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Marcos Jay Teno

Look In The Mirror


It’s all about how we’re telling the story, we should start at the beginning. I was 9 years old when my mother passed away in 1993. She got shot. It affected me deeply, but I would learn years later how deeply it affected me as time would tell later on in life. At the time it was big because I was what you would call a mama’s boy, I slept in my mom’s room, I always wanted to be under her and around her. Not to have her was devastating. It was like, ok, what next?


My support system after that was kinda shaky, I had my aunt, my mom’s sister, I had my brothers and sisters for a little bit. There was five of us when she passed, but as time went on, after about two years, my brothers and sisters split up, living in different parts of the country, different states, so we were all pretty much split up after about two years. I’m living with different people, my father, different aunts, different friends and family members and technically, I’m not their child, so even if there are kids in the home, I wasn’t necessarily being treated the same because I was the outside, I was the nephew, I was the son’s friend.

Then I was just on my own. After kinda bouncing around for a while, I couldn’t fill that void without having my mom. The key is you need parents. When you 12, 13 years old, you got questions. Even if you don’t know the questions, even if you don’t know you have things you want and need, you need them. Being a father now, I understand that. I understand my son when he says there’s nothing wrong. I know there’s something wrong because he needs just to be pushed a little bit. At that time, I didn’t have that, so for me, it was just shutting down into a shell and then it was like ok, they don’t really care about me anyway, they just want the check that comes from the state every month. So by the time I was 14, I’m in the streets figuring it out myself.


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Marcos Jay Teno

One thing I figured out was the importance of basketball. Basketball for me was kind of a way to stay out of trouble, honestly. That’s the only reason I played. ‘Cause shit, by the time I was 12, I was in and out of juvenile hall and going to camp and different stuff. Basketball was a way for me to stay on track. It was like alright, if you wanna play, only way you can play, your grades gotta be right or you can’t go to jail if you wanna play in the game. For a period of time, basketball was my therapy. It was the only time I felt free when nothing else mattered. I didn’t have to worry about family. I didn’t have to worry about my issues. I didn’t have to worry about where I was sleeping at that night. It didn’t even matter. I was just playing and that was the only time I was able to be free.


Basketball was a slight deterrent.


But from the ages of 12 to 18, I probably spent four of those six years in jail, incarcerated. For me, it was like ok, my junior year, my senior year I was able to pretty much stay out of jail. I think I took a trip to the county once or something, nothing too major, but for the most part I was out of jail. I played good, we won the state championship. I went to Westchester. My cousin was on the team. He ended up going to the NBA two years later after high school. We all had scholarships. I was pretty good, but once again, I never had that push or that guidance to stay committed. Most of the kids on my team, when they left school or after the game, they mom would pick them up, their parents, they have family. For me, it’s like shit, I’m trying to jump in this Jeep I’ve got parked outside around the corner, hoping nobody knows I’m in a stolen car. Or I gotta go get on the bus. So for me, it was a lot different.

Coming to my senior year, I graduated with a 3.2. I’ve never been an idiot or a fool, so that’s why I did well in school. But I had to do a lot of things really to survive. If I was robbing or if I hurt people, it’s because with my limited education and world experiences at 15 or 16, I just repeated the things that I saw and I thought that I was supposed to be doing. This is what guys is doing around me. They selling drugs. They selling weed. They selling crack cocaine. They robbing. This is how they get their money. And it’s a lot of people doing it. I don’t blame nothing on nobody. I take responsibility for everything I’ve done, but at the same time, a lot of the stuff, you hear people say it and you’re like damn, that’s cliche, but it really is sometimes really that simple. There’s nothing more to it. It’s like shit, I needed some money. I seen it in the car, so I broke into the car and took it out the center console. It doesn’t make it right, but it was the reality of the situation.


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Personal photo

I always had a problem with gangs and different stuff so throughout me growing up and banging and doing certain things, those years I was highly active with a lot of activity. So just because I was in school or going to college, that for me wasn’t a deterrent from the streets because I was still part of the streets. I ended up going to jail about 12 days after I graduated from high school and sitting in the county jail fighting an attempted murder case. Ultimately I ended up losing my scholarships. None of the schools were interested once I eventually got out probably eight, nine months later. It was just back to life on the streets. Here I am now, 19, I don’t got nothin, no family, no school, now I’m out of high school. There is no college for me to go to. Now the only thing there for me is what I know best, the streets, which ultimately led me going to prison.


I got a 14 year sentence, I did a little over 13 years and in that time, I grew up. I started to see the world a lot different, I started to see people different. My perspective changed on everything. The greatest thing I tell people, it wasn’t the time, it wasn’t the jail rehabilitation, it wasn’t the fear of doing life, it wasn’t none of those things. It was prison gave me a time to grow up. It gave me a time to learn myself and who I was, what made me tick. Why was I always so angry? Why did I always want to be violent? Why did I always want to take the easy way, which is hustling, doing things. Why can’t you lean on your own understandings and intelligence to be able to create well for yourself? So I could have time to really ask myself these questions and not be afraid to look in the mirror. I think a lot of times in life, most people we would rather not necessarily point the finger, but use excuses opposed to look in the mirror sometimes. It’s really about you and the reflection you’re looking at. Because that’s the only thing really standing in your way to accomplish whatever you want to.


I had to get over that and learn that. I had to get over some of the childhood issues I had. Losing my mom and both of my brothers — ‘cause I lost two brothers too, part of the five kids I spoke on earlier. Dealing with all those things, I realized I could spend my life trying to get revenge for something that I could never attain. You’ll never be able to avenge any death, any friend, you’ll just spend your life chasing your tail.

