This is a collection of writing by teens in juvenile detention in Seattle. These youth are awaiting trial or serving sentences for a variety of offenses, from running away and truancy to prostitution, shoplifting, drug dealing, and violent crimes.
The poems in this book, and several hundred others, were facilitated by volunteers from the Pongo Teen Writing Project, who taught inside juvenile detention weekly over several school years, 2005-07. Pongo was founded 12 years ago to help distressed youth to write and heal.
Pongo’s particular focus is on suffering adolescents who have difficulty expressing themselves. We introduce our authors to the creative process by asking them to write from the heart about “who you are as a person.” The results are profound, including expressions of tortured lives, deep sadness, new understandings, joy, and hope.
The consistent theme in our authors’ writing is early childhood trauma, usually in the form of abuse, neglect, abandonment, violence, and death – though words such as “abuse” and “neglect” fail to adequately convey the destructiveness and intensity of the traumas. For example, Mary describes (p. 4) how she would watch a man “with green eyes” get her mother drunk so that he could threat-en and sexually assault Mary when she was 10 years old. Mary and other Pongo writers are struggling with, and mourning, terrible losses. On the other hand, in addition to the sadness in their poems, Pongo’s authors achieve important gains through writing that are wonderful to see. They demonstrate joy and pride in the creative process. They gain a new objectivity about their lives that lessens their sense of shame. And they learn a new ability to communicate and seek help from others. Pongo has received feedback from therapists that our authors are being healed through poetry.
And there is further hope. Yes, Pongo’s authors have been exposed to multiple challenges in their childhood. But, according to studies, the great majority of such people (perhaps 82%) are resilient and will do well, even if some of that resilient majority struggles for a while as children and teens. And these resilient survivors are among our society’s most honest, independent, and caring people.
It is a privilege to do Pongo’s work. I’d like to thank the detention teens for sharing their important truths. I wish them the best. I’d like to thank the “Pongoite” writing mentors for their skill and dedication. I’d like to thank Karen, Neal, Vince, Jill, and the other detention staff, teachers, and librarians who made this project possible.
Finally, I’d like to express my appreciation to Pongo’s generous funders, including the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, Kongsgaard-Goldman Fdn., Glaser Fdn., Eulalie Bloedel Schneider Fdn., Roberts Family Fdn., and Windermere Fdn.
We would love to hear from you!
And we can help you find your poem.