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Pulaski State Prison (Hawkinsville, Ga.)

By Ladrina Johnson 

The sound of the blaring television filled up the small dayroom as all of the offenders stood in front of their cells and leaned over the rails. Some stood directly under the mounted televisions, arms crossed, feet set apart awaiting the blow so usually given in cases like George Floyd’s. 

April 20, 2021, will go down in history as a milestone in the revolution for the liberation of African American people in America.

When the verdict was read and Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges of second degree murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter, a rare cry of happiness escaped the throats of offenders all over the facility. 

Jazmen Hazelrigs, who works in food service, said they celebrated by dapping each other. “It’s great that justice was served, especially after being here in a place where I see people who can’t breathe everyday.”

Most people don’t think Chauvin kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck with the intent to murder him. His guilt was about the actions that led to the unfortunate demise of George Floyd. His use of power for the misguided purpose of control destroyed his career and damned his co-defendants and was deadly for George Floyd. 

Now we have to watch the appeals court for the next several years. 

Will the justice system stand on the guilty verdict, or will an appeal be granted when the world isn’t watching anymore? Is the integrity of the justice system color blind? We’ll find out very soon.

East Jersey State Prison (Rahway, N.J.)

By M. Yayah Sandi 

As I sat down waiting for the jury to return the verdict in the Chauvin case, I was apprehensive because I felt that this was going to be one more occasion in which we would be told that the video evidence was not conclusive in the determination of Floyd’s death. 

On the ABC News feed, attorney Sunny Hostin reflected on the verdict in the Rodney King case and how the evidence presented by the video was ignored by the jury.

Many individuals here at E.J.S.P. believed that without the video evidence, Chauvin would have been found not guilty. Morris Andrew, an inmate on my wing said he was expecting the manslaughter conviction because of the overwhelming video evidence.

“Without the video, he would have been acquitted,” he added. 

A correctional officer, who asked to remain anonymous said he was happy that Chauvin was found guilty and that the “blue wall of silence” was broken.

Most officers preferred not to discuss the case even though they admitted that they felt he was guilty.

The general consensus, however, is that the verdict changes nothing. 

“Although Chauvin was found guilty, his conviction only represented a drop in the bucket because within 24 hours of his conviction, there were two fatal police shootings,” said William Marshall, a fellow inmate. 

Most of the inmates also feel that he will receive a light sentence. 

Belmont Correctional Institution (St. Clairsville, Ohio) 

By Marvin Myers

From the inmates’ stand point, Chauvin got what he deserved. 

However at the same time, we were receiving news of the shooting in Columbus Ohio. We started to feel as if the victory was being snatched away.

Many of the staff agreed with the verdicts, but one pointed out that he thought Chauvin “only got convicted because they didn’t want the city to burn.” 

I believe systemic racism will always be here. It’s like having a snake that can multiply when cut. When it comes back, it’s more crafty than before. People are becoming desensitized to the killing of unarmed Black people. One White staff here said, ”I’m glad its over because its making me look bad and all I want to do is my eight and go home.” 

Can justice be truly given?

The guys in here are more worried about where their next high. Most don’t care. They believe that the issues going on don’t affect them. 

One inmate states that it will be stimulating because it helps to show what is really wrong with policing. 

Hopefully it will get better and we can experience real change.

I’m in a prison in Hicksville, so far from a major city. There’s nothing we can do, but the time for real change is now, and we must pray that it happens in this lifetime.

California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (Corcoran, Calif.)

By Walter Hart

There aren’t a multitude of things that we have the opportunity to wait for in prison. We wait for release dates, board appearances, court decisions, visits, annual committee appearances, canteen, chow, and packages. 

This year we were “privileged” with the once-in-a-lifetime chance to wait for a verdict in the murder trial of a police officer whom the world witnessed kill an unarmed Black man whose infraction was attempting to buy a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill.

We waited at the edge of our seats here in Corcoran State Prison. It was a major event. People talked in hushed tones, and tension hung heavily in the air. 

The outcome of the verdict after a three-week trial that favored the prosecutors would be humongous. If it was a not guilty verdict, it would be a major blow to every African American in America, as well as those from every other race, who had a conscience and hoped for justice and accountability.

The jury piled in, and the foreman passed the verdict sheet to a marshall who walked it over to the judge. You could hear men yelling in the unit, “Turn to court TV, the verdict is in.” The judge cleared his throat and began reading, the camera panned over to Derek Chauvin who sat emotionless but while also looking uneasy and unsure of things. 

The judge read, “As to count one, second-degree murder, guilty.” I lost it after that. Everything was a blur. All I could say over and over as I wiped the tears from my eyes was, “I told you! I told you! I told you!”

