The following piece is written by David “Dawud” Lee, who is currently serving a Death by Incarceration sentence for a crime he did not commit. Dawud is a co-founder of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI), a co-author of the recently released book WEology: Transformative Justice in Practice, and an incredible mentor to countless people inside and outside of prison.
In this article, Dawud discusses the value of time. He challenges the reader to step outside of the conventional framework of time as money, and instead to view time as life. Death by Incarceration sentences strip a person of the rest of their time on earth and, in many ways, the purpose and potential of their lives. While the state exploits incarcerated people for monetary value, each person holds infinitely more value than money could ever buy. And the time lost behind bars—most notably for people like Dawud, who did not commit the crime—can never be repaid. This speaks to the urgency of ending Death by Incarceration before more irreplaceable time and life is lost.
Dawud has served over 30 years in prison. He is currently seeking commutation and now awaits a hearing with the Board of Pardons. If you have experienced Dawud’s mentorship, friendship, or leadership and want to support his application for commutation, we urge you to participate in the LifeLines Project #DawudTaughtMe campaign.
Throughout the vast majority of my life I have listened to people in American society refer to time as money. However, I would venture to say that our time means a lot more than money. Time is life! In my opinion time is one of the greatest gifts provided to us from our Creator, no matter what your religious beliefs, or faith, if you are out of time you have transitioned into death. Even if you are an atheist you cannot get around the fact that when you are out of time, you are no longer alive. Therefore when we waste our time, we in essence are wasting our lives.
I ask the readers to think about this for just a moment, other than our families and friends, what greater gifts as human beings can we have, other than our time, especially if we understand time as being associated with life? How often do we see people taking their time on this planet for granted? How often do we see people playing a bunch of frivolous games everyday as if nothing else matters? How often do we witness people grow older physically, but fail to mature mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? In these types of people we can witness how time is wasted to the detriment of the individuals who refuse to see the value of their time, and consequently their lives.
A question I often ask: what is life without a sense of purpose? I think that life without a sense of purpose is nothing short of wasting our time. Purpose is like a rudder, and when we have a sense of purpose in our lives, we usually will not waste our time, because we will have a sense of direction. It is unfortunate that we live in a social arrangement where money is considered to be more valuable than life, because by insinuating that time is money, we’re also suggesting that money is just as, if not more important than life.
Societies create value systems based on degrees of importance, and in a capitalist society money is of the utmost importance to those in power, but do not misunderstand what I am now endeavoring to say. Although those in power value money greatly, they value their lives more, but they just do not value Black and Brown lives in the same manner. It is vital that we remember that America was built off of Black misery, suffering, and enslavement, and African people were consequently bought and sold for money, and other material objects. Money and materialism was deemed to be more important than Black lives, and the lives of women have always been undervalued in this society. We can color this in many different ways, but the fact remains that money had more value than Black, Aboriginal, and the lives of women in the eyes of those White men ruling the country at the time that the United States Constitution was constructed. Our lives and time were used in a manner that benefited White elites and their middle class buffers. Consequently, the root of how time would be valued was planted in the history of this nation during African enslavement, and the genocidal campaigns against Aboriginals.
When we look at the history of imprisonment in this country, we cannot ignore how the legal system targets the most important aspects of our existence as punishment, and i.e. time. By taking time away from human beings you are taking something they can never recover. No matter how hard you work, or how hard you try, you cannot retrieve spent or wasted time. Not to mention the lost time with family and friends that we can never retrieve once you are incarcerated. For everyone serving time in this world, especially here in the United States, because this country leads the world in regards to incarceration, we should understand exactly how valuable time is.
No matter how hard you work, or how hard you try, you cannot retrieve spent or wasted time. Not to mention the lost time with family and friends that we can never retrieve once you are incarcerated.
If you were to take material or monetary objects away from (IHBs) incarcerated human beings rather than time, IHBs would be able to recover from those losses, but not when you take their time. Ergo we need to reevaluate the importance of time, because we cannot retrieve our time once it is gone. Naturally those in power are keenly aware of how valuable and important time is, and this is why they want others to use their time making their lives more comfortable and convenient, and thus freeing up their time to enjoy their lives.
It is also important to reemphasize who are filling up the country’s prisons, and people of color are not filling up the nation’s prisons because they commit the majority of the crimes in this country, because FBI statistics prove otherwise. We know that Whites commit about 69% of the crimes in the country, but do not even come close to representing 69% of the prison population. None of this is to suggest that I want to see more White people in prison, because I do not. I believe we can find other more humane solutions to the problems of crime in this country. But I do think that it is important that we understand the facts surrounding incarceration in this country.
In the United States employers pay employees for their labor and time, but how often are employees paid a fair wage for their labor and time? Now for the most part, especially in corporate circles, the employer’s or investor’s time is considered to be extremely valuable, but the same value is never attached to the time and labor of the employees. Employers fully understand the value of time and labor, and they use money as a means to manipulate the use of poor people’s time and labor to the financial and time benefit of the people with power and wealth. In the manipulation of other’s time and labor employers time and labor is freed up, so they have more time to enjoy their lives. In the process of purchasing our labor, they are also purchasing our time, and usually at a discount rate.
Due to the fact that people must pay their bills and put food on their tables, they are willing to engage in such lopsided arrangements. Capitalism sets the value of our time, labor, and lives without our consent. We were born into a set of rules and regulations that we had no knowledge of at the time we entered into life. Notwithstanding we are forced by law to live by these arrangements, and if you attempt to challenge these rules and regulations you are deemed unpatriotic, or something else unsavory to degrade acts of resistance. Hence the value systems in this country have historically undervalued our time and consequently our lives, and this is not because those in power do not understand the value of time, or life. It is important to reemphasize that our lives and time are not deemed to be of the same value as the elite power brokers in this country, and it is important for us to understand this point of view if we wish to properly challenge and eventually change what is taking place.
If we make the cultural connections we can understand why so many of our youth are wasting their time playing video games and pursuing nonsensical endeavors. In a culture, which devalues the lives of people of color and the poor, we must understand how it is possible for our youth to undervalue their time. Even when they are supposedly being taught to value their lives, they are being taught that time is money, rather than life, because their lives are not really considered to be more valuable than money.
In order to change these attitudes we must change what we considered to be valuable, and nothing should be more valuable than our lives/time. We must move away from insensitive and destructive value systems and towards humane systems that center wholeness of life, and the value of the planet. Time in essence is life, and if we fail, for whatever reasons to value our time, how in the world can we truly value our lives? Being out of time is literally being out of breath, and we must start viewing our time in this manner, because if we do not we will never fully appreciate our lives.
Our life purpose should be so entwined with our sense of time that we should walk with a certain understanding, which gives us a strength that would seem to be superhuman. This strength is mental, emotional, and spiritual in nature, and you do not have to subscribe to any religious belief systems to be a spiritual person. But you can be a religious person and be a spiritual being. Our lives will take on a different meaning once we truly begin to become attune with the importance of time. Our sense of direction would be clearer, and you would not be afraid to make mistakes, because you will develop a fuller sense of what it means to be alive. This will give us a chance to grow and learn from our mistakes, and help others grow in the process. Our sense of time can help us learn the importance of working together to build safer communities so we can all live wholesome lives.
In closing breathe with a sense of purpose, and always use your time wisely, because we cannot get time back once it is gone.
You can contact the author at:
David Dawud Lee #AS3041
PO Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL 33733