Published in partnership with the Prison Journalism Project, which publishes independent journalism by incarcerated writers and others impacted by incarceration.
Prisoners in institutions around the country reacted in many different ways to the verdicts rendered against Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. Here are comments from inside the walls of several of those facilities.
— The News Station
Central California Women’s Facility
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 would 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. By 8 pm, everyone had moved on to entertainment away from the realities of the world.
— Dorothy Maraglino
Roundup From San Quentin State Prison, California
Reported by Joe Garcia
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
Southeast Correctional Center, Missouri
On April 20, the world watched in anticipation as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin became a convicted murderer.
I spent a day and a half talking with fellow prisoners as well as some people in the free world about their reactions and what they see for the future. My expectation was that I would hear the same story about how it was about time people of color and all those living in marginalized marginalised communities finally got justice. Much to my surprise, I got little of that.
One prisoner in my unit, who did not wish to be identified, gave me one of the most surprising interviews. When I asked him what his reaction was, he told me at first he was elated, but on further reflection he said the conviction was a travesty, a token offering to appease the crowd.
He explained by saying that you could celebrate tragedy and loss. The tragedy felt by George Floyd’s daughter, brother, and other grieving family members. He spoke about how we should not forget the other victims of this tragedy, including Chauvin’s family, who have to try to rebuild their lives around this senseless and brutal act.
He went on to explain how he hopes society will come away with the recognition that there has to be accountability, and they cannot simply turn a blind eye to injustice. He said that we have to stop looking at race in terms of color and begin displaying a more humanistic nature.
I found it remarkable that this state prisoner came up with a view we hear nothing about. Everyone, including all of the news outlets, spent much time consoling the victim’s family, rightfully so. But what of the other victims? His family may be in hiding, may be unemployed, certainly suffering feelings of undeserved shame and embarrassment. Yet, like so many other families of convicted felons, they did nothing to deserve the pain and ridicule brought on them by Chauvin’s actions.
— Patricia Elane Trimble
California State Prison, Corcoran
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!
— Dewan Evans
Monroe Correctional Complex, Washington State
On April 20, the long-awaited verdict in the Derrick Chauvin trial was finally announced: Guilty on all charges. The reaction amongst my incarcerated neighbors here in Washington’s Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC) varied, but in most cases, oddly contrasted with their usual sentiment toward police and criminal justice.
In the free world, the term “convict” carries negative connotations. It has barred them from employment, housing, and other amenities necessary to live any semblance of a normal life.
But in white prison gangs, a convict is somebody who abides by a code of ethics which enables him or her to be considered “solid,” and to be labeled as such is the highest reverence imaginable.
Part of the code is supposed to be a distaste for law enforcement, but many incarcerated whites here in MCC not only expressed disappointment when Chauvin’s guilty verdict was announced, but spoke favorably about him during the course of his trial. Since Donald Trump’s election in 2016 and his comments about “law and order” in regard to combatting Black Lives Matter, incarcerated white nationalists have changed the way they regard the law.
On the other end of the spectrum, many of us who believe in and fight for criminal-justice reform, police reform, prison reform, and abolition found ourselves edging dangerously far from our own values. More than once over the past month, I’ve had to remind myself that I don’t condone long, drawn-out sentences that do nothing to rehabilitate those on the receiving end. I’ve had to pull back the reins when I’ve found myself hoping to see Chauvin subjected to a system I know is broken.
The video we all saw of George Floyd crying out to his momma during his last minutes of life was tough to watch and undoubtedly egregious. During the trial, we saw it over and over again, from every different angle.
It made me cry each time, yet I kept watching because there’s also something special about it. Not only did it spark worldwide protests, it provided perspective into the types of protest that were effective in today’s social climate. It inspired some genuine reform (though we still have a long way to go). I can’t help but wonder, though, how here in MCC, it managed to turn a generation of white supremacists into police sympathizers, and abolitionists into the party of “law and order.”