And that’s where music came in. Music believe it or not was never on my agenda. My oldest brother Onzay, he passed away in 1996, he was in a car accident, it was always his dream to be a rapper. Me, I never tried. I would mess around, freestyle, just clown, just joke, nothing I ever took serious, never been to the studio, nothing. So most of the time I was in prison, I was growing, I was going to school. I ended up getting a business degree while I was incarcerated. That was my focus: I was planning on getting out, starting my own real estate company. Those were my goals. But I literally picked up the pen one day and in my last 20 months, I wrote like 700 songs. I don’t know where it came from. Some people will tell me it comes from when I used to write poetry and I did years ago in prison, but like I said, I picked up the pen again and just started telling my story. Little by little, song after song, it was like I still had more to say, I still had more to say.


Music is very therapeutic because that’s how it started was self-reflection. Music for me just started talking about my life and just talking about what I was going through. It just so happened people liked it, it was like ok, let me hear that one song. Throughout my process, I’ve only been doing music for four years, it started with just me writing and everything was about me. Then I had to learn how to write and tell a story, but not just make it about me, make it inclusive. Make it so that somebody in Germany, they can understand it and feel it. It touched them whether you spoke about losing a grandma or whatever the case may be.


One thing I know is pain is universal, struggle is universal. It has no color lines, it has no divisions. A billionaire could lose his wife to breast cancer. All the money in the world. And someone who struggles and living paycheck to paycheck lose their auntie to breast cancer.

I feel like the masses a lot of time need to hear what I got to say. So I encourage my buddies and a lot of people I know that’s been to prison that’s actually trying to do positive things, these are the people that I try to reach out to because it’s like we have an advantage from our struggle that others don’t have. It could be an adult, we could give them a perspective that they may not know. Just because we come from gang infested areas or we live the life, doesn’t mean that so and so can’t leave the bar one day and come from a good family, a good home and hit somebody because she was drunk. I met people in prison that you would think come from a silver spoon. “I was drunk and I killed a girl, I crashed into this lady and her daughter died,” they tell me. That can happen to anybody. So for me, it’s trying to talk to the masses, especially the youth to try to save them from a lot of the troubles that they may face not hearing the truth about the world. It’s a difference when kids tend to be more receptive to people who can relate to what they’re going through.  


A Caucasian female could walk into South Central and try to tell a group of young Hispanic and Black kids that the world is a certain way when they go outside every day and see something else. Now her intentions are all the greatest in the world, right? You mean well. You want to see them grow and blossom and live a great life, but yet it’s hard to be receptive to things and people that I don’t know and understand who don’t come from where I come from telling me what I can do. Opposed to it’s much more impactful seeing somebody that actually come from where I come from, went through some of the things that I see every day, going through some of the things that I see every day and yet they’re talking to us about it and telling us the truth and the raw and uncut. So that’s how I try to give it to the kids. I don’t make it too graphic, but I like to give it to them raw because life is going to give it to you raw.


When you go in those courtrooms 14, 15 years old, some of those judges don’t give a damn. We’re going to try you as an adult. I’ve watched 16-year-olds, 15-year-olds, get life in prison. I’ve run into guys been in prison since they was 14 and now they 40 never been in life, never been in love, never had kids, nothing.

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A plant my daughter gave me that I keep in my studio.

Marcos Jay Teno

A lot of times, the problems are things that can be prevented. A lot of kids is growing up, they’re angry and going through different things, it’s just gang-banging gives them an outlet. A lot of the violence and the things they see, they think to themselves, “Well, I’m already angry,” and a lot of things built up inside, so it’s already like “Ok, I’m seeing it every day. Now the dude that I play football with, he just got shot, so it’s now I’m already angry, now I already don’t give a damn, now I want to hurt.”


So it’s a cycle of anger and violence opposed to being able to talk to a kid like, “What’s up man, what’s going on?” “Oh man, you don’t understand you don’t get it.” People couldn’t relate to me. I talked to people and they’d be telling me certain things I didn’t want to hear. You ain’t never lost your mama. How you gonna tell me how it’s supposed to feel? You don’t know what it feel like to live in a house and you’re not a biological child so you get treated a different type of way and you don’t eat with everybody else. How are you going to tell me if you ain’t never experienced that? I was that way as a kid, so I know a lot of kids are that way, if you’ve never experienced or it’s hard for them to be receptive. Being a father has enhanced my understanding of what kids respond to.


I love my kids and the older I get, it seem like every day, I understand more and more the importance of just being a father. It’s important to me because I never had my father and being an adult now I understand the things that I was missing. For instance, I watch my son whether he’s working out, whether he’s playing basketball and I’m watching him from a distance and I catch him periodically out of the corner of his eye looking at me to see if I’m watching him. So it’s little things like that. Because there would be times when I was on the court and I would try to show out for somebody but there’s nobody there or look in the crowd, there’s nobody out there for me at a game. So I know how important that is for me to be present and be there whether it’s just watching you practice or watching you shoot around on the court. Or my daughter at her volleyball games. I don’t really care for volleyball much, but I love my baby. She’s my youngest so I’m there every game. Ballerina and dance classes, I’m the only father in there. Those things to me are important. Knowing that you have somebody there that cares for you is important for a kid. It helps them from having emotional issues when they get older knowing man, my dad actually here.

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