Illustration depicting a diver inside a honey jar, a green ladder rests alongside the honey jar.


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 partner with Pongo in inspiring healing and relief in youth coping with mental and emotional turmoil, register for Speaking Volumes 2022, its fall celebration.


by a young person, age 17

I wish I knew my biological dad
I wish I knew my dad’s side of the family
I wish my path was easier
I wish I knew how to get through life
I wish life was easier
I wish I could remember the talks
my auntie gave me
I wish lessons were easier to learn
I wish I knew how to make good, positive money
I wish living life wasn’t so hard
I wish I knew more about my education
I wish I knew ways to be better
than what I’ve become


by a young person, age 15

Mentally and physically, it feels
like everybody’s trying to lock me up
Put me in the position where I’m feeling stuck
and down on my last string of luck

Feels so long since I felt love
My heart feels like it’s going to rust
So many things I want to do
Felt like I was in a rush

If someone was to tell me
I would be in the position I was in right now
I would tell them they were out of their mind
never realizing all that can change when given time

And state of mind

It took me a while to realize
that the path I was going on
was digging me in a hole
Deeper and deeper
until the dirt surrounded me
Until I became blind

Forced to commit crime after crime
just as a means to survive
That’s just how it’s always been
Because for me,
life hasn’t always been so kind


by a young person, age 17

The first step can be the longest
when you want to go back in time
for a change
Like making amends

The first step can be the most challenging
when you fear death
Death is cold
like the arctic
Stepped in

The first step can be the hardest
when you fight against faith
Like losing somebody or someone
It’s confusing
You’re lost for words

The first step is often the loneliest
when you don’t know if you’re going to make it
through night and day
Lost in the jungle
Trying to find your way

The first step can be an opening
where the possibilities include a change in life
Where you can see the light
It looks like the sunset
over the ocean
at Kalaloch beach

The first step can be an ending
when you think you will lose your mind
and control over self
seeing hurt

The first step can be a thrill
when you experience regaining composure of self
When that happens
I will be home with family
Building a relationship
Laughing, joking around

The first step can be joy
when you celebrate the things that I achieved
and the goals I want in the future
That celebration is happiness
At ease

🎨 Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk 譚文曠.

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