An illustration of a person holding a multicolored mask over their face


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, join their upcoming training on May 21.


by a young person, age 13

Do you know who I am behind my masks?
My first mask is grey.
I use it when I’m bored,
I’m bored all the time,
It’s my most worn mask.
When I wear it, I feel exhausted –
It’s like when the sun is setting but everyone is headed to bed,
But it’s still morning.

My second mask is blue,
I use it when I’m excited
Like I am for tomorrow
Hopefully I get out
To be honest I don’t even know how long I’ve been here
I think like two months –
You lose track of time in here.
Another reason why you always see me wearing my grey mask.

Do you know who I am behind my masks?
The third mask is green
Because I’m homesick
Home is fun
With my two dogs, Pharoah and Lucky
They’re like my therapeutic friends
Friends that never leave me
I can get mad with them, but I instantly forgive
They’re always there for me
There was this one time where I was upset in my room
It felt like the whole world was on my shoulders
because my dad said he was going to get rid of Lucky
and Lucky knew I was thinking about him and gave me dog hugs
It makes me feel a lot better

My fourth mask is rainbow
This mask resembles who I truly am –
Happy, caring, brave with a dash of smart,
I’m proud of this mask.

The one mistake that locked me in here,
also locked up this mask,
So tomorrow I have the opportunity to free both me and my mask.


by a young person, age 14

Pumping through my body
Exploding up my legs
Expanding through my fingertips
My body glows
With an electric pulse
A grin
Spreads across my face
As I run
The feeling is euphoric
Can this be never-ending?

Chasing the feeling gets rough
My glow dims
I feel like I need a re-charge
Tired, like every inch of me is exhausted
Like I’ve run a 10-mile marathon
Every bone in my body feels like it’s melting

I need to find IT again
When I don’t have IT, I want more
I crave IT like a drug
Every time I get IT,
the more tolerance I build
The crazier things I need to do to chase the feeling

Run away
in a way that lets me feel


by a young person, age 17

I don’t really know how to put it into words
I find myself really unstable as of recently

With less control

You could say,
my life has always been on a teeter totter
and somebody placed a truck on the other end

It shot me up and down like a roller coaster,
as though you sat on the edge of a thin branch
unable to determine if it will break

My anger used to fuel me.
I could use it for inspiration,
for understanding.
Because to know other people’s anger,
you must know your own.
But it’s hard to do when you have so much of it,
Like the weight of the ocean is above you.

They say once you hit rock bottom,
there’s nowhere to go but up.

But I seem to stay stuck going –
Luckily, I’m determined.

📸 Featured Image: Illustration by AlexaStrabuk 譚文曠.

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