To the amazing young men and women incarcerated across the United States of America — my question to you is this. Take a long, hard look at where you at. Ask yourself — do you like where you are right now?
I’m assuming that most of the readers of The Beat Within are looking from left to right at the overall same things: three walls, a ceiling, a door that you cannot push, pull or turn open, a stainless steel sink, toilet and a steel mirror.
I’m also assuming you have trouble sleeping at night in your cell. You’re kept awake by the hard surface you’re lying on, the “mattress,” the tiny plastic pillow, the lights that never completely go off and the people that beep your door every 15 minutes.
Most of the time though, it’s usually your worst enemy inside and outside the juvenile hall. It’s your OWN MIND! The thoughts you hear at 11 p.m. in your cell. The thoughts that can be about anything and everything — your family, your friends, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your block and everything around and in between.
Mainly, and most frequently, you think about yourself. The things you have done, the struggles you have powered through, your triggers, your fears, your anger, your emotions, your mindset and thinking process, all of it. Many of us young adults are beat down and criticized by our own minds.
We allow ourselves to become the worst version of us because of our actions, mindset and decisions. We retreat into a sense of false security through drugs, women, men and adrenaline rushes.
We form that “I don’t care about anything, anyone or what happens unless it’s me,” type of mindset and it becomes destructive. We allow our emotions to be worn on our sleeves; our mind to do more damage upon our bodies than most people could physically do.
Why are we mentally lashing ourselves? We strip ourselves of the good inside, the positive aspects of who we are and focus on strengthening the negatives, thinking that it’s helping us when it is instead destroying us on a day-to-day basis.
We can’t let this destructive thought process control our actions. I see young men and women, including myself, giving up and doubting themselves. I see them struggling with leaving the streets behind — the only thing they have known for so long.
I understand the pain they have to deal with and how they abuse drugs in order to heal temporarily what time hasn’t healed for them, and I see the confusion in their eyes. The confusion of who they are, what they want to be in life and what to do next.
One of the things that irritates me to my core is that the juvenile justice system expects us to change who we are and what we have done immediately, but doesn’t try to understand why we do these things. They don’t try to actually help the young people of America and converse with our youth in ways that would actually benefit us.
Instead, they want to lock us away, claiming we are menaces to society, and watch us murder each other in the streets. Many of the young men and women who are locked up have multiple issues in their household that they deal with. These are one of the many reasons why they decide to commit crimes and act out.
Many have no stability and some have no parents at all. There is a reason for everything. Understand us and you will understand the problem. There are few young adults that have accepted the street life as their own and that is fine. I applaud them for their strength and perseverance in their beliefs.
I am not here to judge each other’s character, but I do believe that I have the power in my writing to show you young adults that I understand. To show them that someone their own age can change their mind and in turn change their life.
Many of the incarcerated youth are lost in the world of ifs, ands, buts, could of, would of, should of. We need to realize that happiness isn’t formed by excuses, but by creating it on our own and in our minds.
As young men and women, as the generation to become the next politicians, world leaders, doctors, lawyers and other influential members of society, we must bring ourselves up. We must accept our mistakes as what they are and push forward into the goodness we have in each and every one of us.
We need to not only forgive ourselves for our own mistakes, but to forgive the courts and the judges who have placed the false labels of criminals on our backs. If we persevere through these hard times and make something of ourselves, we will prove the juvenile justice system wrong.
Daniel, 18, is being held in Solano County Juvenile Hall in central California for robbery and vandalism.
The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, was founded by David Inocencio 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.