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I was young once, now I am forty-four. 
At a young age, I walked through the system’s revolving door:

I started out in juvenile hall; thought I was a cool cat,
trying to live a tough lifestyle, thinking I was all that. 

I didn’t think about the future or my family or my father; 
I didn’t think about the grief and pain I caused my mother.

All I thought was that I was bad and cold,
but at the time I didn’t realize I was just playing a role.

By the time I woke up, it was already too late. 
I ended up in prison, a penalty from fate. 

Now four decades later, my advice to you is this: 
the price for your wrongdoing is a severe consequence. 

You can play bad boy and she can play bad girl, 
But imagine all the freedom and adventure in the world.

Think about the park, the animals in the zoo, 
how life within society is so much a part of you!

For everything you do, there is a price to pay.
Don’t let crime stand in your way. 

I know you say, “Yeah, who is this fool?
He’s trying to tell us about being cool.”

I didn’t learn my lesson; I was a fool. 
Nobody could tell me nothing or what life was all about.

Oh, I was ready to chunk ’em and didn’t know how to fight;
I got beat down plenty of times before I saw the light. 

When I did learn to fight, I got real good,
Thought I could whip everybody in the neighborhood.

Yeah, I’ve been there, done that, in and out of juvenile hall.
Things got too bad, I kept my back against the wall.

To make a long poem short, I made very bad decisions.
Didn’t think about my freedom, I started doing time in prison. 

Now I don’t have a family; they have all since died.
I could have been there for them if I had just opened my eyes.

So please, young people, don’t travel this path
It’s a life of misery and constant wrath!

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.

Horace Thomas is a freelance poet and writer incarcerated in California.