Poetry behind bars

Teens sharing poems they have written with their peers – it's a nice image, bringing to mind a pleasant scene on a leafy college campus. But not in this case. These young poets are behind bars, for crimes ranging "from shoplifting to assault."

This poetry reading is taking place in a Seattle juvenile-detention facility that, according to The Stranger, looks like "a depressing postapocalyptic high school."

But Richard Gold refuses to be disheartened by his surroundings. Since 1996, the founder of Pongo Publishing has been visiting Seattle-area juvenile-detention centers and mental-health facilities to provide "poetry therapy for troubled youth." He is joined by dozens of teachers who lead both group poetry-writing exercises and one-on-one poetry tutorials with the kids.

Does exposure to poetry change any young lives? It's hard to say. "Pongo Publishing can't track its poets' progress because of legal issues associated with them being minors," reports The Stranger, "but Pongo can cite several surveys, including one sponsored by the Soros Foundation, that 'showed a significant reduction in the teens' level of distress' once they've been through the program."

Then, anecdotally, Gold told The Stranger about "a young man named Colby who called in to a 2008 radio appearance on Steve Scher's Weekday program to say that one session of poetry with Gold changed his life. 'It lit a bomb inside of me... if it wasn't for [Gold] extending that invitation to me, I never would've found poetry.' "

You can read the whole story here.

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