Youths at several detention facilities were asked at a recent writing workshop run by The Beat Within to write letters describing what brought them there–and their hopes for the future.
Here’s a sample.
‘I WISH I HAD LISTENED’
Dear Juvenile Hall,
The first time I walked through your doors I was twelve.
I had just had the worst night of my life. Did you comfort me? Did you see how scared I was? Did you see the pain in my eyes? No, no, and no. I was a victim that first time, not a criminal.
So why should I have to suffer on a cold metal bench all night long? Why did I have to suffer through cruel stares and demeaning looks?
It didn’t really matter because I was released in two days.
Now I have been here four times. You no longer bother me. Now I appreciate the fact that I’m here because things could be much worse.
Sometimes I do think back to that first time, a scared little girl sitting in the cold dirty tank of LP (Los Padrinos). I remember that seventeen-year-old ho trying to convince me to change my life before I was in too deep.
Now I look back at the girl that you, juvenile hall, put in front of me.
Damn, I wish I had listened.
-Cita, Los Angeles
‘(Give Us) Chances for Community Service’
My Letter to Juvenile Hall
I appreciate your effort to teach all of these children right from wrong. You could better it by hiring more adaptive staff to run units.
They could also start putting people that will be here for a while around other people who will be here for a while as well. This could help ease the vibes for those who aren’t leaving any time soon, so they aren’t just watching people come and go.
We should have therapy programs and other potentially beneficial programs for those who need them. We should be given chances to do things for our community, such as community service. I
learned being in a daycare for overgrown children that living a life of crime, you never realize all of the privilege you have on the outside.
Stay away from the streets.
-Brandon, Portland Oregon
‘The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened to Me’
Dear Juvenile Hall;
You have beaten, bruised, battered, and hurt me. You have knocked me down, bothered me, disgusted me, confused me, humiliated me, depressed me, scared me, and done so many other things to me.
To be honest, you’ve been a nightmare.
However, you have been the best thing that ever happened to me.
You’ve straightened me out. You’ve been a better option for me because if I didn’t come here, I would be dead. I’ve learned to never break the law, to be more altruistic in my decisions, and to set higher goals for myself.
You’ve taught me to control my emotions and to give respect where respect is deserved.
You’ve taught me many lessons and I’ll never forget the unorthodox ways you taught them in.
Thank you for your adversity.
However, we will never cross paths again.
-Samuel, Portland Oregon
‘Everything is Inside’
Dear Juvenile Hall,
I appreciate you guys teaching me a lesson, making me not want to be here. This is my first time being here and last time. I feel that no one should be locked in a room, not able to get out
because it’s stressful and makes a person feel like they are crazy.
I’ll never forget how nasty their food is. It’s always soggy. Sometimes the food is cool, though. I feel they should at least give us some salt. I like the fruit and peanut butter and jelly but I
feel like they give us peanut butter and jelly all the time.
I will also not forget the blankets. I also won’t forget the same outfits we always have to put on.
I’ve learned that you have to know who your real friends are and be a leader. Also, I learned you have to give respect to get respect.What I miss about my freedom is that I can’t get on Facebook. Also not being able to be on the phone. Being in juvenile hall has stopping me from doing what I want to do like being with friends and having fun.
In here it feels like everything is inside, you can’t express yourself to others or people you want to talk to.
‘My Birthday in Jail Was The Worst’
Open Letter To Juvenile Hall
This week I want to write an open letter to you all. The thing I appreciate most is you helping me with my credits and forcing me to go to school every day.
I came to the halls for my second time in January. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was fourteen when I came to jail for the first time.
Now I am fifteen, having my birthday in jail was the worst.
The programs are good; the food is not that bad, but the clothing is bad. Why do the girls have to wear the same thing as the boys?
Why can’t the girls wear brighter colors? The showers are horrible, the education is okay.
The visits are not fair. Why can’t parents bring little kids after we have been here for a while?
We spend long times in our cells, inside is long and outside of them is short.
I will never forget the shoes, the clothes, the underwear, the walls in my room, the food, and the hands behind your back system. I learned from jail that the outs are better than being in here and family are my friends.
What I miss most about the outs is my family, friends, school, walking, and just doing whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to ask to go to the bathroom. I miss those things the most.
Now juvenile hall, I am free from all this mess in August and I am not coming back.
-Graham, Los Angeles