An illustration of two shoes with laces from above, with just a bit of the pants the person is wearing visible above the shoes

PONGO POETRY | Walk One Mile … In My Shoes

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, register for Pongo Poetry Night, its upcoming event at Third Place Books Ravenna.


Blood, Sweat, & Tears

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 blue, red and black.

The blue stands for my friends and family.

The red for my pain and struggle.
And the black stands for my loneliness.

The background of my self-portrait will have dark clouds with the sun in the background
because my life has been painful, hard, lonely,
but there’s always something good at the end.

In my self-portrait I will be holding a picture of my family and my little brothers
because they’re the light in my darkness, they get me through the hard times.

They’re the most important thing in my life.
They have been ever since the day my little brother died.

In my self-portrait, my eyes will look like black holes.

When people see my self-portrait, I think they will say,
“Even though he’s been through a lot, he’s still standing strong.”

I would like to give my self-portrait to my community,
so that they can know that even though we go through hard times
we still come up on top.

So that I can be a reminder to my people that we can make out through the hard times.
The title of my self-portrait will be “Blood, Sweat, and Tears.”


Walk One Mile … In My Shoes

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

I want you to walk one mile,
Just one, in my shoes.

I want you to know what it’s like
When a person is incarcerated in the system.

I want you to know how I feel
When I’m surrounded by four white walls

I want you to understand my pain
When I can’t see my family,
I feel like I’m the victim.

I want you to walk one mile,
Just one, in my shoes.
I want you to see the beauty in my life.

I want you to know how I express myself.
My words are like bullets from a gun
That’ll make you fall.

I want you to know my heart.
My love is like a needle in a haystack,
It’s hard to find.

I want you to walk one mile,
Just one, in my shoes.

Then maybe you’d understand how I got here.


The Neighborhood

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

I’m from a street where you see paint on the walls
Meth fiends walking and Cholos riding

I’m from faith in my neighborhood
My family
I’m from a long line of people
Who don’t give a f*** about the consequences

I’m from confusion about life and the way it works
How it acts
Sometimes life’s a b****
Sometimes life’s good
But it never tells you when it’s going to change

I’m from laughter when all the homies are all together.
Drinking, smoking, talking, and mobbing the streets.

I come from Othello, Washington, where there are a lot of Sureños
A lot of violence,
Vandalism,
Drugs.
Cops and sheriffs patrolling the block on the daily.

I’m from love, and I know that because the homies tell me.
They’re always riding next to me.

I’m from fear, especially when I think about God.
How much power He has.
The fact He can kill you in an instant.

I come from a long line of locos in Othello.
I come from experiences like my dad leaving when I was four.
My aunt getting shot in the head
And my little cousin getting burned alive
Two of my homies getting shot.
One getting stabbed.
My dad abusing my mom.

I come from Othello.
And I wish my life would become surrounded by the homies.
Either in prison,
Or in Othello
A place where I can be posted at the park or in the yard
And be with all the homies.

Be with the people I’ve been through hella sh** with.
We all started together.
We all bled together.
We all fought together.

We were always active together on the streets,
We all had stuff going on with our families.
But we were still active together,
Walking through the streets of Othello.
The neighborhood.


📸 Featured image by Irantzu Arbaizagoitia/Shutterstock.com; photo editing by Emerald team.

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