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I’m judged by a jury that’s definitely not my peers,
And based on the fact that I’m Black,
I’m looking at multiple years.

My social standing is seldom a factor
When deciding my case
Because we live in a country where fate is largely based upon race.

I’m guilty until proven innocent, 
But there’s only one defense for me:
No need to plea insanity;
My plea is poverty.

I was told to keep my head up
And take it all in stride, 
To prepare myself mentally
For the long prison ride.

The world fused with isolation,
Ignited by racism and violence.
Advised to pay attention to my surroundings
And continue to move in silence.

Trust is never an option —
Be wary of those who offer you protection,
Just remember this one thing:
All warfare is based on deception.

Fake hugs and handshakes,
The subtle seeds of jealousy.
Listen for the words of hate
And deeds of infidelity.
Keep this all in mind
And don’t carry yourself like a rookie.
Trust and know
That people will tell on you
For something as small as a cookie.

There’s no escaping this harsh reality,
And you can’t run and hide,
So stay strong and keep your head up
And take it all in stride.

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.

Charles Carpenter

Charles Carpenter is a writer incarcerated in California, serving a life sentence. He is the author of "Handcuffed," an autobiography about his former involvement with gangs.