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F R E E W R I T E JA I L A RTS MAG A Z I N E

ISSUE 3

LETTERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND POEMS FROM 2008-2009

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FREEWRITE FREE WRITE

F R E E W R I T E JA I L A R T S M A G A Z I N E

ISSUE 3

LETTERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND POEMS FROM 2008-2009

My name is Raquel. I am a 16-year-old Hispanic juvenile female that is incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago, Illinois. I lived in Cicero, Illinois. I have been imprisoned five times in the past year, starting on February of 2008. I have served as much as five months in total. I have been incarcerated since January 8, 2009.

My name is Cheltzie and I am a 14-year old African-American. I am so proud of you that you became President and you let me know I can do what ever I put my mind to. I have watched you ever since you started to run for Senate. You used to live in the Regents Park Buildings and that is where I currently reside. Your campaign promises are very good. I especially hope you let the troops in Iraq go home to their families, and I hope you do cut some of the taxes because I see how my mom is struggling and I don’t want to see myself struggling like my mother. Also the people who are having low income and how poor people who don’t have jobs and places to go. When you won I was crying tears of joy. You are doing a great job so far. At first I didn’t know what it meant for an AfricanAmerican president to be in office. My mom had to sit me down and explain. I was at your victory speech in Grant Park and I was so excited.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA:

DEAR MR. OBAMA

I heard from my teacher about your proposal about longer school days and I agree with that decision so much. It will lessen the dropouts. I would like to stay in school more too because my grades have fallen. When I get out of this detention center, I am going straight back to school so I can pick my grades back up. I love school and the fact that I see you want us to get more education is so helpful to us. Thank you.

BY DAVID A.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, I am a young lady who lives in Cicero, Illinois. I am currently locked up in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. I want a change in our community— a change that no other president has made for us. I want enough work for everybody who needs it, like young people who go to school and have to pay for our classes, or need to help our families pay rent. The other change is about school safety. People are dropping out of school because of gangs, or because they need to work. I need work so I can depend on myself, pay for things that I need, and so that I can help my parents. So many people look up to you. Most people didn’t expect you to become President of the United States, but now that you are, everybody is shocked and most are happy. We want a change in the world and you are the change! I’m locked up in Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, but I do want to change, so that I can have a better life. But nobody understands, only God, because he knows we are not the bad kids that most people think we are. We are locked up in this place, but I know we can make it better and prove that we can make it through.

I want you to tell me how to start off on bottom and make it to the top. I need advice, because I want to be important like you did in history. Maybe I could be the first African-American female president. You have made it so clear all over the whole wide world that it is possible to be what ever you want to be. Thank you for being an excellent role model. Please write me back. Happily,

The law states that we are innocent until proven guilty, but does it really happen that way? I don’t think it does. In practice, it seems more like guilty until proven innocent. The police cruise around all areas of Chicago, and just because people are standing on a certain place or look a certain way, they get suspicious and they stop you and say they have probable cause. Many police officers take advantage of people when they do not know their rights. Many children, like myself, come everyday into this facility because of warrants, batteries, and many other situations. But many of the children do not commit the crimes they are charged with. They spend years at a time incarcerated just so they can later be found innocent. So they just spent half or more of their lives in a place they shouldn’t have. People in power need to understand our situations and not just make assumptions about every child that gets locked up. Instead of locking us up, give us a chance to know what we’ve done wrong. Give us a chance to explain. Give us a chance at life. I have longed for the day that we, as children, don’t get automatically judged as juvenile delinquents or criminals, because we’re not. We are all normal children and teenagers that make big mistakes, and we’re trying to learn from them. It has been really hard for most of us in here, especially the ones that have been here more than half a year, or who have been locked up several times. We yearn for the chance to go home just for one day, to see our loved ones at least once more, to get to hold them, hug them, and for them to tell us that everything will be all right. All I can say on my own behalf is that even though I’ve gone through so much in these 16 years of my life, this too shall pass! I will not give up my hopes and dreams. I will move on. This part of my life is just a learning experience. So I will learn and succeed.

CHELTZIE J. Sincerely,

RAQUEL R.

MARIELLA D.

FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program Care of Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church 126 E. Chestnut Street Chicago, Illinois, 60611.2014

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, I have always wished for a different life style, but it has always been impossible. Well, I thought it was! No one positive was ever in my life, and no one was ever there to bring me up when I was down, way down. At a point, I hit rock bottom. It all started at the age of 12, when I was growing up with friends and family who were in gangs and doing drugs. It was hard to stay away from it. I lived in a horror movie. At that time I met my first boyfriend. I know I was young, but I was too hard headed to realize my mistakes. He taught me how to deal drugs, and introduced me to my first hit of marijuana. It all seemed normal for me, because every one around me was doing it. He got me involved in stuff that wasn’t fit for a 12-year old. I cried many tears in the past, and I still I’m struggling in pain. I’m now 16-years old, and I have been through a lot! I had a best friend who I loved very much. She was my inspiration. She was the only person who I trusted, and cared for deeply. Her father was in a gang, and her mother was a drug addict. She cried every day and night. It was an out of control rainstorm. It broke my heart to see her in pain. Last year she was shot in the head. It was devastating for me. It was the worst day of my life. I asked why, why was she taken from me? She was my best friend, my other half. I loved her like she was my only sister. She suffered a lot. She didn’t deserve to get killed the way she did. It wasn’t even her fault. She was walking to the store when someone who knew her cousin shot her, because her cousin owed him money for drugs. That was it. My whole heart was broken. I felt like I had no reason to live. But I had to live to change my ways.

BY MICHAEL C.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, My name is Martha. I am incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. I would like to say congratulations on your success on becoming our first black president. You gave us hope, and I am speaking for the ones who are unable to let you know this for themselves. Even though I am incarcerated, you showed me that I should keep my head up no matter what the predicament is.

The FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program at the Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School provides individual instruction in print literacy, as well as daily writing and arts workshops for the more than 400 youth in detention at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC). To us, life is a story. The skills our students acquire through the study, critique and creation of poetry and fiction help them to make meaning of their own stories, and to connect with the stories of others. Your tax-deductible donation supports arts programming for youth in detention. Donate online at www.freewritejailarts.org OR MAIL CHECKS TO: FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program Care of Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church 126 E. Chestnut Street Chicago, Illinois, 60611.2014

I decided to write you because I am labeled as an automatic transfer, better known around here as an “A.T.” This means that I have been charged as an adult. Being labeled as an adult is not easy, but I try my best to keep myself and my family motivated at all times. Even though I’m locked up, I still have a lot of responsibilities to maintain, just like you do with your family and taking care of the whole world. The reason for this letter is to touch base with you about the adult charges that young teens are being given. At the age of 15 or older, you will be labeled an adult with no hesitation. Do you think that’s right? I don’t. We are all human beings, and we do make mistakes. I feel that at the beginning of a case you should be labeled by your age status. Then, later on down the line, if you get charged with an adult case, it will happen.

Some children are stuck because the people they were with at that moment did not inform them of the situation that was going to occur. Sometimes a young person who doesn’t want any part of the event is still stuck, due to the fact that they have no other way back home or out of the area. The point that I’m trying to make is that charging a minor as an adult has to be the craziest thing that a person can do. If that person’s child was being charged an adult, the tables would have to turn, but since it’s not their family member, it’s no problem. President Obama, the only way for you to understand where I’m coming from is if you take time to out of your busy schedule and come to talk to a couple of us who have been charged as adults. Hopefully in the future, after I get out of jail, we can sit and have a full hour or two, just to talk about the things that the everyday children would like to tell you.

Everyday innocent people die. It is sad and unnecessary. I learned from my mistakes. I’m not going to make the decisions I’ve made in the past anymore. They are not getting me anywhere. I am going to make my own decisions and get on the road to happiness. But still I see the pain and struggle out in the streets. Why do we do what do? I’m here to tell you the truth from my experience. We do what we do to make it out in these hard streets to survive the life. I have been making money through others’ addiction. It is sad but true. To make it out in this human eating world we hurt others. I realized that I have hurt my family, and friends deeply to support myself, and my habits. Everyday I pray to god for my survival, and strength. I pray for my protection. Because any day can be mine to pass by. Any day I can die or get killed. I want to die knowing I did something positive in life. I want to die knowing I was successful, and not a failure. Sincerely,

JAKIRA C.

I hope that you will visit us and see where I’m coming from. Sincerely,

MARTHA J.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA,

HARRIET TUBMAN BY MARIELLA D.

How are you doing? I hope and pray you are doing fine. I just wanted to write you to advise you of all the things that are going on in my community. My name is Kahdijah, and right now, I am in Chicago, at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. President Obama, I have been through things and have seen things a teenage girl is not supposed to have seen at all. I saw these things nowhere else in the United States but in my own community.

Designed by LIZTAPPDESIGN.COM We gratefully acknowledge the support and guidance of our Principal, Mrs. Whaley-Anobah, and the entire faculty at Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School. Additional thanks to the County Staff, without whom our work would not be possible. As always, thank you to Chicago Lights and our amazing Advisory Board: Luis Rodriguez, Lisa Lee, Carl Bell, Susan Klonsky, William Ayers, Cheryl Graves, Margaret Hughes and Avery R. Young.

