At the age of 16, Mario Bueno was convicted of second-degree murder and spent the next nineteen years in prison — three of which were in solitary confinement. Today, he is a reform expert, author, scholar, and co-founder of LUCK, Inc., an organization dedicated toward mentoring vulnerable populations within the Detroit Metropolitan Area. On this episode of Open Mike, Mario takes the reins and describes the effects prison had on his formative years, the spiritual awakenings he experienced along the way, and community outreach programs he’s currently engaged with.
[00:13] Mario Bueno’s background and bio
[00:59] Mario, welcome to the show!
[01:28] At age sixteen you were convicted of second-degree murder of a twenty-seven-year-old drug dealer… did you please guilty to that murder?
[02:49] You maintained your innocence, but you were found guilty in the second trial?
[04:02] It sounds like, now, you admit that you were involved in that murder?
[05:35] One of the problems with the criminal justice system is that it pits victim and perpetrator against each other and can prevent the offender from truly owning up to what they’ve done.
[06:07] We have an 87% recidivism rate within nine years of someone’s release from prison.
[07:46] To be able to truly convey remorse to a victim or victim’s family is restorative justice. Mario’s nonprofit, Luck, Inc. focuses on this type of justice through peer mentoring of at-risk populations.
[08:45] What was prison like once you admitted responsibility and reached out to the victim’s family? Were you trying to help other prisoners come to their truth as well? What was that process like?
[12:27] The year you spent in Oakland County solitary as a sixteen-year-old… was that the worst year out of the twenty you spent in prison?
[13:09] We need to reexamine the practice of solitary confinement — it’s inhumane.
[15:11] It took a few years for your personal and spiritual transformation to really sink in and manifest, it sounds like?
[16:08] Mario wrote a thesis titled, Incarceration of Adolescents in Adult Prisons: Adults’ Recollections of their Experiences and its Impact on Adult Adjustment in which he measured juveniles who were housed with adults and how they cope with the outside world once they’re released. One of the findings was that in order for juveniles to survive an adult prison, they have to become “conscious sociopaths” as a coping mechanism.
[20:20] There’s so much to unpack. You’re a McNair Scholar, creator of a nonprofit with twelve employees, author of two books — Reformed: Memoir of a Juvenile Killer and Never Going Back, which you wrote during the pandemic lockdown…
[21:58] There are 2,400 parolees in Detroit at any given time and 75% of them are unemployed. There are 8,400 people on felony probationers at any given time and 45% are unemployed. Mario had to create his own employment opportunities because, even with his prolific output, he’s unable to apply for and get a traditional job.
[26:29] You said you were kicked out of one of your prisons… why was that? It was making money stuff, not violent stuff?
[30:30] Mario details the poker and tobacco schemes he ran in prison and how a heart-to-heart with a warden influenced him to change his perspective and his behavior while he fulfilled the rest of his sentence.
[34:40] If you shift your belief system, you can shift cycles you find yourself stuck in.
[34:50] What did you change after coming to that realization?
[36:38] What are you doing right now, through your organizations, to help Detroiters and Michiganders?
[37:11] Mario is a community engagement coordinator for the Youth Justice Fund, servicing juvenile lifers who are returning back to the community. Luck, Inc. is also helping parolees find housing after extended sentences and helping guide them alo