JH Artwork

JH Artwork

Writing Exchange 2006-2018

This blog was created to display some of the powerful writing being done by incarcerated youth. Participants currently include juvenile hall facilities in Siskiyou, El Dorado, Placer, Fresno, and Butte County. Students are given journal topics and asked to write what needs to be written. Several entries are handpicked from each classroom site and posted to the blog anonymously. Students at each site then read the material together, discussing the writing and connecting with others.

Planned Exchanges

Planned Exchanges 2018: May 24; June 27; July 25; More To Come!

Friday, January 25, 2013

This month, students were given two prompts. They were able use either prompt or use an "open topic" and write what was on their minds. The prompts given were as follows:

1. Some of you are already parents and some will be in the not so distant future. Write a letter to your own fictitious son or daughter, imagining that they are about to enter their teenage years. What advice would you give them to keep them on a positive track and out of incarceration? What can you tell them about your own life that may be relevant in this difficult age?

2. Use the opening line, "When I look in the mirror, I see...." If you get stuck writing, rewrite the opening line and keep going.

Entry # 144
Bloodshot Eyes
When I look in the mirror,
I see
A broken shadow of a girl I don’t know
A blank stare
Weak smiles
When I look in the mirror,
I see
A lie I’ve learned to tell myself
In a world where I’m alone
I’m not okay
When I look in the mirror,
I see
Someone who’s weak
A misguided form
An untold story
When I look in the mirror,
I see
Bloodshot eyes
Sadness deep inside
A chance that almost died
When I look in the mirror,
I see
Who I used to be
A darkened soul
Trying to break free
And when I look in the mirror,
I see
Maybe it’s time to let go
And I wonder how I got through this
I guess I’ll never know

Entry # 145
Most of the Time
When I look in the mirror I see the person I have become. Most of the time I don't recognize the stranger that’s looking back at me. I don't really know who I am.
Slowly I'm figuring things out and it scares me because it means I'm moving forward and growing up. When I look in the mirror I see those sad brown eyes that have witnessed so much. I ask myself if I'll ever be truly happy. When I look in the mirror I see the person I have become. Then I look past that and see the person I will be.

Entry # 146
When I look in the mirror I see a troubled young man tired of coming to Juvenile Hall. Tired of being a disappointment to my family. The right path is right in front of my eyes but I repeatedly overlook it. I think, at times, that I'll never get out of the system and that I'll end up going to prison, but I have a lot more to offer to the world than a J number. I'm stuck. Will I ever find a way out? This is on my mind 24/7. I have a family that loves and supports me and I always say, "Family first," but when it comes down to it, I inevitably choose drugs and alcohol before my family. I never admit it because it is easier to deny, but I opened my eyes and realized where this is headed, what it is doing to my family. "You are a smart and talented young man," but that is hard to accept. I don't have long before I am an adult and the kid stuff stops. I don't have the chances that I had in the past as a juvenile. Hopefully I'll pull my head out before it's too late. I get help and support, but neglect to use it. One day, hopefully, I'll be the young man I was raised to be.

Entry #147
Through This Rhyme
Dear Daughter-
I wish there was some other way,
For me to tell you what I have to say,
But mommy chose a dangerous path,
One filled with anger and much wrath.
It was no one’s fault but my own,
Grandma and grandpa should have known,
That their little girl had a wild heart,
One that made choices, not too smart.
She ended up going to an unhappy place,
Filled with stress and much disgrace,
Never knowing what lies ahead,
Missing her family every night while going to bed.
Coming back every month for a violation,
Wishing so badly she never got on probation,
Doing 5-6 months at a time,
Trying to get a message to you through this rhyme.
You are entering a fragile stage,
One with change and a lot of rage,
Remember to think before your actions,
And have control of your reactions.
Know that I am here for you,
And the person I was should be a clue,
To not make the same mistakes,
Life is a gift that you must take.