Violence is nothing like what you see in the movies. I have seen two of my family members (both male) die in front of me. In early December of 2008, one of my brothers was shot, and he died. In the same incident, my other brother was shot in the head. Now he is paralyzed for the rest of his life.

This publication is made possible through the generous support of the Woods Fund of Chicago, with additional support from the Illinois Humanities Council and the Charles E. Marks Jr. Trust. Thank you for expanding the opportunities for young writers in detention.

There are a lot of things going on in this world that I wish you could change. Since you are the president now, I know you will be able to change the conditions of my neighborhood for good or bad. Mr. Obama, I would like for you to change how poor the Chicago public school system is, and how poor the jail system is. I would like for you to build more Boys and Girls Clubs. I would also like for you to make it easier for teenagers to be able to get jobs all year round. I would like for guns to be banned from all citizens, young and old who do not work with guns such as police officers, sheriffs, etc.

FREEWRITE JAIL ARTS AND LITERACY PROGRAM

Amanda Klonsky and Ryan Keesling SINCERELY,

Mr. Obama, if you changed some of these things in my community, then I do not think there would be close to 500 kids locked up or dead. These changes will help grown people too. Mr. Obama, please take what I just said into consideration. I really want my community and the people in it to be better than what we are now. Please President Obama, if you change what’s going on in the community it will change many peoples’ lives for the good. I just want to thank you and I appreciate you for reading this letter.

The FreeWrite program is part of a much bigger fight for real justice for our young people. We hope you agree that these voices are well worth hearing. As always, your support and your suggestions are deeply appreciated. Thank you. At FreeWrite, we see literacy education as key to participation in a democratic society. Literacy is not only increasing the reading and writing abilities of our students, it also expands their sense of self-efficacy, citizenship and responsibility for themselves, their families, and their world. Through increased literacy, written self-expression, exposure to and study of the performing, visual and literary arts, our project seeks to reduce recidivism and help our students find meaningful pathways to self-expression and to further education.

Yours very truly,

This issue of the FreeWrite Zine is full of hope for change. Our students have written letters to President Obama, joining the chorus of those who seek a more just society. Through their letters and poems, our students include themselves in the conversations about the policies and practices that impact their lives-- from the conditions they face in detention, in their schools, or and on the streets of their neighborhoods. Our students’ letters are filled with an urgent cry for change.

BY HUMBERTO G.

KAHDIJAH T.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA

DEAR FRIENDS OF FREEWRITE,

My name is Paige, and I am 16-years old at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC). I need your help and encouragement. I think that young people are sent to CCJTDC too often. We make mistakes, but some petty little things shouldn’t send kids like us, who really need an education, to jail. I know that some children have problems and make the wrong decisions and then get charged with adult crimes, and get sent to the Department of Corrections (DOC.) I think it is wrong to charge children as adults. I hope that you will come visit the CCJTDC and tell them that they should not send us away from our families for a long time over stupid mistakes. You also are a role model to me because you are the person that will change the world and make it better for African Americans. When you became the first African American president, I was incredibly shocked. After that, I knew I had to try to change my life. I knew if we got a new president and he was going to change the world, I wanted to change my world and my life around too. Sometimes things come up, and you just do what you’ve got to do in order to make it right. Something came up and you just had to run for president. I guess that’s how it really works in this matter for both of us, even though you are a president and I’m supposedly a criminal because I am locked up. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my letter. I do appreciate that you are busy, being the 44th president of the United States. I hope that you will visit the CCJTDC one day, to change our world and make it better for everybody. Please stop all of the violence that is happening around Chicago for the safety of young people like myself. Too many of us kids are dying too soon and not living a normal life like we are supposed to. Good luck with being the President of the United States and be safe with your family. Sincerely,

PAIGE M. BY OMAR M.

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6/26/09 12:00:11 PM


F R E E W R I T E JA I L A RTS MAG A Z I N E

ISSUE 3

LETTERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND POEMS FROM 2008-2009

FREEWRITE FREE WRITE

FREEWRITE FREE WRITE

F R E E W R I T E JA I L A R T S M A G A Z I N E

ISSUE 3

LETTERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND POEMS FROM 2008-2009

My name is Raquel. I am a 16-year-old Hispanic juvenile female that is incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago, Illinois. I lived in Cicero, Illinois. I have been imprisoned five times in the past year, starting on February of 2008. I have served as much as five months in total. I have been incarcerated since January 8, 2009.

My name is Cheltzie and I am a 14-year old African-American. I am so proud of you that you became President and you let me know I can do what ever I put my mind to. I have watched you ever since you started to run for Senate. You used to live in the Regents Park Buildings and that is where I currently reside. Your campaign promises are very good. I especially hope you let the troops in Iraq go home to their families, and I hope you do cut some of the taxes because I see how my mom is struggling and I don’t want to see myself struggling like my mother. Also the people who are having low income and how poor people who don’t have jobs and places to go. When you won I was crying tears of joy. You are doing a great job so far. At first I didn’t know what it meant for an AfricanAmerican president to be in office. My mom had to sit me down and explain. I was at your victory speech in Grant Park and I was so excited.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA:

DEAR MR. OBAMA

I heard from my teacher about your proposal about longer school days and I agree with that decision so much. It will lessen the dropouts. I would like to stay in school more too because my grades have fallen. When I get out of this detention center, I am going straight back to school so I can pick my grades back up. I love school and the fact that I see you want us to get more education is so helpful to us. Thank you.

BY DAVID A.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, I am a young lady who lives in Cicero, Illinois. I am currently locked up in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. I want a change in our community— a change that no other president has made for us. I want enough work for everybody who needs it, like young people who go to school and have to pay for our classes, or need to help our families pay rent. The other change is about school safety. People are dropping out of school because of gangs, or because they need to work. I need work so I can depend on myself, pay for things that I need, and so that I can help my parents. So many people look up to you. Most people didn’t expect you to become President of the United States, but now that you are, everybody is shocked and most are happy. We want a change in the world and you are the change! I’m locked up in Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, but I do want to change, so that I can have a better life. But nobody understands, only God, because he knows we are not the bad kids that most people think we are. We are locked up in this place, but I know we can make it better and prove that we can make it through.

I want you to tell me how to start off on bottom and make it to the top. I need advice, because I want to be important like you did in history. Maybe I could be the first African-American female president. You have made it so clear all over the whole wide world that it is possible to be what ever you want to be. Thank you for being an excellent role model. Please write me back. Happily,

The law states that we are innocent until proven guilty, but does it really happen that way? I don’t think it does. In practice, it seems more like guilty until proven innocent. The police cruise around all areas of Chicago, and just because people are standing on a certain place or look a certain way, they get suspicious and they stop you and say they have probable cause. Many police officers take advantage of people when they do not know their rights. Many children, like myself, come everyday into this facility because of warrants, batteries, and many other situations. But many of the children do not commit the crimes they are charged with. They spend years at a time incarcerated just so they can later be found innocent. So they just spent half or more of their lives in a place they shouldn’t have. People in power need to understand our situations and not just make assumptions about every child that gets locked up. Instead of locking us up, give us a chance to know what we’ve done wrong. Give us a chance to explain. Give us a chance at life. I have longed for the day that we, as children, don’t get automatically judged as juvenile delinquents or criminals, because we’re not. We are all normal children and teenagers that make big mistakes, and we’re trying to learn from them. It has been really hard for most of us in here, especially the ones that have been here more than half a year, or who have been locked up several times. We yearn for the chance to go home just for one day, to see our loved ones at least once more, to get to hold them, hug them, and for them to tell us that everything will be all right. All I can say on my own behalf is that even though I’ve gone through so much in these 16 years of my life, this too shall pass! I will not give up my hopes and dreams. I will move on. This part of my life is just a learning experience. So I will learn and succeed.

CHELTZIE J. Sincerely,

RAQUEL R.

MARIELLA D.

FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program Care of Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church 126 E. Chestnut Street Chicago, Illinois, 60611.2014

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, I have always wished for a different life style, but it has always been impossible. Well, I thought it was! No one positive was ever in my life, and no one was ever there to bring me up when I was down, way down. At a point, I hit rock bottom. It all started at the age of 12, when I was growing up with friends and family who were in gangs and doing drugs. It was hard to stay away from it. I lived in a horror movie. At that time I met my first boyfriend. I know I was young, but I was too hard headed to realize my mistakes. He taught me how to deal drugs, and introduced me to my first hit of marijuana. It all seemed normal for me, because every one around me was doing it. He got me involved in stuff that wasn’t fit for a 12-year old. I cried many tears in the past, and I still I’m struggling in pain. I’m now 16-years old, and I have been through a lot! I had a best friend who I loved very much. She was my inspiration. She was the only person who I trusted, and cared for deeply. Her father was in a gang, and her mother was a drug addict. She cried every day and night. It was an out of control rainstorm. It broke my heart to see her in pain. Last year she was shot in the head. It was devastating for me. It was the worst day of my life. I asked why, why was she taken from me? She was my best friend, my other half. I loved her like she was my only sister. She suffered a lot. She didn’t deserve to get killed the way she did. It wasn’t even her fault. She was walking to the store when someone who knew her cousin shot her, because her cousin owed him money for drugs. That was it. My whole heart was broken. I felt like I had no reason to live. But I had to live to change my ways.

