Poetry flows from teens behind bars



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Posted on August 6, 2012 at 3:44 PM

I’ve always been drawn by the stories of people who make a difference in our community. I call those people our treasures. But so many of the people we introduce you to few know about. That’s the beauty of what we do, and this Making a Difference KING franchise. It’s to help give the recognition and attention the treasures in our community deserve.

The world needs to know about Richard Gold and his team of poet volunteers, Eli Hastings, Adrienne Johanson, Mike Hickey, and Vanessa Hooper. Photojournalist Doug Burgess and I got to see this team in action. I was in awe. Richard Gold runs the non-profit the Pongo Teen Writing Project. He’s reached 5,500 teens in the last 16 years.

“Pongo runs writing projects for youth who've suffered childhood traumas, such as abuse and neglect,” says Gold who was named a Microsoft Integral Fellow by the Microsoft Alumni Foundation in 2010 with $25,000 for Pongo.

“We work inside juvenile detention centers, homeless shelters, psychiatric hospitals, and other sites. And we particularly focus our work on young people who have a hard time expressing themselves. Our primary purpose is to help our authors understand their feelings, build self-esteem, and take better control of their lives,” says Gold.

Check out Pongo’s website for more information on how they reach teens, and how they  train counselors and teachers in their methods, which we got to see for ourselves,
www.pongoteenwriting.org. Talk about making a difference! 

“We’ve produced 13 books, distributed 13,000 copies of our books and talked to 10,000 people in the community about the lives and poetry of our authors,” says Gold who does survyes with the teen poets afterwards. “Our surveys of Pongo authors indicate that 100 percent enjoy writing with Pongo. 70 percent write on issues they don’t normally talk about, 30 percent are new to poetry, and 95 percent expect to write more in the future.” 

When you see our video piece that aired on KING 5 News, you’ll see I mentioned a particular poem "There Had To Have Been." It’s extraordinary. Here it is in its entirety:

by a young woman in juvenile detention, age 14

There's no important person in my life.
There just isn't.
Hasn't always been this way.

At some point there had to have been a person
That made me feel
As happy as my splat pink hair.

At some point there had to have been a person
That made me feel
As loved as a small baby bluebird
In Mama Bluebird's nest.

At some point there had to have been a person
That made me feel
As important as The President,
At her inauguration.

Right now
There's no important person in my life
But at some point
There had to have been.


We'd like to hear your stories about people going above and beyond to help others. Just email us at makingadifference@king5.com.