Entry #148
Dear Daughter
When I look in the mirror, I see my beautiful child that I’ll soon get to see.
When I look in the mirror, I see you being a better parent than me.
When I look in the mirror, I see my baby girl looking at me.
When I look in the mirror, I see this beautiful child looking up to her mother.
When I look in the mirror, I see this person that is locked up and scared to ask for help.
When I look in the mirror, I see this girl that never got to see the real world.
When I look in the mirror, I see me telling my daughter not to follow my footsteps.
When I look in the mirror, I see a young mother trying her best.
When I look in the mirror I see me holding my daughter and her crying on my chest.
When I look in the mirror, I see her dad finally coming into the picture and taking care of her and me.
When I look in the mirror I see that it was nothing but a dream.
When I look in the mirror, I see nothing but a hurt little girl crying for her mother.
When I look in the mirror, I see me feeling your gentle touch, and I know if you’re near you’ll never have feel the fear
When I look in the mirror.

Entry # 149
Dear Son,
Well I have made many mistakes in my days, more than enough. The majority of which I regret. I have lost so much of my childhood because of being incarcerated. I began being sent to juvenile hall at the age of 12, while in the 7th grade. Now that I think about it I never made it to junior high before getting locked up. The first time I was arrested, was for fighting with a rival gang member. From there I have continued to come back numerous times. This last time I was honestly doing my very best and was 2 weeks away from getting off probation, then out of the blue I caught a whole new charge. On top of that I’m being tried as an adult at the age of 15.

I don’t know why this is the path I’m taking. I mean my parents are 100% supportive and willing to do anything and everything to stop my bad habits, but I never chose to listen. My father was sort of in the same situation, but didn’t learn his lesson until his was in his mid 30's and had already been to prison a half dozen times. My point is, I’ve made way too many negative decisions throughout the years and I want you to learn from my mistakes before it is too late. I want the very best for you, so don’t trip over the same rock twice.

Entry # 150
Dear son,
I would like to start out by telling you to not slack in life. Do the best of your ability, plus some, to gain knowledge on every aspect in life. Make the best choices early, so it’s not harder on you in the future. Always have an open mind, no matter what your beliefs or how you are as an individual. Be able to understand others ways of being. Soak up any knowledge you can. Be your own man, and always stand your own ground. Don’t go causing unnecessary drama though. Figure out ways to handle every possible situation you might encounter accordingly, mind over matter. Take advantage of every incentive for your betterment. Set goals, and back up those goals, because everything’s due to subject of change. Don’t involve yourself in any nonsense that can get you locked up; nothing’s worth it. Worry about your future. Do your best to prepare for when you’re no longer under your parents wings and protection, so that you will be able to be a respectable young man, and be able to have the better things in life. Always keep in mind to push forward. There is always more to accomplish, learn, and ways to improve yourself all around. Always have respect, and be humble. It will save you a lot of trouble throughout your life. Always listen to what people have to say, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to abide by what they say. Take what they say, evaluate, and choose if its advice worthy enough to mix with your characteristics and views of life. Always ask why to everything in your mind. Seeing and hearing something somewhere, such as the media, can deceive you very easily. Being able to have a free open mind, helps you a lot to figure out the lies and confusion in this world. There is always more to learn, but I'll keep this letter brief.
Love ,
your father

Entry #151
When I look in the mirror, I see myself. I see a metal plank above a concrete slab of rock. I can also see a circular seat and a triangular desk. I don’t see much, but at least I can still see something.
When I look in the mirror, I see stress. I see a face that radiates with regret, hate, and aggravation.
When I look in the mirror, I have to keep looking, looking, and looking… because when I keep looking, it makes me feel a bit of gratification. I feel gratified because if I never would have seen a metal plank above a concrete slab of rock, a circular seat with a triangular desk, and my own face radiating regret, hate, and aggravation… my life would never have drastically evolved into the positive, open-minded person that I am now.

Entry # 152
Fading Away
Fading slowly from my mind. It’s been twelve weeks since I've last seen you and one since you told me it was over. For some reason, the only thing that kept me going was the thought of holding you the day I get out. That hope is now over. Every year we spent together now means nothing. I used to cry every night because I longed for you. Now I cry because I know it’s truly over. I don’t understand how feelings and emotions can hurt so bad physically. I don't want this pain, so I'm going to choose to forget. I'm choosing to let you fade slowly from my mind.

I don’t have you, so it's time to find someone new. I’m so used to the way I was treated by you, that I don’t even know what a healthy relationship is. I have been broken down by you so much, that I don’t know what to think of myself anymore. I don't want to let anyone in because I'm scared that it'll just start over. There were so many long miserable nights trying to please you and make you happy. I was so caught up in you that I forgot about me.

