Prison Authors: 50 to Life

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This essay was originally published by The Beat Within, a justice system writing workshop. The author is incarcerated at the San Quentin State Prison in California. 

 When I first came to prison I had no idea of what life was going to be like. Being given a sentence of fifty years to life meant that time would become the most important element in my life. The expression “Do the time, don’t let the time do you” plays an important aspect in my life. I remember in the first year of my prison sentence, time was “doing me.” Not knowing the process of how to adjust my life to a prison “schedule,” I couldn’t find a balance of being my own person and being a prisoner.

Every day that I woke up, I followed what the protocol was, whether it was the announcement of going to the exercise yard or to the day room to wait for a shower, or even the politics of the prison. I was in an environment that made a day feel like a year and my sentence would become an eternity. The life I had known before, where I had the freedom of letting time pass me by without care, and everything I knew and cared about, was now taken over. Being on lockdown in prison had made it worse since I had never been confined to a cell without the freedom of movement.

Time passed by like a melting glacier in a snow storm. Not knowing the hours of the days except for the small window looking out to the desert wasteland and mountains, or the daily monotone program on the television, I couldn’t tell whether it was sunrise or sunset when I woke up from the endless amount of sleep that one accumulates from being on lockdown. Exercise couldn’t fill the time and reading books for so long ran my imagination dry, but compared to the realities of being in prison and on lockdown, imagination and creativity were valuable resources for filling up my time, and that was what I had to do in order to not let time do me.

Throughout the years I’d learn not to be a slave to time. Even though I still follow the protocols of prison, I decide to choose what to do with it, and I decide what I want to do for that day, with a plan, or even if I just want to sleep all day. I have the choice to make time mine, and do with it however I choose. Time is relative and I choose to relate to time as best I can.


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