Words Unlocked: Poetry from Young Offenders

In April, the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings (CEEAS) held its first annual poetry contest for juveniles in secure facilities. The response was tremendous; more than a thousand submissions were entered in the contest.

From those, a group of third, second- and first-place winners were selected in a process headed up by lead judges R. Dwayne Betts, a poet who spent time in the adult prison system as a juvenile, and Chelsea Clinton, a human rights advocate and daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Imprint of Social Change will publish all of the winners throughout the week, and conclude on Friday with an overview of how CEEAS developed and executed this project. Today, we start with the third place winners:

Poem Title: A Place Called Home
Poet: Nathan
Facility: Chesterfield Detention Home School, Chesterfield, VA

The fog descends upon us

Wrapping us in a quilt

Of white felt,

The warm summer rain

Washes you away,

Showing old wheat fields

Hunched over from the breeze,

While the wind blows leaves

That is beautiful to see,

The crunch of gravel

As cars travel,

Make a symphony

For the city,

Then night comes

With brilliant stars

Piercing windows

From afar,

Constellations from the Milky Way

Leave when it’s time

For a new day.

Poem Title: As the Grass Grows
Facility: Hope Partnership at MacLaren YC, Woodburn, OR

As the grass grows…

a clock ticks

The earth spins

A little boy becomes a man

God holds the world in His hand

As the grass grows…

Gun shots in the midst of a city

A little boy sucking at his mother’s breast grows to bust Simi’s Bang Bang!

As the grass grows…

A young girl becomes a victim of rape and filled with hate so deep

She thinks chuck this purse

grab a skirt and hit the streets

For somethin’ to eat

Sellin’ her body for a meal or a couple of bills

As the grass grows…

A mother on welfare with several kids strung out on heroin

Applies for a job that she’ll never get

As the grass grows…

A bomb explodes and new orphans feel an orphanage home

As the grass grows…

Another baby aborted

As the grass grows…

A loving father loses his kids in a divorce

A 90 year old woman loses the love of her life in the middle of the night

A child starves in a country hungry for life

It can only be so long until that AIDS infected teen spreads her disease

out of a love she thought was deep

But he left her on her knees for another chick then another

as the cycle repeats in the mirror

over and over again

‘I’m not scared’ as he puts the rope around his head

Stepping off the chair with a note that reads

‘I love Jimmy and if being gay is wrong in life then I want to be dead

As the grass grows…

You never see growing grass as a ticking time bomb.

You never bend down and say this strand of grass

Was an airplane crash

Or this football field is a graveyard

But as time continues our planet accepts disaster,

We fall deeper in sin than we began

and become victims of our own demise.

So be aware as we laugh and smile pretending life is chocolate and flowers.

Under your eyes and beneath your feet the grass continues growing…

And disaster continues to peak.

As the grass grows…

Poem Title: Tell Me About Me
Facility: Three Lakes High School, Albany, OR

Tell me why I feel abandoned

When I abandoned you

Tell me how I’m honest

When I don’t know the truth

Tell me why I sit in darkness

When I could be in the light

Tell me how I’m such a fighter

When I don’t know how to fight

Tell me why I write so much

When I have nothing to say

Tell me how I’m always fine

When nothing is okay

Tell me why I want to walk

When I have nowhere to go

Tell me how I am so high

When I feel so very low

Tell me why I run away

When I have nothing to run from

Tell me how I’m still alive

When I make myself so numb

You can’t tell me can you

No one knows me like I do

Tell me how that can be true

When I don’t know as well as you

Poem Title: “Sun Up to Sun Down”
Poet: Timmy
Facility: St. Johns Juvenile Correctional Facility, St. Augustine, FL

From sun up to sun down I think about how I’m doing 8 to 9.

I sit in my cell and pray to God that I ignore negativity so I won’t catch time.

I think about the situation I put my parents through and all the money they spent when they could have spent the money on the loans they signed.

As day by day goes by I hear and see the same people eating nasty food and going to school all year round. I wish I could have changed my mind.

I sit in my cell and think of that one girl, the one that hugged and kissed me all the time.

I wish I could go back in time to realign my mind.

I sit in my cell and think about how my life would be like if I haven’t committed a crime.

So now you see, I’m doing 8 to 9.

Poem Title: Split Personality

I’m the girl dazed and confused

I’m the girl wearing rotten shoes

I’m the work who’s Always on the news

I’m the girl that smells like booze

I’m the girl Askin’ for a Dollar or two

I’m the girl that’s lying to you

I’m the girl skipping to her own tune

I’m the girl who loves to make a Mess

I’m the girl with Tracks on her neck

I’m the girl who steals with no regret

I’m the girl everyone says doesn’t care

I’m the girl with bugs in her hair

I’m the girl who sleeps under the bridge

I’m the girl using Dirty rigs

I’m the girl who screws fellows for a fix

I’m the girl deep down in the Mix

I’m the girl who needs to shower

I’m the girl dopesick in the early hours

I’m the girl flying a sign on the corner

I’m the girl in line at the soup kitchen

I’m the girl everyone thinks is a bitch

I’m the girl domestically beaten

I’m the girl without feelings

I’m the girl daddy gave up on

I’m the girl whose life’s like a rerun

I’m the girl stick in this place

I’m the girl people say can’t change

I’m the girl waiting for the next train

I’m the girl, fingers stained with nicotine

I’m the girl whose life feels like a dream

I’m the girl singing for spare change

I’m the girl who no shoes on my feet

But I’m Also A girl who wants to….

Achieve her goals

Grow strong and move forward

Earn back some Respect and Quit the dope

be Able to look myself in the eyes

Do something and fail, but be able to say that I Tried

Learn from my mistakes

get educated, use my Brain

Quit hurting my body and get healthy Again

Overcome the streets, And one day own a home

break these chains off and make my life my own

feel secure And safe in my skin once more

wants to stop causing her loved ones harm

wake up and not wish I was dead one day

work through and recover from the strife & and pain

believe in myself, end the destructive cycle I’ve made

Treat myself with dignity and be the girl

Everyone knows I was born to be.

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