Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Ocean Ng on Unsplash

The jaws of the dungeon opened and I was swallowed inside. Once hid away in this labyrinth of chaos, I’ve had to unwillingly reside in places among men who, like me, have been wronged by the systemic practices of American jurisprudence.

Many of these men, including me, have attempted to right the trespasses against us. That’s not unusual. It’s what people do. But to disentangle one’s self from the overwhelming grasp of government power is no small undertaking. It takes staying power and time. 

To right a wrong, whether it’s real or imagined, some men learn to “do as the Romans do” and abandon all ethical, moral, and Christian teachings such as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’m not one of them. I’ve always viewed that kind of behavior as counterproductive. I have not prayed enough, but I’ve never preyed on others. 

Where I live, I’ve been wronged too many times to count. Sometimes — many times — I’ve wanted to strike back, but as it has often been repeated: “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Never mind if the first wrong wasn’t right, either.

Now my life is filled with contradictions. Retribution and vengeance, I am told, are not the answers. Perhaps. I’ve had to remind myself constantly that this is a race against the time given to me. It’s what I’ve had to endure every waking moment of my life for one score, four years and several fortnights. Time runs out for each of us, though. 

The clock is ticking against me as the pendulum swings like a tethered guillotine suspended by a thread over my shackled body, while packed in like a sardine at San Quentin State Prison. If I survive another five to twenty years, I’ll be eligible to emerge from this time capsule a better man.

I’m one of America’s 2.3 million disappeared, incarcerated if you prefer, hanging on by the proverbial string. During this sojourn, while at Folsom State Prison, I did the same. That was nine years ago. Before that, I did it at California State Prison Solano, after being transferred from California State Prison Sacramento where San Quentin sent me the first time, after receiving me from Martinez Detention Facility.      

It took two years, seven judges, three attorneys, one prosecutor, the screening of 650 potential jurors, three trials, “evidence,” a conviction, and a life sentence to send me to prison. Contrary to popular belief, however, time has to serve me, not the other way around. Lest I forget, if I fail to withstand the ravages of time, it will devour my mind, my body, my soul.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Kevin D. Sawyer is a contributing editor for PJP; a member of the Society of Professional Journalists; and a former associate editor and member of the San Quentin News team that won SPJ’s 2014 James Madison Freedom of Information Award. His work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Post, California Prison Focus and others. He was a 2019 PEN American Honorable Mention in nonfiction and a 2016 recipient of The James Aronson Award for community journalism. Prior to incarceration, Sawyer worked in the telecommunications industry for 14 years.