June 19, 1998

Voices From Juvenile Hall — Any Town USA

(Editors Note: For the last three weeks La Prensa San Diego has been carrying a special series titled "VOICES FROM JUVENILE HALL - ANY TOWN USA." It is an effort on the part of the Editors to reach out to the families and their children of what ever race, nationality or ethnic group they belong. It is our hope to give the families and their children the ability to hear the voices that are speaking out from the juvenile halls of this nation. We pray that the youth that are going through troubled times on the streets of our city may be given reason to pause and question what they are doing and going through.

The writings presented here came about through the efforts of Sister Janet Harris, PBVM, Chaplain, Juvenile Hall, Los Angeles.

"I began the program with the help of Angie Maggipinto, an ER Nurse at UCLA. When the victims of the shooting at Bob's Big Boy were brought to the hospital, she saw three die. Many more were grotesquely wounded. After this experience, and much soul searching, Angie, chose to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. She volunteered at Juvenile Hall to see what could be done. She has been with us for over five years.

" I knew from experience that writing is a lifesaving discipline that can help one to develop inner strength and self reflection. Many of the youth in juvenile hall are emotionally isolated. Given a voice and soon they become able to share their experiences and feelings with others.

"Karen Leimert, author and illustrator of children's books and Duane Noriyuka, staff writer for the L.A. Times came to Juvenile Hall. They listened to the music that is inside our youth at Juvenile Hall. They created an environment of trust and commitment, where truth telling moments were recognized and appreciated... As the youth begin to see their lives with clarity and, in many cases, with regret for the past, they developed an inner strength and self-reflection. Through their writing they begin to see the real story of who they are, and why through gangs and drugs, they felt compelled to fabricate a new identity that would give them a sense of belonging. Thanks to Karen and Duane, our young men and women have had a chance to explore the past and reflect on the future. Karen and Duane have a profound sense of who the youth are as persons. In a highly stressful environment, Karen's gentleness and Duane's lightness of touch gave everyone hope.

"The problems we confront in the Juvenile Justice system will be with us for a very long time. Every day thousands of decisions are made with little or no input from our youth. Too many of them are coming of age only to die or spend a good part of their lives in prison. I am convinced that if we take time to listen to their voices we may step back from our habitual ways of thinking and see other solutions.

"The courts make a strong case for punishment, unquestionably the right approach in some instances. But I have considerable more faith in the inherent power of the spiritual and the creative to help offenders to take responsibility for their past actions.")


Dear Mother,

You don't know how difficult is to be a youngster. Sometimes I want to throw myself in your arms and cry, but since I'm so big I don't dare to. You know what, mom? When you lecture or counsel me, even though it doesn't seem like I'm listening, your words stay in my mind. When I go to bed, I reflect on them. I know you think I don't appreciate everything you've done for me, but it's the opposite. I love you more than anybody in this world and I think that there isn't no better mom than you. Sometimes I feel bad at myself and since I don't have the maturity that you have, I often find myself saying things that I really don't want to say. Then I feel worse but you're already mad at me and you make me feel that there isn't anybody that could understand me. I have problems that are really major and sometimes I feel at the point where I'm going to explode, but I am scared to talk to you or anybody else cause I think that they're going to criticize me or make fun of me. On many occasions I've heard a voice that has told me, "Kill yourself!" I don't know what to do! You always tell me that I should look more for God. Only if you knew how much I want to feel free from everything that has me tangled. I don't have inspiration to pray, although I try to find the Lord, everything that surrounds me in this world is taking me farther and farther from God, Sometimes I think that there isn't forgiveness for me. How many times I've asked for forgiveness, then I find myself doing the same sin again. I think that God is tired of all this. You tell me that God is wonderful and loving, but don't you think that God has his limits?

Please help me, mom! I don't want to be lost. I want to live a wonderful life for God and for you.

Francisco Q.


Así es la Vida

By Ruben

May 17, 1997

As I lay here on my bed, I think of how easy it has become for me to write and express my feelings toward different situations. I stop and think to myself, "Where did I acquire this skill?" Did I learn it unknowingly or did it come through heritage? The reason heritage comes to mind is because I recall my father telling me that my grandfather was a great writer in his country, Guatemala. I remember vividly my father showing me a pamphlet with a picture of my grandfather. His name is exactly the same name I have.

As I think of this, I begin to think of my father. I haven't heard or spoken to him in quite some time. I wonder if he still thinks of me. I don't know why he hasn't tried to contact me. I think he knows what type of situation I'm in. He probably saw me on the news or heard what has happened with me.

Why hasn't he called my family to see what's going on with me? Maybe he's too caught up with his life of drugs.

I have no idea of why my father chose that way to live his life. See, my father used to be a good, hardworking man. He had a great sense of humor. He always tried to make our family laugh and keep us cheerful. His main concern was trying to keep his family united. That's why it's a big shock to me to see what he's become. He went from a good, hardworking man to a careless, shameless drug user.

I think of when I would see him intoxicated, and I compare that with the man I use to know as a kid. It hurts me inside to see what my father went through to get drugs and the effect that they had on him.

