Illustration of a large hand reaching through bars to hold a smaller hand


Pongo Poetry Project’s mission is to engage youth in writing poetry to inspire healing and growth. In the spring of 2022, Pongo began mentoring poetry with young people at the Echo Glen Children’s Center, a juvenile institution for youth serving criminal sentences. Studies of incarcerated youth indicate that up to 70% suffer from a mental health disorder and that many have experienced childhood trauma. The isolation, economic upheaval, and turmoil of the last two years have only exacerbated this issue. Youth at Echo Glen have endured significant mental and emotional challenges in the last two years, including increased rates of depression, anxiety, sleep issues, and behavioral challenges.

Pongo believes there is power in creative expression, and articulating one’s pain to an empathetic audience. Through this special monthly 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 Pongo’s certification pilot program this spring.

Loved Ones

By a young person at the Echo Glen Children’s Center

I love my mama
And my girl
My mom’s always been there for me
Since day one
And she’s always supported me
through ups and downs.

I love my girl because
She always gives me support
And she always lets me stay
At her house when I get kicked out.
She’s chill and she doesn’t argue a lot,
she doesn’t make small things into big things.
She’s respectful.
She’s beautiful,
her eyes and body
And her wavy, curly hair.

When I’m around my mom I feel great.
It makes my day one hundred percent.
I always feel loved and special.

I feel loved by my girl.
I get butterflies in my stomach.
I’ve known her for a year or two,
and we’re about to have a kid too.

I feel nervous about having a kid,
But it’s cool.
I always wanted a kid.
I feel good about it. I feel happy.
I’m gonna love my kid.
We’re gonna name him after me.

Dead Faces

By a young person at the Echo Glen Children’s Center

I got Mexican pride in my soul
Reminiscing on these dead faces got my heart black as coal
Angry that I can’t see them no more
I don’t really feel like there’s a point
I just kinda keep it to myself
I like putting it songs
I see them as like personal
It’s easier to talk about in them than to another person
That’s kinda what the people here do
They’ll report me to mental health
I don’t feel like I need help
There’s nothing really I can do about it
They wouldn’t want me doing all that
The last time I seen him I was 13
He was 17
I spent every day just kicking it with him
He got locked up and then when he got out
I got locked up
The last thing he said to me was “I wanna see you more”
What made me more mad was people were posting about him
But they didn’t really know him and that made me mad
I lost a lot of homies cuz they got locked up
A lot of them got life
I’m the youngest in my circle
Most of them are like 18

I don’t got nobody younger than me

Going Through Adversity

By a young person at the Echo Glen Children’s Center

The way I grew up was with my mom and my step father
I was born in Yakima, WA
After 5 years of living with both my mother and my step father,
my step father and my mother split up
I went to elementary school, I hopped from school to school,
and I never bothered to ask why
I went between 5 schools in a year
Moving from place to place, from nice neighborhoods,
to living in the ghetto where everything is tagged up

When I was ten years old, I was taken by CPS from my mother
I’ve been in foster home to foster home since I was ten years old
I joined gangs, started stealing, following other people
I started knowing the gang life wasn’t for me, because my homies were dying

My dad got out of prison and got custody of me
I didn’t know my dad, I didn’t like my dad,
my mom had told me a lot of negative stuff about him that I thought was really disapproving
He got out of prison, went to police, got custody of me

Since me and him didn’t know each other like that
I didn’t know him
I started running away from his house
I started stealing
I started manipulating him in a disrespectful way
Ever since living with my dad,
I went to coming in and out of juvie,
skipping school, using drugs, stealing, everything you can think of

Until one day I did a crime that changed my whole life
I went to juvie, did a plea deal, did 2 years and a half
I really changed my life around
I care about my people
I care about my community
I’ve been sober 20 months now

What I would have wished for my past
I would have wished I was a straight A student from day one
I wished that my mom never would have gotten hooked on drugs
I wish I never was taken away from my mom
I wish my father never went to prison
I wish I knew the truth
I wish I was loved and taken care of,
instead of being kicked out of the house and being known as a little criminal on the street
I wish someone had thought of me every day
and treated me with the most respect anyone’s had

Even though I would have wished,
I can’t change the past,
even though I went through all that adversity,
I am glad it made me into the person I am now,
I never would have accomplished the impossible

What I want for my children
I would want everything I wish I had when I was little
I’d want them to have a father in their life
I’d want them to have the perfect education, straight A’s,
they wouldn’t go through a lot of adversity,
skip school or do drugs

I wish they’d know right from wrong,
I wish they’d have the skills they need to not get in trouble
I wish that they would be the best kids in the world
and they would get anything they wanted,

They’d just need to ask

📸 Featured Image: Illustration by Alexa Strabuk 譚文曠.

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