All They Want for the Holidays Is for Their Loved Ones to Come Home From Prison

When she was 8 years old, Bryanna Rose had one item on her Christmas wish list — for her father, Jose Colon, to come home.

Ten years later, Bryanna, 18, is still waiting. “What would it mean for him to come home now? It would bring my wish to reality. It would make me happy now, it would make my younger self really happy, and it would make us whole as a family,” she told Truthout.

Bryanna sat and watched Janette Colon, Bryanna’s mother, host a rally outside of the New York Governor’s office on December 14. Kathy Hochul urged her to grant clemency Jose and hundreds of other prisoners who had made significant changes in their lives while imprisoned.

In many states, including New York, governors have the power to grant clemency as a way of correcting excessive sentences or recognizing a person’s self-rehabilitation during their imprisonment. Federal sentenced persons can also be granted clemency by the president.

Two types of clemency are available. Pardon is usually granted after imprisonment. It expunges the conviction and removes threats of deportation. A commutation reduces a person’s prison sentence, allowing them to appear before the parole board or releasing them altogether. During the COVID-19 epidemic, advocates and their families urged governors to use their clemency powers in order to release COVID-19-affected people.

“I Feel Like I’m Inflating a Balloon”

Jose Colon, a 17-year-old boy, and another teenager broke into a Bronx apartment to steal jewellery. Colon shot and stabbed the two victims during the robbery. He was sentenced to two consecutive 15-to-life sentencesHe must serve at least 30 consecutive years before he can appear in front of the parole board.

Janette and Jose Colon first met as teenagers at an annual bowl-a-thon. Then came Colon’s robbery-turned-murder and imprisonment. Janette followed Jose’s case through the news though the two didn’t reconnect for years. They fell in love and became a married couple despite Jose’s long sentence.

Janette says that her husband, who was an impulsive teenager, has become a mature forty-year-old who has been a great help to Bryanna. He also wants other young people to avoid his mistakes, so he designed a cognitive behavior therapy course called I.M.O.K. (If Mother Only Knew)To help teens recognize trauma and avoid similar paths.

Colon applied for clemency in 2019, four year after the then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new Executive Clemency BureauThis would allow you to identify state prisoners that might be eligible for commutation. Cuomo was able to grant commutations to 41 people despite receiving thousands of applications.. Kathy Hochul, his replacement, has not issued any clemencies.

“I try not to think about it because I feel like I’m inflating a balloon and then it’s going to deflate. I try not to think about it and live day by day,” said Janette. While she doesn’t want to lose heart, Janette is working for his release as well as the release of hundreds of prisoners. Release Aging People in Prison campaignTo press for commutations and for parole eligibility laws to be expanded.

Clemency Builds Hope for 5,200 People Living Without Parole

Joseph Navarrete, a Californian serving life without parole, is one of over 5,200 people serving life in California. Navarrete was 26 when he was released from prison in February 1994.He shot and killed two people. He was sentenced without parole to life imprisonment

Navarrete, now 54, and Yolanda his wife state that he’s a very different person today than he was fifty years ago. Without the governor’s intervention, however, he may never have a chance to convince the parole board that he merits a second chance.

Yolanda and Joseph Navarrete, wedding photo.
Yolanda Navarrete & Joseph Navarrete, Wedding Photo

In the 1990s Yolanda told TruthoutNavarrete was a drug addict who used methamphetamines, cocaine, and pills to get high. He had already endured a lifetime of childhood abuse — first from his biological father and, after his mother fled that relationship and moved from Arizona to California, from his stepfather. At the age of 14, he was already drinking and trying out drugs. His mother kicked the boy out of her home. He moved in with an older brother who had been kicked out for drug use the previous year. He was soon using more often. To support his habit, he began dealing drugs. He was married and then divorced, losing custody.

In the 1980s, they briefly dated in junior high. They parted ways in high school. “He ran with the sex, drugs, rock n’ roll crowd,” Yolanda recalled. She, on the other hand, wasn’t even allowed to attend afterschool activities.

The two reconnected in 2012 shortly after Yolanda’s divorce. They started to correspond and Yolanda drove to Pelicanbay State Prison that July on the anniversary her previous marriage. “When I saw him, all the magnets came back,” she recalled. “It was like there was no time lost.”

