Tim has information about the misconduct which led to his false imprisonment. Read his recent case updates and write the governor about Tim’s wrongful conviction—demand a pardon while asking for the abolition of the death penalty and the end of systemic racism in the criminal justice system.
When Tim called in late October, he said it is already getting cold in San Quentin. The concrete cells hold both the heat and the chill, and right now, Tim explained, he was already having to layer up to try to keep warm. This made him wonder about how the plants were doing at UC Santa Cruz Solitary Garden. After the election, and with the challenges and opportunities ahead for with the changing federal government, Tim said he wanted to think about how to prepare the garden for a spring replanting. After talking it through, we decided to take out some plants that weren’t doing so well and seed the bed with cover crop to replenish nutrients to the soil over the winter.
As Tim said, there is lots of work to do right now to heed Solitary Garden and jackie sumell’s call to “imagine a landscape without prisons.” He’s eager to continue prepare the ground in this long struggle for his own freedom and for abolition. He’s asked all of his comrades to focus right now on that vine which is climbing up the bars of Solitary Garden.
Learn more about Tim’s work as the UC Santa Cruz Solitary Gardener here.
By: Timothy James Young
When I say “celebrity platforms”, I’m not talking about their shoes. I’m talking about the apparatus in which they use to bring about social change. When it comes to celebrity platforms of the 21st Century, I elect Colin Kaepernick and Kim Kardashian as King and Queen.
Everyone knows that Colin Kaepernick risked his NFL career by taking a knee to draw attention to the systemic racism, oppression, and police brutality that Black people in America are subjected to. People know about the kneeling, and they know about his many accomplishments on the field. What they don’t know about, however, is his many accomplishments off the field.
During his time away from football, Colin Kaepernick has been the recipient of the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, Ambassador of Conscience Award, the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award, and even made GQ Citizen of the Year. He is recognized for his humanitarianism because he donates much of his time, money, and resources towards helping various non-profit organizations and community groups.
He also heads the Know Your Rights Camp, which is a free campaign for youth that helps raise awareness of higher education and self empowerment, and also teaches about safely interacting with law enforcement. All in all, Colin Kaepernick is using his platform to effect change, and he is doing it in a way that differentiates him from most other athletes.
As a newcomer to the world of activism, Kim Kardashian was met with a lot of side eyes and skepticism. People in activist communities questioned her motives. They questioned her commitment. But while they were sitting around conjecturing, she was busy bringing pop culture to the doorstep of criminal justice reform.
There will always be a contingency of naysayers, but based on Kim’s track record, skeptics are going to have to come to terms with the fact that Kim Kardashian has proven to be the real deal!
Not to toot Kim’s horn, but how many other “A” list celebrities do you know of that are down in the trenches, fighting to rectify the wrongs of the criminal justice system?!?
Not only is she fighting to correct the wrongs of the criminal justice system, but she has taken that fight straight to the white house! She has met with President Trump, she has met with his administration, and she has acted as a liaison while working with various social justice organizations to get a prison reform bill on the books. Needless to say, she was instrumental in getting the First Step Act passed, and signed into law. Kim is not just “talking” about criminal justice reform, she is being about it. This was evidenced by the fact that she was willing to journey into the belly of the beast (Death Row,) and visit with wrongfully convicted prisoners like Kevin Cooper and Rodney Reed.
Kim has not only visited and advocated on behalf of various prisoners, but she has also used her time, money and resources to help secure their freedom. The last time I checked, there was a growing list of about 20 prisoners that she has helped set free, including Alice Johnson, the grandmother who was serving life in prison for a non violent drug offense.
Say what you will about Colin, say what you will about Kim, but from where I sit, they are doing the kind of work that makes other celebrities look counterfeit.
True, there are many celebrities, with many different platforms, but how many of them choose to use them in a revolutionary way? Colin Kaepernick and Kim Kardashian have gone against the grain. They have dared to use theirs in a revolutionary way. For that, I crown them as King and Queen of celebrity platforms.
