‘They Put Us on a One-Way Street and Expect Us to Go the Other Way’

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poverty: A one way sign, next to U.S. property no parking sign


Dear Momma,

I’ve been taking all my pain out on this paper

I’m sorry I’m still stuck up in this cell a year later

They are tryin’ to send me to prison like they doin’ me a favor

Used to mix all my drinks, now I mix my feelings with no chaser

And I’m sorry, Momma, if I ever let you down

We was living real broke, tryin’ to make a come around

Momma, I know you understand when I say I’m feelin’ down

I know you know pain, the way lost time is never found

But, Momma, can you see it now?

The way shhh in our life should have been turned around

But we’re a product of poverty, they ain’t lettin’ us out

If they were standing in our shoes, what product would they be sellin’ now?

It’s not like we had a choice to grow up in pain

They put us on a one-way street and expect us to go the other way

If they give us all shade, how they expect us to be raised?

And if they never showed us love, wouldn’t love turn to hate?

Evictions, food from church

Shhh, I’ve been thinking on how we used to live in our past

Been through thick and thin, with no shoes we walked on glass

They say they went through hell, we did too

The only difference is that we never came back

The streets got ahold of us, so poverty held us back

Had to support our family, so I started running up these bags

Started dealing in these streets, ‘cause we really needed cash

While the rent went up, we got evicted real fast

We was poorer than other kids, I always wanted what they had

We walked up in churches just to get something to eat

I remember asking you, Momma, if there’s any food

You said we got no more money on our EBT

We never once had a car,

we always had to walk on our feet

Pushing laundry in a grocery cart,

’Cause sometimes that’s how it be

I’m grateful to you

From sleepin’ on the streets and motels

With no water or light

You always left us alone,

’Cause you had somewhere else to be at night

I said, “Momma, what you doing?”

You said “Honey just close your eyes”

And I didn’t understand until I was 7 years of age

Saw the feds busted in, “Momma, why they taking you away?”

I tried to grip onto your hand, tears rushing down my face

But they would never understand all the pain we had to face

And Momma, I don’t blame you,

Momma, it’s not your fault

’Cause we live in a messed-up world with closing back walls

Ain’t anyone picking us up after every time we fall

But it’s all right Momma,

’Cause you tried to give us your all

Momma, I see your pain, and I’m just tryin’ to keep it straight

A single mother on welfare with three kids to be raised

And we still couldn’t afford a place

Even though we was on Section Eight

We never had a lot, but you gave us a hot plate

So I’m sincerely grateful for you really tryin’

Momma, you was doing it on your own, you was tryin’ to get it right

Momma, you played both roles, had no father in my life

Even though we slept in the cold, we was just tryin’ to get by

I know for most of my life me and my sisters in foster homes

Surrounded by the lies you telling us we going home

But Momma, I don’t blame you, ’cause you was just all alone

And Momma, don’t blame yourself, ’cause you had problems of your own

I knew you was fighting the devil, tryin’ to get off the dope

I knew it hurt you to see us in pain, so you let us go

Momma, you so strong, but you might not see it through

You made a hard decision and I see it, Momma,

I just want to let you know

Momma, they don’t understand where you really coming from

But I do, I appreciate everything you ever done

And Momma, don’t be tripping off the things you haven’t done

‘Cause Momma, you did the best you can,

Sincerely, your son.

King J, 17, is in the San Mateo County [Calif.] Juvenile Hall for first-degree robbery.

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 dinocencio@thebeatwithin.org.

One thought on “‘They Put Us on a One-Way Street and Expect Us to Go the Other Way’

  1. So powerful. So sad. Needing alternatives to incarceration couldn’t be more clear!