Pongo Project Journal

Sharing stories of our work with teens
Mar 27

At the prison, I asked the women to suggest topics for future writing classes. Their first topic was “relationships.” So I created an activity, based on my feeling that the emotional fault lines in relationships often lie along conflicting needs and expectations, not only between two people but within an individual.

It was a great writing class, and I’d like to tell you about it.

First, the women made me feel honored and happy because they wanted to share writing they’d done in my absence. With my colleague Shannon they had written a few days earlier on the topic “What I See When I Look in the Mirror.” In this writing, a very strong theme was the women’s drug addiction and its effects on their children. For many of the women, this damage is a profound source of personal pain and remorse.

When we were ready for the activity, I distributed some poems on the topic of relationships, which the women read aloud. These poems included “Reminding Me of Your Own Dead Seas of Silence” by Diane Wakoski, about a man who was quiet – but also silent. These poems also included “How Many Times” by Harvey Shapiro, about a relationship where quarreling had begun to feel like love. And these poems included “True Love” by Sharon Olds, about a relationship where love was good and physical and occasionally blinding.

For the writing itself, I had created a sample poem and fill-in-the-blank exercise based on needs and expectations. You can read my sample poem and my activity here, on the Pongo web site, and you can try it out yourself. And if you’re a teacher or therapist, you can also try it with adult students or clients.

I’m including several of the women’s poems below. Before you read the women’s poems, I’ll just explain that everyone wrote, almost everyone shared their work with the class, and everyone applauded one another. And we had a wonderful experience working together. The teaching techniques discussed in this article are explained in the Teaching Resources section of this site, for example under Accepting Self-Expression and Jumpstarting Creativity.

by JR

I needed unconditional love
And he needed me to change
But I expected love for all eternity
And he expected me to alienate myself

While I also needed treatment
When he needed me to be pregnant
And I expected love for all eternity
When he expected me at home and nowhere else

While my father needed to walk again
And my mother needed to get me help
And my children needed me in their lives

I really needed help as a teenager
I really needed treatment
But he needed me to be pregnant
I needed unconditional love

by MM

I needed love
And he needed a maid and a one night stand
But I expected more
And he expected me to be this doting girlfriend

While I also needed my freedom
And he needed me all for himself
But I expected understanding
And he expected me to see it his way

While my father needed me to be his little girl
And my mother needed her liquor
And my son needed me all to himself
And my sister needed her big sister

I really needed the love of my mother
I really needed to find the inner me
And my son needed his mom
I needed my son

by TJ

I needed to be loved
And she needed me to grow up
But I expected her to give up on me
And she expected me to lose control

While I also needed her to stand by me no matter what
When she needed me to hold on
And I expected her to let go
She didn’t realize I was a bird with broken wings

While my father needed to rape me
And my mother needed a hit
And my sister and brother needed a mom
She was nowhere to be found

I really needed her to be there for me
I really needed God to heal my soul
But she needed me to let it all go
I needed for God to be in control