An Ear to the Wall

December 1, 2003

Since 1996, The Beat Within has been giving incarcerated youth a voice and a chance to connect creatively both with youth in other facilities and with the wider world. Here are two samples; you can find more on The Beat Within.

The Spider
By Giggles, posted Nov 03, 2003

The other day I saw a spider web in my window and it was a magnificent spider web, just like the ones my homies like to draw: very detailed. Me, I'm scared of spiders, but I can appreciate all the work they put into building their houses. Anyways, it covered the whole window, and I was wondering where the spider was. I finally saw it posted up at the top of the window above the web. It was still, and beautiful, and I stared at it for a while.

As soon as it made one move, I was screaming, "Ahhh there's a spider!" and the metaphor developed in my mind that I was the spider, and the person in the room (me at the time) was the system. And I look beautiful, but every time I make a move or speak my mind, the system feels threatened. That's when I noticed nine little sacs of what I assume to be spiders in the making. I thought that it was wonderful that a spider could have so many babies. I just wondered how many of those babies would wander the wrong path into my room and get killed (like so many of us youngstas wander down the wrong path).

I came back into my room later on and the spider web was gone. I happened to be feeling particularly down and hopeless at that time, and I thought to myself how easy it was for something so beautiful and precious, that somebody worked on so hard for so long could just be swept away with the wind like nothing. I felt like I was the spider once again, when I've had so much taken from me, and so many times I had to start all over.

I came back into my room again later on and I looked at the window. Rays of sunshine were coming through my window, and the spider web was right there sparkling in the sun, and I realized that I just couldn't see it because the sun wasn't out. But maybe I just wasn't looking hard enough.

My point in sharing this story with you is to say don't ever lose hope! Just because the sun isn't shining doesn't mean it's the end of everything!

Much love to all the youngstas out there in the struggle. Stay up and don't ever let anyone or anything get you down. Remember, nobody can make you do anything, but nobody can stop you from doing what you want to do either. It's all on you to distinguish right from wrong.

Outside Of My Cell, Inside My Mind
by Diversity (Santa Clara County Jail), posted Oct 07, 2003

What I saw was something I'll never quite understand and mostly I won't forget. There is a Double-Red inmate, Level 5, psychotic and dangerous. His name is Timothy. He was sent here from Pelican Bay and has been down for close to fifteen years. Sometimes he preaches and speaks loudly through his door as if he was Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr.

I've never paid much attention to him, so he's no threat to me in anyway. He has friends from here and they say he's very intelligent and articulate in the mind. I see he walks, but he rolls around in a wheelchair—maybe it's a back problem.

Well, tonight, back problem or not, he went through the roof. Started screaming, banging, and hitting the door, spewing water through his door, yelling "Suicide, suicide, suicide!" At first it was amusing, considering his compliments from the officers and inmates. Then I thought, there is no telling what he might be feeling or what's going through his mind. Is it a game?

Correction officers, lieutenants and sergeants came in, medical staff too. I asked myself what there all here for. I watched, they waited, put on gloves, talked among themselves, later to enter his room and carry him out by each foot and hand to lay him on the floor. From his wildness and demonstrations, you'd have thought they would rush him and physically cause damage to restrain him, but they let a gas or some sort into his room to sedate him to go into his room.

It was all so painful to be able to witness it all, something of me goes out to him. Not saying what he did was wrong or right, but I feel however he was feeling he could not deny himself of the behavior he took to express himself. Before all of this happened and I found out about his past of being at Pelican Bay for almost fifteen years, I thought he was the strongest inmate here, that he could take the daily of his cell and be cool. I was wrong. Everyone has a breaking point where they can't or don't want to go on in the way they have been.

Since I've been incarcerated, I don't think I've reached that point and hope not to in the manner he did. What I'm trying to say is, life is real in or out of jail. Sometimes it's hard to wake up and look forward to what the day may bring.

Earlier in the day, I was looking at myself in the mirror and I told myself it won't be too long before the year will be over and my birthday soon after, so before I know it, I'll be home. I know this is something he could not simply say or just casually think of to keep his sanity.

Witnessing that, I know I can last and be strong until I get home. As far as he goes, it may be a little more difficult for him to think and feel this way. I know it isn't easy being away from home and family because you tend to believe that your loved ones may forget about you, whereas you think of them daily for mind's comfort and inner peace. It's like if you move away from home and miss your family, if push comes to shove, you could take Greyhound and come home, or call in the middle of the night to say "I love you" and such. Here it's not so simple, even if we could use our commissary to buy a bus ticket to only hug our children or wife and promise to return right after, we couldn't. At night when we can't sleep, we just can't call and say "hi" or hear the voices that we love. There are phone procedures, recordings, and collect call blocks we face to get to you. For some, it is only a task. For others, it is a struggle. Like for me, I can't call any number I have, so what can I do? I write and what I write takes days to go to its destination, and the response to it takes twice as long.

Death is something you shouldn't wish on a person and imprisonment shouldn't be either, though we must meet our final day. We can prevent being in jail, or sometimes it isn't our fate to do so, for whatever reason it be to get you there.

I pray for all of us here and the families we have and I ask that we find calmness through the spirit. Some may find it, some may not, some will get it sooner than others, but we all need it, and it's always there in us.

To hear him scream and cry out made me want to, too! But it was his time, so I listened and I heard so much from the cries -- hurt, lost, alone and relief; lastly relief, because what was inside of him couldn't escape quietly, it had to be heard loud, direct, and recklessly. Now that it's all over, I wonder what is the cries and screams saying now? Are they called out mentally or have they continued verbally? I guess I won't know that answer, but I will not forget the question. We are only human and can't help but to be just that. So is it wrong to express yourself wildly in your cell as it is in public? To scream and holler out "Suicide!" constantly 'til the rage has killed itself inside of you.

What I heard, how I felt when I saw it, how I feel now, and what I'm writing only makes me recognize God gave me a mind to use and share my thoughts. I wonder if someone had to witness a drive-by or birth of a child to know what it is that are called to do. Even before jail and books, I've read, and other times in my life I've wanted to speak and be heard, understood. So as just as much knowledge I have, I can share and touch someone in the crowd and then there it starts something in them to be, or be felt or be free—whatever stirs them inside and release it.

Like now as I write, I feel good about my thoughts and how I express myself, how I've stirred something inside of my own self from the chain reaction of another. This is what life is made of, feelings and actions and awareness before or after the course.


About The Beat Within: 
The publication and web site grew out of a writing and conversation workshop held by David Inocencio and Sandy Close of Pacific News Service in a San Francisco Juvenile Hall. Inocencio and Close found that the participants had strong feelings, thoughts, and opinions—many stirred by the death that September of Tupac Shakur. Hoping to establish an outlet for these powerful emotions led Inocencio and Close to hold more workshops, and to begin producing The Beat Within.

Today, The Beat Within conducts over 40 writing and conversation workshops a week in seven Juvenile Hall facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as workshops in San Luis Obispo County; Natural Bridge Juvenile Correctional Center, Virginia; and Maricopa County, Arizona. The Beat has also expanded to include The Beat Without, writing and art from those who have left the juvenile system behind, whether making their way in the free world or incarcerated in other youth placements and the adult system. There are two weekly Beat Within magazines, which range from 32 to 100-plus pages, and a 12-page Best of The Beat monthly magazine.

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