From the Inside spotlights writing, arts and other forms of expression from young people in lockup.
I grew up really fast for my age because I didn't have any other choice. Let me just tell you a little bit about my situation.
I'm in my mid-teens, coming up in the war zone I call home (Vallejo, Calif.).
It was hard for me at a young age. I was pretty much bouncing around city to city due to my family's situation.
Really, I'm not making this a sad story or make it sound like some dumb movie. All I'm trying to do is share my life experiences with anybody who wants to change and still has a chance to turn their life around. So if you don’t want to hear what I'm saying, I understand.
I used to play a lot of sports. Then I started smoking weed. When I was younger I played Pop Warner football for seven years and Little League baseball for five.
I was around 7 when my mom went to jail. I hate going into really deep detail about it because it was really serious. She was gone for a cool little minute.
All I remember was my mom was home one day. The next day she was gone before I even woke up. I was really young, so my family never told me where she was. I was young and messed up in the head. I always felt that I drove my mom away. I thought she abandoned me, like it was my fault that she wasn't there.
Finally my momma got released and was back home with my sisters and me again. Even though she was gone for a while and lost her job, she still made sure that everything was well taken care of. Unemployed and all, she still handled her business.
My dad was doing his own thing, taking care of his other baby momma and kids. I went through a lot at that point in time. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and lost all of her hair and a lot of her weight. I had to deal with the fact that my mom was dying. As soon as that happened my life went all the way downhill.
Imagine being 8 or 9 thinking that you mom was dying and you couldn't do anything to stop it. Still, a lot of people have it way worse. I still had to be grateful and count my blessings. I was truly blessed to still have my mom. She beat her cancer and God gave us a blessing by restoring her full health.
To be honest, it's taken a lot of growing up for me to humble myself and really understand that someone has and always will have it worse than me. Some people are dead. Some are without food or water every day. Some people were left for dead. Some people haven't ever felt love from their parent or know what it feels like to have parents. I quit feeling bad for myself once I started looking at life from somebody else's perspective.
Honestly I’ve never had it made; never had anything handed to me. I worked for everything I’ve got to this day but I’ve got nothing to show for it. I'm facing life with no parole.
I can't wear anything designed in prison. I can't wear Versace or Gucci if I go to prison. So all the materialistic things I used to trip off on are irrelevant.
Don't show off in prison. In prison, dudes there have nothing to lose. Some people in there aren’t ever getting out. They’re going to die in prison.
Trying to understand the fact that the DA wants to send me there for life is something I really can't even comprehend. I know society looks at me as a monster or a menace to society, and that is something that I can't change. But really I don't even care anymore. They don't know my situation or my background.
I see my mom cry for an hour every single visit. It’s not right. The fact that I can't do anything about it is even worse.
I should be at home right now taking care of my mom and my kids instead of sitting in my cell.
Nobody really knows how society looks at us until it's too late. The DA doesn't know how our moms struggle to pay the bills or feed their kids. They only see us doing wrong. They don't understand why we sell drugs on the street, and go for the money.
Well, let me speak for myself. I know that a lot of guys out there don't do it for the family, but I know who I do it for.
Since the age of 13 all I was taught was to sell drugs, make money and put in work. That's it, that's all.
I never had a job. Didn't know how to work, really. So I just started hustling. I was never selfish. I was trying to make a way for every one of us to come up.
Growing up I saw a lot of things that nobody should see. I'm not traumatized though. It just changed my mentality.
I hate the fact that my mom has to see me all chained up. When my mom and son visit me it hurts when they walk out, knowing the fact that I can’t leave with them. Me being in here means nobody is watching over my mom like I would. I can’t have my dad in my life now. My son isn’t going to have his, for a while at least.
I won't see his first Christmas or his first birthday. I won't even see him crawl or take his first steps.
My family is the only thing I'm willing to die for. Not for the streets or my hood or a block, not even a female. As much as I love them I'm not willing to die for them. One thing I don't get is how half of y'all are only facing months, not even years, and still can't keep solid.
If I had a choice, I would have taken another route. Really, though, sometimes I just sit back in my cell and wonder why this had to happen to me. Why are all my old friends dead or in jail?
It's messed up, the life we’re living. So really ask yourself while you can: Is this the life you want to live? Paranoid, ducking the police, looking left and right to make sure no one is lurking.
Honest to God, I can tell you how racist the system is. It doesn’t even make sense. I don't get bail and I'm charged as an adult. But they gave that white boy [Dylann Roof] who killed those black people bail.
Youngsters, 15 and 16 years old, are fighting 30-, 40-, 50-year sentences. It's crazy; nobody should have to go through this at such a young age. Our lives aren't even started. Ninety-five percent of the population is going to prison or CYA [California Youth Authority] for years. The other 5 percent is here because the other pods are too full or they cut a deal and are getting out.
I sit in my cell, contemplating my situation. The only place I can imagine myself being is dead or in jail. Trust me, I was into smoking dope, getting money and spending it on females. In the long run it wasn't worth it.
Crazy how last week I saw my mom and she had a black eye. That almost drove me crazy. The funny thing is I can't even be mad because she got hit. It's my fault I'm not there to protect her. Knowing my mom is defenseless and has nobody there to protect her when she might need me, makes me sick. I could do nothing to help her.
I can't even call myself a man anymore because I can't protect my momma, my women, my sisters, my children. Somebody could be beating them and I can't do a thing about it. Imagine that for all you readers who still have a chance to protect your mom and your family.
People always wonder why I am how I am. They ask me how I stay strong in this situation, how I can act like I'm not scared, but it's all very easy to explain. I stay strong because I have no other choice.
If I give up and quit having faith on my release, the system wins, and that means my family loses. I can't let them have that satisfaction. I refuse to be what the system thinks I'm going to be. It's a message I want to try to share with you guys.
I’m just trying to work to get ready in case I have to go to prison. But every night I pray I beat my case and go home. I can't sleep at night because I think about my kids and how they don't see their daddy. My daughter only gets to talk to her daddy for 10 minutes. I lie to my baby girl and tell her that I'm at school.
I couldn't see my daughter's second birthday, all because I'm in jail. All I have is pictures. That doesn't make me feel like a father. I’ve been down most of my son's life. All I get is pictures of him walking and crawling.
Man, I just sit in my cell thinking about what he will grow up like. Crazy thing is I somewhat know the answer. He might end up messed up, just like me, if he doesn't have the right guidance.
I just feel that everybody who still has a chance should take advantage of that, while you are still given the chance. At least, man, do some positive with your life. Stay out of jail and protect your mom and family, or come to jail, have everybody speak about you, and you can’t protect your family. Keep thugging and watch your back for the rest of your life. Risk losing your life for the streets.
My granny died while I was in here. She passed on the fourth of July. I couldn’t even attend her funeral because they think I'm an animal. If my mom died today I couldn't attend her funeral. All because of the streets.
Don't risk it. My cousin’s girl just got killed in Vallejo. He’s in jail and can't even see her or visit her grave. It's real.
Chapo, 16, is in Solano County juvenile hall, north of San Francisco. He is charged with murder and being tried as an adult.
This column appeared in The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth. David Inocencio founded The Beat Within in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at email@example.com.
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