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Commutation shaves more than six years off inmate’s sentence

Christopher Fausto Cabrera is a writer and one of the editors of "American Precariat." While serving out a 26 year sentence, his work has been published in The New Yorker and Washington Post Magazine. This week the remaining years of his sentence were commuted. (Photo by Emily Baxter as part of "Seen," a prison portrait and poetry project, for We Are All Criminals.)

Christopher Fausto Cabrera, who was sentenced in 2004 to 26 years in prison, is set to be released years early due to good behavior. At the age of 24, Cabrera was convicted of one count of second degree murder, and four counts of attempted murder in the first degree. But after successfully proving his rehabilitation at a commutation hearing on December 20, the process to release Cabrera is now underway. It could take days, weeks or months.

“It’s one of those weird things where you do the work, you have faith in something, and then it finally comes through and you really don't know what's next,” said Cabrera over the phone from the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Faribault.

“I'm guilty of a terrible offense that has caused a lot of pain and suffering, and I get this blessing. I know now that there's accountability that I have to carry out going forward, and knowing that yes, I can decompress. Yes, I can start doing more important work, but at the same time, how do I carry that?”

Cabrera says while navigating his life as an inmate, he realized he wanted to make a change and right his wrongs. He says what led him to prison wasn’t an evil heart, but a corrupted sense of normal. 

“In minority communities, Black communities, Latino communities, violence is part of our culture. We don't understand that this… isn't normal for most people. And so being raised in it and then kind of falling victim and then predator to it – being an offender and being a perpetuator of violence, I didn’t really understand the weight of that when I was young,” said Cabrera. “And then, having to figure out okay, well, what am I supposed to do with that now? And then going back and making amends with that.” 

Cabrera says for him, making amends meant becoming a part of his community and inspiring others to find meaning for themselves that extends beyond cell walls.  Inside of prison, Cabrera has worked with restorative justice networks such as the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, Until We Are All Free and We Are All Criminals. His writing has been published in The New Yorker and Washington Post Magazine, among other places.

Cabrera says the community he’s become a part of as an inmate reshaped his perspective on rehabilitation, and drives his desire to continue his work on restorative justice after he gets out. 

“The system as of right now is terrible about healing or doing any type of restorative work to repair harm, to address the fact that we've done damaging things,” he reflected. “The system just wants us out of its way after the court case is done, and victims don't get the healing they deserve, and neither do the offenders. So I'm looking forward to getting into that space and juggling the work and family. And then knowing I have my own degree of healing to deal with, as far as being in here and spending years – losing decades – which is the hardest concept.”

Cabrera says leaving this community he found in prison is what is most difficult. 

“All my homeboys and all the people that I’ve grown up closest to, that are my brothers – I'm leaving. And I know everybody's happy for me, but at the same time, they think about having to do the rest of their time. So there's just a lot of mixed emotions.”

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