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From: Marcus “Wali” 
To: Henry

Nov. 27, 2020

Dear Henry,

Thank you for providing us the opportunity to write to the young people. It was like an out-of-body experience, like those Christmas movies — the ghost of Christmas past all the way to the future. You are walking through your past, present and future to help kids avoid the pitfalls that the streets have for them.

From: Marcus “Wali” 

Hi D.K.,

I pray when these words of respect reach you that you are in the best of God’s care.

I’m glad my letter inspired you to stay away from prison. Because prison is real, it can take away your whole youth if you make the wrong decision or just by being a part of the wrong crowd. You are in control of your life, now you have to ask yourself what you want to do with it, and what you want to be.

It’s never too late; it’s inside you and you are probably already doing it. You just have to ask yourself what that is. I want you to also know that you are an inspiration to me, too. Just to know that there are some smart kids out there who are willing to listen.

When you do get home, you will be a productive citizen, there is no “trying” to it. You just have to be committed to it. Also remember that you are still young, you will still make mistakes; just learn from them to be a better you. Because of your situation right now, you have gained a lot of wisdom for yourself. Stay true to you, and loving you, and things will be fine. 

From: Marcus “Wali” 

Dear A.W.,

Knowledge is wisdom in action, it means to know-the-ledge. When to stop so you don’t fall off. There is a question to find out where you are in life: Do you want to be a stallion or a mule? Most people will pick a stallion, because it is beautiful, but horses run their races with blinders on. You can ride a horse right off the edge of a cliff. But a mule, he will stop.

They call mules stubborn because they don’t move until they are ready. You are the one who has to take his life seriously.

You are in jail for what? Because, like you said. You were “moving fast,” trying to be a stallion with blinders on. I see you want to get back into your football career, but you know what makes the top players great? Their ability to slow down the game in their minds, while everyone else is moving fast.

The quarterback learns how to read the defense (the things that are coming at him) the defense reads the QB to stop the play (watching the field- what’s in front of you). You see life is more than just staying out of the police’s face; it’s about doing good and accomplishing your dreams legally.

You are a go-getter, and you have to put in that same energy doing good, and making the right decisions. Slow money is fo’sho money; it took Jay-Z, Lil’ Wayne or whoever you like years to get where they at, nothing comes easy.

People in the streets are dying chasing false dreams, wanting to be the next “hot thing,” the stallion. I tell you this: I understand how you feel about your “homies” — your people you grew up with and grind with — they are family and that’s not going to stop.

But real family wants the best for you, if you want to change your life, the real ones will support you, but this doesn’t mean some won’t try to pull you back into the foolishness. You just have to stand strong on your principles.

Remember, somebody always has to do the thinking. You will be tempted with the “stacks,” then what are you going to do? You know why football players practice what they are going to do before the big game? Because when the game starts, they already know what moves they are going to make to win. Trust your skills, and yourself. 

From: Marcus “Wali” 

Hey N.C.,

What’s up little bro? Yeah, your mom and big brother was right, you should have let him take his own charge, but that’s done and over with. Now you have to tell yourself that “my life matters, too,” because real loyalty is telling someone you love that they are doing something stupid when they are doing something stupid. 

People will use you as their batteries to “turn up,” and then you will be the one holding the bag facing all the prison time. Jay-Z said, “I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them.” I’m telling you, you can’t help people in prison if you are one of them, feel me? You said that you want to be there for your uncle, who is doing just as much time as I’m doing. What do you think he wants for you? Best believe it’s not this. You don’t have to dumb yourself down to be loved; intelligence rules the world. Following imitation gangsters gets you nowhere but jail, where you will be left praying for a second chance. The hardest people are the ones that take care of their responsibilities and do what’s right when others don’t. You just have to overcome your FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real) and turn it into Facing Everyday, Accepting Reality. 

Peace, young Bro. 

From: Marcus “Wali” 

Dear D.T., 

Let me say that I am proud of you. It takes a real strong person to sit down and think about where they went wrong or what were the reasons that we allowed a certain situation to override our better judgement. The main thing is not to beat yourself up about your mistakes, just learn from them. Those feelings you have right now; use them for motivation to make the changes you want for your life. You have a lot of life ahead of you, more good and bad decisions to make. 

People tell you that you can be anything you want; it’s true, but what they don’t tell you is that it is hard work, so you must prepare yourself to succeed. You will have to sacrifice fun sometimes as well as friends that may hold you back. There is a time for fun, and there is a time for work. Find that balance that works for you. 

You asked what are some of the things we do in prison. I’m like you; I sit back and think about where I went wrong. Then I decided it’s easy just being me and not caring what other people think I should be. So I spend most of my time reading. If you want to own your own business or whatever you want to do, you can find it in a book. I have read over 200 books. You see, as a kid, I was considered a square or a nerd, but my insecurities caused me to fall into peer pressure. Then I tried to be the hardest dude on the block, but I was never really happy. I lost the best parts of me trying to please others. So I read, work out, take self-help groups, and I write. I watch TV or listen to the radio after I’m done studying, because when I’m free I will be prepared for success. 

Believe me, I don’t think you are in some juvenile daycare. I think you are in a place where you prepare for your future. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Marcus "Wali" Henderson is the former editor-in-chief of San Quentin News, an award-winning newspaper published out of San Quentin State Prison in California, where he is incarcerated. He became a reporter the day he arrived at San Quentin.