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There Should Be No Value Placed on Life

By Shon Pernice, Moberly Correctional Center (Missouri) 

While the response to Derek Chauvin’s finding of guilt resonated throughout the wing, the sentencing was not as closely watched. I went around our veteran’s wing and asked some of the people how they felt about the sentencing. Each person gave their consent to publish their opinions. 

“I absolutely agree with the sentence because of the nature of the crime. The guy on camera was screaming for his life. It wasn’t like some accident. An officer should be treated just like anyone else who commits murder. It is not right that it took this much media, protesting, rioting, and making a big deal of this. Otherwise, any other day, with no video, the cop would have walked.”
— Christopher Woodman, veteran, incarcerated 1.5 years

“It doesn’t matter your race, religion, or anything – there should be no value placed on a life because the court system has no consistency in sentencing. Placing a different value on each life is not progressive, it is regressive. The Golden Rule should come into play. Derek Chauvin should have been treated like he treated George Floyd.”
Matthew Carter, Veteran, NAACP Chapter 4071 President, incarcerated 10 years.

“If it was an ordinary citizen and a cop was murdered on a video, if the roles had been reversed, George Floyd would have spent his whole life in prison. He was treated lightly.”
— Kaleb Shaver, veteran, incarcerated 2.5 years

“He got 22.5 years for killing someone, and I have done 23 years for a crime that killed nobody.”
— Amy Barker, transgender veteran, incarcerated 23 years

“Justice was served. We can say it wasn’t enough, unmerciful, but at the same time, I want mercy. I want God to be merciful for others as well. But he should have gotten life.”
— Mark Harris, veteran, incarcerated 34 years

Chauvin Has Saved Issues for His Appeal

By Angel M. Garza, California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison (California)

I wasn’t suprised that Chauvin got a 22.5 year sentence for murder. Because he was a police officer, he got the low term. Out of the 22.5 years, at 85%, he will do 19 years, then knock off all the time credits he gets being locked up, which will put him at ten years. With good time credits, he can lower it more because things have changed for us prisoners, and now Chauvin will have a piece of the action as a prisoner.

With his appeal I believe he will get a new trial. For one, he did not testify on his own behalf. Later, throughout the appeal process he can raise that issue since it is constitutional. This right is usually violated by attorneys who force us with fear and coercion to not testify under the threat that we could end up with more time.

“[Chauvin] knows exactly what he’s doing.”

Angel M. Garza

I’m also pretty sure Chauvin preserved issues to raise in an appeal because he knows the appeal process. He is a 19-year vet who knows the law and how the system works. He knows exactly what he is doing as evidenced in his statement to the Floyd family. 

The only thing he should worry about now is surviving prison long enough to make it to his appeal or new trial. I have talked to many Blacks who said, “For the right price of money, I would kill him with no hesitation because he deserves to die!”

“It Don’t Do Nothin’ To Me”

By Artemus Blankenship, California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison (California)

There was no loud silence, no low angry murmurs, gasps or expletives. It was just another newscast.

Twenty-two years in prison for murdering a human being, utilizing a knee to the back of a neck, with hands lazily in both pockets smothering George Floyd to death. I’m saddened to say that it was not breaking news in my little corner of the world. Even in prison, the me-generation is prevalent. Many comments began and/or ended with, “It don’t do nothin’ to me and mines,” which is so very far from the truth.

“Unfortunately, those of us who are incarcerated have become desensitized to many of the atrocities that are occurring in society.”

Artemus blankenship

As an advocate of fair law, Chauvin received a medium-term sentence that would be considered reasonable in California. But this isn’t California and this wasn’t a typical case. Chauvin should have been given a life sentence.

As a Black prisoner who is serving 30 years to life sentence for robbery with a toy gun, I think, “What the f**k… This man, who swore to uphold justice, murdered George Floyd, almost with a smile and again while being sentenced, smuggly spoke to the family with some cryptic mumble of receiving some unknown information that would bring peace to them.” 

Unfortunately, those of us who are incarcerated have become desensitized to many of the atrocities that are occurring in society. Prisoners either see, know of, or are told of these types of acts of human cruelty on a daily basis.

Michael P. is a White prisoner and a former skinhead from Southern California, who was sentenced to 38 years to life for assault and battery of a fellow gang member, expressed a similar sentiment as me. Where is the life sentence? “The only difference between him and I is that his gang is better financed and has a better PR firm,” he said. 

Kevin Ward, a Black Prisoner from Southern California, who is an ex-gang member said Chauvin should have been made an example. “Derek Chauvin should be the poster child for police privilege, exorbitantly so,” he said.

I spoke with a few correctional officers and they would not give me the authorization to disclose their names, citing conflict of interest. I had asked three of them whether they thought the sentence was fair and whether it would bring any lasting change.  Two officers said that under the circumstances, he should have gotten the maximum. The third officer towed the company line, saying that if officers worried about being put in jail they would not be effective. All three officers stated that one bad apple does not spoil this entire barrel.

It should be noted that my facility is in the process of installing mounted and body cameras, so they too may be facing this same circumstance.

