GETTING IT RIGHT
At the far southern end of King County Youth Service Center, clustered around control post four are L, M, N, P and Q Halls. Each one of them has a word, as in “March” Hall, but that’s the only one I can remember. I’m consistently fucking up the proper title and inventing others (like “Moldy Hall”), which makes the kids laugh—they tend to have the right names down pat immediately upon arrival. This cluster of “halls” (read: cell blocks) is the deepest in the institution, furthest from the stairs and elevators that lead up, ultimately, though a series of sally ports, to actual doors.
But the sun is bright today and thanks to the plexi-glass remodel carried out a couple of decades back, natural light falls in confident wedges throughout the room, turning institutional green linoleum into golden rivers of light. It bleaches the cinderblock out in the miniscule “yard.” If you cup your hands around your eyes and crane your neck right, all you can see is blue sky. The trick is good enough.
The young man next to me with big tattooed forearms and wisps of facial hair, which he wears unironically, is leaning on the nub of pencil like it’s a plow. It’s not hard to imagine that the effort is equal to cutting a furrow into stubborn soil. Last week I sat in an identical hall and wrote about this process that the young people engage in as unearthing buried toxins. Mixed metaphors are allowed here—just achieving a metaphor that fits is reason enough for celebration, so allow me to say that there’s also sowing to do. Because there’s nothing else to do once you’ve opened a furrow than place seeds. The brute force of shouldering the plow forward; the delicateness of placing individual seeds in their beds of soil. That’s the mixed metaphor of the work here. No one expects flowers or crisp produce. Not yet—just hope.
(In case you missed it, here is the link for the King 5 mini-documentary on Pongo Teen Writing in Juvenile Detention: http://www.king5.com/community/making-a-difference/Poetry-flows-from-teens-behind-bars-141111313.html)