Ma You Told Me


Ma You Told Me

Ma you told me don't be dumb

Ma you told me to go to school

Ma you told me don't get locked up

Ma you said do what I got to do

That's why I love you Ma

Now I'm locked up thinking about what you said

What you told me not to do

And I didn't listen

Because I'm locked up Ma

Ma I like to see you smile not cry

Ma that's messed up I got you going back and forth to court

Ma you told me I'm not no bad son

Ma you know when I come home I'm not coming back here

Ma I do not want to sit over 1901 (DC Jail) no more

Ma all I do while I'm in here is think about all the shhh you told me

Ma I know you missing days off from work

Ma that's why I love you

Ma you always told me some good shhh

Ma you told me I could be something in life

Ma you told me you want me to do right

But Ma take me by my word

That I'm going to do right

Ma you told me to do all the good and not the bad

Ma you told me you do not want to see me locked up

Ma you told me.

-DJ, Washington DC


I'm stuck in the hall surrounded by a wall. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep and can't stop counting sheep. My mom and dad are gone and now I just got myself. My family didn't accept me so now I am on my own trying to find a permanent home. I roam and roam through the streets of Salinas, I strive and I stay alive. I wish I had a family to make a life.

-Marco, Monterey

Where's Mom

I called you.

You said you would visit me.

I bragged about it.

I said my mom really loves me

And you didn't show up

I didn't cry.

You're a busy woman,

But next time you'd come for sure

Next time and you didn't.

But I still love you and,

I know you didn't do it purposely.

I couldn't stop crying that night.

I cried until I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

“Next time,” I comforted myself.

“Next time she'll be here,” I prayed.

Finally she came.

We spoke few words and shed many tears.

More tears than the nights I had cried alone in my cell.

More than I ever had before, way more.

Whatever excuse she had for not showing up before,

No longer mattered.

It was hard dealing with her absence.

Even tougher with her presence.

And worst of all was the good-bye

And the emptiness that she left behind.

Not knowing if she was going to return

And if she did how soon would it be

I tried to push the thought to the farthest corner of my mind.

Needless to say my efforts were in vain.

Funny thing how my mother's biggest presence is her enormous absence.

-La'Navia, Texas

Older And Younger

Being in jail, I feel five again. I have to raise my hand to ask for everything. When to use the bathroom. Get a drink. Stretch. Our meals are even controlled. I don't have the freedom to talk or feel the way I want to feel.

On the outs, I'm an adult, taking care of my little brothers, cooking, cleaning, waking them up, and getting them ready for school. I am the adult in the house, and my mother is my child. I want to be a kid, the thing I never got to be.

When I was a kid, there weren't any toys to play with and the kids in my foster home were too sad to play with. My life as an adult was tough and it gave me a lot of stress. Doing school with stress, wondering how my brothers and the house are. My mother (being a child) is asleep by the time I leave for school, and when I come back.

I make my mom some food, go to pick up my brothers, and then help them with their homework. If I'm not too tired, I might get around to my homework. The next day with my teachers, they ask why I'm slacking off, and that I need to stay after school, which I can't do so I end up ditching so I can pick up my brothers.

I get in trouble the next day, and my mother gets called.

My mother yells and curses, telling me I'm nothing and if I fuck up anymore she's going to kick me out. Drugs are my escape out of this world and a way to be young again.

-Destinee, Los Angeles

Since 1996, The Beat Within’s mission is to provide incarcerated youth with consistent opportunity to share their ideas and life experiences in a safe space that encourages literacy, self-expression, some critical thinking skills, and healthy, supportive relationships with adults and their community. Outside of the juvenile justice system, The Beat Within partners with community organizations and individuals to bring resources to youth (between the ages of 11 -17) both inside and outside of detention. We are committed to being an effective bridge between youth who are locked up and the community that aims to support their progress towards a healthy, non-violent, and productive life. The following pieces come from our weekly workshops which were recently held in one the 18 juvenile detention facilities – from Hawaii to San Francisco to Washington DC – we venture into each week. From the writings we produce the national publication, The Beat Within. For more information please visit us at

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