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The Miami Youth Academy houses up to 28 boys from 14 to 18 years old, who are sent there by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. The students publish stories and poems for their student newspaper Titan Tribune, which they produce in a journalism class run by Exchange for Change, a local nonprofit group that teaches writing classes in youth commitment and adult correctional facilities. Retired newspaper reporter Henry Unger has taught the class for nearly two years in collaboration with the academy and Miami-Dade County Public Schools. 

This is a poem from the May 2021 issue. It won first place for middle school in Miami-Dade County Public School’s PIANO SLAM 13 contest. The student is identified by initials to protect their identities.

By M. D. 

The poem of my life is like the ocean  
Because all the things here are in motion  
I’m baffled when I think about how I got to this beach  
The rhythm I followed created the song of me 
I think that how I act is part of it, part of my beat 
But to make the beat right I had to make sacrifices 
Those sacrifices got me into trouble   
Music was too loud 
I wrote the wrong songs trying to make a hit 
My song until now, “I have to hustle” 
I have to change my mindset, my song list 
I have to ask myself if I can maintain the beat 
Sometimes I tell myself I’m bored  
Maybe I can try gospel, talk to the lord  
Then, they got me right off the map  
Now how will I start my career in rap?  
When I got in my cell I felt crossed from the back 
But I’m in a groove now and I don’t have to pack  
I don’t know why I’m down so much, I’m too sad  
Do you know how it feels to not have a dad? 
Do you know how it feels to get locked up?  
It’s like playing the blues on a loop, it feels bad 
Tempo building up, I’m just so freaking mad  
My new album comes out in June, “Freedom” 
I think I can make it if I write a new song 
With a steady time signature to move me along 
I won’t worry about the noise behind my back 
I have to focus on my rhythm and properly act  
I know I’m young, and I’m still learning to dance 
The ocean is wide, I can’t take it in at a glance  
It’s always in motion like a song or a groove 
But with a calm beat and soft winds and some love 
I might keep mine smooth  

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.

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Students at Miami Youth Academy

The students at the Miami Youth Academy wrote these stories for their newspaper Titan Tribune, a collaborative effort by the facility, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Exchange for Change, a Miami-based non-profit group that supports writing programs in youth commitment and adult correctional facilities. The students work on the paper in a journalism class taught by retired journalism teacher Henry Unger. The writers are identified by their initials to protect their identities.