Words of Incarceration: Poems from #SchoolsnotPrisons Merced

July 11, 2017 /

Image via Claudia Jo


Editor’s Note: Over the weekend, We’Ced hosted ‘#SchoolsnotPrisons Merced,’ a family-friendly event design to educate the Merced community about the impacts of the school-to-prison pipeline and mass incarceration. A portion of the event included an art gallery showcasing artwork and poetry by local youth and artists. Below are the poems for your enjoyment.


On Our Side of The System

As a little girl, my weekends were spent at the infamous ‘California Youth Authority.’

It was “YA,” the place my uncle was going to “school,” but I was no fool.

It was a baby prison. A place you sent kids who did not listen.

To step foot inside you must be checked from head to toe.

My mom always told me, “it’s ok we are going to see Tio in a minute.” But it felt like an eternity before I could see him.

Feelings of discomfort,  CO’S checking and looking at me and my family, thinking we belong there.

I was scared. The system didn’t care. Incarcerating babies wasn’t fair.

Vending machines everywhere. My  uncle eating as if he hasn’t eaten a good meal in days.

Twirling my hair, seeing the sad look in everyone’s eyes. They knew the system did not CARE.

The outside area had one lonely slide, I knew then, as a little girl, that the system wasn’t on our side.

No youth should spend their childhood behind bars. Give them a chance at life. Let’s fight to get the system on our SIDE.

Nisa Salazar, We’Ced Youth Reporter


La Sopa: My Incarcerated Noodles

Add limon and tapatio, and now this famous Asian dish has a unique Mexican twist.

With every spoonful I can taste my freedom.

Only 25 cents on the streets, but to buy one sopa in here, it takes working long hours on your feet.

I am helluva chef when I prep this ramen dish.

Share with the homies or hustle to make ends meet, these sopas I eat bring me fond memories.

Counting the days, but time goes by slowly.

No visits from the family. No letters. I’m lonely.

Only concrete walls, and feelings of defeat.

These incarcerated noodles have me fiening for the streets.

But with every spoonful I take, I can taste my freedom. With every sopa I eat, it’s a whole new dia.

It’s hard to imagine I’ll be home one day. These sopas bring me comfort, they also mask my pain.

Claudia Jo (Gonzalez), We’Ced Program Manager



I didn’t want to write this poem.

I have too many things to say on the subject, and to

too many people.

I’ll tell you I looked my name up

recently, its something I do periodically,

to see what shows up. I found some 10+ arrests

on the initial search. I didn’t even bother with

aliases or convictions. Suffice it to say,

court records will outlive us all.

My fines followed me for over a decade, refusing the

possibility of swift removal. Money has never come

easy for my family, not enough funds to pull from.

I was positive when I opened a bank account that

my name would raise flags, I distinctly recall larceny

charges that never resulted in convictions.

Paranoia has always come easy for my family,

we have too many examples to pull from.

I resisted the urge to run when the woman

walked away with my ID. There are things to

take for granted, and things to not.

My mother would give you a list of reasons

I didn’t belong in jail. Her ability to overlook fact

and circumstance (evolving from a long line of co-

dependency, addiction, and struggle) was remarkable

and necessary for her at the time.

She visited me every weekend, dutifully putting her hard

earned money on my books. I have thanked her more times

than I can count for her dedication.

My father knew better.

His past was etched onto his skin while inside,

like a predetermined fate for his offspring.

He refused to see me while I was in there.

The industrial strength cleaner, the process for visits,

the armed guards, the controlled time and foods,

they held too many memories for him.

I don’t fault him for this.

They had hoped that a geographic, that homeownership

in an agricultural town far from the city, would

shield us. Afford their next generation a new life.

But my blood, my inclinations, they told a different story.

And institutional memory runs deep, history reaches out

for us, past what we can see.

I think you expect me to apologize.

For the goods that I stole, for the crimes I committed.

That if I had to do it all again, my story wouldn’t

involve jail. But the truth is: I’m not sorry.

I refuse to make it that easy for you. I didn’t build

this system, made to house bodies so like my own.

Those decisions were made long before I came into the picture.

My past has become experiential knowledge,

not easily commodified. It is mine to own, to do with

as I will. I share it collectively, with those that

came before me, that haven’t left, and the inevitable

future holders. It is armed with this awareness

that I hold this pen, that I walk these streets,

that I work for my community.

Forgetting is not an option, and apologies

are not for me to make.

Tina Curiel-Allen, Co-Founder of Beyond the Stats


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