Illustration of a bird in flight


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 the Pongo Poetry Circle today.

My Family

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

I think about them all the time.
Just hanging out with them.
I’m remembering watching movies
With my mom, my two brothers, my little sister
And my dad.
It makes me feel good but I wish I could be home

It feels bittersweet
Like summer ending,
because I won’t be able to hang out with my friends as much,
And I have to go back to school,
it starts to get cold,
But I get more focused

And I like how the holidays are coming up
It feels bittersweet like the first snowfall
I have a lot of fun in the winter
I spend more time with my brothers in the winter
We go drifting in my dad’s car
And we’ll go outside and throw snowballs at each other, mess around
There’s already a lot of snow back home right now

I just talked to my little brother last night
and he said that there was a lot of snow on the ground already.
It made me remember waking up on that first morning
With snow on the ground
I wish I could be home so I could feel the snow again
Just like I wish I could hug my mom
I wish I could be home so I could feel the snow again.

Treading Water

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

I get out soon
I feel kinda worried about the lack of structure
Every day is the same here
But every day on the outs is a different battle

Whether its where I’m finna get my next meal
Or where I’m gonna sleep that night
I’ve changed a lot but so have my friends
I’m walking back into a different world than the one I left

I feel like I’m destined to fail like society is working against me
But at the end of the day,
it’s up to me if I’m going to keep my head above water
Do I wanna live the rest of my life behind bars
Or do I want to be there for the ones that need me most
That should be an easy answer but it’s easier said than done


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

I’m kind of mad today.
Because of some dumb stuff,
Some gang stuff
Some kid just said a diss word
It got me mad
And annoyed
It’s kind of funny too, because if he wasn’t around his friends
He would’ve stayed quiet

When I feel mad, I want to do something to let off steam
But I can’t because I’m in here.
I just try to calm down
By being quiet
Thinking about the pros and cons of the situation
And what could happen if I do something
It sucks to be mad because if I get mad and don’t control myself
And end up doing something, I could mess up
That would suck,
I wouldn’t be able to have as much freedom,
And I would still feel mad and a little disappointed for not controlling myself
I’m using a lot of control right now.

I wish I could go back to my cottage and go to sleep
I wish I could go home.
I miss my brother and my family.
I wish I could chill at my house
Be able to do anything I want
Without anyone telling me what to do
Being able to close my door without it being locked on its own
Being able to have freedom
Go anywhere I want
I would be happy just to be out

Be home
Be with my mom
And my brother
He’s locked up though too
I’ll get out and he’ll still have five years left
Nothing will be the same without him
We just did everything together, we were always together
I haven’t seen him in two months
It makes me mad that he won’t be able to come home with me
I just miss everything
How it was before I got locked up

📸 Featured Image: Photo by Jessie McKenna, edits by Marti McKenna.

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