MOSES Action for Forgiveness

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Sumbitted by The Religious Leader Caucus of MOSES: Sr. Joan Duerst, O.P., Patricia La Cross, Mark Petersen, Marsha Baldwridge

As a community of communities, MOSES members share the core belief that each human person is precious and redeemable by all we call Holy: the Lord of Israel, Jesus, the teachings of the prophet Mohammed, and the practices of Buddhism and other non-theist spiritualities.

Our whole Wisconsin network (MOSES is one of 11 WISDOM state affiliates) has been asked to broadly urge our members to join a letter campaign. This effort aims for the release of 2 individuals in our prison system who have been incarcerated since their youth, and have matured and transformed themselves under the most repressive circumstances.

Forgiveness – as any other exercise – involves practice, challenging our perceived limits, and honesty. Please take the time to read the following, and prayerfully consider writing a letter asking that mercy be shown to the persons described.

Governor Evers proclaimed April 2023 as Second Chance Month, saying “compassion, empathy, and forgiveness [are] Wisconsin values, and “redemption, second chances, and efforts to invest in people are important to the future and prosperity of the state.”

Our request is that he consider commuting the sentences of two individuals, Israel Saldana and Michael Maldonado, who need a second chance because they received disproportionately long sentences for crimes they committed in their youth, back in the 1990s. They deserve a second chance because they have already served so much time and demonstrated so much maturity and good character that they would have qualified for parole before now if the length of their sentences had not ruled out that remedy. Our preference would be to see them released immediately to rejoin their families, free except for an appropriate period of community supervision. If that seems too drastic, we suggest that you at least commute enough of their sentences to make them eligible now to be considered for parole.

Historical precedents in Wisconsin. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was a common practice for Wisconsin governors of both parties to grant commutations to reduce the sentences of prisoners who had been convicted of serious crimes (including first-degree murder), when their behavior behind bars suggested sufficient rehabilitation to return to society as responsible, job-ready citizens. Governors that invested in acknowledging transformed lives by allowing this second chance included Governors Warren Knowles, Patrick Lucey, Lee Dreyfus, and Tony Earl. They commuted several dozens of life sentences. [2019 paper by Harlan Richards]. This humane and logical tradition of giving second chances ended abruptly with the election of Tommy Thompson, who presided over the enormous growth of Wisconsin’s prison population from 1987 – 2001. Thompson has since changed his mind about the wisdom of his previous course and now states, “We lock up too many people for too long. It’s about time we change the dynamics. I apologize for that.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/5/2018].


Human Impact: Other states have used executive clemency to reduce unnecessarily long sentences. According to an article in The Guardian, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown “commuted the sentences of 144 people convicted of crimes as serious as murder yet have demonstrated “extraordinary evidence of rehabilitation.’” Governors of both parties in North Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, and Ohio have granted clemency for similar reasons in recent years, though not in such numbers. As The Guardian points out, this kind of clemency is “well within established tradition.” Although the use of executive clemency has been rare since the “tough on crime” movement began in the 1980s, for much of history, presidents and governors regularly used clemency to recognize a prisoner’s ‘exceptional rehabilitation’ or to correct an injustice done by prosecutors or judges.

Both Israel Saldana and Michael Maldonado were convicted of first-degree murder nearly 30 years ago and given sentences that seem inordinately long, especially since there were extenuating circumstances in each case. Saldana was a young man who did not use a weapon in his crime. Maldonado was an impressionable child of 15. The codefendants in both crimes were treated less severely and are now free. During their decades behind bars, both Saldana and Maldonado have shown outstanding evidence of rehabilitation, including exceptionally good conduct records, completed programs, training, and proficient employment.

Wisconsin could benefit from commuting sentences: As Bryan Stevenson said, “Each one of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” There is obviously far more to Israel Saldaña and Michael Maldonado than the mistakes they made when they were young. These men have grown up and transformed themselves, developing talents, skills, and strengths of character that would make them valuable members of their local communities and the state workforce. Enabling men like them to rejoin their families and communities before they grow any older would benefit all of us. We need your support to acknowledge extraordinary evidence of growth, potential, and transformation from these men. Release them so their progress does not go to waste. Providing a second chance for these incarcerated individuals allows them to make amends while they take critical steps to be productive members of their community. Your support for redemption also saves taxpayers money because commuted individuals become employed and pay taxes when they are released. Wisconsin’s core values inspire hope that we are a people of second chances and that humanity deserves compassion, empathy, and forgiveness.

We are asking you to do something a little more time and labor-intensive than the usual email or phone call. After you read the letter, please send a letter or postcard through the US Mail to him yourself. Ask him, in your own words, to use his power to commute the sentences of Michael and/or Israel. – David Liners, State Director of WISDOM.

Please send the letter or card to:
Governor Tony Evers
115 E. Capitol, Suite 1
Madison, WI 53702

If you have already signed a petition or written a letter for this cause, please try to do so again, so that this effort is not buried. Many of us have found this to be a prayerful act of solidarity.

Questions? Please contact Patti:, HWM MOSES Representative

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