’t told my mother I loved her since I was ten. I can’t remember the last time I had cried, but that Cursillo day I cried until my T-shirt was damp. I cried a lot and my body shook and I still couldn’t stop crying. I was stripped, helpless, emotionally naked.
Memories: of my Dad telling me that when I was 1 or 2 years-old I always wanted Mom to carry me but because she had to cook and clean she couldn’t always do it, so I wrapped my arms around her leg and sat on her foot and she hobbled through the house doing chores, all five feet of her having given birth to me, a ten pound eight-ounce baby; of getting in a fight at school and running away from the Principal who wanted to spank me and my Mom, nine months pregnant with my sister telling him he wasn’t to lay a hand on her Son; of Mom going to counselors and priests for advise on how to handle me… and me blowing it all off; of my Mom getting a driver’s license for the first time in her life to visit me in prison.
Certainly, I’d heard the phrase “we always hurt the ones we love” but it meant nothing to me until Fr. Fox talked about it. I listened and felt weightless then very heavy. Others choked-up, but I cried aloud, sobbed, realizing the pain I had caused my parents. For weeks after the Cursillo, volunteers would come in and remind me of my crying, but I wasn’t embarrassed. Something had been washed away leaving me feel new and more open; something that took with it a need to prove how tough I was at the slightest provocation. None of the other prisoner participants ever mentioned my crying to me, because they also knew me as Eddie Guerrero, a guy you don’t mess with. But I knew I could now be something far better, that a better person was nudging that old Eddie out or at least boxing him in.
The last night of the Cursillo we all took turns at the microphone saying what the experience meant for us. It was my turn at the mike and I was trying to convey how I felt about the Cursillo, about the attitude I came in with and how as events challenged my defenses they melted away. I glanced down for a moment to compose a thought and when I looked I saw my parents in the back of the room! My mother was standing on a pile of what I think are room dividers so she could see and be seen above the crowd. Unknown to me, the staff coordinator, Fred Goff, had arranged for my parents to come to the prison, no small thing because MCF is near Lake Michigan, and my parent’s home in Saginaw was near Lake Huron, at least a four-hour drive.
I dropped the microphone and rushed to my parents and hugged them and kissed them and told them how much I loved them and how sorry I was for everything I was putting them through, for the burden and humiliation I visited on them. My mother cried and my father chocked-up and Mom later told me when they got home that night, Dad cried all night. I told them that from now on I was going to do my best to be a son they could be proud of, that I knew God had given me another chance. Me, of all people, was the only one whose parents came to the Cursillo and I knew this was I gift. I have spent the past 36 years trying to keep that promise to my parents, and even though they are now both dead I will continue to keep that promise. On a later visit my parents said they forgave me and I knew God had forgiven me and that is all that mattered. I have written to others, including my victims, but I have never heard back; and I’m okay with that because it’s up to them to either forgive me or not and I know there is nothing more I can do about it. I had been given a new life and it was up to me to not blow it.
After the Cursillo I told prisoners who came to me with information on illegal activities, who wanted advice on how to do one illegal thing or another, that I was no longer interested in any of that stuff. I was finished with any involvement, nor would I any longer give advice. This didn’t sit well with some guys, but they knew my reputation and weren’t willing to risk my “handling” their challenging me.
I spent months writing letters to my sisters and brother, my grandparents and anyone else I thought I had disrespected or offended in the past.
To my surprise, I found there are many opportunities for redemption in prison: I helped prisoners write letters to judges, attorneys, courts, and immigration officials. I helped illiterate guys write and read their personal letters to families and friends. I was called to the Detroit Federal Court building to testify in a lawsuit Hispanic prisoners brought against the Michigan Department of Corrections for lack of programming for Hispanics…they considered me an expert on prison Hispanic programming, or the lack thereof. Before I testified, an administrator told me that if I took the stand I would never get out of prison. I thought about this threat and decided if Jesus could die to save me, the least I could do is help my Hispanic brothers. I testified and we won the lawsuit and then MDOC was forced to implement Hispanic programming throughout the system.
A New Life
I gave up the loan shark business, though I will admit I had my doubts about how I would survive without an income. To my surprise, many people have stepped forward and helped me (and continue to do so) by placing small amounts of money in my inmate account.
I redoubled my efforts working with the MCF prisoner organizations and received many letters and verbal expressions of support, including a letter from Governor William Milliken. And as I kept working to help others at MCF, something unexpected happened: it just seemed to make more sense to me to try to do the right things. Prison isn’t easy, but if you try you can make your life worthwhile. Many people don’t understand how I could be a criminal within the prison system for a decade (1971-1981), and during just one weekend retreat do a complete turnaround. I can only explain it by asking you to read from the Bible, Mark, Chapter 5, verses 1-20, and you will understand.
I was forced to leave MCF on January 4, 1984. I had been interviewed by the Parole Board and they ordered me transferred to the Michigan Reformatory Dormitory, a minimum-security facility with no walls, fences, or other security barriers. From there I was to be released (I am still in prison, 32 years later). I didn’t want to be transferred because I really liked MCF so I went to Bill Weideman and asked if he could help. He immediately called the Parole Board and suggested I be given a gate pass at MCF, which would allow me to work with the outside maintenance and yard crews, as well as drive on official business in the nearby Muskegon community. The parole Board refused saying they wanted to see how I would do in minimum custody. I was immediately transferred, and so began the next stage of my journey.