Incarcerated Youth ‘Must Accept Our Mistakes’

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CellWindow Stephan Ridgway

Photo by Stephan Ridgway via Flickr

This essay was originally published by The Beat Within, a justice system writing workshop. The author is incarcerated at the Solano County (Calif.) Juvenile Hall. 

To the amazing young men and women incarcerated across the United
States of America – my question to you is this: Take a long, hard
look at where you at.

Ask yourself – do you like where you are right now?

I’m assuming that most…readers of The Beat Within are looking
from left to right at the overall same things: three walls, a ceiling,
a door that you cannot push, pull, or turn open, a stainless steel
sink, toilet, and a steel mirror.

I’m also assuming you have trouble sleeping at night in your cell.
You’re kept awake by the hard surface you’re lying on, the “mattress,”
the tiny plastic pillow, the lights that never completely go off, and
the people that beep your door every fifteen minutes.

Most of the time though, it’s usually your worst enemy inside and
outside the juvenile hall. It’s your OWN MIND! The thoughts you hear
at 11 p.m. in your cell.  The thoughts that can be about anything and
everything – your family, your friends, your girlfriend, your
boyfriend, your block, and everything around and in between.

Mainly, and most frequently, you think about yourself.  The things you
have done, the struggles you have powered through, your triggers, your
fears, your anger, your emotions, your mindset, and thinking process,
all of it.

Many of us young adults are beat down and criticized by
our own minds.

We allow ourselves to become the worst version of us because of our
actions, mindset and decisions. We retreat into a sense of false
security through drugs, women, men and adrenaline rushes.

We form [the type of mindset that says] “I don’t care about anything, anyone, or what happens unless it’s me,” …and it becomes destructive.  We allow
our emotions to be worn on our sleeves; our minds to do more damage
upon our bodies than most people could physically do.

Why are we “mentally lashing” ourselves? We strip ourselves of the good
inside, the positive aspects of who we are, and focus on strengthening
the negatives, thinking that it helping us when it is instead
destroying us on a day-to-day basis.

We can’t let this destructive thought process control our actions for
today, tomorrow, or the future. I see young men and women, including
myself, giving up and doubting themselves.  I see them struggling with
leaving the streets behind – the only thing they have known for so
long.

I understand the pain that they have to deal with and how they abuse
drugs in order to heal temporarily [what] time hasn’t healed for them,
and I see the confusion in their eyes. The confusion of who they are,
what they want to be in life, and what to do next.

One of the things that irritates me to my core is that the juvenile
justice system expects us to change who we are and what we have done
immediately, but doesn’t try to understand why we do these things.
They don’t try to actually help the young people of America and
converse with our youth in ways that would actually benefit us.

Instead, they want to lock us away, claiming we are menaces to
society, and watch us murder each other in the streets. Many of the
young men and women who are locked up have multiple issues in their
household that they deal with. These are one of the many reasons why
they decide to commit crimes and act out.

Many have no stability and some have no parents at all. There is a
reason for everything.  Understand us and you will understand the
problem. There are a few young adults that have accepted the street
life as their own and that is fine. I applaud them for their strength
and perseverance in their beliefs.

I am not here to judge each other of our character, but I do believe
that I have the power in my writing to show you young adults that I
understand. To show them that someone their own age can change their
mind and in turn change their life.

Many of the incarcerated youth is lost in the world of ifs, ands
buts, could haves, would haves, should haves. We need to realize that
happiness isn’t formed by excuses, but by creating it on our own and
in our minds.

As young men and women; as the generation to become the next
politicians, world leaders, doctors, lawyers, and other influential
members of society, we must bring ourselves up. We must accept our
mistakes as what they are and push forward into the goodness we have
in each and every one of us.

We need to not only forgive ourselves for our own mistakes, but to
forgive the courts and the judges that have placed the false labels of
criminals on our backs. If we persevere through these hard times and
become something of ourselves, we will prove the juvenile justice
system wrong.

[The author requested that he be identified only by his first name]

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