We need police officers. I understand the necessity to keep law and order. The entire justice system is needed from the officer on the street to the prison cells. Humans left unchecked would be apocalyptic. Over the many years of my incarceration, I have come across more than a few dudes who belong in prison for the rest of their lives.

Dispatch from San Quentin Residents

By Steve Brooks, San Quentin State Prison (California) 

“I think 22.5 years is a win for someone who was a police officer… I would have gotten 50 years.”
— Alex Ross, 55, teacher’s assistant who has been in prison 26 years on a 50-to-life sentence for murder

“My question is, how much of that 22.5 years  is he gonna actually do? If he only does half, to me, that’s not justice.”
— Troy Dunmore, 57, drug counselor for the Alcohol Recovery Center, incarcerated over 26 years for a third strike felony conviction.

“The Chauvin conviction, however bittersweet it may seem, does nothing to eradicate the deep- seeded root cause of his actions which is systemic racism within a caste of individuals who refuse to accept American Blacks as equal. Until that happens, the Chauvins of the U. S. will continue pressing their knees into our necks.”
— Vincent O’Bannon, 59, staff writer for San Quentin News, recently told he was eligible for parole after serving 10 years as an indeterminate sentenced non-violent offender

“I think the sentence Chauvin received is a start considering the thousands of police murders and abuses that have gone unprosecuted.”
— James Jenkins, 62, recently received a three-year denial of parole. He has been incarcerated over 26 years for a non-murder conviction.

“I think that’s a pretty good sentence for someone I believe committed first-degree premeditated murder… It only takes a second to form the intent for premeditated murder… Chauvin had almost nine minutes.”
— Arthur Jackson, 49, clerk for Mt. Tamalpais College. He has been in prison almost 30 years for an attempted murder conviction

 “I was on the phone talking to my mother after Chauvin was sentenced and she said, “Damn, you got more time than him and you didn’t kill anyone.”
LeCedric Johnson, 55, who has been in prison 26 years on a 36-year sentence 

“Chauvin’s mother gave no condolences which indicated to me where Chauvin got his character… She didn’t express the slightest of humanity toward the Floyd family.” 
Roosevelt Johnson

“People don’t realize the biggest killer of Black men in this country is not police violence but the ink pen… the cops use it to lie many of us into prison for life all the time.”
— Randy Akins, 55, recently found suitable for parole after doing 38 years for a murder he said he didn’t commit.

My reaction as a 40-year-old Black man: 
Chauvin should have probably received a sentence of one year for each time George Floyd said, “I can’t breathe.” But 22.5 years is close. 

I don’t think it was appropriate for Derek Chauvin to give his condolences to the Floyd family. I think he should have given them an apology. And if he was going to provide them with more information that he believes might give them some peace of mind, it should have been an apology.

More Views from San Quentin 

By Joe Garcia, San Quentin State Prison (California)

“I didn’t feel the sentence was commensurate with the act itself. Number one, killing someone. But it was the way he killed George Floyd. The lack of empathy, the lack of humanity. Chauvin didn’t give a fuck. He felt he was entitled. Cops have been getting away with this for years. He was just so brash and brazen about it. He knew he was being filmed and he just didn’t care. When you kill someone physically like that without a weapon, you can feel their life slipping away. It’s way different from, say, shooting someone. Unfortunately, I know this all too well because I’ve personally killed someone with my bare hands. You can really feel their energy slipping away. You can feel that exact moment when their life fades. That’s what struck me about this crime — the callous indifference.” 
— Derek Barboza, 51, Latinx

“As soon as they get a Republican governor, his sentence will be commuted, that’s the reality.”
— O. Smith, 54, artist/activist

“I’m satisfied that he got what he got. So often these guys don’t get any real form of punishment. Or they get a slap on the wrist for taking a life. Hopefully it sends a message, not just to folks in Minnesota but cops all over the country that they can’t be reckless, that they’re not immune, that there’s a potential for just punishment. I figure that’s significant, and with the federal charges hanging over his head, the punishment might not be over.” 
— Darin Williams, 58, Black

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.

Angel M. Garza is a writer incarcerated in California.

Artemus Blankenship is a writer of African, French, Italian and Indian heritage. He is incarcerated in California and serves as a representative in his facility's Inmate Advisory Council.

Joe Garcia is a journalist and PJP correspondent incarcerated in California. Garcia was previously a staff writer and the chair of the Journalism Guild for San Quentin News. In addition to prison publications, his work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Washington Post and the Sacramento Bee.

Shon Pernice is a contributing writer for PJP. He is a veteran and a Kansas City native who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a combat medic and came home with traumatic brain injury and PTSD. He has been published in Veterans Voices, The Beat Within and Military Magazine. He is a contributing author to the book, "Helping Ourselves By Helping Others: An Incarcerated Men's Survival Guide." Shon was incarcerated in Missouri.

Steve Brooks is a writer for San Quentin News, an award-winning newspaper published out of San Quentin State Prison in California, where he is incarcerated. He has been published in the San Francisco Public Press, Street Spirit, All of Us or None and Voice of Witness. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has won a 2020 Journalism Excellence Award by SPJ's Northern California chapter for two of his columns published by PJP.