Photo illustration by Sarah Rogers

In October 2020, students at Miami Youth Academy and men at San Quentin State Prison in California started a letter exchange facilitated by Prison Journalism Project and Exchange for Change, a Miami-based non-profit group that supports writing programs in youth commitment and adult correctional facilities. 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. These letters were first published in Titan Tribune, their school newspaper. The students are identified by their initials to protect their identities.

Dear MYA Students,

As I write to you about this prompt, I am hurt, disappointed and mad at the system for denying me parole again. I have been incarcerated since 1995 and have changed my life.

I have earned college degrees and acknowledged my crime and my past. Gangs were part of my life before. I was looking for love because I felt unloved at home. 

I have not broken any rules here, nor have I lied or made excuses. So I became heartbroken and confused about the denial, which will last for five years. I had high expectations that I was going to get out. 

I am not a victim. I committed a crime and I should be held accountable for my past actions. But what I’m going through is how a curveball can devastate us all. 

So what am I doing now?

Surrounding myself with positive people, going to church, talking to my counselors and friends. 

I continue to process my disappointments as I write this to you all. The healing process must be based on accountability and responsibility. I can only do this by making sure that I stay the course in my rehabilitation, regardless what the disappointment may be. 

It is OK not to be OK. I have asked for help and they have helped me out during these difficult times. 

Eventually, I will be released from prison. I will face curveballs out there in the community and in my life. They are part of life and part of being a person. 

MYA Student’s Response

Dear Mr. Chavez,

I’m really sorry to hear about your parole denial. 

I can relate to what you are going through right now, putting so much effort into something and not getting the outcome that you wanted. It can drive you to the point where you give up and not want to try any more. But the best thing about being at the bottom is that things can only get better.

I have struggled while I have been here at the program. I have asked for things that I have worked for and I have been turned down. You can call that a curveball, I suppose. The only thing that keeps me going is thoughts of my family and how they need me. That encourages me to keep pushing and to keep trying. 

I feel like every day can present a curveball, no matter how big or small it is. The choices we make on them may decide how the next day will go. 

I hope your days are improving now. Things will get better. 

By D.L. 

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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Edwin E. Chavez

Edwin E. Chavez is a writer incarcerated in California.

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.