Back to Day One


I'm finding it hard to believe I'm almost done with my two years of teaching at the Allegheny County Jail. The first day I showed up to meet the juvenile class, I felt completely out of my league. I really wasn't sure if I had what it took to teach creative writing. Two years later, I never want to stop. I made so many genuine connections with these kids, and we encouraged each other with the power of writing. 

One kid, I'll call him M, was kind of a class clown my first semester of teaching. Their classroom teacher warned me that he was known to distract other kids. And the first semester, he never really participated, and sometimes made fun of the kids who did. But that ended quickly after he saw the first formal reading. When he realized he could perform and everyone would clap for him, his attitude completely changed. Now, he volunteers to read in front of the class, and writes actively in response to every writing prompt. 

Two weeks ago, we had a Haiku workshop, and he wrote some pretty incredible poems, all of which will be published in this year's chapbook. I wanted to share some of his poems with you all:

The handcuffs snapped on

my hands, constricted like snakes.

The court took my soul.


The root of life is:

the difference from right and wrong.

Which one will you choose?


On my way to court

feels like walking on eggshells,

Devil on my back.

Those are just a few of the incredible poems I've received from these kids so far this semester. I was telling the teachers at the jail how impressed I was with the education program. The classes are fairly small, no more than eight kids to a teacher. These kids are getting more one-on-one attention than they've probably received in the majority of grade school. They are so vibrant and intelligent, and it really pains me to know that some of them may spend the next ten or twenty years of their life in prison. Writing is such a powerful tool, and I'm so grateful i've had the opportunity to engage with these kids, and help them share their voices.