Creative arrangement in the shape of a butterfly of surreal natural forms, textures and colors on the subject of art, imagination and dreaming


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 among youth coping with mental and emotional turmoil, join Pongo’s certification pilot program this spring!


by a young person, age 15

My actions are changing
Moving smarter than before
I used to do dumb things,
Getting trouble with the police

If I seen a wallet on the floor
I’d just take it
But now I’d give it back.

I used to take people’s stuff to get money
Now I just leave people be
Find another way to get money

Get a job or something
I never used to think of a job
Because I was too busy doing stuff
I shouldn’t be doing

Now I could work at Mickey D’s
Or paint houses or do construction
If I could do whatever I wanted
I’d sell cars, because it makes a lot of money.

I used to sell anything to get quick money
Not anymore. If I work hard
at a job, I can get some more.

Something I used to do
was do people bad, but
karma hit me harder than she ever has before.

But karma saved me once.
I got shot in my leg and my hand
But karma told me I could still stand.
She saved me once, she saved me twice.
Got shot a couple times
But thankfully I didn’t die.

My actions are changing
Moving smarter than before.

Gettin’ Out

by a young person at the Children and Family Justice Center

I’ve been in here
for at least two and a half weeks
They’ve been long and calm
But I just wanna get out.

I wanna be with my mom and my dad,
it’s a good time
They are hard workers and independent
that’s where I get it from.
When I want something done, I get it done
I am ambitious.

I wanna graduate
I got 4 more years
I’m good at reading and writing
Just listen to these bars

When I get out I’m gonna be on house arrest
I want to focus on staying in the house
and not cutting off my bracelet.
Help around,
and join more programs.
Programs like Community Passageways,
I want to improve my family’s life.
And for me,
Stop doing crimes.

I wanna quit doing drugs
Cuz I ain’t gonna go nowhere
Just might end up stuck
and end up back in Detention.

That’s Not What Happened

by a young person, age 16

That’s not what happened
They say we were “hood rats”

That’s not what happened
We did what we wanted to do
because there was no one telling us not to
They didn’t care
No one was waiting for us to come home

That’s not what happened
They said, “they aren’t good for each other”
but we were the only people we had to depend on
and the only ones to understand the things that we were going through

That’s not what happened
they said “they’re being too fast”
but we were put in situations to be grown
to grow up sooner than we wanted…
this is what happened

We use each other to bring ourselves up,
to give a reason to do what we need to do
to get through the lives we live.
We give each other a reason not to give up.
We were each other’s backbones when all of our limbs around us were fractured.
We’ll continue through any scenario to support the bond we’ve grown,
no matter the opinions.
That’s what happened.

📸 Featured image by agsandrew/

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