Today was the fourth of 7 poetry sessions with a group of incarcerated young men.

The goal for the session was to end up with at least one poem or near poem that I could bring home, type up, and take back from them to revise on Friday. I wanted them to see their words printed out in the hopes that it might encourage them to want to revise, to try to improve their writing. What can I say, I’m a bit of an optimist when it comes to that sort of thing. Plus I love revision.

The group, however, does not share my opinion. In fact, several of them told me outright that they wouldn’t do it. When I asked the teacher if they had ever revised anything she said no. Sigh. Friday is going to be a rough day. I suppose I could not push the issue of revision but I am hoping that when they see the words printed out that they will realize some of the sentences could be more clear, more detailed, more specific.

They were fairly attentive this time and we started off with writing a bio poem about a member of the family.  The only rules I gave them were no booze, no drugs, no swearing, no gangs. We did a model poem together on the board and at every line someone mentioned beer. It’s to be expected. It’s so hard to get them to try and think outside their boxes.

Surprisingly they all went straight to work on their own poems. One started off just writing about drugs and booze. I reminded him of the rules and he told me that he couldn’t help it. It was all he thought about, the only life he knew and the one he missed. He knew he was going to be in jail for years and he didn’t see that it mattered what he wrote. He said, “We’re all just prisoners here. Who cares what we write.”

I told him I cared.

I asked him to just try a little harder and see what else he could find inside. I told he could write about someone other than himself if he wanted.  But he didn’t. He sat for all long doing nothing and then.

Then he wrote. About himself. About the good and the bad. He wrote one of the strongest pieces of all of them so far.

The boy with meager English skills wrote in Spanish about his aunt who wants him to come live with her when he gets out.

The class clown wrote about having no friends.

Another chose a seemingly simple phrase “I am the only boy in my house” and repeated it through the poem about his family and the things he had done that brought him to where he was today . Powerful stuff.

Some of them wrote poetry today.

And they don’t even realize it.