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Incarcerated people in institutions around the country reacted in many different ways to the verdicts rendered last week against Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. Prison Journalism Project writers interviewed people around them, including corrections officers and other prison staff. Here are comments from inside the walls of several of those facilities.
California State Prison, Corcoran (Corcoran, Calif.)
Reporting by Dewan Evans
April 20 was a highly anticipated day here in Corcoran State Prison. It was judgment day for Officer Derek Chauvin. The atmosphere inside these walls was just as it was in the streets. Many stood closely in front of the television waiting for the verdict. I heard loud statements from several Black inmates saying, “Here we go again. Another police officer beating the charges,” and “If it was one of us, the jury would have been back in with a guilty verdict!”
Many Black inmates shouted with masks on their faces. Other races, whites and Mexicans, chimed in as well. Corrections officers kept saying it was accidental, and he shouldn’t get the maximum sentence. But of course they would say that because they are law enforcement themselves, and many have ways just like Chauvin.
Surprisingly a few inmates echoed that sentiment as well, including Blacks and inmates of different races. I was in disbelief. My personal feeling was that he was a guilty man on all counts. There was no question. Even if he didn’t intend to kill him, he didn’t care that he was taking a life. In my eyes, that was the same as intending to take George Floyd’s life.
The most anticipated feeling within these bars was that Officer Chauvin would be convicted of the lesser charges. I saw tension in the eyes of the African-American community here as they waited for the verdict after they showed the ending of George Floyd’s life.
Every time they showed it, you could see people cringe as George’s life went limp right before our eyes, with an officer on his neck with the look of pride, evil and hate. I am an African-American male myself. I stopped watching the video long ago because of what it triggered within me. I couldn’t focus.
Many had figured that Chauvin would walk with less time. But when the verdict was guilty, it was like a touchdown scored in a championship game in front of the day room television. There were screams of joy, “That’s right! About time!”
But I also recognized a few brothers that were not cheering. I wandered over to speak with M-dread. I asked him what he thought of the verdict, and he said it wasn’t a real victory.
“Yeah, he got charged, bro, but that family lost a son, his kid lost a dad, and it was barbaric how he got killed, and the only justice would be an eye for an eye, meaning life for life!” he said adding that it would only be justice if Officer Chauvin’s life was taken.
“Quote me!” he calmly continued, They will not give him the max for the crimes, and this will be a slap in everyone’s face because everyone wants him with the max, but it won’t happen.”
M-dread felt that Chauvin, a former officer, would get sympathy. As I walked away, I saw the former officer in a mask on the television. There were no tears in his eyes, just a concerned, worried look. He had already given up and knew he was on his way to prison. I saw a man who realized the outcome and was thinking about how much trouble he would get in and whether he would survive. His eyes looked worried!
I walked away from the day room with several inmates with different views. Most were happy. Will we see the law prevail or will they show favoritism to this Officer Chauvin? I will be tuned in like all of the world, hoping for justice. There is no question the officer took a life! Rest in peace George Floyd. Black Lives Matter!
Central California Women’s Facility (Chowchilla, Calif.)
Reported by Dorothy Maraglino, contributing writer
Before the verdict was announced, there was a sense of tension among the population here in my prison, especially because there had been several outbreaks of violence last July over attempts to begin a “Black Lives Matter” movement. When Chauvin was found guilty, there were cheers, banging on doors, shouting, and a few people running down hallways announcing the verdict for those with no TVs. The celebration lasted about five minutes. Many people made jokes about how he will be killed in prison. They speculated about how easy or hard he will have it. Some assumed there was a special prison just for cops that was easier than ours.
A seriousness descended after the jokes. Several commented about how George Floyd was still dead, and how a conviction or sentence didn’t fix anything. It only acknowledged the crime. A few inmates reminded people that a strong majority of prisoners in the prison were here for murder or attempted murder of innocent people. Some of them must have begged for their lives, too.