BY MICHAEL C.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, My name is Martha. I am incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. I would like to say congratulations on your success on becoming our first black president. You gave us hope, and I am speaking for the ones who are unable to let you know this for themselves. Even though I am incarcerated, you showed me that I should keep my head up no matter what the predicament is.

The FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program at the Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School provides individual instruction in print literacy, as well as daily writing and arts workshops for the more than 400 youth in detention at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC). To us, life is a story. The skills our students acquire through the study, critique and creation of poetry and fiction help them to make meaning of their own stories, and to connect with the stories of others. Your tax-deductible donation supports arts programming for youth in detention. Donate online at www.freewritejailarts.org OR MAIL CHECKS TO: FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program Care of Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church 126 E. Chestnut Street Chicago, Illinois, 60611.2014

I decided to write you because I am labeled as an automatic transfer, better known around here as an “A.T.” This means that I have been charged as an adult. Being labeled as an adult is not easy, but I try my best to keep myself and my family motivated at all times. Even though I’m locked up, I still have a lot of responsibilities to maintain, just like you do with your family and taking care of the whole world. The reason for this letter is to touch base with you about the adult charges that young teens are being given. At the age of 15 or older, you will be labeled an adult with no hesitation. Do you think that’s right? I don’t. We are all human beings, and we do make mistakes. I feel that at the beginning of a case you should be labeled by your age status. Then, later on down the line, if you get charged with an adult case, it will happen.

Some children are stuck because the people they were with at that moment did not inform them of the situation that was going to occur. Sometimes a young person who doesn’t want any part of the event is still stuck, due to the fact that they have no other way back home or out of the area. The point that I’m trying to make is that charging a minor as an adult has to be the craziest thing that a person can do. If that person’s child was being charged an adult, the tables would have to turn, but since it’s not their family member, it’s no problem. President Obama, the only way for you to understand where I’m coming from is if you take time to out of your busy schedule and come to talk to a couple of us who have been charged as adults. Hopefully in the future, after I get out of jail, we can sit and have a full hour or two, just to talk about the things that the everyday children would like to tell you.

Everyday innocent people die. It is sad and unnecessary. I learned from my mistakes. I’m not going to make the decisions I’ve made in the past anymore. They are not getting me anywhere. I am going to make my own decisions and get on the road to happiness. But still I see the pain and struggle out in the streets. Why do we do what do? I’m here to tell you the truth from my experience. We do what we do to make it out in these hard streets to survive the life. I have been making money through others’ addiction. It is sad but true. To make it out in this human eating world we hurt others. I realized that I have hurt my family, and friends deeply to support myself, and my habits. Everyday I pray to god for my survival, and strength. I pray for my protection. Because any day can be mine to pass by. Any day I can die or get killed. I want to die knowing I did something positive in life. I want to die knowing I was successful, and not a failure. Sincerely,

JAKIRA C.

I hope that you will visit us and see where I’m coming from. Sincerely,

MARTHA J.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA,

HARRIET TUBMAN BY MARIELLA D.

How are you doing? I hope and pray you are doing fine. I just wanted to write you to advise you of all the things that are going on in my community. My name is Kahdijah, and right now, I am in Chicago, at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. President Obama, I have been through things and have seen things a teenage girl is not supposed to have seen at all. I saw these things nowhere else in the United States but in my own community.

Designed by LIZTAPPDESIGN.COM We gratefully acknowledge the support and guidance of our Principal, Mrs. Whaley-Anobah, and the entire faculty at Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School. Additional thanks to the County Staff, without whom our work would not be possible. As always, thank you to Chicago Lights and our amazing Advisory Board: Luis Rodriguez, Lisa Lee, Carl Bell, Susan Klonsky, William Ayers, Cheryl Graves, Margaret Hughes and Avery R. Young.

Violence is nothing like what you see in the movies. I have seen two of my family members (both male) die in front of me. In early December of 2008, one of my brothers was shot, and he died. In the same incident, my other brother was shot in the head. Now he is paralyzed for the rest of his life.

This publication is made possible through the generous support of the Woods Fund of Chicago, with additional support from the Illinois Humanities Council and the Charles E. Marks Jr. Trust. Thank you for expanding the opportunities for young writers in detention.

There are a lot of things going on in this world that I wish you could change. Since you are the president now, I know you will be able to change the conditions of my neighborhood for good or bad. Mr. Obama, I would like for you to change how poor the Chicago public school system is, and how poor the jail system is. I would like for you to build more Boys and Girls Clubs. I would also like for you to make it easier for teenagers to be able to get jobs all year round. I would like for guns to be banned from all citizens, young and old who do not work with guns such as police officers, sheriffs, etc.

FREEWRITE JAIL ARTS AND LITERACY PROGRAM

Amanda Klonsky and Ryan Keesling SINCERELY,

Mr. Obama, if you changed some of these things in my community, then I do not think there would be close to 500 kids locked up or dead. These changes will help grown people too. Mr. Obama, please take what I just said into consideration. I really want my community and the people in it to be better than what we are now. Please President Obama, if you change what’s going on in the community it will change many peoples’ lives for the good. I just want to thank you and I appreciate you for reading this letter.

The FreeWrite program is part of a much bigger fight for real justice for our young people. We hope you agree that these voices are well worth hearing. As always, your support and your suggestions are deeply appreciated. Thank you. At FreeWrite, we see literacy education as key to participation in a democratic society. Literacy is not only increasing the reading and writing abilities of our students, it also expands their sense of self-efficacy, citizenship and responsibility for themselves, their families, and their world. Through increased literacy, written self-expression, exposure to and study of the performing, visual and literary arts, our project seeks to reduce recidivism and help our students find meaningful pathways to self-expression and to further education.

Yours very truly,

This issue of the FreeWrite Zine is full of hope for change. Our students have written letters to President Obama, joining the chorus of those who seek a more just society. Through their letters and poems, our students include themselves in the conversations about the policies and practices that impact their lives-- from the conditions they face in detention, in their schools, or and on the streets of their neighborhoods. Our students’ letters are filled with an urgent cry for change.

BY HUMBERTO G.

KAHDIJAH T.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA

DEAR FRIENDS OF FREEWRITE,

My name is Paige, and I am 16-years old at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC). I need your help and encouragement. I think that young people are sent to CCJTDC too often. We make mistakes, but some petty little things shouldn’t send kids like us, who really need an education, to jail. I know that some children have problems and make the wrong decisions and then get charged with adult crimes, and get sent to the Department of Corrections (DOC.) I think it is wrong to charge children as adults. I hope that you will come visit the CCJTDC and tell them that they should not send us away from our families for a long time over stupid mistakes. You also are a role model to me because you are the person that will change the world and make it better for African Americans. When you became the first African American president, I was incredibly shocked. After that, I knew I had to try to change my life. I knew if we got a new president and he was going to change the world, I wanted to change my world and my life around too. Sometimes things come up, and you just do what you’ve got to do in order to make it right. Something came up and you just had to run for president. I guess that’s how it really works in this matter for both of us, even though you are a president and I’m supposedly a criminal because I am locked up. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my letter. I do appreciate that you are busy, being the 44th president of the United States. I hope that you will visit the CCJTDC one day, to change our world and make it better for everybody. Please stop all of the violence that is happening around Chicago for the safety of young people like myself. Too many of us kids are dying too soon and not living a normal life like we are supposed to. Good luck with being the President of the United States and be safe with your family. Sincerely,

PAIGE M. BY OMAR M.

FLIPSIDE.indd 1

6/26/09 12:00:11 PM


FREEWRITE FREE WRITE

F R E E W R I T E JA I L A R T S M A G A Z I N E

ISSUE 3

LETTERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND POEMS FROM 2008-2009

DEAR MR. OBAMA

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA:

My name is Cheltzie and I am a 14-year old African-American. I am so proud of you that you became President and you let me know I can do what ever I put my mind to. I have watched you ever since you started to run for Senate. You used to live in the Regents Park Buildings and that is where I currently reside. Your campaign promises are very good. I especially hope you let the troops in Iraq go home to their families, and I hope you do cut some of the taxes because I see how my mom is struggling and I don’t want to see myself struggling like my mother. Also the people who are having low income and how poor people who don’t have jobs and places to go. When you won I was crying tears of joy. You are doing a great job so far. At first I didn’t know what it meant for an AfricanAmerican president to be in office. My mom had to sit me down and explain. I was at your victory speech in Grant Park and I was so excited.

My name is Raquel. I am a 16-year-old Hispanic juvenile female that is incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago, Illinois. I lived in Cicero, Illinois. I have been imprisoned five times in the past year, starting on February of 2008. I have served as much as five months in total. I have been incarcerated since January 8, 2009.

I heard from my teacher about your proposal about longer school days and I agree with that decision so much. It will lessen the dropouts. I would like to stay in school more too because my grades have fallen. When I get out of this detention center, I am going straight back to school so I can pick my grades back up. I love school and the fact that I see you want us to get more education is so helpful to us. Thank you.

