With the InsideOUT Writers program, I devote myself to using my voice to help others, but it wasn’t always this way. I spent my childhood feeling voiceless. As a young teenager, I was brought up in a poor community in the city of San Bernardino, California, with my mom, two older brothers and an older sister. Dad left when I was 9.
When he took off, my sister moved out with him, and though my brothers remained, I didn’t spend much time with them because they were much older. I had to figure things out on my own, but after a few years, I lost my way. I started drinking alcohol before I got to high school. It became a good alternative to showing my emotions because I believed that showing any of my feelings made me look weak.
My mom would do her best to teach me the right thing, but my pride and anger wouldn’t accept her advice. She grew up in Mexico and couldn’t relate to what I was going through as a young man in the inner city. My friends, on the other hand, were the ones I felt could understand me. We gave each other loyalty and stuck together. We used to hang out in school where police officers couldn’t see us and smoke weed, drink and mess around with girls.
During these days, my dad visited home a few times to make up for his absence, but it didn’t change much. I had a distanced relationship with both him and my mother, feeling that I couldn’t talk with either of them about what was bothering me. I would tell myself it didn’t matter anyway and made careless decisions, thinking that it all went with my lifestyle as a hoodlum. In an environment where drinking alcohol, smoking weed and gang banging was just the thing to do, I adapted. Since most of my friends and I were poor and couldn’t afford the things we wanted, we would steal and rob from others to satisfy ourselves.
When I was 15, I was arrested for a robbery I committed while I was intoxicated, and that’s when everything changed. In a matter of seconds, I made a reckless decision that would cost me the majority of my teenage years. I did my time at the California Youth Authority, where I would eventually come to terms with what was going on with my life.
But even in the early days of my time inside, I continued making poor choices based on the environment around me. I remember the day I first walked into the California Youth Authority, when I was strip searched by a Correctional officer and then guided to my housing unit. The “YA” was all about fitting into a certain group, and it quickly lived up to its name as “Gladiator School.” Just like that, I found that I had to watch myself not only from peers but also from correctional officers, who were known for beating youth ruthlessly.
I fought and fought back a lot, which not only made my situation worse, but which also made it easy for staff to segregate me. After too many times in the solitary unit for fighting, it became clear to me that the decisions I was making were destroying me inside out along with my loved ones. I had to search deep within myself to understand just who I was, so I picked up therapy, psychology and self-help books to find answers.
My readings taught me that I valued loyalty, and as I did more reflecting, I began to see what else was important to me. There were changes to make: As months inside the Youth Authority turned into years, too many experiences with fake friends and shady authorities taught me that understanding myself wasn’t enough. I had to take action. If anything was going to change for me when I got out, I had to be the one to make the difference in my life.
Although the system was ugly, it motivated me to get out and stay out. But there was another system, the one inside of myself: I had boxed my feelings in as a young child, and the result was chaos.
When I realized what I really wanted was an ability to communicate with others, I learned just what I had to work on. From that point forward, I made my best efforts to develop healthy habits, and gradually became motivated to get back to society as a productive individual.
It took a long time, but now my voice is my power. Although as a teenager I wasn’t very talkative and I’d shut down to others, today the ability to express myself to others creates positive relationships with my friends and family. Judging by their response, there’s much more than just where I’ve come from. There’s also where I’m going.
Marcos, 23, is a college student and long-time member of the InsideOut Writers. When he’s not busy with the pen and paper, he enjoys listening to his favorite jams, and kicking back with friends and family.
Editor’s note: Marcos wrote and performed this spoken word poem with the InsideOUT Writers alongside Inner-City Arts and Homeboy Industries at an open mic event in downtown Los Angeles.
The past that I carry, it’s the past that carries me
Everything I been through has made me
My path made me solid
My choices define my future decisions
Being self taught, taught me independence
My near death experience made me appreciate life
Getting into problems with my friends taught me loyalty
My suffering made me strong
From a young boy who cried to never be heard
To now being heard, to now being a young man
From chains and shackles to walking freely
To friends who became enemies, and enemies who became friends
From making the wrong decisions
To finally making a right one,
Enabling humility, genuine love, and fighting only when necessary
From self-hate and hating the world to learning how to love myself
I learned too many lessons to flunk now
A young one stuck in a mental box
Now the mental box carries everything I own