Time on Death Row

March 31, 2017

Incarcerated for the past twenty years, stacked on a dusty shelf, and still I shine. Over a decade caged in death row’s double dungeon, San Quentin State Prison. As I compose my barbed wire reflections I can feel cold years dripping down my dark brown face. I’m 48 years old going on eternity. Drinking deep thoughts from a single-person prison cell surrounded by seconds, I notice the hollowed faces of fellow inmates passing by. Can you wrap your life around that? My unconquerable dreams infuse me with hope.

Embers of a former life. On the other side of these dirty green walls I had a beautiful life before death row. Experiencing the births of my two daughters was the essence of life for me. I watched them grow from infants into gorgeous independent young ladies. My only real family. I did everything possible for them. They don’t need me now, yet I’m motivated by their spirit of resilience– I need them.

I worked my entire life. Preteen newspaper routes. I was picking flower bulbs in the summer fields of Washington State at just eleven years of age. I worked as a courtesy clerk for a grocery store while in high school and added summer jobs to that. One summer I was employed as a life guard. I’ve always been fascinated with bodies of water. Retaining the memories of walking on warm, salty beaches, fishing in cool indigo lakes and swimming in cloudy irrigation canals, a living dream.

As an adolescent, no matter how well I did, I was still targeted by police. Instruments to enslave. Stalked and frisked for walking or driving while black. And I believed I was free. Nothing prevented me from being snatched from society and smeared with a wrongful conviction. In your silence was the sentence.

Directly out of high school I matriculated for higher learning. Looking back on my daily grind at a computer factory in Southern California, my job was relatively easy. I filled orders by weighing various computer components to a requested number. After I bagged, labeled and boxed the separate components, one order was complete. For a time I delivered material to tire builders at a large international tire plant. My most enjoyable occupation was auto body and paint. Staying productive, that’s what keeps me focused.

Effects of the 08 November 2016 elections are lingering, embedded within me. Nationally the U.S.A. selected Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, exposing core values and true beliefs of half the country. Before my stomach could settle I was greeted with the passage of Proposition 66, which speeds up the executions in California. I ardently advocated for Proposition 62, which would have abolished capital punishment while converting all death sentences to Life Without the Possibility of Parole- it failed.

Fortunately the California Supreme Court stayed Prop 62 on 22 December 2016. The court is currently weighing the constitutionality of Prop 66 based upon the challenges presented by the ACLU and the John Kamp/Ron Briggs petitions.

I struggled to abolish capital punishment in California via the ballot box in 2012 and 2016. As a protector of human life I simply do not want any executions on my clock. I’m striving to save lives. The people of California voted for death. Ironically, the ‘Campaign to End the Death Penalty’ urged their audience to vote no on Prop 62, the measure to End the Death Penalty. Followers without understanding. Sadly, the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper coupled with the Socialist Viewpoint Publication asked their subscribers to use their votes to keep the death penalty intact. Nothing revolutionary about that. A Trump presidency left me even more disillusioned.

Surviving through lock downs, medical quarantines, and solitary confinement, I decided to make music with my tears. I voraciously read, study and write at this time. I exercise daily and explore art. In my minds eye I envision creating  family consisting of friends. I venture beyond these walls with your eyes and ears. Always open to the free flow of communication. In discovering what you feel and see, I find life. Fresh energy. Connecting with the world inspires me to stretch for more.

With my associates in arts and paralegal degrees I help litigate in the California Supreme Court for exoneration. Working on my freedom. Innocence trapped within the Jim Crow prison industrial complex. Sometimes the system gets it wrong, my situation is not unique.

Times on death row can change coal into diamonds or dust. Unchain the mind. In my walk I chose to become protector of human rights. I’m one with the earth, water and human life protectors. While I’m not able to physically be there with you now, I find ways to sacrifice, resist and struggle. I exist with you. Writing to you on Women’s Day, sitting on a short bucket, hunched over a rusty bunk, I understand a day without women is a day without breath. Overcoming all forms of oppression is my end goal. Allied minds, partners in protecting, come talk with me.

In solidarity,

Donald Ray Young

P.O. Box E-78474

San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin, CA 94974

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