I can recall a time in my life when I would see a fence and just had to climb it. The urge was irresistible. It didn’t matter if it was a chainlink, wooden picket or brick masonite. The height wasn’t a factor either. A six, twelve or fifteen footer just excited me all the more.

I had to see what was on the other side. In my juvenile mind, that fence was a barrier, an obstruction to my happiness and I couldn’t let that go.

When peer pressure was mixed in with my juvenile bravado, it wasn’t a question of if I was going over any particular fence, but just how many of my friends I would beat over to the other side.

Many times the rewards were absolutely fascinating. I’d find neat basketball courts, glimmering swimming pools and the occasional fruit tree, sweet with ripe pickings to invite my pleasure. Other times my spirit of adventure paid off no better than the antics of Curious George; my findings were more punishment than reward: an angry Rottweiler; thorny bushes, thick mud patches (messing up my bright white kicks) or an angry and surprised homeowner who felt disrespected or violated and showed no compunction in cursing savagely at a minor.

Other times a fence could make for an adrenaline-fueled escape route as I’d “hit” the fence in an effort to shake the authorities. Sometimes this entailed a spectacular acrobatic feat of jumping up toward the top of a chainlink fence and flipping my body over, hopefully landing on my feet. Of course every effort of mine to complete this maneuver didn’t result in cat-like charm and agility. There were many painful sprains, nasty scrapes, and lasting breaks; none of which hindered me until the adrenaline wore off.

Wild nostalgia giving way to reality, or what I used to view as harmless fun; the hi-jinx of youthful exuberance. I know now that these were the seeds of my eventual, inevitable destruction.

What I failed to understand was that those fences represented law, and rules, and my need to climb them were the roots of my disrespect for such social mores.

I used to say “fences were made to be climbed,” but the unconscious
message that registered in my spirit was that rules were made to be broken. Little did I know that those fences were not there to separate me from my happiness, but from my own despair.

Now, incarcerated, I find myself surrounded by at least two miles of chainlink fences. I can’t help but wonder if there’s a younger version of me looking in and wanting to hit the fence. If I could I’d tell him that there’s nothing in here to see, but if he’s not moved by my words perhaps the razor wire and ten thousand volts might speak loud enough.

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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