Teen Poetry Collections

My Backpack of Pain


These are just a few of the amazing poems written by teenagers in King County Juvenile Detention in Seattle during the 2018-19 school year. A common thread of pain weaves its way through this collection. Some of these pieces feature buoyant memories of friends, family, and culture but beneath are feelings of poignant sadness considering the distance between the memories of the outside and these writers’ current reality.

The teens in detention are awaiting trial or serving sentences for a variety of offenses, from running away and truancy, to prostitution, shoplifting, drug-dealing, and violent crimes. Many of them deal with depression from the memory of abuse, anxiety over what’s coming, and concern for loved ones living without them on the outside. Yet in their emotional and honest poetic expressions, these youth authors demonstrate strength and courage, carrying their backpacks of pain. Please enjoy the honesty, depth, and complexity of their work.

Pongo has worked inside detention since 1998. The team of Pongo adult mentors who helped these youth produce these poems included Arlene Naganawa (project leader), Nadia Imafidon, Raul Sanchez, and Mark Johnson.

The Pongo Teen Writing Project is grateful to its many kind supporters, including the City of Seattle, Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, which has generously provided Youth Arts grants to Pongo’s project at King County juvenile detention since 2007.










Note* Details within the poems have been changed to protect the teens’ confidentiality and their families' privacy.

Selected Poems From this year's collection:

Ten Reasons to Love Me # 2

The Lifestyle of Worries

Five Poems

If I Could Speak

Fresh Air

Where I Come From #5 

I Wish

My Pride/ Mi Orgullo

Pain All My Life

Writing Rhymes

This is Who You Are to Me

Take Me Home