‘Learn from Mistakes’: A Prisoner Writes His Daughter


Dear Sassy,
Hey, Sass, I know I haven’t written you in a while. I’m sorry for that, but I’ve had some problems in here I needed to deal with and haven’t been able to focus on much else lately. Also, I’ve been kind of disappointed with you for not finishing that book report.
You’re starting school again, and I’m hoping you do much better this year. I can’t tell you how important it is to me that you improve your reading skills. If you don’t fix this, I’ll have your mom start taking privileges away from you, starting with the TV in your room. Maybe you’re spending too much time watching it and not enough time reading?
Look, Selena, I’m trying hard to be a good dad. It’s difficult 'cause I’m in here and can’t talk to you as much as I’d like to. Life, and the world, is hard to deal with sometimes. So many people out there are bad and want to take things from you. I’m doing my best to prepare you for that world. You have to be smart enough to see the difference between right and wrong. There’s so much gray area out there that it’s often difficult to tell which is which, especially since you’re a girl.
Boys will want you for all sorts of wrong reasons because they’ll all be obsessed with sex when they’re young. It’s just how they’re built. They’ll lie to you and try to use your emotions to cloud your judgment. I know because I used to be a young boy who did the very things I’m talking about. I don’t want you to be afraid of life or love, but I do want you to be careful who you let in your heart. You’ll only be able to discern the real from the fake by learning. When you read, you take in more than you could by watching a movie. You get to see why people do the things they do, get to see what they’re thinking when they acted how they did. You can only make good decisions in life when you base your choices in the knowledge gained from past experiences. The problem is that the best life lessons come from mistakes, and you’ll never live long enough to make the mistakes you should in order to be a person with great judgment. So … learn from the mistakes of others instead! Books let you see the bad choices of others, show you the consequences of those choices, and can help you to avoid making the same mistakes. I, too, have made more than enough mistakes for the two of us, so listen well to the things I tell you.
I love you. You are my daughter, and I want you to be strong, be a leader who does what is right or necessary when no one else will.
First, respect your parents and grandparents. We love you and want nothing more than for you to be safe and happy. Everyone else’s motives are questionable. You can never know if what they want from you is for their benefit or yours.
Second, always push yourself to do better. Learn more than the next person, and never allow yourself to succumb to laziness or complacency. Ever.
Always take responsibility for your actions. Only when you acknowledge that you made a mistake can you begin to correct it. The more you deny or ignore a problem, the worse it becomes. Never think I will stop loving you just because you did something you think I will not approve of.
Now, concerning leadership, do not make a habit of following others all the time or you will find you’ve been led into a mess made by someone else. When you play with others, are you the one they look to? Do they follow your ideas, or do you follow theirs? Listen to others who know more than you, and be the last to speak in every conversation so you may weigh the words of others before putting forth your own. Soon, you’ll see that you’re not waiting on them, but rather they are waiting on you to show them the way.
Base your judgment of others on what they do, not what they say. Do not let your decisions or opinions be swayed by gifts or the gossip others bring to your ears. Do not be bought with cheap words nor be guilt tripped by family or false friends. These things are for those who’re weak and do not respect themselves or their beliefs enough to stick by them. You are my child, and our family is iron. We do not break from hardship.
Lastly, say what you mean, always. Keep your opinions to yourself until you are willing to stand by them, even under the harshest criticism. When you speak, do so clearly, without unnecessary or excessively flowery words. You are your word, and when others see this, they will trust you with what they love most. Do not abuse that trust or you will quickly lose the people who have put that trust in you. You have a responsibility to those who’ve put their faith in you, and the worst enemy you could ever have is one who knows you intimately and once called you a friend.
There is so much I want to share with you, Sassy. So much I’ve learned from my own mistakes, and I hope the knowledge gained from those mistakes can help make your life easier. You may not understand all I’ve said now, but you will one day. And I will always be here for you to talk to. Take care of your mother. I’m relying on you to be strong while I’m gone. You are a part of me, so I know you are capable of great things. I miss you and wish you the best, always.

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 www.thebeatwithin.org.

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