Friday was the fifth session of the Incarcerated teens poetry class.

It was a light writing day, as I knew it would be, because I had promised they could make Valentines. We used the first part of the session to get caught up on the word poems and their word books and then I turned them loose with art supplies. I brought in a variety of paper and then I had printed out a bunch of different hearts that they could cut out and decorate. Some of them asked the teacher for printouts of script letters so the could write fancy. These boys have some of the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen. I know a lot of it comes from tagging and writing things they are supposed to write in places they aren’t supposed to write them but still, beautiful penmanship.

A few of them asked for printouts of cartoon character couples. It wasn’t so they could cut them out and glue them on the cards but so they could draw them, just by looking at them. I hadn’t thought beyond hearts but by the time I left on Friday I had requests for roses, a single rose in a vase, more cartoon couples, and a penguin. I loved seeing them, (okay most of them,) so enthusiastic. For a little while it was easy to forget where I was, to imagine that I was in a regular high school classroom and these were regular kids, not kids who were already deep in the juvenile justice system.

There’s one boy seems so full of hurt and anger that I just want to wrap my arms around him and hug him until he really feels it. But he is also filled with words and that can only be a good thing. His writing is hard and honest. I don’t know how long he has been where he is or how much longer he will be there but I wonder and perhaps worry, if it will be enough for him. I hope so.

There’s one who, no matter what you ask him, he manages to work how wonderful he is into his answer. Self-esteem doesn’t seem to be his problem. His writing is filled with joy and love.

There’s one who never wants to do whatever it is we are going to do until he sees the other kids digging in. I never expect him to do much yet he always surprises me with a line or two that goes straight to the gut. I tell him this, this honest writing, is terrific and he shrugs it off.

There is one who loves to write so much that he writes in his free time and works ahead on the stuff we are doing. When he is writing I can see that same determination that I see on the face of so many other writers as they are doing what they love to do.

There is one who races through the assignments because getting to the end is all that matters to him. And yet even in his race, he captures the emotion of his moment.

There is one who is getting out soon and I know he is only doing what he has to do in order mark his time. I watch him sometimes and wonder which way he will go when he outside.

And there is one, the one I have been waiting to find in this group, one that I think is making the connection between words on paper offering a way to be heard and a way to free oneself to walk a different path when he gets out. I watch him struggle between what he feels and what he puts on the paper. I watch how he hesitates, wondering whether writing it down really makes a difference, and then I watch him stand up and read his work with pride. I watch him smile, just a little, when we clap for him.

I watch him and hope a spark has been lit.