A stylized illustration of a barbershop pole, with the stripes becoming hands and reaching for one another.

PONGO POETRY: Changing Life For the Better

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, join the Pongo Poetry Circle today!


by a young person, age 17

Today I am a good person—mature
I like helping people
Putting myself in their shoes
I feel like a leader, not a follower
In the past I needed help
Now I can help. I’m still learning 

Yesterday I was a bad person
Not listening, rebelling 
I was learning new things
Bad things
Joining a gang 
On the street I am a big homie
They look up to me
and want the respect I got
They know I care about them
even though I taught them bad things
But I teach them good things too

In my room I am dreaming
about the future
where I’m a good person in the community 
I make my mom proud 
Have a family 

To my mom I am a good kid
who made a bad decision 
and ended up here

To my dad I am a bad kid 
who made a bad decision
because of him

I don’t know what my friends think I am 
so I asked
My friends think I am 
like family 

I am figuring me out


by a young person, age 16 

You gotta work on yourself first
like working on school and reading books.

Go to college, maybe become
a real estate agent 
or a barber, go to barber school.

I like cutting people’s hair
You sit there and do what they want to do
and get paid.
It feels good, like I accomplished something.
I do what they want, 
they trust me, they’re real friends. 

I’ll get my own barber shop 
in the Central District.
It’s gone cost a lot, four or five chairs.
Then I’ll get a real estate license, sell houses.
Take over my Dad’s business
taking out chimneys,
make some extra money.
Find me a little wife to settle down with.
Get an apartment first
then once we have kids get a house.

To change your life for the better
You gotta work on yourself first.


by a young person, age 15 

I am feeling better today
I am getting out on Thursday
I feel happy and excited
Like when my mom got custody of me
I felt happy then too

The next day I had to go to jail
because there were warrants out on me
and the cops were waiting for me
and I got hella depressed
‘cause as soon as I finished Court, they were waiting
I had to go
I was happy, and then BAM
My mind just went blank

I am looking forward 
to getting a haircut first thing when I get out.
I am looking forward to Mom cooking
seafood — shrimp and lobster
She adds a bunch of vegetables
that add flavor and she cooks it on the grill
All of the seafood she cooks is my favorite

Things are going to be different when I get out
I am willing to change
Just be a kid again
Growing up too fast

📸 Featured Image: Illustration by Alexa Strabuck.

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