— Michael J. Moore
Western Missouri Correctional Center
When the Chauvin trial started, my neighbor Dean and I made predictions. When I saw the split of races on the jury, I predicted Chauvin would get a hung jury. I believe that most white people, especially Republicans, look at people who commit crimes as low-lifes and believe that the degree that the police, judges, and prosecutors impose their ideas of law and order was inconsequential and perfectly OK, even if the other person’s rights were violated. As far as they are concerned, we deserve to be shot, beaten, or thrown in prison for the rest of our lives.
Dean, however, predicted a conviction.
After the verdict, there was no reaction in my housing unit, no clapping like people do during Chiefs’ games, no nothing. Most of the guys who heard about it didn’t care, Black or white. They were mostly focused on how they were going to spend their COVID-19 stimulus checks, playing card games, or whose turn it was to use the phones (there are only three phones for 52 prisoners to share).
A few guys I asked about it just expressed a “fuck the police” attitude. Prisoners are numb to a lot of what’s been going on in society. We are not a part of it and most likely will never be. A lot of us have been in prison for decades already and feel society doesn’t care about us. We were sentenced to die in prison, and there was no second chance.
One prisoner, who requested not to be named, said, “Hope Chauvin likes gay sex, because he’s going to have a lot of it where they’re sending him. You touch me, I touch you.”
I say don’t stop with one verdict, put 13 judges on the Supreme Court and reform the police and prison at the same time. Everyone deserves a second chance, especially those of us who were sentenced to life without parole when we were under 21 years of age. I feel there is more injustice than George Floyd, and society should be put on trial for its cruelty to those it incarcerates.
— Zachary Smith
New Jersey State Prison
When the verdict came in, a nurse was just walking into the unit, carrying her medical bag filled with meds to distribute to the inmates who needed it. Inmates were beginning to fill the med line. One inmate was on the JPay tablet kiosk, and others were headed to the mess line. This was one of the busiest times of the day on Unit 3EE inside New Jersey State Prison.
I was just leaving my cell ready to hop in the shower, but I stalled, standing in front of my cell watching CNN. I saw a headline that said something like: “Jury Reaches a Verdict in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial.”
The white officer, from inside the booth, closed my cell door. I figured that if I took a quick shower, I could be out in time to catch the verdict.
Then I heard an emotional ‘Emo’ Blackwell yell, “They’re reading the verdict!” The tier became silent. Every inmate stopped in his tracks. The white officer in the booth was glued to his TV. The nurse and the Black female officer that accompanied her looked up at cell 27, Emo’s cell.
“Count one…” Emo yelled, “Guilty!” The tier erupted in cheers, high fives, and several “They got his ass!”
Through the noise I was straining to hear the rest of the verdict. “Count two… Guilty!” Emo yelled again. “Count Three… Guilty!”
I quickly surveyed the tier. The inmates all seemed happy and victorious, as if they were the prosecutors who convicted Derek Chauvin. The Black officer with the nurse was nodding her head, (just a little) to show her solidarity. The white officer in the booth was poker-faced, but his eyes were still glued to the TV. I wondered what he was feeling.
My feelings pinballed inside of me, bouncing from being happy and thinking, “We finally got justice,” to being angry because the only way we get justice is if we have 10 minutes of footage. I was also surprised that they got him on all charges and even sorry, too. That human being may have to spend the rest of his life in a cell like me.
In the shower, the reality set in deep. I do not wish for a lifer’s cell on my worst enemy. I decided to be the bigger man within, and as a Black man in America I forgave Chauvin.
Do I have this right since I’m not a relative of George Floyd? I do not know.
I asked several prisoners their perspective on the guilty verdict.
Santis “SandMan” Robinson, an inmate with 30 years in on five life sentences, said, “There is no joy in seeing another man being placed in prison, though the verdict was necessary.”
“It was a good thing. But one guilty verdict doesn’t satisfy Breonna Taylor, Eric Gardner and others,” said Alturik Francis, who is serving three life sentences for murder and is appealing his case as a wrongful conviction. “What’s next? We still have injustices taking place all over the country. While the George Floyd trial was taking place, the police killed an unarmed Black man just hours away. We need accountability across the nation.”
Finally, I asked a Black female officer who worked in my unit, “Do I have a right to forgive Derek Chauvin even though I am not a member of George Floyd’s family?”
