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 Clark Children & Family Justice Center (CCFJC), King County’s juvenile detention facility.

Many CCFJC 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 CCFJC staff, Pongo poetry writing offers CCFJC youth a vehicle for self-discovery and creative expression that inspires recovery and healing.

Through this special bimonthly 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. To learn more about Pongo’s work of inspiring healing and relief among youth coping with mental and emotional turmoil, register for Speaking Volumes 2023, its fourth annual fall celebration.


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

I was taught to never trust people.
My brother always said,
Keep your head low
and don’t feed into the Feds.

I wish I was taught to love people.
It’d probably be for the best
but every time I pour my heart out,
they rip it right out of my chest.

I wish someone would talk to me
so I can get out of bed.
Every morning I wake up
I always feel dead.

I never knew how much I loved
my family till I ended up in jail.
The next time I see them
is when I’m out on bail.
Wish I chose a different path
so I could have made my family proud.
I knew the street wasn’t it
when I heard the gunshots get loud.


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,

Editors’ Note: A previous version of this article contained a poem titled “It’s Never What It Seems” that the author requested to be removed. This article was updated on 07/14/2021 with a different poem titled “The Street Wasn’t It.”

Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk.

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