Babies Behind Bars

This past weekend I was fortunate to take part in a special holiday event at the Barry Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, CA. Sponsored by the LA County Public Defender's Office, other guests included John Forte, formerly of the Fugees and a one-time prisoner for seven years; Cesar Milian of "The Dog Whisperer" TV show; LA City Councilman Tony Cardenas; Donald "Big D" Garcia and William "Blinky" Rodriguez of Communities in Schools; DJ Skee; and others. There were also singers, Aztec dancers, and other performances. I read poems and spoke about destiny, purpose, meaning, and redemption. Nidorf Juvenile Hall is the largest juvenile lock up in the northern hemisphere. It is located only a few blocks from my house and not far from Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural. On Saturday, December 19, hundreds of wards sat on the main yard in front of a temporary stage. They were patient for hours, attentive to speakers and acts. These youth were also given meals of sandwiches that one person told me was the best food they ever had. Maximum security youth in secured lockup facilities were not allowed on the yard, but were able to see the event on TV. Several of us also entered these facilities to talk to these young people. I even got to hear amazing poems in a special writers group, thanks to Inside Out Project. We even went among the different groups on the yard, talking to the young people, including a section of young women in a corner. One of them made it a point to tell me she was a poet. I signed many papers and one guy's shoes while I was there. This event led to a concert at the world famous Roxy Theater on the Sunset Strip Sunday night. Called "Babies Behind Bars," the concert was to benefit Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural, A Place Called Home, Youth Justice Coalition, and Youth Mentoring Connection. Featured on the bill were John Forte; Freddie Gibbs and DJ Skee; Broken Ornament with Zak De La Rocha's cousin, Mike De La Rocha; Terra Incognita; and Bricks. My daughter Andrea and my wife Trini accompanied me to this wonderful event, full of ideas, politics, action, and music. It's important that we not forget these young people behind bars. Many of them in the maximum security units were 14 and 15 years old and awaiting to serve life sentences. This is a waste of humanity that we need to move away from as soon as possible. We simply cannot let our children rot in stale prisons for their whole lives. They need help. They need guidance. They need resources. They need hope. They need love. c/s

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