Illustration by Alexa Strabuk: three small figures hold a large key, carrying it toward a key hole on the business end of a gavel.

PONGO POETRY: All True Story, No Lies

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

Group homes and detention had me institutionalized 
so my behaviors are the reasons of me being traumatized 
The way I act towards people 
the way I take situations 
The way I believe a lot of stuff is lies 
It’s hard to trust 
in my relationships with people
Me not having trust and not wanting to get hurt
has me break trust first
so I don’t get hurt first 
Ends up making the situation worse

When I get out 
there’s unknowns 
People don’t understand me 
The state doesn’t care about me 
I’m placed with my brother – but he’s homeless
Being out 
is me and my girlfriend in survival mode 

She’s smart and really caring 
The first time we met, 
we were lying down on the baseball field
looking at the sky for hours
not even having to talk 
Happy just being around one another 

Throughout all this shit 
Through these traumatizing things
it changed between her and I 
and all I can ask is why

Still, she never left from my side 
When I got shot
My recovery
When my dad died 
All the cases I caught this year

Taking care of one another 
If there is one thing I could tell her
it would be
After I do these 15 to 36 
I’m going to make sure we’re straight 
Not dreaming big
Expecting the worst, pray for the best
Get a job and an apartment 
Get emancipated
Focus on us


by a young person, age 18

My hate surprises me
when someone matches it

My hate is like a tornado
It sucks everything up and spits it up
and then everything turns out to be a disaster

My hate is so predictable
when there is an enemy in sight

My hate goes deep
when I have a bad day

My hate realizes the pain I have gone through
It gives me wisdom to learn forgiveness


by a young person, age 16

I have not forgiven myself 
for the things I’ve done and said. 

I have forgiven my past for leading 
me through each journey. 

I have my thoughts and emotions 
in my heart so I don’t get hurt.

Last time I was hurting, 
I was on the curb holding my dead homie.
I know the truth sucks
but you always got to get up.

I know it wasn’t your first,
but it was another loss—
something on your mind
you can’t get off.

I will forgive because I deserve true love
and will get it changing myself.
I will change my thoughts, 
my voice, and my actions.

📸 Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk.

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