Entry #153
Dear Son
I know you are growing up fast these days. I just want to warn you to stay on the right path that will help you succeed. When I was young I had a lot of negative influences that encouraged me to go down the wrong path. I was in juvenile hall for almost a year when I was a kid and I don’t want you to experience the same. Some mistakes I made were not staying involved in school and choosing to party with my friends.

I should have chosen to get good grades in school and get involved in sports or anything positive such as reading. All I am trying to say is that I wish the best for you and I want you to be as successful as you can. My grandfather always told me the same thing, but, I thought I was too cool and that I could do what I wanted when I wanted. Take my mistakes as an example and use them as motivation to stay on the right path and do the opposite of what I did.

Entry #154
When I look in the mirror I see a young man in juvenile hall that should not be there. I see a young man that made a very bad mistake in his life. A young man that wants to go home to his mom and dad, who wants to see his brother and sister. I see a young man with tears falling because he has not seen his brother and sister in two months, tears because he does not like being here. I see someone who is going to have to wait a long time to go home to his parents and siblings.

What Was and What Is
When I look in the mirror,
I see a beautiful girl….
I see my future that’s going in the wrong path…
I see a strong girl that’s been through a lot of hard times in life…
I see that I'm no longer the same person I used to be….
I see the reflection of a girl that makes wrong decisions and wrong choices….
I see myself doing better, making better choices and being someone in life…
When I look in the mirror,
I see a beautiful girl

Entry # 156
Dear Son,
Listen to me and listen good, because what I'm about to tell you is 100% true regarding the melancholy of a life I had to live as a child. When I was 11 or so I joined a gang. That's also the age I committed my first crime of breaking out someone's windows. The cops caught me, but didn't think I was old enough to be in the hall, and I thank them for that. Yet again when I was 12, I burglarized a school and stole a snake with my friend. He told on me and called the cops for a reason I don't know why or even understand. He was probably scared he'd get caught and locked up. It was then that I got my first felony and a $200 fine. That caused me to not care anymore or trust a lot of people.

Later when I was 13 my brother and me robbed a kid and his friend with knifes for his bike and it was gang related. That was enough to bring me here, returning eight more miserable times and now will remain here until one month after my 18th birthday. 295 days. This is my chance to tell you, please, dear son, stay out of trouble and DO NOT follow your idiotic father's footsteps.

Entry # 157
When I Look in the Mirror
When I look in the mirror I see a girl that has been hurt in life. I see a girl who wants to hurt someone else just so they know what it feels like. I see a girl who has a big part of her life missing. A girl that doesn’t think she is pretty regardless of what she is told. I see a girl that wishes she had a perfect life. A young girl that didn’t think she had love for her. I see a girl with single mother that gives it her all to help me out.

Entry # 158
When I look in the mirror, I see myself, a handsome young adult who periodically has troubles.
I see myself seeking guidance to better myself in the future.
I see ignorance without bliss.
When I look in the mirror, I see a misunderstood boy with potential to do great things.
I see someone who validates himself without purpose.
When I look in the mirror, I see a boy who strives for his parent’s forgiveness and his father’s love.
I see a boy who strives to be a man.
When I look in the mirror, I see a broken past with a bright future.
I see maturity without adolescence.
When I look in the mirror, I see the new person, but feel the old person lurking around in my conscience.

Entry # 159
When I look in the mirror I see a person with two paths.
How can you determine what type of person you are when you yourself don’t even know. Put drugs in front of me and I feel vulnerable,
Put my friends and family in front of me I feel weaker than normal.
When I am alone I get scared, scared of myself and what I am capable of.
This my coping method
I hope not, for I want to be understood.

Entry # 160
Dear son,
I love you mijo. I can't wait to get out and hang out with you. You never want to be in my position, trust and believe that. I got around the wrong crowd. I wanted to follow their foot steps because they seemed so cool in my eyes, in and out of locked facilities, talking about some crazy stories. So I decided I wanted to be as cool as them. Look where it led me, nowhere in life. I won’t be able to get a job to support my family. Because of my charges I’m not allowed in the kitchen. It’s not where you want to end up. I can't even support my family. You don’t want to end up in my shoes.