F R E E W R I T E JA I L A RTS MAG A Z I N E

ISSUE 3

LETTERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND POEMS FROM 2008-2009

FREEWRITE FREE WRITE

BY DAVID A.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, I am a young lady who lives in Cicero, Illinois. I am currently locked up in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. I want a change in our community— a change that no other president has made for us. I want enough work for everybody who needs it, like young people who go to school and have to pay for our classes, or need to help our families pay rent. The other change is about school safety. People are dropping out of school because of gangs, or because they need to work. I need work so I can depend on myself, pay for things that I need, and so that I can help my parents. So many people look up to you. Most people didn’t expect you to become President of the United States, but now that you are, everybody is shocked and most are happy. We want a change in the world and you are the change! I’m locked up in Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, but I do want to change, so that I can have a better life. But nobody understands, only God, because he knows we are not the bad kids that most people think we are. We are locked up in this place, but I know we can make it better and prove that we can make it through.

I want you to tell me how to start off on bottom and make it to the top. I need advice, because I want to be important like you did in history. Maybe I could be the first African-American female president. You have made it so clear all over the whole wide world that it is possible to be what ever you want to be. Thank you for being an excellent role model. Please write me back. Happily,

The law states that we are innocent until proven guilty, but does it really happen that way? I don’t think it does. In practice, it seems more like guilty until proven innocent. The police cruise around all areas of Chicago, and just because people are standing on a certain place or look a certain way, they get suspicious and they stop you and say they have probable cause. Many police officers take advantage of people when they do not know their rights. Many children, like myself, come everyday into this facility because of warrants, batteries, and many other situations. But many of the children do not commit the crimes they are charged with. They spend years at a time incarcerated just so they can later be found innocent. So they just spent half or more of their lives in a place they shouldn’t have. People in power need to understand our situations and not just make assumptions about every child that gets locked up. Instead of locking us up, give us a chance to know what we’ve done wrong. Give us a chance to explain. Give us a chance at life. I have longed for the day that we, as children, don’t get automatically judged as juvenile delinquents or criminals, because we’re not. We are all normal children and teenagers that make big mistakes, and we’re trying to learn from them. It has been really hard for most of us in here, especially the ones that have been here more than half a year, or who have been locked up several times. We yearn for the chance to go home just for one day, to see our loved ones at least once more, to get to hold them, hug them, and for them to tell us that everything will be all right. All I can say on my own behalf is that even though I’ve gone through so much in these 16 years of my life, this too shall pass! I will not give up my hopes and dreams. I will move on. This part of my life is just a learning experience. So I will learn and succeed.

CHELTZIE J. Sincerely,

RAQUEL R.

MARIELLA D.

FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program Care of Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church 126 E. Chestnut Street Chicago, Illinois, 60611.2014

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, I have always wished for a different life style, but it has always been impossible. Well, I thought it was! No one positive was ever in my life, and no one was ever there to bring me up when I was down, way down. At a point, I hit rock bottom. It all started at the age of 12, when I was growing up with friends and family who were in gangs and doing drugs. It was hard to stay away from it. I lived in a horror movie. At that time I met my first boyfriend. I know I was young, but I was too hard headed to realize my mistakes. He taught me how to deal drugs, and introduced me to my first hit of marijuana. It all seemed normal for me, because every one around me was doing it. He got me involved in stuff that wasn’t fit for a 12-year old. I cried many tears in the past, and I still I’m struggling in pain. I’m now 16-years old, and I have been through a lot! I had a best friend who I loved very much. She was my inspiration. She was the only person who I trusted, and cared for deeply. Her father was in a gang, and her mother was a drug addict. She cried every day and night. It was an out of control rainstorm. It broke my heart to see her in pain. Last year she was shot in the head. It was devastating for me. It was the worst day of my life. I asked why, why was she taken from me? She was my best friend, my other half. I loved her like she was my only sister. She suffered a lot. She didn’t deserve to get killed the way she did. It wasn’t even her fault. She was walking to the store when someone who knew her cousin shot her, because her cousin owed him money for drugs. That was it. My whole heart was broken. I felt like I had no reason to live. But I had to live to change my ways.

BY MICHAEL C.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, My name is Martha. I am incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. I would like to say congratulations on your success on becoming our first black president. You gave us hope, and I am speaking for the ones who are unable to let you know this for themselves. Even though I am incarcerated, you showed me that I should keep my head up no matter what the predicament is.

The FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program at the Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School provides individual instruction in print literacy, as well as daily writing and arts workshops for the more than 400 youth in detention at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC). To us, life is a story. The skills our students acquire through the study, critique and creation of poetry and fiction help them to make meaning of their own stories, and to connect with the stories of others. Your tax-deductible donation supports arts programming for youth in detention. Donate online at www.freewritejailarts.org OR MAIL CHECKS TO: FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program Care of Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church 126 E. Chestnut Street Chicago, Illinois, 60611.2014

I decided to write you because I am labeled as an automatic transfer, better known around here as an “A.T.” This means that I have been charged as an adult. Being labeled as an adult is not easy, but I try my best to keep myself and my family motivated at all times. Even though I’m locked up, I still have a lot of responsibilities to maintain, just like you do with your family and taking care of the whole world. The reason for this letter is to touch base with you about the adult charges that young teens are being given. At the age of 15 or older, you will be labeled an adult with no hesitation. Do you think that’s right? I don’t. We are all human beings, and we do make mistakes. I feel that at the beginning of a case you should be labeled by your age status. Then, later on down the line, if you get charged with an adult case, it will happen.

Some children are stuck because the people they were with at that moment did not inform them of the situation that was going to occur. Sometimes a young person who doesn’t want any part of the event is still stuck, due to the fact that they have no other way back home or out of the area. The point that I’m trying to make is that charging a minor as an adult has to be the craziest thing that a person can do. If that person’s child was being charged an adult, the tables would have to turn, but since it’s not their family member, it’s no problem. President Obama, the only way for you to understand where I’m coming from is if you take time to out of your busy schedule and come to talk to a couple of us who have been charged as adults. Hopefully in the future, after I get out of jail, we can sit and have a full hour or two, just to talk about the things that the everyday children would like to tell you.

Everyday innocent people die. It is sad and unnecessary. I learned from my mistakes. I’m not going to make the decisions I’ve made in the past anymore. They are not getting me anywhere. I am going to make my own decisions and get on the road to happiness. But still I see the pain and struggle out in the streets. Why do we do what do? I’m here to tell you the truth from my experience. We do what we do to make it out in these hard streets to survive the life. I have been making money through others’ addiction. It is sad but true. To make it out in this human eating world we hurt others. I realized that I have hurt my family, and friends deeply to support myself, and my habits. Everyday I pray to god for my survival, and strength. I pray for my protection. Because any day can be mine to pass by. Any day I can die or get killed. I want to die knowing I did something positive in life. I want to die knowing I was successful, and not a failure. Sincerely,

JAKIRA C.

I hope that you will visit us and see where I’m coming from. Sincerely,

MARTHA J.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA,

HARRIET TUBMAN BY MARIELLA D.

How are you doing? I hope and pray you are doing fine. I just wanted to write you to advise you of all the things that are going on in my community. My name is Kahdijah, and right now, I am in Chicago, at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. President Obama, I have been through things and have seen things a teenage girl is not supposed to have seen at all. I saw these things nowhere else in the United States but in my own community.

Designed by LIZTAPPDESIGN.COM We gratefully acknowledge the support and guidance of our Principal, Mrs. Whaley-Anobah, and the entire faculty at Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School. Additional thanks to the County Staff, without whom our work would not be possible. As always, thank you to Chicago Lights and our amazing Advisory Board: Luis Rodriguez, Lisa Lee, Carl Bell, Susan Klonsky, William Ayers, Cheryl Graves, Margaret Hughes and Avery R. Young.

Violence is nothing like what you see in the movies. I have seen two of my family members (both male) die in front of me. In early December of 2008, one of my brothers was shot, and he died. In the same incident, my other brother was shot in the head. Now he is paralyzed for the rest of his life.

This publication is made possible through the generous support of the Woods Fund of Chicago, with additional support from the Illinois Humanities Council and the Charles E. Marks Jr. Trust. Thank you for expanding the opportunities for young writers in detention.

There are a lot of things going on in this world that I wish you could change. Since you are the president now, I know you will be able to change the conditions of my neighborhood for good or bad. Mr. Obama, I would like for you to change how poor the Chicago public school system is, and how poor the jail system is. I would like for you to build more Boys and Girls Clubs. I would also like for you to make it easier for teenagers to be able to get jobs all year round. I would like for guns to be banned from all citizens, young and old who do not work with guns such as police officers, sheriffs, etc.

FREEWRITE JAIL ARTS AND LITERACY PROGRAM

Amanda Klonsky and Ryan Keesling SINCERELY,

Mr. Obama, if you changed some of these things in my community, then I do not think there would be close to 500 kids locked up or dead. These changes will help grown people too. Mr. Obama, please take what I just said into consideration. I really want my community and the people in it to be better than what we are now. Please President Obama, if you change what’s going on in the community it will change many peoples’ lives for the good. I just want to thank you and I appreciate you for reading this letter.