Navarrete was not the wild child he was in high school. He had quit using drugs and alcohol while in prison and attended and then facilitated Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He had connected with his Apache heritage and now leads the prison’s Native American sweat ceremonies. “I am no longer that person addicted to anger, drugs and alcohol,” Navarrete wrote in a statement from prison. “I am proud to say for the last 25 years I have been leading my life in Sobriety, honesty and integrity.”

Yolanda also connected with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (California Coalition for Women Prisoners) and the Ella Baker Center (both of which work with incarcerated persons and their families on advocacy and legislation). Ny Nourn was her partner. initially been sentenced to life without parole, but later won a resentencing, making her parole-eligible. (Nourn was granted a pardon in 2020He was able to end the threat of deportation by becoming co-director at the Asian Prisoner Support Committee. Yolanda met the wives of other prisoners serving life without parole, and learned how advocate for Navarrete and thousands of others.. “A fire was lit within me,” she recalled. “I realized that families’ stories matter. It makes these bills not just black and white; it makes them alive.” She joined the Drop LWOP Coalition and has been advocating not only for her husband, but for the thousands of others sentenced to what she and others call “a living death.”

Candlelight vigil outside home of then-director of CDCR, Ralph Diaz, August 13, 2020.
Candlelight vigil at Ralph Diaz’s house, former director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on August 13, 2020
Candlelight vigil outside home of then-director of CDCR, Ralph Diaz, August 13, 2020.
Candlelight vigil at Ralph Diaz’s house, former director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on August 13, 2020

In 2018, Navarrete applied for commutation. Brown ultimately granted 281 commutations — 147 of which were to people serving life without parole. Navarrete wasn’t one of them.

Yolanda Navarrete stands outside the state capitol building in Sacramento, California, on August 13, 2020.
Yolanda Nvarrete is seen outside Sacramento’s state capitol building, California, on August 13, 2020.

Navarrete submitted a one-page recertification to Gov. in 2020. Gavin Newsom’s office. Newsom’s office as of November 2021. granted 91 commutations29 of these were for people who are serving life without parole.

California’s parolees serving life without parole are exempt from recent reforms like elder parole. This law allows parole board members 50 years and older to appear before them after they have served 20 years. “Commutation is the only way they’ll be reviewed,” Yolanda said.

“Half of Me Is in There With Him”

President Joe Biden supported marijuana decriminalization on the campaign trail. “And I think everyone — anyone who has a record should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out,” he said during a 2019 presidential debate.

Two years later, federal prisoners still wait for him to fulfill that promise.

Pedro Moreno, Alejandra Lopez and her children, 2016 visit.
2016 visit by Pedro Moreno, Alejandra López and her children

Pedro Moreno spent the last 25 years in federal jail. The 61-year old was sentenced to life imprisonment. Clemency may be the only way for him to rejoin his family.

“I feel like I’m doing this sentence with my dad. Half of me is in there with him,” Alejandra Moreno Lopez told Truthout.

Alejandra Moreno Lopez was eight when federal officers burst into the family’s Texas home.

Melba, who was dressed in black from head to toe, was allowed to dress her children and get dressed by the officers. She tied her daughter’s hair into a ponytail — the last one Lopez would wear during her childhood — and told them she’d be back soon. “We waited for her all day,” Lopez told Truthout. Her mother didn’t return for 13 years.

Melba and Pedro, Melba’s husband, were arrested in a 79-person federal pot sting. Pedro Moreno was also arrested. charged with transporting thousands of kilos of marijuanaFrom Mexico to the United States. Two years later, Moreno pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder monetary instrument and operating a continuing Illegal enterprise. In return, the government agreed not to oppose a sentence decrease but dismissed all remaining charges.

Before federal courts sentence, the probation officer submits a presentence report (PSR)The judge’s sentencing guide. Pedro Moreno’s PSR recommended adding two points for obstruction of justice and no points for accepting responsibility. These points increased his sentence guideline range from 324 to 405 months (27 to 34.75 years) to life in prison. Four of Moreno’s brothers were also sentenced to life in federal prison.