I’ve always wanted to be able to say I made it to the inside of the hall or worse. Now I wish I was able to say I’ve never been here. No one cares about me being here except my family. You’re all alone if you ain’t with your family or the people who led you here, 100% alone. Just be yourself. Be a kid.
Love you,

Entry #161
Looking For Success
When I look in the mirror I see a boy,
     a handsome young man,
     an animal with rage in him,
When I look in the mirror I see a lot of mixed emotions,
     Predominantly anger,
When I look in the mirror I see failure looking for success,
     a smart young man,
     a boy, who tries,
When I look in the mirror I see a boy, who never gives up,
     a boy holding in tears from all his problems,
When I look in the mirror I see a bright future,
I see me.

Entry # 162
Dear son,
First off, happy birthday. I know that you wish I was with you on this special day. Believe me, I do too. Now your twelve years old and growing up so fast. I remember when you could barely walk and talk but now you’re becoming a man and I would hate to see you go down the same path as me. I want you to do well in school and stay drug free because drugs just make you stupid. And, I know I can be hard on you in letters son, but that’s just because I love you. The path that I’m on is nothing but trouble and always will be. Son, let me tell you when you’re locked up, it’s you against the world. Don’t be like me, stuck in a cell missing the most important times in people’s lives. I know you miss me son and believe me I miss you and your mom too. I know that I’m not there now but I will be very soon, ok. Son, just keep your head up and your chest out. I love you and your mother very much. I will be home in 28 days.
Your Dad

Entry #163
When I looked into the mirror the first time,
I saw a collision between the devil and an Angel.

When I looked into the mirror the second time,
I saw fire and ice,
I saw them collide as well.

When I look into the mirror now, I see…
What do I really see?
Does it really even matter?

Well when I look into the mirror, I see a really Ugly monster!
It is the most hideous, disgusting, looking thing, Ever!
Its eyes are full of anger,
Its face carries a really ugly, devilish smile,
And, wait, what’s that?
Its heart…

Inside the heart, I see a girl,
beautiful, with eyes that stand out better than the stars,
Her hair is short and healthy,
She has the smile that can light up the day
Without the sun…
When I look into the mirror, I see me.

Entry #164
Dear Son,
I just want to tell you that I know I haven’t been there for you my whole life but I still love and care about you. It’s not like I wanted to not be there for you. It’s just that I kept getting into trouble and locked up. Then me and your mom kept getting into fights and arguing about things. That’s why I can’t see you all the time, because your mom put a restraining order on me, but I will always be there for you. Well I know you are turning 12 pretty soon and I just want you to be ready for the cruel world your going to live in. Sometimes in your life you are going to have to make decisions either good or bad. That’s going to be your choice. I just don’t want you to follow in my footsteps. I want to see you do good and be successful in life. So make me proud son. I love you and I hope you make the right choices in life.
Your Father

Entry # 165
When I look in the mirror I see my mistakes.
When I look in the mirror I see the past so clear.
When I look I the mirror I see the future.
When I look in the mirror I see the me I don't want to be.
When I look in the mirror I see my brothers, anger and hate.
When I look in the mirror I see the shadow of a person who is to be.

Entry #166
Do You See What I See?
When I look in the mirror, I see a young maturing man,
      a young man who has strength in many areas,
      a young man who is honorable and has wisdom and courage.
When I look in the mirror, I see myself becoming successful as I continue with my life.
     I see myself gaining a lot of potential to reach my goals and starting to turn my life around for the best.
When I look in the mirror, I see a young man who will do what has to be done so that I can obtain my goals and fulfill my dream and desires,
     a young man who will be trusted.
     a young man who is loyal and has passion and knows that nothing is impossible to accomplish.
When I look in the mirror, I see a young man who has decided to do more right in my life instead of the entire negative path that I have done before.
     I also see a man who will achieve his goals.
When I look in the mirror, I see a young man who is triumphant in his accomplishments, and also knows that his family is content with what he has done.
When I look in the mirror, I see a young man who is extremely happy for himself and his achievements and accomplishments that I myself have mastered in my life.

