Just the other day, I had the pleasure of participating in the celebration ceremony for the graduating Class of 2018 at the Orange County Juvenile Hall in Southern California with ‘Unlock Tomorrow’ (unlocktomorrow.org). As a kid, many of my friends and even my own 2 brothers, were frequently in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers.
Unfortunately, jails and prisons are nothing new to the Latino culture in California. Growing up, I got involved with kids like me, who lacked guidance and found the acceptance and personal, quality time they lacked from their parents in belonging to a gang.
People aren’t born gangsters, or prostitutes, or drug abusers- they are formed, they are made, they are CONDITIONED to live out those roles by their childhood life at home and their immediate environment while growing up.
The sad truth is that the lack of higher education in our communities affects us all negatively and will continue to hold us back tremendously, as long as we continue to act like it’s not a problem and we continue to act like there is absolutely NOTHING we can do to help fix the issues and change the system.
The system is set up for us to fail, so we have to stick together as a community. We must work from the inside- out. We need to build together as a community, educate each other, support each other, acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses- so we can progress as a unit.
If a child is showing signs of unease, anger, resentment towards figures in authority, if they are quick to start yelling or if they start fights- these are all signs of severe dysfunction in their homes.
When a child feels uneasy at home, he or she will carry that tension and stress everywhere they go and will consciously or subconsciously search for things to numb that pain- whether it be drugs, or the adrenaline from running from the cops, or fighting in the streets, or perhaps, instead of running from the problems and lashing out to release it, they will instead gravitate towards more of it- thus becoming involved in abusive romantic and/ or platonic relationships. They might not leave when their partner calls them names and hits them because they grew up watching their father cuss at their mother and hit her, which, in the long run taught the child that emotional and physical abuse from someone you know and love is acceptable at home.
People forget their actions towards their children are actually conditioning them, in other words, preparing them for their future and molding their beliefs and morals and ways of co-existing with others in their community and in their future home with their future family.
Photo by Enkrypt Los Angeles
The 2018 graduating class of the Orange County Juvenile Hall has a bright future ahead of them. I was honored to be a part of their celebration. They gave their audience a musical/ theatre arts performance, filled with their hand painted art pieces, poetry, raps and even free-styled prose. It was a very well-planned performance unlike anything I had ever seen before. The potential and talent the boys carry is undeniable, and I know they can do anything they set their minds to. I know when they get out, they will succeed.
I remember being their age and committing to the idea that I did not deserve anything more than I had already- which was pretty much nothing at that point. I was homeless, strung out on drugs, jobless, a complete mess, searching for something to save me- because I had not realized yet, that the only thing that could ever save me was- MYSELF.
The world-famous photographer, Estevan Oriol, also volunteered to come in to share his life testimony of struggle alongside undeniable, continued success and evolution. He talked of growing up in the hood and his family troubles. He spoke so freely, and with such strength and acceptance of his reality, which in turn, gave the audience and I- hope and inspiration. He also blessed the graduates with exquisite portraits as their graduation pictures in support of their accomplishments. The pictures were breath taking- so raw and full of emotion and pain and growth.
I am truly honored to participate in events like these- where I get to inspire the youth with my past and present. Being in the juvenile hall brought out so many mixed emotions and filled me with fear and anxiety from the bad memories. I was reminded that day that the trauma I faced as a child in the streets is still affecting me today.
I remembered all the times when my house got raided and the many times my brothers almost got smoked. I remembered my mother crying and I remembered running from gun shots. I remembered hitting the pookie, and breaking into cars and the first time I heard my brother was slamming heroin. I remembered fighting and slanging, and then I remembered the first time someone I knew got killed. I remembered when my first love got served 2 life sentences with no parole and my first friend who killed himself.
I couldn’t stop the thoughts racing in my head, replaying the trauma. My eyes teared up and my body was full of rage and a distraught, intense feeling of hopelessness. I did my best to remind myself that I am not going through that anymore. I forced myself to calm down and I reminded myself that I was there to inspire. I remembered I was there because I wanted to pass down some of the wisdom I earned since the last time I was visiting my little brothers wearing shackles on their wrists and feet.
It was time for me to perform. After 2 minutes of my microphone not working, I put the mic down and started to speak loudly to an audience of about 200 people- including the 9 graduates, their family members, 1 girls’ unit from the Juvenile Hall, and lots of staff- including judges and PO’s who all gathered to support and celebrate the boys' accomplishments.
I was supposed to talk for 5 minutes and perform for 10, but once I started telling my story, something took over me and I turned into a live, acapella narrator. The room was completely silent for 15 minutes as I spoke about myself and what I went through. As I was saying it out loud, it was as if I had forgotten so much of it had happened until I was talking about it again. I was watching the movie I was narrating as I was telling the tale.
I talked so long that in the end, there was only time for 2 songs- Black Hearts… and then, Give It Time, to close it out properly. It was truly one of the best performances I ever gave.
As I thanked the crowd and said my congrats and goodbyes to the boys, the room roared with inspiration and I felt strong. I felt accomplished. My work there was done. I enjoyed the rest of the show and after the whole room came up to me to personally thank me for my performance, I left the Juvenile Hall carrying a new sense of relief and happiness. It was a great moment in my life.
Photo by Enkrypt Los Angeles
The release of this song is to celebrate the graduates and to also remember all the lives that have been lost due to decades of systematic oppression of minorities.
The Lost Boy - Reverie & Louden... Based on a true story...
Life is better when you Satori.