An illustration of two faces of the same person, the face on the left with blank eyes and conveying pain, the one on the right looking at the viewer with a calm demeanor


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.

Where I Am

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

Locked up in my cell
That’s my life right now
Been here for about a month and a half
Got a 6–8-month sentence
Which is baby time to me
I live my life for the moment
I don’t live a month ahead,
week ahead,
day ahead
I only live for the present, like right now
People see me as criminal and label me as someone who’s a delinquent,
who won’t change.

That’s why there’s nothing better for them to do but throw me in a cell
For me life’s more than just being in a cell
Its learning from your mistakes and not making them again
so you don’t come back to where I am right now

It’s about my family
My kid is due in 3 weeks
and making sure when I’m released back into society
that I can be a father figure to my kid

My goal is to be a father for my kid
because growin’ up with no father,
I ain’t had a lot
so what I’m trying to say is
I’m going to break the cycle
and be there for my kid no matter what life throws at me

Where I Come From

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

I’m from a street where there’s violence
And shootings.
There’s always a problem with.
There’s a lot of different hoods
At one street.

I’m from faith in respect,
Never back down from anybody,
And God,
And always taking care of your family.

I’m from a long line of people who
They construct,
take care of people,
Some of them gangbang,
Always in the system,
always locked up.

I’m from confusion about getting back together in a respectful manner.

I’m from laughter over
Things in the past, drama,
Different people we don’t like.
My Tio was drunk
And he told my cousin to plug in the PS3
and he was confused because
He thought it was a real game.
So we laughed about that.

I come from a good, caring family.
I come from the projects
where we don’t have that much money.

I’m from love, and I know that because
My mom is always there for me,
She calls me almost every day
to tell me how much she loves me
And that she’s proud of me
And that she’ll always be there for me.

I’m from fear, especially when I think about the things I’ve done.
How many people got hurt,
And people that I can’t trust.

And I wish my life
would become a great, wealthy life
where I’m not in trouble and not in the system.
No people looking for me.

That’s where I’d like to be from.
A place where nobody lies
and is just respectful.

My Colors

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

I am painting my self-portrait.
For this work I have chosen the colors of purple, pink, and red.

The purple stands for my success that I have accomplished.
The pink for my loved ones I never got to see today.
And the red is for the love I feel for my loved ones.

The background of my self-portrait will have happiness hiding pain
because my life has been blessed from pain to joy.

In my self-portrait I will be holding a family
because my girl is everything.
She has been a blessing ever since I met her.

In my self-portrait, my eyes will look like success.
When people see my self-portrait,
I think they will say, “I can see he has matured throughout time.”

I would like to give my self-portrait to my girl and my mom
because they’ve been there while I was struggling and trying to make it out.

The title of my self-portrait will be, “A Motivation to Success”

📸 Featured Image: Illustration by AlexaStrabuk 譚文曠.

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