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The following poems originally appeared in a two-part anthology of incarcerated youth poetry: “My Life is Hard to Do” and “I’m Trying to See Free.” The poems were written by minors at the Monmouth County Youth Detention Center in New Jersey as part of a series of poetry workshops held there in 1997. They were shared with us by Flora T. Higgins, a local librarian who had led the workshops.

“It is difficult for even experienced writers to create a finished poem in a workshop setting,” Higgins wrote in the introductory section of the book. “The young writers showed courage and imagination, verbal facility, a sense of humor, and in some cases, an impressive depth of emotion in the poems they created.”

According to data from the Prison Policy Initiative, each day there are more than 48,000 youth incarcerated across the United States. They are held in a variety of different facilities from dedicated youth detention centers to adult prisons and jails.

The final installment of a three-part series, these poems provide a lens into the day-to-day experience of living in a youth detention center and express the wish to be free, the loneliness of incarceration, and a sense of connection to the plight of others.

I Wish These Halls

I with these halls of gray stone
Mystically changes into my home.
The officers, rules regulations,
I would trade any day for my Sony Playstation.
At home there would be love and peace,
Instead here altercations never cease.
So much time here, so little to do,
Out in the real world, I wish that were true.

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A CO gave me an hour
I told him to give me one more
There’s no mirrors in here
I only see myself in the reflection in the window
The rooms are cold and I see people walking free
I don’t need people telling me what to do
This is not where I want to be

Me and My Little Jail Cell

I have no life.
No parents to please,
No friends to tease,
It’s just me and my little jail cell

I have paper and pen,
But no one to send my love to.
It’s just me and my little jail cell

The only life I have is a jail life,
Which in fact is no life at all.
I have no one to love
No one to hug
No one to say goodnight to.
All I have is me and my little jail cell.

I Cry Like …

I cry like emotions finally gone wild
I cry like a baby injured child

I cry like a mom who just lost her newborn
I cry like two lovers who were just recently torn

I cry like the woman who can’t walk away when she is beat
I cry like the baby who just fell out of its car seat

I cry like the people who have the AIDS virus that kills
I cry like the suicidal woman before she OD’ed on pills

I cry like the druggie who can’t function without that hit
I cry like the outcasts in school who get treated like shit

I cry like a teenager who contracted a sexually transmitted disease
I cry like a toddler whose mother won’t acknowledge his needs

I cry like the unsuspecting woman who just got robbed
I cry like the man who still can’t find a job

I cry like the person who was wrongfully been locked up for years
I cry like the elderly woman who has realized their end is near

I cry like the mentally challenged who face the stares each day
I cry like the lonely person who feels love won’t come their way

I cry like a man who can’t buy a house because his credit is bad
I cry like the girl who gets sexually abused by her dad

I cry like the child in and out of foster homes its whole life
I cry like the husband who was just divorced by his wife

I cry like the poor who are constantly hungry
And I cry like the many in situations like me

Weather day or night, I cry

I cry like the waterfall that will never run dry
The tears that once could not fall, now could not be stopped!

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I am Franco
I am lost
I feel alone
I must get outta here
I secretly try to hide the pain
I feel I’ll never leave
I will not give up

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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Max Grinstein

Max Grinstein is an editorial intern at Prison Journalism Project and a student in Nevada. He developed an interest in prison journalism while researching The Angolite prison newspaper at Louisiana State Penitentiary.