Wednesday was the seventh session of the Incarcerated teens poetry class.

We’re past the halfway point in the class so I knew it was time to get them to go deeper, if they could, if they were willing. I read them THE JOURNEY by Mary Oliver and we talked about the poem. A few of them seemed to make the connections I was hoping for and spoke of being the change they needed in their own lives. We did a group poem on the board about their teacher and then they used the same model to write about someone in their family. From family members we moved to writing about themselves, about who they were, what they thought of themselves and where they saw themselves going in the future. There was the usual grumbling about all this touchy-feely stuff but it was good-natured, for the most part. They took a little time to settle into it but then they wrote some very revealing poem about their hopes and dreams and fears. Fewer volunteered to read them out loud which is normal when we get to the tough stuff.

There were a couple of students under a veil of anger for the session. I don’t know why. But even in their anger they wrote some wonderful words. I read their pages and told them to remember what good, honest work they did even though they were angry. How good work came out of intense emotion. I’m not sure they believe me but the seed was planted.

One student wrote about how he was getting out soon and his concerns about being able to handle it on the outside without being drawn back into his old ways. I was so happy to read what he had written because he had been on my mind a lot lately, wondering, as he was, what would happen when he got out. Of course the fact that he wrote a poem about wanting to do the right thing is no guarantee that it will happen but I hope that the act of having written it down will at least make him think twice before going off the right path.

Each time I leave them I have to remind myself that my job is not to fix them. It’s not to offer them a list of solutions for their problems. My job is to light a path to help them see that there are always other options, other choices to make with their lives. To help them see that words have tremendous power. And to hope they will use that power for good.