An artwork of a person underwater, in a sinking position, below a sailboat, from which a ladder hangs and extends down into the water

PONGO POETRY | Jail Is a Bird

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.

Dear Momma

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

Yo momma, please don’t cry
I know I’ve caused some pain
But I will be home fairly soon
To right the wrongs that I have made
I hope I’m welcomed back
With open arms, I cannot wait
But if I’m not, It’s all okay
That is the price that I will pay
I hope you will forgive me
For the things that I have said
You know I’ve got a temper
And when mad I lose my head
I also want to warn you
That I scream when I’m asleep
From that one time
I was on the run
And all the shit I’d seen
I’m trying really hard to become a better man
But I need you to be patient
And to show you understand

Having More Courage Than Fear

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

In my life I’ve known Courage.

We met when I was locked up.
I had courage that I can do better and get my high school diploma while I’m here.

Nowadays Courage is helping me think right and have a better life

I find Courage when I’m at my mom’s house,
she helps me out and pushes me to do the right stuff
and it makes me remember that I’ve got someone that cares about me.

In my life I’ve known Fear.

We met when I first got locked up.
I felt like I was in a cage that I was never going to get out of.

These days Fear is feeling like I can’t do anything right,
when I want to stay out of trouble while I’m here
Stay in one place,
like staying in my mom’s house
and not going out with the people who were a bad influence.

Fear finds me when I’m in my cell.
It makes me nervous,
it feels like I’m stuck in one place.

I’ve learned that Courage and Fear are different—

When Courage tells me to not come back here,
and do the right things and be a better influence to my little brothers

Fear tells me that I’m going to come back in here and I’m not gonna do right

Usually, I listen to my gut feeling,
that I’m gonna do good and not come back here

I wish my courage would help me out here
and push me more to do better stuff,
like going back to school and getting a job,
When I turn 18, I want to do construction

I wish my little brothers can do better things than what I did,
like not joining a gang, and going to school

Jail Is a Bird

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

Jail is like a bird in a cage
Lost and filled with rage
Taunting view of the world outside
With nowhere to go and nowhere to hide
Dreaming of when it can take flight
Dreaming of sailing through the bright daylight

Jail is like a bird in a cage
With too many words and only a page
Just another prop on a stage
Just another child
Just another one deemed too wild
Just another one who lost its wings
Just another who no longer sings

📸 Featured Image: Featured artwork by 杰意 Jieyi Zhou.

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