Just when you thought it was SAFE


by Tim Young

When I first arrived to San Quentin’s death row in April of 2006, the topic of discussion at that time revolved around building a new death row and a new death chamber. Unfortunately for the California Department of Corrections, the economy tanked in 2007 and their hopes of breaking ground on a new facility never materialized. But, all was not lost. Behind a veil of secrecy, they did manage to erect a million dollar death chamber.

Fast forwarding six years from the date of my arrival, the conversation has evolved from building a new death row to abolishing the death penalty altogether. This push to abolish the death penalty in California is being backed by various groups. The one thing that these groups have in common is that they all seem to be fixated on the “cost,” as opposed to any other issue. Although many of these groups have been in the media lately, none of them has become more infamous than Death Penalty Focus.

Death Penalty Focus is an anti-death penalty nonprofit organization. The executive director is Jeanne Woodford. In case you haven’t heard of her, she is the former warden of San Quentin State Prison. During her tenure as warden she oversaw four and a half executions. The “half” is symbolic of the fact that she came within hours of executing Kevin Cooper.

Had Mr. Cooper not have received an 11th hour stay of execution, he would’ve became her fifth victim. It’s easy to see why her recent alignment with Death Penalty Focus has led to controversy and suspicion. Many believe that her mission to get an anti-death penalty initiative on the November ballot is nothing more than a scheme that will lead to mass incarceration and a misappropriation of funds.

The one thing that these groups have in common is that they all seem to be fixated on the “cost,” as opposed to any other issue.

That brings us to the Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act (SAFE California Act.) The premise of this act is to “modify” the death penalty by replacing it with Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP.)

As it stands, organizers have already collected and filed the required number of signatures in order to qualify the SAFE California initiative for the November 2012 ballot. Thus, it’s official; the public will once again vote on how they wish to execute the so-called “worst of the worst”: either death by lethal injection, or death by long term incarceration.

I ponder how the public will vote. Will they vote in accordance with the all-white juries that condemned so many of us Black folks to death row? Or will they vote like a demographic that is bankrupt, broken and bogged down in economic woes? Whenever they go to cast that vote, one can only hope that they will be fully informed.

The public will once again vote on how they wish to execute the so-called “worst of the worst”: either death by lethal injection, or death by long term incarceration.

The SAFE California Act consists of only 12 pages. If voters were to simply read the last two pages, they would be informed enough to know that said ballot initiative does nothing but bring them one step closer to being incarcerated with the rest of us.

As a Black man in America and as an innocent man on death row, I’d hate to see a new wave of minorities being churned into the criminal (in)justice system. Thus, I’ve considered how I could go about opening the eyes of the public so that they are not duped by the insidious nature of the SAFE California Act.

Let’s see here … I could describe how the act would diminish our appeal process; but how many readers would actually care? I could vent about how the act calls for persons convicted of murder with special circumstances be required to work and pay into a victim’s compensation fund; but how many taxpaying citizens would actually give a damn? So, instead, I’ll just stick to what this act will mean in a socioeconomic sense.

Here goes a little something that may pique the interest of uninformed voters. The SAFE California Act calls for the “creation” of a SAFE California Fund. This is to be accomplished by transferring money from the general fund to the SAFE California Fund.

The initiative states that the sum of $100 million shall be transferred over the next three years, 2013-2015. Take notice, though, that nothing within the initiative prevents the state from continuing to transfer money from the general fund once that three years has expired.

If voters are going to be stuck with this fund, they might as well know who’s going to be on the receiving end of the cash. The initiative states that, “at the direction of the Attorney General, the Controller shall disperse monies deposited in the SAFE California Fund to police departments, Sheriffs and District Attorney Offices.”

That means that nobody outside the realm of law enforcement will be on the receiving end of the cash; absolutely nobody! As for accountability, it should be noted that the initiative failed to limit the range of “projects and activities” that may be funded. So keep that in mind the next time you see a thousand heavily armed cops being overly aggressive at a peaceful Occupy event.

The sum of $100 million shall be transferred over the next three years from the general fund to the SAFE California Fund, but nobody outside the realm of law enforcement will be on the receiving end of the cash; absolutely nobody!

If you’re a school teacher, student or senior citizen and you were led to believe that you too would fall within the “realm of benefits,” then I suggest you read the initiative! Nowhere in the section pertaining to the distribution of monies does it mention schools, education, crime prevention or services for the disabled and elderly. And if anyone is under the illusion that some of the money will eventually trickle down into the hands of the have nots, than I’ve got some beach front property in the Mojave desert for sale!

Make no mistake about it; the SAFE California Act is a kickback scheme and a means of aiding law enforcement and prosecutors in continuing to propagate the prison industrial complex. That’s why so many proponents of the death penalty have either clammed up or caved in.

If the act is efficacious, you can expect to see an increase of cops, criminalization and incarceration. This will lead to jail and prison expansion – which is already occurring under bills like AB900. Sadly, education, health care and social programs will once again end up at the bottom of the heap. I ask, how many more Rodney King, Oscar Grant and Scott Olsen types of incidents have to take place before taxpayers finally decide to stop funding a police state?

If the SAFE California Act passes, it will not only give crooked cops and dirty prosecutors a blank check, but it will also solidify California as a penitentiary/slave state. For posterity’s sake, I don’t want that to happen! I’m no fan of capital punishment, but I’d rather be resigned to my fate than to acquiesce to a ballot initiative that would place future generations in harm’s way!

I ask, how many more Rodney King, Oscar Grant and Scott Olsen types of incidents have to take place before taxpayers finally decide to stop funding a police state?

