[The following post is reprinted with permission from the blog at the Pongo Teen Writing website. The author has recently posted "Writing from Kids in the Juvenile Justice System: In My Blood to Be a Drunk" and "Poetry as Treatment for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System" on this blog. Photo by hojusaram. -Ed.]
Though Pongo is completely focused on the youth in the program, there have been a few surprising times when the teens have taken care of me. I appreciate it, but I also think it shows a talent in them.
I remember working with a young man in juvenile detention who was gang involved. He wrote about feeling forced to be a man, in the gang way, by carrying a gun on the streets and dealing drugs. He wrote about not knowing any other life. On a deeper level, he wrote about not having a dad, about struggles with loneliness. He had been suspicious of the writing at first, and we talked for a long time before we began. But when we were done, as he was leaving, he turned to me and said, “It’s very nice of you, sir, to take your time to help young people.”
Once I was leading a poetry workshop with a large group of youth at the state psychiatric hospital. After a nice beginning, they wanted to move on from the writing activities that I had brought. They wanted to write on their own, about issues that were very much on their minds. They worked quietly. And as they finished I would call individuals forward to read. While each person read, the other youth would pause, listen, and applaud, and then continue with their own work. Though I rarely become emotional while working with kids, the writing in this session was so poignant, dealing with suicidal feelings, that I started to cry. The group was calm and quiet, and one teen walked to the back of the room to get me a box of tissues. And we carried on.