8 MINUTES 46 SECONDS: A CARCERAL CONTINUUM
By Timothy James Young
Sitting here in my four and a half by ten foot prison cell on San Quentin’s death row, what has stood out to me the most about the horrifying death of George Floyd is the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. As I watched the video of those long minutes, I asked myself, “what if that was me?” As I continued to process the image of George Floyd being penned down by three Minneapolis officers and made to give his last breath to the concrete, I began to think about how African Americans have been living that 8 minutes and 46 seconds for 400 years.
As a Black man in America, I have encountered Derek Chauvin types at every bend, corner, and stage of my life. And, in pulling from my memory, I would have to say that my earliest experiences with being choked by systemic racism started in school.
As a child, attending different elementary schools, there was always a tinge of discrimination in the air. Teachers and administrators treated the Black students as second tier. By the time I reached middle school, that “tinge” had become much more discernible. As I entered high school—and as the school system determined that I wasn’t the type to just “shut up and dribble”—I became expendable. That means that they became more engrossed with trying to incarcerate me than educate me. Nowadays this is called the “school to prison pipeline,” but when I was coming up it was just called the “facts of life.”
It is said that most cops are good cops? That may ring true to the recipients of white privilege, but it is not indicative of the Black experience. Where I come from, the majority of the cops are of the same caliber and mentality as that of Officer Derek Chauvin, and as a result, Black bodies overflow the nation’s juvenile halls, jails, and prisons. I can’t count the number of times that I was harassed by law enforcement, pulled over for no reason, searched, accosted, held at gunpoint, pepper sprayed, and falsely arrested. The worst of it was when five police officers decided to use my face as a punching bag while my hands were cuffed behind my back. Nowadays they call this racial profiling, police brutality,
criminalization, and mass incarceration, but when I was coming up it was just called “tough luck.”
Generations and generations of Black folks have been preyed upon, imprisoned, and left to decompose inside the belly of the beast—becoming compost for the garden of white supremacy. This happens because the criminal justice system is crooked and corrupt. And because judges, juries, and prosecutors get away with using the same “knee to the neck”
practices as that of Officer Chauvin.
When the highest court in the land rules that a Black man is a slave and not a citizen (Dred Scott v. Sanford), that’s a knee to the neck! When a Supreme Court Justice refers to a Black man peacefully protesting against police brutality as “dumb and disrespectful,” that’s a knee to the neck! When an African American is tried in front of an all white jury, that’s a knee to the neck! When white juries acquit police officers of killing Black people, that’s a knee to the neck! When prosecutors fail to prosecute killer cops, or do so only when they are pressured, that’s a knee to the neck!
How do we rectify this? How do we remove this judicial footprint? Here’s some food for thought. Had George Floyd survived his 8 minutes and 46 seconds of police terror, and had it not been caught on camera, he would be locked up right now and facing fifty years worth of false charges. The prosecutor would throw the book at him—and just like that, George would be a wrongfully convicted prisoner!
There is not a single Black person in this country that hasn’t been racially profiled, discriminated against, or made the victim of systemic racism. At the end of the day, every African American, from every walk of life has felt that 8 minutes and 46 seconds grip around their neck in some way, shape, or form. Be it physically, politically, or
socioeconomically—they have felt it!
Will there ever come a time when this Black holocaust is atoned for? A time when it is no more?
As a 50 year old, wrongfully convicted prisoner who has been incarcerated for over 21 years, I thought that I had pretty much seen it all. I have seen marches, riots, protests, movements, and everything in between. I have seen politicians come and go. I have heard all of the lies, rhetoric, propaganda, and lip service that they spew. And I have certainly seen their promises of “hope and change” fall to the wayside. But there is something about this moment that seems different. Not in terms of politicians, or the powers that be, but in terms of the people.
The national outrage and unrest that was sparked by the videotaped death of George Floyd have morphed into a bonafide movement. And the spirit of that movement has taken root all around the world.