It’s very sad to think that George Floyd’s life had to be sacrificed on film in broad daylight in order for true change to be on the horizon. Sacrifice comes on different levels like a plate of ham and eggs. The chicken only had to sacrifice a couple of eggs to make the plate happen but the pig had to sacrifice its life.

Great Meadow Correctional Facility (Comstock, N.Y.)

By Lloyd Friedland

I’m somewhat content with the verdict. I personally believe that Derek Chauvin deliberately applied his knee pressure. I myself would have voted for first degree murder.

As far as the reaction from prison inmates that I personally heard and observed, there were loud, incoherent verbal assaults regarding the police. They shouted obscenities from their cells ( “F — k that cracker!”)

I predict that Chauvin will crumble inside of prison. He will not survive the harshness and realities of prison life. He will not be going to a country club style prison environment, rather he will be somewhere with gray, 30-foot high walls, leaky water pipes, and no privacy. My prediction is that within one year or less, he’ll bite the bullet, hang up, cut up, unless the inmates get to him first. Chauvin will be taking the elevator non-stop downward, straight into the fiery hot box of hell! 

Also, sad to say, Chauvin could be released from prison in 10 to 12 years from now. I’m serving 18 years to life for armed robberies. Chauvin has a much better chance of acquiring parole before I do. 

Green Haven Correctional Facility (Stormhaven, N.Y.) 

By Reginald Stephen

The conversation has been nonstop about the Chauvin verdict. It’s safe to say the mood is celebratory in a vindictive kind of way. 

Guys have put forth unprintable scenarios of what should happen to Chauvin once he enters prison. 

For most guys the jury is still out until his sentence has been imposed. Media reports suggest that Chauvin being a first time felon could be sentenced to much less than the max. That doesn’t sit well with most guys. 

I imagine that when guys think about possible sentences Chauvin might receive, they compare their own long sentences. Guys are also debating avenues of Chauvin’s appeals. They are suspicious he will wiggle his way out the back door somehow. 

The trial, the witnesses against Chauvin and the finding of guilt on all counts is so unusual it defies credulity and that sentiment is implied in much of the commentary one hears. 

Absolutely no one is convinced Chauvin’s guilty verdict will have any impact on the way the police interact with communities of color. The murder of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, removed any hope that sweeping change would occur in the short term. 

I conducted short interviews with my neighbors. The following is what they had to say:

Interview with Jason Brewer

Jason is my neighbor, a 42-year-old prisoner with 19 years in on a 25-years-to-life-sentence. He has lived a hard-knock life but has settled and has redirected his energy to fighting his case. I questioned him and he provides me short, clipped answers. 

PJP: Were you surprised by the Chauvin verdict?
JB: Yeah, I was, I really was. Cops usually get away with killing us.

PJP: Are you satisfied that justice has been served?
JB: Nah, he gotta get sentenced and get a sentence like we get. ..and he could still get an appeal and get out. It ain’t over till it’s over.

PJP: What kind of sentence do you think he should get?
JB: Life with no parole, but that ain’t gonna happen. You know that.

Interview with Michael Johnson 

Mike is a songwriter and someone I’ve known in passing for a few years. We were both in Sing Sing together. Mike always has a ready smile and he and I talk about music all the time. Mike is distrustful of people and things that represent the establishment, but he’s a friendly brother and I enjoy being in the presence of the goodwill he projects. 

PJP: What do you think about the Chauvin verdict?
MJ: I agree with the verdict. He guilty. Justice has been served, but how much time will he get is the question?

PJP: How much time should he get?
MJ: The max! He took a life. He should get sentenced just like they sentence us. He abused his power on camera like it was all good. He should pay.

PJP: Do you think Derek Chauvin being found guilty will change the way police will interact with communities of color going forward?
MJ: Hell nah! Look man, this thing goes all the way back to slavery times. They’re trained to deal with us like they do. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some good cops, but they can’t be good cops because of the bad cops and the blue wall of silence.

PJP: So what changes do you think should be made?

MJ: Police that work in the Black community should be required to live in the communities they work in. This way when they get off work they have to see those same people they police.

PJP: Besides being arrested have you had encounters with the police and what were they like?
MJ: Man, every time I see the police my heart would start beating faster. I was afraid of them. They used to run down on us all the time and throw us on the wall and just harass us for nothing.

PJP: Do you have any hope things will get better between people of color and the police?
MJ: No, I don’t.

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.

Ladrina Johson is a writer and beekeeper incarcerated in Georgia.

Lloyd Friedland is a writer and artist incarcerated in New York.

M. Yayah Sandi is a writer incarcerated in New Jersey. He requested that his first name be withheld.

Marvin Myers is a writer from Columbus, Ohio, who is incarcerated in Ohio.

Reginald Stephen is a writer incarcerated in New York.

Walter Hart is a writer incarcerated in California.