Your eyes—a deep ocean of sorrow and grief.
Your tongue—like earthquakes so violent and strong, but brief.
Your voice—a sound of trumpets that tumble down or soar.
Your thoughts—a mystery, a puzzle, unsolved because there’s something more.
A fledgling poet penned those lines from Mat-Su Youth Facility, according to Alaska Dispatch News (ADN). Known as “KH” (to protect his identity as a minor), the teen wrote the poignant piece about someone he knows at Mat-Su. KH wondered if his friend was holding back, or “editing” when sharing feelings or facts about his background. KH felt that there was always—as he titled the poem— “Something More.”
Processing the struggles and pain of the past is never easy. For those behind bars, it can be especially difficult to find a safe outlet for personal expression.
“He’s been in a tough spot for a little over a year,” Tom Pine, KH’s mentor, told ADN about the young poet. “And to be able to write this and have hope and to see that spark within him was really nice.”
KH has entered poetry in the Words Unlocked contest, which invites juveniles behind bars to explore their talents in writing.
Pine applauds these poems for their “maturity and real depth.” He notes that many of the authors aren’t seeking the prestige of a byline. They honestly crave the opportunity to express themselves on their paper, “… maybe in the only way they know how.”
The art of writing behind bars is not limited to juvenile facilities. At Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River, Alaska, Jennifer Prince is learning to be up-front about her life by writing about it.
The 37-year-old digs into the darkness of her past addictions and brings them to light through poetry. According to ADN, poetry allows her to “put into words things that I’m not able to communicate with other people.”
Prince entered her raw, gut-wrenching poem “Tick Tock” in the 2016 PEN Prison Writing Contest and received an honorable mention. Prior to this, she published an essay in Tidal Echoes, a Southeast Alaskan journal of art and literature.
Besides writing, Prince is picking up the violin. She also participates in a give-back crochet program. Through all of these, she is “finding a positive way to release the emotions or process through the emotions rather than just self-medicating.”
She added, “Otherwise we’re going to be the same leaving this place as we were coming in.”
Creative outlets are a healthy way for individuals to process and move forward, but art doesn’t have to be a solo project. If you are gifted in the arts, or other areas, you can share those gifts as an in-prison volunteer or mentor. Your investment in a constructive prison culture can impact lives both behind bars and beyond them. To learn more about volunteering opportunities, click here.