San Quentin’s 8:46

The chillingly slow, savagely calm, brutally calculated murder of George Floyd on video by a uniformed officer with his hands in his pockets, impervious to any cries for relief from either the man he is kneeling on or the bystanders or even a fellow officer… this murder’s eight minutes and forty-six seconds opening into infinity, on repeat, an endless, reverberating echo of hundreds, tens of thousands, millions of others subjected to the same shocking disregard for the sacredness and value of their lives— that same knee is now on the neck of people at San Quentin, where from a close but unbridgeable distance those on the outside are forced to watch helplessly, hearing their pleas for mercy, while the state seems to smirk with its hands in its pockets. The helplessness, outrage, grief and anxiety of this bystander is amplified exponentially by the thousands directly experiencing it, yet there seems to be no amount of agony that changes the outcome or influences the hearts of those whose decisions shape the situation. That is how I see the parable of George Floyd; that is the heart-crushing reality: no amount of suffering, entreaty, or appeal to God seems to stir the conscience or sympathy or sense of justice or meaningful action of those who have been entrusted with tremendous power over the lives of others.

An article came out in the Chronicle today with Watani Stiner, Troy Williams and I talking about the effect of programs being shut down in San Quentin. It’s a good topic, one of the many things to talk about in the ever-worsening Superdome catastrophe that is San Quentin in a pandemic, and I’m glad that the Chronicle has been covering the story. But it felt very weird to have this cheerful, laughing photo accompany such a painful topic. I wrote a comment for the online version of the article today:

Thanks to the Chronicle for ongoing coverage of the devastation at San Quentin. As one of the people featured in the lead photo, though, I feel an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance at our big moment of laughter next to an article about the tremendous anguish of thousands of people as if we were yucking it up while San Quentin suffers. The photographer, Brandon Ruffin, took a whole lot of photos that were serious and lent themselves to the tone of the subject, and I’m not sure what the editorial process was in choosing this particular one as the lead for this story. It makes me think about how our emotions are affected by certain juxtapositions. While it’s a photo that did capture the camaraderie of that moment, I feel moved to write this response to say to anyone affected by the situation at San Quentin that the lightheartedness of that photo does not reflect the concern, mourning, outrage and distress we were discussing, the direness of the situation of my students and their families and loved ones and all the rest of those incarcerated at San Quentin in the midst of this catastrophe. (I also feel awkward that we took our masks off for the photo… as someone who tries very hard to be diligent about pandemic safety.) My heart is heavy from morning till night over this situation, and my prayers are frequent for all those affected.  –Zoe Mullery

Please continue to advocate, pray, write letters…

“In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all humanity.” —Job 12:10


About Brothers In Pen

Brothers in Pen is the collective name of the Wednesday Night Creative Writing Class at San Quentin State Prison facilitated by Zoe Mullery.
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2 Responses to San Quentin’s 8:46

  1. Pingback: ‘I’m being treated like I’m not a person’ | Brothers in Pen

  2. Greg Shafer says:

    The close but unbridgeable distance…this names a sensation that I’ve always felt about San Quentin. It’s right there. Right in the heart of everything. In the hear of the state, in the center of the coast. But it’s so inaccessible. As though the gatekeepers would prefer we all would forget about it. But it is in a way at the heart of the country….it’s like we’ve made access to our own social heart unbridgeable and unreachable.

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