Illustration of a machine pulling robots off a conveyer belt with one robot seated happily reading a book.


Pongo Poetry Project’s mission is to engage youth in writing poetry to inspire healing and growth. For over 20 years, Pongo has mentored poetry with youth at the Children & Family Justice Center (CFJC), King County’s juvenile detention facility. Many CFJC residents are youth of color who have endured traumatic experiences in the form of abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence. These incidents have been caused and exacerbated by community disinvestment, systemic racism, and other forms of institutional oppression. In collaboration with CFJC staff, Pongo poetry writing offers CFJC youth a vehicle for self-discovery and creative expression that inspires recovery and healing. Through this special monthly column in partnership with the South Seattle Emerald, Pongo invites readers to bear witness to the pain, resilience, and creative capacity of youth whose voices and perspectives are too often relegated to the periphery. For an opportunity to learn Pongo’s trauma-informed techniques for facilitating personal, healing poetry in your classroom, therapeutic practice, or community space, join their training on May 22.


by a young person, age 16

I hope
the end of every year
will be followed by a good new year.

I hope
the weakest dog will find a big juicy bone.

I hope
the fiercest storms
will only cause goodness.

I hope
every empty room
will eventually have someone to live in it.

I hope
gunfire in the distance
is just fireworks.

I hope
when life passes that my kids are doing good.

I hope
the angriest person in me
will learn not everything is worth getting mad at.

I hope
the loneliest person in me will discover love.

I hope
the most lighthearted person in me will forgive.

I hope
my life goes 180.

I hope I get out.


by a young person, age 17

It’s never what it seems
Life — it’s like an empty dream
Your friends become enemies
colors is all they see

On the same side
we took the same ride
What we had is hard to find
but I’ve left that all behind

We were in elementary
throwing rocks at the penitentiary
What you’ve done was like blasphemy
Shoulda known you’d switch up on me

Now I walk the streets alone
with a bandana to my left
True to the barrio
they truly put me to the test
As I hold this 45 chrome
I’m gonna put you fools to bed

It’s never what it seems
Life — it’s like an empty dream
You think that you’re in charge
A Mister Know-It-All
Little did you know
that life is never what it seems


by a young person, age 17

I used to look for a toy like me, a toy with brown skin—
a Native American and African American with long hair.

The absence made me wonder
if he were real would he go through
the same thing I go through?
If he’s been through what I’ve been through
would he take it lightly or harshly?

I used to look for a toy like me,
hoping for an image of myself to hold—
a toy that a friend would need with an open ear
and walk down the long road with me
and explore the world and try different foods.
But all the toys I found seemed like they were made
for kids that don’t know much in life
like knowledge, corruption, integrity, and responsibility.

Looking and not finding, I felt I’m all alone
which made me isolate myself from others.
Sometimes I blamed my actions because my emotions
were too hard to bear.

Because I couldn’t find a toy like me,
I learned how not to depend on others
and work things out myself.
Learned how to pat myself on the back
when nobody else would.

Now that I’m older I understand that life was full of mistakes.
I have to work hard to get what I want because I know
I’m a very intelligent,

Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk.

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