Entry #167
You just had your 12th birthday yesterday. You’re growing up so fast. You’re a pre-teen now. Now you’re old enough to know about right and wrong. When I was your age, I made some mistakes. I started to give my mother attitude, and I started to talk back. It continued to get worse with the disrespect I had for my mother later in my teenage years. It got so bad, we would physically fight. I should have listened to my Mom and my elders because things just got worse. It got to the point where we couldn’t even live with each other, so I went to live with my grandma. I never thought bickering with my Mom would have ended me up in juvenile hall, but it did. Juvenile hall is somewhere you NEVER want to end up. If I just had respected my mother, I would have never been in that situation. So, when I tell you things, and nag at you, it’s for a reason. It’s so you don’t go down the road I went down, and so we can have a better relationship than my mother’s and I.
Love, MOM

Entry #168
When I look in the mirror, I see
When I look in the mirror, I see myself
a bright future
a new me
When I look in the mirror, I see a pot smoker
a troubled teenager
a juvenile delinquent
see the bad side of me
When I look in the mirror, I see a college graduate
a chill person
a caring person
an intelligent person
When I look in the mirror, I see myself
When I look in the mirror, I see many things

Entry # 169
Dear Son,

I am writing this letter to welcome you to the real world. Also, to give you a heads up and some advice to help you out over time. I hope that you take my advice because it will honestly help you out a lot. First of all I want to start this letter by telling you how proud and happy I am for you, so please keep up the great work and keep doing what’s right. You are my only child and I'm going to stand by you through every step of the way to success. I will do everything within my power to guide you in the right direction and I will also hand you all the tools to success in life, but as you have all the tools in front of you it will be up to you to pick up the tools and actually make something with them and use them in a proper way.

Along the way to success it’s going to be a rough and shady road. It will be your duty to find the smooth and sunny side of the road in order to make it easier to have success in life. There will be a lot of obstacles on your way and you will have to fight your hardest to overcome them. At times you will feel like you are at your lowest point in life, but you will have to realize that you are a very strong, smart kid and know this even at your lowest point. You still have the ability to shine and smile and be proud of who really are.

There will also be a lot of times when things won't go the way you expect them to but you will learn to just go with the flow and make the best out of what life brings you. Life will hand you some sour lemons, but it is up to you to make some sweet lemonade out of those sour lemons.

Always remember three things. First is that what doesn’t kill you always makes you stronger, so don’t ever give up on your dreams. Always keep striving in life because all of our hard work will pay of at the end and you will feel very proud of what you accomplish because you worked for it and earned it fair and square. Second, you have to always remember that you have a father that is always willing to go that extra mile just to see you smile and be happy. Don’t ever feel alone because I will always be here for you whenever you need me. All you have to do is ask for me and I will be there without a doubt. The third thing you always have to remember is that I will always love you with all my heart and soul. I will always be proud of who you are and always stand or speak up for what you believe is right.
Your Dad

Entry # 170
Dear Son
I wish I was not locked up so I could hold you in my arms, so I could adore you like no child has been adored before. I want to give to you what I never had as a child. I don't want you to go to the hall. All there is in there is a whole bunch of trouble makers trying to earn a name. I want you to have a nice house and a loving family. I want you to understand that you can be whatever you want when you grow up, but more than anything I want you to know that I love you.

Entry # 171
Dear son
Mommy loves you with all her heart. Daddy does too. When mommy was a lot younger she made some mistakes. Although I have made quite a few, mommy does not regret a single day that passes by. I want you to know that you are mommy’s one and only love. I have made some wrong turns in the past couple of years that have led to no good. Mommy has been through a lot and seen a lot of good and bad things in life. I want to stop the bad cycle of one going towards my direction.

My course was a negative turn. Juvenile hall is no fun for a child to be in. Once mommy thought she had seen a lot and been through a lot in her life, but other people have seen just as much as her. I made a mistake by not attending to high school. The consequence of that is that mommy does not get to graduate with her class or on time. Mommy has learned from her mistakes by trying to take the GED test instead.

I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I have made. Having an education will create more opportunities for you. So let your light shine on because you are as beautiful and radiant as the sun my love.

