Throughout the last year I’ve been back and forth between being free and being locked up. I know you weren’t there when I was a child, but you made an effort to be there in my later years.
You proved to me that you’re a good man and changed, now it’s my turn to prove to you that I’m not another juvenile statistic and I can change.
I regret a lot of things in my past, I’ve made a lot of mistakes that affected other people not just myself, and I wish every day that to take them back.
I was so caught up in the hustle life that I’d do anything to come up on money and the drugs, they owned me. I thought that this was the life to live and if you weren’t in the game then you were a nobody. Little did I know I was just running from the truth about myself.
Being here locked up in these cells sounds bad but it might just be the best place for me. It’s giving me time to think about what I want in life and time to get closer to myself.
I’ve got 10 plus years to spend in these cells for a crime that ruined my life but I’ve learned to not regret these things. There are things I can’t change, things that I should move on from.
It’s only up from here Pops. The hustle game never leaves you but I’m hustling for a better life this time.
‘Till I hear from you again, love you.
—Mason, Portland, Oregon
You’ve taught me so much, like where I’m from, how to steal, how to hit a blunt and even roll a joint, all at a very young age. Don’t get me wrong though, you’ve taught me some good things too, as in how to fight, do a push-up the right way and walk like a man with my head up, shoulders back and chest out.
I remember when I was staying with you and I had school. I was going to go, but you would always tell me, “Why you gonna go to school? Chill, have a beer with me.”
Yeah, that sounds cool, but that also shows that you don’t care about my life. Why? Why would you never care about what I would do? I can smoke with you, drink with you, chill with females with you, yeah, that’s tight, but I would rather have a father that shows me the ropes the right way.
You’ve always told me, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” I go by that every day. I care for you and love you, so care for me and love me back. Be a man of your word for once.
—Andrew, Santa Clara, California
Thank you for always being there for me through everything. Whether it was only smashing pumpkins or if it was stealing your car at night. Thank you for having the patience with me and never giving up.
Thank you for always coming to pick me up when I was in trouble. Whether it was yours or Mom’s week, three in the morning or far away. Thank you for staying quiet in the car ride home.
Thank you for always giving me talks and motivating me to get my life together. Thank you for coming to all my court dates and never letting me go to a group home.
Thank you for always giving me a warm house to come home to.
—Alexis, Santa Clara
You are worthless! I don’t like you for nothing. Didn’t even take care of me, left my mother and brothers by ourselves with no support and remorse. You’re a piece of shhh. I’m doing better than you ever will. So screw you and don’t even say that you know me.
Now I got my stepdad, actually he’s my real dad ’cause he looks out for me no matter what my situation, as well as my mother.
—Ricardo, Santa Cruz
You always had my back since I was back in the womb. Daddy was a deadbeat, so it always was me and you. I'm forever grateful that you didn't abort me because a woman raising a man is the hardest things to do.
You know you’re my favorite lady. I know I'm your favorite dude. Your love never changes, even though we got different views. I want you to quit drugs. You want to me to quit cutting school. None of us got what we want. So guess we both lose.
I didn't get much for my Christmases as a lil child, but you still went out of your way to find a way to make me smile. Wish I could feel your warm embrace. Lord knows it's been a while. Your son hard-headed. Momma, it took a min but I get it now.
All the sweet stuff and street stuff that you taught me. A gentleman and a gangsta, how could you ever fault me? Hope you don't fault me. I hope you don't fault yourself. Love is a cold dealer. We played the hand we dealt.
I thank you for never giving up, never giving me away. I thank you ’cause the lesson you taught me made me who I am today. You tell me to go down on my knees, so I pray. I love you is what I truly want to say.
—Lee Butta, San Francisco County Jail, San Bruno, California
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.