When asked to express himself through music for the first time, a 17-year-old spending seven months in the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility wrote a powerful song about what it felt like to miss his daughter's first steps and other milestones while detained.
I was there the day you came into this world. It was love at first sight.
I told myself that I could do this right.
Seeing you born was the best moment of my life.
When I held you in my arms, I knew that I would have to fight.
I never knew that I would be away for this long.
I can't be crying, so I put these tears up in this song.
I put the pain in the track, put my heart in this rap,
and I promise I'll make it up to you when I get back.
He was one of 24 students from San Diego SOAR Academy's East Mesa site who participated in a six-week program organized by the nonprofit group David's Harp Foundation.
"I never expected to make my own song," he said. However, judging from the reaction of his classmates and the musicians working with him on the track, his first song was a winner.
The experience boosted his confidence and made him think he may be able to start making more music on his own, he said.
Four of the students who participated in the program even got to take a field trip to the David's Harp studio to record their songs.
"The collaboration with David's Harp is more than music production. It is about building a bridge to the community through mentorship and working with the Probation department to make students successful upon their release," said Nathan Head, site administrator for the East Mesa site, which is one of the San Diego County Office of Education's Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS).
The goal of David's Harp Foundation is to inspire, educate, and empower youth who are at-risk and homeless to achieve academic success through music education, sound engineering, and multimedia production.
The program is a way to stoke the students' passions while teaching them career skills, said Damien Hembree, a San Diego SOAR Academy teacher.
"I think it's amazing for them to be able to express themselves," he said. "They used their past experiences to express things that they really care about."
The foundation began working with Juvenile Court and Community Schools last year, serving students at 37ECB and Bayside Community School. Amanda Wallace, JCCS's visual and performing arts technician worked to bring the two organizations together.
There are plans to offer the experience to a second group of students at San Diego SOAR Academy's East Mesa site soon and to give all of the students at the site the chance next year to record music and learn about engineering with the help of a mobile studio.