Some people attribute the uprising and the movement to George’s death, but it was actually a culmination of things that led to the unrest. And to be clear, the movement is just as much about Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Tamir Rice, and Philando Castile as it is about George Floyd. The truth is, there are millions of known and unknown African Americans who have been killed, brutalized, or disappeared by the police. The movement speaks to each and every one of us. It also speaks to the intrinsic nature of everything that has transpired in this country over the past 400 years. This, in totality, is what caused people to get up, rise up, and say enough is enough!
It is a beautiful thing to be able to see America’s melting pot come together and signify that a better world is possible. And to hear them say that they refuse to go back to the way things were is a clear sign that they intend to turn the “possible” into a reality. And the fact that they would brave one pandemic (coronavirus,) in order to cancel out another one (systemic racism,) speaks volumes.
Protestors have expressed that they have no more patience for committees, commissions, congressional hearings, town halls, round tables, panel reviews, think tanks, deep dives, and more jive about reforms. They assert that the time for change is now! And that status quo politicians need to get on board or get out of the way! The people realize that politicians and judges are the gatekeepers of systemic racism, and that the laws and policies that they create have had a carotid stranglehold on the Bkack community for 400 years.
In following the protests, I am not only seeing a call to defund the police, but I am also seeing a call for abolition. Yes, people are fed up, and they want systemic racism, the police, the prison industrial complex, and the death penalty to be gone! I join them, and even though concrete walls, metal bars, and razor wire prevent me from marching in solidarity, my words penetrate the cosmos and travel the beaten path.
Here in California we are in a unique position because Governor Gavin Newsom is not only someone who “gets it,” but he is someone who has vowed to eradicate the roots of racism.
Taking on racism within the criminal justice system will be a tall task. My wrongful conviction comes as a result of police misconduct, judicial misconduct, jury misconduct, and prosecutorial misconduct. And if anyone was to investigate the malfeasance in my case, they would find that all of those acts of “misconduct” were bathed in white privilege, white supremacy and racism. This deserves visualization. Picture the likes of Officer Chauvin
sitting in the judge’s seat, in the juror’s box, and at the prosecutor’s table. This was my reality. And this is what prevented me from receiving a fair trial.
And then there is the Appellate process… where the wait is long, the reversals are few, and the system is completely rigged. Now I get the joke of why my trial judge would continually say: “take it up on appeal.” He had zero concerns about his erroneous rulings and unethical behavior being appealed to the higher courts. The impression he gave was that, “judges stick together just like cops do.”
This is my story. It is a snapshot of systemic racism. It is a portrait of the very thing that Governor Gavin Newsom has vowed to eradicate. My question then, is what will be done to overturn wrongful convictions? What will be done to uproot the systems that make wrongful convictions an American norm?
From my cell on San Quentin’s death row, I kneel, and I call out for change. My prayer? That freedom, justice, and equality exist on the other side of this movement. My fear? Is that Black people will be relegated to a carceral continuum, forced to live that 8 minutes and 46 seconds for another 400 years.
By Timothy James Young
I have recently been asked by journalists and others about my experiences of collaborating with the award-winning artist jackie sumell and UC Santa Cruz on the Solitary Garden project. People have also inquired about my health and asked if I would be willing to shed some light on the state of the Covid-19 pandemic at San Quentin State Prison. After thinking about it long and hard, I decided that these repeated questions reveal a story—a story that is worthy of sharing.
This realization also comes out of my experience of collaborating with jackie sumell and UC Santa Cruz, an opportunity that has been magical. When jackie selected me out of the 2.3 million prisoners there are in the United States to be the Solitary Gardener at UC Santa Cruz—I knew right then and there that I had hit the lottery! I still feel that way, and I always credit her with having celestial judgment because pairing me with UC Santa Cruz has been a match made in heaven.