Entry # 172
Rear View Mirror
When I look in the mirror I see failure. I see anger and sadness all built up just wanting to be let free. I see someone who could have been something great but ruined all of that for greed. I see a person who will now never live the life he could have. I see disappointment. Disappointments for letting the people go who tried showing me I could be something or somebody. Disappointment for leading my brother, who turned 15 today, into the same lifestyle I’m living and regretting it every day. I see someone wishing I could just go back to when I was little so I could just restart and maybe just try again. I would take all the sadness out of my loved ones’ eyes when they see me locked behind walls or doing something I shouldn’t. When I look in the mirror I wish it all away. I wish I could just take an eraser and erase my whole past, everything.

Entry # 173
Dear son,
I know you’re about to start middle school after this summer. I hope you’re ready for this. I just wanted to tell you some things about middle school before you start. There are going to be kids there that are bullies that steal from other students and teachers or stores. There will be kids who stay out after curfew. Some will smoke and drink or use other drugs. Some will sell drugs to people. Some will be members of a gang. They all will try and get you to hang out with them. They will be a bad influence on your life and possibly turn you to somebody you wouldn't want to be in your future. Like me, I hung out with them for awhile and it got me nowhere but in jail plenty of times. So listen to me and when you start middle school. Pick the right group of friends to hang with.

Entry #174
Dear daughter,
Hey how are you doing baby girl? As you already know this is your dad. I just wanted to write you to let you know if you go down the same road as me you could end up in the same places as me. Baby girl when I started doing drugs and doing everything else I lost everything I had. It started with my home and family because I picked drugs over them. I started doing drugs at the age of 13. Now look at me, locked up in a drug abuse unit because I smoked too much and liked to steal cars when I was high. Baby girl drugs have turned my life inside out and backwards. I love you and don’t want to see you anywhere close to what I did. Please make the right decision. I love you and hope to see you soon.

Entry # 175
Dear Daughter,
I know I haven’t been the greatest role model, but I hope you look and see the decisions daddy has made, reflect on them, and make a better choice. I’d say that the decisions I made were fun at the time but in the long run, it just made a deeper hole for me to climb out of. The greatest moment of my life was the day that you came into mine and your mothers lives. I would say that you were the one who made me change my ways, and for that I thank the Lord up stairs for letting me have such a blessing. I hope you don’t make those bad decisions I once made. I just want to give you what I didn’t have in my childhood. I’ve done the dumbest things you can think of. Yes it was fun at the time, but the consequences that the law had to offer weren’t the most fun. I wouldn’t want to see you in a 24/7 facility that I once had to go through. As I write this letter I’m sitting in the facility. I can’t tell you how much it sucks to be here. I hope as a father I show you the right path in life. I hope to see you grow into adulthood without the trouble I had to go through. I hope that you choose the right friends in life because in my case, my own friends dragged me down into were I stand. Behind bars is not the way in life. I hope that you listen to my words of knowledge and take them as a guide in life. Always think twice before acting, because it will always affect your life in the future. Please choose smart decisions that will benefit you in the end.

Entry # 176
When I look in the mirror I see….
When I look in the mirror, I see a pretty young woman.
curly brown hair.
brown eyes.
When I look in the mirror, I see a woman who wants to be loved.
a woman with a lot of dad issues.
a daughter who wants to be loved by her father.
When I look in the mirror, I see a woman who’s been hurt for 5 years.
I see revenge.
When I look in the mirror, I see that I’m angry.
When I look in the mirror, I see that I’m changing.
But when I look in the mirror, I see that I am so damaged.

Entry #177

Song by Kid Rock, Adapted by JH Student
I’ve been sittin here trying to find my vein.
I get behind myself, I need to rewind myself.
Lookin for my vein.
Listenin to them lame nacks.
They say that every slammer bleeds just like me.
And I feel like number one.
Yet I’m last in line.
I watch my smallest vein and it helps to pass the time.
I do too many shots; it helps to ease the pain.
I made a couple spoonfuls, but still I feel the same.
Everybody knows my name; they say it way out loud.
A lot of folks mess with me and it’s hard to hang out in crowds.
I guess that’s the price you pay to take some big shots like I do.
Outstretched hands and one night stands,
Still I can’t find love.
People don’t know about the things I say and do.
They don’t understand about the things that I’ve been through.
It’s been so long since I’ve been home.
I’ve been gone, I’ve been gone for way too long.