This is the second story in Pain of the Prison System, a series proudly presented by Narratively, written by high school students for POPS the Club – a nonprofit dedicated to providing a safe space for high schoolers whose lives have been impacted by incarceration.

I guess I didn’t learn the first time. It’s 11:50 p.m. on Friday night and I’m smashed up in the back of a police car. I got so much racing through my mind because I know I screwed up big-time and now there is nothing I can do.

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I hear the officer talking and laughing while I’m in the back stressing.

“We got another dumbass.”

Then I hear one of them say, “LP” and I immediately feel a stabbing pain in my stomach.

Not LP again.

We pull up to LP and the officer drop me off like they do the rest of the kids. I feel out of place, as if I know I don’t belong there.

Los Padrinos Juvenile County Jail is where my next steps will be taken.

The first thing they make me do is shower. I walk into a stall no bigger than a closet. No room to do anything but rub soap on myself. Cheap soap at that, has no smell.

Once I am done, my body is so dry. Every move I make, I feel as if my skin is going to crack.

I walk down to my hall and I swear I feel every eye pierce into my body from how hard the other inmates are staring at me. About ten kids plunge their face towards the cracks of their doors to peek and try to figure out who I am.

I am booked into Room B; I am alone for now. I never thought I would be making these cold, tiresome, ill-favored beds again. I promised myself I wouldn’t put myself in this situation again, but here I am. You’d think from being handcuffed and booked for robbery once before that I would have learned. I guess it didn’t sink in.

The room is so cold it feels as if the AC has been blowing all day. My light flickers and the broken sink runs only cold water.

I lay there and all I think about is football and my mom. I think that all my hard work to become a great football player is going to be wasted and the only thing I have to fall back on is the streets. The streets will accept me no matter what.

And my mom, I just know she is disappointed. As hard as it is to be a single mother, it’s even harder to know her son is in this predicament. I know she feels as if she failed.

As much as I want to cry, I won’t let myself. So I fall asleep. Throughout my sleep, I feel my body toss and turn in a state of uncomfortable-ness. My body cannot find ease.

After a few hours of trying to sleep, six a.m. dawns on the world. I am finally allowed a phone call. My skin crawls when I hear my cell door open. As I walk towards the phone, every step I take grows louder and louder.

I am scared and I don’t know who to call. I am too afraid to call my mom so I call my girlfriend. Catera knows just what to say, when to say it and how to say it. She’s supportive and would never make me feel bad regardless of my actions.

I dial her number, dreadfully listening to the dial tone. Catera finally answers. Her first words are, “Keino, Oh my God, what did you do this time?”

Before I can speak, she cuts me off and mumbles, “Oh my God, I miss you. I want you to be here with me.”

That makes me sad. I tell her I love her and I will talk to her later.

I have twenty minutes left on the phone. I find the courage to call my mom. She answers and sounds as if she has been crying.

“Keino, you got yourself into something I can’t control. I’m here if you need me.” Her last words are, “I love you.”

Then she just hangs up.

Walking back to my bed, I am zoned out. I feel my body going numb as my heartbeat grows fast and faster.

Back in bed I feel myself start to cry, but before a tear emerges I shut my eyes. Never will I let myself cry, especially not in here.

As I lay there, I realize how much I should cherish football because it could be gone in a snap of a finger. From Pop Warner football to waiting on my chance to move up from Venice High School’s JV to Varsity, I knew I couldn’t let this mistake or any other future mistake deter my dream of becoming one of the NFL’s greatest players.

I need to get myself out and away from this place and from situations similar. I have come to notice that I messed up and the only person that can make this change is me.

I’ve learned this time.

* * *

Keino Mitchell graduated from Venice High School in 2014 with the knowledge that he still had a lot to learn. He continues to learn. 

Alison Rutsch is an artist and educator living in New York.

Stay tuned to Narratively this month for more stories from Pain of the Prison System.