When I first started working with jackie and the students on the garden, which sits overlooking the ocean on the UC Santa Cruz campus, I was excited to have the opportunity to imagine being able to touch the soil and grow food, plants, flowers… I think I would be happy to even grow weeds. I have been in a cell for 22 years, and I have not held soil in my hands for all those years. I’m in San Quentin, right next to San Francisco Bay, but I haven’t seen the ocean in all that time either. I felt like jackie had offered me a window out of my cell. I even designed the garden to have a veranda so I could better dream about having the view. And, it was amazing to work with students and volunteers to make my ideas become real.
What I came to realize was I was also being offered a platform. The mission of the Solitary Garden project is to get people to imagine a landscape without prisons. What I’ve learned is for people to want to abolish prisons, first they have to understand them and what it’s like to be inside. And, jackie has given me an opportunity to supply this information. I have a platform that allows my voice to be heard. The window jackie gave me works both ways—through letters, phone calls and camaraderie with staff, students, supporters, and volunteers, people are also able to see me. They are able to see my attempts to prove my innocence and the corruption that led to my conviction, as well as the conditions in San Quentin. Through Solitary Garden, I am able to transcend the concrete bounds of my four and a half by ten-foot prison cell and reach levels of visibility that the downtrodden can only pray for.
This has been especially important during the pandemic. On a personal level, the connections and the bonds that I have made through the Solitary Garden project have been invaluable. And the reason that I am still healthy enough to render these words is because of the love and support I received during the heart of the pandemic. As people may or may not know, I contracted the virus back in June of 2020. I had a very rough time of it but my saving grace came in the form of people who had come to know me through the project. It was my visibility that brought them in, but in return, it was their love, care and support that kept me afloat.
My experiences that I have shared through my Solitary Garden letters, which then are published online, have also given people a look at the inhumane workings of our nation’s prisons. I never received treatment for the virus, along with most of the other prisoners at San Quentin (many of us have been sick as a result of tight quarters, overcrowding, lack of ventilation, etc.) and I still suffer from lingering symptoms. And although I have incessantly complained about brain fog, fatigue, and “long hauler” symptoms, my complaints have fallen on deaf ears. I also suffer from sleep disorders. These sleep disorders were exacerbated after having contracted the coronavirus. Despite having sought medical help and requesting to be seen by a sleep disorder specialist to determine diagnosis and treatment, to date, the doctors at San Quentin State Prison refuse to refer me to a sleep specialist. Again, I am denied any semblance of adequate medical care.
My Covid-19 story is not an anomaly; I’m sure there are a thousand other horror stories just like it. But just as prison officials have hid the true number of positive Covid-19 cases and the true number of outbreaks, so too will they hide the number of long haulers. Case and point: I recently received a letter from my attorney (in relation to a mandatory Inmate Transfer Program) which stated that San Quentin is claiming herd immunity and alleging that they haven’t had a positive test result in the prison since August of 2020. However, over 30 prisoners in my unit were in quarantine at the time that I received the letter. Hypocrisy? Yes! But it speaks to how low the prison industrial complex will go in order to sweep pandemic statistics under the rug.
In spite of the pandemic, in spite of the outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, and in spite of the shelter-in-place-orders and national lockdown, I marvel at how much we’ve accomplished through Solitary Garden. Perhaps we could’ve made more strides had we not encountered so many roadblocks and impediments, but when I hear from people who have been impacted by the garden, the concepts behind it, or my writings—it lets me know that our mission to bring about abolition is pandemic proof.
The recording of the conversation with jackie sumell, Albert Woodfox, and Timothy James Young as part of the Visualizing Abolition webinar series hosted by Institute of Arts & Social Transformation in now available for view. This episode of the series was hosted in partnership with the Legal Studies department at UC Santa Cruz.
A collection of artwork created by friends and supporters of Tim, is now available on the new page titled The Art of Advocacy. Artwork including the “Root of the Matter” which is being considered for a mural project with the Color Study Group at UC Santa Cruz.
The Institute of the Arts and Sciences at UC Santa Cruz now has a podcast about Solitary Garden w/ Tim Young. Created by Zaarin, a student and intern at the IAS, the podcast features conversations with friends of Tim’s about prison abolition, activism, and friendship. Episode 1, in which Tim talks about the garden, is now available.