Her initial response was a curt, “No!” Then she took a moment to think. “Well, I think that it’s beautiful that you did that. But, he doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. He intentionally killed that man.”
— Kory McClary
New Jersey State Prison
Last Tuesday, the New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) was buzzing with the news of the former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin being found guilty by a jury in his trial for the murder of George Floyd.
Initially, there were sounds of jubilation that erupted after some fellow prisoners announced each guilty count. Since then, however, the murmuring has been subdued as everyone remembered the actual killing of George Floyd.
To understand the different points of view inside NJSP, I interviewed a few fellow prisoners and officers and also distributed a written questionnaire to others inside. The following is a roundup of some of the reactions:
James Comer, a Black prisoner who has been in NJSP for the past 21 years serving a 30 year sentence, said he “absolutely” believed that justice was done in this case. While he felt more positive about America in the wake of the guilty verdict, he considered policing and judicial reforms to be a must.
Daniel Lawrence, another Black prisoner serving decades behind bars, said he believed America’s future in the near future would still be challenging. “It is going to get worse before it gets better,” he said. “There is a lot of work to be done. Too many brothers have been forced into prison based on systemic racism.”
But Michael Doce, a self-identified conservative who lists his race as “other,” did not believe that justice was done in Chauvin’s trial. “How can someone be guilty of three different charges at the same time? Which one is it?” he asked, adding that “charging someone with multiple crimes and hoping one sticks isn’t justice.”
Doce also agreed with other prisoners, saying “I fear the worst is yet to come. There is no cure for hate.” He also questioned the idea of reforms as it seemed hypocritical to him. “How can we fix the judicial system while the same people fighting for reform want Derek Chauvin to die in prison? Unless there is compassion, there will be no reform.”
A Black officer, who only agreed to be identified as Officer A, said, “I was happy that justice was done… I was angry that a (fellow) police officer killed a man like that.” He agreed reforms were necessary and stressed that care should be taken during the hiring process, because “they often hire people who don’t have communication skills.”
He recommended that, “police officers be made to work in (prisons) for at least a month prior to them hitting the streets. This way they will be able to acclimate in deescalating without having guns.” Officer A also said it was important to put the right person at the top “because, usually a police chief will appoint like-minded supervisors and that attitude goes down the chain.” He added that “a lot of times the problem is with the top levels.”
Lastly, I spoke to a white officer, a self proclaimed MAGA supporter. “I feel that it is what it is,” he said. They wanted him, and they got him. They didn’t care,” he said, adding that “George Floyd was a piece of shit… He pulled a gun on his pregnant wife. How come they cared so much about his trial?”
The common theme I found among the prisoners was that they were relieved and satisfied that Chauvin was held to account, but many are skeptical about Chauvin getting the maximum sentence. Black and Brown prisoners want to see actual changes before celebrating.
In contrast, the custody staff here were more reserved, but there was a considerable difference in opinion among the Black and White officers.
— Tariq MaQbool
California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran
Reported 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.
— Isaih 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
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 copswho 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.
— Angel Garza
California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran
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.”
— Artemus Blankenship
I can only speak for a very small percentage of the population at Facility-D, where I am currently, because COVID-19 still limits interaction among the population. But this limited exposure and 30 years or so of experience in prison allows me to see that this is just another day in prison for most prisoners.
It’s the disconnect. I feel that the prisoners have succumbed to a realization that society has turned their backs on them and as such, the prisoners allow themselves to become the media stereotype, and yet actually believe that they are the genuine face of change.
I see the verdict as a beginning, a beginning that has been a long time coming. Right after the verdict, I saw an episode of the docuseries “Philly DA” on PBS, about a newly elected district attorney who is truly about reform. In Los Angeles, the district attorney George Gascon has my full support. I truly feel that the justice system of the United States is changing. I am 54 years old, and I’m a California Three Striker. I hope I may live long enough to see the justice system reformed, maybe even fast enough to effectuate my freedom.
— Artemus Blankenship
This piece was published in partnership with the Prison Journalism Project, which publishes independent journalism by incarcerated writers and others impacted by incarceration. Sign up for The Prison Journalism Project’s newsletter, or follow them on Instagram or Twitter.