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    “Let's start with this one,” Tay Renée said. She leaned forward in her plastic chair and rolled up the pant leg of her dark green jumpsuit to just below her knee, then rolled down her white tube sock to reveal a little circle with a line through it inked into her skinny, pale leg. She got this tattoo, a small Saturn, with a friend at age 15, two years ago. The anchor on her arm reminds her to remain stable. Her third tattoo, which I won’t detail here, as I’ve been asked to withhold identifying features, reminds her of her 4-year-old brother, whom she hasn’t seen in a year. It does not quite cover the ladder of thick white scars climbing her forearm.

    Renée, who chose this pseudonym (we cannot share her real name), had been in Youth Detention Services downtown for a little over a week, waiting on a bed at a rehabilitation facility. On Friday, July 7, she came to this classroom to read poems she wrote during a workshop with Tasha Golden, a researcher who partnered with Sarabande Writing Labs, a program started by local publishing house Sarabande Books that offers writing workshops to underrepresented voices. A Smart Board hung on the front wall, and a poster to the right read in cute, handwritten, multicolored letters: “Adolf Hitler Timeline.” To get to this classroom, I surrendered my voice recorder and hat, went through several security doors, up an elevator and down a hallway redolent of the antiseptic smell common in public school bathrooms. Seven girls had participated in the week-long workshop, and the four still in custody had brought their notebooks and typewritten copies of their poems Golden had transcribed and printed for them. Sarabande will compile these poems in an anthology titled Every Day I Live, I Strive. It will be released in August. You can read Sarabande Writing Labs' past anthologies here

    Staff held up journalists downstairs until the reading had already started, and I walked in just as one girl had finished reading and the small crowd of about 15 people began to applaud. When it was Renée’s turn to read, she stood up and said, “This is about addiction.” “Meth is my monster who never seems to leave,” she read. Staff came in and out of the room as she spoke, keys jangling. A radio grumbled from a guard's hip. They left the door open, and each girls’ soft, rushed words competed with echoing footsteps and voices from the hall. 

    Two Louisville poets, Kiki Petrosino and Hannah Drake, shared their work. Drake, a performance poet, recited a piece about self love. Renée wiped tears from her face. “Are you crying?” another girl asked loudly, and the whole room turned to see.

    After the reading, the girls grabbed paper plates and headed over to a table topped with fruit and vegetable spreads, pizza and cake. As she ate, Renée showed me the collage she’d made with cut-outs from magazines and stuck to the cover of her notebook. “A lot of the girls did models, materialistic things,” she said. “That’s not me.” Instead she’d chosen a photo of a young child reaching up for a big orange in an adult's hand, a symbol of generosity and innocence. A bit of text read: “Rethinking the Needle.” I asked Renée about the image of a cotton plant. “My boyfriend is a heroin addict,” she said, explaining that people use cotton to filter the drug.

    Each workshop participant shared a poem with us. You can read them below. The poets’ full names have been withheld. 

     

    Don’t Call Me Immature, Call Me Stuck

    I get called immature by only a few people
    friends, strangers & bystanders

    It’s my weak mind that sets them to that
    ‘cause I speak before I think
    & love to wonder
    & I feel like I’m stuck in Time.

    Don’t call me immature
    Call me “stuck”
    Call me “curious”
    Call me “imaginative”
    Call me “Traumatized”
    Call me “Sensitive”
    But don’t call me immature.

    I’m not immature.
    I got a weak mind,
    I’m stuck in my childhood self.
    I’m growing physically,
    but I’m stuck in time
    mentally & emotionally.

    -M. M.

     

    Untitled

    If I was a landscape
    I would be a beautiful beach.
    Have cool sand
    nice beautiful water
    The water would be blue
    and you can see through the water
    when you get in.
    People would have so much fun
    with me.

    -H.

     

    You Don’t Know Me

    You don’t know how i feel
    You don’t know what i want
    You don’t know what i do
    You don’t know what i see
    You don’t know about my past
    You don’t know what i’m going thru
    You don’t know how bad i wanna go home.

    -A.

     

    Dear Mama,

    I love you and I appreciate you
    for all you do.
    I appreciate the fact you taken care of my son
    while I’m locked up.
    I know I been careless lately
    but everything is about to change.
    I’m gone try my best
    No it’s not gone happen overnight
    but soon I’m gone be that daughter
    you’re proud of.
    It’s time to get my life on track.
    I don’t want you to be stressing no more.
    I love you.
    Love,

    -C.

     

    Untitled

    I met the monster.
    We held hands and sang.
    It was fun at first-
    then reality came.

    I left the monster,
    said goodbye for good.
    But he followed me again,
    and there he stood.

    Strong and fierce,
    he wouldn’t go away.
    He held me down
    and forced me to stay.

    I tried to leave
    again and again,
    But there he was
    saying we’re friends

    I took him back in,
    Oh, Silly me.
    I thought we would be
    a one night fling

    But he never left
    he stayed, getting strong
    while I got weak
    all night and day long

    two months go by
    and I’m rail thin
    fighting a battle
    I know I won’t win

    day after day,
    lying about him
    no one will know,
    I’ll just sneak off again.

    Then detox comes
    dry heaving air
    because I never eat
    and I have nothing to spare.

    My life is in shambles
    my eyes filled with tears
    sitting in a jail cell
    facing 5 years

    meth is my monster
    who never seems to leave
    he waits in the shadows
    manipulating the web he weaves

    waiting for the weak
    waiting for my time,
    to relapse with him
    because he calls me “mine.”

    -Tay Renée

     

    Untitled

    To me I feel that I’ve put a mask on at the age of 12
    and took it off while I’ve been detained.
    I’m 15 now. I’ve been wearing a black mask,
    a thug mask, a gangster mask
    to cover up the real me.
    I’ve been through a lot,
    so I’ve put this mask on
    to hide and protect my past.
    The mask was so thick and hard
    that it took me 3 years to take it off
    But once I’ve took this mask off
    people can see who I really am.
    My family can tell I’ve grown
    but now that it’s off
    ​Imma try hard not to put it on.

    -“Buddha” D. H.

     

    Stone Cold

    guidance was a lack
    hurt was a fact
    My mother was a loss
    and my family turned they back.

    -R. T.

     

    Untitled

    People only see my outer core
    but inside there’s so much more.

    artistic, sweet,
    funny, & bright
    but they blast me with labels
    which just isn’t right

    I have beauty & brains
    & a lot of insight,
    but people tend to focus
    on what’s on the outside.

    I take care of my own
    and make sure that they eat,
    even when I struggle
    and am out on the street

    I have love in my heart,
    not just drugs in my veins
    But all I am is a junkie
    and it drives me insane.

    -Tay Renée

     

    What Some People Don’t Know

    What some people don’t know is
    I’m very intelligent
    What some people don’t know is
    I’m only human
    What people don’t know is
    I act dumb so people don’t know I’m smart!
    What people don’t know is
    I feel like life’s a movie full of suspense
    What people don’t know is
    I have a dad & sister who really cared

    -M. M.

     

    (Untitled)

    What I need is guidance, support, and company.
    I need somebody to say “D____ you falling again.
    You need to get back right.”
    I need somebody I can trust besides a parent
    to talk to.
    I want somebody who answers my questions
    so that I won’t be confused in times.
    I don’t wanna look back in time.
    I wanna look straight ahead.

    -“Buddha” D. H.

     

    Dylon Jones's picture

    About Dylon Jones

    Web editor Dylon Jones is an award-winning poet, essayist and journalist.

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