The FreeWrite program is part of a much bigger fight for real justice for our young people. We hope you agree that these voices are well worth hearing. As always, your support and your suggestions are deeply appreciated. Thank you. At FreeWrite, we see literacy education as key to participation in a democratic society. Literacy is not only increasing the reading and writing abilities of our students, it also expands their sense of self-efficacy, citizenship and responsibility for themselves, their families, and their world. Through increased literacy, written self-expression, exposure to and study of the performing, visual and literary arts, our project seeks to reduce recidivism and help our students find meaningful pathways to self-expression and to further education.

Yours very truly,

BY HUMBERTO G.

KAHDIJAH T.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA

This issue of the FreeWrite Zine is full of hope for change. Our students have written letters to President Obama, joining the chorus of those who seek a more just society. Through their letters and poems, our students include themselves in the conversations about the policies and practices that impact their lives-- from the conditions they face in detention, in their schools, or and on the streets of their neighborhoods. Our students’ letters are filled with an urgent cry for change.

DEAR FRIENDS OF FREEWRITE,

My name is Paige, and I am 16-years old at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC). I need your help and encouragement. I think that young people are sent to CCJTDC too often. We make mistakes, but some petty little things shouldn’t send kids like us, who really need an education, to jail. I know that some children have problems and make the wrong decisions and then get charged with adult crimes, and get sent to the Department of Corrections (DOC.) I think it is wrong to charge children as adults. I hope that you will come visit the CCJTDC and tell them that they should not send us away from our families for a long time over stupid mistakes. You also are a role model to me because you are the person that will change the world and make it better for African Americans. When you became the first African American president, I was incredibly shocked. After that, I knew I had to try to change my life. I knew if we got a new president and he was going to change the world, I wanted to change my world and my life around too. Sometimes things come up, and you just do what you’ve got to do in order to make it right. Something came up and you just had to run for president. I guess that’s how it really works in this matter for both of us, even though you are a president and I’m supposedly a criminal because I am locked up. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my letter. I do appreciate that you are busy, being the 44th president of the United States. I hope that you will visit the CCJTDC one day, to change our world and make it better for everybody. Please stop all of the violence that is happening around Chicago for the safety of young people like myself. Too many of us kids are dying too soon and not living a normal life like we are supposed to. Good luck with being the President of the United States and be safe with your family. Sincerely,

PAIGE M. BY OMAR M.

FLIPSIDE.indd 1

6/26/09 12:00:11 PM


FREEWRITE FREE WRITE

F R E E W R I T E JA I L A R T S M A G A Z I N E

ISSUE 3

LETTERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND POEMS FROM 2008-2009

DEAR MR. OBAMA

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA:

My name is Cheltzie and I am a 14-year old African-American. I am so proud of you that you became President and you let me know I can do what ever I put my mind to. I have watched you ever since you started to run for Senate. You used to live in the Regents Park Buildings and that is where I currently reside. Your campaign promises are very good. I especially hope you let the troops in Iraq go home to their families, and I hope you do cut some of the taxes because I see how my mom is struggling and I don’t want to see myself struggling like my mother. Also the people who are having low income and how poor people who don’t have jobs and places to go. When you won I was crying tears of joy. You are doing a great job so far. At first I didn’t know what it meant for an AfricanAmerican president to be in office. My mom had to sit me down and explain. I was at your victory speech in Grant Park and I was so excited.

My name is Raquel. I am a 16-year-old Hispanic juvenile female that is incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago, Illinois. I lived in Cicero, Illinois. I have been imprisoned five times in the past year, starting on February of 2008. I have served as much as five months in total. I have been incarcerated since January 8, 2009.

I heard from my teacher about your proposal about longer school days and I agree with that decision so much. It will lessen the dropouts. I would like to stay in school more too because my grades have fallen. When I get out of this detention center, I am going straight back to school so I can pick my grades back up. I love school and the fact that I see you want us to get more education is so helpful to us. Thank you.

F R E E W R I T E JA I L A RTS MAG A Z I N E

ISSUE 3

LETTERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND POEMS FROM 2008-2009

FREEWRITE FREE WRITE

BY DAVID A.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, I am a young lady who lives in Cicero, Illinois. I am currently locked up in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. I want a change in our community— a change that no other president has made for us. I want enough work for everybody who needs it, like young people who go to school and have to pay for our classes, or need to help our families pay rent. The other change is about school safety. People are dropping out of school because of gangs, or because they need to work. I need work so I can depend on myself, pay for things that I need, and so that I can help my parents. So many people look up to you. Most people didn’t expect you to become President of the United States, but now that you are, everybody is shocked and most are happy. We want a change in the world and you are the change! I’m locked up in Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, but I do want to change, so that I can have a better life. But nobody understands, only God, because he knows we are not the bad kids that most people think we are. We are locked up in this place, but I know we can make it better and prove that we can make it through.

I want you to tell me how to start off on bottom and make it to the top. I need advice, because I want to be important like you did in history. Maybe I could be the first African-American female president. You have made it so clear all over the whole wide world that it is possible to be what ever you want to be. Thank you for being an excellent role model. Please write me back. Happily,

The law states that we are innocent until proven guilty, but does it really happen that way? I don’t think it does. In practice, it seems more like guilty until proven innocent. The police cruise around all areas of Chicago, and just because people are standing on a certain place or look a certain way, they get suspicious and they stop you and say they have probable cause. Many police officers take advantage of people when they do not know their rights. Many children, like myself, come everyday into this facility because of warrants, batteries, and many other situations. But many of the children do not commit the crimes they are charged with. They spend years at a time incarcerated just so they can later be found innocent. So they just spent half or more of their lives in a place they shouldn’t have. People in power need to understand our situations and not just make assumptions about every child that gets locked up. Instead of locking us up, give us a chance to know what we’ve done wrong. Give us a chance to explain. Give us a chance at life. I have longed for the day that we, as children, don’t get automatically judged as juvenile delinquents or criminals, because we’re not. We are all normal children and teenagers that make big mistakes, and we’re trying to learn from them. It has been really hard for most of us in here, especially the ones that have been here more than half a year, or who have been locked up several times. We yearn for the chance to go home just for one day, to see our loved ones at least once more, to get to hold them, hug them, and for them to tell us that everything will be all right. All I can say on my own behalf is that even though I’ve gone through so much in these 16 years of my life, this too shall pass! I will not give up my hopes and dreams. I will move on. This part of my life is just a learning experience. So I will learn and succeed.

CHELTZIE J. Sincerely,

RAQUEL R.

MARIELLA D.

FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program Care of Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church 126 E. Chestnut Street Chicago, Illinois, 60611.2014

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, I have always wished for a different life style, but it has always been impossible. Well, I thought it was! No one positive was ever in my life, and no one was ever there to bring me up when I was down, way down. At a point, I hit rock bottom. It all started at the age of 12, when I was growing up with friends and family who were in gangs and doing drugs. It was hard to stay away from it. I lived in a horror movie. At that time I met my first boyfriend. I know I was young, but I was too hard headed to realize my mistakes. He taught me how to deal drugs, and introduced me to my first hit of marijuana. It all seemed normal for me, because every one around me was doing it. He got me involved in stuff that wasn’t fit for a 12-year old. I cried many tears in the past, and I still I’m struggling in pain. I’m now 16-years old, and I have been through a lot! I had a best friend who I loved very much. She was my inspiration. She was the only person who I trusted, and cared for deeply. Her father was in a gang, and her mother was a drug addict. She cried every day and night. It was an out of control rainstorm. It broke my heart to see her in pain. Last year she was shot in the head. It was devastating for me. It was the worst day of my life. I asked why, why was she taken from me? She was my best friend, my other half. I loved her like she was my only sister. She suffered a lot. She didn’t deserve to get killed the way she did. It wasn’t even her fault. She was walking to the store when someone who knew her cousin shot her, because her cousin owed him money for drugs. That was it. My whole heart was broken. I felt like I had no reason to live. But I had to live to change my ways.

BY MICHAEL C.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, My name is Martha. I am incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. I would like to say congratulations on your success on becoming our first black president. You gave us hope, and I am speaking for the ones who are unable to let you know this for themselves. Even though I am incarcerated, you showed me that I should keep my head up no matter what the predicament is.

The FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program at the Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School provides individual instruction in print literacy, as well as daily writing and arts workshops for the more than 400 youth in detention at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC). To us, life is a story. The skills our students acquire through the study, critique and creation of poetry and fiction help them to make meaning of their own stories, and to connect with the stories of others. Your tax-deductible donation supports arts programming for youth in detention. Donate online at www.freewritejailarts.org OR MAIL CHECKS TO: FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program Care of Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church 126 E. Chestnut Street Chicago, Illinois, 60611.2014

I decided to write you because I am labeled as an automatic transfer, better known around here as an “A.T.” This means that I have been charged as an adult. Being labeled as an adult is not easy, but I try my best to keep myself and my family motivated at all times. Even though I’m locked up, I still have a lot of responsibilities to maintain, just like you do with your family and taking care of the whole world. The reason for this letter is to touch base with you about the adult charges that young teens are being given. At the age of 15 or older, you will be labeled an adult with no hesitation. Do you think that’s right? I don’t. We are all human beings, and we do make mistakes. I feel that at the beginning of a case you should be labeled by your age status. Then, later on down the line, if you get charged with an adult case, it will happen.

