From Heartbroken, Scared to Giving Back

November 2005:

I’m sitting here staring out the window thinking and looking out into the night sky, no stars. To run? Or not to run? I’m fresh out (of juvenile hall), but no taste of freedom anywhere. I wish I could’ve just went home but after I served my time, I am placed in this group home.

I still remember the judge sentencing me, I didn’t understand what he was saying at first, but the look at everyone’s face said it all, they weren’t playing. I feel bad because if I was having a hard time understanding, then my mom must have been going through hell holding a strong face.

My poor mother, always so brave, so strong, so fierce, but in here they’re treating my mom as bad as all the things I’ve done. Like it’s her fault, she told me what it was, she kept it real, but I chose this path from the get.

I wish I could do the time by myself, and not drag my mom and sisters through this with me, but I’m a minor so it’s all a technicality really. Placement programs, minimum of six months, ward of the state, all these terms are driving me crazy. I know exactly what all this means today, but at 14 years old, fall semester of my freshman year, they’re already taking me from my family.

On the outside I stare with no emotion, show the judge, the lawyer, my lawyer, and my PO that there is nothing they can do to break me. I’m too strong, too solid, there is too much pride and I will always persevere and overcome.

In reality I’m heartbroken, scared, full of regret, but like many times before and after I tell myself screw it.

I’m sitting here on my bed staring out the window at 1 a.m., trying to contemplate whether running is worth it. My idea is to go down to LA, meet up with family and friends out there, then wait until I’m 18 to consider the possibility of turning myself in. Until then I would live it up to the fullest, no more school, straight kick back, get to meet new girls and hustle hard.

At that age it sounded like a great idea, one of the best plans ever. I laugh at it now, but back then I was dead serious, given I had an older homie who was going to drive me down there and everything.

Six months isn’t too bad but I’m being real when I say it felt like forever in there. Also I got to be in a group home that was in my hometown in San Francisco.

Unlike my little sister who got sent to East Palo Alto, and later on Fresno. I guess you could say it was privilege? Privilege to be in a group home, look at all the stuff us brown folk talk ourselves into and settle for.

As I’m making up my mind to ride it out and do my time, my roommate tells me go to sleep already.

I lay on my side and my eyes tear up and I got that clot in my throat if you know what I’m talking about. … I accept my fate and cry myself to sleep, but before I slept I remember the anger that overcame me.

I was angry that I cried, I was angry that I let it get to me, I was mad that they made my poor mother cry, I was angry that my little homies had to look out for themselves, I was mad that people actually thought this was going to help me. This was barely my first night, I still had 179 days to go.

March 2015:

I’m nervous, about to meet up with Ray. Good ole Ray, one of the only white men I trust. Ray was one of the staff that took care of me when I was in the group home. Ray is the man who put me on to Smokey Robinson, “I love it when we’re cruisin together …”

There was staff in the group home who made your time smooth, then there was staff who made it a living hell.

Ray is a homie fo’ realz. I ran into him at an event at Juvenile Hall, and he remembered me right away. He came over and hugged me and asked how I’ve been. I told him I’m doing community work and he said, “That’s good to hear, buddy.”

I laugh because growing up Ray always called everyone buddy. He’s from Boston, so his accent always made me laugh as well. He said he was really proud that I’m giving back now and asked about my family. We exchanged numbers and agreed to go out for lunch.

Now I’m waiting for Ray here in the Avenues, a Mission kid in the Avenues. We take a walk through Golden Gate Park. It was one of the most beautiful scenes, and I wondered to myself why I don’t come here more often, for I’ve been here all my life.

We went to this Thai restaurant and got our grub on. Question after question, conversation got deep. I was able to ask him questions that as a kid couldn’t find the words and courage to ask, but as a grown man my words flowed so smoothly. It was one of the saddest and happiest moments of my life, which I know is contradicting, but I’ll explain why.

Ray was older, had bags under his eyes, brown hair turning grey, yet he kept a positive attitude. I could see the pain in his eyes, but I also see the big heart that this man has. It has been 10 years since he and others raised me and were raising other black, Mexican and Chinese troubled kids. I know the work takes a toll on you, for I’ve been in the field for almost four years now, and it has taken a toll on me.

The beauty in this moment was that Ray got to see his hard work didn’t go to shame/waste. He fought and helped mold an ally.

Now it’s my turn to give back, to fight for my people and to be strong. I’m young, strong, angry, determined and a leader in my community. I am not afraid to fight, not physically but for my people to get ahead.

The kids are a little different than when we were growing up, but these are our youth. They’re the future of tomorrow, and if you’re truly down for the Raza then you will play your part. Whether it be working as a teacher, basketball coach, case manager, group home counselor, everyone can play their part. These are our babies, and we’ll have to mold them into young men and women. The world is out to get them, and we are all we got.

Mistah G, previously incarcerated, is a San Francisco youth advocate.

This column appeared in The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth. David Inocencio founded The Beat Within in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at