I Feel Like Weights Have Been Lifted

[The following post is reprinted with permission from the Pongo Teen Writing website. The author published "Poetry as Treatment for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System" on this blog in December. -Ed.]
positive-youth-development-Pongo-writing_journal-with-penFor the past four years, Pongo has surveyed its writers. I want to share the latest results because of what they reveal about distressed teens – their enthusiasm for art and for change, and also their insight into their own lives and their appreciation for those who care. (And I want to share the latest results because I believe in the Pongo method, and I want you to try it! Please read our web site and get in touch.)

Let me explain right away that every teen who works with Pongo in a one-on-one session completes a survey, unless we run out of time. The survey-takers are not a self-selected group. Also, when we choose youth to participate in a one-on-one session we give priority to teens who have never written before and who may be having a difficult time that day. (About one-third of Pongo writers are pretty new to writing, about one-third write a lot.)

As you probably know, the teens currently participating in Pongo are either in juvenile detention or the state psychiatric hospital for children. Many have suffered greatly in their childhoods. They have good reason to be angry, withholding, and mistrustful.

Here are the results of surveys collected last year from 100 different individuals:

  1. Did you enjoy this writing experience? [YES - 100%]
  2. Do you feel proud of the writing you did with us? [YES - 99%]
  3. Did you write about things you don’t normally talk about? [YES - 73%]
  4. Do you feel you learned something about writing? [YES - 88%]
  5. Do you feel you learned something about yourself? [YES - 75%]
  6. If you wrote about things that are bothering you, did the writing help you feel better? [YES - 86%]
  7. Do you think you might write more in the future? [YES - 92%]
  8. If so, do you think you might write during times when life is difficult? [YES - 93%]

About one-third of the teens in detention wrote optional comments, and most of these said that Pongo is cool and awesome. (Thank you!) The other comments showed the teens’ insight into their own process:

  • “I feel like weights have been lifted off my shoulders.”
  • “This writing was really fun even though the things I was thinking of were really sad.”
  • “I love writing, and I feel good that I can share it with people who care.”
  • “I love writing something that keeps me cool when I’m mad.”
  • “I’m proud you all came because I would not have expressed myself.”
  • “I think I let out a lot that was on my mind.”
  • “It raises my spirit."
  • "A very positive vibe.”
  • “It was a good experience for me because it helped release tension and stress.”
  • “Writing expresses a lot and helps me release stress.”
  • “It really helped me get stuff out of my mind.”
  • “It was a stress reliever.”
  • “It really helped me with how I was feeling.”

By the way, this year's survey results are completely consistent with Pongo's surveys over four years, from 386 distressed teens. (Pongo is cool and awesome.)
[Photo above by mullenkedheim.]

juvenile-justice-Pongo-founder_Richard-GoldRichard Gold founded and runs the Pongo Teen Writing Project, a writing therapy nonprofit that works with teens who are in jail, on the streets, or in other ways leading difficult lives. An award-winning, published poet himself, Richard has taught remedial English and run a writing therapy program he developed at Children's Hospital in San Francisco.
The Odd Puppet Odyssey, a collection of Richard’s own poetry, with illustrations by his wife Celeste Ericsson, was published by Black Heron Press in 2003.

See this related post for information about the benefits of implementing positive youth development programs in the juvenile justice system

Updated: February 17 2010