My name is Mario Diaz Maldonado. I am forty-three years old. I have been incarcerated for the past twenty-one years of my life on a sentence of Life Without Parole on a First-Degree Murder charge.
I was born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico in 1974, and was raised in a low-income family. It was my mother and stepfather raising a family of six. Although neither of my parents had an education, they always did everything they could possibly do to provide for the family. Neither my mother or my father could read, but they worked in whatever fields they were able to in order to keep the roof over their family’s head, and bread on the table. They always implemented their very best teachings about life to each and every one of us, and for that I am very grateful.
I grew up around a lot of violence and in a very violent neighborhood. Before 1993 I had already lost two brothers to the gun violence and less than a year later there was an attempt against my own life. That’s when I decided to move to the States, specifically to the Bronx, New York, with some friends and relatives who were already residing there. I brought with me my wife Viviana Rosa, and in 1996 we both decided to move to Pennsylvania. We ended up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Just a few months later in April of 1996 our first and only child was born: Julio E. Diaz. My son was and has been the greatest blessing life has ever given me. But something that many didn’t know about me was that even though I pretended to being blessed and happy, in reality I was fighting a very strong drug addiction, along with a dependence on alcohol. I was using all sorts of drugs.
On May 3rd 1996 that same addiction would change not only my life, but many more lives forever. On that date I decided to visit the Fantasy Bar in Bethlehem. I just wanted to have some drinks and intoxicate myself with the drugs, which would usually numb me completely, and help me forget about all of the real-life problems that were occurring in my life, which I couldn’t face with a clean state of mind.
While at the bar, already intoxicated from all of the alcohol and drugs I’d consumed, I got up and walked towards the men’s bathroom. While in the bathroom another group of men who had been at the bar all night walked in and quickly surrounded me, saying some things I didn’t understand due to my limited English language skills. There was a witness there whose name was Jose, and he translated what this group was saying to me. He told me they wanted all of the money I had in my pockets and all of my jewelry or else they would kill me. Jose then said to run out the door before they block it and get to you. Just as he said it, I did exactly that. I ran out of the bathroom and straight towards my car, but they all followed behind me. I made it to my car and grabbed the gun I had inside of it. I quickly tucked the gun before they reached me. Once again, I was surrounded by the same group of individuals, and by now one had pulled a knife and was pointing it at me while saying some things I didn’t understand. Once he got a little closer I felt I had to pull my gun out and that’s exactly what I did. I fired one shot at the man who was holding and pointing the knife at me.
A split-second decision I made that night has not only changed my life, but also the lives of many others, perhaps more than I could possibly ever have imagined. I took the life of a man for some materialistic possessions that weren’t really worth much money in the first place. I took a son from a mother and she would never get to see her son again. A brother was lost from his siblings, and he was a friend to many who loved him. I could have easily surrendered my possessions and everyone today would be living, but my ego and drug addiction did not allow me to think very clearly, and today many are suffering due to that decision I made that night.
That night my mother lost another son. My son lost his father. My wife lost her husband. The family of the victim lost their loved one and still have to live with the pain of not being able to ever see him again. In a split-second I victimized more people that I could ever possibly imagine. My actions have broken up families forever. I want to take this moment to acknowledge and accept full responsibility for my actions on that day in 1996, in which I took the life of another young man. If not for my horrible actions, his loving family would have him here today. I’m very sorry for all of the hurtful pain I’ve caused to so many people, and I pray that they may find it in their hearts one day to forgive me for what I did. I know I might never gain their forgiveness, but I am truly very sorry.
Today I’ve been incarcerated for twenty-one years. Throughout the long journey I’ve come to view life in an entirely different manner. When I first came to prison I didn’t value or respect life. I was completely numbed, and the reality of my life hadn’t sunk in. In fact, it didn’t sink in until many years later. It took about ten or twelve years for me to really appreciate and fully value life. Today I have the utmost respect for life. Every morning I’m blessed with waking up, and I quickly give all the thanks to our Lord above. I started focusing more on what is important in life. I completed my education by earning my G.E.D. I’ve also completed all of the programs recommended by the D.O.C., which were Thinking for a Change, Violence Prevention, Citizenship, Stress and Anger, Substance Abuse, Drugs and Alcohol, Long Term Offenders, and so forth. I’ve also been a part of various organizations within the institution, such as Lifer’s Association, Jaycee’s, etc.
However, my biggest accomplishments have been reaching out to the youth. I see so many young men walk into this place without a clear view of life, similar to where I was twenty-one years ago. To those that are good listeners, I quickly talk to them and advise them that this isn’t life at all. There is so much more to life than what they believe, but they have to give themselves that opportunity to want to live and experience life for what life is, and not lying to themselves, believing that life is just being part of the street violence.
I also constantly reach out to my loved ones, especially my nieces and nephews, since many of them are young. But one young man I share much advice with is my son. I talk to him frequently and always share all of the best words a father could possibly share with his son. He’s a great young man, works very hard, and is very focused on completing college and making a very great man out of himself. He’s made me very proud because he’s done everything without me being physically present in his everyday life.
Because I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole does not eliminate the willpower I possess to continue forward with high hopes of one day regaining my life and freedom, and reuniting myself with my loved ones. I know I was sentenced to die behind bars and it’s what I’ve been doing for the past twenty-one years. But I’m a very faithful man today, and I will not stop fighting until I can see some positive results for myself and the many men who have my same sentence.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Mr. Governor Wolf and all Representatives from both parties for viewing our life without parole cases in Pennsylvania. I truly hope we all can come into some sort of agreement that could benefit the hundreds of men in my situation. I thank everyone for taking the time to consider these thoughts, and I will pray that nothing but good can come out of this.
You can contact me at the following address:
Mario Diaz Maldonado, DG3437
Smart Communications / PADOC
PO Box 33028
St Petersburg, FL 33733