Wednesday was the tenth and last session of the incarcerated teens poetry class.

I wondered what my reception would be after the frustrating day we had on Monday. I walked into a mostly silent class. It was obvious the teacher had spoken to them about the previous session. I don’t remember who started talking first but soon the room was full of voices, not frantic talking but calm, respectful voices all apologizing to me for their previous behavior. They told me they knew they had disrespected me. They asked that I remember how good they had been all the other times and to let the good outweigh the bad. They went on and on until I had to change the subject because otherwise I was going to burst into tears and hug each and every one of them which wasn’t something I could let happen.

It filled my heart with more joy than I can say.

I asked them for one last group poem and because they wanted to make nice with me they tried really hard. They said they wanted it to be the best poem ever. I think they did a great job. Here’s their final group poem.

Hope sounds like a bird leaving the nest
a heart beating for success
it’s something that keeps you striving.
Hope is something you’ll never get rid of
it looks like turtles making a break for the shoreline
and feels like nothing else
like nothing can stop you
like the very pulse in your veins.
Hope smells like fresh air and morning dew
tastes like chocolate, a delicious flan with whipped cream and a cherry.
No, it tastes like victory.

We had some time left and I was still looking for some art to put on the wall so I handed out the nice drawing paper and asked them to spend some time studying their hands and then draw their hand. A couple of them got into that but most of them just wanted to trace it so I told them they had to put a Zentangle or something else in it to beef it up. Some of them really got into the detail but then they forgot the rules of the room and started adding gang symbols that they were not allowed to use. It took some back and forth, having the teach inspect them, but eventually they all passed inspection and we were officially done.

I handed back their folders with all their work. They seemed happy to be able to keep the folders which made me a bit sad, to think how a little thing like a folder could brighten their day. One boy immediately took all his poetry out of the folder and tore it into tiny pieces. I bit my tongue but it was hard.

Before I left I asked them to write a few lines about what they thought of the program. Here are a few of their comments:

– Susan I had a good time with you. Thanks for trying to teach me how to write poems.

– Thank you. I got to learn more about myself.

– Susan showed me a lot of great things I never thought I could do. She has opened my eyes a lot. I just want to thank her for giving us her time and show a bunch of criminals something new.

– This helped us get things out of our minds. It helped me a lot. Thank you for coming.

– I liked the poetry class. It was good getting some things out on paper. I just don’t like reading it out lout. I liked your class and the way you teach.

– I thought this program was really inspiring. I hope to get this same experience again in life. It taught me how talented I am. Inever knew how talented I was until I came here. I thank Susan for showing me the ropes ’cause now I’m willing to show the world when I get out.

– I learned a lot from you, Susan. I really appreciated your time with us. I really wish your time wasn’t this short, but I will use all all this knowledge to become a poet just like you. You did an eminent (his favorite word) job working with us.

– I think this program was good. It helped me express how I feel and my day go smooth. I wish you could stay longer but everything has to end I guess. The thing I really learned is not poetry but that there is no wrong way in doing things. You would always tells us to say what we feel and I always did. That made me feel like I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I just want to thank you for coming and sharing these things with us. I learned a lot from you and I’m looking forward to going to see my art at the museum.

I have been lucky with opportunities to teach poetry to incarcerated teens. It is never an easy experience but it is always worthwhile, even when it turns my heart inside out. I have a week off and then I start the second second at a different location.