Some children are stuck because the people they were with at that moment did not inform them of the situation that was going to occur. Sometimes a young person who doesn’t want any part of the event is still stuck, due to the fact that they have no other way back home or out of the area. The point that I’m trying to make is that charging a minor as an adult has to be the craziest thing that a person can do. If that person’s child was being charged an adult, the tables would have to turn, but since it’s not their family member, it’s no problem. President Obama, the only way for you to understand where I’m coming from is if you take time to out of your busy schedule and come to talk to a couple of us who have been charged as adults. Hopefully in the future, after I get out of jail, we can sit and have a full hour or two, just to talk about the things that the everyday children would like to tell you.

Everyday innocent people die. It is sad and unnecessary. I learned from my mistakes. I’m not going to make the decisions I’ve made in the past anymore. They are not getting me anywhere. I am going to make my own decisions and get on the road to happiness. But still I see the pain and struggle out in the streets. Why do we do what do? I’m here to tell you the truth from my experience. We do what we do to make it out in these hard streets to survive the life. I have been making money through others’ addiction. It is sad but true. To make it out in this human eating world we hurt others. I realized that I have hurt my family, and friends deeply to support myself, and my habits. Everyday I pray to god for my survival, and strength. I pray for my protection. Because any day can be mine to pass by. Any day I can die or get killed. I want to die knowing I did something positive in life. I want to die knowing I was successful, and not a failure. Sincerely,

JAKIRA C.

I hope that you will visit us and see where I’m coming from. Sincerely,

MARTHA J.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA,

HARRIET TUBMAN BY MARIELLA D.

How are you doing? I hope and pray you are doing fine. I just wanted to write you to advise you of all the things that are going on in my community. My name is Kahdijah, and right now, I am in Chicago, at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. President Obama, I have been through things and have seen things a teenage girl is not supposed to have seen at all. I saw these things nowhere else in the United States but in my own community.

Designed by LIZTAPPDESIGN.COM We gratefully acknowledge the support and guidance of our Principal, Mrs. Whaley-Anobah, and the entire faculty at Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School. Additional thanks to the County Staff, without whom our work would not be possible. As always, thank you to Chicago Lights and our amazing Advisory Board: Luis Rodriguez, Lisa Lee, Carl Bell, Susan Klonsky, William Ayers, Cheryl Graves, Margaret Hughes and Avery R. Young.

Violence is nothing like what you see in the movies. I have seen two of my family members (both male) die in front of me. In early December of 2008, one of my brothers was shot, and he died. In the same incident, my other brother was shot in the head. Now he is paralyzed for the rest of his life.

This publication is made possible through the generous support of the Woods Fund of Chicago, with additional support from the Illinois Humanities Council and the Charles E. Marks Jr. Trust. Thank you for expanding the opportunities for young writers in detention.

There are a lot of things going on in this world that I wish you could change. Since you are the president now, I know you will be able to change the conditions of my neighborhood for good or bad. Mr. Obama, I would like for you to change how poor the Chicago public school system is, and how poor the jail system is. I would like for you to build more Boys and Girls Clubs. I would also like for you to make it easier for teenagers to be able to get jobs all year round. I would like for guns to be banned from all citizens, young and old who do not work with guns such as police officers, sheriffs, etc.

FREEWRITE JAIL ARTS AND LITERACY PROGRAM

Amanda Klonsky and Ryan Keesling SINCERELY,

Mr. Obama, if you changed some of these things in my community, then I do not think there would be close to 500 kids locked up or dead. These changes will help grown people too. Mr. Obama, please take what I just said into consideration. I really want my community and the people in it to be better than what we are now. Please President Obama, if you change what’s going on in the community it will change many peoples’ lives for the good. I just want to thank you and I appreciate you for reading this letter.

The FreeWrite program is part of a much bigger fight for real justice for our young people. We hope you agree that these voices are well worth hearing. As always, your support and your suggestions are deeply appreciated. Thank you. At FreeWrite, we see literacy education as key to participation in a democratic society. Literacy is not only increasing the reading and writing abilities of our students, it also expands their sense of self-efficacy, citizenship and responsibility for themselves, their families, and their world. Through increased literacy, written self-expression, exposure to and study of the performing, visual and literary arts, our project seeks to reduce recidivism and help our students find meaningful pathways to self-expression and to further education.

Yours very truly,

BY HUMBERTO G.

KAHDIJAH T.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA

This issue of the FreeWrite Zine is full of hope for change. Our students have written letters to President Obama, joining the chorus of those who seek a more just society. Through their letters and poems, our students include themselves in the conversations about the policies and practices that impact their lives-- from the conditions they face in detention, in their schools, or and on the streets of their neighborhoods. Our students’ letters are filled with an urgent cry for change.

DEAR FRIENDS OF FREEWRITE,

My name is Paige, and I am 16-years old at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC). I need your help and encouragement. I think that young people are sent to CCJTDC too often. We make mistakes, but some petty little things shouldn’t send kids like us, who really need an education, to jail. I know that some children have problems and make the wrong decisions and then get charged with adult crimes, and get sent to the Department of Corrections (DOC.) I think it is wrong to charge children as adults. I hope that you will come visit the CCJTDC and tell them that they should not send us away from our families for a long time over stupid mistakes. You also are a role model to me because you are the person that will change the world and make it better for African Americans. When you became the first African American president, I was incredibly shocked. After that, I knew I had to try to change my life. I knew if we got a new president and he was going to change the world, I wanted to change my world and my life around too. Sometimes things come up, and you just do what you’ve got to do in order to make it right. Something came up and you just had to run for president. I guess that’s how it really works in this matter for both of us, even though you are a president and I’m supposedly a criminal because I am locked up. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my letter. I do appreciate that you are busy, being the 44th president of the United States. I hope that you will visit the CCJTDC one day, to change our world and make it better for everybody. Please stop all of the violence that is happening around Chicago for the safety of young people like myself. Too many of us kids are dying too soon and not living a normal life like we are supposed to. Good luck with being the President of the United States and be safe with your family. Sincerely,

PAIGE M. BY OMAR M.

