In 1996, David Inocencio began writing-workshops to youth detained in S.F.’s Youth Guidance Center. A zine developed and The Beat Within was born. It is the nation’s biggest weekly publication of incarcerated youth writing.
The first publication followed the murder of rapper Tupac Shakur as young people sought ways to publicize their feelings of loss. Originally, The Beat Within was a 6-page magazine. Today the full-fledged weekly magazine is at 70 pages.
For some contributors, The Beat Within is the first positive recognition they have ever received that they have a voice worthy of an audience.
The Beat Within staff and volunteers hold weekly workshops in many California county juvenile halls: San Francisco, Marin, Alameda, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Monterey, and Fresno. The Beat workshop model is replicated in Maricopa Arizona, in San Bernalillo New Mexico, Miami Florida, and Washington DC.
Each week, The Beat Within serves up to 700 detained youth and the San Francisco office provides internships and social services to more than a dozen formerly detained youth.
David Inocencio and I spoke about what it means to give juvenile prisoners a voice.
Below is To The Streets, a piece of writing by Lady Streetz, from Alameda, CA. It featured in Volume 16. 18/19 (p. 6) of The Beat Within.
It is a difficult read but it gives us an unmistakable view of some of the serious problems incarcerated youth, and particularly incarcerated women face.
I want to write this letter to tell you how ashamed of you I am. How could you ever raised your hand to a female, what I want to know is what did I do so wrong that you had to lay your hand on me for the last months and months?
Why would you beat me, kick me out of my own car, and make me walk home bare foot? Where the hell do they do that at? I can’t believe you had the nerve to beat me in front of your friends and then make me sit out in the cold in my little dress.
Who gave you the nerve to take my keys and my phone? Did you buy my car, no! Did you buy my phone, hell no! Someday I hope to forgive you for all the shhh you did to me. Someday I will forgive but I will never forget.
I will never be the same since you happened to me. I stride to try to trust the black men staff here, but I’m scared they’re going to hurt me. I’m always scared someone is about to abuse me. Why? Because of you, because of all the times you beat me and left me bleeding. I hate you, You’ll never change women beaters.