Illustration of a sad person's face lying sideways with rain drops coming down. (Photo: Ken Tackett/

PONGO POETRY: Pain Is Full Circle

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 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 in youth coping with mental and emotional turmoil, register for Pongo Poetry Night, its upcoming event at Third Place Books Ravenna


by a young person, age 17

I want you to know what it’s like
when a person is in jail
A lot of people not around anymore
Nowhere to be found
Not answering their phones
Seeing people’s true colors
Bad, negative

I want you to understand my pain
when I see the hurt I’ve caused
I feel worse about that than what I actually did
It’s deep inside
It feels bad
Consequences come all the way back around
from what I did
then getting locked up
which hurt my mom
Pain is full circle

I want you to know how I express myself
My actions are like my worst enemy
He’s thoughtless
He doesn’t reflect my true values
He comes around when I’m bored
He’s the opposite of what I like to think of myself as
And who I want to be
If I could tell him something
I’d say Stay away
and don’t come back

I want you to know what I am capable of
My strength is like my best friend
He’s caring and kind
He puts others before himself
I want you to know my heart

Dedicated to my mom


by a young person, age undisclosed

I’m tired of seeing us Black kids getting locked up
We in them cells. Judge saying we’re a danger
to the community. God knows
we been tryin’ to change
but this life keep comin’ to us
My auntie says I’m gonna be the next MLK
I believe that. I’m tryin’ to have my people
know our history
We come from slavery —
people whipping us in the back
for reading a book
They just mad because we’re learning
We’re smarter than them. They hate us for that

The prosecutor want to see us locked up
They came for blood, but I don’t know why
I didn’t do nothin’ to ’em
but I see why they’re fightin’ for it
because that’s their job
But I’m confused why they’re trying
to charge a young Black kid for 20 years to life
but if it was a white kid
they probably would have gave him a year
or probation

I want them to know our history
Black kids getting killed by other Black kids
because they don’t like them
but if we were working together
we’d have the strength
to fight back


by a young person, age 17

I feel it in so many different ways,
from the heart to the brain,
and every other place you can think of.
I feel pain as I sleep, in my chest as I breathe
distancing me from reality.
My pain has rubbed off on my family.
Even if I don’t show it,
pain took over me.

Pain —
it doesn’t stop.
So don’t think that it will.
I learned that the hard way —
nothing can heal me, so
I started popping them pills.
It’s the real deal.
My pain could kill.
Even if I don’t show it,
pain is all I feel.

After a while, I turned my pain to strength.
To me that meant poppin’ off
or working out every day.
It gave me courage.
It probably made me worse.
It made me not give a fuck,

but pain did that first.

Dedicated to the streets

📸 Featured Image: Illustration via Ken Tackett/

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