The Youth Equation

Justin Monson



Prison has become a place for the youth,
the youth in body, the youth in mind.
Respect has so many meanings
is so watered down that it is no longer a word,
only letters carefully etched as prison tats
into forearms, necks, hands.

I prepare for my class in late October
as the ground freezes over in the chill of an early Michigan winter.
Into the cube comes the whiskered face
of a kid with not enough questions
and too much time to ask them. Brandon is his name.
He carries with him the load of a scared teenage outlaw.


For a few days I watch him
gauging his movements, taking note of the unspoken.
He is alone in this world, or so he wants me to think.
He dares me with a glare, sees me as an authority
figure. Not as a reminder of the youth he’s now solving.
Brandon listens to his music loudly, speaks in slang
that reminds me of high-school. How we spoke
was how we navigated the hallways, how we coded
our thoughts. Our language let the old people know
we were coming; they’ll never understand youth.
Our lives existed in a vacuum where old has always been old,
and we were forever speaking in tongues.


I see heart in Brandon,
in his contempt for guidance he is his own compass
I see my eyes in his stare, my movements,
in his walk, my voice
in his words. We begin to share
shallow conversation about the life
I lived six years ago; the life
he lived six months ago.
I feel the limited space for our cube
become crowded with the weight of a boy
trying to be cool and tough at the same time.
Brandon and I talk, the lines fade
and I can no longer tell who is taking up more space.


I am leading him down an endless road
that he will stumble down whether I am here
or not.
After a few weeks he has gotten comfortable
enough to welcome discomfort, getting in trouble,
everyday. I laugh at the bravado that is more screaming
for mommy than Brandon really knows.
I would tell him how pointless it all really is, if I could
tell him what coming years will slowly make us.
We are becoming rewrites

of the same old story told since slang was invented.
We are becoming used to the overbearing weight
of having infinite questions and understanding we’ll never possess answers.
We are becoming statues
in a hell that is full of laughter.

After we compare our experiences we go
our separate ways and our conversation folds in on itself.
Brandon will not find answers. You cannot take the value of Y away
from a boy who is becoming a man—it doesn’t really exist.



"If I am a writer, allow the modifiers 'prison' or 'prisoner' to evaporate, to drift away with the breeze. If this cannot be done, please do not call me a writer. Thank you."

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