Pedro Moreno is still behind bars twenty-five year after that fateful morning. In January 2016, then-President Barack Obama was in prison. granted clemency to Morenos four brothers. Eight months later, he denied Moreno’s application. He is still the last member of his family to be imprisoned by that sting.

In 2010, Moreno’s wife, Melba, was released from prison. She saw her daughter graduate college the following month. “She always said she’d get out to see us and be a mom again,” Lopez recalled. Melba died in May of the same year after a brain tumor.

Alejandra’s mother Melba Moreno in prison, 2004.
Alejandra’s mother Melba Moreno in prison, 2004.

Moreno is being held in Atwater federal prison in California, about 2,000 miles from his family. Lopez must drive for an hour to the nearest airport to visit his family. He then needs to fly to San Francisco to rent a car, and then drive two- to three hours to Atwater.

She last visited in 2018. She brought her husband, their son, aged 3, and their 11-month-old daughter. They stayed for an extended weekend — Thursday through Monday — to visit several days in a row. But, remarks Lopez, “It’s never a vacation. It’s in the middle of nowhere.”

Lopez and her family depend on phone calls. Atwater doesn’t offer video calling like other prisons. She is concerned that her father may contract severe COVID. At the start of the pandemic, he and other men came down with flu-like symptoms, some so severe that they couldn’t get out of bed. For a time, he lost his voice and couldn’t call.

He tested positive for COVID in December 2020. “We were afraid he could get very sick,” Lopez said. His sister and brother-in law died in days following COVID.

Lopez doesn’t understand why her father was denied clemency. “Now [marijuana]It is legal in many states. I don’t understand why there are still people in prison over this,” she said. “And [their] families are hurting.”

A Christmas without the imminent threat of imprisonment

Diana Marquez looks forward to spending her second Christmas in El Paso with her family. She and her grandsons have already decorated their living room Christmas tree. She plans to cook a turkey for the boys and then watch them open their presents on Christmas morning. She can FaceTime her mother, 92, and oldest daughter, both in Nebraska to wish them a Merry Christmas. The best Christmas gift was knowing that she would not be sent back to prison.

(Clockwise from top): Diana Marquez, Marquez’s 92-year-old mother, Marquez’s adult children.
(Clockwise from top): Diana Marquez, Marquez’s 92-year-old mother, Marquez’s adult children.

The 65-year old was released under the provisions of the Coronavirus AID, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which prioritized the release of people from federal prison temporarily if they were in poor health or their age made them susceptible to COVID.

Marquez is now at home with her grandsons and daughter, but she remains in home confinement and electronic surveillance. She is allowed to leave her home for two hours each day to walk in the nearby park or to pick up her grandchildren from school every weekday afternoon. Any other movement outside of her daughter’s home requires advanced approval and even then, she may not receive it. She can’t attend church or stop by a store on her own. She is unable to travel to visit her mother or older siblings.

She lived with the author until recently.Threat of being sent back into prison after the pandemic is over As Truthout Previously reportedThe Biden administration is upholding a last-minute memo issued by Trump’s Justice Department returning people to prison if their sentences extend beyond the pandemic emergency period.Marquez has served more than nine years in prison.

On December 21, under ongoing pressure from advocatesThe Justice Department also includes formerly incarcerated individuals reversed its stanceMarquez could be allowed to serve the remainder of their sentence at home by issuing a new legal opinion. “I feel overwhelmed, so excited [and happy,” Marquez told Truthout. “[I’m] having tears of joy to know we don’t have to go back to prison.”

Marquez applied for clemency during her time in prison in 2016, but it was denied the year after. She applied again in September 2021.

“It would be a really big blessing,” she said. Clemency would allow her to travel to Nebraska to hug her mother. Marquez, if Marquez is not granted clemency will be subject to the same restrictions until her sentence expires 2031.

Marquez was informed by the Biden administration in September 2021 that it is conducting an expedited clemency selection for persons with nonviolent drug convictions. This screening will be conducted under the CARES Act. Only those with sentences remaining between 18-48 months can apply for the screening. Marquez, who is due to be released on March 9, 2031, does NOT qualify.

Marquez is left to wait and hope. “I’m praying and praying for clemency — not just for me, but for all of us, both on home confinement and still in prison,” she said.