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A Son's Tribute to His Imprisoned Father

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Chicago teen Joel Serrano has never seen his father outside prison walls. So Joel will spend this Father's Day like all the others -- visiting Armando Serrano at the Dixon Correctional Center, 100 miles from the Northwest Side home where Joel lives with his brother Danny and Armando's family.

The family's trek to Dixon this Sunday would be gut-wrenching enough if Armando had committed the crime that landed him behind bars. But Joel is filled with anger because he believes that his father is an innocent man.

Last month, facing graduation from high school without his father present, Joel expressed his pain in lyrics and music. You can watch the three-minute video, "Where's Daddy?" above. Below are excerpts of the lyrics interspersed with my commentary about the case.

I feel ya' pain and I swear to God it hurts
They put you in a cage and ignored what you were worth.
Words can't express how I wait for your return
A father to his son while one was at birth.
I wish I could reverse all the bullshit in life
I wish they'd reimburse what they took from my life.
Stabbed you from behind and got rid of the knife
Set you up inside the pen to be buried alive.

Armando Serrano was "buried alive" when he was convicted in 1994 of killing a Humboldt Park man. The evidence against Serrano, and co-defendant Jose Montanez, consisted of their supposed confession to a neighborhood snitch. There were no eyewitnesses or physical evidence that incriminated the men, and they steadfastly professed their innocence to the authorities. Based on the snitch's testimony, however, they were convicted and sentenced to 55 years.

It's fucked-up how the world spins
Living in a world of take but you don't give.
Ignore the wicked but punish the fuckin' innocent
Wishin' you were given the chance to prove your innocence.
But nope, the truth is there's no fuckin' truth
It's all a spoof to these dudes in their suits.

The truth? The snitch signed a sworn statement in 2004 repudiating his testimony, saying he lied in order to get a sweet deal for three armed robberies in which he'd been caught red-handed. He also had falsely testified in other murder cases and became known as the infamous "Pope of Humboldt Park" -- because neighborhood residents felt compelled to confess their "sins" to him.

The "dudes in their suits" included former Area 5 Det. Reynaldo Guevara, who has been accused of procuring false testimony from snitches, rigging line-ups and acts of brutality in more than 50 cases. One case led to a $21 million judgment against Guevara and the City of Chicago, the largest jury verdict of its kind in the city's history. The other "dudes" were prosecutors who concealed evidence about their deal with the snitch, according to court filings by Serrano's lawyer.

Eighteen years have passed since Serrano and Montanez were convicted -- eight years since the case against them evaporated. A motion for a new trial is pending before Cook County Judge Maura Slattery Boyle.

It fuckin' hurts when a father can't make it to a son's birthdays or fuckin' graduations
I'm crying and I'm waiting, I'm saving the occasion.
I'm standing pretty tall but I swear I'm 'bout to cave in
I maybe look happy, but see I'm missing daddy.
You ask me where he's been and I'll tell you where exactly
Buried deep, can barely breathe or see his fuckin' family...
But I'm doin' my very best
Make you proud so when you're out you live in my success.
Starin' at the sky feeling blessed 'till the sun sets
'Cause happiness isn't given -- you must invest.

Joel Serrano graduated from Aspira Early College High School on Saturday. Shortly before receiving his diploma, he spoke to his father by cell phone, hearing words of love and pride. "I felt like my Dad was by my side as I was walking to the stage," Joel told me. In the fall, he will begin classes at Columbia College, where he will join his brother Danny in studying music.

Meanwhile, back in court yesterday, Cook County prosecutors finally agreed -- after a protracted battle -- to allow defense lawyers to see copies of the official case files from the mid-1990s. A hearing on the defense motion for a new trial is expected by the time Joel leaves for college.

I'll show the whole world what we've been through
It takes two to stay true when you've been accused.
And I ain't never losing faith
Every night, I pray for your escape.
I love you.