I see a person who has a lot of needs that have not been met. I see a person who’s been hurt and tossed around. I see a person who is in a deep black hole and is asking for help. She/he is lost up in the hair, the makeup and looking good.
The me I want to see is a person of happiness and a loving person with the heart of an ox. Wait … let me wipe this stuff off my face. Let me take off these eyelashes off. Ewww I want it off now. … What do I see now? I see a person of bravery. I see myself as a bright light. … I’m fighting this but I am not alone. I am with others. Let’s fight I’m ready to start my day.
—Antonio, Los Angeles
When I look in the mirror I see myself different. I can’t recognize myself anymore. I feel and look ugly. I let the drugs take the best of me, I let the drugs destroy my beauty and control my actions and thoughts.
I stare into the mirror and think back in time of how I used to look, and I feel bad for myself. How did I let the drugs take such a big part of my life? Then I think of all the stuff I did and went through while I was high on it and it disturbs me. I don’t ever want to look or feel like that.
I hear people telling me how much I changed and how pretty I used to be and it concerns me. I want to go back to being who I was and look the way I used to look but to achieve that I have to be strong-minded and say no to the poison.
—Ashley, Los Angeles
Thick brown skin with battle scars everywhere, a glance around my face expressing a deep depression and overcoming of sin. I see three tattoos that express the love for the people symbolized amongst each of them.
I see coarse hair, which I was born with and struggled with while going through different stages of depression. I remember my different hairstyles as I think of myself, and cry knowing that my hair did not deserve this point of roughness. That’s just the outside appearance of the mirror for the bigger image is withheld inside of my soul, heart and mind.
Now I see joy jumped by my pride and knowledge of the streets and books. I see plenty of fights, mostly wins, a few losses physically and mentally. …
In the depths of me I see hope for recovery of the mind and broken heart. …
I see me and see a wounded heart forcing itself back together after being torn apart by my first love. … I see a once on track, skill-minded human being who had a decent head on her shoulders change into a lost certified gang member whose ignorant mind won’t allow her to think beyond the streets. I see stupidity creating blind spots within me.
Eventually I ended up seeing a criminal in me who is now a juvenile facing time. If I were to look now, I would see a new beginning of hope for the future me with lasting effects of the old me. Together both good and bad, I see me.
—Rajene, Los Angeles
When I look in the mirror I see an intelligent young lady full of energy, opportunities, potential and enthusiasm. Well, that was before I came to jail. Now I wake up and stare into the glass along my door and think, “What happened to you? Where did you go? What are you doing here?”
I see a young lady full of mistakes with no one to blame but herself. I see someone who had everything going for her but gave it up for “the hood,” for “the homies.” But then I look in the mirror and realize they are going about their day while I’m sitting in a room watching time go by.
I stop and question myself: How many homies wrote me since I have been here? None. How many of them call and check up on my mom? None. All I get is “Free me” posted on Facebook. But what is that going to solve, I’m still not “free.”
When I look in the mirror I see myself separating from negativity. I mean, the hood is always going to be in me but spending my time in here made me realize: Just because you all are from the same neighborhood doesn’t mean you all will remain tight. When I look in the mirror I see myself out of here on the road to success. This isn’t the end, I’m going to do it with or without a friend.
—Tyetianna, Los Angeles
When I look in the mirror, the mirror is cracked and dirty.
The cracks all lead to an equally shattered person.
The cracks travel to the very core and I wonder what will break me to my last extent.
When I look in the mirror, I see someone who is on the verge,
Someone who doesn’t know how to cope,
Someone who has too much desire but not enough hope.
When I look in the mirror, I see an accident.
The lust of two people with no interest in caring for the repercussion.
When I look in the mirror, I see nothing.
—R, Santa Clara, California
When I look in the mirror I see a criminal and sometimes I don’t recognize myself. I don’t know why I’ve always been bad and done bad crap. I sometimes think about doing good but I can’t walk away from the lifestyle. It’s who I am and I guess that’s what I see when I look in the mirror.
Sometimes I see a player and goon, I hate what I see when I look in the mirror. When I look in the mirror I look back and remember all the bad crap I’ve done. I ain’t ever going to be able to change. Not that I would. I wonder if I’ll ever change my ways but I don’t think so. First, I’ll have to want to and I don’t want to. I don’t know if I ever will want to change.
—Slim, Santa Clara
I see someone that has been found. I was once lost, but getting locked up made me get serious. I don’t know why it took me so long to straighten up. Now, I know how it is because I don’t want to come in here again because I know next time it will probably be for the majority of my life.
This like my 16th time in here. I’m just tired of it. I’m at the point that I don’t even greet the staff no more that I know, because I’m tired of seeing them. The ones that tell me what to do, to go to the bathroom when to go to sleep, you get my point.
It sucks, no girls, no cell phones, no nothing, it’s whack. This ain’t the life but I did what I did, now I’m paying the consequences and I accept them. But, next time I’m out of here. I got better plans for myself, there is more to life than being locked up.
—Jose, Santa Clara
When I look in the mirror I see …
A beautiful, young woman like me
Most people hate, most people envy
I’m a flower, just asking for water
Somebody clean me!
I’m high off life and high off the dope
I put the past in my wood, light it and I smoke
When I look in the mirror I see …
Afraid, trapped, strong but I feel weak
Disrespected by men, but respected by the least
Riding in cars, and in and out of jail
The route that I’m going, I might end up in hell
But I’m going to change for the better, and put down the gun
I’m going to stay at my group home … this time I won’t run
—Angie, Alameda, California
When I look in the mirror, I see a statistic.
I see a young man from Oakland
who’s just a part of the white man’s opinion.
But they fail to see a young man with potential and pride.
They fail to see the man who will make it out of the hood
one day and provide for his loved ones and his block.
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 email@example.com.