Pongo Teen Writing Project

Pongo Teen Writing

Volunteers from the Seattle nonprofit Pongo Publishing help youth in detention write about their lives. Pongo has worked with more than 4,000 teens in youth prisons, homeless resource centers, and the two mainstays of the program: a children’s psychiatric hospital in Lakewood, Washington, and the nine-year-old program at the King County Detention Center. The poems and stories are published in annual anthologies and are available through pongoteenwriting.org.

Photo by Richard Gold

The Pongo Publishing Teen Writing Project is a volunteer, nonprofit effort with Seattle teens who are in jail, on the streets, or in other ways leading difficult lives.

The project helps these young people express themselves through poetry and other forms of writing and publishes annual anthologies of their work. Here is a sample of the poems written in their workshops.


I wish someone had told me that life was like this,
and I thought I was not going to end up in here,
and it happened.

I wish someone had told me that love was like this,
and no lying, cheating, stealing, robbing and all that,
because it does not have to be like this.

I wish someone had told me that friends were like this,
they turn on you and get you in a lot of trouble,
and I wish I would have known that before I put myself in that predicament.

I wish someone had told me that I was a kid.
I wish that I can start my life over and do what I have to do to better myself.

I know these things are true because it happened all in my life,
and I experienced it, so I think it can be true.

I know these things are true, but still,
I wish someone had told me.

—written by a 16-year-old boy in juvenile detention 



I wish I was a better child.
I wish I could take back all the times
           I made my mom cry.
I wish I could take back all the times
    I’ve hit my little sister.
I wish I had everything I wanted.
I wish I wasn’t in Juvenile.
I wish I was still a virgin.
I wish my brother wasn’t dead.
I wish my cousin was never born.
I wish that I wasn’t a drug addict.
I wish I wasn’t an alcoholic.
I wish I went to school when I was younger.
I wish I wasn’t in a gang.
I wish there wasn’t so many rules
    in this world.

I wish my life was as good as I want it to be.
I wish I could take back all the times
    I made my dad mad at me.
I wish I could take back
    almost killing somebody.
I wish I was still young.
I wish I wouldn’t have grown up so fast.
I wish for nothing else to happen to me.
And that’s all I wish.

—written by a 15-year-old girl in juvenile detention




I feel alone
Like a deer that’s just been born
But its mom died
Like the only flower
In a field
Like a pool of water
In the middle of the desert

I feel deserted
Like an open piece of candy on the shelf
That nobody wants to buy
Like a box of kittens
And I’m the last one in the litter to be picked
Like an un-ironed pair of pants
That nobody wants to wear

I feel the need for love
A squeeze of lemon in my glass of water
A breeze on a warm summer’s eve
A whisper in my ear that tickles

—by a 16-year-old young woman in juvenile detention



Running away
When I was a kid that is all I did
Running away from a lot of things
Being raped by someone I knew who
Said he would kill me
Running away
I said no, and he punched me
So I gave up to take it
All I seen is blood, so I closed
My eyes until it was over
Running away
Because I didn’t know the true meaning of love
Running away to drugs, weed to relieve my pain
Until I exploded
Running away is not how I want to
Deal with my situation
Now I want to change
When I am not running away
I will ask for help…..

—by a 16-year-old young woman in juvenile detention



He’d wonder why I sin so much.
He’d understand that I’m a whole man,
     That I take care of myself.
He’d know the way things had gone. Bad.
     My parents don’t care about me.
He’d remember when I was very little. I was
     Confused because I wasn’t with my real
He’d know that I’m trying to change.
He’d know how hard it is to change. The people
     I deal with are the people that raised me,
     My friends. They’ve got me confused.
He’d want me to understand that life is better
     Than I’m making it.
If God opened a new door for me,
     It would lead me to my childhood again.
Then I could start all over with my life.
     Be treated like a human. Not treated
     As a thug.

—by a 16-year-old young man in juvenile detention

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