Some watched the speeches afterwards, but the seriousness was gone, but by 8 p.m., everyone had moved on to entertainment away from the realities of the world.
San Quentin State Prison, California
Reported by Steve Brooks, contributing writer
When the verdicts were being read, a lot of us were in our cells tuned into what was about to happen. After each guilty verdict was read you could hear cheers from people of every race. It sounded like everyone was watching the big game. Had we placed bets that Chauvin would be found guilty of everything, many of us would have lost. I didn’t sit through the trial. I was bracing myself to be disappointed. But in the end I do believe that the verdict was right.
Derek Chauvin’s defense was offensive to many of us here who saw the video footage of George Floyd’s murder. The defense alluded to Floyd having extraordinary (animal?) strength, having too many drugs in his system and a weak heart, and even being suffocated by exhaust fumes, but in the end the jury saw what we all saw, a sad and senseless murder.
The bottom line is we all need to take responsibility and be held accountable when we do something wrong, not just some of us.
Here is a roundup of the comments around me:
I believe justice was served in this particular instance but it’s not done, not until all racist Klansmen pretending to be police officers and public servants are held accountable for their violence against blacks and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law… Until then this cycle of white on Black crime will continue to be business as usual.
— Vincent E. O’Bannon, 59, staff writer for San Quentin News
I was looking at his face while the verdicts were being read, it was a look of surprise. He didn’t think he’d be convicted. He looked confused like what did I do?” It’s a shame we gotta celebrate something like this, it’s really a tragedy from both angles.
— Alex Ross, 54, student at Mt. Tamalpais College (college at San Quentin)
He lost because the Blue Wall turned against him.
— Lecedric Johnson, 55, Student at Mt. Tam, social justice advocate
When I first heard about the Chauvin verdict I felt numb. I knew what I would hear next: “Guilty, lock him up.” I’m a strong proponent for the abolition of prisons because I know it’s all about revenge, but then I also realize this moment in American history is bigger than me. People of color needed this. We all have a George Floyd in our family. Maybe this will spark real change.
— Troy Dunmore 57, student, alcohol & drug counselor and social justice advocate
Roundup From San Quentin State Prison, California
Reported by Joe Garcia, contributing writer
I was just waiting for it. If the verdict had been anything else, that jury needed to be shot in the head. I watched the trial like a soap opera. In the beginning, I was like, “Here we go again. The cop always wins.” But man, the way those prosecutors broke that video down play by play with the forensics in there backing them up, no one that was human could watch that and see anything else but a murder plain and simple. There was no room for Nelson to wriggle out. We’re not hypotheticals.
We’re talking about what people really saw. Little kids and everything. It doesn’t change nuthin.’ The same day, that 16-year-old girl got shot and killed, so what do it change? Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Breonna Taylor, it’s all the same. Kamala came out and said her little piece. That was all a front. Biden and her, they just happy Blacks, whites, Hispanics and everybody wouldn’t tear this motherfucker up on their watch. Heal the nation? Come on. You ain’t healing us. We know who Biden is. He don’t give a fuck about Black folk. He only give a fuck about his position. He saw the door left open after Trump to go in there and finally become president.”
— Tom Garner, a 45-year old Black man
I don’t like what happened to George Floyd. It could’ve been me. I’ve been hospitalized by the police before. They beat my ass. But when you’re on the wrong side of the law, it’s going to happen to you. Let’s be honest. George Floyd was a dope fiend, a known felon. He was uncooperative and resisted arrest. He’d been in trouble before. It’s obvious that he’d still be alive if he’d just complied. But when the prosecutors reenacted that arrest, it’s crystal clear that what Chauvin did was completely criminal. The verdict had to be guilty. Everyone knows that Blacks were gonna riot if they didn’t get their way. What would happen if a Black cop had did that to a white man. Would we have rioted? The one that really breaks my heart is Breonna Taylor. She was just an innocent victim. The cops had no reason to shoot her down like that. That’s the one I can’t get over.
