Our Voices > Walk in Our Shoes

Writing Sets Me Free!

May 12, 2024

The perspective of

Da'Quan Nelson

Incarcerated at

FCI Butner II
in North Carolina

Year incarcerated


Home State


Editor’s note: When More Than Our Crimes wanted to try to motivate our network members from Washington, DC, to vote despite their disengagement from the political system, we turned to Da’Quan Nelson. A talented “urban writer,” he knows how to weave stories using the language to which his peers will relate. You can read the book that contains his story, “Martyr for Change,” on Amazon.

My name is Da’Quan Nelson. I’m 49 years of age, and was born in Okinawa, Japan, to an African American mother and a Japanese father. I came to D.C. at the age 5. It was then that my story first took a dramatic turn. My parents basically tried to drown me in a tub of 200-degree water. I was severely burned, and I still have the scars (plus impaired vision). I survived by the grace of God! 

I ended up in the foster care system at age 6, then was adopted by the Nelsons when I was 9. 

I grew up in the northwest Petworth area of D.C., going to numerous places before graduating from Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I got heavy into the streets. When I ended up getting shot, my father gave me a choice: work for him or find something constructive to do. I ended up joining the Navy. where I stayed for 12 years – four as a computer systems specialist and eight in combat. After that, I was ready to come out!

Unfortunately, I kept some bad company after that, and I ended up with a 15-year prison sentence. Now, the system has given me a label I’ll have for life, Still, the people who really know me, see beyond that. 

Fortunately, despite the barriers of my childhood, I discovered poetry at the age of 9, after being rejected by a school crush. I didn’t really have anyone to talk to, so I talked to “the paper.” It listened, no matter what. It didn’t judge. It was always there. It started as an outlet for my emotions, but over time became part of who I am. 

It wasn’t until about 10 years ago, however, that I started writing short stories. I love the endless possibilities it creates. Whether it’s two lost souls searching for love or the story of a boy trying to find his place in the world, it’s the one thing that no one can take from me! Turns out, I’m good at it! Lol!

I am very close to the end of a 15-year sentence in the federal Bureau of Prisons. I am, to put it broadly, guilty of poor decision-making, which I’m sure most people share at some point in their lives. But I will not allow it to define, dictate, direct or destroy me. I will take a negative and turn it into a positive.

When I walk out of these doors, I hope and plan to do good things: Help beginning writers hone their craft.  Lobby for prison reform and better reentry resources. Talk to at-risk youth about constructive decision-making. And, oh yeah! Publish many books.

The man who was forced into these doors is not the same man walking out! I can show you better than I can tell you. And that is just what I plan to do!

I’m Mad!

More ventin’; I’m mad!
Cuz I’m surrounded by negativity,
am I sposed to be negative?
Cuz I’m tired of my circumstances
am I sposed to take a sedative?

I’m tired of goin’ thru the bullshit
So should I end this shit? 
I’d be lyin’ to myself if I said
it wasn’t drivin’ me crazy.

Cold meals, sposed to be hot.
Hot meals, sposed to be cold.
I’m tired of holdin’ this in.
This story must be told.

The staff is a joke.
About us, they couldn’t care less.
To them we’re a burden,
a muthafuckin’ pest.

Dudes claim that they men
but walk around wit their ass out.
They don’t see the hawks lurkin’
to get a chance to blow their ass out.
This niggah don’t like that niggah
so those niggahs fight.
Then they lock us all down
for no less than six nights.

I’m in a 6×9 closet
with a built-in toilet.
My cellie gotta take a shit
and I try to ignore it.
The medical department is a joke.
Behind closed doors, at us they’re laughin’.
Your eyeball’s hangin’ out;
they tell you, Go buy some aspirin!

I have a woman,
but I know she’s at her wit’s end.
Everyday I wonder
if she’ll say, today this shit ends.

Yes I’m ventin’! Why? Cuz I’m mad.
Please know what I speak is true.
And heed these words,
cuz I know you had no clue.
I’m out!

Real Life. Not Fiction!

I am the voice of the oppressed,
so listen to me clearly,
cuz I will not stop
til everybody hears me.

They put the foot on our necks
to try to stop us from breathin’.
We haven’t done shit
but they don’t need a reason.

Within these walls
it doesn’t matter what your race is.
It’s a card game
and they’re holdin’ all the aces.

They lock us down for weeks
for the actions of another.
A thin-ass mattress
and a sheet for a cover.

They don’t care about our lives.
They throw us in the fire.
Four-point restraints:
Hopin’ that we expire.

The truly sad part is,
we’re worried bout the next man.
He’s not liked for whatever reason
So we’re ready to throw hands.*

Within these walls,
we’re defined by our charge.
Fuck if you’re a good guy
They don’t care who you really are.
Some people are targeted;
the oppressors have their picks.
Meaning, they know who to fuck
and who not to fuck with.

This is not a nice place,
but some in here love it.
I can only speak for me,
and imma rise above it

I have a purpose
and even a greater goal.
I refuse to get comfortable.
I refuse to sell my soul.
I will make it out
and leave this in my rear view.
I’m lettin’ it be known
that I will never fear you! Whoever!

Imma a muthafuckin’ man
and I passed all your tests.
the voice of the oppressed!

 Da’Quan ‘Poet’ Nelson

*Come to blows

email icon
Don’t miss our latest articles, advocacy news and more.
podcast icon
Hear directly from our experts on our podcast.