My name is Timothy James Young. I am an innocent man on San Quentin’s Death Row, and I am also the Solitary Gardener at UC, Santa Cruz. I have been hearing from a growing number of people who are curious about abolition. Many of them have read my essay entitled “Mail Call” and were struck with one sentence: “Friendship is the pathway to freedom.” The question that they most frequently ask me is how does friendship relate to abolition?
I answer that question by conjuring up the actions of the late, great, revolutionary John Brown. In my eyes, there is no better example of how friendship relates to abolition then his story.
John Brown was a white man in the mid-19th century who was opposed to slavery. His countrymen, neighbors, and peers derided him as a “slave lover” and a “race traitor.” They despised him. But John didn’t concern himself with the jabs, threats, and excoriations of white supremacy—for he knew that his stance was the right stance and that he was standing on the right side of history. He didn’t see Black people as “three-fifths human,” he saw them as whole beings.
Brown was a man of faith and a man of humanity. He saw himself as a friend of enslaved people. And as a friend of enslaved people he felt that direct action was needed in the cause for abolishing slavery in the United States. I won’t go into a full account of history here, I’ll just say that Brown’s actions and the raid on Harpers Ferry are said to have been the spark that led to the Civil War. It is safe to say that the annals of African American history would read quite differently had there not been white people like John Brown who were willing to take direct action against the institution of slavery.
We are now in the 21st Century, and we grapple with the fact that slavery never really died. It survived. It morphed into a pipeline. A pipeline that sucks up Black bodies and delivers them into the belly of the beast. This, my friends, is the essence of modern day slavery. And when people ask me how friendship relates to freedom and abolition? I think about the sacrifices that John Brown made so long ago, and I reply, “How does it not?”
When it comes to friendship and abolition, John Brown is just one example out of many. I could list a thousand other names and examples here but the end result is that there are a thousand different levels, degrees, and approaches to this thing that we call “friendship.” What I commonly tell people is that “friendship” is a bridge that they get to design for themselves—they get to decide which lanes they travel and which lanes they don’t.
I have a handful of friends who have crossed that proverbial bridge and who now wish to aid me in overturning my wrongful conviction. I get questions from them all the time asking me what they can do to help my cause? They often get frustrated because they feel like they’re not doing enough, or that the wheels of justice are turning too slow. As a bonafide victim of those “slow wheels,” the first thing I tell them is that the struggle for freedom and abolition is not a sprint—it’s a marathon! I then coach them to pick a lane, set a pace, and to focus on going the distance. Lastly, I remind them that their time, talents, and resources are viable commodities, and when extended in friendship—freedom and abolition become a mountain that can be moved.
So come. Be a friend. Take action. Move a mountain. Make a difference. Fight for freedom and abolition!
Ded: To the handful.