I don't see what made my father go the route he did. He must have had his own problems that I was not aware of. But I don't see why he let drugs become his life. I bet he tries to understand that also.

I think of the situation he's in, and I know he would like to stop using drugs, but he figures, "What for?" He' has lost everything he had. Why stop now?

I know he thinks of us occasionally when he's sober. I bet he thinks of the good times he spent with us, and I know he gets angry with himself for being where he's at.

I know how he feels because I, too, was involved with drugs. There were some nights I would start smoking rock around 8 at night and not stop until 6 in the morning. I would waste a whole paycheck on getting high.

The next day I would think, "Why did I do this? What's my mom gonna say for not coming home?" I would feel like shit. No, shit isn't even the word for how I would feel inside.

As for my father, he lost his wife, family, house, respect from others and respect for himself. I know he feels so much sorrow and regret, to the extent that he wishes he were dead. I feel real sorry for him.

I remember one time I was at a gas station and this bum, all drunk, came up to me and asked, "Excuse me, you got some change?" I looked at him and I pictured my father. I asked my girlfriend to give me a dollar so I could give it to the man, and I gave it to him. He took the dollar, and all he said was, "Asi es la vida." That's the way life is. I don't think I'll ever forget what that man said. I felt it was coming from my father.

I wonder sometimes why can life can be so cruel. I guess that's just the way life is, and we have to live with mistakes, accidents, regrets and other shit. But don't get me wrong, life can be great at times.

I guess life is like a Cracker Jack box. There could be so many different things in store for you, but whether you like it or not, that's what you get.


Sunday Afternoon, 3:15 P.M.

Raul R.

At this time in the afternoon I'm sitting here in my room with my heart broken. Yeah, that't how I feel right now. I feel like fire that's burning, it's because today I seen my dear mother crying and that hurts me a lot. It hits me hard in the heart and the worst thing is that I can't cry to let all that stress out. It's probably because I don't want no one making fun of me but all I say to myself is, "The night will come soon and then I'll cry till I fall asleep." I just wish I didn't have this pride I got, even though I got it a couple of tears come out, because no matter how big my pride is I ain't scared of crying for my mom. For her I'll do anything because she is a one-of-a-kind mother, she's been in a lot just to give me what I needed and I did her wrong turning into a gang-banger. I know she forgives me and that's why I love her but the only thing that scares me is the fact I might not see her again and that my dad has to get hospitalized so they can cure him and, well, that hurts a lot. Also my mom's sick, one of my friends got shot twice in the head and died and the other one got shot seven times, he's in a coma but the point is I feel like shit and all I do is control myself and ask God to help me out with all my problems like he always has and to get me out of here soon. Also to cure my dad and mom. Damn, you should see the pain you feel after watching you mom leave the visiting area with tears falling from her eyes. That just breaks your heart. Believe me, Father God, I know you see, hear, and know everything so listen to this sad gangster and help him out. Well, I just wanted to share how I feel from the inside. It's like fire burning in my heart. Thanks for your attention.


Society and Stars

By Nathaniel M.

Stuck inside of a world with barbed wire walls and no way to escape. I sit in a cell surrounded by bricks, and a window that's as big as two crates.

I lay on a bed of cement, and a mat that feels like old lumpy clay.

I look through my gang-related window and watch the stars shine in space.

I see the light that comes from nowhere, and the darkness that lies therein. They're all alone and at peace and no one to disturb them.

There is no one to lock them up and tell them not to shine. There is no one to take them from their peaceful world and ban them from their own kind.

"Why?" I ask myself this question with more curiosity than belief.

And I come to the conclusion: That's the way life was meant to be.

Because within the stars there is peace, wonderment and harmony.

But within my own people there's conflict, war, selfishness and even more than I can say.

I just wish people would be more like stars.

Even though you can't always see them, they're peaceful and everlasting.

They're beyond our existence and more advanced than our thoughts.

"Don't be discouraged by the worries that innocence brings."

Nathaniel Hall


A Precious Child's Life

By Jerone S.

Eyes burning so bright, bright with light.

That they're like wax candles glistening,

Flicking ethereally against the black carpet

Of vengeful nights.


Eyes, eyes burning bright with the light of an exuberant life.

The light, the light of eternal life.


Yet this burning bright light

Has yet to start its journey, the journey of its own life.

But I can feel, feel its yearning,

As it rises with the early, the earliest of morning.


The yearning, burning deep, deep within the soul.

Yet this hunger is not for food, food or gold.

But it's for his Hungry soul;

For the soul, was once foretold:

To be the leader and the feeder

For those who truly wish to

Feed their Hungry souls.

'Tis only life that than extinguish, extinguish

This Hungry soul. Not food, nor gold;

Which has no hold on this famished soul.


So as the quest of the Hungry soul begins,

An eyes light goes through life;

Mistakenly accepting strife into

Its once exuberant life.


The hunger of its soul shall slowly, slowly subside

And then death...


And so goes a precious child's life,

And so goes, and so goes...