— Michael, 60s, a reformed white supremacist
It was the right verdict. It wasn’t about the police thing, it was about what happened. If it wasn’t for that girl filming it from beginning to end, they never would have got him. They filed a false report when it happened and tried to cover it all up. But that video? Damn. All eyes were on it. The whole world became the witness. Instead of 12, the whole world was a jury. I think this case will change a lot of people’s opinions. If you’re going to be a cop, you’re gonna have to start thinking differently. It ain’t the same job it was. I’m sure we’ll see a lot of cops resigning. It’s just like CDCR. Corrections officers are way different these days. It’s a big difference from what it was in the ’80s. Back then, you couldn’t even approach an officer for help unless you was bleeding or something. That’s just how it was. But now, we see these police departments stepping up, too, because their leaders are stepping up.
— Darwin Billingsley, a 60-year old Black man
California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran (Corcoran, Calif.)
Reporting by Tue Kha
I think Chauvin didn’t intend to kill George Floyd, but he shouldn’t have kept his knee on Floyd’s neck so long. It was unnecessary. I hope there will be more police body-cams for cops in the future.
— Anthony F.
I’ve been in the military. In the heat of the moment, anything can happen! If Floyd didn’t resist the arrest, then it wouldn’t force Chauvin to get physical with him. I do not agree with the verdict. Chauvin was just doing his job. Chauvin risked his life everyday dealing with the Blacks who resist arrests and have bad attitudes against cops. It’s dangerous and stressful…but they still need to be retrained.
Chauvin deserves what he got! Justice was served. Racism and policing in the U.S. will not change. It’ll stop for a minute but will not change.
— Tony R.
I’m glad that Chauvin got convicted. I want to see the judge give him at least 30 years. Nothing gonna change!
— Mel Hemphill
I don’t think anything about it. There are a lot of this type of issues being unhandled. This country is built on racism, so nothing is gonna change!
— Dawone Finell
I’ve been a cop before. I get away with anything and everything because I’m not a crook. I built prison; prison don’t build me. If Donald Trump is still in office, Chauvin wouldn’t be convicted! Just like you guys — your job is to try to get away with it. My job is to catch you.
— Correctional Officer O
I’m happy Chauvin got convicted. Instead of second-degree murder, it should have been higher. I have no hope for the future about racism and policing in the US. They’ve been doing this for so long. Chauvin is just a sacrifice. They gonna keep on doing the same!
— Khaisean Smith-Love
What Chauvin got, Chauvin got coming. Chauvin should be held accountable whether he’s an officer of the law or not. Racism in the U.S. is not going anywhere. Any types of bias are also not going anywhere. Policing is still going to be the same. Race don’t matter. Chauvin killed George Floyd!
— Bret Gallagher
I’m Native American. This stuff has been going on forever to the Natives, Blacks, Mexicans, Chinese. It made me think twice about paying my tax dollars toward policing when you see what Chauvin did to George Floyd. Shit, nothing is going to change.
— California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation staff J.S.
Chauvin got what he deserved. No one is above the law. Just because you work for the law doesn’t mean you’re above the law… I would like to see correctional officers wear body cams. They do scandalous stuff all the time to us inmates.
— Isaiah Tautalatasi
If I can commit a crime of murder and serve the maximum amount of time — 30 years for second degree murder — as a youth offender, I don’t see why the same rule shouldn’t apply to Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd. If you’re an authority figure and you commit a crime, you shouldn’t be able to get special treatment. If anything, you should get the harshest punishment because you take money from taxpayers and you violate their trust also! The systemic racism and bad policing is real. I experience it almost on a daily basis, even after I’m already in prison. It takes real leadership to change it. We need more leadership like President Biden and Vice President Harris!
— Tue Kha
California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran (Corcoran, Calif.)
