Illustration depicting a male-presenting individual in a prison jumpsuit with a chain around his leg attached to an 8 ball. The individual is mopping up blood on a chalk outline of a body.

PONGO POETRY: Streets Come With That

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 never realized the streets come
with all these feelings
till I was in my cell thinking
about what the judge said after the sentence
not knowing which of my brothers
turned into a witness.
I never went into the streets for attention,
just trying to take me and my mama out the trenches.
But I keep going to jail.
Can’t help it because people keep switching.
Tryna to do good but charges keep popping up
because people keep snitching.
It’s like a double-edged sword
’cause every time I go to jail
it’s like an intervention
to get away from these streets
that feel like hell but they get so cold though.
All these dead brothers —
I cry every time I see each one’s photo.
I’m trying to grow.
I’m trying to stay on my 7-4.*
I can’t fold. Can’t let them see me crumble.
It’s like every time I f*ck up,
the whole team fumbles.

Got to march through these units
and always stand tall.
Especially in my cell,
staring at these 4×4 cell walls.
Dealin’ with all these suckas
in these halls.
But they wouldn’t try me though,
they don’t got the balls.
I’m just tryin’ to make it out,
but this system’s so flawed.
It wouldn’t be a fight at all
if these lawyers did their job
like when that police got off
when they outlined my brother in chalk.
And it’s like I can’t even go out to walk
without being scared
that I’m the next one to get shot.
It’s crazy to think
after all my ancestors fought,
this is all we got.
Tryin’ to get money
to get my peoples off the block
but I just keep getting sent
to jail to rot.

With all these Black mans sent upstate,
it’s like its slavery
they’re trying to recreate.
Put in the institutionalized mind state
that stem
from all this hate.

They say “dead or jail is my fate,”
but I don’t know how it’s so hard
for them to contemplate
that this is the only way
to put food
on my plate.

*Growth and development

Dedicated to Tukwila


by a young person, age 17

I was 9
when I came to realize that my mom
was stuck in that system
and that didn’t feel right.

This lifestyle is hectic
with this gun on my side. Praying to God,
but we’re living to die.
I’m from that city
where your own homie can take your life.
Stressed out. Got my back against the wall.
I got siblings, but I still feel like a lonely child
when I think about the lonely nights.
All the stuff we did was wild.

Sitting in juvenile
at 17
thinking about my child. Holding
my son made me smile.

Dedicated to my mother


by a young person, age 15

Anger is a natural reaction
Anger is a part of the body
Anger is a part of our soul

Angry because I don’t like that something is not working
Angry because there is damage in my life that is unable to be repaired
Angry because of the trauma I have in my life

Maybe anger won’t always solve my day-to-day issues
Maybe there is a new day for me when anger is out of the way
Maybe anger will one day stop coming around my soul

Dedicated to society

🎨 Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk 譚文曠.

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