If the people who sponsored this initiative were full of good intentions, then they would take the pork out of the SAFE California Act and come anew. That, however, is unlikely. Why? Because no one is willing to give up their perks. So come November, this ballot measure will be decided by you! You can make those perks a permanent reality, or you can vote No! and thereby safeguard the state’s general fund. Which will it be?

Send our brother some love and light: Tim Young, F-23374, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin CA 94974.



  1. I cannot believe how many condemned men are coming out to publicly criticize Prop 34. This is politics, therefore it is a game, and you win using strategy. If the campaign were to stand on a platform of possibly executing innocent people, that capital punishment is barbaric, and money saved from repeal be invested back into prisons for more rehabilitative services and programming, then you're kidding yourself. The taxpayers of CA will not, to use your words, give a damn.

    The $100 mil fund for law enforcement over the next three years? Drop in the bucket, my friend. That's @ $30 mil a year to support ALL local law enforcement agencies, sheriffs, and district attorneys in the entire state. The largest local law enforcement agency in CA, the LAPD, has an annual budget of $1.189bil. Do the math and that $30mil represents only 3% of their budget, so imagine how much the hundreds of local law enforcement agencies throughout the state would receive each year from this fund. And sure, they can renew it after three years, but they also might not. Either way it will not make much of a difference. The goal is to abolish the death penalty. Call it bait and switch or whatever you want. They know what they're doing.

    As for placing future generations in harms way as a reason to vote against Prop 34, think of the big picture. You may have heard the saying, "When California sneezes, the rest of the country catches a cold"? Passage of Prop 34 will influence other states to do the same. Commuting death sentences to LWOP is quite possibly a method to slowly chip away at our state's harsh sentencing laws. If Prop 34 passes, we may have a ballot initiative to eliminate LWOP one day. That could not happen if the death penalty was still in place. In 2005 the US Supreme Court determined that sentencing juveniles to death was unconstitutional. It's now 2012 and they determined that sentencing juveniles to LWOP is also unconstitutional. That's how it works. It's a process. You may be resigned to your fate, but the death penalty needs to be eliminated in order to change the conversation about how we administer criminal justice policies in CA, because, by its very nature, the death penalty is front and center as a symbol of our reputation as a tough on crime state. It must be repealed to not only make a bold statement that taxpayers are sick of paying for a broken system of punishment with no returns, but will also clear the path towards more criminal justice reforms that are safe, effective and fair.

    I know that if it does pass, it will diminish the appeals process that the condemned are constitutionally required to have that LWOPs don't. But given that the appeals process is decades long because we have failed to adequately fund all that a person sentenced to death is required by law to receive once sentenced to death, you are more likely to die of old age or natural causes than by the needle. Everyone on death row is. Since the CA death penalty was reinstated in 1977 there have been 80k murders committed and only 13 executions carried out, meaning people who commit murder are three times more likely to get struck by lightning than executed for their crime. But as I was saying…the state has failed to provide the funds necessary to appoint competent counsel right away in order to represent inmates on their automatic appeals and state habeas corpus proceedings. Even when counsel is appointed, you'll find that the state has not sufficiently funded counsel to conduct investigations into inmate's claims of State and Federal constitution violations. Etcetera. I am preaching to the choir. Don't think for a second given how broke our state is that our representatives will agree to put forth an unfathomable amount of money required to sufficiently fund the appeals process for the largest death row population in the country. They are actually looking into speeding it up by eliminating certain elements of it, or, to use your word, diminish it.

    I have to stop. Death row inmates that are pro-death penalty. I am going to shake this off and get back to work. In the mean time, acknowledge you are a shill for the real people that stand to benefit from preserving capital punishment, one of them being the random local law enforcement blog I came across that referred me to this piece and thanked you for speaking out against Prop 34. Unbelievable.

  2. All I have to say, is…. Do away with the Death Penalty, and allow those LWOP to still have their fair "day in court". Reprimand the corrupt lawyers, police etc etc… Where are the monitoring systems for law enforcement? Why aren't they investigating allegations of poor representation? I suggest a Non govt Agency should monitor this, with the full support of Governments. The country needs a dam good shake up. Forget the politics…. What about the people? If SAFE are wanting to do this and that with money, surely that money should be sunk directly into rehab programs, and into victim rehabilitation or restorative justice programs (something like that). And surely, it is those programs that should be at the forefront of any political debate. Not about where the money should or shouldn't be going? The very essence of PEOPLE is being lost in this jungle of 'to-ing and fro-ing". I agree with Mr Tim Young. These groups of people are all about 'lining their pockets'. Not just for 'now', but also for the future. It sounds good to those who don't pay attention. And that's how those who are blind get a good bloody wake up call, when they realise these weasels were up to no good. Forward thinking is needed here. Careful consideration before you jump head first into the abyss. Trust no one, and trust no group who is fronted by a woman who put people to death! It says alot about this womans integrity and honesty. Absolutely Mr Young, this is not about easing the nations financial debt, this is about "making myself rich" off the backs of incarcerated people. Next minute, there'll be people being arrested all over the god dam nation. Small infractions will earn you LWOP! Its already happening! And then you won't be able to demand a fair hearing, because no one in Law Enforcement is fair and just! How will law enforcement gain the trust of the people? Beat it out of them, incarcerate them? Just my thoughts….. I'm with Mr Young on this score….

  3. Hmm it appears like your website ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I'll just sum it up what I had written and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I'm still new to the whole thing. Do you have any tips and hints for rookie blog writers? I'd definitely appreciate it.

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