Illustration depicting a female-presenting youth crying as raw butchered meat hangs behind her. In the background, a yellowed and brown war zone appears to be taking place with smoke billowing up to the sky.

PONGO POETRY: It Used to Be Different

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 17

It used to be different
because we used to drive around town
till midnight.
But when you passed away,
it was hard to see you go.

In some ways, it’s the same
because we still drive around town
It’s not the same
without you.

Here’s how I want it to change:
I want to hear the car’s being loud—
speeding all the time,
drifting corners. Just so
you can see
from heaven.

Dedicated to family and friends


By a young person, age 16

If my fist could speak, it would tell you all the fights 
that I’ve been through and the things I’ve shot. 
Fights over people trying to take my dignity. 
Dignity is big for me and my culture. 
Dignity is like a jewel that I put in my heart.

If my feet could speak, they would tell you
how many times I’ve walked to hell and back,
all the times that I ran away, hoping to chase a better life,
but ending up back in hell.
Hell is like the slaughterhouse
where people get their soul snatched
and where I can’t be successful in the way I want
like being a superhero who can stop all
world hunger and fights and war.

If my eyes could speak, they would tell you about what I’ve seen
in my life. My eyes feel glossy and hurt from what I’ve seen
like a hurricane is blowing and tearing things apart
and I see fear.
Fear of losing my loved ones.
I’ve already lost a lot
and that’s my biggest fear—
losing another one
like it would make me
even more miserable.

If my pounding heart could speak, it would say how fast it’s racing
as fast as a jet plane headed towards war
and I need paradise. I need it.
I never had a childhood.
Ever since I was little, it’s just been
war, war, war.

My heart is pumping fast to the promise land—
heaven where my loved ones are
but I just need you
to walk me through it.


By a young person, age 15

TJ was a stuffed animal gorilla that was privileged
I gave him a good life
He used to wear earrings in his ear
He had chains, a colorful Louis Vuitton onesie
and a blue bandana

I got him from school
I would take him everywhere
Wherever me and my mom would go
Clubs, kickbacks, the clinic
by CenturyLink, where the toy area was

I probably used to talk to TJ about the females
6 and 7 years old, the ladies flocked to me
to mess with the cute little gorilla
I knew I could use him to my advantage
This girl I had a crush on
came straight to me
Asked me his name
Why is he wearing a bandana?
Because he was a baby Crip

When I wanted to be a creator
TJ was there
He helped me reach my goal
Knowing how to talk to females

We were in the car this one night
I was hella annoyed because I wanted to go to McDonald’s
Didn’t even want to talk to them anymore, my mom
or my uncle

At the drive-through
I can’t even order a meal
because there’s bullets coming into the car
My uncle tells me to crouch down in the back of our Cadillac

Bullets coming through the glass
Everybody screaming
For a long-ass two minutes
I think I’m going to die
But I don’t even care
because at least I got TJ with me
I was saying goodbye to him
I had my hand on his foot
Thinking OK, it’s going down
My uncle hops out the car, checking on me
I didn’t know why this dude’s trippin’

I found out later, he got shot 6 times
My mom got shot 3 times

After a while I look at TJ
There’s a whole bunch of white shit everywhere

They must’ve reached in and grabbed his chain
There was a burn hole on TJ
His ass died
Rest in peace young Crip

🎨 Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk 譚文曠.

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