Reporting by Angel Garza
This is a death sentence for Derek Chauvin. What I can say about Chauvin is he is not safe in the prison system.
I have sat in the chow hall and on the yard, and the majority of the prison population says that this ex officer will not be able to walk in any prison yard whether it be in the general mainline population or the Sensitive Needs Yard.
So many prisoners from all races want this man dead, especially the Black race. Not only does he have to worry about being targeted and possibly murdered in prison, but the gangs will put a price on his head to deliver him to those who want to take justice in their own hands.
But there might be some from his own race who would want him to join them, and they could protect him, but that comes with a price he knows nothing about. They would only use him and dispose of him when they get what they want out of him. His own race might praise him for killing a Black man, telling him he did a good thing and that there are others like him who have done the same. They can use him knowing he is an ex police officer and has ties to the streets to work with these gangs for their benefit.
But there’s nowhere for him to hide in prison.
The only way he will be safe is to go to a protective housing unit (PHU) as a walk alone by himself or to be placed in some private prison for ex-cops where he is protected. There is so much hate for this ex cop throughout the conversations that I hear about Chauvin.
I believe we are in an era where we need to have police reform that is not corrupt or sugar coated or lenient against crooked cops. Just like condemned criminals with the full max penalty, crooked cops who murder Black lives should get the same treatment!
May George Floyd’s spirit live on in each and every one of us, and may we remember him and the many Black lives he saved through his death, which is changing the world.
California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran (Corcoran, Calif.)
Reporting by Artemus Blankenship
When the judge announced the verdict, I was surprised that the unit did not explode in jubilation. It was like a dog starting to howl at the moon, then abruptly silenced by its master. It was eerie, not unexpected but anticlimactic.
Maybe as prisoners are only able to vicariously experience the world from what we hear and see, the events have had far less impact upon our psyche than that of the general public.
Kevin Ward, a fellow prisoner, asked, “Is the verdict progress or social pressure? Is the difference a real shift in social thinking and social reform? Is it lasting?”
Ward believes the current mass incarceration system will be the reality for awhile. Incarceration in the United States is a multi-billion dollar industry and just like some of the Wall Street firms that are too big to fail, so is incarceration. However, he hopes the face of incarceration will change.
The overall thought from everyone was that it was about time! I spoke with one Hispanic officer here who stated that the verdict was like watching a hero fall on his sword for the sake of continuance.
I found that most of the responses I have gotten from other prisoners were indicative of their respective social and peer groups (i.e. Muslims, Christians, gang members, gangsters, eggheads, legal beagles, academics, chess club, the politicians, the advocates, the revolutionists).
I did have an opportunity to have a conversation with an ally, Joe Alfred Taylor III, the Islamic liason for the Islamic Inmate Advisory Council, who answered some questions:
Does the Derek Chauvin verdict come from social justice or social pressure or both?
“In my view, the guilty verdict was based on the clear and present evidence of the crime coupled with a team of prosecutors who had enough. There was clearly pressure from Black communities, but if every court case were televised, maybe equal protection and justice for all would be served.”
Do you think this verdict will instill the courage for other juries to follow the letter of the law?
“I don’t think the verdict instills courage more than a fair prosecution! Derek Chauvin had no defense because he didn’t think he was wrong. Ignorance of the law is no excuse no matter who the person is, but I believe it to be even worse when law enforcement violates the law. These jurors followed the law, not the color.”
Do you think this verdict will balance the scales of justice or perhaps dip the scales of justice to the side of social reform?
“I view this verdict as what it takes for justice to be equal. The scales of justice have always been balanced. It is the actions, prejudice and bias of the officials we entrust to protect our rights, who violate it, but it is us who must enforce the law. Enforce our rights. If George Floyd’s family wasn’t behind him, this case would have been swept under the veil of injustice like they have been for the voluminous George Floyds and modern-day Jim Crows.”
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.