Friends of Tim Young at UC Santa Cruz have started a project to answer questions about Tim’s paths for justice. Read their research about the Innocence Project in California, explore their updates about Proposition 66 and the struggles to abolish the Death Penalty, and more.
“Sometimes, as a prisoner, hope is all I have. I dream of freedom, justice, and equality… a dream that has alluded black people for too long. If I didn’t dream, I think I would’ve died long ago. The fact that I dream and imagine it allows me to wake up every morning.” Read Tim’s interview here.
By: Timothy James Young
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!
“The medical staff said this morning that people who were sick and were having symptoms—there was nothing they could do. They are just going to leave people in their cells…the only way people will be moved is if they are having respiratory problems to the point they can’t breathe” ~Tim Young, June 23, 2020
Since early June, Tim has collaborated with Sharon Daniel on EXPOSED, an ongoing online artwork documenting the ongoing spread of COVID-19 inside prisons, jails, and detention centers and bears witness to the overwhelming scope and scale of the devastation wrought by the pandemic on those held captive within the carceral system. EXPOSED features interviews and letters about Tim’s experiences, reports from other people who are incarcerated throughout the United States, and statistics and information being disseminated through news reports and social media.
View clips of Tim’s contributions below, and visit unjustlyexposed.com to explore the full project.
Sharon Daniel is a digital media artist who creates interactive documentary artworks addressing issues of social, racial and environmental injustice, with a particular focus on mass incarceration and the criminal justice system.
Tim’s powerful poem, Citizen: In Shades of Antebellum Blue, is included in the Revolutionary Poets Brigade anthology, Building Socialism. We were able to record Tim reading the poem when he called recently from San Quentin, and we are happy to share the audio of Tim reading the poem below. It’s always nice to hear Tim’s voice in thee long months without visitation at the prison. The book is available here.
This is the first letter since mid-July, due to Tim’s illness with Covid-19. The phone calls have been sporadic calls as well. For a while the officials at San Quentin did not let anyone make calls, supposedly to help stop the spread of the virus. And, with staff also sick from the virus, there were also weeks when the phone was not moved along the tier with any regularity.
The good news is that Tim is feeling better, but he is definitely struggling. Read the full letter below.
We have not gotten a letter recently from Tim. With a brief telephone call last week, we know he is slowly recovering from the coronavirus in his small cell in San Quentin. Hopefully we will receive a new letter and update to share with you soon.
We did want to share this image of Solitary Garden, the participatory public art project at UC Santa Cruz. The picture of the sculpture similar to the one that Tim spends upwards of 24 hrs a day, and the garden that is being grown on his behalf was taken in the hours before the university was evacuated on August 20 for the CZU wildfires.
The photograph is a poignant reminder of the relationship between California wildfires, firefighters, mass incarceration, and prison labor. Repeatedly, the governor and other officials have talked about the ‘lack of resources’ available to combat the fires sweeping across the state. By “lack of resources,” they are speaking about California’s dependency on the labor of incarcerated firefighters. These firefighters are a limited “resource” because of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted prisons.
Looking at the 6’x 9’ sculpture of a solitary confinement cell sitting in the smoke of the fires is also to see an urgent question emerge. When prisoners are called state resources, what are the connections between mass incarceration, our overflowing prisons, and the state’s need for labor of this sort?
It was just announced that prisoners will no longer have access to phones in San Quentin. According to the Warden, this is to try to control the spread of the Covid-19. With more than 50% of the people locked up in San Quentin already testing positive, and many more displaying symptoms, this seems both cruel and too little, too late. Tim and everyone on death row and in solitary confinement have already been in their cells for 24-hours a day for weeks, sick and utterly isolated. And now, they won’t even be able to call loved ones for the foreseeable future.
