Here in prison, amid condemned men, the weather of life is often inclement. The winds of misery blow relentlessly, and for me, one of the only things that I have to look forward to throughout the week is the announcement of “mail call!”
The anticipation is real! From Monday through Friday I find myself waiting on the 2:00 PM shift change! That is when the 2nd watch goes home, and the 3rd watch officers begin their eight-hour shift. When the 3rd watch officers enter the unit to begin their shift, they usually stop at the front desk area where the mail for each tier has been sorted out and placed in individual USPS carrying containers. The officers will then pick up the mail for their assigned tier and report for duty.
On a good day, the officer will have the mail passed out by 4 o’clock (which is the prison’s institutional count time.) If not, the mail is often not passed out until after chow time. For me, the agony of waiting for the officer to walk down the tier with the mail cart is tortuous. I always find myself waiting with bated breath!
Who am I? And why does mail matter so much to me? My name is Timothy James Young. I am an innocent man on San Quentin’s Death Row, convicted of a crime I didn’t commit. My mode of thinking is that if Black lives are to matter…If abolition is to matter…If my life is to matter….Then mail must matter! Support must matter!
It’s not just that every time I get a letter, I can sometimes forget that I spend the bulk of my existence (sometimes 24 hours a day) alone in a cell so small I cannot stretch out my arms. It’s not just that a letter breaks up the monotony of my days spent surrounded by concrete and bars. It’s not just that when I get a letter, I know that someone sees me as more than the identification number I have been given by the state. It’s also that I know every letter I get is a small triumph against a system that has tried to make me and the other 2.3 million people in U.S. prisons and jails invisible.
When it comes to politics and policing I often talk about the “carceral continuum,” and if you can recall the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of horror that George Floyd was subjected to, then you can probably imagine some of the horrors that take place in prison. I won’t paint any pictures here, I’ll just say that prisons are designed to dehumanize people and to tear down all lines of communication, care and support. So, when I get a letter, it makes a difference in my life, and my day is so much better. And, with every letter, I am also proud that others are joining me in the fight against the racist and oppressive structures that want to vanish me.
I am a freedom fighter. I fight for freedom, justice, and equality. I fight on behalf of all. I fight for those who won’t even fight at all. I do all of this from behind the walls…the walls of mass incarceration, racism, and oppression. Yes! I am trapped inside the belly of the beast! But, do not let the media, the prison industrial complex, or the powers that be deter you from reaching out, having an impact, and making a difference in my life. With your support I am able to effect change from the inside out! With your support, be it emotional, personal, monetary, or legal, I am able to spread my tattered wings and reach new heights!
The way I see it, letters lead to friendship. Friendship leads to solidarity. And solidarity leads to support. It may not always happen in that exact order, but the theory that I have developed is that “friendship is the pathway to freedom!”
Speaking of mail, this year one of my supporters had sent me a drawing of a rose for my birthday. Scrolled across the rose was the word “solidarity.” I used to liken myself to the “Rose That Grew From Concrete,” but after 20 plus years of incarceration, and after receiving the rose that was gifted to me, I now consider myself the “Rose That Grew From Solidarity!” I realize that solidarity not only strengthens me and allows me to grow, but that it also places me snugly inside of a community that cares! A community that believes that a better world is possible!
I consider myself a student of life, and every person that I am able to correspond with and build with is simply another opportunity for me to learn and grow. So I ask that you get off the sidelines of apathy and indifference, and that you pick up a paper a pen. I ask that you join my fight for freedom and abolition and that you allow your light to become a beacon of hope. And, in the words of the award winning artist jackie sumell, I ask that you “gift your eyes, your voice, and your freedom of movement to those who need them most.”
Make no mistake about it, your time, talent, and resources have the ability to move mountains…and when it comes to extracting a wrongfully convicted prisoner from the talons of the criminal justice system, sometimes it starts with just a simple letter, a letter of solidarity!
Consider this an SOS, a last request, a Hail Mary of sorts. And what I am asking is that you not only find me worthy of letters and kind acts of humanity, but that you’ll also consider becoming an active member of the “Free Tim Young” campaign. We are a budding movement, and our mission is in line with freedom, abolition, and eradicating the roots of systemic racism. Who’s in? Who will help bring my nightmare to and end?! I will await your letter at the next mail call!