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I a S h m m Y ADDIC g N a t u S M O a a o h tr r. M le s th e w c A u rt n s d R fr a t’ n a y “U Hurt ut tha nd sm A C. r him sa ic er. r older a ry it all o BY JAKIR I will hea my story is trag ay wise fath ed. ther yea a When I c e. o g n in A el v h a w is g sid other egs to fe ay. a kid, le ’t prom So, thou empty in ve it any y body b I am tod a Came in e freedom wasn t. o M h h ’t w n e ld m es m r than b. I wou ade Showed n and that’s hon , the num egs to feel highe my life m e s u a e s c k b u e ta b s precio ent. Mine’s My mind e life wa ver me. SEA owed m ee it at that pres T h A S the sun. T S s taken o O a L s h ’t n n o ti 17 ld f me ance ok me but cou My addic e up all I see f continu in front o rnity. man. To SAM S. hanged take life 4 real. uances o eems like an ete e, en I wak triple C’s E s c h e is A IM W th e T s d e n e. hat s f hop ot to lunt a red of th . to see, g urs could be gon here to w drifts in a sea o are the b n the sky, I’m so ti DAVID J d my stay o a y in g y th in m a r g y , d e n d h y m An Hig prolo ily sa ing. s, side, ined de. go, el like dy s no more drug me deta w yo’ fam me, me up in d life to for the ri re ti o fe g g te r n I n n u in d n a O lo n a rn w a A u e . m e s o e B o p e w s h h to s y m n s ir a o e e io c ’t w th is t n th e v y jus on e did is not th staying in ere their angel When m ying. my body later I’ll wash up tion e. ecause w buying. era or ke fr g wh ing to hid we did, b othing gain I’m y li t in a l tr y u e e b il ra c , v fe p n I e rs o Sooner eedom or incarc d h wate have n ng. y dealer, . uise is a fr s life. ugh roug Now we went wro an angel in disg like no other. 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I n ou learn, . d h o u e a s s w h t t m d , o u r e d n b e h a v s b o I I’m eIh nd y e goes COURT tion took fear, ou live a that every bridg is that tim . my addic I guess y te only a y n u m fe . rt , li S is e r. e fo k n . ERIC time s qua just lik My future death is all I hea use it’s a fight. but it’s u rned my lesson confession ple have s and leg . o e e k g a p ca a a e h in le e s s b I a . m m rt a w e n So scre orro before in lov rred to sibility, oing o Your hea d for tom my addictions what’s g e respon e caring, and be ld be refe direction or way, re . k u w a e ta c o o c s c n n , to k s is te m h t I’ s T w oem y exis just to orthy, b ng again it my ne writing p nge to m be trustw ink about it I’m fighti erything right. but I call and pray my zone aze for days. itive cha s In o th p u a v o e e y is d p e my So, if to make stop. and I ho ait for m s of my past stuck in orning ’t t lay in w e in the m yawning. port? ll this k p a c u s lo But I can my medicine e that wha e my repentanc ’c o m 9 giving up, still etour ad t time. me future, ’s s d u g o m e s ju n h in e n e th k v is o W e r a a c s ? w h I fo I re . n here Still my pain y. n an unfo e my pla rt, who’s d. ange, to erase and mad things stray dow ld of my stabilit m in cou g. I’m not scare might slay me. try to ch I’ I ame. h g o u if h o l p in e th e g tay the s ry n e s d c k e l t ju v il o to E e w n yet I fee g th le ? m t b in I’ U a a . th e O e th c b Y ry ve ot ty ea, s pla worried WERE I think e I might n ling of uncertain d to me lost at s angerou I’m just WHERE e re om is a d ro rt u . o c A So this fe lained or compa hore, ID The ou? xp BY DAV eeded y ke hell, to the s can be e when I n Almost li ver escape. for me. irection u . t d o s y re ju re o c re u re s e y ne with no Where w ut Clubbing! eep in m gs are kept in sto ance to do right You will g? o h cks me d as hurtin and it ro what type of thin to grant me a c . You were e when I w else. m u r o e y y w f s re rt o n e e e r a b Wonde Where w ealing some on ou I loved you? she will g lady li r and be h y before ld y GS IN I shudde s like an eternit ont lines O You were D re when I to e G u? fr em urney h were you er world. WRON jo re e e th h about yo but it se at I stand on the W m anoth led fro S. ou I care d y th in N d w a ld O re , o e to M n le w I t A tt R Bu ba You when , erately red to do ere you ne else. g things unprepa ught for so desp fear. Where w aring for someo me wron place. o y. s a d id f D o fo c ith e lights in a bad to what I You were rought w feel weak, ? ou Now I’m ack just to see th irthdays, es me w I were you ure on y s re s b e b h re d ll now leav look bleak and p e a W s h . it is c s e u y m k a ne? a m . d d T s l n o re g s a o e I was alo lidays d scho Now thin y God won’t put Somewh g, ou when o’ girls. issed ho teps and misse y in M s a s re s e le y w b e ne? ith y rst s ays but th ff. dle it. Where rm of a your pho my car w Missed fi e and wasted d that far o can’t han l arrive in the fo u were in ou when I called m can’t be o ti il that you e I Y w d th w t te o a e s n o e a k s b W life t to ere y one. ing I ll up jus I know a Where w r guy had yo’ ph ark? m stress Give it a e though I’ by. sd th a n o e w v e y. it e a m n o d o s S , ghts of you whe meone else. bird fly li d a o re o e w h a w s d t il ch r so I jus ht? Where No more manhood. shining fo n I was doing rig to ou were e t Y h h y w ll ig u a fu o tr y e s p ere et out ho Where w ut doing wrong. When I g d. o TAKE re e IS w M o u o o A Y I’m all g gs, I MADE in th d a eb TI W. Did som re you…? DE’VAN here we place. W . d e a e k b th a a c e . t e e in e s g to g mistak fake. ll back to I made a e, I was just tryin d to think I was Take it a ay. o m o h g d e in f w o Kno !# in th Lights ant @*$ RTS I didn’t w should’ve known . o IT’S HU d uld tI But wha eing troubled co rong, . M tw tb PAIGE was wha wing nothing bu k home, A re M D N be in he ac no ur family GRA Me not k nd never came b It hurts to e away from yo e time ing to do a b . h th ft S . with noth to ll e a s a IC m . m rt m R o e e o u d E li n h ro h n Pops le n lo g to It a in a – gra a broke r people here all depress – grandm nd tender now I’m fault I came from It hurts fo e in a cold dark randma a t G r e u e y b e w m th to s t need yo e so your fa It’s no It hurts eat, The nam words I deliver hen they do ot know w n to s g to id in s k r rt th u u se No yo r It h hat to Like the not raise eat, om winte et. ing you w in your face getting b fuse to go swe ver me fr a – grandma It hurts to ave people tell o t c h g u ri o Y d re m e h I ille grand because streets, It hurts to ee people get k randma- of them all G e s th to n est Out o sleep, It hurts The kind r let me fall to go to steal gs ve e nowhere n my feet. n It hurts to op pills ll l a ’l lling dru b u e o Y th o p p s e to ro eople se o d s p r a rt s g e u v m n h m e d u no sh o n It n o l y m a- gra You’l money see us ting our grandm peat I needed in. It hurts to ee us disrespec to eat randmaI can’t re G d s e ta s s s rd u a o to I w it s g kin me so I h t It hurt Your coo hen you said so be hurt hat, I sho im. cks away. dw a Guess w lo e It hurts to b h o e g n 3 u m e re v r la a e I fo h w d ’t s a n p h o id c u yo but d d the The love randma hame an ug What a s ot. o y e v o L sh One got cked in a box ? mistakes lo Now I’m o I blame for my d And who . My pops is cell, ain in th Once ag living hell. ail, a my life’s e guys paid my b th f o e , n No em ed for th but I work them, r . did dirt fo ot hurt for them g ame? ? and even there to blame ’t that a damn sh is ame in o Now wh ps, but myself. A ’t that a damn sh o in p A y . Not m t myself pops, bu Not my

JA I L E T I R REEW

MAGA S T R A

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HARRIET TUBMAN BY MARIELLA D.

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F R E E W R I T E JA I L A R T S M A G A Z I N E

ISSUE 3

LETTERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND POEMS FROM 2008-2009

DEAR MR. OBAMA

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA:

My name is Cheltzie and I am a 14-year old African-American. I am so proud of you that you became President and you let me know I can do what ever I put my mind to. I have watched you ever since you started to run for Senate. You used to live in the Regents Park Buildings and that is where I currently reside. Your campaign promises are very good. I especially hope you let the troops in Iraq go home to their families, and I hope you do cut some of the taxes because I see how my mom is struggling and I don’t want to see myself struggling like my mother. Also the people who are having low income and how poor people who don’t have jobs and places to go. When you won I was crying tears of joy. You are doing a great job so far. At first I didn’t know what it meant for an AfricanAmerican president to be in office. My mom had to sit me down and explain. I was at your victory speech in Grant Park and I was so excited.

My name is Raquel. I am a 16-year-old Hispanic juvenile female that is incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago, Illinois. I lived in Cicero, Illinois. I have been imprisoned five times in the past year, starting on February of 2008. I have served as much as five months in total. I have been incarcerated since January 8, 2009.

I heard from my teacher about your proposal about longer school days and I agree with that decision so much. It will lessen the dropouts. I would like to stay in school more too because my grades have fallen. When I get out of this detention center, I am going straight back to school so I can pick my grades back up. I love school and the fact that I see you want us to get more education is so helpful to us. Thank you.

F R E E W R I T E JA I L A RTS MAG A Z I N E

ISSUE 3

LETTERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND POEMS FROM 2008-2009

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BY DAVID A.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, I am a young lady who lives in Cicero, Illinois. I am currently locked up in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. I want a change in our community— a change that no other president has made for us. I want enough work for everybody who needs it, like young people who go to school and have to pay for our classes, or need to help our families pay rent. The other change is about school safety. People are dropping out of school because of gangs, or because they need to work. I need work so I can depend on myself, pay for things that I need, and so that I can help my parents. So many people look up to you. Most people didn’t expect you to become President of the United States, but now that you are, everybody is shocked and most are happy. We want a change in the world and you are the change! I’m locked up in Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, but I do want to change, so that I can have a better life. But nobody understands, only God, because he knows we are not the bad kids that most people think we are. We are locked up in this place, but I know we can make it better and prove that we can make it through.

I want you to tell me how to start off on bottom and make it to the top. I need advice, because I want to be important like you did in history. Maybe I could be the first African-American female president. You have made it so clear all over the whole wide world that it is possible to be what ever you want to be. Thank you for being an excellent role model. Please write me back. Happily,

The law states that we are innocent until proven guilty, but does it really happen that way? I don’t think it does. In practice, it seems more like guilty until proven innocent. The police cruise around all areas of Chicago, and just because people are standing on a certain place or look a certain way, they get suspicious and they stop you and say they have probable cause. Many police officers take advantage of people when they do not know their rights. Many children, like myself, come everyday into this facility because of warrants, batteries, and many other situations. But many of the children do not commit the crimes they are charged with. They spend years at a time incarcerated just so they can later be found innocent. So they just spent half or more of their lives in a place they shouldn’t have. People in power need to understand our situations and not just make assumptions about every child that gets locked up. Instead of locking us up, give us a chance to know what we’ve done wrong. Give us a chance to explain. Give us a chance at life. I have longed for the day that we, as children, don’t get automatically judged as juvenile delinquents or criminals, because we’re not. We are all normal children and teenagers that make big mistakes, and we’re trying to learn from them. It has been really hard for most of us in here, especially the ones that have been here more than half a year, or who have been locked up several times. We yearn for the chance to go home just for one day, to see our loved ones at least once more, to get to hold them, hug them, and for them to tell us that everything will be all right. All I can say on my own behalf is that even though I’ve gone through so much in these 16 years of my life, this too shall pass! I will not give up my hopes and dreams. I will move on. This part of my life is just a learning experience. So I will learn and succeed.