While this is bleak, we just got a letter from Tim reporting that despite the horrendous conditions, Solitary Garden has brought some joy to his small cell. Someone recently visited UC Santa Cruz with their family and stumbled across the sculpture of his solitary cell and the garden. They described reading Tim’s letters and sitting in “his cell”, overlooking the Bay, and thinking about Tim. They write about how the project encapsulates the “torture” of U.S. prisons and called Solitary Garden “a call to action.” Tim said that the letter made his spirits rise, just to know that he is not utterly alone, and that people do see his plight. With letters being his only access now to the world outside of his cell, we hope more people will write Tim.
Tim called this afternoon with updates from San Quentin’s East Block, where he and all the prisoners sentenced to death penalties are held. At least 1/3 of the people in San Quentin now having tested positive for Covid-19—which Tim thinks is pretty much everyone who has actually been tested. Tim says that it feels “apocalyptic” on the East Block. Alarms are going off all the time too, with shouts of “man down”. Tim said he watched one guy get walked out of his cell by a guard. The guy was so ill the guard was pretty much dragging/ carrying him. Tim said the guy was brought back to his cell the same night.
Tim’s been coughing for two weeks, and he says his lungs feel like they are coated with something. He said everyone has the same cough, with the hacking heard echoing through the tiers 24 hours a day. He finally was tested for the virus yesterday, after having made the request for 10 straight days. The results will be back in about 5 days.
It was hardest to listen to Tim talk about the guy who died two days ago in his cell. This is the second reported death from the pandemic in SQ, and both deaths have been on death row. Tim said he thinks this is one of the reasons the governor and others aren’t doing anything about the catastrophe. Tim said bluntly that he expects most people in the U.S. could care less if people already sentenced to death die from a virus. While Tim’s innocence, and his struggles to get his case overturned are always in the background, Tim said, regardless of innocence or guilt, he wonders if this is what people imagine to be justice in the United States. Does justice means people sick and dying in cages?
I could only tell him that not everyone thinks that is justice—
Tim called yesterday with the news that he is coughing, has a sore throat, and body aches—and everyone else in the adjacent cells is in the same or worse condition. There is no more space to quarantine the people who are sick in the “Hole,” so any attempts to stop the spread of the virus seem to have ended.
Despite not feeling well, however, Tim did not call to talk about the virus or his own ill health. Instead, he wanted to talk about the uprisings and calls for abolition and justice that are resonating around the country— which brought protestors to gather at the gates of San Quentin even as we spoke by phone. In the over 20 years he has been incarcerated, wrongly convicted of a crime which he did not commit, Tim said, he’s never heard so many people talking about abolition. And yet, according to Tim, abolition is the logical conclusion to the systemic racism of the criminal justice system. “With racism impacting all aspects of not only policing but also how the courts mete out their judgments and sentences,” Tim asked, “how could justice be found within the same systems constructed around the discrimination of Black people, people of color, indigenous people, and the poor?…Abolition would give us a blank state, and should be part of the reparations that are past due in the United States.”
The phone call with Tim ended abruptly, as always, disconnected when the time was up, before we could talk more about his health or express hopes for his wellbeing. However, as Tim well knows, when we talk about abolition, we are talking about his health and wellbeing—and the undoing of the rampant sickness at the heart of the nation.
Read Tim’s new essay, 8 Minutes 46 Seconds. As he writes in this poignant piece about the murder of George Floyd and the carceral continuum,
“At the end of the day, every African American, from every walk of life has felt that 8 minutes and 46 seconds grip around their neck in some way, shape, or form.”
“What we have here is the tale of two knees. Kaepernick used his to make Black Lives Matter. Officer Chauvin used his to make Black lives nonexistent.”
I walked through the wilderness
A forest of new dimensions
Asphalt for grass, gun towers for trees
A zoo of rats, roaches,
And the shadows of men.
In this new nature
An enigmatic vision
Roses crack through concrete
And butterflies rest upon
Military grade razor-wire.
In a matrix, a maze
Creatures of misfortune
Phantoms without names
Exhibits of no escape.
In the wilderness lies the bones
Of an endangered species
Numerical skeletons waste away
Compost for systemic machinations
Black ecology—a cry unheard!
(C) Timothy James Young