CHELTZIE J. Sincerely,

RAQUEL R.

MARIELLA D.

FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program Care of Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church 126 E. Chestnut Street Chicago, Illinois, 60611.2014

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, I have always wished for a different life style, but it has always been impossible. Well, I thought it was! No one positive was ever in my life, and no one was ever there to bring me up when I was down, way down. At a point, I hit rock bottom. It all started at the age of 12, when I was growing up with friends and family who were in gangs and doing drugs. It was hard to stay away from it. I lived in a horror movie. At that time I met my first boyfriend. I know I was young, but I was too hard headed to realize my mistakes. He taught me how to deal drugs, and introduced me to my first hit of marijuana. It all seemed normal for me, because every one around me was doing it. He got me involved in stuff that wasn’t fit for a 12-year old. I cried many tears in the past, and I still I’m struggling in pain. I’m now 16-years old, and I have been through a lot! I had a best friend who I loved very much. She was my inspiration. She was the only person who I trusted, and cared for deeply. Her father was in a gang, and her mother was a drug addict. She cried every day and night. It was an out of control rainstorm. It broke my heart to see her in pain. Last year she was shot in the head. It was devastating for me. It was the worst day of my life. I asked why, why was she taken from me? She was my best friend, my other half. I loved her like she was my only sister. She suffered a lot. She didn’t deserve to get killed the way she did. It wasn’t even her fault. She was walking to the store when someone who knew her cousin shot her, because her cousin owed him money for drugs. That was it. My whole heart was broken. I felt like I had no reason to live. But I had to live to change my ways.

BY MICHAEL C.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA, My name is Martha. I am incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. I would like to say congratulations on your success on becoming our first black president. You gave us hope, and I am speaking for the ones who are unable to let you know this for themselves. Even though I am incarcerated, you showed me that I should keep my head up no matter what the predicament is.

The FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program at the Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School provides individual instruction in print literacy, as well as daily writing and arts workshops for the more than 400 youth in detention at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC). To us, life is a story. The skills our students acquire through the study, critique and creation of poetry and fiction help them to make meaning of their own stories, and to connect with the stories of others. Your tax-deductible donation supports arts programming for youth in detention. Donate online at www.freewritejailarts.org OR MAIL CHECKS TO: FreeWrite Jail Arts and Literacy Program Care of Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church 126 E. Chestnut Street Chicago, Illinois, 60611.2014

I decided to write you because I am labeled as an automatic transfer, better known around here as an “A.T.” This means that I have been charged as an adult. Being labeled as an adult is not easy, but I try my best to keep myself and my family motivated at all times. Even though I’m locked up, I still have a lot of responsibilities to maintain, just like you do with your family and taking care of the whole world. The reason for this letter is to touch base with you about the adult charges that young teens are being given. At the age of 15 or older, you will be labeled an adult with no hesitation. Do you think that’s right? I don’t. We are all human beings, and we do make mistakes. I feel that at the beginning of a case you should be labeled by your age status. Then, later on down the line, if you get charged with an adult case, it will happen.

Some children are stuck because the people they were with at that moment did not inform them of the situation that was going to occur. Sometimes a young person who doesn’t want any part of the event is still stuck, due to the fact that they have no other way back home or out of the area. The point that I’m trying to make is that charging a minor as an adult has to be the craziest thing that a person can do. If that person’s child was being charged an adult, the tables would have to turn, but since it’s not their family member, it’s no problem. President Obama, the only way for you to understand where I’m coming from is if you take time to out of your busy schedule and come to talk to a couple of us who have been charged as adults. Hopefully in the future, after I get out of jail, we can sit and have a full hour or two, just to talk about the things that the everyday children would like to tell you.

Everyday innocent people die. It is sad and unnecessary. I learned from my mistakes. I’m not going to make the decisions I’ve made in the past anymore. They are not getting me anywhere. I am going to make my own decisions and get on the road to happiness. But still I see the pain and struggle out in the streets. Why do we do what do? I’m here to tell you the truth from my experience. We do what we do to make it out in these hard streets to survive the life. I have been making money through others’ addiction. It is sad but true. To make it out in this human eating world we hurt others. I realized that I have hurt my family, and friends deeply to support myself, and my habits. Everyday I pray to god for my survival, and strength. I pray for my protection. Because any day can be mine to pass by. Any day I can die or get killed. I want to die knowing I did something positive in life. I want to die knowing I was successful, and not a failure. Sincerely,

JAKIRA C.

I hope that you will visit us and see where I’m coming from. Sincerely,

MARTHA J.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA,

HARRIET TUBMAN BY MARIELLA D.

How are you doing? I hope and pray you are doing fine. I just wanted to write you to advise you of all the things that are going on in my community. My name is Kahdijah, and right now, I am in Chicago, at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. President Obama, I have been through things and have seen things a teenage girl is not supposed to have seen at all. I saw these things nowhere else in the United States but in my own community.

Designed by LIZTAPPDESIGN.COM We gratefully acknowledge the support and guidance of our Principal, Mrs. Whaley-Anobah, and the entire faculty at Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School. Additional thanks to the County Staff, without whom our work would not be possible. As always, thank you to Chicago Lights and our amazing Advisory Board: Luis Rodriguez, Lisa Lee, Carl Bell, Susan Klonsky, William Ayers, Cheryl Graves, Margaret Hughes and Avery R. Young.

Violence is nothing like what you see in the movies. I have seen two of my family members (both male) die in front of me. In early December of 2008, one of my brothers was shot, and he died. In the same incident, my other brother was shot in the head. Now he is paralyzed for the rest of his life.

This publication is made possible through the generous support of the Woods Fund of Chicago, with additional support from the Illinois Humanities Council and the Charles E. Marks Jr. Trust. Thank you for expanding the opportunities for young writers in detention.

There are a lot of things going on in this world that I wish you could change. Since you are the president now, I know you will be able to change the conditions of my neighborhood for good or bad. Mr. Obama, I would like for you to change how poor the Chicago public school system is, and how poor the jail system is. I would like for you to build more Boys and Girls Clubs. I would also like for you to make it easier for teenagers to be able to get jobs all year round. I would like for guns to be banned from all citizens, young and old who do not work with guns such as police officers, sheriffs, etc.

FREEWRITE JAIL ARTS AND LITERACY PROGRAM

Amanda Klonsky and Ryan Keesling SINCERELY,

Mr. Obama, if you changed some of these things in my community, then I do not think there would be close to 500 kids locked up or dead. These changes will help grown people too. Mr. Obama, please take what I just said into consideration. I really want my community and the people in it to be better than what we are now. Please President Obama, if you change what’s going on in the community it will change many peoples’ lives for the good. I just want to thank you and I appreciate you for reading this letter.

The FreeWrite program is part of a much bigger fight for real justice for our young people. We hope you agree that these voices are well worth hearing. As always, your support and your suggestions are deeply appreciated. Thank you. At FreeWrite, we see literacy education as key to participation in a democratic society. Literacy is not only increasing the reading and writing abilities of our students, it also expands their sense of self-efficacy, citizenship and responsibility for themselves, their families, and their world. Through increased literacy, written self-expression, exposure to and study of the performing, visual and literary arts, our project seeks to reduce recidivism and help our students find meaningful pathways to self-expression and to further education.

Yours very truly,

BY HUMBERTO G.

KAHDIJAH T.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA

This issue of the FreeWrite Zine is full of hope for change. Our students have written letters to President Obama, joining the chorus of those who seek a more just society. Through their letters and poems, our students include themselves in the conversations about the policies and practices that impact their lives-- from the conditions they face in detention, in their schools, or and on the streets of their neighborhoods. Our students’ letters are filled with an urgent cry for change.

DEAR FRIENDS OF FREEWRITE,

My name is Paige, and I am 16-years old at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC). I need your help and encouragement. I think that young people are sent to CCJTDC too often. We make mistakes, but some petty little things shouldn’t send kids like us, who really need an education, to jail. I know that some children have problems and make the wrong decisions and then get charged with adult crimes, and get sent to the Department of Corrections (DOC.) I think it is wrong to charge children as adults. I hope that you will come visit the CCJTDC and tell them that they should not send us away from our families for a long time over stupid mistakes. You also are a role model to me because you are the person that will change the world and make it better for African Americans. When you became the first African American president, I was incredibly shocked. After that, I knew I had to try to change my life. I knew if we got a new president and he was going to change the world, I wanted to change my world and my life around too. Sometimes things come up, and you just do what you’ve got to do in order to make it right. Something came up and you just had to run for president. I guess that’s how it really works in this matter for both of us, even though you are a president and I’m supposedly a criminal because I am locked up. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my letter. I do appreciate that you are busy, being the 44th president of the United States. I hope that you will visit the CCJTDC one day, to change our world and make it better for everybody. Please stop all of the violence that is happening around Chicago for the safety of young people like myself. Too many of us kids are dying too soon and not living a normal life like we are supposed to. Good luck with being the President of the United States and be safe with your family. Sincerely,

PAIGE M. BY OMAR M.

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FreeWrite Zine 3